The Big Think

April 30, 2014

Taking a Toll

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 9:49 pm

Step 1: federal mandates in the form of new CAFE and mileage standards on automobiles (in addition to encouraging electric cars, hybrids, and other high mileage cars).

Step 2: forecast a drastic reduction in tax revenue being brought in from the decrease in tax revenue from not selling as much gas.

Step 3: have a bright idea: let’s toll the interstate highway system.

“So I am happy to see that the transportation bill (titled the Grow America Act[you’re not against GROWTH, are you?]) that Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is recommending to Congress includes a provision to “eliminate the prohibition on tolling existing free Interstate highways, subject to the approval of the Secretary, for purposes of reconstruction, thus providing States greater flexibility to use tolling as a revenue source for needed reconstruction activities on all components of their highway systems. This section would allow any State or public agency to impose variable tolls on existing highways, bridges, or tunnels for purposes of congestion management, subject to the approval of the Secretary.”

In principle, it sounds reasonable (don’t all these things.. in principle?): if you use the road, you pay. But this is the same logic that gave us the “you pay for cable TV so you don’t get any commercials!” argument that soon succumbed to the siren song of commercial revenue. Besides, it’s hard to raise gas taxes (it requires, literally, an act of Congress). Raising tolls? Something we’re acculturated to. This year: a mere penny per mile. Next year: .0125 (look at how small that is!). But over time, this horrible idea will become yet another massive tax that loads us down. And who wants to bet that they’ll just add this on top of the current gas taxes?

Speaking of which. A report today determined that the average American household spends more on complying with federal regulations than on health care, food, and transportation:

Crews estimates the annual cost of compliance with the record number of new federal rules and regulations issued under President Obama at $1.863 trillion.

That works out to a $14,974 “hidden tax” every year for the average U.S. household. That’s 23 percent of the $65,596 annual average household income in America.

In fact, if Federal compliance costs alone were a stand-alone nation, they would comprise the 10th biggest economy on earth. That’s a tremendous fiscal anchor attached to our economy.

Thought experiment: is there a number in gross tax revenues when the government says “no thanks, we have enough”?

There is always a reasonable excuse. There is always a vocal constituency. But what can’t go on forever, won’t.

UPDATE: from the comments on the first link:

jmatt55 • a day ago
They raised gas taxes so people bought fuel efficient cars. Then they implemented tolls and people will simply drive less. What’s next? A tax on not leaving the house?

JBD jmatt55 • 21 hours ago
Oklahoma is working on a fee for NOT using electricity. So if we’re getting taxed and charged for what we do not do what is next? It’s getting surreal.

Another Brad jmatt55 • a day ago
They can tax you for not buying insurance, so why not? You can pay the tolls or, if you don’t meet minimum mileage requirements, pay a yearly fee in your tax return.

Ah! A tax on economic inactivity. What hath the ACA wrought? This.

April 28, 2014

The Hierarchy of Camping

Filed under: Disclosure,Hobbies — jasony @ 11:26 am

The Hierarchy of Camping: “”


Personally, I started up at the “Backpacker” stage and have slowly moved down the pyramid as I’ve gotten older. Far from being ashamed about it, I have the attitude of “hey, I’ve done my time”. I spent 5 years as a backpacking guide carrying everything on my back that we needed for up to 2 weeks at a time. And let me tell you, toting around the infrastructure and calories for 12-15 people for a couple of weeks resulted in some heavy packs. At one point, for a brief few hours, I was carrying a 120lb pack (the result of having to lash another guides’ pack to my own and carry both so she could run back to camp for an emergency). Been there, done that.

Post guide life meant we got a decent little tent and did some moderate backpacking. Then recently we started to enjoy car camping (with the same tent). Then a few years ago we bought a stand-up tent and (gasp!) cots!. With pillows, dagnabit. This insomniac doesn’t get a thrill out of lying awake at night with smug feelings of his own camping superiority.

We’ve tossed around the idea of getting a small RV of some sort but we’re pretty much limited by the paltry 3500lbs my truck can tow. A motorized coach would be nice but they’re a lot more expensive, require more maintenance, cost more to insure, and you have to pay for storage year round even though you may only use it a few weeks per year. So for the time being we’ll hover around the “well equipped car camping” stage.

For this outdoor lover there’s just nothing like a campfire and a light rain. That’s my happy place.

Educational Incompetence

Filed under: Education,Politics — jasony @ 9:18 am

ANOTHER university stops students from handing out Constitution | The Daily Caller: “Two students are suing the University of Hawaii for violating their First Amendment rights after administrator prevented them from distributing copies of the U.S. Constitution — demonstrating a frightening lack of knowledge about the very legal document they were attempting to censor.

Students Merritt Burch and Anthony Vizzone, members of the Young Americans for Liberty chapter at UH-Hilo, were prevented from handing out copies of the Constitution at a recruitment event in January. A week later, they were again informed by a censorship-minded administrator that their First Amendment-protected activities were in violation of school policy.

The students were told that they could only distribute literature from within UH-Hilo’s ‘free speech zone,’ a small, muddy, frequently-flooded area on the edge of campus.

Administrators further clarified their level of respect for students’ free speech rights, making comments like, ‘This isn’t really the ’60s anymore,’ and ‘people can’t really protest like that anymore,’ “

The administrators protested against The Man back in the 60’s. Now that they are The Man the would love everybody to just settle down and be quiet.

Red-Pill Politics

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 9:15 am

National Review Online | Print: “the closer a man’s occupation takes him to the physical economy, the more skeptical he is of progressive central-planning ambitions. You do not meet a great many left-wing corn farmers, copper-mine operators, oil drillers, or house builders. You do meet a fair number of progressives on Wall Street and Silicon Valley and on the campus of Harvard”

April 24, 2014

We Live in the Future

Filed under: Current Reading,Space,Technology — jasony @ 1:00 pm

SpaceX Achieves First Booster Flyback During Space Station Mission | MIT Technology Review: “Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, took a step toward making spaceflight less expensive by reusing its rocket boosters during a mission on Friday to the International Space Station. The Falcon 9 rocket used for the mission, dubbed Commercial Resupply-3, or CRS-3, was the first to fly with landing legs, and was the first to successfully perform a controlled ocean splashdown.”

I confess that I don’t understand how this is possible from a fuel/weight standpoint. I’d always thought that you would run the tanks on the boosters nearly dry in order to maximize the amount of payload to orbit. Keeping enough fuel in the booster to get enough delta-v to make a slow touchdown seems like a big hit to payload capacity. Maybe the air friction slows the falling booster down enough to make the amount of fuel not as necessary? Still, the booster would have to drain off probably 6000mph from stage separation to atmo reentry.

Guess they have it figured out, though. And salvaging/reusing a 200 million dollar booster would probably make it worth it. Build it a little bigger and cap the payload capacity so that you could have the excess fuel needed?

Anyway, really cool tech here. I just finished the book Pillar to the Sky about how we are 90% of the way technologically to making a space elevator/beanstalk work. The author worked out the economics of it and determined that a 200 billion dollar investment would not only net a price-to-orbit of around $10/kg (as opposed to the $100,00 of today), but would also give us access to way more energy than we currently need (in the form of constantly-exposed solar panels in geosync and a convenient way to get them down). Good book.

Your Daily Drool

Filed under: Foodie,Humor and Fun — jasony @ 12:07 pm

Bacon Pancakes. That is all:


more great kitchen hacks here.

April 22, 2014

Better Choose Right

Filed under: Education — jasony @ 9:08 pm

Texas Students Choose Career Paths In The Eighth Grade, And That’s Creating Anxiety:

“A new Texas law requires public school students to decide a career track in eighth grade. It’s a sea change with challenges for schools — and some anxiety for kids.

Before this school year ends, nearly 400,000 eighth graders in Texas will have chosen to enroll in one of five specific areas of study adopted by state lawmakers under House Bill 5. There’s STEM, which stands for science, technology engineering and math; business and industry; public service; arts and humanities and a category with mostly advanced courses called multidisciplinary studies.

The choice eighth graders are required to make is huge. It will determine which courses they begin taking when they enter high school this fall.

It’s like being asked: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’

But for real.”

April 21, 2014

15 Signs You Actually Love What You Do

Filed under: Business — jasony @ 3:36 pm

15 Signs You Actually Love What You Do: “”

ConsumerWatch: Some Covered California Patients Say They Can’t See A Doctor « CBS San Francisco

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 10:49 am

ConsumerWatch: Some Covered California Patients Say They Can’t See A Doctor:

“While open enrollment for coverage under the Affordable Care Act is closed, many of the newly insured are finding they can’t find doctors, landing them into a state described as ‘medical homelessness.’

…former patients are coming back to the clinic begging for help. ‘They’re coming back to us now and saying I can’t find a doctor, ‘said Nguyen.

Thinn Ong was thrilled to qualify for a subsidy on the health care exchange. She is paying $200 a month in premiums. But the single mother of two is asking, what for?

‘Yeah, I sign it. I got it. But where’s my doctor? Who’s my doctor? I don’t know,’ said a frustrated Ong.

Nguyen said the newly insured patients checked the physicians’ lists they were provided and were told they weren’t accepting new patients or they did not participate in the plan.

Dr. Kevin Grumbach of UCSF called the phenomenon ‘medical homelessness,’ where patients are caught adrift in a system woefully short of primary care doctors.

…Those who can’t find a doctor are supposed to lodge a complaint with state regulators, who have been denying the existence of a doctor shortage for months.

Meanwhile, the sick and insured can’t get appointments.

‘What good is coverage if you can’t use it?’ Nguyen said.

Experts said the magnitude of the problem is growing, and will soon be felt by all Californians. But those on the front lines, like the free clinic, are feeling it first.

More than 3 million Californians are newly insured. At the same time, a third of our primary care doctors are set to retire. “

Oh, who could have possibly seen this coming? Oh wait…

Yet again: We’re now seeing first-hand the contents of this “we-have-to-pass-it-to-find-out-what’s-in-it” fiasco. Health insurance is not health care. The economically ignorant and those easily swayed by emotional arguments have voted in this debacle. And continue to support it. Meanwhile, the greatest medical system ever is staggering under the ever increasing load. At the current ACA-caused rates of increase, our rather puny catastrophic health insurance coverage is set to cost us$85,000 per year within 15 years. Per person.

But hey, “even if it bankrupts America, it’s our moral obligation to provide everyone with health insurance.” Right?

April 17, 2014

Future Tech

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 2:31 pm

Actually, not so far in the future:

Okay, Maybe Again (but just this once… promise)

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:53 am

Donetsk leaflet: Jews must register or face deportation – Israel News, Ynetnews:

“Fear replaced communal atmosphere in Donetsk’s Jewish community as armed men handed out a leaflet Passover eve calling on Jews register their religion and property with the interim pro-Russian government or face deportation and loss of citizenship.

“Dear Ukraine citizens of Jewish nationality,” the flyer began, “due to the fact that the leaders of the Jewish community of Ukraine supported Bendery Junta,” a reference to Stepan Bandera, the leader of the Ukrainian nationalist movement which fought for Ukrainian independence at the end of World War II, “and oppose the pro-Slavic People’s Republic of Donetsk, (the interim government) has decided that all citizens of Jewish descent, over 16 years of age and residing within the republic’s territory are required to report to the Commissioner for Nationalities in the Donetsk Regional Administration building and register.”

The leaflet detailed what type of documents the Jewish citizens would need to supply: “ID and passport are required to register your Jewish religion, religious documents of family members, as well as documents establishing the rights to all real estate property that belongs to you, including vehicles.”

If the message was not made clear enough, the leaflet further stipulated the consequences that would come to those who failed to abide by the new demands: “Evasion of registration will result in citizenship revoke and you will be forced outside the country with a confiscation of property.”

To add insult to injury, the leaflet demanded the Jews pay a registration fee of $50.”

Toward the end of the article there’s a quote saying

“the Jews in Donetsk are uncertain of anything; it is unclear who is responsible for the leaflet and who controls the city at the moment.”

So the possibility of it being a hoax is still out there. One certainly prays that that’s the case. However there’s also this:

“In a response to a request by a Ukrainian Jewish website, Pushilin, the interim government’s regional chairman, confirmed that the flyers were distributed by his organization, but denied any connection to the leaflet’s content.”

Confusion reigns right now.

April 16, 2014


Filed under: Quoth — jasony @ 3:23 pm

“It is meaningful to defy even an evil one cannot destroy.”
John C. Wright, The Judge of Ages


Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 2:39 pm

How Much Are You Willing to Pay in Taxes?: “”

Well said.

April 15, 2014

Happy Tax Day

Filed under: Humor and Fun,Music,Politics — jasony @ 10:31 am

April 14, 2014

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:55 am


April 12, 2014

More to a good life than college

Filed under: Education — jasony @ 12:55 pm

More to a good life than college – “‘When you could pay your way through college by waiting tables, the idea that you should ‘study what interests you’ was more viable than it is today when the cost of a four-year degree often runs to six figures,’ wrote Glenn Harlan Reynolds, in an essay for The Wall Street Journal.

Our son worries about choosing the wrong path. No more are the 20s the years of do-overs.

‘We aren’t allowed to make mistakes,’ Silas says of his generation.”

(Via .)

Ship Shipping Ship Ships Ships

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 12:50 pm


Cool video showing the ship partially sinking to unload this mess.

Oh, Good Grief

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 9:19 am

Report: NSA secretly exploited devastating Heartbleed bug for years (Update: NSA denies) | PCWorld: “This week, it came to light that a small error in the open-source OpenSSL implementation of the SSL encryption protocol opened a gaping hole in the security of hundreds of thousands websites and networking equipment across the Net—and that hole had been wide open and exploitable for years. Passwords could be easily grabbed. User names matching those passwords could be easily grabbed. Heck, userdata could be easily grabbed. The ‘Heartbleed’ moniker attached to the devastating bug seemed all too apt.

And Friday afternoon, Bloomberg reported that the National Security Agency has been aware of and actively exploiting the Heartbleed bug for at least two full years,”

If untrue (and it’s still not proven) then they were as caught off guard as the rest of us. But if this is true, I don’t see how any defenders of the organization can continue to say that they’re only doing good, and legally allowable, operations. Also, if this is true (and I really hope it isn’t) then it represents a fairly alarming watermark for security overreach that breaks about fifty laws.

I wonder which it is?

April 9, 2014

Junk Music

Filed under: Mad Science,Music — jasony @ 10:06 am

and here’s the result:

April 8, 2014

Secrets of the Strad

Filed under: Music,Science — jasony @ 3:14 pm

In blind test, soloists like new violins over old (Update):

“Ten world-class soloists put costly Stradivarius violins and new, cheaper ones to a blind scientific test. The results may seem off-key to musicians and collectors, but the new instruments won handily. When the lights were dimmed and the musicians donned dark glasses, the soloists’ top choice out of a dozen old and new violins tested was by far a new one. So was the second choice, according to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Of the six old violins tested, five were by made by the famous Stradivari family in the 17th and 18th centuries. The newer violins were about 100 times cheaper, said study co-author Joseph Curtin, a Michigan violin maker. But the Strads and other older Italian violins have long been considered superior, even almost magical. The idea was to unlock ‘the secrets of Stradivari,’ the study said.”

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