Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Props to the Squircle

My new favorite thing is listening to This American Life which is automatically downloaded every week to the new pink Zune my sweetie gave me (as a "just because" present - does he get extra points or what?) while running my 5-mile outdoor course. Somehow when I can listen to Ira Glass help one of his editors get her MCI bill figured out in "When You're on Hold No One Can Hear You Scream" and hear someone's Thanksgiving family horror story my run just breezes by. I highly recommend it. Plus the squircle is awesome.
Happy Xmas All.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Thankfully Not A Candidate For Anything, The First

Playing catchup here...A long while back, E and I heard Jeb Bush was in town and of course we had to go see him. I was really curious about what to expect - after all I loathe his brother but Jeb hasn't been given the chance to screw up the country (and hopefully never will!) so I thought I'd give him a chance. Overall, although I was happy to see that he doesn't suffer from his brother's embarrassing verbal skills, I was totally unimpressed. Jeb came to town to talk, not about the future or what he wanted to do, but about "great leadership" - i.e. how great he was when he was governor of Florida.

The audience was small, and consisted primarily of the conservative/libertarian group at work (called the CLAMs!). Jeb tried to pull out some Libertarian credentials - I couldn't quite follow them; something about government being a heart with clogged arteries, post-heart attack and unable to change - but mostly he answered questions from whiny parents and avoided all tough questions. A couple specific comments that struck me:
  • He talked about some of the innovative things he did to help listen to his citizens. For instance, he gave people his email jeb@jeb.org and supposedly got millions of emails, which I'm sure he read carefully. He also held citizen hours, where he let anyone have 5 minute increments to talk to him. Apparently he learned about, “rodents in basements, varmints on streets, traffic lights misplaced”, all, “things important for a governor to know about”.
  • He said that overall 60% of students in college graduate in 6 years, with the #1 degree being psychology. However, he says of psychologists, “we have enough in Florida”. He said he prefers occupations where people are creating wealth. It's interesting since even J wouldn't call psychology a "homeless degree" as he so considerately calls English degrees.
  • Jeb spent a majority of time talking about how education is broken, but as with most politicians we've seen, neglected to come up with any solutions. When some folks in the audience asked for specifics, he offered, “teacher’s unions are bad because they lack accountability. The local Florida teacher’s union mortgaged their building to support my opponent during his campaign…I thought that was entrepreneurial of them.” I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound like much of a "solution" to me.
  • A bunch of parents in the audience whined about gifted kids not getting enough money from public schools. Jeb's response, “we’re losing our geniuses" and “high school is boring, even if you’re not smart” E's response:” I went to math camp.” My response, "You've got to be kidding; you work at Microsoft, you can afford to get your kid in some after school classes if it's so important." (The main whiny mom showed up to hear Mitt Romney when we went to see him too, and E and I noticed her clapping and glowing as though in the presence of a demi-god when Mitt said he'd give more money to gifted education too.)
  • Jeb obviously thought interest in politics was something to take seriously; he said, “the fact that you showed up at a PAC meeting for a former governor on a random afternoon means you’ve got something funny going on with your life”
  • Finally, the organizer of the event said, “who will be president - you’re off the record here”. Jeb's reply: “nothing is off the record!”

At least he was right about the last part.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Last Monday I heard just a snippet of Weekday, a discussion about drugs and prohibition vs. legalization vs. other alternatives. Before listening to the show, if asked I would have probably said I would support continuing to prohibit "hard" drugs like crack and meth, legalizing marijuana, and prohibiting guns altogether (amongst non police officers) - just like most good progressives. However, one of the speakers made two good points in favor of legalizing and licensing everything:

  1. Prohibition didn't working for alcohol, tobacco, or coffee (apparently people were killed for using the last two back in the day). I knew about the first one of course - it's one of the reasons I'm for legalizing marijuana - but didn't realize the other two had happened in the past as well.
  2. The speaker made the specific suggestion to legalize opium - force people to get a license to grow it and sell to the state to make pain medications for the poor, who apparently lack access to opiates, especially in Afghanistan, because all the opium is sold to illegal drug dealers.

So it made me think - does it really make sense to restrict access to any drugs? I can't think of anything positive about speed, but I think the same about cigarettes and I wouldn't want to make them illegal (just illegal to smoke anywhere around me, but that's a whole other issue). I think there might be issues; for instance I assume in Afghanistan the state wouldn't be able to pay market rates for opium so I'd imagine there would still be a black market in that case, but you might be able to overcome that with better policies.

So I can almost come to accept legalizing all drugs, but then what about guns? Is being pro-gun-control hypocritical if I want to legalize and license other bad substances? Or is it still okay because drugs (generally) only hurt the person who takes them while guns are much more likely to be used to hurt someone else (although statistics say you're most likely to get killed with your own gun).

At the moment I'm sticking with legalize drugs, ban guns, but I'll have to keep thinking it through. I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Six Degrees of Actual Bacon

Last night I caught the tail end of NPR Presents in which apparently KUOW airs some random other good NPR show. Since I missed the beginning and the end, I don't know what show it actually was, but I do know that I enjoyed it. Ken Jennings, the guy who won the most consecutive times on Jeopardy, was on, talking about his new book and his regular column in a brainy magazine of some kind.

Now I am by no means a Jeopardy-watching regular, but I did see multiple news reports and clips of Ken, and he always struck me as kind of scary and robotic - in fact Mitt Romney kind of reminded me of him (and I think they share the same belief in Joseph Smith's golden plates). However, on the radio he came across as smart, and most surprisingly, kind of funny. In the bit I heard, he talked about random trivia from Washington (like the etymology of Skid Road) and then at the end, he shared the "homework" the show producer had given him. In his column, he often takes two ideas and does a six-degrees-of-separation thing between them, and the producer asked him to do the same with two terms you don't normally find together: NPR and Bacon. And here's how he did it:

Start with NPR
  1. NPR has pledge breaks
  2. Takes you to the Pledge of Allegiance
  3. Which was written by flag companies as a way to sell more flags
  4. The Canadian flag (which he mentioned has an 11-point Maple leaf) is a flag
  5. And Canada brings you to Canadian Bacon

End with Bacon.

Now you know too.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Russian Analogy

And just a quick update on Russia: On Monday, Putin endorsed Dmitry Medvedev for President, a man who is apparently quite young and unknown, and who will most likely allow Putin to direct from behind the scenes. On The World today they reported that Medvedev has, unsurpisingly, called for Putin to become his Prime Minister after he takes office.

I was talking to A about this today (check out his extremely erudite response to my previous Russian blog post) and he had the interesting idea that democracy, rather than being a totally new form of government, was really just an evolution of a monarchy:
Monarchy ->
King plus multiple Lords with power (ala Magna Carta) or multiple Oligarchs ->
A bunch more Lords or Oligarchs so power is more distributed ->
A way to elect said Lords or Oligarchs (aka democracy).
And so I came to my new Russian analogy - when I don't understand why Russians don't want democracy, what really makes me crazy is that I don't get why some societies are not interested in evolving. It's like the Russians see the folks with the opposing thumbs, but don't care about how easy it makes it to peel bananas. I just don't get it.

Cardboard Economy

According to All Things Considered, we are all ignoring one of the best economic indicators - cardboard production. I love hearing stories like this that take a complex financial thing like the US economy and make a clear analogy with something we can all relate to. It makes good sense - if cardboard production is up (I guess it's not a commodity where the price really changes; it's just a question of how much is being made at a given time) then that means manufacturers are making, and therefore selling, more goods, and that the economy is therefore okay. This is a fun way of looking at things, but I did have a couple of thoughts while I was listening:
  1. The fact that manufacturers are making more goods doesn't indicate where they're being sold, or to whom. If they're being sold in the US, it could indicate that US consumers are still spending like crazy even though their mortgages are falling apart - which doesn't make me, a solidly conservative "debt is always bad" sort of saver, feel all that encouraged. We could also be selling all those goods to countries outside the US which are taking advantage of our pathetically low dollar. Neither of these would necessarily indicate a strong economy.
  2. I feel uncomfortable being happy that we're killing more trees to make more cardboard. Shouldn't we be using existing boxes, and making lighter-weight packaging that takes a lower toll on the environment? I guess on the scale of environmentally-friendly packing material, cardboard is pretty good, but still...Of course my friend M says that he buys non-recycled stuff because it encourages people to grow more trees and is actually more environmentally friendly. C and I had a long discussion about this and agreed that this might be true in places where it's all new trees being harvested, but in BC where older growth trees (read: 50++ years, when trees are in prime carbon reduction mode) are being chopped down, we don't really think that's the case.
  3. As the president of President Container spoke about his operation, I once again had to note that there are a lot of people who work in jobs might as well be on a different planet from mine. I'm very glad that I don't have to think about how many yards of cardboard are going through and whether the cutter is going to get jammed, but I do have to keep reminding myself that there's a lot more people like that then people like me.

So cardboard. I guess it's the new gold standard.