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Linklist: April 18, 2012

Jacoba Urist @ The Atlantic No Taxes, No Travel: Why the IRS Wants the Right to Seize Your Passport:

"It all started last fall, when Senator Barbara Boxer introduced the "Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act" (or "MAP-21" as it's now called), to reauthorize funds for federal highway and transportation programs. While that doesn't sound like anything having to do with your taxes, the bill includes a little-noticed section that allows the State Department to "deny, revoke or limit" passport rights for any taxpayers with "serious delinquencies."

Here's how it would work. If someone owed more than $50,000 in back taxes, the IRS would be able to send their name over to the passport office for suspension, provided that the IRS already either filed a public lien or a assessed a levy for the outstanding balance. The bill does provide a few exceptions though. For example, if a person has set up a payment plan (that they're paying in a timely manner), is legitimately disputing the debt, or has an emergency situation or humanitarian reason and must travel internationally, they may be able to leave for a limited time despite their unpaid taxes."

Stephen Levy @ Wired: Going With the Flow: Google's Secret Switch to the Next Wave of Networking:

"If any company has potential to change the networking game, it is Google. The company has essentially two huge networks: the one that connects users to Google services (Search, Gmail, YouTube, etc.) and another that connects Google data centers to each other. It makes sense to bifurcate the information that way because the data flow in each case has different characteristics and demand. The user network has a smooth flow, generally adopting a diurnal pattern as users in a geographic region work and sleep. The performance of the user network also has higher standards, as users will get impatient (or leave!) if services are slow. In the user-facing network you also need every packet to arrive intact — customers would be pretty unhappy if a key sentence in a document or e-mail was dropped.

The internal backbone, in contrast, has wild swings in demand — it is “bursty” rather than steady. Google is in control of scheduling internal traffic, but it faces difficulties in traffic engineering. Often Google has to move many petabytes of data (indexes of the entire web, millions of backup copies of user Gmail) from one place to another. When Google updates or creates a new service, it wants it available worldwide in a timely fashion — and it wants to be able to predict accurately how quickly the process will take.

“There’s a lot of data center to data center traffic that has different business priorities,” says Stephen Stuart, a Google distinguished engineer who specializes in infrastructure. “Figuring out the right thing to move out of the way so that more important traffic could go through was a challenge.”

But Google found an answer in OpenFlow, an open source system jointly devised by scientists at Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley. Adopting an approach known as Software Defined Networking (SDN), OpenFlow gives network operators a dramatically increased level of control by separating the two functions of networking equipment: packet switching and management. OpenFlow moves the control functions to servers, allowing for more complexity, efficiency and flexibility."

Reuben Collins @ Streets.mn The Problem of Hiawatha Avenue

I keep reading about the woes of Europe. Tyler Cowen for instance says in: Is the end near?: "The motto “no monetary union without a fiscal union” isn’t wrong, but more to the point is “no fiscal union without a common electorate.”

The problem is supposedly sticky wages, and the solution for sticky wages is apparently destroying the monetary system. Clearly there is a simpler solution. Money is just a measure of value. Similarly, the hour is just a measure of time, the meter is a measure of length, and so on. Instead of changing their monetary system, Greece and Italy should just revalue their units of measure, keep the Euro, and drop out of the metric system. The Greek Hour could be made longer, so that Greek workers would be more productive for an "8-hour" day. And if they didn't want to work on the time scale of "the new hour", they could worker fewer new-hours and just as much real-time as old-hours, but be paid for fewer hours of work. But see, their Euro-denominated wages on an "hourly-basis" would not be cut, everyone can save face, and the Euro preserved. We do something similar every year for daylight savings time.

For solving the problem in Europe, I will be accepting my Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel next fall, see you somewhere in Scandinavia.

It is often said as a truism, "if you build it, they will come", but supply does not always create its own demand. Some links via David King

Plenty of new airports but few passengers in China (LA Times)

The Empty CIty of Ordos (Time)

This is more reason to discount the arguments that just because China is spending a gazillion yuan for high speed rail or highways, the US should, (there are many other reasons they are fallacious comparisons, not the least of which is the stage of development and return on investment, the US network is mature, China's is not).

A pedestrian asserts his rights

tienanmentank-395.jpg

UK Government plans travel database

From BBC Government plans travel database. The UK will be tracking everyone entering and leaving. My first thought was "cool, can we get access to the data", though of course "privacy concerns" will ensure only the security apparatus will have the data.

Europe v. Pirates

Sarkozy v. The Pirates

From Bruce Sterling: Sarkozy versus the pirates

: "France will not allow crime to pay" President Nicolas Sarkozy

From The Atlantic, an interesting article by Philip Smucker: Asphalt Dreams about the correlation between development highways and stability in Afghanistan. The article reminds that highways are not just for moving troops quickly to deploy elsewhere, but also to help settle the places they run through. While that may not have been foremost on the mind of proponents of The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, (even though it has Defense in its name) it certainly has been important throughout history.

I have drafted a Memo to the Next President of the United States on Transportation Policy.

The memo outlines ten visions, which are summarized here, for fuller discussion, see the full memo:

  1. Within eight years more cars sold in the United States will be powered primarily by electricity and bio-fuels than by fossil fuels. All buses and passenger trains will use electricity or bio-fuels.
  2. Within eight years Americans will be able to ride autonomous smart cars that drive themselves in mixed traffic.
  3. Within a year, an independent federally-funded Bridge Inspection Service will begin to inspect and publicly report on the quality of all bridges on the National Highway System.
  4. After thorough evaluation, within eight years, bridges and pavements on the US Interstate Highway System will be upgraded to handle trucks carrying up to 100,000 pounds, increasing the efficiency of the trucking industry and by reducing the number of vehicle trips, increasing safety for other road users. These improvements will be paid for by the trucking industry, which directly benefits from the improved system. In heavily traveled corridors, a system of truck-only toll lanes will be constructed.
  5. Within eight years American travelers can choose to travel congestion-free by car or bus through America's largest metropolitan areas.
  6. Within four years American travelers will enter airports and transit, and train stations and cross borders, passing both security and immigration controls without delay while ensuring security.
  7. Within eight years a new source of transportation revenue based on time and place of use will be deployed, replacing the federal and state gas tax. This funding will support highway and transit networks.
  8. Returning to the vision of Democratic President Andrew Jackson, items in federal transportation legislation that do not serve a national purpose will be vetoed.
  9. Extending the bipartisan efforts of transportation deregulation in the late 1970s and early 1980s, within four years, highway and transit services and infrastructure will begin to be competitively provided by independent (public, private, or non-profit) organizations under appropriate local or federal oversight. Infrastructure will be provided under a public utility model, ensuring quality of service in exchange for earning a rate of return.
  10. Within one year, the United States federal government will establish separate capital and operating budgets. This will be coupled with a federal program to guarantee loans and bonds for highway and transit infrastructure projects.

  11. Full memo after the jump

Transportation apartheid

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From the New York Times Palestinians Fear Two-Tier Road System .

This is a classic problem exacerbated by Middle East conflict: the road serves different people than it burdens. It is further complicated because those it serves has been reduced as Palestinians were banned from the road in response to stone-throwing and drive by shootings. It is also complicated because the road was built under the guise of serving local Palestinian areas. The most recent solution is to build a different road for Palestinians.

From the Pioneer Press: MnDOT says releasing bridge inspection records could be a threat to national security.

Before you dismiss such threats as implausible, note that Osama Bin Laden was trained as a civil engineer at King Abdul Aziz University of Jedda and Yasser Arafat was trained as a civil engineer at Cairo University. Since civil engineering would seem to disproportionately lead to terrorism [perhaps too much statics?], we should be very careful who we give our bridge plans to, they might actually be able to read them (as opposed to say, going to the bridge and looking for cracks themselves, or just getting more exposives).


I come home to London from WCTR to car bombs and people driving into airports (shall we now inspect all cars driving into airports ... and then the security line becomes the target, secure areas always have insecure areas outside boundaries and entrances).

Fortunately, this particular cell were not a particularly competent terrorists, so I will refer to them as goofballs. I have yet to see whether they were competent doctors? One hopes the goofballs healed better than they attempted to inflict harm.

Later in the week, a train derails:
Metronet warned in May over derailment danger. A number of passengers had panic attacks, thinking it was another terrorist attack, coming almost 2 years after 7.7 and days after the Piccadilly smoking car.

The greater harm done by terrorists (even the goofballs) is not the physical damage, but the terror (which gives this -ism its name), and people living in terror. This culture of fear is amplified by news and free flow of information.

The book Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz talks about the curse of abundance, we have too many options and by extension too much information. This repudiates the economists argument of "non-satiation", required for well-behaved utility functions.

Of course many bad things happen in the world, but when personal tragedy strikes people I don't know, and will never know, do I really need to know and am I better off if I know?

Cars hurtling on fire toward airport entrances and dud-car bombs might rise to be slightly larger than personal tragedy, but not too much larger. Scarcity makes events like this unusual, and therefore newsworthy, but unlike "dog bites man" wherein the dog was after the man rather than the news-story, getting attention from the news and causing fear is exactly the terrorist aim.

The appropriate response would be to note it, arrest the goofballs, and move-on, rather than obsessing and changing our ways and continuously reminding ourselves of the goofball agenda, and thereby empowering it. Attention is the ransom demanded by terrorists, and we don't pay ransom for fear of encouraging kidnapping, we should not pay attention for fear of encouraging more random acts of terrorism.

Driving from London to Mongolia

My colleague and recently minted Imperial College, London Ph.D. Robin North is part of a team to drive a 1-litre, 19-year-old, Suzuki SJ on the Mongol Rally 2007 (London to Ulan Baator). This of course is an insane goal, but you are only young once. The aim is to raise funds for good causes (Mercy Corps Mongolia and Hope and Homes for Children), help the Mongolians achieve environmentally-sensitive automobility, and have a good time on the adventure of a lifetime. The website is here:
Goldenoeuf: The World Is Not Un Oeuf

The Illusion of Security 2

Via BoingBoing again: KCTV story about using fake ID to get through TSA security. I suppose we are lucky the enemy can't make fake IDs or never thought of it, otherwise they would have used that to attack us.

McCain's strategic error

John McCain, recently announced US presidential candidate, has long supported a stronger US force in Iraq, and recently endorsed George Bush's surge.

If the surge fails, McCain gets tagged with its failure. If it succeeds he can claim credit.

With enough troops and military resources, certainly Iraq (or even Baghdad) could be calmed - there are only 27 million people in Iraq, surely an equivalent force (less than 10 percent of the US population) would bring about peace pretty quickly, however, that number is more than the US and its allies are likely to commit for this cause.

That said, it is unlikely that an extra 21,000 troops are sufficient. McCain had supported more troops before Bush endorse a mere 21,000 troops for the surge.

McCain would have been able to claim the high ground either way had he said we need a surge, and Bush's plan was insufficient. If Bush is wrong, and the surge is generally regarded as a failure, McCain would have been able to say he wanted more and that would have worked. If on the odd chance Bush were right, he can still claim credit for encouraging a surge.

Endorsing Bush, instead of moving to his right, is either a strategic error, or part of a larger game where McCain hopes to gain something from the endorsement of policy (but what could that be ... a Bush endorsement of his campaign does not seem like something of sufficient value to warrant selling out for).

Note: I neither endorse the surge, the war, nor McCain. McCain seems like a nice guy, and he was held prisoner for a number of years, but he is wrong on every issue.

Highways in Africa

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In the most recent episode of The West Wing(the penultimate episode "Institutional Memory"), White House Chief of Staff C.J. Cregg is being recruited to help run a foundation loosely based on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and her idea of what the best use of $10 billion would be to criss-cross Africa with highways, which would enable the delivery of medicine, expand trade, and do all sorts of good things.

War for oil vs. war against oil

I am still not clear why we entered the war in Iraq.

Many opponents of the war say it was for oil, but destroying oil fields doesn't result in there being more oil anytime soon. Given that the price of oil has gone up (as have oil company profits), maybe it was a "war against oil", but surely had that been the oil companies Machiavellian aim, that could have been achieved much easier (just bomb the oil fields).


David Levinson

Network Reliability in Practice

Evolving Transportation Networks

Place and Plexus

The Transportation Experience

Access to Destinations

Assessing the Benefits and Costs of Intelligent Transportation Systems

Financing Transportation Networks

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