All posts by Alexander Van Berg

Great Design

Transparent Entrapment

In my previous post, I took a look at one government dysfunction.  Although bigger problems in Texas might theoretically exist, it’s really no different than any other dysfunction in terms of how it can be fixed.  The solution, in my own words, is transparent entrapment.

We are actually told by the Bible that it’s God’s preferred model.  We are told that God has designed transparent entrapment for humanity.

The Temptation of Christ by the Devil.  By Félix-Joseph Barrias in 1860.
The Temptation of Christ by the Devil.  By Félix-Joseph Barrias in 1860.

It’s entrapment because the subject is being tempted to take an action he or she would not otherwise take.

It’s transparent because the subjects have been given forewarning or foreknowledge of it.

One can certainly debate the merits of entrapment, and plenty of other theological questions, but I will tell you this… I have trained a number of dogs employing this device.

For humans, the legal definition of entrapment centers around the use of coercion and other overbearing tactics to induce someone to commit a crime.  In general, this method is a legal non-starter, and a solid defense strategy in court is simply to shine a spotlight on it.

Opaque entrapment would simply be the use of entrapment, but without any advance warning that such activity was taking place.  Saddam Hussein was allegedly a prolific, incredibly successful practitioner of opaque entrapment.  And his long-time grip over his government and his people more than validated that attribution.  Iraqi government figures were solicited for betrayal, and if they chose betrayal, they vanished.

Opaque entrapment has an interesting quality, in that if the subjects start to suspect this model is being used, the model still works.  And it was said that this was indeed the case in Iraq.  Saddam’s regime acquired an unofficial reputation for using this model, and it still worked perfectly, and it still snuffed out nearly all hope of internal opposition, because the subjects could never discern whether a betrayal solicitation was genuine or a trap.

In the free world, it’s generally agreed that opaque entrapment borders on cruel.  However, a closer look must be given to transparent entrapment.

Why not tell federal judges they will be intentionally solicited for bribery several times a year?  That in fact, this is all part of the job description.

Why not tell members of the CIA that they will be intentionally solicited for betrayal several times a month?  And that their friends and family will also be intentionally solicited for use in soliciting them?  Yes, there’s obviously a cost there, but I think it’s easy to argue that it’s worth the cost.

And, for example, why not tell Texas Boll Weevil employees that they will encounter intentionally broken, busted boll weevil traps on the ground near their work sites – just begging to be taken back to the boll weevil laboratory?  Failure to return them is considered failure on the job.

Why shouldn’t our public employees be held to high standards?

The fact that it’s transparent may provide a legal defense of the method, but if not, constitutional-level changes would admittedly need to be made.  I really can’t see how it wouldn’t be justified.

This is perhaps the method for rooting out almost any undesirable trait, in any context.

Poor Processes

Don’t Mess With Texas?

Anyone from Texas, or travelling through Texas, has surely seen the iconic “Don’t Mess With Texas” slogan, often times emblazoned on highway billboards as an admonition against littering.

Once again, by all accounts, Texas is anti-garbage.

But yet even with all this momentum, we still have a classic government agency dysfunction in our midst…

Take a good look at the image below.  What are these things?

Badminton Equipment?
Badminton Equipment?

It looks like plastic, and maybe related to a badminton game?

Well, actually these are part of a boll weevil trap.  State employees place these around farm fields to trap boll weevils as a part of a larger plan to eradicate them.  This is what the entire trap looks like when it’s upright and operational:

And acting as a minor pest in its own right, this collection of state employees will then leave these plastic, non-biodegradable trap pieces behind in the Texas landscape.  Whether the traps are busted or broken, or just not being used anymore, often times their life cycle ends with state employees leaving them as garbage on the ground.

Garbage left behind - just a few feet from a working boll weevil trap.
Garbage left behind – just a few feet from a working boll weevil trap.

Last time I checked, broken, busted boll weevil traps weren’t a part of Texas’s state seal.  Nor are they included in the official state song, or the state pledge of allegiance!  And I’ve never seen a single Texas highway billboard singing the praises of a boll weevil holocaust.

But they’re left behind – by state employees – as if this makes sense and they’re some kind of blessing for the Texas landscape.

Nothing confuses me more than state employees caring less about the state than ordinary citizens, people working for the county caring less about the county than people not working for the county, and federal civil servants caring less about the country than people working in the private sector.

So, to recap, you have entomological employees working for The Lone Star State (AKA The “Don’t Mess With Texas” State), leaving behind their non-biodegradable garbage everywhere, for a job, that by all appearances, isn’t even close to being on par with the state-wide anti-garbage mission.

Commemorative coins:

Yes, there are even pot holders:

In case anyone doubts your fervor.
In case anyone doubts your fervor.

Throwback:

(Can you imagine a boll weevil re-mix?  Neither can I.)

 

 


Epilogue

Great Design

Down Home Country Solutions

We had some knives coming out of the dishwasher with little brown rust stains on them.  I tried a variety of methods to remove them, but nothing seemed to really work.

Recently I found some advice online that called for pure lemon juice.  So, I started searching for the internet’s best lemon juice, but the solution ended up being much more down to earth.  We have some lemon trees, and as it turns out, jabbing a knife into a lemon is a lot easier than applying liquid solvents or filling up cups to the brim with commercial lemon products.

lemons 1

And when you’re done with the blade… yes, you can simply flip it around and clean the handle.

lemons 2

 

The results?  UNBELIEVABLE.  I was truly shocked!  Lemons somehow solve this problem perfectly.  The stains get obliterated.  All of them.  They all come right off.

Miscellany

Reasons You Shouldn’t Kick Inconspicuous Tires That Have Been Dumped

bees-in-tire-1

It’s been said that bees love to find tires to build hives in.  The honeycomb in the picture above was built by extremely aggressive Africanized bees.  The tire had been dumped long ago and was sitting right next to a path used by pedestrians and also horse riders.

Dumped tires like this look like trash to most people, but they must look like mansions to bees searching for a home.  When you see a dumped tire, it’s best to assume the worst.

With full bee gear, we safely moved this tire to a much safer location.  The bees you see in the pictures and in the video below are mostly neighboring bees that came to harvest this killer bee honey after we moved the tire.

As for the killer bees themselves, believe it or not, it took three attempts to completely kill them!  Drowning first, then locally-controlled fumigation, and then finally soapy water.  And each time we figured we “must have got almost all of ’em”.

If you ever see or suspect anything like this, assume the worst and call a professional or the local authority responsible for dealing with something like this.

bees-in-tire-2

bees-in-tire-3

bees-in-tire-4

In the video below, more flying neighbors got into the action after we pulled out some honeycomb and put it on a flat surface.

 

We got 'er. The deadly colony's Ace of Spades.
We got ‘er. The deadly colony’s Ace of Spades.

Great Design

Reuse, Reduce, Recycle?

Mr. Sandman

Victor Mr. Sandman
Was “Mr. Sandman” the nom de guerre of Victor?

Mr. Sandman had a few kills in his day.  So many in fact, that the metal parts became twisted and bent to the point the trap was unusable.

To make matters worse, we now favor more human methods (live traps), and best of all, finding and sealing up old rodent entryways.  But Mr. Sandman has moved on as well.  He’s reinvented himself as a sanding block (after going through the dishwasher several times).  Not a bad move on his part.

Sanding Block

Poor Design

Sliding Standards

I won’t say that “back in my day”, it was simply expected that you graduate from high school, but one got the sense that in generations prior, that’s how it was.  You were supposed to graduate from high school.

Now every school in my area takes out a full-page ad (some take out several pages of ads) trumpeting the unbelievable accomplishment of our high school students graduating from high school.

In fact, if you stripped all the words and context away, these ads almost look like photos of people who just won the lottery!

600 graduates

100 percent passing rate

I strongly disagree with this approach.  I refuse to participate in this cult of the high-school-graduation hysteria.  It looks and feels like sliding standards.  I’m skeptical that the world’s highest-performing countries do this.

And sadly, it will be hard for individual schools to stop doing this, as long as all the other schools continue doing it.  This form of peer pressure will tend to ensure this embarrassing trend continues going strong.

One wonders what’s next.  All-out celebrations for junior high graduates?  Custom theme music getting blared out for students each time they successfully go to the restroom?

To tell you the truth, I feel like the students here are pawns, at least partially, in an academia-led scheme to cult-ify high school graduation.  Very similar to how we used to always hear the mind-boggling sage wisdom about how 18-year-old basketball phenoms should play four years of college basketball.  While making $0 and risking a career-ending, millions-losing injury!  With the only upside being that they get a college education… that they could have actually received later after they secured hundreds of millions of dollars (with tens of those millions being guaranteed in their initial contract, before they even stepped foot on the court).

Poor Design

Petty Million Dollar Lawsuits

Right now there’s a nasty defect in ebay’s system.  When you look at an item’s listing, you are shown the item’s price and how much it will cost to ship.  If you agree to buy the item, ebay policy says you are then obligated to pay for it.

That’s where the problem arises.

You see, when you’re set to pay for it, the price goes up!  Yes, that’s right:

1.) You agree to buy the item at a certain price.

2.) ebay policy says you are now obligated to pay for the item.

3.) Woops, the price goes up!  Sorry, but please enter your credit card number!

Item A: The listing price.
Item A: The listing price.

Item A: The price after you agree to buy.
Item A: The price after you agree to buy.

In my estimation, based on various heuristics, this looks like a slam dunk for any law firm.   In this case, if a law firm filed a class action lawsuit against ebay, it would literally be the same thing as ebay writing that law firm a check for seven or eight figures.  ebay’s clearly guilty, they might be looking to cover this up as we speak, and they’ll surely want to settle the lawsuit.  The number of affected customers is probably high.  And most probably don’t even realize they’ve been overcharged, or, depending on your point of view, been a victim of a breach of contract.

The few times I’ve noticed it, this defect is not a result of the user choosing a different shipping option.  It sometimes exists when there is just one shipping option.  It can be for a few cents, or as much as $10.

Item B: The listing price.
Item B: The listing price.

Item B: The price after you agree to buy.
Item B: The price after you agree to buy.

Vintage Quotes

Map of countries by percentage of population living in poverty. (Redder indicates more poverty.) Map by Peter Lonjers, 2015. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_percentage_of_population_living_in_poverty
Map of countries by percentage of population living in poverty.  (Redder indicates more poverty.)  Map by Peter Lonjers, 2015.  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_percentage_of_population_living_in_poverty

The people die fast when the money is slow.

Variant of a Song Lyric

Homicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012. (Bluer indicates more homicides.) Map by Nikko2013, 2014. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate
Homicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012.  (Bluer indicates more homicides.)  Map by Nikko2013, 2014.  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate