Saturday, July 10, 2010

Is Being Poor So Bad?

I could not agree more with this article:

This is a follow-up to my previous post, Politicizing Poverty, June 7, 2010.

"Material poverty can be measured relatively or absolutely. An absolute measure would consist of some minimum quantity of goods and services deemed adequate for a baseline level of survival. Achieving that level means that poverty has been eliminated. However, if poverty is defined as, say, the lowest one-fifth of the income distribution, it is impossible to eliminate poverty. Everyone's income could double, triple and quadruple, but there will always be the lowest one-fifth.

"Yesterday's material poverty is all but gone. In all too many cases, it has been replaced by a more debilitating kind of poverty -- behavioral poverty or poverty of the spirit. This kind of poverty refers to conduct and values that prevent the development of healthy families, work ethic and self-sufficiency. The absence of these values virtually guarantees pathological lifestyles that include: drug and alcohol addiction, crime, violence, incarceration, illegitimacy, single-parent households, dependency and erosion of work ethic. Poverty of the spirit is a direct result of the perverse incentives created by some of our efforts to address material poverty." --George Mason University economics professor Walter E. Williams

Friday, July 9, 2010

Obama Versus The Law

While we are aware of the many issues of the day in isolation, sometimes an article like this helps put things into perspective.

What does that say about Obama, that so much of what he plans to do finds such opposition in the courts? What does it say about the importance of Supreme Court appointments???

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A July 4th Tradition?

Not sure two years is enough to start a trend, but I've spent Independence Day on the Silver Comet Trail and Chief Ladiga Trail two years in a row, skating from Atlanta, Georgia deep into Alabama.

It all started on July 3, 2009. I get an e-mail from Blake saying that he and Elizabeth were thinking of skating the whole Silver Comet trail, and would anyone like to join them. I later found out from Elizabeth that they were this close to pulling the plug on the whole idea, until I called at the last minute.

Elizabeth described it pretty well when she said, "The whole sick story started July 3rd, at about 9 pm after Blake had emailed the Atlanta skaters (aprr) list to ask if anybody wanted to skate the entire 95 mile trail with us, and be able to provide a ride back to Atlanta. He was going to give up on the idea at 11pm and told me at 10.52pm that I had eight minutes, then would be off the hook. Then Tom called." Read Elizabeth's trip report here. My comments are added after her report. Blake also wrote a trip report.

The trail is largely deserted because many runners who would otherwise spend the day on the trail are at the Peachtree Road Race.

It turns out that a year is enough to make you forget just about any lesson you may have learned, so this year I decided to do it again. Only Paula was able to join me for the full distance (Jay skated with us for 20 miles or so). We didn't go the whole distance (approximately 94 miles) like Blake, Elizabeth, and I did last year, but we had fun and got picked up at the 87 mile mark at Jacksonville State University.

Since it's July 4th we heard a lot of people shooting off fireworks. But there were a lot of no-shows this year: 1) No skydivers this year between Rockmart and Cedartown, not sure why. 2) The people who set up the "oasis" last year on the long stretch without water stops between Cedartown, Georgia and Piedmont, Alabama were not there this year. 3) The people who were cooking out last year who were able to provide a tool to fix my skate were not out this year. We missed seeing all of them.

The skate itself was pretty straightforward. The hills between Rockmart and Cedartown were just as tough as last year, but we made it. I also remembered most of the trail pretty well so I knew exactly where to go for water, bathrooms, etc. I also was able to advise on when to go slow down the hills (for the very fast "S" turn) and when to actually walk down the hill (for the "T" at the bottom of the road with gravel).

More pictures:
2009 photos (thanks, Blake!)
2010 photos (just a few, taken with cell phone)

Song of the Day: Yelle - Ce Jeu

I could have called this "French lesson of the day!"

And a version with subtitles (French and English):

Edit, August 22, 2013:
Both those links are dead.  Try this one:
"Yelle - Ce Jeu "

And with subtitles:
"English Translation: Ce Jeu - Yelle"

Fou et telemement evident
Que je n'trouve plus de sens
A ce jeu excitant
Si bon mais si lassant
Tu aimes me manipuler
Et j'aime en faire autant
Nous sommes tout deux victime
De ce doux jeu d'amants

Je f'rais l'effort, je te connais par coeur
Il suffit que je t'ignore
Pour que tu revienne en pleure
Je m'occupe de toi
Tu repars c'est ça
Toujours le même schéma
Et j'anticipe a chaques foi

Refrain :

Fou et telemement evident
Que je n'trouve plus de sens
A ce jeu excitant
Si bon mais si lassant
Tu aimes me manipuler
Et j'aime en faire autant
Nous sommes tout deux victime
De ce doux jeu d'amants

Passion, émotion
Et correction d'équations
J'agite la solution
Mais j'ai toujours la même sensation
C'est telement evident
Que je ne trouve plus de sens
A ce jeux excitant
Si bon mais si lassant

crazy and so obvious
i cant make any sense of
this exciting game
so good but so tiresome
you like to manipulate me
and i like to do it just as much
we're 2 victims of this sweet
lovers' game

i'd make the effort, i know you by heart
all i have to do is ignore you
so that you come back crying
i take care of you
you leave again
and thats how it goes
always the same thing
and i know it will happen every time

crazy and so obvious
i cant make any sense of
this exciting game
so good but so tiresome
you like to manipulate me
and i like to do it just as much
we're 2 victims of this sweet
lovers' game

passion, emotion
correcting the equations
i mix up the solution
but i always get the same sensation
its clear, i can no longer make
any sense of this exciting game
so good but so tiresome

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

This Is My Lucky Day

Here's a fun video a friend shared with me. Watch to the end, I think that incident is the best. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Data-Driven Decisions?

Google is a company that is managed by engineers and has and extremely rigorous data-driven decision making process. I've touched on this before in past posts, and now I'd like to give an opposing opinion, presented in two articles by Chris Matyszczyk.

Is Google far too much in love with engineering?

"Is it really possible that there exist so few human beings beyond the educationally superior dome of Google who might not be able to muster an idea or two about how Google might market its highly complex engineering products? You know, like those highly complex all-copy ads that sit at the side of search results?"

"Does one really need a background in engineering to wonder how best to offer real people, whose closest relationship to engineering might come every time they go over a bridge while humming along with their iPods, a browser?"

"However, I wonder whether such slight, but no doubt data-driven, infelicities, such as the launch of Google Buzz, the riotously misguided home page designs, or the launch of Nexus One, might have done with one or two fewer data-driven managers and one or two more people who offered suggestions about what real people like and how they might react?"

What Google should learn from Apple

"If Apple had been a purely data-driven company, would its products have ever looked as they do? And would its products ever have sold as they have?"

"...can anyone dispute that someone, somewhere along the line at Apple, made a judgment--a human, instinctive judgment--about what looks good and what doesn't?"

"Someone said, 'I think,' or 'I feel,' rather than, 'The numbers tell me.' And though I know it annoys some, Apple proved that people would pay more to be part of that tasteful world."

"The fact is that human beings are astoundingly, depressingly, maddeningly human. Which makes them irrational, contradictory, capricious and, sometimes, just plain nuts."

"Apple recognized this from the beginning. The company understood that technology had to recognize humanity's irrationality and emotionality, with all the risk and subjectivity that entailed."

"I suspect that Google wasn't quite so data-dependent at the company's inception. Do you really think that if the company used the same research methods then as it uses now to, for example, name itself, that 'Google' would have been the winner?"

"My subjective feeling is that the company would have been called 'SearchThis.' Or, perhaps, 'FindOut.' How many of us would be searchthising or findouting today?"

Past posts of mine mentioning Google's decision making process:

June 27, 2010
Working at Google

May 5, 2010
Google's New Look ... And How Google Decides?

Monday, July 5, 2010

The World's Greatest Deliberative Body (?)

"The World's Greatest Deliberative Body"--that's what they call the U.S. Senate, apparently. So what the hell is Amy Klobuchar doing there???

Check out this video:

This is getting to be such a common theme on this blog, politicians saying stupid things, I wonder if I should have a regular post dedicated just to this purpose. Hank Johnson, Peggy West, Barack Obama, Al Franken, Joe Biden, the list goes on. Just when you think they can't sink any lower, they do.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

General Betray-us?

You've all heard by now that Obama has removed General Stanley McChrystal as commander in Afghanistan. There are several couple noteworthy things to comment on here.

First of all, the war in Afghanistan had been a success until Obama took over. Secondly, Obama fired McChrystal for the wrong reasons. Thirdly, can you believe that Obama is going to Bush's guy, Petraeus, to get the job done?

Please don't misunderstand, I don't believe Obama should tolerate the kind of comments that McChrystal made to Rolling Stone. But that doesn't mean McChrystal wasn't right.

What did McChrystal and his staff say? This CBS News story summarizes it well:

On President Obama:

After Mr. Obama's was sworn into office, McChrystal felt the new president looked "uncomfortable and intimidated" while meeting with a dozen senior military officials in a Pentagon room known as the Tank, according to a source familiar with the meeting.

Following McChrystal's first one-on-one meeting with the president, an aide said the general left disappointed.

"It was a 10-minute photo op," the adviser said. "Obama clearly didn't know anything about him, who he was. Here's the guy who's going to run his [expletive] war, but he didn't seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed."

McChrystal termed the president's three-month review of the U.S. military situation in Afghanistan before deciding to send more troops a "painful" time.

"I was selling an unsellable position."

On Vice President Joe Biden:

Last fall, McChrystal dismissed the counterterrorism strategy Biden advocated in Afghanistan as "shortsighted," adding that it would lead to creating "Chaos-istan" in the country.

In the piece, McChrystal and his staff' openly mock the vice president:

"Are you asking about Vice President Biden?" McChrystal said. "Who's that?"

"Biden?" said a top aide. "Did you say: Bite Me?"

On Jim Jones, the U.S. national security adviser and a retired four-star general:

A McChrystal aide calls Jones a "clown" who is "stuck in 1985" - an apparent reference to Jones' experience in the Cold War.

Back to the point. Obama didn't give a damn about what was happening in Afghanistan until he was personally insulted. McChrystal was the author of the disastrous new rules of engagement in Afghanistan. As this article points out, the Rolling Stone piece by Michael Hastings spent more time focusing on other issues. Some highlights:

After Cpl. Pat Tillman, the former-NFL-star-turned-Ranger, was accidentally killed by his own troops in Afghanistan in April 2004, McChrystal took an active role in creating the impression that Tillman had died at the hands of Taliban fighters. He signed off on a falsified recommendation for a Silver Star that suggested Tillman had been killed by enemy fire. (McChrystal would later claim he didn't read the recommendation closely enough – a strange excuse for a commander known for his laserlike attention to minute details.) A week later, McChrystal sent a memo up the chain of command, specifically warning that President Bush should avoid mentioning the cause of Tillman's death. "If the circumstances of Corporal Tillman's death become public," he wrote, it could cause "public embarrassment" for the president.

But they [the soldiers] are especially angered by Ingram's death. His commanders had repeatedly requested permission to tear down the house where Ingram was killed, noting that it was often used as a combat position by the Taliban. But due to McChrystal's new restrictions to avoid upsetting civilians, the request had been denied. "These were abandoned houses," fumes Staff Sgt. Kennith Hicks. "Nobody was coming back to live in them."

One soldier shows me the list of new regulations the platoon was given. "Patrol only in areas that you are reasonably certain that you will not have to defend yourselves with lethal force," the laminated card reads. For a soldier who has traveled halfway around the world to fight, that's like telling a cop he should only patrol in areas where he knows he won't have to make arrests. "Does that make any fucking sense?" asks Pfc. Jared Pautsch. "We should just drop a fucking bomb on this place. You sit and ask yourself: What are we doing here?"

"How's the company doing? You guys feeling sorry for yourselves? Anybody? Anybody feel like you're losing?" McChrystal says.

"Sir, some of the guys here, sir, think we're losing, sir," says Hicks.

During the question-and-answer period, the frustration boils over. The soldiers complain about not being allowed to use lethal force, about watching insurgents they detain be freed for lack of evidence. They want to be able to fight – like they did in Iraq, like they had in Afghanistan before McChrystal. "We aren't putting fear into the Taliban," one soldier says.

McChrystal may have sold President Obama on counterinsurgency, but many of his own men aren't buying it.

After nine years of war, the Taliban simply remains too strongly entrenched for the U.S. military to openly attack. The very people that COIN seeks to win over – the Afghan people – do not want us there. Our supposed ally, President Karzai, used his influence to delay the offensive, and the massive influx of aid championed by McChrystal is likely only to make things worse. "Throwing money at the problem exacerbates the problem," says Andrew Wilder, an expert at Tufts University who has studied the effect of aid in southern Afghanistan. "A tsunami of cash fuels corruption, delegitimizes the government and creates an environment where we're picking winners and losers" – a process that fuels resentment and hostility among the civilian population.

Okay, so back to the main story. Petraeus got confirmed by the Senate, 99-0. It likely would have been 100-0 if not for the recent death of the old Klansman. Remember kids, it's okay to be a racist if you're a Democrat.

It is fascinating to see these Senators vote unanimously for a guy they vilified not so long ago. It's enough to make me think that maybe they don't have any principles at all, that it's all about politics. Remember this ad? Sure you do.

Now, just because Petraeus is taking the job doesn't mean that things will change. Policy is set from the top. In a rational world, where people made decisions based on logic and common sense, Petraeus would discontinue McChrystal's disastrous rules of engagement. But there is no guarantee that this will happen.

Clearly Obama is way different than Bush, and the people of Afghanistan have responded accordingly. He clearly has their hearts and minds. It reminds me of the classic Simpsons episode that criticized Bush--but it applies equally well to Obama and Afghanistan.

Oh, and how is that oil spill cleanup coming? Well, we're doing all we can. Right? Right??? Not everyone thinks so...

At least the immigration issue is under control. Right?

Do I dare ask about the economy? Unemployment?

At what point do people sit back and realize who they voted for?