Saturday, August 21, 2010

Blame It on the Sunspots

I mentioned it previously, but I'll harp on it again because I think it is important. We all suffer when one political party is more interested in running cranks for office than intelligent, credible people. I mean, how are we supposed to tackle climate change and its numerous, complex ramifications when the GOP wants to put forward candidates blaming it on sunspots?!

Mid East Peace Talks Back On?

I hope so.

U.S. officials told Jewish community leaders on a private conference call this afternoon that they believe Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is on the verge of joining Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in accepting an invitation to resume peace talks.

But the officials acknowledged that details of the talks have yet to be finalized, plans for a presidential visit to the region remain unclear, and hopes of drawing other Arab leaders and Hamas into the process ride on the momentum of the talks themselves.

Copyright Law

Via Ezra Klein comes this very interesting TED talk on copyright law. She focuses on the fashion industry (which has very few copyright protections), but makes some broader points about copyrights that are well worth considering.

I think it would be quite fascinating to see what the video game industry looked like if there were fewer (or no) copyright protections.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Executive Branch is Not the Only Branch of Government

Yglesias writes about the foolishness of blaming all government problems on Obama.

Something to add to the growing “what’s Obama done wrong” literature and the “what’s wrong with the ‘what’s Obama don’t wrong’ literature” literature is that too often these discussions seem to me to forget that the United States Congress is composed of free and equal human beings who are responsible for their own actions. For example, it may or may not be the case that a different approach on the part of Barack Obama or his staff would have caused Ben Nelson to do different things low these past several months, but it’s absolutely certain that had Nelson wanted to do different things that different things would have happened.

Given that to err is human, I think we can take it for granted that some errors existed in the White House’s approach to legislative negotiations. But it’s also clear that members have their own volition. A skeptical Blanche Lincoln could have responded to the $800 billion stimulus request by asking Barack Obama “what does Christina Romer think? will this really fill the output gap?” Vulnerable House members could have challenged Rahm Emannuel “if things turn out to be worse than you guys expect, we’re all going to lose in the midterms—wouldn’t it be more prudent to build in provisions for additional stimulus if necessary?” The members who insisted on exempting auto dealerships from the jurisdiction of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau could have said “you know what, Michael Barr is right, this doesn’t make any sense; we should do the right thing and tell the dealers to stop whining.”

He calls the tendency for this the "soft bigotry of low expectations." I'd also say that it's easier to point to one guy to blame for something than to say, "Well, it was the fault of at least some of those people over there, some more than others."

It's Not the Teachers, It's the Culture

There's has been some interesting back and forth on Andrew Sullivan's blog recently about education and poor (primarily African American) communities. Some of his readers have come out strongly against the notion that teachers are to blame for under-performing students, claiming that the problem lies with families that don't care about school and rampant gang problems.

I'm not talking about single parent families, although that's an issue. (You've also got a lot of kids in group homes - that's worse than the single parent issue.) The real problem is that the “system” doesn't run the schools. Gangs do. I can't tell you the number of bright, upwardly mobile freshman who were determined to break the mold and get out of Compton but were waylaid by gangs. By junior year most of them are gone, afraid of being killed if they return to school, usually for some ridiculous breach of gang etiquette like looking the wrong way at a banger. I can see their faces now, lost in the miasma of the inner city. That's the real tragedy.

This is one of the reasons that when I think about how I would like to reform our education system, one of the things I would work on doing is breaking down the barriers between school and the rest of the community. Schools should be tightly integrated with the families of their students and the businesses in the area. Of course this isn't going to make gangs magically disappear, but I think it it's important for education to not stop at 3:00pm. This is also a great way to show students that learning is not limited to sitting in a classroom. Schools that are more integrated with the community at large can give students something to be a part of that isn't self-destructive like gangs and drugs are. It can help parents by giving their kids something to do while they are working.

This would require a major paradigm shift in how we think of education, but I think it is a necessary step (along with more individual curricula) in improving our schools and getting away from a model still based on medieval universities.

Of course, policies to deal with poverty would also help.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Muslim Community Center Near Ground Zero

Because human beings were involved in the 9/11 terrorism acts that brought down the World Trade Center, I think it would be terribly insensitive for any humans to build anything near Ground Zero. We need to think about the victims here, you know. Yes, yes, I understand that human beings were also killed that day; but I think you're just dodging the real issue. Dirty, scumbag humans were behind the plot therefore no humans must be allowed to build there.

It's just that simple.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Weekly Secret


These are the fears that Republicans are becoming so adept at manipulating. It's sick and it's McCarthyesque (the manipulation, not the fear).

GOP Not Interested in Governing

Check out this bizarre segment on Anderson Cooper in which Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex) just makes stuff up.

Crap like this is actively harmful to our country. When you have one party (out of two) more interested in fear mongering, lying, and just generally saying whatever they think they need to say in order to return to power (see ACORN, the Muslim community center near Ground Zero, the Black Panthers, healthcare reform, and so on) then effective governance is virtually impossible. While I may typically lean liberal on many issues, I still think that a credible, (at least somewhat) intelligent opposition party is crucial for making government run better. Ideas, any ideas in any field, are honed and tempered in the fires of opposition. An opposition party should be saying, "Why not try X, rather than your Y?" And X isn't stupid stuff like repealing the 14th Amendment. It's a genuine, legitimate different approach to whatever problem is being addressed. In this way, genuine compromises can be achieved or at least the legislation can be changed to make it even better. I don't think that any one political party has a monopoly on the right answers. I firmly support vigorous political debate; it's healthy. But both sides need to have some integrity and intellectual honesty. Without it, debate is pointless.

So, what is it going to take for Republicans to grow up?