Flaws and all, I'm glad he's in the White House.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pathetic, Shameful, and Embarrassing

Pathetic, shameful, and embarrassing--what else could you call House Minority Whip Eric Cantor's claim that bringing high speed rail to his district is great, great thing? It'd be one thing if, for some reason, Cantor didn't support the stimulus for some overarching reason. It'd be acceptable, too, if he had a history of support public transportation but still voted against the stimulus, while supporting some other type of bill that would enhance such public goods.

None of that applies to you, Mr. Cantor. You and others like you actively worked against the stimulus and the objectives it sought to accomplish. You and your allies in congress and the media did everything possible to sabotage the president's effort to bring about economy recovery, not sparing yourselves the dishonor of using personal attacks. And then you have balls to take credit for what is happening?

As Brad DeLong says, burn the Republican party to the ground and then salt the earth so that it can never, ever grow back.

Via Steve Benen.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I Wish I Had Studied Computer Science

I think I know a lot more about many things than most people, particularly most people my age. That may not be saying much, but I still think it's true. Of course, there's still quite a bit that I don't know. I'm trying to learn more about a lot.

One area that's peaked my interest lately is computer science. (Perhaps that is the wrong term, but it seems appropriate, since it would hopefully encompass everything.) I find this stuff incredibly interesting, even if I have no use for some of it and barely understand even more of it.

Take something like Apple's MobileMe service, a cloud computing option that will sync information on different machines at the same time. I'd have no reason to use such a service right now: I don't take many pictures, I don't use e-mail that much, and I have no business that needs my constant attention. But still, should I ever need it or something like it, it's pretty cool to know it's there.

Or take open source software. I have only the most basic knowledge of this, but it's fascinating. How does it really stack up to the software that costs a lot of money and presumably adds quite a bit to the cost of a computer? How can the people who work on this make money?

As far as making money goes, I think it's amazing that people with the required skills can sell relatively simple applications through the iPhone's application store and make tens of thousands of dollars, if not more. It's naturally becoming harder to do, as the store becomes more crowded, but it's a good opportunity for people whose skills might not be fully utilized in a down economy. Besides that, a lot of cool things can emerge from this process, or so I imagine.

I recently downloaded Apple's software development kit and tried to use it, even through an online tutorial, but haven't had time to follow up. I'd like to learn more, and once my test prep class is over, perhaps I can devote more time to learning it from square one, which seems like a problem I can't get around.

In short, I wish I had the skills to do something like this. I wish I had studied computer science in college.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Too Good to Be True?

Via Jonathan Zasloff at The Reality-Based Community, here's a neat idea that achieves several goals at the same time: fighting Malaria in Africa. As Zasloff says, we already know how to do it, which only makes a lack of effort all the more shameful. Here's where it gets interesting:

But here's the good news: this is easy to do. It doesn't require huge investments in complex antiretrovirals, controversies over sexual abstinence, negotiations with drug companies, etc. It's just sitting there.

The technology is relatively simple: insecticide-treated mosquito bed nets, better insulated door and windows, and anti-malarial drugs (which are quite inexpensive). As Jeffrey Sachs and his colleagues at the Columbia University Earth Institute demonstrate in a (relatively) recent paper, this would cost about $3 billion a year--0.3% of the projected stimulus package.

All of the bednets, insecticides, drugs and home fixtures could be manufactured in the United States, and could be done pretty quickly, making it a perfect candidate for the stimulus.

So it could help our economy and the economies of the nations in Africa, reduce poverty, and save lives, all the while being relatively cheap? It almost sounds too good to be true.

I'm aware that there's a fairly big debate over the need of various aid projects directed towards desperately poor countries. I also acknowledge that a lot of progress could be made by simply expanding economic opportunities through trade. I may not be up on the most recent literature enough to give a qualified guess as to whether this would work--this is yet another instance of a topic I find fascinating and have some good starting points in mind as far as books--but this seems like something that is worth trying even if it's only mildly successful.

I'd be interested in reading the downsides to it. If there's some research that say this is a well-intentioned waste of money, I'd like to see it. But if there's even a small chance it could work, it should be tried.

Let's hope someone has the ear of President-Elect Obama and will inform him of such interesting, worthwhile options.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Procrastination and Laziness

It's been a little over a month since I said I would update this blog. I haven't done anything I've promised. Business as usual, I guess.

Anyway, here's that article from The Atlantic I promised in the last post. I haven't decided if I will do a full scale response to it, primarily because I'm not entirely certain of the way that I feel. My initial reaction is a mix of the slightly positive--it is still making me think over a month after I've read it, which is unusual--and the slightly negative--a big part of me thinks that it's a response to an argument nobody seems to be making. The piece, entitled The Case for Debt, describes the ways that taking on more debt can be a good thing: it allows people to live their lives by increasing the number of choices they can make. The author, Virginia Postrel, illustrates the ways that the expansion of credit helps both rich and poor people finance their lifestyles. Read it, for even if you end up disagreeing with it, it's an interesting discussion.

As interesting as Postrel's article is, Karl Rove's latest column in The Wall Street Journal is as tepid and generally stupid as the man himself is. Rove spends most of his time talking about the new ways in which Republican party leaders can reach and influence voters. I understand where he's coming from, and leaving his questionable assertions about union election spending and so forth aside, I would agree with him. Unfortunately, Rove apparently wants to stupefy his audience with this latest piece.

If the Republicans are to compete with the Democrats, they need to be able to work in any format, whether it's the traditional media or the new media. I just have to wonder how much of the recent losses, aside from what was probably a given due to corruption scandals of 2006 and the poor economy of 2008, were due to a failure to reach some voters. Is it that Republicans didn't try as hard as Democrats did in regards to Facebook and MySpace pages and other forms of Internet communication, or is it that they kept up but failed because the underlying support wasn't there? The Obama campaign certainly outclassed the McCain campaign's Internet operation, but can the same be said for most Senate and House Democrats?

Rove does devote the rest of his column mentioning that the party needs not only to simply communicate effectively, but to have an appealing message to do so. Left unsaid in this column is what this message is supposed to constitute. It's also important to consider who, exactly, this message is for, which Rove does to some extent. He fingers the general group that McCain and presumbly Republicans appear to have lost the most: younger voters. As I said above, one needs to wonder if his campaign didn't try hard enough or did try but failed. And if they failed, what about their message needed to be changed? Here, I think, Rove and his fellow talking heads run into a brick wall: they seem to think that the Republicans' message simply wasn't packaged correctly. In other words, it isn't that people talked about capital gains tax cuts, which voters didn't care about; it's that they didn't talk about them in the right way!

Needless to say, this sort of analysis leaves much to be desired. It's not entirely wrong, but it's not anywhere near complete. I may be a fairly liberal guy, but I don't think conservativism is dead. That said, to whatever its extent its ideas are valid, the presentation it received during the last few elections was terrible. If the Republicans and other conservative-minded politicians are interested in appealing to a new generation of voters, perhaps it isn't out of line to address their concerns in some sort of coherent fashion. The problem is, this may require abandoning some key elements of their current ideology, such as the Grover Norquist-style approach to taxation.

I'm not going to hold my breath.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I've Been Busy

My regular readers, which includes, well, me and anybody who happens to stumble upon this site while trying to find some porn site, have probably been wondering where I have been. I've been busy...sort of. I've mostly been either too lazy to post or too worried that I'd say something stupid. There's bound to be some sort of pithy statement that describes the notion of trying to learn more and realizing you know less than you thought you did. Whatever it is, that's what I am feeling now.

I guess it's better to go for quality rather than quantity, but still, it'd be nice if I made this a habit. In the next week or so, I'll try to do some posts on an article I read in the most recent issue of The Atlantic Monthly on credit cards, on the leadership vacuum of the Republican party, the implementation of Howard Dean's Fifty-State Strategy, and the historic nature of President-Elect Barack Obama's candidacy, among other things. I'm sure everyone is waiting with baited breath.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

What Jack Balkin Said

He says it better than I could. Take a look.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Taxes on the Wealthy

Last night, I read this article in The New York Times about Warren Buffett. I don't know as much about him as I would like--although there's a new biography out about him, so perhaps I could start with that--but I do know he's spoken out in favor of the estate tax and against what he feels is an unfairly skewed tax system. Indeed, if this article can be believed, he thinks it's time to raise taxes on the wealthy:

To help pay for the rescue, the government should raise taxes on the wealthy, Mr. Buffett suggested. “I’m paying the lowest tax rate that I’ve ever paid in my life,” he said. “Now, that’s crazy.”

I understand that the issue of taxes is complicated, not just for reasons of economic theory but also for political and ideological reasons. I'm not in favor of higher taxes simply because I think the government needs to be purposefully big and because I resent others being wealthy. Yet, I do think taxes should go up, and they definitely will, because spending has gone up.

I do wonder, however, why Buffett is saying this with such ease. I doubt he's calling for a top marginal rate of seventy percent. Even this amateur realizes that would be probably be a disaster. But while Buffett is not an academic economist that specializes in tax policy, he certainly knows more about finance and economics than almost anyone outside of academia. Because he's saying that taxes should be raised the wealthy, I'm led to believe that it's not going to grind the economy to a halt, like some on the right would suggest. My guess is, if he felt something was going to be an incredible mistake, he would speak out against it.

I don't know if this a faulty logical appeal to authority. Perhaps it is. I just have to wonder if the Grover Norquist types of this world have poisioned the debate so thoroughly that an honest discussion of tax policy is really possible.