Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Responsible" is a bad word

Good words are words that cannot be bent.  Words like "yes" and "no".  Their meaning is unambiguous.

"Responsible" is a bad word because it is bendy. In its original incarnation it was a condensation of "able to respond." Most properly used, it communicates a condition of an inseparable Siamese twin of Accountable .and. Authority.

"Responsibility" is one arrow in the economy of power.  The other arrow, the one that points in the opposite direction, is "Privilege".  Just as money flows in the opposite direction of goods-and-services, the flow of "Responsibility" flows in balance with, and in the opposite direction of, "Privilege".

Consider the crew of a ship. They are given the privilege of "shore leave" and they carry the responsibility of "respecting the parameters"...return at a certain time and place, capable of crewing, means of early recall back to the ship.

In popular usage the word "Responsible" has become a wraith that presents to the listener what they most desire.  Often, in the ears of the listeners, it instantly transmorgifies into "Privilege" with no concept of the debit that must be entered to keep the yin in balance with the yang.  Or they hear it as "I have been given Authority" or "You are to be held Accountable."

As a bendy word, "responsible" is much loved by politicians.  They can toss it out by the grain scoop and the seething masses sucks it up like so much verbal cocaine.  The word has become million blank, white screens that accepts whatever the listener projects upon it.

So, I propose that mature bloggers purge the word "responsible" (and its derivatives) from our writing.

Use "Authority" when we mean authorized to act.  It is interesting that "authorized" means "it is written". Writing is permanent and less vulnerable to mutation than verbal communication.  It can be presented as evidence.  It often bears a signature.

Use "Accountable" when we mean "subject audit or review for our performance."  The old joke among mathematicians is that "accountable" is to counting as "amoral" is to morals.  In fact, accountable means being able to recount "I did this with that" to the person who gave you authority.  So, internal to the concept of "responsibility" is an economy of near-equal but opposite counterflows of authority and accountability.

Use "privilege" when we mean special access that is conditional on behaviors or outcomes.

What happens when the connections between the yin and yang are snipped?


Numerous checks and balances were written into the US Constitution.  Checks and balances are simply another way of  articulating the economies of responsibility, of authority, accountability, and yes, of privilege.

Authority with no accountability is the clearest form of tyranny.  No matter how perfectly balanced at the onset the unforeseeable bumps and nudges of the unfolding of history will put the system in the ditch.

Accountability with no authority is a path to madness.  Dogs that are arbitrarily punished-or-praised for the same act are dogs that bite.  The cop that pulls you over, the one who might give you a warning might also be the one who strikes you with his baton....how can he be called anything but a tyrant?  So accountability without authority creates tyranny as well.

Populist pandering leads to tyranny because it achieves its ends via the severing of the yin and the yang.

Bloggers can push back by expressing ourselves clearly, by avoiding "bendy" words.

Modifying a Mojo rear aperature sight

Inspired by Pawpaw's excellent essays on "practical" rifles and lacking any motivation to do anything resembling strenuous exercise, I decided to improve the rear peep sight on my "Mouser".

Mojo website. Actual peep on right side of photo.
One issue I have with this rear sight is that the side-walls are about 0.060" thick.  It is easy to look over the rear sight and simply focus on the front, Lyman globe sight.  This is not a problem if you are shooting at bad-breath distances but it becomes a problem if you are trying to hit at ranges beyond 10 yards.

News flash, gentle readers:  I am not perfect.  Sometimes I get excited.  Luck counts but only fools count on luck.

Inspired by Pawpaw's essay on sights I decided to thicken the walls around that rear peep sight.  Since this gun is already seriously Billy-bobbed I had no qualms about using what was most expedient.

From lower left corner, clockwise:  Loctite 431348 Epoxy Putty, 30-30 loaded with a wide meplate cast bullet to be used as a shaping tool, Frost Reservist folding knife for cutting.  Mixed epoxy putty.  Work surface was a paper plate covered with a gallon size Ziplock baggie.
If possible, mix way more putty than you need.  Mixing a large amount dilutes any biasing in the ratios of the two components.  If it is not possible to mix large amounts...then wait until you can.

The exterior of the sight was cleaned with solvent and coffee filters.  Coffee filters are now my go-to for cleaning paper with exceptional wet strength.

Putty was mixed up, placed between two Ziplock freezer bags, rolled into a sheet and then cut to size with the knife.

Patch draped over exterior if sight and slicked out to insure wet-out.  Side of patch closest to shooter's eye was shaped with 30-30 shaping tool to ensure it was "hooded" and was armored against the sun biasing the sight picture.

A piece of paper had a small window cut in it.  The paper was draped over the modified sight and spray painted with flat, black enamel. There is a bit of thin paint near the bottom of the putty-patch.  I am contemplating using some of Belladonna's fingernail polish to touch up those places.  I may choose red...I think this gun would look snappy with racing stripes.

Flat black items are difficult for auto-focus to handle.  I apologize for the lack of photo quality.  Modified peep on right, Lyman globe sight on left.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Run Forrest, Run!

It is no secret that the current administration is attempting to finance increases in social programs by defunding the military.  Given that the military is a people intensive business, that means that many fine, professional soldiers are finding themselves tossed back into the civilian job market.  Many times these soldiers find it difficult to translate their military skills into the civilian job market.

I have a suggestion:

Run for political office

The military is one of the few places where leadership skills are taught.  No, not the warm, fuzzy theory stuff.  The military trains soldiers in proven techniques that withstand the withering fire of battle. This is the real deal.

The military teaches people skills.

The military teaches goals, organization, methods, project management, logistics...and triage.

If one particular political party is guilty of undermining the military than every primary should involve a challenge to the incumbent or the "establishment" candidate.  Make them accountable for their tacit support for the weakening of America.

If the contestants on the other side of the slate are weak then former military people should campaign for those slots as well.

It is called a "campaign" for a reason.  And that reason is not so they can have a word that rhymes with "Champaign".

Update on the Campaign trail

I spent about 3 hours on the campaign trail today.  I received a couple of unexpected treats today.  One is that Kubota spent about an hour and a half knocking on doors with me. He actually enjoyed himself.

The other treat is that the candidate zig-zagged from door-to-door with us.  He wanted to talk to the home owner if they answered the door.

This became a bit of a problem on two counts.  For one thing, he LIKES talking to people.  He would talk to them for a minimum of 5 minutes.  The door knockers frequently had to wait for him to catch up and that tanked the 50 houses/hour target.

The other issue is that if the door-knocker was on the wrong side of the candidate it was impossible to move.  We were trapped.  We got to hear his patter.

The candidate is a 14 year Army vet.  He had at least one tour in Iraq.  He still flies helicopters for the National Guard.  Part of his patter is that he fought for Americans.  He did not fight in the Republican army.  He did not fight for Democrat or Independents army.  He fought in the United States Army.  He plans, if elected, to represent all of his constituents, just like he fought for all of them.  He included his private cell phone number on the campaign literature.  He is telling them that he wants them to call to prove, to them, that he is accessible...that he works for them.  That is a gutsy move on his part.

Given the disgust that many Americans have for partisan politics that message could be very compelling.

Personally, it would be very satisfying if he knocks the snot out of the other candidate.  Time will tell.


One side conversation I had with the candidate involved the difficulty in finding "normal" human beings to run for political office. The internet does not allow us the grace of hazy remembrance.  That DUI in South Dakota, that brief fling with the Moonies, that stupid joke about the aspirin, the bully person we poked with a really sharp pencil in 6th grade...they are all waiting to destroy our carefully crafted histories.

We find the political channels filling with ciphers and the megarich whose cadres of lawyers can intimidate, or buy, others into silence.  Does anybody remember Paula Jones?

The members of the military are not monks, but they often serve in environments that might as well be cloistered monasteries.  They are a disciplined bunch and they look after each other.

The military may well be the best pool of "real people" who can escape the taint of our over-connected world and be viable political candidates.

Thinking about Rifles

Pawpaw is a fellow blogger who is running a series of posts on "practical" rifles.  He is not done with the series but so far it has been pretty darned good.

Thinking about rifles I
Thinking about rifles II
Thinking about rifles III
Thinking about rifles: Comments
Thinking about rifles IV
Thinking about rifles V
Thinking about rifles VI 
Thinking about rifles VII
Thinking about rifles VIII

Rather than derail his thread I thought I would publish a small tangent to his discussion on my site.

Pawpaw repeatedly notes that the nature of where you hunt, how you hunt and what you hunt should have a great influence on what defines "practical".  A gun for popping prairie dogs at 300 yards will be different than a gun that is useful for tracking wounded bears into willow scrub.

Canada and Alaska

Canada and Alaska offer hunting experiences that are vastly different from most of the rest of North America.  Heck, living in northern Canada or in Alaska is vastly different than living in most of the rest of North America.  Filling the freezer is not sport or luxury, it is a necessity.  They have animals with claws and teeth.  Most homes near the permafrost do not have running water.  That has implications.

The animals

There are two major predators of concern.  These predators don't just kill and eat chickens.  They can kill and eat people.  Those two predators are wolves and big bears.

The ideal firearm for wolves is probably an AR platform shooting stoutly constructed .223 55 or 60 grain bullets.  Most wolves weigh between 80 and 120 pounds.  They are fast and can change directions quickly.  They function as a coordinated team when hunting.  Misses are common.  Ample ammo and quick follow-up shots are a must.

The ideal firearm for big bears launches a wood cookstove at 2400 feet per second.  Failing that, any 30 caliber rifle launching a stoutly constructed 170 grain (or more) bullet between 2000fps and 3000fps will work.  The quality of the bullet becomes progressively more important as the impact speed goes up.

The biggest game animal is moose.  They can go to 1200 pounds and are notorious for living just long enough die in the deepest water available.  Caribou are another common game animal.  They run in herds.  They don't lie down and die, they keep running across the squishy (your boot sinks in 8" at each step) muskeg until they die.


Phil Shoemaker, a highly regarded professional guide in Alaska, informs us that there is a special class of guns that are suitable for outhouses.

A surprising number of animals are shot from outhouses.  The local wildlife gets used to the smells and the comings-and-goings (excuse the pun).

Predators seem to sense that people on their way to the outhouse are distracted, or sometimes inebriated, or not entirely healthy (diarrhea, viruses).  That makes them juicy targets for alpha predators thinning out the slow, the lame, the weak, diseased and drunk.

Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield
The rifle shown above is Mr Shoemaker's pick for the outhouse.  It can reliably launch a 174 grain soft-point bullet at 2400 feet per second which, when properly placed, is enough to take the starch out of any bear or moose.  It was famous as a military weapon for being able to cycle even when filthy-muddy-icy.  It is inexpensive.  It comes with a 10 round, detachable magazine.  The sights are set up for quick target acquisition...they work pretty well in low light or when your eyes are watering.

Most importantly, it is labeled for use in outhouses, an important consideration in these days of the far reaching EPA and the Canadian equivalent.

It is after all, called the SMLE, pronounced "Smelly".

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Is Private Property Sacred? (Very long)

This discussion will be of little interest to those who are ambivalent to the Christian heritage/tradition.  You are welcome to follow along.  I make no claims of being "a teacher".  In fact, I am scared to death of being considered a teacher because James 3:1 cautions us that few should be teachers for they shall be judged more harshly.

So rather than be guilty of teaching or to be guilty of adding-to or subtracting-from Scripture I will quote extensively from Scripture and suggest that you think about, and pray about the readings.  The length of this entry is very poor blogging practice but it is what I am comfortable doing.

The New Testament

The format for this section will be to quote a passage that seems to deny the sacredness of private property and then alternate with another passage that seems to support it.  I will do this twice.  All quotes from the NAB translation.

The Eye of the Needle

Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother'; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”  The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?”  Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.  Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” -Matthew 19:16-24

This is where the typical anti-private property Christian will stop quoting the Bible.  They read enough to support their world view and stopped reading.  I propose we look at the next two verses.  These are the verses where Jesus delivers the core message.
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said, “Who then can be saved?”  Jesus looked at them and said, “For human beings this (being saved) is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”  -Matthew 19:25,26
 At least two questions merit your prayerful consideration:
  1. Was Jesus using hyperbole?  Even the staunchest supporter of a literal interpretation of the Bible at least tacitly supports the possibility that Jesus was capable of hyperbole.  Matt 5:30 suggests that it is better to cut off our hand than to let them lead us to sin.  Given that the vast majority have both hands, one must conclude that the vast majority accept this passage as an exaggeration used to capture our attention and help us see the message from a new perspective.
  2. Was Jesus demanding a proof of loyalty?  God the Father demanded that Abraham sacrifice his only son, Isaac (Genesis 22).  Abraham was given great blessings after he demonstrated his trust and loyalty to God.  A recurring message in the Bible is Dominion and Stewardship.  A good steward acts as an agent of the Master.  A test forces us to choose and it reinforces that agency within us.  The young, rich man failed that test.


The good shepherd

One of the most iconic passages in the Bible:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” Although Jesus used this figure of speech they did not realize what he was trying to tell them.  So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.  All who came [before me] are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.”  -John 10:1-18  Bold added by ERJ
Would Jesus use the analogy of the Good Shepherd, the shepherd who owns his sheep (private property) as a metaphor if private property were intrinsically evil?

This intersects with the Stewardship directive.  It is more likely that one will be a good steward when one has some skin in the game.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores. who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’ Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’ He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’ He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’ -Luke 16:19-31

Jesus is telling us that even though he will rise from the dead that there will still be people who will reject His message.  The rich man is not condemned because he is rich but because he does not follow the rules of tithing and caring for the poor that were handed down from Moses, i.e., the Law.

A point to prayerfully consider is that God does not need our wealth or our material goods.  He created all of them to begin with.  He desires our obedience and our alignment with His plan.  I believe that God would view coercive taxation and wealth transfers as missing the point, as an excessive focus on the material rather than the spiritual.

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants

“Hear another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey. When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way. Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” They answered him, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.” Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;  -Matt 21:33-42
This parable was told by Jesus just before his passion and death.  He is foretelling his death at the hands of the high priests and Pharisees.  This parable is not a treatise on private property.  The sin of envy is a minor subtext in this parable by simple virtue of where it is placed in the narrative of Jesus' ministry.

It was entirely clear to his audience that he was identifying as the son of the owner of the vineyard....a capitalist.  And his audience was entirely horrified by the tenant's treatment of the son.  A new vineyard had a life expectancy of 200 years...a lifespan of 10 generations.  It would qualify as a "capital good" by any definition.


My prayerful reflection is that God cares more about our souls than than our pocketbooks or our political leanings.  Even the passages that seem to be about money are primarily about our souls and our salvation.  My prayerful reflection also leads me to believe that Jesus' message is embedded in a culture that had a strong belief in private property.  But like anything else, taken to excess...where love of money exceeds love of God... it becomes a sin. 

In his parables Jesus frequently identifies as an owner of private property.  In the parable of the Wicked Tenants Jesus identifies those who would take private property as evil.  When combined with the Biblical messages of Stewardship then my belief is that God favors private property as long as it is tempered, by the property owner, by mercy and charity.

So, is private property sacred?  Perhaps not....but it is pretty close.

Campaign trail...an odd thing

My typical late-Summer outfit includes running shoes, camo cargo shorts, a dark (usually black) pocketed tee-shirt and a baseball cap.

I buy my baseball caps at yard sales and try to not pay more than a quarter of a dollar each.  Most of them advertise beer or bars which make them not suitable for campaigning.  I found and wore a black, vintage (Detroit) Pistons hat.  It had Pistons written across the front in one inch tall, white letters.  Simple.  Professional looking.

Part of the gig is to ring the doorbell or knock on the door.  Then step back so folks can peek through the window or blind to look you over, if that is their custom.  Folks get nervous when the doorbell rings and they cannot size up their visitors.

Count to ten.  Leave the literature if nobody comes to the door.  Go the the next house.

An odd thing happened...

An odd thing happened at one house.

I knocked on the door.  I stepped back.  I saw a slight movement of the blinds, just the tiniest flutter as if a breeze had passed by.  I watch through the pane in the door.  A man walked to the back of the house and threw a window, a 30" wide by 24" tall window, completely open and then stepped away from it.

My ten seconds was close to up and I deduced that the people did not want to talk to me.  I placed the literature and left.

Just to show how naive I am  I first thought I had been mistaken for a returning husband.  But why would a husband (me) knock on the front door?

I wish I had been paying more attention to sounds.  I would not be surprised if there had been much flushing of toilets.

In the future

I don't mind if an unauthorized pharmaceutical outlet suffers some product losses due to highly strung nerves.  In fact, it strikes me as kind of funny.

Pistons. Police.  It sucks to be dyslexic

What won't be funny is if the "pharmacist" decides to follow Uncle Joe Biden's advice and start shooting through the door.

It looks like I better make some adjustments to my wardrobe.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

It is great to be a guy

Belladonna and Mrs ERJ are sweating bullets regarding Homecoming Dresses.  This is Belladonna's senior year and Mrs ERJ wants to be very supportive.

Price, timing, sizes, alterations, shipping costs, return policies.

Coral, watermelon, fuchsia, lilac, cantaloupe. Straps, skirts, pleating, waists, and sashes.  Tulle, cambric, chantilly, sateen, percale, taffeta, charmeuse, georgette, chiffon, organza.

Who will ask her.  Will "Freddy" come through or will somebody else ask first?  What if "Freddy" never gets off top-dead-center?  Then what happens?

And you thought it was hard to pick out a firearm!

Believe me, I am not man enough to be a gal.  The things they put themselves through is beyond comprehension.

It is great to be a guy!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Captain America 2

Belladonna and I watched Captain America 2 last weekend.

It was a delight to see a Hollywood movie treat the erosion of due process the risks of a heavy-handed government in a serious manner.

One of the more obscure backstories, one that Belladonna did not particularly care to hear involves how Marvel Comics decided that gamma radiation could be a convincing agent of strengthening.  Both Captain America and The Incredible Hulk were "improved" by gamma rays.  The thought that radiation (outside of a tanning booth) could be beneficial is simply unheard of today.

Series of experiments

Series of experiments were run by top agricultural institutions from the 1920s to the 1950s involving radiation.  The results were tantalizing.

A very specific photo was going to be core to this essay.  It was a photo of two graduated cylinders filled with Solanum jamesii (or fendleri) tubers.  These are both wild potatoes that are native to the American southwest.  One cylinder was a little less than half full of marble sized tubers.  It was the control.  The other cylinder was 70%-to-80% full and the tubers were visibly larger.  Those were from seed potatoes that had been irradiated with gamma rays before planting.

Today we understand that potatoes are susceptible to a host of plant viruses, many of which are asymptomatic.  They sap the vigor and vitality of the plant and reduce production.  Reproduction from seed typically provides a firewall between the infected plant and the progeny but potatoes are propagated vegetatively....from cut pieces of potato (eyes).

That is why "new" varieties would typically out produce the old varieties.  They had not yet acquired all of the viruses floating around the field.  In time they would become old and enfeebled because they were infected by the bites of sap sucking insects and by dirty knives used to cut seed potatoes.  Then they too would be surpassed by the latest new variety that was really not any better...it was just not fully infected.

Viruses are quite vulnerable to radiation.  Just the right amount of radiation, gamma radiation, would shred most of the viruses and leave the tuber "sun burnt" but still viable.  Those potatoes were super potatoes.

Seeds were also irradiated to induce mutations.  The scientists knew that most mutations would be of zero or negative benefit.  But given enough mutations there existed the hope of discovering vitamin and protein rich grains and plants with leaves that would repel munching insects.  Yes, scientists are dreamers too.

Another facet of the early Captain America period is that Americans were avid consumers of science magazines like Scientific America and Popular Science.  It is easy to see how the frothy stories of scientific discoveries would make gamma rays appear to be just the ticket for changing 78 pound weaklings into Captain America.  Look at what it did to the potatoes.


I did something a little bit different today.

I went campaigning.  I went from door-to-door.  I rang door bells and knocked on doors.  I did not get much face time with people.  Only about 5 in 70 actually answered their door.

I learned that "book rate" for door-to-door is 50 houses per hour in an urban area.  I was a lot slower than that.  I knocked out about 35 per hour.

I learned that the electorate is pretty fed up with all politicians.  They want somebody who will DO something.  They are sick of guys like Holder who incite racial tensions (not in his job description) but never indited a single one of the Banksters who brought the world economy to the brink (which is in his job description).

I learned that people like it when you notice their Japanese Maples, the fact that they landscaped with Red, White and Blue flowers and that their pooch is friendly.

They also like it when you notice that they have one of these mounted to their house.

Demographically, Michigan's 71st district looks much like Michigan as a state.  One corner of the district has an inner city core that is ringed with affluent suburbs.  That zipcode has about 1300 people per square mile.  Then the population density slowly thins out to rural areas with 50 people/square mile.

Doing the math suggests that it will take at least 8 man-weeks to cover the one, highly populated zip code.

The compelling message

The incumbent belongs to "the other party".

I got to meet the new guy's campaign manager.  I asked him for his compelling sales message....why should anybody vote for the new guy over the old one? His answer was delivered in political-wonk speak "My guy is more fiscally responsible."  It is a solid message but the delivery is underwhelming.

The new guy needs to differentiate himself by telling voters that not only does he respect their private property, but that he defended it for 15 years as a member of the United States Army.    Part of respecting their private property involves not taxing it for frivolous purposes.  He needs to tell them that not only does he respect their rights to private property, he respects all of their other constitutional rights.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Joe Parker once asked his father-in-law why he farmed.  Joe knew that his F-I-L was a handy, hardworking guy.  Farming is a hit-or-miss proposition from an economic standpoint.  Joe figured his F-I-L could have made a whole bunch more money in "industry".

"Well," said his F-I-L, "I just could not see myself working for some other summabich.  One of us would have ended up on the floor and the other in jail."


Jobs are very much on my mind.

Belladonna just lost hers.  She worked for a small, regional restaurant chain.  Business has been slow.  The lease came up for renewal.  The landlord wanted more rent than the restaurant could afford to pay.  The branch was closed.

The myth of Quality Time

Many new parents are sure they can do everything they used to do and still provide a great childhood for their new bundle of joy.  They figure that they can schedule slivers of time and it will work out because those little slivers will be "Quality Time."

Here is the kicker, "Quality Time" is a small fraction of Total Time.  It is not possible to schedule "Quality Time".  One spends time with one's loved ones and "Quality Time" happens when it happens.

The myth of Targeted Economic Development

Every governmental unit only wants "good industry" or "industries of the future".  News flash:  Nobody can look into the future.  Even the Japanese, the economic juggernaut that many pundits regard as the most sure-footed, economically integrated Gov/Ind on earth has a crappy track record of picking winners.

It is all very Darwinian, something plant breeders are very comfortable with.  A plant breeder understands it could easily take 100,000 seeds to produce a plant that embodies all of the desired traits sought in the next generation.  And it may take many generations to "stack" all of the traits and genetic redundancies required to create a commercially viable apple or pear, cherry or plum variety.  Success does not come from planting five apple seeds and fiercely protecting them.  Success comes from planting a bushel of apple seeds and letting the vicissitudes of Mother Nature select the winners.


In fact, many politicians and governmental agencies seem to have the entire "jobs" thing backwards.

Rather than try to create "jobs", politicians would be better served to encourage the lavish creation of businesses.

This guy works at a local party store.  He has a small sideline where he will replace broken touch screens on phones.  He works on the phones during the lulls in his paid work.  He gets lots of practice and is very proficient at replacing the screens.  Ask for Randy.

Most new businesses are very pedestrian:  day-cares, landscaping, roofing, tax preparation and smartphone screen replacement.  They may be humble but they give citizens purpose, they create wealth, they generate tax revenue. 

In some cases being "the boss" is the only job that will work out.  Not all of us are cut from the cloth that makes "good employees".  In other cases starting your own business might be the only viable employment opportunity due to location, skill-set or the generally slow economy.

And out of the 100,000 day-cares and landscapers, roofer and IPhone repair businesses some of them will morph into charter schools and property management firms, integrated construction firms and IT firms. 


Sadly there is a tension between the public sector and the private sector.  It is a common perception in the private sector that many public servants feed their egos via the capricious application of laws.  That is, they feel powerful by saying "NO!" and watching the freight train screech to a halt.

Never attribute to malice what could just as easily be caused by apathy or ignorance.  Most likely it is a lack of leadership; leadership that is capable of enunciating a vision of public servants as advocates.  Like the story of the commercial truck garage in Perry, a business-friendly bureaucracy that guides the prospective business owner through the thicket of regulation, permitting and rookie mistakes.

A mature perspective

A mature perspective of business starts with the understanding that a very large percentage will fail.  A mature perspective will not rail against that.  Rather, it accepts that a business owner must fight their way through a learning-curve to become successful.  They may have to start several businesses before they are successful.  The question is not "How do I avoid failure?" but "How do I make failure inexpensive?"  It is easier to shoot down a strafing enemy fighter with a machine gun (1:6 tracers) than with a single cannon.

A partnership between the public sector and the private sector is mandatory if failure is to become inexpensive.  The clerks in the public sector see far more "business models" in a year than most business owners will see in their lifetime.  They see what works and what does not.  Those public sector clerks are a repository of wisdom that will accelerate the private sector learning curve and reduce the cost of climbing it.

Perhaps the key to the "jobs" problem is to identify and recognize the public sector employees who streamline business creation process.

Success comes from planting 100.000 apple seeds.  Let us stand and applaud the public sector players who are planting those seeds.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Deducing Causes of Variation from Patterns Within the Data

Much can be deduced from patterns that can seen within a stream of data.  Of particular interest to the problem solver are hints regarding WHERE variation originates and hints suggesting root-causes.

I will include a few data plots (simulated data) and throw a few words around them to illustrate my point.

Fairly random "Normal" distribution.
This pattern is sometimes nicknamed "racking pattern" due to the likely source.
This pattern shows mean shifts between populations that always number some multiple of X.  "X" is likely to be the number of parts in a rack.  In this case "X" equals 10, so the savvy engineer would investigate the parts that are delivered to the line in racks of 10.  If the populations were always in multiples of 14, then the engineer would investigate parts that arrived at the plant in racks of 14.

This pattern can be caught mathematically by using a sliding window, square-wave Fourier type transform.  By mathematically I mean through the use of an algorithm that can be applied without the benefit of human inspection.

This pattern was caused by a worker who would unload the last three parts of every rack onto the floor so the material guy could swap in a full rack of parts.  The parts on the floor splayed open.  The problem was solved by giving the operator three hooks to hold the parts as a temporary buffer during rack change-outs.

This pattern would also trigger the square-wave, Fourier type transform.

This pattern is nicknamed "turn table"
It is very common to have a turn-table that feeds into a robotic cell.  The operator loads parts onto the position that is exposed while the robot processes the parts held in the second set of tools.  Problems arise when the two sets of, supposedly, identical tools drift apart.

Another source of this pattern is when the stream of sub-assemblies is split apart and run down parallel paths and then reblended back into their original order.

This pattern can be caught mathematically by counting reversals.

This pattern repeated every shift.  It was due to flanges on two separate parts colliding.  The second piece would fall to one side of the first piece early in the shift.  Then as the shift progressed and the robot warmed up the thermal expansion of the robot arm caused the second piece to be dropped further away from the robot base.  The second piece started shingling on the other side of the first piece.  There was enough time between shifts for the robot to cool down causing the pattern to repeat.

The engineer solved the problem by repositioning the second piece so the two flanges did not try to occupy the same points in space, thus eliminating the positioning influence of the shingling.

Another variant on this mean shift pattern occurs when the dimensional engineer makes a shim move to a pin and the step does NOT occur...perhaps until much later.  The likely cause of this anomaly is wear of the blocks that grip or clamp the parts down prior to welding.  "Steps" wear in into the blocks that resist the part being positioned by the pin.   This is a problem because the trimmed edges of parts are often less closely controlled than the position of gauge holes.  Positioning, even if incidentally, using trim edges induces more common-cause variation into assemblies.

A business opportunity

It seems to me that automated test score analysis would be a high value-added enterprise for publishers of educational materials.

The publisher has a vested interest in making the purchasers of their products successful.  If that means winnowing through the data and suggesting that a small percentage of individual educators be evaluated for Time-on-Task or Push-teaching (based on patterns within the data) then that is a small price if it improves the delivery of education.

Educational Metrics

Charles Hugh Smith wrote an essay that I think is very perceptive.  All metrics are abstractions of a more complicated reality.  It is easy to get caught up in trying to manage the metric or "the business model" rather than manage the process or the business.

Education is grappling with the methods involved in becoming more outcome focused. Industry went through a similar convulsion as foreign competitors became more capable in terms of volume and quality...even as they retained the currency exchange rate advantage.  Those convulsions thrashed North American industry for about thirty years.  Much resources were squandered.  Many blind alleys were investigated.

Education seems to have stalled out in the "measure it to death" stage of process improvement.  Some of the educators I talk with are exhausted by the constant testing and vaguely defined need to "analyze" the results.

The act of measuring does not automatically improve quality.  Nor does the act of "analysis" guarantee effective action.  Perhaps it is not an accident that "analysis" rhymes with "paralysis".  In most cases, data collection and analysis beyond what is required to diagnose specific, high-runner root-causes is not cost effective.

Root causes of educational failure

Not all causes of educational failure rest with the teacher.  But some causes do.  "Testing" and data gathering should be designed to capture evidence, in real time, of those failures.  The declaration of those shortcomings should be in plain English to better suggest the actions that must be taken to fix them.

There are a limited number of teaching failures. Testing and analysis in excess of what is required to effectively identify those failures is of very limited value.  (In retrospect, I am describing a Process Failure Mode and Effect, PFMEA, approach to education.)


Failure to spend enough time presenting the specified content. I.e., time-on-task.

According to my recollection those teachers fell into two main categories.  The highly distractable:  "Gee Mr. Finch, tell us about the time you went skydiving."  And the terminally disorganized.

Solution: This problem can be diagnosed with a stop-watch.  How many minutes-of-the-hour is the instructor actually presenting the lesson?

Failure to control the classroom behaviors, allowing a chaotic non-learning environment to evolve.

Teachers who fail to break the downward spiral are in trouble.  A businesslike learning environment keeps the students busy and engaged.  Failure to control troublemakers interrupts the learning environment and causes more kids to disengage and start causing trouble.  Use technology...there is no reason to turn your back on the class.  Get the class invested by doing problems on the board.  Bust the troublemaker's chops.  Ask for help.

Solution: This problem can be diagnosed with a sound level meter or by asking the custodians whose room is a mess.

Failure to interact with the class to verify that learning actually occurs during the lesson.  "Push" teaching.

Some teachers call this "teaching the book".  It is an efficient use of instructional time as long as the majority of the students are tracking the material and reassembling the information in their heads.  The problem is when a significant number of students do not learn the required concepts.  Then there is an air bubble in the siphon.  The lesson needs to be retaught, perhaps using an approach that may be more relevant to the student's life experiences.

Every class has a few learners who do not learn efficiently via standard "push" teaching.  Push also becomes a failure when the teacher does not take ownership of teaching the students who require other teaching modalities.

Personal Aside:  Students practicing problems on the chalkboard paired well with "push" teaching.  The students were attentive because they did not want to embarrass themselves in front of their classmates.  Doing the problem provided immediate practice in recalling the concepts and using the skills....most learning failure is not because the knowledge did not get stuffed into the brain but rather because the student cannot access that knowledge when they needed it.

Watching the students perform the tasks provided the instructor of individual and group soft-spots.

Most of the really proficient engineers would do college homework problems on the board with two or three friends.  Doing the problems provided double transparency.  Poor scholarship was exposed and corrected.  Excellent scholarship was copied.

Solution: Testing is a good way to make adjustments to push teaching but the tests must be frequent and focused on the material that was recently presented.  Mid-lesson summary by class holds them accountable for the material and can provide intra-lessson feedback to the instructor.

I open the floor to comments.  I would dearly love to hear of additional "failure modes" that I missed.

Pittbulls: Nature-vs-Nurture

All puppies are cute.  Including the ones that grow up to be wolves.   -Orson Scott Card in The Princess and the Bear

Belladonna and I had a discussion about pitbulls (a breed of dog).  She seemed to have a great deal of investment in convincing me that pitbulls, as a breed, have an undeserved bad rap.  She is of the opinion that it is all a matter of how the owners raise and socialize them.  She bases her opinion on the fact that her friend Val has three pitbulls and they seem to be mellow, stoic dogs.

I suggested that she was naive to base a broad, sweeping characterization of a dog breed on the basis of three dogs that had never been "stressed", that is, exposed to the stimuli that elicits their rage-reaction.  Belladonna did not hear that suggestion well.  She wants to believe that it is all nurture and any organism can be "loved into goodness".

This concerns me as a father

How many good-hearted women have married bums because they were sure they could make something of him?  A thousand?  A million?  A billion?  They were sure they could turn them around, that they could love them into goodness.

As adults we know how this story usually ends.

As adults we accept that there are forces that are greater than our wants, our self-image, and the conceit that we can control all outcomes.  Humility resembles nothing so much as scar tissue remembered.

As loving parents we want to protect our children from as many scars as possible.


Two dogs that have passed through the ERJ household were notable for their instinct.

Sweetie was a Border Collie who came from a working farm.  At a very young age Sweetie would herd animals.  She would drop down into a ludicrous caricature of a jackal stalking through the tall grass....but she was in plain sight.  Sheep are not very smart.  They knew a jackal when they saw one. They moved.

Sweetie even attempted to herd birds as they flew.  Sweetie was a very, very fast runner.  She would sprint to get out ahead of the flock of sparrows that had flushed.  She would get ahead of them and turn and bark, absolutely sure the birds would sweep in the direction she was pressuring them.  It was a source of frustration to her that the birds did not follow the script and respond the way her instincts informed her they should.

In fact, Sweetie's demise was a direct result of her frustrated attempts to herd birds.  The agent of her death was a single bird, a 55 passenger Bluebird school bus.  They don't turn when challenged either.

The other dog we had who exhibited a fatal degree of instinct was Ariel.  Ariel was 3/4 Lab and 1/4 something else. To the best of my knowledge Ariel's bloodline had not been selected for hunting drive for many, many generations.  It mattered not, Ariel was a hunting fool.  Shock collars bent her only slightly.  She was unstoppable.  She would be gone in a tear...gone for hours...over night...and then she did not come back.  I know that I am penning an indictment of my dog owning shortcomings with these stories, but they need to be told.


Pitbulls were selected to fight.  Physically they have disproportionately large necks and heads.  Their jaws are massive even when referenced against the size of their heads.  They are, in effect, an organic ballistic missile for launching bear traps.

The selection pressure on the breed was fierce.  Dogs that shied away from contact were euthanized....or killed in the ring by their opponent.  Dogs that were extraordinarily successful in the ring were very sought after for stud and sired many, many offspring.

This intense selection pressure "fixed" the trait of rage-reaction.  While I am not proud of the fact I have been in a couple of physical altercations in the past 10 years.  One flips to a very primitive "reptilian brain" mode in the adrenaline rush.  Thinking is too slow.  I could not recount any of the conflict beyond the first punch (no, I was not concussed...thank-you for asking).  Sensory occlusion occurred.  I did not feel pain so much as physical shocks...much like sitting too close to the bass speakers at a rock concert. 

My suspicion is that pitbulls drop into that mental state very, very easily and with greater reliability that breeds of dogs that were not selected solely for fighting ability.  Everything is fine. Until it is not.

Another quirk about pitbulls is that they lie in doggy language. Think about the advantage of walking up to another dog while emoting, "Hey buddy, long time no see.  There is no reason to get all torqued up.  Let's just grab a couple of beers and talk this over."  The other dog is disarmed.  An easy grab of the throat and the fight is over.  You may be very good at reading doggy language but it will always be a second language to you.  Pitbulls are such proficient liars that they fool other dogs.  The flip side is that pitbulls are never fully at ease when YOU are emoting peacefullness.  All of the pitbulls that would have been lulled into calmness by that kind of body language were culled from the gene pool by the liars.

But wait...it could be worse

Daniel Carter Beard, author of the American Boy's Handybook was a great proponent of pitbull crosses.  His contention was that there would be a coming to the middle.  The pups would retain the general instincts, though slightly diluted, of the other breed but they would be "manned up" with the inclusion of the pitbull blood.

In practice this can produce some spectacular fails.  Crossing pitbulls with retrieving breeds is one such failure.  Retrieving breeds have a strong chase and mouth instinct.  Any resistance on the part of the subject being mouthed can trigger the reptilian rage of the pitbull part of the dog.  Another cross-from-hell is when an irritable, ill-mannered, ankle-biting line of small dogs is crossed with a pitbull. 

Belladonna may have to be thirty before she can read this without becoming emotionally over-engaged.  Time will tell.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Obamacare Death Panels?

Interesting read HERE.

According to the article, one of the main architects of Obamacare is shilling the idea that people over the age of 40 should go quietly into the night.

The good doctor bases his proposal on aggregate data that presumes to quantify "creative" output suggesting that people over age 40 are in a downhill slide and it is not cost effective to keep them...heck to keep ME....alive.

The Gulag Archipelago

As reported earlier I am slogging my way through Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago.  Frankly, my fellow bloggers who call Obama et al Communists are engaging in hyperbole, just like the liberals who call anybody a NAZI who uses the term "personal responsibility".

Real Communists eat their allies.  They kill the peasants who grow the food.  They kill the engineers who run the trains and water treatment plants.  They kill entire nations.  They executed POWs who were repatriated.  The Communists repeatedly killed off their own leadership.

In the beginning the allies of the Bolsheviks were stunned to the point of being defenseless against the accusations.  "How can you arrest me??  I fought beside you in the great revolution against the imperialist bourgeois.  We were in the same camps and ate the same food.  We are comrades!" 

It mattered not.  They had served their purpose and outlived their usefulness.  In fact, at that moment they became a liability.  The Bolshevik's allies were effective fighters.  They knew where the weapons were stored.  They had a network of sympathizers who would support them.  They knew the weaknesses of the Bolsheviks.  They were a threat!

A case in point:  Union officials were first sent to prison and later executed even though they had been the Bolshevik's staunchest allies.  You see, the USSR was a worker's paradise and there was no need for unions.  Continuance of unions was sabotage because it contradicted the utopian narrative.

Stalin killed off his leadership, Communist leadership, several times over.  Both the political leadership and the military leadership were executed.  That is part of why the Soviets were ineffective during the NAZI invasion.  They were incapable of executing the simplest of military duties like establish a camp with sentries, sanitation, advancing with armor and infantry working in unison.

A trial balloon

Is this doctor's proposal a trial balloon to test public reaction, to see if anybody notices whose ox gets gored?  Obama's electoral success was due, in large part, by the African-American, the Hispanic and women's vote.  Let's look at the following diseases and see how those groups fare.  Most impacted groups highlighted with pink.
  • Heart disease 
  • Cancer
  • Respiratory diseases like Emphasyma
  • Stroke
  • Alzheimer's
  • Diabetes


Heart Disease

...Incident rates as percentage of population Native American men 14.3%, white men 7.7%, black men 7.3%
...Incident rates as percentage of population Native American women 8.4%, black women 5.9%, hispanic women 5.3%   Source


...incidence rates were highest among black men (0.55%), followed by white men (0.49%), Hispanic (0.39%)
...incidence rates were highest among white women (0.41%), followed by black (0.39% ), Hispanic (0.32%)

Lower Respiratory diseases

...incident rates for age group 65-74, women (10.4%) and men (8.3%)



Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death for Americans, but the risk of having a stroke varies with race and ethnicity. Risk of having a first stroke is nearly twice as high for blacks than for whites, and blacks are more likely to die following a stroke than are whites.2 Hispanics’ risk for stroke falls between that of whites and blacks.2 American Indians, Alaska Natives, and blacks are more likely to have had a stroke than are other groups.3"    Source


...the most frequent findings in reviewing this literature are that African Americans and Hispanics have higher prevalence and incidence of dementia and AD than whites. Native Americans appeared to have lower rates of AD in comparison to whites. Asian Americans had rates of dementia comparable to whites;  Source


Incident rate black men 9.9%, hispanic (no gender specified) 9.2%. black women 9.0%, white men 6.5%, white women 5.4%   Source one, Source two


Except for Lower Respiratory Disease, white women will be among the least impacted by "passive" euthanasia policies.

Native Americans are not broken out as a separate group for most studies but they are very highly impacted in those studies that do treat them as a specific group.

Blacks, and specifically black men, are likely to be disproportionately impacted by passive euthanasia policies.

Image from HERE
Obesity may be one of the underlying issues that link several of these diseases and their relative prevalence by race.  With the exception of Mexican Americans there is a strong trend between increasing poverty and increasing obesity.  That suggests that passive euthanasia policies will disproportionately impact the poor.


The preacher instructed his Sunday School Class to think about the legacy they would leave.  He asked them to close their eyes and to visualize the most important people in their lives filing past their casket.

Then he told them to imagine what those friends and family members would say. 
Some of the memories were likely to be ones that we are not proud of.  

Then the preacher asked the class to think about the memories that they wanted to leave.  He asked the class to share what they wanted to be said by the friends and family as they filed past their casket.

Little Johnny blurted out, "Look!  He is moving!!!"


Little Johnny blurted, "Look, its moving!"

Not much, but just the tiniest tremors of life.

Three houses going into this subdivision on M-100 in Potterville.

Gratuitous Eyecandy

Since there is so little new construction to photograph I will throw in a few pictures as filler.

A million dollar view.

But not a million dollar house. They have a deck and a private, spring fed trout pond.  Life is very, very good.

Speaking of views, the owner of this house bought the lot because he was sure he would have a view of Mount McKinley.  He kept adding stories until he was proven right.  Twelve of them.

Speaking of views:  The owner of this house in Willow, Alaska bought the lot because he was sure he would have a view of Mount McKinley.  He kept adding stories until he was proven right.  Hat-tip to 458 Lott at 24hourcampfire.

Sometimes you have to look down instead of up to see the million dollar view.  False Solomon's Seal (Maianthemum racemosum)

Chainsaws and euthanizing Black Locust

There are few tools that are more "manly" than chainsaws.  It is not my intention to disparage women using chainsaws.  In fact, you are much smarter about knocking off for the day when you are getting tired.  People who chainsaw when they are too tired often injure themselves.  The reason they are "manly" is because it helps to have upper-body strength, they make lots of noise and you don't have to keep track of which fork you are using.

Modern chainsaws are better than ever.  By modern, I mean those that are less than, say, ten years old.

The carburetors stay in adjustment.  The bars are ellipsoidal and consequently the chain stays snug much longer and they are easy to disassemble, maintain and reassemble.

I have an inexpensive (maybe $125 new) Poulan "Wild Thing" with an 18" blade.  It was stubborn about running yesterday.  It wanted fresh gas and to have the air filter cleaned. 

While I was messing with it I sharpened the blade.  My sharpening technique would horrify a purist.  I use a 5/32" chainsaw file and give each cutting tooth the same number of licks.  I make a modest effort to keep the angle and pressure the same for each stroke.

Sharp enough to cut this.  Cutting a grove of hybrid poplar that is dying off was yesterday's job.  Stumps left high so I can inoculate them with Oyster Mushroom spawn.
Today's project was to go back to my parent's property and to euthanize the Black Locust that exhibited poor tree form.  They were originally planted on ten foot centers.  This is the second thinning.  I only cut and herbicided about 25% of the trees.  The act is irreversible.

This looks like a simple downward cut and, in fact, it starts out that way.  But the tip is rotated in so the cut plunges below the two ends of the "frown".  Note, this is not a Black Locust stem.  I was not carrying my camera.  This is a stem of NM-6 hybrid poplar that volunteered to be my model.

If this were a straight cut you would be able to see light shining through from the other side of the cut.

Filler-up!  Cut filled with a 4% glyphosate solution dispensed out of a simple garden sprayer.  Folks, garden sprayers are the right tool for dispensing herbicide.  Don't screw around with dish detergent bottles, Windex spray bottles and the like.  Use the tool that is designed to carry pesticides.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Housing Stock

I heard a statistic that seemed a bit goofy.  It came from a credible source so I have been trying to reconcile my beliefs and this information.

"A 2.5% replacement rate of housing stock is "steady state".  That is, it is indicative of a governmental unit that is neither growing or shrinking."

That inverts to 40 year life expectancy for a housing unit.  That seems like a very short time especially in light of the vast amount of resources at are sunk into building a single dwelling.

Part of my difficulty in believing the statistic is that I live in a state that has "old" housing stock.

Image from eyeonhousing.wordpress

Another quirk of personal observation is that it is skewed by survivor bias.  I see the 1920's vintage Sears kit houses and Gingerbread houses that were advantageously placed and maintained.

Observers do not see the house that were destroyed by severe weather or burned down.  We do not see houses that were vacant for two years and destroyed by a leaking roof or a sump pump that ceased working when power to the house was dropped.  Those houses were torn down to avoid blighted neighborhoods.

Construction techniques influence the longevity of the home.  Mobile homes are so named because of their tendency to slide downhill if you don't do a good job propping them up with cinder blocks.  Picture from HERE
Image suggested by GeoW at 24hourcampfire

Rigorous enforcement of local building codes would go a long way to increasing the longevity of dwellings.  There are several places in my house where the stud-wall was doubled-headered on top but the carpenters started/stopped both pieces in the same place rather than over lapping them.  I might never have noticed but they are close to doors and windows which are already natural flex points.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Our house is approaching 40 years of age.  There is a symmetry there as our house is approaching its "retirement" age about the same time we retired.  We already have a list of upgrades to rejuvenate it for the next 40 years.  Windows, doors, drywall, HVAC-wood stove are high on the list.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Overage Fees >8-(

The ERJ blog will be very light for content for the next few days.

We are into "overage" fees with our Internet Service Provider.  We pay about $90/mo for 20G.  When we exceed 20G we pay $10/G.  Of course they very helpfully offer package upgrades.

Kubota and Belladonna both got new (for them) phones this month.  They both downloaded "apps" to personalize their phones.

In the case of Kubota it has been absolutely impossible to convince him that even if he paid for a song or other content that *I* must pay to have it delivered.

So rather than get bled to death I turn off the router.  That makes it a little tough to write the kinds of essays I like to write.  To wit, an essay with between 2 and 5 links that the reader can follow to either verify my story or to enrich their understanding of a given subject.  Sometimes it takes me a while to find a specific image that I remember seeing in earlier travels about the web.

Mrs ERJ cheered me up by dragging me to the local public library.  She has a card!  I/she checked out Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago.  You cannot beat a Russian author when you are feeling a little sorry for your self.  The Gulag Archipelago has been on my book bucket list.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Perry Township, continued

Back to Part I

My reason for contrasting some townships with Perry Township is to highlight the fact that there are some local governments that "get it", while other governmental units are populated by employees who think their responsibilities end with "showing up and putting in their time".  I see no way to pressure their complacency other than by threatening their rice bowl.

My township is OK but not great.  According to the stories I heard Perry Township is great.

Yes, I know that one must be skeptical of stories because the details mutate in the telling.  So this next story is just a "story" because I am too lazy to verify it.  Some of the details are doubtlessly wrong but it will communicate the flavor of Perry Township.

The Story

A trucking company visited the Perry Township Hall and inquired about the availability of properties that met certain specifications....Class A road, within a mile of an entrance to I-69, a certain size footprint...and so on.  There was a property that met those specifications so the trucking company toured it and later bought it.

They were given their permitting package and case number.  After they thought they had their ducks in a row they brought their package into the hall so another set of eyes could look it over and possibly identify items that were missing or not completely done.

One of the reviewers strongly suggested that the company move the "office" portion of the repair area so it was behind a reinforced glass curtain wall.  When asked why the reviewer explained that the fire code laws require automated fire suppression (sprinklers) in areas that repair commercial vehicles when the area of said repair area exceeds 5000 square feet.  The plans showed a repair area a little bit in excess of 5000 square feet.  Moving the "office" to a separate area behind a fire resistant wall reduced the area to just less than 5000 square feet.  IIRC the reviewer at the Township Hall had experience in "industrial estimating". 

The reviewer also noted that the installation of an automated fire suppression system also forced a back-up power system if they facility was not served by a municipal water supply.  The review told the company that Perry Township Downtown Development Authority had access to funding for infrastructure, but that it would take a year to run a city-water stub out to their lot.

One year later the facility had city water.  They year after that the trucking company doubled the size of their facility at that site.

That company likes Perry Township.  The process saved them the time and money of retrofitting a fire suppression system and let them avoid the cost of an automatic generator system by simply moving an interior wall 15 feet and putting two offices behind it.  The township promised city water within a year and the township delivered city water.

Deregulation of Local Government (whimsy)

Distortions in the market occur when there are monopolies.  Typically, a distortion involves the consumer either paying WAY more for good or services than they would otherwise pay, or there is a poverty of choices or the customer must endure absurd waiting periods for items/services that should be commodities.

Two kinds of monopolies are common.

One type is a "natural monopoly".  The power company that owns the local power distribution grid is a form of natural monopoly.  So is the local distributor of natural gas.  In days of yore the phone company that owned the land-lines leading into your home had a natural monopoly. Historically, governments were this kind of monopoly.

Sometimes it is the nature of the product that creates a natural monopoly.  Large landscaping trees might be this kind of monopoly. The rootballs are fragile and weigh many tons.  Because of the nature of the product, it is nearly always more cost effective to purchase from the most local source regardless of how poorly he runs the business.

The other common monopoly is created by collective bargaining, that is, Unions.

The intersection of these two types of monopolies creates an obstacle course that is difficult and time-intensive to navigate.

Consider the permitting processes to run/expand/start a business.  Each level of local government (township, county, state) issues permits for different, unavoidable aspects of running a business.

Consider that an electrician who is issued his journeyman's card has reciprocity in townships, counties and states other than his own. Is there any reason, other than custom, that my residential wiring cannot be "permitted" by the journeyman electrician employed by a neighboring county as an inspector?  The wiring is being permitted on the condition of compliance to the National Electric Code standards.  What is the problem?

Suppose I am trying to start a business in a township that is hostile to business.  In these crappy economic times it may surprise some readers but there still are anti-business townships.  Often, they are bedroom communities and they (the clerks and supervisors) think that there is already too dang much traffic.  Why can't I call up Perry Township Hall in Shiawassee County to get permitted in any county in Michigan?  THERE IS NO VACANT COMMERCIAL PROPERTY IN PERRY TOWNSHIP!

That is because Perry Township is pro-business.  They understand time is money.  They prepare a tailor-made punchlist of the permits required for your type of business.  The punchlist includes a list of the supporting documentation that the businessman must provide.  They include a phone number and a case number. You, as a businessman, call that number when you have your ducks all in a row.  The township schedules a meeting where all of the permitting entities have representation.  The businessman's submissions are inspected and they have a signing party.  It is much like when you close on a house.  BAM!  DONE!

Part II, Perry Township 

Other services

Telephone service is, well, a service.  When Ma Bell was deregulated she had to allow competitive carriers access to her infrastructure and to unbundle packages.

The fastest growing segment of most state budgets is corrections.  Surely, given the fact that a computer with the computational power of an 1970 IBM mainframe sits on every horizontal surface in government offices it is possible to unbundle the cost of corrections.

As a taxpayer I want to purchase my "corrections" services from Kentucky at $15,000 per inmate year rather than my home state of Michigan at $28,000 per year.  Any person who commits a felony against ME would receive the gentle ministrations of the Kentucky penal system rather than Michigan's....where Judge Giddings ruled that convicts have a constitutional right to color TVs and Cable.  The fine citizens of New York state would gain even more.  Their per inmate cost is north of $60K/year.  Data from HERE.

Corrections is just a start.

If Michigan spends $10,800 per pupil and North Carolina spends $8,300 per pupil, why can't I purchase this service from North Carolina and have it vendored through to my local education outlet, just like buying natural gas, or electricity.  I buy the product and pay a small fee for the rental of the delivery system.  It is not as if my kids will be shorted by having to study North Carolina state history. If anything they will get more as North Carolina was one of the original 13 colonies. And the state universities in North Carolina are easily on par with those in Michigan.  As with corrections, taxpayers in New York State have even more to gain. Their per student cost is a bit more than $19K per pupil.  Data from HERE.