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

Let’s be More Delighted for More People

by Ken Arnold on Mon 3 July 2017

This makes my blood boil:

Imagine the following conversations:

“My husband is dying of Black Lung disease and we can’t afford the treatments anymore!” “If we can help … we would be delighted to do so.”

“Our daughter was injured while playing, and we have to sell our house to get the treatment that will make her walk again!” “If we can help … we would be delighted to do so.”

“I have this sore that I’m very worried is cancer, but I can’t afford the deductibles for a disease like that, so I can’t even get it checked out!” “If we can help … we would be delighted to do so.”

“My son was born with a heart defect that can be fixed, but we’re too poor to have insurance!” “If we can help … we would be delighted to do so.”

“My mother has Alzheimer’s and we have to care for her at home, it’s bankrupting us because I had to quit my job to do it!” “If we can help … we would be delighted to do so.”

“My child is born with a rare defect that is destroying his body and brain and we need help!” “If we can help … we would be delighted to do so.”

Compassion isn’t caring only for the one case in front of you. It’s trying to fix the system so everyone like that is cared for. Why is it so easy to look at one case and be sympathetic, and yet harden your heart to the millions of others like it? Why should you be delighted to help one suffering family, but propose throwing 32 million people off their literal lifeline? (Yes, he proposed 32 million, even more than the 22 million in the Senate plan.)

We can afford universal care. I’d be delighted to do so. Wouldn’t you?

Ain’t Going to the House

by Ken Arnold on Fri 18 March 2016

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

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]