Archive for the ‘news’ Category

Not a Financial Crisis

Sunday, 3 October 2010

The self-styled SD Planning Committee, formed to fight cuts to state funding of education, health care, and social services, has posted flyers that declare

We face not a financial crisis, but a crisis of priorities,

I don't know why they end that with a comma, as it's followed by a sentence in which it cannot participate. In any case, it's a somewhat puffed-up way of saying that

There's plenty of money for the budget; it's just not being spent well.

Interesting concept, there, that there could be plenty of money in a budget, but that the money is not being well spent. They just might try applying that same concept to just those portions of the budget that are allocated to education, to health care, and to social services. Perhaps, even after cuts, there would be plenty of money, if only it were spent well. And perhaps even if funding to these programmes were increased to the greatest possible levels, it would be spent badly.

Okay, so there's no perhaps to it; that's just how it would be.

On the other hand, I have to grimace when I hear or read of linking teacher pay to performance.

I understand the desire to pay teachers based upon the quality of their teaching. And, outside of the teachers' unions, almost everyone understands that it's not a good thing to link teacher pay primarily (let alone directly) to years of service. But I'm pretty sure that real-world attempts to link teacher pay to ostensible measures of performance are going to increase

  • disincentives for teachers to accept jobs working with less able students,
  • incentives for teachers to teach to the tests by which student achievement is purportedly measured,
  • student time tied-up in taking those d_mn'd tests, which themselves teach nothing to students beyond test-taking skills.

A profoundly different model of education is needed to get something that will work.

A part of that model would be to use markets to price teaching, recognizing (amongst other things) that different teaching contexts correspond to different markets.

Unfortunately, another part of that model is for parents to accept a significantly greater degree of responsibility for ensuring that their children are properly educated. The vast majority of parents seem willing to pass the buck to state-funded schools, regardless of their performance. It isn't sufficient to say Hey, I sent my kid to school! The school dropped the ball, not me!

A Sandwich Is Not Just a Cigar

Sunday, 3 October 2010

The local Chick-fil-A is advertising that 14 October will be Mother/Son Date Night. Λαιος will be unable to attend, anyway.


Friday, 10 September 2010

It used to be claimed that the reason that so many Japanese lived to great age was distinctive diet and filial respect.

I'm not sure of the extent to which what the Japanese eat can account for the fact that, now, over 230,000 Japanese reported to be a hundred or more years old have gone missing, but filial attitudes seem to have played a rôle of some sort.

You'll find it on eBay!

Monday, 5 July 2010
Man fined over fake eBay auctions by Dan Whitworth of the BBC

eBay spokesperson Vanessa Canzenni denies that not enough is being done to prevent [shill-bidding].


[eBay user Rezza Faizee, having noted that shill-bidding were a significant problem, said] I honestly don't know what you can do to tackle the problem, I honestly don't.

Catching shill-bidders on eBay used to be one of my hobbies. I would regularly stumble-upon suspicious confluences, start examining auction and bidder histories, and from them often assemble proof that there had been shill-bidding, which proof I would then send to eBay and to the victims. I'm sure that I wasn't the only person engaging in this sort of detection.

But eBay began choking-off the data available to us. With decreasing information, it became ever harder to make the case. It became impossible even to see some of the confluences that would have triggered suspicion in the first place.

For an honest auction firm, there may be an optimal amount of shill-bidding to allow, simply because of enforcement costs. (A perfectly secure trading environment would be prohibitively expensive.) But for a dishonest firm the question is of balancing the gain that otherwise comes from allowing ending prices (and hence fees) to be thus increased, against the alienation of users who consequently reduce their spending. Access to information which both empowers volunteers to catch shill-bidders and alerts users more generally to the occurrence of shill-bidding is, as such, not in the perceived interest of a dishonest firm.

BTW, the changes that reduced our abilities to spot shill-bidders, and which made it more typically impossible for us to prove a case of shill-bidding (as well as other changes that enabled eBay to be more easily used by thieves) were primarily effected while Margaret Cushing (Meg) Whitman, now the Republican Party nominee for governor of California, was eBay's President and CEO.

Further Exploits

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Craig Yoe's book, Secret Identity, revealed that Joe Shuster, the original artist and co-creätor of Superman, had during a low point in his life provided illustrations for a sado-masochistic series, Nights of Horror, and for three one-shot sado-masochistic fantasies, Rod Rule, Hollywood Detective, and Continental. I am therefore surprised that no one seems to have reported on the artist for House of Tears, by Harold Kane.

[cover of House of Tears; man on all fours, before woman in dominatrix outfit]
[source image for cover of House of Tears; man on all fours, before woman in dominatrix outfit][image of legs of woman in high-heeled boots in foreground, man on all fours in background]
[image of man kneeling before woman in dominatrix outfit with whip][image of hog-tied man]
[image of woman in dominatrix outfit with whip, straddling woman in heels and skirt on all fours, with buttock exposed][image of man gagged and bound in kneeling position]
[image of bound and ball-gagged standing woman in lingerie and heels][image of woman in maid's outfit, bound in kneeling position]
I found those illustrations on the WWWeb this morning. In some cases, they were creditted to Harold Kane; in others they were not creditted at all. A search of Google for pages containing both Harold Kane or House of Tears and Shuster or Schuster produced only false positives.

I don't know whether House of Tears had further illustrations. But, in any event, it seems that Shuster's underground oeuvre is larger than previously recognized.

And He'd Know Better if He Needed One

Sunday, 23 May 2010
D.C. to begin using more-expensive Trojan condoms in HIV prevention program by Tim Craig of the Washington Post, 21 May 2010
[…] D.C. officials have decided to stock up on Trojan condoms, including the company's super-size Magnum variety […]

(Underscore mine.) Actually, the Magnum® variety is not super-sized. It is not much different in size from various other condoms. It is simply marketed in a manner that yields an impression of being super-sized to those who don't actually check the facts — such as journalists. An ordinary-sized Trojan condom is 52mm wide and 200mm long; the Magnum® is 54mm wide at the base, widening to 60mm at the head, and 205mm long. (The Magnum® XL differs in that it widens to 65mm at the head.)

(The Durex® Avanti™, on the other hand, has a width of 64mm along its length. It is, however, only 180mm long, which might be of concern if the condom is being used to prevent the transmission of disease and the anatomies of the sexual partners allow penetration to a greater depth.)

When the subject of condom size is raised, many women and various men with small penes make the point that condoms stretch, so that a regular-size condom can be put on a larger penis. Indeed, but elastic substances produce greater counter-force when stretched farther. The fact that someone might be able to fit a spring around his-or-her cranium (as occasionally condoms are stretched around heads for one reason or another) doesn't mean that one can comfortably wear that spring around one's penis. So larger condoms are quite appropriate for some men.

But, with the Magnum®, Trojan is selling a mere 0.08in in additional width, just 0.2in in extra length, and fantasy.

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day Is Here!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

To-day, 20 May, is Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. I'm quite disappointed that its founder has retreated; I could not have withdrawn in good conscience, even though my contribution demonstrates that I am pretty poor at working in charcoal: [drawing of the head of a bearded man of Mediterranean stock]

Some people have chosen to draw caricatures, but my objective was simply to violate a grossly illegitimate prohibition. As such, I sought to draw Mohammed. If the death threats become more narrowly focussed on those who creäte caricatures, then I will creäte a caricature.

The US Constitution and the National Debt

Monday, 10 May 2010

The Confederate States of America went into debt to finance their war of secession. After the war some of their creditors wanted that debt repaid. The United States, on the other hand didn't want them to recover any of their investment, for the obvious reasons. In response to the insistence that this debt not be paid, sympathizers of the Confederacy suggested that, likewise, the debt of the Union should not be paid, for the obvious reasons. Additionally, it was argued that the emancipation of slaves was a taking of private property, so that, under the Fifth Amendment, former slave-owners were owed just compensation.

The North reminded the South who was making the rules, and included the following as section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment:

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
(Underscores mine.)

There's probably someone out there somewhere, even now, insisting that the debts of the Confederacy should be repaid, or that descendants of slave-holders are owed reparations, but those issues no longer have much currency, nor can they be expected to recover currency.

On the other hand, when addressing the debts of the United States, that Amendment included but did not limit itself to those debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion. What remain potentially relevant, then, are the underscored words:

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, […] shall not be questioned.
The national debts of the United States cannot Constitutionally be repudiated, without further Amendment. Under the Constitution, they have to be serviced; and, when they come due, they have to be paid.

Present levels of deficit spending are widely seen as unsustainable, and the United States Treasury has begun to pay discernible risk premia, which is to say that a significant part of the market expects that the United States might default. So one question is of how a default might be effected.

In theory, an Amendment could quickly be ratified to permit default, though a significant share of the national debt remains domestically held, which would tend to brake the passage of such an Amendment. Of course, the beginning of the process of amendment would drastically erode confidence in the debt, so that the risk premia would grow dramatically, and the Treasury might find itself almost immediately unable to pay bills, and might remain unable to do so until the Amendment were ratified and restructuring negotiations were completed.

A more likely process would be a Declaration of Emergency, under which the Constitution were suspended, as the federal state worked-out what it could expropriate from whom. (The Constitution makes absolutely no provisions for such emergency suspensions, but we've had a long history of our rulers claiming the power to effect them,[1] and of courts doing little to check such actions.) Again, the United States might be unable to borrow money, but the process of partial repudiation could immediately be brought forward.

Or it might be that the debt were restructured without the consent of creditors. Such a restructuring would, in fact, be a partial repudiation, but lawyers and judges have long proved adept at making distinctions where there are no differences.

[1] With one exception, during each war since the adoption of the Constitution, the President has suspended provisions of the Constitution. That one exception was Madison, who had been the principal author both of the Constitution and of the Bill of Rights.


Monday, 10 May 2010

Frank Frazetta
9 February 1928 – 10 May 2010
Requiescat in pace.

The Colossus Grows Old

Friday, 30 April 2010

It's easy to state the position of most Republicans on the issue of immigration:

  • They want the vast majority of unauthorized immigrants to go or be sent out of the country (presumably back to their home countries).
  • Thereäfter, they want future entry to be determined by some notion of the general interests of those who are already citizens.

It is harder to state plainly what practical policies most Democrats want.

As a practical matter, open borders cannot be reconciled with access to state subsidies of services such as education and health-care, let alone to a more general dole; there simply isn't and wouldn't be enough wealth within the United States. One possible resolution is to allow anyone entry, but to deny entrants any state subsidies; they or private charity would have to pay for everything. This resolution would not satisfy those who have further objections to immigration, but it is in any case a non-starter; when constituent states have tried to limit unauthorized immigrants to emergency services, the mainstream of left-wing activists has denounced the restrictions as racist violations of fundamental human rights, and courts have sided with those activists.

A large number of Mexican-Americans would like other Mexicans to be able to come here fairly freely; fewer would extend such welcome to the entirety of Latin America, and far fewer Hispanic-Americans would embrace such freedom for Asians and for Africans. I doubt that most Hispanic-Americans would appreciate a wave of Eastern Europeans.

(By giving preference to those who already have family members in the United States, present immigration law is designed to mollify both the my people but not those people crowd and those who don't want to compete against immigrant workers. It is much easier to get admittance for a grandmother as such than for an engineer as such.)

Many activists would like an amnesty for those presently in the United States in violation of immigration law. Opponents note that an amnesty now would raise hopes for another later, increasing the incentives for unauthorized immigration; and there is an obvious question of how (if at all) to compensate those who queued legally while recipients of the amnesty entered without authorization. Some critics insist that there would be a significant increase in other sorts of law-breaking, should punishment be waived for unauthorized entry. And, in the absence of an over-haul of entitlement programmes, any amnesty would significantly increase access to state subsidies, in an era where some constituent states are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, the Federal government is running unsustainable deficits, and a majority of Americans already believe themselves to be over-taxed. Little-if-any response to these objections has come from the Democratic coälition; indeed, many activists on the left explicitly assert a need to give unauthorized immigrants greater access to entitlement programmes.

The President's style of leadership concerning major issues has been to propose rather vague and general objectives, then leave it to the Democratic Congressional leadership to actually formulate practical proposals. He's been pressed to do more than hand-waving on immigration, but he has nothing to say. His supporters cannot hold together and be honest with each other. Many of them cannot even be honest with themselves. And they cannot be honest with the rest of America. Small wonder, then, that the President flinched. (Yet I admit to being momentarily taken-aback when I read what he had said.)

(My own position isn't at all popular either, but it is consistent and I can be honest about it. It's the aforementioned non-starter. I believe that anyone who is not shown to be a criminal should be permitted entry to the United States, but should be denied all net state-subsidies. I'd run an electrolytic current through the Colossus, so that she shined like a new penny.)