Category Archives: Torque

The Case of the Surfacing Effluent

We bought an old house in the country in 2009. The septic system was so old that no documents could be found describing the locations of its underground components. A professional inspector found one small tank and assumed that the drain field must be close by in the general direction of the outlet pipe. The system passed a flow test which the bank found reassuring enough that they issued us a mortgage to buy the house.

Recently we noticed a small puddle near the septic tank. This was surfacing effluent. Effluent–the watery discharge that normally flows from the tank into the drain field for natural purification by the soil–had stopped flowing through the underground pipes and found its way to the surface.

Yesterday we had the septic company come out to pump the tank so we could begin working on the problem. The technician found a surprise. The inspector had gotten it wrong. The tank he found was only the first of two. The effluent had been coming up through a gap in the lid of the second tank which was set slightly lower than the first.

We still don’t know what is causing the stoppage. It could be a collapsed line, some other kind of blockage in the pipes such as tree roots, or the soil may be suffering from reduced hydraulic capacity for any number of reasons. Not only is the cause a mystery but we don’t even know where the drain field is. I suspected there might be one about 60 feet away where two or three strips of grass thrived even during last year’s drought. However, that area was not in the direction that the outlet pointed. I decided to dig in and see what I could find before asking for professional help. Here is the hole I dug:

Septic pipes

Of interest are the terra cotta fitting, the gaps and loose joints, and the 90ยบ elbow. (Incidentally, near the surface in the corner of the hole I found a dented wheel hub. I have no intention of moving it. Knowing this property, it would not surprise me to find it attached to a complete automobile buried upside-down.) The elbow turns the flow in the direction of the grassy patch, suggesting that our drain field actually is all the way out there.

After all of that digging by hand, I threw up my hands and called the professionals back. Tomorrow we should have a digging crew to unearth and inspect enough of the line to confirm the cause of the problem. If we get our wish, they’ll be able to fix it on sight and leave us with a reasonable bill. We really don’t want to pay for a new drain field or anything more major than a bit of digging and 4″ PVC.

Wish us luck.

How to Read Tech News

News should be read with global context and broad perspective. When you blend Techmeme headlines with Voice Of America it’s hard to get so excited about rounded corners and iPads. Try it:

Techmeme & Voice Of America

Too often we configure our news experience to focus on the safe and the comfortable. Blinders are fine until you forget that you put them on yourself. Remember to take them off sometimes and look around.

Interstate Commerce Abuse

Let’s make a deal. I am a private entity and you are a private entity. Can our transaction ever be called Commerce among States? Am I a State? Are you a State? No. We are private entities conducting a private transaction. Then what gives the Federal government the power to regulate our transactions? They claim that power derives from this clause:

[The Congress shall have the power] To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes;

Regardless of our communication or trading across State borders, this clause does not refer to us. It refers to recognized bodies of government: Nations, States, and Indian tribes. We are not governments. We are private entities.

If the United States Congress has the power to regulate my Commerce then I’m a State and I demand my own Representative and two Senators.

Nowhere does the Constitution give Congress the power to regulate our transaction. To quote the Tenth Amendment, that power is “reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” If there exists a State law respecting our transaction then we must obey that law. No Federal law can apply to our transaction because we never gave Congress that power.

The only reason the State government should get involved is if one of the parties to a transaction (you or I) accuses the other of a wrong and seeks recourse. The Federal government has no power to regulate our private Commerce until one of us seeks recourse and there is a dispute among the States of jurisdiction, or until we seek recourse from the Federal government against the States.

I recognize that I have to share this great country with people who disagree with me. I’m just floating some ideas here. I am not a lawyer, a legislator, nor a legal scholar, but I sure disagree with a lot of Supreme Court decisions. At least a few Supreme Court justices have believed as I do. Sadly they were too few.

Omitted from this writing is any suggestion of how our Federal politicians could reform the current apparatus into one which operates correctly. That is a trick question because no politician would ever lift a finger to reduce their own power. Politicians are also incapable of that transgression against their brethren. And by “politicians” I mean the Legislative, the Executive, and the Judicial. All branches are complicit in the tendency to accumulate powers.

The only way to trim the Federal powers is by amending the Constitution. Such reform would be contrary to the interests of the majority of Federal politicians. Adversarial action must be done by adversaries. It can’t be done through Congress; it must be done to Congress by the States. The Constitution lights the way in Article Five:

The Congress, […] on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which […] shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States or by Conventions in three fourths thereof…

This is the only lawful and peaceful way to compel Congress. Every other road is slick with blood.

I welcome your opinion.

Islamophobia is bad but it is a good step

A national ban on an architectural element seems silly but the vote to stop the construction of minarets in Switzerland is a real accomplishment. The people of a mature country have peacefully expressed a strong collective feeling against what they perceive as a grave threat. The tragedy is that they identified the threat as the Islamic religion.

The real threat is more general, more widespread, and more dangerous than Islam. It took something as extreme as Islamic extremism to trigger a cultural awareness of it. Unfortunately, like the ringing of an alarm clock, the first thing to awaken consciousness is for a time the only piece of reality about which we are aware. Islamic extremism is the alarm clock.

The supporters of the minaret ban see the growth of the Muslim population as an aggressive cultural invasion. They don’t see an immigrant minority that deserves state protection. They see settlers from a destructive culture claiming their country. They feel vilified within their homeland by outsiders and they are afraid that their politicians will continue to insist on irrational “religious tolerance” despite the intolerant attitudes spread through Islam.

National Islamophobia is a phase whose time has come. It is extreme, prejudiced, and wrong, but it is the natural reaction against the wrong actions of extremists trying to universalize Islam. Two wrongs do make a right when everyone learns a lesson. The lesson here is that no protection for status, be it religion, race, sex, or what have you, is deserved when it is used for harm.

Religions have been invoked to excuse atrocious behavior since ages before the life of Muhammad. So have other statuses such as race, color, nationality, and sex. The world tends to absolve these harmful trends after a reform and some generations. And the human race eventually learns a lesson.

I see the minaret ban as a sign that the world is just beginning to reject religion as an excuse for bad behavior. Peaceful Muslims will work with non-Muslims to prevail over the radical perversion of Islam. This time will pass into history and be replaced by a time of rational discrimination and careful tolerance. I hope I’m right, the sooner the better.

To Time Warner Cable

What’s wrong with charging internet subscribers per gigabyte? When you pin your rates to an index that is guaranteed to rise faster than costs in order to increase profits, your risk remains pinned to customer retention. This business is sums, not rocket calculus.

The first thing you did wrong was to pick a margin so greedy as to be unjustifiable. Many consumers know or at least feel that half a dollar is too much to pay for a gigabyte of network traffic. Moderately savvy consumers would complain if rates were more than a few cents per gigabyte.

The second thing you did wrong was to try to profit most on the subscribers most likely to feel the inequity. The more bandwidth a person uses, the more likely they can understand their own usage habits in terms of gigabytes; the more likely they have a reality-based idea of the costs; the more likely they are to voice their righteous complaints publicly, educate other consumers, and threaten to subscribe elsewhere.

Many of them also know that they are good customers; they don’t consume your low-value, high-cost call center or web portal resources, they just want cheap, reliable bandwidth. These are the very people you should have favored when crafting your rate plans. Instead you underestimated and insulted them. Now they are clamoring to the competition, it is time to show them consideration. Whatever rate you settle on, it well be easier to swallow because it involves a concession. It was wise of you to test high rates on small markets.

The trump card that allows free consumers to demand a fair deal is the ability to decline the deal. Are consumers free if they believe your service is a necessity of life? Assuming people need your service, you can get away with outrageous rates if the competition colludes rather than competes. This would leave an opening in the market for low-rate providers if you hadn’t already locked it shut by lobbying for fixed-cost regulations that only established providers can afford. You’re pretty smart after all.

Smoke… for the children!

The health of American children will rest on the shoulders of a dying breed if President Obama signs the SCHIP Reauthorization Act of 2009. Click the PDF version and scroll to page 265, Title VII—Revenue Provisions. Taxes on tobacco and related products will increase by as much as 3,057%. Here’s a sample:


(a) Cigars- Section 5701(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is amended–

(1) by striking `$1.828 cents per thousand ($1.594 cents per thousand on cigars removed during 2000 or 2001)’ in paragraph (1) and inserting `$50.33 per thousand’,


(c) Cigarette Papers- Section 5701(c) of such Code is amended by striking `1.22 cents (1.06 cents on cigarette papers removed during 2000 or 2001)’ and inserting `3.15 cents’.

Funding child health care by taxing smoking, an activity which is increasingly targeted for eradication by government campaigns, creates an indirect conflict of interests. You can’t have it both ways. But according to the rhetoric of our times, individuals are morally compelled to sacrifice themselves for the good of the collective.

So find a place where it’s still legal and light up, smokers! Spread the good news to your non-smoking friends: to quit is to condemn future generations. These are the times that try men’s lungs.

If you smoke a non-tobacco substance, put away the reusable smoking paraphernalia and puff your stuff in papers taxed under 5701(c). Better yet, use the wrapper from a cigar taxed under 5701(a) and remind yourself that you did it for the children.