Migrant caravan members from Honduras are required to apply for asylum in Guatemala or Mexico?


A caravan of 7,000 Hondurans (“The Committee to Re-elect the President”?) are making their way through Guatemala and Mexico to the U.S. The good news is that they are entitled to free housing, free food, free health care, and a free smartphone as soon as they arrive (“The Contracting States shall accord to refugees lawfully staying in their territory the same treatment with respect to public relief and assistance as is accorded to their nationals” — Article 23 of the UN Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees).

However, there seems to be a dispute about whether these 7,000 folks are restricted in terms of where they can apply for asylum. From “President Trump Threatened to Turn Back Caravan Migrants If They Don’t Claim Asylum in Mexico. That’s Not Legal” (TIME):

President Donald Trump has said the Central American migrants traveling via caravan should seek asylum in Mexico – and threatened that they will be turned away if they reach the U.S. border.

“People have to apply for asylum in Mexico first, and if they fail to do that, the U.S. will turn them away. The courts are asking the U.S. to do things that are not doable!” he tweeted Sunday.

But following through on that threat could violate international law, experts say.

As a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, Mexico is obligated to protect people who are outside of their country and afraid to return due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality or membership to a particular social or political group.

The United States is also a signatory. And while Mexico is required to offer protection for refugees under international law, migrants have no obligation to request it there.

Under U.S. immigration law, the the United States can deny asylum if a person can be returned to a country where their life or freedom is not in danger, but only if the U.S. has entered into a bilateral or multilateral agreement that codifies the arrangement.

The U.S. and Canada have such an agreement. It says that people must seek refugee status in the first country they arrive in—either the U.S. or Canada—but there are some exceptions for cases of family reunification.

No such agreement exists with Mexico.

Additionally, some argue that Mexico would not meet the standards for such a designation. For one, given high rates of crime, there are credible safety concerns.

(In other words, the country in which Americans are willing to pay $1,000 per day to vacation is intolerably dangerous for a Honduran native speaker of Spanish.)

In Europe, it seems that “the country where an asylum seeker first enters the union is responsible for registering the asylum application and taking fingerprints.” (see “Explaining the Rules for Migrants: Borders and Asylum,” nytimes, 9/16/2015) But the U.S. is not part of this “Dublin Regulation,” so perhaps the last paragraph of the TIME article is definitive:

“If people who are fleeing persecution and violence enter Mexico they need to be provided access to the Mexican asylum system, and those entering the United States need to be provided access to the American asylum system,” says Chris McGrath, a UNHCR spokesperson.

Suppose that the TIME article and the UN bureaucrats are right and a caravan of 7,000 Hondurans can transition through Mexcio to California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, wouldn’t it work equally well for all of the migrants currently in the EU? There are millions of refugees in Germany. They are the majority of the welfare recipients in Germany (Wikipedia: “In April 2018 more than half, at 55%, of the recipients had a migration background. According to the Federal Employment Agency this was due to the migrants lacking either employable skills or knowledge of the language”). Instead of paying out Hartz IV benefits every month to a refugee, why not offer him or her a one-way plane ticket to a Mexico border town? Maybe the U.S. will deny the refugee’s application for asylum after 2 or 3 years, but during all of that time, the German taxpayer is relieved of the responsibility for paying Hartz IV. The refugee will be way better off as well because (a) no need to learn German, and (b) the American welfare system provides for a much higher standard of living than the German Hartz IV welfare system.

We’re told that the Europeans don’t love us anymore because Trump. What is stopping them from wishing bon voyage to Airbus A380s full of welfare-collecting refugees enthusiastic about living the American Dream in California or Texas via Mexico?

Alternatively, is it possible that Trump is right? Is there a rule that prevents a refugee from traveling to a lot of intermediate countries before settling down in the place that offers the most generous “public relief and assistance as is accorded to their nationals”?



Why would North Dakotans want to re-elect Heidi Heitkamp?


Heidi Heitkamp, a senator from North Dakota, reached me on Facebook with a sponsored listing (i.e., an ad):

I’m in the fight of my life right now … We have another $12,500 to raise, but luckily, a group of fired-up donors has offered to match all gifts, but only until midnight. Time’s running out, and whether or not we hit this goal before midnight could determine senate control. Please, will you give now and get every dollar DOUBLED?

Maybe there is a way on Facebook to target ads to “Coastal Elites” and I was mistakenly flagged as “elite” while correctly identified as living in Massachusetts?

Suppose that raising money from folks in Massachusetts is successful. Why would voters in North Dakota want to be represented by someone who has to answer to East Coast funders? Is the regional nature of U.S. politics breaking down?

[Heitkamp voted to keep the convicted-by-Facebook rapist Brett Kavanaugh on the appeals court:

She also credited the “heartfelt, credible and persuasive testimony” given by Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a party during high school.

“She had nothing to gain and everything to lose,” Heitkamp said. “When I listened to Dr. Ford testify, I heard the voices of women I have known throughout my life who have similar stories of sexual assault and abuse.”

So I responded to the sponsored listing with

Will you celebrate your victory by flying to French Polynesia with Christine Blasey Ford as your experienced guide? (maybe you can help Dr. Ford with her fear of flying in case the new B787 with fainting couch is not ready?)

This was not well-received by the Heitkamp faithful:

Brenda Torres Your are a moron hope you have a female in your family that get assaulted and is not believed let’s see how you feel about that idiot!! Making fun of a sexual assault victim typical male pig protecting a rapist!

So the person with a traditionally female name (Brenda might be a “woman”) who is passionate about ensuring that survivors are believed wants to see more women assaulted, so long as those women have the misfortune to be related to “a male pig.” Where is the solidarity among the sisterhood? (assuming that “Brenda” actually does identify as a sister)]

Want to join me on a Cuba, Caymans, and Haiti cruise Dec 9-17?



An Irish helicopter pilot friend and I are escaping our respective families and winter weather from Dec 9-17 on Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas (itinerary). The basic cabins are absurdly cheap, about $100 per-person per day. This includes a bed, three meals set up to minimize the risk of food poisoning, and entertainment. Should be cheaper than staying home!

It would be awesome if some of you can join. We can evaluate socialism first-hand in Cuba and give Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a full report. We can take some photos of Labadee and send them to Donald Trump so that he can see just how wrong he is about Haiti (as, of course, he is wrong about everything).

Our experience in Haiti will be authentic, according to Wikipedia:

The resort is completely tourist-oriented, and is guarded by a private security force. The site is fenced off from the surrounding area, and passengers are not allowed to leave the property. Food available to tourists is brought from the cruise ships. A controlled group of Haitian merchants are given sole rights to sell their merchandise and establish their businesses in the resort.

Royal Caribbean offers high-speed statellite Internet at a reasonable (considering the satellite link) price. So “have to work that week” is no excuse!

Please email me ( philg at mit.edu) if you can join.


Minimum cost of college sex tribunal defense


“Two Students Hooked Up. It Was Clearly Consensual. He Still Spent $12,000 Defending Himself.” (Reason) contains more detail than you’d want about the activities of a couple of UC Davis students. It is interesting, though, because it shows the minimum time and cost of a college sex tribunal defense. The official investigation began in January and was terminated in May. The defendant incurred legal bills of $12,000 as well as more than three months of uncertainty regarding his university education.

The mom in this story is not too pleased about the situation. Perhaps parents should budget for legal defense costs when sending sons off to college? Or encourage enrollment at an online university such as Western Governors University instead? If the teenage boy is at work during the day (perhaps in an all-male occupation?) and on the computer doing a class at night, how much trouble can he get into?


  • “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town (a.k.a. majoring in partying and football)” (where “winning” means spending more like $1 million on legal defense)

Americans are progressively becoming genetically incompatible with work?


One of my take-aways from Why You Are Who You Are, Investigations into Human Personality, a 24-lecture course (also available from Audible) by Mark Leary, a professor at Duke, is that the characteristics that make someone a good worker are fundamental to personality and highly heritable. One of the “Big Five” personality traits is conscientiousness. “Achievement motivation” is one of the top 3 that researchers look at for understanding why people do what they do.

The fourth member of the big five is the trait of conscientiousness, which reflects the degree to which people are responsible and dependable. Conscientiousness comes down to whether people usually do what they should and whether they try to do it well.

Conscientiousness also involves industriousness and persistence. Conscientious people work harder because getting things done and doing them well takes effort. And they are more likely to persist when tasks become difficult, boring, or unrewarding.

Achievement motivation is the motive to be competent and to perform at a high level, whether that is with regard to professional success, doing well in school, or being a successful athlete. You can think of achievement motivation as the priority that people place on achievement relative to other motives that they might have.

People high in achievement motivation have a more energetic approach to their work, whether it’s their job, schoolwork, or practicing some skill they want to learn. They’re hard workers, and they tend to stay on whatever task they’re doing longer than people who are lower in achievement motivation.

People who are higher in achievement motivation tend to work more hours—on the job or in school, for example—because that’s how one achieves: by doing more than other people. People on the low end of the continuum tend to work just hard enough to get by.

About 40% of the variability that we see in how achievement-oriented different people are has some sort of genetic basis.

How about people nobody wants to have in the workplace?

Personality disorders appear to be more heritable than most normal personality characteristics. About 50% to 80% of the variability that we see in these disorders seems to be genetic.

Consider Tracey Richter-Roberts. Though intellectually and physically capable of work, her penchant for making sexual harassment and sexual assault/abuse claims eventually forced her to earn her income through family court litigation rather than W-2 wages. That she ultimately resorted to murder as a way of preserving her cashflow seems to have been a sign of a personality disorder (she was not mentally ill). “Does Having a Dysfunctional Personality Hurt Your Career? Axis II Personality Disorders and Labor Market Outcomes” (Ettner, et al., 2012) concludes that that a personality disorder is statistically correlated with unemployment.

Suppose that you wanted to create a generation of people who did not enjoy working and whom employers did not want to hire. What would you do? You’d provide financial incentives for people without jobs to have as many children as possible, e.g., free apartments with extra bedrooms as extra children are born, free health care, free food, and a free smartphone. You’d provide disincentives to people with demanding jobs to have children by concentrating jobs in a handful of cities with expensive market rents (even a two-income couple in a coastal U.S. city probably can’t afford a 3 BR or 4 BR apartment) and providing comfortable welfare benefits to anyone who might otherwise have been motivated to work as a nanny for working parents.

Statistically we know that women with demanding jobs tend to have few kids (see also Pew for “Moms with Less Education Have Bigger Families”) and that women on welfare tend to have high fertility. What does it look like on the ground? From Medical School 2020, regarding the first week of OB/Gyn rotation:

Tiffany: “My patient is 29 years old with six kids, soon to be seven, who doesn’t speak a word of English after living in the US for over 10 years. I have nothing against refugees or old people who are not going to be able to learn a new language. But she has been here for over 10 years and doesn’t work. I did my training in Miami and I use Spanish here more than there. Everyone speaks English [in our city]. How does she take care of her kids?” She added: “Geez, I’m sounding Republican now that I make money. Mom always said I would become one. But I’m not, I am a hardcore Democrat. Weird. I just can’t stand lazy people.” Teacher Tom: “Better get used to it.”

Tom and I go see a 25-year-old pregnant mother, father, and cute chubby 3-year-old twins. Nobody in the family speaks English. She is 26 weeks pregnant and complaining of chest pain so was admitted despite being apparently healthy. We struggle to convey basic information about acid reflux and anxiety through a Swahili interpreter on the phone. Tom complains to the team in the resident lounge: “I just spent 30 minutes telling a patient how to take Pepcid. Why the hell is this patient in the hospital? This could all be done in clinic.”

[Note that these are Medicaid patients. By regulation, our M3 student hero is not allowed to assist with privately insured births.]

How about immigrants? They’re coming into the world’s most generous welfare state (Washington Post, which says that only France spends more as a percentage of GDP) so maybe, at least since the inception of the Great Society welfare system in the mid-1960s, we’re attracting people who are lower in conscientiousness and achievement motivation than immigrants of 100 or 200 years ago. The physicians above were struck by their patients’ lack of motivation to learn English, but Professor Leary would tell them to appreciate human diversity in personality, including in achievement motivation.

So… we’ve had two generations of Americans born since the U.S. established a generous welfare system and middle-class-and-above women entered the workforce. Is that enough time for us to see a genetically-driven change?

Readers: Could the fall in U.S. labor force participation rate be genetic? Countries such as Singapore with similar aging demographics, but without a big welfare state, haven’t experienced this kind of dropping labor force participation (data).


How is the Harvard admissions race discrimination trial going?


I was flying all week in the Cirrus SR20 with a European customer of our flight school, so I’m behind on the news. How is the trial in the race discrimination case against Harvard University going? Has anything new been discovered? (That Harvard prefers non-Asian students is not new!)

“Harvard’s gatekeeper reveals SAT cutoff scores based on race” (New York Post):

dean of admissions William Fitzsimmons … said Harvard sends recruitment letters to African-American, Native American and Hispanic high schoolers with mid-range SAT scores, around 1100 on math and verbal combined out of a possible 1600, CNN reported.

Asian-Americans only receive a recruitment letter if they score at least 250 points higher — 1350 for women, and 1380 for men.

I find this confusing. Why would Harvard have to send out recruitment letters to Asian men who score 1380? Wouldn’t those guys already know about the existence of Harvard and the possibility of admission? Maybe it makes sense to recruit students with SAT scores of 1100. As this is below the bottom of the range for Michigan State, for example, those students might not realize that they could get into Harvard.


  • “Official MIT opinion on Korean-Americans” (from 2007): The MIT Dean of Admissions, Marilee Jones, said, never having met the guy, “It’s possible that Henry Park looked like a thousand other Koreans kids… yet another textureless math grind.” (higher-ups in the MIT Administration were okay with this, apparently, though Jones did run into some difficulty due to issues with her resume (Wikipedia))
  • “Former Dean Resurfaces, Leaving Scandal Behind” (nytimes, 2009): “After a move to New York, and a divorce from Steven R. Bussolari, of M.I.T.’s Lincoln Laboratory, she has re-emerged with a new consulting business, offering her services both to admissions offices and to parents.” (the Massachusetts family law system at the time provided for the potential of lifetime alimony regardless of the length of the marriage, so Jones might not have ever needed to work again)

Why no convertible minivans?


All of the convertibles on the market are 2-seat or 4-seat (except for some Jeeps? but those aren’t cars per se), which means that there should be a wide open field for a company that makes a convertible big enough for a full-size family (though perhaps not for Amy Coney Barrett and her seven kids!).

How about turning an 8-seat minivan into a 7-seat convertible? Borrow some of the space in the last row for the convertible mechanism and then the entire family can enjoy the breeze.

How tough would this be? Maybe it would need to have some framing structure still on the top to accommodate the sliding doors? But what if the entire roof came off and the windows rolled down, leaving essentially just a roll cage?

FBO news: Crony capitalism with web-published prices


Airports provide a simple example of the crony capitalist system that increasingly prevails in the U.S. Private aircraft operators pay for airport infrastructure via federal taxes on fuel and airline passengers pay via taxes on tickets. The Feds then use this money to fund runways, taxiways, etc. at city- and county-owned airports.

What do the cities and counties do? They turn around and let a private fixed-based operator (FBO) run a monopoly or, sometimes, a duopoly, enterprise charging whatever prices they want for “handling,” parking, fuel, etc. Typically the only limit on what an FBO can charge is set by the existence of an alternative airport nearby. For example, the two FBOs at Chicago Midway can agree with each other to charge $8/gallon for 100LL, but they can’t go to $10/gallon because Gary, Indiana sells fuel for around $5/gallon (B. Coleman is awesome!) and driving from Gary to Chicago is practical.

The heavy jet operators may not care. The customer who charters a Gulfstream will also pay any fees that are assessed. Also, the jet operators band together to negotiate special pricing with FBOs and the biggest jet operators, such as the airlines, NetJets, and the U.S. government, negotiate nationwide deals with FBO networks.

Operators of piston-powered aircraft are in a precarious position because they don’t usually have a customer to whom a fee can be passed on and, even at $8/gallon, the FBO won’t make a significant profit due to costs of regulatory compliance, training, and hiring people for precision blue collar jobs in an economy where labor force participation is falling. The don’t have enough buying power to negotiate with the FBOs, who are busy trying to attract more Gulfstreams.

The organization that represents the interests of all general aviation operators, including the piston-powered mosquitoes, is AOPA. They’ve been trying to chip away at the issue of fees by asking FBOs at least to publish what the fees will be. They’re declaring a small victory this month as Signature, a big UK-owned chain, has started to disclose fees on its web site (it doesn’t seem to be complete, though, because (a) often these fees are waived if a minimum quantity of fuel is purchased, and (b) there are usually additional fees for overnight parking at the popular airports).

One AOPA project is trying to get airports to set up and publicize public transient parking areas. The visiting aircraft that doesn’t need any services can land, park, walk out a gate, get back in with a code, etc. So the aircraft operator uses the runways and taxiways that he or she paid for via fuel taxes and doesn’t get charged for using the FBO’s admittedly-expensive-to-run terminal. Maybe this will become a more critical issue for the public once the age of electric drone-like aircraft is upon us. If an electric drone is making a 1-minute stop to let off a passenger, why does it have to pay a $100 ramp fee?

DNA testing in Massachusetts


We did some in our household too…

Department of You Can’t Please Everyone: Freeman Dyson’s letters criticized


Maker of Patterns: An Autobiography Through Letters is described thusly on Amazon:

Having penned hundreds of letters to his family over four decades, Freeman Dyson has framed them with the reflections made by a man now in his nineties. While maintaining that “the letters record the daily life of an ordinary scientist doing ordinary work,” Dyson nonetheless has worked with many of the twentieth century’s most renowned physicists, mathematicians, and intellectuals, so that Maker of Patterns presents not only his personal story but chronicles through firsthand accounts an exciting era of twentieth-century science.

What did Daniel laskowski, Amazon customer and reviewer think about these letters?

Spends to [sic] much time in the first person

This is why I love shopping online!

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