Lunchtime Photo

I'm sure you've all seen those pictures where the camera pans on a moving object, so the object appears still while the background rushes by. Right? Aside from being an object lesson in special relativity, it's also hard to do. You have to pan the camera perfectly at constant speed to get it right, and that's trickier than you might think.

A few days ago I was out trying this on passing cars, and making tough sledding of it. Then a group of bicylists came by, so I panned on them. But I was still panning at automobile speed, so I didn't catch them.

Except I did! By a fluke, one frame turned out nearly perfectly. So here you are, a pair of Irvine bicyclists pedaling along on one of our miles and miles of bike lanes. Next up: panning at night.

The Wall Street Journal has a chart-heavy piece today about the growth of big companies vs. small companies, and it's interesting in detail even if the overall thesis is hardly a surprise. I was going to highlight a chart showing the basic growth of employment in different sizes of companies, but the Journal published two charts about this and they don't agree with each other. So I'm not sure which one is correct.

In any case, this one is more interesting anyway:

In medium-sized companies, wages have gone up for everyone over the past few decades. The executives make 40 percent more, the receptionist makes 40 percent more, and everyone in the middle makes 30 percent more. Not bad!

Among big companies, it's exactly the opposite. Even the highest-paid workers only make about 15 percent more than they did in 1980, and everyone else actually makes less. Why? There are only two possible answers: (a) big companies haven't grown much, or (b) the executive suite and the shareholders are taking a far bigger cut of the profits than before. We know the answer isn't (a), so it must be (b).

Why is this? My guess is the obvious one. In a large company, the workers are just a line on a spreadsheet. If you pay them less and the company keeps on running, it's all good. They occupy approximately the same mental space in the CEO's mind as the cost of capital or expenditures on SG&A.

In smaller companies, the CEO knows the workers. Maybe not all of them, but at least a few hundred of them. They talk in the lunchroom and see each other at company picnics. If one of them has a kid with cancer, the news probably trickles up. Depending on how old the company is, the CEO and her top staff probably personally hired a lot of these people. It's not that labor costs don't matter, but there just isn't the incentive to pay themselves astronomical salaries at the expense of everyone else.

These are the best companies to work for. They're big enough to be stable, but small enough not to be stultifying. Obviously some kinds of companies just can't be medium-sized, but plenty can be. If you can find a good one that wants to hire you, run don't walk.

There's a lotta fighting going down in Washington DC lately. Let's review. First up, Steve Bannon has suffered a few reverses lately, and apparently he blames Jared Kushner:

LOLOLOLOL. The good news for Bannon is that Jared can probably generate plenty of bad press all by himself. It shouldn't be too hard to push a little bit more. The bad news for Bannon is that, according to Jonathan Swan, the Jared wing of the White House "thinks the Bannonites are clinically nuts." In the Trump White House, that's saying a lot. Marcy Wheeler has the right response:

In other news, Devin Nunes has finally stepped aside from the House investigation of Trump's Russia ties. Nunes' erratic behavior and bizarre press conference a couple of weeks ago has finally prompted an ethics investigation for possibly revealing classified information. Nunes claims he's the victim of "left-wing activist groups," but the ethics office says it did this all on its own. In any case, he's pretty angry about the whole thing. So now we have Republican wars in two branches of government:

And it turns out we also have a war between both branches of government:

A Thursday evening meeting between top aides to President Donald Trump and House Republican leaders turned heated when the White House officials exhorted Speaker Paul Ryan to show immediate progress on the GOP's stalled plan to repeal and replace Obamacare...."It was really bad," said one person familiar with the meeting. "They were in total meltdown, total chaos mode."

It's just like Renaissance Florence. The palace intrigue is delicious, isn't it? And now, your moment of Zen:

This should surprise no one:

Environmental Protection Agency officials are proposing to eliminate two programs focused on limiting children’s exposure to lead-based paint, which is known to cause damage to developing brains and nervous systems.

The proposed cuts, outlined in a 64-page budget memo revealed by The Washington Post on Friday, would roll back programs aimed at reducing lead risks by $16.61 million and more than 70 employees, in line with a broader project by the Trump administration to devolve responsibility for environmental and health protection to state and local governments.

Old housing stock is the biggest risk for lead exposure — and the EPA estimates that 38 million U.S. homes contain lead-based paint.

This is pretty typical Trump. Or maybe I should say, pretty typical conservative. The lead program is part of the EPA, liberals like the EPA, therefore the lead program must be a worthless, job-killing regulation. Or something like that.

The only thing that keeps me from being more pissed off is that $16 million is an absurdly paltry sum to begin with. I'd take issue with the article's claim that lead paint is the biggest risk for lead exposure—lead in soil is an equal or bigger threat—but either way, we ought to be spending something like $10 billion a year to remediate this. Getting rid of the current program is like going from a 1 percent response to a 0 percent response.

The problem with lead, of course, is the same as the problem with climate change: you have to spend money on it now, but the benefits don't come until today's politicians are long out of office. Getting Congress to approve $10 billion for a program that will start to show results around 2040 or so is a hard lift.

Plus it would make it harder to fund tax cuts for the rich. We can't have that, can we?

A few days ago I was channel surfing and ended up watching the final tedious few minutes of a basketball game. It was at the point where the losing team was doing the intentional foul thing in a last-ditch effort to make a comeback. "Does that ever work?" I muttered. Now I have an answer:

Nick Elam, a 34-year-old middle school principal from Dayton, Ohio...has tracked thousands of NBA, college, and international games over the last four years and found basketball's classic comeback tactic — intentional fouling — almost never results in successful comebacks. Elam found at least one deliberate crunch-time foul from trailing teams in 397 of 877 nationally televised NBA games from 2014 through the middle of this season, according to a PowerPoint presentation he has sent across the basketball world. The trailing team won zero of those games, according to Elam's data.

What a waste. Elam has a provocative proposal about how to fix this, but it's far too radical for the NBA to consider. After all, the league's boffins won't even consider changing the intentional foul rule or limiting timeouts. If they can't bring themselves to make modest changes like that, what are the odds of ever doing something serious about the final two minutes of basketball games, which are widely considered the most tedious 20 minutes in all of sports?

On the bright side, at least basketball's final two minutes are still better than soccer's tie-breaking shootout—which is basically just a fancy way of flipping a coin. Personally, I'd make them keep playing until the players start collapsing on the pitch—and then leave them there until somebody finally scores a goal. Maybe that would motivate them.

This post isn't about immigration and the economy. It's about immigration. And it's about the economy. First up, here's a survey from Pew Research about positive attitudes toward the economy:

Here's the interesting part. It's normal to assume that people think better of the economy when one of their own is president. But is it true? During the recovery from the Great Recession, Republicans consistently rated the economy worse than Democrats. When Trump took over, their views suddenly skyrocketed, with a full 61 percent now having a positive view of the economy. Apparently Republicans do indeed view the economy through a partisan lens.

If Democrats followed that pattern, their view of the economy would have plummeted in 2017. But it didn't. It went up again, at about the same rate as previous years. Democrats, it turns out, don't view the economy solely through a partisan lens. If you're looking for an explanation, my guess is Fox News and the rest of the conservative disinformation machine. You can take your own guess in comments.

And now for immigration. Last month, DHS Secretary John Kelly bragged that illegal border crossings were down. This month he crowed about it again. But a sharp-eyed reader pointed out that there's really nothing unusual about the latest numbers:

Border apprehensions in March have been on a steady downward trend for nearly two decades. This year's numbers are just following that trend. Last month I thought that President Trump's fear campaign might be having a real impact, but now I doubt it. There's no special reason at all to think that anything he's doing is having much effect at all.

UPDATE: The CBP apprehensions chart originally had the wrong number for 2017. The correct number is 16,600. The chart has been updated.

Lunchtime Photo

This is Radio Shack #3169 at the corner of Harbor and Adams in Costa Mesa, California. I was the manager of this store in 1983-84, and now it's closing down for good, along with the rest of the Radio Shack chain.

I hated it when people knocked after hours—it was always for some $1.39 kind of item—but I knocked anyway last night. The current manager is a guy named Carlos, and after I told him who I was he let me in and we swapped war stories for a while. I took his picture with his cell phone, then took one with my camera. We finished up, shook hands, and then he got back to replacing the "60% Off" banners with "80% Off" banners. It's the end of an era.

According to Christopher Caldwell, in "American Carnage," here are the death rates of three drug epidemics over the past 50 years. I've added a fourth, using a best estimate for the meth epidemic:

Thanks, Oxycontin. Nice work.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the new universal Trump headline:

Just fill in the blank and you're good to go. The latest version is Trump's wild accusation that Susan Rice committed a crime, which will now receive 24/7 coverage on Fox and Breitbart and all the Republican oversight committees. Unless something else comes up, of course. Basically, Trump is just following the Benghazi playbook. There just has to be a crime somewhere, and if he keeps throwing out enough crap, eventually he'll find something. As with Benghazi, however, there is no crime and he'll never find one. But his fan base will sure be convinced that one exists.

All this because of one stupid tweet.

As Jared Kushner takes on ever more jobs, Steve Bannon has just lost one:

President Donald Trump has removed Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, from the National Security Council, according to a filing in the federal registry. A top White House official told NBC News that Bannon was put on the NSC's Principals' Committee only as a check against then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Now that Flynn is gone, Bannon is no longer needed in that role, the official said.

O...kay. So Trump appointed a guy as National Security Advisor who was so volatile and incompetent that he needed a minder? That's not a very reassuring clarification.

It's also not true, but nobody cares. It's impossible to prove that it's not true, so there's nothing we can do except shrug and accept it. Anything that gets Bannon off the NSC is fine with the rest of the world, I imagine, so we'll all just give it a pass.