The Phantom City

Notes from our travels across a mysterious world.

Like The Abominable Dr. Phibes…

…It rises from the crypt, seeking to take vengeance upon┬áthose who left it for dead!

Okay, really, I just restored The Phantom City from the most recent personal backups I could find to bring it out of its 2.5-year slumber. My previous “lifetime” hosting was for the lifetime of the company, not my own, and even though another company valiantly jumped in at the last minute to honour those plans, my server was one of the few that couldn’t be successfully transferred before the shutdown.

I decided to take a break from blogging, and I didn’t see a new host I was particularly enthusiastic about until someone recently mentioned WebFaction. Shared managed hosting for developers with one-click installers that work? Sign me up! I’ve been using cloud servers to play with various things, but I like to tear them down and build them back up, so it’s not really ideal for blog hosting. Plus, after a long hard day of securing other people’s servers, I kind of like being able to depend on someone else to take care of one of my own. (The link above is an affiliate link. I don’t know what I get if you sign up using it, but why not?)

Anyway, I think I’m up to date through the shutdown as far as content, but I still need to fix a bunch of links and images. Plus, I just jumped a whole bunch of versions of WordPress, so I’m still figuring out how to replicate some of my old blog functionality. Much better themes available, though. We’ll probably never get back the classic theme, unless I can find where the backup with those source image files went in the last ten years, but we’ll always have the favicon to remember it by. Besides, I’m getting older, and the large text is comforting to me.

Well, let’s see how this goes. My Facebook statuses have been trending longer and longer, so it’s about time I moved them to their natural home, where they can embiggen the spirits of us all. :)

No more Folding@home on the PS3

Well, there goes my sense of social contribution. Sony will be removing the Life with Playstation client from the PS3 with the 4.30 update. The client, which contributed processing time on the PS3 to medical research using folding protein models, was used by around 15 million people to contribute over 100 million hours of calculations.

My system has a little over 500 nights’ worth of calculations under its belt, which would be about 3000 hours. I figure my function has been to supply money for power for the PS3 to keep doing important work. Now what’s my purpose, and what’s it going to do? :)

Here’s hoping Sony changes their mind, or figures out some other way to use those processing cycles.

Courtesy of The Escapist.

47% chance it’s you

So, I’m sure everyone has heard about Mitt Romney telling rich folks the election is running against him because 47% of people don’t pay taxes, expect handouts, etc. Not sure why anyone would be surprised. This has been a common conservative talking point this year, particularly in the primaries, and Rush Limbaugh uses it all the time.

Some things about the 47% who don’t pay taxes:

1. There is some percentage of genuinely poor people in there. Progressive tax rates are a good way of allowing the poor to take care of themselves as much as possible, without direct government aid. Need all of your money to survive? Keep your money. It’s simplicity itself. Now, we can argue about social welfare programs and benefits targeted at the poor, but that number isn’t 47%, and is only related to the 47% in that both include the poor.

2. Big contributor to the 47%: Seniors on Social Security. If you make below a certain amount in addition to your Social Security income, you don’t pay taxes on that Social Security income. How should we “fix” that so everyone is contributing equally and the 53% can feel better about life? Tax Social Security benefits? That would be just as idiotic as the current Social Security taxation scheme, where the federal government sends money to people and then turns around and has to collect that money back. Wouldn’t it be better to just cut the benefits the same amount and lose some of the bureaucracy?

3. Also a big contributor to the 47%: Families making below a certain amount who get the Earned Income Tax Credit. Not personally fond of this one, but I doubt too many people want to get rid of it. (Seriously, I get children are expensive, but why the heck is the federal government paying us to have them? Why not just give us a more progressive tax scheme and better-targeted social welfare, and let parents figure out how many children they can afford, as they did pre-1975?)

4. And, my personal favorite: Mortgage interest deductions. Don’t get me wrong, we claim them every year. But is it genuinely a federal interest to encourage buying houses instead of renting?

Who benefits from factor 2? Seniors! Who mostly benefits from factors 3 and 4? Middle-class white people! You know, the folks Mr. Romney wants to come out and vote for him in 2012. Which is why he keeps talking about defending Medicare, and Social Security, and keeping the expensive parts of Obamacare and Bushcare….

Personally, I don’t want to vote for a person who, when talking to rich donors, draws a vision of the entire population as producers and parasites — guess which role the donors get to play — but then turns around on his commercials and talks about how much he wants to defend all of the entitlements he so contemptuously dismissed in his rich donor speech.

On Saturday Night Live this weekend, Jay Pharoah — playing President Obama — said that though he might not have a lot going for him in this election, he’s always got Mitt Romney to help out. True words.

Update: How nice to be reminded of some of the folks in factor 1 — a substantial portion of our own enlisted soldiers — by a man who done lost his mind back during the Bush 43 Presidency. (And yes, trying out neoconservative foreign policy once doesn’t mean anything. Supporting it for the entire Bush 43 and Obama administrations, no matter what, means you’re an addict.)

Update, redux: Let’s all be reminded: Never corner a Carter. They fight mean.

Update, yet again: Reason has a good quote:

The price of public generosity is massive and, at the individual level, largely hidden. Far from thinking of themselves as victims, most net recipients think they’re the ones pushing the wagon. This is the misconception that needs to go away.

And yet another Update: This is how much a family of four, with one spouse working, would need to make to pay income taxes, thanks to tax breaks. Hmmm…only one parent working…tax breaks equaling lower effective tax rates…I thought this was supposed to be the Republican Dream. Instead, Mr. Romney gets his talking points mixed up and says you’re a parasite. Thanks, President Reagan, for the tax breaks and tax rates that make this person a parasite!

Et tu, T-Paw?

So, listening to the Republican National Convention, I just heard Tim Pawlenty trying out a line about the Presidency being Barack Obama’s first job. I thought this was odd, since he was obviously in public service for a while beforehand, but decided to examine the President’s career to see when he had worked in the for-profit private sector. (You know, the only real jobs at the RNC.) Turns out he was a lawyer for a civil-rights-oriented law firm before running for Illinois State Senate. He was also a professor at a private university, but that probably doesn’t count for the RNC.

I decided to look at Pawlenty’s record. After law school he worked as a labor lawyer, and then was vice president at a software company. Otherwise, just one political job after another. Seems familiar, somehow.

On the other hand, I’ve worked at three different for-profit companies in just the last few years. (It’s all been government contracts, though. I didn’t build that.) Does that make me more qualified for the Presidency than Tim Pawlenty? I know he didn’t get a lot more votes than I did in the Ames Straw Poll.

Do dogs own the house?

First, go read Mike Munger’s My Dog Does Not Own My House.

While the analogy is interesting, it isn’t complete. How about this?

The group of homeowners decided they needed 18 dogs to keep them safe. First, they provided food for 15-20 or so, depending on the generic food harvest. Then, they decided to provide food for 12 for the next ten years, no matter what the harvest.

When the dogs pointed out they needed food for six more, the homeowners said no. The dogs weren’t really interested in running off 6 of their own, and the homeowners insisted on 18 dogs’ worth of protection.

For some reason, in the past, the homeowners committed to letting the dogs incur debt for the group of homeowners, so the dogs did so to get the extra food. This caused great consternation among the homeowners, who did not like the debt. So one of the dogs says, however clumsily, that as long as they want 18-dog service, they’re either going to go into debt or need to give them more food.

This causes great debate between those who want 10 dogs, and those who want 20, both of whom want to pay for as little food as possible. (Oddly enough, it doesn’t seem to matter whether the homeowner lives near the edge of the community near the bandits and beasts or not. What matters is how convinced the homeowner is that they individually can whip those bandits and beasts, and whether or not they were down with the collective dog thing in the first place.)

As a natural result, the homeowners hold an election to see who’ll be Top Dog, and both of the candidates promise 18 dogs’ worth of protection for the low, low price of either 10 dogs’ worth of food or 13 dogs’ worth.

Not sure the coercion is all on the dogs’ side. We know most of the foolishness and responsibility isn’t.

Interesting link included to Nozick’s Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism? Pretty sure most people, like me, are fine with meritocracies as long as the merit system favors them and they = elite, and populist when that doesn’t happen.

Update: Our current system? It’s kind of like the dog analogy, except with the addition that some homeowners’ houses are considered more valuable for reasons spanning from collective valuation, to buying votes, to their willingness to contribute snacks to the Top Dog, and they get more dog attention.

Rest in peace, Andy Griffith

You were a great actor. Thanks for the performances.

You went from this:

To this:

To this:

To this:

And were excellent in all of them. You reminded me of my home and that always made me happy.

Update: The Knight Shift has a good remembrance, including Griffith’s most famous comedy routine.

I Can Haz Perspective?

So, apparently Breitbart.com (I’m not linking to it) Editor-at-large Ben Shapiro had this Twitter reaction to the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act:

“This is the greatest destruction of individual liberty since Dred Scott. This is the end of America as we know it. No exaggeration.”

I do try to keep the perspective that everyone’s problems are big to them, and current problems seem larger than the ones we faced in the past, but this is a good example of the reason why I don’t read many of the bigger partisan political sites and ignore 90% of what I see on the ones I do. And that reason would be Idiots.

But let us let Popehat.com tell us more about why this particular statement is flawed:

Now, we didn’t attend Harvard Law (well, one of us did, but he’s a Stanford man at heart), and so we have no fancy book-larnin in the law, but we were motivated to learn by Shapiro’s subsequent challenge to find a case more awful than yesterday’s. Was National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius the greatest destruction of individual liberty (presumably at the hands of the United States Supreme Court, which allowed us to disregard extrajudicial and foreign tragedies such as the Great Leap Forward and GULAG) since Dred Scott?

And in our many seconds of study, we could only name six:

Korematsu v. United States, in which the Supreme Court affirmed the deportation of every Japanese American from California to a concentration camp;

Plessy v. Ferguson, in which the Supreme Court affirmed that states could segregate Dred Scott’s descendants, now American citizens, into separate facilities such as schools and buses, facilities which turned out not to be quite equal to those provided the descendants of Dred Scott’s master;

Schenck v. United States and its progeny Debs v. United States, which had something to do with imprisoning people and stripping their citizenship for expressing unpopular political opinions;

Herrera v. Collins, in which the Court held that executing prisoners whom post-trial evidence shows to be actually innocent of any crime is not a “cruel” or “unusual” punishment;

Bowers v. Hardwick, in which the Court held that it’s constitutional to jail two consenting, unrelated adults for the physical act of love; and

Kelo v. City of New London, in which the Court held that government may seize valuable private property for the purpose of giving it away to government cronies who intend nothing more than to flush it down the toilet.

I’d add to this that, if you’re crying now about ACA being upheld, but weren’t crying last week about:

  • The Patriot Act
  • Guantanamo
  • The lack of federal prosecutions for torture
  • Bush lying to America to start a war and kill thousands
  • Free Speech Zones
  • The criminalization of ever-larger percentages of our population (due to the drug wars)
  • RICO and other law-enforcement property seizures (no trial needed, as long as someone says the Magic Word: “Drugs”)
  • The militarization of police
  • Lack of accountability for prosecutors who hide evidence
  • Domestic surveillance programs
  • Executive power to start wars without Congressional approval
  • Assassination lists
  • Classification of anyone standing near an enemy combatant as a combatant (for instance, at a wedding)
  • The combination of the previous two with the pinpoint precision of air-to-ground missile warheads
  • The increasing need to carry identification at all times
  • Over-classification of government information, by a government that is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
  • Secret national security trials, if you are lucky enough to get one in the first place.
  • Our own knee-jerk reactions to anyone who exercises their freedoms in a way in which we do not personally agree

then you need to sit down, read some history for perspective, ponder what you think America is all about…and, quite frankly, how much you care about freedom as a universal ideal, rather than just caring about how government affects you directly. We’ve got ~99 problems, clauses in the ACA aren’t anywhere near the top of the list right now, and the two major parties aren’t offering any answers.

If you were already concerned about that sort of thing, however, then, as Ali G would say, “Respek.” :)

Update: I almost forgot. A special shout-out to the executive director of the Democratic National Committee, who tweeted after the Supreme Court decision: “it’s constitutional. Bitches.” Hahahaha…it’s so funny that he decided to be all hip and current by using a derogatory term normally used for women in serious political discourse. Wow, Patrick Gaspard, you are certainly a man to admire. (Really? REALLY?!? Mr. Gaspard, you’re the head of the DNC. Time to grow up.)

Update II: Added in the bit about over-classification and secret trials. We’re at a point right now where even the most innocuous information is often classified…not for security reasons, but because government action can’t be judged if we don’t know what to judge.

Exactly…

Mike Munger on why Single-Payer Healthcare would be better than what we had before and what we have now. These are the exact reasons why I’ve converted to the Single Payer idea myself as the most pragmatic solution, after years of dismissing it, but he writes it a lot better than I can.

And let’s face it, folks…do we really have a better healthcare system than Canada, France, or Switzerland, no matter the horror stories that come up every time someone mentions that other countries might have a better solution? (Yes, I know those three countries have different solutions. Each also happens to be a lot closer to single payer than they are to us.) Note I didn’t throw Britain’s NHS in there. That ends up sounding like going to the doctor at the DMV. :)

(If anything, that old saw about how our system lets us get all the latest and greatest in technology and medicines as long as we can pay for it, if true, just means we subsidize the rest of the world in medical research. We can’t afford that.)

While I was happy about the limits on the Commerce Clause, I kind of wish PPACA had been struck down yesterday so we could potentially move on to talking single payer again, rather than waiting a few years to notice that PPACA hasn’t done a thing to control costs.

Update: Rereading this, I realized used the DMV as an example of unpleasantness. Actually, a couple of years ago when I realized my license had expired the day before, I had an entirely pleasant experience at the DMV office on MLK in Durham. No lines, friendly people, and very efficient. So, in the spirit of privatization, I’ll compare the NHS to holding for credit card customer service while standing in line at the car mechanic’s. :)

Six almost inevitable economic steps

Mike Munger, former Libertarian Party candidate for NC governor, recommends some steps to get past this economic morass.

I’ll summarize, but you should really go and check out the article.

  1. Single Payer Healthcare, to divorce healthcare from employment compensation.
  2. Cuts to the military, while reducing mission.
  3. Cut the deficit with tax increases and spending cuts
  4. Pay for Social Security by removing the tax cap, and means-testing the rest.
  5. Reduce business uncertainty by slowing down the pace of regulation.
  6. Cut corporate tax rate to 20%, but remove all loopholes to ensure it is actually paid.

Pretty interesting, and in my opinion we’re going to be forced to do a lot of these things eventually, but we’re going to wait long enough for it to be much more messy and painful than it had to be.

Amendment One

So, in North Carolina we’ll be voting on this measure for an amendment to our state Constitution, which has somehow survived for many years without it:

Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.

See, if I was in the state legislature, I would have voted to amend that measure as follows:

Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman, for life, is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.

(Also, each time a person referred to the amendment measure in public, they’d need to do the “4 Life” hand sign. Marriage would be just like the N…W…O….)

If we’re going to legislate marriage as defined in the churches in which I grew up, let’s go all the way. Let’s see how many of our state legislators would vote for that one. Or Republican Presidential candidates would. I know one who wouldn’t, because of principle; one who couldn’t, because he’d be laughing too hard; and one who wouldn’t, because it says “one woman.” (Sorry, bad Mormon joke.) Oh, and one who would, because of principle — that would be the Catholic guy who was successfully convincing a bunch of Protestants that the Mormon guy was the scarier option. What happened to my Baptists, folks? Nobody read those freaky Jack Chick Crusaders Comics from the ’70s? ;)

When you’re going to the polls in May, think about this: Do you really want the state to completely legislate based on man’s interpretation of God’s words…because I think you’ll notice if we start putting in all of the stuff that the pastors of my youth conveniently decided was overridden by grace, or just plain ignored, we won’t really need to worry about Sharia law. We’ll be used to something quite like it, whenever we have enough radical fundamentalist Muslims to somehow override the voting preferences of ~350 million people. (Look out, women of 2525!)

I’m still not exactly sure what the purpose of this amendment even is for its proponents. To protect the sanctity of marriage? I didn’t realize the strength of my marriage had anything to do with anyone else’s, but if that’s the case, the couple who were getting their marriage license next to us in Pigeon Forge, TN, didn’t get us off to an auspicious start. (“And this will be your…?” “Fifth marriage, ma’am.”) Marriage doesn’t seem to be tied to children in this state, so I’m not sure what it’s supposed to do there, other than remove a possible avenue of stability for them. Does it somehow encourage people not to be gay? I’d think the last 250 years of non-gay marriage are evidence that wouldn’t work. Heck, as near as I can tell, it’s not doing anything except lessening the possibility that some other generation will be able to disagree with us without having to first pass Amendment Minus One.

I’m not a very good Libertarian, even though I voted for Munger in the last governor’s race. I’d probably be called a Liberaltarian in the commenter’s section in Reason, and I couldn’t really argue with that. But, I do believe in it enough to ask: Why is the State in the Marriage business?

The state government of North Carolina is partially here to provide services a majority of us, at one point or another, implicitly agreed would be better supplied by the collective. It’s also here to enforce laws that we agreed we didn’t want to live without, for one reason or another. (It’s part of that social contract you didn’t even realize you were agreeing to, just by being born into it and not leaving.) Just as importantly, to my view, NC is here to enforce agreements between private parties. Those contracts often take commonly used shapes for commonly desired outcomes. Business incorporation, for instance, serves as an agreement about liability between you, the State, and your customers.

This is what the marriage license means to the state: It’s a legal agreement, a contract between two parties that confers certain rights and responsibilities, so commonly understood and established in precedent we don’t even have to sign a real contract with every clause listed. If you want to dissolve that contract, we have a nice large body of law and standard rules that allow you to do so. If you want to override that behavior, then you draw up a legal agreement beforehand that will take precedence. If one partner dies, that contract conveys certain privileges to the survivor. If one partner is sick, or disabled, that contract also conveys certain privileges. It’s shorthand for a very complex legal contract between two parties. And, as far as the State is concerned, that’s it.

My marriage, much like yours probably, was also a religious ceremony. We found a pastor who we’d never met before who was willing to marry us on a mountain in Tennessee as part of a complete paid wedding package, and committed to each other before God and our families. That part was important to us as a symbol of our commitment. You know the State’s concern about all of that? They cared whether the pastor was qualified to sign the wedding license. In other words, for the State, we got married by a special kind of Notary Public. We could have been married by the Pope in Times Square, or an atheist ship captain on a gambling cruise, and the State would have been good with it.

Why do we continue to act like the religious part has anything to do with the legal part? The marriage you have right now, to the State, is a recognized form of civil union, certified by that license, recorded in a courthouse somewhere. You can have all of the religious ceremony you want, and all the faith in the world, and if you don’t get that license, you’ll only be legally married by coincidence after you fall under common law.

If keeping a particular religious belief about marriage and the legal definition of marriage synced is so important, I’m wondering why we don’t seem to pay much attention to these milestones and what they could be linked to as far as legal status:

  • Christening
  • Bar Mitzvah
  • Immersion baptism
  • Church membership

Perhaps legal personhood? Voting? Driving? Drinking age? Heck, at least one or two of those have often been required for full rights — such as they were — in various places in various times. (I grew up a fundamentalist country Baptist. You know what we liked? Separation of church and state, because we were suspicious of the State and anyone who wanted to gain power through it. A bunch of years being killed by the various State Churches after the Reformation kind of guaranteed that reaction.)

So, my preference? We start treating the State part like what it is, a civil contract between consenting adults. Not part of our religion…I suspect there are some sects out there that have a problem with the idea of my marriage. (Heck, to a couple of guys who were wandering around the neighborhood the other day, I’m going to Hell because I’m a Baptist, so I doubt being yoked to a Presbyterian would make them happy — and I’d sure hate for them to start trying to impose that through the state.) We can all have our religious parts, and continue gossiping about the quality of other’s unions and the states of their souls, but for the State, I do not want to start restricting the kinds of private contracts into which consenting adults can enter. Particularly not the kind of contract that conveys rights helpful to stability, care, and companionship.

Before you mention it, yep, that would apply to groups of more than two people as well. I get your slippery slope argument, and still say free agreements between individuals are still very seldom going to be my business or yours. My reluctance there is the fact that our body of law and precedence actually doesn’t have much to say about dissolving those unions, or priority of rights amongst the individuals in the case of sickness, death, and children. But to pretend, like one of our illustrious state representatives, that we don’t know how to divorce two gay people married in other states? Really? We divorce couples every day without asking if either of them has a penis.

So, if any of this sounded right to you, go out and vote against Amendment One on May 8th. Or before. Early voting, you know.

Further details:
Carolina Review: Conservatives, Vote Against the NC Marriage Amendment

The News & Observer: Leading NC conservative opposes marriage amendment

Charlotte Observer: N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis: Gay marriage ban likely to be reversed

Update: Further articles on the topic, better said than I am able.

Mike Munger: Federalist Society Debate

Chris Knight: I’m Christian. I’m called “conservative”. I’m not voting for Amendment One.

By the way, Chris’s mention of Ron Baity surprised me, since I didn’t realize he is as involved in Amendment One as he apparently is. The only thing I have to say is that, if I find myself on the same side of any issue as Dr. Baity nowadays, I take that as a warning sign I might need to reexamine my opinion.

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