Good plug-in hybrid that doesn’t signal virtue?


Our family’s 2007 Infiniti (Nissan) has hit 85,000 miles and all of the advanced systems that seemed like a good idea at the time are failing. Perhaps it is time for a 2018 car.

Here are some requirements…

  • should be a reasonably roomy sedan (Accord/Camry size would be ideal)
  • hatchback would be a plus for fitting in bulky strollers
  • hybrid with at least 25 miles of electric range would be nice
  • should not be a virtue-signalling brand or design (i.e., cannot be a Tesla or a Prius)
  • should not be a wealth-signalling brand such as BMW, Mercedes, et al.

We could probably get by with an all-electric car, but I’m worried that keeping track of its charge state would become another task in an already overloaded household (kids, dog, grandparents, etc.). With the hybrid if we forget to charge it we can still drive it. Also, we don’t have a functional garage or any kind of power outlet near the driveway other than a conventional 15A 115V.

We’re surrounded by smug people who plaster their cars with bumper stickers exhorting fellow citizens to think and vote virtuously (think “Prius with bumper stickers professing love for Obama and Hillary and hatred for Trump”). We don’t want anyone to think that we’re judging them, trying to persuade them, etc. So the car should just look like a car.

One idea: Honda Clarity plug-in hybrid. It has a 47-mile electric range (25 miles in the Massachusetts winter?). It looks like an Accord or Civic (but uglier?). I think that it is a hatchback, but of course it would be marketing death for Honda to promote that.

Readers: Better ideas?

Americans are afraid to be seen as homophobic? Or my joke was not funny?


From the NBAA show in Las Vegas, I posted the photo below of a rubber ducky wearing a Statue of Liberty outfit and holding a sign reading “FAG”:

Keeping in mind that the swag at an American business jet conference is targeted at Americans born circa 1960, I thought that this was at least somewhat humorous. Yet none of my American-born Facebook friends were willing to go on record with a “like”. Are they afraid of being seen as homophobic? Or is there nothing funny about this marketing project?

Status of women in Morocco


One of the arguments for why we need to lose thousands of American lives and spend trillions of dollars on wars against Muslims is that we are protecting women from oppression. Enlightened European or American laws and customs will enable women to enjoy a much better life than they can have under Islam-influenced government and therefore 10 or 15 years of killing is justified. says that Morocco derives much of its law from “Sharia jurisprudence.” Mom and I enjoyed a bus tour around Casablanca as part of our September cruise. The tour guide was a self-described “feminist” in her mid-50s who gave us her perspective on the status of women in Morocco.

“Since 1999 we have women working in all occupations,” said the guide, “including judges, doctors, and police officers.” She added “By law they must receive equal pay,” and the audience of American women (median age: 70) erupted in applause (most of those applauding their working Moroccan sisters had themselves been sustained by the labor of a man, either by being a stay-at-home wife or a successful divorce plaintiff).

The guide said it was “normal” to have 6 children, though the latest generation may have only 2 or 3. She herself was one of 9 siblings (the population has tripled since 1960). If both parents work, who takes care of these children? It turns out that public school runs from 8-12 and 2-6. It costs about $2 for lunch and supervision from 12-2 if both parents are working or busy. The guide explained that she left her children at school all day whenever a cruise ship was in port.  [Why such a long school day? The kids will have Arabic in morning and French in afternoon. Plus it is “compulsory” to learn a third language, which is typically English. Thus approximately 75 percent of Moroccans speak at least some English. I later talked to another guide who sends her children to private school in which all instruction is in French or English.]

The biggest change for women, according to our guide, was in 2003 when Morocco adopted “divorce law modeled after Europe.” Prior to 2003, a woman could obtain a divorce unilaterally, but not with a cash profit: “She walked out with her clothes and the children if she wanted them.” After divorcing her husband, a woman would have to rely on wage labor, the income of a new male partner, or family support. Since 2003, however, a female plaintiff will automatically get the house, the children, and what the guide called a “pension” (alimony and child support) that is determined by the judge. Unlike in the U.S., however, where a plaintiff might have to fight for 1-3 years to get these things, a Moroccan women can get them immediately and without any litigation costs. Our guide explains that the woman is entitled to an immediate divorce if she goes before a judge and alleges that her husband hit or threatened to hit her (in the U.S. a plaintiff can get a de facto divorce with an allegation of domestic violence, but still may have to go through the formalities of a trial to make it final).

She then asked for permission from the group of American senior citizens to “say something dirty.” This was readily granted. The guide then explained, with the assistance of some hand gestures, that the second ground for an immediate divorce was “if the husband wanted to have sex from the back, which is prohibited by the Koran [Wikipedia].” Was a demure female plaintiff really expected to relate conversations from her bedroom in front of a potentially male judge? No. The guide explained that “The woman doesn’t have to say this in court. She takes off her shoe and turns it upside down to show the judge.”

What if a plaintiff doesn’t want to allege domestic violence or specific bedroom requests? “She needs to go to a few meetings with the judge. If she can’t agree with her husband, the marriage will be declared irreconcilable and divorce will be granted.” (i.e., a plaintiff simply needs to stonewall to obtain a no-fault divorce)

[Consistent with the 70-year-old woman who approved of a father walking out on his wife of 15 years, and breaking up the nuclear family that his two young children had enjoyed, so long as he could find a more agreeable sex partner, the audience of American seniors was generally warm to the idea of a parent going to the courthouse to get rid of an unwanted spouse.]

If divorce and getting the house, kids, and cash is easier than in the U.S., remarriage is more costly for the woman. “The husband can reclaim the house and the children if she remarries.” Remarriages before the children reach adulthood are rare. Note that this tracks former U.S. law and custom. Most of the profits from marriage were via alimony, which was expected to last just a few years until the recipient got remarried and alimony was thereby terminated. The assumption was that alimony recipients wouldn’t want to have sex outside of marriage, but that they would want to have sex with new partners, so that it wouldn’t be possible to simultaneously tap a current and former sex partner.

Cruise passengers asked the guide about polygamy (Wikipedia). With profitable no-fault divorce available after a single courtroom appearance, absent consent from all wives, it would be practically impossible to sustain traditional simultaneous polygamy in Morocco and, indeed, a 2004 law codified that, requiring written permission from an existing wife before a man could marry a second wife. (Of course, with American-/European-style family law, Morocco now has serial polygamy in that multiple women may be living off a single high-income man.)

What if family court litigants were never married? Is it possible for a Moroccan to obtain the spending power of a primary care doctor by having sex with a medical specialist? “She can get paid. She can get something,” responded the guide, “but there is a limit.” Out-of-wedlock children are not as profitable as children of a marriage. As in the U.S., DNA testing is used by courts when ordering cashflow.

From a structural/legal point of view, women in Morocco are in many ways better off than women in a lot of U.S. states. There is no risk of being the loser in a winner-take-all custody fight. There is no risk of paying child support or alimony to a man. There is no risk of being ordered to share parenting with a discarded husband. Revenue from the marriage and children will not be impaired by legal fees because, as long as a female plaintiff can prove that she is female, she is guaranteed to prevail.

Why sacrifice American lives and trillions of dollars under the banner of freeing women from the chains of Islamic government when, in fact, women under Sharia-influenced law may be doing better than under the laws of many U.S. states?


Las Vegas after the shooting


I am just back from Las Vegas. The shooting is memorialized by a collection of flowers and candles, roughly the area of a parked car, in the median of Las Vegas Boulevard next to the Luxor casino. When I visited at 9:30 pm on a weekday there were a handful of people at the memorial.

Locals said that what was striking about the aftermath of the shooting was how quickly life returned to normal. People went to work on schedule. Tourists showed up for their helicopter tours to the Grand Canyon. I didn’t find anyone in this city of 2 million people who had actually been at the concert, but one of my Uber drivers had been nearby and took fleeing people away from the scene. Businesses everywhere displayed “#VegasStrong” signs.

To judge by Facebook and the media, people who don’t live in Las Vegas might have felt more personally affected by this event than people who live in the Las Vegas region.

Laws against women being topless conflict with protection for transgendered?


A friend who is passionate about sartorial freedom sent me “Belligerent, topless soccer fan, 23, charged with ‘indecent exposure’ to 7-year-old boy” (Fox News):

A female soccer fan who was caught watching a game while topless in the presence of a child has been charged with “indecent exposure.” … arrested Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis after a 7-year-old boy spotted her … She was charged with indecent exposure, a gross misdemeanor charge, and could face up to a year in jail or a $3,000 fine.

It is not illegal for a man to be topless, right? And the government is not supposed to discriminate against transgender citizens, right? So why wouldn’t a slam-dunk defense against a charge of being topless be “I identified as a man during that soccer game”? If the government comes back with “But you are appearing in court today in women’s clothing,” the accused criminal can simply say “gender is fluid.”

Readers: As a practical matter, how can these laws be enforced in a transgender age?

Harvey Weinstein gives Americans a teachable moment regarding Plato and the Myth of Gyges?


Our media and Facebook feeds are full of sanctimonious condemnation of Harvey Weinstein. What human being could be more despicable than this fat old guy who threw his Hollywood star-building power around? Certainly none of the virtuous Facebook users or journalists condemning him!

The question of “How many ordinary folks would have behaved better?” is addressed in Plato’s Republic, in particular in the “Ring of Gyges.” A virtuous humble man (perhaps a clay-tablet Facebook scold!) gets hold of a ring that makes him invisible and therefore powerful. He has sex with the queen and, with her assistance, kills the king and takes over the kingdom.

What do readers think? Will Harvey Weinstein give classics and philosophy professors a hook to snag student interest?

[Separately, Mrs. Harvey Weinstein (Georgina Chapman) certainly is providing a teachable moment regarding California family law. The comparatively young lady waited precisely 10 years, the point at which a plaintiff is entitled to alimony, before suing her husband (BBC). With two children, the 41-year-old plaintiff (24 years younger than her defendant) could have retired comfortably off child support (unlimited by formula in California), but by waiting 10 years she opens up the field of litigation considerably (see Bill Burr on this subject) and she also will be entitled to claim Mr. Weinstein’s Social Security benefits. Given that rich people like this move around a lot, the lawsuit might teach Americans about venue litigation.]


How do some countries get to be good at making cruise ships?


While everyone else on board was enjoying Champagne and beautifully presented 12-day-old food, I was thinking about engineering and economics…

Building a cruise ship is like building a city: power generation, fresh water generation, sewage treatment, residential and commercial real estate, etc. There are competitive shipyards in only a handful of countries and they aren’t always the countries that one associates with being the most efficient at building cities. shows that Germany is at the top of the list for construction and refitting. But then Italy, not typically associated with efficiency or speed, is also cranking out ships for Carnival. The French are able to squeeze some shipbuilding time in during their 35-hour work weeks. All of the Scandinavian countries have great maritime traditions, but only Finland is successful in building cruise ships.

Our particular ship, the Crystal Symphony, was built in Finland in 1995 and is currently being renovated in Hamburg (one month of work, 24 hours per day). However, the Wikipedia page for this ship shows that the U.S. is able to compete at least in minor refitting projects, the Crystal Symphony having been refitted in Norfolk back in 2006 and in Boston(!) in 2009 (maybe things aren’t as dire as suggested in U.S. versus German infrastructure spending and results).

For the bread-and-butter commercial ships, such as container ships and tankers, it may be that government subsidies are partly responsible for where they are made. See “Decline in U.S. Shipbuilding Industry: A Cautionary Tale of Foreign Subsidies Destroying U.S. Jobs” by Aaron Klein, an Obama Administration U.S. Treasury bureaucrat:

America had a long and storied commercial shipbuilding industry. After the Second World War, American shipbuilding was at its peak, leading the world. As one news story noted in 1985, “Thirty years ago, U.S. shipyards built most of the world’s fleets.”

Today, America ranks nineteenth in the world for commercial shipbuilding, accounting for approximately 0.35 percent of global new construction. Put another way, only one-third of one-percent of new commercial shipbuilding occurs in the United States, despite the fact that we are the world’s largest economy. What happened?

The author goes on to chronicle subsidies by South Korean, Japan, and China. But these countries aren’t competitive in building new cruise ships.

And if government subsidies are the main story, why aren’t Americans able to compete in supplying engines and other components? Are the engines and drive systems made in Switzerland, England, or Finland because those countries are subsidizing companies that make components for ships?


  • “China’s Subsidized Shipbuilding”: “A simple price gap analysis shows that Chinese ships cost 7.3 percent less than rivals’ ships. Controlling for quality differences, they should be around 3 to 5 percent cheaper, which leaves a 4 percent gap”

A diplomat’s perspective on ISIS


One of the speakers on our Crystal cruise, which included stops in Morocco, was Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Morocco, Marc Ginsberg. One of Ginsberg’s talks was on the situation with ISIS (see also the book Black Flags, which Ginsberg recommends for background and which I discuss in Vetting immigrants for terrorism potential).

Ginsberg talked about some of the wellsprings of Islamic jihad:

  • verses in the Koran
  • jihad tutorials on YouTube and Facebook
  • ISIS “media products” (20 per day), which these days are “mostly on tactical subjects, how to rent a truck to kill pedestrians, how to make bombs.”
  • thousands of hours of YouTube sermons by Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S. citizen imam killed by a drone strike (the Week).
  • huge surpluses of young people generated by population growth in Islamic countries that have adopted European medical and resource exploitation technologies (chart for Morocco, which Ginsberg says has supplied quite a few volunteers for ISIS)

Most of these are not governmental, but Ginsberg, as a former government official, sees the role of governments and the U.S. government in particular as key. Qatar, the Saudis, and the Emiratis are financing “terrorists” (I don’t like to use the term, but Ginsberg did). The Obama Administration through “ignorance and determination to avoid responsibility” helped ISIS to grow. His former boss Bill Clinton is not entirely off the book; Ginsberg pointed out that the U.S. spent a huge amount of money and military power to establish Kosovo as a Muslim state within Europe. Now the kids and grandkids of the people whom we purportedly rescued are joining the jihad. Partly this is due to Saudi funding that is transforming Kosovo into a Wahhabi state.

Ginsberg is more impressed by the Trumpenfuhrer’s foreign policy than by Obama’s: “Trump gets an A+ for the liberation of Mosul.” It is unclear why this deserves an A because Ginsberg noted that, as in the movie Team America, liberation meant that “the city is now completely destroyed.” Trump also gets praise for “unshackling” the U.S. military compared to the “inept” Obama Administration.

Despite Trump having taken up residence in the Reich Chancellery, Ginsberg says that ISIS is now doing pretty well. They’ve turned the Sinai into a “killing field for the Egyptian military” and are generally poised to take over the Sinai.

As with most smart people, Ginsberg is better at describing the history of a problem than at coming up with solutions. He would like to see Google and Facebook forced to remove jihad-related content, which he says is a violation of their current terms of use. Unfortunately the companies don’t care until there is some negative financial consequence, e.g., corporate America pulling ads. More problematic to implement would be Ginsberg’s proposed ban on encrypted communication apps, which he says are critical to waging Islamic jihad. I can’t figure out how that would work since it is possible to get an Android phone that will accept apps from any source, right? Even if iPhones are completely locked down, what stops would-be jihadis from using unlocked Android phones and putting whatever applications they want on them?

It was an interesting talk to hear, but not an encouraging one.

Why is Portugal’s economy so sluggish?


Mom and I enjoyed our recent visit to Portugal. In many ways the lifestyle of people who live in Lisbon is superior to what Americans enjoy. People are out socializing, dining, and dancing until 11:30 pm on weekdays. The weather is certainly a lot nicer than here in Boston. It is much rarer to see people alone than in the U.S.; usually a Lisboan will be in a group of at least 2 or 3.

On the other hand, based on direct observation Portugal seems to be a tough place to earn a living. Unlike in the U.S. or the U.K. where an Uber driver will be a recent immigrant with a tenuous command of both the native language and the skill of driving, our drivers in Portugal were native-born college graduates who spoke English pretty well. Examples:

  • a guy who graduated with a political science degree three years earlier and was unsuccessfully seeking a government job
  • a 27-year-old who’d gone back to school and was living with her parents; she already had a business management degree and a lot of graphic design training
  • a fully trained architect who also had experience teaching AutoCAD to prisoners (!)

On the one hand it seems that there is economic opportunity for people who want to invest a little, e.g., buy a car, and work hard (drive for Uber 10-12 hours per day). One of our drivers was a successful entrepreneur with a fleet of Uber cars and some tuk-tuks. On the other hand, people are often grossly overeducated for the jobs that they have.

What accounts for Portugal doing so badly?

One thing that I noticed was a lack of competence with Internet. The EU (i.e., German taxpayers) funded beautiful roads in the Azores and Madeira as well as a lot of physical infrastructure throughout Portugal. But I think the Portuguese had to fend for themselves with telecommunications. You’d think that they would try to relieve some of the isolation of their island provinces by saturating them with high-speed Internet. However, whenever I tested municipal WiFi the service was absurdly slow, e.g., 30 kbps. Restaurants, museums, and hotels did a little better, but seldom more than 2 mbps (contrast to 50 mbps or more in Scandinavia or Asia) and service was intermittent. LTE phone service was also poor, but I think it might have been due to the Verizon Travel Pass system interacting with foreign towers. It would work pretty well then stop altogether. If I placed the phone into Airplane Mode and then restarted it would work normally again for a while. Our hotel in Lisbon had great WiFi, with speeds measuring 30-50 mbps to local servers, but a FaceTime video chat to the U.S. was not sustainable (satellite Internet on Royal Caribbean actually worked better). I’m wondering if small countries that aren’t great with Internet pay a big economic price. If people are going to be in a geographical fringe area they would at least like to feel that they’re in the center of the Internet.

Maybe it is the tax environment? On the International Tax Competitiveness Index, Portugal ranks near the bottom (#33 out of 35). But how can that be the whole story? France is at the very bottom and they are doing a lot better, I think. Portugal’s labor force participation rate is only 59 percent (Trading Economics) while France is at 72 percent (same source, but maybe a slightly different metric?). The headline unemployment rate is about the same in the two countries.

[The U.S. is also near the bottom for competitiveness, just above Greece, but that might not matter because (1) we’re not part of an EU where someone can easily move a business into a more favorable tax jurisdiction, and (2) our most successful companies don’t bother paying any of these taxes because they have offshore structures (see Apple, for example).]

France has historically had a better education system, but the PISA results for Portugal show that Portugal has recently caught up in the K-12 arena. Maybe the elite French universities are responsible for generating more wealth?

Portugal now has debt that is 130 percent of GDP, a level that, prior to 2008, would have been considered crippling (Estonia is at about 10 percent, for comparison to a country that is at the top for tax competitiveness; New Zealand is at about 25 percent; the U.S. is just over 100 percent).

“Why Portugal could be Europe’s next economic disaster,” 2016:

the socialist minority government that came to power in November 2015 raised the minimum wage, increased the number of public holidays and reversed some key reforms, all which could make it harder for the country to meet its EU fiscal targets.

“The Mystery of Why Portugal Is So Doomed,” Atlantic, 2013:

In 2001, Portugal seemed set to embark on a brave new economic future. The previous quarter-century had seen it move from dictatorship to democracy, from a managed economy to markets — and the results were positively startling. Paul Krugman was among the cadre of MIT grad students advising the newly-free government in the late 1970s… [uh oh!]

Between 2000 and 2012, Portugal’s economy grew less on a per capita basis than the U.S. during the Great Depression or Japan during its lost decade. This wasn’t a case of the bust erasing the boom, because there was no boom.

Portugal has real structural problems (which we’ll get to), but so do Spain and Greece, neither of which slumped before the slump.

Businesses choose to stay small, because it makes sense to just deal with people you personally trust when you can’t reliably appeal to the authorities sans-kickback. Businesses can stay small, because the laws make it hard to get big and achieve economies-of-scale. It’s a mom-and-pop nightmare of low productivity.

And it’s gotten worse since 2008. Not only do small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) play a, well, outsized role in Portugal’s economy, but now even they are in retreat.

I’m wondering if the EU structure magnifies small differences among countries. By worldwide standards Portugal seems like a pretty good place to run a business, but other countries within the EU are slightly better and so there is a massive talent and capital drain.


If Americans won’t learn about their computers, what hope is there to get them interested in STEM?


Before the current rage for encouraging women and dark-skinned Americans to take up dreary STEM majors and jobs there was a rage for encouraging all Americans, regardless of gender ID or skin color, to toil in the sci-tech mines.

I’m wondering if we have objective evidence of the futility of these efforts from the observed complete lack of interest of Americans in how everyday machines work.

What’s the greatest technological advance that has happened within a middle-aged American’s lifetime? As a computer programmer, I’m going to argue that it is the realization in silicon of the ideas of Alonzo Church, Emil Post, and Alan Turing. These machines are readily available to most Americans: the notebook computer, the desktop computer, the smartphone (plus hundreds of others strewn around the house and car, but they are tougher to poke at). There are great free online tutorials explaining every aspect of these machines from the sandy beach up. But how many people voluntarily learn about wafer fabrication? About transistors and digital logic? About machine language and compilers? About operating systems? To a first approximation, nobody cares. If Americans don’t care about this machine that has transformed their lives, why would it work to exhort them to care about more esoteric subjects?

Separately, I’m wondering if we can measure a falling curiosity about how automobiles work. Back in the 1970s I remember that a lot of people were interested to learn about the cycles of a four-stroke engine, the mechanisms within the transmission, steering, and brakes of a car, etc. Bookstores featured books on these subjects reasonably prominently and these were separate from the practical “here’s how you can fix it yourself” books. I wonder if today’s Honda Accord owner has the same level of knowledge about the vehicle that the average Chevrolet Nova owner had back in the 1970s (and what a great car the Nova was!).

Readers: if the building blocks of computers and computer networking aren’t interesting enough for people to crack a book or browse a web page on the subject, what hope is there to increase the number of Americans interested in the building blocks of other stuff?


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