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

by redlemming (#48172337) Attached to: Bill Gates: Piketty's Attack on Income Inequality Is Right

The vast majority of poor and middle class income comes from withholdings. So fixing the income tax
system would do nothing to stop the millions of rich people from dodging taxes.

These are two separate issues.

By "fixing the income tax system" I meant a) greatly simplifying it, and b) dealing with some well known loopholes that can't be addressed by mere simplification.

The big advantage to simplifying the tax system is it makes it harder to hide loopholes (as a side effect, it prevents bribing legislators for favorable tax status). Ideally the entire tax code should fit in a 5-10 page document, and a typical individual tax form should be a page or less. This is a huge win from a legal and governmental ethics perspective.

Dealing with certain specific loopholes (such as treating long term income differently from short term income, i.e. capital gains) would address the issue of rich folks dodging taxes. The trick would be to do this in a rational manner, which probably means only taxing when assets are sold (or transferred out of the country).

The new system could (and should) still be progressive (meaning the rich pay more, percentage-wise). We can also still have a withholding component to the system, to help those that benefit most from this (probably most of us!).

I think it's nieve to say that the income tax is the best we can do. Surely we can come up with something better.

The challenge is to come up with a tax that doesn't involve excessive government, excessive bureaucracy, or infringements of fundamental rights. Nothing else is really compatible with the ideal of living in a free country, an ideal that should determine all government. So far, nobody has come up with anything occur than income tax that can do a reasonable job of achieving this (assuming we don't want to tax imports, which would be the other option).

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

by redlemming (#48171015) Attached to: Bill Gates: Piketty's Attack on Income Inequality Is Right

The point is to shift from taxing income which is hard to track and shift to consumption of goods which is easier to track and also is the bigger concern as the consuming more than your fair share is really the problem, not the making more than your fair share.

Consumption of goods (and services) is NOT easier to track. Black markets exist everywhere, especially near borders.

Border situations pose especially difficult problems for sales taxes, a point that has been discussed numerous times on Slashdot. Look up the prior discussions.

The Internet means the concept of what constitutes a "Border" has fundamentally changed. It used to be only a small portion of people in a given State would live near the border (but there were still border issues associated with city and county borders, and both these entities can potentially impose their own sales taxes).

Even in the old days, of course, there were serious civil rights issues involved in sales tax policy (issues which continue to this day) associated with the border problem. Again, prior discussions have gone over this at length.

But today, because of the Internet, everybody effectively lives near a border.

It is utterly impractical to track sales transactions across borders, especially electronic borders, without the government becoming a massive police state. At that point, the historical evidence from places like the Soviet Union indicates that we would have huge black markets! We would be far worse off than we are now!

Therefore, to implement the "Fair Tax" requires throwing out the Bill of Rights. This is why an earlier poster mentioned that the "Fair Tax" has been repeatedly debunked.

Problematic though it is, an income based tax is the only sane form of general taxation for a nation that chooses to support large amounts of government spending.

Further, most of the problems with income tax come from unnecessary complexity in the tax laws (laws which, because of this complexity, violate the 9th Amendment right to ethical practice of law, another point that has been made many times on this forum).

If the complexity was removed from the tax system, government would primarily be monitoring businesses for compliance (the vast majority of the tax income would come from withholding), rather than having to spy on every single individual, a far better situation from a civil rights perspective.

The clear conclusion is that should be focusing our efforts on fixing the problems with income tax (and completely getting rid of sales taxes), instead of wasting time and effort on utterly impractical diversions proposed by people unable to understand the consequences of implementing their ideas.

Comment: Re:Perjury (Score 1) 191

by redlemming (#48064131) Attached to: Silk Road Lawyers Poke Holes In FBI's Story

Sadly, too many people are blind to it because it doesn't affect them in their day to day lives...

Totally incorrect. Unethical practice of law, which is ultimately behind all of these abuses of government authority, or which allows those abuses to happen, is something that affects everybody, in their day to day lives.

We have laws that contradict each other, and laws that are overly complex, and laws that are ambiguous. If people can't easily understand the legal system, that creates an artificial demand for the services of legal professionals. Contradictions in the laws allow government entities to pick the version that favors them in any given situation!

Many of the laws we have either infringe fundamental rights directly, or allow those rights to be infringed indirectly. This creates a demand for legal professionals to protect people from their own legal system. It's a lot like an organized crime protection racket.

Unethical practice of law affects what can be in the contracts you sign, and what limitations can be placed on property you own, creating all kinds of interference with reasonable conduct. It creates quasi-governmental organizations such as HOAs that are immune to any standards of ethical behavior that might be expected of a government, and not subject to respecting the Bill of Rights, but effectively function as yet another layer government, creating enforceable rules and regulations (often really stupid ones that clearly violate fundamental rights).

Unethical practice of law raises the costs of every good or service people buy. It affects what people can build on their property, and how many bureaucratic hoops people have to jump though to get permission to build (and whether they need that permission in the first place). It massively increases the complexity of the tax system, and the amount of taxes people in low income jobs have to pay (overly complex tax codes lend themselves to the creation of a wide variety of taxes, which in turn results in regressive taxes such as sales taxes). It affects the ability of people who do creative work, as they always running the risk that some otherwise indecipherable patent will turn out, with an appropriate translation, to create ownership by somebody else of one's own ideas.

The right to ethical government can be asserted under the 9th Amendment (which would prevent the government from benefiting from abusive seizures), but since the right to ethical practice of law can ALSO be asserted under the 9th Amendment, and the US legal profession is terrified people might eventually figure this out, they pretend the 9th Amendment doesn't exist! This in turn creates all kinds of additional problems, that affect ordinary people in their day-to-day lives. For example, the right to travel and the right to roam certainly arise under the 9th Amendment (even backwards England recognizes the right to roam!), but property owners are allowed to block the exercise of the these rights since the 9th Amendment isn't respected (typically they do this because of fear of lawsuits, resulting from unethical practice of law in the tort system). This in turn means people can't hike in many places where they should be able to hike.

I could go on, but that's enough!

Comment: Re:What would be wrong with more requirements? (Score 1) 115

The constitution is there to limit government. There is nothing wrong with limiting government more than the bare minimum limits defined by the constitution. In fact, I would say there is a good case today for rewriting the constitution using far more strict, unambiguous modern language with far more limitations than it currently has.

A rewrite is not necessary (and would be dangerous, since it would almost certainly be under the control of a legal profession that routinely ignores many ethics issues).

When James Madison wrote the Bill of Rights, he had the difficult task of condensing a long list of proposed rights into a manageable list. He did this by providing for the assertion unspecified rights "retained by the people" in the 9th Amendment, and "reserved to the people" in the 10th. A document with around one hundred rights, after all, would please nobody but a lawyer (and an unethical one, at that).

Most of the problems we have with government today (and many historical problems) involve violations of fundamental individual rights reasonably asserted as being "retained to the people".

Probably the single biggest right that is routinely violated, affected every major area of law (and many of the other fundamental rights that get violated), is the right to ethical practice of law, a right applicable not just to legal professionals as individuals but to legal professionals as a group or class in society.

Rather than writing more laws, or rewriting the Constitution, we instead need to be going after the legal profession for unethical practice of law, not just as individuals, but as a group (in the sense that many aspects of the current legal system create long term artificial demand for the services of legal professionals, something that benefits many members of the profession, arguably the majority).

Many of the unethical practices embedded in the practice of law only survive because the public is seldom unaware of the huge scope of the ethics problem (and is easily distracted, or deluded into thinking the problems are the result of the "other" party).

Correcting the systemic ethics problems in the US legal system would be a major step towards using the 9th and 10th Amendments as they were intended to be used. It is likely that this would in turn result in a culture change in government and law enforcement that would result in far fewer violations of fundamental rights over the long term. It could also result in a culture change regarding the conduct of business, solving another large set of problems (the right to long term oversight of business is certainly another fundamental right).

Putting this in other words, the principle that the government that "governs least, governs best", is as much as anything a statement regarding legal ethics. It is impossible for a people to control their government if they do not understand and pay attention to legal ethics.

Comment: (Score 1) 540

by redlemming (#47903683) Attached to: Cuba Calculates Cost of 54yr US Embargo At $1.1 Trillion

In neither Norway nor Sweden are the means of production owned by the state

Some people believe these are socialist states. That's a misunderstanding of the term socialism (just as it is grossly misleading to call systems such as the British health care system socialist).

It's more accurate to say these are capitalist states that use some of the surplus resources generated by their capitalism to fund social programs (such as the kinds of things you mentioned in your list). This does not make them socialist.

It's also worth noting that these small states depend in part in capitalism in other states with larger economies, since they can't even come close to funding the kind of research and manufacturing that the bigger states can, which affects all kinds of things (like health care). In a sense, they mooch off the larger capitalist states. If they had to fund everything themselves, they would not be able to provide high quality social services over the long term.

I'd go further and say that is it misleading and dangerous to claim these are socialist states, it simply encourages the true socialists, who stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that socialism (as it is classically defined) has been tried many times over the past century and more, and has been a massive failure every time. Encouraging people this deluded is never a good idea.

Alternately, we can think of calling Norway and Sweden "socialist" as falling prey to socialist propaganda.

In fact, not only has socialism been a huge failure, the most successful anti-poverty or welfare program in the history of the human race was the Chinese switch from socialism to capitalism, which brought millions of people out of poverty. Similarly, India (while it still has a long way to go) has seen huge improvements in the standards of living of much of the population since switching from socialism to capitalism.

The right path forward for humanity (in terms of the greatest good) does not involve switching from capitalism to socialism, it involves for each nation figuring out how much of a nation's production can be allocated for the general good, then trying to spend those resources as efficiently as possible. Also, just as Adam Smith noted, some regulation of capitalism is necessary for the greater good.

If a nation takes too much of it's production to spend on social causes, it goes into debt, which is likely to cripple it over the long term (something the USA and Britain are struggling with now, yes I know the USA doesn't spend it's resources well but that is a separate issue).

There are two fundamental issues here that the true socialists do not want to understand, namely 1) that production is very inefficient under their system, and 2) that taking too much of the production of any system to fund social causes cripples the system and hurts everybody (creating a welfare state and/or massive levels of corruption). This is why encouraging socialists is a bad idea. Instead we should be focusing on finding a reasonable level of production of allocate to social causes, and then paying attention to spending that production with a reasonable level of efficiency.

Comment: Re:Legal Deposit (Score 1) 102

It would nice if this was extended to requiring source code for all software/web pages, and HDL for all hardware/firmware, to be deposited. It is, after all, part of the intellectual record and publishing heritage of the nation.

I suppose this material wouldn't necessarily have to be released to the public right away, to provide a reasonable period of time of protection for trade secrets.

Is anything along those lines being pursued?

Comment: (Score 1) 540

by redlemming (#47892081) Attached to: Cuba Calculates Cost of 54yr US Embargo At $1.1 Trillion

This is INDEPENDENT of any other economic axis. You can have capitalist socialist countries, fascist socialist countries, marxist socialist countries, and even free-market socialist countries.

You appear to be using some sort of non-standard definition of socialism and capitalism that you haven't provided. By the standard definitions, the above is not a correct statement, i.e.:

"Socialism is a social and economic system characterised by social ownership of the means of production and co-operative management of the economy"


"Capitalism is an economic system in which trade, industry, and the means of production are largely or entirely privately owned and operated for profit."

where both quotes are taken from Wikipedia.

Social ownership of the means of production is not compatible with private ownership: they are completely opposite things. Further, operating "for profit" of private owners is very different from operating with "co-operative management" for the benefit of society.

The existence of welfare or public aid programs in a state is not socialism. Many states throughout history have had welfare, e.g. the Roman "bread and circuses" and the British "Poor Laws" going back to 1536.

Were you trying to suggest that some sectors of an economy could be run in a socialist manner, while others were run in a capitalist way? Is there any nation that does this?

Comment: Re:Nice timing (Score 1) 138

Stalin effectively threw away a mobile warfare doctrine that was arguably as good as Germany's

I'm not really sure "Germany" had a "good" mobile warfare doctrine at the start of the war. Yes, they had a few moderately large mobile formations, and those formations had trained together. However, most of the German army was still on foot, and using animals for transport. Many of the vehicles the Germans did have were captured during the invasion of Czechoslovakia!

Further the German tanks were hugely inferior to the best French models (inferior as in the German shells often bounced off the French armor, a problem the German anti-tank guns also had!). Logistics was another big problem in their doctrine: they made an attempt to plan for this, but the plan didn't survive contact with reality and the mobile units often operated on a shoestring during the battle for France.

The one big thing the Germans did get correct was to emphasize combined arms. As it turned out, this made up for the other deficiencies (especially since their logistics, while severely stressed during the battle for France, turned out to be sufficient given the short length of the campaign and the relatively small amount of time they had to spend in combat).

The Germans had excellent communication systems, allowing better tactical coordination than their opponents could achieve, facilitating combined arms operations. Further, they discovered (probably as a result of frantic improvisation) that they could turn their 88mm anti-aircraft guns into superb tank killers (the high velocity cannon needed to reach high altitude had exactly the characteristics needed to penetrate heavy tank armor).

These factors, plus the skilled use of the Luftwaffe aircraft in an air-ground role (and excellent ground-based mobile anti-aircraft systems that kept up with the other mobile units, providing very effective protection from enemy air), were, IMHO, the keys that gave them tactical superiority over the French and British forces in the key stages of the Battle for France.

An enormously high level of average officer competence (and the impressive willingness of these officers to exercise initiative, quite unlike the stereotype of the rigid Teutonic type) allowed those (relatively few) German units that did have mobile capabilities to move quickly once they made the initial breakthrough. I don't think anybody in Germany ever dreamed that things would go as well as they did!

It would probably be better to say the Germans had a mediocre and flawed mobile warfare doctrine, but what they had was better than what anybody else had! A high level of officer competence allowed them to adapt quickly and effectively to fluid situations, using the equipment and people they had in creative ways to overcome the deficiencies in both their equipment and doctrine.

As for the Soviets, they were extremely active in developing the T-34 tank as a result of the lessons learned in the battles with Japan (where the older tank models revealed some very serious defects). This shows that whatever the fate of particular individuals in the purges, a key element of mobile warfare was being actively pursued with considerable vigor. Similarly, Khalkhyn Gol demonstrated some active Soviet officers (post-purge) were fully capable of understanding the role of logistics and the use of combined arms in mobile warfare (far better than their Japanese opponents!).

Comment: Re:Nice timing (Score 1) 138

For one, Stalin's army had suffered severe purges of qualified generals in the 1930s

I have a couple of minor quibbles with this. For one, it wasn't a severe purge:

"At first it was thought 25-50% of Red Army officers were purged, it is now known to be 3.7-7.7%. Previously, the size of the Red Army officer corps was underestimated, and it was overlooked that most of those purged were merely expelled from the Party. Thirty percent of officers purged in 1937-9 were allowed to return to service." Stephen Lee, European Dictatorships 1918-1945, page 56, quoted via Wikipedia.

It has been argued that many of those purged were incompetent or overly ambitious, with Stalin using the purges to remove potential troublemakers. It's unclear these were particularly qualified folks, either. Few senior military people are, in any army - most are "politicians in uniform" who often do far more harm than good to the causes they serve.

Further, that so many were allowed to return to service suggests that some sort of competence filtering was going on.

Note also that the invasion of Finland started on 30 November 1939, AFTER the 1938-1938 Battles of Khalkhin Gol and the Battle of Lake Khasan, during which the Soviets thoroughly defeated the Japanese after some initial setbacks. As the Soviets were the only major power that would be able to beat the Japanese for some time, it follows that they had qualified leaders who could be very effective when given the freedom to do their jobs.

It seems to me that the direct impact of the purges is not a strong factor in explaining the initial disasters that followed the decision to invade Finland (or, for that matter, the disasters that followed the later German invasion of the Soviet Union). The Soviet system (and paranoid leadership) was more at fault. Competent people were not involved in the planning and initial execution of the operation, even though they were available.

Your points are otherwise well taken.

Comment: Re:Anthropometrics (Score 1) 819

The reason for european economy flights being comfyer is that we have true competition in Europe, with several dozen companies, as opposed to the US where you have only 3!

The USA badly needs laws limiting the size of corporations that do business in the USA. No corporation should be larger than the medium sized town, implying a limit of 10k or perhaps at most 20k employees! All the major US airlines are way over either limit.

Further, no business should ever be allowed to buy, or merge with, a competitor.

Allowing corporations to become overly large creates huge bureaucracies (which, in itself, results in all kinds of negative consequences for the employees and the larger society), and inevitably results in executives that are badly out of touch with the workers (causing all kinds of problems for the workers, and - indirectly - causing more problems for society). Further, this is just simple sanity from the perspective of legal and governmental ethics: large corporations simply have too much ability to buy the legal profession and the government.

Given that the right to legal and governmental ethics is certainly a right "retained by the people" under the 9th Amendment of the US Bill of Rights, the current policies of allowing effectively unlimited business size should even be considered illegal.

While there is some merit to the concept that economies of scale matter, this needs to be balanced against the overall good of society. Even Adam Smith was well aware of the dangers of unregulated capitalism.

Comment: Where is the biology research? (Score 1) 103

How much do we spend on armouring cables, and is this the right solution to the problem?

For the short term, we might need to armour the cables, but it seems like a better long term approach would have to follow from research that lets us better understand the electrosensory mechanisms that sharks (like skates and rays) use to sense prey.

This could help us understand why the sharks mistake cables for prey, with the goal of possibly being able to change the design of the cables and/or the signalling to reduce the likelihood of shark attack.

We have a very simple and crude understanding of the electro-sensory systems of these creatures, but the current research (as of the last last time I looked at it) is lacking in the kinds of details engineers would need to design systems.

There is so much to learn about the sensory and nervous systems of animals, and much of this research will eventually benefit humans. This seems like a great opportunity for a long term research project that will be beneficial to society and, as a bonus, a project that won't automatically have the enviro- and animal-rights fanatics up in arms ...

Comment: Re:Two questions (Score 1) 227

by redlemming (#47659785) Attached to: About Half of Kids' Learning Ability Is In Their DNA

What is meant with "skill at reading"?

It's not easy to find. You'll find a rather vague overview in the "methods" section. There is considerably more detail in the pdf files in in the "supplementary information". In particular, they seem to be applying measures as follows:

1. the "Peabody Individual Achievement Test", and the "Goal Formal Assessment in Literacy for Stage 3" for reading comprehension,
2. the "Woodcock-Johnson III Reading Fluency Test", and the "Test of Word Reading Efficiency (Form B)" for reading fluency
3. the mathematics test comes from a different paper (reference 6), but largely seems to be about really basic stuff

I suspect if one looked closely at these tests, there would be considerable grounds for questioning how well they really measure the "children's ability in reading and mathematics" (as you mention). There is so much involved in both subject areas, after all, and thus coming up with a really good measure for "ability" is quite difficult (and not all the differences are necessarily going to appear at the high end). Also, are we measuring the ability to take the test, or real ability? Further, there may be effects across a culture or nation that contaminate the results. This kind of testing (I'm not prepared to call it "measurement" at this point) is always somewhat problematic.

Another consideration worthy of note is that the mathematics in a lot of social science research has gotten really complex in the past few decades (a point that might surprise many Slashdot folks, who traditionally tend to look down upon the social sciences). This makes it very difficult for someone that is not a subject matter expert to assess the results of a study like this without investing considerable time and thought into the details. Subject matter experts will often have their own biases and preconceptions, of course.

Often the mathematics used in modern social science relies on some very tricky assumptions, and it can take a major effort to think through whether or not the use of a given statistic in the particular circumstances that apply is actually reasonable (something the researchers don't bother to spend much time discussing).

The claim is made that the twins are representative of the general population ("the sample remains representative of the UK population"), but I always tend to be a little bit suspicious of such claims. Note also their statement: "We also excluded twins whose zygosity was unknown or uncertain, whose first language was other than English, and included only twins whose parents reported their ethnicity as 'white', which is 93% of this UK sample.".

Comment: Re:Why wouldn't you think they are scanning? (Score 1) 353

by redlemming (#47627445) Attached to: Microsoft Tip Leads To Child Porn Arrest In Pennsylvania

My significant other deals with teenagers all the time in schools, and it's amazing how many of them get irate when parents/teachers/police start to question them about stuff they posted on Facebook... Their typical response is, "that's my private Facebook page!"

It's not only teens that can have an expectation of privacy in public places. Most human beings do. For example, everybody "uses the facilities" that nature provides when hiking on public lands, which are, by definition, public.

There can also be an expectation of privacy in a crowd, simply through anonymity, particularly when there is no obvious surveillance equipment in use. Is that not what we ultimately rely on when posting to Slashdot, even as AC?

Perhaps the problem here does not involve unreasonable expectations with respect to privacy, but rather unreasonable standards of when privacy can be violated.

Comment: Re:You cannot replicate everything (Score 1) 172

by redlemming (#47603999) Attached to: Psychology's Replication Battle

Occam's Razor is merely a pithy statement of the principle of parsimony. It is not a law in any sense, and it "rules out" nothing. It merely suggests that the simpler explanation is more likely to be correct.

Indeed, Occam's Razor is a principle of philosophy, not of science.

When we look at physics, certainly the most rigorous of the sciences, we find that the simpler explanation is often shown to be incorrect over the long term. No "simple" explanation of "how things move", for example, would have come up with quantum mechanics, or relativity, or chaos theory.

This suggests that Occam's Razor is largely worthless as an intellectual tool.

Comment: Re:Dangerous Journeys (Score 1) 183

by redlemming (#47570695) Attached to: How Gygax Lost Control of TSR and D&D

How do you define really good? It seems to me that most paper-and-pencil RPG players today fall into two groups:

1. Those who massively emphasize role-playing over gaming (they like to call themselves "story gamers" in my area), and
2. Those who really enjoy the gaming aspects, but like to mix some role-playing in.

There is a third group, who want all gaming and no role-playing, but these folks tend to occupy themselves primarily with computer games, or with tabletop games like Descent, both of which arguably have no real role-playing. So these people aren't really "RPG players".

Whether or not people will like DJ and consider it good will likely depend upon which of these groups they fall into. It has moderately complex rules. People in group [2] tend to like this, because this provides the foundation needed for creative tactical play: mastery of the rules in this setting is an asset.

People in group [1] tend to prefer games with less in the way of rules. Instead of being a tool that provides a foundation for creativity, the rules are often seen as an obstacle by these folks. Mastery of the rules for this group is often characterized as rules-lawyering.

Much of the criticism of DND 3.0/3.5 and Pathfinder comes from people in group [1], because these games have rich rule sets. These critics would not enjoy DJ for the same reason. Many of the folks making negative comments regarding Gygax in the current discussion probably also come from this group, because his work certainly fell into group [2].

The other aspect to consider is that DJ was killed, possibly as a result of abuse of the legal system (that seems to happen a lot in the USA), long before it had a chance to develop its full potential. There is only one campaign setting, and very little in the way of canned adventures.

For a RPG group to be successful requires far more in the way of good chemistry, a reasonable degree of maturity, shared interests, and an experienced GM, than the use of any particular rules system. From this perspective, the differences from one system to another are pretty insignificant. If a group has these things, one can easily have a good experience with DJ. Certainly there is some real creativity in the system.

"We are on the verge: Today our program proved Fermat's next-to-last theorem." -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982