USA Freedom Act Passes


nsa_logoThe USA Freedom Act passed the Senate this afternoon 67-32. Unfortunately, this act renews most of the provisions of the Patriot Act that expired Sunday night. On the plus side, the sections that were used (perhaps illegally, although the Supreme Court never weighed in) to authorize bulk data collection without a warrant were not renewed. The new act still allows access to the data, but only with specific warrants – and the telcos save the data itself, not the NSA.

On the negative side, two additional amendments proposed by Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) were not even considered by the Senate. Those two amendments would have weakened the bulk data collection even more.

At the end of the day this is still a legislative and ideological victory for Rand Paul. Without his filibuster, and without forcing the clock to run out, there’s a halfway decent chance we would’ve ended up with the full, unaltered Patriot Act renewed. This is definitely better than that.

How will this play out for Senator Paul’s presidential campaign? I have no idea. I, for one, am happy to see it, for two reasons. First, on ideological principle I’m with him. But second, and almost more importantly, Senator Paul made a stand on principle. In this day and age, that’s an incredibly rare thing for a politician to do. The angrier the party “leadership” gets over this, the happier I am, personally. Party leadership on both sides of the aisle is corrupt and shortsighted. Following their lead on anything is far from the best course for our nation.

What’s Glowing On Ceres?

Contrary to the humor and crass self-marketing in this post, the "glowing" spots on Ceres are most likely just reflective ice.

Contrary to the humor and crass self-marketing in this post, the “glowing” spots on Ceres are most likely just reflective ice.

CNN asks, “What’s glowing on CerMakeDeathProud-01es?” According to their article, NASA claims that it’s, “due to the reflection of sunlight by highly reflective material on the surface.”

That highly reflective material is the hulls of space ships. Space pirate ships, specifically! And you can read more about them in “The Fourth Fleet,” one of my stories in the new science fiction and fantasy anthology Make Death Proud to Take Us, now available for pre-order at

Income Inequality is Unavoidable


For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.

John 12:8 – King James Version

Income inequality can never, ever be eliminated from society. No matter how hard we try, it simply can’t be done. Here’s why.

Income does not fall along a “normal” (bell curve) distribution. It follows a power law distribution. This is necessarily and always the case. It’s an unavoidable law of nature. To understand why, let’s review the six factors that bring about the rise of a power law distribution. From my original post:

  1. A competitive event.
  2. The population of competitors is unequal
  3. The inequality is distributed along something resembling a normal distribution.
  4. Winners from any given round of competition keep their winnings.
  5. The winnings form any round confer an advantage in subsequent rounds.
  6. Competition is iterated over multiple rounds.

Let’s take each one of these in order.

A Competitive Event

Income is and always will be competitive. This will not and cannot ever change. You can pass all the laws you want. People will find a way around them. They always have. They always will. People have an ingrained drive to compete with each other. We must compete with each other. Evolution demands it. The organism that does not compete will eventually lose out to the organisms that do. Eventually those who don’t compete will be bred out of existence. Only those whose ancestors competed will be left.

The population of competitors is unequal

Human beings – like all other organisms – are inherently unequal. Whatever our status in the eyes of God, here in this realm we are not identical. Take a look at any individual field – or even any individual job description. Among the people who perform that job, some will be better than others. Some will perform it worse. It’s that simple.

But pretend for a moment that they are actually equal in their actual job tasks. Somebody will eventually figure out a way to extract an inequality in some other way. Sleeping their way to the top. Brown nosing the boss. Playing off of connections to get better pay. The source of the inequality doesn’t matter. It only matters that it exists.

And this is just within one job. Spread that out over multiple jobs, over multiple fields… it doesn’t take a genius to see that the competition is inherently unequal.


The inequality is distributed along something resembling a normal distribution.

We know this to be generally true for most ways in which individual human beings are unequal. Height is distributed along a bell curve. IQ is distributed along a bell curve. Strength – or at least, potential strength – is distributed along a bell curve. And so on. It may not be the case that every conceivable competitive advantage is distributed along a bell curve, but in general that’s going to be the shape of things.

Winners from any given round of competition keep their winnings.

Once again, you will never, ever be able to take all of the winnings from all of the winners. You can try. Somebody, somewhere will always find a way around it. When you have a competitive event (see above) and stakes are high and you have a lot of competitors, somebody will try to cheat.

The winnings form any round confer an advantage in subsequent rounds.

It takes money to make money. Better income in year A will most likely lead to better income in year B – probably even better than year A was. In the long term, these advantages add up fast. Better income pays for better nutrition, better tools, better education, better connections. In short, better everything. This is big for an individual. On the multigenerational front, its effect is staggering. Your better income pays for your child’s better education, better connections, etc. Which pays for your grandchild’s even better… well, everything.

Competition is iterated over multiple rounds.

Pick your definition of round: hours, days, weeks, months, years. Generations. The competition is iterated forever.

Income Inequality is here to stay.

Income inequality is here to stay. It will never leave us. So… if we can’t eliminate income inequality, what can we do? That is a much more interesting question, but it will have to be the topic of future blog posts.


Patriot Act Expires – At Least For Now


Rand Paul’s 10 hour filibuster on Wednesday, May 20th was initially viewed by many as a failure. Indeed, reports at the time were that even Paul himself knew that the filibuster wouldn’t stop anything.

However, as I predicted on Wednesday, the Patriot Act will expire tonight at midnight. The question of the moment is, “for how long?”

The USA Freedom Act has already passed the House.  The bill contains most of the Patriot Act, with a few sections modified to address concerns about the NSA. The bill has already been voted on once by the Senate, and failed: 57-42. However, at least some of the Senators who opposed it appear to have opposed it because they wanted the increased power of the full patriot act. It is unclear what the vote will be now that we know for certain that the full act will not pass the Senate.

The vote appears to be set for Tuesday morning, so we’ll know soon. The bill already passed a cloture vote tonight, so only a simple majority vote is needed at this point to pass it. Still, that’s seven votes that need to be swayed from the last time the bill was voted on. This is going to be a very interesting week.

Why Longshot Candidates Run for Office

Governor George Pataki

Governor George Pataki

Rick Santorum and George Pataki officially entered the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination this week. Both candidates are showing ridiculously low numbers in the polls. And both seem to be lagging behind in money and organization. With the major networks announcing that they’ll be limiting the debates to the few who are doing best in the polls, both men seem to be longshot candidates at best. Pataki, in particular, seems to have basically no prayer at all of winning the nomination.

So… why are they running? For the same reasons that longshot candidates always run. It turns out that there are an awful lot of benefits to running for office, even if you lose.

First, you can make a lot of contacts. This can be a pretty big deal. Good contacts can get you some nice special deals, land you that great job you’re looking for, mentor you in other stages of your life, etc. In short, contacts are nice.

It will help you pad out your mailing lists. As someone involved in the operation of three small businesses, I can promise you that mailing lists are extremely valuable. They can be great for your own purposes. If you’re the unsavory kind who sells them (we don’t, at any of our businesses), they can be literally worth rather a lot of money.

You get to do the whole thing on somebody else’s dime. The campaign itself is ultimately funded by campaign contributions. Whether you can win or not, if you can convince enough people to donate then you’re not going to have to pay for it out of pocket.

You can get away with billing an awful lot to your campaign. There are a lot of rules on what you can and can’t call a campaign expense. But like all federal regulations, there are a lot of clever ways around many of them. There are an awful lot of things that you can bill straight back to the campaign. At the minimum, you can travel around your entire campaign region (which is national, if you’re running for President) on the campaign’s dime. And you can do it all in style: first class seats, luxury hotels, limousines, fine dining – the works.

It can build your name, fame, and brand. These are all highly valuable things, and they can also be translated into money: book deals, speaking fees, lobbying gigs, etc.

When you look at all the benefits, they’re actually pretty big.

The Little Things


This post was originally posted on a now defunct blog on July 30, 2007:

Every now and then something causes me to stop and wonder at how much nicer life is than it used to be. No, I don’t mean all the standard examples of things like medical technology (which is leaps and bounds better than it was even ten years ago), better computer technology (do I even need to say anything?) and so forth. I’m talking about the little things in life.

Take, for instance, t-shirt tags. Yes, t-shirt tags. I was noticing this as I put my t-shirt on this morning after my shower. Instead of adding a hideously uncomfortable tag, modern t-shirts have the tag information stamped right on the inside. No more tag sticking up, no more itchy tag on your neck. Yet all the information is still there. Everybody wins.

Tagless t-shirts: just one more miracle of modern technology.

A Bill by Any Other Name is Still a Turd


If you’re a political junkie, last Friday evening offered one of the most interesting bits of political theater to come along in a good while. At the very least, it’s the most interesting since Rand Paul’s filibuster against drone strikes two years ago. It might be the most interesting since the shenanigans that were pulled to pass ObamaCare.

It’s only fitting that Rand Paul is at the center of the show again. Although the conventional wisdom is quick to announce Paul’s latest filibuster a failure, the reality is that this one may actually succeed where the last one failed. Due to parliamentary rules, it is extremely unlikely that the Patriot Act will be renewed in its complete form. This is good news. Frankly, from looking at the parliamentary rules, it looks pretty likely to me that the bill will almost certainly expire, at least temporarily.

  • There’s almost no way to pass the bill without changes under the current deadlines and procedural situation.
  • For the same reasons, the only way that an amended bill could pass would be with Rand Paul’s support – support he may not give.
  • Once the bill expires, it faces the same political pressure that it’s currently under. Renewing it in full will be nearly impossible.
  • It’s not entirely clear that the political will exists to pass the bill again, even if it’s modified.

This is a good thing. Remember, the name that a bill is given bears little reflection on what’s actually in the bill. The Patriot act contains precious little patriotism. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care act does little to protect patients and less to make their care affordable. Look, this is just the way Washington works. They slap whatever name they want on the bill to drum up your support for it. And then the bill itself does whatever it is that they actually want to do to screw us.

A bill by any other name is still a turd.

Just Say No to American Monarchy


americanmonarchyI have to admit to being absolutely flabbergasted that anybody is seriously considering voting for either Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush. It’s not because Hillary is an untrustworthy lying elitist who pretends to be a strong, independent woman but who actually rose to prominence on her husband’s coattails and stood by the lying cod while he abused his position of authority with a twenty-something intern. It’s not because Jeb bush is a pot smoking prep school frat boy who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and has admitted that he’d repeat the same mistakes of his brother. All of this is true, and amazingly the voters don’t seem to care. Still, that’s not the real issue.

The real issue is that once upon a time one of the world’s greatest men turned down a third term of office because he was afraid of establishing an American Monarchy. The real issue is that we fought an intercontinental war to rid ourselves of a monarchy. The real issue is that we enshrined in our constitution that no American should be given a title of nobility.

There is absolutely no excuse for any self respecting American to vote for either one of these candidates. As memorial day passes and we remember the honored dead, remember too what they fought for. Remember what they died for. Whatever your politics are, literally any of the big name candidates would be a better choice than either of these two. Whatever your current pet cause is, whatever item you think is the litmus test, whatever single issue is a deal breaker for you, remember that if we allow our nation to slip into dynastic rule, none of those things will matter and all of those choices will be taken away from you.

Just Say No to American Monarchy.

Dragon vs Spitfires


A while back, I responded to the fantasy hypothetical: who would win if a dragon fought an Apache Attack Helicopter? Anybody familiar with modern armament should know how that paring turned out.

This morning, I received the following message over Twitter:

Hiya 🙂 Tell me; if a dragon fighting for the Nazis fought against four pilots flying Spitfires during the Battle of Britain who would win?

Philip Tolhurst

"George and the Dragon" by Philip Tolhurst

“George and the Dragon” by Philip Tolhurst

It turns out that Philip has already taken his own stab at the question in his book George and the Dragon. A book which has just catapulted pretty high up my “to-read” list, because it sounds awesome. Until I get a chance to read it, though, let’s take a look at the question:

Dragon vs Spitfires: Who would win?

This fight is going to be far more interesting than the Apache fight.

The Supermarine Spitfire was an interesting plane, and pretty advanced for its day. The aircraft had several armament variations, which would obvious affect the outcome of the battle. Early versions carried four .303 Browning machine guns. Later versions carried eight of these guns. These guns had a tendency to freeze at high altitude that wasn’t corrected until 1938 – that would definitely put a kink in things.

Unlike the modern Apache, the .303 ammunition would not have been depleted uranium, since the material wasn’t really available until the 1970s. However, they could have had access to steel core ammunition rather than lead, and probably would have used it if needed.

The Spitfire also set speed and altitude records for its day: 606mph and 50,000 feet. Neither of those is shabby. That’s just shy of the speed of sound and nearly ten miles up. The aircraft was known to be more maneuverable than other airframes of the day, which is a definite plus.

However, the Spitfire also needed an average of 4500 rounds to shoot down an enemy aircraft. That’s a lot of rounds, and a typical enemy aircraft wouldn’t be anywhere near as well armored as a dragon. On the other hand, the scenario posits four Spitfires. Four to one seems to improve the odds somewhat.

Whereas an Apache would out and out destroy the dragon, this is a far more interesting match. And at the end of the day, the outcome is going to come down to these factors:

  • How powerful is the dragon in question?
  • How smart is the dragon in question?
  • How good are the tactics of the Spitfire squadron?

Without an element of surprise, my money is on the Spitfires – but I doubt they’d win every time. But more often than not. Probably three out of four encounters, maybe as many as seven out of eight.

This is where an author could have a lot of fun, and create some pretty good drama. Because this is a fight that’s close enough to even that any particular instance of the fight could legitimately go either way. And that’s a great source of drama, which is why I’m definitely interested in George and the Dragon. Also, I love the title and its play on the famous English legend.

My take: if the dragons catch the English by surprise, it goes badly at first. Then they adjust their tactics, maybe tweak some weaponry, and end up winning in glory at the end of the tale. Which is probably exactly what happens in the book. But that’s a great layout for a story that has an awesome setup and promises to be a lot of fun.

I will let you all know after I’ve had time to read it!

Fear Is the Mind-Killer


I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

–Frank Herbert, Dune

To fans of classic science fiction the above quote is nothing new. And yet fifty years after Frank Herbert’s masterpiece was first published we find ourselves in a society where these words would be utterly alien. Fear is everywhere and ever present.

But fear truly is the mind killer. Fear kills us in tiny ways each and every day. Whether it keeps us from talking to the pretty girl, prevents us from starting that side business, stops us from asking for that raise, or causes us to flip out over “trigger warnings” fear is everywhere. Fear of terrorism, fear of immigrants, fear of crime, fear of a poor economy. Worst of all, today, seems to be the ever growing fear of “badthink” that is overtaking modern politics – the fear that somebody, somewhere doesn’t agree with all of the “right thinking things” that some group or other has declared is now ironclad.

Our modern society is becoming more and more fear driven every year. Every aspect of our lives is ruled by it.

Fight this. Face the fear. Let it pass through you. Face your life as your life and move forward.

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