Syrian immigrants in Fresno


For many of the people expressing opinions regarding how many immigrants the U.S. should accept, the immigrants themselves are an abstract quantity. Unable to afford to live in Sanctimony Cities, immigrants themselves are invisible to the typical Hillary supporter (see Tyler Cowen explains why rich white Democrats freely express love for immigrants and people of color). The New York Times gives us some of the texture of what is being debated with “When Syria Came to Fresno: Refugees Test Limits of Outstretched Hand” Here’s my comment on the article:

Nasser Alobeid, who worked as a security guard in Syria, is still jobless, and he and his wife, Neveen Alassad, get by with a $1,100 monthly welfare check, food stamps … “Nasser doesn’t speak English,” Ms. Alassad, a mother of five, said in broken English while Syrian children poured into a concrete courtyard to play.

The good news for this family of 7 is that, assuming that demand from employers for non-English-fluent workers picks up, Mr. Alobeid will earn at least $15/hour under California’s new minimum wage law if he is able to find a job in the year 2023.

Other reader comments are interesting.

[Michael Cook from Tampa, FL] Why does Fresno as “the largest city in the agricultural belt” not have jobs available? This goes against everything we are hearing about “crops rotting in the fields”, due to the labor shortage.

How about the inter-generational conflict?

[Matt from Algonquin] American kids who go to public schools are the ones who sacrifice the most. Almost every public school now has translators. If they aren’t on staff, they are on call. For a school in the community that this article is about, you probably have Arabic translators and Hispanic translators. What does this mean to a English speaking American kid? They don’t get the attention that they deserve.. the teachers have to ‘teach down’ and e.g., use their Google translating software to communicate with the non-English speakers.

[response from GRH in “New England”] And, conveniently, the children of the politicians and the elite of both parties, be it the Clintons or the Bushes; Justice Merrick Garland or Justice John Roberts, choose to “opt-out” of the laws and rules they impose on everyone else and instead send their children to the most elite private schools…

A black woman, one of the victims that New York Times readers purport to seek to assist, takes a tougher line than Donald Trump:

[Lois from Seattle] I’m black and my family was brought here as slaves 7 generations ago! That said, just because a country takes pride on consisting of CITIZENS from the globe, it doesn’t justify an endless stream of entrance for everyone at any time!

At this point America is inundated with people from all over the world. That would be okay if they were all legal, spoke English, could support themselves w/o resorting to welfare, food stamps, subsidized housing, free breakfast/lunch, education, medical and social services for their children!!!

What’s in this for us, the American citizen who foots the bill?

I thought the rules with regard to “refugees” was for them to move to the nearest safe haven/country! Syrians have moved a world and culture away from their native land! They have crossed over many Arabic and predominant Muslim countries…yet, like others of their kind, they come expecting to be fully accommodated even though it would be unthinkable for them to do same for you in their country!

There should be an immigration moratorium! NO ONE allowed in for at least a year until we sort things out! … After all, we OWE them (immigrants/refugees) nothing!

Her white superiors set her straight:

[Judith Rael from Redondo Beach, CA] Lois, there is plenty of room and funding to help people like the Syrians. … Open your heart, teach your family how to give and care for the persecuted. You will be so much happier.

(“Plenty of funding”? Perhaps Ms. Rael means that if we were able to borrow $20 trillion before we started getting serious about bringing in Syrians we can easily borrow some more? And how do we know that this person speaking truth to a black woman is white? Google Image search suggests that people with a last name of “Rael” are generally white.)

There are a bunch more of these priceless exchanges. People with Hispanic names argue for restrictions on immigration while those with non-Hispanic names point out and correct their thoughtcrime.

From a careful reader of the Times:

[Const from NY] A few days ago, you had a story about how hard it is for many Californians to find affordable housing. Here, we have a story about people from Syria being given housing in that same state.

Canadians fight (politely):

[science prof from “Canada”] Private sponsorship by individuals or groups, as done in Canada, allows refugees to rapidly integrate and become part of the wider community beyond the local group of the same ethnicity.

[Danielle Davidson from “Canada and USA”] Canada has enormous problems with Muslim Syrians. Too many are on welfare. Even the NYT had an article about it. They don’t adapt, and their frustrations will affect their children. We will see too soon how that turns out. In the meantime, As a woman, I find their culture outrageous. They are prejudiced against women, gays, Christians. Why do we have to accept so many people that don’t like the American way of life.

Modest proposals from Trump country:

[Hank Batts from Lexington, Kentucky] Send a few thousand of these folks to the upper west side of Manhattan and another few thousand to Brookline, Mass. The people there just LOVE diversity.

[Jon] The frontier closed in 1898. We are the third most populous country in the world. We have plenty of people. We have no need to import people to fill up an empty country and instead should be concentrating on creating a vibrant economy for Americans not burdening our economy with millions more dependents and low-skill workers.

From a resident of a West Coast city that is way too expensive for a non-English-speaking immigrant and that has long waiting lists for free public housing:

[Blue from Seattle] If any Syrian refugees are reading this, I would like to say welcome to the United States. I am glad you are here. To the [Syrian] man [in the NYT photo] with the four daughters–your children are wonderful.

[response from a “blue state” reader] Good, please list your address so we can send them all over to your house. As a citizen who does physical labor at 58 years old, I resent my wages being taxed so we can give these people welfare, food stamps, free medical, and housing allowance.

Not everyone in Hillary country has been properly educated:

[Olivia from NYC] We need a moratorium on all refugees and all immigrants. This country cannot accept everyone in the world who can’t make it in their own country. Welfare, food stamps, section 8 housing, free health care and education for their many children at the cost to American tax payers! … How is it that liberals don’t protest the repression of these women?? These people with their 7th century mentality don’t belong in this country. Build the wall. Close the door. Deport.

[Artful Rabbit from Silver Spring [Maryland]] They have no willingness to manage the size of their families. … You are living hand-to-mouth in a war torn country, threatened by ISIS or now you are a refugee in a host country and the thinking is, yep, good time to put another one in the oven? I suppose as long as there are other people willing to pay for the needs of their huge family, why not.

How about the good citizens of Fresno themselves?

[Ryan from Fresno] Please hold all applause until the movie has ended. As a community we did not vote for this. It has been shoved down our throats by a few religious organizations. Yes these are human beings and I have a heart, but we need to be logical about this. [translation: “I don’t have a heart.”] … We have high energy cost, high unemployment, lower wages that do not match the inflated cost for housing and rent, countless gangs and homeless encampments all along the 99. … I would have much rather opened my pocket book and helped them resettle in a predominately Muslim country, where they share the same culture, language and religious values. …  we have experienced this before with the Southeast Asian and Central American refugees. Yes, there are some that become model citizens and introduce culture into our society, but they don’t tell you the other side, the ones who start gangs and form culturally isolated ghettos.

Readers: Do you agree with me that we need more of this kind of reporting? Bringing in Airbus A380-loads of immigrants from the other side of the planet is a relatively new concept. Shouldn’t we be curious about how it works out for the typical immigrant? Also, what do we make of the fact that the NYT readers, a fairly homogeneous group politically, are fighting so much in response to this article? If the above Canadian “science prof” is correct and it takes a village to welcome an immigrant, what happens when roughly half of the Hillary supporters seem to wish that the immigrant had never showed up? Could this be the issue that prevents Democrats from uniting to oppose the Trumpenfuhrer?


NTSB Preliminary Report on the Air Canada plane flying low over the SFO taxiway


Friends keep asking me about the Air Canada Airbus that nearly collided with planes on a taxiway at SFO on July 7. The NTSB preliminary report is now available (Incident Number DCA17IA148). It says “The flight descended below 100 feet above the ground and initiated a go-around after overflying the first airplane on the taxiway.” Given the crazy brightness of transport jet landing lights, one big open question is why the pilots of the planes on the taxiway didn’t notice the Air Canada crew’s mistake earlier. If you want to get updates on the NTSB’s work, just visit their main aviation query page and enter “DCA17IA148” near the bottom of the form (“Accident Number” field).

Refugees don’t love the Baltic countries as much as Mom and I did


Mom and I loved Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania on our Royal Caribbean cruise last summer. It seems that these UNESCO World Heritage destinations are not appealing to everyone: “Refugees frustrated and trapped in chilly Baltic states” (BBC):

Mekharena, an Eritrean, came to Latvia from Italy a year ago. Reaching Europe was an odyssey – he came via Uganda, Ethiopia, Israel and Egypt. … He was not allowed to choose the destination himself, and was not happy about it. “There are lots of Eritreans everywhere in Europe. They talk to one another. We all know that in Germany they give you an apartment and €400 (£350; $450) pocket money. But in Latvia they don’t give us anything – just €139 a month,” he told BBC Russian.

An EU solidarity plan, agreed in 2015, envisaged relocating 160,000 Syrian and Eritrean refugees throughout the EU, from overcrowded camps in Greece and Italy. Only a fraction have left the camps so far.

Refugees are moving on from all three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Of 349 asylum seekers taken in by Lithuania, 248 left as soon as they had received official refugee status … Benefits for refugees in Lithuania vary from €102 to €204 a month.

In Estonia the situation is similar: of the 136 who arrived on the EU programme, 79 have moved elsewhere in Europe. Refugees in Estonia receive €130 a month.

The BBC doesn’t bother to cover this, but I don’t think that these countries are disfavoring refugees compared to their own citizens. The Eritrean who was disappointed at not getting an apartment in addition to cash may not have gotten an apartment if he had been a low-income citizen (see Russian welfare: all cash; I think it is the same in the Baltics). In all three Baltic countries I learned that having sex with the richest person in the country would yield only about 200 euros per month in child support (if they’d come to Boston for a week, for comparison, and had sex with a dentist, they’d get a wire transfer of $3,333 per month for 23 years under the Massachusetts guidelines; see also the “American Child Support Profits Without an American Child” section of “Child Support Litigation without a Marriage”).

Does this make the fights that Europeans are having about who will take refugees (immigrants are supposed to yield economic growth, but somehow these countries are fighting for the right to become poorer by rejecting them?) moot? If refugees can and do move once they are “settled” with their 130 euro/month welfare check in Estonia, why does it matter how many refugees Estonia “accepts”? It seems that there are bureaucratic obstacles to moving to whichever European country offers the best package for immigrants:

“If I move to another country, they won’t accept me. I know several people who left Latvia. They all went to Germany but none of them can work there,” says Mekharena. Refugee status in Latvia only gives you the right to claim benefits or work in Latvia. It does not guarantee anything in other EU countries.

Readers, especially those in Europe: What’s happening with the refugee influx to Europe? Hatred of Donald Trump seems to have crowded out most other news in the U.S. for the past year or so.


Revisit the idea of unarmed first-line police after shooting of unarmed woman?


Back in 2014 I asked Why aren’t there a lot more police shootings in the U.S.? (observing the ready-to-shoot posture of a police officer approaching a harmless-looking woman in a stalled vehicle) and then Should we have unarmed police? (at the beginning of the wave of American news media choosing to cover police shootings).

Now Mohamed Noor, an immigrant from Somalia, has shot Justine Damond, an immigrant from Australia. Had they both emigrated to Britain rather than the U.S., it seems safe to assume that Ms. Damond would still be alive in her pajamas. Mr. Noor, as a basic patrol officer, would not have been armed.

(From what I have read so far it is especially sad because Ms. Damond was calling the police for purely altruistic reasons, i.e., to report the possibility of an unknown stranger being a crime victim.)


Student perspective on first flight in a Robinson R22


“From hooves to helicopters” is worthwhile reading for instructors. What does it feel like to take a first lesson? Most of us can’t remember, of course!

Here’s one argument in favor of a flight school using Robinson R44s for primary training:

I was led out into the hangar by my first flight instructor. With two headsets in hand, she walked me over to what I was certain was a glorified go-kart. [The R22’s] airframe left little to the imagination and the exposure of its components was unsettling to my extremely untrained eye.

Not related, but I wish that we had space for it: bunkbed/home theater/desk for kids made from Bell 206 parts.

Marriage makes a woman more likely to be willing to have sex with a complete stranger?


“Would You Agree to Sex with a Total Stranger?” (Psychology Today, June 28, 2017) contains some surprising data:

Twenty years later, Hald and Høgh-Olesen (2010) largely replicated these findings in Denmark, with 59 percent of single men and 0 percent of single women agreeing to a stranger’s proposition, “Would you go to bed with me?” Interestingly, they also asked participants who were already in relationships, finding 18 percent of men and 4 percent of women currently in a relationship responded positively to the request.

Being married/partnered made a man much less likely to agree to have sex with a stranger, but made a woman more likely!

[Of course we have to consider the possibility that women who are more likely to agree to have sex with strangers are more likely to get married/partnered.]

HBO Big Little Lies


The yoga moms in our suburb have been chatting recurrently about the HBO show Big Little Lies so I decided to skim through it.

One big feature of the show is people driving their pavement-melting SUVs on winding undivided two-lane roads, often next to a cliff, and looking at back-seat passengers (children) or at a front-seat passengers. Where is the NTSB to protest against this?

Reese Witherspoon is the main character. She is married to what one of my Deplorable friends would call a “beta male”. When Hollywood needs a character whose career is believably low-paid, low-status, and irrelevant, what’s the go-to job? Work-from-home Web developer! Witherspoon’s character volunteers part-time in a community theater. How does she afford an oceanfront home in Monterey? (Zillow shows this at about $10 million) The answer seems to be that she was previously married to a high-income man and obtained custody of their joint daughter. So the oceanfront lifestyle is funded by child support under California law? If so, why isn’t there a fight over the cash-yielding 16-year-old when she wants to move in with Dad?

The 16-year-old daughter, for her part, hatches a plan to auction her virginity via the Internet and give the resulting cash to a worthy charity. Although a variety of the episodes show adults comfortable with cash-for-sex transactions within the context of family court, the parents are not happy about this. Nobody raises the question of whether or not this would be legal. The age of consent in California is 18 (Wikipedia; compare to 16 in some other states). Was the plan to drive up to Washington State and meet the high bidder there? Exchanging money for sex, outside of a family court, is presumably illegal under anti-prostitution laws. Would it become legal if a third party, such as a charity, were paid? No character in the show raises any of these objections to the 16-year-old’s scheme.

Domestic violence is a big theme for the show. We Believe the Children (see my first post on that book) says that Americans were desperate in the 1980s to convince themselves that poverty and domestic violence were unrelated (links to some stats). Maybe this is still true because the show’s abuser is crazy rich. The wife, who had been an attorney at a top law firm, can’t muster the courage to go down to the courthouse and take the house, kids, and cash. The couple’s therapist eventually coaches her on pre-litigation planning to win a custody lawsuit. How realistic is this? The book A Troubled Marriage that we referenced in our domestic violence chapter said that a common reason why an adult American doesn’t leave an abusive partner is that they don’t want to suffer a loss of household income (child support and/or alimony are typically less than 100 percent of a defendant’s income). But this abuser in the show had such a high income that the wife, even if she didn’t want to return to work as a lawyer, could have lived very comfortably on child support, alimony, property division, etc. Some suspension of disbelief may be required!

[Note that the character with the abusive husband is played by Nicole Kidman, who made roughly $200 million by divorcing Tom Cruise (see Daily Mail, which describes a failed legal argument: “Originally Cruise had been reluctant to agree a deal, arguing that with a £90million personal fortune, Miss Kidman could adequately support herself.”) Reese Witherspoon was herself a divorce and custody plaintiff, and alimony defendant in the California family court, according to Wikipedia.]

A big theme in the show is that one elementary school kid is being physically abused by another elementary school kid in a public school. This is one part that I had the most trouble believing. How could there be any mystery about what happens in an elementary school given the number of adults and other kids milling around? Nobody ever explains how two elementary school kids could be together unobserved.

Fans of The Son Also Rises and The Nurture Assumption will be excited to hear one character suggest that there could be a genetic basis for violent behavior and therefore, presumably, the rest of a child’s behavior. Most movies and TV shows stress the critical role of parenting, right?

The portrayal of the Monterey, California economy seems off. Some of the parents supposedly both live in Monterey full time and have top jobs at big enterprises. Is that credible? Wouldn’t it be a two-hour drive from Monterey to Silicon Valley on a typical weekday morning?

Readers: What is it about this show that has such a hold on suburban moms?

Boston Globe on the Chinese acquisition of Terrafugia, a flying car company


Terrafugia, an MIT spin-off roadable-aircraft company (“flying car” sounds better) is being acquired by the Chinese owners of Volvo. I’m quoted in the Boston Globe story on the subject.

[Readers: Yes, I’m aware that this posting will be primarily of interest to my mom and dad! No need to point that out.]

The journalist did not quote what I thought were the most interesting things that I said. I pointed out that Terrafugia was founded before Uber. The existence of Uber makes an airport-bound airplane more useful and therefore a $50,000 used Cessna or Piper or $150,000 used Cirrus is almost certainly more practical as transportation (though of course plenty of people will buy a flying car just as a fun toy). I also pointed out that the main value of Terrafugia might be the team that understands something about certifying airplanes under the LSA standard. Geely might not want to make flying cars, but perhaps they want to make electric trainer airplanes?




Can blockchain be used to implement anonymous and fraud-proof voting?


A good proportion of the American media and Facebook over the past few months seems to have been devoted to concerns about U.S. election integrity.

Lyndon Johnson was apparently elected to the Senate in 1948 through fraud (see “Were American politics better 50 years ago?“). Maybe it isn’t crazy to worry that today’s politicians are also getting elected either due to money-driven fraud or Russian meddling.

I’m wondering if readers who have thought about the latest blockchain technologies can help me out here…

What if every American citizen had an electronic ID card (see Estonia: Tough campaign stop for Bernie Sanders for a reference to one system)? Then could we trivially develop a blockchain-based voting system where anyone interested could verify the vote tallies? But it wouldn’t be anonymous, right? Or maybe it could be pseudonymous? People would somehow be able to verify that the issued personal ID codes were valid but not tie them to individual identities? But now it isn’t in fact verifiable because how do we know that a Russian isn’t generating IDs and then voting for Trump (one thing that I learned: Russians love Trump!)?

If there is no way to use blockchain and keep voting anonymous, maybe we give up anonymous voting? (see “Get rid of the secret ballot?“) Through the miracle of Facebook, political sentiment isn’t truly anonymous anymore.

Maybe we could use blockchain and Estonian-style electronic IDs to address concerns about voting by dead people, non-citizens, etc. Checking people into a polling station could be done using blockchain and then anyone interested could verify to see who had voted. After that, if the concern is Russian manipulation of voting machines… what about having three voting machines at every polling station? One machine could be Windows-based, another Android-based, and the third one iOS-based. Have each voter vote three times. The machines upload data to three separate server farms, again running a diversity of operating systems. Can Russian hackers compromise, without detection, three entirely separate systems?

Readers: Is there anything we can do to stop these endless rounds of hand-wringing?


Camera and computer vision software instead of switches for activating walk signs?


Here’s my dumb question for today…

We are smart enough to build self-driving cars, right? That’s a camera and computer vision software that needs to see everything happening on the road, including pedestrians.

It doesn’t take specialized training for a human to work as a crossing guard, right? The human sees a pedestrian approaching an intersection, walks out into the crosswalk holding a STOP sign, and stops the traffic.

Why would we wire up the light poles surrounding intersections with switches to activate WALK signs? Why not mount a camera up on the pole to watch for approaching pedestrians? Then, if no cars are coming, turn the light red for cars and activate the WALK sign before the pedestrian has to break stride.

How hard can this be? Maybe this could ease traffic congestion slightly by making it more pleasant to walk. At a minimum, we could save a lot of money installing and maintaining the under-pavement sensors for cars. The same camera can simply watch for a car approaching or stopping at an intersection. That should also save fuel (and the planet!) by changing the light before the car has to hit its brakes.

Camera plus microprocessor plus software should be cheaper than sensors, wires, and maintenance, no?

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