Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Update April 28 2011:
It turns out I was using estimate data from 2004-2009. I've since corrected the data, and all the links here will give the correct data. I made a post about this in more detail.
A common chart on the internet is one that shows the last couple decades worth of Presidents and the deficit or debt during their presidencies. The conclusion people are trying to make with these is that republicans are responsible for the largest increases in the debt.
I have a number of problems with these charts (other than the standard statistic and chart issues). First there are simply too few data points to draw any meaningful conclusions. The counterargument republicans often make to defend the increases is that luck and economic cycles are responsible for most of the variance.
My biggest issue though is that these charts always give the blame and credit to the President for the budget. Like any other law, Congress is responsible for passing the budget. Once passed, it goes to the President and if vetoed needs a 2/3rds majority of Congress to override and become law. To review, no budget can become law without 50% approval of Congress, but it may become law without Presidential approval if it has 67% approval of Congress.
Skip past my rant about Congress ceding its power
There are some laws that deal with the procedure the budget follows, mainly The Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, which says that the President must submit a budget request early in the year. Some may think this gives the President more responsibility for the budget. However, like any law, it was created by Congress, and can by modified or repealed at anytime by Congress. Furthermore, Congress still ultimately writes the budget proposal based on the President's request. Thus the President's request is just that, a request. Which Congress can completely ignore. To use an analogy it would be as if you were tasked with writing some report at work, and you paid a Mexican day laborer to write it up for you. If you submitted that report you'd be responsible for whatever it contained. If your boss yelled at you a valid defense would not be, "Well I didn't even write that shit, man". Regardless of who you got to do the job it was still your responsibility.
People like to assign blame and praise to the President for things simply because he is an easy figure head to do so. However, if you actually read the Constitution, you'll see he doesn't have much power. In fact his powers are so limited I can list them here. He can veto bills that have 50% but not 67% approval of Congress. He is the commander in chief of the armed forces, however, Congress has ultimate authority over the finacing and very existence of the military. He can grant pardons and reprieves for federal, non-impeachment crimes. He can make treaties with 67% approval of the Senate. He fills appointments (like judges) with Senate approval. Lastly he's the head of the executive branch of the government. This means that his job is to execute the laws passed by Congress. In other words he ensures all those federal agencies actually do their jobs.
As you can see there really isn't much that he can do with out approval of Congress. And there isn't much he can do to stop Congress if they have 67% agreement on something. If you look at the powers each branch has Congress would seem to the be the one that has the best chance at becoming too powerful. This would be ok since the power would be split between hundreds of people, and the States would retain ultimate authority to change any part of the Constitution. In reality though, Congress seems to be the least powerful. Despite the fact that the other two branches largely exist to carry out the wishes of Congress, they have instead allowed repeated transgressions by the executive and judicial branches.
A large part of the problem is that when the President usurps a power he is not authorized to have there is little motivation for Congress to challenge him. This is particularly true if Congress knows it's not united enough to get 67% approval for impeachment. Another issue is that the power must be taken back by the party currently in control. Regardless of what party originally took the power neither party has a desire to give up the new illegal power. Thus, powers just keep building up, and no one wants to give them up. This is evidenced by the many unconstitutional things Bush did while in office. Now that a new party is in total control of the government (President plus 67% of Congress), they have the ability to easily strip all those powers from the President that he should not have. Yet they show no signs of doing so.
Ok, rant over.
Regardless of all that, Congress still passes the budget. They are responsible for its content. So for a long time I've wanted to look into which party controlled Congress and how deficit spending correlated to that. I resisted doing it for a while because I really hate the idea of political parties in general. I hate the idea that Congress would do something just because the bulk of its members belonged to some group that wanted it done. The fact remains though, that two political parties practically control the government. And that they both like to spend more than we have.
The (updated) data is here:
Before I get started some notes about the data. First the budget is made a year ahead of time. For example right now in late 2009 Obama is working on his first budget request, for FY2010. As such I've used whatever political party controlled a particular office when the budget was approved for the year. I'm well aware that Bill Clinton, a democrat, assumed office in 1993. Yet 1993 has a republican R in the President cell because the budget for FY1993 was requested by George Bush in 1992. Second I calculated the deficit simply as the percent difference between revenue and spending. In other words how much more money the government spent than it took in. I went with this instead of something related to GDP, because it seemed more relevant. Regardless of how well the economy did or didn't do the government needs to spend an amount close to what it takes in. Lastly I seem to have lost the link where I found the budget data. It was from a .gov website, that let me download a csv file for 1900-2009. I've found the data again, but can't seem to find that nice csv file. Anyway the data can be found at:
Update: The spreadsheet is here:
I pulled budget data from 1902 to today, total revenue, and expenses. I then got data on which party controlled both houses of Congress and the executive. I combined this all and looked to see what patterns emerged. I honestly didn't know what to expect. I know republicans like to claim they spend less, but had little faith in that claim. Then there was the fact that there did seem to be some correlation between Presidential party and the deficit. The first thing that surprised me was how much time the democrats spent in control of Congress. They had control of the House nonstop from 1956-1996, and the Senate for the same except for 6 years from 1982-1987.
I would guess this is due to two causes. First as I have said people tend to blame the President for more than he should be blamed for, thus there tends to be more turnover than Congress. Almost everyone can name the President, most people probably can't name their representatives in Congress. Secondly term limits force turnover every 8 years. As for why democrats seemed to be favored in Congress but not the White House I don't know.
Since the democrats were in control so much, it limits the amount I can read into the data. However, the two major swings in the deficit do have a change in Congress control to go with them. First the major increase in the deficit in the early 80s. Second the decrease and brief elimination of the deficit in the late 90s.
A quick glance at the data might lead you to suspect the combined republican control of the Senate and executive starting in 1982 was to blame for the deficit growth, which started in that same year. Upon deeper inspection though this seems unlikely as the deficit shrinks back close to the 1981 level in 1987, with the republicans still in the Senate and White House. The next year democrats regain control of Congress and for the next 3 years the deficit hovers around the same level. Then, in 1990 it increases again, peaking in 1992. It then begins the well known climb out of the red and into the green, for the first time since 1969. This climb is often attributed to the democrats having control of the executive. There are some problems though. First looking at the chart the climb clearly begins in 1993, with the republicans still in control of the executive. Second the republicans gain control of both houses of Congress in 1996, and retain control for the entire climb up and then the fall way back down of the deficit, save for losing the Senate in 2002, and 2003.
So what conclusions can we draw from all this? Both parties were in control during both up and down swings, and the changes don't seem to line up well with changes of power. It almost seems as if having republicans or democrats in power makes no real difference to spending. And that is exactly the conclusion I draw from this.
What then is responsible for the swings? I'd place the blame largely on economic swings. If you look at the increases from year to year in government spending and revenue it averages to about 6.5% for the last 30 years, for both. 1977-1981 saw double digit increases in revenue, and spending. Revenue increase in 1982 was just 3%, while 1983 was -3%, the spending still increased at near 10% though. Thus it's no surprise there was a sharp increase in deficient spending starting in 1982. 1984 and 1987 saw returns to double digits revenue increases, as well as a decline in spending to less than the 6.5% average, and the chart shows this. 1992-2001 saw 2% and 3% spending increases, with average to slightly above average revenue increases. I'm tempted to congratulate Congress during this period on curtailing its spending (4 years republican, 6 years democrat). However, a much more likely cause is the end of the cold war, and a likely decrease in defense spending. 2002 and 2003 saw negative revenue changes, likely the cause of the large spike in the deficit. Spending averaged 5.5%, which honestly surprised me with all the war spending.
In the end both major parties are big spenders. The 30 year average was a -14.5% deficit. The Federal Government spends about 17% more than it takes in every year. While I'll agree that the two major parties differ on social issues, when it comes to government spending, neither knows how to keep a budget. The answer is to hold Congress responsible for our growing debt. They need to either increase taxes or decrease spending. Neither will be popular, and they aren't likely to do it unless they think they won't be reelected without doing it.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Ant passes along a Wall Street Journal report on research that turned up a new explanation for the lifelong challenges experienced by winter babies. "Children born in the winter months already have a few strikes against them. Study after study has shown that they test poorly, don't get as far in school, earn less, are less healthy, and don't live as long as children born at other times of year. Researchers have spent years documenting the effect and trying to understand it... A key assumption of much of that research is that the backgrounds of children born in the winter are the same as the backgrounds of children born at other times of the year. ... [Economist] Mr. Hungerman was doing research on sibling behavior when he noticed that children in the same families tend to be born at the same time of year. Meanwhile, Ms. Buckles was examining the economic factors that lead to multiple births, and coming across what looked like a relationship between mothers' education levels and when children were born." Here's a chart in which the effect — small but significant — jumps out unmistakeably.
If you are in the market for either a 2009 Chevy Malibu or a 1959 Chevy Bel Air this video should help you decide.
Friday, September 25, 2009
The Obama administration has told Congress it supports renewing three provisions of the Patriot Act due to expire at year’s end, measures making it easier for the government to spy within the United States.
TechDirt is running a piece on Corona, CA, where officials are considering ignoring a California law that authorizes red-light cameras — cutting the state and the county out of their portion of the take — in order to increase the city's revenue. The story was first reported a week ago. The majority of tickets are being (automatically) issued for "California stops" before a right turn on red, which studies have shown rarely contribute to an accident. TechDirt notes the apparent unconstitutionality of what Corona proposes to do: "The problem here is that Corona is shredding the Sixth Amendment of the US Constitution, the right to a trial by jury. By reclassifying a moving violation... to an administrative violation... Corona is doing something really nefarious. In order to appeal an administrative citation you have to admit guilt, pay the full fine, and then apply for a hearing in front of an administrative official, not a judge in a court. The city could simply deny all hearings for administrative violations or schedule them far out in advance knowing full well that they have your money, which you had to pay before you could appeal."
Several readers sent in word that Google has served a Cease and Desist order to Cyanogen, one of the most prolific Android modders: his CyanogenMod is enjoyed by 30,000 users. The move is puzzling. Gizmodo wonders what Google's game is, and Lauren Weinstein calls the move "not of the high Googley' caliber" that one would expect of the company.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
For the past year, all government employees in Utah have had a four-day workweek. The results of the trial run are in, and they look good: the state says it saved $1.8 million in electrical bills, eliminating 6,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, while 82 percent of workers say they like the new scheme. One possible downside of the new schedule, reports Scientific American, is that it may encourage eating more fast food, as workers put in 10-hour days to make up for the lost Friday.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Owning goats is like hosting a frat party. They'll climb on anything they can scale, trash anything nice you try to make for them and when you really need them for something they'll be asleep.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
This is, for all intents and purposes, how political pollsters compute the mysterious "margin of error," which has everything to do (and only to do) with pure mathematical sampling error. If you look at the formula above and round it just a smidge, you get a simple rule of thumb for the margin of error of a sampled probability:
So if the sample size is 400, the margin of error is 1/20 = 5%; if the sample size is 625 the margin of error is 1/25 = 4%; if the sample size is 1000, it's about 3%.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
"A group of Senate Democrats led by Russ Feingold (WI) and Dick Durbin (IL) have proposed the Judicious Use of Surveillance Tools in Counter-terrorism Efforts (JUSTICE) Act, a bill that would introduce stronger safeguards and higher standards of judicial oversight for surveillance activity. It aims to reform the most abusive characteristics of the PATRIOT Act and would also roll back a controversial provision of the FISA Amendment Act that granted telecom companies retroactive immunity for their participation in the Bush administration's extralegal warrantless surveillance program."
I'm wary of any Federal legislation, but this is backed by the ACLU and EFF so it would seem like it's a good thing. Still one must be careful of changes to the bill.
Summary (note it's written by the same people that want to pass it):
Full Text (103 pages):
Friday, September 18, 2009
The war chants of ancient heroes sung in the fearless Viking's ears, as though an invisible primitive iPod were blasting the song "Freya" by The Sword at maximum volume as he wrought terrible havoc upon the apprehensive and overmatched Saxon footmen. His savage strikes felled even the bravest warriors in a single blow, cutting down mighty champions with the same effortless ease as Martha Stewart carving up slices of a warm pumpkin pie, while any attacks that penetrated his agile defenses failed to significantly wound him or even penetrate his battle-hardened hide. Swords shattered on impact with his chain mail, terrible blows rained upon his chest and arms failed to elicit even the slightest wince of pain, and this ferocious barbarian cut a swath of destruction in his wake, wading through these experienced, professional warriors like a Japanese movie monster plowing through a swimming pool full of strawberry Jell-O. Dismembered appendages and decapitated corpses littered the battlefield, the river itself ran red with the blood of fallen men, and the bridge soon appeared as though a schlocky Halloween prop store had just exploded upon it. His features were alive with the blood-lusted determination of a true Viking berserker, his clenched teeth were bared like the fangs of a rabid wolf, his Advanced Battle Rage boosting his STR and CON scores to inhuman levels... one man fearlessly battling five thousand, holding the bridge until death.
The employees at Tesco seem to be immune to mind tricks, and have kicked out the founder of the International Church of Jediism. Daniel Jones, 23, who founded the religion based on the Star Wars movies, was asked to leave because his robes were against store rules which forbid the wearing of 'hoodies' in their premises. "I told them it was a requirement of my religion but they just sniggered and ordered me to leave," he told The Daily Telegraph newspaper. "I walked past a Muslim lady in a veil. Surely the same rules should apply to everyone." It's exactly this kind of stuff that turns young Jedi's to the dark side.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Here’s a real copy of an American citizen’s DHS Travel Record retrieved from the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s Automated Targeting System (ATS). This was obtained through a FOIA/Privacy Act request and sent in by an anonymous reader (thanks!)
If you are interested in seeing what the government knows about you, read this guide.
"Beijing is drawing up plans to prohibit or restrict exports of rare earth metals that are produced only in China and play a vital role in cutting edge technology, from hybrid cars and catalytic converters, to superconductors, and precision-guided weapons. A draft report by China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has called for a total ban on foreign shipments of terbium, dysprosium, yttrium, thulium, and lutetium. Other metals such as neodymium, europium, cerium, and lanthanum will be restricted to a combined export quota of 35,000 tonnes a year, far below global needs."
Insert Civ3 resource joke here.
"The IEEE has finally approved the 802.11n high-throughput wireless LAN standard. Bruce Kraemer, the long-time chairman of the 802.11n Task Group (part of the 802.11 Working Group, which oversees the WLAN standards), has sent out a notification to a listserv for task group members, which includes a wide range of Wi-Fi chip makers, software developers, and equipment vendors. A press release is available now as well. This process began in 2002."
An Oregon congressman has filed legislation to spend $154.5M for a research project into tracking per-vehicle mileage in the US, and asks: "Do we really want the government to track our movement and driving habits on a regular basis?" "US Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) introduced H.R. 3311 earlier this year to appropriate $154,500,000 for research and study into the transition to a per-mile vehicle tax system... Oregon has successfully tested a Vehicle Miles Traveled fee... the [Oregon] report urged a mandate for all drivers to install GPS tracking devices that would report driving habits to roadside RFID scanning devices." Here is the bill (PDF). The article notes that the congressman's major corporate donors would likely benefit with contracts if such a program were begun.
There is an interesting problem of how we should handle road tax. Currently taxes on gasoline pay for roads, that has worked for a while, as the more you use the roads the more you use gas. The problem is vehicles that use less gas for the same mileage. This means that a fuel efficient or electric car isn't paying its fair share of road maintenance. Often people will argue that fuel efficient cars should pay less gas tax since they pollute less. I'm all for a tax on pollution sources that would be used to counter the pollution (as in however much it would cost to sequester the carbon released from burning a gallon of gas is how much the tax on a gallon should be, and what the tax should be used for). However, that is not what the gas tax is for, it's for road maintenance.
A solution often proposed is to move from a gas tax to a mileage tax. So instead of paying per gallon of gas, which in turn should correlate to your mileage, you just directly pay based on your mileage. An obvious way of implementing this would be to check the car's odometer. Virtually every car has an odometer, and they are already difficult to tamper with. However whenever these mileage based taxes are proposed they instead intend to use GPS tracking. The only somewhat legitimate benefits of GPS over odometer mileage monitoring is that GPS could exclude out of state, and private road driving. Note however that the current gas tax does nothing about these uses (and even taxes completly nonroad related uses like lawn mowers). I drive on PA roads every day, yet I've never paid the PA road tax, since I buy my gas in the much cheaper NJ. This isn't really that much a problem, since most driving is done in your home state, and on public roads. To be fair interstate trucking would see trucks being registered to whatever state has the lowest mileage based tax. However trucks already buy their gas in states with cheaper gas, and avoid paying any gas tax in many states. Also since interstate trucking would be mostly on interstate highways you could implement truck only tolls.
The problems with GPS should be fairly obvious. First there's the government tracking issue. Next the fact that no cars currently have the GPS systems (I highly doubt consumer navigation systems would be used). Then there's the fact that GPS requires constant satellite contact, and is very easy to break (tin foil over antenna). Since it is so easy to circumvent I can't imagine governments not doing something to try to prevent this. The best I could come up with would be killing the engine if you don't have a GPS signal for an extended amount of time (over 10 minutes). That'd be fun if there was ever a traffic jam through a tunnel. Lastly how do you handle out of state drivers? Are you not allowed in the state without the GPS system (probably unconstitutional)? Do you just let them use your roads for free? What happens when people register their cars out of state just to avoid your milage tax?
However, I think we should be moving away from a usage based tax at all. I'm always in favor of reducing the number of taxes, as I think it works to hide the true cost of taxes when they are spread over so many different forms. More importantly though, I feel that everyone benefits from roads, even if they personally don't drive. Even someone who lived in a city and biked all the time (for the sake of argument let's pretend they don't bike on public roads), would still benefit from the roads being available. Every good purchased is likely transported over public roads. Not to mention emergency responders being able to quickly reach wherever they need to. The money to maintain roads should just come from the general income tax.
I am however, for GPS tracking in publicly owned vehicles. All data from the GPS as well as various other sources should then be made publicly available automatically (internet being ideal for this). Since the public is paying for the gas and maintenance of these cars it'd be nice to see if they were being driven in a way which is wasteful or stressful at times when it isn't justified. Some delay in the data would be reasonable for certain vehicles (say 24 hours for police cars). Then you could also get a court order to suppress certain vehicle's data for longer (say for prolonged undercover investigations), but eventually it would have to be published. I suppose I could foresee this leading to private security forces contracted by the government, which would be very bad (think Blackwater and the military).
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
President Barack Obama pledged on Monday “to put an end to the idea that some firms are ‘too big to fail.’” Though he outlined some worthy prescriptions, he failed to face up to the very size and power of the financial institutions that makes “too big to fail” possible.
For the big have gotten even bigger since the start of the financial crisis. At the end of 2007, the Big Four banks — Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo — held 32 percent of all deposits in FDIC-insured institutions. As of June 30th, it was 39 percent.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
In celebration of this glorious occation, I've asked Oracal some questions, here's what it had to say:
What kind of car should I buy?
Think about the way you consume gasoline. I'd love to buy the Ford Focus diesel, but they don't sell it in the United States. I was one of the (many) unlucky kids that didn't receive any car; new, used, or hand-me-down. Way to go Mike, eat the earth right. In the Internet age, this is a waste of time and money. Strangely enough, I know somebody with 14 kids, but Im not going to tell you what he drives because I want to hear from you. The new car dealer low balls your trade-in, charges MSRP on your new car purchase, high APR on the auto loan, high profit extras, dealer prep and ad fees, with a huge profit. Get your credit report, how to get a car loan, scams, online car loans, first time car loans, budget & loan excel spreadsheets, credit repair. It applies on accessories too, so educate yourself about how you should deal with accessories before you buy. No one can guarantee you'll make money investing it, and a car is not an investment, so stop obsessing over the loss.
What should I do with my life?
Most places want you to fill in all your information and then they say they'll call you back within 24 hours. I know well what makes a wife happy. I'm at absolute zero as far as life goes. It is surprising that many men do not know the answer to that question or take advantage of the fact the wife is just there. Chirta Bakshi, a relationship counselor adds, "Couples must think only `sex' while performing in bed. [413EFNQDP6L._SL75_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-st,TopRight,8,-14_OU01_]. A group of international experts will meet as early as this September to discuss whether it is time to revise policies that protect Mars from contamination. You may post anonymously - but we reserve the right to remove inappropriate comments at any time.
Is Second Life fun?
Retrospective errata: I later discovered the existence of black-note keyswitching. The final way that I find neat things are by reading some fantastic Second Life blogs. "It was pretty evident for us that 'Second Life' was a terrific environment for kids," said Robin Harper, Linden Lab's senior vice president of community. There is absolutely no pretense or mistake about what this site or product is meant to do, and it fits the playful, circusy attitude (harking back to Flava Flav's theatrics) of those involved well. But how was I do shop without any money? That's when I discovered FREEBIES. Koinup is a virtual world social network that is an awesome place for photography and machinima in Second Life (and other virtual worlds too!). -- you'd be exactly right.
How come there's peacocks in the front yard?
I was mainly worried cuz I didn't want somebody tryin to sue me for some bullshit. now this 2 door, 4 cylinder, grey beast, actually let me rephrase this, as the car was nicknamed "Pierre", but that is a whole different story of its own for another day! Anyway after, many long trips to Glencoe to meet with Sami, I thought it would be time to get a car of my own. Originally posted 27 months ago. As long as they have an ample food supply, the peacocks and peahens aren't likely to pull up stakes, Bogue said. As for goats- bah! Don't get me started!!!. Ironically, many peacock fanciers have only a passing interest in the new varieties that consume Brad's attention. Maybe the angle of the sun was off a bit. So one visit you might see it and not the next 2 or 3. I really didn't mean to wear you out!.
Will Manowar ever tour the US?
It has been very great so far for us. Then comes a surprise, a song that I didn't expect but how I loved it! When Joey first started out with his bass-guitar I thought it would be "Gates of Valhalla" but I realized that it was "Heart of Steel"!. [2004-04-01] Manowar: New (and maybe last) album "The Last March" to be released on June. Nowadays it takes 6 years for one new record. Eric started to sing and then the crowd were singing the rest of the lyrics, it was so awesome! After this song Eric told us about Hell on Earth pt 1, 2 3, and that they were filming this show for HOE pt 4 (!). Now that the first texts from 'The Asgard Saga' have been revealed officially, we will upload the stories in many translations in the next few days. I've been into Metal since `82 and I would like to say that I think I know what I am talking about. The debut of a unique collaboration between MANOWAR and Germany's bestselling fantasy author, Wolfgang Hohlbein.
Friday, September 11, 2009
"Everyone from the forklift driver on up to me, the CEO, knew we had to deliver [to Wal-Mart] on time. Not 10 minutes late. And not 45 minutes early, either," says Robin Prever, who was CEO of Saratoga Beverage Group from 1992 to 2000, and made private-label water sold at Wal-Mart. "The message came through clearly: You have this 30-second delivery window. Either you're there, or you're out. With a customer like that, it changes your organization. For the better. It wakes everybody up. And all our customers benefited. We changed our whole approach to doing business."
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Less-commonly known as the "Soda-Time Conflict". This occurs when a drink which contains ice is ordered at a restaurant. The paradox occurs as the diner would like to drink the soda before the ice melts and leaves the drink tasteless. However, when the diner does drink the soda, s/he is brought another drink from the waiter. S/he then must drink this new drink before the ice melts, but as soon as s/he does the waiter brings another drink.
The paradox ends when the diner's bladder asplode.
While there is proof that this paradox occurs daily, it is yet to be documented how the chain can be broken without bladder asplosion. It is possible that throwing the ice at the waiter would help.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Then-Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft violated the rights of U.S. citizens in the fevered wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by ordering arrests on material witness warrants when the government lacked probable cause, a federal appeals court said in a scathing opinion Friday.
Members of the panel, all appointees of Republican presidents, characterized Ashcroft's detention policy as "repugnant to the Constitution, and a painful reminder of some of the most ignominious chapters of our national history."
There's nothing better than when powerful public figures are held accountable for abuses of power (well except for when they don't commit abuses in the first place, but no point discussing hypotheticals). Now we'll just have to see if this isn't overturned, and he actually loses a case.
Although I have a problem with this:
"Although the ruling denied immunity to Ashcroft, the government would probably be responsible for covering any successful damage claims brought by those found to have been wrongly arrested."
The problem is that forcing the government to pay won't actually punish anyone responsible. When you fine the government they just make it up in taxes, or printing money, neither of which is good for the public. I'd much rather see the top figures in these abuses of power be held personally responsible.
Friday, September 4, 2009
While I don't necessarily agree 100% with Ron Paul on all economic issues (not sold on the gold standard), he's way closer than anyone else in congress.
Parkour is probably the craziest thing I've ever seen. I'm completely amazed that people can really do this stuff. If I was them I'd spend all day committing small crimes to get the cops to chase me, and then just jumping up some 10 foot vertical wall.
My suspicions about government were confirmed early on in my employment. One of my first assignments was to analyze the "need" for commuter airline service subsidies in Arizona. I went into this study with virtually no knowledge of the industry. I was stunned to discover that so little of the cost for the service was paid for by the passengers. The benefit/cost ratio and rate of return for every option under consideration were negative. Upon presenting these findings to AzDOT management, along with my recommendation that the state not get involved in such a venture, I was rebuked. My task, I was informed, was not to ascertain whether tax dollars would be committed to this program, but to advise on how they ought to be dispensed. "The door to the subsidy program is already open," said the division director. "Our job is to shovel the money out."
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Michael and his girlfriend were on the 4th floor of the U-Haul storage facility at 1015 S 12th Street in Philadelphia, PA. They'd hired movers to carry down the contents of their storage room, but they decided to help by carrying smaller items down the stairwell (to leave the elevator free for the professional movers).
Once they stepped through, however, they realized they'd made a huge mistake.
This is why solar sails are so slow. It’s not that light doesn’t have that much energy, it’s that it has so little momentum. If you set a squirrel on a solar sail and shone a laser on the underside, do you know how much power would be required to lift the squirrel? About 1.21 gigawatts.
The battle flows back and forth. Captchas—distorted words that can be interpreted by humans more easily than by machines—tamed spam on craigslist for a while. Then it came back full force, not because the spammers had solved the difficult problem in artificial intelligence but because they had hacked an easier problem in global economics. I recently established a friendly email dialog with a young man in Dhaka, Bangladesh, who works on a 13-person team that creates craigslist spam. He fills in Captchas, creates new accounts with masked IP addresses, and posts ads all day long using text from a database provided by his employer, an anonymous spam king. The going price for a spam post on craigslist is about 50 cents, with large discounts for volume. When I told Buckmaster about my new friend, he took the news calmly. "These are technically sophisticated people who take pride in their work, and when we knock them down they don't just decide to go find something else to do. You could say we are breeding the perfect spammer."
So how many bits are in this instance of H1N1? The raw number of bits, by my count, is 26,022; the actual number of coding bits approximately 25,054 -- I say approximately because the virus does the equivalent of self-modifying code to create two proteins out of a single gene in some places (pretty interesting stuff actually), so it’s hard to say what counts as code and what counts as incidental non-executing NOP sleds that are required for self-modifying code.
So it takes about 25 kilobits -- 3.2 kbytes -- of data to code for a virus that has a non-trivial chance of killing a human. This is more efficient than a computer virus, such as MyDoom, which rings in at around 22 kbytes.
It’s humbling that I could be killed by 3.2 kbytes of genetic data. Then again, with 850 Mbytes of data in my genome, there’s bound to be an exploit or two.
In a series of real-world experiments, people exposed to graffiti, litter and other cues of lawlessness were more likely to commit small crimes, according to a study published today that bolsters the controversial "broken windows" theory of policing.
The idea is that low-level offenses like vandalism and panhandling create an environment that breeds bigger crimes. According to the theory, cops can help head off serious violence by keeping minor infractions in check.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
"Live Science reports that astronomers in search of the perfect site to take pictures of the heavens have combined data from satellites, ground stations and climate models in a study to assess the many factors that affect image quality — cloud cover, temperature, sky-brightness, water vapor, wind speeds and atmospheric turbulence. They have pinpointed the coldest, driest, calmest place on earth, known simply as Ridge A, 13,297 feet high on the Antarctic Plateau. 'It's so calm that there's almost no wind or weather there at all,' says study leader Will Saunders, of the Anglo-Australian Observatory. 'The astronomical images taken at Ridge A should be at least three times sharper than at the best sites currently used by astronomers.' Located within the Australian Antarctic Territory, the site is 89 miles from the PLATO (PLATeau Observatory) international robotic observatory. The new site would be superior to the best existing observatories on high mountain tops in Hawaii and Chile, Saunders says. 'Because the sky there is so much darker and drier, it means that a modestly-sized telescope would be as powerful as the largest telescopes anywhere else on earth.'"
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
New Hampshire and a Massachusetts Eagle Scout who needed to be rescued from Mount Washington are negotiating the size of his fine, which the state initially set at $25,000.