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John Fitzpatrick

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Football stadiums and conservatives [Feb. 4th, 2016|09:54 pm]
John Fitzpatrick
The NFL Rams team has announced that they will leave St. Louis and move to Los Angeles. That is unhappy news for St. Louis, on several levels.

Not only does St. Louis lose the prestige of having an NFL team, it retains the stadium -- and its financing payments. St. Louis built the stadium and the Rams simply played there. St. Louis also maintains (note the present tense) the property and pays for the debt incurred when building it. The city pays 6 million per year, the county pays an additional 6 million, and the state of Missouri pays 12 million (per year).

The Rams paid $500,000 per year to use the stadium.

Such awkward funding leads me to wonder about the conservatives. Are they not concerned about such deals? State and local governments, spending tax dollars to support one specific industry -- I can think of several conservative groups that should be complaining.

First, the originalists. They focus on the U.S. Constitution and maintain the view that the federal government should do what is explicit in the constitution -- and no more. Yet such logic can be applied to state and local governments: States should do what is specified in their constitutions, and nothing more. Cities and towns should do what is specified in their charters, and nothing more. I'm fairly sure that no state constitution and no city charter mentions "football stadium".

Second, the small-government conservatives. They believe in small governments; the smaller the better. What business does a city have in subsidizing a football team?

Third, the tax-rate conservatives. They strive for lower tax rates at every opportunity. Paying for such stadiums is a a drain on city resources (the economic activity surrounding football games does not offset the costs) and therefore requires higher tax rates.

Fourth, the anti-moocher conservatives. They object to government handouts. If the (relatively small) amount spent on homeless shelters is "unjust wealth redistribution", they should complain all the more at the (relatively large) subsidy to football.

Fifth, the free-market conservatives. They object to government intervention in markets. Subsidizing a football team's stadium is quite an influence in the market.

Yet I do not hear objections to football teams, or more specifically, the subsidies that they receive.

If you consider yourself a conservative, help me understand. Am I missing something?
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Hiring a president [Jan. 28th, 2016|09:41 am]
John Fitzpatrick

In the commotion surrounding the primaries, caucuses (cauci?), and election, I try to focus on the task at hand and what it is not. The task is hiring a president for the country; it is not winning a contest or proving the "other side" wrong.

Hiring a person is a rather mundane task, sometimes with no perfect solution, many times with several solutions that are all acceptable.

The job description for president is long. A president must be knowledgeable in many areas, including: law (constitutional law and law enforcement); budgeting and national spending; domestic issues such as farming, disaster recovery, energy (oil, gas, coal, hydroelectric, wind, and solar), transportation (automobile, trucking, rail, and air), social security and medicare, and environmental issues; international issues such as trade relations (China, Canada, India, Japan, Germany), conflicts (the Middle East, Russia), end economics. A president must meet with other heads of state, and appear at ceremonial functions within our own country. He (or she) must prepare an annual budget and present it to congress.

Such a list is too long for a single person, and the president appoints members to his cabinet to advise him. Beyond the cabinet, there are offices with lawyers, analysts, and other folks to assist in the job.

So when electing a president, the real question is: which candidates can assemble an informed cabinet and effective support team?

This is a very different question from the typical election-period questions, yet probably more important. Our government is built to be slow and deliberate; we elect a president and not a king. The president must work with congress and develop solutions jointly.

In this light, let's review our current candidates:

Martin O'Malley: My favorite, so he goes first. I've spoken with him; he is intelligent, knowledgeable, and capable. As mayor of Baltimore he implemented (or his team implemented) programs to collect and track data for issues in the city (from crime to potholes) which let him hold district managers accountable. (Previous administrations used a casual, who-knows-who system that saw repairs and initiatives handled inconsistently.)

Hillary Clinton: Certainly knowledgeable of national and international affairs. A Democrat in good standing and capable of obtaining cabinet members. Will have strong opposition from Republican members of congress (as will all Democratic presidents).

Bernie Sanders: Knowledgeable and experienced. Will have strong opposition from Republicans. May have resistance from Democrats.

Ted Cruz: Experience as senator, yet no accomplishments. His experience is limited to blocking legislation. Has poor relations with other members of congress, may have difficulty reaching agreements.

Marc Rubio: Experience as a senator. Better relations with members of congress than Cruz, which is an advantage in achieving goals.

Jeb Bush: Experience as governor of Florida, a large state with both urban and rural areas. Knowledgeable of domestic and international affairs. Family will help with ties to folks for cabinet and staff.

John Kasich: Experience as governor of Ohio, a large state with both urban and rural areas. Probably the least repellent to Democrats; good possibility of reaching agreements.

Paul Rand: Experience as senator. Strong knowledge of international affairs. Knowledge of budget and spending. Libertarian leanings may make it difficult to find cabinet members who share his beliefs and almost impossible to draft new legislation that will appeal to Democrat and Republican congressmen.

Chris Christie; Experience as governor of New Jersey, a small state (geographically) with large population split between urban, suburban, and rural areas. Willing to compromise. Seems to have no friends or allies, but also not beholden to extreme groups.

Donald Trump: Businessman, no experience in politics. May try to run the government as a corporation, a sure formula for failure. Expect strong opposition from Democrats and Republicans. Not beholden to extreme groups. Seems to be an opportunist, which means he will compromise when necessary to obtain his goals. Not sure that this candidate is looking out for the best interests of the country.

There is a long list of candidates. The ones I have listed, in my opinion, have a chance at the job.

So the question is: which of these candidates are acceptable? Which will be an effective president? I keep in mind that our union has survived many presidents, good and bad. The object here is not to pick the best and vilify the others, but to list those that would be "okay".

So here is my list of acceptable presidents:

Martin O'Malley
Hillary Clinton
Jeb Bush
John Kasich
Chris Christie

Any of these, in my opinion, can get the job done. The other candidates, should they win, will have a very difficult time.

I'm not going to get emotionally wrapped up in the primaries and election. I'm not going to be happy at "winning" the election. (I didn't win, the candidate did.) Nor will I be depressed if my one candidate loses, for I have multiple candidates that I consider acceptable.
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Movie: Strike Me Pink [Jan. 24th, 2016|04:13 pm]
John Fitzpatrick

I recently watched the vintage movie "Strike Me Pink", which I found on VHS for free.

I found it entertaining and imaginative. It's a 1930s musical comedy, with Eddie Cantor and Ethel Merman. If you like those sorts of movies, you will probably enjoy this one. (If you cannot stand old black-and-white movies, you will probably find little to like.)

Being a Depression-era movie, its job is to entertain and distract (from harsh reality) and it does the job. The (unbelievable) plot revolves around the main character (Pink) and his desire to be a man and not a mouse.

He becomes the manager of an amusement park, and eventually becomes the hero as he beats the mobsters who are trying to put slot machines in the park. He also wins the girl.

I enjoy these movies not only for the comedy (which is good natured) but also as a window into a bygone era. There are some scenes filmed in the amusement park (called "Dreamland" in the movie) which look like it was in an actual amusement park of the day. I find it interesting to see the actual buildings and signs.

There is also a scene shot in a Ferris wheel cage, and looking in the background one can see the George Washington Bridge. It was a stock shot, shown on a screen behind the actors, but it is there. (The shot was taken at Palisades Park.)

There are a number of action scenes at the end, including a chase on a roller coaster. Depression-era movies had no computer graphics; everything you see actually did appear in front of a camera -- although tricks could be used. These tricks include the "film behind the actors" and interspersing shots on scene with close-up shots in a studio.

Worth the price (zero cost and two hours to watch).
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National Review is disturbed by Trump [Jan. 22nd, 2016|09:47 pm]
John Fitzpatrick
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The folks at National Review let loose this week with a multi-article barrage against Donald Trump's candidacy for president. Their attitude should surprise no one; they have opposed Trump since the beginning of his campaign. The volume and intensity of this week's columns indicates that the normally staid National Review has become nervous.

Other conservative media opposes Trump (RedState.com comes to mind) but the shrieks from National Review indicate terror if not panic. Such rants have not been seen from the organization that "stands athwart history and yells 'stop!'".

I believe that there may be something bothering the folks at National Review, something that distresses them more than a Trump presidency.

National Review sees itself as the leader of the conservative movement in this country. The problem, just beginning to enter the minds of the editors, is that they are not leading.

Trump, or rather his followers, are the proof of the problem. They attend rallies. They call in to talk radio shows. They make their presence known.

Trump is not a conservative -- a point on which conservative and liberal media agree -- yet he has appropriated a large portion of the conservative following. "How can this be?" the editors must be thinking. "It is as if they have not been reading our magazine!"

That is the thought that begins the trail. Trump's followers are not dyed-in-the-wool conservatives. They may have voted for Republicans in the past (and they may in the future) but their votes are probably cast against Democrats and against liberals, not necessarily *for* conservatives or conservatism.

Such a thought can only mean that the conservative movement is smaller than the editors of National Review imagined, and -- worse -- their influence on the public is smaller than they thought. They are less important than they considered themselves.

At least, this is the chain of thinking. I believe that only the first few links have entered the minds of the editors, yet the idea is there, and the conservative ego refuses to acknowledge such a humbling notion. They are in denial.

The next few weeks will enlighten us. The Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primaries will (quite likely) be favorable to Trump. How National Review reacts will be interesting.
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Economic modelling, static and dynamic [Jan. 10th, 2016|02:22 pm]
John Fitzpatrick
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Each year, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analyzes proposed laws and makes projections for the economy.

The CBO uses static analysis, which makes several simplifying assumptions about the results of laws.

Conservatives frequently look for a different type of analysis: dynamic analysis. They make the argument for this type of analysis when advocating reductions in tax rates. Lower rates, the argument invariably goes, will result in increased economic activity, and therefore that increase in activity will lead to an increase in tax revenue -- even at reduced rates. (The static analysis makes no such assumption, and liberals insist on the static method.)

Dynamic analysis is suitable only for tax rates, apparently, as conservatives use static analysis when considering other issues. A recent article in "National Review" claimed that, due to an increase in the minimum wage, restaurant managers would have to cut back on staff, in order to pay the remaining staff the higher wages. Thus, lamented the author, "you Big Mac will be colder".

Liberals, when considering in increase in the minimum wage, often resort to dynamic analysis (although they do not use the phrase). They assume that an increase in the minimum wage will provide more disposable income which will be spent in the local community. Thus, an increase in the minimum wage will increase the expense to the restaurant manager, but will also provide increased income as more people can afford to visit the establishment.

I see no evidence that liberals are aware of this shift from static to dynamic analysis. I also see no evidence that conservatives are aware of their inconsistent use of static and dynamic models.

Static analysis is, in fact, incorrect. When reducing tax rates, there is an effect on the economy. The static modelling method is just that -- a model -- and all models are incorrect in that they omit factors and make simplifying assumptions.

Yet the dynamic model is also incorrect. We don't have the math to represent the changes caused by a reduction of tax rates. Conservatives take the numbers, adjust and massage them, and settle on factors that provide the desired results.

Of the two, I tend to trust the liberals. This is not due to the cogency of their arguments, but rather the fact that liberals recognize the faults of both models. Liberal publications and web sites post descriptions of static and dynamic analysis, and the deficiencies of both. Conservatives use the more convenient type but focus only on their main argument; they make no mention of the problems of modelling.

When reading articles about tax rates, or reductions in tax rates, or budgets, or minimum wage laws, I keep in mind that both static and dynamic models are available, and that both are inaccurate to some degree. I look instead to the author and check their motivations. Are they explaining to enlighten? Are they arguing to win politically? Then I read the article.
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Back to Babylon 5 [Jan. 4th, 2016|09:34 pm]
John Fitzpatrick
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Babylon 5 is a favorite, and also a memory.

It goes back to an age before Netflix, before the web, and before the internet. (Well, the internet did exist at the time, but not for us mortals.)

At the time Babylon 5 aired (on over-the-air television, not cable) but it was not an easy task to watch it. The schedule for episodes varied, sometimes every week. Episodes also repeated during the season, so one could not simply watch episodes in order.

It was also an age when one had to work to find books. This was also before amazon.com and ordering books on the internet -- or even finding information about books and authors on the web. Friends shared information about books at parties and gatherings. Finding popular authors was relatively easy; finding obscure authors and books was harder. Finding out-of-print books was even more difficult -- that involved going to used book stores and searching the shelves, manually. (How primitive!)

Finding episodes of Babylon 5 and books by those obscure authors required effort, and that extra effort added to the joy of finding a new episode, a new book, or a new author.

I won't make this a rant about how "things were better back then", because, well, they weren't. I find it much more convenient to have the internet, the web, Netflix, amazon.com, and other modern conveniences.

And this modern age has its challenges. Babylon 5 is one of the hidden treasures of science fiction. It's not on Netflix or amazon.com, it's not shown on over-the-air television (at least not here in Baltimore), it's not on websites. (Okay, it may be somewhere on the web.) I can watch it because I have the DVDs; others may have to work to find it.
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Question authority [Jan. 2nd, 2016|02:40 pm]
John Fitzpatrick

In the 1960s, the hippies took up the cry of "Question Authority!".

Notice that this is a call to nonviolent action. They did not cry "Overthrow Authority!" or "Destroy Civilization!" -- the act of questioning authority is rebellious and contemplative.

In the second decade of the 21st century, we have another option for dealing with authority: we can shop. We can "shop around" among different authorities, selecting those that we find comfortable. We can (in the United States) move from one state to another, selecting those with laws that we like. We can choose the news network we like. We can move from one church to another, or one faith to another.

We do not need to question the authorities of the 1960s. The age of a single religion for life is over. The age of three very similar broadcast networks -- and only those three -- is over. We can choose our authorities from a plethora of religions and news networks.

But when we select the authorities in our lives, a funny thing happens. The authorities cease to be authorities. What authority does an entity have when it can be replaced? If one does not like the news from CNN, one can switch to MSNBC, or FOX, or NPR.

When we select our place to live, our faith, our news sources, then it is we who become the authorities. *We* select. *We* choose. The "authorities" have only the power we give them. When we can replace them at will, we are the authority.

We should examine our motives and our reasons. We live in a neighborhood, but do we contribute? Do we know our neighbors? Do we understand their challenges? Do we listen to CNN/NPR/FOX because we always have? Or because it tells us what we like to hear? Or do we listen because we learn and improve our knowledge of the world?

I think the hippies were correct. Question authority, especially when it is ourselves.
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Elections and third parties. [Dec. 12th, 2015|06:58 pm]
John Fitzpatrick

I while back I claimed that Donald Trump had broken the Republican party and that the Democrats had all but won the upcoming Presidential election in 2016.

While I still think that Trump has broken the GOP, I'm not sure about the election. There was one factor that I omitted from my calculations.

The electoral college.

It is quite possible that Trump, running as a third party candidate, will siphon off votes from many who would normally vote for a Republican candidate. And while that may mean that the Democratic candidate will obtain a plurality of votes, it does not mean that he (or she) wins the election.

To be elected president, a candidate must obtain 270 votes from the electoral college. With only two candidates, that is guaranteed to happen. With a strong third-party candidate, the votes from the college may be split and it is possible that no candidate receives 270.

What happens then?

Well, we don't have a "do over" election. (Which may be a mercy.) Instead, the decision moves to congress. The Senate votes for the vice president, in a run-off of the two vice-president candidates with the highest electoral votes. The House votes for the president, in a run-off of the *three* candidates with the highest votes.

Limiting the run-off elections to the top two and top three eliminate the pipsqueak candidates. In 2016 we may see three strong candidates for the presidency.

Notice that the House and Senate do not have to match their results. The Senate may pick a candidate from one party and the House may pick a candidate from a different party.

Voting in the chambers is perhaps not what one expects. The Senate votes using a one man, one vote rule: each Senator gets one vote. The House, in contrast, uses a one *state*, one vote rule.

Given the current make-up of the House and Senate, if the electoral college results are split and no candidate wins 270, then the House and Senate will most likely vote among party lines. The Senate has a clear majority of Republicans. The House, too, has a majority in Republicans, even after grouping congressmen into state delegations. (The voting in the House may be contentious, as many states are split with some representatives Republican and some Democratic.)

So perhaps the Republicans would fare well with Trump as a third party candidate.
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The Man in the High Castle - based on one data point [Nov. 22nd, 2015|06:38 pm]
John Fitzpatrick
I started watching Amazon.com's "The Man in the High Castle", a TV series based on the Philip K. Dick book.

First I must admit that I have not read the book, so my review is based on the TV series only.

Second I must admit that I have watched only the first episode, and that TV series should be judged on more than one. But I'll provide a review anyway.

My impression, so far, is one of slight boredom. The first episode introduces the world of "TMITHC" -- an alternate history in which the Axis powers win WWII -- and the major characters. It does so, and it provides a good deal of detail for the world and the characters. (Perhaps too much, in the case of the world.)

There is a lot of attention to detail in the sets and costumes. Everything looks like an alternate 1962. Everything appears correct. But there is too much detail for my taste. I found myself caught up in the tiny details of every scene and dropping away from the story -- not a good sign.

The story is complex, but not complex enough for an hour-long episode. No one scene was too long, but together the collection of scenes seems large for the story, which indicates that there are some scenes that could have been cut. (Perhaps the scenes were constructed to provide for 22 episodes, a full season.)

A few things bother me.

First is that Germany has annexed the US east of the Rocky Mountains and Japan the west (with a "neutral zone" between the two). PKD may have used the term "neutral zone" but for me it conjures Romulans.

English is still spoken and written, even on public buildings and signs.

The conquered citizens can move about freely and conduct business, which seems at odds with what I learned about Germany and Japan of the middle Twentieth century. Of course it is 20 years after the war, which may make a difference.

While watching the first episode, I found myself longing for the "Flash Gordon" series (available on Viewster), which I found had good writing and interesting plots in each episode.

I plan to watch a few more episodes (of "TMITHC") and give it some time.
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Roads for self-driving cars [Nov. 14th, 2015|05:08 pm]
John Fitzpatrick
Self-driving cars have been around for a while. Still experimental, yet in the news.

After enough news stories, my mind starts to think about the future. What does the future hold for self-driving cars?

I think we may see some roads reserved for self-driving cars. Just as some roads today are reserved for cars (trucks not allowed), and some roads are reserved for cars with multiple occupants, the future may see roads reserved for self-driving cars. What would these roads look like?

It makes sense, I think, to consider highways to be the first candidates for self-drive only. (Something like the New Jersey Parkway, limited to cars, or HOV lanes on various highways.)

Let's assume that self-driving cars have methods of obtaining information about the road. They may use a GPS-based system with online lookup for speed limits and information about exits. Or the road may contain small transponders with such information. In either case, since the road is limited to self-driving cars, the information about the road that we normally obtain through signs must be made available to the car.

With automated mechanisms for obtaining information, road signs become obsolete.

We certainly don't need signs for speed limits. Humans aren't in control of the car. I'm assuming that there are no conditions that require humans to take control of self-drive cars. Constructing and posting those signs in expensive, and state highway departments are usually pressed for funds.

We also don't need the typical milepost signs. That's another expense that can be avoided.

Thinking about it, we don't need many of the signs on our highways. The "Lane Ends" signs, the "Curve Ahead" signs, the "Merge" and "Yield" signs are all unnecessary.

We may even get rid of the exit signs. That may be more difficult, due to psychology. People will be happy, I think, to discard speed limit signs. But exit signs are another matter -- people want to know that they are going in the right direction, along the proper route. Exit signs confirm that. (On the other hand, if people have their own GPS units or GPS-enabled phones, then perhaps they will confirm their route via devices and not signs.)

The road itself must remain a flat surface made of either asphalt or concrete. We may be able to eliminate the lane markings (another expense!). Lane markings are there for humans, not self-drive cars. As long as cars can stay on the road and avoid each other, why have lane markings?

If we choose to keep any of these human-purpose signals (signs or lane markings) then one day we may be explaining to our grandchildren their purpose.
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