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Comment: Re:So what qualifies? (Score 1) 482

by jfengel (#48187871) Attached to: In UK, Internet Trolls Could Face Two Years In Jail

In Germany, it's written all the way into the Constitution. The very first article reads (in official translation), "Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority." The second article, about personal development, specifically limits it to development that doesn't contradict the previous part.

That doesn't make the definitions any more concrete, but it does suggest that it's a country which takes it seriously, and the requirement pervades the rest of the national law. I don't know if that can be adopted into a country like the US, where a great many people want their First Amendment rights to trump everything else. I can even see the case for it. It's just that I hear it defended most vocally by people who aren't in a position to be harassed and don't see the way it can interfere with the rest of their lives.

Comment: Re:Let me get this right (Score 1) 832

by jfengel (#48172091) Attached to: Bill Gates: Piketty's Attack on Income Inequality Is Right

They say that, but I don't believe it. The FairTax still needs to be computed, since some transactions are subject to it, and others aren't. The "prebate" system is begging to be gamed.

It seems to me that they're comparing an existing system which has decades of accumulated cruft to a brand new one which will accumulate equal amounts of cruft. I'm all for sweeping out the existing system just to reset the cruft counter to zero, but there's nothing special about the FairTax that achieves that. Nor does it particularly explain how they're going to deal with the unfairnesses that come from removing deductions that people counted on to make long-term purchasing decisions. That's a problem any new simplified tax code would have to deal with, but the FairTax doesn't even make for a clear way to phase things out because of the shift from income to consumption as a basis.

Mostly, though, I think it's disingenuous of them to claim benefits that could apply equally well to any new tax code, and to claim that the cost will be zero when that's clearly not the case.

Comment: Re:Let me get this right (Score 1) 832

by jfengel (#48162365) Attached to: Bill Gates: Piketty's Attack on Income Inequality Is Right

The "FairTax" isn't an income tax, but a sales tax. That's how it gets around the complexities of determining income.

And replaces them by the difficulties of determining a "sale". Stock sales aren't sales, for example. Neither are business-to-business sales. Only end consumer consumption is a "sale". (And it introduces vast new ranges of fraud. "Oh, we didn't eat that food. It was purchased by The Jones Household, Inc, which is a corporation and therefore not subject to tax.)

Making a progressive sales tax is harder than making a progressive income tax, because it's collected by each merchant, and there's no single record of how much you've paid so far. And the sales tax is very regressive, since poor people spend all of their money, while the wealthy make "investments". (Buying a house is a sale; buying a factory is an investment.) They combat the obvious regressiveness of it with a "prebate", a kind of guaranteed poverty-line income. (And a whole new realm of opportunities for fraud.) That means that the poor pay less. And the wealthy pay less. So to take in the same total revenue, the tax on the middle class goes up.

There are reasons to do a consumption-side tax, and it can be implemented more or less coherently with a value-added tax rather than a sales tax. (You set money aside every time you receive it, and pay it every time you spend. The net effect is that if you buy something and sell it at a higher price, the net tax is only on the profit. It applies on every single transaction, which is a lot of overhead but it eliminates a lot of meaningless distinctions.) It's still regressive, which can be fixed by a progressive income tax on high-dollar earners. I suspect that's what Gates is calling for. It's very different from the FairTax.

There are problems with that as well; there's problems with any tax system. But it's not the obvious attempt to shift the burden to the middle class, as the FairTax is.

Comment: Re:Let me get this right (Score 2) 832

by jfengel (#48162265) Attached to: Bill Gates: Piketty's Attack on Income Inequality Is Right

Exactly. The FairTax is highly regressive, because it taxes spending. The poor spend all of their income; the wealthy don't. It tries to make that less obvious with its "prebate", sort of a guaranteed minimum income, which removes some of the burden from those below the poverty line.

If the burden isn't on the poor and it's not on the wealthy then it *must* rest on the middle class. Proponents seem to want to play a shell game, but the fact is that if you want to remain revenue neutral, somebody is paying. And if it's not revenue-neutral, then the deficit must go up, because shifting the income side doesn't change the spending side.

The thing I find most distressing is that it's not the tax brackets that make taxes difficult. Computing the brackets is simple arithmetic. The difficulty comes in computing what counts as income, what we want to exempt, and the myriad tax breaks we use to nudge the economy. It would be easy enough to design a progressive income tax that doesn't have all of those features, and it would be at least as simple as the FairTax (without its ludicrous and fraud-prone "prebate"). But of course they're not really about simplicity. They're really about shifting the burden away from the rich.

Comment: The hushing wasn't very effective (Score 5, Informative) 376

by jfengel (#48153515) Attached to: Pentagon Reportedly Hushed Up Chemical Weapons Finds In Iraq

I heard frequently during the war itself that we HAD found chemical weapons, mostly from pro-war proponents. I gather that it was talked about all the time on Fox News and right-wing talk radio.

And the reply, even at the time, was that these were weapons from the first Gulf War, mostly inoperable or unreliable due to age, and likely forgotten about. They weren't part of an ongoing production effort, which is what we'd been told. There was widespread support for the war, at the beginning, based on that, which faded as we realized that the danger had been badly overstated.

So I'm trying to figure out what's new here. I had the impression that this was well known. Is it that it wasn't more widely, discussed because the Pentagon wanted it not to be?

Comment: Re:Why? (Score 1) 975

Why is it so fucking hard to get a team of reputable people, using a well designed experiment, test this thing?

Because he won't let them. He selects the team. That's why you get the snark and arrogance from the other side: the secrecy and vagueness are strongly indicative of a hoax. Not proof, but it would be so very easy to disprove the hoax, and he's conspicuously not allowing that.

Comment: Re:Every time XKCD 936 is Mentioned (Score 1) 546

by jfengel (#48135077) Attached to: Password Security: Why the Horse Battery Staple Is Not Correct

That's correct, and I'd really like to see somebody actually test Munroe's theory. I don't think that "correct horse battery staple" is any more memorable than any other password with an equivalent entropy. It's easy to remember that one because it's that-ONE. If you have a different password at each of hundreds of sites, it seems to me you won't do any better at remember which combination goes with this site. There will be hundreds of words running around in your head.

The visual might help you keep the set of 4 of them together, but will you really be able to remember which ones you used when you established that password months or even years ago? Perhaps if you modify the technique to incorporate the site that the password goes to...

It seems like something that should be testable. Are CHBS-based passwords any more memorable than any other technique? They are more brute-force resistant than shorter passwords, but if web sites are allowing brute-force attacks then something is deeply wrong to start with. That's what this article is about: CHBS generates great passwords but it may not be solving the right problem.

Comment: Re:Strong passwords, yes ... (Score 1) 546

by jfengel (#48134991) Attached to: Password Security: Why the Horse Battery Staple Is Not Correct

I find the whole notion of "secret questions" baffling. It's generally stuff that can be looked up. That reduces the security on the account, with the bonus that it has a chance of locking me out if I can't remember precisely the capitalization or punctuation I used, or which of my pets was my favorite.

Comment: Re:Alternative headline (Score 1) 429

by jfengel (#48114627) Attached to: BitHammer, the BitTorrent Banhammer

I wouldn't have thought so. One could even deny that what they were doing was vigilantism. In this case he never used the word "vigilante" so I'd have said that he's explicitly NOT a "self-proclaimed vigilante". He was so proclaimed by a Slashdotter upthread.

He's certainly self-appointed, and vigilantes are by definition self-appointed, but that's different. (It's also not the same as saying that he's necessarily a vigilante, and the term doesn't exactly fit, but it's not entirely wrong, either.)

Comment: Re:You mean... (Score 1) 77

by jfengel (#48106203) Attached to: Indonesian Cave Art May Be World's Oldest

I suspect the AC doesn't care much about Bishop Ussher, nor about theism in general, but according to a recent Gallup poll 42% of Americans agree with Ussher's conclusion.

That's a lot of people. People who deserve to have their feelings hurt, because they believe something stupid. Ussher was merely wrong; they are being stupid.

Not everybody proceeds to generalize that to every religious believer. That would be similarly stupid, an obvious fallacy. But the young-earth creationists are nearly a majority of Americans, and a prominently pushy bunch attempting to have their long-disproven dogma treated as fact. They deserve to have their feelings hurt 10,000 times, and more, until they stop doing it.

"A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices." -- William James

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