Friday, May 29, 2009

An Audience

After telling a couple of friends about this blog, I've started to have to deal with the results of that. I did indeed want an audience, but have now become a good bit self conscious about this page as a result. I've been going back and forth worrying about every little detail, and have started to edit my past posts. Continuing with that would probably wreck me and I need to learn to relax. In the future I'll want to improve the quality of my writings, which is why I started to tell people about this page, but I'll deal with the rest of this blog as is. RELAX.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Minor Update

Found a new blog out there on technology's effect on social behavior by Alexander Van Elsas and it looks pretty interesting. Sort of in the vein of Clay Shirky back when he used to post regularly before writing a book. Still need to look at it a bit more to determine it's worth, but it looks like it shares a lot of my interests.

In other news, I'm planning on redoing a lot of the design of this page and applying some of the web design stuff I've been brushing up on. We'll see how that goes in the next few days.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

American Debt and Digging Ourselves a Hole

Complaining about the national debt and unfunded social programs in America is hardly a unique activity, but it's something I'm increasingly worried about. America has been pursuing short-sighted policies for decades that sooner or later we will have to pay for, and I believe we should address this as quickly as possible. True, we are in a recession, and there are a lot of economic arguments for deficit spending in a recession, but the levels we are seeing today are simply terrifying. China has been fueling our public debt for decades and we have become dependent on this. If that changes anytime soon we are in for a world of hurt.

It's not simply the deficit spending that worries me; personal savings have also been rash in America. The Great Recession seems to be changing American savings rates and the credit card reform bill show that things might be changing, but our past actions are symptomatic of a view in our society that could bring about tremendous future pain. Our politicians have not stepped forward to address these issues, trouble looms in the form of unfunded Medicare, Social Security and pensions. Surprisingly, Social Security might be one of the more insignificant issues here.

Furthermore, in addition to the national debt and unfunded social programs, there is a severe lack of investment in American infrastructure. Nations such as China are handily surpassing us. This is not simply a problem for convenience or pride, but how the American economy will do in the future. America seems to have been ignoring this due to a misplaced belief in our own superiority and avoiding looking at reality.

So, how do we deal with all this? I'm not an economist, and cannot give easy answers, but my suggestion is that we pay more now to avoid suffering in the future.

We may need to continue deficit spending during this recession, but there are still plenty of areas that the federal budget could be trimmed. Subsidies to the agricultural industry, the oil industry, the automotive industry could all be cut. We could end the war on drugs. Immigration law could be reformed to allow more working age, tax-paying citizens into the country to boost the economy.

With Social Security and other pension plans, I believe that as Americans are living longer, the retirement age should be slowly raised. With medical care, I believe that universal medical care should be a right. Unfortunately, this would cost the government much more than Medicare costs now. The reforms Obama is proposing will hopefully bring total US medical costs in line with that of other developed nations, but that is assuming the program is executed properly. If it is, total medical costs would be lowered but would still require greater taxes as the cost would be born by the government. I can suggest that more policy makers listen to thinkers such as Michael Pollan and Jane Jacobs, so that we stop subsidising urban sprawl and cheap fast food, as per the above paragraph. A large enough share of our medical costs go to caring for preventable chronic diseases brought about by over-eating and sedentary lifestyles that those changes would make a difference. If those suggestions don't make a big enough impact, well then, we can just hope future medical technology saves us all.

With our infrastructure, we should be spending more money, investing more in better rail networks, broadband, a national power grid and better wireless and cellular coverage. All of that will cost money, and I am fine with seeing taxes raised for it.

In regards to personal behavior, I saw this idea for a progressive consumption tax over at Along those lines I could also support a tax on advertizements, but that would do a lot of harm to the Internet industry I like. Either way, I like playing around with ideas to radically rework our tax structure. It has grown so large starting from scratch might be a good thing.

This has turned into quite a long post, but to close, I can only repeat that we must invest now if we want to avoid greater pain in the future.

Hopes For a New Economy

Wired has a good piece out in their new issue that feeds my techno-utopian dreams and desires for radical social/political/economic change. The article, titled The New New Economy, argues that The Great Recession will shake up the economy enough to the point that the ease of communication brought about by the Internet will allow the economy to seriously re-engineer itself around small flexible businesses. The three articles branching off from the main one detail the need for the reinvention of the auto industry, the possibilities brought about by Google's automated auctions and mathematical modeling of economics and memes, and what they call the New Socialism as seen in online collaboration ranging from the direct open software projects to more indirect examples such as the tagging on Flickr or Delicious.

Now, I've seen a lot of idealistic ideas like this before, and I don't expect the economy to get rewritten in this mold in the next decade, but I do expect things to move a bit more in that direction. These ideas embody several of my hopes for the future of the economy and I hope to see more of this in the future. Now, if only we can get a good universal, easy-to-measure whuffie system in place...

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Straight Line Borders

After a previous blog post mentioning dividing California into multiple states, I started thinking more about redrawing the borders of several other political entities. I love the idea in theory, as so many political borders in the world don't reflect the cultural or economic realities on the ground. A good number of conflicts in the world today are created by borders drawn by colonial powers without regard to the people living there.

Within the US, there have been a number of ideas for redividing the states, such as Joel Garreau's Nine Nations of North America, George Etzel Pearcy's 38 states proposal and a host of other secessionist movements. I've seen various ideas for breaking up California, Texas, New York, Florida and so on. I also wouldn't mind to see my home state of Oregon modified a bit along with Washington to better match the Republic of Cascadia. That then draws in Idaho, and you might as well edit Nevada a bit as long as you're redrawing California. Then there are all those low population states with three electoral votes that get disproportionate political power in the US, so I wouldn't mind combining some of those. Maybe combine Montana and Wyoming, Vermont and New Hampshire, and go down to one Dakota, though I imagine that people in those states wouldn't necessarily be happy with those divides. Of course I need to do some more research before actually calling any of this a serious suggestion, but I am playing around with a map that seeks to work along the lines I've suggested while minimizing disruption to existing states. If anyone has or knows of any well researched maps in this vein, please let me see.

Additionally there's the part of me that likes Ameriwank alternate histories and would like to see Canada and the UK and other English speaking territories lumped together into one large American/English country, and that would require a whole new set of borders.

Ignoring that for now, there a lot that could be done to improve international borders. I've seen suggestions for the Middle East, Africa and the rest of the world. This Wikipedia article on unrepresented nations and peoples lays out some of the changes I would like to see. Now to just generate some easy to look at maps.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Homo Superior

In thinking about how humans might be improved through genetic engineering, I've been playing around with some ideas.

I feel that one of the major questions will be whether we even bother with the more advanced structural improvements on the human body, or if by that point cybernetics and uploading will be far enough along to make that irrelevant.

The first thing to do is probably fixing the various problems and design defects built into people. This ranges from the relatively simple removal of congenital defects on to more complex things, ranging from removing the appendix to having the urethra not go through the prostate gland to flipping the retina of the human eye. Then there's all the problems associated with our bipedalism, the arches in our feet, our knees and the curvature of our spine that could all be improved a great deal. Actually our ankles and wrists could be improved a great deal, that's a problem that goes back to when we first got out of the water. You could also view ageing as a defect that should be edited out.

There are also a number of cognitive aspects of humans that could easily be viewed as problems in need of editing out. This is a fairly interesting side of things, and the thought that prompted me to write this post. I've only studied the beginnings of cognitive neuroscience, and I should probably be consulting Pfau when writing this, but there are a number of mistakes common to human thinking and seemingly inefficient physical organizations of the brain. Why is the main vision processing center of the brain at the back of the head? I think it would be pretty interesting to see how the brain could be reorganized to minimize the length needed to transmit singles. They're getting pretty good at tracing axons with diffusion MRI. As far as improvements for mental processes, this page had a fairly good outline. How we'd go about fixing these basic illogical thought process, I'm not sure.

Further on, there's a good number of things that we could steal from other lifeforms that could greatly improve human life without going so far as to the point were we stop being recognizably human. I for one would love to have bird lungs, for example. Beyond that, you get to imaging doing whatever you'd want, and that's a bit beyond the scope of what I've been thinking about. I'm fairly attached to my human form.

Well, more to think on this later, for now, good night.

Litigiousness, Avoiding Risk and the Unpleasant Results

I am increasingly frightened by the avoidance of risk in our society. Though that article from The Atlantic is a fairly specific piece, it is indicative of the disappointing mood I see around me. It's a shame that we live in a society that has to devote so much time running people through sexual harassment training, where kids can't get into a simple fist fight, where I've seen the Stanford Band be hobbled over concerns that someone might be offended by a given field show, where I have never seen a fight in a bar. This is not the world I want to live in.

Admittedly, I'm fairly glad that we don't see things around here such as the music stores I saw in Europe back in 2001 where there would be a section labeled 'Black Music' containing everything from rap to Michael Jackson to jazz. Obviously there is something to be said for educating people in basic decorum. I don't want to see a world with institutionalized racism and gun fights, but we've taken it too far. We should not live in a world where we can expect to never be offended, where no one gets their nose bloody.

Incarceration in California and America

Of the many problems facing America right now, the number of us in prison certainly ranks near the top. Incarceration rates in America are quite horrible. While I've wanted prison reform for a long time, opposing the war on drugs and three-strikes laws, the current budget crises in California has made this even more apparent.

I'm normally somewhat in favor of unions, at least as they provide something of a counter-balance to corporations. It's somewhat more complicated than that but I'll look at that issue in more detail later. The point is that right now the Californian prison guards union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, has earned my ire. Admittedly there are many organizations that wield disproportionate political influence and suck at the lifeblood of the rest of the society such as the farm industry, the automotive industry, the military-industrial complex and so on, but this one is directly involved with the trouble wrecking the state of California.

This organization directly benefits from criminalizing the activities of more Californians and putting more people in jail. Associated with the CCPOA on many of these issues are the California Peace Officers' Association, the California Police Chiefs Association and the California Narcotic Officers' Association. It's not that we don't need police officers or prison guards, but when our politics are decided by these groups we find ourselves in the situation we are in now, with almost as much money being spent on prisons as on universities, where we have the highest proportion of incarcerated people in the world.

I urge California to resist the influences of the CCPOA and similar organizations when it comes to further increasing the prison population. The prison population should be decreased dramatically and money spent on prisons should be correspondingly decreased. A good startin California would be passing Tom Ammiano's bill to reform marijuana laws, but further prison reform and other such laws are needed. As for America as a whole, I advise the ending of the war on drugs, the support of Webb and Specter's prison reform proposals.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

California Special Election

With the time afforded me by unemployment, I spent several hours researching the California special election and talking to friends about. I just got out of the voting booth without any real confidence in my choices. Seems to me a strange election where the Greens are advocating the same thing as the Republicans.

So, in the end, I'm more strongly now than ever in favor of rewriting California's constitution from scratch. The Economist has a nice piece on it. Removing the 2/3rds requirements for passing taxes or a budget in the legislature, decreasing the size of the constitution, not allowing propositions to alter the constitution, reducing gerrymandering of districts, and consolidating existing districts are all suggestions I could go for.

Being an ex-resident of the State of Jefferson, another part of me also wouldn't mind splitting California into two to four states, but that's more a dream than anything else.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Well, That Was Unpleasant

Continuing the job search here, just got of my worst interview in awhile. It's been a long time since I felt that out of my element, but I suppose I should expect that with job interviews. I've been lucky in only applying to Stanford before getting in, and only applying to mSpot for my first salaried job. Hopefully I'll find something that works out in the next couple of months.

In the meantime, new encouragement to be learning various software engineering things. After that interview, I suppose I need to get a much much better understanding of HTML and Javascript. Fortunately I've got this blog I can screw around with. I'll start with a better background...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Acquaintances in the News

Some for better, some for worse. Either way, improving the liberal score for Stanford and I approve of that.

Firstly, Waffles, aka Jeremy Cohn, altoz sexion leader in the Stanford Band, was the guy interviewing Condoleeza Rice in the few clips that got spread around the Internet and even popped up for a bit on the Colbert Report. Good for him, and damn but I have issues with Stanford hiring Condi.

Second, more recent and much more unfortunate, was the incident surrounding Daisy Morin, a friend of mine and girlfriend of one of my housemates. Apparently her mother found out she was living in a co-ed room in a co-op on campus, Columbae, a house that I lived in for two years, and was social manager of for one of those years. Now, I can understand a conservative mother freaking out about this a bit, but Daisy's mom took it a step further and cut off Daisy's financial support and wrote a letter to the National Review without telling Daisy. The National Review then published the letter.

The letter is an insulting conservative rant filled with a number of mistakes and untruths, which the National Review apparently didn't bother to fact check. This further supports the opinion, first eloquently voiced to me by either Tynan Burke or Hunter Richards, I can't remember which, that the National Review is nothing but a bunch of crazy people squatting in William F. Buckley's mansion.

I don't much understand cultural conservatives, and what I do understand, I don't like. I have some understanding that a mother might freak out about an issue such as this, but to send a letter off to the National Review without even telling your own daughter strikes me as despicable.

Well, good luck to Daisy in dealing with the fallout, and I hope Stanford stays firm in ignoring parents such as this. Stanford does enough to interfere with the social lives of its students, allowing co-ops to organize their own housing policies is a bright spot that should be defended.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Californian Government

With my only recently having registered to vote in California and starting to live here not as a student, I can't say I've ever paid much attention to how the state government is run. Most news that I pay attention to is national or international. However, with my recent experiment in trying to be a good citizen by informing elected officials of everything they're doing wrong, I've started to learn a bit about how this state works.

In short, it's a mess. To be fair, I've known that for awhile, considering that Arnold Schwarzenegger is my governor, but after looking into the our mess of a budget, our incumbent protecting gerrymandered districts, our ridiculously long and complicated constitution... Having the Terminator as our governor is actually one of the more reasonable things in the Californian government. So now I'm going to have to start writing a new share of letters to whatever state officials happen to represent me.

Yarg, citizenship...