How would the Wall work through Big Bend National Park?

The U.S.-Mexico border is 1,954 miles long, of which 580 miles was fenced (not “walled”!) prior to Donald Trump taking office (Wikipedia). That leaves 1,374 miles of proposed new barrier (immoral “wall” if built by Trump; moral “fence” if built by others?). Of those 1,374 miles, 118 miles are part of Big Bend National Park.

Reading The Line Becomes a River, by a former Border Patrol agent (2008-2012), made me wonder how Trump’s proposed barrier can work along this part of the border. Some excerpts:

On a hot Texas evening at the edge of Big Bend National Park, I watched a man ride his horse across the Rio Grande.

I gestured at the village across the river and asked the man if he lived in Boquillas. Of course, he said, beaming with pride. I asked what he did for work and he nodded at the unattended souvenirs and handmade crafts that had been set out atop the rocks. No hay trabajo, he complained—we make our money from tourists. I asked if many Americans crossed over to visit. Sure, he said, Boquillas is very safe. Narcos don’t bother us, even the rangers and la migra leave us alone. He paused. You know, he said, there’s a nice restaurant in my village. Is there breakfast? I asked. Of course, he smiled. I’ll come for you in the morning.

The next morning, as the sun grew pale and white in the eastern sky, I met my guide at the banks of the river. He instructed me to climb onto his horse, and then, like it was nothing, he spurred the animal across the river into Mexico. We spoke little as I jostled atop sauntering haunches and grasped at the back of his saddle. Passing the first cinderblock homes of Boquillas, I considered the extent to which my safekeeping depended upon this stranger, leading me into the silent and unfamiliar streets of his village.

Our young fit fluent-in-Spanish half-Mexican hero bravely makes a trip that, during my visit to Big Bend, was mostly being taken by senior citizens after exiting from their RVs. The “river” is more like a wide shallow stream at this point in its course. Neither the U.S. nor Mexico was bothering to do any border control at the border. In the case of the U.S., there were checkpoints across the roads about 50 miles north. I enjoyed my time in Boquillas, especially the town’s dusty museum (unattended by any guard; pay into a box via the honor system).

The National Park Service now has an official guide to visiting Boquillas. It seems that the ability to walk to Boquillas and get a taco was one of the freedoms we supposed lost after 9/11 (Wikipedia; except that the author made it across easily!), but since 2013 (Wikipedia) there is a formal border crossing.

I wonder how Trump’s political promise can be implemented in this part of the country. Here are some possibilities:

  • Despite the idea that national parks are supposed to be mostly natural, we install an ugly fence along our side of the river. It will appear in every visitor’s snapshots from Big Bend.
  • We build a fence on the north edge of the park, with checkpoints at the handful of roads that would cross the fence. Any caravan of migrants that has made its way to Mexico City can ride a bus for another 18 hours, get off in Boquillas, walk across the Rio Grande and tell the nearest park ranger “I am seeking asylum” (or give birth to a baby who will then be entitled to bring the parents in 18 years from now, thus saddling U.S. taxpayers with the cost of public housing, health care, food stamps, etc., for the now-older parents)
  • We pay the Mexicans to build a monster fence somewhere on their side of the border, out of sight of the tourists who come to Big Bend (but the Mexicans have their own state park on their side).

Is there any other alternative that is consistent with Trump’s campaign promise?

[Also, given that it is easy to walk into the U.S. at Big Bend, why aren’t migrant caravans choosing this route right now? Why wait near the border in Tijuana, for example, when one could just as easily be over the border and on one’s way from Big Bend?]

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Why does the FBI investigate “truths” that violated no federal law?

A friend on Facebook cited “2nd Fairfax accuser says she was raped by former Duke basketball player Corey Maggette” (CNN):

“I say again without reservation: I did not sexually assault or rape Meredith Watson, Vanessa Tyson or anyone else,” Fairfax said in the statement.

“The one thing I want to make abundantly clear is that in both situations I knew at the time, and I know today, that the interactions were consensual.”

Fairfax said what he has “expressed is the truth.”

“I want to stand here in that truth and restate that my truth, as well as the truth of Dr. Tyson and Ms. Watson, should be fully investigated and thoroughly assessed,” Fairfax’s statement said. He called on the FBI to “investigate fully and thoroughly the allegations against me.”

The story was highlighted for the fact that the person accused of a criminal act asserts that his accusers are telling “the truth,” but that he is also telling “his truth” in contradiction them.

As a taxpayer, I’m more interested in the question of why the FBI even could be involved. From the bureaucracy’s web site:

Federal law gives the FBI authority to investigate all federal crime not assigned exclusively to another federal agency (28, Section 533 of the U.S. Code). … The FBI has special investigative jurisdiction to investigate violations of state law in limited circumstances, specifically felony killings of state law enforcement officers (28 U.S.C. § 540), violent crimes against interstate travelers (28 U.S.C. § 540A0), and serial killers (28 U.S.C. §540B). A request by an appropriate state official is required before the FBI has authority to investigate these matters.

There is no “truth” that has been covered by the media that would fit into one of the above categories.

Why do taxpayers in Ohio need to pay the FBI for an investigation of stuff that happened at the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston or in North Carolina? If there were crimes committed under state or local laws, why wouldn’t it be state or local taxpayers paying the bills for any required investigations?


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Jacksonville Beach and St. Augustine for a winter vacation

We experimented this year with a winter escape to a part of Florida that is a little cooler than Miami, but a lot less packed with both locals and tourists. Here’s a report…

Jacksonville Beach was a huge hit with the kids. A beachfront hotel with a pool is about $200/night and will keep everyone entertained all day. Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach are lower density. The One Ocean hotel in Atlantic Beach is a good place to start. We stayed at the Hampton Inn in Jacksonville Beach, which is okay, but the room-to-room sound transmission makes earplugs essential. The adjacent Marriott looked newer and might be better. All of these places have wide firmly packed beaches (partly due to the miracle of dredging and “beach replenishment), ideal for long walks. The beaches are also dog-friendly all winter all day, so bring the family dog.

The killer breakfast option is Maple Street Biscuit Company, a small local chain. Metro Diner is more traditional/conventional, but also excellent. We enjoyed V Pizza for lunch. This is strictly wood-fired and presided over by a fanatical Albanian who spent 10 years in Italy. (St. Augustine has Pizza Time, for which people wait in line for 45 minutes, but it is boring electric-oven pizza that you could get on any street corner in NYC.) Atlantic Beach has a bunch of elegant dinner spots with outdoor tables. They’re all pretty good, but service suffers when they’re busy (the future of U.S. restaurants, I’m pretty sure, is Panera-style order-at-the-counter; Maple Street works this way and so does V Pizza; it doesn’t make sense to buy health care at the world’s highest prices for a waiter when it is easy enough to get up and grab one’s own dish). Kazu Sushi Burrito in Jacksonville Beach and Tokyo Ramen in a strip mall in Atlantic Beach were both good breaks from the burgers.

St. Augustine was so packed in the days before and just after New Year’s that it wasn’t pleasant. Make sure to book a hotel right in the center of town (i.e., in the historical walking area) because traffic and parking are murderous. Most of the sights are best for kids 7 or older, I would say. Younger children will be happier at Jacksonville Beach. Consider a day trip from Jacksonville Beach to St. Augustine, though it needs to be a 12-hour day if you’re going to see the main sights. There is an awesome playground right next to the main parking structure in St. Augustine.

If you brought a light airplane, Sky Harbor at KCRG is a great FBO. Zip down to KTIX (about 45 minutes) to the Valiant Air Command warbird museum (park on their ramp after calling ahead). We stumbled into a tour by a retired USMC F-4 pilot. See also the B-52 cockpit below!

A 10-minute ride from KTIX is the Kennedy Space Center’s visitor theme park. This is privately run and keeps chugging along despite any government shutdowns. The only interaction with official Feds is when guards (armed with the assault rifles that the government assures us no reasonable person actually needs) board the tourist bus (to make sure nobody is planning an armed takeover of NASA’s launchpad?).

(Here’s a good image for flight instructors:

“They made it to the moon with a paper flight plan and you need a phone app to go on a 50 nm cross country?”)

The Cummer Museum in Jacksonville is a good escape from the kids (see The Jacksonville Zoo is awesome. The Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Jacksonville had some interesting exhibits. Don’t forget the candy factory across the square!

“The economy is based on poor people,” said one local. His perspective was confirmed by the fact that the most impressive building in Jacksonville is the new 800,000 square foot Duval County Courthouse (more than $400 million including the land?). Billboards through the region feature personal injury and divorce lawyers (Florida offers permanent alimony, so plaintiffs have a strong incentive to litigate; for unmarried plaintiffs, the state also offers unlimited child support, assuming the defendant has sufficient income). The next tier of awesomeness in building is occupied by hospitals, including the Mayo Clinic. A young local couple on the beach with their Bernese Mountain Dog said that both worked in health care and that “all” of their patients were on either Medicaid or Medicare. At least they won’t be wiped out from buying gasoline…

Locals seemed surprised that anyone would want to come to this part of Florida for a beach vacation before April or after October. However, the lack of crowds is nice (except in St. Augustine between Christmas and New Year’s!). The ocean isn’t warm enough for swimming, but a typical daily high temperature is close to 70 degrees and walking around in a T-shirt is a luxury from this Bostonian’s perspective. Atlantic and Neptune beaches are built up only to a reasonable human scale:

Aviation enthusiasts should make sure that they arrive with full IFR currency. We had fog or a low-ish cloud layer over the coastal airports at least half of the time so there were plenty of instrument approaches to be done. Sky Harbor at Craig is a great FBO and Atlantic at SGJ is very welcoming as well.

How about New Yorkers and Californians relocating to Atlantic Beach to escape the new cruel taxation regime of the Trumpenfuhrer, in which their state income taxes (used by state Democrats only for the most virtuous purposes) are no longer deductible against Federal income tax? What if these well-meaning folks decide that they like the beach and don’t want to pay the higher effective tax rates that they’ve long been advocating?  Zillow says that a nice 20-year-old 5BR house just one block back from the beach (will be beachfront soon enough!) is $950,000 and attracts property tax of $7,700 per year (barely raised since 2003).

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Barbara Ehrenreich: Working out is another form of conspicuous consumption

From Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer by Barbara Ehrenreich… 

Working out is another form of conspicuous consumption: Affluent people do it and, especially if muscular exertion is already part of their job, lower-class people tend to avoid it. There are exceptions like the working-class male body builders—“ meatballs”— who can be found in places like Gold’s Gym, as well as the lower-class women who attempt to shed pounds at Curves (a descendant of the women’s-only gym where I started my workout career). By and large, though, working out is a reliable indicator of social status.

And why should the mind want to subdue the body systematically, repeatedly, day after day? Many gym-goers will tell you cheerfully that it makes them feel better, at least when the workout is over. But there’s a darker, more menacing side to the preoccupation with fitness, and this is the widespread suspicion that if you can’t control your own body, you’re not fit, in any sense, to control anyone else, and in their work lives that is a large part of what typical gym-goers do. We are talking here about a relative elite of people who are more likely to give orders than to take them— managers and professionals. In this class, there are steep penalties for being overweight or in any other way apparently unhealthy. Flabby people are less likely to be hired or promoted; 13 they may even be reprimanded and obliged to undergo the company’s “wellness” program, probably consisting of exercise (on- or off-site), nutritional counseling to promote weight loss, and, if indicated, lessons in smoking cessation.

The author points out that the fitness culture provides equal opportunities for misery:

But if women are in a way “masculinized” by the fitness culture, one might equally well say that men are “feminized” by it. Before the 1970s, only women were obsessed with their bodies, although in a morbid, anorectic way. But in the brightly lit gyms, where walls are typically lined by mirrors, both sexes are invited to inspect their body images for any unwanted bulges or loose bits of flesh and plan their workouts accordingly. Gay men flocked to the gyms, creating a highly chiseled standard of male beauty. The big change, though, was that heterosexual men were also “objectified” by the fitness culture, encouraged to see themselves as the objects of other people’s appreciation— or, as the case may be, scorn. For both sexes in the endangered white-collar middle class, the body became an essential element of self-presentation, not just its size and general shape but the squareness of shoulders, the flatness of tummy, and, when sleeves were rolled up, the carefully sculpted contours of muscle.

Ehrenreich points out that blue collar workers are likely to be so damaged by age 50, e.g., with back pain, that they can’t participate in the fitness competition.

Knee and lower back pain arise in the forties and fifties, compromising the mobility required for “successful aging.” … The U.S. Census Bureau reports that nearly 40 percent of people age sixty-five and older suffer from at least one disability, with two-thirds of them saying they have difficulty walking or climbing.  … “You don’t become inactive because you age,” we’ve been told over and over. “You age because you’ve become inactive.”

Who is fighting the hardest against what formerly had been accepted as the natural order?

The goal here is not something as mundane as health. Silicon Valley’s towering hubris demands nothing less than immortality. The reason why Kurzweil has transformed himself into a walking chemistry lab is to prolong his life just long enough for the next set of biomedical breakthroughs to come along, say in 2040, after which we’ll be able to load our bodies with millions of nanobots programmed to fight disease. One way or another, other tech titans aim to achieve the same thing. As Newsweek reports: Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal, plans to live to be 120. Compared with some other tech billionaires, he doesn’t seem particularly ambitious. Dmitry Itskov, the “godfather” of the Russian Internet, says his goal is to live to 10,000; Larry Ellison, co-founder of Oracle, finds the notion of accepting mortality “incomprehensible,” and Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, hopes to someday “cure death.”

If you are one of the richest men in the world, and presumably, since this is Silicon Valley, one of the smartest, why should you ever die?

Maybe it is time to hit the gym…

More: Read Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer.

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Gillette versus Dorco Shaving Test 3

Continuing research … (see Test 1 and Test 2)

Test 3:

  • one day of growth
  • shaving in the shower
  • Edge shaving gel
  • Dorco Pace 7 on right side of face
  • latest and greatest Gillette Fusion 5 ProShield with Flexball on left side of face
  • third shave for each cartridge

Results: More or less equivalent.

Still to try: Dorco Pace 6 Plus ($6.50 for handle and two cartridges; free shipping and no sales tax collected for MA residents). This one has a single trimmer blade in addition to its 6 regular blades, so it is more directly comparable to the Gillette product.


  • a 2014 review of the Dorco Pace 6 by a serious shaver-experimenter. He concludes that the Dorco product “is comparable to the Gillette Fusion Proglide” (but he had only 6 blades, not 7, at the time!) and that the Dorco cartridge is good for 20 shaves before requiring stropping (i.e., being thrown away, since a new one is less than $2).
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Woman who “exceeded expectations” by earning an engineering degree

The Art of Investing: Lessons from History’s Greatest Traders is a Teaching Company course by John M. Longo, a Rutgers professor who got a Bachelor’s in 1991 (so he should be 50 years old), has one lecture given over to “four women who moved financial markets” (the other 23 lectures cover investors who, at least at one time, identified as “men”).

One thing that struck me was Professor Longo’s praise of Leda Braga, born in 1967, as having “exceeded expectations.” One cited example of this was earning a Ph.D. in engineering from Imperial College London. But Professor Longo does not cite any reason for anyone to doubt this woman’s abilities other than her identifying as a woman.

(The rest of the course suggests that, except for the Renaissance folks such as James Simon, “nobody knows anything.” The successful investment strategies are all over the map. It is unclear if the folks who’ve been successful are examples of survivorship bias. They took some bold risks and succeeded. Okay, but what about the 100 other folks who took bold risks at the same time? Investor track records are presented without any adjustment for risk. So a monkey who threw darts at the WSJ in 1990 and picked Microsoft and Apple as the sole constituents of a portfolio would be celebrated as a genius investor.)

Readers: Does it actually advance the cause of gender equality to express surprise that a woman is able to do something that tens of thousands of men do annually?


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The going rate for sex with the boss

The New York Post reports a lot of stuff that would never make it into the New York Times. Within “Sarma Melngailis had a steamy affair with her married lawyer”:

“The past year I’ve gotten three insanely high settlements for consensual sex as sexual harassment,” he texted on May 4, 2017. “I think I may be some kind of savant. I get a case. And then I ask a set of lawyers who only do this kind of work what is the best settlement I could hope for. And then I triple it.”

“I made $2.9 million for a 24 year old girl who had a consensual sexual relationship with her boss,” he boasted the next day.

Assuming that the “sexual relationship” occurred in New York, the state’s child support formula would yield $2.9 million over a 21-year period if the boss earned at least $800,000 per year. If, in fact, the $2.9 million is triple the typical amount, the boss would have to earn roughly $270,000 per year to make collecting child support as lucrative as a sexual harassment lawsuit. If the lawyers are taking 40 percent, collecting child support becomes more lucrative when the boss earns at least $162,000 per year. On the third hand, there is nothing to stop a plaintiff from collecting a sexual harassment settlement on top of child support. If we assume that the boss earns $400,000 per year and the sexual harassment settlement is $1 million tax-free, revenue from sex at work would be approximately $2.4 million, completely tax-free. At New York City tax rates, a plaintiff would have to earn nearly $4.8 million pre-tax to have this kind of spending power, or $228,500 per year for 21 years.

Separately, the story shows the value of having good legal representation:

On May 10, 2017, she pleaded guilty to charges of grand larceny, criminal tax fraud and a scheme to defraud and was sentenced to only four months in prison.

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The art of victimhood

From the Boston Museum of Fine Arts: Rich American actors take on-camera speaking jobs from poor refugees.

Around the corner, Nan Goldin, who “immersed herself in urban subcultures and the LGBTQIA community” and is “a survivor of opioid addiction”:

On the other hand, the museum will save whales from victimhood via straw-denial:

(They’ve chosen to be “part of the solution” in this liquid context, so they can’t be accused of being part of the precipitate!)

How do things look down near the southern end of the East Coast? A few images from the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville:

How about in the center of our Great Nation (TM)? Our hotel in Arkansas featured a “Future is Female” art exhibit (T-shirt available for $38). The signs below discuss “the affirmation of the self” and the use of “Equal,” “Powerful,” and “Feminist” as “positive language” that will redefine viewers’ reflections by subverting the “typical narrative”.

The presumably well-meaning folks at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art demoted one of my personal favorites Louise Nevelson from “great artist” to “great female artist” by putting one of her sculptures into a female artist ghetto room placarded with a history timeline beginning in 1963. Nevelson was recognized with solo shows beginning in 1941 and was featured on the cover of Life in 1958; a 1971 NYT article describes her as a great sculptor, without limitation to her gender ID (also, that she divorced her husband and “refused any alimony, however, on the ground that to accept it would be immoral”). Right next to Nevelson, who was considered by NYT readers, at least, to be a “great artist” as of 1971, the curators have a sign in which Linda Nochlin, a non-artist academic, asks “Why have there been no great women artists?” (also from 1971)

The museum features a photo exhibit in which, to demonstrate their autonomy, women must comply with the photographer’s instruction to pick a book by a female author (but did anyone verify that the authors of all 70ish chosen books continue to identify as “female”?).

Note that Jean-Paul Sartre’s pet name for Simone de Beauvoir was “Beaver” (Guardian).

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Follow our ground school at MIT via the miracle of streaming video

If you’re not happy with the latest from Netflix and Amazon you’ll love our MIT Ground School course, streaming in real time and on-demand:

Experienced pilots: Start with “Day 1-PM” from the on-demand menu and then scroll to 2:13 for a lecture on F-22 flight controls.

Today was the end of Day 1. We’re also running tomorrow and Thursday.

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Mindless Enthusiasm for Mindfulness

From Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer by Barbara Ehrenreich:

Jon Kabat-Zinn, a Zen-trained psychologist in Cambridge, Massachusetts, had already extracted what he took as the secularized core of Buddhism and termed it “mindfulness,” which he extolled in two bestsellers in the late 1990s. I first heard the word in 1998 from a wealthy landlady in Berkeley, who advised me to be “mindful” of the suffocating Martha Stewart– ish décor of the apartment I was renting from her, which of course I was doing everything possible to unsee. The probable connection to Buddhism emerged when I had to turn to a tenants’ rights group to collect my security deposit. People like me— renters?— she responded in an angry letter, were oppressing Tibetans and disrespected the Dalai Lama. During the same stint in the Bay Area, I learned that rich locals liked to unwind at Buddhist monasteries in the hills where, for a few thousand dollars, they could spend a weekend doing manual labor for the monks. Buddhism, or some adaptation thereof, was becoming a class signifier, among Caucasians anyway, and nowhere was it more ostentatious than Silicon Valley, where star player Steve Jobs had been a Buddhist or perhaps a Hindu— he seems not to have made a distinction— even before it was fashionable for CEOs to claim a spiritual life. Guided by an in-house Buddhist, Google started offering its “Search Inside Yourself” trainings, promoting attention and self-knowledge, in 2007.

In a stroke of genius, Gordhamer found a way to raise the issue while actually flattering the tech titans. He claims to have discovered that, while the rest of us struggle with intractable distraction, leaders from Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other major tech companies seem to be “tapped into an inner dimension that guides their work.” 22 He called it “wisdom” and started a series of annual conferences called Wisdom 2.0, based originally in San Francisco, in which corporate leaders, accompanied by celebrity gurus, could share the source of their remarkable serenity, which was soon known as mindfulness.

Mass-market mindfulness began to roll out of the Bay Area like a brand-new app. Very much like an app, in fact, or a whole swarm of apps. There are over five hundred mindfulness apps available, bearing names like “Simply Being” and “Buddhify.”

While an earlier, more arduous version of Buddhism attracted few celebrities other than Richard Gere, mindfulness boasts a host of prominent practitioners— Arianna Huffington, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Anderson Cooper among them. It debuted at Davos in 2013 to an overflow crowd, and Wisdom 2.0 conferences have taken place in New York and Dublin as well as San Francisco, with attendees often fanning out to become missionaries for the new mind-set— starting their own coaching businesses or designing their own apps. A recent Wisdom 2.0 event in San Francisco advertised speeches by corporate representatives of Starbucks and Eileen Fisher as well as familiar faces from Google and Facebook. Aetna health insurance offers its thirty-four thousand employees a twelve-week program and dreams of expanding to include all its customers, who will presumably be made healthier by clearing their minds.

How well does it all work?

What there is no evidence for, however, is any particularly salubrious effect of meditation, especially in byte-sized doses. This was established through a mammoth federally sponsored “meta-analysis” of existing studies, published in 2014, which found that meditation programs can help treat stress-related symptoms, but that they are no more effective in doing so than other interventions, such as muscle relaxation, medication, or psychotherapy.  … So maybe meditation does have a calming, “centering” effect, but so does an hour of concentration on a math problem or a glass of wine with friends. I personally recommend a few hours a day with small children or babies, who can easily charm anyone into entering their alternative universe.

[Based on the last sentence, I think it is safe to say that the author has never been to our house.]

More: read Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer 

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