A Less Democratic Process

Another police department shuttered, this time because their insurance refused to continue to cover them. Too many lawsuits:
According to PEP Executive Vice President JT. Babish, these “variables” are lawsuits stemming from wage disputes, employment harassment, wrongful terminations, allegations of wrongful arrest and violations of civil rights within the departments.

Nine of these lawsuits are currently ongoing which led to PEP dropping the coverage claiming that they could not keep up with the cost of all the suits....

The closure of the Lincoln Heights police department comes just days after a revealing investigation into the overwhelming corruption within the department. The investigation revealed that the department had not only hired, but heavily promoted an officer with a felony background, who was later fired for felony theft on duty.

The investigation also found that one officer was fired and rehired who had a history of harassing female drivers and was an actual member of several biker gangs known for their felonious activity.
I'm surprised by that. Traditional motorcycle clubs either exclude police, or are made up only of police. It's rare to see overlap.

It's a Start

A propos some other discussions we've had.

I could live without the dinner party lessons, though....

Eric Hines

Condescending Political Ads

Cassandra is talking about a Cosmopolitan complaint about political ads from male candidates that are condescending to women.

Well, if it makes you feel any better, there's plenty of this to go around.

I'm not even from Kentucky, and I'm feeling the condescension. So your qualifications for office are (a) you're not Barack Obama, and (b) you can shoot skeet?

On the Workings of the System

A sub-debate between Cass and I has to do with how well the system we have still responds to democratic pressures. The Federal system is problematic, to be sure. Obamacare has been underwater forever, and only gets less popular, and yet no repeal is in sight until perhaps 2017 -- depending on what other issues come up between now and then. Democratic pressures have not been successful at reforming the law, and indeed the system is structurally such that even wave elections in 2010 and possibly this year can't produce reform. Meanwhile, the changes to the insurance landscape in America are going to be so sweeping by 2017 that it's not clear if things can still be undone by that time.

On the other hand, at the local level, things still work sometimes. On the very issue we were discussing -- abusive writing of traffic tickets for revenue -- the little town of Waldo, FL, has had a stunning success at stopping the problem through democratic means.
In August, five Waldo officers rebelled against their superiors and made a presentation to the city council about the malpractices.... After State Attorney Bill Cervone advised that he would bring a case before the Alachua Grand Jury that would be “humiliating,” the city council voted to disband the notoriously corrupt police department.
Now, it took good officers stepping forward to report the abuses to force action, as well as the State Attorney's threat. Still, the system worked: a corrupt department was identified and disbanded by the democratically-elected city council. Well done, all around.

Stand aside, sonny!

As my husband remarked, you have to wonder if the Fed took into account what would happen when "retirees" found the return on their retirement savings had gone to zero?  It might have guessed that they'd go back to work.  It turns out that they're still pretty competitive:
The further one digs into today's "blockbuster" jobs report, the uglier it gets. Because it is not only the participation rate collapse, the slide in average earnings, but, topping it all off, we just learned that the future of the US workforce is bleak. In fact, with the age of the median employed male now in their mid-40's, the US workforce has never been older. Case in point: the September data confimed that the whopping surge in jobs... was thanks to your "grandparents" those in the 55-69 age group, which comprised the vast majority of the job additions in the month, at a whopping 230K.This was the biggest monthly jobs increase in the 55 and over age group since February!
What about the prime worker demographic, those aged 25-54 and whose work output is supposed to propel the US economy forward? They lost 10,000 jobs.
Some thought-provoking charts at that link. Will Affordable-Healthcare-for-All have to kill off Gramma and Grampa before employers break down and hire the youngsters?  And have you checked out the voting patterns among the Grizzled Grumblers?

Don't Mock Daddy

Nice. That's one we haven't heard in a while.

"Why Medieval Logic Matters"

The three greatest centuries for logic were the 4th BC, the 14th AD, and the 19th AD. The philosopher interviewed here suggests that this order is not merely temporal but is also the order of importance, such that if we were to speak of the "two greatest centuries for logic" the 19th century would drop out.

Want to know why? Enjoy wrestling with a thorny paradox or two?
What truly deserves the title ‘paradox’ is the Knower paradox. Consider the proposition, ‘You don’t know this proposition’—call it U, say. Suppose you know U. Then U is true (one can only know truths), so you don’t know U. Contradiction, so (by reductio ad absurdum) you don’t know U. But that is what U says. So U is true, and moreover, you’ve just proved it’s true, so you know U. That really is a contradiction—we can prove both that you know U and that you don’t, that is, that U is both true and false. But surely that’s impossible!
Consider the solutions. Do you like the 14th century solution better than the contemporary ones?

Can You Read English and French? Try Romanian.

It's a bit of work, to be sure, but there's a straight-line connection. Romanian is 20% Latin, and 43% borrowed Romance loan-words. (Don't laugh: English is 75% borrowed Romance loan-words, thanks to William I.)
Istoria creării cerurilor şi a pământului
La început, Dumnezeu[a] a creat cerurile şi pământul. Pământul era pustiu şi gol; peste faţa adâncului era întuneric, iar Duhul lui Dumnezeu plutea peste întinderea apelor.

Atunci Dumnezeu a zis: „Să fie lumină!“; şi a fost lumină. Dumnezeu a văzut că lumina era bună şi a despărţit lumina de întuneric. Dumnezeu a numit lumina „zi“, iar întunericul l-a numit „noapte“. A fost o seară şi a fost o dimineaţă: ziua întâi.
Looks very intimidating, with all those inflections and nonstandard characters. But I'll bet you can work it out.

More Laments, and Beautiful

Pity upon those for whom these speak the truer.

'Great sweetheart... they poured your blood yesterday.'

'The prophecy was nigh... ride fifty miles, and not hear the crow of a cock...'


Today I did my feudal service in return for another year of holding, in fee simple, this land from our Great State of Georgia. I also paid all my automobile taxes and tag fees to pay for another year's excitement on the highway.

What happens when that fee is no more paid, because the one who held in fee simple has died and another cannot stand good? We've made it seem so small a matter -- just taxes and accounting -- but it is not that. The world falls apart: the world of a people. Enemies come rushing in to tear apart the world you held for yourself and your family, and it vanishes forever. That is the story at the end of the Beowulf when the king dies who could hold a place in the world for the Geats to live free, and likewise at the end of the Iliad with the mourning for Hector of Troy. Both poems end in lament for the one who held it together, so that for a while a life and a people could flourish.



I'm confused again.  The UN thinks travel restrictions on Ebola-ravaged countries are misguided, because they don't reflect the way the disease is transmitted, which is (apparently usually) by direct contact during an overtly symptomatic period.  It's as if the UN spokesman thought the only concern was that fellow passengers in an airplane might be infected; if the passenger has no fever when he boards, everything is in all likelihood going to be fine.  But that's not really the only issue, is it?  We just had a rather graphic example of what happens when someone still feels fine when he lands, but becomes symptomatic later, and wanders all over the place throwing up on the public for a few days before someone puts a net over him and gets him into isolation.

It's hard for me to understand why we wouldn't, at a minimum, quarantine for 21 days everyone who presents himself at our borders direct from an Ebola hotspot.  Yes, people will be able to get around this restriction by taking an indirect route, and there is that problem of the completely porous southern border, but it would at least help.

I'm sorry, I just realized I'm taking up digital space criticizing a policy advocated by a UN representative.  On the other hand, the CDC seems to be on the same page, so maybe it's worth talking about after all.

Methodist Brain Hospital? My Brain Hurts

A local activist sent me a link yesterday to a smoothly produced video, undertaking to discredit the Common Core curriculum.  I have no idea what it was about, except that there were a lot of shots of gently waving tree limbs, and a lot of parents who senses that their kids are unhappy, not at the usual level of thinking school is boring and stupid, but something new and special.  Also, when parents try to talk to schools or legislators, they get a big runaround.  So far, nothing much to argue with, but the Common Core controversy remains almost completely opaque.

This might help a bit to give a picture of what's being presented to children.  I can't say that some or all of these somewhat weird approaches couldn't be conceptually helpful for some kids at some stages, but I hope they're going to be only an introduction, followed by a little help in applying a fast, easy algorithm of the despised old "Granny Method" variety.  And, you know, some drill.

Would it be too much to ask someone to try teaching a couple of different groups of kids both ways for a while, then test the kids and see which group can most quickly, easily, and reliably answer simple questions about the addition or subtraction of multi-digit numbers?  Or wouldn't that be suitably aimed at inculcating "critical thinking skills"?  Because if that's the problem, I recommend letting the kids try it both ways, offer their opinions about which is easiest, and then hone their critical thinking skills by doing a little research into who's imposing which system on them and why.  "Can you say 'shadowy forces,' children?  I knew you could.  Now let's try 'fuzzy thinking.'  By the way, can anyone tell me what's wrong with that graphic about all the parts working together?"

Better shut it down

Blood tests available without going through a doctor's office that are quick, cheap, and accurate, and the results go straight to the patient.  For a healthcare bureaucrat, where's the opportunity for graft in that?  Besides, how dare the founder get rich on the backs of the people?

Problem Solved

"White House Security Replaced By Ugandan Contractors."

The Goal of Virtue is Perfecting Human Nature

...but there's only so much you can ask, as 'perfecting' does not imply 'perfectible.'

Actually, you probably couldn't get away with looking at her 'countenance' without offense either.
When Rowena perceived the Knight Templar's eyes bent on her with an ardour, that, compared with the dark caverns under which they moved, gave them the effect of lighted charcoal, she drew with dignity the veil around her face, as an intimation that the determined freedom of his glance was disagreeable. Cedric saw the motion and its cause. "Sir Templar," said he, "the cheeks of our Saxon maidens have seen too little of the sun to enable them to bear the fixed glance of a crusader."

"If I have offended," replied Sir Brian, "I crave your pardon,—that is, I crave the Lady Rowena's pardon,—for my humility will carry me no lower."

I'll bet they are

I don't care who you are, that's funny, right there.  Diners at a rubber-chicken Food Safety Summit Baltimore came down with raw-rubber-chicken disease, a/k/a perfringens:
The outbreak was the first in the 16-year history of the Food Safety Summit. “When we learned that attendees to the Food Safety Summit were ill after attending the 2014 event we fully cooperated with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene regarding this matter and assisted them with their investigation as requested,” the organization said in a statement distributed by spokesperson Amy Riemer. “We have continued to do so in the past six months while the investigation was conducted and the final report was being prepared.”
The statement adds that the Food Safety Summit is working with the convention center and its catering company prior to its 2015 event “to insure that an outbreak of this nature does not happen again.”
That had to be an uncomfortable conversation.  Maybe not as uncomfortable as the internal discussions that preceded the CDC's decision to break down and issue Ebola guidelines for U.S. funeral homes, though.

Social Progress

Walmart is now selling swords of a decent quality.

That's Montgomery Clift, Honey

Is he all right?  Can he still feel?

Another Problem About Whistleblowers

A long-serving police sergeant -- who claims that he is speaking for the majority of police officers nationwide -- explains how to destroy the entire traffic-fine system via perfectly lawful mechanisms.
This is very simple and very basic. The idea is to clog up the system in the traffic camera office and the courts by drivers exercising their rights to remain innocent until proven guilty.


1. Do not accept the alleged offence. There are numerous valid reasons to dispute every single alleged offence. Often the charges are incorrect or the evidence is illegally or incorrectly gathered.

2. Challenge it, tell them that you are going to defend the matter. Make them earn their miserable $150 or $200 or whatever. They have to prepare evidence and witnesses. Just the wages for the camera operator or the Policeman on the day of the court, will be more than the actual fine. You are also taking a camera operator or a member of the Police Force off the street for the day. But it won’t get to that point…..read on….

3. If a court date is ever set, and it does not suit you, do not accept it, ask for a delay to a time and place that suits you.

4. When they re set the date, delay it as often as possible. keep pleading not guilty all through the process. You have every right to be sick, or go for an adjournment if the day does not suit for any legitimate reason. For example you may have pressing family or work commitments which prevent you from attending a particular court on a particular day.

5. If it ever actually gets to court, (which is unlikely if everyone does this) and if you are unwell that day, ring the court in the morning and tell them that you cannot make it as you are sick. The camera operator, and a police prosecutor will already be at court, and will be greatly inconvenienced, by having to come back another day. The whole time this is going on, the amount of paperwork involved at the traffic camera office is huge. Several staff are involved, and it rapidly becomes very costly, probably running into thousands. …..with me so far…..keep reading…….

6. The court system is then placed under such a massive load by people who wanted “their day in court” that it simply will not be able to cope unless they open up about another 50 magistrates courts, and this is obviously going to cost the government a lot more than any revenue raised. If all the above fails, which is highly unlikely….and you actually go to court and get convicted……you have a right of appeal. Make sure you appeal the conviction. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see what happens. They are not going to spend millions chasing hundreds.

7 Tell everyone you know to challenge their alleged offences, and the entire system will crash within a few weeks.

I find this interesting, given the problem we were thinking about recently regarding Goldman-Sachs and the Fed, compared with the similar case of Snowden and the NSA. Here the officer is revealing what aren't really secrets, for a similar purpose of forcing reform by expanding public knowledge of how the system works. There's no violation of any oath of secrecy. There's no violation of the law suggested: he's just trying to help you understand what rights you have under the law that can help you resist charges of traffic offenses.

And yet, of course, the intent is destructive of a basic element of our system of law and order. It's not my favorite part of the system, to be sure! Still, the intent is destructive. He explains why he doesn't feel guilty:
I am so annoyed at what is happening these days, in what I call “Indiscriminate revenue gathering” It is absolutely disgusting. The government and the Police Force need to hang their heads in shame. If you did a survey of current serving members of the police forces in this country, you would be hard pushed to find many who disagree with me.... I do not feel guilty about coming out with this information, as I think it’s about time someone stood up for hard working, civil minded, law abiding taxpayers in this country, who are being screwed.
Taking him at his word that he believes all that completely, what do you think of his method? Is it wrong to use the rules of the legal system to destroy an aspect of it? It's the kind of thing Alinsky suggests. But it would be an ad hominem fallacy to suggest that Alinsky's offering of similar advice means that the advice should be rejected.

Is he violating a required loyalty? As a former police officer? More basically, as a citizen, to use the system to destroy itself? Or is this a legitimate form of resistance that we should encourage if we share his opinions?

Update on the nightmare

We got a year's reprieve, but we're back where we were a year ago:  at the mercy of Obamacare.  This week it occurred to me that a catastrophic plan might be the way out.  It turns out to be devilishly difficult to find any information about catastrophic coverage, because they're so bad for you, so you shouldn't find out about them, even though they had to stick them in the law to quiet some nervous senators down or something, but they weren't serious about them, I mean, come on.

Here's scoop as far as I can make out:  Originally, the ACA provided that you couldn't get catastrophic coverage unless you were under 30.  By "you can't get it," I don't just mean you'll be fined (or taxed, or whatever) for not having eligible coverage, I mean an insurance company can't or won't (hard to tell) offer it to you.  Late last year, however, when the Obama administration was feeling heat from the millions of Americans who had their coverage terminated because it was too affordable, they announced a special exception:  you can be under 30, or you can prove you had your insurance terminated and you "believe" the available replacement insurance is too expensive.  They couldn't bring themselves to say it actually was more expensive, just that you had some kind of irrational right-wing belief that it was.  Whatever:  my irrational right-wing belief apparently qualifies, so that's all good.

But now comes the tricky part.  Who offers such insurance, what are its terms (especially its network), and what does it cost?  Ah, that's not information anyone is prepared to share with us just yet.  Wouldn't you like a nice metallic plan instead?  No?  Well, we don't offer catastrophic plans, anyway.  Who does?  No one does.  Nope, not anywhere in the country.  OK, that's not quite true, because occasionally a broker does find one; Humana offers a rather cheap one right here in my county.  Unfortunately, it's an HMO, a spectacularly useless form of catastrophic insurance, because if we hit that sky-high deductible we're going to want a real doctor, thank you.  But it's a start:  if there's one, there may be others.  They're not entirely mythical.

Now comes the really hard part.  Most agents and insurers insist that the only way to find out about catastrophic coverage options is to go to healthcare.gov and fill out an official application.  Not only is that a monumental pain, but we've heard horror stories all year about people who started the application process, hated the options, and tried to withdraw, only to find the spider web wasn't prepared to let them fly away.  Some even found they'd been signed up for a plan, or for Medicaid, despite never having clicked on any "options."  Too bad:  if you even want to find out who offers a catastrophic plan, or what it might cost, this is your only route.  Eventually, it's unavoidable, because you won't be able to finalize any purchase of catastrophic coverage without a note from Healthcare.gov giving you a special hardship exemption code, anyway.  As best I can tell, the website won't even generate the options until you have the approval code.  The website's information page does explain helpfully that, if you qualify, you'll still have to go to the insurers to get the real scoop on the plans.  The insurers, on the other hand, refer you back to the website.

While I was making up my mind whether to break down and file a formal application with the government, I discovered a little squib on a Cigna site.  Cigna doesn't offer any catastrophic coverage (big surprise), but they were kind enough to provide a better explanation than "you really wouldn't like this; go log onto Healthcare.gov and leave us alone."  They explained the special December 2014 expansion of the hardship exemption that I mentioned above, and they added one more piece of information that kills the whole deal for us:  pre-existing conditions are excluded from catastrophic coverage by a special exemption from both HIPPA and ACA requirements.  We have semi-affordable catastrophic coverage now with no pre-existing condition exclusion, because we bought it a long time ago when we were healthy, the way you're supposed to.  But now that it's being taken away because it's not good for us, the only way to replace it with catastrophic coverage is to lose coverage for the pre-existing conditions we've thoughtlessly developed in the meantime.  Because, you know, the whole point of the ACA was that pre-existing condition exclusions are a crime against humanity.

What's more, even if we didn't have pre-existing conditions, there's an admirable Catch-22:  despite the President's December 2014 announcement, the bureaucrats insist that you have to establish a "hardship."  If your income is too low, you may have a hardship, but it doesn't count because you can get a subsidy.  If your income is too high, you can't get a subsidy, but they'll insist you don't have a hardship, and you can't get permission to buy a catastrophic plan.

I have to tip my hat to these people.  When they write a Kafkaesque law, they put serious effort into making it nightmarish.

California's New Affirmative Consent Standard

So, Gov. Brown signed a new Affirmative Consent Standard into law on Sunday, which makes actual positive consent required in any interaction of sexual relations.  In all cases.  And unconscious, sleeping, drunk or drugged people cannot give this consent.  That's good right?  Think it through.  Have you ever had sex with someone who had a blood alcohol level over .08?  Are you sure?  And I'm not just talking drunk, hook-up sex... I mean this for people in committed, long term relationships.  Like married people.  Ever have a bottle of wine or two with the spouse to celebrate an anniversary?  How about on your wedding night?  Then it's likely you are a rapist.  Or a rape victim.  Indeed, according to this law, you are likely both.  Are you comfortable with that?  Are you comfortable with your spouse being a rapist in the eyes of this law?  I'm certainly not.

Contrary to what supporters of this law have been saying in internet comments, it's possible to disagree with the language of this law, and still be against rape.  I know I am.  In many ways, I'm far harsher on the crime than most people who support this law tend to be (I fully support the death penalty for rapists).  But listening to the other side, you're either 100% on board with this, or you want people to be raped.

"But, it's just common sense that it will only be an issue if the victim complains to the police!"  One, the law has nothing to do (and never has) with common sense.  It has everything to do with the letter of the law.  And what prosecute will ever want to be painted as "pro-rape".  Two, and this is the important part, unable to give consent means that even someone with no regrets was still a rape victim.  And if cops happened to stumble upon a couple in the act, and decide to breathalyzer both parties, it's entirely possible to have one or both to them arrested on a charge of rape.

Now, contrary to what supporters of this law say, the alternative is NOT "do nothing".  It's "craft a law that doesn't criminalize otherwise consensual sex between two people who may be over the legal limit."  This really should be a no brainer, and if it's really difficult to write the law in such a way, then perhaps it's a law that shouldn't be written?

Edit: citation here

Tax ☠

Now that you mention it, there does seem to be a hole in this plan:
These plans allow borrowers to reduce monthly payments to just 10% of discretionary income. The loans can then be forgiven after ten years if borrowers work in government or for a non-profit—basically any job as long as it doesn't involve a profit-seeking business.

...So the government is spending taxpayer dollars to encourage young people to avoid repaying loans to taxpayers, while at the same time encouraging these young people to work for outfits that don't pay taxes.
Well, and places that don't generate profits! It's a huge incentive, too, since it cuts the time you have to pay by ten full years.

However, there is one big drawback to opting into these plans. When you reach the point at which the rest of the loan is forgiven, you have to pay taxes on that as income that year. So, let's say you owed $100,000 in student loans at 3.4% as a grad student entering the workforce. You go to work at a non-profit, earning $40,000 a year -- that will seem like a huge increase in your standard of living after the hardships of grad school. You're married, and your spouse and child stay at home. According to the calculator the Federal Student Loan people provide, IBR will result in your monthly payments dropping from nearly a thousand dollars a month to perhaps as low as $124 a month. The estimate is that you'll be forgiven more than $63,000 of your loans.

(This isn't the best plan for you! The "Pay as You Earn" plan saves you $117,980 over the ten years -- almost the full amount of your loans.)

Sounds great, until you reach the end of the plan and suddenly have a tax bill not on the $27,000 or so that is your gross income minus your standard deduction, but on a $90,000 "income" of which you actually received only $27,000. The IRS withholding calculator suggests that you'll owe $11,000+ in taxes that year.

Still a win, since it saves you over fifty grand for the life of the loan. But there's a big hit you take all at once at the end in return for that. Of course, you have ten years to plan and save for that hit -- but if you were good at long-term life planning, you'd never have gone to grad school.

Speaking of Great American Authors

A piece on Jack London, pirate:
He was a child labourer in Oakland at 14, a Bay Area pirate at 15, a transcontinental hobo at 16, an able-bodied seaman at 17, a New York State prisoner at 18, a California ‘work beast’ at 20 and a Yukon prospector at 21. He escaped penury at 23, when after a frantic apprenticeship he began selling short stories. The bulk of them were set in the Yukon or in the South Pacific and drew on the life he’d left behind. The Call of the Wild, published in 1903, made him a celebrity at 27, and subsequent additions to his CV – candidate for mayor of Oakland, no-good husband, doomed sea captain and arthritic debauchee – were a matter of public record. London’s life had a mythic quality in the eyes of his contemporaries....

At the age of 14, London went to work at a cannery because his parents couldn’t afford to send him to high school. He was paid two dollars a day and hated it. Not having a normal job became his life’s work. He got a loan from the Prentisses, bought a skiff, and became an oyster pirate on the North California coast. ‘Every dark night’s raid,’ Labor writes, ‘was an invitation to get shot or arrested.’
I don't think I've ever heard of "oyster piracy" before.