Archive for July, 2014

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My letter to Patti Bellock, Illinois State Representative

July 30, 2014

My state representative for the 47th district is a lady named Patti Bellock. She seems to be a nice lady, and she’s been in the position for quite some time. She is at least nominally a Republican for certain values of Republican. However, she recently sent out an email to her constituents that included these two paragraphs:

Illinois Supreme Court Decision on Retiree Healthcare

In a 6-to-1 decision on July 3 in the case of Kanerva v. Weems, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that health care benefits for retired public employees are protected under the pension clause in the state constitution, which says public worker benefits “shall not be diminished or impaired.” The ruling came in response to a class-action legal challenge to a 2012 Illinois law that gave the state the right to require retired state employees to begin contributing to their own health care costs in a manner commensurate with their ability to pay. 

This ruling will definitely impact putting Illinois back on the path of fiscal stability.  We will continue to keep you informed as developments occur.

I got a little steamed. She put this entire email out for two paragraphs of incomplete and slanted information. So here is what I sent to her:

Ms. Bellock – In your recent email newsletter you discussed the Illinois Supreme Court ruling on Kanerva v. Weems. I hope you did not mean what I think you meant when you stated, “This ruling will definitely impact putting Illinois back on the path of fiscal stability.”

It seems to me that statement implies that “fiscal stability” is sufficient reason for violation of the Illinois State Constitution. My concerns about all of the ways the legislature has addressed the “crisis” have to do with the fact that the public employees retirement systems are set up in the Illinois Constitution. Making significant changes would require an amendment to the Constitution, not just legislation.

I am a retired public school teacher from Hinsdale District 86. I pay ALL of my own medical insurance, although I am nominally included in the group through the district. The implication in your email was that this affected all public employees, when it certainly did not. Putting out an email to let your constituents know about the ruling is one thing, but to then cover it in two short paragraphs seems a waste of time at best and an attempt to affect public opinion without telling the whole story at worst.

Unfortunately, using terms like “in a manner commensurate with their ability to pay” sounds like liberal-speak nowadays. It is not a direction I expected you to take.

I hope you and your colleagues will look at the “fiscal crisis” as something that needs to be corrected through more frugal spending practices, while keeping in mind that legislation in violation of the Constitution is no more legal in Springfield than it is in Washington, D.C. The public employees retirement systems have been systematically (and illegally) plundered by the state government on many occasions over the past four decades, and that created this “crisis” as much as the rampant overspending – it should not be corrected by even more attempts to circumvent the Constitution. Thank you for your attention.

Remember, the entire “fiscal crisis” in Illinois started after the economy took a dive in ’09. The state legislature had been “borrowing” from the retirement funds since at least the early 80s. The investments in the funds were well-managed and they were paying well enough to stay ahead of the theft and still make the retirement payouts. This time, the State went to the same cupboards and found that they were finally at a point where they couldn’t steal any more without breaking the bank. So it was now a fiscal crisis and the retirees were at fault because of their excessive retirement plans – which nobody complained about at the time.

Unlike most states, the setup of the public employees retirement systems were decreed in the 1970 Illinois State Constitution, not created by legislation. Therefore, the state can’t just screw with the systems without problems like Kanerva v. Weems. They are trying all kinds of sleight of hand, like telling the local school districts they have to pony up more money. That was met with a resounding “screw you guys and the horses you rode in on.” There is a new law in place, but it’s been challenged and will no doubt end up going to the Supreme Court for review as well.

If you are a union official and you steal from a pension fund, like the Teamsters, you go to prison. If you are a state senator and/or representative in Illinois, and you steal from the public employees’ retirement funds, it’s “sound fiscal management.” Bah. And while Governor Quinn is an incompetent boob, Bruce Rauner, who is running against him, seems the type to throw the Constitution out just because he’s going to “shake up Springfield.” Double bah.

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Is “Ascension” going to be cool or stupid?

July 28, 2014

It has been announced that this fall SyFy channel (God I hate that name) will run a miniseries called “Ascension.” It sounds intriguing, in a weird sort of way. The premise is that in 1963 it was thought that America would soon be involved in a cataclysmic nuclear war – a not unreasonable assumption. Somehow a major leap of technology is made and a generation starship is launched. Not sure how it is determined that there is a habitable planet out there, and how a country that could barely launch a single man into orbit could send 600 people on a centuries-long trip.

Now, I’m a big fan of Project Orion. Except for some pesky Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the fact that JFK was terrified of a spaceship that used nuclear bombs for propulsion, we could have lifted hundreds of tons into orbit by 1970. But that’s another story. And it wouldn’t have been ready for a interstellar trip by 1963.

But I digress. The story is that the folks on the ship are pretty much stuck in the culture of the 1960s, in terms of mores, styles and such. Apparently the big issue is that the generation in power 50 years later is considering turning around and going home. They have received no communications from Earth since they left, so they don’t know if they might find a radioactive cinder or a world out of the Jetsons.

I have to admit, I was intrigued. Then This image showed up on io9 and other web sites:

Ascension ship 2

Yeah, that’s a Saturn V stuck in the middle of that thing. The rest of it looks like it was built out of Legos. I couldn’t image this was the generation ship. It was odd enough that they just stuck the Saturn in there, but how did they get the whole stack into orbit? The F1 engines of the first stage weren’t designed or optimized for a vacuum. Besides, if you have the technology to lift an entire Saturn V into space…well, you generally wouldn’t have to.

I still don’t know what this thing is, but I found this one in a clip on the official Ascension site:

Ascension ship 1

Go watch the clip. This is in a pullback from a view through a porthole, so it looks like it might be the generation ship. Still not enough detail to really see what it’s about, but at least it’s not completely laughable.

So maybe the first ship was something else. I can’t imagine what, but I don’t care how much this is “Mad Men in Space,” if the tech isn’t at least slightly believable, I’m not watching. And I know, there was a bunch of nuttiness in the physics of Battlestar Galactica, and I still watched the hell out of that. So maybe there is a chance this won’t suck…

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Fifty years from now we will be wondering why everybody thought the world was warming

July 7, 2014

In Forbes, of all places, there is an opinion piece by James Taylor (no, not that one) that talks about NOAA data showing the US as cooling by 0.4 degrees in the last decade, not warming as we are told to think. And in the UK Mail there is a piece that states that there is more Antarctic ice, not less.

What surprises me about the whole global warming meme is how easily it took hold, and how hard it is to shake it off, even with substantial evidence that the planet is not warming right now, and has not been for at least ten to twenty years. I know it was pushed by a bunch of folks who depend on government grants for their livelihoods, and rising seas, superstorms and other Roland Emmerich-style phenomena make for better copy than “well, the Earth is getting a little bit cooler, now, but not much.” Still, it amazes me that the kind of blatant cooking of data sets and backstage dealing to squash dissent we have seen has gone on for so long.

The sun is a variable star. Not much of one, thank goodness, or life couldn’t exist. But vary it does. We understand the sun less than we understand our own weather. For some reason, for example, the number of sunspots has been far less lately than expected. There are theories that say the sun doesn’t even use nuclear fusion, as most scientists believe. Neutrino counts from the sun are lower than predicted, but they are elusive little bastards, and it may be that our understanding of them is flawed.

In any case, what we have learned is that there is a lot we don’t know. Water vapor is a better greenhouse gas than CO2, but the Earth naturally regulates the amount of water vapor in the air. It may be doing the same thing with CO2, but the last I read the mechanism is not fully understood.

I would expect, however, that in 2064 we will be looking back on those silly scientists and politicians from fifty years before and shaking our heads at how they thought we were going to all be inundated by rising oceans and killed by superstorms. Do you remember a book called The Population Bomb? How about Silent Spring? 1960s and 70s doom-and-gloom predictions didn’t happen, and even the fear of civilization being destroyed by nuclear war went away, thanks to Ronald Reagan. I would like to be around to see what folks say about our silliness then. Maybe humanity will have matured enough to know not to run around crying “the sky is falling” when we don’t even know what the sky is made of.