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Comment Re:Readily adapatable to military use is NOT a req (Score 1) 688

So imagine using as precedent a case that was never even defended against. So what were the precedents established?

1.The Second Amendment protects only the ownership of military-type weapons appropriate for use in an organized militia.

2.The "double barrel 12-gauge Stevens shotgun having a barrel less than 18 inches in length, bearing identification number 76230" was never used in any militia organization.

You missed the most important precedent. It's a subtle one, and most people miss it, but it is absolutely critical for understanding the current state of the US legal system.

By creating a ruling that directly contradicts the written text of the Bill of Rights the Supreme Court chose to put a major contradiction into US law.

For legal professionals to create contradictions in the law, or to be involved in writing or enforcing law that does this, is always unethical practice of law, without exception. Contradictions make the law harder for non-professionals to understand, and that creates a long term artificial demand for the services of legal professionals, hence the ethics issue.

Even the appearance of contradiction would have been a problem, and to make matters worse, the court ignored the well documented history behind the 2nd Amendment and ownership of arms in Colonial America.

It follows that the legal authority of the court in this case was actually limited to telling the government a constitutional amendment would be required before the law they had passed would be legal. That's inherent in the oaths the judges swear when they accept positions with the court.

Further, the right to ethical practice of law being one of the most important rights protected under the 9th Amendment (under any reasonable statement of such a right, even the appearance of conflict of interest must be avoided if alternatives exist), the judges not only violated their oaths to uphold the Bill of Rights, but by their example effectively gave carte blanche to the legal profession to ignore major ethics issues in the law. US law is now riddled with ethics problems, and while we can't blame all of that on Miller (Slavery, aside from the moral issues, was certainly ethically invalid, as were the Jim Crow laws), this case does serve as a very damaging precedent.

Worse, rights retained by the people under the 9th Amendment, by definition, can not be taken away by any entity of government. That's the whole point of having the Bill of Rights be open ended! This was such as fundamental issue (and so critical to overcoming the opposition of the Anti-Federalists) that James Madison actually put it in the document twice, in the 9th Amendment (rights retained by the people) and also in the 10th Amendment (which provides for unspecified rights reserved to the people). By ignoring the right to ethical practice of law, the court effectively created a second major contradiction in the law!

It's ironic, because less than a decade before the events at Nuremberg, the US legal hierarchy was effectively giving the US legal profession a precedent that would allow them to ignore the concept of individual responsibility with respect to major ethics issues, while claiming hierarchical absolution ("my superiors said it was ok"!), something that has largely remained true to this day.

This has certainly had a chilling effect on a wide variety of rights that can reasonably be asserted under the 9th Amendment, such as the right to privacy, but there are broader implications. Not only do we now live in the "Land of the Lawsuit", but there are all kinds of other problems in US federal, state, and local law that trace directly to the willingness of the legal profession -- following the example of the Supreme Court set here and in other cases -- to ignore major ethics issues.

It's not an accident that, for example, the federal tax code is 2700 pages long, a length and complexity far beyond any reasonable size, allowing a lot of loopholes to be hidden in the law, loopholes that lawyers and politicians get paid to write and implement. Similarly, many of the patent and copyright issues that come up here on Slashdot are complicated by legal ethics issues inherent to how these laws are written and implemented. Then there's the right to roam and the right to travel, both of which arise under the 9th Amendment but are often infringed in US law (even Britain finally recognized the right to roam, after a decades long civil rights movement). I could go on with lots of other examples, but a little research of prior Slashdot discussions will quickly bring these up. The net effect on the US legal system, and thus on society, is very bad.

Irregardless of where one stands on the right to bear arms question as it applies to today's world, the decision in the Miller case is one no rational person can stand behind. Those who believe the right to bear arms should be more strongly limited should focus their efforts and getting a new Constitutional Amendment. Anything else does tremendous harm to society.

Comment Re:Except (Score 1) 72

If I were in a position of authority I would propose a gradual transfer of power from the private sector to a national central bank. Something like an increase on the fractional reserve ratio for all private enterprise by 2% per year until it hits 100. "New money" should then only be lent out by the central bank through private institutions acting as brokers. Profits from loans then go into the public treasury. Interest rates can then be controlled by a central authority who's core interest in is the welfare of the people, rather than shareholder profits. Periods of increased economic growth would result in increased social and public infrastructure spending, while periods of slower growth result in higher rates that help deflate bubbles and encourage saving.

There are fundamental problems with this scheme. The first is that a central authority is always far more subject to corruption than a large number of smaller entities. In many ways, centralizing things simply makes a bigger, easier target for the predators out there (some of whom usually end up in control of it).

The second is that no central authority knows what is best for the people. In many cases, nobody knows what's best. The world is a complex place, and there are many different viewpoints. A decentralized system has advantages here.

These will remain fundamental truths for the foreseeable future, and thus no central authority can be trusted to look out for the welfare of the people.

Humanity has had a really poor track record with central authorities. Study 20th century economic history for the gory details: there's the Soviet Union, India, China, and many smaller countries that have tried the central authority scheme and failed.

Further, you'll find examples on a smaller scale in the history of many countries, where bureaucracies functioning as central authorities, with respect to some particular economic aspect of society, have also failed to look out for the welfare of the people. Consider the history of water development in the USA, involving the US Army Corp of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation, for lots of examples of how central authorities go wrong: Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert is a good introduction to this.

Similarly, we can see many examples of bad decision making in the history of large corporations: the executives in these organizations make a lot of really bad blunders because the organizations are too big and the executives too out of touch with the reality of their business (refer to the industrial psychology literature for examples). Any centralized authority will have the same kinds of problems.

Further, if you follow the history of invention and discovery, you'll see that a lot of things that ended up being really useful and important weren't predicted in advance. Having private access to funding is an often underrated benefit of the decentralized economy.

The outlook for any scheme involving massively increased central authority is dismal. There are better places to focus one's energy for those concerned with improving the public welfare. A vastly simplified tax system -- one that was truly progressive instead of just pretending to be -- would help a lot for nations like the USA. Cleaning up corporate law would help a lot as well.

Comment Re:Fuck you. (Score 1) 618

Do advertisements add enough value to my existence to compensate me for the time lost? Not rhetorical, I think it's a good question.

It depends on whether or not you have opted in, but even then there are limits.

If you opt-in, then clearly you are willing to see some sort of ad. You've indicated that you value being exposed to an ad, even if you don't know what it will be. That's probably the only value measure we can make here.

But it is an entirely different manner when one obscures the landscape with over-sized billboards, puts flashing signs next to a road (or people waving signs), goes door to door (or calls somebody) to sell a product or religion or political candidate, sends somebody junk mail, and so forth (assuming one hasn't given the recipient of the marketing the chance to opt-in).

Drivers along a road do not have the chance to opt-in, and it is often very difficult even for people in their homes to prevent this kind of activity. Not everybody has the option to fence out the world, and no fence is perfect.

There are a number of potential rights in play here, but the most fundamental is that civilized societies shouldn't allow people to steal portions of another's life. The human lifespan is finite, and time lost is precious and irreplaceable and hence extremely valuable: not allowing others to steal a portion of our lives is simply a rational recognition of this universal truth. This is why we categorize things such as kidnapping, murder, or robbery as crimes. In the last case, the robbery steals a portions of a person's life because it steals money or goods which took time to accumulate (and will take time to replace, if they can be replaced). This is why only opt-in approaches to marketing make sense: anything else effectively involves stealing a portion of a person's life.

Further, as a society, we don't necessarily allow people to opt-in themselves (or their dependents) to some things. Hence, even an opt-in system will have limits.

For example, raising the volume on a commercial during a video (to attract the attention of the audience, as a marketing technique) could result in pain or hearing damage to the audience, especially if they are elderly and have to up the volume due to hearing loss just to make out words from the non-commercial content. This could and should be regulated (perhaps even requiring voice and non-voice audio on different "channels" that are defined such that AV equipment can apply different levels of volume to them), even if one has opted-in.

Only the sociopaths don't see this. By definition, a sociopath is a person to whom other people aren't real. By attempting to steal a portion of other people's lives, the people who try to force ads on others are demonstrating their contempt for others, and thus their belief that others are not real.

All the people who engage in the list of activities above, and many other variants, are sociopaths.

Having some commercials while watching TV may be the only reason I have something to watch on TV, I can appreciate that. But in the past decade or more, commercials have consumed such a large portion of the time of TV, that it was no longer worth the time investment to be constantly interrupted, taking 30 minutes of my time to watch a 15 minute show.

Even here, there is a critical issue that is often not acknowledged, namely that society is choosing to give some entity associated with the TV show an exclusive monopoly (possibly excepting fair use or other rights). Since this is an entirely artificial right -- a privilege really -- it is entirely reasonable to limit what can be done with that monopoly.

With today's technology we (society) could easily require these shows be released in two formats, with one ad-free, allowing that version to be at a higher price to make up for the loss of advertising revenue (perhaps according to some formula determined by law), as a condition for granting copyright. We might even let producers release the two versions at different time (perhaps separated by a year). Failure to do this brings the whole concept of copyright into conflict with fundamental rights, and of course copyright is in the inferior position when that happens.

Comment Irregardless of the cause (Score 1) 304

Irregardless of the cause, the wildfires do pose health risks.

Those who have been lucky enough to avoid one may not understand how much smoke exposure is possible here. During a fire, the roads can be completely jammed, forcing people evacuating to be exposed to high levels of smoke for many hours. Significant amounts of smoke can go right through the air sealing on cars: a good respirator for every family member belongs in one's evacuation kit if one lives in a fire-prone area. After the fire, the smoke can stay in the air at lesser but still potentially dangerous levels for months after the fire.

Nobody really understands what health impacts these two different types of exposure will have, but for some people they could be serious. Just going to work means breathing potentially toxic air throughout the day for months at a time, since most workplaces will not have good air filtering (private residences can use air cleaners, which help quite a bit in my experience). This exposure can potentially cause long term lung damage.

To make things worse, the smoke toxins may interact in a non-linear manner with other airborne toxins present in many workplaces. The cumulative health effect may be considerably greater than the exposure to any single toxin would cause. The safety standards for exposure to things like asbestos (common in many older buildings) almost certainly underestimate the danger thresholds because the standards did not take into account having multiple toxins present in the air at the same time.

It is likely asthmatics and others with existing lung damage will be particularly susceptible to further lung damage.

In all likelihood, though many people may be experiencing long-term work-related injury as a result of breathing toxic air in the workplace following wild fires, this will not be handled by existing laws that protect workers, or agencies such as OHSA. Rather then adding further fuel to the climate change debate -- basically political posturing that does more harm than good -- it would be nice if the president actually did his job and tried to do something about the potential problem of lung damage resulting from breathing toxic air.

If we don't have good test and measurement equipment for determining the impact of fire-related toxins on the lungs, we should be researching what needs to be done to make that equipment. If we don't know how to medically treat lung damage, then we should be researching that. Given that entire communities are affected by this issue, it seems appropriate that the government should have some major role here, rather then relying on every potentially impacted individual paying for their own health care (and any research that may be required to fix problems).

Comment Re:Just Askin' (Score 1) 367

I think it's pretty clear that the intent behind the second amendment was the perceived need to have a well regulated militia. In other words, if you want to carry a guns, sign up to join the national guard.

This myth has been thoroughly debunked. There are numerous quotes from the key figures alive at the time that completely discredit this position. I'll let you do the research, since doing so will help you fill some gaps in your historical education.

Like it or not, individual ownership of firearms was accepted as an individual right at the time (and long after), and was associated with political freedom. This didn't mean weapons couldn't be taken from criminals, within reason.

There is also a long history behind this position, tracing back through British history. It's not an accident that most people in the Robin Hood stories are carrying weapons, and know how to use them. The audiences that heard these stories accepted this as normal and appropriate. In Britain, the traditions were different than they were in many other places (where only the nobility could carry arms). The British often saw themselves as superior to others in part because of this. Certainly, they were much freer than those in many parts of the world (particularly places where serfdom survived until the 19th century). These British traditions evolved into a belief or philosophy that ownership of arms was an integral part of being a free person, which would eventually be expressed by the US descendants of Britain in their Bill of Rights.

In US Colonial times, some jurisdictions required (by law) every household to not just have arms, but also to carry them to public meetings (including church services), to make sure that community was armed in the event of a surprise Indian attack.

For that matter, privately owned ships were routinely armed. In some cases, they were well enough armed to fight off warships.

If you wish to oppose the right to bear arms, do so for other reasons than a misunderstanding of the text and the history.

Comment Re:Hey, no worries. It's no big deal (Score 1) 149

I don't know that this is entirely fair. While a lot rides on a judge's opinion, in the end, the judges are only supposed to interpret the law and precedents from higher courts, not make things up as they go along. If there had been no precedent (ie. the Clapper decision), he may have felt more free to define a better test for "imminent threat".

You've forgotten that this is the USA, where the highest law of the land is the Bill of Rights.

The Anti-Federalists opposed the original Constitution on many grounds, including a) there was no Bill of Rights, and b) any Bill of Rights would be incomplete.

During the ratification process, promises were made that this issue would be dealt with. James Madison wrote a Bill of Rights, and cleverly made it open-ended, by providing for unspecified rights retained by the people (9th Amendment) and reserved to the people (10th Amendment), allowing the future assertion of rights as needed.

Thus, interpreting the law, in this country, is supposed to mean the judges consider not just precedents by their peers, but also any rights the people might want to assert under the 9th or 10th Amendments. An oath to uphold the Bill of Rights requires this of judges (as it does of all legal professionals, in any aspect of the practice of law).

In practice, the US legal profession seems to find it convenient to ignore this aspect of the Bill of Rights whenever they think they can get away with it. Perhaps this is because one of the rights the people might want to retain to them is the right to ethical practice of law, a right that would necessarily force many changes to how law is practiced at present. Then there's the right to ethical government ...

In this particular case, consider the following:
1. A claim was made by the lawyers for the defense of no injury, and thus, no standing.
2. For an identity theft victim to be forced to deal with credit card companies and online vendors as a result of this information breach takes time, and thus robs that person of an irreplaceable portion of their life, which is finite.
3. We consider kidnapping a crime in part because the same kind of theft (of a portion of a person's finite life) happens during kidnappings. Hence, an injury or damage has in fact occurred as a result of the information breach.
4. Legal professionals often work as intermediaries between private citizens and organizations or bureaucracies. People often hire them not because they have to, but rather because they don't want to deal with the hassle and potential loss of time associated with various situations.
5. A claim that "no damage" has been suffered can be expected to increase the demand for the services of legal professionals, as a class in society, in future situations involving identity theft (where they can be expected to function both as intermediaries, and in otherwise providing advice and assistance). Further, protecting the hiring of legal professionals in situations where people don't strictly need them is of interest to the profession.
6. The alternative, of course, would be to expect businesses to provide a reasonable level of security over the private information (something that would certainly be required under any 9th Amendment right to privacy -- nothing in the 9th Amendment limits its application to just government). Capitalism on the large scale necessarily requires some government regulation or other limitation on the conduct of business (quite of lot of Adam Smith's writing discusses this), and in the absence of competent direct regulation by government, rights arising under the 9th Amendment can be made to serve.

Note the ethical conflict of interest this situation poses for legal professionals, as a class in society. On the one hand, they increase their future business, and their job security, on the other hand they create a situation where the public might become more aware of the 9th Amendment and its implications (a very scary thing for the profession).

Comment Re:Big Data (Score 1) 439

Battleships became obsolete beginning in World War 2. During that war the US Navy moved away from focusing their fleets around the big battleships and instead focused on building their carrier fleet supported by smaller destroyers.

Within 6-8 months after Pearl Harbor, the US Navy had raised most of the battleships sunk at Pearl, and moved a number of ships from the Atlantic fleet over to the Pacific. Significant upgrades were being done as well. By any reasonable standard, the battleship force was more powerful than it had been at the start of the war. The big problem was fuel: the Germans were sinking so many tankers that the Navy had to choose between the battleships and the carriers. The Europe-first grand strategy meant that many of the remaining tankers had to be reserved for Britain. The carriers were faster and considerably more fuel efficient than the old battleships, and somewhat more flexible, and perhaps this is why they ended up using them.

Destroyers were not at all ideal escorts, and the navy never focused on using them exclusively with the big carriers. This was because a) the destroyers had very poor anti-aircraft capabilities at that point in the war, and b) the destroyers had trouble keeping up with the fleet, especially in high seas (short ships are inherently less efficient at higher speeds). The destroyers were superb in the anti-submarine and rescue role.

Instead of thinking about a destroyer-centric escort force, it's more accurate to think "combined arms". The preferred escort paradigm for the big carriers was a combination of cruisers and battleships (particularly the fast battleship designs) with fleet destroyers (ships large enough to be considered cruisers by WWI standards, thus better able to keep up with the fleet, but officially classified as destroyers).

The battleships could throw up an enormous amount of flak. It has been suggested that one of the contributing factors to the US victory at Midway was the lack of a strong escort for the Japanese carrier group, resulting in a much weaker anti-air defense (and fewer eyes on the sky to spot the dive bombers coming in). The Japanese liked to split their forces, and in this case the decision hurt more than it helped.

Aircraft carriers make battleships obsolete because a carrier can destroy a battleship long before the Battleship could fire a shot at the aircraft carrier.

At least one aircraft carrier, the HMS Glorious, was sunk by capital ship fire, with horrendous casualties. The German ships were using radar controlled guns, with remarkable accuracy on their initial salvos (possibly the best shooting by any navy in the entire war).

In general, the carriers were quite vulnerable, and many of them were crippled or sunk. Typically, the allies would keep carriers in the battle near isolated islands, but were very careful with these ships when using them near potential land based air. This vulnerability meant that surface warships were left behind to support landings in situations where the carriers were deemed too exposed (resulting in many of the battles of the Solomon Islands, some of which involved battleships engaging other surface warships). The carrier certainly didn't make the surface warships obsolete.

In any cost-comparison of the effectiveness of different ship types, it's also worth considering the effects of pilot attrition. Training pilots is a long process, and heavy casualties make the air arm considerably less effective over the long term. The Germans and Japanese took very heavy pilot losses in their air attacks on the Allied forces. Neither nation could make up these losses. There are also negative implications for morale associated with high pilot losses. A simple linear comparison of the cost of a battleship, versus the cost of the planes required to sink it, does not consider either of these factors, and is thus misleading.

Comment Re:Amendment IV has it covered (Score 1) 103

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,[a] against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated . . . "

We already have a law covering this.

The 4th Amendment alone does not cover this issue fully, since it leaves open the possibility that the government or the legal profession gets to decide what is reasonable.

The addition of the 9th and 10th Amendments (unspecified rights retained by and reserved to the people) is needed to close the loophole. This ensures that "reasonable" must also match what the people consider reasonable, not merely what members of two special interest groups consider reasonable.

This, of course, invalidates many of the searches or seizures that happen. Civil forfeiture, for example, is seen to be entirely invalid, as one of the rights arising under the 9th Amendment is the right to ethical government, which creates a requirement that even the appearance of conflict of interest must be avoided when possible. A point police officers and federal agents might want to keep in mind, since their oaths to uphold the Bill of Rights are preconditions for holding any position of public trust or responsibility ...

Similarly, a right to privacy arises under the 9th Amendment. This right can and does apply even in public places. For example, hikers on public lands certainly expect privacy when they step behind a bush to relieve themselves, and public lands are public by definition.

In practice, the US legal profession likes to pretend the 9th Amendment doesn't exist. I suppose the last thing they want is the public asserting a 9th Amendment right to ethical practice of law, which means ignoring any 9th Amendment considerations whenever they can get away with it ...

Comment Re:Already been there done that (Score 1) 525

The major issue was the Susie safety nuts who felt that without telling people how fast was reasonable that it would confuse people, the court agreed.

When the government gets to tell people what is reasonable, you have lots of problems. You see, in this country, we have a Bill of Rights that provides for unspecified rights "retained by the people" (9th Amendment), and "reserved to the people" (10th Amendment). The highest law in the land says the people get to tell the government what is reasonable, not the other way around.

The "speed limit" should be instead taken as a "recommended speed", which should be based primarily on factors such as the engineering of the road, and the likelihood of animals or people being encountered. There will be circumstances when it is appropriate to drive faster than the recommended speed, and there are circumstances where it is appropriate to drive slower.

Let the police show that somebody is driving very differently than other people do on that road, and doesn't have a good reason for doing so (in the eyes of a typical person, informed of the facts, and with good judgement), then the government can take punitive action.

This approach is consistent with people driving at reasonable speeds, as defined by the people and not the government.

But the last thing the US legal profession wants is for people to realize the 9th Amendment exists, since that is the gateway into some very scary basic rights (for them), such as the right to ethical practice of law ...

Far simpler (for the legal profession) to just move back to the status quo, where people -- in practice -- drive as if the speed limits were merely recommended speeds, and hope the police are being equally reasonable*. It's a really bad policy, and hugely unethical for the legal profession. By effectively forcing people to routinely ignore one part of the written law, they make many people scared of the legal system. They also send the message that people can not engage in reasonable conduct: the legal system can and will punish them even when they are being reasonable. These two factors create an artificial demand over the long term for the services of legal professionals to "protect" people from their own legal system. Welcome to the Land of the Lawsuit.

In short, the court was in a position of ethical conflict of interest with respect to this ruling, and did the wrong thing (something that happens an awful lot in US law: except in extreme cases, the legal profession looks out for its own).

*Defunding the police helps here and seems to be popular, but causes all kinds of other problems. Not a good solution. There's also the ethics issues associated with government trying to keep the money it gets from fines, which increases the amount of ticketing going on, is also a 9th Amendment violation, and creates contempt for the police that makes their jobs a lot harder, but that ethics problem is a subject for another day.

Comment Turning was wrong (Score 1) 335

In 1936, Alan Turing famously showed that there is no general algorithm that can solve this problem.

All programs will halt, due to entropy. Turing was wrong. His proof only works in a fantasy world.

That's the nature of mathematics: we create fantasy worlds (with assumptions and axioms), then try to determine the properties of those fantasy worlds using equations and logic (lemmas and proofs).

Sometimes the real world provides a decent approximation for the fantasy world (in which case the results are useful: subjects such as physics or engineering provide lots of examples of this), but in other cases it doesn't.

In this particular case, the authors still have not shown a convincing application of the math. It's not clear they understand the distinction between fantasy and reality.

Comment Re:AMD wins again (Score 1) 75

I'm Sr sysadmin for a medium sized company and I haven't encountered a single person - outside of a geologist or engineer that needs real power - who prefers a desktop to a laptop in many years.

CPU power is not the only issue.

Desktops can be made really quiet, far more so than laptops of comparable power. There are a number of clever solutions to achieve this, each addressing different aspects of computer noise, such as the huge "NoFan" heatsinks. The lack of machine noise can be very useful in many work environments. Artists, for example, often value silence when they work.

Also, desktops can run really high end graphics cards: nice if you want good performance while running multiple big monitors (i.e. 30"). I'd really hate to develop software on even the largest laptop screen, after getting used to the convenience of the large desktop screens. One doesn't have to be a power-user (or be doing work requiring a high end CPU) to appreciate the large screens. A high end laptop might be able to drive these screens, but probably not very well.

Some jobs generate or work with lots of data, without necessarily requiring a high end CPU (i.e. data access speed, not CPU speed, limits throughput). It's much easier (and quieter) to cool a multi-hard-drive array in a big case, leading to longer drive life and better performance. Some of the better cases have 200mm fans, which can spin a lot slower than smaller fans while generating far better cooling. Laptops can't even come close to this, either in terms of cooling or drive size. The case for the array doesn't necessarily have to be the same case as one's motherboard, of course. But if you need the big case anyway, it might make sense to put the motherboard in it (and you'll probably have fewer issues with the RAID controller).

Physical security with desktops is much easier to enforce than with laptops, for those sites with stringent security requirements.

From a home use perspective, you won't get good quality graphics on multiple screens using a flight simulator, without a big case and real full-size graphics cards - no laptop can do this. For that matter, you won't get good quality graphics on even single screens for high end games without a really high end laptop (and one that isn't all that portable), which makes the (much less expensive) desktop alternative pretty appealing.

Desktops are still far more upgradable than laptops. A good case and power supply can outlast many motherboards, and give a net cost savings compared to purchasing multiple laptops.

Laptops tend to fail more often than desktops, and are harder to repair.

In my experience, the overhead types like the managers and marketing people prefer the laptops for convenience, but the savvy technical folks often still like the desktops.

Comment Re:More power to you (Score 1) 100

But I wonder if the food we grow are always based on scientifically optimal choices or often based on other factors. Like one crop being grown more widely because it commands a higher price. Or changing food habits and inordinate preference to certain grains and veggies.

As a gardener, I can tell you that there is a surprising amount we don't know about the things we grow. Every time I start working on learning to grow a new fruit or vegetable I rediscover this.

For example, take strawberries. The conventional wisdom is that a strawberry plant will bear well for a few years, then needs to be replaced. And yet I hear people claiming that they have strawberry patches which they've basically done nothing to maintain, which have produced lots of fruit for decades. As far as I can tell, nobody knows what governs and limits the production of strawberry plants with any degree of scientific accuracy.

For another example, the conventional wisdom is that one should not grow blackberries and raspberries in close proximity, because of the risk of disease being transmitted from one to the other. But I know people in my area that do just that, and have done so for decades without any problems. Again, nobody seems to have studied this to see under what circumstances this is possible.

The whole subject of diseases and pests is an area where it seems our scientific knowledge is pretty limited. There are lots of major pests we don't know how to control or prevent, with reasonable certainty that the approach will be safe over the long term. In some parts of the country, goats are being used for weed control, because they do a better job than anything humans have been able to come up with!

The tools available for making measurements are very primitive as well. For example, getting soil samples analyzed is not too hard if one sends the sample off to a lab, but the availability and capability of measurement tools that work on-site is still quite limited. One can not simply buy a tricorder-like tool to measure soil, identify insects, detect harmful fungi and microorganisms, and so forth. Many of the tools that are available (such as automated weather stations) are plagued with reliability and quality control problems.

Since science is based on measurement, limitations on measurement mean we have limitations on the science. Perhaps someday we'll have nanotechnology devices that can be embedded in plants or fruit trees to monitor various aspects of their health.

In short, there are all kinds of basic questions we don't have scientific answers to, and thus there is no reasonable to suppose we are even close to being "scientifically optimal" in our food production.

Comment Re:Let's have a $7/gallon fuel tax (Score 1) 334

Taxing fuel at such an astronomical rate will certainly lower the amount of fuel use, but how many businesses will have to shut down because customers can't afford to blow $14 on fuel that they weren't spending before just to patronize those businesses?

This is actually massively under-stating the problem. The costs of all kinds of things go up proportionate to the tax on fuel, and these costs primarily impact the poor and the middle class (effectively increasing concentration of wealth in the super-rich).

It's not just customers that have to spend money on fuel, it's all the people that keep the public and private infrastructure of society in working order: the utility workers, the plumbers, the carpenters, the electricians, the safety inspectors, the fire fighters, the police officers, the medical personnel, and so forth. In most cases, it isn't practical for these people to do most of their work remotely (or even to live close to their jobs).

There are also people who need to move around as part of keeping the natural environment healthy, such as forest rangers (doing all kinds of jobs), scientists, hunters (hunters help to keep animal populations under control), and volunteers doing all kinds of things. All this requires vehicle transportation.

In some parts of the USA, goats are used at sites overrun with noxious and invasive non-native weeds, as a form of weed control that doesn't involve man-made chemicals (with their unknown and potentially disastrous long term environmental consequences). The goats need to be moved from site to site, and taken care of, which requires movement of people and supplies. If we increase the cost of innovative approaches like this to dealing with environmental problems, we force the use of more man-made chemicals. A gas tax policy intended to help the environment could actually end up harming it!

Then there's the issue of bringing food to the markets. This applies both to the big commercial markets, and to the small farmers markets that are so important to getting fresh, organic food grown by people one actually knows (and also helping independent farmers outside the corporate farming system -- with all its well documented problems such as over-use of anti-biotics -- to survive).

There's also the issue of needing transportation to get to places where one can do healthy exercise (such as swimming pools), thus maintaining the physical fitness of members of society and reducing the negative health and economic impacts of obesity. The poor have a lot less time available to include exercise in their lives than the rich, and anything that makes it harder to do this has negative consequences to society.

There's also the issue of getting to school for classes, something particularly important not just for the young, but for all those that need re-training or need to develop new skills to have reasonable prospects of improving their lives over the long term (and improving their children's lives). Much of this education, such as trade school education, can not be conducted remotely because of the need for hands on activities (we should be vastly improving our capability to do remote education, but that is a separate issue). The poor and the middle class have the most need for continuing education, and thus are hurt the most by these policies.

In short, a sales tax on gas not only hurts the poor and the middle class directly in terms of getting to their jobs and to places where they can buy food, but hurts these folks (and society in general) in all kinds of indirect ways.

A lot of folks in our society are making claims that a tax on gas is friendly to society and the environment, and producing all kinds of propaganda to support these claims, but they don't seem to have the intelligence to be think about the negative consequences of doing this. These policies are not necessarily friendly to society, and in some ways they aren't even friendly to the environment. Perhaps we should view people that favor these taxes as people that hate society and hate the environment!

If we're going to have sales taxes at all, these should only be imposed on a very small set of luxury items such as commercially produced alcohol.

A far better approach to the fossil fuel issue is to tax based on income, with the wealthy paying more, then use that tax to fund research and development of technologies that will allow society to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels over the long term. In addition, we might allow tax deductions for money donated directly to such research and development (since government is not always the most intelligent or efficient at allocating funds, letting people have some say in where their money gets spent makes a lot of sense). If there is a need for more government control over the oil companies, that can addressed as a separate issue.

Comment Re:If they're going literal.... (Score 1) 251

Ultimately, SCOTUS decides what the Constitution means, and if they get it wrong, the only recourse is a civil war or a constitutional amendment.

This is not entirely true. The civil rights movement of the 60's, for example, produced a complete turn-around with respect to the willingness of the US legal profession to tolerate segregation and the "Jim Crow" laws. Members of the press, members of the public serving on juries, and many others have the ability to influence things, in a small way, over the long term. A number of key Supreme Court decisions have been reversed over the history of the Court as a result, and in other cases the policies of the legal profession simply get ignored (which shows some people in positions of authority have internalized the lesson of Nuremberg).

Further, I believe that many of the current unethical practices in law can only exist in the shadows: as public awareness of the problems in law grows, this makes it harder and harder for these practices to continue. In some sense, public awareness can assist the Supreme Court in making decisions that would otherwise require an army.

I've overheard people speculating that things have gotten so bad that we might require another civil war to fix them. Inaction by the Supreme Court and others, or a refusal to face these issues, in itself could be a factor that precipitates that civil war.

The bottom line is that these issues are not as easy as you suggest. The problem is not so much ethics, but the mismatch between the English language and the real world.

I don't for a moment think these things are easy: if they were, the problems would have been solved a long time ago. To some extent, while the technology has changed from the 18th century, we're still dealing with many of the same fundamentally hard problems, because human nature has not changed. For that matter, one can go back to Thucydides and see some of the same issues we deal with today, simply expressing themselves in different forms appropriate to the technology and social structures of the day!

The details of the problems faced from one era to the next are different, but the underlying issues have many parallels, and thus the mechanisms created in the past to deal with various kinds of problems -- such as the 9th Amendment -- are still very much applicable.

I'm also quite aware of the ambiguity of natural language (probably a large percentage of the Slashdot community has some experience with that, since it has so much impact on what so many of us do). Any system human beings develop and maintain must deal with the ambiguity of natural language, so it is important not to let this issue deter us from making necessary and desirable changes to the system we currently have. We should not let the issue of human imperfection in language deter us from acting, because nothing human beings do is perfect.

It seems to me that some ethical conflicts of interest which (apparently) nobody paid any attention to during the WW2 era would not be tolerated today. This shows that progress in ethics is possible.

It is possible that the Internet will provide an opportunity to help correct a lot of problems with the US legal system, by providing educational resources that people are actually willing to use, and by helping people who might not otherwise ever meet get together to solve problems they might not otherwise be able to solve! Perhaps the Internet will become a tool to help fix some of the ethics problems in law that prior generations could not address.

We of today look back at the past and wonder how they could have tolerated slavery, or the Jim Crow laws and segregation. Hopefully the future will look back at us and wonder how we could have tolerated so many ethics problems in our legal system!

Comment Re:If they're going literal.... (Score 1) 251

The only real hope is a constitutional amendment limiting the interstate commerce clause.

We've already got one: the 9th Amendment.

James Madison wrote the 9th Amendment to deal with the objection of the Anti-Federalists that the original Constitution had no Bill of Rights, and that any Bill of Rights would be incomplete. He cleverly wrote the federal Bill of Rights to be open-ended, allowing the people to assert rights as needed when the government attempts to act against individual rights. This is how we have the 9th Amendment.

The history of the writing of the Bill of Rights shows clearly that it supersedes the original Constitution in all respects: it IS the highest law in the land.

After all, two states refused outright to ratify without a Bill of Rights, and in others promises were made by men of honor who were trusted that a Bill of Rights would be added, and ratification was made with respect to those promises (and in full knowledge that it was neither militarily nor politically feasible to force a state to remain part of the Union -- at that time -- and that the states had already discarded one system of government and were certainly able to do it again).

As such, any rights asserted under the 9th Amendment, as part of the highest law of the land, supersede the interstate commerce clause.

Hence, the federal government can only act under this clause when it does not infringe any rights the people might reasonably want to assert as being "retained" by them.

Rights retained by the people being retained by the people, by definition it is not within the authority of any entity of government to deny or limit these rights. The phrase "any entity of government" necessarily includes the Supreme Court. It is also not within the authority of any profession to deny or limit these rights, including the legal profession. Any assertion to the contrary necessarily contradicts the Bill of Rights.

The issue is not that we don't have an amendment to deal with government abuse of power, the issue is getting law enforcement officials, legal professionals, legislators, and so forth (i.e. all those people who swear oaths to uphold the Bill of Rights) to remember the 9th Amendment exists.

The big problem here is the US legal profession has an ENORMOUS ethical conflict of interest with respect to doing this. Supreme Court justices are every bit as subject to ignoring their ethical obligations here as any other lawyer. Indeed, there is good reason to suppose that nobody gets selected for the Court unless they have proven their willingness to do so.

Legal ethics is the bogeyman of US law, since enormous portions of the current legal system can reasonably be supposed to violate the 9th Amendment right to ethical practice of law (a point that has been made numerous times on Slashdot with respect to all kinds of issues).

With the legal profession going astray, it becomes very hard to deal with law enforcement and government agencies when they go astray in turn. Think of a system of dominoes, where one falling causes the next to topple.

It's not clear what the solution is to this problem in general, but it is clear that dealing with the ethics issue will have to be part of any practical solution.

In this specific case, both the law and its application have some fundamental problems. Good luck getting the US legal profession to acknowledge that, or act appropriately in response to those problems. The precedent set at Nuremberg has yet to sink in with these people.

Biology grows on you.