30 August 2012

You Didn't Build That 2.0

Obama famously claimed that "you didn't build that" when talking about how no one creates success in isolation from the community they live in. They don't perform a solo act and they should give back, was his argument.

It is hard to imagine Donald Trump, for instance, having his great success on a desert island. Wait. No. Donald Trump is self-contained enough that it's easy to imagine him even having his own TV show on a desert island. Bad example. But most people build on and draw from others to create success, dependent on the community.

I was listening on the radio and missed the graphics but it seemed like the sound bite of Obama saying, "You didn't build that" was being played at the convention at the transition between speakers who praised Mitt Romney. They talked about how Mitt saved, not just the Salt Lake City Olympics but the very Olympics themselves. They talked about how they started a business but were lost before Mitt came along.

And in those stories I heard a new variant on "You didn't build that." What I heard was, "You started a business? You didn't build that. Mitt did." "You won a gold medal? You didn't win that. Mitt did."

I initially thought that Romney's disapproval of Obama's line was that Obama seemed to be denying credit to the individual. Turns out, Romney was just disappointed that Obama was denying Romney credit.

Why the GOP's Denial of Evolution Makes Their Foreign Policy Ineffectual and Expensive

In the following speech, Condoleezza Rice calls for America to lead the world into democracy. Even while she acknowledges that since 9-11 the price for such leadership has been high, she reasserts its importance.

She glosses over the facts of this cost. The $100 billion a year it has cost to occupy Afghanistan and Iraq has put an unsustainable strain on America's budget. To add, say, Iran to that list could easily double the cost, and there are close to another 100 countries that  could use aid in political transformation. Worse, the multiple rotations for our soldiers has become personally unbearable for these soldiers and their families. Divorce rates among active duty soldiers is at an all-time high. Every day, 18 veterans commit suicide. To call for America to lead is meaningless if she's not directly asking the American people to support higher taxes and a draft. We're all happy to have the product if we don't have to pay for it.

Beyond this, though, her speech reveals the chief weakness of the Republican position on foreign policy, and it stems from a seemingly unrelated belief: Republicans' rejection of evolution.

In the Republican world, democracy is a natural state and once people are unencumbered by tyrants, they will automatically form some version of a republic, with prosperity, religious freedom, and wise policies to automatically follow. In their world, there is little difference between freeing Germany of Nazis or Afghanistan of the Taliban: in both cases, a thriving and prosperous country will emerge. For them, evolution of beliefs, culture, commerce, religion, and the economy are irrelevant: leaders have either created a republic or they haven't. The difference between Germany and Afghanistan does not depend on fairly complex stages of development but depends instead on whether or not some great leaders have said, "let there be freedom." The need for some critical mass of the population to have accepted religion as a personal choice rather than something that society can impose, for instance, or economic development and trade that makes one's reality larger than the local village, does not come into play in their model. And this sort of mistake is expensive because if they're wrong, we could work with countries for a decade and still be a great distance from anything resembling a modern democracy, a government that we could safely hand off to the local people.

To be fair to Rice, a party convention is no place for nuance. Still, it seems troubling that the woman who helped craft the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan would seemingly rebuke the Obama administration for unwillingness for more such occupations. There is seemingly no reflection on what our previous commitments have bought us or why nation-building (which was actually state-building) in Germany and Japan went so well and so quickly and nation-building (which really is nation-building) in Afghanistan and Iraq have gone so poorly and taken so long. There seems to be no awareness that at different levels of evolution (or even development), that what is possible for countries might be very different and attempts to force open flower buds could end poorly.

Curiously, Rice does acknowledge that progress does not come out of a conservative milieu when she lists the great innovation centers to which people flock to help build the new economy: Silicon Valley, North Carolina's Research Triangle, Route 128 in Massachusetts, and Austin, TX are all incredibly liberal spots, places where Obama won against McCain by margins of 2 to 1 and 3 to 1. Progress is threatening. It is disruptive. Progress does not come out of a conservative sentiment. The way that Midwestern voters feel about gay marriage is the way that Afghan voters feel about female education. Or, more relevant to her speech, the way that GOP voters felt about desegregation during the civil rights movement that Rice praises before the GOP. Progress comes from innovation and innovation does not take you to any particular stage: instead, it takes you to the next stage, and the next. It's hard to predict which elements of the past will be overturned and which will be preserved or enhanced.

The modern world is evolving. It has no natural state. And to ignore stages of development or the dynamics of evolution when constructing foreign policy, to pretend that everyone would automatically create the stage of social development in which America found itself in 2001 is not just silly. It is a guarantee that our foreign policy will be both ineffectual and wildly expensive.

27 August 2012

Joseph Smith's Failed Presidential Campaign

Mitt Romney is not the first Mormon to run for president. Towards the end of his life, Joseph Smith, founder of the LDS church, declared his candidacy. To say that he was an interesting candidate would be an understatement. Here, from Richard and Joan Ostling's fascinating book, Mormon America, is an account.

First [Joseph Smith] declared himself a candidate for president of the United States. Shortly thereafter he organized the secret Council of Fifty to plan an ambitious political future, and he had that body anoint him as “King, Priest and Ruler over Israel on Earth.” He petitioned Congress for authorization to raise and lead a 100,000-man army, personally loyal and answerable only to him, that would subdue the western territories from Texas to Oregon. [The prophet Joseph Smith maintained a militia of 3,000 to 4,000 men under arms, at a time when the full U.S. Army had only 8,500 soldiers.] He proposed that anyone who would “attempt to hinder or molest the said Joseph Smith” in this design was to be liable to two years’ imprisonment. Congress did not oblige. …
The next step, on April 11, was to have the Council ordain Smith as “King, Priest and Ruler over Israel on Earth.” According to excommunicated LDS historian D. Michael Quinn, what occurred that day was clearly different from the second anointing ordinance that elevated a man to be a “King and Priest” in heaven. Flanders noted that when Smith declared, “I am above the kingdoms of this world, for I have no laws,” he was speaking apocalyptically rather than politically. But Smith did believe by 1844 that the “government of God” must eventually replace the governments of the world, including that of the United States. … 
Smith kept most of his plans for a new world order secret, but four days after receiving kingship he told the non-Mormon press about his dream of “theo-democracy,” whatever that might mean. …
It would have been interesting to watch the 24/7 news channels cover Smith’s campaign. As he was making his run for president, he was getting opposition from within the church over one of his more controversial policies.
Law was loyal to Smith’s older conceptions of God and unalterably opposed to plural marriage. Publicly the polygamy doctrine was denied, but Smith and other high church officials were practicing it in secret. [Some of the more serious attempts to count Joseph Smith’s wives have arrived at estimates of 33, 48, 28, and 84 wives. By one estimate, he was thought to have wed between 28 and 33 wives, ten of them under twenty and ten already married to other men.] Rumors spread, and dissension spread as well. Through 1843 the Smiths and Laws met together regularly for private prayer. Their disagreement over plural marriage became increasingly acrimonious. Smith arranged for spies to report to him on the activities of Law and Law’s close associate Robert D. Foster. On January 3, Law confronted Smith, the Nauvoo police, and a former Danite named Daniel Carn, charging that they were plotting to kill him. Carn defended the Danites and criticized Law for opposing plural marriage. Two days later Law again met with Smith and the Nauvoo police, reporting that he and three other dissidents felt they were in mortal danger. Smith denied the charge and three days later released Law as second counselor. The issue was personal as well: there is evidence that at some point Smith propositioned the wives of both Law and Foster.

Smith would likely have been an much more memorable president than James Polk, the man who did win the campaign of 1844. But instead, Smith was assassinated in June of 1844, months before the election, deferring revelation of a theo-democracy to some future time.

26 August 2012

Union Tribune Reports Shocker: George W. Bush One of Five Best Presidents in History!

Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson. What do they have in common? They were all worse presidents than George W. Bush.

Today the Union Tribune editorial staff did two things.

One, it made the claim that the Bush men were tied for fifth place as best presidents in the history of this wonderful country. The other four were Washington, Lincoln, FDR and Reagan.

It's worth reviewing George's record at a very high level.

  • He was the first president in the history of this country to finance a war and occupation with a tax cut. In fact, not just one war but two.
  • Largely because of his willingness to defy the tradition of 42 previous presidents, Bush turned an  inherited budget surplus of $236 billion into a budget deficit of $1.4 trillion, a reversal of $1.6 trillion.
  • Had unemployment gone up as much under Obama's presidency as it did under Bush's, Obama would be seeking re-election with an unemployment rate of 9.6 percent.
  • 9-11 - the worst terrorist attack on American soil - occurred under his watch.
  • Under Bush, the stock market dropped 25%, the biggest drop under any president since Herbert Hoover
  • And lest you forget how averse president Bush was to deep thought, review real quotes from George W. Bush and his most important advisers in a blog post of mine from 2006. It is mind boggling.

Now those are some amazing accomplishments. (Take that Thomas Jefferson.) That they are the sort of accomplishments that qualify you to be one of our best presidents ever is even more amazing.

Two, the Union Tribune made the argument - accompanied with dramatic and bold visuals that literally take up the first half page of the editorial section - that Romney should be our next president.

Apparently the editorial staff at the  UT is trying to assure voters that if only Romney gets elected and does well enough to make the top five list, he, too, might leave our country in as great a shape as George W.  I'm not sure how many voters that will win over, though.

Two other things about this list.

The U-T includes six presidents on their list of five best, demonstrating some degree of confusion about what the meaning of five is.

Also, not only are half the men on this list named George but every president named George made the list. In such complex times, one has to admire the simplicity of such criteria.

24 August 2012

Age as a Context for Texting

It wasn't the speed of her texting that revealed her age. Her speed was impressive. Instead it was her tendency to start texts with phrases like, 

"It has been terribly hot and humid this month. Even the Gladiolus look lethargic, as though fatigued from standing so long in the sun.
Even?!?! What am I saying? Especially the Gladiolus!
Len has a new scheme for managing his portfolio that involves an elaborate process of deconstructing Bernanke's pronouncements and then ordering the key terms by frequency of use. I don't pretend to understand it but fear that neither does he. This seems like a terribly risky time to short anything, particularly given the way his hip has been acting up ...

As it turns out, McLuhan was right: the medium is the message. But only if you actually understand the medium. Fortunately, she did not, and her communication had yet to denigrate into esoteric phrases that jettisoned vowels and nuance as unnecessary obstacles to the shared meaning of emoticons.

23 August 2012

Loss, Love & Lucinda Williams: Over Time

This is how you do loss and longing ... the under-reported side of love songs and reason enough to treasure country music.

Is Entrepreneurship in 2012 the Equivalent of Public Education in 2012?

We've always had some form of education, even if it was just mothers trying to explain the world to bewildered children. But about a century ago in this country, communities began supporting public education in a serious way. Around 1900, on average one new high school opened every day in America. Students weren't expected to learn on their own or with just the help of family. Education mattered and the public supported it, made it not only easier but required. Before this time, you could get an education but you were pretty much on your own in getting it; after, this was expected.

1900 to 2000 can be considered the century of the knowledge worker, the third economy. Progress was led not by capital or land but by people able to analyze, plan, design, and manipulate symbols of the things that the machines of the industrial economy could manipulate in reality. This was the information economy and it has worked out well, triggering the biggest increase in life expectancy and income in any century.

It takes 3 days to get approval to open a business in Singapore. Already boasting a high per capita income, by some forecasts Singapore's projected $138,000 per capita income will make it the highest in the world by 2050, higher than America's projected $100,000. Like Americans with education in 1900, Singapore has decided to support entrepreneurship.

Consider the possibility that this is the century in which entrepreneurship will lead development as knowledge work led progress in the 20th century. The question is whether communities are going to do the equivalent of leaving education to home schooling or whether they're going to get serious about preparing, creating, and supporting entrepreneurship. 20 years ago, entrepreneurs could start a business but they were pretty much on their own. Today, communities like kickstarter help nurture entrepreneurs but the larger community still treats it like education in 1850; left to the individual.

It is time to change that.

Read more about The Fourth Economy here, a site that includes a free download of the first three chapters of the new edition.

22 August 2012

Shrinking Middle Class

Pew has a fascinating new report about the middle class.

The middle class is shrinking, and more are defecting into the lower income group than upper income. Globalization seems to be creating more income disparity and the percentage of poor are growing about 2.5X as fast as the rich. This moves us closer to the distribution of an undeveloped country.

With the exception of the poor in the 1980s, income grew for everyone in every decade from 1950 to 2000. In the decade from 2000 to 2010, incomes fell for everyone.

For now, these middle class realities seem to prompt the middle class to trust more in Obama's policies than Romney's. The middle class seems to think that Romney's policies will hurt the poor, help the rich, and help them less than Obama's policies. This perception could determine the election.

The Good News is That It's All Bad News

Twice now I've heard news reports that mention, in rapid succession, two awful things. 

One, the deficit is once again over $1 trillion. This promises to become a calamity.

Two, we're about to "go over a fiscal cliff" when budget cuts and tax hikes are automatically triggered in January. This promises to become a calamity.

The media apparently loves this situation. If we don't do anything about the deficit, they can holler that the sky is falling. If we do something about the deficit, they can holler that the sky is falling.

Perhaps the double whammy of tax hikes and budget cuts is too much for such a tentative recovery. But 4 years after the recession's trough, it might be time to begin whittling down the deficit. 

Reporters latch on to the bad in news.

This blogger latches on to the good in news. Either we do nothing about the deficit and the current recovery is stronger. Or we do something about the deficit and the future is less expensive. 

21 August 2012

How is Aiken Different From Any Other Religious Conservative?

Senate candidate Aiken created a fire storm by talking about how women who have been legitimately raped don't get pregnant. Everyone - including Aiken apparently - is upset by this and busily retracting the words. Romney says that Aiken should resign.

I don't get the fuss. Aiken doesn't think that rape victims should be allowed to have an abortion because, among other things, they wouldn't have gotten pregnant had it been a legitimate rape. The religious conservatives embarrassed by his comments don't think that rape victims should be allowed to have an abortion because they consider a zygote at the moment of conception the same as a baby. They are not retracting this. Does it matter what sort of non-scientific reasons people have for trying to deny abortion to rape victims?

There is effectively no difference in the outcomes of the consequences of the beliefs of religious conservatives and Aiken. And nobody on the far right is apologizing for this. Isn't this the real reason to make a fuss?

20 August 2012

Art on the Political Spectrum

The difference between liberals and communists is that liberals hang paintings whereas communists actually hang painters.
The difference between fascists and conservatives is that fascists cut the heads off of artists whereas conservatives merely cut off their funding.

How to Control a Candidate (or, Presidential Puppetry)

Most people claim that lobbyists control candidates. I'm not here to argue that the financial industry - candidates biggest contributors - fail to calculate ROI when donating to a campaign, but I would argue that there is an overlooked way to manipulate candidates: label them critically.

For instance, Obama gets called a tax-raising, re-regulating socialist all the time. There are some Republicans who actually believe this, but I think that the folks who broadcast this stuff know that Obama will lean right to prove them wrong. He's cut taxes, bailed out banks, and signed fewer regulations into law than any president in recent decades. It's like the guy who starts fights to prove that he's macho, not gay.

I'd argue that Romney chose Ryan as his running mate as part of disproving critics that claim he's more moderate than conservative. After bearing right during the primary (a common and necessary strategy to win votes in the Republican primary), one might have expected Romney to veer back to the center in the general election (again, a fairly common and seemingly necessary strategy). But Romney is going to prove his critics wrong when they label him a flip-flopper, liable to change positions for convenience and votes. So if anything, he seems to be heading further right. (Note the most recent cut all funding to the arts comment he's made.) He's not exactly getting more votes from the center with his talk of medicare cuts either.

The question is whether his commitment to prove his critics wrong will cost him the election.

18 August 2012

The Recovery Will Not Be Televised

Richard Nixon, tired of all the criticism from the media, called a press conference in an unusual location: the Potomac river. Once everyone had gathered, rather than say anything, he just took off his shoes and socks, walked to the edge of the river and then calmly walked on water, effortlessly crossing to the other side.

"There," he thought. "That'll shut them up."

The next day, the headlines all read, "Nixon Can't Swim!"

Our local paper has also made up its mind about this slow recovery.

The San Diego Union Tribune headline on page one is San Diego Lost 4,400 Jobs in July.

One has to read well into the article to learn that San Diego jobs data are not seasonally adjusted and this is the smallest job loss number for July since 1990. Or that the unemployment rate fell from 9.3 to 9.2 percent in the last month and from 10.5 percent to 9.2 in the last year. This the best year for San Diego job growth since 2000, and this year's job growth seems less reliant on the construction jobs related to lax mortgage standards.

Which is to say, it's a great jobs report for San Diego. Not that anyone scanning headlines would know that.

17 August 2012

Less Education, Lower Minimum Wage?

Note how much higher the unemployment rate is for people who don't have degrees in this graph:

Would unemployment rates be lower for people with low education if their minimum wage was lower than that for, say, high school or college graduates? We would signal to folks that the floor below you on wages is higher as you invest more in your education as well as raise the prospect of lower unemployment rates at every level of education.

People who are chronically unemployed are more likely to be depressed, have financial problems, have bleak prospects because of falling further behind on job skills and promotions, and be unhappy. What if we let more people work?

Separately, we could adjust incomes of these working poor so that they would not only have jobs and better prospects for future gains, but enough income to live a normal life. Even with this, it would be cheaper for us to subsidize their jobs and better for them to work them.

Primaries as Political Food Processor: How We Get Bland Leaders

Abraham Lincoln was subject to depression. Winston Churchill regularly began drinking before noon. FDR was in a wheelchair. Countless leaders of consequence had sweeping personality flaws, mistresses, and any number of conditions that would get them quickly ejected from today's primary process.

The problem isn't that we have good reporters who ferret out every flaw and mishap. The problem is that these good reporters don't know how to predict what any of this will mean for a leader. It also seems to suggest that they don't know the difference between getting 98% on a terribly pedestrian exam and getting 54% on the creation of something brilliant. The price for flawless perfection is usually obsolescence: people creating as they go along make more errors than people who are following a proven process.

Great Britain Wins Olympic Games

Among the largest countries in the world, Great Britain seems to have won the medals count, or at least tied with Russia, the next country that will host the Olympics.

Among the countries with population of more than 50 million, Great Britain finished first, winning medals disproportionate to its population. The average country in this list got one medal for every 8 million citizens; Britain got 8X that.

Among the countries with GDP of more than $1 trillion, Great Britain finished second, making more of its money than anyone save Russia, with its great tradition of Olympic champions. The average country in this list generates about $84 billion in GDP for each Olympic medal. Great Britain spent only $38 billion, considerably more than Russia's $23 billion but still getting more than twice as many medals per dollar than the average country in this list of 15.

16 August 2012

My Invisible Friend Bernard Attacks the Belief in Prophets and Founding Fathers

Bernard is my octogenarian, invisible friend but I can never convince him of that. I’ve tried but it’s best just to go along with his existence. He pouts when I question it.

I could see that Bernard was agitated as I approached.
“What’s up Bernard,” I asked as I sat down at the table of our favorite deli.
“What do you think about the Supreme Court deciding whether Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act is constitutional?”
“Um. I think that if they’ve said it, then by definition it is constitutional?”
“Well yeah, by a 5-4 vote. Flip the coin the other way and isn’t constitutional? Politics drives me nuts. Could you imagine deciding on scientific principles in genetics or physics that way? Politics are all made up but they pretend that it’s some kind of science, as if the conversation between Supreme Court justices is an experiment in a Hadron Collider.”
“It’s called a constitutional government, Bernard.”

“And that’s the other thing.”
“The constitution?”
“Yes. Did you know that the Supreme Court once struck down child labor laws as unconstitutional?”
“People treat the constitution like it’s scripture.”
“Well it is the basis for our government Bernard.”
“But the founding fathers didn’t use the constitution as a guide to writing the constitution.”
“These guys made it up but we can’t make things up? They decided what is right or wrong in defiance of the government before them but now we’re bound by that?”
“Isn’t that how life works, Bernard?”

“You know why people deify the founding fathers or even, for that matter, prophets like Jesus or Mohammed?”
“Oh. Now you’re going after sacred figures everywhere? Seriously? Are you off your meds?”
Bernard wrinkled his nose and brushed aside my question as he leaned in. “You know what it all is? All these things like binding constitutions and sacred scriptures are just ways for one generation to avoid responsibility, to blame a previous generation for what does or doesn’t work in their own lives. If they believe, they don't have to think," he waved his hands. "But here’s the kick. The founding fathers sure didn’t decide what was right or wrong based on what past generations thought. If they had faith in anything, it was in their own thinking. So why is it that people think that the way to honor them is to stop thinking?” He took a gulp of water, and I watched a drop roll down his chin.
“Same thing with scriptures. Joseph Smith didn’t limit himself by what other people said was true and yet now there are millions of Mormons all worried about whether Joseph Smith would approve of what they said or did? Jesus, same thing. He certainly didn’t worry about what the Jews or Romans thought was right.”

“Yeah, but if you believe in Jesus or Joseph Smith you believe they had a revelation.”
“Ah!” Bernard’s eyes lit up. “What’s that? Revelation is just a directly revealed truth. Something that doesn’t need any third-party confirmation.”
“You are all over the map, Bernard. Didn’t you start out talking about the constitution?”
“I’m saying that it’s all the same.”
“So you think that we should ignore inspired genius? Just dismiss people like Thomas Jefferson or John Adams or Jesus and Moses?”
“No!” Bernard shook his head. “No. I think that we should be inspired by them. But do you think that they’d be remembered at all in history if they’d limited themselves by what generations before them had believed was right? They’d be forgotten if they defined themselves by past generations. So why should anyone who claims to reverence them then limit their own lives by those past lives?”

At this point he was either beginning to persuade me or was simply wearing me down. I just shrugged. “I don’t know, Bernard. You tell me. Why would anyone do that?”
“Because it’s a wonderful way to avoid responsibility. Supreme Court justices don’t have to actually judge whether universal health care or bans on child labor are good ideas. They just have to decide whether words written by past generations would allow or prohibit it. The faithful don’t have to decide if women preachers or same-sex marriage are right. They just have to compare it to something past generations wrote. It’s a wonderful thing, this avoiding responsibility for your own life, your own choices. And it is something that all the men they look to did not do.”
“So what does it mean, Bernard?”

“You really think that L. Ron Hubbard would become a Scientologists if he were alive today? If it weren’t something he’d started? You think that Joseph Smith would become a Mormon today? Or even that Jesus would become a Christian or Mohammad would become a Muslim? You really think that they’d accept what someone else taught rather than trust their own personal revelation?”
“You don’t believe that Joseph Smith would become a Mormon if he were alive today?
"More than that. They wouldn't let him. He drank. He was a polygamist. He couldn't even get temple certified.”
"So Mormons today are more Mormon than Joseph Smith? Is that what you're saying?"
"Same with Jesus. His incessant talk about how the rich would find it so hard to get into heaven, you think that the Catholic Church with all it wealth or any of these Protestant churches with their Protestant work ethic would put up with that kind of talk from a spokesperson?"
I winced a little. "But people follow the teachings of these prophets, no?"
“I’m saying that people who claim to follow the teachings of a Mohammad or Jesus or Mary Baker Eddy aren’t doing anything of the sort.”
“They’re not?”
“No. They’re not following. They’re just standing. Right there in the spot where their prophets fell.”
“Or ascended.”
“Ascended. Jesus and Mohammad ascended.”
Bernard shook his head. “Okay, ascended. But they’re not following anyone. They’re just standing there. The world moves on. And that’s what these creative geniuses knew, it's why they created new religions. So why would communities just stand in one spot rather than continue in the direction those people pointed?”

"So you're suggesting that religious leaders should be treated the way that great scientists or philosophers are treated? As a starting point?"
"Sure. Yeah."
"But there's a difference between religious truth and scientific truth, right?"
"Not really," Bernard claimed.
"Not really?"
"Science is a a collective search for truth out there that can be measured. Religion ought to be a individual search for truth that can't be measured, can only resonate internally."

“Bernard, are you religious?”
“No. Not really.”
“But you’re claiming to know how religions work? Isn’t this like getting marriage advice from a bachelor?”
“I’m just saying.”
“Which isn’t quite the same as prophesying. Is it?”
“No,” Bernard looked down at the table, worrying his napkin into what looked like a string.
“Bernard, you’re not Christian, you’re not Mormon, you’re not Muslim. You’re the most politically opinionated, unregistered voter I know. And I’m not even sure you’re a citizen. Then you rant about all this like you're some kind of expert?”
“Well sure,” he said. “Not being a member of any church or state actually gives me a a certain perspective that lets me see what people ensconced in all that can’t.”
“But your formula for creating dynamic communities is to dismiss every significant religion or government founded in a previous generation? For some reason that sounds to me like a better way to create chaos than community, Bernard.”
He was silent for a time. I stared at the menu for a while. Fidgeted. Waved off the waitress.

“I’m not saying that you throw away everything they’ve given us,” Bernard exhaled. “I guess all I’m saying is that their lives were trajectories that pointed in a particular direction and we’ve made them into statues rooted in one spot.” He leaned forward. “You can reverence any prophet or founding father but what they’ve created can never be a substitute for what you have to create.”
“Which is?”
“Well that’s what you have to decide. And nobody else’s revelation is going to tell you that.”

13 August 2012

Will We be Reading Norquist's Obituary in November?

Grover Norquist may have killed the Republican Party. That's unfortunate because every country needs a good, conservative option.

With Romney's choice of Ryan, one could say that Norquist's position has won. Ryan is a fiscal hawk who wants to eliminate capital gains tax. (Romney's tax bill under Ryan's plan would have been zero in recent years, which may be one reason that Romney is so fond of Ryan.) But deficit reduction through only reductions in government spending strikes most Americans as extreme. Norquist and now the Republicans as  a whole are putting two things at risk: votes and the economic recovery.

There are two things that define the conservatives in the US. One is a distrust of social invention, whether it comes in the form of gay marriage or letting women vote or abolishing religion and private property.

As it turns out, there is a genetic difference between conservatives and liberals. Conservatives are more likely to interpret something novel as a threat while liberals are more likely to be seduced by it. It would be disastrous to live in a community where those two impulses weren't mitigated by dialogue of some sort. Running after the rainbow of unproven novelty would ruin you as quickly as crossing your arms and just saying no to new, unproven ideas.

The other thing that distinguishes conservatives is their reliance on individual initiative over coordinated effort, more interested in what individuals do with tax refunds than what the government can do with more revenue. Again, not to have conservatives betting on the individual over the community is to steer too far to the left to keep on any course.

In comes Norquist, who has decided that it is too hard to calculate reasonable tax rates in different scenario or from different starting points. Norquist is one of these people who simply does not trust judgment. So, he puts in place a rule that Republicans ought to never, under any circumstances, raise taxes. This when taxes as a percentage of GDP are at a 50 year low. Because of Norquist, Republicans refused to raise taxes by one dollar even with the offer of $10 of cuts in return. The Republicans have become ideologues, substituting an idea for analysis and reason.

Obama is vulnerable but still favored in the November election. If Republicans hadn't chosen to fall in line with Norquist, it could have easily been Romney who was favored. If we're lucky, the Republicans will lose badly enough in November that they'll turn away from Norquist and back to the American people. They may eventually become a viable option again, and that will be good for everyone, even liberals.

2012 Olympics Final Per Capita Medal Count

Most place post the total Olympic medal count. I think it's more interesting to see that total adjusted by population. India got 6 medals whereas Grenada got only one, so India obviously did better. Did better, that is, until you take into account the fact that India's population is about 12,000 times larger.

The Caribbean, home to 4 of the 5 top countries on the list, is the place where you're most likely to encounter an Olympic athlete. India, which has only one medal for every 200 million citizens, is the place you're least likely to have such a chance encounter. (Well, outside of the 100+ countries where no citizen took home a medal.)

While the US beat Spain in the men's basketball final, Spain beat the US in per capita medal count. Actually, 49 countries can make such a claim, as the US finished 50th in this ranking.

In the US, an Olympic medal winner is one in 3 million. By contrast, in host Great Britain, they're one in a million. (Note: this isn't, strictly speaking, true. A relay team of 4 or soccer team of, say, a dozen would obviously boast more Olympic medal winners than the country would get credit for having won. The country wins one gold medal but 4 or 20 (or whatever) gold medal winners walk away from the ceremony.) If one has a separate category for countries with populations of more than ten million, Hungary, Australia, Cuba, and the Netherlands did better than Britain.

It might surprise you to know that South Africa, China, and Brazil did worse than average. You might also be surprised that countries like Slovenia, Mongolia, and Hungary did so much better than average. At least I was.

Rank Country Medals Population Pop. / Medal Compared to Avg.
1 Grenada 1 105,000                    105,000                  75.58
2 Jamaica 12 2,705,827                    225,486                  35.19
3 Trinidad and Tobago 4 1,317,714                    329,429                  24.09
4 New Zealand 13 4,434,400                    341,108                  23.26
5 Bahamas 1 353,658                    353,658                  22.44
6 Slovenia 4 2,057,910                    514,478                  15.42
7 Mongolia 5 2,844,000                    568,800                  13.95
8 Hungary 17 9,962,000                    586,000                  13.54
9 Montenegro 1 620,029                    620,029                  12.80
10 Denmark 9 5,584,758                    620,529                  12.79
11 Lithuania 5 3,187,700                    637,540                  12.45
12 Georgia 7 4,497,600                    642,514                  12.35
13 Estonia 2 1,294,236                    647,118                  12.26
14 Australia 35 22,692,531                    648,358                  12.24
15 Croatia 6 4,290,612                    715,102                  11.10
16 Belarus 13 9,457,500                    727,500                  10.91
17 Cuba 14 11,247,925                    803,423                     9.88
18 Netherlands 20 16,738,836                    836,942                     9.48
19 Cyprus 1 838,897                    838,897                     9.46
20 Qatar 2 1,699,435                    849,718                     9.34
21 Ireland 5 4,588,252                    917,650                     8.65
22 Azerbaijan 10 9,235,100                    923,510                     8.59
23 Great Britain 65 62,262,000                    957,877                     8.28
24 Latvia 2 2,070,371                 1,035,186                     7.67
25 Czech Republic 10 10,504,203                 1,050,420                     7.55
26 Armenia 3 3,268,500                 1,089,500                     7.28
27 Sweden 8 9,495,113                 1,186,889                     6.69
28 Bahrain 1 1,234,571                 1,234,571                     6.43
29 Norway 4 5,027,800                 1,256,950                     6.31
30 Kazakhstan 13 16,776,000                 1,290,462                     6.15
31 Slovakia 4 5,445,324                 1,361,331                     5.83
32 Gabon 1 1,564,000                 1,564,000                     5.07
33 Korea 28 48,580,000                 1,735,000                     4.57
34 Russia 82 143,117,000                 1,745,329                     4.55
35 Moldova 2 3,559,500                 1,779,750                     4.46
36 Serbia 4 7,120,666                 1,780,167                     4.46
37 Finland 3 5,413,830                 1,804,610                     4.40
38 Germany 44 81,859,000                 1,860,432                     4.27
39 Puerto Rico 2 3,725,789                 1,862,895                     4.26
40 France 34 65,350,000                 1,922,059                     4.13
41 Canada 18 34,880,400                 1,937,800                     4.10
42 Switzerland 4 7,952,600                 1,988,150                     3.99
43 Botswana 1 2,038,228                 2,038,228                     3.89
44 Romania 9 19,042,936                 2,115,882                     3.75
45 Italy 28 60,820,787                 2,172,171                     3.65
46 Ukraine 20 45,565,909                 2,278,295                     3.48
47 Singapore 2 5,183,700                 2,591,850                     3.06
48 Tunisia 4 10,673,800                 2,668,450                     2.97
49 Spain 17 46,163,116                 2,715,477                     2.92
50 US 104 314,059,000                 3,019,798                     2.63
51 Japan 38 127,530,000                 3,356,053                     2.36
52 Kuwait 1 3,582,054                 3,582,054                     2.22
53 Belgium 3 10,951,266                 3,650,422                     2.17
54 Bulgaria 2 7,364,570                 3,682,285                     2.16
55 Poland 10 38,501,000                 3,850,100                     2.06
56 Kenya 11 42,749,000                 3,886,273                     2.04
57 DPR Korea 6 24,554,000                 4,092,333                     1.94
58 Dominican Republic 2 9,445,281                 4,722,641                     1.68
59 Greece 2 10,787,690                 5,393,845                     1.47
60 Colombia 8 46,638,000                 5,829,750                     1.36
61 Iran 12 75,149,669                 6,262,472                     1.27
62 Hong Kong, China 1 7,103,700                 7,103,700                     1.12
63 Uzbekistan 4 29,123,400                 7,280,850                     1.09
64 Tajikistan 1 7,800,000                 7,800,000                     1.02
- total 886     7,031,000,000           7,935,666               1.00
65 South Africa 6 50,586,757                 8,431,126                     0.94
66 Argentina 4 40,117,096              10,029,274                     0.79
67 Portugal 1 10,561,614              10,561,614                     0.75
68 Brazil 17 192,376,496              11,316,264                     0.70
69 Chinese Taipei 2 23,261,747              11,630,874                     0.68
70 Ethiopia 7 84,320,987              12,045,855                     0.66
71 Malaysia 2 28,334,135              14,167,068                     0.56
72 Guatemala 1 14,713,763              14,713,763                     0.54
73 Turkey 5 74,724,269              14,944,854                     0.53
74 China 87 1,347,350,000              15,486,782                     0.51
75 Mexico 7 112,336,538              16,048,077                     0.49
76 Thailand 3 65,479,453              21,826,484                     0.36
77 Afghanistan 1 25,500,100              25,500,100                     0.31
78 Saudi Arabia 1 27,136,977              27,136,977                     0.29
79 Venezuela 1 27,150,095              27,150,095                     0.29
80 Morocco 1 32,638,900              32,638,900                     0.24
81 Uganda 1 32,939,800              32,939,800                     0.24
82 Algeria 1 37,100,000              37,100,000                     0.21
83 Egypt 2 82,473,000              41,236,500                     0.19
84 Indonesia 2 237,641,326            118,820,663                     0.07
85 India 6 1,210,193,422            201,698,904                     0.04