Upgrading The Electorate

Dan Carlin's latest Common Sense (of the same title) inspired a bit of nostalgia on the part of yours truly. That wasn't his goal, but his unreserved backing for a change in how we elect our public officials (one that doesn't involve corruption at the outset) combined with his wistful thoughts on whether or not it was possible to get a better class of voter in the US (5 defining characteristics of stupidity was cited, if not directly endorsed) brought back to mind the long held belief of mine that most Americans (possibly most humans) are impenetrably stupid. When I mention this belief in a group setting, I'm generally guaranteed to get an earful, so I've learned over time to keep that opinion to myself. But nothing in my nearly 50 years of experience has ever come close to convincing me that this belief is not based on fact.

[more on this subject can be found at on cato.org; 25% of the population should ethically consider themselves able to cast a meaningful vote.]

Which brings me to the conversation on the Dan Carlin forums that brought up a second point of nostalgia. Invariably new podcasts bring out new listeners, most of them with ideas that they think are fresh and unheard of viewpoints; and they're certain we'll understand just how great they are once they tell us. This podcast, since it was about campaigns and the budget, brought out the usual chirpy optimistic observation from a new poster, "You wanna take money out of politics? Take the power out of Washington".

If I had a nickel for every time I heard "take the power out of Washington" back in my Libertarian Party days, I'd have a lot of devalued coinage on hand. This was a mainstay of a good portion of simplistic libertarian thought. It's as ridiculous a proposal as saying that laws cause crimes, so if we had no laws we'd have no crimes. While it is true that there would be no crime if there was no law, people would still die at the hands of other people, and value would still be taken from people without compensation. Consequently the injustices would still occur, we'd just call them something else.

Government is power, so you will never remove power from government. Corruption and government have walked hand in hand since the first politician agreed to do a favor in exchange for support. The question is how to reduce the obvious corruption in the current system. I don't see any way out of this that doesn't include a completely public election process, including financing. This is a new opinion of mine, at variance with pretty much all of the regular LP types. The concept of buying my politicians never did sit well with me, even when I was one of the rank and file. I understand the concept of money is speech in the current system, and I even agree with the recent Supreme Court Citizen's United ruling as far as it applies to the current system;
Money is only 'speech' if money is allowed to be contributed to candidates. If money is not allowed to be contributed; if in fact, money changing hands means jail sentences for both parties (and it should. Bribery is a violation of current law) and all elections are publicly funded, then money is no longer a speech issue at all.

Either we can bribe to hearts content, or no bribery should be allowed. Laws attempting to control who bribes and who doesn't should be struck down.

(My comment on TexasLP Chair Pat Dixon's article on the subject)
But the current system is at the heart of the problem of an uninformed electorate, and any effective solution is going to have to modify that system.

I'm becoming convinced the only solution that will fix the problem is public funding of elections with some real vicious teeth on laws against gift giving. Basically, they get their wages, they get their office, and if anyone gives them money for any reason, they (and the giver) get jail-time. Don't know how else to fix this problem. No money changes hands. No money, for any reason, at any time, or off to jail with the both of them. I have not one problem with locking up every industry exec and every congressman for illegal activities, when it comes right down to it. Every. Last. One.

There's a local radio host (Jeff Ward, 3pm KLBJ AM. Best radio show in Austin) who has a lunar mantra that runs along the lines of I want serving in office to be the most unpleasant job you can imagine. I want people to hate serving in office so much that they can't wait to leave the job when their time is up. That's where I've been for years. I want them to hate it. I want to have to draft people to serve as congressman, and have them cry as we stuff them on the bus to go to DC. I want them to do the jobs we send them for, and then leave as soon as they get it done because it's that unpleasant to be doing that job.

We hound their families and their friends to make sure they aren't serving as blind trusts for officeholders. The most unpleasant job, for all concerned. People beg, BEG to be allowed to not do the job. We'll have to publicly finance those campaigns, because there won't be any other money to be had.

That's what wielding the kind of power an officeholder has should feel like. A 2 year (or 4, or 6 year) long colonoscopy, while we are lodged up their collective asses watching every transaction that occurs.

What about the nostalgia? You said there'd be nostalgia! Got ahead of myself there, sorry. The nostalgia came in the form of the following libertarian pipe dream (and I'm dizzy enough already without pipe dreams) But it does bring back memories of a simpler time;
My contention is that you get back to first principals of liberty first. If the courts do not allow Washington to affect to such large degree the private affairs of individuals, especially in their means of business, you reduce the stakes. If you reduce the stakes then both the impact of corruption as well as the cost of corruption goes down.

I see Freedom and Liberty as the road back to equality and prosperity. I think with each passing day, more and more Americans are coming to believe that. I hope that within my kids lifetimes they will see a reversal of the current trend.


(From the Dan Carlin forums)
It's beautiful. He has a dream. I remember a young, inspired Libertarian, with dreams much like that. Thought that all we needed was freedom to make things better. Then he started studying recent history, and came to the realization that the jaded in Washington were using the calls to 'deregulate' industries as excuses to line the pockets of themselves and their cronies. Watched in disbelief as a President elected on a conservative wave of sentiment for better, smaller government, spent more money than any President before him, got us into the longest war in US history (started a land war in Asia. What a Moron. Or he would be, if the sentiment of the people could have been resisted. I don't think it could. It was the genius of Bin Laden to get us into Afghanistan in force. He'd just watched it consume the USSR. Think we'll fare better in the end? I don't.) and did nothing while the largest economic crash in US history happened all around him.

This (no longer capitol L) libertarian had a brief glimmer of hope when Obama was elected. Not that he thought there was any real chance of anything vaguely Libertarian coming out of that administration, but there was Obama's acknowledged history of drug use that made him think that hypocrisy on the drug war would come hard, and there were the limp-wristed promises of ending wars to inspire optimism. Which was promptly dashed when Obama simply maintained the status quo on all fronts, and even accelerated on others. Even took the time to pass a Republican piece of legislation with his name on it (Romneycare relabeled as Obamacare) just to prove where his heart was.

The final nail in the coffin (no longer libertarian, now just Objectivist) came when the idiots that cast ballots in the last election believed all the lies of the Republicans running for office. That they would reduce government, repeal that horrible health care act (that they would have voted for, had a Republican been in office) and release bunnies, kittens and doves on the capitol lawn, to go with the rainbow Jesus put there. People so stupid that, here in Texas where the government is still bad, they voted in even more Republicans than we had before and gave them a super majority.

These legislators, rather than do the jobs they had been sent there for, promptly passed social conservative laws against gays, muslims, etc. to please their bases, and have yet to do anything meaningful on the subject of fixing the economic system they were sent there to address. The next Presidential election is shaping up to be more of the same.

What I think is this country needs honest debate. The only way to get it is to take apart the current election system, top to bottom. No money changes hands. People who give money to politicians go to jail for treason. Politicians who take money from people go to jail for treason. A two year series of debates is established, which all candidates for office are required to attend. No barriers to entry. If you want to be candidate, you file and you are. You miss one (or two) of the mandated debates, you're out.

We could even structure it like that great American pasttime, American Idol. Vote candidates off that we don't like, preliminary to the final nominations and elections. All of it covered on broadcast television and streamed on the internet (on pain of revocation of transmission licenses if not) so that 'the people' will understand what is at stake, or at least have to work to avoid it.

Because much as it pains me, bursting bubbles that contain libertarian (or conservative, or liberal) pipe dreams is paramount to getting any real work done in political circles. The world just doesn't work the way the ideologues think it does.

Discord Over Harmony Schools

This is an example of real harm resulting from the religious posing of Texas leaders.

Harmony schools are charter schools in Texas; they are unquestionable successes in the realm of schooling, in fact. Two of their high schools were named in Newsweek as "miracle schools" representing the best of the best to be had in education in the entire United States, much less in Texas.

But that's not good enough for those conspiracy theorists out there who see different as threatening and Muslim as terrorist. Almost since the day they opened their doors, Harmony Schools have been the target of hate groups throughout the state.

Led by the Texas Eagle Forum, a conservative pro-family organization, Harmony's critics have issued a flurry of legislative alerts in recent weeks that said the state's $25 billion endowment for "our children's textbooks" was imperiled by "Turkish men, of whom we know very little other than most are not American citizens."

They gathered enough momentum that earlier this week some conservative legislators cited the concerns when they voted against a key budget bill — and almost killed it.

But one conservative protector of the endowment, the Permanent School Fund, says the criticism of Harmony is unfounded.

"There is a lot of misinformation, a certain level of fear and a small helping of bigotry that needs to go away," said State Board of Education member David Bradley, R-Beaumont.

Bradley said he would be the "first to sound the alarm" if there were anything to be alarmed about. But the board has not received substantive complaints from parents of the 16,000 children that attend any of the 33 Harmony campuses across the state, he said.

"The only thing these guys are guilty of are high scores and being Turkish," Bradley said.

(from Austin-American Statesman)

Love the way the article soft-pedals the Texas Eagle Forum. They are a hate group, and should be rightly labeled as such. I have yet to hear of anything they support that isn't related in some fashion to the stupid people observation I made in the last post.

So, not content to simply make themselves look like idiots, they want to incur unnecessary costs on the cash strapped school system, and the even more cash starved charter schools.

House General Investigating Committee Chairman Chuck Hopson, R-Jacksonville, said his committee has started a preliminary look-see into Harmony “and all the other charter school operators in the state.

“It’s nothing criminal. We just want to see whether they are spending our (state) money wisely,” he said. “There have been some concerns about (Harmony) building schools without competitive bidding, and about other issues, but we are going to looking at every one of the charters.”

(from Austin-American Statesman)
Harmony schools are on record in that article as "welcoming the investigation" but I can't imagine a group in their position daring to even suggest that the waste of time and money involved in investigating superior schools (for any other reason than to determine and duplicate their superior tactics) might not be welcome. Jack-booted fear mongers tend to not react well when their authority is questioned...

The Root of All Anti-Evolutionism

The title and this clip are from an article I had up on a Firefox tab for awhile now. the page format is ridiculously hard to read, but here's the gist;
...for me the primary issue is literalism, the secondary issue is education. You take a stupid person and force them through college and they’ll buy into the mainstream system instead of dumb countercultures. You allow a smart person to remain outside of the system and even with their own native intelligence don’t expect them not to deviate into weird idea-space. This is obvious insofar as Isaac Newton was certainly smarter than anyone reading this weblog, but he was wrong when it came to all sorts of scientific questions and you are correct, because the system of science upon which we rely upon today maps more closely onto reality as it is than it did in ~1700. Isaac Newton may have been a Creationist in 1700, but if he was reborn today he would almost certainly not be, because most smart people put more credence in the cultural wisdom of the smart than that of the stupid.

Also, it looks like Creationists have attained such critical mass among movement conservatives that the political and the theological are hard to disentangle. There are many smart and well educated conservatives who are Creationist, because literalism has become common enough that the peer-group norms have shifted.

From Discover Magazine
Several graphs in the article quantify data from the Religious Landscape Survey which show that it's not religious people who reject evolution.

...it really is stupid people.

So it should come as no surprise that the SBOE is going to open up the question of teaching evolution in science classes, once again. Texas government suffers under a larger than average share if ignorance, idiocy and stupidity. This has been true (apparently) since Sam Houston left office with the statement "I love Texas too well to bring civil strife and bloodshed upon her." after Texas had voted to secede from the union. I had hopes that we had reversed this trend in recent years, but the sitting head of the SBOE is determined to continue it.

Cargill was elected to the board in 2004 and is up for re-election in 2012. Her tenure is already off to a rocky start with some of her fellow Republicans after her comments earlier this month that the board has only six "true" conservative Christians. There are 11 Republicans on the board.

"Right now, there are six true conservative Christians on the board, so we have to fight for two votes. In previous years, we had to fight for one vote to get a majority," Cargill said during a July 7 meeting of the conservative group Texas Eagle Forum.

From The Huffington Post
Her measure of True Conservative Christian? Young Earth Creationists. Stupid people.

Thankfully they have less than a majority of stupid people in the SBOE, and it appears that more level heads did prevail, this time.
Today the State Board of Education voted to adopt the Texas education commissioner’s recommended list of science instructional materials. Special interest groups and activists off the state board failed in their efforts to force publishers to change their instructional materials to include arguments against evolutionary science. In addition, the board voted unanimously to reject the adoption of instructional materials from a New Mexico-based vendor that promoted “intelligent design”/creationism.

From TFN Insider
But, as the post goes on to note, next year brings a review of the health standards for education (can you say "abstinance only"? I knew that you could) in Texas, so don't expect this fight to end anytime soon.

Perry's Religious Road to the White House?

Before the rest of ya'll learned to despise the man who served as the 43rd President of the U.S. (not to be mistaken with his father, a man of the same name) George W. Bush was a lauded Governor of Texas. I didn't have much of an opinion of him, one way or the other. I'm not into sports, so W's ownership of the Texas Rangers meant little to me, and that single fact (combined with his father's having been President) seemed to gain him the governorship.

I thought Ann Richards a better governor at the time, although his wife was visible doing good things for education in Texas. I'm not sure what he did to be lauded as governor. I never saw him do much more than make feel good speeches and cut ribbons (kissed a few babies, too) There were rumors of his drinking and whatever use even then, but he seemed to be pretty harmless in the scheme of things (little did we know) willing to be the figurehead that is the sole job of a Texas governor.

His Lt. Governor was a little-known climber by the name of Rick Perry; a literal political chameleon who changed party to Republican when he saw that it would give him an 'in' as Governor of Texas when his predecessor moved up to the White House. Not only did he change parties but he became a devout, embracing religious right causes calculated to win favor amongst his supporters; a man that has wielded religion as a cudgel at every opportunity, to the detriment of the state. Instead of being the figurehead that governors are relegated to by the Texas constitution, He's subverted the office by orchestrating the creation of a tollway commission which he controls, a foreign run for profit company that charges Texans to drive on roads that they pay to build with their own taxes.

I could go on painting this picture, but you probably get my point already. As much disdain as I have for W; I'll take a coke-sniffing, drunken buffoon of a governor over an actual crook and hypocrite any day of the week.



So it should come as no surprise that the same Rick Perry that changed parties in order to secure the governorship, and that has found religion useful in holding the governor's office in Texas for longer than any other governor in history, is intending to use religion as his vehicle to run for the White House.

From a TFN insider blog article;
New reports of closed-door meetings and conference calls indicate that religious-right kingmakers are coming together in support of a presidential bid by Texas Gov. Rick Perry. One of those closed-door confabs occurred two weeks ago, when Gov. Perry spoke before a virtual “who’s who” of religious-right leaders gathered in the North Texas city of Euless (just outside Dallas), EthicsDaily.com reports.
Given that he's consistently used religion to gain political favor during his several terms as governor, it should be no surprise to Texans that their governor is planning to use religion to attempt to gain the White house. The next step on this road appears to be a prayer meeting scheduled for August 6th (TFN has an open letter you can sign on to if you want to stand in opposition to this event) The no-holds-barred blurb for the event runs like this;
We believe that America is in a state of crisis. Not just politically, financially or morally, but because we are a nation that has not honored God in our successes or humbly called on Him in our struggles.

According to the Bible, the answer to a nation in such crisis is to gather in humility and repentance and ask God to intervene. The Response will be a historic gathering of people from across the nation to pray and fast for America.
Of course, when you rent a stadium, and plan on filling it with the devout on the pretense of praying for the future of America (that future America being lead by one President Rick Perry, no doubt) calling your event a prayer meeting sounds like pious bullshit.

What Governor Good Hair has failed to take into account is that there are laws against using religion this way in the US (one might be forgiven for not knowing this, considering how often religion is misused in this fashion) and has been sued over his event's blatant mixing of church & state;
The federal lawsuit seeks to declare Perry’s participation in the prayer rally and his proclamation unconstitutional, to enjoin his further involvement, and to order corrective action. FFRF seeks to stop further publication of the proclamation, to declare the use of the official state seal of Texas unconstitutional, to order the governor to withdraw permission for the AFA to use his written and videotaped promotions (“Gov. Perry’s Invitation Video”) and radio recordings at their website, to remove links from the governor’s website, as well as enjoining Perry from issuing and disseminating further Day of Prayer proclamations or designations.

(from the FFRF press release)
Here's hoping they have better luck with this one than they did with the National Day of Prayer lawsuit. Thankfully it won't be up to the elected (and resultantly biased) courts of Texas. This is a federal issue, it will go to federal court. Yes, I imagine he'll make hay over being told he can't use religion to win the White House. Whatever it takes to shoot this pretender down, I'm all for.



The case has been dismissed;
The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s lawsuit challenging Texas Gov. Rick Perry's sponsorship of an Aug. 6 prayer event at Reliant Stadium in Houston was dismissed July 28 by U.S. District Judge Gray Miller, who ruled that the plaintiffs lack standing.

FFRF and five of its Houston members sued to block Perry from continued endorsement of the Christian event titled “The Response.” Miller (appointed in 2006 by President Bush) declined to grant a restraining order against the governor and dismissed the suit, saying that the plaintiffs had not been coerced into attending the rally. The judge did not address the merits of the case.

FFRF plans to appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals or to reconfigure the case so that it may be heard again. FFRF maintains that coercion into a religious practice is not required in order to bring suit under the Establishment Clause.

“Government endorsement of one religious view that excludes other religions and nonbelievers is enough,” said Dan Barker, FFRF co-president.
Suits brought against the government are routinely dismissed on standing these days. It has become nearly impossible to even bring a suit against the government and not have it dismissed on standing, much less win a case against the government.

...Which is why they are planning a protest the day of the event at Reliant Stadium, since Gov. Good Hair is still making noises like he's planning on attending as the governor, not a private citizen.

The future of Power Generation

Reposted here for information purposes only (upping the reference links. You are welcome) I posted this to a zombie thread earlier today, only discovering afterwards that the subject of the thread had be subverted in favor of brain ingestion...

...But this subject is near and dear to my heart. So having looked up these references, I felt it to be a true waste not to post them somewhere they might get noticed. Still looking for that place...


http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-02-solar.html

"Chemical engineers are now able to take these new chemicals, like nanomaterials, and we're trying to create the technologies that can meet the global challenge of, say, energy sustainability. We're taking chemistry, we're inventing new ways to actually make materials that can't be made any other way," he continues.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), that's what Korgel and his team are doing to create solar cells that are light, flexible, efficient and--often the biggest obstacle--affordable.

"It's challenging to get high efficiencies of conversion. For example, the basic single junction solar cell is fundamentally limited to an efficiency of 30 percent. So, if you made a perfect solar cell, the highest efficiency would be 30 percent," explains Korgel at his Austin lab.

Currently, manufacturing cells with anything near that level of efficiency requires high heat, a vacuum and is very expensive. Korgel's approach, using nanotechnology, is completely different.

"What we're doing right now in my research group is making nanocrystals. We're focused on 'CIGS'--copper, indium, gallium, selenide--and we make small particles of this inorganic material that we can disperse in a solvent, creating an ink or paint," he says.


...or perhaps...

http://inhabitat.com/oregon-wave-power/

America is getting its very first wave power farm! Ocean Power Technologies, a New Jersey-based firm, is currently installing giant buoys off the coast of Reedsport, Oregon. Once all ten buoys are in place, developers hope to use them to harness the energy of wave motion and generate power for hundreds of area homes.

Each buoy will measure about 150 feet tall by 40 feet wide and weigh in at about 200 tons. A float on each craft rises and falls with the rolling of the waves, driving an attached plunger’s up-and-down movement. A hydraulic pump then converts that movement into a spinning motion, which drives an electric generator. The electricity produced by the generator moves from sea to land via submerged cables. Right now, developers are finishing up construction on the first buoy, and it will take about 60 million big ones to finish up all ten. Once the entire system is in place, about 400 homes will derive their power from Oregon’s coastal waters.

“wind power”, electricity from waves, energy from waves, Ocean Power Technologies, Portugal wave farm, Reedsport, wave power, wave power in Oregon

Construction of the first buoy is an encouraging development, but the system still has some challenges to overcome. For one, wave power currently costs about six times that of wind power (although once the technology is optimized it should see comparable prices, especially because waves are more predictable than wind or solar power). Secondly, keeping the buoys in place and free from damages caused by big waves can be tricky. And so far, wave power’s history doesn’t paint the most promising picture: The world’s first commercial wind farm opened in 2008 in Portugal, but power production was suspended due to financial difficulties. Moreover, two years ago, a Canadian-produced wave power device sank off Oregon’s coast.

Still, if engineers can master the art of cost-effective wind power, it would be a huge boon for the renewables field. Waves are both free and predictable, so harnessing them to generate electricity would be great. Other wind farm projects are currently underway in countries like Spain, Scotland, Western Australia and England. If all goes according to plan, Oregon’s wind farm will see completion by 2012.

....my personal favorite...

http://cleantechnica.com/2009/04/18/spa ... d-solaren/

Now PG&E in California, is planning to take their ability to tap renewable energy to a whole new level: solar power in space.“Solaren says it plans to generate the power using solar panels in earth orbit, then convert it to radio frequency energy for transmission to a receiving station in Fresno County. From there, the energy will be converted to electricity and fed into PG&E’s power grid.” ~ Next100.com

Solaren hopes to begin launching before 2016. The satellites will deploy the solar panels so they dock automatically together in orbit, resulting in an orbital power plant weighing roughly 25 tons if back here on Earth.

The advantages of space solar power include:

* energy that can be harnessed at all times, even at night or when it’s cloudy.
* baseload power delivery that makes efficient electricity possible for meeting customer demand.
* an underlying technology that is mature since it is based on communications satellite technology.

Before all this happens however, PG&E needs approval from the California State Legislature, through the California Public Utilities Commission for this Solaren Space Based Energy Contract. Currently, Solaren is preparing to launch space rockets containing the solar panels and they have been working with United Launch Alliance (a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company) on such launches.Solaren Corporation, is a start-up company nearly a decade old based in southern California that:

* consists of a number of aerospace engineers.
* has headquarters located in Manhattan Beach and Los Angeles County, California.
* expects to launch four or five heavy-lift rockets containing the solar panels.

A competitor of Solaren is a company called Space Energy formed to harness solar energy from space using similar techniques. Solar energy from space has never been captured commercially, mostly because the cost was always considered too high. Daniel Kammen, professor in energy and resources at the University of California, Berkeley, told the Guardian: “The ground rules are looking kind of promising … it is doable. Whether it is doable at a reasonable cost, we just don’t know.” ~Telegraph.co.uk

Source: Clean Technica (http://s.tt/12uxE)