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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Quick! A shirt and a sandwich! Melons and a hat!

by John MacBeath Watkins

Let's compare a couple of charts, shall we?

(chart from Wikipedia)


It's easy to see why bookstores are having a hard time. Not only were those charts easy to find, the other stuff you can get quickly is amazing.  I've just watched one of my favorite films, and one of my favorite lines in it is "Cousin, you're back at last! But what a state!  Quick! A shirt and a sandwich!  Melons and a hat! Stockings!"

As an experiment, I plugged the title of this post into a search engine, and lo and behold, up comes the entire screenplay of The King of Hearts. Before the internet I'd have had to search a fairly large library to find the screenplay, and I might have found it untranslated, in the original three languages. I suppose that has something to do with the spellchecks that insist I've not written internet right unless I capitalize it, like it was a proper name, or I was writing about God. It's as if you'd be taking technology's name in vain.


But why is that such a good line? The film is about the insanity of war, as revealed by the reaction of the inmates of an insane asylum to it. That line has a hallucinogenic absurdity to it that takes us to a metaphorical war, the war on drugs, which increasing numbers of people are saying is over, and the drugs won.

One consequence of the drug war is that we have 25% of the world's prison population, and only 5% of the world's total population. This is tremendously expensive. And it has a great deal to do with our drug laws and their enforcement.


It seems to have escaped the notice of most Americans that the easiest and cheapest way to cut the crime rate is to make more things legal. The political solution is to hire more police and lock more people up for longer periods of time, which might be an efficient way of dealing with the problem if our prisons were really good at getting people to stop committing crimes.


But in fact, it seems that the people who have the easiest time getting out of a life of crime are those who don't get caught, don't get a prison record that keeps them from getting a good job, don't learn what our prisons have to teach. The Stanford Prison Experiment showed back in 1971 how prisons only bring out the worst in people, regardless of which side of the bars they are on. We've responded to this knowledge by putting more and more people behind bars.


We now have guards' unions lobbying for longer prison sentences because that's how they get job security. We have private prison companies that benefit from these policies as well. We have police corrupted by drug money in a most peculiar way -- property forfeiture laws have made arrests so lucrative for police department budgets that in some cases, such as the notorious Tenaha, Texas, scandal, police have been allegedly using the laws to take property from innocent people.


Of course, there will always be corrupt police. And biased judges, bad restaurants, etc. The problem is that the drug war puts so much power in their hands and so much wealth within reach. Tenaha might have been known for a speed trap in a more innocent age, but the drug war has increased their power, and in economic terms, the rent they can gain by abusing it.


With budgets straining, perhaps we can take another look at the money we're spending on this and come up with a more sensible arrangement. Take another look at the charts above. The crime rate started to decline when the baby boomers passed peak age for criminal activity, spiked again as crack flowed into neighborhoods and gangs fought violent turf wars, and has been declining since. If the crime rate were falling because incarceration was increasing, we would expect to seen a steady decline as the incarceration rate increased. Now, we'd like to think the incarceration rate has something to do with the decline

Friday, February 24, 2017

The $600 sailboat

by John MacBeath Watkins

My friend Pete Chopras came up with the idea of having a class of boats that would be limited by a box rule and a limit of $600 for materials. I've been thinking about building one for more than a year, but between moving the business and my residence, and not having a space to build in, I've yet to get past the design phase.

Two boats that strictly meet the rules have been built, and are on the dinghy dock at Leshi, on Lake Washington. A third got built at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival, but it uses items (such as the mast and rudder) left over from other boats the builder, Richard Woods, has owned and does not strictly comply with the $600 limit. Pete built the hull of his own boat, but life has interfered with completing it.

I began thinking about this in terms of a boat that would be fast, challenging to sail, and forgiving if you screwed up.

But I've run into a problem. If I'm going to spend the time and effort to build the boat, it needs to be a pleasant daysailer. The requirements for such a boat are at odds with going as fast as possible.

The basic philosophy with racing dinghies is that the boat will be fastest when sailed flat, therefore the hull needs almost no initial stability. In fact, a stable hull will have more drag than an unstable hull, so stability is a negative. The formula for stability is the weight of the crew and their distance from the center line of the hull. Richard's boat, built to his Zest design, is exactly that sort of boat, narrow and with hiking wings, and will no doubt be the fastest of those built for the class, and not just because he's a better racing sailor than the rest of us..

But I want a boat with enough stability that I don't have to work my butt off when daysailing.

So, I've decided that if I build for this class, I'll build a boat that is pleasant to own and sail, and not worry too much about speed.

This is what I came up with:




And the lines drawings:



The box rule is 14 ft. by 5 ft. The boat is supposed to be able to carry as much as 500 lb. of crew and cargo.

I do have a little problem with this. 500 lb. indicates a crew of three, and that's a bit intimate for a 14 ft. boat. I could build a 15.5 ft. boat with the same scarfed pieces of plywood, waste less ply and have more room for crew. But if I build it that big, it won't have a class to race in.

Two of the boats are built with Ironply, a product that is a high-quality underlayment with the right glue to tolerate marine use. I might use that, though if I can get a good enough deal on marine plywood, I'd go with that.

The next problem is getting cheap enough sails. Practice sails for a Club 420 are available fairly cheap, and if I use a centerboard, I can move the center of lateral resistance aft by pulling the board part way up, in case I want to daysail with just the main up. Again, a daggerboard would be faster, with an aperture that would provide less induced drag, but I want a practical daysailer.

The boat is a smaller version of something I drew up for illustrative purposes for my sister, who was working on saving the sail training program for Vashon's Quartermaster Yacht Club, so I've been thinking of it as the Vashon skiff.

It's designed for stitch and glue construction, and the panels develop very little stress, so it should go together fairly easily. The decks are designed so that they all develop as well. The double hull construction will make the boat heavier than a single hull with buoyancy bags, but should I capsize in cold water, I doubt very much I'll feel like spending a lot of time bailing.

With a crew of two, the boat should float with a waterline beam of 4 feet, which I believe is a little more than the waterline beam of a 420. So, the boat will probably be a little slower than a 420, at least in light air, but not much slower. The sharp entry and V'ed forward sections should make it a dry boat, though flatter sections might get it planing sooner.


For the rules for this class, go to post 967 here: http://www.boatdesign.net/forums/sailboats/new-low-cost-hardware-store-racing-class-input-proposed-rules-42343-65.html

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Siberian Candidate is now the Siberian President

by John MacBeath Watkins

I confess, I have been remiss. While our new president has been showing us why we can't have nice things, I have been silent.

Words have failed me. I have a BA and an MA in political science, and none of what's been happening in Washington has made sense to me.

When I first heard of the title of Matt Taibbi's new book, Insane Clown President, I thought that surely, this goes too far.

Not even close. The resignation of Gen. Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser marks the third person to leave President Trump's inner circle because of ties to Russia. Paul Manafort, who joined the Trump campaign back in March of last year, left the campaign in late August because of his ties to Russia (such as arranging for fake anti-NATO rallies in Ukraine to help Russia keep the region as a client.)

Carter Page left the Trump camp in December when it came out that his links to Russia were under investigation by the CIA.

Flynn's resignation letter admits he lied to Vice President Pence. It does not say that he lied to Donald Trump. And Trump didn't fire him Jan. 26, when he learned that Flynn had spoken to the Russian Ambassador to the United States and lied to Pence about it.

This all seems a little curious. Why wait 2 1/2 weeks to fire the man? Why not fire him before the whole thing blew up in public? Could it be that Trump was aware of the call all along, could he even have directed Flynn to tell the Russians that the sanctions President Obama had put in place to penalize the Russians for attempting to sway the American election would be walked back once Trump was president?

It seems likely that Trump and his inner circle knew about the Russian intervention all along, and there are even allegations that there was a quid pro quo for the Russians for doing this.

Remember this?

The dossier's claim about a Ukraine-WikiLeaks quid pro quo alleges that Trump would refrain from speaking forcefully, if at all, during the 2016 presidential campaign about Russia's 2014 incursion into eastern Ukraine. In return, Russia would provide WikiLeaks the documents it stole from the Democratic National Committee.

It seems increasingly likely that the Trump camp has been working with the Russians for quite a long time. I, of course, don't know for certain why this is. My guess would be that there's a carrot and a stick involved. There's got to be a reason Trump has resisted all attempts to get him to release his taxes, and one possible reason would be that it might show how much he is financially entangled with Russia. And in Russia, if you have money to invest, you have ties to Vladimir Putin.

It seems quite likely, given President Trump's known proclivities, that the have some sort of dirt on him. It could be that it's the  infamous claims in the "unverified dossier" that Trump hired young women to pee on each other on a bed he knew President Obama and his wife had slept on. Or that could be misdirection, and they have something else on him. Or, it could be that the money link is enough.

Late in the presidential campaign, there were people calling Donald Trump "the Siberian candidate." I don't think we know the extent of his links to Russia or his motivations. But this seems like the only issue currently on the table that could bring his presidency to an early end.