Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Crony Capitalism (Vacation Rental Edition)

My wife and daughter just returned from a delightful long weekend in Santa Fe, NM. The entire family will return soon to Saint Francis's fine city where, as Hermann Banks reminds usstrangers are kind and beauty is overflowing and the local government is captured by crony capitalists. In fairness to Banks he never has said as much about local government, but I would imagine he wouldn't dispute it. 

Case in point:

A friend of mine has a vacation home there that he purchased a few years ago for both personal use and as an investment. Part of the investment is renting it out as a short-term vacation rental.

About six months ago I booked his place for my family's trip this coming April. In October I received an urgent text message from the rental property service directing me to check my email. Doing so I saw a short message stating that my reservation was no longer available, they were searching for a substitute property, and would be back in touch soon. I somewhat shrugged it off as being a mistake since I knew the actual owner well. But before I had a chance to contact my friend I received another email regretfully informing me that my reservation was cancelled with no substitute.

I reached out to my friend still thinking this was just a clerical error in their system. While a clerical error had occurred, it had a deeper problem behind it. My friend was somewhat upset but a lot calmer about it than I would have been. In fact I was livid for him and ready to go to the barricades. Not because of my vacation plans being disrupted but because of why this was happening and the implications it had for him.

The short version is this: The property management company had failed to make sure that my friend was current in his short-term rental permit with the city of Santa Fe (and yes, this is enough to get me to the barricades--the fact that a city government makes property owners get permission to use their property . . . but wait, there's more). The failure here was pretty significant in that it had expired the prior December 31st. Shame on the management company for sure. 

Should be no problem, though. Just refile as this should be a formality at this point. My friend does so starting a few days before my cancellation email by calling the proper city office. Keep in mind that my friend lives in Tulsa, OK; so all of this is out of direct control for what it's worth. I'm not sure if being able to go down to city hall would have made things better for him. They probably wouldn't have been better for me if I were in his shoes due to the whole ready-to-storm-the-castle attitude I have in these matters. Nevertheless . . . the city official looks it up and says, "Uh-oh, I don't think we'll be able to do this." 

[I swear this is the short version] It seems there exists another, current, valid in-the-eyes-of-the-Duke-of-Santa-Fe short-term rental permit for a property located within 50 feet of my friend's. You see kids, in America Big Hotel has decided that short-term rentals are a threat to their business. They've convinced well-meaning homeowners that people renting out their property could be scary. Soooo, rather than compete they've helped create rules to stop the madness. 

But this no-longer-short story doesn't end with just a Bootleggers and Baptists tale of the hotel lobby working hard to stifle competition along with the help of residents who think they should be able to dictate what happens on other people’s property. We get some government failure and unintended consequences to boot. 

My friend was taken aback at the news he couldn't get a permit because one nearby already existed (a new rule) but was immediately relieved relaying to the official, "Who has a rental? I know all my neighbors, and none of them rent." Upon further inspection, the city official realized that there are two roads with the same name in Santa Fe. The other permit is for a property miles away from my friend's. He could get it after all. Just need to have the local inspector swing by the next day to validate it all. Phew, that was close . . . but wait, there's more . . . as you probably suspect knowing what came next for me. 

The inspector comes out to my friend's house. Presumably begins checking boxes. Sees that there is another property located within 50 feet holding a short-term rental permit by looking it up just like the prior city official did. So he promptly denies the permit and goes about his day. 

This triggers a very fast and unforgiving process in the several rental property agencies my friend uses for his listing. Because I'm sure so as to not fall afoul of city governments everywhere and their crony capitalist controllers, they act swiftly to cancel all of my friend's future rentals. Remember this is October right before a busy Thanksgiving and Christmas season and he depends on repeat business as well as referrals. Along with all of these would-be customers, it is now that I receive a cancellation via email. 

At this point my friend was already on top of getting this reversed--I would not say satisfactorily resolved. He cleared it up with the city and over a LONG weekend was square to lease his property. Then came damage control. Many apologetic messages later with many discounts offered and still a large number of permanent cancellations foregone, he had done all he could to salvage some of his 9+ months of bookings.

It is hard seeing the system work the way it is actually, ultimately intended. It is harder still being a victim of it.




Summer Rental


Sunday, January 23, 2022

Ranking College Football Programs - Discounted Win Percentage

[tl;dr - It is Ohio State, Alabama, and Oklahoma in the top 3 just about any way you cut it]

As the spring semester starts so too does the off season for college football. Inevitably this brings lots of prognostication for what is to come in the fall but also for a look back to assess the past--recent and long ago. With this are a million arguments about what are the greatest college football programs and who among the elite can claim Blue Blood status.

The website College Football News (CFN) says the best of them all is the Oklahoma Sooners. As much as I love that idea, I can see reasonable minds disagreeing. Undoubtedly any such lists will imply some hair-splitting considerations. What I really like about their approach is that it has a definitive methodology to it. It is not just some "experts" giving us their feel for the answers as if they could divine the truth free from bias. 

Of course all approaches will have bias. This would come in two varieties: assumption based and disposition based. One can create a formal algorithm (that is what I have done below) or one can derive a list from an informal algorithm weighing factors mysteriously within one's mind. While any method can be logically sound, generally speaking the less formal the process is, the more subject to bad reasoning or bad facts it will be. Assumption-based bias would be something like assigning too much weight to a certain factor. Disposition-based bias would be something like favoring a team for a reason not meaningful to the ranking itself.

Many attempts at this barstool debate are prone to bad math such as overcounting a metric since there will naturally be high correlation between commonly used measures (e.g., national championships and winning percentage). To prevent this, simpler is better if a simple approach can yield the desired effect. 

Back to CFN's approach, they use a very common and logical method, the inverse of the final AP Top 25 Poll each year to score teams. A first-place team would receive 25 points all the way through #25 receiving 1 point. Summing all the points by team creates the list in order. I do not disagree with their top 3 teams (OU, Alabama, and Ohio State), but the list can be criticized for its obvious shortcomings. For example, leaving out teams' scores when they finish just outside of the top 25 creates artificial distortion making it look like there is more separation within the list than actually exists. Of course there is no easy way to fix this. Additionally the AP poll is not itself without bias as some teams, especially those not typically perceived as being elite, may be systematically underrated. All of this makes this list, like so many others, subject to folly as one works down the list. Technically speaking our confidence in the outcome diminishes by an increasing degree from the top working down.

The CFN ranking is the "greatest programs of all time". As interesting as that is, it isn't necessarily what we commonly are thinking about when we seek to rank programs. Specifically, when we talk about the so-called "Blue Bloods", we are thinking of the best programs with emphasis to one degree or another on where they stand today. This opens up one additional criticism that this list and basically all lists like it suffer from: reverse-recency bias. Maybe we would term it "old-timer bias". This is the fact that these lists give equal weight to success in the distant past as they give to recent outcomes. And this is true whether they are derived from algorithms (assumption based) or expert opinion (disposition based). Of course many expert opinions can have the traditional recency bias problem (favoring the recent over the past), but often it is the traditional teams that get more love than they might deserve--I'm looking right at you Texas A&M and Michigan.

To get around this problem, I have created the model below. Borrowing from the foundational concepts of asset valuation where future cash flows are discounted back to present day (a dollar of earnings in ten years is worth less than a dollar today), I have created a model that gives more weight to recent performance than the same performance achieved in the past. 

Model

I believe the most straight-forward way to evaluate teams is the win-loss record. The only enhancement to this might be to include margin of victory*--a technique I have used and will update soon in an additional post. 

My model looks at each team's winning percentage by year and then discounts it by a factor for each year back it falls. So a win% in a given year would be worth less and less in the past the longer and longer ago it happened. Notice that I am using winning percentage so that basically there is no impact from the fact that teams play and have played a different number of games within a year and throughout the years--typically more games recently. 

I also have included a starting-year cutoff to stop counting results that are past a certain date, which is a changeable variable in the model (see below for the link). Even though a discount factor makes the past less and less valuable in assessing a total score, it might be that football changed so fundamentally we don't want any results before a certain date and the discount factor necessary to otherwise achieve this would be too big--it would make results fade away from importance too quickly.

For me the discount factor I settled on was 4% with a cutoff date of 1946. My reasoning was at a 4% discount rate a 100% win percentage season 18 years ago would be worth only about 50% today--the factor cuts it in half. 18 years is the typical age of an incoming college freshman football player--so there is some relevance, maybe, to the people playing the game.

My starting-year cutoff is 1946, which has historically been marked as a beginning point of college football. However, as I've said before, I am not sure how valid that is. One-platoon football was the rule in most of the 1950s and into the 1960s. Furthermore, racial integration into college football did not meaningfully arrive until the 1970s. 

These choices of discount factor and starting-year cutoff are both very arbitrary, but you see there is some logic to them. Importantly, the results do not seem to be sensitive to reasonable changes in either the discount rate or the starting-year cutoff date--the top three remain the same no matter what reasonable parameters are used.

One additional limitation this model has is that I did not look at all college football teams in creating it. Yet this is not the problem it may seem to be at least at the top end of the list (yes, this is of the same type of criticism I made of the CFN list above). Because I had to calculate from raw data the annual winning percentages of each team in the database, I limited it to the top 30 teams in winning percentage over the past 50 years (1972-2021). So, to be sure there are teams that with certain discount factors used (high ones) would find themselves otherwise in the list but are excluded. But this is quite limited to the very bottom of the list. Sorry Oklahoma State, your recent success would not get you very high in this ranking even if you had been good enough to make the list (OkState is 31st in win% over the 1972-2021 timespan for teams that were in D I-A (now FBS) football the entire time). Which brings up another team excluded, Boise State. They have had phenomenal winning teams since joining top-level college football in 1996. I made the decision to disallow them because of this limited time in the sample (the strength of their historic schedule might be another reason). 

Some Results

Using a discount factor of 4% and a starting year of 1946:


Using a discount factor of 4% and a starting year of 1972 (last 50 years):


Using a discount factor of 4% and no starting-year cutoff (all years included):


Using a discount factor of 0% 
and no starting-year cutoff (all years included):


Check out the model for yourself including changing the parameters as you see fit. Here are some of the results given a few parameter choices.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1M-3q6zWtTAyCFDHEuU5z3eA6jIwRplxq/view?usp=sharing 


*MoV isn't completely stable over time, a potential criticism of that model, but since it has tended to increase in the past 50 years, I believe there is some natural recency premium built into that model. Regardless, it would be interesting to add into it a discounting factor, which I will do before publishing the updated results.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Biden - One Year In

About a year ago I posted on the Biden administration looking at what I saw as the reasons to be optimistic and pessimistic. Let's check in on those predictions and see otherwise how Trump's second term is proceeding.

I considered four areas for potential optimism: Trade, Immigration, Drug Policy, and Presidential Prestige. For these I felt like there was both a relative and absolute way to evaluate them--relative to Trump and absolute as in a general case.

Trade - I was quite hopeful on this front from a relative position believing that Biden would embrace a change from Trump. Well . . . no. Peruse the Cato Institute trade team's 2022 wish list to see how many times they identify a problem that is a continuation of Trump's policies. Trade suffered by being a non-meaningful issue beyond anti-Trump symbolism.
Prediction grade = FAIL

Immigration - I was quite hopeful that here Biden would be absolutely good. Instead he has literally continued Trump-era policies that he and his base strongly criticized during Trump's term while during this first year largely ignoring the issue otherwise. His modest improvements are vastly overshadowed by failures which shows cowardly indifference to people in dire need.
Prediction grade = FAIL

Drug Policy - I had slight optimism of an absolute variety. Alas, we elected an architect of the drug war with an uncaring bad cop as VP and expected change. Shame on us.
Prediction grade = FAIL

Presidential Prestige - This prediction was all relative, which made it a quite low bar. But hurdles aren't Uncle Joe's strong suit. As elucidated by Jonah Goldberg, Biden has very much not taken the high road. And his lying is about as common and as obvious as was Trump's. Gene Healy's recent presentation on Partisanship, Polarization, and Political Hatred was a good summary of how Biden's presidency started (was promised) and how it's going.
Prediction grade = FAIL 

Zero for four so far; let's turn to pessimism.

Here I was only considering each area on an absolute scale, and it was here I had the most confidence.

Judicial Appointments - My hope was for impartial, well-reasoning judges who apply the law and not politics. Without any high-profile appointments or me having enough inside baseball knowledge of federal court appointees, it is too soon to tell here.
Prediction grade = INCONCLUSIVE

Regulation - I expected Biden to reverse the gains made in the regulatory administrative state under Trump. In many small ways this has been true just as it was many small advances Trump accomplished, but it is in pandemic policy where my prediction really shines. Biden committed what I believe is a clear impeachable (and removable) act by extending the CDC's eviction moratorium despite knowing and admitting that the Supreme Court found it/would find it unconstitutional. He then in hateful fashion (see presidential prestige above) instituted a vaccine mandate for all private employers under OSHA's supposed authority.
Prediction grade = PASS

Taxes - Despite repeated attempts at worsening our tax code like a huge giveaway to the wealthy, the Democrat's inability to control their own crazies lead all of Biden's policy goals to failure. Even though the administration did not get its desired tax policy accomplished, I still believe my pessimism was confirmed regarding what tax policy would look like if they had their druthers.
Prediction grade = PASS

War - This one will get messy as war always does. I am still astonished and happy that Biden followed through on Trump's initial actions to end our involvement in Afghanistan. It wasn't pretty and Biden deserves criticism for those details. But it was a very good and difficult decision he made. Much remains to be seen regarding Russia/Ukraine and China/Taiwan among other areas. The latest looks a lot like his pullout in Afghanistan--the right move executed very sloppily.
Prediction grade = FAIL (thankfully)

Woke Politics and Policies - From "othering" those who disagree with the narrative to sic'ing the FBI on parents who dare to exercise free speech in regards to their children's education, my fears were realized.
Prediction grade = PASS

Spending - As I put it to a friend recently who said that I criticized Trump for being a big spender, Biden clearly had a "hold-my-beer" moment in his first year. We are now officially playing chicken with the gods of inflation. Let's see how this goes for President Ford take two.
Prediction grade = PASS

Presidential Power & Authority - When the NYTimes is telling a Democratic president to ease up on the executive orders, you know it is out of control. The ratchet turns another big notch yet again.
Prediction grade = PASS

Overall my predictions were 5-5-1. In the sense of what I would wish had happened I was a dreadful 1-10-1.


P.S. In that prior post I also stated some predictions about COVID-19 that have proven wrong. Some were wrong in my hope for saner policy responses. Others were wrong in terms of missing the negative magnitude of a potential variant (the Delta variant as it turns out) as well as my implicit hope that vaccine uptake would be greater than it was. The latter part contributing to why the former part was a bad prediction. Unfortunately I was dead-on correct about government failure regarding the FDA, et al. 




Monday, January 17, 2022

Losers Don't Pay Taxes

This is just a rambling thought experiment. Feel free to ignore as it probably has vast shortcomings I have not considered in the admittedly short amount of time I have spent on it.

What if we instituted a rule via Constitutional amendment that the voters for a losing Presidential candidate in the general election do not have to pay federal income taxes for the term of office for which their loser was running? Suppose further that this amendment was so firmly established that there would be no question of it being followed (unlike so much of the Constitution) and no question of it being permanent for the foreseeable future.

I can think of lots and lots of problems with this as I'm sure you can too. A chief one is that Congress and not the executive branch determines taxes. Not to sideline those, but let's jump straight into some game theory.

What might some implications be?
  • Any rational potential voter would probably chose to vote given the prospect of tax avoidance.
  • Those votes would likely gravitate at first to candidates who looked very unlikely to win.
  • This seems to help third parties get on to ballots and garner significant vote share.
  • Knowing that everyone else is pursuing this strategy, voters likely would be reluctant to throw their vote for scary candidates. Even if they realize their vote will not affect the outcome of the election (spoiler alert: your vote doesn't matter mathematically), if presented with two similar candidates where one was slightly less objectionable than the other but both rather unlikely to win, the better of the two would tend to get the vote.
  • Candidates would know all this as well. That should push them to be slightly more objectionable at the margin. However, power still matters and is desired. So they would also have an incentive to try to win if they thought they could win. Now what would make them very desirable to getting votes so as to win? hmmm? Promises for very low taxes of course.
  • Could they or would they promise no taxes? I think this is unlikely as everyone knows that there have to be some taxes if there is to be some government spending. What about funding spending exclusively through debt, which is promises of either future taxes or future inflation? While this could be a workaround, it would have problems. The threat of inflation harms current voters as once inflation is suspected and to the degree it is suspected, it arrives immediately, or at least eventually. Future taxes might come soon enough to affect current voters and will likely affect their offspring, a group for which voters care.
  • This is starting to sound like a powerful tool to restrain government. Candidates are encouraged to campaign on small government so as to allow for low taxes. Voters are encouraged to support candidates who pursue small government. It also seems to promote experimentation as candidates are encouraged to be a bit wacky but not too wacky for fear (by voters) that they would actually get elected, and voters are incentivized to vote for marginally more wacky candidates (more than current but less than the wackiest). Here wacky means stuff like: drug legalization, troop withdrawal/de-escalation, privatization, deregulation, etc. Consider me wacky, btw.
  • I would fear it would degenerate into some suboptimal game, though, like where we all pretend to pursue small government and then don't actually do it leading to a need for higher future taxes. This would create a ratchet effect making the next election a competition between greater liars offering lesser improvements. Another BIG problem relates to the issue raised and promptly ignored at the top: Congress. Would Congress be emboldened to spend more? An opposing-party Congress as compared to the President seems likely to. This could not be fixed by changing the amendment to instead be a voter for a losing party in the next Congress since we don't vote for one Congressional position. Would the rule need to be it applies only to straight-party voters? If we went down that road, perhaps we would need another amendment limiting all elections to just two parties--the default situation we have now anyway. Lock in the Democrats and Republicans granting them the oligopoly of two. This might work making them compete along the tax dimension axis almost exclusively with all other policy subservient to it. Now we might be back to strong incentives for small government. Yet another suboptimal result might be one party in each election is always aiming to be the losing party and the other party tacitly agrees to be the winning party. Would this still give a small-government outcome? Maybe. Voters can switch who they vote for, but if there is strong lock-in on policy, they may not be so quick to change their votes. Where does social desirability bias and virtue signaling come it?
  • Who knows? I do like the integrity of only the voters who supported people in power have to pay for the actions of those people. 


Sunday, January 16, 2022

Introducing Dimension Analysis

Something I've been thinking about for a long while with every intention of exploring in blog format is what I term Dimension Analysis - an exploration into various concepts that can be placed upon a continuum or axis. 

It is somewhat simply a thought exercise limited to the topic or concept under consideration. But it can also be a more in-depth way of seeing things in a new light including combining distinct ideas and concepts.

I have a lot of things I would like to compare in this manner and have done a bit of this previously. Some ideas I expect to be covering would be:

Motives: Status versus Profit - What does one seek more of? When is one more dominant or influential than the other? Where are the tradeoffs?

Archivists versus Free Spirits - Sometimes we seek to record our lives into personal (if not public ledgers) while other times we are minimalistic nomads. To label people hoarders would be uncharitable and not the essence of what I'm driving at. Librarian isn't exactly correct either. On the other side think more live-for-today, focus on what is important rather than careless and thoughtless.

Editors versus Curators - One has the disposition of fixing through correction while the other seeks improvement by selection and promotion.

Puzzles versus Mysteries - The solvable realm compared to the unknowns and unknowables.

Engineers versus Epistemologists - Action upon theory versus theory for theory's sake. 

Philosophers versus Mechanics - Related to the prior, this was my first example I stumbled upon for this whole dimensions analysis thing. Shades of grey versus black and white. Two very different approaches or even definitions of problem solving.

Leaders: Managers versus Visionaries - Some are (or seek to be or need to be) great tacticians while some are (same caveat) great strategists. Plan execution versus plan design.

Sculptors versus Appraisers - Stolen from Caplan's The Case Against Education, both of these have the opportunity to raise or at least transform the value of a piece of stone. But they come at it from very different angles.

Honesty versus Pleasantry - Are you telling me what I need to hear or what I want to hear? Do I want to hear what I need to hear, or do I wish to hear what I'd like to hear? Best practices versus social desirability bias.

These are but a smidgeon of comparisons I would like to explore. My ambition has exceeded my ability to get to this topic so far. Perhaps getting it posted will spur me along. That inspires another dimension: Goals versus Desires. In all cases I hope to not draw upon distinctions without differences, but I'm sure there will be a degree of that error made.



Saturday, January 15, 2022

Partial List of Political/Ideological Boogeymen

As an addendum to this list . . .

The Left (progressive minds):
  • Voter ID
  • For-profit corporations
  • International trade - when it threatens union jobs
  • Trump (for now at least)
  • Populist uprisings - when they challenge expert consensus
  • Traditional gender attitudes
  • Social media "platforming" - giving voice to messages they don't approve of
The Right (conservative minds):
  • Critical Race Theory (CRT)
  • Illegal immigration - especially those who might use social services
  • International trade - when it threatens national pride
  • AOC (for now at least)
  • Populist uprisings - when they challenge conventional practices
  • Porn
  • Social media "censorship" - exercising discretion within their property rights

Sunday, January 2, 2022

52 Things I Learned in 2021

 As always, these are just in a general order of when during the year I catalogued them. Standard caveats apply--namely, an item learned does not establish its truth value or materiality. 

1. The 16th digit in a credit card number is simply a check digit based on a formula for the first 15 digits (the actual number). A great example of the value of redundancy from this Tim Harford post that is filled with great examples of both redundancy and brevity--like writing an entire email in the subject line alone with such a short message will suffice.

2. & 3. From the same episode of 99% Invisible: The lampposts in NYC's Central Park each have a unique four-digit number on them which can be used for easy navigation. The first two digits are the closest cross street. The second two show which side of the park the lamppost is on (even for east, odd for west) and how deep into the park it is (smaller is closer to the edge). 

The Swiss military had/has elaborate but nearly invisible defenses built throughout its countryside and cities. All of it to help protect it from invasion well into the Cold War, which had the added value of helping to maintain its neutral stance. From the episode, "Switzerland would eventually build out enough bunker space to house the country’s entire population with room to spare — with a buffer of over 10%, no other country’s shelter capacity comes close."

4. Christmas spending is just not that significant despite what you might suspect. In fact it has been getting relatively smaller over the past 80 years. "For every hundred dollars spent across the year in the U.S., just 30 cents are attributable to Christmas retail spending," according to Joel Waldfogel's Scroogenomics as quoted in this Tim Harford post. Also of note, Christmas was illegal in colonial Massachusetts. 

5. The older and more common response phrase is you've got "another think coming" rather than "another thing coming," which is what I've always said. My version is close in American English, and it's been getting closer over my lifetime, FWIW.

6. When Roe v. Wade was first decided it came with the general support of the Southern, Protestant religious right. I found this out reading this Scott Sumner post about what life was like back in 1973 including compared to now. If you think the abortion fact is weird, take a look at the miniskirts of the Middle East including in Afghanistan.

7. "Asian spices such as turmeric and fruits like the banana had already reached the Mediterranean more than 3000 years ago. . . ." Globalization is older than we might think. (HT: Tyler Cowen)

8. When Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-MO) closed the opening prayer of the 117th Congress by saying "amen and awoman", he was not being woke. He was clumsily making a very old joke as pointed out by John McWhorter on FIRE's So To Speak podcast.

9. Today's amphetamine treatments for ADHD are derived from sketchy 1950s diet pills, but they are not methamphetamines and Ritalin is not an amphetamine at all--so, many kids on ADHD medication are not on "speed", but the Adderall kids technically are. 

10. & 11. From the same episode of Every Little Thing: Most people breathe primarily through one nostril at a time plus the gross facts that every day we swallow the equivalent of about three wine bottles full of mucus filled with outside things that we have breathed in.

Wombats' poop comes out as very dense, hard cubes (i.e., they shit bricks). 

12. In the prime of his career Tiger Woods almost quit to become a Navy SEAL

13. From Joseph Henrich's book WEIRDest People in the World: when humans developed the ability to learn and to use language, their brains physically changed, and it impeded the part of the brain that is used to recognize faces.

14. One container ship today carries more freight than the entire English merchant fleet 400 years ago, with a fraction of the crewhttps://t.co/9ERrmD0sev pic.twitter.com/pwYY14m1PT
15.  Lots from this video such as: There are more hydrogen atoms in a teaspoon of water than there are teaspoons of water in the world's oceans; you can fit all of the planets between the Earth and the Moon with room to spare; Australia is wider than the moon; . . . and many more.

16. The famous part of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech that we all remember, the emphatic conclusion, was not from the speech he had painstakingly prepared to give but rather was an off the cuff adaptation made up in the moment.

17. Society of the Cincinnati is the oldest patriotic, hereditary society in America. It has very selective and interesting rules for membership.

18. The Murray-Hill Riot (a.k.a. Montreal's Night of Terror) was new to me. It shows how tenuous at times the wall between order and chaos and how important good police presence can be.

19. With the emergence of the Brood X cicadas in 2021, I learned about how these 13 & 17-year insect events work.


21. From the two remnants (Jonah Goldberg and Chris Stirewalt) on these two episodes of The Remnant I learned that large turn out elections do not necessarily favor Democrats. This is a conventional wisdom myth.

22. Conservationists sometimes transport Rhinos upside down via helicopter.

23. Queen Elizabeth is sorta technically the world's largest landowner

24. Icebergs always float with about 10% of their mass above the water (tip of the iceberg and all), but their shape determines which part is up and exposed


26. Robert P. McCulloch was the amazing entrepreneur who purchased London bridge, which, as I knew before, was dismantled brick-by-brick and reassembled in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. I did not know that he did it as an effort to bring tourists and publicity to his town nor did I know that he was the inventor of the light, one-person chainsaw. (HT: David Henderson)

27. The awful practice of forcing Jews to wear a yellow star to identify them to unsuspecting others originated not with the Nazis but well before that in the European middle ages.

28. There are a bunch of things I learned from these cool guides. One is the difference between a swamp and a marsh. Another is the signs a dog will bite. Still another is interpretation of tree rings. And more . . .

29. Humans make up just 1/10,000th of Earth's biomass. We are dwarfed slightly by livestock and greatly by fish (neither too surprising to me), vastly by arthropods (somewhat surprising), and colossally by bacteria (greatly surprising). 

30. Two words: Reindeer Cyclones.

31. I was surprised to learn of these contemporary and relatively important people who opposed the decision to use nuclear bombs on Japan in 1945.

32. Over the past eight years, a Chinese billionaire has died on average every 40 days--in case you're wondering, there aren't enough of them to make that a normal, nothing-to-see-here statistic.

33. "Pirates understood the advantages of constitutional democracy — a model they adopted more than fifty years before the United States did so." -- From The Invisible Hook

34. Thomas Jefferson's awkward (to say the least) and wrongful position of being a slaveholder had no easy answer for resolution. It was complicated not just by him having inherited his slaves, but that it was an extreme impracticality for him to ever free them. It was statutorily illegal for him to do so, and more importantly his debts outweighed his assets meaning there was no way for him to free them and discharge the debt. Rather he would have to auction them off to other potentially much worse slaveholders which very likely would mean breaking up the slaves’ families.

35. Among so many things in mixology Peter Suderman's Substack has taught me, perhaps the most impactful was what I didn't know or appreciate about sweet Vermouth.

36. This insane development was begun in 2014 in Turkey and sits abandoned, partially finished. It was to be a luxury housing development for wealthy Gulf tourists based on a Disney inspiration it would seem. Here is more on what was to be the Burj Al Babas.


38. In what is an unintentional tribute to spontaneous order and entrepreneurial problem solving, the Lagos megachurches are becoming relatively well-run cities unto their own. Perhaps an African-Christian version of Burning Man?

39. The reason horse terms were originally used in describing things about cars and naming some car brands is that many people greatly hated cars as a replacement to their beloved horses, and this marketing technique made peace with those who were so strongly opposed to automobiles.

40. "Organic farming is less polluting than conventional farming when measured per unit of land but not when measured per unit of output." From this abstract which includes hints that magnitude matters. 

41. These facts about Ireland during WWII including that the country was neutral. 

42. From The Soho Forum's Bill Kristol vs. Scott Horton Debate on U.S. Interventionism I learned that Somalia is the U.S.'s longest war rather than Afghanistan. 

43. Hard to summarize, but I learned a lot about genetics from this Richard Hanania CSPI podcast interview of Razib Khan

44. Dog's noses are amazing. I knew that. But I didn't know how those slits on the side of the nostrils work or how they can triangulate the source of a smell especially with the help of another dog. 

45. The vastness of the Walt Disney World complex is incredible including how big the parking lots are.

46. Coincidental with the prior item, I learned about this utopian city in India, Auroville, that has a strange Epcot focal point among other things strange and non-utopian. (HT: Scott Alexander)

47. Also from Scott Alexander I learned about all these phenomenal families

48. LBJ's daughter once kept a cat fetus in the White House private residence's freezer for months--from the ELT podcast.

49. The best-selling novel I, Libertine was a total hoax played on the elite, snob-class created by late-night radio host Jean Shepherd. 

50. A Bar-tailed Godwit set a world record by flying more than 8,100 miles nonstop! between Alaska and New South Wales, Australia. 

51. I learned about some recent tragic developments in horse racing. These trends look particularly bad and bad for the sport, which will be a future WWCF topic.

52. Philip Van Doren Stern wrote a short story in 1943 titled The Greatest Gift inspired by a dream he had. Because he couldn't find a publisher, he sent 200 copies of it to friends as Christmas cards. That led to a publisher taking interest and publishing it in book form in 1944. Then two magazine publications printed it one in each of the years 1944 and 1945. Eventually it came to the interest of Hollywood where it was adapted and resold to eventually becoming the 1946 Frank Capra film staring Jimmy Stewart, It's a Wonderful Life.