30 December 2010

Redefining the Nation-State as a Phase of Life Instead of Place

More Americans are retiring in Mexico. It costs less to live there.

Mexicans are still trying to come to the US for work. Jobs pay more here.

What if, over time, nation-states are less places than way stations for phases of life? What it will mean to be American is that you have a good job. What it means to be Mexican is that you are retired. You know, sort of like what it means to be  New Yorker or a Floridan.

"Mom, where do people go when they die?"
"South America, honey."

29 December 2010

Breaking the Handcuffs of History - From Stimulating the Old Economy to Creating a New One

I'm a firm believer that the farther back one goes into history, the further ahead one can predict. This, of course, depends on understanding patterns and dynamics that drive events. As much as I love history as a means for understanding how we got here and the direction we're heading, I often see history used as a way to define what is possible rather than create new possibilities.

In today's economy, there are frequent parallels drawn to FDR and the slow recovery from the Great Depression. I'm not sure that the right lessons have been drawn from this.

WWII seemed to have ended the Great Depression. Industries like information technology and commercial aviation were direct products of the war effort. Industries like pharmaceuticals and media were less obviously a product of the war than of the many beneficiaries of the GI Bill that created so many knowledge workers who, in turn, created or made possible new industries so dependent on knowledge workers.

One lesson is that if we also stimulate the economy and fund education, we'll also stimulate GDP and create jobs. This is partly true - as can be seen by the fact that we've partly accomplished these goals. (GDP is again rising; unemployment stays disturbingly high.) But it seems to me that there is a more important lesson.

FDR partially, and the second world war more completely, didn't just nudge the economy towards full employment. FDR created entirely new departments and government bureaucracies in addition to the new industries that were spun off from the war effort. It wasn't just that old industries and government agencies employed more people: entirely new industries and agencies created jobs.

Bush started - and then Obama continued - a huge stimulus package. But neither have actually helped to create new industries.

Alternative energy is the obvious new industry that could be created by government initiative. Others include longevity enhancement, nanotechnology manufacturing and repair, commercial "space" travel, and mental health through cognitive science (and not just pharmaceuticals) to name just a few.

To date, the attempt to create jobs by cutting taxes for corporations and buying bonds from banks has proven wildly inadequate. Corporations now sit on top of a record $2 trillion in cash - money that's not being used to create products, processes, or jobs. Banks are still not loaning. Corporations and banks have money but they are not creating.

Instead of wasting stimulus potential through tax cuts and bank financing, the government would do well to directly fund the creation of new technologies and companies. Yes, fund new companies that represent new industries that would absorb displaced workers and hire new ones.

The real lesson of the recovery from the Great Depression is not to merely stimulate the old economy. It is, as well, to help play midwife to new ones. Until we're that bold, I think that our recovery is going to look more like Japan's decade long stagnation than any previous recovery we've enjoyed.

27 December 2010

iBudget: The Per Person National Budget, Allocated by You

I think it is time that federal budgets be translated into per person amounts so that we all can have some sense of perspective.

The idea of a $14 trillion economy or a $3.5 trillion federal budget is mind numbing. I propose that all talk about budgets and taxes be adjusted to per person totals. Our roughly $14 trillion economy, for instance, translates into about $46,000 per person. The first number makes no sense to me; the second does.

So, even if - like me - you haven't a clue what $663 billion for defense looks like, you can understand what it means to have each person pay $2,200 a year for defense, or about 5 cents of each dollar they make. A National Science Foundation budget to finance all basic research is about $7 billion. Sounds like a lot, but that means each American chips in about $23 a year. In other words, if you go to a nice, but by no means extravagant, restaurant, you'll spend as much on that one meal as you spend to help fund basic research.

It wouldn't be hard for the federal government to have a website that allowed people to enter their income to see how much they were funding in each category. And I think that if we can calculate taxes we owe each year, we should also have the ability to allocate those taxes. I'd be fascinated to see what gaps showed up between current government outlays and what the average person thought we ought to allocate to. If we were really brave, we could let each tax payer allocate - the total budget distribution a weighted average of every taxpayers' allocation.

These steps would make the budget process more personal and maybe even make it feel a little more like it was our government.

23 December 2010

On Conversation

I was recently with a friend who left me dismayed. He's become the guy whose opinions are not opinions but are, instead, "the way things are." This dismayed me because such an approach takes all the joy out of every conversation and because it was a reminder of how easily I could become (could be?) that guy. I have very strong opinions.

But it seems to me that the best conversations are the ones that don't smack down possibility before it's even out of the womb. Instead, conversations that play with possibility, coddle it, and explore it are best. This means that a person can talk without being defensive. (I do think that there is something expansive about good conversations. They don't make us hunker down but instead draw us out to dance.) This means that a person gets to discover for himself or herself what is or is not workable in this possibility. And finally, in the end, it clarifies the real purpose of a conversation. Conversation is not about the battle of ideas or an exchange of information: conversation is about, not just getting to uncover ourselves but getting to discover ourselves. A good conversation leaves you vulnerable at times. It is as much about confessing what you don't know as what you do. It is not about alternating monologues but instead about co-creating a dialogue. This means cooperation, not competition.

Next time you are in a conversation, try the following. When someone mentions something that you disagree with, play with it. Listen to them. Ask them questions that get them to explore the consequences of what they're saying, rather than having you point this out. Not only do they get to understand themselves better, but you, too, might come to understand them. And if there is anything that we all want, it is to be heard and understood.

Finally, I'll try not to be the guy who "knows." My own conclusion about life is that it is easiest to be arrogant when you've not really tried anything. If you are sincere about trying to accomplish something that matters, you'll inevitably be humbled by life ... and if you are honest about it, this will leave you open to hear what someone else might know that could be a help to you becoming who it is that you're becoming.

19 December 2010

What if Twitter & Facebook Were Revolutionary?

When we listened to just a few, we listened a long time. Politicians and pundits were expected to go on at length - speeches and programs of 30 to 60 minutes, essays and books that were hundreds of - or even a hundred thousand - words.

But today's model is less about spending time with a few respected voices than spending time with lots and lots of friends and friendly - or not so friendly - voices. Even if we double the time we spend collecting news and opinion, we have to fragment it over more and more people. This necessarily forces concision, forces us to condense our thoughts into fewer words. 

Brain cells continually communicate with each other, but they are very efficient at it. These cells tend to communicate by exception, minimizing the "I'm here" signal. The brain already burns an enormous amount of energy even with this minimalist model. This efficiency is the only way to allow billions of cells to be connected. 

Facebook status comments, tweets, and texts seem to be moving us towards this model of communication over a broader net of people - a truly distributed model that doesn't dispense long messages outwards from some central point (like radio or TV) but instead sends lots and lots of short messages between nodes, or people. This model is not about hierarchy; it is about connection. 

For centuries, the progression in the West has been towards dispersing power outwards rather than concentrating it in a few. It seems as though we are now rapidly evolving a communication and reporting model that supports this more than ever. 

Stay tuned: power follows the flow of information and communication. Our old institutions that place power at the top - from church and schools to governments and corporations - are going to rapidly evolve as the communication structures that hold them in place shift. In fact, they used to call this kind of thing revolutionary. This could get really interesting. 

10 December 2010

Time for Real Business News

In today's world, we rightfully praise brave reporters who work inside of repressive countries, struggling to report and analyze facts. But right here in the US, we have closed societies that get even less objective reporting than what comes from these countries: the corporations that define so much of our societal norms, incomes, and menu of products and services are largely exempt from real reporting.

Imagine even something as simple as the approval ratings of CEOs and senior management by a companies' employees, something akin to the approval ratings of presidents or Congress. "Do you approve of the strategic direction of your senior management team?" Or, "Do you think that the CEO is adding value to the company?" would be incredibly revealing questions that could be asked of employees at, say, Fortune 500 firms. Investors, prospective employees, strategic partners, customers and - of course - current employees would greatly benefit from such an insight. As it is now, though, the thing that passes for business news is simply movements in stock price and new product announcements. And when reporters talk to anyone about the company, it is inevitably a CEO or other Chief of some kind. This is akin to taking the word of only the president in a country when trying to understand it.

Modern corporations define far too much of the modern world to be exempt from reporting standards similar to what we subject democratic countries and their leaders. (And as the Wikileaks brouhaha has revealed, even supposedly open Western nations react badly to the equivalent of diplomatic gossip being leaked.) It's time for this to change. The question is, what network is brave enough to pioneer a new standard for business reporting? And speaking of business, it seems to me that such reporting would make for good business.

07 December 2010

Who Do You Trust?

Harris Poll:
The industries that are trusted by the most people are supermarkets (29%), hospitals (29%), banks (20%) and electric and gas utilities (19%). 
The industries that are trusted by the fewest people are tobacco (2%), oil (4%), telecommunications (7%), and managed care companies (7%)

Funny thing about trusting banks more than tobacco companies. Tobacco companies are quite explicit about the product that they're selling; by contrast, banks are a little more opaque (have you tried making sense of your credit card contract?). You can trust tobacco companies to sell you a product that is bad for you; you can never be sure with banks and their loans.

Poor Americans. We don't trust our big institutions - from government to corporations - and yet we can't live without them. 

01 December 2010

November Tweets

Oh no! Tomorrow if you vote one way it'll be social armageddon and economic stagnation & if you vote for the other, the reverse.

Pelosi has proposed to Boehner that they settle who'll be Speaker of the House with a best of 7 series between the Giants and Reds.

Hooray!! We're going to reduce the deficit by laying off all government workers and contractors! Finally a solution to chronic unemployment.

The term "horseless carriage" stuck for years. By contrast, the term "carriage-returnless typewriter" to describe the computer never took.

Idea for my first ever art show. Accidental exhibit: portraits of museum guards.

The simplest explanation for the last election could be aspirational voters who vote for tax breaks they wished they qualified for. 

"Don't tell me the sky is the limit when there are footprints on the moon."

Make financial news more anthropomorphic .OK: “Market takes a breather.” Better: “Market couldn't be bothered to get out of bed this morning & put its pants on.

Bush: "I could have done things better." He still thinks it was about execution. Yet, the better you do the wrong things the worse it gets.

One secret to happiness seems simply having very low standards for what one finds amusing.

In restaurants, hotel lobbies ... anyone else notice that TVs are the new wallpaper? And most inexplicable are the muted talking heads.

Think that a buddy concerned about the deficit should start a new political party. How about "the party's over" party.

Veteran’s Day … "... as many Vietnam veterans committed suicide after the war as were killed during it." Respect soldiers? Stop sending them to war.

Of all the things I could be thinking about ... I keep thinking, "it's only only 9-ish here, not noon. Wait at least an hour for lunch.

Sandi bought me a reversible pullover. I guess that means I can pull it on or pull it off. No idea why they felt compelled to point that out.

1 in 5 Children live in poverty. Rand Paul would like to point out that this is just one more reason to do away w/ child labor law.

The FDA will soon require graphic pictures on cigarette boxes depicting the consequences of tobacco abuse. I so hope that fast foods and groceries aren't next.

Cameron and Obama say that Suu Kyi is an inspiration and a personal hero. Now if only they had enough power to pressure the Burmese junta.

Solved the deficit while eating cereal this morning:nytimes.com/interactive/20… via @nytgraphics Now you try.

Veni, vidi, visa. I came, I saw, I charged it. Visited the 2nd largest mall in US last week in Philly. It was just like a mall only more so.

As I see it, I have 3 choices: gain 10 lbs, lose 10 lbs, or buy a new belt. 

Mary Karr's Liars' Club is to growing up agnostic in Texas what Angela's Ashes is to growing up Catholic in Ireland. That rare book that is funny & poignant.

He got on the TSA no-fly list. Why? Thanked them a little too enthusiastically for the pat-down and body scan.

Listened to talk @ Neuroscience Institute on Memory. Supposedly experts but they couldn't explain where memories of past lives are stored.

Not only were they never published, but as far as we know Socrates, Buddha and Jesus never even wrote anything.

As it turns out, making things simple is not always so simple.

One problem w/ positive thinking is that if you're smart enough to delude yourself than you're too smart to fall for it.

The Pope created 24 cardinals today. To keep up, the Archibishop of Canterbury plans to create 36 bluebirds tomorrow.

Still wowed by the serendipity today. Visited the 6th floor museum on this, the 47th anniversary of JFK's assassination. Riveting & surprisingly poignant.

Quirky Austin. I wonder if a simple proxy / metric, for how much personality a city has is the ratio of locally owned businesses to chains.

Ken Starr has become the president of Baylor. I wonder how long before he'll found a school of proctology there.

Thanksgiving - when Americans celebrate settling a new continent ... and Europeans celebrate being left in peace & quiet on the old one.

Special greetings from this San Antonio tourist for your Thanksgiving feasting: remember the ala mode.

In 1960, smokers in US = 42% & obese = 13%. By 2009, smokers = 20% & obese = 35%. Did 22% of Americans stop smoking & begin overeating?

Billy Joel had both hips replaced. I hope he sprung for the auto-gyration disco ball joint version.
New bucket list item: start a motorcycle gang.

One rarely mentioned benefit of face masks: they keep touchdown celebrations from escalating beyond hugs and high-fives.

The real reason that newspaper revenues fell precipitously in the last decade: Bill Watterson retired. http://bit.ly/ec4xCb

I think flying would be more exhilarating if we traveled 550 mph at an altitude of 30 feet instead of 30,000.

Woman w/ huge neon pink purse, "Victoria's Secret" written in huge glitter font on the side. @ that point does it still qualify as a secret?

I'd have more respect for the media if just once they announced, "nothing newsworthy happened today, so we're just going to play some music"

Simple guide to pursuing audacious goals in 3 easy stages: arrangement, rearrangement, and then derangement.

Mine is a condition common to many San Diegans, I'm claustropedic. My toes start to feel panicked when they're closed in for too long.

Rush Limbaugh? Ha! Let's tackle him.

26 November 2010

The High Cost of Being Glen Beck

Glen Beck is LDS. As a Mormon, he's expected to tithe 10% to his church. As tea party enthusiast, he believes that federal taxes equal to 14% of GDP is too high.

The federal government funds
- retirement
- health care
- war & occupation
- defense of borders
- unemployment
- interstate highways
- housing
- environmental protection
- science research
- arts
- etc.
- etc.
- etc.

What does the church fund?
- potlucks
- a church building
- some missions (although from what little I know about it, much of this is actually funded by the family of the young (or old) person going on a mission, not the church).

Now I am sure that the list for what the church funds could be longer - but so could the list of what NASA funds. Seems to me that the federal government is doing much more with its 14% than Glen's church is doing with its 10%. Maybe, if Glen is really that sore about taxes, he should just join a cheaper church.

Just a thought.

25 November 2010

Stop Smoking & Gain Weight

Here are four curious facts.

In 1960, 42% of Americans smoked and 13% were obese.
In 2009, 20% of Americans smoked and 35% were obese.

I wonder if we could conclude that 22% of Americans stopped smoking and began overeating. And I wonder which of the two - smoking or overeating - do the most to reduce life expectancy. 

Pope - "Make Love Not War" (well, sort of)

Vatican: Condom use less evil than spreading HIV
Wow. And it only took the Vatican decades to figure out which of these was worse. 

22 November 2010

Ask Not What Your Media Can Do For You (Parallels Between JFK and Obama)

Today at the 6th Floor Museum, I couldn't help but think about some parallels between John Kennedy and Barack Obama.

Kennedy was a candidate whose charisma helped him to win in spite of the fact that many questioned his youth and status as a minority. (Kennedy being Catholic was probably a bigger obstacle to becoming president in 1960 than was Obama’s being black in 2008.)

JFK angered many by supporting Civil Rights. LBJ predicted that this would cause Democrats to lose the south for a generation or two, as good old boys switched affiliation from the Democratic to Republican Party. (The working class used to more predictably vote Democratic in the south.) 

Curiously, in spite of the backlash of anger in reaction to desegregation in many conservative circles, no conservatives today argue for a return to segregation.

Obama angered many by signing legislation to ensure health care for all Americans. Today respectable conservatives argue that Americans who haven’t money enough for their own coverage or medical care ought to face the prospect of death or bankruptcy. I predict that in 50 years, universal health care will be more like desegregation in that no normal conservative will argue for its reversal. 

Like Obama, JFK seemed to be more loved and adored abroad than at home.

But the parallel that is perhaps most unsettling was the kind of hatred felt towards JFK and Obama by mainstream conservative groups. The day that JFK came to Dallas, business leaders there had taken out an ad in the daily paper making a series of outrageous accusations against Kennedy. About 5,000 flyers were passed out in Dallas accusing Kennedy of treason; like the newspaper ad, these flyers accused Kennedy not just of bad policy but of actually betraying the constitution. Some of JFK’s people advised him against visiting this, the most hostile city in the US. And in this milieu of hatred, a lone assassin acted.

Looking at the arguments against Kennedy by conservative groups, one sees how little has changed in their tactics over a period of 50 years. They don’t resort to reason but instead try to inspire fear. They conflate a willingness to negotiate with a capitulation to the forces of evil (communism for Kennedy, terrorism for Obama.)

While Oswald may have acted alone, it is worth noting that he acted in Dallas, not Boston or New York. Alligators do better in swamps than pastures; some environments are more conducive to certain kinds of people.

The most important thing is to create a culture that feeds a dialogue about what kind of country we’re creating. We can’t afford to create a culture that is hospitable to alligators. You can do something about this.

Ask not what your media can do for you. Ask what you can do for your media. It’s time to turn the channel whenever you hear nonsense reported as if it were fact, or cancel subscriptions when you read an article that can’t distinguish between reporting conflicting (even if absurd) opinions and actual investigative reporting. And, most importantly, demand that your media sources distinguish between really bad policies and evil people. Anyone should work to kill legislation they don't agree with; no one should work to kill people they disagree with.

Today is the 47th anniversary of JFK's assassination. It's worth thinking about.

17 November 2010

Tweet October

Follow at http://twitter.com/#!/iamrondavison
(And yes, some of these tweets were elaborated on beyond the 140 characters when I brought them over.)

Product idea. Pasta for special occasions. Small, colorful, and easier to eat than spaghetti: confetti & meatballs. If everyone wears plastic, it could even be served in a Times Square ticker tape parade kind of way.

Wonder when a football team will adopt a SuperHero costume - capes, painted on abs, etc. Maybe the previous yrs' national champions could wear one.

Proposed word: dyspunctual. Someone chronically late or ridiculously early.

Saw on t-shirt: "people who think they know everything annoy those of us who do."

Way cool - Thomas Kuhn sold me my sandwich. Nearly as cool: I got to tell this Thomas about that Thomas. Paradigm shift indeed

Ben Roethlisberger returns after suspension for sexual assault; Steelers' center confesses to feeling a little skittish.

Wonder how many BTUs the country would save each year if restaurants just served a reasonable amount of ice in drinks.

Christine O'Donnell would like to clarify that what she meant by "dabbling in witchcraft" is that she's read all the Harry Potter books.

"How'd your twitter account get shut down, dude?" "Total Rick Sanchez move: I said nerds are behind the internet. Next thing I knew ..."

"Did you know you can twitter more than 140 characters?" "Yeah. It's called blogging."

Product idea: self inflating tires. "Those wheels suck." "Yes they do." Be great for maintenance and car chases, depending on your lifestyle.

Ran-dam-plification: as the head cold gradually loosens its grip on the sinuses, volumes quickly and reversibly go from sedate to jarring.

People rarely hear what you're actually saying as clearly as they hear what they think you are saying.

Sad day for happy meals: the FDA now requires McDonald's to list actual emotional impact of their happy meals along with nutritional info.

As near as she could tell, his only real commitment to the environment was his habit of recycling jokes.

Odd: a plane can taxi but a taxi cannot.

Saw a dog in the audience of the Old Globe Playhouse this evening. He seemed really happy to be there.

I still have not figured out why base runners need helmets. And if they have to, why not something more lightweight, like bike helmets?

Recession forcing you to cut back? Student on tight budget? Try the new mobius strip bagels and donuts - the new, infinite food supply.

I am nearly certain I drove by Aryan Hair Salon this evening. I wonder if they make all their clients look like skinheads.

I love the idea of cutting NPR's funding because it stupidly fired Juan Williams. In a perfect world all the news would come from for-profits like Fox & MSNBC. Sigh.

This is news? Americans split on healthcare repeal? What would be news is if Americans were suddenly unanimous on the topic.

I wonder if you'd wake up twice as rested if you were dreaming that you were sleeping.

Alternate scoring: get points & runs for both plays AND replays. Spectacular, replay-worthy plays would then be worth more, counted as many times as they were replayed.

I think that women's gymnastics balance beam could be much more interesting with a three-drink minimum.

"Everything comes with fries," he tells me. "Even the fries?" He pauses. Stares at me. Finally, "Yeah. Even the fries."

Leadership is not just getting people to follow you. It's having somewhere new to take them. Nowhere new and you're just popular.

Does cheering work? Wouldn't the subconscious of visiting teams be likely to misconstrue the cheers as meant for them? Same w/ boos undermining the confidence of the home team?

The mis-application of patience? The country gave dubya 6 yrs to wreak havoc and obama only 2 to repair?

77. Sunny. Coronado looking like an opening scene in a fairy tale. Gorgeous day. I do love being home.

Perfect costume for tomorrow's Halloween party: ghost. Sadly, the costume is so realistic that everyone there will just think I didn't come.

CA is about to legalize pot but smoking has already been made illegal everywhere. Today's investment tip: buy brownies futures.

Must be Halloween weekend. I am sure at Balboa Park tonight I saw 2 ghosts texting on an Ouija Board.

Broadcast idea: alternatives to typical play by play for baseball games. Why not Abbott & Costello? Bert & Ernie? Bogart & Bacall?

The Tea Party - A Time Machine to the late 1800s

Put simply, the tea party stands for a reversal of the gains of the last century. If wanting to slow or stop social change makes one a conservative, then the tea party is made up of reactionaries. They actually want to reverse social change.

During the last century, popular opinion in the US changed in terms of attitudes towards consumer credit and consumption in general, government intervention into the economy, management of the economy and organizations, and government programs that lessened capitalism’s tendency to extremes – extreme wealth and extreme poverty.

It is worth remembering that life was worse when the absence of a welfare state made poverty a death sentence. And it is not true that when the stakes were higher - when people died for want rather than were merely destitute - that unemployment or poverty were lower. 

We've tried the world that the tea party promises. You can read it about it in history books that document life 100+ years ago. You can experience it by going to foreign countries where poverty is widespread and where the social safety net and regulations are largely nonexistent. 

Next time you are reading about the tea party or talking with a friend who admires them, ask how what they're proposing - from doing away with unions and the Federal Reserve and banking regulations to privatizing education and eradicating welfare - is any different than the world we had in, say, 1890. And then ask them to list all the ways in which life was better 100 years ago when their policies ruled. It could make for an interesting conversation. 

10 November 2010

The Big Question About Obama

The big question about Obama is simply this: is he as good a president as Bush was bad?

Bush left the country two difficult to extract from occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, a structural deficit that is the largest in history (meaning, even running at full employment, the government budget is structured to be in deficit), and cut long-term investments in infrastructure. He was the first president in history to start two major wars while cutting taxes. While I don't think that Bush is to blame for 9-11 or the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression, he obviously was unable to detect and stop these threats in time. Additionally, the man undermined progress on fighting climate change and attacked rights to privacy and due process. How bad was he? It would take any president years to undo the damage he'd done.

So now in order to be considered good, Obama has to reverse Bush's atrocious fiscal policies AND environmental policies AND extract American troops from two occupations. This just to get to zero.

Just to preempt his critics. yes, Obama did run for office fully aware of these challenges. JFK was quoted as saying that what most surprised him was that when he got into office he learned that things were, indeed, as bad as he had been saying while campaigning.

Obama can't just stand atop his own achievements at the bottom of the hole that Bush has dug. He has to be good enough to fill Bush's hole AND build something more atop that. Personally, I think that Obama is a good president. It is not yet obvious, though, that he's as good as Bush was bad.

04 November 2010

About the Only Thing We Know for Sure

This matter of job creation is not trivial. I believe that we've hit an inflection point, a point of transition from one economy to the next akin to the transition from agricultural to industrial, or industrial to information economy. Making this transition will require shifts in how corporations, schools, universities, and governments are managed and how policy is formulated.

There are many questions that have to do with the issues of how to create jobs, reverse wage stagnation, and lower unemployment. (These are related but separate issues.)

But in the midst of the uncertainty about how best to lower unemployment we do know at least one thing. Fiscal austerity - deficit reductions - that would result in massive layoffs of government workers and government contractors won't lower unemployment. This is one of the few certainties we have in the midst of so many questions.

And yet, sadly, the Republicans who've just won office seem convinced of only one thing: fiscal austerity - deficit reductions - that would result in massive layoffs of government workers and government contractors is the one thing that will make this country better.

I guess it is just the height of optimism to wish that after the Bush / Cheney / Rumsfeld promises we'd have learned that there is a big difference between conviction and actually being right.

About the only thing we know for sure is that slashing government spending would cause this economy to stall. And yet, this seems about the only thing the Republicans are convinced of.

02 November 2010

Policy (not political) Reasons The Republicans Will Win So Big Today

One of the reasons that Obama's democrats will lose so many seats in today's election is unavoidable. Obama's recovery from the Great Recession is in the road building phase of recovery. By that I mean when traffic is bad and the crews come in to widen lanes, the initial approach simply worsens things. The construction crews make traffic even worse before their work makes things better. Obama is trying to stimulate the economy and while that has done little to (visibly) reduce unemployment, it has quite visibly raised the deficit. Given his approach, it seemed unavoidable that he'd lose seats in this election.

But I don't think that he had to lose so many seats. Part of the problem, I think, is that when he bailed out the banks, no one paid for that. Some banks did engage in unsafe practices. The system did need to be protected from collapse. (The equilibrium point for a cash only economy is considerably lower than current levels of GDP.) Obama (as Bush before him) had no choice but to rescue banks to keep the financial system working. He did have a choice about how to do it.

I'm not sure the best policy on this. I would propose that the net worth of executives in rescued banks be taxed at 80%. Or that bonuses that can be positive in good years can be negative in bad. Or any of a number of things that would have made the little guy who was not rescued feel as though the rich guys who were had not been subsidized by their taxes. Obama never quite seemed to appreciate the visceral reaction people had to the bank rescue. Bush got this and - while it was a complete non sequitur - he gave the people a war after 9-11. Obama did not even try to sate Americans' desire for some kind of retribution and now, the Tea Party has made him the one who pays.

25 October 2010

September Twits

Tweets from September (and yes, I took advantage of the lack of 140 character limit to embellish a few).

1st the tea party protests taxes, then the Spanish protest being unable to retire at 60. After protesting fiscal reality organizers from both countries plan to protest the laws of physics as "too limiting."

I wonder if the progression in modern media will be from communicating long ideas via blog to shorter ideas via twitter to no ideas via graffiti.

The more stressed, the more likely I am to listen to oldies music. Funny thing about that, though is that I don't remember thinking my life was stress-free then.

True story. "I let my 8 yr old name our new baby Luke." "That's a nice name." "Yeah. He's a huge Star Wars fan."

Curious that fall is so much more serious about global warming than summer. Figures. Summer is never serious about anything. 99 Yesterday? Isn’t fall supposed to be cooler?

The avg American is on a computer 3.7 hrs/day. Install a carriage return with resistance of about 5 pounds. Calories day burned would be 147 which is equal to 15 lbs/yr.

Lottery - tax for people bad at math. Tea Party - politics for people mad at math. Cutting taxes AND reducing deficit? Yeah. That'll work.

Cudda been a contender .. instead just contentious.

Zuckerberg donates $100 million to NJ Schools the same week an unflattering movie about him comes out. Great news for film schools who now know they can get grants creating unflattering portraits of billionaires.

biz idea: Design a line of ergonomically correct underwear. I really have no idea what this means but I think it'll be easy to market.

RT @LimericksEcon: 3 statisticians go bird shooting. 1st shoots 20' to the right, 2nd, 20' to the left, 3rd shouts out, "We got it!".

I'm launching a new search engine: giigle. Enter words like rabbi, duck, and cabbage and it finds you jokes using those “ingredients.”

All the big businesses seem to have a facebook page now. I wonder if facebook has a facebook page. And how would you know?

After Meg buys the governor job ($150 mil?), I wonder if everything will become eWhatever. eDucation. eMV. Even San Francisco could become eBay.

Here in California we're soon to run out of license plate digits. I have an idea for that. Start from scratch in a new font.

I wonder if any pastor or priest observed "talk like a pirate day" yesterday or if Glen Lee was the only one.

My new marketing plan: target accidental audiences. My 2 new podcast shows will be "talk of the press" and "meet the nation"

What if we focused on development in schools and the teaching was incidental?

The early prototype of twitter: the personal license plate with its 7 character limit.

The "T" party is doing so well ... I wonder how well the "U" party would do? Or the iParty? Or the LMNOP Party (targeted @ kids).

So this evening, a guy quits rather than pick me up for a rental car. What is with this DC-area conspiracy to keep me off the road?

In case you were wondering, the Baltimore airport has not a single rental car. Not one. How odd is that?

Fans keep complaining about the Charger's loss, but none of them explain how they would have done any better.

Overheard: "It was harsh, dude. I mean, he literally ripped my head off." Figuratively, I don't know what more to add.

10 - 20 years ago, I remember being dismayed when I got a haircut and saw how much of it was dark. Now I'm consoled by that fact.

Promoting obesity: @ Subway, sandwich with 2 cookies is cheaper than a sandwich with 1. I wonder if Jared knows about this.

Another music awards show last night? I have an idea for a grab at ratings: an awards show for awards show. Best monologue, speech, category

Saw "Complete Idiot's Guide to Sex" at Border's. That explains so much.

My economic stimulus plan: random ATM enhancement. Withdraw $100 and you might win $1,000.

Quran-burning pastor says he would settle for "international punch a Muslim" day. Or just punching anyone who seems tolerant of diversity.

Real reason Obama is hesitant to use word "stimulus." Michelle is tired of people talking about her husband's "stimulus package."

Like large print books, how about a wider than normal lane for the elderly, new drivers, and people on cell phones?

As tensions between Christians and Muslims continue to mount, perhaps we could pause to ask ourselves, "What would the Hindoo?"

Accidentally typed dot-om instead of dot-com and found myself @ blank screen with calming music, slipped from info age to meditative moment

Afghanis burn American flag to protest Quran burning. This is progress. Imagine a future where warfare means the competitive destruction of symbols rather than soldiers

Great news day. Fidel Castro says communism doesn't work and David Brooks says that the American Dream doesn't work. That sort of irony works for me.

Maybe it's time I learned to drink coffee. Or fall asleep more easily in a different time zone.

Bifurcation happens more often than people think to mention it. "Way cool," by contrast, happens less often.

Maybe the phrase should be savor the day rather than seize it.

By the time I had found my motivation I had lost the evening.

biz idea: rewrite the Koran as a series of koans to market to Koreans.

Client responsible for translation of help files, etc, reports that they treat "engineering English" as a foreign language to be translated.

TV show idea: Celebrity whisperer. Psychic holds his/her ear to tabloid photos of celebs and tells us what they're thinking or the real state of their relationship.

Saw a guy with a dream catcher hanging from his rearview mirror. I hope those are just day dreams it is catching.

If we're really serious about globalization, couldn't we just put the whole planet in the same time zone?

Story idea. Jedi Clampett: enlightened warrior priest values and lifestyle challenged by sudden wealth after discovering alternative energy

23 October 2010

Prop 19 - A Kind 'of Mellower Politics

Today down in Mission Beach, Sandi and I walked past Pro-Proposition 19 Activists. Earlier we had seen a bumper sticker: Yes we Cannabis. Proposition 19 would legalize marijuana in California and unsurprisingly, these political activists were remarkably mellow. "Vote yes on 19!" They hollered as we walked by. "At least one of us won't," I said, in reference to Sandi's Canadian citizenship. "That's cool," said one of the activists, quite affably.

I did hear that the federal government will still enforce the federal laws against marijuana even if California legalizes it. As if the federal government does not have enough in its corner in this battle, just imagine mellow state officials facing off against tense FBI. "We are going to confiscate this marijuana," FBI officials would say. "Dude," protest the state officials. And like that, the contest is over. It is worth noting that Jamaica has never attacked or invaded another country.

If you wonder how it is that some drugs are illegal so that their sale makes gangsters rich and some are legal so that their sale makes pharmaceutical companies rich, think productivity. Drugs that make you more alert, functional, and productive - think caffeine, nicotine, and Prozac - are legal. Drugs that simply make you feel better but make you less productive are illegal.

Drugs that alter consciousness are about as ancient as pickled foods. It's not obvious that they'll ever be eradicated or that the marijuana prohibition is any more likely to be successful in the long run than the alcohol prohibition.

Rumor has it that the Mexican drug cartels are putting a ton of money into advertising against the proposition. That might be reason enough to pass it. Mexico is essentially being held hostage by drug cartels and anything that helps to defuse their grip on our neighbors seems good.

But to go back to the affable activists, perhaps we should start out with a small scale experiment in legalization before making marijuana legal in the entire state or country. Given how bellicose and uptight are so many politicians and political analysts, maybe we should not just legalize it for people in politics, but require it. Then, after we've studied its effect on them, we can determine whether to legalize it for wider swaths of the population. At the very least, it could make the political debates in this country a little more mellow and less strident. Who doesn't like the sound of that?

19 October 2010

From Elephant to Mad Hatter - What the Republican Party Has Become

It is the invasion of Iraq all over again. Once again, the media is reporting on Republican policy as if it makes perfect sense when even the most cursory analysis or casual glance at historical lessons suggest that in the direction they point lies madness. 

I get voter frustration with how slowly the economy - and employment in particular - has responded to the Bush / Obama bailout / stimulus plan. I do. This is a very slow, weak, and expensive recovery. Frustration is perfectly normal and we should be asking what more or different we can do to create jobs.

I do NOT get how this then translates into a plan to attack the deficit. No one has explained to me how either cutting government spending or raising taxes (or both) in the face of double-digit employment will create jobs. It seems to me that most any analysis - whether casual, intuitive, theoretical, or rigorous - would suggest that cutting government spending now would result in government contractors and government employees losing their jobs. (Or, if you want to reduce the deficit by raising taxes, it's unclear how such a plan would help to create more private sector jobs.)

The Republicans had not stupid politically. They know to capitalize on voter frustration and will likely gain seats because of it. But the Republicans of the last decade or two have a terrible and costly instinct for doing the wrong thing.

When the economy was growing and we were near full employment, the Bush administration cut taxes and raised spending. Bush stimulated the economy even when it was already healthy. The result? Froth on the bubble. Home prices rose. Stock prices rose. Debt rose. And government policy just made the equity / housing bubble bigger before it popped. Republican policy exacerbated the bubble.

Now what the Republicans are proposing will exacerbate the bust. We have near double-digit unemployment and Republicans now want to shrink or eliminate the deficit. Putting fuel on the fire during the Bush administration was terrible, helping to trigger the Great Recession. Now trying to douse the fire that’s barely burning would be madness.

I am just tired of the media pretending that such proposals make any sense. There are reasonable conservative positions (one need only look across the Atlantic to David Cameron to see this), but the Republicans do not represent them. In keeping with the tea party theme, perhaps it is time to retire the elephant as a symbol of the GOP. I think a mad hatter would be a better symbol. 

18 October 2010

When Freedom of Religion Means Freedom from Religion

This week, Angela Merkel proclaimed that Germany is a Christian nation and that the Muslim faith doesn’t really have a place in it. Ferdinand and Isabella made a similar declaration about Spain about 500 years ago before conquering Granada and driving the last of the Muslims off of the Iberian Peninsula.

We are still pretty clumsy when it comes to religion in the West. Maybe we'd do better going back to the distinction between objective and subjective reality than talking about which religions should be allowed and which should not.

Subjective reality is the domain of religion. It is the domain of personal revelations and convictions, opinions, tastes, and personal values. The experience of subjective reality is a large part of what it means to be human. No humane society can dismiss it or claim that it isn't "real."
What has made the West since the Enlightenment such a wonderful place to live is that this subjective reality is subordinated to objective reality. The objective realities of science, democracy, and economics define our modern world.

The subjective colors what scientists study, but good science means testable hypotheses. Science is objective. The subjective influences how people vote, but in a democracy it is votes that can be counted that determine what politicians hold office and what policy becomes law. Democracy is objective. And finally, the subjective influences what people do for a living or what goods and services they buy, but it is dollars that can be counted that determine which careers are funded and which goods are made. Economics, too, is objective.

Although the West rests on the subjective, it is objective reality that has the final vote in defining our world.

And that, it seems to me, is all that matters. As long as any subjective reality - from Christianity to Islam to atheism - only has access to the public realm through the front door of objective reality, we're likely to live in a "good" society.
And this leads to the conclusion that is rarely made. During the Enlightenment, Christianity was radically redefined. It was no longer the force that Constantine defined as the basis for rule; instead, it became a way that people made sense of their individual lives. Christianity - once the basis for theocracy as oppressive as anything found in the history of Islam - was reformed. To become fully a part of the West, Islam will have to go through a similar re-definition. Turkey alone proves that this is not impossible, much less the presence of so many Muslims living peacefully in the West.
This is not a matter of getting the right subjective reality. This is simply a matter of never letting any subjective reality rule over objective reality. It is this more than the particulars of religion that form the basis of the modern West.

07 October 2010

At Last! A Nobel Prize Winner I Can Recommend

When I was 18, I read a novel about an 18 year old who fell in love with his aunt while working at a radio station with a wonderfully eccentric creative force, a writer of radio soap operas. For years after, it was on my list of favorite novels. (Until, I think, my daughter dismissed it as overly hormonal, or some such.) I thought it was brilliantly creative and this week, the Nobel Prize committee awarded its author, Mario Vargas Llosa, the Nobel Prize for Literature. I feel somewhat vindicated.
To me, the novel had any number of good reasons to hold my attention. The 18 year was in love with a 32 year old (as it turns out, this was based on Vargas' own life experience). As it turns out, hormonally speaking, an 18 year old male and 32 year old female are probably pretty well matched. That relationship alone - amplifying all that is awkward in any love story with its added prohibition of defying social norms - was enough to justify a story. The love story seems hopeless which, of course, is the definition of a love story: the triumph of love over probability and good sense. Love is for risk takers.
But the real juice in the story came from the alternating chapters that were excerpts from the daily radio soap operas written by the tiny little genius who'd come to Peru from a foreign country. Not only are these chapters wonderfully absurd, imaginative, and engaging, they record how the breakdown of self coincides with the breakdown of narrative.
We tell stories to make sense of our own lives. We explain ourselves to people. We explain government or work or pop culture through stories. Scientists are calling into question the hypothesis that we have any real choice about how we live our lives, as the evidence mounts that choices are made before we are conscious of our inclinations. We may not control what we do but we can generate wonderfully good reasons for it. To lose control of the narrative of our own lives is to lose control over our own lives. Even a victim has, at least, his own story about injustice. Vargas delivers a lecture on the power of narrative in such an entertaining way that we don't even realize that it is a lecture (and I pause to use such a term because "lecture" seems such a crass description of what he does).
And then the story ends sadly when the narrative of love fails to cohere. But sadly, too, is perhaps the wrong word. (It might just be this repeated choice of the wrong word that signals one difference between novelist and blogger.) The end of love is poignant because this we hate to see the story end between our narrator and "Aunt Julia," but is nonetheless hopeful simply because we trust that once this love story is over, our narrator will be able to write another. Narrative is key and this young man has learned how to be a narrator. For such a  character, there is hope. He could one day be president or love again or even win a Nobel Prize.