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Finished The True Patriot (website[1]) by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer (4/5).

This slim volume -- the authors call it a pamphlet -- has as its goal to show that true patriotism is progressive, and the left has just as much claim to the term as the right.

This premise is intentionally provocative, but the content itself is reasonable and well thought out. The authors define their own view of what a progressive, morally founded patriotism would look like and, while I can quibble with the details, their vision far exceeds the milk sop that comes from the too-flexible seeming members of the left or the for-show morality common on the right.

I encourage you to read it for yourself. It's available free online[2], or if you prefer physical books, the printed version is an aesthetically pleasing physical item.

erikars: (Default)
Many people, at least in the US, do not distinguish between their personal sense of right and wrong and their beliefs about what is and is not legally permissible. Many people understand the distinction in principle but are lax when choosing their words in a conversation. However, other people seem to believe there is no distinction between their personal principles and what should be made law. I think this lack of distinction underlies much of what makes political disagreement in the US so passionately unreasonable.
erikars: (Default)
What little interesting potential the tea party may have had disappeared after the announcement that the candidates they support will be expected to support the platform of the Republican National Committee. (It wasn't much potential in the first place since they never seemed to make reasonable concrete suggestions for achieving change and attracted a lot of crazy people.)
erikars: (Default)
Rare is the topic on which I do not want to have an opinion, but I wish I could just ignore health care reform. Getting the proper background on the topic will be a huge time sink, and I have many other things I would rather be doing. If I felt I could responsibly ignore the whole thing, I would. But health care reform is super huge with respect to both cost and potential impact on actual people.

Can someone just wave a magic wand and make me one of those people who can form opinions without knowing the facts (at least on this topic)?
erikars: (Default)
Be warned that a lot of book summaries will be coming in the near future. I have a 2 month backlog of 8 books that I need to write summaries for.

Finished Slow is Beautiful: New visions of community, leisure, and joie de vivre by Cecile Andrews. In this book Andrews motivates the idea of the "slow life" and discusses some way of slowing down your own life.

The central claim of this book is that the "fast" life does not lead to happiness. The constant chase after more money, more status, and more stuff decreases happiness rather than increases it. Some people find the fast life satisfying, but it is increasingly clear that the universal emphasis on the fast life is harmful to individuals and communities.

Andrews supports this claim with an overview of some of the recent research on happiness. This research supports the conclusion that the things that make us happy are the things that we have less time for in our overworked, over scheduled lives. For most people happiness comes from spending time with people they care about, participating in activities where they can achieve a state of flow, and having enough free time to do these things.

Andrews concludes that we need to slow down our lives to make room for the things that make us happy. She gives a number of tips for this, but she also emphasizes the importance of social change to allow more people to choose to slow down their lives. Andrews realizes something that much of the happiness literature misses: in American society today, slowing down your life is a privilege that few can take advantage of. Even those financially able to work part time have a hard time doing so in the career of their choice because many careers do not offer part time opportunities (part time software engineers are few and far between; I have heard stories of lawyers who were asked to leave their practice when they asked for a "part time" 40 hour week). Those who can find part time work that they find interesting usually have to sacrifice health care. Andrews recognizes that slowing down society (or at least giving all of its members the choice to slow down) will more than individual life changes.

Despite all the good things about this book, I can only give it a middling recommendation overall. The parts that were on topic were quite good. However, Andrews would occassionally go off into a political rant that was, as often as not, only tangentially related to the topic at home. These political rants rarely added to the discussion. Even reading this in April of 2009, the frequent criticisms of George W. Bush seemed dated. Sadly, these digressions were frequent enough to seriously detract from the quality of the book.

This book is a valuable read, but you have to be willing to leave behind the dirt and take home the gems.
erikars: (Default)
There are conveniences to having political parties. They act as a base class for communicating beliefs, allowing politicians to just specify where they differ from the standard party line.

However, articles like this one re-enforce my belief that modern American political parties have too much power over the members of their party.

Political maneuvering will always be a part of our legislative process, but when people are outraged when anyone goes against the party line, then the party is being valued over the individuals in it, and that is not a healthy trend.

On the upside, in this case it mostly seems to be pundits and other rabblerousers who are causing a ruckus and not the peers of the dissenting politicians.
erikars: (Default)
An article questions what President Obama means when he says that America is not just a Christian nation. The author seems unable to come up with a reasonable interpretation of what such a phrase could mean. Well, here are a couple of options that pop in to my head that the author did not consider:

  • The US does not base its laws on the Bible or on what any particular church says. Laws and the moral values inspired by them must have a legal justification (sometimes in addition to and sometimes in contradiction of religions proclamations).

  • The US does not have its government exclusively controlled by Christians.

People who get in a tizzy over the phrase "the US is not only a Christian nation" need to realize that this does not mean that Christianity is going to be outlawed. It does not mean that Christians are going to be ignored or marginalized. It does not mean that moral laws stated in the Bible are going to be abandoned (And FYI, neither Christianity nor any other religion has an exclusive hold on moral values.). It means that Christians do not get special privilege. Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus and maybe even some day atheists get to voice their concerns and get to participate equally as citizens and as officials.
erikars: (Default)
Articles about proposed changes to the bailout scare me. The way the changes are reported makes it sound like their only purpose it to make the bailout more attractive to those who did not vote for it. The articles give the impression that these people have no idea what they are doing and are not even engaging in substantial analysis to see what may be effective. I hope they are, but in a financial market that is hanging on every word of these developments, even the impression of incompetence is dangerous.
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Apparently, Rick Warren would never vote for an atheist. That's fine; I would never vote for him either. However, I do take issue with the reason why he would never vote for an atheist.

Warren subscribes to the commonly held myth that because atheists do not believe in God, we believe that we, as individuals, are completely self-sufficient. He believes, or at least implies, that because atheists do not believe in God, they are not participants in the web of community and dependence that links all human beings.

The error here is a common one. In so far as I can tell, people like Warren think, "Because I believe in God, I know I cannot make it all by myself. Atheists do not believe in God, so they must believe that they can make it on their own." The mistake here is obvious. From "A implies B" and "not A" you cannot conclude "not B".

Many, I will even say most, atheists do not believe people are fully self-sufficient. We acknowledge that we depend socially, emotionally, and physically on other people. What those who believe this stereotype of atheists do not understand is that atheists, like Christians, believe we are not fully self-sufficient, but we believe this for a different reason..

What many religious people fail to recognize, refuse to recognize, are perhaps afraid to recognize, is that atheists generally have the same moral values as religious people (and have opinions that are just as diverse). Atheists are not some evil, amoral other. We are people who look at the world and see problems and suffering and want them to stop just as much as anyone else does.

To make any progress in understanding each other, we must all remember that different people can hold the same belief for different reasons, and having a different reason for holding a belief does not invalidate the sincerity of that belief.
erikars: (Default)
Methinks that the person quoted at the beginning of this article is a little bit silly.
Veteran Democrat David Carlin knows what he’s going to do if Illinois Sen. Barack Obama becomes his party’s presidential nominee

He’s going to vote for the presumptive Republican nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain.

“Any Catholic who takes the abortion issue seriously will not vote for Obama,” said Carlin, who served as majority leader of the Rhode Island Senate in 1989-90.
We get this story every 4 years. "Oh my! The Democrat is for abortion. I am a Democrat, but I cannot vote for someone who is not against abortion." I am sorry, if one is a single issue voter and one's position on that issue is consistently opposite that of the party one claims to be a member of, one should not, for all practical purposes, consider oneself a member of that parter.

Furthermore, if one must be a single issue voter, abortion is a stupid single issue to choose. When it comes down to it, if the Bush presidency could not get anything done on abortion, why would one think McCain will?
erikars: (Default)
Finished Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger. First things first, this book is not claiming that environmentalism is dead. It is making the equally contentious but distinct claim that environmentalism, as it currently stands, should die.

To understand why Nordhaus and Shellenberger make this claim, it is first necessary to understand what they mean by environmentalism. According to the authors, environmentalism today is based on a "politics of limits". The mode of operation for environmental organizations is to limit or prohibit activities that are seen as harming the environment. This in itself is not problematic, but what is problematic, according to Break Through, is that modern environmentalism limits itself to these sorts of activities.

Nordhaus and Shellenberger given the example of harmful development in Brazil. They describe the environmentalist approach to saving the rain forest as limited trying to pressure the Brazilian government to pass laws that are beneficial to the rain forest. However, these actions ignore the reasons for Brazilian deforestation. Brazil actually has some protections in place (e.g., some percent of land must be left in tact by the owners), but those protections are not enforced (it is not easy to police a giant remote forest). Furthermore, violations of those protections are almost encouraged by other laws which say that homesteaded land can only be kept if it is used, leading people to large scale clearing of the land to show they are "using" it.

The second issue that the authors claim is ignored by environmentalists is the widespread poverty in Brazil. Going out and destructively homesteading the rain forest is appealing to many because there are not opportunities for them to make a good living in the cities.

Nordhaus and Shellenberger do not think that laws limiting destruction of the rain forest should be completely ignored. However, they criticize environmentalists for thinking that issues such as stable governments, poverty, and enforcement of the law are outside of the interests of environmentalists. Nordhaus and Shellenberger advocate policies that get at the root cause of environmental problems, not just the symptoms.

The authors claim that the politics of limits work even worse when it comes to solving a problem like global climate change. Deforestation, air pollution, water pollution, and other traditional environmental problems are very visible and, therefore, very easy to make people aware of. However, global climate change is not very visible. There are images of the effects of global climate change, but images (however sad) of polar bears lacking ice are not nearly as visceral are images of rivers on fire or pollution over Los Angeles.

The authors also claim that the politics of limits is a politics that only work when people feel secure. When people feel their job is secure, their mortgage will be paid, and they can put food on the table, they are willing to address at issues with more long term negative effects such as pollution or global climate change. When they fear for their jobs, homes, ability to put gas in their cars, as has recently been and currently is the case in the United States, they tend to focus on those primary needs and to reject anything that could threaten those needs in the short term (such as environmental limits). Nordhaus and Shellenberger are claiming here that modern environmentalism, despite its sometimes anti-development stance, is actually a product of prosperity and security.

This is why they propose replacing the "politics of limits" of current environmentalism with a "politics of possibility". They propose that environmentalism should have a wider range of interests that appeal to people's desire to have physical and emotional security. Thus, they propose shifting some, if not most, of the focus of environmentalism from limits to things like job creation and clean energy. These are things that people can get behind because they make them feel better about their lives, and they address root problems of many environmental problems. People in developing nations are not (and should not) going to accept being told that they have to continue living in poverty so that pollution does not increase. People in those countries, will support initiatives that help get them out of that poverty, and saving the world, under hopeful conditions, will just increase support.

I really enjoyed the core message of Break Through. I do agree that environmentalism should be about assessing and addressing root causes as well as obvious problems, and I do agree that a politics of possibility has a lot more potential than a politics of limits. However, I do have some criticisms of the book. The tone the authors use often implies that those people who are part of the politics of limits did a little that was useful and are now completely useless. I disagree with this implication. It is not bad for existing organizations to feel that they should stay focused on their mission statement. Instead of criticizing them, the authors should show them that there are more effective methods and they will either change or obsolete the existing organizations (note that the authors have started the Break Through Institute, so they are doing something. It is just their sometimes tone I find off putting).

My second criticism is of their desire for the "death of environmentalism". First, I do not think they really believe it. I think it is mostly an eye grabbing technique. However, if they do need it, I do not think it is called for. I think that the actions of current environmentalism have a place in a new environmentalism. That place may be less central, but the types of problems current environmentalism is effective at solving have not been completely solved, so the organizations are not obsolete.

However, overall Break Through is a very interesting and insightful read and was certainly worth my time.
erikars: (Default)
I am not going to say anything about this except to comment on a quote from the end of this article:
Whelan, an abortion opponent, said ... "It would seem to me that their religious faith was irrelevant."
Come now, let's be honest with ourselves.

Edited to leave only the relevant part of the comment. The only point I was trying to make is that it is silly to claim that the religigious beliefs of the judges is irrelevant. The judges are certainly trained to make the beliefs less directly relevant to their decision, but the fundamental beliefs of a person are never irrelevant to any decision that they make.
erikars: (Default)
The Seattle Times has an article about some churches working to get Referendum 65 on the ballot. I will resist ranting (there's grading to do!), but articles like this always make me wonder why these people think it is okay to discriminate based on sexual orientation (which may or may not be a choice, not that I think it matters, but they sometimes seem to think it does) but not religion (which definitely is a choice).
erikars: (Default)
I find this chart about gas prices highly amusing. Mostly because the cars look like little Mini Coopers.
erikars: (Default)
Interesting and, more importantly, amusing opinion piece about political stuff.
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Things people say that scare me:

  • Iraq is nothing at all like Vietnam. And Vietnam was a good idea anyway.

  • McCarthy was doing the right thing. He found some communists, therefore what he did was justified

  • We should pass something like the "Alien and Sedition Act" again.

  • Hackers could compromise anyone's computers. Therefore the government should be able to spy on anyone's computers.

  • I have nothing to hide so let them spy on me.

People really honestly do scare me sometimes.
erikars: (Default)
Should people running for office be able to lie? Campaigns today are advertisements for a person not discussion or debate of issues. They should be bound by the same sorts of laws which prevent advertisers from lying about their products or competing products.

Terrorists don't do movie plots. This interesting article is from Wired news. Summary: the way we prepare for acts of terror (and natural disasters) is by planning for specific scenarios. However, life does not follow a plot so this sort of planning will only push threat around. I think the difference between specific and general preparation is interesting. With specific planning you might remove most threat of one event but leave yourself open to all others. General planning will relieve some threat of more events; it may not remove all threat of tragedy, but there may be less damage over all. Maybe some people think we can figure out all possibilities, but I do not.

Finally, something a bit lighter. A new game from Square Enix. I totally want it. It looks amusing.
erikars: (Default)
As this article mentions, one reason behind the decision to decrease funding for security on buses and trains is that an attack on a plane can kill 3000 people while an attack on a subway would kill 30. This statement reveals an apparent flaw in the reasoning skills of Michael Chertoff, its originator.

A single plane does have the potential to kill more people than a single subway bomb. However, taking the numbers given by Mr. Chertoff, it would only take 100 subway bombs to kill the same number of people. There is much more security for flying than riding a bus or subway; it seems that 100 subway attacks would be more likely to suceed than a single attack on a plane. If this intuition were true. security would be increased more by spending more money on buses and trains than spending that same money on airline security.

Chertoff's reasoning worries me because it seems to overly simplify the decision process. It may be the case that my intuition of what is more probable is completely wrong. However, the process of considering such probabilities is better than saying "an attack in a plane can kill 3000 people and an attack in a subway can kill 30, therefore, planes are more important to protect than subways." I can only hope that such analysis really is happening and the quote was just an attempt to simplify things for the media (that the media needs such simplification is another rant entirely).
erikars: (Default)
Explain to me how this quote (from here) expresses anything less than a sexist bias on behalf of the makers of the "short list":
Whatever the chief justice's plans, the "short list" of contenders, exclusively male, may have to be expanded in view of O'Connor's retirement, according to one White House official. That officials spoke only on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

Assuming that the list contains the people the makers of the list think are best qualified for the position, shouldn't the gender of the retiring justice not influence the gender of the candidates for the position?


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Erika RS

May 2012

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