June 29, 2011
California’s latest budget deal continues their now-familiar trend of chasing small business out of the state. In a desperate and unconstitutional powergrab, they are saying that any business that is even affiliated with anyone in California has to pay sales tax on everything sent to customers in the state.
I’m most often complaining about Congress overstepping their bounds in controlling the states, but this is a rare case (Like Arizona’s recent immigration laws) where the opposite is true. Interstate commerce is squarely under the jurisdiction of Congress. Let’s say that a product is manufactured in Texas, sent to Colorado to an Amazon distributor, and then shipped to a customer in California; what’s to stop Texas from saying they can charge sales tax on the item because they made it? Or Colorado to charge it because they are where the sale was shipped from, or every state in between because it passed on through? The Federal government is there primarily for two purposes, foreign policy, and making sure states don’t enact anti-competitive laws that interfere with the commerce between the states, thus, states were only allowed to regulate transactions from those companies which they have jurisdiction over because of a physical presence in the state.
California is now claiming that I, along with ten thousand others are ‘sister companies’ of Amazon, because we are paid to advertise for them. I’m nobody’s ‘sister company’. I have no Obligations to Amazon, they don’t tell me what to do, we don’t have any claim over each other’s assets, I just post a link to Amazon on my page, and Amazon reimburses me for doing so when paying customers arrive there through my sites. I’m no more connected with Amazon than television networks who advertise for them, UPS who carries their products, or Visa, who handles their transactions.
Living in an extremely liberal town, I hear a lot of people cheering this bill as somehow sticking it to the evil corporations and finally making them pay their fair share, but that isn’t what is going to happen out of this. Amazon has already announced that they will end their business dealings with everyone in California, which means not only are ten thousand more Californians now very suddenly out of work, but California won’t see a cent of it, since the companies won’t actually be taxed after cutting ties, and California will be out the revenue from those people and quite possibly paying to add them to its welfare rolls. Also, it isn’t legally Amazon’s responsibility to pay sales tax on your purchases, it’s yours, so if you aren’t paying taxes on your online purchases, then point the finger at yourself first.
I wish I’d seen that this ship was sinking before I bought a home here. If it were any easier to leave, I would.
June 21, 2009
Encyclopedias define religious discrimination as ‘valuing or treating a person or group differently because of what they do or do not believe.‘ That seems like a pretty fair and broad definition, but I think there is a great deal of misunderstanding out there as to what this means.
Most claims of religious discrimination are claims of violation of the first amendment statement that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. I think the first thing that is important to understand here is that the government doesn’t give us our rights, it just hasn’t managed to take all of them away yet. The Constitution isn’t a document granting us rights, it’s a document restricting the actions of government. The thing to note here is that it isn’t the job of Congress to prevent discrimination, but rather to not cause it.
Claims of religious discrimination range from legitimate to ridiculous, and resolving them is difficult in the sense that the ones seemingly being wronged are often the ones asking for the discrimination. Some examples that are already happening:
An Orthodox Jewish couple in Bournemouth have issued a county court writ claiming religious discrimination. Why? This couple contends that they are being held hostage on Shabbat because walking out their door triggers their neighbor’s motion light, and thus their prohibition of ‘making fire’, one of many things they aren’t allowed to do on the Sabbath. Lets say Jehovah’s Witnesses were afraid of motion lights too. Would putting outdoor motion lighting on your front door be a hate crime? This highlights the problem of the government getting involved in private affairs. What happens when one religion requires motion lights on their door while another forbids it? There is no way to please everyone.
What I find disturbing about this kind of case is that looking at the above definition for religious discrimination, it is the couple who is doing the discriminating by demanding special treatment because of their beliefs. No one else can sue their neighbors for having motion lighting unless they also subscribe to this belief.
Another example is that of the burkha. A girl in Florida tried to get her drivers license photo taken with her burkha on. Obviously the state shot this down. The same goes for being identified before boarding airplanes. It is an interesting dilemma because, while it is the burkha wearers who want the special treatment, denying it is essentially preventing Islamic women from travelling. I would also note that if you are an identical twin, they don’t force you to come up with additional identification to prove you aren’t your sibling. An airline could hire a woman to take the burkha wearers into a private room for identification, but if the airline were small enough to only have one ID checker, then they would be forced to be discriminatory in their hiring practices by only hiring a woman. It is the FAA that requires such checks, so it is a government matter, just as it would be if they were carded at a liquor store. The ACLU thinks it is disallowed because of religious discrimination caused by 9-11, rather than the obvious security reasons of identifying passengers. I’d challenge them to try to go buy some liquor one night wearing a ski mask and see how far they get.
The intent of the constitution as it relates to religious discrimination should be interpreted as a sort of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. Those in government should not commit religious acts while on the job, or add them or their terminology into policy, and the government shouldn’t take religion into account when making decisions. Where the lines of discrimination law should be drawn for businesses and individuals, I admit I don’t know. Anyone have any opinions?
April 6, 2009
Obsolescence. From the beginning, whoever has made the top weapons of the day obsolete, has ruled the world. Every advance has been a game changer, but some have been more notable because they turned the colossal investments of ruling nations into relics nearly overnight. A good example would be the cannon. Titanic castles built to withstand siege for months could be laid low in hours. Later came the bomber, which rendered nearly all previous defenses useless, and finally, the nuclear warhead. Mutually assured destruction put an end to wars between those powers in possession of the ultimate weapon. We have continued to work on our other military technology in order to enforce our will upon non nuclear nations, and they increasingly have turned to terrorism in a fight which can not be won militarily.
I would like to stress that there is no such thing as a purely defensive weapon. If a nation were able to simply raise an impenetrable force-field over their entire territory, it would merely free up all of their other resources to offense with no worry of reprisal. The top four military powers on the planet, the U.S., Russia, Israel, and China, have all recently displayed this in their disputes with non nuclear powers. There have been quite a few interesting military developments in the past year.
Three significant new technologies have hit, rapid fire, that will change the value of all the chess pieces on the board:
- China has developed a missile capable of taking down an aircraft carrier in a single shot. The missile travels at mach 10. Aircraft carriers are the primary U.S. traditional weapon of war. We pull them up alongside of a nation we intend to dominate, and control their airspace. This development shifts our weapons development desires strongly in the direction of anti-ballistics.
- The military has begun putting robots on the front lines. Everything from bomb diffusers and pack bots to armed drones and driverless vehicles, nearly autonomous already. Moore’s law has robotics doubling in power every year and a half, this has held true for a hundred years. If you really stop to think about that, it has mind boggling implications for the near future. Supercomputers are on track to be able to emulate the human brain in real time within three to nine years. A year and a half later, they should be able to think twice as fast, twice as big, never forget, never sleep, think of ways to improve themselves.
- The reason we haven’t seen lasers become a big part of our military is one of power. We haven’t been able to create a laser that is strong enough, small enough, and portable enough to be properly weaponized. The traditional benchmark has been 100 megawatts. Northrop just announced in late March that they have exceeded this benchmark.
The military seems ready to scrap the F-22 program.This is likely the most dominant fighter in production, and would seem to be crucial to our strategy of air superiority, so why the change of heart? Are they just squeamish about the cost? I doubt it. Obama has been in talks with Russia and the rest of the world pushing for nuclear disarmament, starting by capping the maximum warheads per country and preventing new nations from acquiring them, and then moving towards total disarmament. A lofty goal, but an odd one if we are serious. Why get rid of our greatest deterrent?
I think they see that the future is getting very near. Obsolescence is coming once again to the old ways of war. Once nations have laser anti ballistics systems in place, anti aircraft-carrier missiles become obsolete, as they can be shot down at the speed of light; so do the aircraft, they could just slice the wings off the whole squadron in an instant. Intercontinental ballistic nuclear missiles could be shot down before they got far from the launchers.Where does this leave the state of war? In the hands of swarms of small autonomous machines.
Update: The below is test footage of a scaled down version of the YAL-1 Airborne Laser. This truck was being shot at by an advanced tactical laser flying over in a modified C-130 Hercules. Imagine what they can put in larger planes and ground installations. This is a game changer.
March 28, 2009
There is a reason I put up so many posts about traffic cameras, they are the front lines of the coming privacy apocalypse. Moore’s Law dictates that processing power of computers doubles every year and a half on average. They do this by becoming smaller, more interconnected, and lower in energy consumption. This is in contrast with government, which gets bigger, more intrusive, and less efficient over time. In traffic cameras, the two meet. Government has found a source of revenue in crime, and a way to automate the process through private industry. The cameras pay for themselves fast enough to create their own explosive growth, and government expands to consume the new source of revenue. If crime drops off, government will seek to find or create more crimes in order to avoid revenue starvation. This started with red light cameras, and now according to the Chicago Sun Times, Chicago is considering trying to pay for their budget deficit by having traffic cameras scan every car on the road for current insurance and automatically send the owner of each a $500 ticket, regardless of whether they were driving.
This isn’t about cars or insurance, and it isn’t about my desire to get away with breaking traffic laws; I haven’t driven an automobile for over a decade. As Moore’s law kicks in, we will see surveillance become extremely cheap, and integrated into everything. Imagine you had your own personal thundercloud over your head that followed you around all day and zapped money out of your pocket every time you did anything not government approved. This isn’t some hypothetical slippery slope, this is the nearly inevitable path we are on. We can’t, and shouldn’t, stop the tech. If we don’t make it, someone else will. If we don’t make it, we don’t progress to the good it can bring. The Amish strategy of hiding their heads in the sand is a recipe for being conquered by those willing to use buttons. What we can do is make sure the government isn’t allowed to profit from its use.
There are several things people are doing to try and circumvent the cameras, from polarized licence plate covers that can only be viewed straight on, to clear reflective spray paint to blind the camera with the flash reflection, to GPS based traffic camera detectors.
I’m guessing the next step is LCD signs complete with advertising while you wait for your light to turn green.
March 3, 2009
There is an old saying that In expanding the field of knowledge we but increase the horizon of ignorance. I would add a corollary to this: In increasing the scope of education, we but expand the ranks of the undereducated.
There was a disturbing study released recently, which in a comparison of eight European and North American countries, showed Britain and the United States as having the lowest social mobility. This means that contrary to all the talk of achieving the American dream, much of your likelihood of success is set at birth. Why the change? As usual it is a fundamental flaw in our assessment of cause and effect.
We only have so many days to walk this earth. Those of us who run the maze set in front of us may on average do better, but is it the maze or the mouse that makes the destiny? It may be the very education system that freezes social mobility. By increasing the scale of the public education system, we increase the resume requirements for employment. It becomes less of an issue of whether we have the drive and the potential, and more of an issue of whether we sacrificed enough years to the system. These are years the poor can scarcely afford when they are born into debt and have to claw their own way to success.
When you hear a Libertarian talking about getting rid of the Department of Education, they aren’t trying to rid the world of public schooling, they are just advocating more local control by the states and districts. This will reduce homogenization of education, but if the net increase is positive, isn’t it worth it? Our education system is fundamentally flawed. It seeks the lowest common denominator in all things. Teachers are forced to follow a set, preapproved plan, rather than teaching their own interests which they are passionate about. It is not the knowledge we need to teach, but the desire to attain it. For example, people speak loftily about the need to teach history so that we will not be doomed to repeat it, yet the history we teach to children too young to understand the nuanced adult concepts like religion, geography, and greed that lead to war, and too young to have reference for time to understand the dates, is a history so dumbed down and manipulated that it is counterproductive. Remove this history from the first ten years of education, and you only need eight. Think of how much additional potential a child can attain with two more of those formative years to focus on what matters. Their desire to understand will lead them to history later in life. Especially in the digital age, the responsibility of education should be to grant literacy and the desire to learn. Once you ignite that spark, you can let people find their own way, and most of them will find a better one. Modern computerized teaching tools use instructions, reading, and video to teach a subject to an individual student. They occasionally interject quizzes, and based on the results, determine which teaching styles are most effective for the student, and which concepts they have grasped and are still lacking. The next lesson will be tailored accordingly.
One of the most important questions for us to ask ourselves is: what are the goals of education? Is it to teach general knowledge? I see that as a path to failure. Pushing knowledge on those without drive is torturous. Is it to give students the skills they need in the field employment that will be most profitable to them and the country? If so, then we are failing. What they really need is literacy, questions, and the tools to find their own answers.
These same problems that plague education also plague most other bureaucratic institutions, employers, and traditions. If you are in a position to do so, give someone their autonomy back, and while you are at it, take back your own. Remember, you are free.
I posted a TED talk the other day that is somewhat relevant on the ethical nature of autonomy.