Thursday, September 11, 2008

Moving Back

I am moving my writing back to The Nappy Cat with one of my best friends and colleagues, Will.

My feedburner RSS feed will direct you to the content that I write from there, so don’t worry about having to update that.

My reason for moving back is really just the fact that I wanted to start writing with my friend Will again. Especially now because he has started writing more again.

As much as I try, Will has a better way of showing the absolute farces that our media and the portrayal of our political system are. I’m hoping that by writing with him again, we can wake up some people to see the world for what it really is when it is at its worst and best.

My blogspot here will still remain up, so the archive will always be available.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Your Dissapointment and Our Ignorance

There are two major points I would like to bring up regarding Senator Obama’s pick of Senator Joe Biden to be his running mate.

If the friends I have on Facebook are any representative sampling of the 18-30 demographic (and they aren’t), then it seems most young and white reactions were showing disappointment in the pick of Senator Biden.

There’s a few horrifying good reasons these people used to come to their disdain for Joe.  First, they love Hillary Clinton, and wanted that “dream” ticket.  So, let me get this straight.  After all the horrific things Clinton supporters say the Obama team did to them, they want to be part of the ticket?  And since when did being married to a guy who happens to be the President become “experience?” 

Even then, if you can remember (and you don’t by the way, because you would have had to of cared about politics back in high school, and you didn’t) one of the selling points on Bill Clinton was that with Hillary, it was like getting two presidents for the price of one.  So, what was she then?  A co-president?  And if so, would that not make it a bit weird to get her there again?  And what of Bill’s role in the White House?

Another real piece of hatred from my friends is their absolute vitriol towards Biden for the commencement speech he gave at the University of Delaware in 2004.  Apparently they did not know that Senator Biden is long-winded and likes to talk about things that matter; for example, the war in Iraq and America’s role in the world.  To those who graduated that day, Senator Biden should have talked more about inane and stupid important issues, such as how awesome college students are for being among hundreds of thousands of other college graduates who have yet to do anything special with their lives.  Truly, there could not be anything more important than us?

That brings me to my second point, and the reason why they did not notice that Senator Biden was trying to do in the commencement speech.  Biden was trying to convey a message regarding a prescient matter regarding the United States. 

Even then, none in attendance cared that what he said then, and still says now along with every other established leader in this country, continues to stay on pattern with what can be identified as “American Hegemony.”  That is to say, we influence the world, and so long as we do any action in question, there is no crime; just a misguided attempt at dropping our awesome “freedom bombs.”  No one questions that, why?  And if there was going to be anyone to have that conversation with, it would be Joe Biden.

And even more to the point, how does the vice president matter that much to these people?  If the pick of a running mate does matter that much, then Vice President Cheney has gotten his way and dutifully changed the way we view the executive branch.  Now, all of a sudden, the Vice President matters a great deal in decision making.  How come we don’t remember that at some point Dan Quayle was once Vice President?

Cheney also has made us think differently about the presidency.  Essentially, it’s become a monarchy.  The President must be convinced of what we do or do not do in foreign policy.  Congress is there for…I don’t even really know anymore.  I do not think that even congress knows why it exists anymore.

And once again, being that this is a “representative democracy,” if you want to blame someone for the way things are going, you can always point the finger at yourself.

Ultimately these two converging points of not liking Joe Biden (for idiotic reasons and thinking that it actually matters that you don’t like Joe Biden) force us ultimately to this conclusion: I’m not sure we really know what’s going in the world, or even how the U.S. plays a role in it.

Oh, and by the way, for those oif you “young Democracts” who watched Obama's acceptance speech, I have a few points for you:

- Stop watching so much of the cable coverage.

- Don't read just one review by the Associated Press, and then consider yourself an expert.

- Obama is still a politician, so don't tell me you were disappointed in his acceptance speech.  The only person who would not give you the kind of speech that Obama or any other politician would is Ron Paul, and you can see how America likes him.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


A little over a week ago, I emailed Tim Harford regarding if a study had ever been done that asked the following question of the participants:

"How many times have you asked someone out (on a date) and have been surprised at their response (also indicate whether they responded yes or no)?"

I was asking Tim about how intuitive we (humans) are at interpreting signals and variables from other people in terms of realtionships.  In business, I have witnessed questions being asked of other parties even though the questioner knows what the answer will be.  Most of the time, the questioner asks in order to fulfill some sort of requirement of asking from their superior.

Tim replied to my inquiry:

Alas, I've never seen such a question. Fascinating subject, though. Sorry not to be able to help.

One can only wonder what it takes to apply for grant monies to make these studies happen.  Nevertheless, you have it from me that I will do what I can to find more on the topic.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Competition in Formula 1

Did you ever wonder how competitive top athletes (in any sport) can be? Allow me to show you just how competitive things can get in Formula 1. Fernando Alonso (2005 & 2006 driver’s champion) was in a Thursday press conference with Heikki Kovalainen, where they had the following exchange following a question over what their activities might be during the Formula 1 summer break.

Kovalainen: In my family I make decisions where I go, I don't know what my girlfriend will do, but this is my holiday.

Alonso: You will see... wait two years!

Now, while that doesn’t strike as particularly competitive, you have to wait a few more questions again to see another exchange regarding their girlfriends.

Alonso: I will do whatever my wife wants. If it's time to join the club, I will join, if she says no, then I won't join.

Kovalainen: For me it's the opposite; if they ask me to join the club, I make my decision whether my girlfriend is happy or not. I try to keep it that way, I think it's better.

If I did not know any better, and I may not, I would actually venture to say that these two drivers were having a “you-don’t-know-what-a-relationship-is-like off” between each other during the Thursday press conference.

More importantly; I have no idea who won that. And I actually want to know. See, here’s the thing: Alonso has been described as difficult to work with and a bit of a pre-Madonna. Yet, apparently from the conference, he explains that his wife’s wishes are a super priority for him.

Kovalainen on the other hand is known as the super nice guy in the paddock, and always a pleasure to be around, yet apparently he has the relationship that most men have never heard of. I mean, seriously, two people maintaining their own individuality and goals in a relationship? Who ever heard of such a thing?

So, in order to find out how a relationship should really be, I propose that Fernando Alonso and Heikki Kovalainen have a race…using the cars their wives drive. And this race will take place…on the Nurburgring. And I mean the whole ring, not the adjacent Formula One circuit.

And that’s just part one of the event. In the second part, Alonso and Kovalainen’s wives will then drive in their husbands’ respective formula one car around the Grand Prix circuit.

No matter the result though, one thing is for sure; all drivers better bring back those cars with a full tank, or they might have a quiet ride home.

Finally then, after a proper sporting competition, we can see what type of relationship is the proper way forward. I can think of many no better scientific process in determining such an important question with human relationships.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Thinking about Vengeance

Over time, economists have been trying to answer questions that revolve around incentives. The research has started to expand into many fields, and answer questions that go far beyond monetary policy. I know, what’s more exciting than monetary policy? But, hold on.

The further economists probe into the questions of incentives for wine choices, dating, crime, and other non-monetary venues, the more hatred is spewed upon them from other academic fields. Psychologists, ecologists, biologists…take your pick, and no matter how hard an economist has tried to garner them as co-writers, the hate will spew forth.

The man whom I predict will receive the latest in inter-academic wrath will be Naci H. Mocan, who has just released a working paper regarding vengeance. He writes in the abstract that:

Females, older people, working people, people who live in high-crime areas of their country and people who are at the bottom 50% of their country's income distribution are more vengeful. The intensity of vengeful feelings dies off gradually over time. The findings suggest that vengeful feelings of people are subdued as a country develops economically and becomes more stable politically and socially and that both country characteristics and personal attributes are important determinants of vengeance.

It is important we understand that while Mocan is speaking of crime, he is not writing about terrorism.

You see, recently we had a change in conventional wisdom about terrorists. We used to think they latched on to terrorism because they had no jobs. Then, we started noticing that acts of terrorism were being carried out by people who were not exactly desperate for money, per se. Even Osama Bin Laden has gone to college.

The separation between terrorist and vengeful poor guy really comes from a state of mind. If the information that has been coming out lately is right, then the vengeful poor are vengeful because of actual economic reasons. “Class warfare” is a term that everybody hates, so I’ll use it. It seems as though terrorists don’t have to worry about the same thing that the vengeful poor do, so they have time to develop religious psychoses regarding desert land whose wealth is defined by the supply of a substance (oil) that would have no where near the value if the rest of the world was not as “secular” as it is.

The “cause” is a piece of land roughly the size of New Jersey; of course I’m talking about Israel. So, we have sovereign countries in oil rich land that want to retake land that has only religious significance. I understand that my use of the phrase “only religious” is a bit underestimating considering that wars have been started over religious grounds.

I think what we learn here is that vengeance comes to those who feel slighted, or cheated in some way. People who feel that the current system is stacked against them will most likely feel vengeful. Their outlying of the system can come either economically, or religiously.
Maybe we need to look at what people everywhere see as unfair because those who feel that they are treated most unfairly will seek to remedy their situations in some of the direst of manners.

(By the way, I started writing a week ago on Thursday, July 17th, but apparently Stephen Dubner subscribes to the same email lists I do.)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Active Citizenship

I have written before about “active citizenship.” But, what is it? What does it require? Why is it necessary?

Considering that the July 4th anniversary (U.S. Independence Day) has just passed once again, there has been clamor once again over the idea of self governance. Americans are in love with themselves every July 4th, and the idea that we are self governing; that we have our destiny within our own hands. But, beyond 9th grade Civics, if we investigate deeper, we end up realizing that our idea of self-governance is really just a farce. Self-governance is merely the veil over our eyes to disguise us from the truth that we are not in control.

You need not look very far for the ideas against where we stand as voters. Those who vote often have absurd and diluted ideas of proper remedy to our nation’s concerns. Not only that, but voting is not in itself active citizenship. If I didn’t know any better, I could have sworn that I actually saw a farm animal in the voting booth in 2004.

Every election cycle I have constantly asked my own friends to abstain from voting. The idea being that my vote would count for more; as if I were the elected representative for our group of friends. But this does not even count as a dent; or any voting anomaly.

Active citizenship, sadly to me only, means that all citizens are informed and educated regarding the policies that are currently enacted, the goals they have for themselves, and the consequences of changing current policies and/or adding or deleting them. While I can write the instructions for such active citizenship in a sentence, the actual “doing” involves a generous amount of time spent reading and asking questions about what is going on in our nation and, maybe even more importantly, state.

Unfortunately, what most people consider active citizenship is devolved into what many people call, “hot button” issues. Or, as I like to refer them to, “Issues which will mean less and less over time.” Gay marriage is a perfect example. The more time goes on, the more people do not care. Yet, even though more and more people do not care, interest groups against gay marriage get louder and louder.

What about foreign policy? Taxes? Why can’t voters ever organize large enough for those items? Well, this is where active citizenship comes into play. You see, in areas such as foreign policy and taxes, we defer to so called, “experts.” This term, expert, I love.

A few times now I have hear Noam Chomsky give an example when people want to know about “doing more” and what it requires. He, and subsequently I, queried as to why people have the time to memorize a plethora of minutia on sport statistics while not bothering to know any real important history that could give context to our current political-global climate.

And sadly - because most everyone in the U.S. hates Noam Chomsky - he is right. Why don’t we know that the 1812 Overture, which is played every 4th of July, is actually about the defeat of Napoleon, and nothing to do with America? I mean this kind of ignorance smacks of the humor that was in an episode of The Simpsons where at an air show, the announcer says, “Now, the pride of the United States Air Force, the British made Harrier jet.”

Apart from the effort of memorizing sports statistics, the fervor that people have in order to call in the morning sport shows and combat these experts is barely palpable. You see the difference now? Sports: YES! Politics: Why would I waste my time with that?

Once we can get past the idea that we can divert more energy into our political discourse for the everyday man, we then have to ask why it is necessary. The answer is actually quite simple really. We should act and care about our politics so that if we do complain, we’ll know why, and we’ll know that we’re doing something about it.

Look no further than our incumbency rates in the United States (95% if I remember correctly). Sure, the system is broken, but the apathy of our body politic does not help. And the numbers only show that if you’re complaining about how things are going, then we all need to ask why keep sending the same people back. Is there ability to blame others that good?

I’m not going to make a stance here, although I’m sure it sounds like I have. But what I have tried to do is give the idea some exposure. This is about asking yourself if you actually feel like you are governing yourself. And if you don’t think you are, then maybe we need to change some of the wording that we use to describe our political system.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Asked for Advice on Dating/Signalling

A question comes to me:


If you have asked a girl out, and she doesn't respond to it, but still talks to you, what is the proper signal to take away?

Amazing this question came to me because I have experienced such singals recently, and before, but I have some more perspective now. Let us look back on how I
discussed signaling over a year ago. I wrote:

Simply put: I’m signaling _______ because _______ is what I want


Not only that, but we need to remember that actions speak louder than words. Just like how an economist would say, “They voted with their pocketbooks.”

Sad to say to my questioner, but this means that chances are, you are not whom she is looking for. And that of course assumes that she is looking in the first place.

However, let us try to gain sime more perspective.  As 
Bella DePaulo has been writing of late on the Psychology Today Blog, the young woman you are asking out may actually be in touch with her own single-ness. Psychologically speaking, DePaulo surmises that our society gets caught up and trained into the thinking that we need to be married, or that our own selves are defined by a relationship, or by who we are with someone else.

So, one would hope that the person you seek to form a relationship with has a well defined sense of self.

Unfortunately, as an economist, this does not change the fact that you need to spend time with this woman in order to form the bond that two independent people could form if they find their common interests, personalities, and goals. While the psychological underpinnings might be up in the air in terms of the possibilities of a great relationship, the economics so far says that the person you wrote of does not have the time, or is not willing to concede the time to do so with you.

But, take heart; maybe this will allow you the time to reexamine your own personal utility function. What are the items that matter most in your life? How would you prioritize those items, and do you see any of them as something that could ever be sacrificed? Or, how about your own personal thoughts on what a relationship is. Do you even think that it’s necessary to have to sacrifice something?

As DePaula points out, when we are comfortable with ourselves and accepting of who we are without being identified in a relationship, we can actually make better decisions about ourselves and relationships. Otherwise, if you are not honest with yourself, or her, any contract and form of signaling you do would only lead you to not filling your part, or never being satisfied with what you were expecting.

Long story short, a few notes:

- Life is not going to stop, and I would hate to think you would stop yours while someone else continues with theirs.  So, don't give up on your own goals and ambitions, and don't be afraid to be inspried and get new ones.
- Try to keep a good sense of yourself, and who you are as you go through these signaling and contracting phases.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Inflation Targeting

Well, I assume Paul Krugman got tired of spreading misinformation, and decided to get back to something in which he is actually quite great at: straight forward analysis.

There is significance in what Krugman wrote because when Ben Bernanke became chairman of the Fed, many, including myself, understood that Bernanke is a fan of inflation targeting, and would most likely become a “hawk” when it came to inflation in the U.S.

So, it is significant to consider that Krugman cites Bernanke’s ability to put off inflation targeting in order to keep economic activity high. Here are some qualifications:

Krugman’s main point is that this is not the 1970’s, and that stagflation may not exactly be on the horizon just yet. The circumstances between the 1970s and today are different.

Also, since Bernanke is such an inflation hawk, and continues to be mindful of it in his testimony to Congress, I feel it safe to assume that if and when inflation were to become the most important target of the Fed in relation to our economy, Bernanke would do what is necessary. Who knows, maybe we should be thanking that Bernanke is the chairman of the Fed at this time.

But the idea of inflation targeting is an interesting one to posit. I remember when Alan Greenspan was coming out with his book; he did an interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. There, Jon Stewart asked what was so “free market” about an economy that has a “Fed” meddling with it? Much to Greenspan’s credit, he admitted that it really was not a true free market.

Greg Mankiw and Ricardo Reis discuss inflation targeting here in a way that not many of us think about. The question is, by what measures do we target inflation? Mankiw and Reis explain in their abstract that: tentative conclusion is that a central bank that wants to achieve maximum stability of economic activity should use a price index that gives substantial weight to the level of nominal wages.

This is a nice tie in to what monetary policy fights with all the time, as well as any economy: the balance between employment and inflation. Examining nominal wages for inflation target purposes shows that targeting inflation will also be relevant to employment in the sense that our wages are tied to employment.

In the end, Ben Bernanke has the responsibility of making decisions regarding where our economy is in balancing employment and inflation, or making the final decisions on where to take that balance. Even though the Fed is not how every economist envisioned a “free market” economy, I trust that Bernanke will do his best. If only that trust was some guarantee to making the right decision every time.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Engagement Ring Trading

A few days ago, a good friend of mine emailed me with a query on two things: (1) what to do with an old engagement ring, and (2) if he had an idea of a new market.

This is what he wrote me:

...apparently you typically get 10-25% the original price when you resell an engagement ring. So reselling it is like the worst thing you can do. And then you take your crumby resale value and put it towards a new ring.

So I got this idea. What if there was a site where guys like me who still have an old engagement ring can swap them with each other? So neither guy's girlfriend winds up getting a ring from his ex and he doesn't get screwed on resale value. It winds up just like getting a used, discounted ring which people do all the time and women never care about.

It's not about what I paid for the ring and making it back or what I would pay for a new ring because an engagement ring by nature has more perceived value than actual value. I'm more interested in the ability to simultaneously cut ties with a bad memory, create a new, positive meaning for someone else, and giving them the opportunity to do the same for you. There's something terribly empty about reselling the ring to a jeweler and buying a new one. It starts your new experience off with a bit of bitterness, a reminder of what you lost, instead of a feeling of helping someone in the same boat as you.

I understood his query, or, at least I thought I did. The intrinsic value my friend spoke of clouded my judgment.

I decided to get some professional help, so I wrote Tim Harford, and this is what Tim replied to me when I proposed the question to him:

I am not sure this solves the problem. Why not sell the ring on eBay? And if resold engagement rings sell for a cheap price, well, why not buy the replacement on eBay too? Not sure what the additional value of the exchange is.

If the exchange is valuable, it's a variant on the kidney exchange market set up by Al Roth and others; sometimes you can swap but not buy. But I am not convinced that the parallel is very strong.

I gave my friend Tim’s opinion, to which he agreed was the most sensible answer. He and I both admitted though, that the perceived intrinsic value of the ring clouded our judgments in terms of the proper course of action. The idea was that we could somehow reinforce another’s intrinsic values with their rings in the exchange.

However, when reading Tim’s response, the intrinsic value is essentially already there. You can only imagine that someone has had to go through something emotionally similar if they have to resell such a ring on eBay, as well. So, in the sense that the intrinsic value of the ring is there, the market that my friend spoke of (ex-engagement rings) is there too.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Bad Etiquette or Myth of Cap and Trade

A few days ago, Robert Samuelson came out with an article regarding carbon economics with some insight on the efficiency of cap and trade v. carbon tax. Here is what he wrote towards the end of the article:

But if we're going to try to stimulate new technologies through price, let's do it honestly. A straightforward tax on carbon would favor alternative fuels and conservation just as much as cap-and-trade but without the rigid emission limits. A tax is more visible and understandable.

I dugg the article on Digg and made a comment. A user at Digg replied here to my comment saying:

a coersive (sic) tax where there is no opt out possibility is not honest - it is theft.

I really don’t mind being proved wrong over and over again, but a short reply like that with little to no context is more frustrating than progressive. Now, before I go on, let me state that I don’t disagree with that statement. In fact, considering my political leanings, I agree for the most part. However, there are two main problems with his rebuttal.

First, it’s not really a complete answer. In the sense that I have to ask myself since all taxes are coercive, aren’t all taxes theft? I hope for the sake of how he answered that remark, that he means it in those terms. And in that sense, he’s right. All of those taxes are theft, and, I, being always adept to social libertarian anarchism, agree in saying that all taxes are coercive to an extent.

I also hope that you, the reader, understand how his comment seemed, well, rather short. Moreover, and more important, there seems to be a miss in linguistic logic. While a tax could be, or is theft, how is it “not honest?” This is where his having to be a social libertarian anarchist is a necessity for his argument. You see, in my opinion, for the tax to be honest, we should be able to say that I don’t want that, so I’ll vote for someone who will make sure this does not happen. But what if the average voter does not have enough power as a political action committee, or other lobbying firm? Then, of course, no matter what we vote, only those in positions of power will see policies that they like. If you believe that, then you can tell me that the tax is not honest; only in the sense that our own government is illegitimate, which I will gladly leave for you to decide.

But here’s the second part/problem with that answer. Since the entire article was meant to culminate to, “A tax is more visible and understandable [when compared to cap and trade],” then one could reason that the replier meant to discredit the tax opposed to cap and trade. Such an argument, I will happily rejoinder and try to reason against.

With a tax, the price is put on carbon, and only carbon. You can make however much you want of whatever you want, but if x is coming out of your factory, you will be taxed at this rate for x. If the commenter favored cap and trade over the tax, then he would have to admit that it is the exact same goal.

With cap and trade, the government says that you are only allowed to produce x amount of carbon, which we will give you permits for. The minute you run out permits, you have to purchase more from other companies who may have extra. Creating a market like this would actually cost money because it will need to be regulated in order for corruption and rent seeking elements to remain minimal.

So, if we are willing to admit that taxes are thievery, I would still argue that cap and trade is probably worse because now a new market has been created where companies will spend money to buy pollution permits. And the costs of buying those permits will go to the consumer, just like the tax, but with cap and trade the extra costs of regulating another market leave it struggling to keep up with the efficiency of a tax.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Turning the Page

The status quo simply won't do any more. It never did much for me, and with Barack Obama heading into the general election as the Democratic nominee, I would like to think more of America feels the same.

This leads me to then ask why the Human Rights Campaign still holds as much of us captive as it does. Watching my friends and colleagues being treated as second class citizens is outrageous. Why hasn't more been done? Public opinion on the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered community has changed so much within the past few years. Yet, with all the actual capital that the Human Rights Campaign has, it has not seemed to turn into much political capital.

Don't believe me? Look over at Andrew Sullivan, whom for this, it does not get any more personal:

Their main activity in the 1990s was selling the Clinton administration to gays. The reward was some jobs and sinecures for their own clique. And the reason they got along so well with the Clintons is that the Clintons are all about raising political money as well.


They get tens of millions of dollars a year from well-intentioned gay men and lesbians. They've been doing it for years. And what have we got? Nothing. Wake up, guys. Give your money to people who actually fight for gay equality.

But with Obama's nomination, I'm hoping the Human Rights Campaign learns that we all want a different way of going towards our goals.

If we can truly believe in the message of a candidate, when someone like Senator Obama talks about changing the way we work within politics, than maybe we can change the maneuvering that happens with many organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign.

If we truly are the ones whom we have been waiting for, then America, we Americans, need to make this happen ourselves. Political apathy is the nourishment of the status quo. Active citizenship is what our country requires in order to make it work well, let alone make it work the way we intend for it to work.

This all means holding the Human Rights Campaign accountable. This means writing and emailing them asking them what they do with your money. Continuing to write them asking for our voices to be heard, and our aspirations to be met.

Andrew Sullivan and I don't agree on every issue, but what I do enjoy the most about him is his ability to instill within us an understanding that we have the inherit abilities to make change. We all have the inherit ability to organize and make known what matters most in our lives. And that is part of the change that Obama himself has been talking about. I'm not saying Obama is the answer though. What I am saying is that a true working government is one whose citizens, all citizens, actively participate And in the vain of active citizenship, we have some work to keep doing.

Monday, June 02, 2008

True Wisdom Isn't Conventional

Economists often like startling theorems, results which seem to run counter to conventional wisdom.” - Joseph Stiglitz

Consider all the diet books ever written, all the dating books ever written, or anything published within the self help section of the bookstore. Now look at the recent research from economists who have started to “break away.” Books like Freakonomics, Logic of Life, and Myth of the Rational Voter all take an intuitive approach to some of the latest economic and social policy questions.

What is unfortunate about this is that a dichotomy has been provided where the authors of the aforementioned books are judged as providing something different while they gather an ever larger following.

Even research papers that discuss dating dynamics, which are used in these books, when conversed in the public, or with friends, immediately receive the scoffing that we deem necessary upon “the world is flat” Christopher Columbus meme.

What ends up hitting me right in the face like Columbus hitting North America is that this is just another reminder that conventional wisdom holds its sway, and it will not let its grip on the general public go. At least, a significant portion of us know when we've traveled to a different hemisphere, rather than the Indian coast.

The hope is for a realization that what we are hitting upon now is not just startling theorems, but a return to reason. In light of a paradigm shift, we normally cling to our conventional wisdom much as a religious fundamentalist clings to scripture. All new information, which shows counter, is wrong, misguided, or deliberate misinformation as part of a new conspiracy.

What we, as the public, do get instead, is massive amounts of rhetoric. Grandiose wording, “-isms,” and quick hit self affirmation guidelines that do little to look at our real problems, but instead make us feel good about a short term decision. You want proof right now? Just look at our election coverage. Obama, who has actually run, by most pundit standards, a different campaign, and whom I respect as a candidate, has espoused claims that are grandiose and near to impossible, such as, "I believe in our ability to perfect this nation," when all evidence shows that if there is anything to be cynical about, it is the idea of there being some sort of end goal in sight for democracy. A nirvana of democracy, if you will. In reality, there is no end goal, but rather a constant struggle.

But we fall for this rhetoric more often than you would think. And we as a people apparently need to hold on to this type of quick-hit, simple thinking. Almost two years ago now, I tried to invoke something different into the debate. The new paradigm centered around two ideas. First, that one need not be a super model to have stringent standards, especially when considering that a long term relationship is the end game. Second, was the idea that for two people to like each other, it takes a myriad of variables to come together in a proper manner.

What Passey had done for all of us at the time was show that it's important for us to be honest with ourselves when it comes to relationships. Otherwise, we end up committing the same mistakes over and over again, living some sort of horrible relationship soap opera where the same story line gets repeated constantly, but with simply a new partner.

And that brings us full circle. Notice that it's the intuitive, simple approaches, and honest answers that have now come to create the most trouble against conventional wisdom.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The NHRA's Suffrage

Recently, there have been a few milestone reached for women in modern day motorsports. Danica Patrick won her first Indy Racing League race and Ashley Force in the NHRA assured her continued point lead, after winning her first national event.

But while the milestones may seem somewhat similar, there are many differences that should be noted. Most importantly, while Danica's success is ground breaking to an extent, it must be observed that the real issue of women in motorsport is a choice of two possibilities. On the one hand, females may be predisposed (for whatever reason) to not wanting to race. On the other hand, females may be steered away from anything that racing in general, or certain types of racing, because of our own established gender roles.

If females are predisposed to racing, or not racing, then we will have to deal with it because there is currently little we can do about genetics. But what about our own ideas of gender roles? What about the ways in which one raises their children?

For me, here is the real question: Why does the NHRA have considerably more women drivers, and other forms of motor racing do not? I posed this question to an outside NHRA expert, and was treated to the usual, "ratings and advertising" answer. And while that response might suffice normally, it does not answer the real issue regarding why the NHRA has so many more women participating than other forms of motorsport.

This is where it gets a bit saucy. But we’ll get to the unpleasant consequences of my theory’s holes later.

I want the average person out there, you, your mother, your neighbor, anyone to go out to a drag racing track one weekend, and a karting event the next. I want you to look at the gender make up of who is racing those junior classes. What you will find will be…well, it won’t be startling, honestly, but it will prove my point, and show where my logic comes from.

In my two seasons of observation I have found that the junior dragsters have a considerable amount more female racers than the karting participants. Why? How could, at such a young age, girls develop a preference for dragsters over karts?

Posit for a moment that maybe this has something to do with the parents getting their kids into dragsters over karts. Why? Possibly, for the reason that it seems safer to go drag racing than karting. At a young age, junior dragsters are speed limited, whereas the karting limitations don’t make much of a difference because most accidents occur at corners with kart on kart, wheel to wheel incidents. In junior drag racing, there are only two cars on track at a time, and they each have one huge lane to travel, and little to no steering is involved relatively compared to karting.

In fact, I’ll be honest with you. If I had a child and someone told me to put them in the safer motor sport, I’m going straight to junior drag racing. (Ironically enough, in the professional ranks, when these dragsters are set free of limitations they often exceed them and can easily get out of control.)

In the end, this theory has some repercussions. First of which, is that parents may be encouraging their little girls to go drag racing rather than karting because it may be safer, or at least seems that way. So, if that is true, there’s a bit of sexism from those parenting decisions, which means that the females that make it through to the NHRA are actually a part of sexism, not some repudiation of it. Crazy, I know, right? Although considering the recent deaths in professional drag racing, the women who are there surely know of the risks, and sexism in that sense is non existent.

Here is another crux of the issue. If my theory is wrong, and it most assuredly is, then that doesn’t help the NHRA either. The reason is because women’s entry into the NHRA has other possible connotations, which few are good.

One of those reasons is the publicity that my friend described. Ratings? Good looks? So, what kind of “talent” are we talking about then? If you then tell me that it’s a family affair (“my father was a drag racing king”) then all that does is alienate everyone else who climbed through the ranks as many of the other drivers have.

In the end, this is about an honest discussion regarding talented drivers, and proper teams. Why anyone even has to wonder how Sarah Fisher struggled through the Indy Racing League while Danica Patrick has not is simply, sad. Patrick has the team to win now, while Fisher never did. In fact, this year Fisher - committed to the Indy Racing League - has started her own team (aptly named Sarah Fisher Racing) to compete at the Indianapolis 500.

Englishwoman, Katherine Legge, has all but given up racing in America, and has started competing in the German Touring Car Series (DTM). And she is just as accomplished, if not more so, as Danica Patrick.

If women get attention in racing solely from assets that have nothing to do with their driving, then most women will continue to find it hard to break through. But, if my theory is right, then maybe we have the ability to change how women’s capabilities are perceived generally, and their possibilities in varying forms of motor racing.

Monday, May 05, 2008

What a Vote Could be For

Pundits are at it again. This time, Paul Krugman writes, "working-class Americans do vote on economic issues — and can be swayed by a politician who offers real answers to their problems." Now, it's not that I'm a cynic in thinking that most working class Americans don't vote on economic issues. But here's the thing - they don't know how to vote on economic issues. The old adage of "focusing too much on the trees so that you can't see the forest" applies.

And that is not to say working class voters lack the ability to think these polcies through. However, working class voter don't have the time to learn global and development economics for three months every four years when it becomes the subject du jour. All they know is that working gives them money to buy things. If their job is under threat, and it can be explained by illegal immigrants or cheaper labor elsewhere, then that's how the debate will be framed.

What is so important about framing the debate? Dani Rodrick once explained how Tyler Cowen and others forget that, "Food importing countries are food scarce countries, and as they open up to trade, the relative price of food falls. But if you are Thailand or Argentina, where other goods are scarce relative to food, freer trade means higher relative prices of food, not lower." But even then, to the regular American, that means lower prices. And since our jobs, and our price of food is important to us, then who cares if that tiny country has to pay more for its own food.

And even in food production there is a catch. As has been discussed before by msyelf and others, subsidising ethanol has created unforseen (to most politicians and the general public) price increases in food.

And it's not that Krugman gets the facts wrong entirely. Mainly, he misses the message, or, maybe Krugman is so involved in his own policies that he fails to see what Americans who vote for Obama are telling him.

Like here, Krugman seems to have forgotten to remind himself that there is a war going on. When supporters, and pundits alike, talk about "change" this election cycle, they are speaking on the grounds of changing the way our executive branch runs things, or if it should be running everything to begin with. It's about moving away from authoritarianism, and last time I checked, that authoritarianism is what most critics espoused of the Clinton administration.

Moreover, considering that the Iraq war is as draining as it is, then why not provide any background on a place where presidents have the most clout? Such as, foreign policy. At the latest Democratic debate, Clinton was far more assertive in saying that an attack on Israel could be considered as an attack on the U.S. Maybe our citizens don't want any such a foreign policy. Maybe a change in that paradigm of foreign policy is the change that Obama keeps talking about.

Maybe it's that change that Obama keeps talking about that will get people involved actively again politically. As I've said before, America really is active citizenship. Complacency allows others whose agendas you may not agree with to take hold of policy right from under our noses.

While Krugman might be able to get away with this kind of cynicism on regular readers, he won't get away with it from everyone. Right now, Senator Clinton is making sure she will do whatever it takes to get the nomination. So, simply saying that it's okay because what would happen in the fall campaign to Obama is much worse, is, by definition, cynical. And frankly, guess what, that type of politicking is another item that Obama is referring to when he discusses change.

And Krugman gets away with this kind of stuff because nobody cares to check and see why voters like Obama. Once again, it's the media telling us what to care about. I think a lot of the politically active citizenry still think authoritarianism is the big issue. Too bad, because today the media tells us it is the economy, which is one of the items the President cannot do much about.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

South - You Are Here

South is also out with a new album, entitled You Are Here.

With their last album, Adventures in the Underground Journey to the Stars, South departed from the string arrangements that played so heavily into With the Tides. Well, there is no return of strings, but the ability of Joel Cadbury, Jamie McDonald, and Brett Shaw to come together and make large alternative rock soundscapes has not escaped them.

Below is the video for their single from the album, entitled "Better Things."

Blondfire - My Someday

Blondfire is out with their new album, My Someday . If you had heard their debut EP, Don't Whisper Lies, then this will come to you as a natural progression of that sound, which mixes electronic synths with standard pop rock accompaniment.

Bruce and Erica Driscoll (brother and sister) have an ability to arrange music that takes you back in frame of mind while providing you with the feeling of a new sound. They have also released two other EPs between Don't Whisper Lies and My Someday, and the only track to make the transition to the new album is the obvious single, "L-L-Love." However, don't let that deter you from their other EPs, especially their iTunes acoustic EP.

Here is hoping that their fans will not have to wait as long before they come out with their next album.

Below is the iTunes acoustic EP version of "L-L-Love."

Friday, April 18, 2008

Local Endorsement

After months of wading through the national campaigns of various presidential candidates, most of whom are now in the great category of "former presidential candidate," I have focused my attention locally, for governor of Delaware, Jack Markell, a Democrat.

Consider that Delaware's Libertarian party is paltry relative to Libertarians nationally. As well, many local libertarian parties find a lack in support due to the fact that state and local governments have the ability and right to operate in a different manner; which is why you hear many libertarians on the national scale saying things like, "that is a matter best left at the state level." Even then, a proper libertarian would not be able to ignore Jack Markell. From a candidate, I ask not for complete laissez -faire policy, but rather an honest approach to governance. You want health care for all? Fine, tell me how much it will cost, and how we plan to pay for it.

As State Treasurer in Delaware, Jack Markell has a keen sense of the possibilities of various programs, including a proposal for statewide health care. At some point, an honest discussion needs to be had regarding what the priorities of the average citizen are, and what we are willing to pay to make these priorities happen.

When Jack Markell endorsed Barack Obama, it became clear that Markell was a candidate who got it. In the times that I have met with Jack Markell, he has proven himself able and willing to speak on certain issues, and in certain places, where normally, any other politician would skirt around.

In a country where only half of those who can vote, do vote, it is obvious that the apathy towards politics has led to an inactive citizenship. Almost naturally, political apathy has been taken advantage of by many. Instead of policy arguments, or any forward thinking in speeches, we have seen fear mongering and scare tactics.

Improving Delaware at multiple levels is part of an idea of government that requires active citizenship. An active citizenship paradigm thinks not of the average citizen as an obstacle to be obfuscated, but rather as a peer and neighbor to work and be involved with. And only when there is someone willing to be honest about issues on their own merit, will such a paradigm exist. That someone is Jack Markell.


Here is the latest Delaware Gubernatorial debate (on education) where I have taken the liberty to upload each part to YouTube.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

While the NHRA Tweaks...

For those not aware, in the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association), it's not as easy as it seems to set the record for fastest speed, or time to travel a 1/4 mile. By the way, the record is currently held at 4.428 seconds by Top Fuel driver, Tony Schumacher, whose feat was accomplished in 2006.

Now, while your first thoughts are to discuss the sheer physics in the accomplishment of traveling down the 1/4 mile drag strip in under 5 seconds, that is not what I'm referring to exactly. In fact, most nitro fuel teams at events today accomplish that task often enough.

The challenge however comes from a rule that says the record must be accomplished not just by running a record breaking time, but by also having within that same weekend, run another time that weekend within 1 percent of the record setting run. I will gladly ask the question as to why this record setting rule exists.

The only reason I can come up for in terms of having to provide a "back up" run is to protect from some sort of fluke. However, I simply don't see a reason as to why the NHRA and its participants are so scared of a fluke. Even when chances are that the fluke will be run by a big name competitor (i.e. John Force, Tony Schumacher) anyway.

And that's really the only reason.

Maybe the rule is simply there because it's been there for so long. I know of no other sport that has a rule such as this. Do Olympic athletes have to have a track run in the same weekend that is 1% of their record breaking run?

Now if the NHRA says that it wants it there because it's what makes their motorsport different, then fine. It is their sport, and they can make rules for no reason whatsoever if they wish. But, they need to give me a reason other than the "fluke."

What of the "fluke" run though? What makes it a fluke? Well, the NHRA has four qualifying rounds. Rounds 1&2 are usually done Friday night, when conditions are generally better than the rest of the event weekend. So, there's a great chance of record breaking runs in a Friday night. If the NHRA doesn't want those Friday night numbers to apply, then maybe they should not run Friday night qualifying. Or, maybe they should tell people that Friday night qualifying numbers don't count for records.

Ultimately though, the idea of doing away with this rule would be there really for the sake of the fans, whom don't have calculators with them at all times to calculate 1%. I would bet $10 that good percentage of NHRA fans don't even know about the 1% back up rule.

The NHRA has proven with that it is willing to change. There is no need to look further than the recent change in the points system. They are also continuously tweaking the bike class in order to keep them competitive. "Wow, it looks like your brand of bike is really starting to gain some serious speed. Here's some lead weight to keep you on the ground. What's that? It's not fair? It will slow you down? Not my problem."

It is obvious that they do this to keep the fans interested, so, one more way to keep the fans interested is to take out one more layer of unnecessary rule-bureaucracy, like the 1% back up rule.