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Comment: Re:Common sense here folks (Score 1) 115

Sometimes common sense is just wrong, particularly when it comes to predicting the behavior of other people who might not agree with what you consider "common sense". If you check his publications in Google Scholar, this guy's been publishing surgical neuroscience papers in real journals since around 1990. I think he really intends to try this.

Comment: Re:More from wiki... (Score 1) 255

by hey! (#49538351) Attached to: Wellness App Author Lied About Cancer Diagnosis

Fraud she certainly is, but the fraud was so transparent that clearly she's not right in her head.

While the financial aspect of this makes her culpable, building an outrageous fraud around readily disprovable details of your personal biography is a very bad idea in the long run if you're simply a con artist. Doing that suggests that there are short term needs that trump simple financial considerations. Perhaps she felt she deserved more sympathy, nurturance and nurturance than she'd gotten in life. That's common enough that there's name for it: Factitious Disorder.

Over the years I've read many stories of people who assumed false biographies. Most often this took obvious forms -- passing for white before the Civil Rights Era. But in some cases people chose to assume minority identities, particularly as American Indians in the early 20th C. Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance was (by the terminology of the age) a negro with some Cherokee ancestry. He ran away to join a wild west show where he learned from Cherokee language from other performers, used that to get into Carlisle Indian School and later traded up his "Cherokee" identity for a Plains Indian one. Wenjiganooshiinh -- "Grey Owl" -- was an Englishman who was abandoned by his father in childhood then later adopted an Apache/Ojibwe identity.

What makes these two men relevant to this case is that they were both advocates of Indian rights. As outsiders, they understood what sympathetic outsiders wanted Indians to be better than an Indian would. And they would't have been able to pull it off if they weren't a little off their nut; if they didn't want to escape who they were for a more glamorous alternative.

Comment: Re:Stolen valor, anyone? (Score 1) 255

by hey! (#49537759) Attached to: Wellness App Author Lied About Cancer Diagnosis

If involves breaking the law -- not just some kind of namby-pamby administrative regulation but the basic stuff of civilization like like the prohibitions on assault or murder -- then I'll sure as hell tell what not to do.

If you're a veteran I'll gladly shake your hand and thank you for your service. I'd be honored to buy you a drink. But I won't hand you a get out of jail free card.

Have a little perspective. Yes it's wrong to impersonate a veteran, but it doesn't impugn the character of veterans. But claiming that all veterans will and should overreact to a breach of propriety with violence *does* impugn their character. Which is worse?

Comment: Re:They should be doing the opposite (Score 1) 298

Well, the idea of copyright is to incent creators to create, not to reward them per se. So the sensible way of approaching is to ask how many years in advance a reasonable person would make economic plans for.

Corporations seldom worry about income streams ten years out; such future income is discounted to insignificance. On the other hand an artist planning on managing his own creations might very reasonable think about fifty years out. Seventy-five years is beyond the pale of reason if we're talking about incenting creation. So is any extension of pre-existing copyrights.

If we wanted to maximize the present value of future income to an artist contemplating creating or performing a song, I think a fifty year term would be reasonable, with the proviso that any assigned rights automatically return to him without encumbrance after ten or fifteen years. Such an arrangement would have no impact economic on his ability to sell the rights to his work immediately, and hold out the promise of getting a second bite of the apple in a decade or so.

Comment: Re:I'm driving a rented Nissan Pathfinder while my (Score 1) 621

by hey! (#49530413) Attached to: Cheap Gas Fuels Switch From Electric Cars To SUVs

There's a phase people go through in life where commitments pile up and play becomes something we intend to get around to. Look around. If you decorate your office space with posters of kayaking/rock climbing/whatever you're into, but you haven't actually done it in the last year because you don't have time, you have entered that phase.

The thing is, people in that phase still dress the part of their younger selves. And for a while at least they even still buy the stuff, until they don't have space for it.

People buy SUVs, even though they're ridiculously impractical for their situation, as a fashion statement. Turning a car from a utilitarian object into a fashion statement is what automobile marketing is all about. Look at SUV ads; what you're telling the world (or perhaps yourself) is that maybe on a whim you'll go off-roading or picnicking on the beach, instead of commuting to and from work, making runs to the supermarket, or chauffeuring your kids to soccer and music lessons. It could happen. Only it won't.

That's the reason SUVs back into parking spaces. Subconsciously their drivers are longing for a quick escape that will never come. SUVs would be the saddest of vehicles, or they would be if the people who bought them had a little more self-awareness.

Comment: Re:We can learn from this (Score 1) 163

You're quibbling irrelevant or implementation details. A lawmaker sponsoring legislation is part of his record; it has nothing to do with influence peddling.

The kind of dirty tricks advertising you warn about is possible today, so I don't see this as a point of objection. The solution is an orthogonal approach to combatting influence peddling --transparency.

As foe the matching fund criteria, the need to set them is not an objection to the scheme either. You can set them however you like. You could do it on number of signatures (X% of the registered voters); or number of distinct donors (Y% of registered voters). Whatever your goal is for the candidate pool, you can set the criteria accordingly. As long as the candidates of the two major parties always qualify it won't be worse than the status quo.

If you really want to reduce the influence of money in politics, the thing to do is reduce the power of political office. If a politician controls trillions of dollars every year, there's a vast incentive to get a piece of that by bribing him. And there's no way to remove that incentive other than to remove the power that makes the bribe the best way of getting something done.

I actually respect the principles behind this sentiment, but the only way to reduce the power of political office is by getting the politicians to vote to do that. As long as political power remains a valuable, readily purchased commodity then more power will accumulate in the government.

Of course I realize that my proposal *also* requires politicians to vote out the status quo. At least it's marginally more likely that they will vote out an aspect of the status quo that is miserable and degrading to them than they are to vote to marginalize themselves. After willingness to deliver favorable legislation to monied interest is no longer a qualifier for holding office, then there is a possibility of reducing the power of political office if that's what voters want.

Comment: Re:We can learn from this (Score 1) 163

The only way "public financing" will eliminate the corrupting influence of money in politics is if you forbid ALL political advertising not paid for by public funding. Which pretty much puts paid to the First Amendment, since as long as it exists *I* (or you) could buy an ad for my (your) favorite politician

Under my proposal you'd still be free to do anything with your money that you now do. You can give money to your favorite politician, although that would trigger a matching grant. You could take out a totally independent ad which would not trigger a matching grant, but experience has shown that such ads tend to reflect the political positions of the purchaser rather than the marketing message of the candidate.

Would rich people still be more influential under my proposal? Sure. I am not proposing the establishment of an egalitarian paradise; I am proposing throwing up roadblocks to government by cronyism.

Could the system be gamed in certain ways? Probably. The idea is not to make the purchasing of influence impossible, any more than safes make theft impossible. But as with a safe, the idea is to make misconduct more expensive, cumbersome, and risky.

Comment: Re:Genius! (Score 1) 335

by hey! (#49521363) Attached to: Update: No Personhood for Chimps Yet

Except that begging the question, isn't it? If chimps should be considered persons, then we're no more entitled to use them as non-consenting research subjects than we're entitled to use humans that way. In fact why not use non-consenting humans? Surely it would benefit the human race as a whole to sacrifice individual humans as research subjects, especially in the kind of numbers we use chimps for. A few thousand human is not that many when weighed against the seven billion on the plant.

Most of us would agree that experimenting on humans without informed consent is wrong no matter what the collective benefit, so there must be something entailed in being a human which makes that unacceptable. And it's perfectly reasonable to ask whether some other animals have that very same thing. This is a philosophical question. If persons have rights, then (a) those rights have to be entailed in our definition of "person" and (b) the criteria for that definition have to be applied impartially, not according to our preconceptions. It shouldn't matter if the subject is a member of an "inferior race", an artificial intelligence, an extraterrestrial visitor, or a familiar animal we simply haven't considered fully yet.

This is a little bit like math. Most people take the statement "1 + 1 = 2" as self-evident; but to a mathematician it's anything but. In day to day life we take human rights as self-evident -- we in fact "hold these truths to be self evident". But to an ethicist what we call "human rights" have to come from something more fundamental. If an ethicist simply assumes that human beings have a right to life and liberty, then he has to accept that the contrary assumption is equally valid. If the contrary assumption is not equally valid, then there must be some more fundamental principles by which we're evaluating these propositions.

So to show that chimps do not have a right to life and liberty, we have to define a category of beings that have such rights in such a way that all humans are members of that category, but no chimps are. I must confess this is beyond me as a philosophical layman just as algebraic fields are to mathematical laymen. I just go through life taking "1 + 1 = 2" and "humans have rights" for granted, and it works for me. But that doesn't mean there shouldn't be people out there studying abstract algebra or ethics, or that these fields have no important practical applications.

Comment: Re:Their software cost an arm and both legs yet... (Score 3, Insightful) 35

by hey! (#49520941) Attached to: OSGeo Foundation Up In Arms Over ESRI LAS Lock-In Plans

Don't forget training and consulting. That brings in quite a bit of revenue too. In my experience most ArcGIS installations aren't actually functional because they don't have people who can work the software. Even after training most installations don't have the personnel to dedicate to keep up with it; they maybe produce a report or two, and then the software sits on the shelf, then they need to send someone else to training.

In this environment a lot of people using ArcGIS might as well be using QGIS. If there were training and support for QGIS, this would build a user base which would attract developers. I think a lot more could be done in getting users to adopt web based mapping -- WMS and WMF -- too. The web is such moving platform that the kind of desktop based entrenchment ArcGIS enjoys is less significant.

Comment: Re:We can learn from this (Score 4, Insightful) 163

And what's more trying to restrict the flow of money has the perverse but economically predictable effect of making influence cheap to buy. The typical congressman spends five hours a day in fundraising related activities, and two hours a day doing constituent services. That alone should tell you who they really work for.

If you banned political contributions outright, then congressmen would just spend *more* time trying to drum up support for people to spend on their behalf. There's really only one way to eliminate the corrupting influence of money in politics: public financing. I don't particularly like that option, but it's the only one that is guaranteed to work, the only way to restore the status quo ante, before the rise of mass media campaigning, where elections were entirely a matter between the politicians running and the voters.

Comment: Re:Probably best (Score 1) 649

by hey! (#49515823) Attached to: Automakers To Gearheads: Stop Repairing Cars

Cars from the 60's-70's suck big time.

Sooo true. My first car was a 1976 Buick Century with 231 cc V6 engine, normally aspirated. The engine wasn't half-bad -- this was before emissions controls other than a PCV, EGR and catalytic converters so it *was* simple to work on -- but in every other respect it was dreadful by modern standards. 105 horsepower to move 3800+ pounds equals 0-60 in 17 seconds and 15 miles to the gallon, baby.

But aside from power to weight ratios, the thing which really sucked about old cars was the suspension and handling. Every time I see a car chase in a movie from the 1970s I laugh because I *remember* driving cars like that. By modern standards they cornered like inebriated hippos on roller skates.

Comment: Re:Environmentalism, much? (Score 1) 120

by hey! (#49511715) Attached to: Pull-Top Can Tabs, At 50, Reach Historic Archaeological Status

By that argument why bother excavating garbage pits, when temples and mausoleums are so much sexier? Well, because temples and mausoleums are consciously built by high status people to convey messages. Garbage (and by extension pollution) tell you things about everyone, including things they didn't think worthy of documenting but turn out to be interesting.

Comment: Re:For the Conservation Crowd (Score 1) 672

by hey! (#49511535) Attached to: William Shatner Proposes $30 Billion Water Pipeline To California

Spoken like someone with absolutely no engineering experience. Engineering as a discipline has this impish habit delivering things most people never imagined possible. This misleads them into thinking that engineering can give them anything they can imagine, particularly if the concept seems simple to them.

Take the suggestion elsewhere in this discussion that water be piped from the Great Lakes to California. Nothing could be simpler in conception -- a 2000 mile long pipe. We've built oil pipelines longer than that. The longest crude oil pipeline in the world is the 2500 mile Druzhba pipeline from Russia to Germany, so a 2000 mile long water pipe should be a cinch, right?

Here we get to the place where engineering starts being a bitch. You see, it's one thing to imagine a cost-is-no-object project, but the truth is cost is the single most important limitation on water use. It does no good to supply water to California almond farmers if they have to sell their almonds at the same price/weight as gold to pay for it. We use a *lot* more water than oil, and we expect it to be way, way cheaper. The current spot price for crude oil is about $57 per barrel -- roughly $1.36/gallon. Agricultural users in California pay something like 3/10 of a penny a gallon -- roughly speaking they expect water to be about 500x cheaper per gallon than oil. If pumping adds a penny to the price per gallon to the price of crude oil, that's no big deal, less than 1%. Add a penny per gallon to the price of water and you've quadrupled your farmer's water cost.

A system that delivers water can be expensive to build, but it has to operate cheaply and reliably. That's why water systems engineers avoid pumps and rely on gravity to do most of the work of moving water. The longest water supply pipeline I know of is the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme, which transports water 330 miles with the aid of 20 pump stations. The economic justification for this project? To support gold mining. To give you an idea of how much expense was tolerated when the Goldfields system was built, it replaced a system where water was packed in by camel train. Today users there pay 7x as much per gallon as users in California do for water. Assuming the CA system could be operated for the same price, you could actually dispense with actually building the system. Raising the water price from $0.003 to $0.02 would reduce water consumption in California to sustainable rates -- even under drought conditions. It'd do so by causing agriculture to move out of state. Probably some population too.

The time spent on any item of the agenda [of a finance committee] will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved. -- C.N. Parkinson