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OK, so, the Brendan Eich thing. You could be forgiven for thinking it's a slippery slope to ask an employee to leave because of their personal beliefs about a social issue. Because it is.

But a CEO is not a regular employee. A CEO is a very public cheerleader for your company. It's a PR position as much as anything. The phrase "appearance of impropriety" is relevant here. You can't claim your CEO's views are not those of the company. If not theirs, then whose?

OK, so maybe you wouldn't buy that either if we were talking about Domino's Pizza, or even Microsoft, because they are for-profit companies and it's their job to maximize the stock price, not change the world. But Mozilla is not a for-profit company. It's a nonprofit organization dedicated to "openness." And that "public cheerleader" thing goes double for the CEO of a nonprofit organization.

But let's go back to the for-profits for a moment, because there's another relevant factor: companies need to retain employees. Developers are social libertarians. People who want to get married will always care more about the issue than people who want to stop them from getting married. And all of Mozilla's major competitors are rock solid on same-sex marriage, even though, as for-profit companies, they could choose to ignore it.

So at the end of the day, making him CEO was bad business. It should never have happened. He should have stayed in the CIO role, which acknowledged his considerable professional worth, and not moved into the vastly more political role of CEO.
boutell: (shave)
Proposition for debate:

"A decent weekly source of news is as good as daily as far as the individual citizen is concerned, because in a republic we delegate decisions to others, and we are basically making up our minds who to lobby or vote for. Realtime immediacy is not required, except for safety concerns."

Discuss!
boutell: (shave)
At this point I'm no longer sure that Bitcoins are beanie babies. But the emerging alternatives to Bitcoin, like Litecoin, are definitely shitty knockoff beanie babies at the corner store. The whole point of Bitcoin is proven, permanent scarcity that means they could theoretically hold value. That only works once.

As for actual Bitcoins, they are now trading near the $1K mark, which is pretty jawdropping, and the price graph over the last couple years is remarkable. People are now selling dedicated mining rigs with custom chips ("ASICs") engineered solely for the purpose; it is no longer considered profitable to mine with an off the shelf PC, not even with software that takes advantage of the smarts in your graphics card.

There are now around 12 million bitcoins in circulation. At a valuation near $1k a pop, they are currently worth $12 billion. Of course, if everyone were to try to sell them tomorrow, they would be worth nothing tomorrow.

Am I going to start mining them? No. I do kinda wish I'd mined them three years ago, socked away 1K of them, and sold them off this summer. But only in the most cynical way, because I remain very skeptical that they will hold value. Sure, they are scarce, but only because people consent to view this particular algorithm as the magical one that "counts." It's not like gold, which has intrinsic value, or the dollar, which has... heh heh heh heh heh heh heh.
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Hey Mr. President, Mohamed El-Baradei is the best partner we could ever hope to have in Egypt. He's a former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency for crying out loud. If he says it's time for the dictator to go, then it's time stop wringing your hands and wondering which way the wind is blowing.
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As you know if you are not under a rock, Arizona congresswoman Gifford was shot at a constituent meeting today by a man named Jared Loughner. As of this time she is still alive although she is in critical condition. Many others were shot and six died, including a young child.

This appears to be the shooter's YouTube channel. I see no reason for it to be a forgery— a YouTube employee would have had to set that up to show these videos from three weeks ago. I'm accepting it as genuine.

I watched the videos, which are just text with no audio or music in the background. Basically his version of the Unabomber Manifesto, but a whole lot shorter and less coherent. He warns us not to let the government control our grammar, engages in a lot of confabulation and "proves" that he's not a terrorist because accusing him of being a terrorist is an ad hominem attack. Or something.

He also talks about "conscience dreaming" and informs us that soon, everyone will know he is conscience dreaming. Tragically we now know what he meant by that. Actually, it would have been pretty clear three weeks ago. I'm guessing basically no one watched these until today. A pity, since someone might well have called the police.

OK, so he's nuts. The question in my mind and that of many others is whether recent political rhetoric pushed him to action.

I'd have to say no. In the video that link points to, he does rant against government, but he also says that he "will not trust in God" at the end of his complaint about the federal currency and its lack of a basis in gold or silver. Of course that's a reference to the presence of "In God We Trust" on the currency, but it's not a usual right wing complaint.

What this suggests to me, besides schizophrenia, is solipsism and paranoia. I don't see any clear-cut sign that he is acting on a signal (real or perceived) from anyone outside himself, however irresponsible her opponent in November may have been when he exhorted his supporters to "help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly," and however foolish Palin may have been for distributing the heavily retweeted map with crosshairs on various districts. I suspect he would bristle at the suggestion. He appears to be angry with the universe, as represented by the entire government and anybody else who gets in the way. The Tea Party's concerns are small potatoes to him.

In short, like a lot of political shooters in American history he appears to be his own nut.

No one can say for certain that the bang-bang rhetoric of Palin and Kelly didn't help push him over the edge in this place and time, but it's far from clear that they did. Of course, more information (especially writings and future statements by the shooter himself) may yet come to light and change that picture.

What a senseless tragedy.

Update: Loughner was not a veteran. He was an Army wannabe but they (very sensibly I should imagine) turned him down. This is the most complete background on him I've read so far.
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Assange did ask the US Government for a list of specific names that should be redacted in order to avoid putting lives at risk through its disclosures (human rights activists, etc). As you can see, the response was not constructive.

I have not read through these cables myself yet, and the claim that they are riddled with the names of at-risk of individuals apparently came from the US government in the first place (the same government that was insufficiently concerned to discuss the matter constructively). So I'm going to have to give Assange the benefit of the doubt as far as that claim goes.

Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] veep for supplying the above fascinating link.
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"China is distancing itself from ally North Korea and has indicated a willingness to accept Korean unification under the South’s control, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable provided to the Guardian by WikiLeaks.org."

Unless of course the WikiLeak fucks that up.

I am not in the pro-Assange camp today.
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Most previous WikiLeaks releases left me saying "yes. People need to see this. Speak truth to power, yo."

But the newest releases are full of private, unguarded remarks between diplomats, human rights activists and others who need to be able to communicate candidly in private if they are going to be able to trust each other at all. And so I am losing faith here. I do not understand why it was in the world's best interest to release this information.

If I'm the President I need to be able to pick up the phone and talk to Ivan and not worry that Julian Assange is going to report my every fart joke. If I can't do that, then I might choose not to talk to Ivan at all. Which could be catastrophic.

Your thoughts?
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Cuba's state-run businesses plan to lay off 10% of the country. Licenses to operate private businesses will be granted on a large scale.

It ain't Wall Street— citizens will be permitted to operate a private cooperative and lease state assets, but the government will retain control of crucial industries (including farming).

The government is citing a large population of freeloaders who, confronted with a society in which employment is guaranteed, choose to do not very much. Citizens might point out that at $20/month, they may as well not do much.

My money says... my money says nothing; my government has muzzled my money, in Cuba. But Europe's money says that the Cuban economy will look a lot like the French economy in ten years. Compared to here, many, many state guarantees of well-being will still be made, but there will be a stock market.

But Cuban politics are another thing entirely. China has opened its economy without opening its society. What happens if the Cuban economy changes and the Cuban government does not? At what point will it finally become untenable to refuse to trade with eleven million highly educated people in our backyard when their government is no more our enemy than that of one of our top three trade partners?
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WikiLeaks' Julian Assange makes Spider Jerusalem and Miranda Zero look like a couple of freakin' amateurs. This is the real deal kids.

A few points of departure for anyone who hasn't been paying attention lately:

The Collateral Murder website
Afghan War Diary, 91,000 classified reports on the progress or lack thereof of the Afghan war, dwarfing the famous Pentagon Papers that helped call bullshit on the winnability of the Vietnam War
WikiLeaks posts an encrypted mystery file titled "Insurance," a none-too-subtle hint of what will be released if any government tries to touch Assange (seriously how badass is that?)
New Yorker profile of Assange
And the WikiLeaks website, of course.

Not everything WikiLeaks releases involves national governments. Want to know the rules of the Google Lunar X Prize competition? Too bad, they're secret. Wait, not any more.

Love him or hate him, he's proving one of Spider's taglines: being a bastard works.

WikiLeaks takes PayPal donations. At the current price of comic books it may be cheaper to underwrite the next true life story.
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The United States Senate are a pack of cowards and shills. Or at any rate 40 of them are. Which is shameful, because the whole point of the Senate is that they are there long enough not to be cowards and shills. Grow some balls and pass a real clean energy bill, already. Your grandchildren do not have six years to wait for you to play little political games with their future.
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We're not going back to the moon. We're not rushing pell-mell to Mars either. Instead, NASA will support efforts to develop commercial human spaceflight to low earth orbit, and focus its own efforts on development of a heavy launcher and long-term exploration of the solar system by both humans and robots.

We made it to the moon as quickly as we did for a lot of reasons. One of them is that the moon can be visited quickly. Just as Chernobyl can be visited quickly. What matters, mostly, is your lifetime exposure. And reaching Mars takes a very long time.

We don't have a practical engineering solution to keep people reasonably safe from the levels of radiation they would encounter on the long slow trip to Mars. It's going to take time to figure out how that could be done at a sane price. And we also don't have a practical plan to bring people back from Mars. And we have no idea how to create a self-sufficient ecology on another planet, so yes, we do have to bring them back. Etc.

This is why so many plans to visit Mars seriously proposed one-way "once you're there you're a Martian" trips or even elderly "colonists," on their way to die on Mars because they were soon to die anyway and thought it would be a seriously cool way to go while doing lots of good science, etc. This is a calculation a human being is entitled to make privately of course, but for my tax dollars exploring the universe should be an adventure, something from which you might one day return. Alive.

A better plan is to continue exploration, make better use of robots, develop commercial use of low earth orbit (and find practical ways to clean up the dangerous mess we've scattered there), and work on the long term problems of groundbreaking propulsion, better radiation shielding and sustainable ecology.

That last one is going to pay big dividends here on Earth. You can bet that any technology that sustains life independently on another world is going to require huge insights into how to sustain life on this one.

I would like NASA to have a bigger budget and pursue bigger goals sooner, but I can't fault the Obama administration for doing the math and setting goals that make more sense. Bush committed us to return to the moon but never set a realistic budget to get there. A sustainable long-term program is much more honest.
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Last week I played devil's advocate in two posts about the Supreme Court's recent decision, in which they decided that the First Amendment's guarantees of free speech apply to corporations just as much as people, and effectively struck down all limitations on corporate-funded political advertising.

Various groups are pushing the idea of a constitutional amendment to roll back this decision. I'm for that in principle— I don't want Exxon funding ads against every congressman who dares to impose penalties for oil spills. But I need to know that the amendment in question won't make matters worse by taking away practical means of effective political speech, like the ability of 1,000 people to pool their funds and run a TV ad. Or take away other aspects of corporate quasi-personhood that are essential to the functioning of our economy, like the ability to form contracts, sue for redress of grievances and so on. Or limit freedom of the press, which (if you're going to actually reach a national audience) usually requires something resembling a corporation to carry out in a practical way.

Yesterday I learned of the proposed Free Speech for People Amendment, which reads:

Amendment XXVIII

Section 1. The sovereign right of the people to govern being essential to a free democracy, the First Amendment shall not be construed to limit the authority of Congress and the States to define, regulate, and restrict the spending and other activity of any corporation, limited liability entity, or other corporate entity created by state or federal law or the law of another nation.

Section 2. Nothing contained in this Article shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.


I think that's brilliantly put, and I'm prepared to enthusiastically support it— but I'd like to hear what the lawyerly types on my friendslist have to say about the language used.
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Okay, so free speech for corporations in politics is arguably bad (see my previous post and the responses that followed). And the Supreme Court has decided that the First Amendment applies to corporations, so we can't pass laws forbidding corporations from running campaign ads as they see fit.

People want to amend the constitution to address this.

Okay fine. What should that amendment say?

I've heard it suggested that a constitutional amendment should do away with corporate personhood. Okay, but how does the economy function if corporations aren't able to transact business, hold property, seek redress of grievances, etc.? And how do individuals sue corporations if they aren't people in that sense?

This ain't easy. Before I can support a constitutional amendment to address this issue, I need to know what it's going to say and how it's going to impact not just elections but also the economy.

Please note: "let's throw out the whole economy and shut down all the corporations and start over in the year zero, it worked great for Cambodia!" is not an answer I'll be taking seriously.
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I haven't made up my mind about yesterday's surprise Supreme Court decision effectively allowing corporations (nonprofits, for-profits, labor unions, whatever) to spend as much on political advertising as they like.

This is an excellent collection of arguments on both sides.

People For the American Way is calling for a constitutional amendment to limit the role of money in politics. Many other liberal organizations to which I belong are doing the same. I have my doubts about the wisdom of that.

Corporations are ultimately controlled by their shareholders, institutional and individual, whether those stakeholders choose to exercise their power effectively for good corporate governance or not. So in that sense their speech is collective speech on the part of the shareholders.

Corporations that happen to own media outlets could already spend as much as they want making their political positions felt.

"One person one vote, not one dollar one vote" is fine to say, but freedom of the press was never meant as a guarantee that everybody would have an equally effective printing press.

Until yesterday's decision, labor unions were under the same restrictions as Exxon. Did that make sense?

If a rich guy wanted to spend a few million on an issue ad personally, he could legally do it under the old rules. If I wanted to pull together with 999 other people and make that ad happen myself, I'd probably have to form a corporation, so I wouldn't have been able to do it. Did that make sense?

Yes, the thought of Exxon spending billions of profit $$$ to sink every pro-environment congressman in the US worries me, though it might not work out that way if they are required to disclose their identity in the ad. But I don't see a good way to cut that knot without chilling effects elsewhere.

Opinions welcome.
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Google to the Chinese government: tell us how we can operate without censorship in your country, if at all. We recognize this means we may have to shut down google.cn.

Google found extensive evidence of extremely well-organized hacking into the gmail accounts of civil rights activists in China. Meanwhile the Chinese government has piled blame on Google for absurd things like the presence of pornography on the Internet and therefore in search results, while giving domestic search sites a free pass.

Apparently Google has decided the costs— both moral and marketingwise— of going along with censorship in order to do business in China are just too high.
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Edit: it has been pointed out to me that the 5th amendment of the constitution is pretty unambiguous about the gubmint's right to seize property as long as they pay an appropriate amount:

"... nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

That's pretty broad.

When the Supreme Court pointed this out, they weren't carving out new powers for government, only clarifying the existence of one that's pretty well spelled out in the constitution. State governments were free to follow that up by passing laws restricting eminent domain to avoid situations like this. And almost all of them have. The current shenanigans in Brooklyn are based on a flimsy pretext of "blight" that might not stand up to examination after all. Fortunately.

Evidently George Will is also in the habit of reprinting long-debunked arguments against global warming, which is disappointing. He used to seem like the kind of Republican I could comfortably share this country with.

* * *

George Will is absolutely right. It happens, once in a while, especially to conservatives who actually believe in defending individual rights and find that more interesting than policing our bedrooms.

$590,000 condos are not "blighted." And Freddy's Bar deserves to live.

The villains here are the assholes who misconstrue eminent domain as an excuse to take middle class homes for the convenience of sports teams. Including, unfortunately, the Supreme Court itself in its 2005 New London decision. I liked the half-serious campaign to take David Souter's house by eminent domain in retaliation then and I still like it now.
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I love the idea of colonizing Mars, including the idea that people should be committing to a one-way trip at some point. But this proposal is just grim and stupid. Sending volunteers over 65 because you have no idea how to shield them successfully from radiation is not the start of a second sustainable human world. It sends no message other than "we have no idea how to make this work, and we don't expect we will figure it out."

What's the next "bold step" after dumping a few elderly volunteers on Mars to certainly die of radiation-induced cancer and/or equipment failure within five years? Dropping a suicidal hang-gliding enthusiast on Titan? What does that prove, at a cost of hundreds of billions?

This story points out the key reality of hopes for space colonization: we have to understand how to create a viable closed ecology first. And that is a project with huge benefits for human survival and sustainability here on Earth. Funds intended for humanity's future in space should be put to that purpose first while a viable solution for creating a large, radiation-shielded colony is developed— something that might well require von neumann machines. We've got time to work on the ecology problem in the meanwhile.

(The author of that article isn't really "at NASA," and it's a bit of a "modest proposal" I suspect. Still, it points out some serious problems with the current round of "let's just go back to the moon / on to Mars / who cares if it makes any sense" thinking.)
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Maybe the votes just aren't there for the "public plan." Set aside the frustration of that for a moment. What might be doable and worthwhile?

I think the following would be a huge improvement on where we are now:

1. Health insurance plans should be purchased directly by individuals, not employers, and should be valid across state lines as long as the insurer operates there. Health insurance payments should be tax-deductible. Your employer can just pay you more instead of offering that benefit. More importantly, your insurer shouldn't know, care, or be permitted to care when you change employers.

2. Any rules that make it harder for insurers to operate in multiple states need to go away.

3. All insurers should cover all of their customers as a single pool, and shouldn't be allowed to refuse customers, drop coverage or change rates due to preexisting conditions. This is the big one. Without it any individual insurer who offers a single pool will have all of their healthy customers cherrypicked by those who do not. This is what happened to the nonprofits that tried to hold out and make a stand on that principle. I still have the letter from Blue Cross explaining why they had to switch to the cherry-picking, sick-people-pay-more policy. The letter pointed out that they were the last insurer in the tri-state region not to do so.

"Will this encourage people to engage in high-risk behavior?" You mean like getting old?

Seriously, people have other motives to limit high-risk behavior. Like seeing their grandchildren graduate. Or being able to enjoy sex again ever. And if insurers have to cover these people, then insurers will be motivated to help them get healthy.

4. Insurers should be required to cover a certain list of treatments for certain conditions. Yes, they should be able to refuse million-dollar unproven treatments, and there's room for agreeing to cover more for a price. But without a fundamental "must cover" list like this, insurers can avoid the old and the ill simply by not covering their conditions.

5. Yes, damage awards in malpractice suits should be limited. No, this won't solve the problem all by itself, but it'll help, and conservatives will vote for it. By "limited" I don't mean "limited to five bucks and a playful swat on the ass."

6. Doctor visit copays are good. They shouldn't be unaffordable but it's good to give people a reason to stay out of their doctor's office unless they are sick. $25 is a good number.

Under the above conditions, nonprofits (including "co-ops") would have a better shot at actually operating in the public interest because they wouldn't be "competed" into the ground by companies whose competitive advantage is refusing to insure sick people. This is the problem with "nonprofit" insurers today. If #3 and #4 are implemented, the environment will be very different, so it's not really fair to compare the behavior of Blue Cross today to what health insurance co-ops might look like after reform.

Now, back to the public plan option:

With the above in place, a public plan could be more easily created, either now or later— because the cost of insurance would be lower. The government (or a state government) could simply choose to purchase health insurance plans from companies operating under the above rules.

Thoughts? Tomatoes? Campaign contributions?
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... Beginning with a fantastic response to a chick who showed up with a picture of Obama with a Hitler 'stache.

Barney Frank for President of everything.

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