Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ordered Liberty, State Religions and the Pedagogical Aspects of Law

Both libertarians and (American) conservatives find considerable value in social constructs outside government to encourage and enforce social goals through social means. Conservatives call limited government plus a large number of groups like churches, professional societies, charities, open source initiatives and so on, working generally together, but often at cross purposes, "ordered liberty". Libertarians like "ordered liberty" also, but with less order and more liberty.

Tribal leaders, feudalists, certain kinds of monarchists (examples are German but not British, in my opinion), progressives, socialists, fascists and Marxists tend to make all those social groups part of the government. This difference is particularly noticeable with regard to religion. Tribal leaders, feudal leaders, monarchs and Marxists tend to regard people outside the state religion as disloyal. (Actually, I just realized, so do American progressives, whose religion is progressivism.)

Conservatives are more likely than libertarians to embrace the pedagogical aspects of law. This conservative would prefer that more crimes be dealt with by parking ticket style fines. For example I would have relatively small fines (max $100) for using drugs but none for selling drugs (except to minors). I would have fairly large fines for engaging a prostitute ($500 to $1000) but none for prostituting itself (except to minors). I would have similar fines for adultery, including for married same sex couples. I'm a big fan of alienation of affection lawsuits (i.e. sue the home wrecker). This preserves the pedagogical aspects of law while minimizing many of the horrible side effects of throwing people in jail. Someone less conservative and more libertarian than I would skip both the fines and the law in the cases I mentioned.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Did You Know That Part Of The League Of Women Voters Is A 501 (c)(3)?

Many Tea Party organizations were trying to organize as social welfare non-profit organization, or 501 (c)(3) organizations, like the Sierra Club Foundation.
Gifts made directly to The Sierra Club Foundation are tax-deductible and provide funding for the charitable activities of the Sierra Club. Those activities include research, public education on environmental issues, publications, presentation of testimony before administrative and regulatory agencies, environmental litigation, and volunteer training. The Sierra Club Foundation was established on July 13, 1960 as the sole source of tax-deductible support to the Sierra Club.
Some these Tea Party organizations wanted to teach history, for example. According to the I.R.S. social welfare organizations are allowed to spend up to half their time and money on political activity. That makes sense, since our absolutely huge government has it's very large nose in every aspect of our social welfare. It would be impossible for them to be apolitical.

Did You Know That Part Of The League Of Women Voters Is A 501 (c)(3)? It's their education fund.
The League of Women Voters Education Fund (LWVEF) is a 501 (c)(3) citizen education and research organization. Established in 1957, the Education Fund provides research, publications and forums on public policy issues and disseminates information and training that helps citizens be thoughtfully engaged in the democratic process.
In communities across the nation, Leagues are well known for providing voters with factual, nonpartisan information on candidates and ballot issues. State and local Leagues are also known for hosting citizen educational forums on critical public policy issues of the day.
In short, the League is well recognized for its ability to make complex and controversial issues accessible to the nonexpert citizen in a balanced manner, for its ability to gather citizens with diverse views, and for its expertise as a trainer of community leaders and activists.
The I.R.S. has had no problems with the League of Women Voters Education Fund being a 501 (c)(3) since 1957. Look at that list of activities. Would you describe it as apolitical?

The I.R.S. was and is harassing the Tea Party illegally, immorally and unethically. It's plain.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

I Knew Obama And Reid Were Corrupt - I Had No Idea It Was This Bad

President Obama and Senator Harry Reid claim that they can't work with the Republican House. I knew that the House had passed bills which helped Obama extend the Obamacare deadlines, but I thought there must be some provision in the bills that Obama could object to. Then I found the bill linked below, which the Republicans passed in July. I read it. It has to be one of the simplest bills I have ever read. All it does is change dates to extend deadlines. That's all. There isn't one poison pill. There isn't one change to the substance of Obamacare. Zero. Zilch. Nada. So why is Reid sitting on it? Why are Obama and Reid lying about the Republicans? Clearly, they can work with the Republicans in the House. They just don't want to.

Bill Text - 113th Congress (2013-2014) - THOMAS (Library of Congress)

Friday, February 28, 2014

Do Your Difficult Duty, Please, Democrats, For Obama's Sake

I am alarmed by Professor Jonathan Turley's comments about the President's behavior. He is an Obama supporter, yet he believes we are at a tipping point which will change our system in "a very fundamental way".

When Nixon stopped following the Constitution, Republicans eventually did their duty and took him out of office, forcing him to resign. The Democrats could not do it alone.

We need Democrats willing to do their difficult duty and take Obama out of office. If they make this clear enough to Obama, I hope he will change his behavior and not have to resign or be impeached. It's time for Democrats to start doing this, for the country, and for Obama. Sasha, Malia, Michelle and the President himself deserve this help - from all of us.

Monday, February 24, 2014

It Is Not Natural For Judges To Prioritize Protecting Your Rights

Judges will violate your rights when they think they can get away with it. Not just gun rights either. Judges respond to incentives, too, and there isn't too much keeping them accountable. It is good that our judges are generally decent folks, isn't it? That almost certainly includes the one described at this link. I'm sure he thought he was doing the best thing.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Truman beats Schlesinger plus Galbraith Any Day

And twice on Tuesdays: The failure of Obama's aristocracy of merit

Three key paragraphs:
He recounts the derision of historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and economist John Kenneth Galbraith — Cambridge neighbors after the war — for Harry Truman, the onetime haberdasher and member of veterans' groups and service clubs.
They failed to note that Truman was a serious reader of history and had, in supposedly backward Independence, Mo., studied piano under a teacher who had studied under Ignacy Paderewski.
The supposedly mindless 1950s, Siegel recalls, were actually a time of elevated culture, with thousands of Great Books discussion groups across the nation and high TV ratings for programs like Shakespeare’s Richard III, staring Laurence Olivier.
As they say, read the whole thing. Also, 99 and 44 / 100ths percent of H.L. Menken is crap, including his comment that 90 percent of everything is crap.

Hat tip, Ed Driscoll, Kirsten Powers Meets Krauthammer’s Law.

Update: It was Ted Sturgeon's comment that 90 percent of everything is crap, not H.L. Menken's comment. It still sounds like something Menken would say, though.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Word Study of 'Standard' For Christians, Creationists And Evolutionists

Some evolutionists, at least one a Christian, and some creationists, who all seemed to be Christians, were discussing whether species could evolve. One argument tried to provide a standard definition. I maintain that Christian was carefully not making the logical fallacy of arguing from authority, which leads to this word study. Christians and lawyers like authority. If God says it you can take it to the bank. If the U.S. Code says that the definition of the militia is as follows, that's the legal definition:

The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.

This is why that Christian sought a standard definition. Good idea! Arguing from a standard definition is not arguing from authority.

But he did not provide one. I work in IT and we use standard definitions all the time. HTML 5 has a standard, for example. Woah betide the builder who does not follow the Code! But standard definitions are created by standards bodies. Biology has standards bodies which have created standards on various substances. But no standards body has defined a species.

By the way, in Acts 15 there is a story of a standards body meeting.  It was known as the Council of Jerusalem. The authorities in the standards body were apostles and elders, who have real authority according to the Bible. It did what such bodies do, discussing until they reached a conclusion. Then it wrote a standards document, defining the rules that Gentile Christians were to follow. Also, like many standards bodies, it refered to an older standard, pulling those rules straight from the Old Testament.

In addtion, we owe the Bible canon to a standards body which met in A.D. 363, the Council of Laodicea. Later standards bodies, the Council of Hippo in A.D. 393 and the Council of Carthage in A.D. 397 confirmed that standard.

For Christians, it is important to note that the Holy Spirit attended these standards body meetings, and determined the results. :)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Why Everyone Should Have a Love But Mostly Hate Relationship With Renewable Energy

Teaser: Everyone should have a mostly love relationship with extra-terrestrial solar energy. ET's parents, phone Earth!

I want to say at the start that I want renewable energy and all the other alternative energy sources to completely replace fossil fuels, making a cleaner, better world. See the love? However, the universe is not interested in what I want.

Lots of people advocate for renewable energy, like solar, wind, biomass and geothermal for very good reasons. However, if these things worked well now we would already be doing them on a much larger scale. Energy companies are eager to embrace renewables. They, better than anyone, know that their fossil fuel leases are going to run out of fossil fuels, so they want a replacement. They know they are good at making money with energy and they are on board. There is more than one reason T. Boone Pickens, an oil guy, has put up so many windmills.

T. Boone Pickens may love renewables. I have a love but mostly hate relationship with them, because they are so difficult. You don't need to be good at physics to know that renewables are very difficult, although it helps. One easy way to tell they are difficult is that they are expensive. This is also a good way to notice that they have a large ecological impact. Generally speaking, spending a dollar is ecologically equivalent to burning a dollars worth of coal. Money means effort. Effort means people using machines and chemicals. And people using machines and chemicals means ecological impact. So remember, if it is expensive, it is almost certainly bad for the planet. If solar power costs more than coal power, it probably is worse for the environment than coal power. I can't stress this enough. Be very, very careful about expensive solutions if you want to be kind to Mother Earth.

Wind and solar are too diffuse and too unreliable for use in the electric grid. That is engineering, which I studied some, although I am not expert in any way. Wind is particularly unreliable. Because of periodic huge, nearly continent size weather systems, very large areas can be without solar or wind for up to a week. We do not have good high capacity long distance electricity transmission systems to cover this, not to mention that if the U.S. has no solar because of a big weather system, Mexico and Canada have to have enough extra capacity to send it to us. Oi! Do you really think Mexico and Canada want to pay for enough extra capacity to handle 400 million Americans without power? Long distance transmission of electricity is not close to 100% efficient. So are we going to pay for more than double the generating capacity ourselves? Will Mexico and Canada allow us to build that much solar and wind power on their land for our use? Where exactly are we going to get this huge amount of money? Who will pay for it? Rich people do not have this much money, sorry. That means that middle class people and poor people will pay for it. I think poor people deserve better than that, myself.

Right now the only ways to fix that are storage or duplicate fossil fuel based generating capacity here (which is T. Boone Pickens's biggest reason), and both are far too expensive. If you do the math the current storage technology for our current need means that the environmental impact of going completely solar and wind is stunningly awful. We used almost four trillion kilowatt hours of electricity in the U.S. in 2009. Those really, really big numbers are essentially impossible for current solar and wind technology to deal with. We are talking about covering huge amounts of land with water for pumped storage as an example. Where do we get the water in an ecologically responsible way, not to mention the land?  Trying to store seven days in a big batteries doesn't work either. I strongly suspect solar and wind are a complete and total dead end not just from an economic perspective, but also from an ecological one. (And I have not even mentioned the large number of dead bats (600,000 a year) and birds some wind and solar technologies cause. Much, much worse than Silent Spring. We could use some research prizes on preventing these animal deaths.)

One weird thing Stanford found about wind power was this: "Ideally, the energetic cost of curtailing a resource should at least equal the amount of energy it cost to store it. That's the case for photovoltaics, but for wind farms, the energetic cost of curtailment is much lower than for battery storage. Therefore, it would actually be more energetically efficient to shut down a wind turbine than to store the surplus electricity it generates."

That's really bad news for wind.

Frankly, I don't think terrestrial solar and wind research is even worth prize money to improve. It's just too difficult.

Extra-terrestrial solar, i.e., solar satellites, would work at scale though. We just don't know how to do it yet. And the problems we need to solve generally have nothing in common with problems we need to solve to make solar power work at scale on the surface of the earth. We need a way to build/put big enough solar satellites up there and we need a way to safely and reliably transport the power down here. Not trivial problems, but not insurmountable scaling problems. We should be creating research prizes to create solar satellites. Teaser complete.

Biomass is at least reliable, and it requires no storage of electricity. However, you still have to burn it at present, making it little better than fossil fuels from an ecological standpoint. It does have the significant advantage that it takes out nearly as much carbon dioxide from the air as it puts in. It has the second advantage over wind, solar and geothermal that we can more easily use it for transportation. But the acreage you have to plant and the water, fertilizer and pesticides you need to create four trillion kilowatt hours of electricity, not to mention the seven billion barrels of oil (for transportation) is quite large. Not to mention we better use the whole plant, or we will be generating lots of waste. Half a billion tons of waste for ethanol, by one estimate. See below. Congratulations, you just tripled our amount of solid waste. (We generate a quarter of a billion tons of waste a year.) The energy density of our fossil fuels is pretty high. The number of acres devoted to fossil fuel is low compared to what we need for biomass. Near term, if we could make it affordable, biomass might be work at scale, but those are some very, very large, very, very bad ecological impacts.

It's not close to affordable yet.  We should be creating research prizes for biomass to make it affordable and to keep it's ecological impact under control.

Geothermal, on the other hand, has truly wonderful energy density and reliability. But it is extraordinarily difficult technically. There is real hope for geothermal at scale, in the form of core taps. It really could provide trillions of kilowatt hours of energy in an ecologically responsible way. We should be creating research prizes for core taps like crazy.

Steven Den Beste's old U.S.S. Clueless blog has a lot of long detailed posts on this. He is an incredibly smart and talented engineer. Not to be taken lightly.

My favorite post starts out discussing why bio-diesel, although nice, does not work at scale. It's my favorite because he mentions four technologies that would work at scale if we had them: core taps, solar satellites, nuclear fusion (not fission!) and direct conversion of mass to energy. Prizes for nuclear fusion and direct conversion of mass to energy are also a great idea. I know, they aren't renewable, but neither are solar, wind and geothermal, over time. The thing is, if we have direct conversion of mass to energy, we can probably get asteroids to burn any time we want.

Here is a good overview of the problem. The following quote is key:
In that last article, I gave this list of five properties any proposed alternative energy source must have if it is to make any real difference.
1. It has to be huge (in terms of both energy and power)
2. It has to be reliable (not intermittent or unschedulable)
3. It has to be concentrated (not diffuse)
4. It has to be possible to utilize it efficiently
5. The capital investment and operating cost to utilize it has to be comparable to existing energy sources (per gigawatt, and per gigajoule).
This post discusses problems of scale which are, generally speaking problems of large numbers. People are really, really, really bad about reasoning about large numbers. I am really, really, really bad at it, although I can occasionally do it if I work at it. Are you good at it? Odds are, no, but please prove me wrong! I love reading people who are good at it.  Steven is much better than nearly everyone. Do not underestimate how absolutely easy it is to wishfully think about large numbers.

This post explains how difficult it is for everyone to produce small amounts of electricity and feed it into the grid. Shorter version: If you don't balance the power generated with the power consumed all hell breaks loose.

This post discusses why conservation won't solve the problem.

Here is a big review of alternate energy sources.

Here is a discussion of why biomass won't solve the problem.

This post explains why ethanol as a form of Carbon Sequestration won't help us. Here is a key quote, giving an excellent example of creating new and horrible forms of ecological disaster by trying bad ecological ideas:
There is no possible way we can bury a half a billion tonnes of compost every year. There's nowhere to put it, and the long term effects (on things like groundwater, for example) would be horrendous. This is a waste disposal problem to dwarf the amount of garbage that all our cities create. (Note that it would have to be buried near where it was grown; if you have to transport it long distances, you'll more than use up all the fuel you thought you were gaining by producing ethanol in the first place.)
Steven Den Beste also has a post on his new blog from 2008 on this. Warning: His new blog features images which are decidedly Not Safe For Work. But the content on this subject is stellar, so, if you can tolerate the images click this to read it. Below is a long quote.
The problems facing "alternate energy" are fundamental, deep, and are show-stoppers. They are not things that will be surmounted by one lone incremental improvement in one small area, announced breathlessly by a startup which is trying to drum up funding.
The way you can tell that a fan of "alternate energy" is a religious cultist is to ask them this question: If your preferred alternate source of energy is practical, why isn't it already in use?
Why not? Because of The Conspiracy™. The big oil companies don't want it to happen, and have been suppressing all this live-saving green people's energy all this time for their own nefarious purposes.
As soon as you hear any reference to The Conspiracy™, you know you're talking to someone who is living in a morality play. That isn't engineering any more, that's religion. And while religion is an important part of many people's lives, it has no place in engineering discussions.
UPDATE: There's actually another common answer to the "Why not" question. It's because you engineers are just too hidebound and conservative and unimaginative. If you'd just get on board and recognize how utterly cool and romantic these other ways of producing energy would be, then you could wave your magic engineering wand and make it happen. 
That's another kind of religion. It's not a religious struggle against evil (as personified by Big Oil) so much as a religious image of paradise. If the adherents of this kind of religion can just convert enough doubters, then paradise can happen. If you just believe, we can all be saved! Hallelujah, baby! Praise Gaia and pass the biodiesel!
Thanks, but no thanks. My "conservatism" on this subject is due to my understanding of the laws of physics and the principles of engineering, not to me being hidebound and unimaginative.
No one who has read Steven would consider him hidebound, conservative and unimaginative. He worked on developing CDMA technology back in the day. You cannot do that if you are hidebound, conservative and unimaginative.

This is the Facebook comment thread that started me thinking.