Note 38: High winds and hot air

Clearing out the backlog of political Hot Takes.

So, my career as a n00b sailor continues to develop. I spent an afternoon this weekend at the local yachting club networking and trying to find a boat who needs a bit of autonomous ballast that’s also soaking up all the know-how that he can to get promoted to a crew member that has some responsibilities for lines (ropes on a boat). In our class yesterday, we learned how sailing works and finally dispelled a mystery that’s been plaguing me my whole life: how do boats move forward when the wind is not at their backs? And this morning, I found myself at the local West Marine store buying some boat clothes, so I won’t catch pneumonia getting wet on the lake. I found some shoes, gloves, and jackets on sale, so all I need are some pants. I made the run because my homework this week is getting on a boat for for a beer can race so that I can start transforming some of my book learning into some sea smarts. I’m hoping that in lieu of proper sailing pants, that some of my worn khakis are acceptable, else I’ll be Ziggy on the Lake.

Getting back to some of my book learning, I learned this week that what lets sailboats travel in any direction other than the wind is pushing is our old friend, Bernoulli's Principle:

In fluid dynamics, Bernoulli's principle states that an increase in the speed of a fluid occurs simultaneously with a decrease in static pressure or a decrease in the fluid's potential energy.

If that’s a lot of jargon, let me share the classic picture of how an aircraft wing works:

The traditional explanation is that faster moving air produces less pressure downward on the wing, while slower air underneath pushes more upward, creating lift. Air on the top of the wing moves faster since the top of the wing is designed to create a longer path for the air to travel.

On a boat, you can think about a sail as being a vertical wing created by wind and the sail material. The wind forces the sail to create a wing-like shape and as air travels across the sail, it generates its own form of lift, creating a pulling force in the direction of the inflated sail. In this arrangement, sailing ships have two forms of propulsion: a “push” where the wind is pushing the ship directly through the sail, and a “pull” where air travelling across the sail generates horizontal lift.

Counterintuitively (and this is my favorite thing I learned this week), the top speed of a sailing ship will be more due to the “pull” of the lift from the sail than the “push” of the wind. This is because when a ship is being “pushed”, it has a theoretical top-speed of the speed of the pushing wind, since it cannot sail faster than the wind itself. In a “pull” scenario, wind speed isn’t going to be the limiting factor, since (oriented properly) as long as the air is moving fast enough to generate a pressure differential between the two sides of the sail, that lift force will continue to propel the craft.

Political hot takes

I haven’t had too many political hot takes during these early months of the Biden administration, largely because I felt like sane adults are back in charge of guiding the government and the fundamental basic stuff that Trump’s team found ways of screwing up are largely back on track. Biden seems to have gotten us back to reasonable stances on trade, science, and is doing the un-glamorous scut work of getting out of the COVID hole without having to make himself the center of attention.

That said, here’s some hot takes on stuff from the past few weeks:

Liz Cheney’s ouster from the GOP House leadership

Let me be upfront and state that the Cheney family flavor of Republicanism is not my cup of tea. It’s too eager to engage in foreign adventures, way too chummy with the fossil fuel industries, and is a bit too dynastic for my tastes. That said, she earned major points from me with her refusal to go along with The Big Lie that the election was somehow stolen from Trump. I’d rather have someone in power with whom I disagree with completely on policy, but share the same understanding for how we make and enact policy, than someone with whom I agree 100% on policy, but thinks that how that policy gets enacted doesn’t matter. The Ends do not justify the Means, and once we do away with the Means, then our ability to influence and control the Ends evaporates pretty quickly.

It’s also pretty clear now that with Cheney’s ouster, the remaining Trump fans are doubling down on their Orange God King, and there’s precious-little worth attempting to redeem in the GOP until those folks get tired of losing elections. As I’ve stated elsewhere, any “get-able” reasonable Republicans are off the Trump train at this point and my hope is that Trump shed enough of them in the January 6th insurrection that #MAGA is a paper tiger that folds in 2022, and adults can recapture power in the GOP and get it back on track as a viable alternative to the Democrats.

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization

As an adult male who will never have to grapple with the things that women have to deal with when it comes childbearing and all that entails, I don’t have strong opinions on the substance of abortion, preferring to let more motivated folks hash it out. If pressed, I’m part of the population that would be okay outlawing the procedure after the first trimester (with exceptions for rape, incest, and the health of the mother), as long as that prohibition was also backed up with strong social incentives and supplies of contraceptives, prophylatics, and other methods for keeping women from getting pregnant that do not actually want children. (Even as an “accidental” child myself, I don’t think forcing anyone into parenthood is a valid exercise of social power.) As we’re seeing with the decreasing number of abortions over the past couple of decades, attacking the problem at the “supply” side rather than the “demand” side is proving effective. (We have fewer abortions now than before Roe v. Wade made it a constitutional right.) And before long, we may see Roe fall in a case that the Supreme Court will be hearing next term.

I have two main lines of thought when it comes to the abortion issue. While my preference is to deal with the problem on the supply side, there will be cases where we have to deal with it on the supply side, where a second-trimester (or later) mother may wish to abort the pregnancy. As a society, I don’t feel like we treat the unborn consistently in our laws. We have laws that raise the severity of crimes against pregnant women, where the state is exercising an interest on behalf of unborn children by increasing the punishments for crimes against them. I’m a fan of those laws and would keep them on the books. However, the state (after Roe) abdicates that interest when it comes to elective abortions. While I don’t think that punishing women for undergoing the procedure is a productive way to address that incongruity (it will most likely just drive them underground), I do think that there’s more that can be done in terms of medical care, financial support, and other incentives to persuade a woman on fence to go through with the pregnancy with the end result being the child being placed for adoption. I really don’t take any Pro-Life proponents seriously unless they combine their desire for prohibition with proposing additional support that makes a difficult situation for everyone as humane as it possibly can be, and protects the futures of both the mother and unborn child.

My line of thought on the abortion issue is that while I’m lukewarm on the substance of the policy, I strongly believe that its elevation to an ongoing national issue for the past half-century has done tremendous harm to our body politic. As drafted, the US Constitution is crystal clear about the delegation of powers between the federal government and the states. Unless otherwise carved out by the Constitution, states are the primary location of general legislation and lawmaking. That’s the local level where collective decisions about abortion belong, not the national level. As a textualist, if a conservative majority strikes down Roe v. Wade and sends the issues back to the states, that will be a win in my book, given that the Constitution doesn’t even mention the issue in its text at all. By de-federalizing the issue, abortion can stop being a fake national issue that detracts attention from other valid federal issues, and citizens can duke it out the path forward in their local communities and legislatures. It’ll take a tremendous amount of attention that’s currently focused on Washington and redirect it to Springfield, Santa Fe, and other state capitals. Different states will approach the issue in different ways (not unlike how gun laws vary from place to place), and we’ll be able to restart Louis Brandeis’ “laboratories of democracy” to see what policies find the best balance between local mores and values, protecting the future and autonomy of mothers, and reducing the need for abortions in the first place. I expect that the process will be loud and chaotic, but we’ll end up with a collective outcome that best reflects the sentiment of the population than ping-pong’ing the issue between nine unelected justices over decades.

Israel vs. Palestine, Round ?

I think that Biden’s doing the only reasonable thing with respect to the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians by calling for a de-escalation and otherwise not taking sides in the latest bloodletting. I don’t believe that either side is acting in good faith (Netanyahu using the conflict to deflect attention from his own legal and political issues, and Hamas starting the conflict in order to become ascendant politically among the Palestinians). I’m not going to dispute Israel’s right to defend itself and I’m not going to dispute Palestinians’ status as second-class citizens on land that was taken from them after World War II. I’m not Jared Kushner, so I’m not going to pretend that I know the pathway through this quagmire, so the more that the US can stay out of it, the better, in my book.

The stupid mask wars and coming out of COVID

It’s amazing how quickly the folks most vocal about not wearing masks used the CDC’s quick turnaround last week as an opportunity to complain about that instead of taking the win. I’ve stopped wearing my mask outdoors 100% of the time, and have adopted a “when in Rome” policy (defer to your host’s wishes) when it comes to indoor masks outside of my own home. I received my second shot last week and have full confidence that I’ll be protected from the virus. At this point, with vaccine hesitance being the biggest obstacle to getting back to normal, I’m switching from a “let’s all do this for the common good” stance on COVID to the “if you’re too dumb to take the vaccine, let Natural Selection do its thing” position.

If not dying of COVID and eliminating the risk of infecting your friends and family with the virus isn’t sufficient incentive to get the shot, I’m 100% okay with the federal government taking those unused shots and sending them overseas to engage in “vaccine diplomacy” that demonstrates that America and its allies still know how to innovate to save lives better than our Chinese and Russian counterparts. Folks who refused to get the shot and complain about foreigners getting it will be icing on the cake for me.

Matt Gaetz

The Daily Beast:

If the federal investigation into Matt Gaetz does indeed end up spelling the MAGA congressman’s downfall, it’ll be partly because of a group of “wannabe” Instagram influencers.


And when it comes to the Daily Beast duo’s broader investigative work into Gaetz and Co., much of it would not have been possible if it weren’t for users chasing clout on Instagram.

“These are people who are amateur Instagram models,” Pagliery told Fever Dreams, referring to the network of women they uncovered that led directly to Gaetz and Greenberg. “So many of these were, like, wannabe escorts. They wanted to project a version of themselves out to the galaxy. And, you know, I got so… incredulous at one point a few weeks ago that I just decided to tweet, ‘You think you're doing it for your brand, but you're actually doing it for my investigation,’ because these people are just putting it out there front and center.”

Raising my opinion of “influencers” wasn’t on my 2021 Bingo Card, but here we are. This couldn’t have happened to a more deserving schmuck.

That’s all I have for hot takes on stuff these days. I feel like they’re pretty lukewarm myself, but they’re out there now for anyone wondering.

Book reports

No book reports this time - since I’m ahead of my goal, I’ve taken a small break to get caught up on the backlog of podcasts lurking on my device (193 at last count). I’m tackling the longer ones first, so once those are out of the way, the rest should fall shortly.

Speaking of podcasts, I’ll be a guest on the Innsmouth Book Club this weekend talking about Randolph Carter, Kadath and the Dreamlands, and my favorite Lovecraft story of all, Through the Gates of the Silver Key. It should be fun to sit down again to talk with John and Rob.

Interesting reads

Android 12 preview: first look at Google’s radical new design (The Verge)

Trump's war with his generals (Axios)

Republicans have a new tool to fight deplatforming: common carriage laws (The Verge)

I have a busy weekend ahead of me CMDRs. In addition to doing my best Neil Armstrong impression on the first undiscovered world that I find in the today’s Elite: Dangerous update, I’ve also received my first invitation to come hang out and sail with a crew on Lake Michigan. Add to that my first visit to a local whiskey Mecca post-COVID, and my hands will be full. I can complain about a lot of things, but keeping busy isn’t one of them.