Advice to a young horse riding instructor from an old helicopter instructor


I watched a high-school senior, presumably an expert rider, teaching a 6-year-old to ride a horse. I asked her if she wanted some feedback on her teaching and she said yes, so I’m writing this for her and sharing it in case it is useful to anyone else.

Horse riding for beginners is a bit like flying in that people tend to develop tunnel vision and don’t have a lot of spare mental capacity to listen and process. The instructor thus must limit comments and corrections to only the bare essentials. The inputs to a helicopter are power (collective pitch) and attitude (pitch and bank). It is seldom helpful to say anything except suggestions regarding how to adjust these inputs. I’m not sure what the inputs to a horse in English riding, but it is probably worth figuring out what the most important ones are and limiting one’s corrections/suggestions to those inputs. “Sit up straighter” and “shorter reins,” for example, could be helpful.

While the beginner 6-year-old was on the horse, presumably just barely holding everything together,  the teacher started a discussion about what had gone wrong in a previous maneuver (letting the horse turn himself right instead of forcing him to turn left). This probably could have been summarized as “Don’t let the animal win; you’re the boss!” but the real issue was dwelling on the unsuccessful past. Perhaps there is a place for a post-ride debrief but it doesn’t work to try to debrief while still at the controls in a moving aircraft so I don’t think it would work while sitting on a live animal. A deeper issue is positive reinforcement in training, which is equally important for humans and animals. From my “Teaching Flying” article:

I stood in a lift line at the Sante Fe ski resort once. A father and daughter were in front of us. The father said to the child “The reason why you failed…” and was interrupted by a veteran instructor next to me. He said “Don’t tell her why she failed; tell her why she succeeded.”

Perhaps more experience riders can comment with what they consider to be the most important tips for a novice riding instructor.

U.S. GDP per capita shrinking, but reported as “growing”


“U.S. Economy Grew 0.5% in First Quarter, Slowest Pace in 2 Years” (nytimes) has a “glass is half full” ring to it. Our economy is growing, but less rapidly than in the past. The journalist and editors, as is typical for the American news industry, fail to to put this into context with the population growth rate of about 0.7 percent (Google it!). In other words, Americans on average were getting poorer in 2016, but it is impossible to learn that from reading the journalists’ interpretation of the data.

Readers: How can we explain this?


Run down to the Renwick Gallery before May 8


Some advice: Run down to the Renwick Gallery, next to the White House, to see their grand re-opening show: Wonder.

Must-see work that is being taken out after May 8: a room decorated beautifully with 5000 dead bugs by Jennifer Angus, a Chesapeake Bay in glass marbles by Maya Lin, and a cast-then-recreated-in-wood tree by John Grade. Not closing immediately, but still awesome, are a paper sculpture by Tara Donovan, a series of birds’ nests by Patrick Doherty (kids love this one), and a gossamer rainbow by Gabriel Dawe. A Janet Echelman overhead fiber sculpture is hypnotic and will remain indefinitely as part of the building.

It is kind of inspiring to see how great contemporary American art can be.

I was there with a smartphone (unfortunately not the briefly beloved Samsung S7) and took some snapshots.

The late-night Uber driver in Ft. Lauderdale


Robot cars will be safe but we’ll lose a lot of stories.

After a heroic-yet-unsuccessful struggle with a Samsung Galaxy S7 we ordered an UberXL from a friend’s iPhone. The driver showed up to our rented house in Ft. Lauderdale in a beautiful Infiniti SUV. He was a compact guy who looked to be in his mid-50s (but was probably more like 60) who had moved from Los Angeles to be closer to his wife’s relatives. “It was a huge pay raise because I got transferred to another office of my company [life insurance] at the same salary and don’t have to pay 10 percent income tax plus the cost of living is so much lower here.”

Why would he drive for Uber if he has a real job? “I get up early in the morning and found that I was watching way too much television. So instead I drive from 3:30 am to 10 am. You’d be amazed at the kind of people you meet during those hours.”

What were his best stories? “One college girl I picked up immediately passed out in the back seat. She hadn’t given me an address and I didn’t want to leave her on the street or call the police on her. So I spent about 10 minutes trying to wake her up and finally got an address. When we got there she was passed out again so I carried her and her purse into her rental, dropped her on the couch, and left.” His other late-night story started with an apparent no-show. “I waited and waited outside an apartment complex and the woman said that she’d be right down. Then a man about 38 years old gets into the car. He was confused and ashamed, but explained that he’d met the woman earlier that evening, gone to bed with her, and he’d been asleep only for about two minutes when she was tapping him awake and saying ‘There’s an Uber waiting for you, on me.’ He said ‘Now I know how women feel.'”

Chipotle is not all bad…


… today is the day that Chipotle announces the extent to which its bacterial problems have affected earnings. I just want to say “thank you” to the chain for teaching me to how spell “food poisoning” in Chinese:

2016-04-20 18.20.40 HDR-2

(photo: from Chinatown location in Washington, D.C.)

Should we open up the Guatanamo Bay prison to visitors?


On a recent trip to Cincinnati our Uber driver was an immigrant to the U.S.  from the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. After roughly 10 years in the U.S., he was plainly savvy about the relative value that Americans put on bureaucracy versus hands-on work. He was studying for a PhD in Academic Administration.

I asked him what he and his Mauritanian friends and family thought about Mohammed Slahi, the author of Guantanamo Diary (my review). “There is a lot of disagreement [among Mauritanians, including in Mauritania] about whether he is guilty,” said our driver. “My personal belief is that he is guilty. He was too close to everything that was going on.”

Despite believing Slahi to be guilty, the driver did not believe that he should be in Guantanamo or that the U.S. should operate the Guantanamo Bay detection camp. Our driver believed Gitmo to be a place where Muslims were tortured, Korans were desecrated, etc. on a daily basis and that, at least in the minds of most Muslims worldwide, the U.S. operation of Gitmo justified jihad against the U.S. (He was silent on the subject of whether or not he personally believed that jihad against the U.S. was required and/or justified.)

Slahi’s actual book describes primarily incompetence and wasting of taxpayer funds rather than torture. If we are going to continue to run Gitmo (Obama is closing it any day now?), I’m wondering if we should open it up to pretty much anyone who wants to visit. If in fact we are not torturing people all day every day there, why let the rumors spread that we are? If anyone can visit at more or less any time and see anything for which there is no real reason for secrecy, wouldn’t that dispell negative rumors about Gitmo?

U.S. programs in Afghanistan correspond to STEM promotion at home?


“Corruption in Afghanistan All but Cripples Women’s Team Sports” (nytimes) chronicles the failure of American do-gooders plus American tax dollars to make a difference (but perhaps they “raised awareness”?) in Afghanistan. Blame is pinned squarely on old male Afghanis who are corrupt and/or enjoy having sex with young women, with a slight hint of blame at the end attached to female Afghanis: “The national team has lost more members to marriage than anything else, she said, because Afghan women are considered too old to wed after their early 20s, and their husbands typically refuse to allow them to play.”

It makes us feel good to point at foreigners and say “Look how bad they are” or “Look how bad they are at accomplishing X” but I wonder if we’ve been running a similar program here at home: STEM promotion. A lot of money and do-gooder time is invested to get young Americans interested in STEM when they would rather be studying or working in other areas. Has there been any tracking of the effects of these programs? The desperation of tech employers to bring in H1-B visa holders would suggest that the needle has not been moved.

[Disclosure: I am tutoring some local high school students in AP Statistics, Calculus, and Physics. However, they signed up for these classes without any input from me.]

Some interesting reader comments on the nytimes site:

  • Syed Abbas, Dearborn, MI: The question everyone on this discussion Board is asking – why did we go there and why are we still there? Simple answer – someone here is making a bundle of money in all this mess, laughing all the way to the bank at our expense. And that will keep us there no matter how much we howl.
  • Southern Boy, Spring Hill, TN: Most of the comments reflect a western bias against traditional Afghan life and culture. The west calls for cultural diversity and inclusion, an appreciation of other cultures, as way to understand and appreciate the variety that characterizes the globe. However, the goal of appreciation stops when the cultures fall short of meeting the West’s expectations of equality, especially when the cultures fails to promote gender equality. In that sense all the talk about diversity and inclusion is a crock. Thank you.
  • Emile, New York: … There’s no way to reconcile our declared respect for other deeply entrenched cultures with our own deeply held Enlightenment values that see women as equal to men. If we decide part of our values is to proselytize the rights of women, and push for them in other cultures, the best idea is the pragmatic one–to slowly nudge them toward more respect for women by empowering women through the most tried and true route of all: literacy.
  • tbrucia, Houston, TX: Interesting that the word ‘sports’ is immediately followed by the words ‘money’ and ‘dollars’. You don’t need very much money to buy a soccer ball or a cricket bat or even a bicycle. Throwing money around and forming teams and organizations just attracts buzzards and flies. Sports themselves just require will, determination, a few friends together, and really basic equipment. The West’s obsession with commercialization misses the point of sports: competition and fun.
  • Brown, Detroit: Under the Soviet regime, women wore mini skirts to coed classes at university. Our progressive policies put an end to that! [see “Why can’t governments apologize?” (2004) for my suggestion “Could we offer a sincere apology today to the Russians and offer Afghanistan back to them?”]

U.S. taxpayers now can subsidize a French/German company


If you were comforting yourself on April 15 that your forced commitment to corporate welfare was limited to U.S.-based companies, “Airbus Gains New Financing Ally in U.S.” (WSJ) will rain on your parade. By setting up a final assembly plant in Alabama, Airbus planes will now be eligible for taxpayer-subsidized financing.

Best way to replace a physical drivers license with a smartphone app?


Now that Samsung Pay is here I could theoretically leave the house with nothing more than a Galaxy S7 phone (okay, and maybe a 50 amp-hour 12V car battery for reserve power). Anywhere that a credit card can be swiped I can pay using one of the cards stored in my phone (the merchant doesn’t need the special Apple Pay hardware).

I could unlock and drive my Tesla using the phone as well (just need a spare $100,000 to replace the Honda Odyssey with a Tesla…).

But what about the drivers license that we are all required to carry? In Iowa apparently a phone app can substitute, but presumably not in most states nor with the TSA at airports.

Given the limitations of government with respect to IT (e.g., spending $1.4 million on the simplest iPad app conceivable), and with an eye toward having any substitute system be at least as secure and authentic as the current one, what would be the right way to implement this?

Should Americans stop working a few years before starting to collect Social Security?


I know a bunch of Americans who aren’t enjoying what they consider to be a comfortable material lifestyle in retirement.

The problem seems to have started with excessive consumption during their own or their spouse’s working years. (This inability to control spending is typically characterized in our media as an “inability to save for retirement,” as though people are being coerced into spending 100 percent of their paychecks.) Essentially they spent beyond their means unless they had some assurance of drawing a paycheck until death. Just as American politicians cannot be trusted to avoid bankrupting the public with pension promises, Americans themselves apparently cannot be trusted to refrain from spending whatever isn’t nailed down.

In some cases this was compounded by American-style divorce. Being sued cost the future retiree roughly 50 percent of total assets/savings in legal fees and then the divorce judgment itself would typically award the plaintiff roughly 50 percent of the remainder. If alimony was at stake, each party had an incentive to ramp up spending prior to the trial so as to demonstrate more “need” (plaintiff) or less “ability to pay” (defendant). See “Divorce judge awards woman who gave up career 90% of family assets” (Guardian) for an English case that could just as easily happened on this side of the Atlantic (but not on the other side of the English channel under Civil family law). “Extravagant spending,” presumably positioning for favorable alimony treatment, reduced “multi-million-pound family assets to just £560,000” (paying for lawyers on both sides through a trial and an appeal also could have taken care of  a million pounds in assets, but, like in most media treatments of divorce, litigation is portrayed in the article as essentially cost-free and also as having been started by mutual agreement (“they split” is how the beginning of a lawsuit by one person against another is characterized)).

Whatever the reason, these folks are not going to be hired by anyone unless they can somehow contrive to appear less than 50 during a job interview. They don’t have significant assets. They’re trying to live on Social Security. The latter seems to be challenging principally due to the high cost of real estate in the U.S. As the country gets ever more packed (the population has doubled during my lifetime), the cost of shelter seems to grow accordingly.

Yet for many Americans the cost of shelter is $0 or near-zero. These are folks who have been blessed by a government ministry and provided with “public housing.” In the Boston area, the value of a government-provided house can exceed $60,000 per year (after-tax or tax-free dollars). One can’t qualify for a free house or apartment, however, if one has a W-2 job. I’m wondering if it would make sense strategically for older Americans to leave the workforce (at least the non-cash workforce) starting around age 62. They’ll perhaps have a slightly smaller Social Security entitlement due to paying in less, but if they can use the years between 62 and 67, for example, to qualify for free housing then they’ll be entitled to stay in that free housing once they do start drawing Social Security.

What do folks think? Now that Obamacare is an entitlement and food stamps are readily available, an American with a modest income would seemingly have little to lose and much to gain by spending a few of the pre-golden years without a W-2 job. If the waiting list for a free house is too long, a tweak to this strategy would be to take over temporary responsibility for a grandchild (or at least write that down on a form applying for housing). A no-income adult who has gotten hold of a child generally has priority over a no-income adult without a child. Another useful tweak might be to go onto SSDI because disability is a requirement to get into some public housing, at least in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Someone experienced in this area said “Disabled single parent is great, but disabled pregnant single parent is better.”

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