Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Another boycott

I am boycotting United Airlines. Not because they pummeled a passenger for being unwilling to be "re-accommodated," but because flying in general is a miserable experience and United is the worst of the worst. Denver is 650 miles away. You can say I have no choice but United when flying from FSD to DEN, which is true, but I have a choice besides flying. I would rather spend all day driving across scenic Nebraska than subject myself to being stuck in a tube and flung across the sky.

Fortunately, as of yesterday, I am unemployed and won't have to fly to one of the coasts anytime soon.

I've always had two rules about investing. Never buy auto companies, and never buy airlines. United's stock got pummeled like an elderly doctor after the incident. It probably will recover in the short term, but in the long term an airline stock is just too volatile for anyone but speculators.

Final takeaway: In my 30 years of business travel, I noticed that hotels got a lot better and airlines got a lot worse. Why is that? Hotels started feeding customers and airlines stopped, but that's just a small part of it. I usually enjoy staying in hotels, the Embassy Suites in San Diego being a rare exception, but flying is a descent into hell. I haven't even mentioned the power-mad pervs at TSA. I don't know what the global solution is, but for me the solution is to avoid airports as much as possible.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Boycott?

Some conservative types say the Oscars should be boycotted because dimwitted Hollywood types will spend all night attacking Trump. But in my case, is it really a boycott if I never intended to watch? I watch movies, but I don't watch movie award shows. Let's put it in terms of sports. I watch sports, but I think the Espys awards show is the stupidest thing ever. Brady is great, not because he got voted as MVP or All-Pro or Espy winner X number of times, but because he has won more games and Super Bowls than any quarterback ever. No one got to vote on that. An actor isn't great because they won an Oscar, they are great because of their work. I mean, William Shatner has never won an Oscar. C'mon!

Monday, February 20, 2017

What were they thinking?

One of the great things about living in flyover country is most of the left-wing nuts live on the coasts, and the right-wing nuts who live here are mostly harmless. But every once in a while, Progressives discover a cause that brings them in contact with the middle of America.

Such was the case with the Dakota Access pipeline. Despite the fact that it isn't much different than hundreds of pipelines that already exist, its construction in North Dakota became a cause celebre. Leo flew in on his private jet that apparently runs on sunbeams, not the oil that is the reason the pipeline is being built. The Green Party presidential candidate got in the act by publicly committing vandalism. Up to 4,000 people camped at the remote site for six months.

Now as we approach spring, the Corps of Engineers, the county, and the Standing Rock tribe are frantically trying to clean up the site before spring floods wash months of excrement and garbage into the Missouri River, polluting the very water supply that the protesters claimed they wanted to protect.

What were these activists thinking when they encouraged thousands of people to join them in a desolate area miles from the nearest toilet and stay there for months? The answer is, they weren't thinking. They were just going around protesting and being outraged and never once considering that they are ridiculous hypocrites causing the type of environmental disaster they claimed to be against.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Art of Being Scientific

The movie 1984 was on TV last night, which got me thinking about groupthink. According to Psychology Today, "Groupthink occurs when a group values harmony and coherance over accurate analysis and critical evaluation. It causes individual members of the group to unquestioningly follow the word of the leader and it strongly discourages any disagreement with the concensus." The book on which the movie is based came out in 1949, but George Orwell's message seems unheeded 68 years later. It is disconcerting to see many college campuses become bastions of intolerant Progressive groupthink. One example of Progressive groupthink is:

"The science is settled."

Any time you hear those words, check to see if your wallet is missing.

The words are used to justify an aggressive agenda regarding climate change. The chain of reasoning is (a) there is climate change, (b) it is caused by humans, (c) there are actions humans can take to slow or reverse climate change, (d) therefore the United States should discourage or ban use of all types of fossil fuels. Dispute any link in that chain of statements and one can get labeled as a "denier," an intentional use of disparaging language by Progressives to link their opponents with lunatics who deny the Holocaust. According to this line of reasoning, "science" dictates that item (d) must happen, therefore anyone who disagrees is anti-science.

Science is a method of inquiry. It is never settled. There is always more to be discovered. To claim otherwise, to claim that you are in possession of the only truth, is unscientific. My personal view on the above statements, if anyone cares, is (a) has been true for billions of years, (b) is true but we don't know to what extent, (c) if true are probably unachievable, and (d) would be a futile gesture in a world where billions of Chinese, Indians and Africans aspire to a higher standard of living and are going to keep burning coal and oil.

What happens when Progressives line up on the other side of the science debate? An example is the fight against GMOs (genetically modified organisms). See this link about golden rice, which could help cure many diseases linked to vitamin A deficiency. Groups such as Greenpeace would deny this benefit to millions of people in the underdeveloped world due to unproven suppositions that GMOs are inherently bad. I found the following quote in this interesting link about former anti-GMO activist Mark Lynas:

"One of the case studies that really changed my mind about this was the saga of golden rice, which was developed to be vitamin A-enhanced, because something like a quarter million children per year die from a vitamin A deficiencies in developing countries, particularly in South Asia ... Greenpeace has been waging a campaign to stop this rice from ever being developed ... You can make a pretty strong case that tens of thousands of children have died because they were denied access to this purely because it's GM, and there is a ideological bias against that."

The problem, not just with Progressives but with adherents of many beliefs, is they tend to look for information confirming their biases rather than being truly skeptical. Society today has too many believers and not enough skeptics. In that way, have we really advanced much since the religious inquisitions of Medieval Europe? Now, instead of religious zealots, we have environmental zealots. But only 2,000 deaths were attributed to the Spanish Inquisition, so it can be argued that the social justice warriors at Greenpeace have killed far more people than those reviled monsters from history. Warriors indeed.

Maybe we rely on belief and groupthink because the universe is so complicated that it is impossible for one person to understand more than a small fraction of what the human race has discovered, and so much remains undiscovered. When it comes to science and the man on the street, a certain amount of faith is necessary. I have no way to prove that the sun is 93 million miles away, but there don't seem to be any sun distance deniers out there so I feel safe in accepting that someone has proven that the sun is 93 million miles away. But as the questions become more complicated, skepticism is necessary for scientists and even for the man on the street.

About 90 years ago Edwin Hubble discovered that there are other galaxies and the universe is expanding. After getting over that shock, the scientific community then presumed that the expansion was slowing because, well, it just made sense that it had to be because everything in the universe has gravity. In 1998, two groups tried to measure how much the expansion was slowing and instead both came up with the startling conclusion the expansion is accelerating for some reason no one yet understands. It is said that dark energy is causing the acceleration, but that term was invented to represent something that is completely unknown. It seems to be dark, and it seems to be energy, but other than that we are clueless.

Is it possible for me to truly believe that the universe is expanding? "Believe" is too strong a word. For now, based on everything I've read and subject to future discoveries about the nature of dark energy, I accept that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. There, is that nuanced enough? But that simply says beliefs should be challenged and acknowledges that we have so much more to learn. In attempting to answer one question, rather than settling the issue the unexpected answer raised many more questions, and that's how science works.

The true deniers are those who deny skepticism for they would condemn us to groupthink and stagnation. Orwell warned us, and we should heed.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Uber Positive

One of the bright lights of the new economy is the ride-sharing service Uber. There's a short 46-page book now available, Uber Positive, that describes the motivation behind opposition to Uber in New York City from the entrenched taxi medallion owners and blowhard Progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio. The opposition has nothing to do with safety and consumer protection, just the effort of a highly-leveraged medallion owner to cover his ass by enlisting the support of sympathetic politicians. And "enlisting the support" of course follows the legalized form of bribery known as campaign contributions.

The author is a brilliant young man named Jared Meyer. And I'm not just saying that because he's my cousin Julie's son. He pops up from time to time on Stossel and other Fox News/Fox Business shows.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Smug

The LA Times recently carried a delusional op-ed about how a small band of plucky grass roots organizers were victorious in passage of a South Dakota ballot measure for public financing of political campaigns.

Like so much surrounding Initiated Measure 22, this is a load of crap. The public finance aspect of this 34-page measure was NEVER mentioned by proponents in their advertising, which by the way was largely financed by out-of-state Progressives. The advertising implied that South Dakota elected officials were thieves who needed to be reigned in by creation of an ethics board and limitations on gifts. I believe the measure gained traction because of a high-profile case of unelected bureaucrats stealing from a Native American education program. Elected officials were guilty of inadequate oversight of the program, but not of corruption. I believe nothing in the measure does anything to address the issues raised by this notorious case, but 52% of the voters were motivated to pass something, anything to crack down on government ethics.

The op-ed piece rightly gives credit to the extremely smug Rick Weiland for this victory. After Weiland lost the Senate race in 2014 by 50-30 to Mike Rounds (arguably the weakest prominent Republican in the state) and other Democrats experienced similar drubbings, the op-ed notes that Mr. Smug turned to promoting ballot measures. Weiland and his henchmen found three issues where they could find out-of-state money to back them. It's somewhat ironic that the only one that passed with this massive outsider financial support was IM 22, which was supposedly about campaign finance reform.

The benefit of having a Constitution at both the state and federal level is it is more difficult for demagogues to seize on transitory issues. IM 22 appropriates $12 million from the state general fund for public campaign financing. This aspect of the measure may be unconstitutional because only the current legislature can appropriate funds for the current year, and cannot write a law binding future legislatures to make specific appropriations. (The other aspects of the law could be a pain in the ass for candidates but don't really matter to most citizens.) I will rejoice when this ridiculous drain on the state treasury is declared invalid. The $12 million is better spent on roads and schools.

Update: In his 2017 proposed budget, the governor has recommended that the legislature appropriate $0 to the public financing fund. In other words, go f--- yourself, Rick Weiland, we have priorities other than your stupid slush fund.

Another update: The Legislature repealed the law. There are some bills being considered to reinstate pieces of it. But Rick Weiland's slush fund will not be one of them.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Pandering to the Right

Out of the blue, Donald tweeted that flag burners should be punished with a year in jail or loss of citizenship. Why he's bringing up this issue now is questionable. Is he trying to put Progressives on the defensive, forcing them to defend flag burning? Or is he just pandering and trying to show conservatives how tough he is? As is often the case, Donald is on shaky legal ground. First, the Supreme Court has ruled that flag burning is a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment. Second, as Andrew Napolitano has pointed out, citizenship cannot be taken from a natural-born citizen, and can only be stripped from naturalized citizens in very rare instances. I thought Kellyanne Conway took away Donald's Twitter account during the campaign to shut down the stupid tweet pipeline. Apparently it's back in production.

When I was young, it seemed as though the Constitution was something that had always existed and therefore always would exist. Recently it occurred to me that 25% of American history has occurred since my birth. This demonstrates that the guarantee of free speech really hasn't existed for very long on the cosmic scale of things, and it should not be taken for granted. The First Amendment and the other rights guaranteed to us in the Constitution need to be protected constantly from the control freaks at both ends of the political spectrum.

The country is not the flag. The country is the people who consent to be a part of it. Soldiers don't put their lives on the line to protect a symbol, no matter how powerful; they do it to protect the people who live in the country represented by that symbol. People have Constitutional protection, symbols do not.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Education

Eliminating the Department of Education has been a fashionable idea ever since it was brought into existence during the oh-so-memorable (for all the wrong reasons) Carter administration. Since then, the bureaucracy has done nothing but grow. Now school districts and colleges must abide by the dictates of the Obama administration or risk losing a huge chunk of their funding. Under a more conservative Trump administration, the dictates may change but the risk remains: Do what bureaucrats in Washington tell you, or else. The Department of Education is a political weapon, and the nation would be better off if neither the Democrats nor the Republicans were able to wield it.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

On the other hand...

I admit my biases. I target Progressives the most because they work tirelessly to grow Big Brother and take away liberty. But sometimes the religious right rises up and proposes something stupid. I'm not going to spell out a lot of background here, so Google "bathroom bill" if you don't know what I'm writing about.

North Carolina passed a bathroom bill recently and has lost quite a few concerts and sporting events because of it. The NBA took its All-Star Game out of Charlotte even though the City of Charlotte passed an ordinance taking the "correct" side. In a state where basketball is king, the NCAA has taken its tournaments out and given them to other states.

In my state of South Dakota, the legislature passed a similar bill last session, but Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard vetoed it. His veto message steered clear of the emotionally-charged language used by both sides and addressed only practical matters:

"It removes the ability of local school districts to determine the most appropriate accommodations for their individual students and replaces that flexibility with a state mandate. If and when these rare situations arise, I believe local school officials are best positioned to address them. Instead of encouraging local solutions, this bill broadly regulates in a manner that invites conflict and litigation, diverting energy and resources from the education of the children of this state.

"Preserving local control is particularly important because this bill would place every school district in the difficult position of following state law while knowing it openly invites federal litigation. Although there have been promises by an outside entity to provide legal defense to a school district, this provision is not memorialized in the bill. Nor would such defense eliminate the need for school or state legal counsel, nor avoid expenses relating to expert witnesses, depositions and travel, or other defense costs. Nor does the commitment extend to coverage over settlement or damage expenses. This law will create a certain liability for school districts and the state in an area where no such liability exists today."

Whether the 2017 Legislature will reconsider a bill remains to be seen, but one proponent wants to collect signatures and get it onto the 2018 ballot. I'm guessing the Libertarian position would be to oppose such a bill on principle, but I'm opposed to it for purely practical reasons: Sioux Falls has a new arena to pay for, and as a city taxpayer I'm concerned it may not pay for itself if the state draws the ire of the NCAA and concert performers. What we have is a solution in search of a problem and two emotional sides waging a pointless battle that causes expensive collateral damage.

Death of a Dictator

A word of advice to Colin Kaepernick: If you want to be credible when you speak out against oppression, don't put yourself in the position of attacking some oppressors by defending others, namely the murderous dictator Fidel Castro. Shortly before the death of Fidel this week, Kaepernick did just that. Your praise of an oppressive regime suggests that your stance is contrived and political rather than heartfelt and humanitarian. Yes, Cuba has lots of schools and hospitals, but as you visit South Florida this weekend, there are hundreds of thousands of Cubans who would be happy to share their experiences under Fidel's evil dictatorship if you would just care to listen. The world is a better place today now that Fidel is dead.

Update: The Miami linebacker who stuffed Kaepernick on the last play of Sunday's game happens to be the son of a Cuban father. Kiko Alonso spoke for most Cuban-Americans when he said he felt some "bad blood" going into the game. Kaepernick's comments after the game were muddled as he tried to play both sides, continuing to praise the totalitarian Cuban system but claiming that didn't mean he supported the oppression that is integral to Castro's creation.