Saturday, June 30, 2012

17 people who need to buy a clue

Here's a list of people so outraged by the Obamacare decision that they're going to flee American soil for some safer, saner non-socialist land... Canada.

People moving to canada because of obamacare

Seriously, Americans do not seem to understand that they are the only 1st world nation without public healthcare. And even a fistful of the developing world has it (Costa Rica, for example).

You know what other country has citizens so ignorant of the outside world that they think their crappy, miserable existence is as good as it gets? Thanks to Fox News, the media organization that actively makes people dumber, America finally has something in common with North Korea.

I bet Kim Jong-un is eager to learn our secrets. He spends a fortune on secret police to keep his people dumb; in America, Fox keeps people stupid and makes a profit at it.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Civilization not dead yet

By now you know that the Supreme Court did not give in totally to partisan politics, and managed to reach the legal result that almost every Constitutional scholar thought was correct.

What I want to point out is this:

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli—improperly maligned by people who should have known better—carefully organized both the government’s briefs and his oral argument to make the tax-power option clearly available to Kennedy and Roberts.

Score another one for sheer competence. In this age of charisma and PR, people seem to forget that ability still matters, at least when the cameras are off.

I can't wait for the presidential debates. There are many, many Republicans who have actually convinced themselves that Obama is dumb, slow, and unable to speak without a teleprompter. They really believe he coasted through Harvard on Affirmative Action and got to be president of the Law Review because of PC politics. They think the debates are going to be slam-dunk for their side.

These people live in such a bubble of delusional I think there is a chance that even Romney believes this.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

My greatest writing barrier

The single biggest obstacle in my writing is: Microsoft Word.

Every single time - and I mean that quite literally, every time without fail - I sit down to use this program, at some point it leaves me murderously frustrated.

How is it possible to create a program so unbearably difficult to use? Especially when I am using it for such a simple task.

I get that when I am doing page layout for publishing, things can be twitchy. But simple things, like formatting and styles and tracking changes, should be bullet-proof. At no point should I be able to click a button and wonder "WTF just happened, and how do I make it unhappen?" Especially when it is the same button I've clicked ten times before.

It's just bad design. The entire program reeks of add-ons, tack-ons, and hacks. I would switch to Open Office, but I doubt it is any better. Just one of the ways Microsoft has poisoned the entire industry: their crap is now considered the gold standard.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Why Libertarians are wrong

Private school goes bankrupt

Some things cannot be privatized. Any function where the price of failure is catastrophic cannot be insured, because the risk/reward ratio is beyond any sane or prudent private company. And yet some of those functions must be done.

One of them is national defense. The price of failure is complete social destruction. Therefore the people, as a collective entity, have the right to supersede individual decisions and allocate for national defense. This right includes taxation but also conscription when necessary. Most libertarians understand this; most libertarians allow for national defense.

But there are other functions with the same risk/reward ratio. Disease control - demanding that each individual undergo the tiny risk of vaccination so that the entire society can avoid decimation. Few libertarians are willing to grant the CDC a pass, but that's only because they don't understand the science of vaccination.

And now we have a concrete example of another function. In a perfect libertarian world, insurance companies or lawsuits would redress the harm that Mobray College cause by its breach-of-contract. Except: how do you give a kid back his senior year? Time is not a fungible commodity. These kids, having been disrupted in the middle of their education, will carry that burden (however minor) for the rest of their lives. This is a time-sensitive endeavor, like cooking an egg. You can't make up for being 5 minutes late.

Given that the burden of not educating an entire graduating class of students is unacceptable to society, society must step in and fill the breach. The Victorian government has already shelled out $400K just to get these kids to their mid-year exams. If you can find a libertarian who thinks the government was wrong to do so - if you can find a libertarian who thinks those kids should have been left to rot because some private equity firm decided profits were more important than educating the next generation or because their parents weren't smart enough to detect a well-hidden scam that government regulators missed - punch him. (And I say him because we all know it will be a him).

And if government is going to have to bail out the private school system when it fails, then why in the hell should it even allow a private school system? If the government has to pick up the tab - and it does - then why doesn't it get to run the show?

Come to think of it, the same logic applies to banks.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The democritization of knowledge

They thought they were free

"To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

The author is talking about the rise of fascism in Germany. What I find interesting is that the "lobster in a pot" problem is so universal. "Man is the creature that adapts;" if change is gradual enough, then any destination is possible.

In our case it is changing attitudes towards knowledge. The internet has killed expertise; everyone thinks Google makes them an expert now. Americans, it appears, score higher on confidence than anyone else - even while they score lower on correctness. This is the Dunning-Kruger effect in full force: the less you know, the less you realize you don't know.

The danger here is that we will continue to accept answers that sound good while moving away from standards that prevented us from doing that. The whole point of expertise, after all, is caution: to know when not to do something. The idea that we follow the person with the most confidence is precisely the wrong thing to do. Science knows this, which is why every statement of science is appended with studies, experiments, and data, not to mention qualifiers, exclusions, and limitations. The real danger is that it's easier to project confidence (and optimism) when you don't know you're wrong, which accounts for why our political leaders get dumber and dumber the worse the crises get.

The golden age of Science is a new phenomena; four hundred years out of the two million or so we've been on the planet. It is not inevitable; it can be lost. We used to rely on academics and PHds and white lab coats to preserve knowledge; but that way had its own pitfalls. The democratization of knowledge is a good thing, but only if we go all the way. People have to do it right.

The maxims are simple (though discovering them cost humanity a great deal):

"If somebody is telling you exactly what you want to hear, he has to be lying." - me

"Science is the art of not fooling yourself." - Richard Feynman

"Show your work: how you got the answer is as important as the answer." - every math teacher I ever had

I went through a libertarian stage where I argued with my math teachers. It took me forty years and Project Management to understand how right they were.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Guardian quotes me

In the end, that might be the worst part of all – one of two major political parties in America is engaging in scorched-earth economic policies that are undercutting the economic recovery, possibly on purpose, and is forcing job-killing austerity measures on the states. And they have paid absolutely no political price for doing so. If anything, it won them control of the House in 2010, and has kept win Obama's approval ratings in the political danger zone. It might even help them get control of the White House.

Sabotage or not, it's hard to argue with "success" – and it's hard to imagine we've seen the last of it, whoever wins in November.

Did republicans deliberately crash the economy?
Sound familiar? In particular that last line - although the Guardian has not quite pegged to the realization that this will soon be another American export to the rest of the world.