Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Solving the world’s problems

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Like many people I sometime lay awake at night trying to solve the major problems in the world. This is a frustrating experience for two reasons. One is that I don’t actually have the solution for the world’s problems and the second is that even when I do no one in a position of authority is likely to even care what I think. This does not stop me of course because I am an American and we never let things like that stop us.

So of course I think about solving the problems of the Middle East, energy needs for America, the  US educational system and that state of computer science education in the world in general and the US in particular.

I have figured out that if we solved the power/energy problem we could build a wall around the whole middle east and impose a blockade until they all worked out their problems or the end of the world – which ever comes first. No one is likely to take that seriously though so I will not suggest it seriously.

The state of education is a real mess of a scale only a little less complex and emotional than the Middle East. So while I think about it a lot I don’t see any chance for me to get involved. I’m way to Republican for the Obama team to ask for my opinion. No doubt they will ask people who have never taught, never been on a school board and who seldom talk to teachers without preaching.  Sigh.

But computer science is a little easier. Oh not easy but relatively easier. We need better teachers for one thing. That’s hard. Really hard. Even in this economy someone who really understands computer science well enough to teach it can make better money doing other things. Also we don’t really have good special training for computer science teachers. You can get a masters in teaching of math, English, world languages, science and a bunch of other things. But there is not much in the way of how to teach computer science out there. That needs to change.

Which brings up another problem. We don’t really have much good research on how to teach computer science well. A lot of the research we have seems to contradict each other as well. We have some good teachers but much of what they do is not easily reproducible. It depends of their personality or their particular experience. And sometimes on getting the right students. Yeah that is a problem.  And don’t get me started on the state of certification for pre-college computer science teachers. What a mess.

So we need more research, more teacher training, better support and motivation for CS teachers, some good curriculum and then we hit the road block that it doesn’t fit into the curriculum. That gets us to school boards and school administrators who don’t understand technology let alone computer science.

Maybe I need an easier problem – like what makes women tick? 🙂

Obama in the News

Friday, November 7th, 2008

This is pretty cool. They have hundreds of newspapers from November 5th from around the world on one screen. Actually Obama didn’t make the front page of all of them. In some parts of the world local news seems to have been more important.

Zoom in and read any of them. Works best with a scroll wheel but you can get by with the navigation aides on the top left of the screen and clicking.

I Voted

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Yep, it is too late to get me to change my mind. I will be out of town on election day so yesterday I went to town hall, picked up an absentee ballot and I voted. And I’ve never been so worried about my vote in my life. And mind you this was the 10th time I have voted in a presidential election.

It doesn’t matter who I voted for either. I’d be just as worried about it no matter which candidate I voted for. in fact I seriously considered not voting at all. And at the last minute I thought about voting for a third party candidate just so I could say “I didn’t vote for him” no matter who won. Neither candidate really gets me excited. Both candidates scare me in different ways. So I held my nose and picked one that I hope will be better than the other. Not a good way to feel.

And this went down the ballot. For Senate, for House. Well Governor was ok. Really local stuff like State Senate was ok – though I could still wish for better. State Rep was fine but I didn’t vote for as many as I could. I voted for the people I know something about.

Well we’ll see. During the next President’s watch the economy will get better or not. If it gets better they will likely get reelected. If it doesn’t get better they will likely serve only one term.  Even though it is not likely to be them that makes the difference. We’ll be out of Iraq or we will not. Again, despite the best of intentions I’m not all that sure that who is President will make that much of a difference.

The President’s job is largely about perceptions. And persuasion. When Teddy Roosevelt called the Presidency a “bully pulpit” he did not mean a place where one could “bully” people or force them. Rather he meant that is was a great platform to use to try to persuade people. “Bully” was a way he say “good”. A lot of people get the idiom wrong these days and miss interpret what he meant. But he was right. The power of persuasion is key in a president. We’ll see how the next president does with that. The last three we’ve had were not so good at it in my opinion.

In any case, my vote is cast and now it is wait and see what happens next. Don’t forget to vote.

Word Musings

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

Do the words liberal and conservative really mean anything in politics these days? Or like words to the Mad Hatter do they mean what ever the speaker wants them to mean in a particular context? I really think so.

It used to me that a liberal wanted to change things while a conservative wanted to maintain the status quo. Or in some cases a conservative was someone who wanted to move things back to the way they were after they had been changed. In other words liberals had their eyes on the future and conservatives in the past. Over time in politics a liberal was someone who wanted to spend more money on social services and a conservative was someone who wanted to avoid that. Conservative in the vernacular thought social services were best left up to charity and religion. Note that all major religions have this notion of charity and taking care of the poor and unfortunate. So in a sense liberal meant changing how we take care of people while conservative meant keeping it the same.

Some of that is still true today but increasingly liberal seems to mean in favor of more government and conservative means less government. But by my reasoning that means that both major parties at liberal. Both want more control by government – they disagree on what things to control though. Both want to spend my money on their pet projects. Both want to stick the government’s nose into things it may not belong in. Can you say "Iraq?"

The old joke is that the Republicans want to steal from the middle class and give to the rich and the Democrats want to steal from the middle class (and occasionally the rich) and give to the poor. So who you vote for depends on if you aspire to be rich or poor. Feels true a lot of the time but neither play directly on how I view the words liberal and conservative. They have no meaning in that joke.

For what it is worth I have concluded that the two parties are the party in power and the party out of power. Both the Democrats and Republicans seem to do largely the same things – disagree with a policy of the party in power and then try to implement that same policy if they make it into power themselves. Democrats started us in Viet Nam in a big way and Republicans started us in a big way in Iraq. Perhaps a Democrat will get us out of Iraq as a Republican got us out of Viet Nam? Over simplified? Perhaps but then most political discussion these days is so I’m in good company. (Or bad )

I can’t deal with either conservative or liberal as labels for myself. I am anti-abortion and pro-gun which causes some to label me conservative. I am very unhappy with the notion of homosexual sex but want to see people in happy loving relationships have the same rights as heterosexual couples regardless of gender. Perhaps that makes me a liberal. But I have a notion of marriage and relationships that delegates sex to a very small role. (Please no jokes about that being because I have been married for over 31 years. Rather I think that placing sex in proper context is what makes a marriage or other relationship last.)

I believe in charity and taking care of people. I would prefer a faith-based way to do that because I think it involves more emotional support and less overhead. But at the same time I realize that that is no longer practical in our secular society. So I want to see government taking more of a role in health care and unemployment and some similar issues. I’m pro-choice on education. That’s a very conservative notion these days involving things like vouchers, charter schools and other ways of providing government funds but less government control. But at the same time I support public education not only through taxes but though donations to public schools and making sure my son can continue to live a good life and afford to teach in public schools on a teacher’s pay.  Liberal or conservative? Does it matter? Is the label helpful or distracting from the issue? I vote for distracting.

I want all men to be treated equally. I see that as a religious idea. Visit a Catholic church in an ethnically diverse area and the mix of people will amaze you. They do it better than most Protestant churches much to my sadness. Like wise the Moslem community seems to be able to ignore racial and ethnic divides at least among Moslems of the same sub faith. We need more of that between faiths of course. I see that as a conservative notion because it harkens back the the early church while some see that as a liberal notion because it is a change from the church of the last few hundreds of years. Does it matter which label one applies? Is it even healthy to the goal to apply a label? I think not.

Conservative/liberal & Republican/Democrat are tribal labels. We join (or are born into) a tribe and that is our name. The other tribe is wrong so using the other label on people in an attack. The worst of this is that it removes granularity. It blocks the possibility of ad hock groupings of people united for something that benefits everyone. If the tribe leadership decides something is good or bad the members have to put aside their own beliefs and go along with the leadership. That may have been appropriate at one time but clearly is not today. And yet it is the reality. 

But in a discussion those labels serve as a block to clarity and adds an ambiguity that is unhelpful. Ideas should not be seen as liberal or conservative (nor should people) but as what they are. Sure there is a context in society and I am not saying that ideas live in isolation. What I am saying is that those labels only detract from understanding and, dare I use the word, truth. I would prefer to avoid them when possible.

Politics is killing this country

Monday, September 29th, 2008

So depending on who you listen to you may think that today’s failure of the House to pass the bailout bill was the fault of the Republicans. Or maybe you looked a little deeper. Both New Hampshire Congressmen who are Democrats voted against it. In fact if all the Democrats has voted for the bill it would have passed.

What happened is that people who are in very close races for reelection almost all voted against the bill. Phone calls in many districts were running 100 to 1 against the bill. If you are in a close race it takes a lot of courage and integrity to vote for what you think is right when it means going against what people are asking you to do.

Now maybe some of these people were voting their principles. Based on their records I am sure that is true for many who voted against the bill. But I doubt that is true for all of them.  Why would a Democrat vote against more government control? Highly unexpected. Just call my a cynic. In any case this vote made it a lot easier for me to vote for the Republican in the House race. I have been up in the air on all the races this year.

But this is just so typical. There is so much going on in Congress and it is so much about staying in office for the sake of the job (salary, perks, etc) that many congress critters seem to default to the leadership line or the party line or be overly influenced by lobbyists. It’s disgusting.

I’m really fed up. I hope the Republican party falls apart and is reborn as several smaller parties. Then maybe the Democrats will do the same thing.

School Choice

Friday, September 19th, 2008

Oh this is very funny.

Can you see this on the Daily Show?

Time To Get Serious About Energy

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

I don’t care if you are worried about global warming or not there is a serious problem with energy needs in the US. I see it as a national security problem and as an economic problem. We can’t depend on foreign oil and we can’t possibly drill enough of our own. It just doesn’t work that way. That is both a security problem and an economic problem.

But there is more to the economic problem. Sending all that money outside the country means less to invest locally. Plus even if and when we wake up to the need for more efficiency and better/more use of alternative sources of energy if we don’t get going soon we’ll be dependent on foreign inventions and products there. So still more money leaving the country. Where as if we invested in it now we could quickly become leaders (and hence exporters) of the technology and products.

Why is no one doing anything about this? Not even Obama is really getting in on this. McCain pays lip service but doesn’t seem very serious about anything but more drilling. I like the plans that T Boone Pickens is proposing. It just makes so much sense. And it makes sense in a capitalistic world! He’s spending a ton of his own money to promote his plan and he’s getting on TV and putting his own ads out there. But who is paying attention? Not enough people. Scary.

McCain’s Election to Lose?

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

So I have been reading a lot of left wingers suggesting or outright saying that Obama has lost the election. Say what? So here now is my analysis of where we are at.

To win a presidential election one has to “run to the middle.” Obama made a huge misstep in my opinion picking Biden as his running mate. Obama is perceived by most as being far left. Everyone sees Biden as far left. So what ever beefing up this selection did with the far left Obama probably already had them so this doesn’t help. Misstep Obama.

McCain is unusual in that the far right sees him as too far to the middle so he needed help with his right wing base. Palin gives him that. On the other hand Palin hurts him with the left and left middle. On the other hand women in the middle like that he picked a woman. The women on the left are upset about who he picked but he was unlikely to win them over any way. Over all no gain. No misstep but no big win either.

McCain is running off a lot of talk that is anything but “straight talk.” It’s ticking people like me off a great deal. He is also upsetting people who dislike mud slinging and attack ads. OK some people are buying what he is saying but will they turn out to vote? Big misstep McCain.

Obama adds are just not generating buzz or discussion. The attack ads are mild which is good but is he really giving us enough of a reason to vote for him and not against Bush, I mean McCain? No help but no big misstep.

People are still really ticked off at Congress. McCain is running against Congress which is strange since he is part of it. But he is seen, somewhat correctly, as being in but not of Congress. Obama has to be working for a big win in Congress this year. Why? Because he is seen as too much a new guy who hasn’t earned his place at the head of the ticket. He needs to be helpful to Democrats who are running to win seats or to retain seats. So running as hard against Congress is not an option for him. Advantage (though small) McCain.

You may or may not have noticed that Obama has dark skin and McCain has light skin. For reasonable people that doesn’t make one bit of difference. Unfortunately being a reasonable person is not required to vote. I hate to admit it but there are still people who will not vote for  an African-American candidate. How many of them are out there? I don’t think anyone knows because most of them are smart enough not to admit it publicly. This is the great unknown in this campaign. Depressing as it is personally to me it would be foolish to discount it as a factor.

I think this election is just too close to call. I do think that McCain more than Obama will determine the outcome. I think he is seriously hurting himself with the half-truths, distortions, and out right incorrect statements he is making. He may yet convince people like me to stay home on election day.

And then there is the Electoral College. Can Obama win enough of the large states with large urban and minority populations to win the election even without a majority of the population voting for him? I think there is a good chance of that. Could McCain win enough of the so-called red states and pick up a couple of states where bigotry crosses party lines? Perhaps.

But we have a month and a half yet and a lot could happen. The Palin decision could look even worse in a couple of weeks. Some blatant racist action could win Obama a lot of sympathy. People could turn away from McCain for not being straight. One candidate of the other could blow a debate. Palin/Biden is going to be awfully important. I can actually see that being a huge factor.

So too early and too close to call. See me in a month. 🙂


Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

I am sorry to say that I sat out yesterday’s primary. I just could not figure out what was truth and what was lies and what was half truths. So I could not even pick “lessor of two evils.” I grow more and more disenchanted with the whole process. I will clearly have to do more research before November.

Related to research I took a questionnaire at today. It gives me about an 85% match with McCain and a 74% match with Obama. Actually though I agree with Obama on slightly more things than with McCain but the weight I put on the various issues tilts the balance toward McCain. Even with about 30+ questions some things I worry about did not make their list so as unclear as this result is things are worse in real life.

My tiebreaker issue in recent elections has been the Supreme Court. As unhappy as I have been with very much of what Bush has done I think he’s done ok by me with Supreme Court selections. The recent decision on the DC gun ban case was huge in my opinion.

The VP choice is not such a big deal for me. I am cynical enough to believe that both choices were more about political expediency than real serious thought about who would be the best person to take over as President. Candidates just don’t think they’ll die in office. Even still we have a choice between one person who may not be experienced enough to get things done and another who is experienced enough but who would do things that scare me. Not a great option either way.

Campaign Thoughts Update

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

Listening to Democratic people on Twitter and in a few blogs since yesterday has not been a good thing. Why? Because it is very hard not to respond the the vile talk without a knee jerk reaction which could prevent clear thinking. You have to understand that honesty is not something I automatically associate with Democrats. Now I am suspicious of any politician but when it comes to private citizens Democrats just go off the deep end a lot. They call my target rifle an “assault weapon” for example. They call supporting vouchers and charter schools and getting rid of bad teachers “anti-education.” And on and on.

But I do try hard to keep an open mind as much as possible. Much of what Democrats were saying was as positive to me and it was negative to them. Things like her stance on abortion and gun control. The ethics issues they brought up were disturbing but looking closer at them they don’t seem so bad. Especially when compared to other national political figures. <cough> Bill Clinton <cough> Even if they are completely true which there seems to be some doubt about.

I have some concern about her energy policy still. I have some concern about her lack of experience. She doesn’t have a whole lot of it. It is executive experience though so what she has is more directly applicable to the job than some other candidates. If she were running for president I’d be a lot more concerned. But anyone who can live with Obama’s experience in a presidential candidate should not reasonably have an issue with Palin as VP.

All in all she gives me a better opinion of McCain in much the same way Biden makes me think a lot less of Obama. Really I would have trouble voting for Biden for anything. The idea of a less experienced Palin being a heart beat away from the presidency scares me a lot less than having Biden being a heart beat away. I know where Biden stands on a lot of issues and shudder to think about a Biden presidency. So in effect Obama’s pick for VP makes it easier for me to overlook flaws in McCain’s pick.

I’ve been hearing quite a lot of whining from Democratic women about Palin. They are upset because they believe that Republicans think that women who supported Hilary will automatically vote for Palin because she is a women. Well that would be crazy if true but I don’t think it is. Well not completely. I do think that for some nut cases who are wildly upset about Clinton losing Palin will make it a little easier for them to vote for McCain. But it will not be a deciding factor and very few Clinton supporters will actually vote for McCain when push comes to shove.

But history shows that a lot of people, men and women, vote for people for reasons other than issues. Sometimes it is name – Kennedy. Sometimes it is looks – Kennedy. Well others too. Sometimes it is race or gender. Will Palin help pick up some women who just want to vote for a women? Perhaps. She might pick up a few men who vote for her just because she is attractive. Anyone who doesn’t think that Obama picks up a lot of votes just on looks is clearly not paying attention so it works both ways.

When Obama picked Biden I thought he was throwing the election. Biden has high negatives and conservatives will be able to use him as a “bogey man” to raise lots and lots of money. Palin may serve the same purpose on the liberal side so it may balance out. Or maybe she will turn out to be a huge liability and cost McCain the election. There is no doubt that selecting her was/is a huge risk. The willingness to take a risk says something about McCain.

Last note, I have long believed that the first woman president would be a Republican. I thought the same about the first black president. I may be wrong about the first black president. Obama might be the guy.  On the other hand, imagine VP Palin running for president in a few years. And wouldn’t a Clinton/Palin race be an interesting thing some day?