I have heard that the Army is considering Robots to take the place of soldiers in the battlefield. This strikes me as so wrong on so many levels.

    Second; it takes away the intelligence behind the trigger. A soldier can make some sort of determination to shoot or not to shoot based on the situation. Is that an enemy combatant? a civilian that wandered into the wrong place at the wrong time? a fellow soldier that got scrambled?
    Third; “War is Hell” has a real meaning. People are killing People. Will it now be “War is Heck”?
    Corollary to Third; what is the impact on our impressions of the “enemy”? they are now just targets for our toys to kill? Is it all a video game now? Is there any need to resolve our differences with other cultures and societies, since we aren’t really putting personal resources at risk? Not only do we not need to negotiate with anyone, they won’t have anyone to negotiate with.
    Fourth; Every hacker in the world will be working on ways to take over the robots. Once they are turned, they can be sent against the ones that deployed them. Or, they can be made to run amok in civilian centers with wonderful PR results. I’m sure there are a lot of other options that a “bad” robot could be used for as well.

I don’t object to using robots as bomb sniffers or bomb defusers or surveillance drones or any number of non-combatant purposes, but the very idea of a combatant robot gives me the willies. Talk about dehumanizing war.

It’s that time of year again

Baseball rears its ugly head every spring, and I jump right back into the fray. I am a part of a Fantasy Baseball League that goes about and drafts teams of AL players and follows their adventures throughout the season. My fellow owners and I started this league back in 1989 when we used the USA Today weekly published stats to track our players.

A lot has changed since then. Now the stats are on-line and stat services track your players for you. We continue to only allow weekly moves to replace broken players but we could do it daily if we wanted to.

Also, the owners of the league have shifted around. We started with 10 owners, all of whom worked for MCI. Of that 10, 5 are still with the league, 4 are still with MCI. The league nexus shifted from DC to Texas (shades of the Senators). (All the new owners were working for MCI when they joined the league, they just didn’t all stay with MCI.) And while there are still ten teams, several teams have duet ownership. (One of those duet teams can’t even arrange to get one owner to draft day, April 2. One of the original owners, who is looking to get back into the league, will fill in for the missing duet.)

I dropped out for a few years when I moved to Colorado, since the league rules state that the drafters have to be at one site, in person, to conduct the draft. No conference calls or on-line bidding allowed. The Commissioner prevailed upon me to rejoin and make the commute to Dallas for draft day. My group’s offices were close by, and I found I could arrange business trips to overlap draft day. Since I no longer work for a Texas group, I take a day off, make the drive, stopping in Amarillo to spend the night, do the draft and head back that night, stopping in Amarillo again. (A 12-hour straight through drive is just not worth it. Did it once, never again!)

So, I am busy plotting my drafting strategies, checking what’s been going on with players since last season; who got traded where, who got retired, who is the hot new rookie (never draft a rookie, they ain’t worth it), what teams look like they have competent pitching staffs so they won’t leave a starter in the lurch. Then you put all the names into a hat, throw them in the air and grab a set of them to make your team. (We are holding our draft the day before Opening Day and we will still draft players that won’t make the Opening Day Roster.)

Our League’s draft is, more accurately, an auction. An owner puts up a name for bid, the other owners run the bid up until no one else bids and then the highest bidder adds that player to his roster. I have $26 to fill a team roster of 2 catchers,1B, 3B, Corner(1B or 3B), SS, 2B, Mid (SS or 2B), 5 OF, DH, 9 Pitchers. We rate hitters on HR, RBI, R, SB, and Average, and Pitchers on Wins, Saves, Strikeouts, ERA and WHIP Ratio (a made up stat of walks and hits per inning pitched). So there are a lot of factors in evaluating a good player. Just because someone gets a lot of strikeouts doesn’t make him a good candidate, especially if he gives up a lot of walks, hits and earned runs. Few players excel in a single category, very few players excel in more than one category. Most players are average, strangely enough. It can be very frustrating at times. (I will post my top candidates after the draft)

This is the year I shall win it all!


Take Two Tablets

I enjoy reading Dahlia Lithwick’s pieces in Slate. She reviews the Supreme Court hearings. This latest one on the display of ‘religious’ symbols in a public place is a good example: Take Two Tablets – The Supreme Court picks through the rubble of its Ten Commandments jurisprudence. By Dahlia Lithwick

What caught my attention was a quote by Justice Scalia. I sure hope that there was some other context he was using.

Scalia’s point here: “When someone walks by the commandments, they are not studying the text. They are acknowledging that the government derives its authority from God.”

I can’t understand how any Supreme Court Justice could believe that the government derives its authority from God. From the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution of the United States, it is We, The People, that authorize the Government. The Government derives its authority from The People.

Can you even graduate from Law School without having that drummed into the very core of your being?

The numbers redux

The SSA withholding is 6.2 % for employee, matched by employer, for a total of 12.4% of income up to the magic cap, around $90K today. The Medicaid withholding is 1.45%, matched by employer, for a total of 2.9% with no cap. So, a total of 15.3% is withheld up to the cap and 2.9% thereafter.

Let’s see if that changes my numbers any. (how do I link back to an earlier post?)

Social Security Reform – For 2003 there was about 533.5 billion dollars collected from 156 million workers (plus employers).

That comes down to $3420 per worker/employer or $1710 per worker per year. (Employer matches an equal amount per worker to SSA)

Nope, I was looking at totals and not percent contributions. From What I hear, they are talking about up to 4% of the 6.2% contribution to a maximum of $1000. That doesn’t even seem to be worth the time or effort to manage. 4%/6.2%= 64.5%. So they will allow the average worker to divert 64.5% of $1710 to a private account or $1103 per year. But that’s over the $1000 limit. 58.5% would max out to $1000. 3.6% withholding diversion will meet that. So what will that do to the received SSA benefits 30-40 years down the road.

The Congress, in its infinite, partisan, wisdom, has already developed an answer to the “Private Account” It is called an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). The IRA is managed by the individual and money contributed now is non-taxable. The proceeds, when drawn out post 59.5 years old, are taxed when withdrawn (substantial penalty for early withdrawal.) The IRA can be passed on via inheritance. It belongs to the contributor. People are entitled to contribute up to $4000 a year now. That amount should grow with inflation.

So, why don’t we stop planning to downsize the SSA fund contributions with private accounts and promote IRAs? I think Congress, iiipw, can do things to promote the use of IRAs, like mandating automatic payroll deductions to IRA accounts UNLESS the employee opts out or requests a lower deduction (I think the base deduction should put the max allowable into the IRA over the course of the year.) And the Employee has to re-opt every year.

The main reason for this is to get people thinking about their retirement plans. SSA is a retirement supplement. People shouldn’t plan on surviving on it. And the way corporate America is going today, folks will be very lucky to have any retirement benefits unless they organize the benefits themselves. At least I didn’t have to worry about my company’s pension plan being sundered when it declared bankruptcy because it didn’t have one to sunder. (of course, my 401k funds took a hit when all that company-contributed stock went to $0, but that’s another story.)

Regarding the pending SSA cash-flow crunch that opponents of SS call a “crisis” there a couple of hard choices to make.

First, I think that contribution cap should disappear.

Second, benefits should be reduced to follow inflation and not income. (it’s a supplement, not a wage)

Third, the age to collect benefits needs to be raised to that age where life expectancy is, say, 10 years more. (If someone who reaches 65 can expect, on average, to live to 80, then 65 is too young to collect benefits. If someone who reaches 71 can expect to live to 81, then they can start collecting. This all depends on actuarial tables and averages and not on individuals, but SS is, effectively, an insurance program. Others can argue about the male/female life expectancy differences. I think when you get to that age it shouldn’t matter.)

Fourth; Stop using SSA money to cover government debt. Keep the SSA Trust fund as a separate account from the treasury general funds.