Monthly Archive: March 2017

Mar 31

CGI: an Interface Not a Programming Language

CGI - Black BoxCGI is not a computer language, and you can date me by the fact that I’m going to rant about it for a few hundred words. That’s because I set up my first web server in 1993. It was on an IBM RS/6000 named Eeyore which sat right on the internet. It was a time when the internet was basically Usenet (eg, rec.arts.startrek) and annonymous FTP for people who knew anything and AOL for their parents. The funny thing is, for most people not much has changed. Then the internet was AOL and now the internet is Facebook. At least it is for most people.

In 1993, there wasn’t much you could do with web pages. It was cool. You could put pictures on pages. You could have section headers and paragraphs. Text could be bold and italics. And there were lists and forms. But there was no interactive content — except with CGI. CGI stands for Common Gateway Interface. And it was a way to run programs remotely through your web browser. In theory, you could create a content management system using CGI.

But what was really cool about CGI was that it was, as its name indicates, an interface. I wrote a bunch of CGI programs. Some of them were compiled C programs, other were shell scripts, and still others were Perl scripts. It didn’t matter. As long as the web server could run the programs, and the programs were written to receive and transmit data correctly, you were golden.

CGI: Time Waster

Now you might wonder why I was writing these things. There’s a simple answer: I was a graduate student. And unless you are less than six months from defending your dissertation, finding ways to not do your work is critically important. I did many other things along these lines: I wrote a graphic program for X-Windows, I wrote an editor in 8086 assembly language, and I did a lot of really destructive things what I will say with complete humility was due to my genius for digital electronics.

I didn’t know anyone who was running a web server for a few months. So messing around with CGI was just play for me. Truthfully, at the time, GNU/Linux seemed like a much more serious thing. And by the time Netscape came around and made the web a much more serious thing, I was finishing my dissertation and then teaching pre-meds physics. (That was a scarring experience because I now know that doctors are (1) mentally insignificant; and (2) soulless.)

People Don’t Know Anything

The world can be forgiven for thinking that CGI is a programming language. Because what we used to do with CGI we now do with programming languages like PHP. But it still annoys me. Most things about computers annoy me. What cars were to my father’s generation, computers are for mine. As simple tools, they’re fine. It doesn’t matter. I remember one time I was an undergraduate doing some work for a research faculty member. I couldn’t leave a note because I didn’t have a word processor, so I wrote a really rudimentary one that allowed me to output to the printer. It’s better to just have a word processor.

Just the same, if you’re into computers on a deeper level, it seems to me that you ought to know how a CPU works. You should know what the difference is between a heap and a stack. You should know what a line of Pascal code would look like in assembly language. But I know that’s asking too much. Almost no one knows why the moon has phases. We’ve all become so specialized that should there ever be even the smallest tremor in our social networks, we’d be doomed.

Meaning Requires Knowledge

It’s no wonder people struggle to find meaning in their lives. Every thing in their lives is a black box.

But I’m grumpy enough. Don’t tell me CGI is a programming language.

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Mar 31

Forget Tax Reform; Paul Ryan Wants Tax Redistribution

Paul Ryan - Tax RedistributionNow that repealing and replacing Obamacare has failed, Republicans in Congress say they are moving on to something different: tax reform. They are actually moving on to the same thing all over again. The American Health Care Act was a plan to give high-income Americans a big tax cut that would be financed with cuts to health-care subsidies for low- and middle-income people. Tax reform, at least as Paul Ryan and his allies envision it, is a plan to give high-income Americans an even bigger tax cut, financed by tax increases on lower- and middle-income Americans. Both plans are deeply unpopular (a poll found Americans opposing tax cuts for the wealthy by a three-to-one margin) and also have drawn opposition from powerful lobbies (in the case of tax reform, retailers violently oppose the border-adjustment tax that would offset much of the lost revenue).

Republican debates about tax policy are shrouded in a mist of obfuscation, since the party’s central goal, reducing taxes for the rich, is too unpopular to be described frankly. Instead, the intra-party strategy has been hashed out euphemistically, which has made the media coverage difficult to decipher. The terms “tax reform” and “tax cuts” have been thrown around almost interchangeably to describe the Republican plans. They’re very different. Tax reform is what Ryan and many of his allies say they’ll do, and possibly want to do. Tax cuts are what they will do.

Tax reform means a revenue-neutral adjustment of the tax code, which cleans out tax deductions and other preferences, and uses the revenue gained by this to reduce tax rates. The attraction of tax reform is that it avoids a drawback in Senate rules. The only kind of legislation that can pass the Senate by a majority vote, without being filibustered, is a budget-reconciliation bill. But these budget-reconciliation bills can’t increase the budget deficit after ten years. That requirement forced the Bush tax cuts to phase out after a decade. Republicans hope to avoid this fate by writing a bill that does not increase the long-run deficit. Hence their stated desire to pass tax reform rather than tax cuts. …

Why would Ryan attempt to shepherd into law a bill so dangerous, creating many times more losers than winners? Because Ryan does not want to settle for ten years of lower taxes that will expire automatically when he could have a permanent decrease. (Leave aside the fact that a “permanent” tax reform could be rewritten the next time Democrats win full control of government.) Ryan has repeatedly described the current government as “a once-in-a-generation opportunity.” Remember, the 1986 Tax Reform Act passed with bipartisan support. If Ryan wanted a 1986-type bill, the current all-Republican government wouldn’t be such a unique chance. Opportunities to pass bipartisan legislation arise all the time. In 2014, Dave Camp, the retiring chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, produced a plan that reformed the tax code without lessening the burden on rich people. The Republican Party pretended it never happened. That’s because tax reform is not their goal. Tax redistribution is.

–Jonathan Chait
Tax Reform Is Hard. Tax Cuts Are Easy.

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Mar 30

Robots Gives Us More Time to Find Meaning

Yuval HarariThe other day, I saw this exciting headline, Yuval Harari on Why Humans Won’t Dominate Earth in 300 Years. I’m interested in this because I just don’t think humans are long for the universe. We’re at the top of the food change to start with. But more than that, intelligence just isn’t that great an evolutionary trait. It’s worked really well for us in the past. But I fear that time is past. Humans seem to have reached their peak as a species. Now, we are creating problems faster than we can solve them.

So I was interested in what Yuval Harari had to say. But he doesn’t think in this way at all. Instead, he thinks that robots (or robot-human hybrids) will take over. He thinks that humans won’t be of any value once we have AI. We won’t need humans to drive our cars or diagnose and treat our illnesses or pretty much anything. I don’t buy this idea on a number of levels. One is simply that I just don’t see AI developing the way that most people do. (I will give Harari this: he at least understands that intelligence does not equal consciousness.) But I’ll yield the point: robots are going to be able to take over all our jobs.

Yuval Harari Is Not Saying Anything New

If that’s the case, the conclusion is not: humans don’t matter. Although Yuval Harari is clearly much smarter, he really isn’t any different from the “robots will take all our jobs” crowd. All of these people suffer from the same unstated assumption that the economy we live in now is somehow natural and not the result of explicitly enacted law to benefits the few at the expense of the many.

Look at the following graph created from Talking Points Memo using Economic Policy Institute data (Licensed under Fair Use):

Productivity vs Wages

What you see is that there is a choice. When productivity goes up, it can be shared by workers and owners alike. Or, it can be given just to owners. (It could also just be given to workers, but we haven’t seen that happen in the history of the world.)

Robots Would Be Good for Us — If We Let Them

If robots got so good that they could drive cars and diagnose and treat illness, it would represent a huge increase in productivity. As long as we had an economic system were productivity gains were shared, it would mean a huge rise in the standard of living over everyone. People could spend most if not all of their time doing the things that they enjoy. Their lives would be edifying. Humans would be doing better than ever.

Is this a hard thing to understand? I don’t think so. But again, I think we get into this whole issue of unstated assumptions. This would only be a hellish world for the same reason that the world is hellish today for so many people. As long as we as a society decide that robots are going to improve all lives and not let ridiculous notions of intellectual property owners get in the way of worldwide happiness, robots would be a great thing.

The Horror of Hedonism

Yuval Harari also touches on the other side of things: that we would all turn into hedonists. Well, I don’t see that as a problem. People imagine a hedonist as someone who is only interested in pleasures of the flesh. But I’m most happy when I’m working on some cool project with other interesting people. And frankly, that’s already the world we could be living in. The uncertainties in our lives are artificial: placed on us by our economic system.

The only time that Yuval Harari talks about meaning is in the context of everyone getting lost in playing virtual reality games. He’s proposing a world in which humans don’t have to work. And he thinks that in that world, it would be harder for humans to find meaning than in a world where everyone is worried that they’re going to lose their job next week because the company decides to move or because the person has gotten too old and therefore too expensive. That doesn’t make any sense.

Give Us More Robots

All forms of innovation that reduce work are good. The question is whether we allow them to make everyone’s lives better, or just a chosen few. We will all find it easier to determine the meaning of life not having to worry about rent and sending our kids to college in a few years. Having to do some annoying job or constantly hustling to find work might provide Sudoku Meaning. But it doesn’t provide real meaning.

As for being the “dominant” species: were African Americans the dominant race in America in 1850?

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Mar 30

Trump’s Incompetence, Prevailed in Election, Is Destroying Him as President

Trump's IncompetenceDuring the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump broke every rule of politics — and he won anyway.

He dominated the Republican primary by running against the Republican Party. He repulsed the GOP’s key leaders and emerged all the stronger for it. He delighted in conspiracy theories and schoolyard insults. He contradicted himself routinely, but managed to sell his flip-flops as evidence of pragmatism rather than proof of dishonesty. He knew nothing about policy, didn’t bother to learn more, and profited from the uncertainty about his true positions. His campaign was clearly assisted by Russian hackers, but the story was overwhelmed by the obsession with Hillary Clinton’s emails.

And then, of course, there was the election itself — Trump trailed in the polls, barely built a field operation, lost the popular vote, and then won the presidency.

Like many who covered Trump, I found it hard, after all this, to predict the likely path of his presidency. Perhaps he could defy every norm and succeed there too. But with every day that passes, Trump is looking more bound by the political system he promised to upend. The outcomes we’re seeing look like what you’d expect from an inexperienced, unfocused president who’s more interested in tweeting out cable news commentary than learning about the government he runs and the policies he wants to change. Merely 10 weeks into his term, the processes, skills, and institutions Trump flouted as a candidate are breaking him as a president.

–Ezra Klein
70 Days in, Donald Trump’s Presidency Is Flailing

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Mar 29

GOP Tries to Save Face on Obamacare Repeal Fiasco

Seantor Pat RobertsSarah Kliff and Jeff Stein over at Vox wrote, Senate Republicans Not Ready to Give up on Obamacare Repeal. Although there is shockingly little evidence in the article. It is mostly just a chance for various Republicans to grouse about the law. Here’s my favorite from Seantor Pat Roberts, “Obviously we’re going to have to do something because our health care system is like Thelma and Louise. They drove it off the cliff and we need to stop that car.”

Leave aside the fact that once the car drove off the cliff you can’t stop it. I want to know where the catastrophe is The article is filled with all kinds of claims like this. Senator John Kennedy gets the depth of thought of the Republicans perfectly when he said, “I think the main area of consensus is that Obamacare sucks and we can do better.” I’ll come back to that “we can do better” in a moment.

Ridiculous Obamacare Repeal Rhetoric

I’m getting tired of this ridiculous Obamacare repeal rhetoric that isn’t backed up by anything other than an occasional (and usually apocryphal) anecdote. As most of you know, I work as a freelancer. But there was a recent possibility of getting another job. And I wasn’t keen on it. Still, I would have taken it in a second because it offered medical and dental coverage. This was during the period where it really looked like the Republicans were going to rip healthcare away from 24 million people and make my premiums go sky high. The truth of the matter is that Obamacare has been a godsend to me. And I am sick to death of hearing Republicans go on about how terrible it is?

How exactly is Obamacare terrible? Because over 20 million more people have health insurance? Because it has decreased healthcare inflation? The truth is that we know why they hate it: it taxes the rich a tiny amount. And fine! If they want to come out and admit that, good for them. The Republicans are the party of the wealthy. If they want to embrace that publicly, they will stop winning any elections, but at least they will show some integrity.

Obamacare Has Been Wildly Successful

In my life, there are two kinds of people:

  1. People who haven’t been affected by Obamacare at all
  2. People who have been helped by Obamacare.

That’s it! So enough with the “Obamacare sucks!” and “Obamacare is going to explode!” Both of those might be true soon thanks to the work of Republicans. But left alone, Obamacare will continue to improve the lives of regular Americans.

“Obviously we’re going to have to do something because our health care system is like Thelma and Louise. They drove it off the cliff and we need to stop that car.” –Senator Pat Roberts

Can Republicans Do Better?

But what about Senator Kennedy’s idea that they “can do better” with Obamacare repeal? Really? Because we have been waiting for many years for this super-great healthcare reform bill from the Republicans. The truth is that Republicans haven’t really worked on something to replace Obamacare because Obamacare is already the most conservative approach to reform that is possible. Any ideas that they have that would actually work always run into the same problem: they are forbidden by conservative dogma.

I have to give some plaudits to the House Freedom Caucus, because a number of them were willing to admit the general problem that Republicans have with Obamacare: it helps people who can’t afford it get health insurance. They don’t think we should do that. Now most people hear that and think that these people are one step below Nazis in terms of humanism. But hey, it’s not my fault the Republicans turned into a postmodern fascist party over the last 40 years.

Saving Face

But I’m not concerned at this point. Kliff and Stein put it well, “What you’re seeing now is a lot of talk about reviving the repeal effort without much substance behind it.” And that’s what this is all about. It’s allowing Republicans to save face. They know they are going to do nothing. But neither they nor the White House likes all the press they’re getting about losing and giving up. So they’ll say they aren’t giving up.

It makes perfect sense! Whatever they say is true because they have fully accepted postmodern analysis: there is no reality, just opinions. So they say Obamacare sucks. And they say they haven’t given up on Obamacare repeal. Neither is true.

But to Republicans it’s just, like, you’re opinion, man.

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Mar 29

Republicans: Profits Before Privacy and Freedom

XXXCongress sent proposed legislation to President Trump on Tuesday that wipes away landmark online privacy protections, the first salvo in what is likely to become a significant reworking of the rules governing Internet access in an era of Republican dominance.

In a party-line vote, House Republicans freed Internet service providers such as Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast of protections approved just last year that had sought to limit what companies could do with information such as customer browsing habits, app usage history, location data and Social Security numbers. The rules also had required providers to strengthen safeguards for customer data against hackers and thieves.

The Senate has voted to nullify those measures, which were set to take effect at the end of this year. If Trump signs the legislation as expected, providers will be able to monitor their customers’ behavior online and, without their permission, use their personal and financial information to sell highly targeted ads — making them rivals to Google and Facebook in the $83 billion online advertising market.

The providers could also sell their users’ information directly to marketers, financial firms and other companies that mine personal data — all of whom could use the data without consumers’ consent. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission, which initially drafted the protections, would be forbidden from issuing similar rules in the future.

–Brian Fung
The House Just Voted to Wipe Away the FCC’s Landmark Internet Privacy Protections

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Mar 28

President Trump Wanted the Title, Not the Job

President Trump Wanted the Title, Not the JobI remember back in 1994, Howard Stern decided to run for governor of New York as a Libertarian. But then everything went wrong. He won the primary overwhelmingly, but he refused to file paperwork with the government regarding the election. Then he didn’t work with the Libertarian Party. I even recall him complaining on air that he was going to take a huge pay cut. In the end, he didn’t run. And I always thought at the time that his real reason was that he knew he wasn’t going to win. And should he win, he wasn’t interested in the job. I think the same thing is true of our very own President Trump.

The thing about President Trump is that it is clear that he’s very upset with how this whole presidency is getting in the way of his life. And it’s understandable. Could his life have been any better than it was before he became President Trump? Think about it. The Apprentice had two seasons left — max. And you know that just about every newspaper editor in America was looking forward to a headline like this, “NBC to Trump: ‘You’re Fired!’” Really, it would have been crushing to his ego.

Almost President Trump Would Have Been Better

The best thing that could have happened to him is if he lost the general election. Because he got everything he was going to from the race itself: performance after performance in front of screaming fans. If he had lost, he would have shouted, “Voter fraud!” And his supporters would have bought it. In fact, it would have become a whole new spoke of the conspiracy theory wheel. But instead, Donald J Trump because President Trump, and it all went really badly. And don’t forget: if he doesn’t manage to win re-election, he’s just a loser. It’ll be hard to claim that it was voter fraud when the same system gave him four years in the White House.

Golfing

I ran across an interesting little article over at New York, Fox News Tweets That Trump Was at the White House When He Was Actually at His Golf Course. Out of context, the fact that President Trump plays so much golf is no big deal. I’ve always had a problem with these complaints — even when leveled against presidents I didn’t like. People have a right to a little R&R — even presidents. The problem is that Trump was one of the loudest voices complaining that Obama was always golfing.

Obama’s Golfing

A really stupid website called “The Obama Golf Counter” claims that Obama golfed on 306 days of his presidency. To put this into perspective, Dwight Eisenhower played about 800 rounds in his 8 years. But that still comes to 10 percent of his days including some golfing.

Trump’s Golfing

But Trump? According to Slate, in his first 9 weeks, President Trump has played golf at least 12 times. That’s almost 20 percent of his days. And this is part of his first 100 days — you know: the action packed period when the president supposedly gets so much done.

He Likes to Watch

On Sunday, the president spent an hour at Trump National. He didn’t play golf, obviously. The White House claimed he had three meetings during that time. But based upon pictures, it looks like he spent the whole time with a couple of buds watching golf on television.

And that takes us back to the New York article, which was based on a tweet announcing the following, “News Alert: @POTUS spending weekend working at the White House.” That was on a day he spent almost six hours golfing, if you consider the travel time. But I don’t care how much he golfs. The world is doubtless safer when he is golfing. I bring it up only to point out that President Trump is not interested in his job.

Why Become President?

I’ve often said that anyone would have to be crazy to want to be president. But I understand why Hillary Clinton wanted to be president: she’s spent almost her whole life in politics. She cares about policy and wants to accomplish things. Now I think that Trump cares about things too. I think his instincts on a lot of things are liberal. But he doesn’t care about them enough to have a vision. So he’s there to just push whatever the Republican establishment offers him.

Remember when Trump was all against the Republican establishment? Remember what screw-ups they were? He made a lot of sense. But the grand total of the energy he was willing to expend fighting them was to call them names while in front of an audience.

That’s what Trumpcare was all about. It wasn’t anything close to what Trump promised. He didn’t even get to the point of realizing that Obamacare was the most conservative healthcare reform that works. Why should he have to do unpleasant things now when he didn’t before? He wants his old job, but with the addition of being called President Trump.

President Trump Doesn’t Want the Job

There are a lot of kinds of non-politicians who run for a major office. There’s Al Franken who might not have held elected office, but was very involved in Democratic politics and who lived and breathed politics. He has gone on to be a great Senator. There’s Arnold Schwarzenegger who was at least somewhat interested in politics and did try to do a good job as Governor of California. I think most people fall into the broad category of people who at least try to do the job.

Trump is not such a man. People talk about impeachment. People talk about the Twenty-Fifth Amendment. But I think it is much more likely that President Trump will just step down. He’ll come up with an excuse, “The system itself is broken and the president just doesn’t have the power to make America great again.” Regardless, he wanted the title: President Trump. He never wanted the job.

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Mar 28

Republican’s Obamacare Replacement Promises Were Lies

Philip Klein - Republican's Obamacare Replacement Promises Were LiesRepublicans ran on repealing and replacing Obamacare for seven years, over the course of four election cycles. They won the House majority in 2010 in large part because of the backlash against the passage of Obamacare — and the vow to “repeal and replace” Obamacare was part of their “Pledge to America” campaign document that year. The botched rollout of Obamacare helped them win the Senate in 2014. House candidates, Senate candidates, gubernatorial candidates, and even state legislative candidates ran against Obamacare — and won. …

Republicans were always moving the goal posts on voters. That is, during campaign season, they made boasts about repeal, and then once in office, they talked about procedural complications. In 2010, they campaigned on repeal, but by 2011, they said they needed the Senate. In 2014, they won the Senate, but by 2015 they said as long as Obama was in office, nothing would become law. In 2016, they told conservative voters, even reluctant ones, that if they voted for Trump despite any reservations, they’d finally be able to repeal Obamacare. In November, voters gave them unified control of Washington. And yet after just two months on the job, they have thrown in the towel and said they’re willing to abandon seven years of promises.

There are a lot of people who want to conveniently lay the blame for this stunning failure on recalcitrant members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. If only these conservative hardliners were willing to give way, we’d be on the road to repeal, defenders of leadership would like to have us believe. This is convenient, both because there are always people in Washington eager to take aim at conservative purists, and also because it has the makings of a great ironic hot take for journalists: “How conservatives saved Obamacare.” …

House conservatives, if they could be blamed for anything, it’s for having the audacity to urge leadership to actually honor seven years of pledges to voters to repeal Obamacare. If anybody was moving the goal posts, it wasn’t Freedom Caucusers, it was those who were trying to sell a bill that kept much of Obamacare’s regulatory architecture in place as a free market repeal and replace plan. …

What’s so utterly disgraceful, is not just that Republicans failed so miserably, but that they barely tried, raising questions about whether they ever actually wanted to repeal Obamacare in the first place.

–Philip Klein
GOP Cave on Obamacare Repeal Is the Biggest Broken Promise in Political History

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Mar 27

Re-Evaluating Attack of the Puppet People

Attack of the Puppet PeopleFive years ago, both Andrea and I wrote reviews of the Bert I Gordon film Attack of the Puppet People. We were actually fairly fond of it, although I attacted its screenplay savagely.

But Saturday afternoon, I came upon it on YouTube and I totally changed my mind about it. The screenplay is actually quite good. I loved the film. You can read all about it over at Psychotronic Review: Attack of the Puppet People. As is the idea with these pages, this one has three articles: the two that Andrea and I wrote back in 2012, plus a new one with my more evolved thinking on the film. It’s worth checking out.

(Also, I’ve removed the pages from here. Or rather, if you go to those pages, they redirect you to the Psychotronic Review article. That’s a little pro blogging tip. 301 redirects are amazing things!)

It’s also worth checking out the following absolutely wonderful print of the film. Don’t let the image fool you: this is not a frightening film. It is suspenseful though.

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Mar 27

We Have to Create a Better World

Richard Carrier - We Have to Create a Better WorldChristianity is simply false.

But what do we do then? What do we believe? … Since this world isn’t the way we’d want it to be, we have to make it the way we want it to be. This world isn’t protected by any supreme justice or caregiver, there is no infallible wise man to turn to, no divine hero to love us, and we aren’t going to live forever. So we have to create those things.

We have to create justice, and care for each other and the world we live in. We have to find and give and receive love from each other. We have to be the hero. We have to give our lives meaning. We have to protect life, and invent technologies of immortality — metaphorically (in the way people’s words and actions live on in their consequences and memorials), and literally (through medicine, and the science of life extension and resurrection). And until we invent any real immortality, we have to accept the way things are and make the best of the short lives we have. We have to love life rather than fear death. We have to respect life rather than treat it as disposable.

We have to do all of these things. Because that is the world we want to live in — and no one else is going to do any of this for us.

–Richard Carrier
Why I Am Not a Christian

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Mar 26

I Don’t Care What You Call Pluto

PlutoVox published an article last week that made me want to slam my head against the wall, The Debate Over Pluto Will Never Die. Here’s the Latest Argument for Why It’s a Planet. Astronomer Kirby Runyon has come up with a new definition for a planet. And if we use it, there will be hundreds of planets in our solar system. For example, our Moon would be a planet. And hell, why not?

Remember: the Moon is quite a lot larger than Pluto. In fact, the largest 7 moons in the solar system are bigger than Pluto. So size isn’t the issue. Oh, you think a planet is something that orbits the sun and a moon is something that orbits a planet. Guess what? It ain’t nearly that simple. The Moon doesn’t orbit around the Earth. The two objects orbit around their center of mass. I have discussed this issue before, The Unusual Pluto-Charon Binary Orbit. It turns out that the Earth-Moon center of mass is inside the Earth. But the Pluto-Charon center of mass is way outside Pluto.

Orbits Are More Complex Than They Seem

The same thing is true of the Sun, although Jupiter is the only object large enough to make the Sun wobble. But my point is that if you looked at the Earth-Moon system orbiting around the Sun (the center of mass is effectively the center of the Sun), you would not see the Earth making an ellipse around the sun with the Moon circling it. Instead, you would see the two objects zigzagging around the sun. So if you look at it from a large scale, it looks very much like the Moon is orbiting the Sun. Because it is.

Now look at the Pluto-Charon system. It’s the same, but even more zigzag. So if Pluto is a planet, I sure don’t see why the Moon isn’t. So why not?

A New Planet Definition

Runyon and some other astronomers have suggested this as the definition of a planet:

A planet is a sub-stellar mass body that has never undergone nuclear fusion and that has sufficient self-gravitation to assume a spheroidal shape … regardless of its orbital parameters.

Got a problem with that? All of these objects ultimately orbit the Sun anyway. If the Earth suddenly disappeared, the Moon would continue to orbit the Sun. So there you go: the ultimate definition of a planet that couldn’t possibly be designed just to make Pluto a planet. And I say this knowing that Brian Resnick reported, “Once he’d seen this side of Pluto, Runyon was bothered that it wasn’t a full-fledged planet anymore.”

Here’s the thing: I don’t care. I so don’t care that it’s annoying. Call Pluto whatever you want. And I’ll go further: call the Earth anything you want. I can certainly come up with a definition of planet in which the Sun has only 4 planets, knocking out the four rocky inner “planets.” Because, as Juliet put it:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet …

Pluto Is Fascinating — Whatever You Call It

I find Pluto fascinating. I don’t need to call it “planet,” “dwarf planet,” or even “rose” to find it fascinating. Is it only the large things that are worth studying — worth caring about? From my perspective, the Earth is the most interesting plant for what I think are obvious reasons.

But here’s the thing: our solar system is amazing. Rather than fight about what category to place Pluto in, why don’t we take a moment to marvel at the fact that Triton orbits Neptune backwards? And speaking of that, how in the universe did Venus get that backwards day (which happens to be longer than its year)? Or how about if you took all the debris of the asteroid belt (including “planet” Ceres), you’d have a “planet” about 1/25th the size of our Moon?

Space Garbage

There is something nice about the current official definition of planets: it creates 8 of them. They divide very nicely into two types: small rocky ones close to the Sun and big gaseous ones far from the Sun. They are completely dominant regarding their moons — all orbit a point inside the planet. I think the Earth has the largest moon relatively speaking, and it is only 1% of the Earth’s mass. (Charon is 12% the mass of Pluto.) But I’m willing to give it all up.

I propose the following definition:

Space garbage is anything that isn’t a star, broadly defined (including black holes, quasars, and so on).

So you say “planet” and I say “space garbage.” And literally nothing about the science of solar systems changes.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/03/26/call-pluto/

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Mar 26

Republicans Look Forward to Next Failure

President Donald Trump - Looking Forward to Tax CutsThe stunning collapse of the Republican healthcare bill now imperils the rest of President Trump’s ambitious congressional agenda, with few prospects for quick victory on tax reform, construction projects, or a host of other issues in the months ahead despite complete GOP control of government.

While Republicans broadly share the goal of Trump’s promised “big tax cuts,” the president will have to bridge many of the same divides within his own party that sunk the attempted overhaul of the Affordable Care Act. And without savings anticipated from the healthcare bill, paying for the “massive” cuts Trump has promised for corporations and middle-class families becomes considerably more complicated.

Meanwhile, other marquee agenda items, including a $1 trillion investment in roads and other infrastructure and proposed crackdowns on both legal and illegal immigration, will require the support of Democrats, many of whom have been alienated by the highly partisan start to Trump’s tenure. …

House Republicans leaders had been counting on changes to the tax code included in the healthcare bill to make the task of paying for future tax cuts easier.

Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist said the bloc of hard line Republicans who helped stymie the healthcare overhaul were guilty of “ripping the lungs out of tax reform.” If they don’t revisit the healthcare bill immediately, Norquist said, they will soon realize that “they didn’t shoot and wound healthcare reform, they shot and killed permanent tax reform.”

House Speaker Paul D Ryan (R-Wis) acknowledged Friday that the healthcare defeat “does make tax reform more difficult, but it does not make it impossible.”

–John Wagner, Damian Paletta and Sean Sullivan
Trump’s Path Forward Only Gets Tougher After Health-Care Fiasco

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/03/26/tax-cuts-trump/

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