I talk about things I find interesting. I find a lot of things interesting…

Ain’t Going to the House

by Ken Arnold on Fri 18 March 2016

Teddy Roosevelt as a Bull Moose

The House of Representatives will not pick the next president. This idea is making the rounds because various fools some are being foolish. And ignorant. But the hyperventilating has got some folks worried. Do not worry about it. This will not actually happen.

The idea (in short) is this: The Republican establishment backs a third-party against Trump and splits the vote so much that the election ends up in the House. Yeah…

How does that happen? Well, the Republican establishment hates Trump. And Trump winning is a hundred times worse for the them than him getting the nomination. So they back a different Republican as a third-party candidate against both Trump and Clinton in November. Let’s call them Candidate X. This X splits the Republican voters in the November election, ensuring that Trump doesn’t win.

So far so boring, this is clearly something they are seriously considering.

But where the fools go off the rails is that a moderate Republican Candidate X might also split the Democratic vote, making them lose some states. And then nobody might get a majority of votes in the electoral college. And then the House will pick the winner.

Where to start?

First, there are no moderate Republicans of presidential stature (national name recognition, high credibility, etc.) Seriously. Name one.

There’s a reason Michael Bloomberg is an independent. The Republicans these days eat moderates for breakfast and burp up the bones. Anyone who was moderate has either changed, left, or found a foxhole in which to hide. The most liberal Republican in congress is to the right of the most conservative Democrat.

So this means they’d have to back an independent. I don’t put that past them, but now name that independent. Bloomberg is out because he ain’t no fool. Angus King (Senator from Maine)? Seems nice I suppose, but who’s heard of him? And he probably ain’t no fool neither. They’d have to find an independent who wanted to step into this firefight with no chance of winning. Because no third-party candidate has even come close since Teddy Roosevelt, and he was a popular ex-President.

Now let’s pretend they reanimate Teddy, or through other magic find someone to pose a threat.

How are they going to find an entirely new kind of Dem voter?

As November nears, every person who can’t decide between X and the Dem voter has the following stark choice: A vote that isn’t for the Dem is for Trump. This is how the choice gets made. Ross Perot looks good for a while, and then you start to think: “Perot won’t really win, so it will come down to the other two, who do I want?” It happened every other time, and this time is no different.

They will not suddenly develop a belief that, if we all clap our hands, magic will happen. In this polarized politic, with all the crap flying and the Trump bullet in the Russian Roulette chamber of the election gun, why would people who lean Democratic decide to take a chance?

They will vote against Trump.

The Republican Establishment may very well run a candidate. But they won’t threaten anyone but Trump. They probably won’t even threaten Trump much (see above: Who would ride that horse?), though they might weaken him enough to ensure his loss.

But this ain’t going to the House.

[Bull Moose Image]

Obama’s Predictably Weak Pick

by Ken Arnold on Thu 17 March 2016

The Honorable Merrick B. Garland

You would think after more than seven years of non-stop rejection and hostility from Republicans, Obama would have realized that his reasonableness and willingness to compromise are noble but pointless. I really thought he had finally learned the lesson. But he went back to old, weak form with his pick for the Supreme Court.

I have very little bad to say about Merrick Garland. He’s a moderately liberal judge, as far as I can read it. But I want have someone stronger and more helpful with the diversity of a terribly un-diverse Supreme Court. And I think Obama does too, yet feels this is his best play. He’s wrong on all counts.

If you follow this choice along all the likely results, it pretty much looses everywhere.

First, let’s look at what happens before the election. The best possible result is that the Senate, seeing that this is the best nominee they’re likely to get from any Democrat, and given all the grief about vowing to avoid hearings, changes course and confirms him. Nice thought, but that was gone in seconds. They instantly repledged to hold no hearings. Having done so, they really cannot change their minds without offending their base.

Ergo, it’s obstruction up through the election. This is their pledged course, and they will keep that pledge. And it was by far the most likely outcome.

So the only question remains: What price will they pay for it? The Republican base will be happy. The centrist-loving mainstream media will say some bad things, but the news will quickly fade as other new news comes along. A few Good-Government types will be pissed off, but there aren’t many people who would vote against their political beliefs to punish anyone for this.

The only possible price to be paid would have been invigorating Democratic voters. And this is not an invigorating nominee. Had he picked anyone who could be seen as being shafted because of their race, gender, religion, or nationality, that could energize people who care about that kind of discrimination. But Obama didn’t give us that kind of nominee. So no invigoration will happen.

To sum up: Having failed to produce an immediate change of tactics by the Republicans, this nomination will fade into obscurity and motivate no great payback.

That makes Garland a bad choice. And it was very predictable. There was, in fact, no reason to believe this nominee could have created any other outcome.

You may think we’re done here, but we most certainly are not. There are two more interesting periods of time after the election!

After the election, the existing Senate remains in power for almost two months. This is when the whole thing really gets bad. Because this nomination gives the Republicans options they’ll like.

If the Democrats win the Presidency, the existing Senate can use its last few weeks to confirm Garland. This prevents the next president from nominating someone more liberal and either getting them confirmed (if the Democrats take the next Senate) or at the very least providing a club with which to beat up the next Senate (if the Republicans do).

In other words, Garland then becomes a way to thwart the will of the next, winning Democratic president by ensuring that Scalia is at least replaced by about the best nominee for Republicans that a Democrat will make. Whether they do is entirely up to the existing Republican Senate.

But now, there is a final period of time that matters. For a few weeks in January, the new Senate will be seated under Obama, awaiting the new President’s inauguration. That Senate could also choose to confirm. If that new Senate is Democratic but the new President will be Republican, the Democrats can confirm Garland, which will be better than awaiting a Republican nominee. But they could do that for any Obama nominee, not just a moderate one. So the moderate nominee, once again, does not help make better things happen.

In sum, there are no circumstances in which Garland plays a positive role in making a better Supreme Court or helping the Democrats take the Senate or Presidency.

This is why it was a bad nomination. We don’t know for sure that a strong liberal candidate with an energizable constituency would make a difference, but it easily could. But we know that a dull nominee that won’t get confirmed unless that thwarts a more liberal nominee. And that makes it a bad move.

I have no idea what Obama thinks he’s accomplishing. Maybe there’s some clever agreement that involves Garland withdrawing at some critical point to allow Obama to nominate someone more useful to the election, having proved that the Republicans are outrageously unreasonable. That might work, but I don’t see anything in Garland’s past to indicate he’d be party to such a game.

I think it’s much more likely that Obama tried one (hopefully last) time to gather allies by being reasonable and responsible. Considering the inevitable response of the Republicans, this kind of “reasonable and responsible” play is unreasonable (history having proved it futile) and irresponsible (it gives up something valuable for nothing or worse than nothing).

I have a lot of respect for Obama. But I just wish he’d learn this lesson.

Happy Birthday to all of us

by Ken Arnold on Thu 8 October 2015

Copyright law is far too grasping. In theory it assumes that people need to feel they will get paid for the work through 90 or so years after they die to make it worth their while to create it. In reality this is all keyed on Mickey Mouse, but that is the motivating fiction.

But what’s even worse is that people with the right lawyers get to harass people into paying royalties on things they have the flimsiest pretense to have copyright to. “Happy Birthday to You” is the most famous egregious case of this. And we finally have a ruling on it: Not Copyrighted.

This was the most ridiculous copyright fraud. Now we get to see if Warner (who has been extorting all these payments) will have to pay back what they’ve collected. I hope they do, with significant damages.

But they will never pay back all those who have been kept away from this public property by fear of lawsuit. Not that I personally think “Happy Birthday to You” is a probably fountain of derived works that have been suppressed. But I wouldn’t know. Good or bad, they were suppressed. But mostly I think Warner should pay big to make an example of them, which they have richly earned. And paying for restraint of creativity ought to be on the list.

Wedding Fears, Creative Edition

by Ken Arnold on Wed 1 July 2015

People are so creative. Some people create wonderful works of art, others amazing technology, and so on The human race is endlessly inventive, dontcha know.

But some of the most loving, complex creations are paranoid fantasies. And they are so contagious. It’s just amazing, but frankly baffling, why people put so much effort and inventiveness into scaring the ever-lovin’ shit out of themselves.

“Orthodox Christians Must Now Learn To Live as Exiles in Our Own Country” says the Time magazine column. Really? And this is one of the saner pieces of its ilk, it actually accepts that the nation overall agrees that marriage is for everyone. But now, sadly, they have to hide in the hills. From what?

A whole mess o’ stuff they’ve made up.

“The next goal of activists will be a long-term campaign to remove tax-exempt status from dissenting religious institutions.” Oh? Religious racists still have their tax exemptions, lo, these many years after race rules were removed from marriage. This isn’t even subject to debate, court cases, anything, and never was. You can believe anything, even bigoted tripe, and still be a tax exempt religious group. Just a dumb one. So this is a truly creative paranoia.

“It has been widely and correctly observed that heterosexuals began to devalue marriage long before same-sex marriage became an issue.” Devalued it so much that LGBTQ fought a long, hard, difficult legal battle to be allowed in. Peace is war, ignorance is strength, wanting to be married means you devalue marriage. Brilliance, in a twisted way, isn’t it?

I will save your appetite, dear reader, by stopping here, but what continues to smack my gob is that it takes a lot of effort, I would think, to work yourself up into a lather over such transparently wrong things.

The one thing he gets right is this: “The more immediate goal will be the shunning and persecution of dissenters within civil society.” Well, sure, people aren’t very fond of bigots usually, but that’s their right. You get to be a bigot, they get to disapprove. Welcome to free speech, it’s sort of nice here, although sometimes a bit rough. Even if the decision had gone the other way, you would still be a bigot that some would shun, but that’s not part of the law. (Anyway, who was in charge when shunning was part of the law?)

The wrap up is this:

This isn’t the view of wild-eyed prophets wearing animal skins and shouting in the desert. It is the view of four Supreme Court justices…

Um, it turns out those two things aren’t as mutually exclusive as you think. And certainly not as much as it ought to be. Remember “judicial temperament”? Wouldn’t that be nice?

Maine Constitution Prohibits Printing of Maine Constitution

by Ken Arnold on Thu 4 June 2015

Parts of it anyway. Including, it just so happens, the parts that cover its obligations to Native American tribes and their treaties.

In 1875, Maine amended it’s constitution, adding Article X, Section 7, which prohibited printing Article X, Sections 1, 2, and 5. They would still be in effect, don’t worry, but we no longer will tell you about them. You know: Secret laws, why not?

So… Anyway, I updated the Wikipedia page on the Maine Constitution, which didn’t have Article X coverage at all. Now it does, and some coverage of this strangeness, including a link to a Google Books scan of those suppressed clauses. (h/t to Kee Hinckley for pointing this whole thing out.)

It just so happens that Section 5 obligates Maine to honor treaties with tribes and other obligations. Which, of course, has mostly not happened, because it happened essentially nowhere. But surely the legal battle against such neglect has been harmed by hiding constitutional clauses prohibiting neglect. Much easier, it seems, to prohibit printing prohibitions against neglect, and then forgetting them.

It is an oddity. (Is it unique?) It’s right there in the printed constitution: Section 7 suppresses printing Sections 1, 2, and 5. But it was thought to be bookkeeping about old junk. And since it’s hard to find copies old enough to be uncensored, most folks wouldn’t know what specifically was missing.

Pre-Reagan Tax Rates?

by Ken Arnold on Mon 27 January 2014

According to this report, tax rates on the top earners have rebounded to pre-Reagan rates. This is surprising to me. It’s also good. We’ve been making the tax system more and more regressive so long. It’s long since time we moved back to a more progressive tax system, where those who can afford it, and get the most benefits, pay the highest rates.

That is the fundamental point of the progressive tax system: When you earn more, you have more ability to pay — the one millionth dollar is worth less to the millionaire than the twenty-thousandth dollar is to someone who makes $25K/yr. And so the person receiving millions can afford to give up more of that dollar (and its friends). That, combined with the fact that the millionaire has more to lose (millions, in fact), needs more protection, and generally enjoys more benefits from a safe, protected, civil society than those who can’t afford the time or money to enjoy that.

Like any principle, this can be taken to points where it is unfair, or deeply counterproductive. This is why we have more than one kind of way that gov’t funds itself. It’s not all income taxes. But progressive taxation is the most fair way to distribute the bulk of the cost of having a society that has common benefits (security, infrastructure, financial security, …).

So after years of trickle-down economics that haven’t worked, it’s time to readjust back to a more progressive system where those that can afford it pay more.

Spastic Space Robots

by Ken Arnold on Mon 30 December 2013


This is one of the coolest robot things I’ve seen in a while. And not just because it’s space robots.

They’re weird, spastic, go-over-weird-surfaces, jumpy robots, with genetically evolved control systems, based on tensegrity (ergo imbued with a major dash of Buckminster Fuller) space robots.

You squash ‘em flat, stack a dozen or three together, toss them onto the surface of Titan, let ‘em bounce to a landing, them set them scurrying around. Although I don’t think I’d call that epileptic motion they make “scurrying”. I don’t know what I’d call it.

But it would be very cool.

Dragon: The Other Red Meat

by Ken Arnold on Mon 28 October 2013

At least I’d guess dragon meat was red. Actually, it might be more like chicken, being a flying creature and all.

This thought brought to you by this wonderful idea: If you’re going to make fake meat-like substances, name them after imaginary beasts!

“Sliced unicorn on rye, mustard, no mayo, got it. Want a pickle with that?”

[As in the original article, this picture is from the mythical creatures butcher shop]

Princess Pride

by Ken Arnold on Mon 21 October 2013


This is making the rounds today: The body in an Etruscan tomb that had a spear turns out to gave been a woman. Also, the other body with the jewelry turns out to have been a man.

A bit of background: The Etruscans were the major civilization on the Italian peninsula preceding the Romans. The Romans borrowed heavily from them, and in fact the Etruscans may have been the ones who founded the city of Rome. It’s all a little hard to tell for several reasons, primarily due to the fact that the Romans so overshadowed them that we have almost no written Etruscan records, beyond a bunch of grave inscriptions. The other records are paltry. The entire body of Etruscan words that aren’t simple tomb inscriptions is probably not much more than the size of this blog post.

That’s far too small for us to learn the Etruscan language, especially since it seems to be part of a tiny family of languages that aren’t related to anything else we’ve found. So we have a tiny amount of written text for a language with a handful of also-poorly-understood relatives. And even if we could read it, there is only a tiny amount we could possibly learn from it because, well, the amount of text is tiny.

What we mostly have is a decently large collection of graves. So when one of them throws up a surprise, we don’t know how to interpret it.

The Etruscans had a much more woman-friendly society than the Greeks or Romans. Women seemed to have been valued as family members, active in the community, and had a place at the head of the family. Of course the Greeks and Romans saw women in the public sphere and assumed they were loose, slutty, emasculating, horny, and, well, let’s excuse them as they head of to the privy for some rather physical forms of imagination. It’s what happens when people who control women and their sexuality through isolation see less suppressed women.

But even taking that relative openness to women, nobody had expected that it extended to warrior women who would be buried with spears.

So that’s interesting.

It’s also probably generated more posts with pictures of Xena than has been produced in years, so there’s that upside as well.

But again, because we know so little, we don’t know how to interpret this. Except for one thing:

We are prisoners of our expectations.

Because the archaeologists did assume that the spear-bearer was male and the jewelry-box-holder was female. As would, I suspect, almost any of us. Even if we think we are getting better at being open about gender, gender roles, etc., we certainly don’t expect ancient peoples to be. We think this is truly modern and sophisticated of us.

And in any case, the odds were certainly with the archaeologists on this one. The skeletons were in a bad state to make an easy visual assignment. Kudos to them, in fact, for double checking.

But I have to say, ever since I read about this, one thought keeps popping up in the back of my thinking, waving for my attention. So since this is my blog, and I get to give attention to whatever I want, here, thought, is your moment of attention:

What if it was a screwup?

What if, for example, the people placing the bodies in the tombs put the them on the opposite platforms than intended? If the bodies were wrapped, the people placing the grave goods might not know which was which. Or maybe someone purposefully swapped them out of spite, hoping it would fuck up their afterlife.

It would be amazingly interesting if the Etruscans were cool with transgendered people, or women in non-traditional roles, or (glory be!) both. But we often forget that people in the past were as clever and smart as we are. And, as we are, they were subject to error and spite, either of which might account for this discrepancy.

At the current rate of progress I don’t expect to live to see anything like enough information uncovered to resolve this. Maybe we will discover the tomb an Etruscan bibliophile who was actually buried with enough documents to open up the language; that would be cool. Or maybe we’ll re-examine existing tombs to discover this is common, and we’ll have to rethink how we look at the Etruscan culture; that would be very cool. But I’m thinking this is more likely to just simmer along unsolved for a very long time, and we will, instead, have to turn our attention to our actual problems. Which would be sad, because right now a lot of our problems totally suck, and a little escape in time would be nice.