So, why tell children? Especially around Yuletide? Because maybe fear for Santa Claus might help them get through to knucklehead parents, who clutch beliefs that are far, far more mythological than jolly old gift-giving elves.
== Taxes? My Oncle lives in Dollars, Taxes! ==
* My in-depth exploration of reasons to enact a “transaction tax” on hyper-fast Wall street predatory computerized trading is now permanently posted online. See why a teensy 0.1% fee might save us from Terminator!
* As for the current hoo-row over taxes, in general? Who'd have thunk that the best investigative journalism in America would be at Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair? Seriously, read this cogent and informative article. Sure, the author has a political axe to grind. But most of the people he quotes are conservatives and republicans, many of whom served Ronald Reagan! And the facts speak for themselves.
Aw, heck. Ask your uncle who is steamed about taxes whether he thinks they are at a historical high, since 1935... or low? Ask whether he thinks the federal share of our nation’s GDP is low? Or high? And if rates are their lowest in 80 years, then why is his top priority to shrink them even further - only for the rich?
== What to do about the “Hermit Kingdom”? ==
* All right, speaking of elves... or rather, nasty dwarves... the passing of leadership in North Korea to the latest Amazing Kim is provoking endless ruminations amid the pundit caste and blogosphere. But seriously, what’s your solution? The Hermit Kingdom tipped over, long ago, into jibbering kakocracy. Nuclear armed, with tens of thousands of hidden artillery tubes aimed at Seoul, its ruling caste lives by extortion, telling its people that the bags of rice they get, with American flags on them, are “tribute from Yankees who are terrified of the Dear Leader.
Compare North Korea, as viewed from space, to any other nation on Earth. (It's dark as a cave.) Visitors to North Korea attest that the average young person, who is not a member of the officer caste, is two to five inches shorter than their southern cousins. What to do about this intractable horror story? I have a suggestion... it is obvious and yet no one but this opinionated, undiplomatic contrarian will ever mention it... for reasons that are also obvious.
Declare that we consider North Korea to be the 23rd province of China.
But seriously, when we’re talking about North Korea, can there be any question? That brutal mini-state is entirely a creature-creation of China. It was fostered and guarded by Mao’s armies in the 1950s. It is defended in the UN by Chinese Security Council vetoes. Its economy is kept running by Chinese-subsidized energy, coal, iron and grain. China sells the sole-core North Korean institution - its army - nearly all the weapons and equipment they use. “Special zones” are completely run by Chinese companies and ministries. Above all, the Hermit Kingdom continues to exist and maintain its wretched rule by Chinese sufferance.
Is there any rational way to perceive the People’s Republic of China as anything other than the true operator of North Korea? Were they firmly to inform the top North Korean generals that it was time for change, those generals would obey.
One can envision why the Chinese leadership might want to maintain a Potemkin ruse of sovereignty, propping up the insupportable. Some reasons seem plausible... like preventing the appearance of a strong and united Korea on their doorstep. Other hypotheses erupt out of fevered imagination and paranoid-Hollywood scenario-building. For example, what better place to engage in experiments that go far beyond the limits of decency, anywhere except in the Kim family’s psychotic realm?
Currently, by accepting the fiction of North Korean autonomy, we allow the Chinese top leadership to shrug aside responsibility for this festering canker on the world’s lip. But why accept this convenience, from which we derive zero benefit? No question that the “23rd province” assertion would be a bold and aggressive diplomatic move! For several reasons. First, because China claims that Taiwan is province number 23! All right, we’d have to linguistically finesse around that. Perhaps by calling NK an “autonomous region, like Tibet.”
Also, of course, we’d have to assert that such a situation isn’t right! Proclaiming the north to be sovereign Korean territory, occupied as a satrapy by puppets of a neighboring regime. While demanding long term that Korea be unified, we might also insist at least that the occupying power govern well. Moreover, if people are starving in this satrapy, the onus falls in one place. On one doorstep.
No question, this is dicey territory. Moreover -- and let’s be clear -- I am not even asserting that this proposal is wise. I am open to all alternatives. Still, this should be on the table. Mentioning the un-mentioned possibility... that’s my job. Moreover, even leaking that the US is thinking about this might send a useful message.
One thing is clear; the status quo cannot stand. Such a declaration would serve notice to the Chinese Leadership caste that - despite their other accomplishments - this is a problem they can evade no longer. Whatever is done in-and-by North Korea is their responsibility. From misuse of nuclear weapons... all the way to future lawsuits that might be filed by millions of very short Koreans... there are many disincentives against allowing this nightmare to continue. But only if the persons who are truly responsible, and have the power, are told that this is their responsibility.
== Political Miscellany ==
* The Skeptoid offers a list of the Top Ten Anti-Science Web Sites. It is informative and surprisingly apolitical... well, in the sense that it assails jibbering nonsense generated by lefty-idiots in equal numbers to right-wing idiots. I’ve always avowed that the degree of insanity seems equal at both extremes. The big difference is between the mere tens of thousands who attend to one end’s nonsense, vs tens of millions who march to the opposite drum. Indeed, and illustrating this point, what’s missing from the list of virulently anti-science web locales? The site that attacks science more intensely and effectively than any other?
* Think Warren Buffett is an aberration? Read about Charles Feeney, a multi billionaire who wears a $15 watch, who is giving it all away - in ways that make a big difference. He recently gave $350 million to Cornell, to create a vast new science and technology campus on Roosevelt Island, right next to Manhattan. Given that 50% of our economic growth since 1945 came from S&T innovation, that's called "putting your money to good use." It's true patriotism.
* I’ll keep saying it. Though I find him 50% crazy, I also think Newt Gingrich is by far the most interesting and entertaining Republican candidate, displaying moments of brainy and insightful cogency. Take this: “Newt has been warning of the danger of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP)—a burst of radiation created by a high-altitude nuclear explosion... that could take down electrical systems over hundreds or thousands of miles... knocking us back to the 19th Century. ‘In theory, a small device over Omaha would knock out about half the electricity generated in the United States,’ he was quoted as saying.”
Alas, we then move back into crazy territory. “In Gingrich’s view, the threat of an EMP attack justifies actions such as preemptive strikes on the missile installations of nations such as Iran and North Korea.” Well, Barry Goldwater was 50:50 in much the same way. But gosh do I miss him now!
In fact, as Scientific American points out, the primary target of an EMP wouldn’t be ground-based power systems. It would be satellites. Moreover, the best defense would be a small, $50 million a year program to foster the moving of EMP resistant technologies out of the military and into civilian electronics. This should have been started decades ago. By now, we’d see this worry as quaint... instead of deeply worrisome.
* Aw heck, as long as we're Newting... and in fairness? I won't be soon forgiving Nancy Pelosi for what she did - or failed to do - as Speaker of the House. Cynically trading away what she considered a low priority to democrats, re-establishing the Congressional Office of Science and Technology Assessment. That independent analysis agency used to give congress-folk an extra set of eyes, to double-check on matters that involve scientific appraisal... in other words, everything. OSTA had been chucked out by Newt Gingrich and his pals in 1995. (Now why would they want to do that?) But Madam Speaker now bears almost-equal blame. She flubbed a chance to do fantastic good, with a flick of her wrist.
* Drones and robots are increasingly replacing humans on the battlefield: intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, even “targeted killing”. They’re particularly good at the 4 D’s: dull, dirty, and dangerous jobs, as well as “dispassion”, the ability to react without emotion. Here’s an extensive look at some future scenarios, worthy of discussion regarding the ethical consequences. Allow this only if they carry a "reporter bug" that tells society everything they do!
* In the Stanford Law Review, Ryan Calo discusses how domestic surveillance drones will challenge our notions of privacy, calling them “the visceral jolt society needs to drag privacy law into the twenty-first century.” As small as an insect, public and private camera-carrying drones will be available to police, journalists, paparazzi, and hobbyists. Would that these scholars had the courage and breadth and class to study and acknowledge the vast literature of cogent science fiction prethinking that's already gone into these issues.
* And finally, coming full circle: Current climate models underestimate the potential impact of permafrost. Warming temperatures are melting permafrost, frozen ground that underlies nearly one-fourth of the Northern Hemisphere. One recent estimate indicates that this permafrost contains twice as much carbon as the entire atmosphere. Released as carbon dioxide or methane, this could exacerbate global warming…a runaway cycle. We can't afford anymore to coddle fools.