Sunday, March 30

On acting in uncertainty

My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent,
And, like a man to double business bound,
I stand in pause where I shall first begin,
And both neglect.

— Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 3

Sunday, March 2

Master–Slave Morality

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose—especially their lives."
— Eugene Debs, Anti-War Speech (June 16, 1918)

Monday, February 17

The World Is Created By Us

When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and you're life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That's a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you'll never be the same again.
― Steve Jobs

Sunday, February 16

The Meaning of Life

The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.
― Alan Wilson Watts

Friday, February 14

Machiavelli on Risk and Danger

All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it's impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.
― Niccolò Machiavelli

Thursday, February 13

Fanatical vs. Humble Atheists

What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos. 
The fanatical atheists are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who — in their grudge against traditional religion as the 'opium of the masses' — cannot hear the music of the spheres…
— Albert Einstein 

Sunday, February 9

"Don't Pray On Me"

Excerpt from the Bad Religion song:
Now I don't know what stopped Jesus Christ
From turning every hungry stone into bread
And I don't remember hearing how Moses reacted
When the innocent first born sons lay dead
Well, I guess God was a lot more demonstrative
Back when he flamboyantly parted the sea
Now everybody's praying
Don't pray on me 

Tuesday, January 14

How expanded opportunities can lead to more inequality

"Consider Janet Yellen, her recent confirmation to chair the Fed has made her the most powerful woman in the world, the most powerful woman in world history, the world’s second most powerful person, or the world’s most powerful person, depending on who you believe...  Moreover, Yellen is married to Nobel prize winner George Akerlof. The fact that two such outstanding individuals should be married to one another is an illustration of assortative mating. Yellen-Akerlof are the 1% of the 1% and all that political and cultural achievement concentrated in one family is an example of the growth of inequality. Tellingly, one of the drivers of this inequality was greater equality of opportunity for women."

On opportunities,  demands for talent and resulting inequalities.

Sunday, December 15

Capitalism, Disconnected from Human Needs

From Doctor Zhivago:

"Deals were made on the scale of the turnover of a rag and bone merchant in a flea market and their pettiness led to profiteering and speculation. No new wealth was created by these transactions and they did nothing to relieve the squalor of the town, but fortunes were made out of the futile selling and reselling of goods already sold a dozen times over."

Thursday, December 5

Hero.

In a park near my home is a plaque that reads:

"We honor all those who fought for our community."

There is probably a similar plaque near you. I would be more proud to live in a community with a plaque that read:

"We honor those who fought against our community when it was wrong."

On Snowden.

Monday, December 2

The Gulf Between Planning and Reality

Like all organizational models, waterfall is mainly a theory of collaboration. By putting the most serious planning at the beginning, with subsequent work derived from the plan, the waterfall method amounts to a pledge by all parties not to learn anything while doing the actual work.
Thoughts on failures of management, how failure needs to be an option for new entities, how the preferred method for project planning in Washington increases the liklihood of disaster, and more.

Via Arnold Kling's blog, which had this relevant observation:
When a large organization, such as government or a legacy media organization, undertakes a new initiative, they are in effect starting a new business. Most start-ups fail, so that failure is in fact the most likely outcome.

Tuesday, November 19

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!

Friday, November 15

Open Minds

In the committee's draft of the "guiding principles" was something about "Intellectual and creative skills." A bunch of people objected to the word "skills." We're a liberal arts college, they reasoned, we don't teach skills. One person argued that teaching "skills" would implicate us in the depredations of capitalism. Skills is now out. The new word is "competencies." No one is happy with it.

Dear me.
On higher education and vocation, with related bonus insight on the open mindedness of liberal arts.

Wednesday, November 13

Well said.

The problem here isn't that we think Richard Cohen gags at the sight of an interracial couple and their children. The problem is that Richard Cohen thinks being repulsed isn't actually racist, but "conventional" or "culturally conservative." Obstructing the right of black humans and white humans to form families is a central feature of American racism. If retching at the thought of that right being exercised isn't racism, then there is no racism.

Thursday, September 26

We're all in this together

"No person, I think, ever saw a herd of buffalo, of which a few were fat and the great majority lean. No person ever saw a flock of birds, of which two or three were swimming in grease, and the others all skin and bone." — Henry George, American political economist (1839-1897)

Wednesday, September 18

The Hacker Spirit

The Hacker Spirit is:

  • Exploiting a system, but never in an illegal, harmful or immoral way.
  • Working smart, not just working hard; getting the most output for the least energy.
  • Being like water, which always finds the path of least resistance to the sea.
  • Using all the tricks of the trade to your advantage.

To be continued…

Saturday, August 17

Individuality is an "optical delusion of consciousness"

"A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

- Albert Einstein

Wednesday, August 14

Do increases in federal spending on student financial aid drive up college tuitions?

Some evidence the answer is yes.
In a complex system a clear answer will be elusive but there are good reasons to think more money is not the answer to all higher education schooling problems.
Some schools have interests in things other than learning, too.

Thursday, August 8

Before my teacher came to me, I did not know that I am.

From 'The World I Live In' by Hellen Keller, Page 37
Before my teacher came to me, I did not know that I am. I lived in a world that was a no-world. I cannot hope to describe adequately that unconscious, yet conscious time of nothingness. I did not know that I knew aught, or that I lived or acted or desired. I had neither will nor intellect. I was carried along to objects and acts by a certain blind natural impetus. I had a mind which caused me to feel anger, satisfaction, desire...
When I wanted anything I liked,--ice-cream, for instance, of which I was very fond,--I had a delicious taste on my tongue (which, by the way, I never have now), and in my hand I felt the turning of the freezer. I made the sign, and my mother knew I wanted ice-cream. I "thought" and desired in my fingers.

Friday, July 26

Best and Brightest

Jordi Brandts and colleagues got a group of students to predict a sequence of five coin tosses, and then selected the best and the worst predictor. They then asked other subjects to bet on whether the best and worst predictor could predict another five coin tosses. The subjects were told that they would bet on the worst predictor from the first round, unless they paid to switch to the best predictor.

82% of subjects paid to make the switch.

But of course, there is no such thing as an ability to predict the toss of a coin. Most subjects, then, saw skill where there was only luck. And, what's more, they were willing to spend good money to back this daft opinion.

These people weren't just idiots plucked from the street. They were fourth year finance undergraduates at one of the best universities in Spain.
More.

The uncharitable interpretation is "they're innumerate idiots."
More charitable interpretations include: they were suspected a con, or that they were playing along for something else. However, for reasons listed at the above linked article, I'd bet on interpretation #1.

Thursday, July 18

Drug Shortages are Killing

Shortages of drugs, especially generic injectables, continue to cause significant harm to patients. A new Congressional report offers the best account to date of the shortages and provides details confirming [an] earlier post.

Wait, that was written in 2012. What since then? Deaths:

Because of nationwide shortages, Washington hospitals are rationing, hoarding, and bartering critical nutrients premature babies and other patients need to survive.

..At the time of this writing—some shortages come and go by the week—Atticus’s hospital is low on intravenous calcium, zinc, lipids (fat), protein, magnesium, multivitamins, and sodium phosphate; it’s completely out of copper, selenium, chromium, potassium phosphate, vitamin A, and potassium acetate. And so are many other hospitals and pharmacies in the country, leading to complications usually seen only in the developing world, if ever.

Why?

These shortages are not just a result of accident, error or unusual circumstance, the number of drugs in short supply has risen steadily since 2006. The shortages arise from a combination of systematic factors, among them the policies of the FDA. The FDA has inadvertently caused drugs long-used in the United States to be withdrawn from the market and its “Good Manufacturing Practice” rules have gummed up the drug production process and raised costs.

Osho: Sadness & Happiness

"Sadness gives depth. Happiness gives height. Sadness gives roots. Happiness gives branches. Happiness is like a tree going into the sky, and sadness is like the roots going down into the womb of the earth. Both are needed, and the higher a tree goes, the deeper it goes, simultaneously. The bigger the tree, the bigger will be its roots. In fact, it is always in proportion. That's its balance."

- Osho

Wednesday, July 3

The Republican War against Women Continues

Short term GOP "victories" that will drive yet another nail into the Republican coffin. First, Ohio:
"With the passage of Ohio's new state budget, women in that state have lost access to low-cost family planning services, access to public hospitals during a health emergency and their right to privacy. … On Sunday night, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed House Bill 59, the new $62 billion state budget that includes a $2.7 billion tax cut and increases the sales tax rate from 5.5 percent to 5.75 percent, WLWT.com reported. … The budget also included several controversial anti-abortion measures, including one that will force any woman seeking an abortion to undergo a trans-abdominal ultrasound." (link)
And next, we have North Carolina, where Republicans have been caught attaching a set of radical anti-abortion measures to a bill claiming to be about banning Sharia Law:


Sneaky. 

Tuesday, July 2

Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? Four different answers.

From "For God's Sake: An Atheist, A Jew, a Christian and a Muslim Debate Religion":
Rachel Woodlock (Islam): Religion, unfortunately, provides a useful cover and powerful motivator for the evil-hearted. That religion can be so markedly different in the hands of the power-hungry, as opposed to the altruistic and virtuous, really says more about human psychology than it does about religion. That's why so many human conflicts unfortunately involve religion.
Antony Loewenstein (Judaism): I've been guilty of claiming religion is the source of the world's evils, but it's a careless comment. It's far too easy to blame the Muslim faith for honour killings. I'm under no illusion about the fact that religion is routinely used to justify the more heinous crimes. But the 20th century is filled with examples, namely Stalin's Soviet Union and Mao's China, that didn't need God as an excuse to commit genocide against a state's own people.
Jane Caro (Atheism): …human beings are generally only prepared to fight and kill in the name of something. It can be a god, but it can also be a political philosophy – like nazism or communism. Many fight for patriotism: for country, tribe or race. Some kill because they're psychologically disturbed, but none – so far – in the name of atheism. … So, while I don't agree that only religion causes conflict, I'd argue that all mass murder and war are fought in the name of a bigger-than-self philosophy or idea. Atheism, simply lack of belief in a god, has not yet proved compelling enough to motivate murder. So far no one has gone into a crowded public space and blown themselves up while shouting, "No god is great!".
Simon Smart (Christianity): Yale theologian Miroslav Volf argues that as far as Christianity goes, it will only be violent if it is stripped of its content— thinned out - and infused with a different set of values. The story of Jesus gives absolutely no warrant for violence. Any believer behaving that way is disobeying the one they claim to be following. … The answer, Volf argues, to violence perpetrated in the name of the Cross, is not less Christianity but more – Christianity that is not depleted of its meaning but full of its original moral content, which is at its heart non-violent and a force for good.
Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world?

Monday, July 1

Class warfare: Targeting the least, who have no voice…and bombarding them with fees

Class warfare: Targeting the least, who have no voice…big banks and Corporations have teamed up, forcing minimum wage workers to be paid through "prepaid" debit cards, which of course come with excessive fees.
"A growing number of American workers are confronting a frustrating predicament on payday: to get their wages, they must first pay a fee.
"For these largely hourly workers, paper paychecks and even direct deposit have been replaced by prepaid cards issued by their employers. Employees can use these cards, which work like debit cards, at an A.T.M. to withdraw their pay.
"But in the overwhelming majority of cases, using the card involves a fee. And those fees can quickly add up: one provider, for example, charges $1.75 to make a withdrawal from most A.T.M.'s, $2.95 for a paper statement and $6 to replace a card. Some users even have to pay $7 inactivity fees for not using their cards.
"These fees can take such a big bite out of paychecks that some employees end up making less than the minimum wage once the charges are taken into account, according to interviews with consumer lawyers, employees, and state and federal regulators."
Paid via Card, Workers Feel Sting of Fees (NYT)

Friday, June 28

Thursday, June 27

The IRS "scandal" was a scam, coordinated by Republicans

Matt Gertz writes:
"Monday's revelation that progressive as well as conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status had been singled out for review by the Internal Revenue Service left one pressing question: Why did the inspector general's report detailing improper scrutiny only mention conservative groups?
"Last night we got the answer: The IG only reported on conservative groups because that's what Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the notoriously partisan chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told him to do."
The IRS "Scandal" Was A Scam (Media Matters)

Wednesday, June 26

Supreme Court strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act

Majority opinion by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy:
"DOMA's principal effect is to identify and make unequal a subset of state-sanctioned marriages. It contrives to deprive some couples married under the laws of their state, but not others, of both rights and responsibilities, creating two contradictory marriage regimes within the same state."
Supreme Court Bolsters Gay Marriage With Two Major Rulings

Tuesday, June 25

"[Snowden] had a belief that what he was exposed to—U.S. actions in secret—were violating human rights and privacy on a very, very large scale."

John Cassidy in the New Yorker:
"To get a different perspective on Snowden and his disclosures, here's a portion of an interview that ABC—the Australian Broadcasting Company, not the Disney subsidiary—did today with Thomas Drake, another former N.S.A. employee, who, in 2010, was charged with espionage for revealing details about an electronic-eavesdropping project called Trailblazer, a precursor to Operation Prism, one of the programs that Snowden documented. (The felony cases against Drake, as my colleague Jane Mayer has written, eventually collapsed, and he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.)
"INTERVIEWER: Not everybody thinks Edward Snowden did the right thing. I presume you do…
"DRAKE: I consider Edward Snowden as a whistle-blower. I know some have called him a hero, some have called him a traitor. I focus on what he disclosed. I don't focus on him as a person. He had a belief that what he was exposed to—U.S. actions in secret—were violating human rights and privacy on a very, very large scale, far beyond anything that had been admitted to date by the government. In the public interest, he made that available.
"INTERVIEWER: What do you say to the argument, advanced by those with the opposite viewpoint to you, especially in the U.S. Congress and the White House, that Edward Snowden is a traitor who made a narcissistic decision that he personally had a right to decide what public information should be in the public domain?
"DRAKE: That's a government meme, a government cover—that's a government story. The government is desperate to not deal with the actual exposures, the content of the disclosures. Because they do reveal a vast, systemic, institutionalized, industrial-scale Leviathan surveillance state that has clearly gone far beyond the original mandate to deal with terrorism—far beyond."
Demonizing Edward Snowden: Which Side Are You On?