Thanks to fathers, our failed Mercedes is back on the road

Happy Father’s Day to those who celebrate.

Sunday is generally a sacred day of rest/family here in Portugal, but two dads teamed up to get our failed rental 2024 Mercedes E 300de back on the road. I hope that no fathers were implicated in the engineering of this useless machine. It’s a five-seat car that can barely hold luggage for two people because most of what should be the trunk is taken up by a hybrid battery (impossible for a rental customer to charge because a special card has to be set up with a Portuguese tax ID and bank account).

In its 13,000th kilometer of life the machine suffered an all-systems meltdown and refused to start, claiming that the 12V battery was exhausted. Two dads came out to deal with the problem. One, a tow truck operator and one a restaurant chef who was working on a Sunday. Jumping the car didn’t help and the tow truck guy’s voltmeter showed 12V on the battery. With these two guys putting their heads together plus a phone call to another dad, the car was resurrected via a dramatic reset involving tools applied to an under-hood connector. We limped away without CarPlay, navigation, or the new European speed nanny.

Here’s to the dads who work Sundays and holidays to make life better for their families!

(The tow truck guy waved away a 20 euro tip (this is enough for a sit-down meal for two here). We ate at the restaurant last night and for an early lunch today while waiting for the tow truck.)

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The $27,321 MRI

How do Americans go bankrupt after seeking health care?

A friend’s child had some back pain after a fall. A hospital billed $27,321.50 for an MRI (it says “4 services” below, but it was really just one encounter with the MRI machine; some different body parts and contrast). That’s what an uninsured person (“a mark”) would have been chased for, eventually into bankruptcy if necessary. What’s the real price of this service? I.e., what does the hospital actually expect to get paid from a typical patient (insured either privately, via Medicaid, or via Medicare)? About $1,287:

(And, of course, the results were inconclusive, so the value of the $27,321 MRI was $0.)

Related:

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Science: there has never been a worse time to be 2SLGBTQQIA+ in the United States

A Scientific American article, as presented by Apple News:

There are “unprecedented threats” against American children who identify as 2SLGBTQQIA+ (I won’t hatefully exclude some categories, as the headline authors did by citing only “LGBTQ”). In other words, it was better to be gay in the 1950s or 1850s compared to now.

The article in Scientific American contains the “unprecedented threat” language in a subhead:

Families Find Ways to Protect Their LGBTQ Kids from Serious Harm—Physical and Mental—after a Flood of Discriminatory Laws

Hostility toward LGBTQ kids, enshrined in hundreds of new bills, has put families with such children under unprecedented threat, raising risks of suicide and physical attacks

Hate has spread beyond Florida and Texas:

She had moved her family three times over the past six years. Her house in New Hampshire was shot at—possibly by someone aiming at thce [sic] rainbow signs in her front yard. In 2022 she fled to Massachusetts, which seemed to be safer for her child, Grey, who is transgender. But whenever she hears the words “safe state,” a thought pops into her head: “Austria felt like a safe place in World War II, too.”

For the time being, Grey feels like they are in a good place mentally. (For their personal safety, the names of young people and their parents in this story have been changed.) They have found a community that sees them for who they are and a state that allows them to receive the gender-affirming care they need.

On a recent trip to Piedmont and Berkeley, California I was informed that there is more hate than ever in California and the U.S. generally and it is all the fault of Donald Trump, despite his departure from a position of power more than three years ago. I asked for how many more years Trump could be blamed, but received no answer.

How many of us are hated because of Donald Trump? At least 1 out of every 4 young Americans, according to Science:

Given the large number of young people who identify as LGBTQ—about 25 percent of high school students are not heterosexual, according to a 2021 survey…

Science says that states that reel in the 2SLGBTQQIA+ should expect to have a population in poor mental health, though this is not because of anything inherent to the 2SLGBTQQIA+ lifestyle:

Compared with other kids their age, LGBTQ youths are at higher risk of numerous mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, self-harm and suicide. These health issues have been largely ascribed to minority stress, the consequences of social sources of tension that come with a marginalized identity. These stressors are not an innate part of an LGBTQ identity. Rather they emerge from experiencing repeated prejudice and powerlessness.

Here’s a strange one: a Floridian considering fleeing has “passports ready”. Where in the world is more friendly to the 2SLGBTQQIA+ than a Democrat-ruled U.S. state, such as California or Maskachusetts?

Another parent, a single father to a 12-year-old trans boy in Florida, says he can no longer protest anti-LGBTQ bills, because it raises risks of repercussions for his child. “You always balance out your ideals, your principles, your goals as a citizen with the needs of your family,” he says. He has developed an exit plan in case his home state becomes even more hostile. He has passports ready and is prepared to quit his teaching job and start his own company, moving to another state or abroad if necessary. Being able to think about leaving, a privilege he recognizes many parents do not have, has bolstered his mental health.

That said, even Maskachusetts isn’t safe, according to Science:

Yet even now, in an apparently safer place [Massachusetts], she and her husband still find themselves trying to protect Grey from the news, transphobic relatives and hostile people on the street. Recently the three of them went for a walk through their city. Tamara noticed that they had fallen into “bodyguard mode”: one parent in the front, one parent in the back and their only child in between.

Circling back to the original topic, is it Scientifically correct to say that hostility toward 2SLGBTQQIA+ ideas and people is “unprecedented”?

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Elon Musk’s curious passion for population growth

Elon Musk simultaneously believes that (1) civilization will collapse because of a declining birth rate in the West, and (2) we’re entering a glorious age of humanoid robots.

Example:

From the Elon Musk biography:

In early 2021, Musk began mentioning at his executive meetings that Tesla should get serious about building a robot, and at one point he played for them a video of the impressive ones that Boston Dynamics were designing. “Humanoid robots are going to happen, like it or not,” he said, “and we should do it so we can guide it in a good direction.” The more he talked about it, the more excited he got. “This has the potential to be the far biggest thing we ever do, even bigger than a self-driving car,” he told his chief designer, Franz von Holzhausen.

Musk gave the specs: the robot should be about five-foot-eight, with an elfish and androgenous look so it “doesn’t feel like it could or would want to hurt you.” Thus was born Optimus, a humanoid robot to be made by the Tesla teams working on self-driving cars. Musk decided that it should be announced at an event called “AI Day,” which he scheduled for Tesla’s Palo Alto headquarters on August 19, 2021.

It was not a very polished event. The sixteen presenters were all male. The only woman was the actress who dressed up as the robot, and she didn’t do any fun hat-and-cane dance routines. There were no acrobatics. But in his slightly stuttering monotone, Musk was able to connect Optimus to Tesla’s plans for self-driving cars and the Dojo supercomputer. Optimus, he said, would learn to perform tasks without needing line-by-line instructions. Like a human, it would teach itself by observing. That would transform not only our economy, he said, but the way we live.

Even as he envisioned futuristic scenarios, Musk focused on making Optimus a business. By June 2022, the team had completed a simulation of robots carrying boxes around a factory. He liked the fact that, as he put it, “our robots are going to work harder than humans work.” He came to believe that Optimus would become a main driver of Tesla profits. “The Optimus humanoid robot,” he told analysts, “has the potential to be more significant than the vehicle business.”

I can’t understand how these thoughts are consistent. If human population were to slide back towards 4 billion or 2 billion, there might be a short-term labor shortage, but wouldn’t that labor shortage be solved by a working humanoid robot?

I think that Musk is completely wrong about civilization collapse even without the robot angle, incidentally. The median age in Japan is 49. People don’t say that’s a collapsed civilization compared to Gaza, where the median age is 18. The worldwide median age is about 30. There is no realistic scenario, as far as I’m aware, in which the median age of the world population ever exceeds Japan’s current median age. Therefore, Japan represents a worst-case scenario.

How bad is Japan doing? Not any worse than the typical advanced economy, says this tweet:

An astonishing paper this week finds that population explains virtually all of the difference in GDP growth in advanced economies over the last 30 years! “From 1998 to 2019, Japan has grown slightly faster than the U.S. in terms of per working-age adult.”

What drives population growth? For the Palestinians, the world’s most successful people demographically, it seems to be the UNRWA guarantees of food, health care, education, and other essentials, all funded by the US and EU taxpayers. A Palestinian can have 10 children, not work, and never worry that one will go hungry so long as there are taxpayers in Illinois and Germany. What about for economies that don’t receive guaranteed aid from foreigners?

This article on “The Baby Boom” by Arctotherium looks at a falling birth rate at the beginning of the 20th century followed by the familiar post-WWII baby boom (1946-1964; I was born in 1963). Wikipedia points out that our baby boom coincided with a marriage boom, but doesn’t offer a single agreed-on explanation for why the marriage boom occurred. Arctotherium points out that a baby bust is not an inevitable result of wealth:

The Baby Boom took place in what were, at the time, the wealthiest, most technologically advanced, longest lived, most urban, most educated, most individualist, and most scientifically sophisticated societies in human history, by a wide margin. And it took place during a time when all of these metrics (except maybe individualism) were very rapidly improving.

Consistently with Wikipedia, Arctotherium highlights the marriage boom and adds a theory for the cause:

So what caused this marriage boom? The answer appears to be a rise in young men’s status compared to young women’s. The marriage boom can be explained almost entirely by a combination of female labor force participation (down), young male wages (up), and male unemployment (down).

Wages are not the only way to measure status. After briefly reaching parity at the zenith of first wave feminism, young men during the Baby Boom again greatly exceeded their female counterparts in educational attainment.

The mechanism here is clear: young women want money and status, young men have relatively more money and status, women can get men’s money and status by marrying them. Marriage leads to babies, and thus the Baby Boom.

What caused the baby boom to end with a baby bust? A decline in marriage. Women didn’t have to get married to get money and status.

Affirmative Action in favor of women is common across the Boom countries, as is disproportionate female employment in state-created regulatory jobs such as HR. There are also thousands of organizations explicitly dedicated to promoting women’s careers at the expense of men’s, and almost none of the converse. These combine to artificially raise women’s wages above the market rate, and lower men’s.

But we don’t just have wages to consider, we also have taxes and transfers. Thanks to progressive taxation, men pay the vast majority of taxes while women receive the vast majority of benefits. Since married men are the most productive, while single women are the poorest (on a per-household basis), this is predominantly a transfer from married men to single women. This makes marriage less attractive to women; they can get men’s money for free, courtesy of the government, without having to give anything in return. The state serves as a surrogate husband.

Arctotherium has some data from New Zealand, noting “The welfare state has done to marriage what the Soviet Union did to agriculture: effectively collectivized it, with the corresponding horrendous set of incentives for individual men and women”:

But young men’s vs young women’s economic status is not the only factor determining marriage rates. It fully explains the boom, but not the bust. The explanation lies in the fact that second wave feminism thoroughly redefined marriage. It shifted from a patriarchal institution in which husbands had social (and some legal, though this was mostly dismantled by first wave feminism) power over their wives to one in which wives had effective legal power over the husbands (through the mechanisms of feminist family courts, greatly expanded definitions of abuse, and the replacement of the marriage model of the family with the child support model), and from a lifelong contract to one dissolvable at will (though the institution of no-fault divorce). In JD Unwin’s terms, we shift from a regime of absolute monogamy to one of modified monogamy. This had obvious and immediate consequences on marriage rates.

The mechanism through which no-fault divorce reduces marriage rates is simple. No-fault divorce eliminates the promise of lifelong commitment, greatly reducing the benefits of marriage for both parties. The other partner can bail at any time, for any reason. This particularly increases the costs for men through the mechanism of family courts (as divorce usually means he loses his assets, income, and children).

Arctotherium found an interesting data set on marital happiness:

Despite the increase in divorce rates, people aren’t happier in the marriages that have survived.

If Arctotherium is correct, the U.S. will never have a high birth rate again because marriage will never be attractive again. (The article has some pipe dream proposals for radically overhauling our society, e.g., “Roll back the welfare and pension state and lower income taxes.” It is safe to assume that none of these will ever happen and, therefore, marriage will never make the kind of sense for a young woman that it did from 1946-1964.)

Circling back to Elon Musk, what would be so bad about the U.S. population stagnating at 336 million or declining to 200 million (the 1970 level), especially if we had robots to help out the oldsters with domestic tasks?

Related… miscellaneous quotes from Michel Houellebecq’s novels (not in quote style for better readability):

A bachelor who breathes his last at the age of sixty-four is hardly the stuff of tragedy,

I thought about Annelise’s life—and the life of every Western woman. In the morning she probably blow-dried her hair, then she thought about what to wear, as befitted her professional status, whether “stylish” or “sexy,” most likely “stylish” in her case. Either way, it was a complex calculation, and it must have taken her a while to get ready before dropping the kids off at day care, then she spent the day e-mailing, on the phone, in various meetings, and once she got home, around nine, exhausted (Bruno was the one who picked the kids up, who made them dinner—he had the hours of a civil servant), she’d collapse, get into a sweatshirt and yoga pants, and that’s how she’d greet her lord and master, and some part of him must have known—had to have known—that he was fucked, and some part of her must have known that she was fucked, and that things wouldn’t get better over the years. The children would get bigger, the demands at work would increase, as if automatically, not to mention the sagging of the flesh.

Bruno and Annelise must be divorced by now. That’s how it goes nowadays. A century ago, in Huysmans’s time, they would have stayed together, and maybe they wouldn’t have been so unhappy after all.

my body was the seat of various painful afflictions—headaches, rashes, toothaches, hemorrhoids—that followed one after another, without interruption, and almost never left me in peace—and I was only forty-four! What would it be like when I was fifty, sixty, older? I’d be no more than a jumble of organs in slow decomposition, my life an unending torment, grim, joyless, and mean.

On 14 December 1967 the government passed the Neuwirth Act on contraception at its first reading. Although not yet paid for by social security, the pill would now be freely available in pharmacies. It was this which offered a whole section of society access to the sexual revolution, which until then had been reserved for professionals, artists and senior management—and some small businessmen. It is interesting to note that the “sexual revolution” was sometimes portrayed as a communal utopia, whereas in fact it was simply another stage in the historical rise of individualism. As the lovely word “household” suggests, the couple and the family would be the last bastion of primitive communism in liberal society. The sexual revolution was to destroy these intermediary communities, the last to separate the individual from the market. The destruction continues to this day.

Children existed solely to inherit a man’s trade, his moral code and his property. This was taken for granted among the aristocracy, but merchants, craftsmen and peasants also bought into the idea, so it became the norm at every level of society. That’s all gone now: I work for someone else, I rent my apartment from someone else, there’s nothing for my son to inherit. I have no craft to teach him, I haven’t a clue what he might do when he’s older. By the time he grows up, the rules

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History of failed attempts to build houses cheaper

Loyal readers may recall that one of my pet obsessions is why the manufacturing techniques that have made cars and widgets cheaper can’t be applied to housing. Why can’t, at least, the house have plug-in bathrooms, kitchens, and utility rooms so that all of these items can be refreshed cheaply with factory-built rooms after 20 years?

A side effect of our failure to come up with a way to build houses at a lower cost is the “affordable housing crisis” that advocates for population growth via low-skill immigration like to decry (see Immigration and rent are both at all-time highs).

“Why Do We Build Houses in the Same Way That We Did 125 Years Ago?” (New York Times; non-paywalled version) digs into this question:

In 1969, the federal government announced that it would hand out millions of dollars in subsidies to companies willing to try something new: build houses in factories.

It didn’t work. Big companies, including Alcoa and General Electric, designed new kinds of houses, and roughly 25,000 rolled out of factories over the following decade. But none of the new home builders long survived the end of federal subsidies in the mid-1970s.

Last year, only 2 percent of new single-family homes in the United States were built in factories. Two decades into the 21st century, nearly all U.S. homes are still built the old-fashioned way: one at a time, by hand. Completing a house took an average of 8.3 months in 2022, a month longer than it took to build a house of the same size back in 1971.

As with most innovations, the central planners believe that central planning (“government help”) is necessary:

The tantalizing potential of factory-built housing, also known as modular housing, continues to attract investors and entrepreneurs, including a start-up called Fading West that opened a factory in 2021 in the Colorado mountain town of Buena Vista. But Fading West, and similar start-ups in other parts of the country, need government help to drive a significant shift from handmade housing to factories. This time, there is reason to think it could work.

How much can be saved?

Fading West says houses from its factory can be completed in as little as half the time and at as little as 80 percent of the cost of equivalent handmade homes, in part because the site can be prepared while the structure is built in the factory. A 2017 analysis by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley, found similar savings for the construction of three- to five-story apartment buildings using modular components.

If we adjust for the inevitable startup hype factor… the 80 percent is probably 115 percent of what a tract house developer spends when building 25-100 houses at a time and 95 percent of what it would cost to build one house via the traditional method.

What do people who don’t get government money for their factory-built house startup say?

Factory home builders have struggled to streamline construction. [Brian Potter, a senior infrastructure fellow at the Institute for Progress, a nonpartisan think tank focused on technological innovation] spent several years looking for ways to make housing construction more efficient, an effort he narrated on a fascinating blog, before concluding that significant progress wasn’t likely. “Almost any idea that you can think of for a way to build a single-family home cheaper has basically been tried, and there was probably a company that went bankrupt trying to do it,” Mr. Potter told me.

The depressing conclusion: If you believe in fairy tales, single-family houses could potentially come down in price by 15 percent (the land underneath won’t be reduced in cost by 20%!) as an absolute outer limit. If the American population is to grow, therefore, people are going to live in smaller and crummier houses unless they develop valuable work skills.

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Happy New Year and Last Day of Kwanzaa

Happy New Year to all readers and I hope that 2024 is when all of your dreams will come true. Stolen from Facebook:

Separately, today we say goodbye to Kwanzaa, a holiday invented by a guy who was convicted of imprisoning women. The women said that they were hit on the head with toasters. Let’s see if ChatGPT can illustrate an authentic Kwanzaa celebration:

Unless you don’t see color, notice the skin tone change once the holiday is introduced. Also look the defective kinara and the ignoring of the request for just 5 candles:

An attempt to correct the number of candle slots wasn’t successful:

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Rest in Peace, Alex Kowalski

As we say goodbye to 2023, let’s also say goodbye to a loyal reader of and commenter on this blog: Alex Kowalski (July 15, 1970-July 6, 2023).

If you think of yourself as just one in seven billion It can make you want to die

But if you think of yourself as an irreplaceable one of one

Doesn’t it stir just a little bit of courage?

— Tetsuya Miyamoto, creator of KenKen, quoted in The Puzzler

From my point of view, Alex was, indeed, an irreplaceable one of one. He read every chapter of Medical School 2020, starting long before, I think, that he had an inkling that he would become enmeshed in the health care system.

Some basics: Alex is survived by his parents, Dave and Karen of Holland, Massachusetts and younger brother Stephen. Alex and Stephen both worked with their father in a computer-organized printing and mailing business. If you would like to send a condolence card, their address is 122 Mashapaug Rd, Holland, MA 01521. (If you want to contribute to a memorial for Alex at the National Corvette Museum, email me (philg@mit.edu). A few readers have already committed $250 each.)

A tribute from someone in Union Township, New Jersey (source):

Alex is in the front row, second from left, in the blue jacket:

Alex was an outstanding student. He learned to program a computer at age 12 and achieved National Merit Scholar status in 1988. He attended the New Jersey Institute of Technology for two years, then transferred to Johns Hopkins, where his father had studied operations research and industrial engineering. (The first photo, above, is of Alex in 1993 at Hopkins.)

Evsey Domar, an MIT economics professor, cautioned undergraduates against falling in love, not because of the potential disaster that could befall a defendant in the U.S. family court system, but simply because the lover was giving far too much power to the loved and risked despair at the whim of the loved. Alex’s young adult life was, unfortunately, an example of Prof. Domar’s wisdom. Alex fell in love with a woman at Hopkins and followed her to Chicago where she would study for her Ph.D. in clinical psychology. She depended on Alex for financial and intellectual support until she had her degree in hand (7 years after they met), then discarded him when she realized that she was on track to earn more money than he was. Alex had a job assisting the dean of DePaul Law School where his voracious appetite for reading made him a valuable asset, but unfortunately his employer died and Alex decided to move to central Massachusetts to work with his father and brother.

Some of Alex’s last thoughts, expressed on Facebook:

I shall be meeting him soon I think. Sooner than I wanted. If I do, my close friends will know and we’ll know what to do I love you all. (July 2)

God what a horrible day. Inexpressible. Nothing but pain eveverywhere and pain killers are killing me. No more. Oxycodone, methadone, MORPHINE. Must STOP. (June 30)

come what may, I feel liberated to be done with the hospital care. I have been riding this hospital horse over increasingly rough ground as many as four times per week through rain, snow, summer heat, terrible traffic, at almost random hours, and as much as 200 miles round trip for a loooooong time now. I get up as early as 4:30 a.m and don’t get home until 2:00 a.m. some nights. I just can’t sustain that. … I am out of the hospital and in fact I am 100% done with my hospital care. Everyone agrees that there is nothing else they can do for me. … (June 23)

(I missed most of these as they were happening because we were on a whirlwind tour of the national parks and I wasn’t checking into social media (I had blog posts pre-scheduled).)

Based on Alex’s comments here, he was knowledgeable in at least the following domains:

  • automobile racing (a fan of Ayrton Senna)
  • automobile technology and repair, including mechanical and electrical, especially of the 2010 Ford Escape Hybrid and of a 1968 red Corvette, whose engine he rebuilt (this was the Corvette generation enjoyed by Apollo astronauts)
  • motorcycles (he had three dirt bikes)
  • watches (he became a passionate amateur watchmaker during his cancer struggles)
  • baseball (“Japanese pro baseball is the only form of the game I can watch anymore. … American baseball – despite the fans roundly hating it – is being transformed … They want hitters who can smash the ball so hard the particles emit radiation…”)
  • economics
  • Arduino programing
  • graphic arts and printing
  • philosophy (quoting Kierkegaard: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”)
  • guns, especially rifles and the local rod and gun club
  • laser printer cartridge reconditioning (“When I lived in Baltimore a long, long time ago, for about a year I ran a pretty good side-hustle business recharging HP toner cartridges for old LaserJets. Those cartridges were comparatively easy to disassemble, clean, and recharge with a new main “pull” seal and new toner. I used to wear an N95 mask and did the “blow out” and cleaning outside!”)
  • music
  • shaving history (“Barbasol was first formulated by a former MIT professor, Frank Shields”, on one of my Gillette v. Dorco shave-off posts)

Where did he stand on COVID-19 and coronapanic? He did not discount the possibility that the disease would be as bad as the Covidcrats said, but starting on March 15, 2020, he predicted that the purported cure (lockdowns and other coercing government measures) would be worse than the disease.

The elephants in the room are the number of people who are going to die because they run out of money, and the social unrest that is going to materialize within about a month of lockdowns and closures. … What are people going to do in the July heat when they have no money, no jobs to go to, and their kids to feed? I’ll tell you what they’re going to do: they’re going to go crazy.

It looks as though he predicted both the failure of Faucism and the mostly peaceful BLM protests. Also from March 15, 2020:

All the “blunt the peak” and social distancing theory is nice, but what it really means is that the epidemic is going to last months longer. Anyone who has ever run a business knows that you can’t just shut down for two months and then pop back into action. And in large cities and small, we’re going to have real public order and crime problems.

From April 21, 2020:

everyone under 30 is going to wish they were dead when they have to dig themselves out of the $20 trillion dollar hole this is going to blow in their future.

Reading between the lines, it looks as though Alex’s cancer detection was delayed by the shutdown of health care services in Massachusetts. In April 2020, he talked about “a family member” who needed a cancer screening test due to some concerning symptoms, but the test was pushed out until the summer of 2020. His parents confirmed that Alex was diagnosed before the governor-ordered shutdown of non-emergency medical care in Massachusetts and, therefore, his cancer treatment was delayed. Metastatic prostate cancer ultimately killed our loyal friend and reader.

I will miss Alex, the knowledge that he generously shared, and his thought-provoking perspective on many topics.

Readers: I hope that you’ll raise a glass to Alex’s memory tonight. I will.

If you want to make a donation in Alex’s name, here were some of his favorite charities:

The National Corvette Museum has bricks starting at $125 for members, $175 for non-members. Alex’s parents didn’t mention this museum as one of Alex’s favorite charities, but perhaps it would make sense to memorialize him at the home of one of America’s greatest engineering achievements. Alex was a huge patriot. (I’m in the middle of an email conversation with them and waiting for their engraver to return from vacation to find out what is doable; there is a 15-character limit per line that can occasionally be stretched to 16.)

Alex’s parents, sadly, were not serious family documentarians. They were able to share a few photos, however. Alex was an accomplished rollerblader and here he is in Cancún, Mexico with, I think, the girl who ultimately broke his heart:

Alex was blessed with a golden retriever named Einstein (after Doc’s dog in Back to the Future), adopted in 1985:

Karen: “Einstein was the love of all our lives. When Alex talked to him he shivered with excitement. Alex would give him commands do this or get that and Einstein would hang on every word it was so much fun to watch.”

Here’s Alex on vacation (Savannah, Georgia?) in 2003:

In the early 1980s, Alex went to Disney World with his family. Here he is playing “Chip Cruiser”, which Google says was an EPCOT game in which you’d shoot at “contaminants” in a communications network (i.e., computer viruses!).

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Californians: assorted humans with nothing in common

Readers will be familiar with repeated questions of how our asylum-based immigration system is supposed to work. People are invited to become U.S. residents and then citizens based on a fear of violence in their country of birth. Thus, immigrants to the U.S. may have no affinity for the U.S. and nothing in common with other immigrants or natives other than a desire to avoid being killed.

Let’s see how this is playing out in California, the U.S. leader in diversity via immigration (stats below). A native-born Jew disagreed with a Muslim immigrant and the Jew ended up dead (Wikipedia).

Paul Kessler was an instrument-rated Private pilot. I couldn’t find much else that was authoritative about him.

Loay Alnaji (from a memory-holed web page at Ventura County Community College; pulled from the Google cache):

Note that “surahmeaning.com”, listed as part of his personal contact info, may relate to chapters in the Koran (“Surah“).

Are these the only two Californians who’ve been fighting recently? Let’s check this ironic headline from ABC:

Some detail on the event from the Paper of the Deplorables… “Gal Gadot’s screening [in Los Angeles] of Hamas terror attack film ends in mass brawls between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protesters” (New York Post, November 9, 2023):

Police officers were already out in force around the ironically named Museum of Tolerance for the “Wonder Woman” actress’s screening of “Bearing Witness to the October 7th Massacre,” which uses Israel Defense Forces footage.

Even so, wild videos posted online showed people waving Israeli flags and brawling in the streets with pro-Palestinian protesters — kicking and punching one another.

Police formed a skirmish line in an effort to control the unruly crowd — and ultimately used pepper spray, according to ABC 7.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass decried the violence in the aftermath.

“We’re not antisemitic, we’re anti-Zionist,” the unidentified protester told Rolling Stone.

UCLA:

At a decolonization rally in Los Angeles: the crowd chants “we are all Palestinians” and promises to “globalize the intifada”. Nobody wants to go to Gaza (via Egypt/tunnels) or the West Bank (easy) and fight on the side of virtue (see Why won’t the people who say that Israel is committing genocide go to Gaza and fight?). So “globalize the intifada” has to mean something that can be done in the U.S. and, likely, in California. Is it fighting with Jews in the streets? Fighting against Jewish-owned businesses? Fighting against fellow residents of California who support continued ties with Israel? Preventing fellow Californians from using the Bay Bridge (cost $6.5 billion in pre-Biden money to repair earthquake damage, up from an original budget of $250 million)?

A well-coordinated group of hundreds of Pro-Palestine protesters shut down the Bay Bridge on Thursday morning, tying up traffic during rush hour and calling out to world leaders to end the war in Gaza during the APEC summit.

The four-hour chaotic event, which started around 7:45 a.m., ended with at least 70 arrests and 29 towed cars. All lanes finally reopened just before noon, but not after at least 200 protesters had chained themselves together and purposefully tossed their car keys into the bay, stalling efforts to reopen the span to frustrated drivers.

Is it fair to say that the conflict in and around Gaza has exposed the fact that Californias have little or nothing in common?

And on the other coast… “Two women arrested in NYC attack on Jewish victim who confronted them for tearing down hostage posters: cops” (New York Post):

Mehwish Omer, 26, surrendered to police Monday morning and was charged with assault and criminal mischief — both as hate crimes — in connection to the attack on the 41-year-old woman at the corner of Riverside Drive and West 82nd Street just before 10 p.m. Nov. 9, authorities said.

Her alleged accomplice, Stephanie Gonzalez, 25, was cuffed a week earlier and also faces a hate crime assault rap, as well as an attempted robbery charge, cops said.

The duo allegedly assaulted the victim — ripping off her Star of David necklace and knocking a cellphone out of her hand — after she challenged them for ripping the “Missing Persons” posters from a light pole at the intersection, according to police.

“Mehwish” is an Islamic first name, according to The Google. “Gonzalez” suggests a Latinx individual. The victim was, presumably, Jewish. Diversity was supposed to be New York’s strength, but these three did not have enough shared values to avoid a physical fight.

What about the next stop south on I-95? “Philadelphia Jewish Restaurant Targeted With ‘Genocide’ Chants” (Newsweek):

Philadelphia lawmakers and Jewish commentators have hit out at demonstrators who targeted a falafel restaurant in Philadelphia owned by an Israeli Jewish chef, chanting slogans accusing it of “genocide.”

On Sunday, footage emerged of a group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathering outside Goldie on midtown Sansom Street who were chanting “Goldie, Goldie you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide.”

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the march was organized by the Philly Palestine Coalition, which in October called for a boycott of “Zionist”-owned businesses in the city, including Goldie outlets and others owned by Michael Solomonov.

At the same time, other video footage of a demonstration near the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia showed protestors chanting “intifada revolution” and “long live the intifada,” though it is unclear if it is the same group that congregated outside Goldie.

Same question: How is diversity Philadelphia’s strength if the motley assemblage has nothing in common other than mutual animosity?

Circling back to California, it is the state with the highest percentage of immigrants, around 27 percent of the total population. How does that compare to the nation as a whole? “In October 2023, the Foreign-Born Share Was the Highest in History” (from the haters):

The Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) shows that the total foreign-born or immigrant population (legal and illegal) was 49.5 million in October 2023 — a 4.5 million increase since President Biden took office and a new record high. At 15 percent, the foreign-born share of the U.S. population is also the highest ever recorded in American history. … The scale of immigration is so high that it appears to have made the new Census Bureau population projections, published on November 9 of this year, obsolete. The bureau projected that the foreign-born share was not supposed to hit 15 percent until 2033. … While a large share of the recent foreign-born growth is due to illegal immigration, legal immigrants still account for three-fourths of the total foreign-born population.

So… California shows us what the U.S. will be like if present trends continue. It wasn’t a great place for either Paul Kessler (now dead) or Loay Alnaji (the immigrant now embroiled in the criminal justice system; he couldn’t have killed a Jew if he’d hadn’t emigrated because Islamic countries have been almost entirely free of Jews since the late 1940s (900,000 Jews were forced out by Muslim neighbors or emigrated to Israel voluntarily)).

Previous posts regarding immigrants who did not enjoy diversity in the U.S.:

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Thanksgiving

This year, I’m especially grateful that there is no war on U.S. soil. Regardless of which side in the Hamas-Israel fight one supports, nearly everyone will agree that war is hell and those who are insulated from war are fortunate. Since 1865, Americans have enjoyed better insulation than almost any other group of people, though, of course, quite a few Americans who identified as men have been sent off to fight.

Zooming all the way to the other end of the spectrum… I’m grateful that we can eat outdoors in nice weather in Florida without being besieged by yellowjackets, the wasps that ruin what would otherwise be great experiences in the Northeast U.S. I’ve enjoyed outdoor meals on both coasts and in Orlando and never been bothered. Florida is supposedly part of this insect’s range, so I have no explanation for why yellowjackets don’t swarm around restaurants and backyard barbecues.

For something in the middle… ChatGPT, which will be one year old on November 30, especially its ability to liberate programmers from the tedium of having to search for libraries and API calls (admittedly a tedium created by other programmers, drunk on the near-infinite memory capacity of modern computer systems). ChatGPT and similar have the potential to make programming an interesting job once again (see Is “data scientist” the new “programmer”?).

Readers: What are you grateful for this year?

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Elon Musk’s biggest failure to date: the solar roof

Since the mid-1960s, the U.S. has been embarked on a program of rapid population expansion via low-skill immigration (Pew):

We bring in low-skill migrants who are destined to become lower-than-median earners (if they work at all) and insist that they be provided with at least reasonably high quality housing. This makes sense only if the cost of building housing, and delivering the required energy to that housing, can be reduced via innovation.

What about America’s most successful innovator? His contribution to this challenge has been the solar roof. From Elon Musk:

Musk had helped his cousins, Peter and Lyndon Rive, launch SolarCity in 2006, and he bailed it out ten years later by having Tesla purchase it for $2.6 billion.

As always, he invoked to [Brian Dow] the steps of the algorithm and proceeded to show how they should be applied to the solar roofs. “Question every requirement.” Specifically, they should question the requirement that the installers must work around every vent and chimney pipe sticking up from a house. The pipes for dryers and ventilator fans should simply be sheared off and the solar roof tiles placed on top of them, he suggested. The air would still be able to vent under the tiles. “Delete.” The roof system had 240 different parts, from screws to clamps to rails. More than half should be deleted. “Simplify.” The website should offer just three types of roofs: small, medium, and large. After that, the goal was to “accelerate.” Install as many roofs as possible each week.

[during a sample installation in 2021] Musk clambered up a ladder to the peak of the roof, where he stood precariously. He was not happy. There were too many fasteners, he said. Each had to be nailed down, adding time to the installation process. Half should be deleted, he insisted. “Instead of two nails for each foot, try it with only one,” he ordered. “If the house has a hurricane, the whole neighborhood is fucked up, so who cares? One nail is going to be fine.” Someone protested that could lead to leaks. “Don’t worry about making it as waterproof as a submarine,” he said. “My house in California used to leak. Somewhere between sieve and submarine should be okay.” For a moment he laughed before returning to his dark intensity. No detail was too small. The tiles and railings were shipped to the sites packed in cardboard. That was wasteful. It took time to pack things and then unpack them. Get rid of the cardboard, he said, even at the warehouses. They should send him pictures from the factories, warehouses, and sites each week showing that they were no longer using cardboard.

“We need to get the engineers who designed this system to come out here and see how hard it is to install,” he said angrily. Then he erupted. “I want to see the engineers out here installing it themselves. Not just doing it for five minutes. Up on roofs for days, for fucking days!” He ordered that, in the future, everyone on an installation team, even the engineers and managers, had to spend time drilling and hammering and sweating with the other workers. When we finally climbed back down to the ground, Brian Dow and his deputy Marcus Mueller gathered the dozen engineers and installers in the side yard to hear Musk’s thoughts. They weren’t pleasant. Why, he asked, did it take eight times longer to install a roof of solar tiles than one with regular tiles? One of the engineers, named Tony, began showing him all the wires and electronic parts. Musk already knew the workings of each component, and Tony made the mistake of sounding both assured and condescending. “How many roofs have you done?” Musk asked him. “I’ve got twenty years of experience in the roof business,” Tony answered. “But how many solar roofs have you installed?” Tony explained he was an engineer and had not actually been on a roof doing the installation. “Then you don’t fucking know what you’re fucking talking about,” Musk responded. “This is why your roofs are shit and take so long to install.”

The one-nail idea proved to be unworkable, failing during installation rather than requiring a hurricane. Musk’s intervention did result in reduced installation time, but he never got anywhere near the goal of 1,000 roofs per week. A year after the above events, and following the firing and replacing of quite a few top managers, the company was at 30 roofs per week.

(We tried and failed to get a Tesla solar roof for our house in Maskachusetts. See Tesla Solar Roof (the price is not the price). Here in Florida, we are theoretically using all solar power via paying a little extra every month. That extra money is funding a utility-scale solar array owned and operating by Florida Power & Light.)

In the rush to expand the U.S. population, nobody seems to have noticed that attempts to reduce construction costs have failed. The single-family home is still stick-built by developers in more or less the same way as 100 years ago. The dream of lower cost via prefab did not pan out. Apartment buildings aren’t getting cheaper to construct, in constant dollars, I don’t think, but inflation has been reduced by lowering quality. Developers use flammable wood and sprinklers instead of concrete. “Why America’s New Apartment Buildings All Look the Same” (Bloomberg 2019)

Los Angeles architect Tim Smith was sitting on a Hawaiian beach, reading through the latest building code, as one does, when he noticed that it classified wood treated with fire retardant as noncombustible. That made wood eligible, he realized, for a building category—originally known as “ordinary masonry construction” but long since amended to require only that outer walls be made entirely of noncombustible material—that allowed for five stories with sprinklers.

By putting five wood stories over a one-story concrete podium and covering more of the one-acre lot than a high-rise could fill, Smith figured out how to get the 100 apartments at 60 percent to 70 percent of the cost.

the buildings have proved highly flammable before the sprinklers and walls go in. Dozens of major fires have broken out at mid-rise construction sites over the past five years. Of the 13 U.S. blazes that resulted in damages of $20 million or more in 2017, according to the National Fire Protection Association, six were at wood-frame apartment buildings under construction.

Maybe these buildings won’t burn, but I expect them to degrade and sag more than a concrete apartment building would and be more resistant to rehab.

So… even our most successful innovator, backed up by $billions in capital, hasn’t been able to scratch, much less dent, the problem of housing costs being far higher than what immigrants can afford. And yet we continue to keep our border open.

Health care, obviously, is not affordable for today’s typical migrant, though the true cost is often disguised either by an employer or the government (Medicaid). Let’s also look at car prices. A car is the typical family’s third largest expense after housing and health care. It seems unfair to compare today’s pavement-melting SUVs to the cars of 1965. Maybe we could look at the bottom end of today’s car market as a comparable. CNBC says that this is 30,000 Bidies. That translates to about $5,500 in 1965 dollars (BLS). How much did a car cost in 1965? Hemmings says that a Corvette cost $4,223 in 1965 while a Mustang with a V-8 was $2,734. A basic Dodge Dart was $1,959 and a full-sized Chevy Impala was $2,295 (I think both would seat 6 humans, so they actually had more utility than today’s cheap cars!), according to this source.

So… the costs of producing all of the basics of American life have gone up, in real terms, since the modern immigration wave began, we do not seek to preferentially admit those who are likely to earn higher incomes, and even heroes such as Elon Musk can’t get the construction industry out of its productivity stagnation.

As there is no Spanish tile option for the Tesla solar roof, I don’t think that we would be able to get one. I typed in some data on our house, including that we pay $600/month for electric (the average number might be closer to $500) and got a quote from their web site:

If we assume a zero interest rate environment, the purchase price works out to 606 months of electric bills. The roof then pays for itself in 50 years. Perhaps it would be fairer to subtract the likely cost of a new tile roof since we will need one of those eventually. Let’s call that $80,000. Now we’re down to a 39-year payback period. This is before considering the subsidies from working class renters that our rulers have generously decreed.

Related:

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