Saturday Assorted Links

1. Lasers Reveal a Maya Civilization So Dense It Blew Experts’ Minds.

“Not far from the sites tourists already know, like the towering temples of the ancient city of Tikal, laser technology has uncovered about 60,000 homes, palaces, tombs and even highways in the humid lowlands.

The findings suggested an ancient society of such density and interconnectedness that even the most experienced archaeologists were surprised.”

Decidedly not a shithole civilization.

“The total population at that time was once estimated to be a few million. . . . But in light of the new lidar data, she said it could now be closer to 10 million.

‘To have such a large number of people living at such a high level for such a long period of time, it really proves the fact that these people were highly developed, and also quite environmentally conscientious.'”

Absent the United Fruit Company and the CIA, the Mayans’ ancestors would be a lot better off today.

2. First Do No Harm, Health Care Waste in Washington State.

Screen Shot 2018-02-03 at 11.20.58 AM.png

Screen Shot 2018-02-02 at 12.54.52 PM.png

3. The shocking thing about D.C.’s schools scandal — and why it has national significance.

“. . . schools were essentially juicing the books to make it seem like they were graduating more students. Scams included phony “credit recovery” programs, failing to count all students, and, as the District just found out, letting kids graduate without the qualifications required for a diploma.”

And on Michelle Rhee, the darling of right wing business mad “reformers”:

“. . . the produce-or-else testing culture that she fostered — tying portions of some evaluations to growth in scores and securing commitments from principals to hit numerical targets — created a climate of fear, in the view of many school employees.

It also coincided with evidence of cheating on annual city tests.

A climate of fear in a school has never been known to produce much of anything useful.”

4. Ethiopia’s regime flirts with letting dissidents speak without locking them up. Incremental progress.

5. Letter of Recommendation: Rodney Dangerfield.

“Imagine having no talent. Imagine being no good at all at something and doing it anyway.”

6. How Building Codes & Taxes Shape Regional Architecture.

“Ever noticed how the bricks on newer British buildings are bigger, or stopped to appreciate hand-stenciled wallpaper, or enjoyed a sip from a fancy hollow-stemmed glass? If so, you may well be admiring a product of regulation and taxes as much aesthetic tastes. From basic materials to entire architectural styles, building codes and taxation strategies have had huge historical impacts on the built world as we know it.”

Add that to the ever burgeoning list of things I did not know. I’m sure DAByrnes did though.

“Dutch canal houses are another classic example of how rules and regulations can shape structures. Taxed on their canal frontage rather than height or depth, these buildings grew in tall and thin. In turn, this typology evolved narrower staircases, necessitating exterior hoist systems to move furniture and goods into and out of upper floors.”

Friday Assorted Links

1. The British Open has always been my favorite golf tournament because of the history, creative shot making, hellish bunkers, cold wind and rain, and the gorse of course. I’m going to miss it.

Englishman Nick Faldo, a three-time Open champion, said it is no longer correct to call it the Open Championship. “Now it’s ‘The Open. In another five years, it will just be called ‘The.’ ”

2. Tyler Cowen on his writing process.

“I try to write a few pages every day. I don’t obsess over the counting, I just do as much as I can and stop before I feel I am done, so I am eager to start up again the next day, or after lunch. That to me is very important, not to write too much in a single day, but to get something written every single day.”

3. Principals are loath to give teachers bad ratings.

“When principals are asked their opinions of teachers in confidence and with no stakes attached, they’re much more likely to give harsh ratings, researchers found.”

4. So this is why eldest daughter chooses to live in Chicago.

“Another interesting trend is that all cities in Southwest, from Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, are taco cities. Burrito cities are mostly from the Midwest and West. California has cities in both categories. It appears that SoCal prefers tacos (LA and San Diego), while NorCal prefers burritos (San Francisco, Sacramento, San Jose).”

Clearly, burritos > tacos, so I need to visit Indianapolis and San Fransisco.

5A. Trumpcare collapsed because the Republican Party cannot govern.

“In truth, it was never possible to reconcile public standards for a humane health-care system with conservative ideology. In a pure market system, access to medical care will be unaffordable for a huge share of the public. Giving them access to quality care means mobilizing government power to redistribute resources, either through direct tax and transfers or through regulations that raise costs for the healthy and lower them for the sick. Obamacare uses both methods, and both are utterly repugnant and unacceptable to movement conservatives. That commitment to abstract anti-government dogma, without any concern for the practical impact, is the quality that makes the Republican Party unlike right-of-center governing parties in any other democracy. In no other country would a conservative party develop a plan for health care that every major industry stakeholder calls completely unworkable.”

5B. The Republican healthcare meltdown.

“The larger lesson of this sorry episode is that nobody—not McConnell, or Trump, or House Speaker Paul Ryan—can resolve the contradictions of today’s Republican Party. Once the political arm of the Rotary Club and the affluent suburbs, the Party is increasingly one of middle-class and working-class voters, many of whom are big beneficiaries of federal programs, such as Medicaid and the Obamacare subsidies for the purchase of private insurance. But the G.O.P. remains beholden to its richest, most conservative donors, many of whom espouse a doctrine of rolling back the government and cutting taxes, especially taxes applicable to themselves and other very rich people. It was the donors and ideologues, with Ryan as their front man, who led the assault on the Affordable Care Act.”

5C. Trump’s clueless abdication of presidential responsibility.

“Predictable and despicable” are more apt than “clueless”.

“The first duty of any President is to protect the welfare of the citizenry. In blithely threatening to allow the collapse of the Obamacare exchanges, through which some twelve million Americans have purchased health insurance, Trump was ignoring this duty. Arguably, he was violating his oath of office, in which he promised to ‘faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States.'”

Sentence to Ponder

From an article on Jeb Bush’s taxes in today’s WSJ.

“The average rate for middle-income households was projected to be 12% in 2013, the latest available data.”

The top 1% of earners, who do 99% of the complaining about tax rates, pays an average of 33%.

What percentage of people in developed countries would sign on to pay 12%? Trick question. Somewhat less than all because some (many?) would not want to accept the trade-offs of minimal taxes including worsening infrastructure, expensive health care, and tens of million in poverty.

Light a Candle or Curse the Darkness?

Is quality of life improving? Depends on the person or people and the place right? What about your quality of life, your family’s, your friends’, the majority of people who live in your community?

I’m conflicted. I believe the U.S. is in decline. And because both political parties approach government as a zero-sum game making bipartisanship a relic of previous centuries, I have no confidence that government will slow or reverse the decline. Health insurance and higher education inflation are major negatives.

Also, Edward Conrad aside (short rebuttal), growing inequality is a definite negative and there are still serious cracks in the global economy. Social security funds are supposed to dry up in 2033, right when yours truly will be 71. Wars and security threats abound and our military spending is unsustainable. And if Romney pulls off the upset, he promises to increase it in the short-term, inevitably adding to our unprecedented debt. And finally, my hair continues to recede like the world’s rain forests and UCLA hasn’t beaten USC in football since 2006.

But there are lots of positives for the other side of the ledger, the “light the candle” side. Medical research continues to march on, extending our lives and improving quality of life. Life for many in the poorest countries is gradually improving. Baby apps and my late-adaptor skepticism aside, personal technology has made life better. Writing on this laptop is a marked improvement on the typewriters of my college years. Watching t.v. without commercials, reading electronic newspapers on my iPad without getting ink-stained hands, the value of these things can’t be overstated. Cars keep getting safer, more efficient, and relatively more affordable. Appliances and homes are more energy efficient. Alternative energy technologies make energy independence and reduced military spending a possibility.

Related to that, wise consumers, in many sectors of the economy, are getting more value for their dollar than ever before. A personal example of that. Everyone is complaining about the cost of gas and related things like summer air fares. I just bought a plane ticket to visit Mother Dear mid-summer. I put the time in to get a great fare, $391, Seattle to Tampa. Let’s add in $80 for airport parking and $15 for in-air groceries (to and from) for a total cost of $486. Translating that to time spent working, at $50/hour, that’s 1.2 work days, at $12.50/hour, 5 work days.

What if I drove the 3,200 or 6,400 miles roundtrip? Let’s assume 32mpg for 200 gallons at $4/per for a subtotal of $800 in gasoline. Plus four long days means, 12 meals (@ $10/per) and 3 hotels (@ 90/per) x 2 (for the return)=$780 for a total of $1,580. And let’s add in $120 for an oil change, depreciation, and tire wear and tear. So I could spend eight days on the road at a cost of $1,700 or fly for $486. So I get to spend seven extra days with MD for $1,214 less.

The older most people get the more they succumb to selective perception. They get nostalgic for a Golden Age when young people had shorter hair, fewer tats, read more, and life in general was better. I don’t buy it. I’m not sure there’s ever been a Golden Age of anything. My goal is to light candles more and curse the darkness less.

That’s me in the second row excited to see Mother Dear