An Assembly of Pieces

James Anderson Merritt's piecemeal thoughts and observations, and the occasional attempt to put some of the pieces together.
Write to James!

All material except cited quotations Copyright (C) 2004-2008 by James Anderson Merritt. All rights reserved.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
I'd just like to invite all of my friends to check out the website of another friend, Gunter Vorlop, who writes about high tech stock investing. It's open to the public and contains a lot of interesting and useful information for those who want to manage their own portfolios: The RF To Light 100. In addition to a column that surveys the state of the market-segment, Gunter provides facts about 100 high-tech stocks in a detailed spreadsheet, which you can download. It's interesting stuff for those who enjoy that kind of thing. Take a look and see what you think.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, October 10, 2008

A couple of weeks ago, I sent letters to my representative and Senators in Washington, urging them to vote against the proposed bailout of the financial sector, but of course they all voted in favor. Congressman Sam Farr voted "yes" twice! Today, I received an email response from one of the others, Senator Dianne Feinstein. Amusingly enough, my copy of Microsoft Outlook initially diverted this item into the "Junk Mail Folder." That seemed somehow appropriate, as I was sure that the email contained nothing more than a weak and unconvincing excuse for selling out the taxpayer (a prediction that I have since confirmed). To put it back into the regular mailbox, however, I had to use the "Mark as Not Junk" menu option, and believe me, I hesitated! But wait, it gets better! Afterward, Outlook asked me to endorse the completely naive and unwise policy to "Always trust mail from "" After another long hesitation to consider the surreal absurdity of this sequence of events, I reluctantly clicked the "OK" button, though I didn't believe it was "OK" at all.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Friday, July 18, 2008

In today's Santa Cruz Sentinel, I read a Letter to the Editor that trotted out the old Progressive mantra, "Taxes are the price we pay for living in a civilized society." The problem is that the level of taxes, and the nature of the civilized society to be purchased by those taxes are not decisions left up to the poor citizens who must pay the bill, but rather to the elected (and often, unelected) elite who get to rule in the name of all. Invariably, these rulers want to pay for more "civilized society" than the ruled can afford. Or, more often, they manage to deliver just the bare minimum of the services of civilization, while the people's money disappears down a black hole, to magically reappear in the pockets and bank accounts of the rulers or their cronies.

If taxes really are the price we pay for civilization, I think we could pay a lot less and get just as much true civilization as we do now. On the other hand, Will Rogers said, "thank goodness we don't get all the government we pay for." In truth, we are paying so much in taxes that we could purchase airtight Big Brother totalitarianism. As a matter of fact, we're well on the way to getting that level of government "service," but luckily for us, the forces of graft, corruption, and incompetence skim off just enough to prevent the government from having sufficient resources and vigor to truly enslave us all. So I guess even crooks serve an important purpose in the political ecology.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Thursday, May 01, 2008


I read an article in the online Daily Californian recently, entitled "Why Illegal Aliens Are Neither," which inspired me to write and send the following essay to the Daily Cal editors. Maybe they'll publish it and maybe they won't.

In response to “Why Illegal Aliens Are Neither” by Jessica Cerittos and Elena Vilchis, I would like to challenge Daily Cal readers (many of whom, I hope, are attending Boalt Hall) to find in the US Constitution any specific authority for the federal government to prevent entrance to, exit from, or even residence (temporary or permanent) in the United States. For instance, my reading of the document shows that the federal government can “establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization” or call forth “the Militia … to repel invasions” (Article I, Section 8). The former authority is often cited as the basis for immigration law, but there are many people who come here only temporarily, or who, even if they live and work here for an extended period, nevertheless continue to regard themselves as citizens of another country, with no interest in participating in our civic institutions, and every intention of “returning home” periodically or, someday, permanently. Such people would seem to be neither invaders nor candidates for naturalization, so in which category do they fall, as to be legitimately regulated in their comings and goings by the federal government?

Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution actually enjoins congress from prohibiting the “Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit,” prior to 1808. But this is an odd, “negative authority.” I cannot find any positive language, elsewhere in the Constitution, which specifically allows the federal government to regulate immigration, before or after the 1808 sunset date of the aforementioned restriction on Congress. Can you? The same paragraph does allow the federal government to tax “such Importation” (but not “Migration”) at up to $10 per head; this authority appears to have no sunset clause, but it also seems a far cry from a general authority to regulate immigration. Finally, I find it interesting that this paragraph hints that immigration and “Importation” of persons was originally a matter for each individual State to decide, and not the federal function that so many in the modern day believe it is and always has been.

Amendment X establishes that any authority that the Constitution does not specifically grant to the federal government, or deny to the States, is retained by the States or the people, respectively. In other words, the federal government does not have any legitimate authority that you cannot straightforwardly find in the Constitution. So it is important to demand a good answer to the question, “What authority does the federal government have to control immigration?” This question has actually been considered by the Supreme Court, but I found their key answer to be profoundly without substance and disappointing.

In the Chinese Exclusion Case of 1889, the court said simply this: “That the government of the United States, through the action of the legislative department, can exclude aliens from its territory is a proposition which we do not think open to controversy.” The Justices, then, did not even bother with reconciling the government’s presumed immigration power with the text of the Constitution. The power to exclude foreigners was assumed as “inherent” in the very idea of national sovereignty. I say this answer was “profoundly disappointing” to me because throughout, the Constitution authorizes explicitly many powers that might also have seemed “inherent” in the idea of national sovereignty: The power to tax, for example, or to coin money, or to raise an army or maintain a navy, or to repel invasions.

The whole idea of the Constitution is to move away from notions of “inherent powers of sovereignty” and avoid the danger posed by government powers that “everyone” is supposed to “know,” but nobody has fixed firmly in writing. Clearly, today’s issues surrounding immigration illustrate those very dangers. Rather than inventing “inherent powers” of “national sovereignty” to appease populist sentiment, I think we should admit that Amendment X obligates us to amend our Constitution, if we want the federal government to have the authority to repel or eject any peaceful individual who is not credibly an “invader.” Until then, the matter of immigration (not “naturalization,” the acquisition of citizenship) seems a State concern, at best. Read the Constitution for yourself. What do you think?

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I recently found a Google video of a talk that the late Robert Bussard, physicist and proponent of "fusor-approach" nuclear fusion (as opposed to "tokamak-approach") gave at the Google campus in 2006, a little more than a year before his death. (It's a little more than 90 minutes. You can see it by clicking the highlighted link.)

Bussard, inventor of the Bussard ramjet interstellar drive concept, former assistant director of the Atomic Energy Commission, and former head of the Los Alamos National Labs, talked about the "Polywell" fusor that he and his team developed on a shoestring budget over the past couple of decades. His basic claim was that all the key physics had been worked out as a result of his research, but that realization of a practical Polywell-based fusion reactor faced numerous challenges in engineering, which would cost around $200M to address.

I am both encouraged and depressed by Bussard’s talk and the supplementary material I found to go with it. Encouraged, because before he died, Bussard was successful in getting funding for his company, EMCC, to go ahead with at least the part of the program that would confirm earlier results, and in putting a team together to carry on his work. I was happy to read that the government approved the follow-on project to create a full-scale (100MW) Polywell fusor, apparently footing the $200M bill, assuming that the results of a less-expensive confirmation project are positive.

But I am discouraged that the relatively paltry sum of $200M is such a political football, and that Bussard and his team have had such difficulties in raising it (and, with economic problems and shifting political will, may have difficulties in keeping it), in comparison with the billions that have been tossed down the bottomless pit of Tokamak and similar approaches.

So why am I posting this on Tax Day in the US? On our tax forms, you are asked whether you wish to donate a few bucks to the Presidential election fund. Money spent in this way will go toward electing a President who is almost guaranteed to keep us in Iraq for at least a few years more, at the cost of billions of dollars and many deaths and horrendous injuries on all sides. Moreover, the thousands of dollars that each person remits in taxes will go primarily toward paying interest on the national debt and running this crazy war, with the largest remaining part going to social security and healthcare entitlements, and leaving some left over to fund the government bureaucracy and various discretionary social programs – the combined annual cost being well over a TRILLION dollars per year. Finally, tens (perhaps hundreds) of millions of people each willingly part with many dollars every day to buy government lottery tickets, which offer infinitesimal odds of winning a huge personal fortune.

I can't help but wonder: What would happen if, in disgust at how the government has squandered the resources and the full faith and credit of the American people, everyone who filed a 2007 tax return and everyone who bought a lottery ticket in 2007 would send JUST ONE DOLLAR to the foundation that Bussard set up to collect private funding for his experiments? Maybe the Polywell approach is flawed, a dead-end. I'm not a physicist and I can't vet the concept to the last decimal place. But the ideas seem worthy and the people working on the project are credible scientists, who have shown promising results already and received international recognition (and prizes!) for their work, so a buck or two would certainly seem to be money as well spent as on lottery tickets, the Presidential campaign fund, or business-as-usual in the Federal government. If we lose our money on this gamble, the individual loss will be almost negligible. But if the full-scale Polywell works as the late physicist hoped and predicted, then we can look forward to getting 100MW of power or more (enough to run 100,000 homes, or propel highway-capable electric cars almost 4.4 TRILLION miles in a year's time) from a reactor as small as eight feet square – smaller than most people’s living rooms – without a fuel shortage risk, without residual radiation or waste-product disposal problems, and without greenhouse gas emissions. That’s a huge, world-changing upside.

Today, I donated $5 to Bussard's foundation (link on the page takes you to a page where you can donate via PayPal). I ask all my long-suffering fellow taxpayers to consider making a similar donation. This kind of research seems to be too important to leave to our government. And as just a matter of national pride: I think it needs to be WE THE PEOPLE of the United States, who lead us into a world where it is never again credible to go to war over access to energy. I believe that, if the people lead, the leaders will follow. So let's lead, already. If you donate, please pass this article along to someone else. Thanks.

Thursday, February 07, 2008
Homeland Security Violated My Privacy

Lots of things have happened in my life, keeping me too busy to attend to this blog. Since I am probably just talking to myself here, I guess I will apologize only to myself for that.

I just wanted to note for the record that I received evidence today that my privacy had recently been violated by Homeland Security. I love the taste of rum cream, and I can only get that true, original rum cream flavor by importing bottles of Sangster's Rum Cream from Jamaica. (The only domestic rum cream brand I could find, Cruzan, tastes like Double Bubble bubble gum, and nobody -- not even BevMo or specialty liquor stores I have visited -- import Sangster's or any other rum cream from Jamaica or elsewhere.) I have been ordering rum cream from Jamaica, once or twice a year, for some time. (Customs restrictions only allow three bottles per shipment, so don't go thinking that I pick up pallets of the stuff, down at the docks.)

Today's box-o-rum-cream arrived, with tape on it, which declared that it had been opened by the Department of Homeland Security. Inside, I saw that one of the actual bottles had been opened, presumably to verify that it didn't contain a bomb, bomb-making materials, or drug contraband (seeing as the shipment was from Jamaica, after all).

Now, I know that the US asserts the authority to inspect incoming luggage and freight for a variety of reasons, but I don't have to appreciate the violation of privacy. More important, however, is the fact that, once opened, rum cream must be stored under refrigeration and thereafter consumed in short order, to preserve freshness and the drink's proper flavor. By opening that bottle of rum cream, our government agents tainted a third of my shipment, and started its expiration clock ticking, much like the time-bomb they may have been trying to circumvent.

Frankly, I had hoped that this shipment would last me for most of the rest of the year. But now that I have to drink one of the bottles more or less right away, I'll probably have to order again, if I want to have any rum cream for the year-end holidays. Yes, this is a luxury item. But the intervention of Homeland Security has made it even more expensive for me than it otherwise would have been (in view of the usual high cost of shipping, clearing customs, etc.). I'd like to better understand the value we receive in exchange for the inconvenience and additional expense of Homeland Security's intervention. I'm not talking about the value alleged, mind you -- because there will be plenty of empty-headed jingoists who will be horrified that I could even speak of putting a price on "security" -- but the value actually realized.

As I sit down to enjoy a rum cream from this tainted bottle, I will ponder the efficacy and cost of our wars on Terror, Drugs, and the American People's freedom. Raise a glass of whatever you like, and join me, won't you?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Since about the third season or so -- whenever it was that Jack Bauer was killed during torturous interrogation and brought back to life for more of the same -- the TV series 24 has been known around my house as Jack Bauer: Federal Zombie. Awhile back, I mentioned this in some fan mail to classical liberal blogger Ilana Mercer; she seemed to like the phrase, mentioning it in her then-current blog entry about 24. Today, many months later, I returned to her blogsite to see that she has quoted me anonymously in a WorldNet Daily column, which she has also entitled with the aforementioned phrase.

I don't need to see formal acknowledgement in print, to enjoy the glow of knowing that something I have said or written has made even a small difference in the world. I get a kick out of seeing my family's pet name for the series being publicized on the internet by no less a personage than Ms. Mercer, whom I count as being among our era's best essayists. But if anyone puts "Jack Bauer: Federal Zombie" on a bumpersticker or t-shirt, then cutting me in on the action would definitely be the neighborly thing to do. Then again, maybe I should pursue the merchandising myself -- the phrase seems to be able to shuffle along, zombie style, on its own two legs. How far can it go? Ker-CHUNK, Ker-CHUNK, Ker-CHUNK.

Labels: , , , ,


  This page is powered by Blogger, the easy way to update your web site.  

Home  |  Archives