Progressive Regression

Before it became politically incorrect to do so, census workers used to record whether people were deaf, dumb, blind, insane, or idiotic. These are perfectly reasonable statistics for measurement – it helps the states determine funding allocation for insane asylums.

Now, obviously an insane idiot cannot accurately diagnose himself for the census marshals. Thus the questionnaires provided instructions to the workers [1]:

The fact of idiocy will be better determined by the common consent of the neighborhood, than by attempting to apply any scientific measure to the weakness of the mind or will.

The problem was that society had a poor understanding of what it meant to be insane, or an idiot. Unwed mothers were frequently sent to mental hospitals under the rationale that moral failings were a sign of feeble-mindedness1. Or, more likely, their family members were embarrassed of them. As a result, state institutions turned into holding bins for burdensome relatives and socially redundant women. By 1904, the US had 150,000 patients institutionalized — about 0.2% of the population.

During the Progressive Era, people got it into their heads that the most compassionate thing we could do for our growing population of idiots and lunatics was to sterilize them. Indiana became the first state to enact sterilization legislation in 1907, with Washington and California following shortly thereafter.

Eugenics supporters on Wall Street

The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes… Three generations of imbeciles are enough.
–Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

In the 1927 case of Buck v Bell, the Supreme Court ruled that eugenics-based sterilization was indeed constitutional, and opened the door for compulsory sterilizations at mental institutions nationwide. Progressive California led the way, performing over a third of the sterilization operations in the country.

Southern California Asylum for the Insane and Inebriate

Those with institutionalized family members were not necessarily pleased. While it might make sense to have a relative committed to keep them from inheriting the farm, most people don’t want to go so far as to see their family members neutered (see also: The Selfish Gene).

People began hiding their idiots and lunatics from the census workers. Later versions of census instructions warn:

It not infrequently happens that fathers and mothers, especially the latter, are disposed to conceal, or even to deny, the existence of such infirmities on the part of children. In such cases, if the fact is personally known to the enumerator, or shall be ascertained by inquiry from neighbors, it should be entered on the schedules equally as if obtained from the head of the family.

After World War II, eugenics pretty much fell out of favor in society, as did the idea of labeling anyone as mentally defective. The US Census Bureau stopped asking questions about the blind, deaf, insane and idiotic, and by 1955 the accepted treatment for mental affliction was to take two Thorazine and go live on the street.

Today we have fewer than 50,000 patients in psychiatric hospitals, despite the population increasing over fourfold since 1904. The 12,000 homeless people in San Francisco are just temporarily embarrassed millionaires, I guess.

“According to the Human Betterment Foundation [of Pasadena], during the last quarter of a century California state institutions have sterilized more than 11,000 insane and feebleminded patients . . . Eugenic sterilization in this form represents one of the greatest advances in modern civilization.” (1937)

1. Don’t blame us, we were only copying the UK! In 1913, Parliament passed the Mental Deficiency Act, which labeled women with illegitimate children as “moral imbeciles.” Here’s Winston Churchill eloquently arguing in favor of eugenics.

1. Measuring America: The Decennial Censuses From 1790 to 2000. US Census Bureau
2. Bureau of the Census Catalog, 1790-1972

How to Solve the Engineering Shortage

In between taking my geritol and feeding the pigeons, I came up with a brilliant idea to solve the tech industry’s talent shortage AND its diversity problem: Hire more old people.

The rationale behind “diversity” in any organization is to bring contrasting perspectives to the table. A really easy way to get diversity of opinion is to look a generation above. Try talking to your parents, or grandparents, about any matter of social and political import. See?

Yesterday, the internet collectively soiled itself over VP Mike Pence’s policy of never dining alone with women who aren’t his wife. But anyone born before 1963 would find that behavior perfectly reasonable*! The problem is that the internet, and the internet industry, is restricted to a narrow cohort whose formative years were shaped by the same series of world events.

Silicon Valley is known for putting employees out to pasture by age 35. The median age of Facebook employees is 28, and at Amazon and Apple it’s a Methuselean 31. Prime working age in this country runs from 25 to 54, which means that a reasonable company median ought to be closer to 40.

I get it, no one wants to work alongside Grampa. The Soylent cabinet will have to be stocked with Metamucil, catered dinners will move up to 4pm, the foosball table will make way for shuffleboard, and company team-building exercises will consist of bingo night.

But it’s important to bring an older perspective to the industry. Older employees can make sure that VR goggles properly support bifocals, self-driving cars remain safely below the speed limit, and Siri and Alexa will know better than to talk back to their elders.

Okay yeah maybe there’s a reason why Facebook keeps getting voted the best place to work in the US.

*It looks like those born after 1992 might agree as well.

Uber isn’t Woke

Uber has gotten a lot of flak for alleged sexism in the workplace, but according to its Diversity Report, 15.4% of Uber tech employees are women. That’s about on par with Facebook, and Facebook has been the best place to work in the country for four years running, according to BusinessInsider and Glassdoor.

Uber is the only one getting ripped on because it’s simply not woke. Here’s Lyft President John Zimmer in a recent interview about competing with Uber:

We’re woke. Our community is woke, and the U.S. population is woke… We’re not the nice guys, we’re a better boyfriend.

Statements like this make me wish I had Lyft installed on my phone, because I really want to #deleteLyft right now. If Uber’s company culture is considered hostile to women, I suspect that Lyft’s culture is hostile to anyone over the age of twelve.

Lyft employees doing woke stuff.

For all the lip service Silicon Valley pays to Diversity Issues, the industry has a very peculiar way of defining its goal. Diversity in Silicon Valley means having equal representation from women who think the same way you do, people of every color who think the same way you do, each of the LGBTTQQIAAP gender identities who think the same way you do, and so on.

Despite Lyft’s claims of wokeness, Verge says that Lyft is Not actually Woke, because Peter Thiel is an investor and Carl Icahn is a board member. Thiel and Icahn are advisors to the Trump administration — Guilty by transitive property #NotWoke.

It sure is hard to be woke.

Bird vs. Drone

This has been floating around for a while, but here’s the French military training golden eagles to take down drones:

Badass. Although the strategy seems a bit unscalable. I mean, who brings a BIRD to a drone fight?? Terrorists can easily make a bigger drone, but a divine creator can’t exactly hand the French Army a larger eagle. Plus, it took a team of 100 people just to train four eagles! Wouldn’t it have been faster to hand those hundred people some sniper rifles?

I’m not surprised to see such silliness from France. Ever since Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, that country has demonstrated the military competence of a bag of beans. But here we have the Dutch Police doing the same thing!

Come on Netherlands, get it together and pay for some real fighter planes. This is exactly how you people lost the East India colonies to Japan.

So while continental Europe is reenacting La Cage aux Folles on the battlefield, the US Army shows the world the how a real military gets things done. Here’s the Patriot Missile Defense System, which we recently used to shoot down an enemy drone:

Patriot missile! That’s right, we shot a $3.4 million radar-guided ballistic missile into a $200 commercial drone that you can buy on Amazon. That’s economic stimulus in action! Take that, ISIS drone! America, F— Yeah!

Is Europe convinced that it needs to pay us for military defense yet? Either way, let’s hurry up and get those $400 billion F-35 fighters out the door. These victory banners aren’t going to tow themselves, you know.

The Bitcoin Backlog

I’m going to pick on my colleagues over at Bloomberg Tech and their allegations that Bitcoin is suffering some sort of backlog. You guys are wrong! Bitcoin is doing just fine.

Complaining about a Bitcoin transaction backlog is like complaining that Ebay has a backlog because 90 people bid on a Honus Wagner baseball card and only one person got to win. I could bid a penny on Honus Wagner all day long, and still not get a card. That’s not a backlog; that’s just a crappy offer price.

See, a sad fact of capitalism is that goods and services cost money. Processing a bitcoin transaction is a service that miners perform in exchange for money, which they need to pay their electricity bills. Did bitcoin users presume that the network is a public service run by benevolent cryptoanarchists?

Transaction fee per kB (BTC/kB)

Bitcoin transactions are priced by size, like, BTC/kB. Transactions vary in size because you can combine multiple inputs and outputs and add programmable instructions. But a one-input-one-output transaction is about 192 bytes, and a reasonable fee for that transaction might be about 0.0002 BTC, or 25 cents. The fee is the same whether the transaction value is a million dollars or a nickel.

So here we have Roger Ver complaining that he paid $78 for his bitcoin transaction. Right, the transaction contained 416 inputs, so it was effectively 416 transactions squashed into one. 18.75 cents per transaction is not bad! And this is irrelevant, but the total transaction value was 32.5 bitcoin, or about $39,000. $78 is effectively a 0.2% transaction fee!

Transaction fees have gone up recently, but overall transaction costs have stayed the same. Decreased, even. The cost of a transaction is what miners receive for including a transaction in a block. That’s the fixed block reward plus a fee from the user. The block reward is the creation of new bitcoins, which is effectively inflation, so people don’t really think about it, but it’s still a cost. Block rewards decrease by 50% every four years, and the last decrease was last July, so transaction fees had to increase to compensate. The good news is that the inflation rate has gone down.

Average Cost per Transaction (block reward plus transaction fees, divided by number of transactions)

The bigger issue is that people don’t understand how to calculate bitcoin transaction fees, so they submit cheapskate transactions and get all confused when miners don’t want to include them. Here is a pretty good tool for estimating transaction fees and expected wait time. A lot of the wallet software out there sucks and doesn’t do this for their users. Bitcoin could stand to be more user-friendly.

Finally, transaction fees are denominated in BTC, but people whine about them in dollars. Even if the transaction fees haven’t gone up much in terms of bitcoin, the dollar-denominated price of bitcoin has increased by a lot, so the transaction fees look a lot higher these days when considered in dollars. But it’s not Bitcoin’s fault that your stupid fiat currency can’t hold its value.

See Also:
Someone Wants to Stick a Fork in Bitcoin –BloombergView