Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Elon Musk and Misdirection

 I've been posting more political rants lately ... sorry.  It seems that's the part of my mind that is most awake right now and the built-up anger from reading the news needs some kind of creative outlet.  Please feel free to ignore these posts if they're not your cup of rum (or tea ... whatever).

Villain of the Year

So Time magazine did this:

Of course there's been a lot of outcry from the left side of the political spectrum (including a "fixed" version of this cover that was rather pointed, but sadly I could not find it again to include it here), and not without good reason.

Musk is an ultra-privileged, white, possibly narcissistic, dudebro asshole (hereafter abbreviated as UPWPNDA).  I strongly suspect even the majority of conservatives would agree with that assessment.  He's made many decisions over the past year that were incredible insensitive and/or downright harmful.

As an example, an article on the Vox website includes the following:
Musk spent much of the first half of March 2020 downplaying the threat of Covid-19 to his 32 million followers on Twitter. (Later, he promised to build ventilators for California hospitals, although the equipment he sent didn’t prove to be all that helpful in ventilating Covid-19 patients.)

Musk continued to spread misinformation about Covid-19 throughout the rest of 2020, again to his 32 million Twitter followers. Later, he actually contracted the virus and had to miss a SpaceX launch.

Musk rushed to reopen a Tesla plant in early 2021, leading to hundreds of new coronavirus cases.

Musk frequently makes tweets that bounce Tesla’s stock price all over the place — and who can say why, in the end?

Musk stuck his nose into the rescue of a group of Thai soccer players who were stuck in an underwater cave, then called one of the actual rescuers a “pedo” after said rescuer criticized Musk.

Then there's the fact that he pays relatively little in taxes.  This from an article on The Hill:
Elon Musk paid less than $70,000 in federal income taxes between 2015 and 2017, and he did not pay anything in 2018, according to recent reports.

He did pay his taxes in 2016 by exercising more than $1 billion in stock options.

He lives off loans made from his stock options, meaning he doesn’t take a salary from his company.

So yes, there's a "valid" reason he doesn't pay much in taxes, but the methods he uses simply aren't available to average (or even the majority of above-average) Americans.

All of this is a huge misdirection.  If I were conspiracy-theory minded I'd see evil machinations  manipulating the public mindset, but that's too much mental work for me so I'd rather just chalk it all up to a system that rewards complacency, mild corruption, and political inertia.

Of all the UPWPNDA billionaires in the country, Musk is possibly the most beneficial to society in the long term.  By roping in money from a lot of other UPWPNDAs to spend on his quirky projects, he has actually pushed development of electric vehicles, solar energy, space exploration, manufacturing, and mass transit forward well beyond what would have been expected.  And much of this new technology is of huge benefit in reducing or reversing the effects of climate change.

There aren't many other UPWPNDAs who come anywhere close.  Most of them instead generate their billions in low-tax incomes through promoting fossil fuels, pillaging natural resources, and sucking cash out of the pockets of workers and/or tax dollars from the general public.  They of course try to keep a lower profile so they're less noticeable.  Musk's schemes require more investments though so he has to stay visible.

That makes him a very easy and tempting target for criticism (deserved or otherwise).

So let's think about something here.  The despicable things that Musk does are generally legal (or enough in a gray zone that he can get away with them for a while until a court tells him to cut it out and fines him a bit).  The same goes for Bezos, and the same went for Steve Jobs. 

Of course that doesn't make their actions right, just legal.

Buy what would have happened to them if they didn't do such scummy things?  Odds are they would have lost some or all of their financial backing, been removed from their CEO positions, and possibly even sued by their (now former) financial backers for not making choices in the investors' best interests.

In other words, the UPWPNDAs are rewarded for doing bad things and punished for not doing them.

The Real Problem

What we need to be doing is keeping track of these things and not using them against the UPWPNDAs (... ok, maybe not using them quite as much - the UPWPNDAs still need to repeatedly hear that what they're doing is wrong), and instead screaming all this at the top of our lungs at our state and federal politicians.

If the UPWPNDAs are using their position to promote public health misinformation then laws against knowingly spreading that kind of misinformation need to be created and enforced.

If the UPWPNDAs are making decisions that put their employees at risk physically then workplace safely laws need to be updated and enforced.

If the UPWPNDAs are avoiding paying their fair share of taxes then the tax laws need to be updated and enforced.

We can't fix this kind of problem by yelling at the UPWPNDAs when the system is constantly demonstrating to them that what they're doing is right.

Like it's not going to help things if you leave candy lying around everywhere and then yell at a toddler for eating it.  You've got to pick up all the candy and put it where the toddler can't get it.

We need to fix the problems in the system so the UPWPNDAs will stop acting like toddlers.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Thoughts on Minimum Wage

Let me preface this with a note:  I used to be a Republican.

I grew up in a family that always voted for Republicans.  My dad was pro-business and anti-communist.  My grandparents had a .38 revolver and were members of the NRA.  I tend to joke that I was thirteen before I learned that "asshole democrat" was more than one word.

What happened?  Dunno.  Mostly I think I started looking at the actual data and results of political policies rather than focusing on the ideals espoused by politicians and going with "what we've always done."  After a while I realized I really didn't like what I was seeing.

Because of the cognitive dissonance, I eventually had to accept the fact that I almost always sided with the policies of the Democratic party, and over the past 10 years or so I've become downright progressive.  Again, not because of the ideals and such, but because I've found what they propose is much more inline with what would actually work in the real world.

I suspect my grandparents would have shifted to the left as well, though perhaps not as much as I have.

I mentioned the above to show that I try to consider policies based on their real-world merit rather than out of habit or some sort of "tribalism".  Show me unbiased sources that reflect the consensus of experts in a field of study and I will accept their position as being the correct one.  If that consensus changes then I will follow it where it leads.

Enough Background

So ... about the US minimum wage ... it's crap.  If you look how the minimum wage has remained unchanged since 2009 while the inflation rate has averaged 2.14% per year, producing a cumulative price increase of 28.92%, it's clear that something is very wrong.

As an illustration, take a look at the table below.  It shows the minimum wage for given years, what that would be annually for a 40-hour/week, 50-weeks/year job, the corresponding per-capita gross domestic product for that year, and the minimum wage as a percentage of that GDP.

You can see the problem, right?  The GDP (overall productivity) has grown, but the actual workers' share of that productivity has been dropping like a rock.

Where's all that money going?  That's a complicated discussion on its own, but the short answer is, "Into the pockets of the richest 0.1%".

Every time I think about this I come up with all sorts of questions, and the most repeated one is "Why isn't the minimum wage indexed for inflation?"  Again, there's a lot to talk about with that so I'm going to just skip it all and propose what I think would be a fair solution.

Let's link the minimum wage to the per-capita GDP

I still have enough conservative ideals in me that I think businesses and entrepreneurs should be rewarded.  However I don't see any reason that they should take the lion's share of the profits of work performed by their employees. To me that seems to go directly against the ideals promoted by libertarians - a hard working individual should receive the majority of the benefits of their work and not have it siphoned off by others.  For some reason though, libertarians almost always side with the folks at the top of the pyramid.  Kind of baffling, really ... I mean, when you actually think about it ...

Anyway, let's go back to those numbers.  in 1965 the minimum wage was 65% of the per-capita GDP.  If you dig in a little further that seems to have been a bit of an off year, so let's round it up to 70%.  That's going to be our baseline - the average worker would be paid 70% of the value of their work.

When I phrase it that way it sounds kind of hinky, but I'll stick with it.

"But the GDP can fluctuate wildly," I hear you say.  "That would make the minimum wage fluctuate and corporations would have all sorts of trouble planning."

Yeah, whatever.  Corporations have to cope with all sorts of uncertainties and yet they are still profitable.  That said, I don't like instability either; it's messy.  So I'll add a tweak.  We'll use a rolling average of the GDP to smooth out some of the noise.

"So if we set the annual minimum wage to be 70% of a 5-year rolling average of the per-capita GDP, what would it look like?"  I'm glad you asked.

Kind of interesting, eh?  The minimum wage under this system would have been a bit lower at the start, but look at the most recent years.  That's about where progressives say it should be now (though they've been pushing for $15/hr. because that's a lot easier to sell in congress).

The best part of such a change though is that the public would no longer have to put pressure on the politicians to do the right thing.  As the economy grows the minimum wage would follow right along, and if for some reason the economy crashes or sinks it would cut back to reflect the new reality.

I strongly suspect that a lot of people won't like this idea though.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Warning Labels - Thin Blue Line Punisher

I've seen this sticker numerous times over the past several years - almost always on black SUVs or really big pickup trucks.  I can only hope those who choose to display this just haven't thought through all the connotations and aren't really horrible people.

This is a combination of two different symbols: the logo of the Punisher (a Marvel Comics sort of anti-hero), and the "Thin Blue Line" flag.  Each of these symbols is problematic on their own, but taken together they add a context that is very disturbing.

The Punisher 

Like many of the anti-heroes that are popular in American culture, the Punisher operates outside of the law.  This is usually justified as being necessary because of incompetence, incapacity, or corruption in law enforcement.
The character is depicted as an Italian-American vigilante who employs murder, kidnapping, extortion, coercion, threats of violence, and torture in his campaign against crime. Driven by the deaths of his wife and two children, who were killed by the mob for witnessing a killing in New York City's Central Park, the Punisher wages a one-man war on crime using various weapons. - Wikipedia

The Thin Blue Line

This symbol came to prominence sometime around 2014 in connection to the "Blue Lives Matter" response to the "Black Lives Matter" movement.  It encourages a viewpoint in which the police are somehow separate from the rest of society, and they have an elevated status because they are the only thing standing between law abiding citizens and criminals.


It should be pretty easy to see why the juxtaposition of these two is problematic.  Encouraging law enforcement officers to see themselves as a separate and elite group, while holding up an ideal of doing whatever it takes regardless of legality, is a recipe for an authoritarian police force that answers to no one.  It is the very antithesis of the basic principles of justice.

Of note is how the comics have actually addressed this head-on.

This controversy was addressed in Punisher Vol. 12 #13 written by Matthew Rosenberg in July 2019. In the issue, Frank comes across two police officers who are fans of his. They take a selfie with him and show they have a sticker of his logo on their car before comparing their work to his. Unimpressed, the Punisher tears up the sticker and tells them, "I'll say this once, we're not the same. You took an oath to uphold the law. You help people. I gave that up a long time ago. You don't do what I do. Nobody does. You boys need a role model? His name's Captain America, and he'd be happy to have you.... If I find out you are trying to do what I do, I'll come for you next." In 2020, Marvel said this was their official opinion on the use of the image. - Wikipedia

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Warning Labels - Three Percenters

I saw a sticker the other day (on a black SUV, of course) and since I had to look up its meaning to be sure, I thought it might be worth using to start a series of posts:  "Self-Applied Signs that People Helpfully Use to Identify Themselves as Vile Excuses for Human Beings".

Since that's a bit too long though I'm going to just call them "Warning Labels".

I don't expect this series will make me many friends within certain groups.  I'm ok with that.

This is the symbol of the Three Percenters - a right-wing militia group.  Here's what Wikipedia has to say about them:

Like other American militia movements, Three Percenters believe in the ability of citizen volunteers with ordinary weapons to successfully resist the United States military. They support this belief by claiming that only around 3% of American colonists fought the British during the American Revolution, a claim which underestimates the number of people who resisted British rule, and which does not take into account the concentration of British forces in coastal cities, the similarity of weapons used by American and British forces, and French support for the colonists.

That one paragraph contains the two fatal flaws in the Three Percenters' beliefs;

1.  The claim they take their name from is nonsense

2.  They've somehow deluded themselves into thinking a group of self-trained military wannabees carrying AR-15s could be any kind of match for the US military.  I mean, think about it.  The real military not has things like tanks, helicopters, aircraft, drones, and really-really-big bombs.


Tuesday, October 5, 2021

I've got an idea ...


Yeah.  Facebook goes down and everyone panics.

This does show how much we rely on it though - for me it's how I keep up on all the things my friends are up to.  The odd thing is if you ask everyone who was inconvenienced by the outage what they're general opinion is about Facebook and I'm very certain the responses won't be nice.  Everyone uses it but no one really likes it.

I think I know how to fix things ...

"Right!" you say, and go read something else because you've seen this all before.

For those still reading, here are my thoughts:

1.  We need something decentralized

If it's not all on a single server and not controlled by a single company then it can't be taken out by a single problem ... and they can't control what you read or post.  It's time for the individual to take back control of their postings and feed.

2.  It needs to be secure

Cryptographically reverse polarity of neutron flow something something gazpacho.  We all know this is important but really the details will be mostly left up to the cryptonerds.

3.  It needs to be open source

Screw proprietary code.  With open source every ubergeek can be checking it for security holes (see #2) and making improvements.  This gets us back to how the programs that built the internet were made in the first place (see HTTP and SMTP).

4.  It needs to talk to Facebook

At least in the short term, any solution that doesn't hook in somehow to Facebook is a non-starter.  Nobody is going to switch to a different social media platform if their friends aren't already on it.  Checking two different platforms is a bite in the butt and folks won't do it for long.

Ok, so here's my solution:  A secure offshoot of RSS.  Maybe call it SRSS?  I'm sure someone can come up with a better, spiffier name.  I don't care as long as someone makes it.

I'm going to go into some details below, but here's the good part;  ALL OF THIS CAN BE DONE WITH OFF-THE-SHELF CODE!

Yeah, I shouted.  Deal with it.

Start with a simple Blog with an RSS feed.  Anything you post on it is a public post.  Everyone can see it and read the posts and make comments.  That part's easy.

For the private posts that only Friends can see, encrypt everything in the post using something like PGP.  Even the subject line of the blog post is encrypted.  For your friends to read it (and comment) they'll need to have a public key that they got when you "friended" them.

That's pretty much it.  We'll need a special browser plug-in for reading the SRSS "blogs" (or whatever they end up being called), a special server for creating the SRSS feeds, but that's pretty much it.  With a little extra fiddling, everything you post on your SRSS feed would automagically be posted on your Facebook account.

1.  It would be decentralized.  Some people would have their SRSS handled by a big company like they do with email, others would get it from their webhosts.  Regardless, if some idiot with a backhoe takes out a big chunk of the internet everyone else would still be able to get their social media fix.

2.  It would be secure.  Not only would it have the built in encryption thing going, but since it's not all hosted by one company it's less prone to the thing where hackers break into a single server and get away with millions of passwords and such.

3.  It would (or could) be open source.  I'm sure there would be private forks of the code, but unless they were adding something really amazing to it all they probably wouldn't do very well.  Note how all the corporate-owned extensions to HTTP have fared over the years.

4.  It would talk to Facebook ... for as long as Facebook continued to be a thing ... which I expect wouldn't be that long, because in all honesty Facebook seems to have been intentionally making our experience worse.

Minor problem:  This isn't my kind of programming.  I'm great at webcoding and PHP, and I acknowledge no one as my better in ABAP for SAP/R3 (a serious niche that I've been stuck in for the past 20+ years), but this kind of stuff is well out of my reach (ok, I could learn, but I've got a few decades of other work queued up that I really want to get to).  If no one else does this then it won't get done.

PLEASE someone make this (or something similar) a reality!