Archive for May, 2016

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Traffic’s a gas

May 21, 2016

The physics of traffic – that is, trying to model and understand how cars interact on the road – is an idea that’s occurred to me several times but I’ve never pursued it. My offhand thoughts always tend to comparisons of cars on a highway to molecules in a pipe. Under what conditions does traffic flow change phase from a gas/liquid to a solid: a traffic jam?

I’ve often wondered if the people who design roads have ever studied these topics. Has anyone done any experiments on this? Has anyone "ground-truthed" any theories for smooth traffic flow? Or do road designers just use rules-of-thumb for planning new highways (as I suspect from seeing the results)?

So this video from The Mathematical Society of Traffic Flow naturally piqued my interest. Since it’s hosted by Nagoya University in Japan, I assume the authors are associated with the school.

I’ve often wondered how much difference it makes to traffic flow whether drivers regulate their speed using their brakes to ‘actively slow’ as opposed to using their throttles (accelerators) to ‘passively slow’ by coasting.

Coasting to slow down is something a lot of American drivers just don’t seem to get. Their feet are always on one pedal or the other – or sometimes both, as my mother used to do. But they rarely drive with a foot on neither pedal.

When you find yourself in a group of cars that doesn’t drive that way – in a group that coasts to slow down – then traffic seems to flow much more smoothly. But that observation may be due to traffic density: maybe people are more likely to use their brakes in denser traffic.

In the U.S. this problem’s worse because there’s very little lane discipline on the freeways, in contrast to British motorways or German autobahns. This is despite the fact that it’s a law in most of the states that drivers should keep right unless passing. It’s not unusual to find people in the left-most lane doing the speed limit. Technically, that’s legal1 but it completely defeats the self-organizing design feature of a freeway.

The first time I drove on an English motorway, I thought I’d died and gone to Drivers’ Heaven. On the other hand, the result of typical lane usage in these parts is that you’ll find all five lanes of a freeway coming to a complete halt with no apparent reason before resuming speed again. It’s just like the video except five lanes wide. How in the world does that happen?

Sometimes that pattern repeats, giving you the feeling that you’re in a kind of "traffic accordian." Stop, speed up, slow down, stop, speed up, slow down, stop, et cetera ad nauseum.

It makes me think we’re all just lemmings on the pavement.

1Except in California AFAIK.

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It’s about damn time!

May 20, 2016

Let’s hope the congressmens’ bill actually does something about this problem. Something like requiring a conviction before forfeiture would be a good start but it doesn’t look like this bill does that. (I’ve only read Issa’s press release, not the bill itself.)

Rep. Issa, Colleagues Introduce Bill To Rein In Civil Forfeiture Abuse

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and 12 of his colleagues introduced legislation to rein in civil forfeiture abuse, signing on as an original cosponsor of the DUE PROCESS Act of 2016. The bill makes several important changes to the nation’s federal civil forfeiture program to help curb recent abuses and prevent Americans from having their property taken away by law enforcement without due process. […]

As a reminder of just how much asset forfeiture has in common with highway robbery, this example is just about perfect. (My emphasis below.)

Arkansas Trooper Steals $20,000, Because Nobody Innocent Carries That Much Cash
Prosecutors tried to drop the forfeiture case, but the judge would not let them.

The story of how cops stole $20,000 from Guillermo Espinoza, a construction worker with no criminal record, is sadly familiar in most respects: In July 2013, while driving through Arkansas on his way to Texas, Espinoza was pulled over by a state trooper who discovered a large amount of cash in the car, which he viewed as inherently suspicious. The money was seized and eventually forfeited based on vague allegations of drug-related activity. But there’s a twist: There was so little evidence of such activity that local prosecutors decided to drop the forfeiture case. The judge would not let them, and last week a state appeals court declined to review that astounding decision because Espinoza had missed a filing deadline.

It’s not clear why Arkansas State Police Sgt. Dennis Overton decided to stop Espinoza, who was traveling with his girlfriend, Priscila Hernandez. The legal justification for pulling Espinoza over was missing from the state’s September 2013 forfeiture complaint, which referred without explanation to “the traffic stop,” and from Circuit Court Judge Chris Williams’ September 2014 order authorizing permanent confiscation of the money, which said only that the stop was “proper.” In his response to the forfeiture complaint, Espinoza argued that the stop was illegal, so it would be nice to know what the rationale for it was. […]

After the stop, Judge Williams said, a “State of Arkansas drug dog was transported to the site in order to conduct a search of the vehicle.” […] But according to Williams, “It is obvious from the tape [of the traffic stop] that the dog did not alert on the vehicle at the scene of the stop.”

Undeterred, Overton asked for permission to search the car, which Espinoza supposedly granted — a pretty suspicious sequence of events. Why bother bringing in a drug dog to justify searching a car if the driver is willing to give his consent? In any case, Williams said, “the dog alerted on a computer bag,” inside which Overton found $19,894 in cash, mostly wrapped in $1,000 bundles. Overton found no contraband, drug paraphernalia, or any other sign of illegal activity. But as far as he was concerned, the cash itself was conclusive evidence that Espinoza was involved in drug trafficking.

“I’ve worked this interstate for the last eight years,” Overton told Espinoza, according to the transcript of the dashcam video, which Williams appended to his order. “Half of my career I’ve spent out here. OK? Nobody — nobody — carries their money like that but one person. OK? People that deal with drugs, and deliver drugs. That’s it. Nobody else. Nobody.” In other words, Overton always treats people who carry large amounts of cash as criminals, which proves that only criminals carry large amounts of cash. […]

Read the whole thing: it’ll make yer blood boil.

I guess the big difference between cops and highwaymen is that cops and judges are more orderly. The cops don’t (generally) approach you with weapons already drawn (I gather). And then when you get to court, you can count on the court minding its p’s & q’s about procedures and deadlines — the justice of the ruling being a minor consideration.

But at least it’s all done in a nice, orderly way.

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She who laughs last

May 18, 2016

This obituary notice appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

NOLAND, MARY ANNE
posted Yesterday May 17th, 2016

NOLAND, Mary Anne Alfriend. Faced with the prospect of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Mary Anne Noland of Richmond chose, instead, to pass into the eternal love of God on Sunday, May 15, 2016, at the age of 68. […]

Well played, Ms. Nolan. Rest in peace.

Via Instapundit

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Markets know how to handle peaks

May 16, 2016

Here’s the opening of an interesting article by Ronald Bailey at Reason.

Sliding Down the Super-Cycle: Resource Doom Postponed Indefinitely

Legendary investor Jeremy Grantham admits he was wrong about “peak everything.”

“Time to Wake Up: Days of Abundant Resources and Falling Prices Are Over Forever” was the title of an urgent report written by the legendary asset manager Jeremy Grantham in 2011. Grantham proclaimed the advent of a resource scarcity “paradigm shift” that was “perhaps the most important economic event since the Industrial Revolution.” […]

Grantham also pointed to a slowdown in crop productivity, suggesting that it would be impossible to feed the world’s burgeoning population. “How we deal with this unsustainable surge in demand and not just ‘peak oil,’ but ‘peak everything,’ is going to be the greatest challenge facing our species,” he wrote.

This week, Grantham took almost all of that back. Grantham, like a whole raft of professional doomsters, was declaring Peak Everything just as the latest economic super-cycle was cresting; many commodities’ prices peaked the very year of his report and have been drifting downward ever since. […]

In their 2012 study “Super-Cycles of Commodity Prices Since the Mid-Nineteenth Century,” economists Bilge Erten and José Antonio Ocampo — from Northeastern University and Columbia University, respectively – confirm that the commodity price increases in the first decade of this century were the result of a super-cycle upswing. Parsing real price data for nonfuel commodities such as food and metals from 1865 to 2009, they find evidence of four past super-cycles ranging in length from 30 to 40 years. […]

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What he said (10)

May 16, 2016

This comes from Overlawyered, riffing on a post by Paul Horwitz:

One incidental impact of a Trump presidency: mainstream law professors would develop a sudden, strange new respect for constitutional law concepts such as separation of powers and federalism, which tend to serve as checks on the power and ambition of the President and his backers. [Paul Horwitz, PrawfsBlawg]

Via CoyoteBlog

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First thing we do, let’s kill all the mosquitoes

May 13, 2016

The lawyers will have to wait.

Let’s Kill All the Mosquitoes
Now is the time to wipe the disease-carrying critters off the face of the Earth.

“The level of alarm is extremely high,” said the head of the World Health Organization on Thursday, describing the spread of Zika virus around the world. As well it should be: The disease, which seems likely to be causing birth defects, could affect millions of people in several dozen countries. And the virus may be on its way into the U.S. As of Friday morning, no fewer than five New York residents have been diagnosed as Zika positive. […]

Consider the statistics: Mosquito-borne diseases kill hundreds of thousands of people every year. Malaria alone claims the lives of 6 million people per decade, mostly small children. The economic costs are similarly staggering, likely in the tens of billions of dollars every year. […]

You might’ve thought that news about the Zika outbreak would have convinced humanity to crush the mosquito. But all we keep hearing are proposals to take the battle to the virus, not its host. We’re told that scientists must work hard to find a new vaccine, as if that would be the best solution to the problem. The hunt for a Zika cure could take a decade—and in the meantime we’re left to wait and watch swarms of evil on the wing, mating in midair, and landing on our shores. An enemy has made its way to the nation’s borders. Now is not the time for soft responses.

It’s time to kill all the mosquitoes. It’s time for mass mosquito-cide. […]

As the article mentions later, there are plans for a trial in Florida of genetically modified mosquitoes that will interrupt wild mosquitoes’ breeding cycle. Evidently, the approach has been tried successfully in other locations.

Tell the FDA What You Fear More: Zika, or GMO Mosquitoes?

What are you more afraid of, the Zika virus, or genetically engineered bugs being released in the wild?

If you feel strongly about this issue, you have until midnight Friday to make your opinion known as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers whether to approve an effort to kill the disease-carrying mosquitoes by releasing genetically engineered bugs in Florida.

The biotech firm Oxitec plans to release non-biting male mosquitoes that have been modified to produce offspring that don’t survive after mating with wild females. Researchers believe that within a few generations, this should sharply reduce the mosquito population.

Scientists have weighed in on both sides in the nearly 1,300 comments viewable online so far. Fear is also a common theme, but there’s a split over what people find more frightening: genetic engineering, or birth defects linked to Zika. […]

I don’t know what the downsides to wiping out skeeters might be, but offhand it sounds like a great idea. And (as the first article mentioned), it worked for the screwworm fly.

In fact, there was a spooky sci-fi story in the late 70s titled The Screwfly Solution. It was made into an episode of Masters of Horror (a show I’ve never watched).

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And I’m dreading the hangover

May 13, 2016

go-home-america

As Tim Carney asks, "Which untrustworthy cronyist liberal New York millionaire do you prefer?"


More humor from Britain:
elizabeth-2016

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