Friday, September 30, 2005

Political Ideology

I recently took a political Ideology quiz that I found quite interesting. I am a little apprehensive about boiling down my politics to a point on a graph. Hopefully my readers will keep an open mind about the rest of my writing.

You are a

Social Liberal
(63% permissive)

and an...

Economic Conservative
(80% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on OkCupid Free Online Dating
Also: The OkCupid Dating Persona Test

Over the past couple of hours, I have reflected on how my views have probably changed over the past ten years. I am certainly much more socially liberal now than in the past, but economically I probably have changed very little. Why have I changed my views on social issues? I certainly still support law and order in a very strong way. However, I have come to oppose the use of government power, which boils down to men with guns, in efforts to control other people's personal activities. The key word in the previous sentence is personal in that the government needs to regulate activities that affect others and not regulate activities that affect only the individual. Striking an effective balance here is the key so perhaps the reason for my shift towards more social permissively has to do with a greater understanding of the costs to society of attempting to regulate activities that only affect an individual.

For example, ten years ago I believed that drug use (cocaine, heroin...) is an incredibly stupid and destructive behavior. I still believe that today. Ten years ago I favored a harsh crack down on drug users, dealers, and traffickers. Today I am coming to the painful realization that the costs of enforcement and social chaos outweigh the benefits of stopping and individual from using drugs. The movie Traffic really drove that point home to me a few years back.

I have come to see government regulation of personal activities as the antithesis of freedom and perhaps one of the reasons that we have trouble taking personal responsibility.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Ski Shopping

Summer has ended, fall is here and I am looking forward to the winter ski season! This winter I plan to buy a new pair of skis to replace my ten year old Rossignols, which have served me well but take quite a beating in the process. I love to rip through the moguls and the powder (when available). I am used to a pretty stiff ski and I love to make short snappy turns. The only problem is that at many of the New England mountains, where I usually ski, many of the runs are steep, flat, and icy so my perfect ski has to allow me to deal with longer faster turns. Also, I want my new skis to have twin tips so that I can learn take jumps backwards.

Over the next couple of months I will be shopping for skis and hopefully trying a few out when the first snow comes. If anyone has suggestions please leave them in the comments section. As I narrow down my choices I will publish my comments in subsequent posts.

Market Extremes

Interesting post on market dynamics in a variety of industries as various competitors angle to become either low cost or high value players. The companies who successfully establish themselves at the extremes seem to win the majority of the business while those caught in the middle lose share.

Why is this happening?

I think that there are a couple of factors: 1. Increased technology and information tend to drive costs lower – from Wal-Mart in retail to just about everything in technology and electronics costs continue to fall, relentlessly; 2. Falling barriers to trade and barriers to entry allow new firms enter markets as low cost leaders and allow premium players to leverage increased scale; 3. It seems that consumers’ choices are becoming more bipolar – either they really care about a product or service and want the best that they can afford or they just need the product and want to pay as little as possible.

Maybe there are other factors at work here, but it seems reasonably clear to me that the era of middle of the road competitors is ending.

Governmental Responsibility

I enjoyed reading Peggy Noonan’s essay about governmental authority and responsibility. More than the incompetence of and lack of coordination within our government’s response the recent hurricanes exposed problematic relationships between citizens and their government. Noonan states that, “We are losing the balance between the rights of the individual and the needs and demands of the state.” This problematic relationship extends beyond just emergency management; it touches all aspects of our lives.

I am still trying to work out exactly what I want to say about this essay and the problematic relationship between citizens and their government. Only individual people can take responsibility; groups, such as a government, cannot. However groups can take authority, although tragically often they often take poor or even unjust actions when no one in the group takes moral responsibility. Taking individual responsibility is inherently a moral action, but failing to take responsibility in a group is hard to define as immoral. Ultimately individuals must take responsibility for their own actions and jealously guard that responsibility because it represents their freedom. Failure to guard individual responsibility leads on the road to tyranny.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Eliminate Trade Barriers Now

President Bush finally makes a strong statement about the urgent need to eliminate trade barriers to trade between nations.  Trade barriers serve to distort efficient investment and serve to keep too many people locked outside the formal economy and in poverty.  The United States currently subsidizes its farmers, many of whom are millionaires.  These farm subsidies hurt both consumers in the United States, through higher domestic food prices, and farmers in the third world, through lower international food prices.  This is truly shameful behavior on our part.  

Agriculture has consistently fallen in relative importance to our national economy for the past one hundred and twenty years.  It is certainly a significant portion of our past but will never regain its former prominence.  For those that continue to farm, significant technological advancements combined with better risk management approaches allow farming to remain profitable in the absence of depression era subsidies.  It is time for these subsidies to end.  

Likewise, other industries, such as garment production, are currently at competitive disadvantages relative to their foreign peers.  In these industries domestic firms will never catch up let alone regain their competitive edge.  The money and effort that we currently expend in protecting these industries would be much better spent retraining employees for positions in growing industries that will become a major part of America’s future.  Allowing dying industries to die and moving their employees to growth industries will enhance our nation’s economic growth, but more importantly release those employees from the stagnant wages and allow them the opportunity to move into an industry where they can greatly improve their standard of living.  Sometimes harsh medicine actually makes the patient better.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Gamma Ray Burst

It appears that NASA and other space agencies have detected a huge gamma ray burst from a dying star that occurred 13.7 billion years ago 12.6 billion light years from earth.  Apparently this gamma ray burst is the oldest such burst ever recorded and it is the result of the death of one of the first stars to have formed after the Big Bang formed the universe.  It is fascinating that we have the ability to detect events that happened so long ago and so far away.  Hopefully, this discovery and future discoveries will clarify our picture of the origins of the universe.

Saturday, September 10, 2005


Lori and I went to a Cake concert put on by WFNX at Government center in Boston. There was a huge crowd in attendance as many of the area college students were in their first few weeks back in town. I have enjoyed listening to Cake for quite a few years, but had never seen them live. That was a real treat. They played a few songs from a bunch of different albums, including their newest one. The highlight of the song occurred during No Phone when they mentioned that ladies go first in almost every situation in our society, but that this time the men would go first. The reason that the men go first is because for thousands of years our male ancestors have been trying to communicate as little as possible, but that in the last ten years American women have forced their men to communicate with them at least every ten minutes. In recognition of this, Cake was allowing the men to go first in singing, "No phone, no phone I just want to be alone today" along with the band. That was followed by the ladies singing, "No phone, no phone?". Thanks to everyone who helped put on this great, free show!

Friday, September 09, 2005

Contract with America II?

The Washington Post has a piece about Newt Gingrich’s response to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans almost two weeks ago and devastated the credibility of the Federal, Louisiana, and New Orleans disaster response teams shortly afterwards.  The former House Speaker’s assessment of government efforts made Andrew Sullivan’s quote of the day:  “For the last week the federal government and its state and local counterparts have consistently been behind the curve.”  He goes on to say, “We're not in a values fight now but over whether the system is working.  The issue is delivery.”

Events like Hurricane Katrina drive home the point that government does not perform well in a variety of situations.  One of the reasons that the response to Katrina was so disorganized is that no one had clear accountability to ensure success.  The response came from a number of interlocking government agencies at various levels of government, all of which lacked effective leadership and coordination.  This bureaucratic mishmash degraded the effectiveness of the response to this hurricane.  However, other very similar bureaucratic mishmashes contribute to degrading the effectiveness of government response in other aspects of our lives.  From highway spending, to Medicare, to education adding levels of decision makers who are removed from the situation and who lack direct accountability for results creates waste and inefficiency in government response to problems.  

It appears the Newt Gingrich recognizes this and wants to do something to correct it so that we can unlock the potential in our government and in our economy.  Newt Gingrich is an interesting politician - he is idealistic enough to recognize efficient solutions to complex problems, but is practical enough to understand if items are politically possible.  His Contract with America set the tone for reform in the 1990’s and he successfully moved towards greater efficiency.  

I remember listening to a speech Gingrich gave at Notre Dame while I was a student there.   His topic was leadership and his theme was that in order to lead, leaders must: first listen; then learn; then help; and finally lead.  He told the story of how he identified the opportunity to move the country in the direction that he wanted to go, how he gathered momentum with the Contract with America, and how he successfully pushed significant parts of into law.  At the time he had already left congress.  He stated that he had to lead congress because he could only lead a movement, he could not manage a status quo.

Are we seeing the beginnings of new movement lead by Newt Gingrich?  Will the Republicans nominate a Gingrich-Giuliani ticket of outsiders to shakeup Washington and to reform government at all levels?  Time will tell, but if they are serious about reform they will have my support.

Go Irish

Last Saturday’s defeat of the University of Pittsburgh gave every Notre Dame fan a great shot of encouragement.  At last a Notre Dame team had defeated a top 25 opponent in convincing form!  Many Notre Dame faithful like myself have a dose of cautious optimism about the season.  That optimism will come face to face with reality tomorrow in Ann Arbor when Notre Dame takes on number 3 ranked Michigan.  Michigan remains a perennial powerhouse in college football.  Their rivalry with Notre Dame extends back over on hundred years.  Tomorrow Notre Dame fans will watch the game hoping that the Irish will win, but also looking to measure a new team and a new coach against one of the best programs in the nation.  Win or lose, if Notre Dame plays well Irish fans know that the Weis era is off to a great start.  

Intelligence Evolves

This is an interesting article about two recently discovered genes, which apparently have an affect on human brain size and potentially cognitive ability. The mutations, which created these two genes probably, occurred less than 60 thousand years ago with one mutation likely occurring less than 6 thousand years ago. Previously, the common accepted view of human history was that after humans took on their modern form, around 200 thousand years ago, only our culture has changed. These finding indicate that genetic changes played a roll in humanity's shift from a hunter gather lifestyle to an agricultural and productive lifestyle. According to Bruce Lahn quoted in this article:
A lot of people, including biologists, think we are at the pinnacle of evolution
. . . that the human form may be at the best form ever. They think that in the
last 200,000 years [since the modern human emerged] there has just been a
cultural evolution, and we're saying no, there is also genetic evolution.

But will genetics continue to play a part in human advancement? Both of these genes apparently formed more at least 6 thousand years ago. At that time, our ancestors faced much greater threats to survival than we do today. In that environment, a cognitive advantage likely conferred an advantage in survival and a higher likelihood of producing offspring. Today however, most humans in the developed world do not face a challenge to survive on a daily basis - their lives are significantly more comfortable than that of our ancestors. As a result, almost every human has the opportunity to have offspring - in fact the problem in many cases is too many offspring. In today's environment, many successful people either choose not to have offspring or choose to limit the number of offspring that they have. On the other hand many less successful people choose not to limit their offspring. Given these circumstances is it still reasonable to expect genetic mechanisms to continue to work and to continue to make our species mintelligentgent?

Friday, September 02, 2005

Go Irish!!!

The University of Notre Dame football team opens up their 2005 season tomorrow night against the University of Pittsburg at 8:00. Notre Dame has a new coach, Charlie Weis, who coached the New England Patriots to a superbowl vicotry last year as offensive coordinator. Weis is a Notre Dame alumni so he has more than just a professional investment in driving the Irish to perform. Notre Dame football has been in a rut for nearly the past decade. Here is hoping that Charlie Weis can turn things around. Detailed commentary from a group of Notre Dame alumni can be found at the Blue Gray Sky blog.