Breakfast of Champions

oh yeah...the bob loblaw law blog

Saturday, April 05, 2008

My philosophy of government

Since I'm now actually asking for your money (which i'm going to get a bit more active and therefore annoying with in coming months), I figure that I owe it those of you who are forced to listen to my drivel to explain where i'm coming from and why I think it is so important. Some of you will find these arguments familiar, meaning that you were one of those lucky souls I used to hone my methods. We begin by answering the question, Are governments necessary?

In recent years, we have heard a lot about the value of "market based solutions", which when taken to its extreme is probably best described as an incredibly unholy marriage of Adam Smith and Ayn Rand. All of our problems, they say, can be solved by allowing individuals to essentially do as they choose. Supply and demand will ensure that any product or service will be provided if it has utility. Self interest will ensure that people act honorably and provide quality; if a business didn't, people would learn about this and said business would not survive long. If the super-strong theory of market based solutions were true (or even just consistent), then governments would be nearly unnecessary. However, if we can prove that "market based solutions" are not sufficient to solve the problems of our society on their own, we will have shown that there is a need for governments. The logic that we use will also give us some hints as to how we can determine what goods and services are best provided by governments. We will work with the example of healthcare.

I ask you all to start with the assumption that in the year 2008, in a modern economy such as the United States, all people should be entitled to reasonably good healthcare, at the minimum (let's not debate what "reasonably good" is). I truly hope this is something we all agree with. Let's now imagine a society which has entirely "free market healthcare". In this society, doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies charge you on a by-use basis for their services, the pricing of which is based purely on supply and demand. Insurance companies pop up; people have a choice of paying a single annual fee to such a company, in exchange for which they get certain health services for free or a reduced cost. Sounds great right? Competition ensures costs stay low, and people can either have a guaranteed cost for their annual healthcare (which is slightly higher than their expected cost to allow for the insurance company to make some profit) or roll the dice if they think they will be healthy for the period in question. However, we can immediately find two issues that destroy the "free market healthcare utopia".

First, what happens to the people who roll the dice and lose? We are not talking about poor people in this category per se - but they won't necessarily be rich people either. They will still have heart attacks, strokes, get cancer; they are not insured to pay for these expensive treatments and can't afford them. Do we really think that these people should die (i'm not exaggerating - these illnesses will kill you if not treated) because they made a decision which, although probably poor, went horribly against them? Doing so would go against our prime assumption, that all people are entitled to such healthcare. Hence there needs to be some type of institution that provides emergency crisis health care services, and there is no way such an institution can be "free market". QED.

Even more troublesome are those who can not afford insurance at all. These people will always exist in any free market society. At the very least it will include those who are disabled and unable to earn a living in our "free market" paradise. Are they not entitled to any healthcare? We have had societies in the past where the poor were not entitled to modern healthcare - this is how plagues begin, it is in nobody's best interest. Hence there needs to be some type of institution that provides all health services to those who have no means of purchasing any, and there is no way such an institution can be "free market". QED.

By this simple logical argument we have shown that in order to fulfill the modern requirement that all people receive healthcare, we need to have a government. Exactly what this government health care (note i do not use the term "government health insurance", which is a dishonest frame) will do is a subject for another post, but it is clear that we need something.

Another great government service to use this argument with is defense. The next time somebody mentions the benefits of a "free market society", you can respond "I don't feel that I get any benefit from the Iraq War; I would choose not to pay for it in your 'free market' society" Once I actually got the response that if everybody said this then there is no way the Iraq War could go on. So I guess I'm not entirely against free markets.

Next up I think will be a bit on fiscal policy...

Sunday, March 02, 2008

2008 BoC Matching Contribution Program

For those of you who haven't met me, I tend to get kinda into politics at about this point in the bi-annual election cycle. One of the offshoots of this is that a portion of my hard-earned money goes to direct support of those who selflessly put their lives into the public eye by placing their name on the Democratic ticket. In order to generate a bit of interest and get some others involved, I've decided to invite you, the readers of this note, to have your campaign donations matched out of my pocket. Here's how it will go down:

For those of you that aren't aware of it, there is a site called Actblue, which effectively acts as a clearinghouse for donations to Democratic candidates up and down the ballot. I have created a page, the BoC supported candidates, featuring candidates that I have chosen to specifically support. Just go to the site, follow the simple instructions, and it automatically shows me what you have done (it gets published publicly too, so it's not like i'm spying on you). Every once in a while, I'll tally up what's on the board, and match.

Most of the candidates on the list are what would be referred to as "second-tier" candidates. I feel this is where your donations can do the most good, specifically because these are a bit under the radar. Occasionally I'll be adding new candidates, with the ultimate goal of having 10-15 on the page by mid-summer. I'll try to keep Facebook updated in line with Actblue so that you can easily see who your choices are. If you want any information about why I have/have not chosen candidate XYZ, feel free to ask.

A few more points of interest and clarifications:

1. It is up to you to follow any relevant regulations regarding your contributions. These can be found on Actblue.

2. This is for congressional races only. Obama appears on my Actblue page, but he is not eligible for matching contributions. Dude's got plenty of money.

3. Matching is capped at $50 per person per candidate. I reserve the right to impose caps of any other type, at any time, for any reason, or no reason at all. Like America in the current administration, this isn't a democracy.

4. In order to be eligible, I have to know you personally. The point of this is to get my friends invovled. I encourage anybody else who wishes to do something similar for their friends.

5. Depending on the success of this enterprise, there may be a social outing for those who have participated.

That's it, have at it.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

A couple hundred words on the junior senator from CT

I'm watching the first NCAA semi-final, and I got to thinkin about the antics of JoJo the circus clown. In case you haven't been following, Lieberman has step by step been going back on his election promise to caucus with the democrats. First, after the inauguration, he stated that he was only in the democratic caucus because he had to choose one caucus or the other. And even then, only because they gave him the chmnship of governmental affairs and homeland security. Last week, he would not rule out a switch to the GOP. Now, the AP is consistently listing him as "I-CT" rather than the confused "ID-CT" (a change with which i of course agree). At the time of the inauguration, Joe was in fact the kingmaker - had he caucused with the GOP, the bastards would have been able to organized the senate. Based on Joe's lukewarmness on the dems (which results, i guess, in part from their lukewarmness towards him), many have opined that the GOP may in fact take back the senate for 22 months or so ala 2001 in reverse. But, rest assured, this can not happen...let me explain...

The situation today is critically different from when Jeffords defected 6 years ago. Every 2 years, each of the 2 houses passes an organizing resolution, defining the leadership and naming committee members. Generally, the OR states that the manner in which the senate is organized (ie who the leadership is), is permanent until the next congress is sworn in. However, in 2001, with the senate evenly split, this posed a problem. Because the senate is organized 17 days earlier than the vice president is sworn in, at the time of the organization, the tie-breaking senate vote was cast by Albert Gore, Jr for Tom Daschle. However, the GOP was able to get language into the OR that stated,

if at any time during the 107th Congress either party attains a majority, . . . the provisions of this resolution shall have no further effect . . . except that the committee chairmanships shall be held by the party which has attained a majority.

When Dick was installed as the president of the senate, they were able to pass a new OR, installing Lott as ML. However, for the 110th congress, Reid was of course smart enough to ensure that such a provision was not included. Therefore, no matter what happens with Lieberman (or for that matter Sen. Johnson, who has unfortunately not yet returned to the floor), the democrats will control the senate until at least january 3rd, 2009. Thus sending Joseph Lieberman (CFL-CT) to the dustbin of history, never to rank among the great statesmen of the early 21st century, such as say James Jeffords (I-VT).


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Can we finally start racing?

So, there have been a few requests for some diagrams. But clearly those are coming from people who really have no respect for the limited nature of my conputer skillz. For those of you who don't use blogger, i create this blog by typing into a blank white box and then it magicall appears - and even that really pushes me to the limit. There is some good animated stuff on the official America's Cup site, which you might find helpful. But now it's time to go over what happens during a sailboat race, specifically the America's Cup.

The most critical rules of racing are those that determine who gets right of way. Whenever 2 boats are near each other, one of the boats always has total precedence, and the other one must remain completely clear. Determining who has right of way is relatively easy; a boat on starboard tack always has RoW over a boat on port tack, and for 2 boats on the same tack, the leeward boat (ie further from the wind) has RoW. There are some exceptions and clarifications to this (for instance, all boats are entitled to "room at the mark" under some circumstances), but keeping just these 2 rules in mind will let you follow the racing on TV. Let's look at an example of each of the 2 RoW rules affects a specific situation.

The classic case of the starboard-port rule is an upwind crossing. In this situation, 2 boats on a beat, one on part tack and one on starboard, are heading towards a collision. The starboard tack boat has complete right of way here and the boat on port tack must make clear. If the boat on port tack can not cross clearly in front, she has 2 basic choices; either "duck" the boat on starboard tack (ie change course to cross behind), or tack to starboard. If choosing the latter, the boat on port tack must take care not too tack too close to the boat on starboard tack; this will also earn a penalty.

An application of the windward-leeward rule comes into play when 2 boats are both running under spinaker, on the same tack. The leeward boat has RoW, and can force the windward boat to "keep it up", pushing her closer to the wind, even if it is away from the optimum course to mark. Then, the leeward boat can suddenly either fall off the wind (towards the mark) or gybe to the other tack, both of which should result in a small advantage. There is a limit to how far the leeward can push the windward boat, but the rule is quite subjective and it is seldom called.

The only part of the race that we haven't really discussed is the pre-start. In the America's Cup, the 2 boats in each race can enter the starting box 5 minutes before the start. This period is critical, as both boats will battle to gain an advantageous position at the starting gun; both of the RoW rules are fully in effect here. The 3 primary goals of the pre-start are to reach the starting line 1) right at the start, 2) at full speed, and 3) on the correct tack and favored end of the line. The pre-start is usually very exciting - boats will attempt to dial up their opponents into irons, and circle each other, both trying to have the best start possible as well as cause a penalty on their opponent.

So that's a decent overview of the AC racing. The real show starts on April 16 and runs through early July.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

On the Water - Crewwork

To sum up the science and art of making a sailboat move into a single post is perhaps the ultimate exercise in futility - made no easier by my lack of familiarity with fancy instaweb tools like graphics. For this i apologize, and i'll therefore try to keep it simple.

Sailing (assuming you are trying to get somewhere and not just out enjoying a cruise) involves 2 seemingly simple tasks; find the wind, and given the wind, make the boat go as fast as it can. All sailboats have a crew that (during a race) are completely focused on these two tasks. This is true for all boats, from the smallest dinghy crewed by a single hand, to the America's Cup Class boats (ACC) which carry 16. On the Parlay, we liked to have at least 5, and sometimes as many as 10 - in practice, this made us more similar to the ACC boats than the dinghies so that will be my focus.

All crews have a "brain trust", even if all members have other responsibilities in addition to this. First, there is a Captain or Skipper, who is in charge of making all final decisions in the race. ACC boats will also typically carry a Navigator and a Tactician, as well as a Helmsman, whose job it is to physically steer the boat. Smaller crews will generally combine these jobs (eg Skipper is also physically the helmsman). Everybody on the boat except for the brain trust is involved in the physical operation of the boat, which can be roughly divided into 2 parts, executing maneuvers and trimming sails.

Modern racing boats generally use two sails, a mainsail and a headsail. The mainsail attaches to the mast, and extends back along the boom; in this way 2 of the 3 sides of the sail are attached along their whole length to solid structures. The mainsail is entirely controlled by acting on said solid structures. Generally a racing boat will use a single mainsail in all conditions (although in heavy winds it will not be raised all the way up - this is called a "reef"). There are 2 main controls for the mailsail, the traveler and the mainsheet. Together they control the position of the boom; directly back along the center of the boat when hard on the wind, far from the center when running. When tacking or gybing, the only change that must be made to the mainsail is to move the traveler to a position that is the mirror image or its initial position; the sheet is generally not changed.

On the other hand, virtually all boats carry a number of different headsails. When sailing into the wind, a sailboat will use a genoa or a jib, which is a small genoa (for this discussion i'll use the terms interchangeably). The front edge of the genoa attaches to the forestay, a piece of metal that runs to the top of the mast. Unlike a mainsail, the bottom edge of the genoa flies freely, and the sail is controlled by a 2 sheetlines (one for each side of the boat) that attach to the corner of the sail that is opposite the forestay. For a genoa, only once side is attached to a solid structure. Similar to the mainsail, the sheet line is brought in (ie tightened) when hard on the wind, and let out (ie loosened) when reaching. Unlike the mainsail, the genoa requires significant effort to move during a tack or gybe. After the tack is begun, as soon as the sail begins to backfill with wind, the sheet that was holding the sail is released, and the opposite sheet is brought in. The net effect of this is to actually pass the entire sail in front of the mast! If done correctly, the wind will actually help move the sail across, making the tack end quickly, leaving the boat traveling fast and the crew not as worn out.

When sailing with the wind, a sailboat will use a spinnaker, the sail that looks like a big balloon. The top of the spinnaker is attached to a point at the top of the mast. The lower corner that on the windward side of the boat (ie port side when on part tack), is attached to the guy line, which goes from the middle of the boat, through the end of the spinnaker pole and attaches to the sail. The spinnaker entends forward from the mast in the direction opposite of the boom, and holds the sail open. The lower corner to the leeward side of the boat is attached to the sheet line. None of the 3 edges of the sail are attached to a solid structure; for this reason, the spinnaker is the most difficult sail to handle. It's beyond the scope, but gybing the spinnaker can be roughly described as:

  • release the downhaul
  • release the guy line from the spinnaker pole
  • have the flyer manage both sheets
  • raise the end of the spinnaker attached to the mast
  • lower the pole via the topping lift (not too fast, or you'll drop it on the
  • foredeckman)
  • pass the pole under the forestay
  • raise the pole with the topping lift
  • attach the pole to the new guy line
  • have the flyer manage the new sheet only
  • lower the pole on the mast end, and
  • tighten the downhaul.

of the basic moves during a race, this is certainly the most difficult, as it requires 4 or 5 crew members to have great communication and timing.

At the risk of leaving out an enormous amount of what goes on on the water, I think i'll stop here. If anybody wants to point out faults or pieces that i've missed here in a comment, feel free.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Smartest Guys in the Room

Taking a break from sailing, I watched the Enron movie this morning - for anybody who hasn't seen it yet, i definitely recommend it.

Without devolving into old-style political ranting, i didn't know exactly how closely tied in Enron/Ken Lay were with the current administration. The movie creates a pretty clear line that goes from:

Ken Lay's pocket - Enron was the single largest corporate donor, to
george bush's election (such as it was an election), to
the rise of the deregulation crowd (the federal energy reg cmte was run by one of Lay's cronies), to
the rolling CA blackouts (the trader tapes in the film are pretty incriminating), to
the CA recall/Governator election (key reason for davis's unpopularity), to
w's second election (davis would have been a very strong candidate), to
the downfall of enron (bush administration explicitly and implicitly helped enron build its house of cards)...and so on

The idea of Enron as a house of cards is itself a pretty good metaphor for the administration. All of the same elements are there - the nuremberg defense, silencing of critics, removal of any dissent, lack of recognition of reality, hubris, belief that they were changing the world, crony-ism, laziness of those who should have provided checks and balances in the system. When will the other shoe truly fall on the administration? This us attorney scandal has all the characteristics of nixon's saturday night massacre, and i don't think abu gonzales's teflon can protect him. but i've also said that before...


Saturday, March 03, 2007

How does sailing work, in general?

Let's take a step back from the AC, and get a bit into how a boat moves using only the wind. Today's racing boats are the result of literally thousands of years of research into materials, sails, hydrodynamics, equipment and meteorology.

A common misconception is that sailboats are "pushed" by the wind. While occasionally there is some truth to this, the way a sailboat moves is in fact much closer to how an airplane wing works. Without stepping into DRC/CEJ dork-territory, picture an airplane wing...when it goes through the air, the pressure differential creates a force ("lift") that "pulls" the wing up...and the airplane is attached to that wing. Now take that wing, and rotate it so that the part that was atttached to the plane is now attached to the boat. If you cause the wind to go acros this wing/sail, it will cause a similar pressure differential, and "lift" the sailboat forward. The offshoot of this is that you are now able to have the boat travel in the direction opposite to the wind. This is called beating; when a sailboat is going in the same direction as the wind, that is called running.

However, no sailboat can ever go directly into the wind - the airplane wing doesn't work if you rotate it 90 degrees from its normal orientation. When a boat is pointed directly into the wind that is called being "in irons" or "dead into the wind". As a boat tries moves away from irons, it is able to travel faster and faster. This provides an interesting situation in a race; if the course is set up so that you would want to travel directly into the wind (also called sailing "upwind" or just "up", you have to choose between traveling more directly towards your goal at a slower speed, or less directly toward your goal at a higher speed. This leads to the concept of velocity made good ("VMG"); VMG is the rate at which you are approaching your goal. If you are moving 10 mph directly towards your goal, you are making 10 VMG. If you are traveling at a 45 degree angle to your mark, you are making about 7 VMG. If you are travelling at a 90 degree angle to your mark, you are making 0 VMG. The goal in a sailbody race is to always maximize your VMG.

For each boat, there is an angle to the wind for which if you move slightly closer your speed begins to drop dramatically. Generally, if you are trying to sail directly into the wind, you want to point the boat at this angle. This is called sailing "close-hauled", in most boats, it is 30-40 degrees away from irons. Clearly, even sailing close-hauled you will never get to a point that is directly into the wind. Because of this, the boat will have to zig-zag up the race course. The act of the bow of the boat crossing the direction of the wind is called a tack; when the stern of the boat crosses the wind, that is called a gybe. Tacking and gybeing both require switching the sails from one side of the boat to the other. If the sails are on the left ("port") side of the boat, the wind is coming over the right ("starboard") side; this is called being on starboard tack. Similarly, if the sails are on the starboard side of the boat, that is the port tack.

We can now describe a full 360 degree turn. Starting out in irons, turning the boat to starboard puts you on a port beat. Contintuing, when the wind is coming directly over the side, that is a port reach, then port run. When the wind is at your back, that is a dead run; continuing the turn to starboard you pass through starboard run, starboard reach, starboard beat and then back into irons. Each of these terms is called a point of sail.

That's enough for today - next time we'll take look around an America's Cup Class boat.