Monthly Archives: February 2007

The Scientific Tension

Although I’ve weighed against too much professional bureaucracy, I don’t want this to be an attack on intellectuals in general. I think if we’re going to adapt to this century, we’re going to have to listen to scientists. The tension becomes even more, um, tense, when I consider that I want very much to listen to the scientists, but I don’t want them telling me what to do. One could posit a resolution of this tension in making scientists be descriptive of our problems rather than prescriptive of solutions. However, I don’t think the dichotomy between descriptive and prescriptive is as clear-cut as one may think. Moreover, my penchant for the wisdom of crowds I doubt extends to science, which often has very specific knowledge. I think, somehow, that the answer may lie in education of the public, so that scientists are not magicians, waving facts they culled from who-knows-where.

Postmodern Federalism

Forgive me if I have been ignoring current issues. I’m trying very hard to look far into the future that it is becoming difficult to see what is right in front of me. In fact, I’m feeling myself start to withdraw from this world and enter a world of abstraction. As much as I hate abstraction, theory is useful and I’m trying to do more forest thinking, as opposed to tree thinking. I’m trying to see how liberty can survive in the “long term,” for this century, that is.

Hypothesis: With the growth of population, the modern world needed professional bureaucracies to deal with increasingly complex issues. In the postmodern world, the complexities of issues have outstripped even the abilities of a professional bureaucracy. Hence, the need for a new federalism, perhaps. We also need to figure out how to harness the wisdom of crowds.

I’m still unsure about the ways this new decentralization of power will take place. I’ve been thinking about the radical ways in which the internet can create communities that are not geographically-based. I’m not sure what implications this has.

In any case, even without our current crises, our democracy is slowly dying and the body politic is becoming corrupt. The lack of agency, the lack of participation, along with the growth of the professional bureaucracy, is a threat to the continuation of liberty.

Any thoughts?

Technical Difficulties

Currently experiencing technical difficulties. For some reason, the entry from Jan 30 keeps popping up on the index, while everything after that temporarily disappears. I’ll figure this out soon enough, I hope, but there’s a never-ever crapload of work to do.

Thoughts on “Neofederalism”

I am toying with a concept of “neofederalism,” which is a horrible name, so maybe I should just call myself a federalist. I think that if we’re going to solve problems like health care, it cannot be done on the national level. The issue is too complex, and so we should experiment on the state level to see what works and what doesn’t. However, these are not laboraties for federal policy. If a policy spreads, it will not be top-down. It will spread from state to state because the idea works, and because each state will have the freedom to adapt good policy to the needs of the people. I think giving health care is an admirable goal, but I don’t believe it can be done on the national level. I think other similar “liberal” concerns cannot be dealt with on the national level, or will be better dealt with on the state level. Some may argue that this process is slow, and so we should use the federal government. But it’s supposed to be slow. We are dealing with complex issues, and it will take years to hammer out the kinks. We should not be so hasty. We should also not be so arrogant as to believe that our idea will most definitely work for all people. It is an inherently conservative approach.

When we look at the current state of affairs, we see a paralyzed Washington. Some think that we should jolt the parties back to the center. I think that will take a long time, and even then, it won’t be enough. We can take the initiative on the state level, and we should. Legislators and governors of mixed parties can get along just fine and have done some amazing things. Some people think, “Okay, we should go ahead and duplicate this on the national level.” I don’t think that at all. I say, “We should duplicate this in every state.” If state governments can work together and Congress can’t, then screw Congress. When they’re ready to act like adults, maybe then we’ll talk. If the grown-ups are on the state level, then we should enter a dialogue on the state level. I don’t think it’s a crisis if Congress can’t get its act together on things like health care; it’s a benefit that these guys aren’t screwing things up worse. Led Congress be in gridlock, and let the more local levels act.

In my dream world, people more readily recall the name of their state legislators than they do their Congresspersons and Senators.

I also may end up advocating a more radical localism, but this I’m even less sure of than my new embrace of federalism.

I think a similar type of approach may be taken to world affairs. We should admit that the world is too big. We cannot solve all the world’s problems. We should let regions and countries solve their own problems. We should promote democracy, but we should not be too eager. The imposition of radical equality on an unprepared state only leads to chaos. Instead of the top-down approach of Iraq and unilateralism, we can lead by example, along with the rest of the West. We can encourage values, but we cannot impose them. We should criticize when we can, but the power to criticize is not a license to force people to change their ways.

These ideas are all starting points, not finishing points. I think it’s important to enter a bigger dialogue, so that we can address the political problems of the 21st century.

Snow Gods

The snow gods are displeased. It has stopped snowing and now we only have light, light rain, when we were supposed to get freezing rain. Looks like I’m going to be up all night working on my essay.

Capital R

I find curious those who feel the need to capitalize “Reason.” Reason is no authority; it is merely a tool. I am informed by both reason and experience. I place a greater emphasis on the latter (because it comes first and reason plays catchup), but I would never feel the need to capitalize it.

The Arrogance of Perfection

“They say that to not believe that there is anything higher is to be arrogant. However, it may also be arrogant to find evidence of a higher being and to claim that because it is beyond human comprehension, it must therefore be infinite and perfect in every way.”

A thought that I don’t necessarily believe in. Just something to ponder.

Entering 20 and Leaving 20

I take time to step back from the world as it is and imagine what it could be. What will guide me as I enter the third decade of my life? It is time to imagine abstractly at first and then build and revise later. There are two broad issues I want to touch on: politics and religion.

The way the world works is changing. We live on shifting ground. I think Thomas Friedman makes an excellent case that we’ve entered a new phase of globalization and the world is “flatter,” so to speak. America, still licking her wounds from 9/11, is struggling to adapt to a new, more dangerous world. But the world has shifted, and bigger shifts are still to come, in both the realm of economics and foreign policy. The Bush Doctrine, neoconservatism, and compassionate conservatism have utterly failed. We’ve been in the middle of a new religious awakening, but with the decline of the Bush administration, I see the pendulum beginning to swing back towards secularism. Before, I’ve said that I see tectonic shifts coming within domestic politics, but I haven’t figured out what those shifts will entail. Now, I am beginning to think that I should not simply sit back and stake my position based on the wreckage. I should jump up and down and help shake the world up. This is not a profoundly conservative position; I should be preserving the old order, should I not? But the ground is shifting. We must adapt.

The lense with which I see this shift coming is envisioning a paradigm shift based on the turn of the century. The old battles of the 20th century are still being fought, leaving us blind to the new challenges. What I envision is a new conservatism, a different kind of philosophy, adapted for the 21st century, but no further. I do not plan to build a lasting edifice. I plan on building something that can guide us through these next 100 years, perhaps through our battle with radical Islam and their fellow agents of chaos.

The republic is large and will be guided by gridlock. Luckily, we have these laboratories of democracy called states. Federalism will play a larger role as we enter this new century, but I also see more shifts happening on a more local level. Technology will be a catalyst, but the results will be paradoxical. As the internet brings us together, it will push us further apart. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Local papers use to be more local. The internet will allow us to connect better with our own immediate communities, but we can only process so much information. This cost will come at the expense of our national identity. Somehow, we need to figure out how to maintain our unity, but as we become more individualistic, it does not mean we will become separated. The communication between states does not need to be top-down. Successful policies will spread like a contagion, rather than coming from the speeches of grandiose utopian presidents trying to please everyone. Even I, who is so involved in politics, has no idea about the workings of my state government. When the paradigm shift comes, everyone will know more about their state governments.

I’m definitely not a libertarian. I want the federal government to keep its clumsy tentacles away, but I want the nimble fingers of more local government to be in more issues. In general, I am optimistic about government. I break with Newt Gingrich. I don’t want government to become more like business. The slow process, the gridlock, is not a bug; it’s a feature. It’s to prevent far-reaching change from being enacted in haste. I break with Ronald Reagan. Government isn’t the problem.

Schools will need to change. Education will be revolutionized. Learning will be connected to the community. Instead of the continuous present that it now exists in, it will be linked with the past. (I wish I remembered who it was who wrote those papers my sister showed me, where I am taking some ideas about education.) Children will be given the flexibility to learn what interests them, but still learn the basics. Children are actually much smarter than you think, and if we make school lesson boring, they will learn at rates we think unimaginable. If left off the track, I would undoubtedly have done higher math before even reaching high school. The government-financed scam that leaves poor people out of jobs, also known as undergraduate education, will have to adapt as well.

America changes her stance to the world. We are not the world’s police, nor the world’s baby-sitting. It is not our job to midwife democracy. Democracy almost always comes from within. We can facilitate this change, but we cannot do it via empire. We need to engage the world. This is not soft diplomacy. This is hard diplomacy. We need to focus more on the Western Hemisphere before radical Islam places its dirty roots in Latin America. America needs to reclaim her soul. She needs to reclaim her values, but more importantly, she needs to reveal her inner workings. The mechanics of our government, the basic pragmatic institutions and principles, should be exported. They will prove infinitely more useful to other cultures than an imposition of our traditional “liberal” values. Of course, we cannot do this without first renouncing torture.

Social security and its ilk are not solvent. Health coverage isn’t actually insurance; it’s subsidizing a service. We will not solve these problems on the federal level. They are complex issues; I have no simple solutions; and the predictive power of even the best policy wonks may still have vast, expensive errors. It is better to think smaller. But I’d still like to imagine a different paradigm, where the government does not subsidize all care, but provides disaster insurance for medical emergencies.

Philanthropy will be as robust as the rest of our private sector. Like in that Slate article I read, giving away all your money will be the second half of the American Dream. The values of corporations will change because the values of the people in those corporations will change. They will be more involved in the community, especially in education. Perhaps it’s too utopian a thought, but the government will be able to do less because people will do more.

These are the inklings of my new political paradigm, a paradigm for the 21st century.

As for religion, this will not take place on the public realm. However, I’d like to investigate natural religion as opposed to revealed religion. What counts for me is what I can reason about and what I can experience, even if reason cannot grasp it. Mostly, I’ll try to figure out what God isn’t, rather than what God is. It may even be a “God of the gaps,” but I don’t think this is a bad thing, because those gaps in science are still very large, despite what progress we have made.

I’d like to build a faith for myself.

So now, I enter my 20th year, and leave the 20th century.

Trickle Down Empire

Alright, I’m confused, but maybe somebody out there can help me out. I think it will cost an unacceptable amount of money to rebuild Iraq into a “democracy.” If we want an empire, I don’t think it makes sense to have a net sink when it comes to cash. Or does “trickle down” apply to empire too? An expansion of corporations in Iraq magically produces wealth in America? Shouldn’t we be doing a little bit more exploitation, so we get something out of the deal? Somebody should tell the Iraqis that they can’t have their cake and eat it too.

And yeah, I don’t know what the point of that writing was and what the level of sarcasm was. I’m just trying to get back in the habit of writing in the weblog.

Not so Happy President’s Day

Out of every 100 people you meet, nine will be assholes who don’t like Abraham Lincoln: President’s Day Favorables: Lincoln 91%, Washington 84%.

Out of every 100 people you meet, sixteen will be assholes who don’t like George Washington.

Now, I’m trying to figure out, who are the 7 assholes who approve of Lincoln, but don’t approve of George Washington

Alright, alright… it isn’t actually that bad. If you look to the left, the numbers don’t add up to 100. Apparently, 5% of people have no opinion of Lincoln, and 10% of people have no opinion of George Washington. Wait, a second, did I say “not actually that bad”? Isn’t that worse?

Highest Power

I believe that when most people refer to God, although they say “higher power,” they actually mean “highest power.” Do I believe in a higher power or higher powers? I lean towards yes. Do I believe in a highest power? After much thought, I’m deciding that the answer is an emphatic no.

This should be where I launch into an explanation, but I’m still tinkering with my reasoning, so an elaboration can only come at a much later date.

In any case, does this make me an atheist?

Snow Day Facebook Status Pointillism

Here’s some facebook statuses related to snow…

  • Grace is enjoying the snow day.
  • Rahul is SNOW DAY?!?!
  • Priya is rejoicing for her first snow day ever!!!
  • Bill is really, really happy about this snow.
  • Sarah is excited for this surprise Valentine’s Day Snow Day!
  • Dan is free from the chains of hopkins today.
  • Aditi is so happy about the snow day!!!
  • Megan is experiencing her first day of cancelled classes because of SNOW!
  • Daniel is psyched about the SNOW DAY.
  • Ethan is thinking about snow football.

And me…

  • Shawn is SNOW DAY!!!

Snow Day

School’s closed today.

I think this may be my first snow day ever.

This may sound morbid, but as a child, I used to occasionally wish for earthquakes, so school would be closed.







Fishy Hillary Sentence

This sentence, from this story, seemed fishy to me:

The formal entry to the race framed a challenge that would seem daunting to even the most talented politician: whether Mr. Obama, with all his strengths and limitations, can win in a field dominated by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who brings years of experience in presidential politics, a command of policy and political history, and an extraordinarily battle-tested network of fund-raisers and advisers.

I see where it’s coming from, but Bill Richardson brings much more to the table than Hillary in terms of the first two categories. He was Secretary of Energy, which if I’m not mistaken, might be more important than First Lady. Furthermore, it’s not as if Obama does not possess “a command of policy and political history.” In my opinion, it’s the third category that sets her apart from the pack… well that, and $$$

A Subject of Enjoyment

Sullivan linked to this, where I found something that caught my attention: “Burke saw that, and saw habit not as something self-contained and self-justifying but as the accumulation and realization of goods that go beyond habit and consequently must somehow serve at least in concept as a more ultimate standard.”

More ultimate standard? Sounds strangely abstract…

But maybe that’s just coming from my current flirtations with Pragmatism. After all, Sullivan, in his book, fell prey to the Platonic cave story with its ultimate truth.

I believe that the notion of inherited rights is strongly against a “more ultimate standard” and more in line with practicality. So, I think Kalb is incorrect when he asserts:

Indeed, it seems to me that when you try to turn “don’t be stupid” into a general political philosophy, you are likely to end by simply dividing policies and politicians into those you like and those you don’t like and leaving it at that. Any reasoning not used opportunistically to support opinions already held would be abstract and ideological, and so non-Burkean. Your politics will tend to become at bottom a matter of asserting general personal superiority.

“Don’t be stupid” respects the idea that the stock of reason in man is so little. It’s not merely about what policies you like and don’t like. It’s about which policies are more radical and which are less radical. It’s about which policies have a chance at working and which don’t. And, it’s always about looking for unintended consequences. The point of conservatism is that these ideas need not come from some over-arching ideology.

Besides, why does Kalb assume that the point of politics is his search for a “constructive function”? I leave you with a quote from the “operatic” Burke that Kalb links to: “It has been the misfortune (not, as these gentlemen think it, the glory) of this age, that everything is to be discussed, as if the constitution of our country were to be always a subject rather of altercation, than enjoyment.”

These are my preliminary thoughts, and I’ll sharpen them later.

The Civilian Component

Since I read a book on the Marshall Plan, I’ve been dismayed that there was never an economic plan to rebuild for the Iraq War. I’ve recently been using it as an argument that Bush was never serious about the war and as an argument as to why the surge will not work. This requires a large civilian component, I realize. The military is not made for nation-building, but if we want a democracy, we have to nation-build. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll find that this sounds familiar because I had a similar complaint after the State of the Union. I only wish I had the necessary historical knowledge all along.

In light of the importance of the civilian component for victory, I point you to this article in the New York Times: Military Wants More Civilians to Help in Iraq. This is really, really, really, really important, and I hope that I see it hammered in the blogosphere, but I doubt it. I’m going to quote liberally from the article.

As evidence of the importance of civilian reconstruction, military officers involved in the internal debate are citing a recent classified study, conducted by the Joint Warfare Analysis Center of the Defense Department, based in Dahlgren, Va., that suggests violence in Baghdad drops significantly when the quality of life improves for Iraqi citizens.

Relying on surveys and other data on those wounded and killed in the violence as compiled by the military, the study found that a 2 percent increase in job satisfaction among Iraqis in Baghdad correlated to a 30 percent decline in attacks on allied forces and a 17 percent decrease in civilian deaths from sectarian violence.

The study did not examine the security benefits of adding troops to Iraq or compare it to the nonmilitary portions of the new strategy, according to those who have been briefed on the classified document.

But its emphasis on the importance of reconstruction is being cited by senior military officers and Pentagon officials as more evidence that Congress and the government’s other civilian departments must devote more money and personnel to nonmilitary efforts at improving the economy, industry, agriculture, financial oversight of government spending and the rule of law.

People can talk about the lack of troops, but in my mind this is what lost us the war in the first place. We never took seriously the rebuilding of Iraq (or perhaps suspected that major corporations would magically rebuild). Even if we did what we did, when people don’t have jobs, they become criminals. In Iraq, the criminals pose as religious fanatics. Unless we take seriously this civilian build-up, I guarantee that if any violence is quelled, it will quickly crop up again. These are good statistics to back-up my prediction.

Here’s a quote on why we’re in this situation in the first place:

The mounting tensions between the Pentagon and other departments are in some ways the mirror image of those that roiled the government before the 2003 invasion. Then, State Department officials grumbled that the Pentagon was usurping its role in planning the postwar civilian occupation; today, the military is eager to see others step in.

Now I wish I had finished Fiasco. I will do it eventually. Anyway, from what I can glean here, it looks like it may be Rummy’s fault. This is a massive strategic failure. So, even if the neocons counter me when I’ve argued that there was no plan, I can still claim that these “plans” lacked sufficient cooperation from other departments. After all, I will stress once again that the military is not built for nation-building.

Members of the Joint Chiefs and commanders in Iraq have been delivering the same message recently to the president and defense secretary about the necessity for other parts of government to join the effort, according to administration and military officials.

Oh good, it’s not just me who thinks it’s important. I just wish it had been stressed all along.

The entire United States Foreign Service numbers only 6,000 people, about the size of a military brigade.

This doesn’t sound good.

The officials said the commanders had also been expressing broader frustrations, including that the additional $1 billion in new money for reconstruction requested by the president may not be sufficient.

This doesn’t sound good either.

So, my fellow conservatives, when you complain that Americans don’t have the backbone to win this war, maybe we should all be asking if we have the pocketbook to win the peace. People moan about how this war is so far away, and that’s why people don’t protest. Well, it does affect us. Right in the wallet.

Are you willing to put up the necessary money to win the reconstruction? Are the American people willing to put up this money?

If the answer is no, then the only other option is to support a withdrawal.

Why Global Warming Makes Sense

I’m no scientist, but it tends to make sense to me. It takes a really, really long time for that carbon dioxide to sequester. It’s really quick and easy to release all that carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. We’ve also chopped down a lot of trees. Thus, we are most definitely pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. More CO2 in the atmosphere means more heat, as seen throughout history. I think I can trust scientists to at least figure out if we’ve got a lot of CO2 in the atmosphere. So, I think global warming makes sense.

I was confused before, but now I get it, at least to the extent that a dilettante gets it.

With so many scientists saying that it exists with a good degree of certainty, I’ve decided that I will trust that global warming exists until a good amount of evidence convinces me otherwise.

Thoughts on a New Paradigm

As I was channel-surfing, I saw Dinesh D’Souza on BookTV, and I decided to listen for a few minutes before settling on watching poker. I don’t have any respect for him after he published his book, The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, which seems to be exactly the divisive rhetoric that I’m against. I think he was answering some type of question from a caller. D’souza was talking about Reagan and how Reagan introduced a notion that government is not the solution, it is the problem. The part that intrigued me was he said that after JFK the way to serve the country was to be in the Peace Corp or whatnot, and with Reagan, the entrepreneur was the one to be admired.

Might I introduce the notion of the citizen-entrepreneur as the new paradigm.

After all the corporate scandals, I’m reluctant to just jump on board the conservative/libertarian paradigm. That government should just leave the free market and citizens to do their work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against that — I just want to reframe the problem. Government cannot make us virtuous. It cannot turn us into responsible people. It is our own duty to train ourselves to be virtuous people.

What I want is people in the corporate sphere to be more responsible when dealing with their fellow citizens, and I think that “responsibility” is a value that all sides should agree with. (Well, maybe some hard-core libertarians wouldn’t like it.)

Some people will argue that my thought-experiment makes no sense. A corporation’s primary allegiance should be towards its bottom line.

I may be wrong, but to me that’s like saying “My goal is to get things done.” Well, that can be a good goal, but it raises the question: What things do you want to get done? The corporation must serve its customer. Their boss is the customer, not the dollar.

Then again, I’m neither a businessman nor an economist, so I may be getting things backwards. Didn’t Adam Smith say that it’s the butcher’s self-interest that makes him create meat?

Even if I’m completely wrong, though, it makes sense to establish parameters on this self-interest. We do this occasionally with things called laws, but I’d like to do this with this thing called responsibility.

I mean, we all already know that the invisible hand can’t do everything. Some would argue that government needs to step in to correct for certain externalities. The government doesn’t need to step in, we need to step up. If I refuse to buy a product because of its stupid ads, I can refuse to buy a product because of more noble reasons.

Maybe I’m too optimistic.

So far, I am just toying with the idea, but I think it deserves more consideration.

Super Bowl XLI Commercials

Those were the shittiest Super Bowl commercials ever.

First of all, I’ve seen practically all of those commercials before.

Memo to careerbuilder: Bring back the monkeys.

Sierra Mist: How can you have both Tracy Morgan and Jim Gaffigan in a commercial, and the commerical isn’t funny? This to me really represents why the commercials sucked.

The K-Fed commercial and rock, paper, scissors were the only ones I considered Super Bowl worthy.

Even most of the beer commercials were flat.

The game wasn’t that great either. There were like, what, 8 turnovers?

An Ordinary Anti-War March

Can’t we stage an anti-war protest without communists? Without hate-slingers? Without Hollywood liberals? Can we have a march with just ordinary Americans? No Bush=Hitler signs. Just Americans voicing their displeasure for the Iraq war in a real and tangible way without worrying about being associated with radicals.

And if we do so, will the right-wing attack machine still call us unpatriotic? Cowards? Will they say we hate the troops?

I want to have a march without the anger. With no simmering hatred. With no ultimate agenda. I want ordinary people of all stripes and creed. All of us with just one clear message: Mr. President, we are the deciders. We are an engaged populace, and we think we’re headed in the wrong direction.

Or maybe you do need a plan. Maybe it can be: Let’s withdraw to Kurdistan and Afghanistan. I don’t know if that’s the right move.

I just want a march with no commies allowed.

I have a cold

So, I have a cold. It started out with just a sore throat, and now that the sore throat is subsiding, my nose is beginning to run. Having emptied my tissue box before the start of this semester, I am left with blowing my nose with either napkins or toilet paper — mostly the latter. This isn’t just any ordinary toilet paper. It’s the free toilet paper we get everything Thursday, and it’s one-ply. I’ve been blowing my nose a lot. It’s starting to get really rough and does not feel very pleasant. Then, I suddenly had the thought: “If it’s doing this to my nose, what the hell is it doing to my ass?”

In other news, I am a comedic genius. Great minds think alike. Comedic genius is a type of great mind. Sarah Silverman used a joke very simliar to mine. Sarah Silverman is a comedic geinus. Ergo, I am a comedic genius. Let me explain.

In my notebook, I have a bunch of Chalkboard Manifesto comics, many of which I have not used yet. One of those has two people in it. The man is saying, “Sorry officer, I didn’t know how fast I was going….” The police officer replies, “… you’re parked in a playground.” In the episode of The Sarah Silverman Program that I recently watched, Silverman decides to drink cough medicine while driving a car, which leads to some interesting results. After she is talking to the policeman, we discover that she is… parked in a playground.

I have a question: Is it still okay to use my joke? After all, Silverman did not use the phrase “parked in a playground” and her set-up is different from mine. Furthermore, I did not get this joke from her; it’s been in my notebook since before 10/23/05.