Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Obama's roots

The hatred against Obama makes sense, not only was his father born in Africa, but his mother was born in a UU family and he attended religious education at the UU church in Honolulu. He is the antithesis of everything the Republican Party stands against. His roots are in one of the two religions (the other being Quakers) which has fought the hardest against their dogma, and it is reflected in his speeches. The values which he was raised with are embedded deeply in the decisions and political platform he has ran on his entire political life over the last 20 years. While Carter was from the South and started the NSA, and Clinton (another Southern boy) destroyed food stamps and deregulated the banks, Obama on the other hands succeeded in health care reform, put back significant regulation on the banks, and on every issue besides surveillance has been extremely liberal. He is the most liberal president since Johnson by a wide margin, and has his roots in the two things Republicans hate most, hippies and Africans. He is the only president in the last 45 years (as of 2015) who has had any desire to move us towards those goals and if he had been able to get his party behind him on the most important issues would have destroyed the Republican Party’s Nixonite ideology more than any other political leader in the last half century.

In 1961 the UUA was formed and President Obama was born. President Obama turned out to be the first truly liberal president in exactly 40 years after President Johnson left office and the only President since Johnson to expand our human rights legislation. He started live in the UU church and those values have never left him. You can take the person out of a UU church, but you can’t take the UU values out of that person. We are so lucky as a country to have him as a President.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Copyright is broken

It now appears that Anne Frank didn't really write her novel, but instead it was her father, according to the company which owns her work (no relation to the Frank family). Never mentioning her father as a coauthor before means there probably is no credible source between the two is blatant copyright abuse, and just shows how the current copyright system is broken. Not allowing derivatives off of Anne Frank's work is going to seriously hurt writing about the Holocaust and World War II, and is not going to produce any benefit for society. Hopefully the courts in Switzerland will block this move and her book will be available for everyone.

They want us to be terrified

The attacks on Paris yesterday were a cowardly act against innocent people. These people thrive on people being afraid of them and use that to their advantage in their attempt to create a Caliphate. But different from the Caliphates off old where Christians and Jews were allowed to live alongside Muslims as long as they paid tribute to the Caliph, the caliphate these extremists want to create looks a lot more like the system of government in Saudi Arabia where women's rights are limited, and freedom of religion doesn't exist. The historical caliphates of old were places where learning was fostered, algebra was invented, science progressed, and toleration was mostly practiced, particularly in comparison to contemporary Europe and the Arab States today. The history these radicals want to go back to never existed and they are on the wrong side of history.

They are financed by Saudi Arabia and other Wahabbi states primarily (source) who are all American allies given the amount of trade and aid that goes between them and us. These states are doing nothing to apprehend the plutocrats who fund terrorism and their inaction is itself an action. They could treat these people the way they treat journalists (Reporters) and end al Qaeda, ISIS, and other major extremists groups right here and now. But they choose not to because they agree with them. The lack of freedom in these countries is what al Qaeda wants to bring for the whole world, and their sickness can only be stopped by ending their support network and then bringing the region back to the support of science, philosophy, and art which the Muslim world was in the Middle Ages as the height of human civilization. There is no reason this cannot happen again, and it is criminal that the West does nothing to make it happen again by continuing to trade with and support state sponsors of terrorism.

So, instead of being terrified by the terrorists and giving them what they want, write about what they are doing. We need to show them that oppose the way they treat people in their countries, we oppose the slave trade, we believe that men and women are inherently equal to one another, we believe that everyone is important and deserves to be treated fairly. We will not vote for people who will seek to divide and conquer us. We oppose Marine la Pen, Viktor Orban, and Alternativ fur Deutschland with as much fervor as we oppose ISIS, the House of Saud, and al Qaeda, and for the same reason. We will not give them what they want, and we stand with the majority of Muslims who only want peace and an opportunity to do well against their oppressors. We will continue to invest in renewable energy to destroy their power and then help them build a system where they can live in peace. The Muslim world reminded Europe of Greek philosophy in the 1300s when Gemisthus Pletho (who was from the Ottoman Empire) brought it to the Medici family, sparking the Renaissance, and it is time we reach back in thanks to the Muslim world and bring their gift of philosophy back to them, so they too can prosper from its teachings. Europe suffered from Feudalism for 1000 years and much of the Arab world is suffering from the influence of Wahabbism today. There is no reason they cannot have a renaissance as well. We (the West) stand with you (the Muslim world) against our common enemy of the Saud family.

Vive le France
Vive le Union européenne
Vive le Schengen
Vive le Monde

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

All politics is local

When we want to understand where great leaders in history come from, it is important to understand their roots. If we want to have future leaders who can change the world, tearing down systems of oppression, leading millions of people towards a single goal, we need to understand how such work is done. We often look to the Presidency in American politics as resembling that power of changing the narrative and moving policy in one way or another, and this is completely true. What is also true is that behind every great president there are hundreds if not thousands of people behind him (and hopefully someday her when the right candidate comes along) working in the background. The really great presidents have congresses working with them, either because they agree with the President's values or because the bully pulpit and/or politics forced them to work with the President's agenda.

But, where do presidents come from? They don't just pop out of the ground! Most presidents (and Vice Presidents) in American history come from either the Senate or are a former governor. The last president to not fit this root was Eisenhower who was able to catapult up to the Presidency because of his service in World War II. The only other President in the 20th century to not fit this analysis was Herbert Hoover, who is another anomaly.

So, the next question in our quest is where do senators come from? Well, according to the Congressional Research Service, a majority of members of Congress have had previous experience working in local politics. We are looking at state legislatures, county and city councils, and other elected positions. 1

In our ultimate quest for where great leaders come from leads us to your county courthouse where your city council meets. With jurisdiction over how land is used, one of the most powerful things governments do, city and county governments are actually extremely powerful branches of government. Their ability to give leaders experience making major decisions can lead them to then being in the United States Congress if they are ambitious and talented enough, with experience to demonstrate their ability to lead and what values they may or may not hold. This is valuable information for voters when voting on legislative or congressional leadership, and I believe it is very important for politicians to have at least some experience at the local level to test their worth before going to an important job further ahead.

It is a little late, but always remember to vote in your local elections. Who knows, maybe you are voting for a future president.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Anti-Intellectualism Part 1

I like to think of myself as an intellectual, and today I was thinking of the anti-intellectual plague in American society. Most of my good friends I definitely consider to be intellectuals, and I frequently have deep conversations with them on a variety of topics. It is in my experience very rare to find an individual who truly is an intellectual across a wide range of disciplines. I have noticed that anti-intellectualism is a plague in American society which has often been noted by many authors before me. For myself, I have noticed several major factors which contribute to anti-intellectualism which I see as personal attacks for all thinking people.
But first, I define the word intellectual as someone who tries to really understand why things work and takes a rational approach to understand things at a deeper level not just when is required but also as a game. An intellectual does not have to be given an assignment to delve into a topic.
With this out of the way, here are 5 ways I have noticed people attack intellectualism in day-to-day interactions.

  1. Disparaging theoretical knowledge as not being valid or useful. Only people with experience have the right to comment on a topic, even if you have a degree and have spent hundreds of hours examining the topic, that is not enough to really understand it. I believe this is wrong because while everyone participates in the economy, that does not mean that they have studied the details of how it works the way it does. Most people drive cars, but not everyone is a mechanic or even should mess with their engine. The same is true with every issue, merely having experience as part of something does not mean that you understand why. This is one of the most common types of attacks on intellectuals I have noticed, mostly at my university from classmates which is ironically where most of my interactions with non-intellectuals takes place.
  2. Not being open to new ideas is a very direct attack on intellectuals who are the people who come up with those new ideas. It is deeply tied into a conservative mentality (which is wanting things to stay as they are, and not necessarily political) and the largest enemy to progress.
  3. "Ivory tower" implies that universities and professors are not engaged in real world activities. This is opposite from the truth as many professors actively take their knowledge to realms outside of their work in non-profits, religious organizations, advising for politicians, and writing books. Very few phrases in the English language are as divorced from reality as the false notion of the "ivory tower."
  4. When children demonstrate their intellectual nature (as I definitely did as a child, and still do) there are other children who will bully that child and make them ashamed for being curious. This is furthered by media children are given and is very psychologically damaging to them, isolating them from their peers. If a intellectual child is isolated from other intellectuals around their age it can be particularly damaging. Different organizations outside of school which foster an intellectual mindset are crucial to providing us with the friendships we need to foster our nature without being damned for it.
  5. "Every side has a point" proposes that intellectuals have the same footing as people who have no understanding of the issues. It lowers the pursuit of knowledge to the level of lobbyists who are only working for their own short term gain. It discredits rationalism in our political debates which means we get policies which are not nearly as good as we are capable of having, or frankly deserve. There is a very big difference between science and conspiracy theories, and that idea needs to enter our media discourse. This sort of problem creates massive economic problems when policies like austerity which economic models predict and the consequence of ignoring the science has been a lost decade for Europe. At an even bigger level, the "every side has a point" which brought Andrew Wakefield's scam out to the public in a way that made people not get vaccinated is nothing short of mass murder. This notion needs to go.
  6. Simply discrediting the findings of science. Many politicians will continue to say things about the economy, global warming, etc. which are wrong and people latch onto because they sound good. It makes it much harder to do research to make the world a better place when you are always defending your work from baseless attacks.
I hope that someday we can throw off the anti-intellectual atmosphere which America has inherited from the Puritans of Massachusetts so we can be a better society. We need to build a world where people are free to search for the truth and understand why things happen. Social justice requires it, and it is our moral duty to make such a world a reality.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Sanders and Media bias

Bernie Sanders is by far not my favorite member of Congress, and looking at the Senate and governors across the country, he doesn't even make my top ten candidates who I believe would make a fantastic president (Warren, O'Malley, Inslee, Whitehouse, Feingold, Wyden, are six politicians who I believe would make far better presidents off the top of my head) in terms of their ability to lead and stay consistent. But, Sanders beats all but one of these candidates in his current run for the President because he is actually running, and he is beating O'Malley not because of any major policy improvements he has (he is actually far less progressive than O'Malley given O'Malley's leadership in Maryland) but he has been able to pronounce a very angry and often inaccurate, such as his comment about the Iraq War and various incorrect economic statistics, message which people identify with in our current debate atmosphere as opposed to O'Malley's extremely well researched calm explanation about very distressing issues which he exemplified in the last debate. I do not want to see O'Malley be like Sanders, I'd much rather see Sanders be like O'Malley, but that is sadly what turns people on, which is not a new phenomenon in American politics. Going back all the way to the founding of our country we have frequently voted for personality over policy. (The Ultimate Guide to the Presidents) It is a great shame that O'Malley does not have the social media organizing team that Sanders has put together in an Obamaesque fashion. This is the only reason why O'Malley is not winning the election.

Despite this, there is a lot of talk about the media silencing Sanders as much as they can, which I find despicable. Yellow journalism is by no means a new event in American politics, it stretches all the way back to when George Washington was President and has been an integral part of American politics since then. Albeit, it demonstrates where the media's loyalties lie and that they do not lie with the American people. While I do not care for Sanders I like him far more than I like Hillary Clinton, and if he ends up being the nominee I will vote for him over any Republican candidate.

What is the solution to media bias? We cannot have the government shutting down publications it sees as too biased of course which raises all sorts of questions about who will get shut down versus who will not, and who will be the judge of who is practicing yellow journalism and who is reporting accurately. The only solution I can see is improving our history and civics education in this country so people have a better ability to understand various ideologies which these candidates are exemplifying, and learn how to find out the truth in these various issue in a meaningful way which is not prone to bias. This truly is one of the greatest challenges for a democracy, how to foster civil debate while also bringing forward the best and the brightest to lead the country.

Perhaps more than anything about the candidates, we got an excellent lesson on which media to trust for giving accurate accounts (NPR) and which media to toss for only reporting on their candidate and being biased. (New York Times for imbalance and CNN for deleting their poll on who won their debate after it showed a Sanders victory)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Car free for a better life

While wandering around the internet today, I thought about a car-free world. While the current obvious disadvantage of pollution is caused by our using internal combustion engines, in the future we will continue to have problems when it comes to congestion and other issues that make life miserable. One obvious solution is to significantly improve our mass transit systems so they are convenient to use. I've written about this before, but another idea which is done in many parts off the world is to simply make the most congested parts of the city car-free and require people to go by foot, or by mass transit (which should always be free anyways) to make life more comfortable for people. One big reason is the amount of space needed for people decreases significantly, as shown by this graphic:

Any major tourist attraction which has heavy pedestrian traffic in a major city should be served by public transit moving people around to where they need to go and there needs to be convenient parking outside of that area for people to get back to their cars. Parking outside of the area where there can be a good-sized parking garage towards the direction of where they are coming from (or just having good mass transit in the city preferably) would reduce congestion, pollution, and save time for everybody involved in the area.

Cities should make it very clear where there are large park and rides in the outskirts which are well served by mass transit getting people to downtown in order to reduce congestion. A large sign for free (or at least inexpensive) parking on all freeways leading into the city with fast transit to the city center is a very common sense solution which needs to be implemented. Just having a park and ride with slow bus service to the city center is not more convenient for people. Urban planning needs to take into account time savings as well as money.

The riverfronts/waterfronts of most cities are particularly good for closing them to all non-working vehicles given that they frequently have a lot of traffic congestion and many people trying to move around on foot. They also tend to be where downtown is located. Increasing mass transit options and prohibiting cars just makes sense.

When living in a large city with many people trying to move around, it makes no sense for people to be driving their cars. The following locations seem to make the most sense to me to make them car free given their size and level of congestion.

Bike sharing programs are popping up across the world right now. Increasing these options for people is another major step towards making cities more able to accommodate the populations they need to serve.

We could also instead of prohibiting cars just make it extremely expensive to drive in these areas, while making buses free which will still have the effect of making them more convenient for people to drive around. As an economist, I favor this option because it will mean if you absolutely have to drive in a city you still can. The toll would be set based on the amount of time you spend driving  the city. A city like Macau could make such a system work by increasing the cost of gas through a general carbon tax while we continue to use fossil fuels, and in the long run making a large fee for parking.

Looking at geogrpahy, the following cities seem to me to make the most sense in terms of limiting access to vehicles in order to make the cities run more smoothly and faster:
  1. Pike Place Market, Seattle, Washington USA
  2. Granville Island, Vancouver, British Columbia CANADA
  3. All of Fisherman's Wharf north of Bay St., San Francisco, California USA
  4. Downtown Los Angeles, California USA within the freeways.
  5. New York City Financial District South of Chambers St., New York, USA (3.5 sq km)
  6. National Mall area, Washington, DC USA
  7. Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland USA
  8. Downtown Philadelphia east to Penn's Landing, Pennsylvania USA
  9. Downtown Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  10. Downtown Detroit, Michigan, USA
  11. Downtown Chicago, Illinois, USA
  12. The city of Sydney, New South Wales, AUSTRALIA
  13. Downtown Brisbane, Queensland, AUSTRALIA
  14. Downtown Amsterdam, NETHERLANDS
  15. Area around Westminster, London, England UK
  16. Macau
  17. Kowloon, HONG KONG
  18. Downtown Shanghai and Pudong, Shanghai, CHINA
  19. Downtown Seoul, SOUTH KOREA
  20. Downtown Tokyo, JAPAN

All in all, we should make our cities more liveable by making our cities people-friendly and easy to move around in. Hopefully we will see this shift soon to make our cities more comfortable.