California normal

April 17, 2017

So much for the global-warming induced, permanent drought that had afflicted California. Population in California has doubled since 1979 but water resources infrastructure has not changed much. Ground water is being consumed and depleted at an increasing pace. Yet normal weather variations are taken to be man-made global warming.

California remains normal, but Californians …….

USNews: 

An index of precipitation at eight sensors showed that just under 90 inches of rain and snow have fallen this winter in the northern Sierra Nevada. The previous record of 88.5 inches was set in the winter of 1982-1983. The average for the region is 50 inches a year, according to the state Department of Water Resources.

The record was surpassed less than a week after Gov. Jerry Brown officially declared an end to California’s drought emergency — a largely symbolic pronouncement that left in place some water-conservation rules for the 40 million residents of the nation’s most populous state.

More snow and rain is likely to pad the record before the wet season ends.


 

Democratic autocracies

April 16, 2017

The trend is clear.

Democratic elected autocrats is political evolution in motion.

We already have Czar Vladimir, Maharaja Modi and King Barack succeeded by King Donald. The squabbling kingdoms of Europe are drifting without any clear vision or direction.

Now comes Sultan Erdogan.

It is the sign of things to come.

image The Economist

Democracies have probably become too wishy-washy, too soft and very close to anarchic mob rule. This development may well be a necessary political evolution.


 

Democracy, like natural selection, has no need for excellence

April 14, 2017

Natural selection gives traits that are good enough for survival up to the time of reproduction. There is no value to be gained by being anything beyond just good enough to survive and only till reproduction is accomplished. Natural selection is about being “good enough” and there is no force which drives towards excellence. Fast enough may, in fact, be much more successful for descendants than fastest. Strong enough is good enough and there is no advantage necessarily accruing from being the strongest. The forces of natural selection are quite satisfied with intelligent enough and do not persist towards increasing intelligence. The equilibrium position is mediocrity.

And so it is with democracies. Democracies are all about winning elections, not about selection of the “best” leaders. A winning candidate only needs to be sufficiently intelligent and sufficiently competent and sufficiently rich and  sufficiently cunning and sufficiently dishonest to ensure the capture of sufficient votes. There is no value, and there may well be a negative value, in having more of a vote-winning attribute than just necessary.

Given that excellence, of any attribute, must be a minority “thing” (the bell curve again), any system promoting the majority must inevitably promote a leveling down – a chase for mediocrity. Natural selection is all about increasing population. Extinction is failure and increasing population is the measure of success. Democracies pander to the majority in a population. There will always be more of the poor than of the rich, the unintelligent will always outnumber the intelligent and the incompetent will always swamp the competent.

Excellence in sport requires special coaching and training regimes for elite squads of young athletes. Academic excellence requires elite academic institutions. Excellence in science needs its ivory towers. Excellence in companies is achieved by autocracies (including monarchies) but never by democracies. Military excellence requires elite troops.  Excellence in government and in management requires autocrats. To achieve excellence in almost any field requires elitism. “Socialist principles” abhor elitism. It is not perhaps so surprising that the essence of “social democrats” lies in leveling down, in making a god out of mediocrity.

At some point humans and human societies will find the need to drive towards improvement and a search for excellence. With no pressure to increase population humans will be freed from the constraints of natural selection and will be able to target excellence. Natural selection will have to be given direction with a strong dose of artificial selection. Once poverty is eliminated (but not the poor who must always be there) and population is stable or declining, even human societies will be freed to chase excellence. Democracies will then need to acquire some spine by institutionalising  more than just a little whiff of autocracy. Voters and candidates for election will need to qualify, votes will be weighted and elected leaders will be autocrats for their terms of office.

Leaders might then begin to lead again rather than being followers of the mob.


 

United was in breach of contract: It was not a “denial of boarding” but an unauthorised “refusal to transport”

April 13, 2017

United exceeded their authority. This was not a case of denial of boarding but one of refusal to transport. And to free up a seat for one of their own employees is not a permissible reason for refusal to transport. Even denial of boarding – which this wasn’t – would only be permitted in a case of over booking. This was not such a case. United is going to get screwed over in court – if it ever gets there.

The should settle quickly if they want to get past this.

Not that they can’t afford it. Their CEO will probably get a bonus of about $13 million.

Image result for united re-accommodated

Bloomberg:

Most of the coverage of the United Airlines bumping debacle assumes something like, “United Airlines had a right to remove that flier. But should it have?” But a close reading of the fine print of the contract included in every ticket purchased from United Continental Holdings Inc. strongly suggests that United in fact breached its contract with passenger David Dao.

The contract allows the airline to deny boarding involuntarily in case of overbooking. But that’s not what happened; the airplane wasn’t oversold. And Dao wasn’t denied boarding. As far as we know, he was removed from a seat he had already taken after being assigned to it. The contract’s specific provisions for removing travelers or refusing to transport them don’t include the airline’s desire to free up seats, whether for its own employees, as in this case, or for other passengers.

……. Rule 25(A)(2) of the contract applies to “oversold flights.” It says that “no one may be denied boarding against his/her will” until the airline asks for volunteers. Then, “if there are not enough volunteers, other Passengers may be denied boarding involuntarily in accordance with United Airlines’ boarding priority.” ……….

……. But all this is about “oversold flights,” which are defined in the contract as “a flight where there are more passengers holding valid confirmed tickets that check-in for the flight within the prescribed check-in time than there are available seats.” That’s a grammatically poor definition, but it’s pretty clear that it doesn’t apply to a situation where the flight isn’t oversold, but the airline wants to add its own employees.

What’s more, this entire section of the contract is about denial of boarding — which is legally different from “removal,” which is discussed in an entirely different section of the contract.

Rule 21 of the contract covers “refusal of transport” and includes involuntary removal of a passenger from a plane. It includes a wide variety of misdeeds, from the serious (deadly weapons) to the trivial (barefoot).

But nowhere does this section authorize removal or refusal to transport for no reason other than that the airline needs the seat.

That seems pretty unambiguous. Actually a fairly straightforward breach of contract and unauthorised (also uncouth) behaviour on the part of United.


 

The Tesla balloon gets larger

April 13, 2017

Yesterday Tesla’s market cap exceeded General Motors for a short while. I can’t help feeling that the balloon is being pumped and some will make a lot of money before it bursts. (GM produces over 9 million vehicles annually while Tesla produces around 80,000 cars). Tesla has yet to make a profit. The revenue/debt ratio is unhealthy. The gap between revenue and debt is reducing which means that every new dollar of revenue is requiring more than one dollar of debt!!

The best investment in Tesla is, I think, to buy a well subsidised Tesla car rather than to buy stock. The original owners who have had their investments pumped up by subsidies are long gone. For those who own stock now, the key is going to be to sell before the balloon bursts.

Data sources: Market Watch, Gurufocus


 

United Airlines redefines “re-accommodate”

April 11, 2017

A  69 year-old passenger is “re-accommodated” by United Airlines into a hospital.

This upsets me more than most things do. Maybe my being 69 has something to do with that.

If you do happen to fly with United, don’t ever accept an offer from them to “re-accommodate” you.

United’s CEO made a non-apology after the s**t hit the fan.:

“This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened.”

 

Time for UAL shareholders to sell off.


 

 

Palm Sunday and the start of Easter week

April 9, 2017

It’s Palm Sunday and the start of Easter week. We shall be attending a concert of Bach’s St. John Passion for musical rather than religious reasons.

I have written about the Bible story before.

The Easter timeline suggests Judas was eliminated

The Gospel of Judas – found in the 1970s and dated to 280 AD – is considered a Gnostic text and is not accepted as being part of the Bible.

….. Consider the timeline of Holy Week in the Bible story.

  1. Day 1: Palm Sunday: Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem with all his apostles, riding humbly (?) on a donkey. Spends Sunday night at Bethany a little to the east of Jerusalem at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.
  2. Day 2: Monday: Returns to Jerusalem. Along the way he curses a poor fig tree because it had failed to bear any fruit. The tree withers. He enters the Temple to find it filled with money changers (forex dealers since the Temple only accepted Tyrian shekels) and merchants selling animals for sacrifice. He chases them out with much ado. He returns to Bethany to spend the night.
  3. Day 3: Tuesday: Jesus returned to the Temple in Jerusalem and played hide-and-seek with the priests who challenged his authority and tried to apprehend him. But he evaded them. In the afternoon he and his disciples climbed the Mount of Olives and he made prophecies about the destruction of Jerusalem. He spent the night again in Bethany. Matthew reports that Judas negotiated his deal with the Sanhedrin on this day.
  4. Day 4: Wednesday: The Bible is silent about this day. It is presumed Jesus and his disciples stayed in Bethany and took it easy.
  5. Day 5: Thursday: Jesus sent Peter and John to “prepare” (presumably to reserve it as well) the Upper Room in Jerusalem (The Cenacle) for the Passover feast which would begin at twilight and continue on Friday. At twilight he washed the feet of his disciples and then began the Passover meal – the Last Supper. He prophecies that he will be betrayed by one of his disciples – which they each in turn deny. He identifies the traitor as being Judas by giving him a piece of bread soaked in the dish and as soon as he does so,  “Satan enters Judas” (?). From the Upper Room they all went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Here, late that evening, he is betrayed by Judas and arrested by the Sanhedrin and taken to the home of Caiaphas where the Sanhedrin Council have gathered.
  6. Day 6: Friday: Early on Friday morning, Judas is found dead. By the 3rd hour (9 am) the trial of Jesus has started. He is found guilty and forced to carry his cross to Calvary where he is crucified. By the ninth hour (3 pm) he is dead. Around the 12th hour (6 pm) his body is removed from the cross and is laid in a tomb guarded by Roman soldiers.
  7. Day 7: Saturday: The tomb is guarded by Roman soldiers all through the Sabbath day until dusk (12th hour – 6 pm). When the Sabbath ends, his body is anointed and prepared for burial by Nicodemus (himself a member of the Sanhedrin Council which found Jesus guilty).
  8. Day 8: Sunday: Early on Sunday several women went to the tomb and found it open and Jesus missing. He “appears” to five people during the day providing “proof” that he has been resurrected.

…….. 

It is not surprising that the Gospel of Judas is not accepted within the Bible. For that would mean that Jesus had orchestrated his own capture. Poor Judas. He may have just been a dupe chosen by Jesus to be the scapegoat. But if he knowingly sacrificed his life and accepted being remembered in perpetuity as the “betrayer” of Jesus, his was probably a very great soul.


 

Does life start when the egg is laid?

April 9, 2017

Birds and reptiles (and the duck billed platypus which is a mammal), lay eggs for their offspring. Their only interaction of the parents with the egg after it is laid is to keep predators away and to incubate it – which is often done by the male. The development of the embryo in the egg requires no nourishment or any biological intervention from the parents.

In the case of a chicken’s development, the egg when laid consists of a minuscule embryo (0.0002 grams) and nutrients. The chick hatches when the nutrients have been consumed and its weight has increased to about 30-31 grams.

Image result for development of a chicken egg

from EnchantedLearning.com

Is the chick alive when the egg is laid?

One could argue that the embryo at that point is not yet deserving of the label “chick”. But I think there is no rational way in which to question that “life” has definitely started by the time the fertilised egg is laid. In the case of humans a fertilised egg is called a “zygote” until it has implanted itself (about 6 -10 days after conception) in the wall of the womb. It is then called an “embryo”. It is called a “fetus” only from 8 weeks after conception and remains a “fetus” till the birth of a “child”. Just as a “chick” only emerges after egg hatching, a human “child” only emerges after birth. But in both cases life, life has begun much earlier. By the time a hen lays an egg, the genetic identity of the embryo in the egg has already been fixed. The unique genetic identity whether for chicken or for human is actually fixed when conception occurs. The implantation of a human zygote in the wall of the womb is the corresponding point when an embryo is defined. The genetic identity of the embryo has then been well established and the life of a unique identity has clearly begun.

An individual human time line is then not so complicated as the Great Abortion Debate would make it to be:

0: Conception: Genetic identity is established. Life begins as a zygote.

+2: Implantation in the womb: Life continues as an embryo.

+8: Life continues as a fetus

+40: Life continues as a child.

+1340: Child becomes adult when brain development is complete

+4720 (approximately): Life of that unique identity ends


The time when a unique identity is established and life begins is quite simply defined and the Great Abortion Debate is actually about the ethics of terminating that life at different times during its existence. It is trying to make an ethical distinction between breaking an egg for a breakfast omelette or killing a chicken for a roast dinner. (But note also that many vegetarians eat eggs but a chicken eater is never considered a vegetarian). Abortion, infanticide, murder or euthanasia are just labels for different times at which life is to be terminated. Abortion always kills a fetus (not a child) and infanticide always kills a child (not a fetus). But whether it is a zygote which fails to implant itself, or a fetus which is aborted, or a child killed for being the wrong gender, or an aged person being assisted to die, it is the same life, the same identity, which is terminated.

And, I note, ethics are always personal and cannot be imposed by a society on someone. But a society can always exclude someone from the club for not complying with its ethical code.

This Slate article unnecessarily complicates the matter only to try and justify a particular ethical view.

When Does Life Begin? It’s Not So Simple

It actually is just that simple. A unique genetic identity and life are established with conception.


 

Drawing red lines or, by attacking, implying them

April 8, 2017

To draw, or not to draw–that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the body politic 
To shift and squirm around pre-drawn lines
Or to take to arms, all unforeseen, 
And by attacking, imply them

Just as with Obama, I don’t think that Trump has a very clear Syria strategy – yet. What he probably does have is a cloudy vision of where he would like the US to be. Whereas Obama kept drawing red lines in the sand and then kept shifting them to avoid action, Trump has not bothered with drawing any lines. Instead his strike against Assad’s airfield has just demonstrated that there are undrawn lines which, if crossed, triggers a retaliation. He has just not bothered with months of circular debate, creating “coalitions” of the good or “sexing up of dossiers” for the UN Security Council. (As an aside, there is a zero possibility of the UN subjecting the US to any sanctions for any alleged infringement of international law.) Trump’s red lines are implied and the onus is on his opponents to try and figure out where they are. It is not impossible that even Trump does not know quite where they are until they are crossed.

Trump achieves a number of things with his cruise missile strike, not all intentional perhaps.

  1. Syria and Iran and North Korea, among others, now have to guess where Trump’s red lines actually are.
  2. If Assad felt he could now act with impunity (whether he was responsible for the gas attack or not), he now knows that it is unsafe to cross Trump’s undrawn lines.
  3. Assad could begin to seriously address when and how he withdraws.
  4. Kim Jong Un gets a clear message that he could be subject to a “personally targeted” surgical strike if he crosses some unknown line.

 


 

A decision before dinner which Obama would have taken 2 years not to make

April 7, 2017

Risk-filled, reactive, unpredictable, dangerous. No doubt.

But decisive.

In the business and entrepreneurial world it is an axiom that speed of decision is the critical factor but must be accompanied by immense flexibility for course corrections. Few decisions are wholly good or wholly bad. The key is to be “in motion” which allows course corrections – and even U-turns – to be made. Altering any course is impossible if the engine is not running. But the worst case scenario nearly always involves decisions taken too late.

My opinion that Trump has few – if any – ideological hangups but is only a pragmatist is only reinforced by his Syria strikes on the Al Shayrat airfield.

Can business-style decision making work in international politics? That is the question.

But the contrast to Obama’s paralysis by analysis, his unending deliberation and overwhelming risk aversion could not be more stark.

Wall Street Journal:

President Donald Trump’s decision to order military strikes in Syria sets his presidency on a new and unpredictable course that is likely to shape his time in office.

Faced with his first major foreign-policy test—a moment that confronts every new president—Mr. Trump demonstrated a comfort with military action and a flexibility in approach that saw him change course not only on comments he made in the campaign but also on his policy toward Syria in just 48 hours after seeing gruesome photographic evidence from the Asssad regime’s chemical-weapons attack Tuesday.

His decision drew support from Republican and Democratic lawmakers who have long called for stronger U.S. action in Syria.  

But with his message delivered both in missiles and in a presidential address from behind a podium at his private resort in Florida, Mr. Trump faces the difficult choice his predecessor and other world leaders have grappled with for years: Now what? It’s the question that repeatedly led President Barack Obama to decide against deeper military involvement in Syria.

Just three months into his presidency Mr. Trump will have to find his own answer. He has to confront a litany of risky unknowns.

It is unclear how the Assad regime, or its allies Russia and Iran, will react. It is unclear whether Mr. Trump intends to move the U.S. more forcefully into the Syrian conflict—committing the U.S. military to greater engagement in the Middle East—or whether he plans to hold back beyond sending a signal that the use of chemical weapons won’t be tolerated by the White House.

One message was clear: Mr. Trump is willing to use force and to make decisions swiftly when he is moved to act.

“Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow, brutal death for so many,” Mr. Trump said in a national address. “No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”

It is a dramatic shift from Mr. Obama, who deliberated at length over military decisions and resisted years of calls for a deeper U.S. military involvement in Syria to help bring the conflict to an end. During his own election campaign, Mr. Trump suggested the U.S. should leave conflicts such as the one in Syria for other nations to resolve, including Russia.

The missile strikes mark an early turning point in Mr. Trump’s presidency. It is his first major military order as commander in chief. But it is also the first military decision of consequence that Americans and the world have seen him make after otherwise fitful first weeks as president, which have been marred by controversy and infighting in his own party.

Mr. Trump had in many ways compelled himself to act by vowing on Wednesday to retaliate for the gas attack. He had limited other options given Mr. Obama had cut a deal with the Assad regime, brokered by Russia, to remove its chemical-weapons stockpile instead of launching military action.

Interesting times indeed.


 


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