Archive for category Political

Cars are Weird

I woke up this morning a bit bleary, and got ready to go to work. I got my things together and got into the car for my drive to work. Have you ever woken up, and something that was normal stands out? Woken-up to suddenly be aware, once again, of the surreality of the world around you? I had one of those mornings, and what was so surreal was the cars.

Blocks, and blocks of the city, lined, packed, jam-filled with automobiles. Bumper to bumper, spilling out into the empty street, crowding streets, blocking sidewalks, and just ridiculous. How can we need this many cars? Are we really so poorly organized we need a 1/2-ton hunk of mechanics and electronics in front of almost every house? Who are the fat cats sleeping in their 300 thread-count sheets in a beautiful mansion, who have sold us all on needing one of these things?

Now, I get it. Ironic, right. I’m driving to work, and being amazed at all the cars. But seriously, I live a block from a trolly-stop. I’ve use transit to commute 2 days a week, but drive a couple to balance out the (frankly) overly-long commute time.

When I do drive to work, I drive about 6 miles to work, and 5 of those miles of that are lined with cars. Bumper to bumper. Machine, after machine, after machine, after machine. A parade of empty husks, sitting there rusting, wearing out, and wasting space. There are just so so many of them. It’s amazing.  How much money must be poured into buying them, maintaining them? Paving parking lots for them? Who is profiting from them? What a great case of a locally optimal, but globally dumb decision result.

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Why don’t we Americans value education anymore?

I think the US has stopped valuing education to a large extent. Sure, we still ask for a degree on all kinds of paperwork and jobs. But in reality we don’t value those credentials much. How did we get to this point? I have a (untested) theory.

When looking to hire people, I see a lot of resume’s and almost all of them have some kind of degree. And really, the degree’s don’t matter. Except for a few key schools, candidate without degrees are actually more interesting, since they are taking (or took) a risk to get into the pool.

I can imagine at some point in the past a B.S. or M.S. on a resume indicated a certain level of skill, and some assumptions about what a person would know, or could do. But not anymore. I know many college freshman (as interns or hires) who know or do better than people with 3-4 years more experience than regular interviewee’s with C.S. degrees. Not to name names, but knowing someone went through Drexel’s Co-Op system (which is an amazing system) is a much better indication of young success than a degree from most other colleges. Most degrees don’t indicate any level of skill, or do well to predict workplace success.

The lions share of blame falls to the college/university system themselves. In a hunt for money to build better buildings universities have taken a lot of crap, and put out a lot of crap. It has happened since most colleges are lusting after lucre to become real-estate moguls, by leveraged on sub-market credit of student loans. Teachers don’t get raises, but old buildings get razed then rebuilt. But I digress.

In order to grow, much of higher education have dropped the bar so low, it’s a tripping hazard. In the universal conflict between ‘excellent’ and ‘big’ they chose big, and lowered their standards. Lowering their standards for a short term boost is dragging themselves down, and undermining the trust they use to have in American culture. I think most modern unions suffer from the same problem. The same dynamic has killed consumer product companies, and it can kill whole sectors by destroying trust.

We don’t value higher education, because it has stopped valuing itself.

edited for clarity 2015-01-18

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Stag hunt with Reluctant Free Loader on the side

I’ve been thinking a lot about the problems Phildelphia’s schools are having, and how various actors in the situation are playing out their role.

Background (Skippable)

The long story made short is Philly is closing a lot of schools. From my simplistic research so far I’m concluding that some school closings do make sense, but that the rash of closings is a last second swerve to avoid budget failure that has been threatening the district for years. Furthermore, the district has been giving out school charters for private schools in some dubious and questionable situations. Some dubious behavior of charters (not *all charters*) and willy nilly granting more charters has undermined the enrollment levels, making it seem smart to close more schools. Again, that is my simplistic research, I’m sure other folks have a better point of view.

As a new dad, I’ve been looking at school districts and pondering when it gets to the point that I abandon the system, and pay higher rates to put a child into a privates school. To me that decision reeks of game-theory, so I’m putting down my thoughts on it to clarify a bit.

To the Game Theory:

From a theory point of view, this could be modeled as a variant of the Stag Hunt game. Lets imagine a game of ‘Stag Hunt’ with thousands of players. Now lets add to those players a distribution of resources that roughly matches the Philadelphia general income, and/or tax base. Finally, we need to add a reasonably high threshold to not joining the game (ie, the cost of private education for a child). Which is odd, since it sets cooperation at a lower and default threshold, and individual action at a higher threshold. I think that becomes a decent model of parents drawing their students out of the district to private schools, lowering the income available.

Then the question becomes, what is the defection rate/system that drives more people to defect? Is there a good way to map/cap general defection from the game? At what point have we undermined the commons so far that every participant is worse off?

General Musing

What amazes me the parents fallacy only their own children’s education is in their interest. As an american you interact and depend on hundreds to thousands of other people for all of your infrastructure. The kindergardener in a crappy school today is going to be a Nurse caring for us in 30-40 years. The kids you are yanking head-start funds from are going to be mechanics, plumbers, and taxi-drivers in 20-30 years. Do you really want to be running around a city or country with these people on the loose? Do you really want to undermined your future quality of life, by setting up an environment of poorly educated people around you to care for you in old age? As much as my own child’s education matters to me, having educated caretakers in old age, and educated co-voters at all ages is hella-important.

It also makes me think I need to find, or invent, a bunch of new terms for real-world game theory.

Reluctant Freeloader: These are people who can’t contribute to the game a fair amount. Think ‘unemployed single dad.’ They are working and contributing what they can, but they don’t have the means to cover their cost.

Woefully Advantaged: This is someone with enough resources they think they can defect from the game without consequences, but really are suffering for it.

N-th turn: Borrowed from computer science. This is a reference to some point in the future (the n-th turn) when the game fails or people lose based on their earlier strategy.

School District Problem: This is a variant of the Stag Hunt problem, as described above.

mea maxima culpa

It is sometimes hard to keep to a charter or agreement one has made without public acknowledgement and feedback.  People are social animals, and we are well built to follow social contracts, but sometime private agreements are forgotten.

So it’s with a sadface :( that I write this post to publicly admit I failed to stand by the ‘Not to Speak or chair all male panels’ pledge I signed on for.  To be fair, the panel was chaired by a woman (the fantastic Phoenix Wang) and it wasn’t a public event.   But nonetheless,  I took a pledge and dropped the ball. Mea Maxima Culpa.  It was a pledge I signed without talking much about, and I completely forgot I agreed to the pledge until the day after the panel. Interestingly enough, I just took a look back at the pledge page, and I can’t read the pledger to see who else may be slipping up, or defecting. Nor did I see any suggestions on how to make up for a slip-up for pledges that forgot their pledge, or who get stuck in a rock/hard-place and must take a panel without a woman member for some extra-ordinary reason.

If anyone has any good suggestions for a proper Mea Culpa for people that don’t live up the the pledge, drop ‘em in the comments. I’ll be picking one of them, or inventing my own, to make up for failing at that pledge.

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Martin Luther King, Jr Day 2013

On April 4, 1968 a man was assinated to stop the change he was making in the world. A Nobel prize winner, priest, and father of four, cities across the country boiled over into riots when he was killed. Here in January 2013, I see so much of his vision unfinished, I wonder what the world would be if he had not been murdered. I chose the name of this site ‘Creativly Maladjusted’ from MLK’s Transformed Nonconformist. Although I may not be a civil rights leader or a great writer, I try to creativly reshape our world into a better place in my day to day life.

Below is a section from “Transformed Nonconformist” Strength to Love:

This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed non-comformists. Our planet tetters on the bring of atomic anihihation; dangerous pasions of pride, hatred, and selfisheness are enthroned in our lives Truth lies prostrate on hte rugged hissl of nameless calvaries; and men do reverence before the false god of nationalism and materialism. The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted. We need today maladjusted men like Shadrach, Mesach, and Abedgnego, who, when ordered by King Nebuchadnezzar to bow before a golden image, said in unequivocal terms, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us. But if not…we will not serve thy gods”; like Thomas Jefferson, who in an age adjusted to slavery wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”; like Abraham Lincoln, who had the wisdom to discern that this nation could not survive half slave and half free….Through such maladjustment an already decadent generation may be called to those things which make for peace.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr. “Transformed Nonconformist” Strength to Love. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963/1981: 27-28

Kings words as as true today as they were in the 1960’s. While we have moved forward in many ways, we have far to go. His vision of a better world, and impeccable advice on how to get there is just as relevant today as it was 40 years ago.

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Capitalism is not free trade, is not markets, is not banking…

I have a lot of trouble talking to Americans about Capitalism, because we are so poorly educated. Many Americans tend to confuse trade, freedom of trade, markets, banking, competition, capitalism, usury, and other terms. The (we?) tend to mush them together into one aggregate idea, the same way we confuse Socialism, communism, and related ideas. We tend to be mush-headed about these, well, about many topics.

Capitalism is not just trade, it’s just just exchanging things of value, or specialization and exchange. Those concepts and patterns are much much older. Capitalism is (roughly) the combination of trade, accumulation of value, combined with competitive markets and wage labor. Capitalism is pretty new in human history, most historians agree it only really started in the 12th and 13th century, and really 19th and 20th century.

One of the things I find amazing is how many cultures and religions saw (or still see) capitalism style accumulation as immoral. Which is a pretty big contrast to Americans ‘civic religion’ of capital success. Usury was a sin, and the ‘pray and grow rich’ culture of American Christianity today is in stark contrast to the original christian traditions against capital accumulation.

Capitalism. It’s not trade, it’s not banking. It’s even not freedom to have a competitive market. It’s a set of behaviors and interactions related to those practices, where people put up capital, invest in wage labor, in an attempt to make surplus value. I beg my fellow Americans, please get yourself educated, and stop mushing all of those ideas together like a bad 8th grader homework assignment.

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Rantings on the state of politics

I’d like to understand how the middle class got so stupid. America survived a lot of the ‘capital vs working’ class issues since it has a solid middle class of reasonably intelligent, reasonably sane people. People who might not make $200K a year, but who could do math, figure out their interest payments, and see through the scams and frauds that the money-grubbing class throws their way.

When did we lose that? When did Americans become suckers for the simplistic ‘us vs them’ and ‘right vs left’ politics used to drive us apart. I don’t know one person, left, right or center, who thinks this country is on the right track. I don’t know one person that thinks our schooling system is fair, that our business culture is A-OK, and that the US, or the world, in on a good track to prosper. Given the trade off of ‘what’s more important, our failing education system, or illegal movie downloads’ I can’t think of a single sane person that would say ‘why, movie downloads of course. But SOPA/PIPA is all over the news, and the slow and continual decline of our school system is not.

Folks, there is no ‘left’, there is no ‘right’. The difference between Republican and Democrat in most places is less than the difference between the Boston and Philadelphia accent. I’m disgusted by how many times I start to discuss something, and I get to the unhappy realization the other person doesn’t know socialism from capitalism, or does not know what a republic is, or what a democracy is.

Think people. Take a second, and think. Ask some questions. Read some wikipedia. But don’t believe *any* of the claims mealy-mouth candidates (including Barack Obama) without checking the facts first. And honestly, don’t trust the news sources. Go read the data for yourself. Find the expense report they cite, and see if they lied, or if it came from some dodgy regional India news report. After the 3rd dodgy or blatently wrong report, turn it off, unsubscribe, and don’t go back to that outlet again.

I know it’s a pain to do that kind of thing. I know it seems like a timesink sometimes. But so is brushing your teeth. They are both annoying hygiene tasks, that show no immediate payoff. Just do it, be smart, and know you’ll be better off than the suckers that don’t.

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On SOPA/PIPA

“Instead of sitting down satisfied with the efforts we have already made, which is the wish of our enemies, the necessity of the times, more than ever, calls for our utmost circumspection, deliberation, fortitude, and perseverance. Let us remember that ‘if we suffer tamely a lawless attack upon our liberty, we encourage it, and involve others in our doom.’ It is a very serious consideration, which should deeply impress our minds, that millions yet unborn may be the miserable sharers of the event.”

-Samuel Adams (on SOPA/PIPA).

Samuel Adams

“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animated contest of freedom, go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen!” -Samuel Adams

A Modest Proposal to working schedules

I propose that for every 1% of structural unemployment, the ‘full time’ work day is reduced by 15 minutes. I think this would do several things. So at Today’s 8.5% unemployment, the working week would be 38 hours, and overtime pay would start at 38 hours a week.

First, employers would need to hire more people as a direct result of this, to cover the gaps in shifts, and to account for the slightly lower productivity. At such a low rate, it would be a very slight extra cost, since only places employing lots and lots of people would need to adjust the number of hourly employees to maintain flow.

Second, it would give a small cash boost to all hourly employees if they work overtime. In a down economic time, this money will either go back out into the US economy (by purchases) or go to debt those employees have, stablizing the system.

Third, with the economic down-turn, it would give people a little more time to bargain hunt, clip coupons, or do other cost-saving measures that are hard to do during a 40 hour week.

I think it would be a simple and useful feedback system into our current economic structure, to help self-regulate during downturns.

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