Monday, 2 December 2013

08:15 – Happy Birthday to Barbara, who turns 20:39 today.


Our D-Link DIR-615 router/WAP has started dropping the WAN connection sporadically, so I ordered a D-Link DIR-826L to replace it. I hooked it up yesterday, and it didn’t work. Didn’t work as in wouldn’t even recognize that the cable modem was providing a WAN link. So the DIR-615 is back in place until I figure out what’s going on with the new unit.

I just read a big article in the morning paper about Common Core. The article couldn’t say enough good things about Common Core and its emphasis on “critical thinking”. The real problem with Common Core, which the article failed to mention, is that many students are not capable of critical thinking. Nor are many teachers.

The fundamental problem is that the powers-that-be refuse to recognize that there are very real and very large cognitive differences between the best, the average, and the worst students, which simply reflects the population at large. Remember the old saying: One can’t teach calculus to a horse. But these cargo-cult thinkers apparently believe that any student can learn any subject, regardless of difficulty, if only they’re given the opportunity. If only that were true, but it’s not.


77 thoughts on “Monday, 2 December 2013”

  1. I personally know several teachers, in the k-5 range. They’ve a pretty good grasp of their students capabilities, and lack thereof. To a (wo)man, they loathe the system they work under.

  2. Common Core is passionately hated by the Indiana governor, but worshiped by the overwhelmingly elected state head of education.

    I do not think much of any education goes on in schools anymore. I know several teachers who are still teaching, and they all hate their school systems and their jobs, and 2 are taking early retirement next year as a consequence. These people have been teaching for more than 30 years, and once loved their jobs. Moreover, I have found it is hard to have any meaningful conversation with high school graduates these days.

  3. I agree totally, teaching to think critically is hopeless. We need return to the mode of teaching them to “think outside the box”, where the box is the size of a shot glass.

    Most of those possessing degrees in engineering that I worked with could neither solve a new problem for the first time nor conceive a more effective or efficient method of solution for a previously solved problem.

    As one who volunteers with an elementary school class, I do understand the reality. The state and federal education bureaucracies are staffed with thousands of PhDs in education who are tasked with improving education by means of incessant change.

    …. our tax $$ at waste …

  4. So, Sweden used to have two mainstream automobile makers, and now China owns both of them. I don’t understand why anyone would buy a SAAB or a Volvo.

  5. I have found it is hard to have any meaningful conversation with high school graduates these days.

    LOL, You have to text them and use texting shorthand. I have even seen them texting each other while sitting next to each other.

    The state and federal education bureaucracies are staffed with thousands of PhDs in education who are tasked with improving education by means of incessant change.

    And none of them have spent an hour actually teaching anyone themselves. They don’t have a clue how classes really work and how people learn. They graduated from college where the real world is never taught, and now think they are experts on everything.

    I don’t understand why anyone would buy a SAAB or a Volvo.

    They are education experts and have no real clue about the real world. I would also put Fiat in the same category.

  6. From Chuck: “I do not think much of any education goes on in schools anymore..”

    Yes and no:
    Yes, I volunteer at school where the children are politically correctly classified as English learners.
    No, my grandchildren attend schools in the same school district, but with non-minority students, and achieve at the other end of the spectrum, straight As.

    Conclusion – the ever changing methodology does not help those that it is intended to help the most, but OTOH does not impede the others.

  7. Remember the old saying: One can’t teach calculus to a horse. But these cargo-cult thinkers apparently believe that any student can learn any subject, regardless of difficulty, if only they’re given the opportunity. If only that were true, but it’s not.

    Didn’t you ever see Stand and Deliver (based on a real story)? You can teach Calculus to anyone. 🙂

  8. While I use the term “critical thinking”, I have become recently convinced that there is no such thing. There is either thinking or not thinking. What we think of as critical thinking is simply thinking using logic, rather than emotion. In fact, this subject just came up last week, when my son called me out for using critical thinking as a term. It was he who convinced me that it doesn’t exist. He must be right as he’s 19 and we all know teenagers know everything! We had this discussion with my new lady friend.

    I (slight digression here), a long time home schooling widower, have (finally!) started dating a woman who just happens to be the Adjunct Professor of Education at the local university, holds a Master degree in Education and is a retired middle school teacher and principal after teaching for 35 years. She also works for the Ministry of Education as an administrator. Her current job is to assess teachers in training, and she fails about a quarter of the trainees as being unprepared.

    Anyhow, she ended up agreeing with my son. There are those who can, and those who can’t, and the only critical part is to decipher which is which.

  9. I do not think much of any education goes on in schools anymore. I know several teachers who are still teaching, and they all hate their school systems and their jobs, and 2 are taking early retirement next year as a consequence. These people have been teaching for more than 30 years, and once loved their jobs. Moreover, I have found it is hard to have any meaningful conversation with high school graduates these days.

    I agree that not much education goes on in schools any more. My wife is an elementary teacher, and I’ve heard a lot of stories. The problem is due to political correctness teachers no longer have control of the classroom. It is all but impossible to keep control of a classroom without the ability to physically discipline kids. Also, kids can be held back a year at most twice, and it takes a great deal of effort to have a kid held back. The last time one of my wife’s students got held back a grade, the parents realized that the kid was not ready to be promoted and insisted that he be held back. Had the parents not insisted, the kid would have been promoted.

    The problem is that schools are failing in their mission to educate kids. The state government knows they’re broken and is trying to fix them by coming up with all these new programs. No Child Left Behind should have been called No Child Gets Ahead.

    Also, there are some kids who are in a normal classroom who shouldn’t be in a normal classroom. At my wife’s school they put kids who are way behind in reading in a normal classroom and pull them out for help in reading. How are such kids supposed to do normal social studies or science?

    I was sitting at the local Subway one day when I overheard two parents of kids at my wife’s school talking. One complained that one of my wife’s friends gave too much homework because they had to spend too much time every night helping their kid. Even I know that by the grade in question the kids should be able to do their own homework. Keep in mind all these examples are from a school that pretty consistently gets an A on its report card. The other public schools are worse.

  10. Didn’t you ever see Stand and Deliver (based on a real story)? You can teach Calculus to anyone.

    The movie is based on a real story. However, they had to condense it to make it a movie. The teacher in question actually spent years improving the teaching of math at his school until he had improved it enough to have a bunch of kids who could learn Calculus. Even then it was only a small portion of the student population who took it.

  11. When my stepson was in about the 5th grade, Jeri realized that the “help” she was giving him with his homework, was actually HER doing his homework. From that point, she refused to help at all with his homework (she was a Master’s degreed teacher herself). He refused to do the homework and floundered the rest of the way and through high school. Took 2 years longer than normal for him to graduate, as he was held back twice.

    Now he was not by any means low IQ. After working odd jobs and construction for a few years after high school, he told his mom he wanted to go to college. She supported it, but never thought he would make it, because he never got the background from primary and secondary school. Four years and straight A’s later, he graduated from an ‘invitation only’ college that was part of Michigan State.

    There has to be a way to separate the unmotivated from the motivated students in school settings, or there will never be any educated students coming out of that system.

    My school system put kids of like performance and IQ together. They used different books and different methods in those distinct classes. That system worked, but is positively politically incorrect these days.

  12. Yeah, when I was in junior high the students were assigned to one of nine tracks.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tracking_%28education%29

    Supposedly, the track numbers were assigned randomly but of course all the students, including even the morons, knew which was which. That system actually worked very well for students in all levels. When I got to high school, they really had only three tracks: the bulk of the kids were in the vocational track, maybe a quarter to a third in the academic track, and the brightest three or four kids all in their own “track”.

  13. I remember we had 5 tracks from Junior High on. Since my parents had worked in that school system, I had inside knowledge that it was all based on IQ. The school system did extensive IQ testing during primary school as nearby Ball State Teachers College was heavily involved in development of IQ tests. Students were assigned to the tracks according to their IQ test outcomes. Five was the smartest level. I knew kids who were in level 1. Have no idea of their capabilities, but most were on the ‘shop class’ track, and not much was demanded of them academically.

    When we moved to Indianapolis, I learned one thing about the difference between small towns and the big cities: there are a lot more smart people in the big cities. There were kids in my classes in Indy who seriously outclassed even the smartest in Tiny Town. At the time, Indy had only 2 tracks—normal and “g” (gifted). Nearly every teacher wanted the 5 level or g classes. Fortunately, only the best and most-experienced teachers got them.

  14. Ray occasionally says he is going to spend his money quickly after retirement, then rob a bank and spend the rest of his life in the comfort of jail at taxpayer expense.

    It would still be possible.

    If I am penniless, they can bill me all they want. They would never get the money and I would still be in prison. Nothing would have changed. They can settle the bill when I am cremated.

    As far as I know the justice system could not bill my son as you cannot make another adult responsible for one’s bills unless the other adult consents. At least that is how it is now. I suppose they could change the laws and make relatives, back to second cousin twice removed on the divorced mothers side of the family, responsible for all criminal costs and incarceration costs. Assholes would do anything to get their money.

  15. What they are doing here is using statistical analysis to justify their PC acceptable conclusions of root cause:
    1. The % of the underprivileged in prison is much higher than their % of the population.
    2. School dropouts are numerically much more likely to be incarcerated.
    3. Truancy leads to dropping out.
    4. Suspension for misbehavior enhances subsequent truancy.
    5. Therefore, in CA students can no longer be suspended for willful defiance of teacher’s orders.

  16. Speaking of prisons:

    http://econ.st/I0fsY5

    Seriously broken legal systems is why I will never voluntarily live in a former Confederate state. No chance of any critical thinking about people’s lives going on there. Lock ’em up and throw away the key!

  17. Hi Bob,

    Regarding the router, did you give it the first router’s MAC address? Some cable modems don’t like having the router hot-swapped. Alternatively you could try power-cycling the modem after connecting the new router, and it might connect.
    Cheers,
    Rod

  18. Parents doing their kids homework, parents accompanying kids to their job interviews – I saw an article yesterday written by a psychologist: he says he has lots of patients who are really worried about the transition to adulthood. Due to helicopter parenting, they just do not know how to manage their lives. Some of these patients are 30 years old.

    Talking to teenagers: I was listening to my 16-year-old on Skype yesterday. Did you know that LOL is now a spoken word?

  19. Bill wrote:

    “He must be right as he’s 19 and we all know teenagers know everything!”

    Whenever a teenager calls me out for not knowing something I say ‘I’m too old to know everything.’

    “We had this discussion with my new lady friend.

    I (slight digression here), a long time home schooling widower, have (finally!) started dating a woman…”

    Ahh, I KNEW there was a reason you weren’t posting much nowadays.

  20. In 1971 in South Oz I started high school. No tracking at all. Three classes of French learners, six doing German. In second year the tracking started. As a poor achiever I got into the “dumb” track. By the end of third year I wanted better so insisted on doing academically rigorous subjects (maths, physics and chemistry) and moderately rigorous ones (geography, modern history and English.) That got me in to one of the three good classes, and my results improved dramatically. The bullying I’d been subject to also stopped as I was physically separated from them – they were all in the “dumb” classes. I’m sure glad the opportunity was there to switch streams, which is as it should be.

  21. Regarding the router, did you give it the first router’s MAC address? Some cable modems don’t like having the router hot-swapped. Alternatively you could try power-cycling the modem after connecting the new router, and it might connect.

    I did do a power reset on the cable modem, but I’ll try again. If that doesn’t work, I’ll try spoofing the MAC address.

  22. I am really enjoying the AT&T Uverse DSL modems that I have. They not only have a 4 port 1 Gig ethernet hub in them, they also have a very good wifi ethernet hub. My new Genie TV DVR at home is now hooked via wireless and it works for the first time. I have no idea which protocols are supported, just that they are working well. In fact, the DirecTV installer said that wireless is better for the DVR than a wired connection as Genie gets confused when there is another DVR in the house (they talk to each other on ethernet over the coax as well as to the antenna).

  23. Arrgh! I have been having terrible, terrible trouble with my U-verse modem/router/wireless. It is a Motorola NVG510, and if you just plug that into google, there will be tons of info on the super-poor design and build quality in that thing.

    I have been holding my tongue for the last 2 weeks, when that %&^$@! modem hijacked my browser, giving me a message that was impossible to get rid of (about IP diagnostics). Clicking the “Don’t show this again” button did absolutely, positively nothing. AT&T of course, acts surprised, even though it must happen with great frequency, because there are hundreds besides me who cannot get rid of that screen and go back to surfing the Internet. Googling shows it is a totally unresolved problem. Required an AT&T tech to come out to Tiny House, and although he stopped it from showing that screen, I still get interruptions of the broadband signal; it just stops cold for several minutes and causes the modem/router to reboot itself. The worst thing about that interjected screen is that it replaces the URL address with a modification to what I was looking at, which replaced the address I was at, in both the tab I was looking at AND IN THE HISTORY. Any record of the page I was visiting was TOTALLY GONE! Now I often have tabs open that I have no idea where I got them, and without accurate history, I can never get back to them again. I lost about 40 open tabs when I finally called for the tech to come out. When I called tech support, she was not going to send anyone out, because she said the modem logs did not show a problem. Great. It was only because I kept telling her that I could not get past that IP diagnostics screen to get to the Internet that she finally relented.

    AT&T is truly the most screwed up organization I have ever in my life had to deal with. Judge Greene where are you? AT&T needs to be broken up AGAIN! Only last time they were a very effective organization; this time they are completely incompetent!

    Tech guy said a whopping big difference between the old AT&T and the new, is that there is now no backup whatever. If something goes down, it is down until somebody fixes it, and service will be out for the duration. At the old AT&T, service never went down, because the only thing that was not backed up was the wire from the pole to your house.

  24. I just got both of my office AT&T Uverse DSL modems replaced with the 5168NV models. They work very well considering we are out here in the sticks of Fort Bend County. They are both 12 Mbps down / 1 Mbps up. We have them configured to work in parallel using a Peplink 30.

    The house is a Uverse DSL modem also, only at 18 Mbps down. I think that it is the same model. BTW, I pay $50/month for each DSL line.

    I read an article recently that AT&T is not planning on running any new copper lines and may stop running fiber lines to new neighborhoods. They lose money on each new line that they run now.
    http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/ATT-Study-We-Should-Kill-Copper-Since-Youre-Not-Using-It-126145

  25. AT&T has had a very bad rep for many years now on issues like this. Ditto Comcast. We’re more or less happy with Verizon and Fairpoint here, so fah.

  26. I am going to investigate the local fiber provider. AT&T tells me I should be getting 18 down and nearly 2 up, but my speed tests never show anything more than 10 down and 0.9 up.

    AT&T and Comcast are not the ones running the fiber. I have not learned all about this, but some third party puts in a bundle of fiber, then rents it out to Comcast and AT&T. Because AT&T has so much invested in copper around here, they will not use the fiber that runs right by my house. My friend at the cell phone company says the overhead for AT&T to maintain copper, is truly phenomenal, and they are more-or-less financially hamstrung by copper. I found out that only a very few neighborhoods in Indianapolis actually have access to AT&T fiber; the rest (including me here in Tiny Town) have access only to copper through AT&T. Even though fiber now runs through almost every major city.

    Here’s the deal. Legislature in Indiana has ruled that no one HAS to provide you with service of any kind. That is how AT&T is going to get out of the copper business. If you do not already have copper running to your house, you will not ever get it. AT&T in Indiana has already refused to run copper to new subdivisions built in the middle of rural nowhere. If you do not have good wireless available, then forget it. And that is what AT&T wants to be: a strictly wireless provider for all services.

    Other states are quickly adopting this level of ‘no service’ as standard. Tech guy at my house on Sun, said it is only a matter of time until AT&T abandons copper and turns its back completely on the copper network. He is estimating 2 to 5 years around here.

    So much for access, let alone competition.

  27. Other states are quickly adopting this level of ‘no service’ as standard. Tech guy at my house on Sun, said it is only a matter of time until AT&T abandons copper and turns its back completely on the copper network. He is estimating 2 to 5 years around here.

    So much for access, let alone competition.

    Sounds like a response to competition to me. BTW, I have AT&T fiber running at the edge of my office property (about 1,000 ft away from the office building) but AT&T wants several grand to put in a fiber T switch and a couple of grand per month to access it.

  28. Our wireless and cell service kind of sucks around here; so we have the pooters and media entertainment center (teevee) all hardwired and we have a landline. Of course if the provider ever goes belly-up and/or the Grid sputters out, it’s all moot, except for the landline. And any ham or marine radio that we can keep going on a generator and/or batteries.

  29. Markup on communication is out-of-control, IMO—it is obscenely high. Which is why I have long advocated that utilities should be one of the few things provided by government. We do not need for-profit companies providing essential services. What we need is exactly what I get from the local city-owned water company: core group of people working non-profit and providing the product at cost.

    This idea that somehow the ‘free market’ solves all problems is pure fictional crap. It is not reality. Get rid of regulation, privatize it, and you get exactly what we have now: markups of thousands of times over cost, and the additional refusal to provide service where the company cannot rape consumers.

    It is really a downer when the whole nation knows we eliminated jobs like manufacturing to the point that there is now high unemployment rivaling the Great Depression, but just plain sad to hear that the AT&T execs’ prime focus is to cut thousands more. Our system teaches business nothing but that greed is the goal—go get ’em Mitt!

    I have long forwarded the premise that governments around the world are experiments in serving their populations. From my own personal experience, I can report that the experiment here is not going to come out on top. I work FAR harder for less money here than I did in Germany (where I was a foreigner, for gawd’s sake—think foreigners do that well here in reverse?), spend incredible amounts of time, effort, and money getting around to places to get things, eat much crappier food, run my ass off dealing with the banking system here, and get little to zero satisfaction from ‘customer service’ anywhere—and that now includes Walmart who no longer accepts returns ‘no questions asked’ as they did in the past. Yeah, the bureaucracy in Germany was surly and it took 3 trips to resolve everything, but that was definitely not the case outside of government there. Business was responsive and regulated. I could write a book about AT&T, who sold me a U-verse trial for a year at a bargain price to lure me from standard DSL, then 5 months in, started charging me more than double. After calling several times, each spending hours on the phone with them, they said U-verse is not available in my area (the tech guy laughed at that), and they never should have sold it to me, so obviously they could not continue giving me the trial price. Three months after my big 3 hour talk with them, it is still not resolved, and my bill is a different amount every single month. Since I restarted service here upon returning to the US, I have had to call AT&T about my bill being incorrect FAR more months than it being correct upon receipt.

    And as I have said here before, I do not consider a different price for every customer—however much you can rape them for—is either fair or justice. My cousin in this same town pays $80/mo for the exact same service I am getting. People next door are paying $35/mo. They want $50/mo from me. Exact same level of service—although they tell me that I should not even be getting it, because it does not exist in my neighborhood. What utter lying crap.

    Return utilities to government-owned non-profit wholesale and dump on AT&T like they are dumping on us.

  30. If AT&T ends up extracting $50/mo from me for Internet only, I’m going with the local fiber alternative. Cable comes with that for that price, too, although I don’t even own a TV anymore. Support your local fiber provider.

  31. I tried to get internet only from Comcast when I bought this home back in Jan. They refused to serve me and said that the previous owner has not released service yet. After a month, I went with AT&T Uverse who was very happy to serve me. I would not touch Comcast with a 10 ft pole now but that is after a half dozen phone calls to them trying to get service.

    If you can get fiber to house for less than $50/month, I would run with it. AT&T has fiber down the street and then Uverse VDSL to distribute it to the homes.

    BTW, is there anything that you would not like to nationalize here in the USA?

  32. I don’t consider “communications” a “utility.” Not like water or electricity or heating oil/gas. They’re nice to have but not necessary, more a luxury than anything else. Telephone, tee-vee, pooters, whatever. If gummint ran those, too, like they run everything else, we’d really be hosed, though point taken about apparently infinite corporate greed.

  33. Well I did limit it to utilities, but there are a few things beyond that which are essential, and those things need to be provided for collectively to be efficient, and not a free-for-all hodge-podge. Moreover, all essential infrastructure should be provided at wholesale. And there should be intelligent, coordinated long-range planning for the future of infrastructure.

    Ya know, all you have to be is a common observer to see that big business today (and probably always in the past) will take advantage of EVERY loophole that exists, and then will do the illegal on top of that to satisfy the infinite greed present at the top levels of corporate America today. There is a lot of reference to corruption in foreign countries these days—especially bribery in developing countries,—but the corruption in the US is far more subtle. That does not change the fact that it exists—even if it is not as obvious as bribery.

    Now it is true I am connected with the legal world more than most people, so I see first-hand a lot of what is going on. If it is not AT&T refusing to wire new subdivisions, pretty much instantly after the state legislature removed the mandatory requirement to do that, then it is the other company I see a lot today, who pretty clearly appears to have taken equipment they rented from a foreign manufacturer, reverse-engineered it, and had local outfits duplicate it, even while they had signed contracts providing both secrecy and protection of patents and other IP.

    But there is more. The Indianapolis electric utility, IPL was privatized a decade or so ago. Stock there had been one of the highest-rated in the nation for safety and return. The guy at the helm pushed for privatization. He and a few cronies at the top got a super-golden parachute that made them richer than any of us will ever be, while the stockholders took a good 50% value hit the instant the company went private. He sold his before the hit and then went on to be a fabulously wealthy governor of this state.

    A well-known national name health insurer in the big city of Naptown, took themselves from a mutual company to private by “demutualizing”. To simplify a complicated string of events, the default process they used with the mutual stock owners was ‘opt-out’ of their stock conversion plan instead of ‘opt-in’. Because of that, the mutual stock holders were raped by the company, while again the top execs received MILLIONS each as a reward for this Buffalo shuffle to demutualization. With new shares not ‘watered down’ by conversion of the former mutual shareholders, the stock of the converted company instantly shot up—management having rewarded themselves handsomely with options. As they saw the price going up, they changed the rules of the conversion so it would make that stock shoot up even more, while the former mutual owners got mere pennies comparatively. The whole thing became a class action against them because some little old lady in Cincinnati could not figure out how to pay tax on the tiny amount she got from the company for her mutual shares. When she asked her tax lawyer, he got to looking into it, and saw clearly that the process was designed by the insurance company to swindle the mutual stockholder—compounded by their changes midstream to the conversion rules that benefited the company executives even more. Whether mutual shareholders were opted in or out, by choice or automatically, they lost big-time compared to the stock the company executives got. That case was decided this year, and the big insurer whose name starts with “A” and ends with “m” got taken to the cleaners by the court and ordered to pay multi-millions to the former mutual shareholders by a jury.

    You guys who think ‘free markets’ act voluntarily in the best interests of society as a whole are very seriously mistaken. Fair and acceptable behavior may come naturally to you and me, but it does not with the type of folks who end up at the top of today’s corporate America. They need regulation and supervision, just like in the Catholic schools many of my childhood friends attended, where the nuns were at the instant ready with rulers to whap the knuckles of those who misbehaved.

    And it is just not even close to true that government cannot work competently, although Republicans in particular are legally blind in this regard. It is large corporates that cannot be fair, just, and competent. Every state has some equivalent of a Bureau of Motor vehicles, which licenses vehicles and collects appropriate tax. When I was a kid, there were constant cries and shouts about its incompetence. But you know, government fixed that. Who complains about their BMV or Registry or whatever it is today? Every time I go in there nowadays, I’m out in 5 or 10 minutes—faster than picking up drugs from my dealer, Walmart.

    Electricity, gas, water, communications—including telephone and Internet,—and transportation should be administered solely by government, delivering the goods at wholesale and non-profit. Only then will users, who are voters, have a say in their operation.

    You were rebuffed repeatedly by Comcast. Most of you are not old enough to remember when utilities were regulated (and cable definitely started out as a city utility everywhere). When there were regulatory agencies, there were teeth to make the utilities function. For most of my grade school years, my father ran an insurance agency from our garage, which had been renovated into an office. I distinctly remember one especially cold winter, the gas to the office went out. Calls to the local gas company office met with no action. After a morning with no gas and no heat, my dad called the state regulatory agency. In less than a half-hour, a truck was out, profuse apologies tendered, and the gas was restored in less than an hour. Some regulator had frozen, because it was not buried below the frost line as it should have been. You have absolutely no recourse when Comcast tells you to f**k off. That would not be the case if you voted for the people who ran and/or regulated that utility. Take a cue from anarchist Emma Goldman—workers should have a say in their company’s operations, and consumers should have recourse to the ‘f**k you’ attitude of customer service today, while they twerk a stick up your behind, lift the cash out of your wallet, all the while telling you, “Oh, I’m so sorry that you do not have Internet, sir. I can understand your pain. I know how it can feel to be without Internet these days”*. (*Exact words spoken to me repeatedly in my hours-long go-arounds with AT&T.)

    Intelligent, fair, just, and effective planning does not go on in the so-called ‘free markets’. They are only interested in padding the bottom line, and will take any and all shortcuts and loopholes to get to that destination. The essentials of our lives and the infrastructure to allow society to work and live efficiently, should not be in the hands of private enterprise, which has no incentive whatever to see society improve, but only cares about its own ability to lift as much money as absolutely possible from consumers—even if it means their own demise in the long-term.

    If you lived in Germany for just 6 months, you would wonder what in the hell is the matter with America that it cannot get itself together logistically and be more responsive to the people who inhabit it. Even the AT&T tech readily and voluntarily admitted that the US is far behind the technical delivery capability of other countries for their Internet and cell phones. No, our corporate tops are not figuring out how to deliver us better, faster, cheaper service; they are busy conniving plans on how they can abandon their single largest expense, copper—and abandon it TOTALLY and overnight. I go back to Emma Goldman, who maintains that people have positively no idea how very little freedom they have, because they never examine what is going on around them or the underpinnings of their society. Americans have been brought up on nationalism as a religion. Don’t dare change anything, because it is already perfect here. And if you try, you are at the very least a creepy socialist or a hateful communist. As my son told me recently: “You know we were never taught what Communism actually is in school—just that it is bad. I guess I don’t really know.” Now this is a kid who has 2 undergraduate degrees. He immediately set off to research it. Americans don’t even know what Communism actually is. You think it kills more people than the US does in its empire-building? That bears some research—who has killed more? the US? or Russia in its Communist era? I think I already know the answer.

  34. I don’t buy the moral equivalency argument that favorably compares the old Soviet Union with the U.S. Not even close. The Soviet Communists murdered, one way or another, many tens of millions of their own people from 1917 on, and many tens of millions more died in slave labor concentration camps. Read Robert Conquest’s “Harvest of Sorrow,” for just the story on the deliberately induced famine of the 1930s, mainly in the Ukraine. We still hear about Hitler and the Nazis and the Holocaust but the communists have the all-time record for murder and torture in human history so far, by far. And *that’s* what is not taught in the schools and colleges; as for theoretical communism which just can’t seem to be made to work “right” the way its theorists and practitioners allegedly intend, how many attempts do they get? Then check out “The Black Book of Communism” for an exhaustive list of communist atrocities over nearly a hundred years now. I don’t defend the U.S. history of such doings but we’re mere pikers compared to those guys.

    As for the State running utilities and communications better or worse than private enterprise? That will all be moot soon enough. You enjoy nice efficient net access with the NSA collecting all your data meanwhile? Nothing to hide? Not doing anything wrong?

    Like I say, it will be moot; this house of cards cannot be sustained, simple arithmetic, not even Algebra II.

  35. Well, I do not even buy moral equivalency as a concept. The US did not kill its own in the Civil War? One of the arguments of Vietnam protestors was that certain death was the most likely outcome for anyone sent there. Death in a concentration camp? or on the battlefield as an unwilling draftee?

    And who—which private company delivering Internet in this age—is standing up against, or doing anything to counter, NSA access of our activities there? That won’t be changing unless you have a vote in how that company is run.

    If Americans do not take a hold of their country, it certainly will fade from prominence. It is already doing so. Unfortunately I do not see any signs whatever of the former happening.

  36. I agree with Dave. The atrocities of every other regime in history pale next to the communists.

    Fading from prominence? If anything, the US has become more prominent and dominant than ever. Europe is fading fast into utter insignificance. Russia and its former SSRs are nothing. China has shot its bolt and failed to escape the middle-income trap, as has India. South America has never mattered, and less so now than formerly. It is English-speaking North America that is in for a long, long period of dominating the planet. Many decades at least, and many centuries I suspect. Piss-ants like Obama and Reid can temporarily make things more miserable than they should be, but in the medium term let alone the long term, the US rules.

  37. I really, really hope you’re right, Bob and that I’m just all wet here and gone round the bend. I don’t see how this level of dominance in the country, let alone the world, can be sustained much longer. And the pissants have control now, and nothing but loathing and contempt for this country and its people. I see them doing their damndest to destroy it all, daily, and with malice aforethought.

    It’s also now at the point when lots of people out here more liberal than I am have concluded that agents of the State who violate the Constitution and Bill of Rights have violated their oaths and can now consider themselves, and will be considered as, enemy combatants.

  38. “Electricity, gas, water, communications—including telephone and Internet,—and transportation should be administered solely by government, delivering the goods at wholesale and non-profit. Only then will users, who are voters, have a say in their operation.”

    Just like ObummerCare. Oh wait, I don’t get a say at all. Maybe the Feds can give us each a unicorn and skittles, too.

    “If you lived in Germany for just 6 months, you would wonder what in the hell is the matter with America…”

    Fuck Germany. Move there if it is so great.

  39. Whoever is the manufacturing king will be on top in the future. That is clearly not the US.

    Exactly what Vaclav Smil predicted is happening: if you don’t manufacture, eventually the R&D moves to where the manufacturing is taking place. I pointed out back when I was in Berlin, that was happening with R&D in Germany. Practically everything Siemens manufactures was moved to China, and then—whoosh!—engineering and design went with it. Uli Behringer started manufacturing his audio stuff in China, had to move to China to enforce QC, now—presto!—Behringer stuff is being designed in China.

    Smil lays the delays and failures of Boeing’s Dreamliner on the fact that engineering was taking place here and manufacturing elsewhere. Guess where the engineering is going to end up? I has to, or Boeing will be out of business.

    You guys are being misled by the Brits in assessing Europe. The UK has a growing hate of Europe, and of course, reports it is failing. It is not. It is just about 3 to 5 years behind us in the recession. However, from all this we are likely to find out whether inflationary spending or austerity is the best medicine for big recessions. Larry Summers just declared today on BBC that further economic stimulus is not possible in the US. He says we have entered a period of deflation that is making further stimulus through inflation impossible. His comment was that interest would have to be negative to get the stimulus to start working again. So we are probably at the end of QE.

    Earlier in the year, I noted that I thought this was happening. Gold started the year at nearly $1700/oz, and is ending the year around the $1200 mark. Good news for those of us that want our assets to hold their value. Likewise, the Euro and Pound-Sterling are holding their own quite well, as is the Swiss Franc. In fact, they climbing faster in value than is the dollar.

    But until we get a change in approach to manufacturing and a realization that we MUST manufacture to be a contender, the US is going to be on a continuous slide to less—not more—prosperous times.

  40. Fuck Germany. Move there if it is so great.

    Spoken like a true American. Fuck everybody but the US.

    If you didn’t know I DID live there for 10 years. I would be living there now if my wife had not passed on from cancer.

  41. Whoever is the manufacturing king will be on top in the future. That is clearly not the US.

    Eh? If not the US, who the hell do you think is?

  42. Not even close. The US still leads in real manufacturing (that is, in value-add). China turns out low value-add junk. The EU isn’t a country, in case you didn’t realize that. Even considered as a country, it doesn’t knock the US out of first place.

    The EU and China are both pretty much immaterial. The EU is doomed, and China is in even worse shape. I know you love Germany, but it’s in nearly as bad shape as Spain or France, which is to say terminal.

  43. Hey, I LOVE the US. But I am sorely disturbed that it will not even look around to see what is going on elsewhere and adjust accordingly to make life better for all. There is nobody I know old enough to have a memory of earlier times that does not think we were all better off in the era before 9-11—and the farther back, the better. We just keep on doing what we have been doing, and that is not going to improve life for the future. Dramatically changing healthcare is not priority #1.

    Ask Brad for a second opinion of where he would rather be living. There are places in the world where life truly is better than in the US. Certainly FAR more hassle-free for ordinary residents and citizens than here.

  44. Uli Behringer started manufacturing his audio stuff in China, had to move to China to enforce QC, now—presto!—Behringer stuff is being designed in China.

    That is the problem. Once manufacturing moves somewhere else, engineering and management will follow soon or else product quality will suffer greatly.

    My BOD wants me to move our software engineering to a way cheaper site outside the USA. I told them I am not moving there also so it will not work.

    If you see GE moving gas turbine or steam turbine manufacturing out of the USA, watch out! The same with Dresser-Rand moving their centrifugal compressors. Both companies are located in upper state New York and are not happy with the state. I would not be surprised to see them both move to Texas. But the machinery to be moved would be immense and awesome. 200+ ft metal lathes! Test equipment for million horsepower machines! It boggles the mind.

  45. Gross manufacture, like gross food production, is less important than surplus over the population’s domestic needs. That doesn’t even take into account poor quality, like dams that fall apart or toys that poison children.

    And how much of the PRC’s lauded production goes into ghost cities, built at a cost of billions and then left to crumble? And crumbling they are, at least some of them. I don’t know whether that was just the usual government and business corruption or if the glorious leadership knew the cities were just make-work and told the builders to go cheap(er than usual).

  46. There’s a reason GE Power Systems still sits on that square mile in Schenectady. No one who’s not sucking at the government teat* is happy being in New York, but, yah, those big machines have been sitting in those big buildings for fifty years and aren’t likely to go anywhere.

    * Which GE definitely does, but it’s more the federal teat than the state.

  47. Which GE definitely does, but it’s more the federal teat than the state

    Huh? GE Power systems is running 24×7 right now building gas turbines generator sets for Asia, principally Japan and China. And they are building steam turbines for China also for those 10 new coal power plants per month.

  48. Either I was unclear or you had a failure to comprehend. Or… Global Warming!

    What I meant was, the GE corporation as a whole sure sucks down a lot of US federal money. GE Global Research (formerly Corporate R&D) is almost entirely funded by government money, though, oddly, not all of their results flow back into public hands. Other divisions do an awful lot of consulting for government agencies and charge an awful high rate for (in my experience) adequate but not exceptional service.

  49. If I was thirty years younger and had the initial financial chops and picked up Spanish pretty quickly I’d seriously consider moving to Chile or Uruguay and starting over there.

    But I’m not, and it’s the devil you know, which means staying put here in Retroville until The End. With my Euro-Murkan peoples and a leavening of First Nations among us. Here it’s French that is more useful, which I didn’t do so hot with back in middle school; again, boring, and a boring, pedantic teacher.

    And I suppose if I’d lived in a foreign country for ten or more years and then moved back here, I, too, would not be able to help making comparisons between the countries and cultures. I only did two tours in SEA so that wore off a real long time ago; me likes things better here by fah!

  50. I think that the USMC calls SEA and the middle east The Suck equally. Although, I did watch an extended episode of “Top Gear” where Jeremy and the boys rode motor scooters from Saigon to Hanoi on the coastal highway. Beautiful scenery. One of my uncles flew three A4s (lost two of them to AA) around the Hanoi area and lightened his load considerably twice a day for six months in the middle 1960s. Lost a wingman to a SAM too.

    Hey SteveF, got dollar figures on those contributions from Uncle Sam to GE? Are we talking direct dollars or R&D tax credits?

    I love GE equipment for heavy industry and power generation. It just works. I do not have a clue about the rest of the GE corporation other than GE Capital almost took the entire company down in 2008.

    CAT was apparently moving to China but seems to have changed their minds. They just built a huge plant in Victoria, Texas where they now build several hundred CAT Excavators a month (maybe several thousand a month):
    http://www.cat.com/en_US/products/new/equipment/excavators/medium-excavators.html

  51. Hats off to your uncle, Lynn; a fine job. SAMs were brutal at times.

    We had other names for SEA back in the day; but here was always “The World.” My first gig there was air base defense around Saigon and Bien Hoa; second tour was split between Ubon, where there was more of same, and then Nakhon Phanom, which ended up being special operations all over SEA and looking for guys like your uncle’s wingman and any classified material that could turn up. Sometimes Charles or a group of his foreign buddies would have a nice welcome party for us. Sociable chaps that way. I was eighteen the first time and turned twenty-one on the second. Made sergeant at nineteen. Full of piss and vinegar back then; now I’m a freaking wreck.

    Tempus fugit, homies.

  52. The US mainland was called The World when I was in Korea, 1985-ish. I also heard the term used on the couple other jobs I went on, but I think that was more sarcastic or cynical — it meant “anywhere that isn’t this shithole where we officially aren’t”. Or it would have meant that if we were there, which we weren’t. There was nobody there but native goat herders fucking their goats or whatever they were doing when there was nobody to see them, which we weren’t.

  53. I was at doing with the and it was a real barrel of monkeys, and after that we went to and did

    A few months after I got back to The World and was comfortably at home in our Campanelli cookie-cutter ranch house in a Boston suburb, a guy in a suit and tie came to the door and identified hisself as Army CID. He showed us his .45 and asked if that would bother us, at which I must have doubled up laughing. Mom had zero clue and disappeared to some other room. He showed me some photos of and by a U2 that had briefly landed at a base I was at and said some chit was missing and did I know anything? I had zero clue about that, no idea; he’d come to me ’cause I’d signed off on something or other and immediately forgotten about it. I told him the local yokels probably stole the chit and he should travel to northeast Thailand and knock on doors, if they had any, which they didn’t.

    This incident has so far failed to come up on the ongoing Fed background check chit that has been ongoing here since May.

  54. I guess certain characters don’t show up here; in between them words up there I had “redacted” and “classifed” a few times. Joke falls flat now, story of my life.

  55. Lynn, I don’t have numbers. I’ve never looked into it myself but did read a blog post or maybe “real” article about the author’s mostly futile attempts to dig up numbers on how big a welfare queen GE is. Well up in the billions, for sure. CRD gets most of its money from government agencies, and I think (from something I overheard during my own short stint consulting there) that CRD alone got about a billion a year for research. I don’t necessarily disagree with that bit of spending, or wouldn’t, if the tax dollars led to stuff that the American people were able to take advantage of. (Or assuming that I agreed that the government needs to look into all kinds of things for better control over civilian populations and such, which I emphatically do not.)

    GE Finance (I think; might have been some other division) does a lot of computer and accounting consulting, paying its consultants well … and typically charging four times that to the customer. In my experience, the typical GE software development team member is not worth $250/hr.

    I have a funny anecdote about GE Fanuc which may or may not help my argument. I don’t know how much government consulting Fanuc does, but they do engineering consulting for other big corporations. When I was consulting at Fanuc one summer, some new buildings were going up in the development. Some contractor spiked a power line with a backhoe and sent 400V 3-phase into the 120/240 line feeding our building. As you might expect, there were pops of light followed by darkness. Long story short, all of the desktop computers and all of the AIX servers were just plugged into wall power. No surge suppressors and certainly no UPSs. The regular computers mostly survived. The servers mostly did not — IBM’s RS6000 servers of the time weren’t very good, and the power supplies mostly died … and the hard drives were logically damaged because AIX’s file system sucked donkey balls and destroyed everything if the computer wasn’t properly shut down. And there were no backups because it wasn’t anyone’s job to make backups. There was over $10K hardware damage. I’d guess waaay over $100K, but I was unable to get anything like a straight answer. My dropped jaw and blurted out “You people advise other companies how to set up their systems?” probably was a contributing factor to my contract not being renewed.

  56. GE earned $147 B last year so a couple of billion would be a big deal to it. It is a huge company and has many divisions. Sadly, not all are competent (I knew that already but you added another story to that).
    http://finance.yahoo.com/q/is?s=GE+Income+Statement&annual

    RS6000s were crap anyway. They had the original BSD unix on which I could overflow the command line buffer any day of the week. We used RS6000s for software development from 1990 to 1995 or so. Just crappy machines that cost $100K each. And the fortran compiler was abysmal. We moved to PCs running Windows 95 that were better even though we had to reboot hourly. But it was a fast reboot.

    Hey OFD, if you put anything in brackets then wordpress thinks that it is html and either ignores or executes it. I use the open bracket, i, close bracket with the corresponding open bracket, slash, i, close bracket all the time to repeat something someone said.

  57. GE as a whole has gotten huge tax breaks repeatedly since the long time back that I lived in Boston (more than 20 years ago). It was a big deal back then as GE Capital was becoming a big player in financing huge merger deals, but got off paying little or practically no taxes at all. Just google “GE tax breaks” and you’ll get about 300,000 returns.

    They excel in electric motors for trains worldwide. If you are ever in the correct position to see the nameplate on a subway or train car motor almost anywhere in Europe, it is going to say GE on it. I sure hope they don’t move that division out of the US.

    Almost all the conference rooms I taught in had electric screens for PowerPoints. I was shocked when I got close enough to one of them to read “Draper Shade, Spiceland, Indiana” on it. Spiceland is the very next town on the other side of Walmart from Tiny Town. Projection screens have been their biggest seller for a long time now.

  58. My uncle’s wingman got shot down by the first SA-2 that they had seen. My uncle said it looked like a telephone pole going past his wing. It went through his wingman’s wing but did not explode so he crashed in Hanoi harbor. My uncle circled him all day, scaring off the Vietnamese with one shot from his 20 mm cannon (he only had 200 rounds), trying to get a rescue copter in. They tankered him three times flying over the harbor while the viet cong were shooting AA guns at him. But, night came and they had to leave. His wingman spent 6 years in the Hanoi Hilton and then got out in the prisoner exchange.

    My uncle returned to Hanoi the next day and gave a SA-2 site a stuka dive from 50,000 ft. Claims he blew the top off the mountain there next to the harbor with 4? 6? 2,000 lb iron bombs. That little A4 was a real stud for carrying a lot of armament off the deck of the carrier.

  59. Chuck wrote:

    “Ask Brad for a second opinion of where he would rather be living. There are places in the world where life truly is better than in the US. Certainly FAR more hassle-free for ordinary residents and citizens than here.”

    Ask me for a third opinion.

    Australia is one of the great places to live, we have a good standard of living, our politicians are evil but nowhere near as evil as yours, we don’t have a land border with anyone else and we have more land per head. We’re not trying to rule/save the world so we’re not subsidising our crops to sell them to places that should be growing their own. Our security agencies are bugging mostly foreigners, not us, at least to the same extent.

    Make no mistake about it, I think the US, and even Canukistan, are good places to live, but Australia wins hands down. We even have Bondi Beach, cricket and Australian Rules football.

  60. Make no mistake about it, I think the US, and even Canukistan, are good places to live, but Australia wins hands down. We even have Bondi Beach, cricket and Australian Rules football.

    As I keep saying, the English-speaking countries are the best places to live. They’re also the places that drive the world economy, invent just about everything worth having, and will suffer much less in any coming long-term downturn. The UK is marginal among those countries because it’s being polluted by Europe–economically, politically, and otherwise. But England has a long history of surviving and thriving, so I continue to have faith in it.

    Personally, I’d rate the US and Canada as tied for the best places to live, with Australia in close third. I’d probably make it a three-way tie if Australia weren’t too far from North America.

  61. As I keep saying, the English-speaking countries are the best places to live. They’re also the places that drive the world economy, invent just about everything worth having, and will suffer much less in any coming long-term downturn.

    I would almost classify Germany and Denmark as English speaking as most everyone there can read and write English and speak it a little. Many speak English there better than me (which is not hard).

  62. I use “English-speaking” as shorthand for cultures that descended from British settlers. Just speaking English, as necessary as it is, is not sufficient. It’s the culture of personal freedom and individual responsibility and “can-do”, which is actually more prevalent in the US, Canada, Australia, and NZ than it is in the UK. Basically, all of their rebels left voluntarily or were deported, leaving the former colonies as hotbeds of cussedness.

    I’m sure Dave will mock that, but it’s true nonetheless. I just read the results of a major poll yesterday. A majority of US adults, given a lever to pull that would immediately recall Obama and every member of Congress (including their own), would pull that lever. I suspect a fair percentage would pull that lever if it meant all politicians would immediately drop dead.

    I’m trying to imagine any other country where that would happen, or even be asked as a poll question. I doubt that it’d happen even in Canada, which got the Tories from the US, or even Australia, which got the transported criminals. Maybe they would. But I’d bet that wouldn’t happen in, say, Germany or France or Sweden or Switzerland or Japan.

  63. I suspect a fair percentage would pull that lever if it meant all politicians would immediately drop dead.

    This is why I think that we are going to get a Single Payer Plan in the USA in May of 2014. The current noise level is nothing compared to what it is going to be by April or so when 1/4 of the country has gotten their health insurance cancellation notices. The politicians are all going to looking very nervously at their polls for the Nov 2014 election. Even the Repubs.

    This has been a calculated and gamed decision by Obummer and DemoRats. We are going to get it and get it good. I just hope they use lubricant.

  64. Nope, won’t mock it at all; we got us some real characters over here from the UK and Ireland. Hotbeds of cussedness describes it nicely, though a lot of that has been bred out of, or PC’d out of, the population as a whole. I’m hoping you’re right about the ‘can-do’ attitude still being alive because we sure as hell will need that.

    Lynn is also correct about the rising tide of discontent this next year; it will be worse than he thinks, especially if this turns out to be a hard winter in much of the country and the rolling power brownouts and blackouts get going, along with more police and State abuse. The politicians and elites are right to be nervous; a day of reckoning is coming.

  65. “Ask Brad for a second opinion of where he would rather be living”

    Well, that’s not really fair. I am very happy in Switzerland, but settling in here took a few years because of the language difficulties, and because the German-speaking Swiss are…a tad reserved.

    Parts of the US are great, outside the big cities the people are nice and the standard of living is pretty high. But the the government is an absolute deal-breaker.

    It’s sort of like asking someone if they would consider dating a pleasant looking, well-dressed woman who stabbed her last three boyfriends. Abusive relationships are hard to get out of, but once you’re out, you wonder what took you so long.

    I can only speak about Europe with any real knowledge. From what I know of the countries here, I would happily live in any of the northern countries: Denmark, Sweden, Norway etc. (except possibly for the dark winters, yuck). Germany is great, Austria is fine. No way UK, France is fruity, south and east are out.

    Our host’s “English speaking countries rool” seems more than a bit parochial. The UK once rooled, but lost its way. The US rooled, but is losing its way. English as a language, yes. English speaking countries – well, maybe he’s right. After all, the country with the largest English speaking population is China, and China seems to be solidly on track, as long as you don’t mind the government.

  66. I am pretty sure representative democracy is not the right thing for the era and its troubles. You guys pooh-pooh that direct democracy cannot succeed, but I contend that with today’s technology, not only can it succeed, but it is the only solution that will eliminate the bribery of Congress by big-money lobbying, which stands directly between voters wishes and their will becoming reality and law. If Japan and others can figure out a system to use cell phones as charge cards and to manage bank accounts with enough certainty that they are not turning from that technology, then they can be used to allow voting in direct democracy.

    Don’t give me that line that somebody will game the system. Yeah, but didn’t somebody game the system in Lake County around Chicago to get JFK elected? and reports out of Ohio claim there were enough voting irregularities to have turned that state—and thus the whole country—the other way in the last 3 elections. There has always been election rigging, and it will not stop in a direct democracy. But if whole banking systems can be run safely on cell phones, then so can voting.

    Nobody has to vote on every issue. I quit voting for school boards when my kids were finished with secondary school. I do not want my uninformed guess to interfere with other parents who have a significant stake in the outcomes with kids still in school. I am no farmer, so I would not vote on farming issues—except to eliminate ALL farm subsidies.

    Government is not keeping up with technological possibilities. And the way the recent government shutdown was handled, proves that the current regime does not WANT technology to work in or for government, because the people might then be heard.

    As far as NObamacareless goes, no level of trouble with it is going to dismantle it. It will not be repealed. Socialized medicine is sweeping the world. Just like globalization, it cannot be stopped. And nobody running for office wants to stop it. The Tea Party turned out not only to be a complete joke, but ended up as proponents who voted FOR it, for gawd’s sake. I posted the NYTimes tracking of Tea Party voting records some time ago, and the majority of them have voted for the exact opposite of what they promised before their election.

    Although direct democracy has about the same chance of being enacted as NObamacareless has of being dismantled, it is long past time for direct democracy to replace feckless intermediaries. Power to the people!

  67. Direct democracy would work fine, as long as those receiving any type of government payments, direct or indirect, were not allowed to vote.

    Dave, as far as can-do, have you ever been in the middle of an emergency? Well, I know you have in Vietnam, but extend that to a civil emergency. Any crowd standing around during an emergency is full of “privates” and “NCOs”, folks who know how to do things. All they need is an officer, and one usually volunteers:

    “You guys, go find some tarps and ladders and get those roofs covered…”

    “You, over there. Get that gas grill going and get some hot food and coffee going for 30 people…”

    “You guys, go find a chainsaw and get that tree cut up and dragged out of the road…”

    And so on.

  68. Minor civil emergencies back here in The World; I asked peoples’ names real quick before “assigning” them to tasks, only took a few seconds and made a difference, rather than just “hey you” which is OK if the emergency is horrific and ongoing, like a fire or a guy shooting rounds all over the landscape. Never an officer but I guess “college-educated ex-NCO/ex-cop” will do in a pinch. Plus my winning personality and if that fails, waving a gun around in a menacing attitude.

  69. Our family went to a Red Cross course on first aid and accidents. It included a few very realistic accident scenes that we had to handle. My wife is very good at being the “officer” and directing people to handle specific tasks. Under stress, I tend to focus down to one specific task and lose the overview.

    Direct democracy? Yes, it could work, but the structure would have to be carefully designed. We have quite a lot of this here in Switzerland, but one sees the cracks in the system:

    – A majority vote may be ok for setting minor laws, but for fundamental changes to a system (and in Switzerland, popular referendums change the constitution), the hurdle needs to be higher. Otherwise, it’s too easy for the fad of the day to get enshrined into law.

    – With 50,000 or 100,000 signatures (depending on the situation), you can put anything up to a public vote. Whoever put those fixed numbers into the Constitution was an idiot: At the time, in the 19th century, Switzerland was a lot smaller and communication was a lot more difficult. Today, the population has tripled, and with easy communications it is far too easy to clear this threshold. Basically, any party with an idiotic idea can get it onto the ballot.

    This latter is more than just a nuisance. “Spend other people’s money” socialists keep tossing up “wall meant” ideas. The latest was this: If parents can deduct child-care expenses against their income, this is unfair to couples with a stay-at-home mommy. So let’s give everybody tax-credits, whether or not they have actual expenses. The tiniest bit of thought shows the problems this would entail, but it came dangerously close to passing.

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