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Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela voting in 1994

(Paul Weinberg : Wikimedia)

Usually, when some world leader dies, I don’t care. More often than not I even think, “Well, that’s one less lying mug I’m tired of seeing.”

But with Nelson Mandela I felt a stab of sadness, as if he was my friend.

One of our greats is gone. I wish he’d lived forever. Maybe if we live in ways that honor his work, he will in a way.

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The roots of war

I was reading an article about Syria’s civil war, and sentences kept jumping out at me.

The white Horseman of war


For three men in northern Syria, the second civil war started shortly after the first staggered into a quagmire of sectarian violence. …

Like many others, the three men are bewildered at what has become of their war. Their alliances – and their goals – are shifting. …

They are a businessman, a smuggler and an army defector who became respectively the political officer, treasurer and military commander of a once-formidable battalion in northern Syria. …

“Maybe in 10 years we will all be bored with fighting and learn how to coexist.” He paused, then added: “In 10 years maybe, not now.” …

He opened Google Earth on his phone, zooming in closer and closer until the screen showed a small grey square: the house where his family used to live. “Before, all my family was in Syria, and I worried about them. Now, they’ve got out but I have lost my land. I have reached a point of despair,” he said. …

“I was in the revolution at the beginning, and I used to think that was going to be progress – but now we have lost everything. We don’t talk about military plans and hitting the regime – now the plotting is against each other.”

“I can’t defeat them [the jihadis] and the army. I am about to collapse. I can hold out for a month or two at most. Isis [jihadis] are expanding in a fearful way.” …

When they reached the base, the lieutenant sank down in a corner. He seemed weary. “I have been fighting for two years and a half. Tell me: what have I achieved? All I think about is attacking this checkpoint, getting that tank – maybe using the tank to attack another checkpoint.

“In all this time did I ever think of establishing governance? Did I consider working with the civilians in the areas under my control to get electricity or provide anything? …

He sighed. “… I want to get away from here and forget the absurdity of war. The liberated areas are in chaos: there is more purity on the frontlines.” …

“For three days I’ve been attacking this checkpoint,” said the lieutenant “I ask myself why, but I don’t know. Maybe because I can. Maybe because I need to keep my men busy. But honestly, I don’t know the purpose of all this. In Syria, everyone has lost. No one is winning.” …

The next day, the lieutenant decided he needed a break from war. A few days later, the smuggler, the lieutenant and another rebel officer were walking in an Istanbul shopping centre packed with Arab tourists. After two and a half years, the two men said they had finally decided to leave Syria and the war for good. …

Later, in the food court upstairs, the smuggler and the lieutenant ate lunch with another man, a people-smuggler, who told them how they could be spirited across the border into Greece and from there into Italy, where they could start a new life with their families. …

By now, the excitement of being in Istanbul had waned: the three men walked the streets aimlessly and sat for hours in cafes. … One evening, he admitted that he had tried to leave once before: he had stayed away for 25 days, but found he could not live in the world of peace: he missed the excitement, the combat, the camaraderie. …

The lieutenant left the cafe, and there was no news of him for weeks. Nobody knew if he was still in Turkey, or if he had gone with the people-smuggler and made his way to Italy.

When he finally called, he sounded relieved and almost cheerful. “I just couldn’t do it,” he said. “I couldn’t leave, I went back to Syria, to fight.”

People who go to war always say they do it to serve — their country, an ideal, their way of life, always something outside themselves. But then when the fighting is destroying what they care about they would stop, wouldn’t they?

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There’s a new definition of “Affordable”

At least there seems to be in the “Affordable Care Act.” Charles Ornstein writing for ProPublica:

“[I]n much of the country people have yet to really see what the cost-sharing will look like in these plans, and they may be surprised for find out that the deductibles and co-pays in bronze and silver plans are higher than what one would find in typical employer-provided health benefits,” Larry Levitt, senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said in an email. [Note: subsidies are based on silver plans. People who want better coverage pay the difference themselves. Also note: many doctors and hospitals are not in-network and out-of-network care costs more and has no cap on out of pocket costs.]

“I think it remains to be seen whether people see these plans as offering them good protection against catastrophic health expenses — which they do — or are disappointed that they won’t generally provide much coverage for occasional visits to the doctor or prescriptions,” Levitt added.

Chris Jacobs, a senior policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, brings up another point. The sequester law, which calls for spending cuts in the federal budget, requires reductions to the cost-sharing program. But the Obama administration has not said how it will carry those out — whether it will cut the cost-sharing subsidies or make insurers absorb the cuts.

“Someone (either carriers, consumers, or both) isn’t being told by this administration that they’re going to have to pay more — billions of dollars more,” Jacobs wrote to me.

Ken Wood, a senior adviser to Covered California, [said that] … “Even with high deductibles, consumers stop paying retail for health care since they get the advantage of the health insurer’s negotiated rates, and no plan has a higher out-of-pocket maximum [for in-network costs] than $6,350 (per person) [in addition to premiums],” he said. “That is a lot of money, but it probably will not drive people into bankruptcy. “

Let’s hope that the “Patient Protection” part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act hasn’t likewise changed its meaning. If it has, “Patient Protection” means “the kind of care you get under PPACA probably won’t kill you.”

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Those unnecessary Golgafrinchans? They settled here.

It’s obvious, after reading this article giving a platform to Tyler Cowen. (If you want a bit of background on the Golgafrinchans, the quotation is below.)

I make vague flailing motions to defend against Teh Stoopid out there, so I don’t actually know who Tyler Cowen is. But nothing lasts forever. So now I know which are the jobs of the future.

[M]achines are [getting] smarter than you, … [so] The good jobs will be about branding. They’re all about figuring out how to get other people’s attention[.] …

[Expanding on the smartness of machines:] [R]oads will change so driverless cars can use them, and we’re not ready for this mostly. I think it’s a big, big plus, but in some ways, the world will look uglier and feel stupider. It’s a bit like those help menus. You can do everything right by pressing all the buttons.[Ed. note: Yes, I’ve noticed that. The help menus always have all the options you need. There’s never any missing information. You never wind up going in circles around the phone tree.] It pisses people off. [Really?] It still gives you overall better service and a cheaper product than the old system of hiring operators. [Hahahahaha. Come on. Now you’re just being silly.] …

[Interviewer notes] In the book you also discuss a future artificial intelligence app that might recommend things in the social or romantic realm, like the optimal time to kiss someone on a date.

[Mr. TC responds]: My guess is that will be half the people. The people who listen to the machines, they’re going to do better. They’ll have a better chance of being happily married. They’ll choose better dates. They’ll kiss at the right time or whatever it is the machine tells you. They’ll have better portfolios. They’ll have better diets. … So you don’t have to necessarily be great at reading the tea leaves once you’re attuned to the machine.

And yet, a few paragraphs earlier, he said psychology was the only talent where people still excelled. Now, barely minutes further into the future by the end of the article, people are too stupid to know when to kiss without an app to tell them.

They pay him for this sort of flapdoodle, apparently. At the top of the article it says “Foreign Policy Magazine named Tyler Cowen #72 in their list of the ‘Top 100 Global Thinkers.'”

Imagine if FP Mag is right. May God have mercy on our globe.

Golgafrinchan history, from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe:
The two space travellers show up on a ship, and the Captain explains what it’s all for.

“I mean, I couldn’t help noticing,” said Ford, also taking a sip, “the bodies. In the hold.”

“Bodies?” said the Captain in surprise. …

Ford licked his lips.

“Yes,” he said, “all those dead telephone sanitizers and account executives, you know, down in the hold.”

The Captain stared at him. Suddenly he threw back his head and laughed.

“Oh, they’re not dead,” he said. “Good Lord, no, no they’re frozen. They’re going to be revived.”

Ford did something he very rarely did. He blinked.

Arthur seemed to come out of a trance.

“You mean you’ve got a hold full of frozen hairdressers?” he said.

“Oh yes,” said the Captain. “Millions of them. Hairdressers, tired TV producers, insurance salesmen, personnel officers, security guards, public relations executives, management consultants, you name it. We’re going to colonize another planet.”

The Hitch­hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has this to say about the planet of Gol­gafrin­cham: it is a planet with an an­cient and mys­te­ri­ous his­tory, rich in leg­end….

[A] de­scen­dant of one of these ec­cen­tric poets … in­vented the spu­ri­ous tales of im­pend­ing doom which en­abled the peo­ple of Gol­gafrin­cham to rid them­selves of an en­tire use­less third of their pop­u­la­tion. The other two-thirds stayed firmly at home and lived full, rich and happy lives until they were all sud­denly wiped out by a vir­u­lent dis­ease con­tracted from a dirty tele­phone.


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Today in Racist News

First the Russian fans shouting garbage at the black captain for Manchester City. (Once his team was winning, I gather. Bad losers, too.) Yes, Russians can be dreadful racists. That’s not the surprise. For me, the surprise is that even in this day and age the authorities, in this case the people who run the football club whose fans were so horrible, are fine with it. And they’re so tone deaf they say, out loud, “Oh, it wasn’t that bad. Oh, you’re exaggerating.” In other words, shut up and go away. (After a couple of days of pressure, they changed their tune.)

Racism backed by authorities, even authorities who think better of it after the damage is done, needs the strongest possible response. Boycott ’em. Close the stadium. Stop it now. Go Yaya Touré.

Then there’s the blonde Roma child found in a Greek gypsy camp among the more average darker inhabitants. The immediate reaction was that she must have been kidnapped. Then some DNA evidence showed that the mother is another impoverished Roma from Bulgaria. The talk of kidnapping stopped. The talk about trafficking started. The girl must have been sold.

Yes. Poor people sometimes do appalling things to survive. But poor people also sometimes commit acts of astronomical generosity, inconceivable to those more comfortably situated. One image branded on my mind from history books is starving peasants around the time of the Russian Revolution giving their swaddled infants to strangers on passing trains in the desperate hope the babies might then survive. I don’t know if they lived or not. I don’t know the statistics on how that worked out. But in the moments when it happened, on both sides, there had to be a stunning ability to give everything away.

If it had turned out that some equally blonde people from, say, Iceland were the parents, how quickly would the police assume they’d sold the child?

Never, I expect.

But since she has a Roma mother, well, it’s obvious isn’t it, there’s been a criminally sordid transaction. It’s the first conclusion they come to, not the last. Evidence not needed.

Whatever the evidence does finally show, it doesn’t change the willingness of the (white?) world to jump to racist conclusions without any.

The big difference between them and the Russian fans is that football hooligans yell crap out loud in a stadium.

A nice

And then, of course, close to home, the flap in the USA about the Washington Redskins. The name is insulting to American Indians. So change it. It’s a name, fergawdsake. Or, as a commenter pointed out, don’t change it but change the logo to a potato. What an idiotic thing to have to expend energy on. We could be putting all that money and effort and emotion toward mitigating the real damage of racism. Instead it’s going toward arguing over labels with a bunch of neanderthals running one of our autumnal concussion teams.

Then again, maybe that’s easier than dealing with racism.

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I realize I’m tilting at windmills

… but then my avatar’s name is Quixote. It’s just what I do.

Don Quixote by Picasso

Which windmill is it this time? Obamacare, of course. Let’s get one thing straight right here. It’s a disaster because its purpose is to funnel money to insurance companies. It is not to provide health care.

Anybody in power who wants to provide actual health care knows how to do it. There are only about twenty other wealthy countries that know how: you have some form of single payer / Medicare for All which is transparent to the user, tightly regulated, and provides actual care. It’s cheaper by nearly 50% and it provides better outcomes.

Instead, the US of A has to be special. We get this corporate handout where the last priority is the person who needs the service.

So what’s the narrative coming up on websites? Government can’t do anything right. Let’s have free market health care!

The major media will pick that up in a few months (weeks? days?). “Is The Answer To Give Consumers The Freedom To Pay Their Own Bills? Here’s Dr. Bigman to tell us!”

That didn’t work so well in the Dark Ages, which this country apparently wants to relive. The answer is staring everybody in the face, has been tried all over the world, and is cheaper, faster, better. Medicare for all. Medicare for all. Hello-o? Medicare for all!

But no. The US of A is special. We can find another wrong track to take even though it looks like we’ve tried them all by now.

If you’d like more information about the problems with Obamacare, besides the textbook disaster of a website, Lambert and friends have been doing a lot of the heavy lifting at Corrente and Naked Capitalism. They discuss:

  • The website rollout problems before they happened.
  • “Affordable” premiums that don’t buy much.
  • Deductibles in the thousands of dollars, not hundreds.
  • Big co-pays. Huge out of pocket maximums. Maximums only for in-network costs.
  • Exclusion of quite a few hospitals providing care for expensive diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease. (So, for instance, your pre-existing condition now has to be covered, but you can’t actually get help without paying for it yourself. Rather a neat loophole, yes?)
  • And then we haven’t even started on the fact that the “subsidies” are tax credits. That means they’re based on your income, which means you have to correctly estimate all changes that affect your income (divorce, death of a dependent, for instance), or remember to report them immediately. Otherwise you must pay back the overpaid tax credit at tax time.

The Kaiser Family Foundation has a handy calculator to get some idea of subsidy amounts in individual situations.

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Government shutdown: my small loss

So the shutdown isn’t doing much to me. No missing checks, no cancer therapies withheld. Not even a thousand dollar vacation ruined.

No, my problem is much smaller. I have the Astronomy Picture of the Day as my home page. That way when I start up my browser the first thing I see is galaxies of light or maps of the whole universe or our planet shining with auroras. When the news comes along in due course with its not-new examples of people making problems, my mind has a bit of a harbor, a memory that it’s not like that everywhere.

Well, NASA is part of the government. It’s shut down. Its servers are down. My home page is now a blank white nothing:


I know it’s a very minor thing. And yet I feel like I’ve lost a friend, a very good friend who took me to new worlds and showed me wonders unknown.

I am surprised at how sad it makes me.

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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)
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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:

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: 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:

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.


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

# File: "/etc/pm/sleep.d/20_custom-ehci_hcd".

case "${1}" in
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
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

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.

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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?



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.) Update, May14, 2014.: The link for Kerry’s statement has vanished from the Washington Post site. Neither the Senate hearing nor the House unequivocally contains such a statement in the full transcripts.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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