The deep wounds of World War II for Russians


Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich’s Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets:

I will never forget the war… The Germans invaded our village… Young and cheerful. With so much noise! They arrived in huge vehicles and their three-wheeled motorcycles. I’d never even laid eyes on a motorcycle before. All we had at the collective farm were these one-and-a-half-ton trucks with wooden beds, these machines that were low to the ground. You should have seen those German trucks! They were as tall as houses! Their horses—not horses, but mountains. They painted a message on the wall of our schoolhouse: “The Red Army has abandoned you!” We started living under German rule… There were a lot of Jews in our village: Avram, Yankel, Morduch… They rounded them all up and took them out to the shtetl. They’d brought their pillows and blankets, but they were all killed right away. They rounded up every Jew in the district and shot them all in a single day. Tossed them into a pit… thousands of them… thousands… People said that for three days afterward, their blood kept rising to the top of the pit… like the ground was breathing… it was alive… Now there’s a park there. A place of recreation. You can’t hear anyone from beyond the grave. No one can scream… So, that’s what I think…[ She cries.] I don’t know… How did it happen? Did they come to her, or did she find them in the forest? Our neighbor hid two little Jewish boys in her barn—adorable kids. Real cherubs! Everyone was shot, but they hid. They managed to run away. One was eight, and the other one was ten. My mother would bring them milk…“ Children, hush,” she told us. “Not a word of this to anyone.” In my neighbor’s family, there was an old, old grandfather, he remembered the other war with the Germans, the first one… He’d feed the boys and weep: “Oh, children, they’ll capture you and torture you. If I could stand to do it, you’d be better off if I killed you myself.” Those were his words… And the devil hears everything…[ She crosses herself.] Three Germans showed up on a black motorcycle with their big black dog. Someone had informed on them… There are always people willing to do things like this, people whose souls are black. They’re alive, but it’s like they are soulless… Their hearts are just medical, not human hearts. They have no pity for anyone. The kids ran into the field, into the grain… The Germans sent their dog in after them… Afterward, their remains had to be gathered up shred by shred… There were nothing but rags left of them… nothing to bury, no one even knew their last names. Then the Germans tied our neighbor to their motorcycle and made her run until her heart burst…[ She no longer wipes her tears.] In times of war, people fear one another.

I went to apply to the teacher training college like I had dreamed. I had to go there and fill out an application. I answered all of the questions and then I got to the one that said, “Were you or any of your relatives prisoners of war or under occupation?” I answered that yes, of course we were. The director called me into his office: “Young lady, please take your documents and go.” He’d fought at the front and lost one of his arms. He had an empty sleeve. That’s how I learned that we… everyone who’d survived the occupation… were unreliable elements. We were now under suspicion. No one was calling us brothers and sisters anymore… It took forty years for them to remove that question from the application form. Forty years! By the time they took it out, my life was already over.

At the front, we were afraid of speaking openly with one another. A lot of people had been arrested before the war… and during the war… My mother worked at a bread factory, and one day, during an inspection, they found breadcrumbs on her gloves. That was enough to constitute sabotage. They sentenced her to ten years in prison. I was at the front, my father was at the front, so my younger brothers and sisters had to go live with my grandmother. They’d beg her, “Granny, don’t die before Papa and Sashka (that’s me) come back from the war.” My father went missing in action. —What kind of heroes are we? No one ever treated us like heroes. My wife and I raised our kids in barracks and after that, all we got was a room in a communal apartment. Today, it’s kopecks… Tears instead of pensions. On television, they show us the Germans. They’re doing pretty well for themselves! The defeated are living one hundred times better than the victors.

More: read Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets


Marriage, divorce, and the Little Thirds in China


A rare non-Donald Trump-themed article from New Yorker: “China’s Mistress-Dispellers”. Some excerpts:

… clients are women who hope to preserve their marriages by fending off what is known in Chinese as a xiao san, or “Little Third”—a term that encompasses everything from a partner in a casual affair to a long-term “kept woman.”

A volatile mixture of rapid social change, legal reforms, and traditional attitudes has created something approaching a crisis in Chinese marriage. In the past decade, the divorce rate has doubled. Adultery is the most prevalent cause, accounting for about a third of the cases, and men are more than thirteen times as likely to stray as women are.

The company’s co-founder, a woman in her late forties, came out to meet me. She wore a crimson cape coat, which, combined with her swift stride, gave the impression of imminent flight. She introduced herself as “Ming laoshi”—Teacher Ming. Her actual name is Ming Li, but she was formerly a teacher and has kept the honorific, because she still sees her role as instructional. … “There are no enduring marriages,” she told me matter-of-factly. “Only mistresses who haven’t worked hard enough at tearing it apart.”

“Marriage is like the process of learning to swim,” Ming said. “It doesn’t matter how big or fancy your pool is, just like it doesn’t always matter how good your husband is. If you don’t know how to swim, you will drown in any case, and someone else who knows how to swim will get to enjoy the pool.”

Shu and Ming set up their company in 2001, just after an amendment to a law made divorce easier to obtain. This new freedom created a business opportunity, and, indeed, Shu framed the threats to marriage in material terms. “Today’s Little Thirds want a good bargain,” he told me. “They are of the post-nineties generation—competitive, shrewd, worldly.” Likewise, the best course for wronged wives was to follow the money: “Secure the marriage to secure the assets. Secure the assets to secure happiness.”

Li told me that she doubted she would ever remarry. “The truth is, in China, at least, the last thing a marriage is about is the relationship between two people,” she said. “It’s about property, the children, and the vast and various entanglements of those two things.”

How do you rebuild a society where people informed on each other?


To reduce the risk of Jihad in the West, people advocate a society where citizens inform on each other and/or where government surveillance is ubiquitous. Has that been tried before? What does it feel like and how do you rebuild a society afterwards? This is addressed in Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich’s Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets.

Here are some relevant passages:

A regular communal apartment… Five families live there—twenty-seven people in total. Sharing one kitchen and one bathroom. Two of the neighbors are friends: One of them has a five-year-old daughter and the other one is single with no kids. In communal apartments, people were always spying on one another, listening in on each other’s conversations. The people with ten-square-meter rooms envied the ones with twenty-five. Life… that’s just how it is… And then, one night, a Black Maria—a police van—shows up… They arrest the woman with the five-year-old daughter. Before they take her away, she has a chance to cry out to her friend, “If I don’t come back, please look after my little girl. Don’t let them take her to an orphanage.” So that’s what happened. The neighbor took the child in, and the building administration gave her a second room… The girl started calling her Mama… Mama Anya… Seventeen years went by… And seventeen years later, the real mother returned. She kissed her friend’s hands and feet in gratitude. If this were a fairy tale, this is where the story would end, but in real life, the ending was very different. Without a “happily ever after.” When Gorbachev came to power, after they unsealed the archives, they asked the former camp inmate whether she wanted to see her file. She did. So she went down to look at it, opened the folder… and the very first page was an informant’s report. Familiar handwriting… It was her neighbor’s, Mama Anya’s… She’d been the one who’d informed on her… Do you understand any of this? I don’t. And that woman couldn’t, either. She went home and hanged herself.

I remember my father’s words: “It’s possible to survive the camps, but you can’t survive other people.”

First they arrested my wife. She went to the theater and didn’t come back. I got home from work and found my son sleeping on a little rug in the hall next to the cat. He’d waited and waited for Mama until he finally fell asleep. My wife worked at a shoe factory. She was a Red engineer. “Something strange is going on,” she’d told me. “They’ve taken all my friends. For some kind of treason…” “You and I are innocent, so no one is coming for us.” I was sure of it. Absolutely positive… Sincerely! I was a Leninist, then a Stalinist. Until 1937, I was a Stalinist. I believed everything Stalin said and did. Yes… The greatest, the most brilliant leader of all eras and peoples. Even after Bukharin, Tukhachevsky, and Blyukher* 14 were all pronounced enemies of the people, I still believed him. It seems stupid now, but I thought that Stalin was being deceived, that traitors had made their way to the top. The Party would sort it all out. But then they arrested my wife, an honest and dedicated Party warrior. Three days later, they came for me…

The search ended toward morning. They ordered me to pack my bags. The nanny woke my son. Before I left, I managed to whisper to him, “Don’t tell anyone about your mother and father.” That’s how he survived.

I spent almost a year in prison. I was preparing for my trial. For the penal colony. I was surprised, I wondered why they were dragging their feet. As far as I can tell, there was no rhyme or reason to it. Thousands of cases… Chaos… A year later, a new investigator summoned me. My case was being reviewed. And then they released me, dismissing all charges. So it had been a mistake after all. The Party believed me!

I found my son living with strangers, the nanny had taken him out to the country. He’d started stuttering and was afraid of the dark. The two of us began a new life together. I tried to get any news I could about my wife. At the same time, I applied to get reinstated in the Party. I wanted my Party membership card back. New Year’s Eve… We’d decorated a tree. My son and I were expecting guests. The doorbell rang. I opened the door. A poorly dressed woman stood on the threshold. “I’ve come to send greetings from your wife.” “She’s alive!” “She was alive a year ago. I used to work with her in a pigsty. We’d steal frozen potatoes from the pigs, and thanks to that, we didn’t starve to death. I have no idea whether or not she’s still alive.”

I came home twice wounded, with three decorations and medals. They called me into the district Party committee, “Unfortunately, we will not be able to return your wife to you. She’s died. But you can have your honor back…” And they handed me back my Party membership card. And I was happy! I was so happy… [I tell him that I will never understand that—never. He loses his temper.] You can’t judge us according to logic. You accountants! You have to understand! You can only judge us according to the laws of religion. Faith! Our faith will make you jealous! What greatness do you have in your life? You have nothing. Just comfort. Anything for a full belly… Those stomachs of yours… Stuff your face and fill your house with tchotchkes. But I… my generation… We built everything you have. The factories, the dams, the electric power stations. What have you ever built? And we were the ones who defeated Hitler.

And the ones sentencing them and guarding them were the people, too—not foreign workers, not people brought in from outside—they were the very same people. Our own men. Kin. Today, you see everybody putting on the striped uniform. Now, everyone’s the victim and Stalin alone is to blame. But think about it… it’s simple arithmetic… Millions of inmates had to be surveilled, arrested, interrogated, transported, and shot for minor transgressions. Someone had to do all this… and they found millions of people who were willing to…”

I didn’t quote the truly painful stuff, so if you can stomach that you should read Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets …

GitHub will be the next Silicon Valley domino to fall?


“Antisocial Coding: My Year At GitHub” by Coraline Ada Ehmke is an interesting cultural artifact.

The author likes her job:

I really enjoyed the job I had in 2015. I was a principal engineer at a health tech company, with a polyglot team comprised of Ruby and Clojure developers ranging from very early career to very seasoned. I was learning a lot and doing really interesting work. I felt like I had finally found a company that I could stick with for a few years or so.

But GitHub is irresistible:

Someone at GitHub wanted to talk to me. I thought I knew what it was about: a year before, I had been talking to a diversity consultant (who was contracting there at the time) about working with GitHub on diversity and inclusivity and exploring their interest in adopting the Contributor Covenant across all of their open source projects. … They had just created a team called Community & Safety, charged with making GitHub more safe for marginalized people

GitHub was a bad place because, among other things, they promoted “meritocracy”:

At first I had my doubts. I was well aware of GitHub’s very problematic past, from its promotion of meritocracy in place of a management system to the horrible treatment and abuse of its female employees and other people from diverse backgrounds.

But they are smart enough to keep the white males in a closet:

I was impressed by the social justice tone of some of the questions that I was asked in the non-technical interviews, and by the fact that the majority of people that I met with were women. A week later, I had a very generous offer in hand, which I happily accepted. My team was 5 women and one man: two of us trans, three women of color.

It is not enough to code like a demon anymore:

In April it was time for my annual review. … when I joined the video call with my manager, it became clear that something was wrong. She went back to the issue of my lack of empathy in communications and collaboration.

If you’re not willing to assume straightforward profit-seeking, it is tough to figure out the company’s real motivation:

I am increasingly of the opinion that in hiring me and other prominent activists, they were attempting to use our names and reputations to convince the world that they took diversity, inclusivity, and social justice issues seriously. … In a return to its meritocratic roots, the company has decided to move forward with a merit-based stock option program despite criticism from employees who tried to point out its inherent unfairness.

Oh no:

the company’s platform is still not appealing to anyone but straight white guys.

Ouch! As a customer I guess I should be grateful that she didn’t say “old white guys.”

Readers: What do you think? Will anyone care about this? Will the management team at GitHub need to slink away to Travis Kalanick’s private island? Or is it just going to be interesting to future historians who want to know how people mixed work and social justice goals back in 2017?

$8 million retirement package for Canadian jihadi


“Khadr to get apology, compensation over $10M as lawsuit settled” is about Omar Khadr, a Canadian who fought against his fellow Canadians in Afghanistan. Khadr apparently admits throwing grenades at American and Canadian troops, but “doesn’t know if he threw the grenade that ultimately killed [U.S. Sergeant Christopher] Speer”. The Canadian soldiers whom he fought against are now going to watch their tax dollars used to pay about USD$8 million in government funds to Mr. Khadr.

Palestinians have gotten paid for suicide attacks (e.g., CBS; Washington Post), but I wonder if this would make Khadr the world’s highest-paid jihadi.

Data from the Financial Post suggest that Mr. Khadr will be among the 0.1 percent of wealthiest Canadians once he cashes this check from middle-class taxpayers.

Readers: Can you think of anyone who has gotten paid more as a consequence of being involved with jihad?

[Note that, for a Canadian to collect $10 million in child support over a 25-year period, he or she would need to have sex with someone earning approximately $3.75 million per year (assumes 1 child results from the sexual encounter and defendant resident in Alberta). See our Canada chapter.]


  • Ahmed Ressam, formerly living on Canadian welfare benefits, now living at U.S. taxpayer expense in Club Fed due to his attempt to blow up LAX

Shared parenting conference wrap-up


Some global and wrap-up items from the International Conference on Shared Parenting 2017

Researchers assembled on a panel pointed out that the typical primary/second parent outcome for American children was “ridiculous for building a relationship. Would you get married to someone and agree to see them only every other weekend? How would you build a relationship with that person?”

Attendees came from approximately 30 countries. It quickly became apparently that, though the U.S. has the most children of divorced and never-together parents, the U.S. has gathered the least amount of data on how these kids are doing. “Look at revealed preference,” said one social scientist. “The U.S. says that the family courts run ‘in the child’s best interest,’ but nobody is interested in the effects of family court decisions. Based on what American courts do, you’d have to conclude that what Americans care about is getting the mother, the lawyers, and the court bureaucracy paid.”

Americans working in the family law industry, either as attorneys or psychologists, tended to frame things in terms of marriage. It is “divorce” that leads to separated parenting. They are all aware that the majority of U.S. family court cases involve people who were never married (chapter), but their minds apparently always run to scenarios in which currently separated biological parents were at one point in what was supposed to be a long-term stable relationship. The opposing litigants in family court are described as “couples” when it may be that one was already and remains married to a different person and the “coupling” lasted only for a few drunken hours.

Although the legal system is set up so that it is the child’s interests that are supposed to be considered by judges, attorneys, and psychologists, industry members nearly always refer to adult interests. As we saw in court documents when researching Real World Divorce, they’ll say “The Father’s weekend” or “The Father shall have parenting time.” If we were to take the statutes and caselaw seriously it would be “the child’s weekend with the father” or “the children’s time with their father,” but after a few years in the industry everyone seems to get comfortable that it is all about adults fighting for what they want. (A European ex-litigator said that she was tired of being “a hired weapon against the other parent.”)

Separated biological parents often end up before a judge whose task is to decide whether both or just one will be real parents going forward. Researchers noted that, especially in the winner-take-all jurisdictions, the loser parent will be held to much higher standards than would be applied to married couples. Researchers described a world in which mothers ask for sole parenting [not mentioning the cash that goes with it!] and fathers ask for 50/50 parenting. Judges then use the existence of conflict between the mother and father to deny the 50/50 shared parenting request: “Married couples argue about child-related issues all the time.” The “best interests of the child” standard was identified as “obviously flawed” due to the fact that married parents often cannot decide, after weeks of careful thought, what might be in the best interests of their child. How is it conceivable that a judge is going to do it in 15 minutes?

Academics seemed completely ill-equipped to deal with the creativity and intelligence of litigators. Many of their ideas for legislation and process rested on the assumptions that (1) everyone would come to court telling the truth without any consideration of the financial consequences, and/or (2) that trained psychologists would be able to discern the truth. For example, they described the idea of exceptions in the case of domestic violence without any consideration of the fact that plaintiffs and litigators may then simply allege domestic violence in order to get what they seek.

The conference was a truly international event. One constant was that people seldom questioned the basics of their home countries’ divorce, custody, and child support systems. Researchers who came from countries where divorces could be obtained by walking into City Hall and filling out a form never said “Wow, now that I’ve heard about American-style litigation, we need that in our country so that we can really get at the truth!” Researchers from fight-to-the-death/spend-it-all-on-legal-fees countries such as the U.S. and Canada never said “Maybe now that we have no-fault and we know that the plaintiff is guaranteed to prevail, it shouldn’t be in a court anymore.” (see our Rationale chapter, however, for quotes from some litigators who do think the system that has supported them should be scrapped). People from jurisdictions in which collecting child support is more lucrative than working as a university professor didn’t say “maybe it should be capped so that people aren’t motivated to lie about the co-parent”. People from jurisdictions in which child support is capped, e.g., at about $2,500 per year (Sweden), never said “Child support from a casual sexual encounter should be sufficient so that the child and mother have at least as much spending power as the father.”

Researchers generally advocated tweaks to whatever system was established in their country. Americans therefore didn’t question that two adversarial litigants should spend all of their savings, including what would have been the kids’ college funds, on lawyers and expert witnesses. They would describe how nearly every case they’d seen had resulted in an outcome that was harmful to children and then suggest that what we needed were better expert witnesses, better-education for judges regarding research psychology papers, and maybe nudges to the statutes, e.g., a presumption of 50/50 shared parenting (but still with enough room for years of litigation to argue about exceptions).

[The handful of folks who questioned the basics? Like the litigators who question the adversarial litigation-based system, they want it torn down. One psychologist: “Parenting is a voluntary activity. You give your time to a child voluntarily. You give money voluntarily to a child. Court-ordered parenting is an oxymoron. When a judge orders a father to pay money and spend time with children on a court-determined schedule, the father might comply with the order but he isn’t a parent anymore.”]

Presenters described a lot of pressure to retain the status quo. In the world of statutes, Professor Sanford Braver of Arizona State University said that state Bar Associations (i.e., the litigators) would use their funds to lobby against shared parenting presumptions that might streamline lawsuits. Richard Warshak described pushback by other researchers against a “consensus report” to be signed by 110 researchers in this area. The consensus report was a meta-study and concluded that shared parenting was better for the typical child of separated parents. Warshak said that Jennifer McIntosh, a researcher in Australia, had threatened to sue him for defamation (the consensus report contradicts a study that she did) and that Marsha Pruett, a professor at Smith College, had pressured the journal’s editor to strip the 110 signatures from the report (so it would be “Warshak’s opinion” instead of a “consensus”). In a business that consumes 3 percent of GDP, not too many people want to rock the boat.

That humans might be motivated by cash was seldom mentioned except to deny it. The conference took place in a hotel in Boston. Therefore, if two people had been upstairs in a room and the result was a baby, that kid could have a cash value (under Massachusetts law) that far exceeded the earnings of any of the researchers or attorneys present. The abortion of that baby could be sold for $500,000+ (see the “Child Support Profits Without a Child” section within “Child Support Litigation without a Marriage”). Yet litigants’ actions were attributed to feelings, e.g., “A lot of moms believe children are damaged by paternal care,” rather than a desire to maximize personal income and spending power. Researchers described mothers as “gatekeeping” when they sought to exclude fathers from their children’s lives. But in nearly all of the cases, the mother had a rational financial reason for wanting to minimize the father’s role. Why wasn’t the mother characterized as “trying to make a living” or “trying to avoid a 35 percent cut in her spending power”?

The social scientists’ favorite way to show that humans aren’t motivated by cash was proof by assumption. Sanford Braver, for example, simply asserted that, given a “days for dollars” child support system such as present in his home state of Arizona, parents would not fight over the schedule due to what he characterized as the small dollar amounts involved for each additional day. This directly contradicts what litigators in every similar U.S. jurisdiction told us (see the Guide for Citizens and Legislators) and directly contradicts Angie Hallier, one of the best litigators in his state (see the Arizona chapter). Yet he was as confident in his assumption as a Physics 101 teacher would be in the period of a pendulum being independent of its mass.

One day of the conference was on Memorial Day. I buttonholed a few researchers at breaks and lunch with “All of the folks in the Westin here today serving us are giving up a holiday with their friends and family. What do you think their motivation is?” and the answer was always “Cash payment.” We would agree that they might raise their annual total compensation by 0.5 to 1 percent by working on a holiday. I then said “Do you think any litigant in family court would seek a greater share of parenting time in order to boost his or her spending power by 1 percent?” The answer was always “no” with an explanation that the amount was too insignificant to motivate behavioral change.

Big picture: Although psychologists are a fixture in America’s family courts, their attitude toward the courtroom cannot be reconciled with that of the litigators. For the psychologists, family court is a place for people to talk about their feelings and for the truth to be discovered by a sophisticated professional. For the litigators, family court is a place their plaintiff clients go to get cash without working and where their defendant clients go because they will get put in prison otherwise.

Single-topic posts from the same conference:

Summary of shared parenting research from Linda Nielsen

Shared parenting literature review from Michael Lamb: is the main point of social science research to bolster personal prejudice?

William Fabricius on conflict, relocation, and shared parenting

Promise of divorce ruined by children (Australia parental relocation study)

Instead of fighting in court about parental quality, run training to improve it?

Practice versus theory in shared parenting

Shared parenting in Belgium since 2006

Shared parenting literature review from Michael Lamb: is the main point of social science research to bolster personal prejudice?

How would young people resolve custody and parenting time disputes?

Don’t marry a partner from a lower-class family if you want to avoid a custody dispute (unless you’re also lower class!)

Practical ideas for resolving custody disputes

Child support payments don’t contribute to children’s well-being; fatherless children tend to be obese

Parental Alienation

Best way to avoid adult-adult conflict in your household: have a child without a co-parent

Promise of divorce ruined by children (Australia parental relocation study)

Swedish gender equality scolds

Divorce litigation, child support, and Costco in Iceland

The happiest children in Spain live with two daddies

Scotland: full-scale divorce litigation without marriages

German family law, shared parenting, and conflict with European and UN law

America’s greatest thinker attacks the Trumpenfuhrer


“Noam Chomsky: On Trump and the State of the Union” (nytimes) is interesting. America’s greatest thinker (as measured by references in academic journal papers) weighs in on King Donald I. Here’s my comment on the piece:

Chomsky: “that’s how the Trump administration deals with a truly existential threat to survival of organized human life: ban regulations and even research and discussion of environmental threats” regarding the North Carolina legislature “barring state and local agencies from developing regulations or planning documents to address [rise in sea level]”.

Even if you assume that an existential threat to humanity should be dealt with by North Carolina’s state and local bureaucrats (personally I would rather have the folks who built the Chinese high-speed rail network on the job!), how is Trump responsible for a state action?

Secondly, if Trump presides, at least nominally, over the National Science Foundation and its $7 billion budget, how can Trump be accused of failing to support research on the subject of sea level rise, climate change, planetary physics, etc.? Has he diverted NSF funds to redecorate Mar-a-Lago? If you want to attribute everything done by the Federal Government to Donald Trump then Trump becomes, measured by dollars, the world’s greatest supporter of research regarding climate change!

There’s a lot more that is interesting. Chomsky, the world’s most cited living academic, cites Stephen Colbert, a TV comedian.

How can the Democrats re-take the nation?

Under Barack Obama, the Democratic Party pretty much collapsed at the crucial local and state levels, but it can be rebuilt and turned into a progressive force. That would mean reviving the New Deal legacy and moving well beyond, instead of abandoning, the working class and turning into Clintonite New Democrats

But how can the New Deal (i.e., handouts) work in a country that is stuffed full of recent immigrants whose lifestyles voters (at least the Deplorable ones) don’t want to fund? Wasn’t that one of the principal lessons of the last election? (proving Milton Friedman right when he said “It’s just obvious you can’t have free immigration and a welfare state”)

How to account for Hillary’s loss? Philosophy professor George Yancy of Emory has the answer:

[George Yancy] How does the lack of critical intelligence operate here, that is, the sort that philosopher John Dewey saw as essential for a democratic citizenry?

It turns out that people who voted for Trump are stupid! (“lack of critical intelligence”). Chomsky adds “racism and sexism”. So… stupid, racist, and sexist. Who says that you can’t learn a lot of new stuff by paying $300,000 for four years of a philosophy bachelor’s?

Chomsky considers that Trump supporters may not have a monopoly on stupidity:

We might ask other questions about critical intelligence. For liberal opinion, the political crime of the century, as it is sometimes called, is Russian interference in American elections. The effects of the crime are undetectable, unlike the massive effects of interference by corporate power and private wealth, not considered a crime but the normal workings of democracy. That’s even putting aside the record of U.S. “interference” in foreign elections, Russia included; the word “interference” in quotes because it is so laughably inadequate, as anyone with the slightest familiarity with recent history must be aware.

Chomsky equates health insurance with health care:

such real but lesser crimes such as the Republican initiative to deprive tens of millions of health care

But from a philosopher’s point of view, why aren’t the Democrats also guilty of this crime? Obamacare was set up with the idea that it would leave tens of millions of Americans without health insurance. If we accept the assumption that health insurance = health care that’s also tens of millions of Americans without health care. Why is the person who murders 100 people guilty of “crimes” according to Chomsky, but the person who murders 50 people is an upstanding citizen?

Chomsky has historically been a “follow the money” kind of guy, admittedly with fairly poor accounting skills (all of Latin America turned out to be worth less to U.S. fatcats than Apple and Google, for example). He asserts the existence of

the Republican campaign to destroy the conditions for organized social existence, in defiance of the entire world?

But if Republicans hold a lot of financial assets, which only have value under “organized social existence,” why would they want to destroy organized social existence? Chomsky should at least explain this, no?

Readers: What do you make of this display of the best American minds?

A fake Air Force One, hijacking a Robinson R22, and flying the Sarah Palin route to Alaska


The latest batch of news from AVweb has some interesting items:

A 747 that has been parked at Quonset State Airport in Rhode Island for a couple of years now is being transformed into a replica of Air Force One … Franklin Exhibits, based in New York, owns the airplane. They told Channel 10 they plan to replicate every detail of the presidential aircraft, inside and out, to create a tourist attraction. The finished airplane may first be based at Quonset for a few months, but then will be removed via barge, from the airport’s shipping port on Narragansett Bay, according to Channel 10. It then will either be transported to a new site, perhaps in Washington, D.C., or it may become a traveling exhibit.

A “boned-out” 747 is cheap and if you don’t care about the interior parts being legal for flight, it might be reasonably inexpensive to redo the interior.

A man who tried to steal a helicopter at gunpoint outside a flight school in Oregon was fatally shot by police on Monday. … the man went up to a helicopter with a flight instructor and student inside as it was parked with its rotor spinning at Hillsboro Aero Academy, Lt. Henry Reimann, a Hillsboro police spokesman, told the Oregonian. The man opened the door, pointed a gun at the student and ordered the student out. When the student hesitated, the man fired the gun away from the helicopter and the student got out and ran away, Reimann said. The gunman then went to the other side of the helicopter and pointed a gun at the instructor. He ordered the instructor out and then jumped in. “According to the sergeant that approached, it appeared he knew what he was doing in the cockpit,” Reimann said. Employees from Hillsboro Aero, armed with personal firearms, and a police officer approached the helicopter and held the man at gunpoint. The suspect fled, going back over the fence, across the road and into a field. A Hillsboro police officer encountered the man there and shot him, Reimann said. The man died at the scene.

This is a sad one. It turns out to have been a flight school Robinson R22, likely worth less than a new Mercedes or Lexus SUV. I guess we should be grateful that the East Coast Aero Club Robinson R44 helicopters are kept inside an Air Force hangar.

GA Pilots Fly Alaska-to-Russia Route

About 15 years ago, the Alaska Airmen’s Association and local pilots pioneered a VFR route in the remote regions between their state and Russia, just across the Bering Sea. … Marshall Severson and Dan Billman, who both live in Alaska, completed the trip. Severson, 62, retired last year as an FAA flight services manager, and Billman, 66, works for the FAA as a safety program manager, according to the Alaska Dispatch News. Both pilots had worked on the original project to create the route. They prepared for three months before making the flight, according to the newspaper, and said their expenses equaled roughly the cost of “a month on the sunny Mediterranean.” … The route mainly skirts the rugged shoreline, requiring only one over-water leg of about 39 miles. … The whole route, from Nome to Provideniya, takes about three hours.

(See also Sarah Palin and Tina Fey.)

Harrison Ford on flying and freedom


What’s more American than the freedom to fly light aircraft and Hollywood? Harrison Ford, who combines the two!

Last month a bunch of us from East Coast Aero Club went down to the Aero Club of New England‘s annual Cabot Award luncheon. Recipients of this award have included Igor Sikorsky, Charles Stark Draper (MITer responsible for everything good and bad through the 1960s), General Doolittle, Chuck Yeager, Bob Hoover, and now… Harrison Ford! (see People magazine)

Harrison Ford is kind of an awkward speaker, shocking considering his profession, but he came to life during the question and answer period. Ford may be crazy successful and famous, but he was humble in front of the audience of some great pilots, e.g., Anne Baddour, a test pilot for MIT Lincoln Laboratory for 20 years, and Matt Guthmiller, who flew a Bonanza around the world at age 19.

Ford explained that he started flying at age 52, “motivated by the thought that I hadn’t learned anything in a long time.” He spoke about the blend of freedom and responsibility that aviation has brought to his life and mentioned that “flying is an earned freedom; you put in the work.” Ford noted, correctly in my opinion, that the U.S. remains the best place in the world to fly a personal aircraft (in a lot of countries, as a practical matter, aviation is restricted to airlines and oligarchs). He expressed his concern that future generations of Americans won’t be able to do what he did: “We are losing airports at a frightening rate.” (His home airport, Santa Monica, is being gradually destroyed by “Progressives”; see “China building 66 airports in the next five years; Californians work to close a busy airport“)

My favorite exchange:

  • Q: were you ever scared?
  • A (in front of 300 people): I’m scared right now.

Ford noted that his California friends like to point out the apparent contradiction between his environmentalism and owning nine aircraft. His response: “I only fly one at a time.”

Even in provincial Boston a Hollywood celebrity is not safe from people with screenplays. In response to a question about whether he could help get a movie made about World War II veteran pilots, Ford said “Young people like to see people of their own age in movies” and “We try to tell neat stories.” Pressed further, he said “Hey, I don’t run Hollywood. I just work there.”

Ford expressed his disapproval of the Republican plan to take the government-run 1950s air traffic control system and turn it into a privately-run 1950s air traffic control system: “What is the problem that we’re trying to solve?” (see “King Donald’s Privatized Air Traffic Control System“)

Ford has done a lot for small-scale aviation in the U.S. He was head of Young Eagles for years, a job formerly held by Chuck Yeager, and has personally flown hundreds of children in his Beaver for the program. He has also found and/or rescued a couple of lost hikers via helicopter (currently he flies a Bell 407).

I posted about the event in real-time on my Facebook page. Here was the first comment exchange:

friend (i.e., someone I don’t know): Is that the award for successfully landing on a taxiway?

me: Definitely not, since my friend Bill and I landed an SR22 on a taxiway in Lakeland, Florida back in April and we got no awards.

friend:  I imagine you received special attention from the FAA, though.

Ford actually opened by being humble about his landing mistake, saying that “despite the taxiway landing, I still hope to contribute to the aviation community” (see my February 2017 post: “Harrison Ford landing on a taxiway at Orange County“). Ford learned to fly at 52 and has logged thousands of hours. What about my Facebook friend? The “Lakeland in April” response is, to a pilot, an obvious reference to the Sun n Fun festival, in which more than 1,000 aircraft may need to land on a single day and therefore a taxiway is turned into a temporary runway. So we can infer that this guy throwing rocks at Harrison Ford is himself not even a Private pilot! I’m 99% sure that he isn’t a famous movie star as well. What is it about humans that makes unsuccessful people want to throw rocks at successful people?

Ford was reasonably patient up on the dais while an endless list of names of local nobodies who’d helped out with the event were read out. He stayed for at least an hour after the event so that anyone who wanted an autograph or a selfie could get one. It would be tough to invent a nicer person, but the topic of this posting is really to remind myself and readers that aviation remains one of the most awesome things about the U.S. and today is a good day to celebrate that fact.

Happy July 4th to all readers!

[And to English readers: sorry]

Honda Odyssey 2018 versus the previous generation


Happy July 4! What’s more American than a minivan, especially one whose engineering and construction is managed by a foreign company because most of us are too busy watching baseball, denouncing the Trumpenfuhrer, and taking OxyContin?

This post is based on (a) three years of driving a 2014 Odyssey EX-L, and (b) test-driving a 2018 Odyssey EX-L.

The user interface is dramatically changed from 2014 to 2018. The 2014 Odyssey has traditional round-dial (i.e., graphical) tachometer(!) and speedometer front and center. The 2018 shows you mostly two big digits, e.g., “37” if you’re going 37 mph. This is presented with no context so it is harder for your brain to interpret than a needle’s position on a dial. The EX-L lacks any kind of navigation database, so the big digital readout of current speed is not presented next to the speed limit for the road segment (Tesla does this a lot better). Setting cabin temperature on the old Odyssey was done with a wide knob that one could easily reach by feel and then turn a couple of clicks to adjust temps. The driver would never need to take his or her eyes off the road for this. On the new/improved Odyssey, the temperature adjustment is a paddle switch that is harder to find and then has to be toggled up. Make sure to take your eyes off the road to verify that the temperature setting is moving to where you want it. The transmission stalk on the old Odyssey, which provides an idiot-proof mechanical interface and simultaneous display of whether the car is in Park, Reverse, or Drive, has been replaced by a set of switches. Push the Park button and then check the display behind the steering wheel to see if a big P lights up. Push down on the Reverse button to get into reverse. Push the “D/S” button to go into Drive.

Can someone explain to me why all of these changes are improvements?

[Consumer Reports:

Beneath the infotainment system are the frustrating transmission push-button controls, similar to those experienced in other Honda and Acura models. This non-conventional setup comes across like a child’s developmental toy, as each action operates slightly differently. It requires careful attention when making a selection, proving cumbersome during parking maneuvers.


The new model is touted as offering a radical (for minivans) limousine-like interior hush. I used a basic Extech sound level meter (407732) to measure the sound level on old and new minivans, both at the same EX-L trim level (see below for how the 2018 EX-L has “Acoustic Glass”):

old new
30 mph ramp 57 dBA 56 dBA
60 mph highway 64 dBA 63 dBA
70 mph highway 67 dBA 65 dBA


Note that road surface made a big difference. In the old car, before getting to the test track (a.k.a., Route 128), I drove over some super-smooth brand-new pavement. Interior noise dropped by 2-2.5 dBA. The new car seemed similarly dependent on road surface. [The Car and Driver review, linked below, has a buried test sheet with their test results. They actually measured a higher noise level for the Elite version of 67 dBA at 70 mph. But this could be due to meter or road surface differences. For comparison, C/D measured the Chrysler Pacifica minivan at 68 dBA, a Hyundai Sonata at 68 dBA, a $100,000 Mercedes S550 sedan at 66 dBA, a Chevy Bolt TV at 70 dBA, and the Tesla S 70D at 65 dBA. So, if we assume C/D’s numbers are consistent, the Odyssey Elite is actually slightly quieter than the big Mercedes (remember that A-weighting is not a perfect match for human perception, however).]

Let’s go to the brochure…

Dimensions are almost the same, based on Honda’s own specs, with the new minivan being about 0.5 inches narrower. Curb weight has been reduced 50 lbs., a significant achievement in a world where it is always tempting to add more. Cargo volume behind each of the seat rows is about the same, but curiously “passenger volume” has been reduced from 170 cubic feet to 160.

The old Odyssey had a boring 6-speed transmission and got an EPA combined 22 mpg. The new Odyssey has an amazing 9-speed or 10-speed transmission. This enables an amazing EPA combined… 22 mpg. You’ll have an opportunity to make more friends at the local gas station; Honda has reduced fuel tank capacity by 1.5 gallons to 19.5.

The stripper LX model lacks the electronic safety assists: Collision Mitigation Braking System (hits brakes when needed), Road Departure Mitigation System (steering wheel shaker and nudger), Forward Collision Warning (beeps), and Lane Departure Warning (beeps). The LX also lacks Lake Keeping Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind Spot Monitoring System, Auto High-Beams, and Cross Traffic Monitor (for backing out of a parking spot at the mall). Beep parking sensors come with the Touring and Elite trim levels only.

[I experimented a little with the blind spot monitors. Generally they seemed to fail when trying to merge onto an Interstate or change lanes, providing warnings only when a collision was imminent. Perhaps Honda is using the vendor who supplied the USS Fitzgerald destroyer?]

All of the trim levels except the LX include Remote Engine Start and an alarm system. If you’re concerned about global warming, the Elite model has ventilated front seats (all trim levels except LX include heated seats).

Honda quiets down the interior with Acoustic Glass for the windshield starting the EX-L trim level and then on the front/rear door windows on the Elite. The people who make acoustic glass show a reduction of 1-7 dB depending on the frequency, with the most reduction at around 3,000 Hz (follow this link and then click on “technical information” for a chart). The idea is laminating two sheets of glass with an “acoustic interlayer sheet” of plastic (vinyl?). In a world where Bernie Sanders supporters might start taking direct action against wealthy Odyssey Elite owners, you’ll be cheered to know that “Requires up to 10 minutes to penetrate the glazing, giving increased protection against theft, intrusion or carjacking.”

What about transporting modern-day children who can’t go more than 20 minutes without a snack? The built-in vacuum cleaner is only on the Touring and Elite models.

Honda still includes a physical MP3 player input jack(!). Every trim level includes at least one 2.5 amp USB charger (3 on the EX-L and above). The Elite also includes a wireless phone charger (Qi standard) on the center console. The Elite model includes a 550-watt 11-speaker sound system. Everything but the LX includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as well as digital radio both terrestrial (“HD Radio”) and satellite (SiriusXM). You can’t get the fancy features of the Touring and Elite models without paying for useless rear-seat TV (1024×600 resolution!) and navigation.

CarPlay and Android Auto work only with the phone physically plugged into a USB jack.

The Touring and Elite models have a 115V outlet in the front and three 12V outlets. The whole family can live out of this minivan in the event of a multi-day power outage.

It seems as though the EX model, $34,000, provides all of the safety and most of the utility. The Elite is nearly $47,000. So that’s $13,000 extra. Divide by 50,000 miles before the two converge in value? Assume an average speed of 30 mph in this traffic-clogged nation? That’s 1,667 hours of driving. So it costs $8/hour to be in the Elite versus the EX.

Donated most of your money to help the vulnerable, but you still want the interior peace and quiet of the latest Honda Odyssey with Acoustic Glass? Buy a 2011 Honda Odyssey (first year of the previous generation) and drive about 7 mph slower on the highway.

I’m going to try to find an LX or EX to test-drive and also an Elite and get some more noise measurements. The car seems to be selling well. The local dealer says that Elites come in “pre-sold”.

Summary: Some of the new magic safety features might be useful, but at least for a few months you’ll be a lot less safe in your new Odyssey as you struggle to learn all of the interfaces.


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