Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My Suspicions are Thus

The health care debate has been driving me crazy on the hyperbolic idiot opposition front, but I haven't really done or said much on the Obama front of this "debate," and that is largely because my only real gripe is that he started with his stated position from the campaign rather than something like single payer. More, I kind of got a feeling that his hands off approach (as opposed to his dealings on the stimulus) had some purpose. This little explanation of the (possible?) strategy makes sense to me.

Obama is a calculating politician. One who knows the Senate fairly well I'd guess, and that that body is the one with a massive inertia. Mostly it just sits still. On rare occasion it will move a bit but hardly ever beyond a snail's pace. Slow steady pressure probably works best to get the damn thing moving, and if he can get the Senate to a favorable point on this issue he probably will have pretty smooth sailing on getting legislation he wants passed for the duration of his presidency. ...Especially considering that, despite the noise from the crazies, he is not even close to radical.

Presidents Are Neither Idols Nor Demons

My life has seen exactly one president who did not seem to be turned into idol and demon by his supporters and detractors: George H. W. Bush (Ok, I'm not so sure about Ford, but he lost his bid for reelection when I was like two weeks old). Carter, Regan, Clinton, Dubya and now Obama all have sprung their own personal bands of worshipers and screaming angry detractors.

My personal politics and philosophy are that Dubya was a disaster, Regan was a net negative, Clinton was meh, Carter I judge as a good person who was president at a bad time and who did a poor job of responding to problems (at least publicly in dealing with the American people), and Bush the elder was a decent though hardly great president. Obama has not been in office too long yet, and my opinion is decidedly split: bailout bad, though not his fault; stimulus good though not enough; no prosecution of torturers deplorable, but we'll see what comes; foreign relations good, but those wars are still sticky; gay rights forgotten; and health care will continue to be frustrating until a bill is actually passed, and then maybe still.

Obama has not done anything to be compared with Hitler or Stalin, nor has he done anything to receive the benefit of any and all doubt. There is a cult of the presidency that goes beyond the office and which I find strange and creepy.

I thought that W was a horrible choice for president, but I agreed with him (still do) on immigration. I think Clinton was ok, but he was one more in the line of financially deregulating chief executives (I have no idea why the right gets a louder voice in economics even with Democratic presidents, but we are seeing that again with Obama--the left response would have been bigger stimulus w/o tax cuts and to nationalize any bank "too big to fail"). I voted last fall for the person I felt would make a better president. Given the alternative, I'm fairly sure that the Democrats could have nominated anyone and still received my vote.

Obama could well be(come) a transformative president--he certainly was such as a candidate--but he is a politician, not a deity, and I will always be somewhat suspicious of anyone who desires that office, power and corruption and difficulty and all.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Answer: Speed Bumps

I know that most drivers (myself included) are not huge fans of speed bumps. I've a pretty strong feeling that this is because, unlike other things--like, say, speed limits--they actually limit a driver's ability to drive really fast. Even stop signs (and, definitely yield signs) are only partial solutions (in my experience, neighborhoods with many stop signs have many people running stop signs).

Just imagine if every neighborhood, and in urban centers, every street (possibly excluding major thoroughfares) had speed bumps (just before/after each intersection, and maybe every 1000 ft otherwise). It would slow traffic putting walkers, bicyclers, children playing soccer all in less danger of being run over. It would also reduce traffic by making that short cut take a little longer. It could even encourage people to walk or bicycle 1-10 blocks to the store rather than drive it every day.

In the grand scheme of things, it isn't even that expensive, just a bit of extra asphalt/concrete and a form when roads are constructed, and could be done on the resurfacing schedule, or in places with good long lasting roads (i.e. concrete surfaces, mostly in places without real winter), start with more direct through roads first then move onto side streets...maybe ignore cul-de-sacs all together.

Just to say: I would like a speed hump on the road in front of my house.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Organic Farming

Here is an overview of some studies about good things related to organic farming.

I've a minor gripe related to lumping genetic engineering in with the rest of "conventional agriculture" as genetic engineering is borderline necessary if people want to reduce fertilizer and pesticide use, and it is mostly just selective breeding on a massively accelerated scale.

Aside from that, however, a lot of neat tidbits are bundled up in this little article along with one claim that really stands out:

There’s another benefit to switching to agro-ecology, but the benefit is more systemic: under pretty conservative assumptions, switching from conventional agriculture to organic agriculture in developing countries boosts productivity massively.

I can understand that the switch in certain places (i.e. those not well suited to corn belt developed conventional agriculture) could yield improved productivity. Overall, this statement is wildly misleading: if conventional agriculture was not far more productive in general it wouldn't be used (it is quite expensive), but there is no reference in to which "developing countries" and more importantly what is meant by the word "massively"--if this massive improvement only applies to farmland that currently yields 1% of global food production upping it to 2-5% (or really even 10%) that is a massive improvement that could have a huge local impact, but is really not meaningful on a global level.

The problem is that the bulk of the world's food production is guaranteed by conventional agriculture as practiced in the US, China, Canada, Russia, France...maybe Brazil and India fall in here, though conventional methods may not be as big a help there, and I know that India is in trouble precisely because they have been employing US style ag.

I wish I could dig up the link now, as it is from a rather knowledgeable farmer and discusses some of the downside of many/most farms going organic, because the biggest problem with everyone going organic is that it would result in the starvation of tens of millions to billions more than we experience now.

Organic farming is good, but organic farming is exactly what we had 100+ yrs ago in the world. It does not produce as much food, and it requires more labor to produce less (even with modern equipment). For our world to go back to organic farming today we would either need major changes in diet (e.g. way less meat for everyone, particularly Americans), or we will have to accept a global population drop due to much more starvation.

Of course, a callous person might go on to say that a global population reduction would be pretty good for the planet--as we need it--as well.

Beck is an Entertainer

Is kind of the jist of this Greenwald post I liked. Oh, and that the tea baggers are not really Republicans, or Democrats, or Libertarians, or left, or right, or remotely uniform in their beliefs beyond a general distrust of government.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Right Leaning Governing of a Left Leaning Nation

In an interview, Sen. Jay Rockefeller said:

What about Olympia Snowe?

I think the world of Olympia Snowe. She's got incredible courage, and the Republican leadership is brutal in the way they apply pressure. Much more so than the Democrats.

How so?

For example, when Clinton was elected president, and George Mitchell was majority leader, [Clinton] came to our Democratic Caucus, because he thought it would be nice to break bread with us. Mitchell told him he had to leave. They were part of different branches of government. And so Clinton and his Secret Service had to turn around and walk out. It was a historic moment. On the other side, there were very few caucuses that Dick Cheney didn't attend himself. That's why whether it's intelligence or environment or elsewhere, they [Republicans] bring the hammer down in a way Democrats aren't good at, which I'm sort of glad about.

The added emphasis is important for one reason: it means that Republicans accomplish more with less. They are doing very well to block legislation now despite being very much in the minority. Democrats never managed the same even with a 51-49 minority. Republicans when in a bare majority pushed through tons of legislation. Democrats with a very large majority are failing at that.

Now, philosophically, I agree with the Senator in that such harsh treatment of dissent is a bad idea. But in our two party system if only one party routinely pulls with all it's got, then that party will win far more than it should, and the country will in effect be governed more strongly by that side.

I do not believe that dissent should be squashed, and I enjoy discussion and differences of opinion. If I can't hold my view point up to criticism then maybe it is not terribly valid. If I can walk away from an argument without my opinion changed then I consider my personal position the stronger (note that this is based on underlying personal philosophy and not related to an inherent "right" and "wrong" side to any given debate).

However, I also want the U.S. government to be democratic and representative. Right now, with the dynamic Sen. Rockefeller described it is not, and until the GOP wants to engage in reasonable discourse, the only meaningful option is for Democrats to cut them out of the debate, and pull together to do whatever they, as a caucus want, until the Republicans realize that everyone is better served by thoughtful and forthright discussion.

Yes, the Review is Real

I got to this page and had a good laugh, but I thought it was fake. Then I went to the link to the NY Times review of the game. The reviewer either is stupid, was high, or is being so obtusely ironic, that the review would have found better footing in the New Yorker, which instead gets to mock.

This is Why Lunar Bases...

...are the lairs of choice for mad scientists who passed "Lairs 211: Location, Location, Location."

Friday, September 18, 2009


This is really just a Star Trek link for Michael. That link is complaining about another link where the writer is complaining about how sci-fi used to be just bashing aliens but is now getting all allegorical and shit.

Problem is (with the second link) that sci-fi is historically very much allegorical, and it is only more recently that blowing crap up was the primary directive of making a science fictiony film...probably starting with Star Wars.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Just a Few Thoughts

Was reading this and this follow-up (and the first comment on that follow up is also worthwhile). Then went onto a different article (same basic topic). Followed up with a couple (not so racial) articles about the right's anger and its misplacement.

That's a lot of reading, but the sum total starts to get at what is a complex, somewhat disturbing, and very anti-democratic trend. But what I see as the most important part of this has to do with the coverage and attention to protests directed at Obama. Protests which are completely devoid of reason (or compassion); which are purely emotional, with that emotion being rage. So what I would like to know is: why this rage is driving the media?

After Bush was granted the White House by the Supreme Court in 2000, and then again in the run up to the invasion of Iraq, there was quite a bit (maybe as much or more) rage and anger on the left. I would argue that there was a hell of a lot more factual basis upon which to pin that anger (in the end Gore was proven to have won Florida; Iraq has been shown to be a huge waste of time and money and a diversion from actually tracking down Osama bin Laden...). The media throughout Jr's administration, however, was far more a champion of the administration position, and those angry protesters were by and large described as fringe and crazy, when even mentioned at all.

It is disturbing to me that the right wing is given far greater credibility than the left by our "liberal" media. People's perceptions are altered by this strange dynamic, just look at how the news organizations are perceived: MSNBC (with Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan) is frequently described as the equivalent of Fox news (which boasts no liberals) for the left but they are really a CNN for the left (left 1 to right 10: Fox is an 8.5, CNN a 6 MSNBC a 4).

Crazy left wing that called Bush Hitler and worse: largely ignored by media, denounced by liberal politicians and pundits.

Crazy right wing calling Obama Hitler and worse: displayed on tv/newspapers incessantly, and pandered to by conservative politicians and pundits.

Facts and common sense have a left wing bias.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I Need to Read More Thoroughly:

The paper here. Basic conclusion seems to be that the US has an effective flat tax of 40% for income of ~$20k+.

Federal income taxes are nominally progressive, but state and local taxes are less so at best and often flat or even regressive, wage taxes are regressive, as are sales taxes and sin taxes and auto licensing and energy (e.g. gas) taxes. Property taxes are generally regressive, though could, in some locales, approach flat iff* the assessed value of properties owned within that locale are proportional to income.

I am more than willing to believe that overall taxes above some level are much closer to flat than the federal income tax would lead us to believe. I'm a little confused by some of the early numbers, but I think most of that goes down to the "marginal" tax rate (which is on the last dollar earned, not the sum total). I would like to see the total taxes integrated and calculated in dollars and percentages.

*iff = if and only if...bitches

18 is Old Enough

To vote, to die in a war, to be executed, to smoke, more than old enough to drive, but dear God, don't have a beer! I think the 21 drinking age is just idiotic. If I were king, I'd make drinking age 16 and driving age 18, but I'm not...and really, in the US it is hard to argue for an older driving age as driving is pretty much essential for a large fraction of our nation.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ayn Rand

Overall this is a rather interesting read. I disagree fundamentally with the Randian philosophy, but still want to read Atlas Shrugged. I won't pay for it, however. It'll be a library book (supported by taxes).

Really though, Ayn Rand is a cult more than actual philosophy. Disagreement and discussion are not allowed, and real evidence which contradicts her precepts is ignored. Ayn Rand's "philosophy" is "intelligent design" (creationism) for economics.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Wal-Mart: Evil?

I don't much care for Wal-Mart. This article doesn't help. My general sense has been that Sam Walton and his surviving family are greed personified. I know that every person is somewhat selfish and greedy, but the extent to which they demonstrate those traits is reprehensible.

Only point I want to make about the article: the comparison to GM is false. While GM employees are generally non-professionals, many are still skilled workers. Wal-Mart workers are both non-professional and unskilled, so with no significant training and no education required anyone can work there. It's hard to unionize when anyone can be hired to replace any given worker. Anyone. Still, I think that Wal-Mart should be unionized. I generally feel that any company with a large workforce (say >1000 employees)--particularly if that workforce is predominantly non-professionals--should be unionized.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Interesting Point But...

Ezra points out that Bush didn't really get everything he wanted, especially on the domestic policy front. And he is correct. I am particularly pleased about the failure to privatize social security, and rather galled by the failure to pass immigration reform (possibly the only issue that I was in agreement with Bush's stated policy).

But no administration does. The take home from the Bush admin--and really every administration--is that victory was and should be 50+1 votes in the Senate, where the +1 is the VP vote. Why we have some bizarre notion of needing 60 votes, and then a few republicans for everything is beyond me. They should be working for the best legislation that they can pass, and that is legislation that will get 50 votes in the Senate (and pass the house). They may need to either break a filibuster or go through some other rule that circumvents filibusters to do so, but there is no reason to get remotely excited about having 63 votes with 4 GOP senators instead of 50 votes with 1 GOP and several opposed conservative Dems.

Passed legislation is passed legislation. As it is, people think about Bush getting what he wanted, not the bickering and little back and forths on how the legislation got passed and how much it was altered before that. The lesson is to pass as much as you can, and use whatever process you need to get there. Also Bush didn't pre-compromise with his bills. The equivalent would be Obama sending single payer to the floor and ending up with a very strong reform. As it is the starting point is already seriously watered down.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

It Makes Me Ill

I cannot, for the life of me figure out why the hell there is not a major investigation into the atrocities committed during the Bush administration. Greenwald discusses why the effete DC media personalities are opposed (dday has a few choice words as well). Why the hell would the Obama administration be so?

The more that comes out the more our present administration looks weak and indifferent to the rule of law. It's like they don't actually care if laws were broken or if people can get away with torture and murder because of some bizarre notion that it is more politically expedient to look the other way.

Horseshit. I just found my damn issue. If there are not prosecutions, I will not vote for Obama in 2012, and if my Senators and US Rep follow the present Obama tack, I will not vote for them either. That likely won't mean voting for Republicans, I can't much stand them either, but as of now, I at least have more respect for them--I disagree with their principles, but at least they demonstrate some. Most likely this would mean my staying home next election day, after all, if no one I vote for is going to represent me on such an important issue (the government should obey the law and be held accountable when it does not) why the hell should I bother?

Right now, I'm not even sure that worse wouldn't be better. I may not survive whatever catastrophic world the GOP would bring in, but I wouldn't have to live through this shit either.

Hyperbolic? Yea, but giving a damn just makes me feel like crap, so until government shows some ability to function, I don't think I want to.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Organic Foods: eh?

I don't entirely understand the huge organic push. Washing fruits and vegetables can be a pain, but the primary difference between organic and non-organic celery is that the latter is more apt to have something besides dirt on the outside (say a chemical fertilizer or pesticide). For people who never wash their fruits and veggies, going organic will mean less consumption of those chemicals, and is probably a good thing. Is it worth paying 1.5-3X the cost for something that can be mitigated by washing? Not to me.

Internal differences could be a strong argument for organic. Unfortunately, going organic doesn't actually improve the nutritional content of fruits and vegetables (study--sorry not free, counter, info on whether antioxidants are relevant). Meat and dairy are a different matter. Hormone free is probably still a good thing, particularly if young children are consuming it, and I am quite partial to dairy that is not ultra-pasteurized. Most mass produced milk (and cheese) is ultra-pasteurized, which produces less flavorful dairy products and reduces/eliminates enzymatic activity. Most pasteurized dairy is also hormone free (and organic), so it's generally win-win.

Now, organic farming may be better for the environment (though that is not terribly easy to answer), and it may have heretofore unknown health benefits, but mostly people who are emphatic about going organic either have something to gain (organic farmers, Whole Foods) or want to feel somewhat better about themselves. The latter category is populated with a fair amount of wealthier people who generally destroy the planet by overconsumption like living in 3000+ sq ft houses, and flying and driving more than average, and buying more new things.

Most people can't afford to go organic, and there is no reason yet to believe they would be better off if they did. They'd mostly just be poorer.