March 18th, 2015

weird claim that I believe to be false: link fu to follow

I first ran across the claim in the US form, where it is absolutely false: the claim is something along the lines of Senators are paid their salary for life. IT IS NOT TRUE. They qualify for Social Security in the usual manner, and there is also a pension, altho there were some changes in how this worked in the 1980s.

http://www.senate.gov/reference/common/faq/retirement_for_members.shtml

which refers to a report that includes this paragraph:

"There were 617 retired Members of Congress receiving federal pensions based fully or in part on their congressional service as of October 1, 2013. Of this number, 367 had retired under CSRS and 250 had retired under FERS. Members who had retired under CSRS had completed, on average, 22.9 years of civilian federal service. Their average annual CSRS annuity in 2013 was $71,664. Those who had retired under FERS had completed, on average, 16.2 years of civilian federal service. Their average retirement annuity in 2013 (not including Social Security) was $42,048. The average age of retired Members of Congress receiving retirement annuities in 2013 was 74 for those who had retired under CSRS and 71 for those who had retired under FERS."

Here's wikipedia on compensation for currently serving members:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salaries_of_members_of_the_United_States_Congress

Basically, $174,000. Unless you are special, like the Speaker or Majority or Minority Leader.

So the average CSRS annuity in 2013 was under half the current serving salary (altho obvs, the salary in the past was lower see the wikipedia table at the link above, but then again, inflation adjustment blah blah bleeping blah).

Yesterday, I heard a similar claim about Italian members of Parliament. Because I knew it was not true in the United States, I wondered if it was true in Italy -- or, really, somewhere else.

Italian members of Parliament serve a long time and enjoy a regular increase in pay associated with length of service which has led to them being extremely highly paid compared to their country's GDP, compared to other members of the European Union. Partly this is because of length of service; partly this is because the country has a whole has stagnated so when salaries rise but GDP doesn't, the comparison gets more and more out of whack.

Here is a summary of parliamentary compensation across Europe.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/7961849.stm

Here is France's "severance" arrangement: "If an MP fails to find employment after losing their seat, he/she receives a full salary for the first six months, then a gradually declining proportion of the salary for a further two-and-a-half years."

According to this, Italy has more Senators than many other countries, per capita population.

UK MPS have a "resettlement allowance" when they are out of a job: "MPs who lose their seat or stand down at a general election are also entitled to a "resettlement allowance" worth between 50% and 100% of their annual salary." It doesn't say for how long; I assume a one time payment unless I find out otherwise?

For the Euro parliament, there is compensation apparently identical to home country parliament, but then also compensation from the European Union, including a second pension scheme: "Basic pension arrangements for MEPs and MPs are the same, but MEPs can also choose to contribute to an additional, and very generous, European Parliament pension scheme."

None of these descriptions capture things like summer camp programs for children of members, which I have heard of in the past but am now sort of wondering about. You can go read the article to learn about travel benefits, per diem, second home costs, staff, etc.

Here is some about Italian state pension:

http://euracs.eu/summaries/italy-pension-summary/

I can make absolutely no sense of it. There aren't actually any private pensions to speak of, so you can safely ignore that because it's fictional. By serving a term in Parliament, Italian members apparently get the "full" state pension, without having to satisfy the complex and not-too-long-ago adjusted requirements in years of work. Again, paid full salary is _NOT TRUE_.

I'm not actually at all sure _why_ there is a persistent belief that elected officials in various countries are paid their full salary for life. The belief seems to be independent of age (I've run across it in people who are in their 30s and obviously the sky's the limit for buying into this particular belief) and political party and equally crosses language barriers and country borders.

But then, people believed all kinds of screwy stuff about their destination when they were arduously making the trek to the New World. I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

While I do not _like_ to link to the National Journal, I am going to do so Just This Once:

http://www.nationaljournal.com/magazine/nearly-one-in-five-members-of-congress-gets-paid-twice-20130627

It details how many Members of Congress had previous careers in state legislatures that were lengthy enough to qualify for retirement pay from their _state_ while serving the _federal_ government, thus qualifying, when they ultimately fail to win election anywhere (or choosing to opt out) for at least two pensions possibly on top of Social Security and/or military pensions as well.

I was well aware of people who plan careers based on assembling a double pension package at a comparatively early age. The people I am most familiar with doing this are those who start in the military, then serve as police officers. I in no way begrudge them what they have earned, altho, generically, I wince at things like Rhode Island having trouble funding education because they were overly generous with police pensions that had youthful retirement ages, rules set in an era of heavy smoking which has come to an end and now retired cops live much longer, having kicked the smoking (yay!) and with better medications for managing high blood pressure and so forth. It's a little weird to suggest that people who have served the 20 required for one pension and 20 for another to be required to choose either or, when others who only worked one 20 still get that one pension. It would be more fair to just length or combine the schemes and length the overall required period of service.

Most of these problems, however, can ultimately be laid at the door of price stability/disinflation. Public sector unions were successful and often continue to be successful at mandating annual or every other year step raises in the low percents. Back In the Day, these were not enough to keep up with inflation and were in conjunction with COLA steps that, nowadays, are often frozen at 0%. But a low percents step raise today is actually more than enough to get ahead of inflation, especially in the post-bust years. Combined with similar ratcheting features in pensions, and big changes in life expectancy post-smoking, we're all in a world of hurt. And so it is tempting to cartoonify the problem and believe that all these porkers are getting their full salary.

They aren't. Really.

However, as long as we're _at_ that National Journal article, I would like to draw your attention to this, about Trey "Benghazi" Gowdy.

"Take the curious case of Rep. Trey Gowdy. The conservative Republican served for a decade as a district attorney in South Carolina, where the retirement system requires 24 years of service to qualify for a pension. But a controversial perk allows solicitors and judges to purchase extra years of service without actually working them. The practice, called “airtime,” lets employees draw bigger pensions if they fork over a lump sum on the front end.

It appears Gowdy exercised this option. (His office refused multiple requests to clarify his activity.) His financial records report a loan in 2009 of between $250,000 and $500,000 for “purchase of SC solicitors and judges retirement.” So, in 2011, the year after he rode the tea-party wave into Congress promising to slash government spending, he reported $88,432 in pension income—one of the 10 largest in Congress. He was 46.

Last year, Gowdy reported a far smaller pension. His spokesman, Nicholas Spencer, says Gowdy listed the package in a different section of the report “because pensions are not reportable as outside earned income,” citing advice from “Ethics counsel.” The House Ethics panel’s published guidelines, however, say pensions should be reported as income."

So the next time you hear Trey Gowdy saying Hilary Clinton should not have been using her own email system while she was at State (which apparently was within the rules), contemplate his income reporting and retirement system choices.

a Bit More about the i3

When I ordered this last summer and took delivery in late fall, I knew that I would be getting Sirius/Satellite Radio as part of one of the option packages I wanted for a completely unrelated reason. You get what you get. I also knew they would include some amount of the subscription (which I think is otherwise $15/month) with the purchase of the vehicle to try to get buyers to stick with it. R. and I each took a shot at trying to get it to work and failed, and one of the many things they sent me caused me to believe (incorrectly, as it turns out) that the subscription period was very short and had already lapsed (1 month or 3 months). Nope. The subscription included with the purchase was for a full year, and apparently they noticed I wasn't accessing it and started to think well she's never gonna subscribe if she doesn't use the trial period so we'll send her a genuinely useful and short piece of mail (paper) that includes what to do to make it work and a channel guide.

So I had the choice of making a phone call to activate while I was in the car, or using a website, so I went with the website. But the website wanted me to hit activate while the car was turned on and the radio was tuned and had satellite line of sight and then stay there for 5 minutes. I finally got around to making that all happen at the same time today and lo! Now Sirius works. Cool! I set it to Radio Disney and I'll see what T. thinks of that. He had wanted the Christmas station at Christmas which was the only other time I even seriously tried to make this thing work and we failed.

Minor negatives to Sudbury/Herb Chambers for not making sure this was set up and working when I took delivery. Minor negatives to all participants for sending me confusing mail, but compensating positive to everybody for making the trial last long enough to still have some value in it AND for finally sending me something pithy, clear and useful. If only that had been the first thing I had gotten from them.

Mocking Transport of the Future Coverage: Debord from BI and the One True Future

http://www.businessinsider.com/there-are-2-competing-ideas-for-the-car-of-the-future--and-only-one-can-win-2015-3

Look, I _get_ that he's doing this for the clix, the lulz, the whatevs. But let's take a look at the structure of the argument anyway.

Lead paragraph provides the frame: in the last year, futurecar went from dream to near-reality. Obviously, this is false. But let's play along anyway. Evidence in the next paragraphs: an incremental Audi drove from Las Vegas to LA, and Tesla has sales projections. Google has weird looking things on wheels. The Audi is designed to be autonomous on dry highways with no precipitation (sort of limited, hencethe LV-LA test). Basically, cooler cruise control.

Debord then suggests a conflict between two future transportation worlds: Tesla (electric, expensive, ownership-model, incrementally moving to a more autonomous driving style) vs. pay-per-ride. He does not _call_ it pay per ride.

"The car as we know it will go away, replaced by an autonomous node in an on-demand, ownership-free transportation matrix, enabled by inexpensive personal technology that's ubiquitous — who needs a garage when you have a smartphone?"

Basically, Uber for all, initially a world of cars owned by entrepreneurial drivers but eventually owned by ... it's really not clear is it? In a world of fully autonomous robot cars, who owns the fleets?

"If you can order up a ride — a driverless ride, running on electricity — anywhere, anytime, in all but the most remote places, you don't need a personal car."

Well, as long as it's not snowing, raining, and as long as all the other cars are not currently in use, and as long as you are okay with schlepping all your crap in and out of those cars, rather than storing it in the car (okay, single people, mocking everyone who lives in their car, but clearly there's a needed car seat solution, never mind adaptive vehicles for people who need much more substantial assistance and transport for things like their wheel chair).

I really do sort of wonder how everyone thinks rush hour is going to work. Will future employers and school systems magically become okay with the But All the Cars Were Already In Use and I Had to Wait excuse replacing the I Got Stuck in Traffic/It Took Forever to Find a Parking Space excuse.

The way I figure it, there will always be a slice of the population which is willing to own its own vehicle, either because it makes sense economically (they need enough rides that owning the vehicle pays for itself, or they need special adaptations to their vehicle, or they want the certainty of a ride at particular times) or it serves a status purpose or both. And Tesla has clearly indicated that it intends to serve that market in the world of ICE and in this hypothetical Everyone Ubers Everywhere world.

Debord asserting Tesla is incompatible with the Uber/Google transportation matrix is sort of like saying, hey, once RyanAir is flying between the US and Europe, that'll be the end of private jet ownership, or at least jetshare companies.

Ya, sure, ya betcha.

ETA: http://mashable.com/2015/03/13/autonomous-car-road-trip/

On March 22, an Audi is going to start driving from SF to NY, taking about a week (why a week? You can make that trip in 4 days stopping for meals and full night's sleep.). It has radar AND lidar, so in theory it can keep going even if it rains.

A bit more detail here; drivers will be handling urban portions of the trip.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2015/03/16/delphi-autonomous-selfdriving-car-nyautoshow/24838897/

"Drivers probably will wind up doing some of the maneuvering in urban areas."

Altho I have to say I'm wondering about this claim:

"Delphi's engineers already tested the vehicle on the roads in busy downtown Las Vegas, where they had to dodge drunk pedestrians falling down in front of the car and navigate extremely congested traffic."

Seriously? Drunk pedestrian_s_? Multiple ones falling down in front of the car? I hear a fish story. . .

Turns out some all important quotes have been left off.

http://www.autoworldnews.com/articles/13690/20150317/self-driving-car-set-for-3-500-mile-cross-country-adventure.htm

"The company also brought the car to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas back in January where spectators seemed impressed by demonstrations that included two "drunk" pedestrians falling in front of the car to test its brakes."

That would be a planned demo, not actual drunk persons. Kinda different as a claim.

WEIRDLY, Musk is sort of on Debord's transport matrix no human drivers side (just not necessarily on the ownership model).

http://arstechnica.com/cars/2015/03/elon-musk-believes-non-self-driving-cars-may-one-day-be-outlawed/

I find this kind of talk utterly kooky. WE DO NOT HAVE SELF DRIVING CARS. It is premature to think about banning human drivers in favor of a TECHNOLOGY THAT DOES NOT YET EXIST on the basis of claims that the technology will be much safer than humans, especially if no humans are allowed to participate.

I don't know why people go along with this sort of thing, but I suspect it's right up there with some of the other things that otherwise intelligent people worry about, like hostile alien attack. It would probably bother me _less_ honestly if the same intelligent people didn't sometimes go around making fun of people who believe in fairies or angels or whatever.

CNET coverage of a closed course ride in a Mercedes concept car.

http://www.cnet.com/news/ride-along-in-the-mercedes-benz-f-015-concept/

"But when we reach that point 30-plus years from now where we can totally trust a car to handle the driving, the F 015 posits that we'll be able to literally turn our backs on the road and interact face-to-face with the other passengers or explore more extensive entertainment and productivity technology without fear of distracting the driver. In the self-driving car of the future, we'll all be passengers. Meanwhile, the vehicle will be interacting with pedestrians, other vehicles and even infrastructure on our behalf."

Phrases To Avoid: "As Dangerous As Smoking"

Link fu, may be updated. Trigger: an NYT Style section article asking if wearables might one day be determined to be as dangerous as cigarettes. I went, wha-? Cause, bluetooth low energy. I read it. Bilton is apparently going for the clicks and there isn't really any thing here to worry about.

[ETA: BI has weighed in, summarizing various other people engaging in debunkery of the Bilton Style piece. http://www.businessinsider.com/smartwatch-cancer-apple-watch-nick-bilton-new-york-times-wrong-2015-3]

But it dawned on me that I've heard the twin phrases "as dangerous as cigarettes" and "as dangerous as smoking" a lot lately. I think we should all collectively back away from this comparison, because, basically, nothing that people are proposing as dangerous as smoking/cigarettes actually is.

For your linkaliciousness, as dangerous as smoking:

Being alone: http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2015/03/16/study-being-alone-as-bad-as-smoking-excessive-drinking/

Shaking hands: http://denver.cbslocal.com/2014/05/20/is-your-handshake-as-dangerous-as-smoking/

Egg yolks (to be fair, this guy is debunking) http://jonnybowden.com/egg-yolks-study/

Sitting: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2001824/Sitting-dangerous-smoking-study-shows.html

Eating animal protein: http://www.healthline.com/health-news/food-high-protein-diet-increases-mortality-risk-030414

(An incredibly confusing headline here, about the relative risks of e-cigarettes: http://www.theguardian.com/science/sifting-the-evidence/2015/feb/23/theres-no-evidence-e-cigarettes-are-as-harmful-as-smoking)

Hookahs: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/249710.php

I've heard some researchers who have become advocates on this topic argue that waterpipes are actually worse than cigarettes.

http://feather-mag.com/4-unhealthy-habits-as-dangerous-as-smoking/

This has _4_ candidates: high protein, sitting, drinking soda and ... getting sunburned.

A few years ago, WHO weighed in against sunbeds:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/5928347/Sunbeds-are-as-dangerous-as-smoking.html

ETA: Cigarettes is a little different, some overlap such as hookah, and obvs cigars get brought up.

Hot dogs: http://naturalsociety.com/healthy-hot-dogs-hot-dogs-and-processed-meats-as-bad-as-cigarettes/

Soda again: http://www.mrc.org/articles/soda-pop-dangerous-cigarettes

Was 2007 Really So Long Ago?

My husband bought me the original kindle. I still have it (even tho I sold or donated all my later kindles except the most recent, I've kept that one). I was over reading Passive Voice and ran across this in the comments thread.

http://www.thepassivevoice.com/03/2015/asking-whether-amazon-is-friend-or-foe-is-a-simple-question-that-is-complicated-to-answer/

Peter Winkler takes issue with Shatzkin saying this:

"They made an ereading device with built-in connectivity for direct downloading (which, in that pre-wifi time, required taking the real risk that connection charges would be a margin-killer)."

Jessy Ortiz, Ferran and Allen F, Tom Simon and Anonymous all weigh in, adding to the debate and mockery about whether or not wifi was as ubiquitous in 2007 as it is now.

None of which is relevant. The original kindle DID NOT HAVE WIFI. You could connect it with a cable to your computer or you could use the cell connection through Qualcomm. Those were the only options. I know this, because where I lived at the time had for shit cell service, so I was stuck with the corded option, unless I went somewhere with better cell coverage. If I could have made it work with wifi, I sure as fuck would have, and I used a cord ergo, it didn't have wifi as a choice.

Here, don't believe me? You go digging around in the User's Manual:

http://s3.amazonaws.com/kindle/Kindle_User_Guide.pdf

I used that device at least through 2008. So, what, 6 years, 7 at the absolute most? And we've forgotten already that the original kindle _did not have wifi_?

What the everliving fuck.

Ferran's contribution to the snark was: "No, he mean to say pre-fact-checking." Very, very funny, Ferran.

Honestly, I'm no longer shocked by that idiot who talked about people designing the earliest personal computers using ... laptops, in a Silicon Valley that was ... collectivist. I can definitely see where this shit comes from.

[ETA: That was a total lie. I actually _still_ am shocked by David Graeber. Here, want to be reminded of how shocking? Here ya go:

http://www.businessweek.com/finance/occupy-wall-street/archives/2011/11/david_graebers_odd_history_of_silicon_valley.html

Also, the delightful deLong on the topic:

http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2012/04/no-silicon-valley-did-not-and-does-not-partake-of-the-anarchist-utopian-nature-why-did-you-imagine-it-did.html]

What Vs How Confusion is Endemic: Chipping Kid Edition

I got a fair amount of training about this when I was in school, but it is clear to me now that that isn't typical of most people. So a lot of times when you ask if something can be done, an explanation is given about why it is impossible (like the attempted debunkery of Tim Cook's assertion the iPhone could be used to unlock cars) based on a particular implementation that is not only NOT the only possible implementation, but an implementation that ignores what's already out in the wild.

I ran into another one today over at Jez.

http://jezebel.com/parents-are-dying-for-the-option-to-microchip-their-kid-1692123084

I think the "dying" is hyperbole -- I see no indication that anyone is actually dying.

Obvs, anyone whose kid was mobile before they were verbal has at least _thought_ in passing about chipping their kid the way they maybe already have chipped a cat or a dog.

"The good news is that kids are safe, for the moment, from any surgery that involves a chip being placed under their skin. The Observer spoke to Todd Morris, president of Brickhouse Security, a Manhattan company that specializes in personal and home safety, who told them that it's currently impossible to place anything under a child's skin to track their movements. Not only would they need the chip under their ear, but the child would also need a cellular receiver and battery placed below the skin as well. "

That presumes a very active system! There's no obvious reason you couldn't slap a passive RFID transponder in the kid (just like we've been doing with cats and dogs for like a decade or more) and then setting up a system of readers to ping the passive transponders, the way that, apparently, dog doors do. (Did not know about that. I don't have a dog, but if I did, I'd think about getting one of those!)

Fortunately, the Jez article and the underlying discussion at The Observer does get into clothing and other wearables, so, yay, and there isn't total confusion about what vs. how. Just motivated confusion, which is annoying.

If you're thinking about Tile and similar Low E Bluetooth tags, those actually have batteries in them, just for reference purposes.

I have mixed feelings about the fear of kids wandering off. On the one hand, I know my family genetics. I know how many times my generation's kids disappeared (fortunately, to the best of my knowledge, we did all make it back). I also know how disconcertingly rapidly I've been separated from my son (with multiple adults watching) and my sister from her daughters. I thought this happened with all kids, but I found out after a while that parents who think about installing locks up at adult-only height on the in side of doors to the outside (a huge fire code violation) are parents whose kids are even more prone to wandering than mine. There's a continuum, and chipping some of these kids definitely would make sense.

ETA: The comments thread (and parts of the article) are just silly, getting into stuff like feelings of independence. Seriously? If you could really rely upon a chip or other technology to reassure you your kid was alive and happy and in a reasonable location, I'm fairly certain you'd be willing to ratchet down the other forms of surveillance by a lot. Similar to when you are sitting at the entrance to a playground with a fence with a single entry point. Assuming it's big and there's a bunch of stuff to climb on, a little kid gets to be _way_ more independent in that context than in a place where they could wander off entirely into, say, the road. _Lots_ of parents will let kids play with minimal surveillance in a fenced yard vs. and unfenced yard next to a busy road. 'Course, I don't think independence is really an issue, but that's a whole other thing.

ETA: National statistics on kids reported missing run in the high hundreds of thousands per year, altho a fair number of those are miscommunications, family abduction, kid ran off, etc. The numbers Shrayber quotes -- 20K and 8K are for NY state and NYC, respectively. So Ari Schwartz is dead wrong in the comments when he argues that these should be compared to the US population at 400 million (which that is also wrong -- for a single significant digit, it is 300 million, two puts us at 320 million). The population of NY state is roughly 20 million of which NYC is a little less than half. If you think that 1 kid per thousand population reported missing (often found quite quickly!) every year is "rare" or "really unlikely", well, you probably don't think car fatalities or cigarette smoking are that big of a deal, either.

Cell phones are believed to have been the major cause of a secular decline in missing people in general (adults and children) over recent decades. I believe we probably _will_ do better over time with increasing connectedness and surveillance (even things as simple as Find My Friends and Find My Phone really help a lot), and this may ultimately put an end to people lying somewhere unobserved and dying because they had a seizure or whatever and fell and hit their head and no one knew to go look in that corner until it was much too late.