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.

06 October 2010

Whatever Happened to Jobs?

Two months in a row, jobs have disappeared. There is no more important economic issue we face right now and the parties need to define why this is and what they will do to address the problem.

From 1980 to 2000, the American economy created almost 2 million jobs per year. For the first decade of this century, the economy has LOST about 200,000 jobs per year.

George W. Bush stimulated the economy enormously - jacking up spending and lowering taxes. In spite of that, during his administration, jobs were created at about 1/10th the rate as during Clinton's administration. And of course, the slow creation of jobs under Obama's policies has reversed, and on net, job losses each of the first two years has been about 2 million.

I have some theories about this but they are just that - theories. I do have some facts, though. The Republicans have shown themselves irrelevant to this problem by clamoring for deficit reduction - calling for budget cuts in a time of near-double digit unemployment. Whatever questions we have about how to create jobs, we can be pretty sure that this is a good way to destroy them. The Democrats, too, have shown themselves irrelevant to this problem. They ask for more time for their stimulus package to work (or, rather, put Americans to work) but are unable to explain why massive stimulus has had so little effect on the economy. And they holler about candidates who dabbled in witchcraft.

This problem of job formation would be problematic in the best of times. It is compounded by the fact that the media is all about defending or attacking the major parties rather than exploring a problem for which there appears to be no obvious solutions.

01 October 2010

The Rate of Inflation of (perceived) Tax Rates

I had an epiphany the other day. People KNOW that taxes are too high but they don't know how high they are.

I think it would be fascinating to sponsor a study asking Americans two questions:

1. What do you think is the average tax rate for the US federal government? (What portion of the GDP is collected by the federal government as taxes?)
2. What do you think the average should be?

Simply judging from conversations with a few friends, they all are convinced that taxes are too high at their current rate of (estimates vary from 33% to 50%). They think that taxes should be closer to 18% to 30%.

Last year, federal tax receipts (for everything, including personal and corporate taxes) were about 14% of GDP. In recent decades, we've been at about 18%, give or take a couple of percentage points.

The right has infected public opinion in a variety of ways, but this matter of inflation in the perceived tax rate might be their greatest success. They've seemingly convinced the average person that taxes are about double what they are.

Oh, and one last thing. If we add in state and local taxes - everything from property taxes to sales and inheritance taxes, etc. - the average tax rate in the US is 27%.

Are taxes too high? Maybe. Looking around the Western world it seems me me that we're doing pretty well (Sweden is just under 50%; the OECD average is about 36%.) But if we're going to discuss tax rates it seems to me that the discussion should start with the facts, not some intentionally distorted perception of those facts.