Friday, June 23, 2017

Why Are Igloos Parabolic

NYTimes had an article on the vanishing art and science of building an igloo.  It's very interesting--my interest was particularly tweaked by the statement that igloos were not semicircular (or hemispheres) in shape but parabolic.

Why is that?  Google provides the answer:
"The bonded ice crystal structure of sintered snow holds up well under compression; it can bear substantial weight without crumbling. Under tension, however, the same block of snow would easily be torn apart with very little force. For this reason, a cross-section of an igloo more resembles a parabolic arch than a hemisphere" Architecture Week
With a semicircle, the portion of the walls which meet the ground are basically vertical, while the vector of the force from gravity is at an angle to the ground, the two are not aligned and the weight of the snow blocks above pushes out.  With a parabola, the portion of the walls next to the ground are aligned with the force pushing down down.

That paragraph was a struggle--too bad I can't go back to high school math to refresh my comprehension of vectors, etc.  

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Attention Mr. Bezos: Adjuncts and Prison Classes

Bezos has asked for ideas on how to use his money for immediate impact, as opposed to long-range improvements.

I'd suggest funding classes for convicts.  Occasionally there are reports of successful programs of this kind: Bard College is one I've read about.  Seems to me it fits Bexos' criteria: the promise of near instant significant impact and a space where there don't seem to be other philanthropists venturing.

No Nominees for USDA Positions

Mr. Perdue is getting lonely.  See this Post database for status on Trump's progress in filling positions.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Security Through Chaos

An Atlantic piece on how our political system is so chaotic there's no way to know how compromised our elections are.

That's the wisdom of our Founding Fathers--by giving us a federal system with elections administered at local and state levels they ensured it would be hard to get an overall view of the system, but it's also hard to subvert the whole system, simply because there isn't one.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Reducing Prisons

Vox has a piece discussing a proposal to replace prisons with mandatory labor and geolocation--i.e., let the convict work to compensate his victim or society, but with an ankle bracelet.

It appeals to my squishy liberal heart.  However, I note that the Kentucky doctor who bilked Social Security of hundreds of millions of dollars by approving disability claims has now vanished.  He was out on bail with an ankle bracelet, but cut it off and vamoosed.  

That's not to say the proposal is totally impractical, but it could work only by a trade off of the difficulty of removing the bracelet, the likelihood of evading recapture, the gains of freedom, and the consequences of recapture.

Monday, June 19, 2017

In Defense of Trump (?)

Lots of people, including my favorite blogger Kevin Drum, poke fun at our president for tweeting about his 50 percent favorable rating in the Rasmussen poll.  I'd like to defend him a bit: part of the reason Rasmussen is an outlier apparently is the different universe it's polling.  Rather than "all voters" or "registered voters" which other pollsters seem to be using, Rasmussen is using "likely voters". I'm guessing they are basing their judgments as to whether a respondent is likely to vote based on whether the person voted in 2016.  In addition, they've tended to have a pro-Republican "house" effect.  So the bottom line is Rasmussen is saying that Trump's voters still believe in him, which isn't exactly news.  The other pollsters are saying that the Clinton voters and non-voters are more and more turning against Trump, which also isn't news.

Saying No to an Illegal Request

Ezra Klein has a piece on Comey and Trump. David Ignatius has another.  The last paragraph:
"Comey’s personal ethical dilemmas are now interwoven with the nation’s political history. It’s the stuff of high drama — the temporizing ethicist meets the amoral bulldozer. The story didn’t have a happy ending for Comey — or, it seems, for the country."

A question, asked by Sen. Feinstein, is why Comey didn't take a stronger stand if he perceived Trump's request as illegitimate, illegal even.  Comey says he wasn't strong enough.

I've sympathy with his quandry.  I remember in the 1990's (1992) receiving a call from a person in my chain of command asking me to donate to the Ranchers and Farmers PAC (Jeffress Wells, now deceased).  This was a violation of the Hatch Act and indeed Wells and two other people were found guilty of a misdemeanor violation for their actions--soliciting political funds using government time and facilities.  But while I refused, I was weak.  I said I had already given to the Dems (which may have been a lie, but I did contribute during that election season).  That gave me sufficient leverage to argue my way out of giving.

So like Comey I didn't stand up and say: "that would be wrong, you're violating the law, etc."  Why not?  For me, I was taken by surprise and I'm rarely very good when I'm surprised.  I didn't have the Hatch Act at the tip of my tongue; indeed I never thought of the law until months/years later when the case hit the papers (and a House subcommittee started investigating). I also tend to be ambivalent with authority, trusting it most of the time and fighting it some of the time. So the emotions of standing up to authority, I'd worked with Jeff for 23 years off and on, didn't like him particularly but still, undermined the ability to go further and take a principled stand rather than just an evasive one.

I don't often remember this story, because it's not one I'm particularly proud of.  When I do remember it, as now, it reminds me to be a bit more sympathetic to others who were faced with an illegal request, but whose response was less than a blast on their whistle.

The rest of the story?  I think Wells may have discussed, rather hinted at, the consequences of not giving, but I can't be sure.  Nor can I be sure that later, after Clinton won and Wells was one of the people given power in the transition over the future organization of ASCS, there was any connection between my refusal and the proposed dissolution of the branch I was heading.  Jeff and I had a couple run-ins in this general time period--I was working closely with the ASCS "trail boss", linked with the Republicans, trying to reengineer our systems and Jeff wanted to kill it--NIH.  Whether the refusing donations preceded that, or not, I don't remember.

The way things came out, Jeff didn't achieve as much power in the new organization as he had hoped and my branch had impressed enough people with their work that we stayed together.  Though I was worried for a good while.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Types of Bureaucrats

World Bank has a piece on types of bureaucrats in developing countries, applying a typology from an old board game.

Players may select one of four lifestyles, each with its own advantages and disadvantages: lifer, over achiever, empire builder, or hustler. To be promoted from level to level, a player will need the required number of promotional prerequisites and that's where the fun comes in. All sorts of things can happen. Players may be demoted. They may be involved in scandals. They may become involved in power plays. They may have to go before a Grievance Committee. A player may even go bankrupt and have to start all over from the bottom again. There is no one sure formula for success. Players will have to stay out of trouble and use all their cunning to succeed.

Interesting Take on the South

Kevin Williamson has been getting more of my attention lately.  Perhaps I'm getting more conservative as I get older?
As recently as the 1960s, much of the South was in effect a Third World country within the borders of the United States, complete with corrupt and ineffective government, poverty, and the associated social pathologies. The economic rise of the South did not make New England, the Mid-Atlantic states, or the Midwest poorer — it made them richer, providing them with new markets and new opportunities for production.

Read more at:

Friday, June 16, 2017

Proof on the Ground of Global Warming

FiveThirtyEight has a post describing the NOAA and USDA climate maps.  There's differences in data sources and methodology as well as aim, but they do show the gradual movement north of climate zones.

Global warming skeptics like to challenge temperature histories, claiming scientists change the data to fit preconceived ideas.  I view that as highly unlikely, but the most reliable evidence of global warming is: show me the money.  When people spend their money, as in cruises through the Northwest Passage or in changing what plants they raise, that's good solid evidence.