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Comment: Re:This just illustrates (Score 2) 365

by damienl451 (#47339749) Attached to: Germany's Glut of Electricity Causing Prices To Plummet

They already do it, but negative prices are a rare occurrence and it's probably not worth investing in additional capacity. Storage and reducing production are both more expensive than paying people to accept the extra electricity. In a way, this is the same as installing resistors, except that you're just letting other people dispose of the electricity without incurring capital expenses yourself.

Comment: Not a coding opportunity (Score 1) 155

by damienl451 (#47292731) Attached to: Computational Thinking: AP Computer Science Vs AP Statistics?

I spend a lot of time writing R code, with occasional forays into SAS-land. But I don't really consider it a coding opportunity, nor would I want people like me to do the actual lower-level coding that is needed to make these software packages work adequately (yes, I know that lots of function in R are written in R, but there's still a majority of C/Fortran code under the hood. Because I'm not a computer scientist or a software engineer. I can write ok code in that it runs, does what it needs to do, and is not grotesquely inefficient. But I have no interest in writing production-quality, well-optimized code since I only want to get statistical results as easily as possible. I enjoy writing the code, but it's a purely utilitarian endeavor and definitely not something that would make me employable in the software industry. Which is okay since my comparative advantage is analyzing and interpreting data, but means that there's room for CS graduates and 'code monkeys'.

Comment: Re:Yep. (Score 1) 649

by damienl451 (#47270733) Attached to: Teaching Creationism As Science Now Banned In Britain's Schools

The largest US denomination is the Southern Baptist Convention, which a) is rather big on creationism, "God said it, I believe it, that settles it" and b) is not connected to the Church of England. Their "ancestors" are English nonconformists who were being discriminated against in England because they did not belong to the state church.

Historically, Baptists were staunch defenders of the separation of church and state. For instance, the phrase "wall of separation" has its origins in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to a Baptist association, who had stated their belief that "Religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals" and "that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor".

However, now that conservative Christians and Southern Baptists are the majority in many places, they have decided that having government support for their own brand of religion was rather attractive. It's very important for a religion to maintain a plausibility structure: it's much easier to keep people "in" and to find new adherents when your brand of religion is the default option, is very visible in public, has prominent people within its ranks (evangelical Christians and Tim Tebow, scientologists and famous actors, etc.), and is considered "reasonable". Teaching "the controversy" reinforces the plausibility structure of conservative Christianity by making it look like YEC and evolution are two equally reasonable hypotheses about origins, which only differ in terms of presuppositions (atheism vs theism).

To go back to the OP, the only denomination that is directly connected to the Church of England is the Episcopal Church, which is one of the most progressive denominations. I'd suspect that, in terms of ethics, many Episcopalians would find more common ground with humanists than with a conservative Baptist.

Comment: Re:It works for Delaware, too. (Score 4, Insightful) 155

by damienl451 (#47213357) Attached to: Apple To Be Investigated By the EU Over Tax Affairs

They cannot just emulate them. Ireland derives their advantage from their having low taxes relative to other countries, not from having low taxes in absolute terms. What you suggest is a global race to the bottom, which may be the default "solution" in the absence of effective mechanisms for collective action. Each country has an incentive to attract more business by lowering tax rates, but, if all of them lower rates, most of them will probably end up with lower total revenues than if they could just strike an agreement not to engage in tax competition. This is what the European Union is trying to do.

Whether it is good or bad depends on what you think the effects will be and on how important a weight you place on the welfare of large multinational companies (or rather, some combination of their employees, customers and shareholders, since the tax burden falls on people) versus the public purse and the welfare of their smaller competitors.

This is one of the main reasons why countries are up in arms against these companies. Until recently, Starbucks was not paying corporate tax in the UK. Now, perhaps they were truly unprofitable, although it's hard to believe that such an iconic company would spend more than 14 years constantly opening stores without ever turning a profit AND would also tell investors that its UK operations were profitable when they were not. And there must be something deeply wrong with the UK market since many large, generally profitable companies (Apple, Google, Facebook) often fail to turn a profit there.

The real reason of course is that they use outdated tax laws that were never meant to apply to the kind of international transactions that are possible today to artificially record profits where they will be taxed the least. This is perfectly legal but contrary to the spirit of the tax agreements that were originally meant to prevent rather than encourage tax avoidance. The arms' length principle worked well when a UK company used to buy tomatoes from its Spanish subsidiary to make soup (there are publicly-available market prices for tomatoes), but not so much today when it comes to valuing the right to use the Starbucks logo, name, products and processes. If you manage to pay artificially-inflated fees to a shell corporation in a tax-haven or another EU country that you have made a deal with, you can make it look as if you did not make any profit in a country regardless of its actual profitability.

This makes no sense at all: how much you pay in tax is not a function of real economic factors but of how transactions between units within the company were structured on paper. And it is greatly unfair to smaller competitors who will have to pay taxes. Why should a small coffee shop pay at least 20% on its profits while Starbucks gets to pay a much lower rate even if it sells the same amount of coffee for the same price and has the same cost structure apart from the gimmick of using its own intellectual property?

Comment: Re:Who is being taxed, exactly? (Score 2) 322

by damienl451 (#47189779) Attached to: Fixing China's Greenhouse Gas Emissions For Them

The point is to change relative prices, not make the poor worse off overall. It is true that carbon pricing would be regressive but the revenue can and should be used to alleviate that problem by transferring money to those who will be disproportionately affected by the tax/tariffs at the bottom of the income distribution. Another option is to use the revenue to lower other regressive taxes (e.g. the payroll tax), provide income tax reductions, or boost the EITC, which should again mitigate the problem. Even if the revenue is not sufficient to make the poorest families whole, we may decide that additional transfers from general funds are necessary, which can definitely be paid for given that the US is an outlier among OECD countries in terms of how low taxes are.

Looking at the problem from a global perspective, even if we were unable to offset the costs to the first-world poor, there is good evidence that the countries that will be hit the hardest by climate change are third-world countries with a heavy reliance on subsistence farming. And, within these countries, it is against the poorest people who will be hit the hardest. Which means that, from a utilitarian standpoint, it may still make sense to hurt relatively poor first-world people if it benefits those who are much poorer than them.

Comment: Attempts to limit users typically backfire (Score 1) 195

by damienl451 (#46201795) Attached to: Is Whitelisting the Answer To the Rise In Data Breaches?

The powers that be had the great idea of launching a policy of locking down PCs where I work. Which is ridiculous considering that we're a large research university and that, believe it or not, bureaucrats can't predict what researcher X in lab Y will want to put on their computer. Because users were unable to do anything on their own, the IT people were spending a lot of time going from one office to the other installing the software that people needed. It lasted for maybe a week, at which point some "helpful" IT person decided that it was much easier to just give "trusted" users the admin password! However, that was the XP era and people soon realized that they could not easily install .msi packages for instance because you could not just right-click, "run as admin" them. But if you were logged in as admin, you could install everything easily.

So, eventually, lots of people started using the admin account FULL TIME and leaving the password in plain sight on post-it notes. So, to "improve security", we went from people using regular user accounts, with a small risk of their machine being infected/compromised, to people logging in as admin with full rights on the machine. What a great improvement!

I suppose that white-listing may solve the problem if it's really impossible to do anything. But it's 2014 and you can't predict what people will want to use.

Comment: Re:This is backwards (Score 1) 264

by damienl451 (#45251799) Attached to: France Moves To Protect Independent Booksellers From Amazon

How is this any different from the present situation? Do you think that Amazon will print books that have gone out of print because they were too old and are being kept in copyright limbo by the publisher? Do you think that independent booksellers carry those in their inventory? Obviously not since no publisher will want to reprint a book whose copyright status is not clear. That leaves used copies, which Amazon also sells. Your argument makes no sense whatsoever: if a publisher wants to keep a book in print, they can do so whether they go all digital or not. But if a book turns out to be unprofitable, which version is more likely to remain available: the print version that must be kept in a controlled environment and will take up valuable shelf space, or the electronic version that can be sold at near zero marginal cost?

Your last sentence is also fact-less bigoted drivel.

Comment: Re:In other news... (Score 2) 264

by damienl451 (#45251757) Attached to: France Moves To Protect Independent Booksellers From Amazon

But prices are higher in France for best-sellers, which is what really matters for most people. Take Plonger, the latest recipient of the Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française. It's a 448-page hardcover book that retails for EUR19.95. Now take Eleanor Catton's "The Luminaries", which received the 2013 Man Booker Prize. It retails for GBP9.49 in the UK (EUR11.12) or USD16.74 (EUR12.12) in the US. That's almost twice as much, for half the number of pages.

But perhaps the difference is due to them being two different books, and very recent ones.

So you can also compare translations of the same book: let's have a look at 1Q84. In the US, you can get the paperback version for USD13.10 (EUR9.49). In France, you can get it for EUR9.12. So it's about the same price. Except that the French version only has Book 1, and Book 2 and 3 cost the same price. Which means that the book is three times as expensive.

Obviously, you can find other, less popular books that are cheaper in France than abroad. So there's no across the board increase in prices, you're right. However, there are distributive effects that should be taken into account. If niche (read: more intellectually rigorous) books are more affordable, this primarily benefits higher-educated, wealthier consumers. In practice, the French model asks the masses to subsidize the consumption habits of the educated rich.

Comment: Re:Long distance travel (Score 4, Informative) 168

by damienl451 (#45168709) Attached to: Black Death Predated 'Small World' Effect, Say Network Theorists

There are other ways that the plague could spread. Yes, someone infected with the plague would die before reaching their destination. However, ships also carried cargo, which could be contaminated. Standard procedure was to quarantine ships and their cargo but, understandably, there could be pressures to rush things because people didn't like their precious fabrics to be kept on an isolated island for forty days, especially since they could easily get damaged in the process.

This is how the Great Plague of Marseilles began: a ship laden with cargo belonging to important people was not quarantined according to procedure. Unfortunately, it had come from the Middle East where the plague was rampant and it starting spreading through the city.

Comment: Re:This is not EU law... (Score 1) 246

by damienl451 (#45103991) Attached to: EU Court Holds News Website Liable For Readers' Comments

Why should they interfere? It's not like there's a great moral principle at stake here. Every country has some limits on free speech. The ECHR is only there to make sure that these limits don't go too far and start limiting legitimate but controversial forms of speech. If legitimate, substantiated criticism of companies or people were made illegal, the ECHR would side with the defendant. There is in fact case law about this: English courts had found people guilty for written a pamphlet critical of McDonald's, and the ECHR ruled against the UK because Article 10 protects free speech.

I think virtually every country agrees that it's a bad idea to let people ruin someone's reputation by spreading false information. But they disagree about whether they should assume that people acted in good faith and make it very difficult for the offended party to sue, or whether they should make it a bit easier. It's not a matter of human rights but of striking the right balance between encouraging people to express themselves freely and making sure that others don't get hurt in the process. Different countries will come to different conclusions about where to draw the line.

Comment: Re:Political Correctness has no place in Kernel De (Score 1) 1501

by damienl451 (#44295551) Attached to: Kernel Dev Tells Linus Torvalds To Stop Using Abusive Language

The problem is that it's pretty useless to tell people who think that it's possible to strongly disagree and voice one's opinion clearly without making people feel like crap, that they too can be verbally abusive.

Analogy: someone is being picked on for being a nerd. They're fed up with the beatings and they go to the principal. The principal tells them: don't worry, I have the solution for you. From now on, you're free to hit them back as much as you want. You won't be punished for it. Is that a good solution? I don't think so. The "nerd" doesn't want to beat up anyone. He wants to be in an environment where there will be no beatings. In theory, "everyone can beat up anyone they want" sounds like a wonderfully egalitarian plan. In practice, it's a gift to bullies since they're the only ones who want to be beating up people.

Same thing here. People who want to be polite and treat others as human beings don't care that they're allowed to be verbally abusive too. They don't want to and won't be. The only people who benefit from that kind of " free-for-all" policy are those who are already inclined to abuse people.

Comment: Re: Then let the "wizards" go (Score 1) 1501

by damienl451 (#44295449) Attached to: Kernel Dev Tells Linus Torvalds To Stop Using Abusive Language

Do you seriously base your evaluation of the consequences of verbal abuse on a cutesy saying that you learned as kid?

I'm glad to know that you think you could never be harmed by verbal abuse. I'm also willing to bet that nobody with power over you ever decided to abuse you. Perhaps you should get acquainted with what people who suffered workplace harassment have to say? Do you think they'd agree that " sticks and stones..."? Or perhaps they were all weaklings who got what they deserved?

Comment: Re:Verbal abuse and physical abuse ... (Score 1) 1501

by damienl451 (#44295381) Attached to: Kernel Dev Tells Linus Torvalds To Stop Using Abusive Language

That's not what he's saying. Cows and human beings are both mammals. Does that mean there's no difference between cows and people?

Verbal and physical abuse are not the same either. But they have enough in common that it's meaningful to classify them both as "abuse" . "Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me" must be the most deceptive proverb ever. Word *will* hurt you if you're subjected to a constant barrage of verbal abuse and are publicly humiliated on a daily basis. Why do you think decent people " go postal" and start shooting their abusive boss and the co-workers who didn't help them? Why do you think people commit suicide in the locker room? The line between physical and verbal abuse is rather blurry since verbal abuse can also have physical consequences.

Comment: Re:This Is Considered News?? (Score 5, Insightful) 303

by damienl451 (#44203113) Attached to: Why Protesters In Cairo Use Laser Pointers

If it were so easy, many South American countries would have become as prosperous and democratic as the US since their constitutions were basically copies of the US Constitution. Yet, somehow, it didn't really work.

You can see the same in many former British colonies. If you read their Constitution, you'll see that they're not much different from what you find in any modern democracy. Bill of rights, checks and balances, constitutional protections for both negative and positive rights. They also inherited the common law tradition and much of their legislation is copy-pasted from UK legislation circa 1960. It's so similar in theory that UK-trained lawyers can usually practice with minimum to nil extra training, as most of the legal education is done from UK textbooks and case books anyway.

Yet, in practice, it's quite different. Sure, you have the same theoretical protections, but they do little good when everyone is free to ignore them. It's nice to tell the courts that they have to be independent and fair, but how do you guarantee that?

"They need to adjust their system, institute checks and balances", etc. is all wishful thinking. It's about as useful as telling a developing country that all they need to do is grow. It's true but pretty useless as far as advice goes. The tricky part is knowing how to move from the equilibrium where the law is widely ignored, where formal checks and balances don't work, where the constitution is not worth the paper it's written on, to a better equilibrium. As far as I can tell, no-one has yet found a magic recipe for that because things are usually the way they are for a reason. It's not like bad institutions just spring up at random: they are usually people who have an interest in maintaining the status quo, and we were able to see times and times again that removing whoever happens to be in power doesn't do much to solve the structural problems and can even lead to worse outcomes (Iraq? Libya?).

"An organization dries up if you don't challenge it with growth." -- Mark Shepherd, former President and CEO of Texas Instruments