Thursday, September 30, 2021

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Shifting Political Labels

Joe Biden is not a "moderate" Democrat. He's always been among the more progressive members of that party. These days, however, he is flanked on the left by a growing group of radicals who refer to themselves as "progressives." Representatives Tlaib, Bush, Bowman and Ocasio-Cortez are all members of the Democratic Socialist Party of America. That party's platform calls for central planning of the entire US economy, which, if history is any guide, would make every American a lot poorer, and less free. It is not progressivism as defined by scholars or politicians such as John Dewey, John R. Commons, and Robert LaFollette. Nor is it Joe Biden's progressivism or Barack Obama's progressivism or Hillary Clinton's progressivism. It is equally a mistake to refer to those politicians and scholars as "moderate" Democrats, a term that better describes Bill Clinton and his "New Democrats" (similar to Tony Blair and the "New Labourites" in the UK. 

While the precise terms we use to define parts of the political spectrum are not so important, it is very important to use the terms consistently to avoid conflating different parts of the spectrum. These days, it is convenient for politicians on the left to accuse every one to their rights as "conservatives," and for conservative politicians to refer to everyone to their left as "socialists." That kind of labelling always sheds more heat than light. Reality is always more complicated than labels. But if we are going to use labels, let's at least be consistent about their application so as to highlight meaningful differences between political positions.

Arsenal 3 - Tottenham 1

I wasn't especially hopeful going into today's game, even though Arsenal were on a 2 game win-streak (winning both by 1-0 margins) and Tottenham were on a 2 game losing-streak. Over the past dozen years or so, the Gunners have had a nasty habit of falling down against top teams, including their arch-rivals from North London. My low expectations made the pleasant surprise all the sweeter. It was the best first-half of football and full game of football, I've seen from a Gunner's side in a long, long time, 

I've been tough on Arteta this season, and not without good reason. But credit where and when it's due. Arteta fielded a young side, with just a couple of older players (Auba and Xhaka) mixed in for stability, with an excellent game plan that was executed with skill, fervor, and strength. The enthusiasm and energy-level of the players, and even the head man himself, were impressive and contagious. The crowd at the Emerites Stadium got it; and the energy they gave back to the team cannot be over-estimated. The three goals Arsenal scored - by Smith-Rowe, Aubamayeng and Saka - were the kind Arsenal fans grew used to seeing when giants like Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp strode the pitch. It was unfortunate that they gave up a consolation goal in the second half, but the fact that it did not rattle the Arsenal squad was a very good sign. Ramsdale was brilliant in goal. In particular, he made a great leap and stretch to tip onto the crossbar a ball that already was behind him. Gabriel was as gigantic in defense as Odegaard was brilliant in midfield. Every single player in the squad worked his ass off, and must revel in the victory (while remembering that it is just one victory). 

Today's game is an object lesson not just for the players on the pitch but for the manager: Enthusiasm and hard work are the keys to victory not only in big games but in every game. And there is no reason why Gunners fans should not expect that such a young squad will muster the same energy and work-rate in every game they play. Arteta clearly had the team prepared to play that way today. The question has been, why has he not gotten the best out of them from the start of the season, when the players more or less reflected the manager's lackluster demeanor. 

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Transatlantic Problems in Environmental Law

 A conference under that title just finished. A few papers were commissioned focusing on, respectively, the EU, the UK, and the US. My old friend Jurek Jendroska and two authors presented a paper on the EU's "Green New Deal." Richard McCrory (UCL) presented his paper on the UK's new Office of Environmental Protection. And I presented a paper explaining why the nature of US policymaking by Executive Order, which has become the norm in this century, prevents the US from making credible commitments to its international partners on issues such as climate change. Those papers, and others, can be freely accessed here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Unusual Enjoyment of Teaching

 I haven't enjoyed teaching as much as I am now for the past several years. I think its party a function of the course and the readings - it's Lin Ostrom's Seminar in Institutional Analysis and Development, which I first taught the semester after Lin passed away, and last taught it in 2015, before the Ostrom Workshop was taken in a new direction (from which it is now recovering). It helps that I know the materials quite well, but that's also true of other courses I teach but no longer enjoy. I think it also has something to do with the fact that I'm more relaxed knowing that I'm halfway into retirement. It's not that I'm working any less hard on class preps; I just feel less pressure. Mainly, though, it's just more fun to teach because of the mix of PhD students, Visiting Scholars and faculty members participating in the seminar. It feels less like teaching and more like discussion. 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Zero down, 31 days to go

Izabela left today on her regular fall trip to Poland (a little earlier than usual this year) to visit her mother. She'll be there for a month. I'd like to say that I've gotten used to her being away for a month twice a year. But it would be more accurate to say, paraphrasing Thomas Mann, that I've gotten used to not getting used to it. 

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Excellent New Book Defending the Liberal/Critical Rationalist Notion of "Truth" Against Attacks from Right and Left

Rauch hones in on the major threats to liberal democracy stemming from political threats to conceptions of fact and truth on which liberal democracy depends, from both the right (commentators, trolls, bots spewing falsehoods that go viral in an instant) and left (political correctness taken too far chills rational discussion). He offers hope that classical liberal notions of fact and truth may yet prevail, pointing to websites like Wikipedia that manage, thanks to an army of editors, fact-based despite the best efforts of trolls. But have we already lost our "herd immunity" to dangerous bullshit? 

Rauch makes one very practical suggestion in which I wholeheartedly concur. Next to, or in place of, the "Like" button on FB and Twitter, there should be "True" and "False" buttons.


Saturday, September 11, 2021

Arsenal 1 - Norwich City 0

 Arsenal scored its first goal (Auba) and eeked out its first victory of the season at home to newly promoted Norwich City. Norwich played hard and will be unhappy not to have picked up a point from the match. Arsenal, meanwhile, will breathe a huge sigh of relief, and manager Arteta will perhaps have saved his job for one more week. The fact that he did not make a number of defensive substitutions towards the game's end will feed concerns that about his inability to make appropriate adjustments on the fly. On the offensive side, Arsenal, and Pepe in particular, squandered a number of chances. Aubameyang, despite having bundled home the game winning goal, still looks a step slower and less sharp than he was a couple of seasons ago. 

Nothing I saw today changes my mind about the house-cleaning that is required at the end of this season (if not sooner). But when was the last season I didn't believe that? 

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Who Knew I Could Repair Speakers?

Granted, it didn't involve any soldering. As noted in an earlier post about a new (used) pair of tweeters I bought on Ebay, the original tweeters on my 1980s Snell Jii speakers had gotten tired-sounding. If I had been smart, I would have done a Google search about that problem before buying the new tweeters, but when they arrived, they were a bit loud compared to the Snell's woofers. I had anticipate that they might, given that their sensitivity is 92dbs, compared to the woofers' 90dbs. So, either I was going to have to add a resistor to each of the new tweeters or try a different fix. That's when it finally occurred to me that there might be some way of repairing the old speakers.

I learned from some online audio discussions that the problem I was having with the original Snell tweeters could be fixed, and I found several recommendations on how to go about doing it. Apparently, the cause of the problem is that the sealant on the old tweeters had become dry and brittle, and that degraded the sound quality. So, the fix is to simply to replace the old sealant. Of course, I had no idea if that would be more easily said than done. What I did know is that it had to be done carefully, in order to avoid damaging the mesh or the electronics behind it. 

Instead of following suggestions to take the entire speaker apart, I followed the advice that appealed intuitively to me. Since the mesh sits at the front, sticking through the hole in the speaker cabinet, it should be possible to remove the old sealant from it without disturbing anything else. There was still the question of what to use to remove the old sealant. Various recommendations include mineral spirits, isopropyl alcohol, abrasives Q-tips and a toothbrush. I didn't have an mineral spirits, so I started with some alcohol and Q-tips. No success. So I started thinking about what else I had in the house, and I immediately thought about Goop-Off, which is a great adhesive remover. It worked like a charm, though it took a while until the entire mesh had changed color from brown to silver. 

After making sure it was dry, I started in on the next step, which involved applying new sealant to the mesh. Recommendations for what sealant to use ranged from shellac and watered-down wood glue to liquicized plastic. I may have some wood glue somewhere around here, but I had my doubts about how well it would work, assuming I didn't water it down too much or not enough. What I did find was a spray can containing outdoor furniture varnish. The same person who recommended against taking apart the entire speaker noted that he had used marine spar varnish, which is pretty close to what I had to hand. I didn't want to spray the varnish directly onto the mesh because I was worried it might go through the mesh and effect the electronics underneath. So, I got a paint brush and sprayed the varnish onto the brush. Anywhere between three and five coats were recommended. I decided to start with three, and then listen to the speakers before deciding whether or not to add additional coats. 

Without any sealant on the mesh, the tweeter is very bright and practically shouts. The sealant serves as a kind of equalizer, rounding off the (too) sharp edges of high-frequency sound. After applying the first three costs of varnish (each of which, fortunately, dries within a couple of hours), I listened to various tracks I know quite well. Immediately, I could tell that the old varnish had, indeed, been the culprit masking the sound form the tweeters. They were much louder and brighter than they had been. In fact, they sounded a bit too bright, so I decided to add another coat of varnish, and then a second, after again determining that the sound was still a bit too edgy. Interestingly, while everyone else had recommended three coats, the person who recommended not to take the speaker apart and to use varnish as new sealant said he had used five coats. It was the right number for me as well. 

The old tweeters on my Snell Jiis' sound nearly brand new at this point. I didn't need to buy the other tweeters after all, though I'm sure I'll eventually find some use for them. Whoever mounted them did a great job, and they're in great shape. I just need to keep my eyes out for a couple of solo-mounted woofers that match their impedance and sensitivity. In the meantime, I've reattached the Amphion super-tweeters I had been using because I still like how they extend the frequency range and add a bit more air to the Snells' tweeters. I find them especially valuable when listening at low volumes, when both high and low frequencies tend to be lacking. [I've still got an old NAD preamp with a "Volume Control," which one no longer finds on modern amplifiers, the purpose of which is to boost both low and high end frequencies when listening at low volumes.] 

All's well that end's well in the world of hifi audio.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Switch from Facebook to Blogging Vindicated!

It's been been more than a week since I deleted my Facebook account and returned to blogging, an outmoded activity that that I thought would prove to be "anti-social media." The numbers (or, more accurately, lack of numbers) validate that belief. I've put of 11 posts, nearly half of which have included substantive comment, but they've been like trees falling in the forests with no one there to hear them. Nary a sign of a visitor or reader. Which is fine by me. It provides an outlet for my thoughts on various things that catch my attention. It might even prove a storage place for ideas that might be fodder for subsequent research. Nature may abhor a vacuum, but I don't.  


Why I Prefer Solid State Amplifiers

My preference for solid state over tubes is not conclusive. I can imagine buying a tube (or hybrid) amp in the future, but I consider it unlikely for a couple reasons. First, the traditional sound-quality disadvantages of solid state (especially, perceived lack of warmth) have all but disappeared, while its traditional advantages of lower distortion, lower noise, and greater clarity have not. To be fair, tube and hybrid amps, especially those that cost over $3000 or so, have greater transparency, lower noise floors, and less distortion than those of the past. Still, there's no question that they remain noisier and higher in distortion than solid state, at least up to price points beyond my budget constraint. Those who tout the ability of tube amps to cast a wide and taller sound stage, separate and isolate instruments in the mix, etc., may be correct, but many of those advantages are, in fact, consequences of distortion. The tubes are, in effect, creating artifacts out of the original mix. Subjective preferences being what they are, I'm content to trade off those perceived benefits of distortion for less distortion, at least up to the point where a marginal increase in clarity and transparency results in more high-range sibilance and overall edginess, resulting in a more fatiguing listening experience. Based on what I hear, my (fairly new) Parasound JC 2 BP preamp casts an excellent sound stage and allows me to hear each instrument clearly, without being at all difficult to listen to for hours at a time. In fact, compared to other preamps I've had, it softens ever so slightly my more clinical-sounding VTV Purifi (Class D) power amplifier. Playing through my Harbeth C7 ES-3 speakers, the sound I hear from the combination of the two amps is wonderfully transparent, well-defined without being sharp, and altogether beautiful. 

Beyond distortion and lack of clarity, my other objection to tube amplifiers is that they give rise, almost inevitably, to the practice of "tube-rolling." As I found to my detriment when I last owned a tube preamp, tube rolling creates a slippery slope to madness. It would be naive to think that, for audiophiles, buying a tube amplifier (pre or power) is the end of a search. Rather, it is only the beginning of a quest. Almost as soon as the amp arrives at the house, even before the tubes are well burnt-in, the new owner begins to wonder (usually thanks to some of the same dangerous social-network commentary he or she relied on when buying the amplifier) whether the tubes that came with the amp are sufficient. After all, tubes affect overall sound quality more than  any other elements within a tube amp; and different power and rectifier tubes will alter the sound significantly (for better or worse depending on a combination of received wisdom and personal preference). After all, how do we know that the manufacturer selected the best stock tubes for the amp? Perhaps they selected the tubes to keep the amp at a certain price-point. Even if the manufacturer did believe it was selecting the very best tubes for its equipment, perhaps it was wrong. "Surely," you think to yourself, "it couldn't hurt to see what tubes other owners of the same amp have tried and like." That's the first step on the slippery slope. Pretty soon, you're stuck in a seemingly endless process of "tube-rolling." You might start with reputable audio dealers, but you quickly find yourself searching Ebay and sketchy websites, looking for tubular holy-grails among the thousands of surplus and "NOS" tubes from the 1930s to the present -- tubes built for military equipment or televisions or Hammond organs. Which ones should you try? Some old RCA Hytrons, GE black-labels, German Telefunkens, newer tubes made for the Russian or Chinese military? You think, "Maybe I should try a few different sets," each costing $100 or $200. "Or, maybe I should just go all-in and buy the $1000 set of tubes strongly recommended by three different owners (all complete strangers to me) of my amplifier." [As people with strong opinions, which they often confuse with actual facts, audiophiles hardly ever slightly recommend or contingently pan components.] "If I do follow their advice, from what source should I seek out these tubular holy-grails?" Of course, all the sellers that might have them promise they only sell well-matched tubes in great working or "nearly-new" condition. But how trustworthy are those promises? Some sellers have established better reputations than others among the audiophile community. Not coincidentally, tubes from the most reputable sellers are always the most expensive. 

Having spent several months deciding which amplifier to purchase, you now find yourself tweaking your amplifier with various tubes until the day you finally decide to sell the tube amp and replace it with a solid-state amp for which, thankfully, transistor-rolling is not a thing. I don't mean to disparage audiophiles who actually enjoy the never-ending quest to perfect their systems (whatever perfection means to them). Some people love the game of tube-rolling and are willing to invest all the time and money it takes to keep tweaking. Obviously, I am not among them. I operate on a "satisficing" model of audio-system quality. Given my tastes and budget-constraint, my goal is to build a really great-sounding audio system (actually, several such systems) that I can live with for a long time without thinking all the time about how it might be improved. Once I've satisfied that goal, I'd rather spend my time listening to music than listening to my audio system.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Audio: New Outboard Tweeters for My Old Snell Speakers

 I have a pair of Snell Jii speakers, which I bought new in the late 1980s. I now employ them in my bedroom system, powered by a Peachtree Decco 125SKY amplifier. Some years back, I noticed that the tweeters in the Snells were fading a bit, especially at the higher end of their range. So, a few years ago, I bought a pair of Aperion Super Tweeters to sit atop the Snells. The helped brighten things up and added some air at the top end, of course, but they only kick in a 8000 Hz; so they don't cover the lower part of the tweeters' range. The Snells are crossed over at 2300 Hz. So lately I've been looking for some outboard tweeters that extend down to around 2000 Hz and match the 8 Ohm impedance of the Snells. I found a used pair yesterday and ordered them (see photo below). They are Realistic (Radio Shack) 40-1276B tweeters, no longer made but well thought of in the DIY community when they were manufactured. The original owner, from whom I purchased them, had loaded them in enclosures specifically designed for top-mounting on other speakers. They've no crossover of their own, which is fine because they will use the Snell's crossover. I'm really looking forward to hearing what they can do for the sound of my old Snells. I may even keep the Super Tweeters connected with them. My biggest uncertainty is whether I will need to attenuate them at all, given that they are slightly more sensitive than the Snell's own tweeters, which I do not plan to disconnect. Fortunately, I have a bunch of speaker resistors in the basement from when I owned a pair of Magnepan speakers. So, one way or another, I should be able to get the amount of top-end support I'm looking for.


Law and Policy: Some Legal Aspects of Texas's New Abortion Law

Today, the new Texas anti-abortion law went into effect. The law bans all abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy (at time at which women might not yet know they are pregnant), without exception for cases of rape or incest. The law creates liability on the part of anyone involved in any way with facilitating the abortion, except the woman herself. This conceivably could include an Uber driver, who transports the woman to the clinic, regardless of whether or not the driver has any knowledge of the woman's purpose for going to the clinic. The law is not criminally or civilly enforceable by state officials; but any private person, within or outside the jurisdiction of Texas, can bring suit against clinic staff, transporters and others who deemed to be involved in the abortion (but, again, not the woman seeking the abortion) for up to $10,000 in damages. 

Here are a few interesting legal/constitutional aspects of the new Texas anti-abortion statute:

1. Apparently, the Texas legislature believed that the courts, under existing precedent, would be less likely to overturn its statute, if it could be enforced only through private, civil actions. I have no idea whether or not that is true. But it is undeniable that the courts, both state and federal, including the US Supreme Court, refused to grant a preliminary injunction against the law's taking effect, as they always had done before in earlier cases of state abortion laws that appeared to clearly violated Roe v. Wade. 

2. The Supreme Court appears to be playing bald politics with far less inhibition than it used to show when deciding whether or not to enjoin statutes and regulations. Compare the Court's unprecedented decision in this case not to grant a preliminary injunction against a statute in direct opposition to Supreme Court precedent, and therefore likely to fail on the merits, with its 2016 equally unprecedented decision to stay (i.e., enjoin) an environmental regulation that had not yet been through an initial round of judicial review on the merits, without any finding that that the statue was unlikely to survive review. Between the two cases, the Court is muddying its own jurisprudence on when preliminary injunctions are warranted. Perhaps the Court no longer cares whether or not it is seen to be following certain procedures and rules with consistency, while it becomes a more plainly partisan actor. Less menacingly, perhaps the Court is simply engaged in a piecemeal reconfiguration of its own rules for issuing preliminary injunctions without being clear about some coherent end that has yet to be made clear. Worst case, the Court's muddying of the waters on rules for granting preliminary injunctions may be a signal that it already considers Roe v. Wade to be obsolete. I don't refer to that as "worst case" because I support a woman's right to choose (though I do support a woman's right to choose) but it would indicate a judicial abdication of the Rule of Law, under which Supreme Court precedents remain the law of the land until formally overruled. 

3. While it might appear, at first blush, that the new Texas anti-abortion law might fall afoul of standing requirements, which could prevent the private enforcement the statute envisions, Texas has far more lax standing rules than the federal constitution imposes on federal courts. While Texas courts do generally require plaintiffs to demonstrate particularized injury from the actions of defendants, which would conceivably derail many of not all private enforcement actions, the Texas legislature has the power to grant standing via legislation that obviates the need for showing injury-in-fact. See Texas Highway Comm'n v. Texas Ass'n of Steel Importers, 372 S.W.2d 525, 530-31 (Tex. 1963) ("the Legislature may grant a right to a citizen.., to bring an action ... without proof of particular or pecuniary damage peculiar to the person bringing the suit").

4. On the merits, the Texas anti-abortion law might be overruled, at least in part, because of the vast net of liability it creates, including for transporters of women to clinics where abortions are performed, regardless of whether or not the transporter has any reason to know a woman's condition or why she might be going to the clinic. This must raise due process concerns under the federal constitution. 

5. The statute might yet be overturned on the merits, after some doctor or other party is private sued for an abortion provided after the sixth week of pregnancy. But the uncertainty created in the meantime is highly problematic and substantially raises the costs for women, their doctors, clinic staff, and even Uber drivers about the exercise of what remains, as of Sept. 1, 2021, a right protected under the federal constitution and Supreme Court precedent that is directly at odds with the Texas statute. 

6. The Supreme Court has on its current docket a challenge to a new Mississippi statute that would prohibit abortions after 15 weeks, which, like Texas's six week limit, directly conflicts with Roe v. Wade. If the Court rules against Mississippi in that case, the Texas law will be swept away with it. But if the Court upholds the Mississippi case, that does not mean the Texas law automatically will stand. The Court could decide that a 15-week limit is fine, but a 6-week limit is not. The reality, however, is that the term-based limitations are only sidebars to the main issue with which the Court will be presented. The State of Mississippi will ask the Court to overrule Roe v. Wade. According to the Court's own prudential rules, it should avoid overruling existing precedent, if it is possible to rule in such a way that avoids that outcome. If the Court wants to sustain the term-limits as set out in Roe, it would, of course, invalidate the Mississippi statute. But even if the Court decides that the Mississippi statute is constitutional, it need not overturn Roe. The Court would merely have to amend Roe's term-limits in accordance with its decision to uphold Mississippi's restrictions. So, if the Court does use the Mississippi case as an opportunity to outright overrule Roe, it would be another example of an extra-judicial assertion of political power by the Court (though that certainly would not be unprecedented). 

Perhaps there are additional constitutional and legal issues I've neglected. I'd be happy to learn of any in the comments, with the caveat that commentators (as always) must refrain from ad hominem attacks, purely emotional utterances, and patent misinformation. For example, an argument such as, "Legalized abortion violates natural law," is legitimate argument (though perhaps not directly responsive to anything in this post). By contrast, the statement, "You're going to hell for supporting a "woman's right to choose," is not a legitimate argument, but a conclusory statement of belief as well as an ad hominem attack. Of course, blog commentators have every right to their own beliefs, but no right to require anyone else to publicize them.

The Gates BBQ Suite

 I've been waiting for this LP to arrive for months. Bravo, the great Bobby Watson.