30 June 2023

The court, the oh-so-undemocratic Court

    Courts are inherently not democratic institutions, but it seems to me that when, through a profoundly anti-democratic campaign lasting decades, a high court is stacked with extremists, whose views and decisions are consistently well outside what at least 3/4 of the people regard as just and moral, the governance of that republic can not really be said to be operating on democratic principles. It is too much of a compromise. "America is a compromised republic, where one of the key branches of government is representative of a tiny elite and is willing and eager to impose its policies, despite the opposition of 75% of the public." Like the sound of that? I don't. We must resist. 

There is precedent, principally during Reconstruction, when the Congress exercised its rightful Constitutional power to determine policy, and, particularly, to determine the makeup and jurisdiction of the courts. In recent decades there is a false blanket of tradition, wherein the Court can't be challenged (or even, it seems, be made subject to the most fundamental of ethical rules). Time for that to end. We must take charge of the court, first within the existing Constitution. Impeach miscreants like Alito and Thomas on quite valid grounds of ethical improprieties. Add 4 new seats. Remove the power of the court to restrict the right to vote (this can be done by statute, as reflected in a legal opinion by CJ Roberts himself written while working as a OLC lawyer for Reagan in the early 80s). Outlaw gerrymandering nationwide by statute (tricky, but legally feasible). Declare a right of a woman to control her body, including the right to end a pregnancy up to viability, as medically determined. 

If and when we are able again to amend the Constitution, impose a ten year limit for all Federal judges, no exceptions (except maybe the 10 years starts again if elevated to the CofA or the SC). Create explicit rights to privacy, and, as far as possible, to medical care, to access to food and housing, to a safe environment and sustainable livelihood.

I won't add in ending the Electoral College or the grossly disproportionate representation in the Senate, as these issues are separate from the Court issues, but it's all of a piece: reinforce and augment democracy, including ditching undemocratic provisions in the Constitution where necessary. The current historical impasse on amendments will not last forever. 

We need to not only restore our democratic-principled republic, by wresting power from the elitist court, but also to improve it, to make it more democratic than ever, more robust, more dedicated to the principle that governance must ultimately be with the consent of the governed, and that government does indeed have a role in "promoting the general welfare," which takes precedence over elite privilege when the two are in conflict. 

29 June 2023

Old fart experience with new toy.

I am reasonably handy with tech stuff on a consumer level. Was a relatively early adopter of personal computing. Waited a bit on smartphones but got one before 2013. Can usually make stuff work, even semi-experimental music software like Jamkazam, which I used a lot during COVID to play music over the internet with close to zero latency. Which statement in and of itself proves my point, since most folks have no idea what that even means. 

But I bought a Sonos smart speaker on sale to play music from streaming, primarily, through WiFi rather than bluetooth. I spent an hour or so following the instructions but it didn't work through WiFi and sounded only fair through bluetooth. So I packed it up and am sending it back. Satisfaction guaranteed; I ain't satisfied. 

My only reason for this little rant is the observation that high tech appliances these days are not really very user friendly (too often), and, in particular, are just not designed for older people who didn't grow up with computers and can't easily read 5 pt. sans serif type on a booklet 4" x 4" that contains about 3000 words, some of which are actually important. Usually I power through all that; I'm pretty good at intuiting control designs and making stuff work through trial and error. But this thing just didn't work as intended after numerous tries and careful reading of the instructions, and to the extent it did work, it was difficult to find the music I wanted to hear using their App and the sound was just OK. And the damn thing kept losing connection to WiFi and had to be "found" again. I'd heard one of these in someone else's house and I thought it was surprisingly good, but in my own home and the best I could do to get it working, it was crap. 

I have to admit I sometimes pine just a little for the old days, when you took something out of the box, plugged it in, and it worked. Or, even setting up a stereo system with all the speaker wires and everything... that was a bit of a hassle, but it was easy to understand and after 20 min., it was fine, worked completely intuitively, and didn't involve deciding to "live with" unsatisfactory half-measures. I find that phones, laptop computers, tv streaming devices, etc. almost all work with some issues; some frequent glitches and need to restart, relocate wireless connections, etc. My verdict: there's a way to go to make the "internet of things" that we keep hearing about actually workable. 

27 June 2023

Nix on "Independent State Legislature" theory

I'm not really sure how likely it ever was that the SC would accept the nutso butso "independent state legislature" theory, that would have essentially de-democratized US elections permanently. But the fact that they REJECTED it, 6-3 has to be counted as a "save."  

25 June 2023

Facing the Antrhopocene

We as a species really, really need to face the facts. And now. 

One of a series:  Facing the Antrhopocene

23 June 2023

Highway names in regional dialects

Perhaps commonplace dialect observations. I had to make the transition from 1 to 2 in order not to be immediately identifiable as one of the loathed California transplants (which I am, of course, but I like to say Oregonian by choice).

1.  In California, in times past we used to say "Hollywood Freeway" instead of "the 101," and still do for some of the old landmarks. They do this somewhat in Chicago too. "The Kennedy," "The Eisenhower," etc. (In Calif. names after presidents or other public figures don't go over well. The Richard M. Nixon Freeway is very short (incomplete, as are many golden age freeways) but it's never called that, nor is the Simi Valley Freeway called "The Reagan Freeway." Ever.) Anyway, over the last 50 years the "Golden State Freeway" became, mostly, "the 5" (which is also the Santa Ana Freeway and many others of course). "The 5," not just "Five." "The 405;" "The 101."
2.  In the Pacific Northwest, you never say this. It's just "205," "99," etc. You do say "The Ross Island Bridge," but it's never "the 26."
3.  In the Eastern Seaboard, you usually say "I-x" for interstates. Not "The I-95," just "I-95." In the PNW folks never say this. It's not "I-5," it's just "Five." 

You're welcome for this useless information, which is nonscientific, just based on my observations. 

21 June 2023

The Anthropocene: Where on Earth are We Going (Will Steffen)

This video by Will Steffen (Climate Council of Australia) is genuinely excellent and shows how some policy considerations that we consider purely "matters of opinion" in America really do verge on "consistent with what is real" vs. "total delusional about the consequences". And that's very, very worrisome indeed, as this video makes all too clear. Video

Supreme Court impeachments and increase

Generally, I think we have to be wary of changing goalposts and hypocrisy, even for a good cause. Consider the current Supreme Court scandals. Is there a danger of that here? The scandal mostly seems to center around expensive perks given to right wing judges by people who pretty clearly are trying to influence them or, more likely, ensure their compliance with an agenda that sometimes causes them to shred the law and even logic. Thomas seems to be the worst: expensive private vacations, education expenses (much like Trump's lackeys), for which I'll bet no one paid any taxes; real estate sweethearts. Alito took expensive vacations from a billionaire with actual cases before the Court. But is this out of norm, or new? What was Scalia doing at a super private richy rich resort when he died? If we were calling these things out just to get at our least favorite judges (which we are, to an extent), and these things were just business as usual for all the justices, I would be sympathetic to an argument that it's a double standard. But that does not appear to be the case. It's the cynical and unprincipled right wingers who do this stuff. The more honorable justices (which I'm guessing includes Roberts and former Justice Kennedy) have avoided quid pro quos, and even the appearance thereof. So, no, this stuff is already against recognized judicial ethics standards, whether or not these are enforceable canons against the untouchable Supreme Court. 

We certainly can make newly black-letter the requirement that justices of the SC accept no emoluments of any kind. Increase their pay, to say $750K (it's now nearly $250), but impose strict ethical standards beyond any doubt. And, meanwhile, in the cases of Thomas and Alito, in a fine day after the 2024 election, one hopes, the Congress should impeach and convict those two for ethical lapses. There is certainly basis in the constitution for removing them from office for "bad behavior." In Thomas's case, there are other grounds as well, since he clearly voted on cases in which his wife had a pretty well-defined interest. 

This is only one element of dealing with the crisis caused by the far right takeover of the Court. The other is to pass the expansion of the Court to 13 that has already been drafted and presented as a bill. There is precedent for that, too, and the Congress unquestionably has the power to do that (subject to presidential veto). 

I disagree with the Biden wing of our party that seems to think that no interference with the court is ever justified. But the fact is, the court has been hijacked, and the means to do it, if not outright illegal, certainly make a mockery of how the constitution is supposed to work. So, I say, a some extraordinary measures to right the course are called for. 

Of course we can do very little if we don't win. Democrats, who are now the "big tent" party that includes or at least pulls in temporarily everyone who believes in the continuity of small-r republican government, need to push for a full-on landslide at all levels in 2024, so we can undertake the kinds of actions that will not only "right the course," but ensure that the ol' ship o' state stays on course for a good long while afterwards. 

15 June 2023

Child labor

I had naively thought that the whole issue of no child labor had been settled a long time ago in this country, in favor of civilized behavior. Apparently I was wrong. 

Comment on the prevailing lack of interest in geology

For some reason, most educated people know a fair amount of geography, both human and even physical (such as, they know approximately where Tahiti and Madagascar are, for example). And a smattering of interest in where resources come from (oil, mining, etc.) isn't unusual. But interest in deep time, paleontology and historical geology, is actually pretty unusual. I find that it's a surprise to most people, for example, that over the course of the last 150 million years, North America, on the west, docked with a huge archipelago, much as Australia is now doing with Indonesia and New Guinea, and ended up incorporating it into its western margin. If the names Wrangellia, Siletzia, and the Insular and Intermontane superterranes sound like something out of a fantasy novel for you, you're missing out on one of the most interesting reorderings of scientific knowledge of the last 50 years, which basically explains why and how 1/3 of our country is mountains and where they came from. Other parts of the world have similar stories, of course, but you would think people would be a little more interested than they are in how our homeland came to be. The big picture, such as Central Washington University's Nick Zentner explains in a long series of YouTube lectures, is actually pretty easy to grasp, once you realize that there's actually quite a lot we know about this stuff, which was pretty much a complete mystery before the 1970s and the plate tectonic revolution. 

Short rant on the economy

Countering the negative "vibe" message that seems to be everywhere right now. We are not in a recession. The economy does have serious structural problems, most caused by, I'll say it, lack of any kind of industrial or forward looking public investment policy, and excessively low taxes and poor tax enforcement on the very rich and certain large corporate entities and banks. I don't get why people are surprised that the Fed has decided not to raise interest rates yet again. Earth to doomsayers: we are currently in historically normal inflation and historically low unemployment. We have a long way to go to make this economy work for everyone, but deliberately distorting the truth to make it sound like we're in Trump's "terminal decline" just plays into their hands. The economy needs a shot in the arm from public investment, not cutting back on spending, and for heaven's sake, not by cutting taxes. Although reducing bloated military spending should certainly be on the agenda. 

The truth is that North America is resource rich, we have the world's reserve currency, and we are not overpopulated or otherwise challenged any more than the rest of the world by the environmental crisis. So we should be rolling up our sleeves, uniting around the job that needs doing, and put aside all the idiocy and polarization. Right now, regardless of whether you tend towards liberal, social democratic, or conservative politics, that means electing Democrats at all levels to begin the process of ridding our country from the scourge of Fascism, aka Trumpism. 

12 June 2023

Waste heat and a high energy society

 A friend commented to my recent post on stationary batteries that we all need to learn to use less electricity. I don't think this is right, but there is some truth in it, or at least it is an issue. Few think about the issue of waste heat, but we actually are in the ballpark where this is part of the problem, and it's not going to go away. We have to find optimum, including with regard to maximum human populations, and make that the sustainable standard. Here's part of what I said in response (edited slightly): 

I don't believe less electricity is the main issue or the essence of a truly long term solution. There's nothing wrong in principle with a high energy society (literally). It's whether the energy is sustainable. Of course, way down the road, there's the issue of waste heat, which represents (I'm told) a lower threshold of sustainability than is frequently assumed. Even for purely physical reasons (as opposed to spiritual, esthetic, psychological, or other human concerns), there is a limit to how much high grade (low entropy) energy we can generate and dissipate in the atmosphere as waste heat before the capacity of the planet to radiate the heat into space without continual temperature increase is exceeded. A guess is that even from this point of view a global population of 20 billion people using energy, even all renewable energy, at the level now prevalent in the West, China, Korea and Japan, is unsustainable. In times short by geological standards, the oceans would boil. So we have to figure out how to find and stay with what is optimal. 

I've been saying for years though, and I think it's true, that we as a species have committed to high technology. There is no going back, and the future that entails the most meaningful life and least suffering and death is a high-but-sustainable energy society. We will not achieve optimum only or even mostly through conservation, but mainly through learning to develop energy resources that are not slowly killing the world we live on. The good news is that it is increasingly clear that this is quite possible: the issue is political. Can we wise up fast enough to commit to the changes and efforts necessary to make this happen, in time? No one knows, but it sure seems likely there will be some rough going during this critical century. 

Stationary batteries and their role in futuer power production and supply

Obviously, I'm no electrical engineer. But from what I've read about, I think this article in the NYT misses an important component of getting our infrastructure ready for an all-electric vehicle, renewable power future. And that is the role that stationary batteries will play, in every building, every house, every user of power during peak times. Battery technology is getting so good, so long lasting, so reliable, and so developed from nonrare materials that they can be installed everywhere.  Sodium ion phosphate and other new technologies that don't require large amounts of nickel, cobalt, or lithium are coming online rapidly. But, you might say, that's just storage, how does that help the shortfall of capacity? Well, it doesn't, entirely, of course. We do have to build a huge amount of renewable sourced energy plants and the transmission infrastructure to distribute power. But batteries will smooth out the curve; eliminate the need for "peaker" power plants that only come on line during periods of peak demand. Essentially, with a little margin for failures, the power system will only have to provide the average daily power consumption; the batteries will smooth out the peaks and charge to full when power demand is at its lowest. This could, I'm told, amount to as much as a 20% reduction in the peak power production levels required. This article doesn't really address this point, which is obviously crucial. This is clearly part of Elon Musk's long range strategy to turn Tesla into a critical energy company, but he is not alone in furthering this kind of technology, the advantages of which are obvious and compelling. 

10 June 2023

Self Driving more difficult than thought... don't hold your breath

 A few years ago I seriously talked about the day, not too far off, when you could buy a new electric car from Amazon, and it would drive itself to your garage. 

But, as this piece in NY Times indicates (however sensationalized it may be), the problem of autonomous AI driving systems has turned out to be very much more difficult than some thought, and is probably actually not in the cards in time for it to matter to people my age (I'm 70). 

Important to note: this issue is entirely separate from the paradigm shift to battery EV cars, which is well underway and accelerating. The autonomous systems cost extra ... a lot... and relatively few people buy them. Frankly, based on this record, there should be a moratorium on including them in cars for sale to the public. No matter how many warnings not to rely on them, people do it, and they are clearly not safe to allow to control a car unattended.... yet. 

09 June 2023

Stop saying Aileen Cannon is a "Trump-appointed" Judge without explanation of more!

For crying out loud, mainstream mediatypes!  Aileen Cannon isn't recusable because she's "Trump-appointed." That's legally irrelevant, as it should be. She's recusable because she has an actual conflict, on the record, namely that she was rebuked and reversed by the appellate court in this same case, in the pre-filing discovery litigation phase the investigation stage. 

Chinese Battery Innovation and its importance for the future

Australian YouTube influencer Sam Evans is a super-pro-EV guy, no doubt, no prevarication. But he does respect and stick to facts except when expressing pretty clearly identified opinions. Anyway, this video shows a couple of important things. First, probably due to vestigial racism, it's commonly believed that the Chinese are very good at economic development and manufacturing but not so much at engineering innovation. Absolutely not true: Chinese battery technology leads the world, beyond question, and their innovations are driving the great paradigm shift that will result in the world switching wholesale to electrically propelled vehicles... possibly eventually even including aircraft. The other striking point is the technology he's discussing itself. It really does appear that in the fairly near future two of the two greatest disadvantages of personal EVs... range anxiety and the time it takes to charge (which results in bottlenecks at charging stations as the number of users increases)... have been solved. And the remaining one, lack of sufficient charging and electric power infrastructure, is a more fundamental issue that we face as a global civilization for reasons that go way beyond EVs. We simply must invest in renewable-based electric power infrastructure as a tip-top public policy imperative. Anyone who tells you different is simply wrong. 

I'm no fan of the Chinese government, and am fully supportive of American efforts to remain competitive and a leader in technology, while maintaining our liberal small-r republican government (no thanks to the Cryptofascists on the right). But ignoring the technological revolution being led by China is just sticking our heads in the sand. We must embrace and master these new technologies. 

07 June 2023

Chris Licht, good riddance

 I never watch CNN. Well, maybe 20 min. a year. But I've got to believe it's a good thing the Powers of the megacorporate owners of the network decided to fire Chris Licht. A troglodyte who equates "move to center" (which is such a laugh!) with "associate the network with the effort to re-elect the malignant narcissist who was America's first would-be fascist dictator to serve as president."

Economic disinformation, an example

Justin Wolfers, author of Think Like an Economist, gives a good example of  how politically motivated distortion of economic data often works. This kind of "reporting" (read disinformation) is the source of a lot of predictions of imminent recession, despite the fact that inflation is roughly half what it was a year ago (and at historic norms after a long period of exceptionally low inflation); while unemployment remains low and job creation is at historic highs, when considered over multiple months. Anyway, here's his example. In both Republican and Democratic administrations, going back at least a few decades, monthly job creation numbers are released as early as feasible using statistical extrapolation methods to yield a number, even though some data is not final. This feeds the demand for timely information. And these numbers are always adjusted around a month later when data is more complete. Over longer periods, typically, there are either slight overreads or slight underreads of the initial numbers, depending on what you might call "hidden secular trends." So numbers might be consistently overestimated for, say, six months in a row, and this might reasonably be considered as a sign of what you might call "hidden weakness" in the economy. Generally these numbers really are produced by dispassionate econometric analysts, so, in both Republican and Democratic administrations, these deviations tend to be small and genuinely caused by trends which are inherently difficult to detect. So, if it were the case over, say, the last six months, that the "Biden" jobs numbers were being adjusted downward for each month in succession, one could say, as some of the "Tech Bro" libertarian economists have done, "See, the economy is actually worse than they're reporting. Fair enough, actually. Technically right, in the hypothetical, although the effect is usually very small. But. But. Do these same libertarian axe-to-grind folks say the opposite when, month after month, the jobs numbers are actually adjusted upwards? No, they do not. They say, almost as a chorus, that the numbers are rigged and the administration is corrupt. In fact, this is the situation: jobs numbers, averaged over the last year or so, have pretty consistently been adjusted upwards, and as an indicator honest reportage must conclude that these numbers reflect concealed strength, not weakness, in the economy. (This indicator, obviously, isn't the only one, but inflation numbers are also encouraging since the beginning of the year). 

This is a good example about how having a particular vested interest in a certain view of the economy can and does result in completely misleading information being plastered all over the mainstream press. Unfortunately, economic anxiety, fed by this kind of thing, is somewhat self-fulfilling, and can create negative feedbacks that actually negatively affect economic outlook. Bottom line: stick to facts, and keep a critical view that looks for reliable factual basis in prognostications you see in the media. 

02 June 2023

Default Bill and the Push for 55%

I choose to believe that the 5 Democrats who voted against the default limit (including Sanders, technically not a Democrat, and including our Senator, Merkley), did so as a symbolic protest against cuts in vital programs and a particularly insidious fossil fuel pipeline, just about the worst kind of corrupt public policy imaginable. Had the vote been truly close, I believe every single one of them would have voted Yes, because they have all shown in their overall stances that they put the interests of the nation and its people above mere politics. 

The 31 Republicans who voted No, however, constitute a veritable rogues' list of traitorous MAGA Fascists, who were truly voting to destroy the American economy and fiscal stability, in the mad belief that such would inure to their benefit in their constant quest to put antidemocratic powergrabbing above all else. 

Democrats need to do everything possible to shorten the careers of every one of them. 

We cannot let up. I'm an enthusiastic endorser of Simon Rosenberg's "Push for 55" where we should not only grapple desperately to retain the Senate, re-elect Biden and retake the House, but we should push for a massive repudiation of Fascism by getting a landslide nationally in 24, and making gains in the local governments of every Red State, while consolidating control in every Blue State. This is not impossible. But you have to work for it, and believe you can succeed. 

01 June 2023

NO to denying medical care due to indebtedness

Let me just be totally clear. Supposedly nonprofit healthcare systems turning away patients because they have unpaid medical bills is totally unacceptable. I realize that as a society we have to have realistic ways to pay for medical care. But this is not it. We simply have to do better, and part of that solution has to be to make it totally illegal to deny care due to medical indebtedness. Period, and I will not countenance or even listen to any arguments to the contrary. This is a red line we should never have crossed and must not continue to tolerate.