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If you’re calm, you have no clue

I can’t stop boggling about an article I just read in the NYTimes. Its gist is that how much we want to spend now to stop climate change depends on how much we think it’ll cost in the future. You guess about that part. And then you get super-precise about which interest rate you’ll accept on it.

Think of it this way: Demanding a 5 percent return means that a dollar invested today should become at least $1.05 next year after inflation, and a little more than $1.10 the year after that. In 200 years it should be worth at least $17,292.58. Turn the logic around and we should spend $1 today to prevent climate-related damage only if it prevents damages of at least $17,292.58 two centuries down the road.

[If a lower return is acceptable, at] 2.5 percent, spending $1 today would be justified if it prevented merely $139.56 worth of damage in 200 years.

I’m just floored. Sitting here, opening and closing my mouth like a fish out of water.

Are you telling me that people capable of putting on their own socks in the morning honestly think they can figure out all the expected and unexpected consequences of global warming? The costs of the water wars, the costs of cracked foundations due to drought, the costs of new pests, new molds, new diseases, the costs of acid oceans wiping out world fisheries, the cost of runaway feedback loops that dump more and more greenhouse gases into the air no matter what we puny humans do at that point. And that list barely scratches the surface of what will happen on a warming Earth.

But these beaks sit there and think they can make a fine and dandy accounting of the complete unknown? That their only problem is deciding which interest rate to slap on it?

What is wrong with these people?

 

(Illustration: Punch, Oct. 4, 1884)

 


Broadcom wifi, Nvidia graphics, and suspend on LinuxMint Debian testing/squeeze on an HP Ideapad S12

This is a notes-to-myself post so that the next time I need this info, I have some idea where to find it.

Broadcom wireless

Followed primarily the instructions on the Debian wiki: https://wiki.debian.org/bcm43xx

sudo apt-get install firmware-b43-lpphy-installer

Installs everything nicely. Reboot for new settings to take effect.

But it still didn’t work. Solved here: http://forums.linuxmint.com/viewtopic.php?f=194&t=92360. In /etc/network/interfaces, comment out everything except “auto lo” and “iface lo inet loopback”. “allow eth0 hotplug” can also stay.
(All the other wireless-related lines were to fix other *old* problems….) If you haven’t futzed with that file in the dim, forgotten past, you’ll probably be fine with just the debian wiki instructions.

Nvidia graphics

Started in debian wiki:
https://wiki.debian.org/NvidiaGraphicsDrivers#Version_304.88

Find out exact model of graphics card and check debian wiki links to lists of cards and which commands to use:
sudo lspci -nn | grep VGA
(S12 has Nvidia ION (Geforce 9400 M))

# aptitude -r install linux-headers-$(uname -r|sed ‘s,[^-]*-[^-]*-,,’) nvidia-kernel-dkms
“This will also install the recommended nvidia-glx package. DKMS will build the nvidia module for your system.”
However, there was no xorg.conf.d directory as implied under “X server configuration file”
So did not make a /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/20-nvidia.conf file as suggested.

Instead followed guide of proxima-centauri on lmde forums,
BUT left out “nvidia-kernel-dkms nvidia-glx” since those already installed. “build-essential” was already installed on my system.

sudo apt install nvidia-kernel-dkms nvidia-glx build-essential nvidia-settings nvidia-xconfig

When done, execute nvidia-xconfig in terminal.
sudo nvidia-xconfig

Then blacklist:
sudo echo blacklist nouveau > /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist-nouveau.conf

Then reboot for settings to take effect.

Some VGA resolution weirdness during bootup, but once booting is complete, looks fine.

Suspend

Debian wiki says “hal” package conflicts with power management and isn’t needed anyway. Uninstalled, but still doesn’t suspend.

Then tried the following script of John Dias and brocktice to unload all usb modules and now it works. First ran lsmod (list modules) to see which usb drivers were active on my system (ehci_hcd and ohci_hcd).

Saved the following to /etc/pm/sleep.d/20_custom-ehci_hcd, then substituted “ohci” instead of “ehci” and saved to /etc/pm/sleep.d/20_custom-ohci_hcd

#!/bin/sh
# File: "/etc/pm/sleep.d/20_custom-ehci_hcd".
TMPLIST=/tmp/ehci-dev-list

case "${1}" in
hibernate|suspend)
echo -n '' > $TMPLIST
for i in `ls /sys/bus/pci/drivers/ehci_hcd/ | egrep '[0-9a-z]+\:[0-9a-z]+\:.*$'`; do
# Unbind ehci_hcd for first device XXXX:XX:XX.X:
echo -n "$i" | tee /sys/bus/pci/drivers/ehci_hcd/unbind
echo "$i" >> $TMPLIST
done
;;
resume|thaw)
for i in `cat $TMPLIST`; do
# Bind ehci_hcd for first device XXXX:XX:XX.X:
echo -n "$i" | tee /sys/bus/pci/drivers/ehci_hcd/bind
done
rm $TMPLIST
;;
esac

Did not unload any other modules or do anything else. Note that the output of /var/log/pm-suspend.log made me think that 99video and 98video-quirks was somehow at fault, because they were suspended/resumed right at the sleep/wake point. But no. Apparently not.



If you want to send a message to Syria, use the Post Office

Just for the record, I’m not much of a pacificist. Self-defense is the least-bad option after an attack. And I do believe that everybody has a duty to stop crimes against humanity wherever they occur. On my planet, the UN has a militia ten times the size of any nation’s army, because those are all so small, and stops criminal nations.

But we don’t live on my planet. We live here, where the rhetoric about Syria has so many layers of hypocrisy it looks like a sedimentary rock.

Governments tolerate all kinds of dictators. No way we’re suddenly all hot and bothered about Assad.

Chemical weapons are horrible. No question about that. But death by shrapnel is no picnic either. Nor is being buried alive in fallen masonry. Around 100,000 children, women, and men have died in the Syrian war. A recent 1500 of those were the awful chemical weapons fatalities. Now suddenly senseless painful civilian deaths are unacceptable? Where have we been the last three, four years?

While we’re on the subject of bombs, I’d just like to mention how badly they work as envelopes. Any messages they’re carrying get all shredded and come out unrecognizable at the receiving end. If you’re trying to communicate, bombs don’t.

And then there’s the Israelis and Saudis expressing chagrin about the US lack of action. They’d prefer to have that mess near their borders cleaned up. As a purely practical matter with no ethical dimensions, I can understand that. I can also understand wanting the 600-pound gorilla on your side. But shouldn’t they at least be saying, “We’ll send so many tens of thousands of soldiers and so many tens of billions of dollars. We know it’s our fight, too.” Instead it’s all about what a spineless piece of cheese Obama is because he hasn’t already done it with US lives and cash.

So, if I’m so smart, what’s my solution? Well, one, we (meaning people, humanity) go back some sixty years and don’t get rid of Mossadegh in Iran. After that, we don’t do another million and a half idiotic things in the intervening decades. We transition to solar power and energy efficiency. We provide scholarship money to every remotely qualified woman in the whole Middle East. If there even was an effective Taliban in that world, and if the US did have to go after them in Afghanistan, then afterwards the US would have concentrated all its energies on the “nation-building” Rumsfeld had no use for.

I know. We don’t have time travel. (Although we may get it sooner than peace in the Middle East.) In this world, I have no idea what I’d do if I was handed the current crap on a plate. There are no good choices because too many idiots have made bad ones. So, do I want military dictatorships or religious ones?

No.

 

—————————-
Update, Sept. 5. The Saudi government reads this blog? I just saw this: Kerry says Arab countries offer to pay for invasion. (Now, if only they’d take on board some of the other, more important messages I keep pushing here. Equality, for instance.)



Common Core Curriculum: A critique of pure reason

Via Krugman, I hear there’s a movement to establish a Common Core Curriculum in schools. There’s also growing resistance to it from the usual suspects who fear that if children learn anything this may hinder their subsequent participation in fact-free politics.

I’ve been on another planet the past couple of months (a very nice one, thank you for asking) and this is the first I’ve heard of it. Well, teaching biology is what I’ve done for a living, so things like Common Cores are fascinating to me. I followed the link to see what’s in this one.

First glance shows that there’s no heading for science at all. English and Math. That’s it. (Also no arts. No history. No geography. No life skills such as physical fitness, good nutrition, birth control. But I guess that’s our brave new world by now.)

Second glance is to see what they have under English. That’s where I see a Science heading. Odd. But perhaps I haven’t grasped the organization of the web site.

No, it turns out that this is the section of English class where the students learn how to comprehend and critically evaluate scientific information.

About now I’m starting to boggle. The students are supposed to magically make sense of scientific information without a single fact that could actually enable them to do so. Not one class is required in that Core to teach them anything about any of the sciences they’re supposed to know enough about to evaluate. I think these people are serious.

To really picture just how useless it is to evaluate, critically or otherwise, subjects one knows nothing about, consider a small thought exercise. “Tscherganskaya in the capitol building at Ulan Bator has received payment from Karganvili of Consolidated Cement Industries.” You may not even know where that is on the planet (with apologies to any Mongolians who may be reading). Who is Tscherganskaya? The President taking a bribe? The head of the environmental agency taking payment for carbon trading credits after a lawsuit? The accountant at a mining operation that’s delivered limestone? Is it good, bad, indifferent? You can think about the sentence all you want. Without facts you have no way to make sense of it. Similarly, without facts about herd immunity you can’t evaluate certain arguments about vaccination, knowing nothing about peat bogs handicaps evaluation of climate change, ignorance of DNA functions makes it impossible to understand genetically modified food.

I’m sure it’ll turn out that science and history and all that good stuff is supposed to fill in from somewhere, as extra courses taught at the discretion of local school districts.

Testing, testing, testing … 1…, 2…, 3….

In recent decades, any subject gets shortchanged if it doesn’t contribute directly to raising a school’s ranking based on some multiple choice test or other. In poor districts it gets shortchanged to oblivion. The tests for the Core Curriculum will test — I know you’re surprised — English and math.

All this is stupid, but we’re not done yet. Teaching nothing but English and Math, unsupported by any subject that English or Math might be about, will have all the fascination of learning the alphabet but not using it for anything. Just admiring the alphabet itself, over and over. English and math are tools, like hammers. Hammers do nothing if there are no nails. Learning about the parts of the hammer is just boring.

So having a Core Curriculum, without an accompanying actual Curriculum, is not going to lead to smart graduates who know how to think without all that time and money wasted learning stuff nobody ever needs. On the contrary, the tyranny of the test will deepen, and the thing students hate worst of all, doing exercises whose point they don’t see, will become the only thing they do.

Once that bears fruit, the pundits will again moan about the inexplicable lack of “critical thinking” skills among today’s youth. Some new bright wit, looking to secure tenure in their Education Department, will start the next round of “improvements” that require even less money and promise even greater results. And some new fools, of whom there will be an increasing proportion, will gladly hand over their money for the newest magic beans.

I know that in the popular view the last people who know anything about teaching are teachers. But in case anyone wants to hear it, let me tell you a secret about education. You sort of get what you pay for. You can spend more than you have to, but you can’t spend less.



Larry Page wants to see your medical records


But of course. What’s good for Mr. Larry is good for everybody. He’s quite clear on that. Why aren’t you?

From ITWorld:

A day after breaking an almost year-long silence on a medical condition that had affected the way he speaks, Google co-founder Larry Page said Wednesday that people should be more open about their medical histories.” …

“At least in my case I feel I should have done it sooner and I’m not sure that answer isn’t true for most people, so I ask why are people so focused on keeping your medical history private?”

Then the icing on the cake:

The Google CEO guessed most people are guarded about their medical history because of insurance reasons. [Or he could, maybe, guess that he could ask people what their concerns are.]

“You’re very worried that you’re going to be denied insurance. That makes no sense, so maybe we should change the rules around insurance so that they have to insure people,” he said to a round of applause.

Wow. Thanks, Larry. Where were you during the whole Obamacare bullshit? When not a single powerful anything came out in favor of Medicare For All, the only way to just “insure people.” At your rate of breakthrough insights, I’ll be waiting for the flash of inspiration sometime in 2020.



Patent filing claims solar energy ‘breakthrough’

I shall watch his future progress with considerable interest. Seriously. No snark there at all.

Inventor Ronald Ace said that his flat-panel “Solar Traps,” which can be mounted on rooftops or used in electric power plants, will shatter decades-old scientific and technological barriers that have stymied efforts to make solar energy a cheap, clean and reliable alternative. …

His claimed discoveries, which exist only on paper so far, would represent such a leap forward that they are sure to draw deep skepticism from solar energy experts. But a recently retired congressional energy adviser, who has reviewed the invention’s still-secret design, said it’s “a no brainer” that the device would vastly outperform all other known solar technology. …

But John Darnell, a scientist and the former congressional aide who has monitored Ace’s dogged research for more than three years and has reviewed his complex calculations, has no doubts.“Anybody who is skilled in the art and understands what he’s proposing is going to have this dumbfounding reaction: ‘Oh, well it’s obvious it’ll work,’” said Darnell, a biochemist with an extensive background in thermodynamics. …

A major stumbling block for solar thermal energy devices invented to date has been that, as temperatures rise, increasing amounts of energy escapes, or radiates away, from their receivers. At 1,650 degrees Fahrenheit, currently designed receivers would radiate as much energy as they collect, sinking their efficiency to zero, solar experts say.

In his patent application, Ace wrote that his invention amounts to “a high-temperature blackbody absorber” that is “similar in some ways to an astronomical black hole.”

The key, he said, is his trap’s ability to absorb nearly 100 percent of the sunshine that hits it, while allowing only a tiny percentage of energy to escape, even at ultra-high temperatures.

Such a feat would astound many solar experts, who have had little success combating radiation losses in pilot solar plants, which use fields of mirrors to redirect and concentrate sunlight on common receivers.



Republicans are okay with internet taxes? Say what?


The Senators slay me. They do nothing (useful) since forever, then they restore funds to air traffic control in half an hour. They finally twigged to the fact that their personal flights could be delayed by this sequester thing.

The Republican ones have also since forever been staunchly refusing to fund government. They’ve shut down or nearly shut down the whole damn thing several times over refusals to raise taxes even a penny.

And now, suddenly, a quite hefty tax increase on internet sales goes through in a matter of seconds. At least it feels like seconds compared to their usual pace. One day you hear they’re talking about it. The next day there’s this:

The Senate … [passed] a bill that would widely subject online shopping — for many a largely tax-free frontier — to state sales taxes. The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 69 to 27.

Gee willikers whiz. It’s almost like the only thing they mind is taxes on millionaires. Making you pay hundreds of extra dollars a year is A-OK.

(Apparently the House of Reps. has realized that this thing could be construed as a tax increase. Whodathunkit? They seem to be backpedalling on passing it. The gods have a hideously twisted sense of humor when they make Tea Party loons and Norquist knobs the only thing between us and total kleptocracy.)



Why austerity was cool


The idea that austerity could help economies by ending profligacy and wastefulness has been proved wrong again. It’s been wrong based on the evidence since the 1930s. For a while, everybody knew that. Then “everybody” forgot it, it became all the rage in policy circles, and now it’s failing again as badly as fantasies do.

So why was it listened to? Gradually, I see more and more people noting the obvious answer. “Because it’s what the Powers That Be wanted to hear.” [You'll notice most of the links point to Krugman. Yes, I get large chunks of my econ news from him.]

That’s important because even the most perfect spreadsheet can’t fix it. (Background if you’d like it: Konczal’s article on Herndon’s Reinhart-Rogoff criticism.) If the problem is denial of facts and not the lack of facts, then clearer and louder facts won’t help. When people want to hear something, they hear it. If the Powers That Be want to hear that austerity is the answer, and all the economists refuse to tell them so, they’ll simply start getting their answers from physicists or CEOs. Consider the unanimity among climate scientists that humans are causing global warming, and the total lack of those scientists when politicians find “authorities” to deny anthropogenic climate change.

The first question becomes why the austerity message was so captivating. I’ve seen it explained as the desire for the neatness of a morality play. (“Spending? Bad! You must pay for your sins!”) But that idea makes no sense. If the Powers That Be were that interested in morality, I can think of many things ripe for punishment. Yet somehow the only programs in need of scourging hit people poorer than the PTB.

I also don’t think that the unwillingness to admit being wrong explains everything. It can explain a lot. But it doesn’t explain why they fell for such a thoroughly debunked fallacy in the first place. These are all intelligent people with a lot of training in reading comprehension. They don’t make such floaters unless they want to.

The simplest place to start when probing motives is to follow the methods of the experts, homicide detectives, and ask, “Who benefits?”

Money should be taken from the poor, the sick, the elderly, because … because what? There’s nowhere else to get it? I can think of two other large pots of money in the USA. One is the spending on expensive military hardware. Two is the absurdly low tax rates paid by corporations and wealthy individuals, the “one percenters.”

Could it be that by directing attention to the weakest members of society they’re hoping nobody notices that their money could solve any shortfalls better, (socially) cheaper, and faster?

Why, yes. Yes, I think it could. This is a classic example of “don’t tax him, don’t tax me, tax the fellow behind the tree.” It’s understandable. We all feel that way. But that doesn’t make it right or intelligent or likely to deliver the greatest good to the greatest number.

Diagnosis accomplished in two easy steps and the only training needed is an appropriately suspicious nature. That means it can easily be applied in real time.

That diagnosis also makes the solution painfully evident. Everybody’s seen it who isn’t hypnotized by wealth. Money from the rich has to be a factor. It’s not off the table, inconceivable, crazy talk. Because the solution is so obvious, it could even be applied before we have a problem, which is the nicest time to apply solutions.

And that’s why austerity was so cool for so long. It’s allowed the Powers That Be to say for years, “Look! Over there. Poor people getting money!” while keeping their piles of tax-sheltered wealth right out of the discussion.



Getting rights wrong: the example from Rand Paul

Charles Pierce is down on Rand Paul for babbling nonsense about civil rights.

…the Civil Rights Act, and nine out of 10 [titles] deal with public institutions and I’m absolutely in favor of,” he told Maddow deep in their 15-minute interview. “One deals with private institutions, and had I been around, I would have tried to modify that.”

What modifications would you like to make? Cleaner “Colored Only” bathrooms? Marble “Colored Only” drinking fountains?

Much of the discussion of Aqua Buddha’s rise to prominence has focused on his political philosophy, and far too little has been focused on the fact that he’s pretty much dumb as a stump.

I’m not so sure, unless it’s in the sense that consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.

Because all he’s doing is being consistent.

Being a good Randian, he seems to believe that property rights trump everything. If that’s true, then he’s quite right. You can’t tell anyone to respect civil rights on private property. Which means that there would be no real civil rights at all. If the only place you have rights is at the Post Office or on other government property, you may as well use the paper your rights are printed on for bird cage liner.

That is always the result when the hierarchy of rights is not in the correct order. Some rights have to take precedence over others for any of them to mean anything. If, as just one example, you have no freedom of motion, there’s no freedom of assembly, and then there’s no freedom of religion. It’s a complicated issue, but one thing is for sure: if the priority is wrong, you’ll wind up spouting absurdities so fast, everybody will say you’re dumb as a stump.

But if you don’t realize that the root of the problem is getting rights in the wrong order you’re making yourself vulnerable to the same criticism. Obliviousness about the need to prioritize rights is behind way too many modern problems. Pollution, for instance, puts property rights ahead of the right to be free of bodily harm. Compulsory pregnancy puts religious ideas ahead of people’s right to make their own decisions about what to do with their own bodies. And if you’re not physically safe, you’re not actually free to exercise the more abstruse rights either.

That’s the problem with getting rights in the wrong order. They all become meaningless, even the usurpers at the top. It’s a bit unfair to call people who make that mistake dumb as stumps because stumps aren’t that stupid.



Thatcher is in the past


I’ve figured out what bothers me about leftists gloating over Thatcher’s death.

There’s the unseemliness of expressing it much too fast. Everybody, even your bitterest enemy, has the right to bury their dead in peace. But I knew I had a problem with that and it didn’t feel like the whole problem.

The rest of it is that she’s gone. Over and done with. It’s useless to dance on her grave. If you want to support a humane world, do it here and now. Jeer at the so-called progressives who can’t say they’ll stand against Obama’s Republican budget. (Via the essential fatster.) Jeer at Obama for producing a budget that would have done the Iron Lady herself proud.

Feel-good jeering to get an ego boost is repulsive.



You are for sale (and that’s okay?)


You might as well be a cake of soap on the shelf at the store. The supermarket is “free” for the soap. The soap isn’t paying to be there, and you’re not paying for the web for the same reason. You’re the product.

If you mattered at all you’d be getting a cut of the proceeds.

Google made $60,000,000,000, 60 billion, sixty billion-with-a-b, last year. Eighty eight percent of that is estimated to be from advertising. You are the eyes that advertising is buying. Are you seeing royalties from Google for your essential role in this? How about from Dataium ($2 billion profit per year)? Or BlueKai, Acxiom, or Omniture (now part of Adobe)? How about Splunk? (Don’t you just love the cool, we-juggle-at-the-office names?) Or any of the hundred other hidden internet tracking companies all making profit off you?

In an article about a company that wants to sell people vaults for their personal data, “Fatemeh Khatibloo of Forrester Research said consumers want to know when data about them is collected and stored and by whom, and how it is used.” The Wall Street Journal has a list of how many trackers are planted after visits to common web sites. Dozens. Sometimes hundreds. How many of them do you even know exist, let alone what they collect and how long they store it?

What you want matters as much as what the cake of soap wants.

We’ve lost control over our own lives so completely that most people’s only response is to apply the pragmatism of the damned and ask “Whatchya gonna do?”

I don’t know what to do either. Tactics are never my strong suit. All I really have is one long bellow to SMASH THE BASTARDS.

However, I do know what we should do. We should get our rights back. We should get recognition of the fact that our information is part of our selves. Just as we have the right to control what’s done to our bodies, as in the ancient right of habeas corpus, likewise we have the right to control what’s done to our information. (Also some other posts: 1 and 2.)

Nobody can track you without your explicit consent, and only for the explicit purpose you agreed to. And when you want to revoke the permission, they have to expunge their databases.

Yes, I know that’s so far from current reality as to be ridiculous. But that only speaks badly for current reality. It doesn’t change what’s true.



Atheists know all about God


Which ought to be a bit surprising. How do they know? They say believers can’t prove god exists. But then, by the same token, the atheists can’t prove god’s nonexistence. Unprovable works both ways.

The problem is that belief is an internal feeling, like loving another person or enjoying the feel of the sun on your back. There’s no way for anyone else to tell you you’re all wrong, you really don’t like the feel of the sun. Nobody else can know that. Nobody can tell you what you feel, since only you can know that.

So where (in god’s name?) does someone like Dennett get off saying religion is a common cold that needs a cure? He also says it’s an addiction that needs a cure. He should make up his mind. The two are very different.

Dennett is new to me. The loudest exponent of the Church Militant of Atheism has been Dawkins, who’s recently been showing his arrogance in new ways. I’m always struck that he honestly does not seem to get the irony of telling people they’re wrong about an unprovable subject because he’s right.

Now, although these beaks claim to be anti-religion, I suspect their knickers are in a twist because of what people do in the name of religion.

They’d be on much stronger ground if they stuck to the subject. You can tell people to keep their beliefs to themselves. You can tell them what they can and can’t do to others. That’s called civil society and a legal system. God is no excuse for killing people over cartoons, for caging women, for destroying the planet because Judgment Day will be along any minute.

Maybe if all these bright thinkers had a truly evidence-based attitude, which can never go further than agnosticism about religion, and used their stature to condemn harm, rather than an unknowable god, we might actually get a bit less harm in the world.

Religion overthrows heresy, sculpture by Pierre Le Gros

Righthinkers overthrow wrong ones (Religion overthrows heresy and hatred, Pierre Le Gros, 1698)
Ricardo André Frantz: Wikimedia

 


The weirdness of the footwashing Pope


You know why it seems strange that the Pope would wash women’s feet?

Because traditionally the idea is to practice humility toward the “least” among us, the powerless, the poor people.

And this Pope was so focused on his message about poverty, he treated poor women like people.

Women can be seen as people.

And that’s what feels shocking.

Sad, isn’t it.



The Supreme Court doesn’t understand the Constitution


I don’t spend a lot of time keeping up with what passes for thinking in the legal system, so I’ve merely been aware that gay marriage rights have been toiling their way through the system. I haven’t paid attention to the arguments.

MoDo’s article came as a bit of a surprise to me. (Yes, I know, she can be a twit. But she can also write and sometimes I read her. So sue me.)

This is what stopped me short:

“Same-sex marriage is very new,” Justice Samuel Alito whinged, noting that “it may turn out to be a good thing; it may turn out not to be a good thing.”

Seriously? Justices on the Supreme Court — the Supreme Court for pity’s sake! — don’t understand the concept of rights? You have got to be kidding me.

You don’t have rights because you’re a good human being or because you’ll use them for a higher purpose. You have rights because you’re a human. Period. Gays could all be dykes on bikes without a notion of parenting. That doesn’t change their rights.

And their rights are so clear I’m flabbergasted that it could need explaining, to a Supreme Court Justice, of all people.

Equality before the law is a foundational principle of the USA. Some people can get legally married, therefore all people can get legally married. (See? That wasn’t hard, was it?) What religions want to do about it is their own business, but the law cannot treat people unequally.

Furthermore, questions of rights are very much the business of the Court, and very much not the business of the legislatures or elections. Rights are inalienable, not something for philosophers or average Joes or doofuses to vote on.

Apparently, the Court Jesters Justices don’t even know that.

“But you want us to step in and render a decision,” Alito continued, “based on an assessment of the effects of this institution, which is newer than cellphones or the Internet? I mean, we do not have the ability to see the future.”

Swing Justice Anthony Kennedy grumbled about “uncharted waters,” and the fuddy-duddies seemed to be looking for excuses not to make a sweeping ruling.



The economy is not a dippy duck


Politicians make pious noises about governments “living within their budgets.” According to them, this is how “families” do it.

The water goes only one way for a dippy duck

The water goes only one way for a dippy duck

Intelligent economists — Martin Wolf and Krugman to take just two — are rightly incensed at that self-serving nonsense (whose real point is to prevent tax hikes on the wealthy, but that’s a ‘nother whole mess).

Unfortunately, they don’t provide an easy way to visualize the difference between citizen and government finances. Krugman, for instance, otherwise one of the best examples of lucidity, uses the analogy of a babysitters club. It’s a fine analogy. There’s nothing wrong with it on the merits. But if it means something to you, you already understand the economy and you don’t need it. The rest of us could use something simpler and more visual.

Acid Test to the rescue.

Individuals get money from somewhere and spend it elsewhere. The path can only go in one direction. If the source of money dries up, there is no way to magically make more appear.

An economy, however, is millions of people. (Except when countries are smaller, but you know what I mean.) Each little unidirectional flow adds together into an enormous wheel, like a water wheel.

A waterwheel

The water still goes one way
for a single board in the wheel.

It is not linear. It is not unidirectional. It is not like a dippy duck, whose beaker can’t turn over and reappear filled. It is like a wheel.

In a whole economy, the flow on the individual parts makes the whole thing turn. The wealth — or the water — does need some added external input such as a stream or farmers making something out of sunlight and land. Once that stream enters the system, whether it’s made of water or money, the wheel can turn and multiply the benefits.

If you turn off the supply of water on the wheel, the whole thing stops. When it happens in the economy, it’s called a Depression and it means less money everywhere on the wheel. For an individual, cutting back spending to match income leads to wealth. For an economy, if it’s grinding to a halt, reducing spending equals losing money. The slower the wheel turns, the less money there is to be had. Everybody gets poorer, not richer. That is not what solving the problem looks like. That is what stupidity looks like.

That’s why, if people have no money to spend, it makes sense for the government to spend. The wheel needs to be kept turning. Otherwise poverty feeds on itself.

(And, yes, if the economy is humming with minimal government help, then keep it minimal. Developed world economies are not, you’ve probably noticed, humming.)

The government can’t just spend without any regard to the wealth of the economy. But that’s not the same as declaring wealth off-limits and then driving the economy down to a trickle because “spending is bad.”

What’s bad is waste and poverty. What’s bad is grinding the whole wheel to a halt because you can’t see the difference between a straight line and a circle.



Now is the time for your tears


Women have no voice. Their songs aren’t famous, so the only words I can think of adequate to Steubenville belong to Bob Dylan. And he, of course, is talking about murder, not that stuff which, when it happens to women, is something to joke about.

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ringed finger …
And the cops were called in …
And booked William Zanzinger for first-degree murder

But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears.

William Zanzinger who had twenty-four years …
[And] rich wealthy parents who provide and protect him …
Reacted to his deed with a shrug of his shoulders
And swear words and sneering …
And in a matter of minutes on bail was out walking

But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears.

Hattie Carroll … Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane …
And she never done nothin’ to William Zanzinger

And you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears.

In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show that all’s equal and that the courts are on the level …
And that even the nobles get properly handled …
Stared at the person who killed for no reason
Who just happened to be feelin’ that way without warnin’
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance
William Zanzinger with a six-month one-year sentence.

Ah, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now’s the time for your tears.

One year. One. For the premeditated, prolonged, published, endless soul-destroying torture of a human being.

One damn year.

(The complete lyrics are here.)