Archive for August, 2011

Vive la différence

Perhaps this isn’t the great philosophical difference between people that I think it is, but I find it significant enough to believe that it may explain at least some of the difference in people’s worldviews…

Working for the legislature, I get to hear a lot of comments and criticisms from people who are not always thrilled about what is going on at the Capitol. One complaint that always makes me chuckle is that “teachers and public employees get too much time off and benefits!” I chuckle not because it’s actually up in the air whether public workers are overpaid in salary and benefits combined compared to similar jobs in the private sector, but because I think people are looking at it from the wrong direction: the problem isn’t that some people get too much vacation, it’s that too many workers don’t get enough.

When I think about the vacation/benefits issue, I think, “Yes, absolutely, all workers should have good health insurance and mandatory vacation, just like other grown-up countries!” However, other people see the same issue and think, “Some people have better benefits than I do. They don’t deserve them, they should have the same terrible benefits I have to deal with!” Instead of bringing everybody up to the same level, they want to drag people down.

Like I said, maybe it’s not a huge difference. But it happens consistently enough such that I think it does represent a view of the world. Some people see the “undeserving” everywhere. Me, I think that we do better when we lift everybody up.

Closed-source software I use

As I’ve said before, I like using open source software whenever I can. So what close-sourced software do I use? Here’s the list below the jump:

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  • Current Mood: Tired

Thoughts on “Angler”

The previous two books I read were decent enough, but Angler is one that I can recommend heartily. All about the Cheney Vice-Presidency, it paints a picture of Dick Cheney as the evil genius: smart enough after decades in Washington to know how to use the levers of power to get what he wants, and then getting all sorts of things that ended up being not so great for the country. What was most interesting about the book was hearing about all the people who tried to stand up to Cheney and got steamrolled. There were apparently people in the Bush administration who stood up to Cheney on principles they didn’t think should be violated, something that was definitely not reported on at the time (mainly because these people unsurprisingly wanted to be team players: tell-all books can come after the election is over with). In the end, nobody comes out looking terribly great, but at the same time, the picture of Cheney as “puppet master” is also found to be untrue.

I’m the kind of person who read books in college about presidential campaigns for fun, so perhaps not everybody will share my interest in the book. But if you are fascinated by Cheney (and it’s hard not to be, given his career and how he became the most powerful Vice President in U.S. history), this book is going to tell you in inside story, and it’s going to hold your attention for all 400 pages. It’s no Harry Potter, but for a book about politics, there’s enough intrigue to make you want to keep on reading.

Requiem for a Pawlenty

So Tim Pawlenty has dropped out of the race for President. I’m not sure if anybody is really surprised; certainly, nobody should have expected a different outcome (I certainly didn’t). Which makes you wonder exactly why nobody bothered to tell him, although as long as the paychecks were still being signed I’m sure his advisors would have told him anything.

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Life isn’t fair

The quickest explanation of why we are in such a huge economic contraction/retrenchment is this: the real estate bubble of the aughts gave more equity to consumers in the form of rising home prices. They turned this equity into cash to fuel their spending. Now the bubble has burst, consumers have more debt than their homes are worth, and so they have cut back on spending and don’t plan on increasing it until they pay off debt. I’m avoiding how the bubble got inflated, who was responsible, etc. for simplicity. It’s boiled down two pretty much one thing: too much debt.

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The Republican debate

I didn’t watch last night’s Republican debate in Iowa since it sounded about as much fun as, well, listening to Rick Santorum and Herman Cain and Michelle Bachmann wax political. The highlights were more than enough for me, and even those few minutes had me utterly confused and depressed.

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Open source for school

I’ve said several times on this blog that I am a strong believer in open source software. I’ve found that it’s pretty easy to find open source replacements for most of the things you need to do on a computer on a daily basis. Then past year has shown that this applies just as much to students as anybody else, as I went the entire year using Open Office as my suite of choice for schoolwork. Overall, I found it to be much better than Microsoft Office for just about everything.

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The Wisconsin recalls

On first blush, the results of yesterday’s recall elections in Wisconsin would appear to be disheartening for Democrats. They won only two out of the six elections, one short of taking over the state senate. The goal of changing the dynamics in the legislature was not achieved, and so some may feel it was all for naught. However, if you think about it a bit more, the results can only be a victory for those activists who set the recalls in motion earlier this year.

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Thoughts on Innumeracy

I recently read the book Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos. It’s a fairly short book about how mathematical illiteracy is so dangerous, although if you have been paying attention to the beliefs of the public and many of our elected officials during the recent budget crises at the state and federal level, it’s pretty obvious how common it is to have no sense of the realities of numbers. Still, it was a pretty decent book.

One area where it comes up short, however, is in terms of solutions. I can’t really fault him for this, because there is no easy solution. A drastic change in our math curriculum, focusing on real-world applications of mathematical concepts, would probably go a long way to help the problem (it does seem that most American adults struggle with fractions and percentages). Other than that, though, this isn’t the kind of issue that is amenable to instant fixes. If you do want some anecdotes about innumeracy, though, and you feel that you can handle the kind of dismay that books like these will generate, then give it a try.

Are we doomed?

The economy is in terrible shape these days, not only in the U.S., but around the globe. And there doesn’t seem to be any way out of it. In Europe, the debt crisis clearly calls out for two solutions, default and inflation. Unfortunately, these are anathema to the ECB, leaving the continent to muddle along until the zombie banks simply run out of brains to ingest and it all falls apart. Here, consumer spending is going nowhere (although luxury spending is just fine), while corporations sit on mounds of cash they aren’t spending. It’s hard to see how the market is efficiently allocating capital right now. It’s almost as if the tragedy of the commons is real and requires government intervention to take some of that capital and redirect it to projects that benefit everybody, like infrastructure.

I don’t see how we are going to get out of this slump anytime soon, so we may as well shoot for the moon. Why not a goal to make the country carbon-neutral by 2050? Sure, it would be a monumental undertaking, with no guarantee of success. But it would put us on the forefront of technology that is going to happen sooner or later, and what we are doing at present clearly isn’t working. Is there anybody who can provide the leadership to arouse the public support for a project like this comparable to the Apollo Program? Our country’s future may depend on it.

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