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Comment It is reasonable, but for a different reason ... (Score 1) 173

It takes an investment to supply customers that have unusually high power demands compared to their (geographic) neighbors.

It's not about selling kilowatts, it's about ensuring that your grid can deliver them to the customer.

In other words, you may well have to adjust the grid in an area to accommodate just one high-density user.

And who's going to pay for that adjustment? The energy company? His neighbors? Or the more-intense-than-average user?

If it concerned e.g. a bakery, you might amortise the changes to the grid over a ten-year period or so and charge them the standard tariff. Bakeries aren't very volatile.

But bitcoin mining operations are. They're decidely footloose, and they'll leave the instant their cost of moving shop is less than what they stand to gain from lower tariffs someplace else.. So there's a substantial risk they'll be gone next year if some other place decides it wants to sell off a bit of surplus power and undercuts your rates.

For that reason alone it's entirely reasonable to want to recoup the grid adjustment in a shorter period of time, through higher rates.

It's not about price-gouging bitcoin miners, it's about refusing to subsidise them with investment in free (for the customer) grid adjustments and risk not being able to recover.that investment.

Comment Even toxic words fall under freedom of speech (Score 2) 828

Censorship is anything but "unimaginable". Most of it comes under "editorship" (sometimes a legal requirement as in editing abusive comments on a website, sometimes editorial bias ("we can't publish this rubbish, we have standards"), straightforward commercial considerations ("our readership won't like to see this published"); see e.g., sometimes through simple fact-checking). Only when it's suggested that freedom of speech removed where it used to exist do we notice it and call it "censorship".

Twitter wisely doesn't interfere with (political) speech that is basically bombastic, certainly crude, definitely dumb, mostly misleading, fully fearmongering, and which might reasonably be termed racist. And it shouldn't. This speech is not illegal and it's far too lucrative for Twitter to have it. The whole country is talking about it and many of them are using Twitter to respond. Great! Free publicity! Increase in user volume! Societal relevance!

I (and many others) consider what mr. Trump says poisonous rubbish, but we support his right to speak freely. There is quite enough censorship going on already.

Freedom of speech often isn't nice, fuddy-duddy, or conducive to "cosmic harmony". And neither is it meant to be. It is however the cornerstone of the battle of words that's known as public debate. Freedom of speech is meaningless when there is harmony. Its protection is most needed when your opponents are screaming with rage, foaming at the mouth, and are brandishing sticks, knives, and guns in response to spoken and written words.

Of course freedom of speech can be abused, and Words aren't harmless. Communism came to power because of Words. National-socialism was voted into power ... because of Words. Words that squarely tapped into an undercurrent of rage and inflamed people.

However, we have certain rules about where to draw the line. Not mob-rule. Rules like the rule against Libel for instance. Incitement to riot. Calling for violence against US citizens. And, hehehe, that most serious of crimes: copyright infringement. Of course that leaves sneaky people a tremendous amount of freedom and plenty of opportunity to do damage.

Like trumpeting that they are _not_ calling someone a Bimbo ... because that would not be "politically correct" (ok, no other sources of reticence seem to apply, like common decency for example, but this one is a show-stopper apparently). By ranting that someone had blood coming out of her "wherever" ... when when one is inconveniently confronted with one's own words (As in a childisch "nyer nyer ... never said anything that tripped a legal rule but sure got the message across didn't I ?"). By ranting about seeing certain ethnic groups partying and revelling in the destruction of the Twin Towers (something which amazingly no-one else saw). Like advocating deliberate indiscriminate bombing of large numbers of civilians to show (Soviet style) toughness (and arguably giving the targets sufficient reason to retaliate with terrorist attacks here in return). Like proposing 40% tariffs on imports (probably wrecking the US economy, that of most of the world, triggering large-scale instabilities, and perhaps even a big war). And serving ISIS with the very thing it so desperately wants: a chance to trigger a global conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims. No worries. All covered by Freedom of Speech.

Even so, whether any lines are crossed should be determined in a court of law. Not by mob-rule. Of course no system is perfect, but we have traditionally opted for a very heavy burden of proof in any legal proceedings against freedom of speech. And rightly so I feel.

Comment Good example of applied mathematics (Score 1) 303

Useful too. Except for convincing conspiracy theorists.

A good conspiracy theory is a belief, not a hypothesis.

See e.g. the "Flat earth" believers ("The earth is flat, you see, but "da gubbamint" hushes it up (with truly amazing efficiency, across several decades)).

And the "rational Pi" crowd ("The number Pi can is a rational number, not an irrational one, but established mathematicians simply refuse to take any proofs to the contrary seriously and conspire against anyone who tries to put such theories forward").

And the "Hollow Earth" crowd ("The earth is hollow and contains some sort of very desirable world inside, you could walk there (entrances coveniently located at the North Pole and the South Pole) if "da gubbamint" didn't suppress this and "disappears" people who catch on or puts them away in lunatic asylums).

And, you'll laugh at this, some crowd who tells (sells at ruinous rates) fairytales about how we're being put upon by invisible aliens that defy any established scientific detection but whom we can only divest ourselves from by purchasing "training" and "tech" from this group at extortionate rates.

Or theories about how "da gubbamint" is "coming to take your guns" in order to effect a UN take-ver of the US (supported of course by copious numbers of black helicopters).

You'll never convince any of the "believers" in any of these little conspiracy theories by pointing out the low likelihood of any such conspiracy surviving longer than a few weeks, but it's a useful way of approaching "live" conspiracy theories for the rest of us.

Comment Re:Free market dogwhistle (Score 5, Insightful) 84

Have free market dogmaticists ever heard of a thing called "imperfect market"?

And wondered whether it is in people's interest to face electricity tariffs that may vary widely (by a factor of 10 at least, and without warning, like on a stock exchange) between the 15-min time slots in which electric power tends to be bought and sold?

Because that's what would be needed to remove one of the biggest imperfections in the electricity market: fixed consumer tariffs.

Allowing regulatory bodies to incentivise reduced consumption when generation costs go up is actually the simplest, most pragmatic way to remove some of the imperfections from the market. And it *demonstrably* results in quite substantial savings for customers.

Only ... it tends to cost power companies money, which is why they opposed this commonsense measure by legal means, and lost even when they tried to dress up their self-serving objections as "opposition to measures that interfere with the free-market".

Funny how this kind of dogwhistle tactics always brings the more dogmatic "free market" supporters out of the woodwork. Supporters who are clueless about anything to do with the issue at hand (including the market in which the issue arose), but but who are consistently full of empty slogans and over-simplistic arguments.

Comment An automated version of 1984 is here (Score 1) 81

It's basically the page rank algorithm but with new proximity measures.

I think we all agree that this "state of the art" represents an automated version of 1984. The tool is there, it just depends on what you use it for, i.e. what your target population is.

Proximity measures can be derived from anything on the Internet, and that opens the gates to widespread use (and abuse).

Take e.g. proximity to known mafia members as a distance measure, and you'll find mafia networks (even though most of their connections are offline. Adding cellphone metadata to the mix will soon cure that).

Take proximity to e.g. farmer Bundy and his son as your measure, intersect that with gun ownership, affinity to guns, right-wing ideological websites, and anti-government activism and you'll find an interesting pool of homegrown "potential terrorirsts".

Take proximity to known Jews, phonecalls to Israel, Israeli embassy personnel, Israeli citizens or pro-Israel-interest websites, and (sensitive defense information or political power including House membership), and you've got a pool of potential "Pollards" .

Take proximity to websites like, Bernie Sanders, online articles that bash Tea Party politics, Trump, Cruz, Rubbio, Palin, Koch brothers, NFA etc., and you've identified "militant leftists".

Take visiting of pro-Islam websites, ability the read Arabic, mosque attendance, having a beard, and owning a gun, and you've got potential Jihadi terrorists.

Great huh? Fully automated pre-screening of undesirables of all stripes. Possibilities are endless. I'm sure that Sen. McCarthy and mr. Hoover would have approved wholeheartedly.

Who needs plodding old-fashioned intelligence work and old-fashioned police work now?

All we need now is for someone to relax the standards of evidence needed to prosecute people for suspicious behaviour and we can really get to work on "terrorists". If they're truly innocent the subsequent legal process will clear them, right?

Comment Direct democracy is a terribly bad idea (Score 3, Insightful) 490

The reason is that the unfortunately average Joe is a complete ignoramus as far as facts, context, history, law, and consequences are concerned (being aware of the facts (e.g. by reading reports) is a full-time job for people with high qualifications. Joe Sixpack could never cope, especially not in his spare time). That's why we have career-officials and functionaries (e.g. diplomats, analysts, administrators, lawyers, economists, etc.) running the day-to-day show

In addition he doesn't understand other people's reasoning (and isn't interested in trying), can't think straight (leaves gaps in reasoning and lacks the stamina to address them) is far too emotional to deal in a sane way with complex policy issues. jumps to conclusions, and has the attention span of a goldfish (and therefore hardly never learns, except the most basic facts).

That is the reason we have a representative democracy, not a direct one. Elected politicians look after the medium-term tactics, and direct the professionals. That doesn't always pan out, but more often than not it works quite well.

Technical issues aren't important. If desired we could have set up nation-wide monthly referenda since the advent of the telegraph.

The thing the average voter can sort of be trusted with is (a) judging people (running for office) (b) choosing between to opposing world views, and (c) choosing to adopt or reject certain fundamental ideas.

That's sort of doable for almost anyone: if people make a mess of things, vote 'em out and go with the competition. It also allows people to decide on questions of principle (but only after they have been assessed by functionaries and elected officials)

The electorate (in our case) works like a final court of appeal, but also as a "noisy" arbitrator: individual opinions run the gamut from smart, insightful, and perhaps even noble to dumb, blind, and venal with terrible extremes. Fortunately _on average_ our electorate seems to have done fairly well over the past few centuries.

Direct democracy would be terribly noisy, incredibly volatile, over-emotional, and would in general serve us very very badly.

So lets leave day-to-day affairs to officials, short-term politics to representatives, and genuine questions of principle to the electorate.

Comment Re:A classical, and sometimes popular, fallacy (Score 1) 456


Your apparent disagreement stems from various sources.

First off you seek refuge in "the letter of the law" and presume that any reasoning on the letter of the law automatically leads to valid outcomes. Not so, as a couple of thousand years of court proceedings and legal activity shows. It it really was that simple, we wouldn't need courts anymore. Just some sort of syntax checker for legal reasoning. Just as lawyers can find what appear to be tax loopholes, other lawyers can examine those loopholes and, err, vigorously examine them try to poke holes in them. Why should the IRS have its hands tied behind its back, eh? I sense a bias here against tax collection.

More to the point: there are plenty of legal constructions to save tax that, on close examination, do not hold up. See e.g. here: It's terribly easy to set up a string of international corporations that trade with each other but don't charge "market value" except where profits aren't taxed. Such constructions are "legal" in the sense that no single law is violated. Yet they are considered "illegal" by the IRS and the courts.

Where you seem to think it opportune to blindly accept any reasoning or construct that allows a company to prevent its profits from being taxed, I think it's no more than reasonable to examine any such constructs meticulously for potential flaws, especially for unreasonableness and abuse of legal constructs buried deep in accountancy. I think it's a foregone conclusion that this activity would bring a substantial payoff for the IRS.

Where you hotly contend that "ONLY" (what you are pleased to term) "legitimate" functions of the government are to be funded, I sense a similar bias. In what sense is closing the budget deficit not legitimate? What part of the current budget is "illegitimate"?

I often hear (conservative) talking heads shout about "government waste". Unfortunately they usually fail to make clear what they consider "government waste", and if they do, it usually turns out that they consider things like unemployment benefits, healthcare, education (from primary schools to universities), environmental protection and suchlike examples of "waste".

It's their right to think so, but they are only putting forward a *political opinion*. I just happen to have a different one. When I look at the continued difficulty for many working-class people to make ends meet, the rapid disappearance of our middle class, the continued skewing of income (the famous 1%), our continuing budget deficit, the undiminished profitability of our enterprises, and their never-ceasing ingenuity in avoiding contributions (Tax avoidance), I find it difficult not to think that (a) tax avoidance should be curtailed and (b) that high-income individuals and highly profitable corporations can and should do more. I seem to recall that Warren Buffet himself takes a similar view ( ) even if some party filibustered proposals to this end.

To cut a long story short, what you are pleased to call "legitimate" government functions really depends on your political views. And as such those views are of course (1) completely arbitrary and (2) of equal value to anyone else's views on the matter.

So go easy on the "should", and the "going off the rails" part, Ok?

Comment GUI Design can be done Right (Score 0) 402

The problem is that you don't want GUI design, you want *good* GUI design.

Just compare the look and feel of an iPhone with that of a standard Android phone. It's better.

Unfortunately GUI design is hard to get right. It takes both talent and effort, and lots of it. It's easy to get it wrong.

For better or worse, many FOSS projects have neither. Interfaces are put together by coders. I would like to point to the Gnome desktop as an example of a lot of design effort gone wrong, and to the KDE desktop as an example of where coders have run amuck with the GUI.

As a browser I way prefer an "old" look (Seamonkey) over Firefox, so in that sense I'd say you're right.

The problem is: where to get good design? It's rare to find an enthusiastic FOSS coder who can do a decent GUI job, and even rarer to find a decent GUI designer who'll go through the pain of trying to take charge of a GUI design of a FOSS project. It's more frustrating than herding cats.

For better or worse, this is the one area where corporate software development may have an edge of FOSS: design standards can be (and usually are) imposed across a product or a product range. Not a guarantee for success of course, but often better than FOSS offerings.

Comment Re:A classical, and sometimes popular, fallacy (Score 1) 456

@Anonymous Coward

Well ... yes and no. Let me first admit that I feel that a lot of money in government is err ... wasted. And yes, we should be critical of how (our) public money is spent. But Government waste is often like advertising waste: the trick is to find out which _part_ is wasted.

Only ... I really don't think that all the federal, state, municipal governments in the US are particularly wasteful. They could be better, they could be worse (see e.g. here, and here for a comparison with China).

That's why I most certainly don't agree with people who go around shouting their heads off about "the Government is wasting our money" (the rah-rah crowd I was referring to). I like roads without potholes, decent municipal services, bridges that don't collapse, decent (public !) education, and a high quality civil service. And yes, that all costs money.

And wherever mediocre people spend money within a thicket of rules (part of which serve to keep them accountable) they will waste part of it. You can try to remedy that after the fact (I'm in favour of that of course) but you can't very well prevent it.

So, yes, keep Government size in check. But don't skimp on those parts of Government we agreed we should have.

There are two sides to the Government Efficiency coin. Things that bug me is the endemic low level of salaries in certain Government functions, which I think results in people being hired whom you'd rather not see in such functions.

Teachers for a start. DHS screeners.

For example I admire the way Israeli airport security works. They're smart and well-educated, they're polite, and they're very thorough. They also receive a reasonable pay (which is why they're much more costly than their US counterparts). Err compare that to the average DHS airport screener and you'll see what I mean. We pay our airport screeners ... peanuts ... training is done on a shoestring, initiative is stamped out ("the book" is everything) and then we complain when we get less than stellar specimens checking us.

Didn't we bring at least part of that onto ourselves?

Comment Re:A classical, and sometimes popular, fallacy (Score 1) 456

@ jmac_the_man

Then we're in agreement. I never pretended that tax avoidance is against the law (whereever did you get that notion ?), I am saying that:

(1) we need to apply the same vigour and legal talent to challenge the legal constructs Corporations come up with to avoid paying taxes and

(2) that it is quite reasonable to propose changes in the law to repair and undo the loopholes corporations found, and more generally whenever we feel Corporations could contribute a bit more to our society. As compared to what real citizens would pay in their place.

And you totally agree with both points, right?

Comment Re:A classical, and sometimes popular, fallacy (Score 1) 456

@Anonymous Coward

Corporations "provide" absolutely nothing except a legal, organizational, and accounting wrapper for business activities. It lets people buy and sell stuff and services in the Corporation's name instead of Joe Doe. The point is that it's the corporation (wrapper) that's liable for any debts, mismanagement, fraud, legal liabilities etc. Not the people involved in the enterprise.

Corporations (see e.g. ) are on the one hand a kind of "pseudo citizens", and on the other hand serve as a wrapper for real people acting through them. That means it's reasonable to expect them to pay tax just like any other citizen does.

Now if you were a private citizen earning overseas profits, you'd be taxed. Income tax for one thing. A corporation needn't be. It can pay waaaay less than an ordinary citizen would if it's clever enough to pay close attention to a myriad deductions. Now don't get me wrong: that's reasonable ... it provides an incentive to keep the money in the business instead of pulling it out, promoting growth, to our net benefit.

Only ... it's possible to take it to the next level by setting up a morass of administrative companies that sell each other, say, IP rights. And keep profits safely abroad and out of the home company's balance sheets.

So ... in summary: corporations can be exempt from tax where individuals wouldn't be because we (by a *political* decision) want it to be attractive to keep companies funded. That's a decision, not a right. Only ... corporations, being neat little engines of mathematical profit optimisation, dig and dig and dig, and discover all kinds of loopholes in the law whereby they can reduce the amount of tax they are legally obligated to pay. Without changing one iota in their real-world operations. Like (among others) Apple is doing.

But why in heaven's name should Corporations be allowed to avoid tax on overseas profits where individuals wouldn't be?

I can see no reason whatsoever why they should be. Only ... corporations and their managers don't want to hear of it. It stands in the way of their tax windfalls, you see.

Comment Re:A classical, and sometimes popular, fallacy (Score 2) 456

The question assumes that Apple owes $50.2B in taxes on overseas profit. They don't owe that money

Not so fast there ... the last I read about this is that Apple is suspected of tax-avoidance. I.e. deliberately setting up a network of purely administrative companies and trading in purely adminstrative "products" with no other purpose than to prevent overseas profits from showing up in Apple's accounts under a heading that would make them taxable in the US.

From a letter-of-the-law find-the-legal-loophole-accountancy perspective this may even be legal (and it probably is: it would be foolish for Apple not to hire top-notch lawyers and accountants when it wants to avoid paying a few billion $ in tax).

That doesn't render the question of whether (1) this tax-avoidance is reasonable and whether (2) there really is no legal perspective under which it can be taxed, and whether (3) this legal loophole should not be closed at once a "political BS question". It's a political question, only the "BS" component is lacking.

Comment A classical, and sometimes popular, fallacy (Score 5, Interesting) 456


Some people actually seem to believe that "Corporations run at whatever profit, period", and would like to imply that those corporations owe nothing to the society they are based in.

Of course that's total nonsense as a moment's reflection will show.

Corporations aren't islands. They are built on a solid foundation provided by society, embedded in that society, fed and protected by that society. In Apple's case that would be the US. They owe that society for all the things they cannot do or provide for themselves but are only too happy to take for granted.

An educated workforce, the ideas that they built their business on (more often than not based on government or semi-government research at some stage), a legal system that grants them all kinds of rights (contract rights, property rights, copyrights, patents) and protects them if and when those rights are infringed on (both nationally and internationally), a huge part of their market (no company can exist without clients affluent enough to purchase its products/services), a culture in which their products are valued (what's Apple's market share in India?), an ecosystem of suppliers and service-providers, a reliable currency, network and communication infrastructure, roads, ports, transport, housing for its operations and its workforce, etc. etc..

The bill that society at large presents to them for all that vital infrastructure is known as "Tax". And, companies being companies, would rather minimize that bill any way they can.

CEO's for example are paid to help their company increase its revenue and reduce expense. The issue of what's fair or reasonable never even comes up. Any anything that increases profitability (and doesn't result in said CEO being convicted and/or jailed) goes. Companies have no responsibility for anything whatsoever except their bottom line. Of course they understand that they can't do without the society they are rooted in. Only, as with any supplier, they try to talk the price down. Even if that hurts the society they are so busy benefiting from. That doesn't make them "immoral", but it does make them firmly "a-moral".

It is in that light that we should view their comments about "Tax being just political bs.". It's their job to say that; it's in their interest to say that; they're paid to say that. So that's what they say. They might even believe that (a job requirement perhaps?). They couldn't be less concerned with considerations as to whether that's true, reasonable, or fair.

The sad and risible fact is that there still are Americans (not being CEO's) who haven't spotted these simple facts and actually lend credence to rah-rah-taxes-are-a-waste sloganeering.

Comment Re:Documents that made him look like an stupid jer (Score 1) 365


I think most of us here agree that mr. Trump is an idiot and thoroughly despicable from an ethical point of view. However I think we can also agree that it's at the very core core of our values that he should be able to speak loudly (well . he needs no help with that, does he?) and clearly. And without being DDOS'ed.

Although I can (usually) be classified as firmly "liberal", I think mr. Trump (and the tea party wingnuts) are doing the Republican party a big disservice.

Conservatives can (and often do) make a lot of sense. Not all of them of course, but enough to listen to their general point of view. People like e.g. Dick Cheney, Henry Kissinger for instance. Or even mr. Romney. I may not agree with them, but I definitely respect the quality of their thinking. The points you mentioned: (fiscally conservative, small government, socially progressive) are worth keeping an eye on.

The sane voice of conservatism is getting snowed under by the more vocal demagoguery we're getting from the Far Right. As provided by people of the calibre of, say, mr. Trump, mrs. Palin, mrs. Coulter, mr. Limbaugh etc.

Also I think it's a bad idea to want to see the Republican party torn to shreds or turned into a wingnuts-only party. Especially since wingnuts need someone to rally around who can actually think. It's dangerous if they get their thought leadership from people like Trump and Palin. For themselves or the rest of us, and for the world at large.

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