29 January 2008

Show me a sick metropolitan area and I’ll show you cowardly, stupid, crappy local media

Former Arizona Republic business columnist Jon Talton takes aim at Valley media. Talton has relocated to Seattle, and I was delighted to discover his blog.

Another blogger took it as another opportunity to once again elude logic and reason, to attack his long time nemesis Talton, who he's been stalking for years.

Talton was famous as the leftist business columnist who recycled the same three columns each week: Globalization is going to take your job, the real estate economy isn't sustainable and Arizona Sucks.

I love it how Patterson terms anyone he disagrees with as "leftist". Paul Craig Roberts, former Reagan assistant treasury secretary, as well as many notable conservatives (including Pat Buchanan, Bruce Fein, etc.…) have all written articles on globalization's devastation to middle class Americans. And the bubble has yet to burst on the real estate economy, but the storm is certainly visible on the horizon.

18 January 2008

Writing the story of Arizona's future

In her 2008 State of the State address, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano lays out some bold forward thinking proposals. Though there is lots of good stuff in there, from plugging more mass transit and a Tucson-to-Phoenix rail line, to advocating measures to protect homebuyers, the most significant is the proposal to guarantee free tuition at any Arizona community college or state university for any 8th grader that keeps a ‘B’ average and stays out of trouble.

Let’s agree that any eighth grader who pledges to stay out of trouble and maintains at least a “B” average in high school will be guaranteed free tuition at any of our community colleges or state universities. Let’s act now for the class of 2012, and for every class thereafter, because the promise of these Centennial Scholars is the promise of Arizona’s next 100 years.

Rewarding students who are excelling is a good step, but we must recognize that higher education is something that all Arizona children will need to succeed. It’s a pathway to prosperity and, in Arizona, it’s also supposed to be affordable. I propose that, beginning next year, all Arizona universities guarantee that when a student begins college, his or her tuition will not be raised for four years – period. Times change and tuition will rise, but it shouldn’t go up once you’ve started your coursework. Call it a “fixed-rate” loan on the best investment we can make in Arizona’s future – our children.

Also proposed was a pledge to “lock in” tuition costs for 4 years for new enrollees.

Listening to the radio, I heard local talk hosts criticize the plan. One host boldly stated that it was a bad idea since college is definitely not for everybody. While I would agree that college is indeed not a choice for all, I think that it’s a sound decision for most.

In past times, a college education was not a prerequisite for career success. But then, that was a different age. The times of my parents, for example, serve as a stark contrast — in their day, a man without a high school diploma could easily obtain gainful employment that paid a middle class wage along with great benefits, including health care plans that dwarf what college professionals in 21st century America possess. And they made enough that Mom did not have to work, and could stay home and devote herself full time to care for children and house. But circa 2008, disparity in education is such that having a college degree means a career earnings differential of millions of dollars. I will post some research and studies on the matter when I get some time to locate them and link here, but suffice to say, it’s not even close.

Not that there are those who have succeeded without college — in fact, many of the best and brightest shunned higher education or dropped out to pursue their burning desire ahead of the pack. But that is the exception, not the rule.

Furthermore, in the global economy and universally networked society we now function in, higher order learning imperative. Dealing with rapid advances in technology and adapting to currents in information networks means emphasis on thinking skills is greater than ever. Farmers are few and long gone are days of manufacturing jobs. Plus, post high school experiences expose young adults to different cultures and different peoples, the kind of setting they will need whatever vocation they eventually engage in, post school days. Again, it’s a knowledge based economy, where we are bombarded with messages in an ever exponential increasing basis, and citizens need to be mentally armed against dogma, hucksters and intellectual fraud in general.

Finally, I offer my own experience as an anecdotal illustration — when I started college, I received grants and loans that enabled me to attend a university. That was the the time when Reagan first came to office as president, and then in successive years, those grants were eliminated or reduced by substantial means. And during my plight to achieve a bachelors degree, the cost of tuition doubled. I adapted by working multiple jobs and even taking time off to save money for school, but it’s far from an optimal plan. Had the financial requirements been as they were at the end of my education when I began college, I would not have been able to attend college. And well I know nobody (well except for family and friends) sheds a tear for me, I believe its a tragedy that young minds with potential would be denied higher learning simply due to economics.

13 January 2008


My infatuation with RSS newsreaders has ebbed and flowed over the years. At each successive stage of RSS discovery, I eagerly latched on and proclaimed how this was “the greatest thing in the world”. In the very beginning, I coded simple scripts invoked via the old Unix crontab facility, ala server side. It worked well (though not updating now, view an example of homebrew RSS reader output here, but I never made it to step where I moved the adding and removing of feed URLs from a text configuration file on the server to a simple web form. Because before I got there, I was stymied by, at that time, a lack of directory resources where such available RSS links were cataloged. So then, my little project transformed into an ill fated attempt at building an RSS directory service, the allure of which quickly faded as I drifted into programming pursuits more becoming to me. Also, coming onto the market, where some client applications that did a snappy job, and I started using one that I believe was a precursor to the current NetNewsWire incantation.

It was a Mac application and it worked decent enough. Except there were some shortcomings:

  • Default setup broke feeds down into categories — That sounds good, but in practice, I prefer to throw them all in the hopper and let me pull them out as I like. It also clutters up the application space. I realize for some, this is the way to be, but it’s not my modus operandi.

  • Unable to dynamically order — Sometimes I want to view my list of feeds in alphabetical order, sometimes by order of “last updated”.

  • Missing search — When you have hundreds, if not thousands, of feeds, ability to search for that one article you think you scanned, but now wish to study further, is essential.

  • Support for Atom — Specifically, for posts. I believe it was a feature that was offered, but only for paying customers, not the free reader offered.

Plus, the final factor that ended my relationship with the forementioned RSS software was its inability to handle large volumes of data gracefully. Just look at my blog links list — there are nearly 1,300 entries in there.

Then Google Reader was born. Upon discovery, I again was enthralled. As I may work with a number of computing machines during a given day (or week), the attraction of being able to access the same repository from distinct machines lured me in. Logging my initial thoughts on my Google Reader affair, you can see that despite some drawbacks, I was highly optimistic about Google Reader. The honeymoon didn’t last long, as soon thereafter, severe issues surfaced with the Google RSS web application:

  • It choked on a early and often basis — It just didn’t work. It would constantly “hang” and a familiar screen site would be the spinning beach ball. Or it would work partially, allowing me to peruse current feed threads, but spit up violently when I tried to access via total subscription list. And this occurrence was a frequent happenstance at a total of 200.

  • Clunky UI — Delighted about keyboard access but quite puzzled why simple paging (or any little clicky) was so bloat laden. I mean, RSS is simply a text file, minus a whole lot of fat, which is what the point of RSS is really all about. Just the meat, no trimmings or desert or fancy silverware or napkins or saying grace.

  • Limited order options — Even for a web application, should be a no brainer to allow me easily sort the feeds in whatever manner I wish. Additionally, adding a new feed was not as easy as it should have been. Especially for a web application.

So I trudged along and occasionally only popped in to my Google Reader, mostly if my internet experience was iPhone originated.

Until last week, when I caught the news about NetNewsWire. Skeptical, but nevertheless, I downloaded and installed on multiple machines. Decided to give it a whirl, and here I can report that this is a software work of excellence. As I’ve wasted enough words on preliminaries, let me march right to the meat of the matter, and inform you why you should use NetNewsWire (or FeedDemon if you are an unfortunate Windows user):

» read more

4 January 2008

Isolationism v. Noninterventionism

On a radio show this afternoon, the host, in reviewing the Iowa caucus results, repeatedly referred to candidate Ron Paul as isolationist (in fact, one such utterance tarred him a “angry libertarian isolationist”. The charge is a smear, and an intellectually dishonest one at that. Whatever one’s thoughts are concerning the desirability and viability of Representative Paul’s presidential aspirations, his stance on foreign policy is more aptly termed non-interventionism.

In the United States, non-interventionism has often been confused with isolationism. Critics of non-interventionism frequently add to this confusion by describing prominent non-interventionists as isolationists. However, true isolationism combines a non-interventionist foreign policy with protectionism (economic nationalism) and strict border controls to prevent international travel and cultural exchange. The majority non-interventionists in the United States reject protectionism in favor of free trade, international travel, and cultural exchange.

Ron Paul believes in “free trade, international travel and cultural exchange”? He’s voted against granting presidential powers to carry out elective wars justified by deceptive means (not just Iraq, either). His political opponents tag him “isolationist” because he is in opposition to military meddling in other nations. Paul believes that a nation should be treated like it wishes to be treated by its neighbors — how would Americans feel about a foreign nation launching unmanned missile armed drones on our shores? Or unleashing spooks to bag and hood an unwitting citizen simply by executive degree.

Thomas Jefferson, in his first inaugural address in 1801, lays out the proper role of government in this regard:

…it is proper you should understand what I deem the essential principles of our Government, and consequently those which ought to shape its Administration. I will compress them within the narrowest compass they will bear, stating the general principle, but not all its limitations. Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none

According to the neoconservative Republican frontrunners, if you’re not in favor of preemptive military strikes of nations that pose no threat to the United States, you’re an isolationist!

Ron Paul, as do a majority of Americans, believes the illegal, immoral invasion of a country that did not attack the United States was wrong. That, despite military industrial complex cheerleaders like John McCain and the other Republican presidential frontrunners, does not make one an isolationist. Ron Paul, pledges to uphold the Constitution, as instructed by the nation’s founding fathers.

Here is Ron Paul discussing the matter.

In viewing that clip, it doesn’t appear to me that Ron Paul is “angry” either.

You might disagree with the principle of noninterventionism. But please don’t erroneously call it “isolationism”, else you are engaging in name calling and resorting to twisted pretzel logic tactics.

But that may be the neoconservative bias — they rally for wars they themselves (or their children) do not wish to fight. They weep not at the annihilation of the innocent, and accept the tag of “collateral damage” with a shrug. They care not over constitutional erosion and cheer for unitary executive doctrine that essential crowns the president as king. They excite over banning the IRS and willingly burdening future generations for the war machine machinations indebtedness.

1 January 2008

Do you think America is more moral today than 50 years ago?

A few months back, I engaged in an email debate with a friend over the question of whether or not America is less moral today than say 30 or 50 years ago. My friend believes, that it’s not even close, that our culture was way moral 30-50 years ago than it is today’s Post-Christian culture — and it’s due to his view that Christianity was much more mainstream in America back then. At the top of his bullet list is obviously, sexual immorality, permissiveness of homosexual lifestyles, filth and obscenity on television, etc.…

While I acknowledge that in some respects, it is true that the times are less moral, that on the whole, the present age is no less moral than previous times. In countering his assessment, I offered up the following points…

  • …end of segregation and diminished racism. Racism still exists, but it’s far less prevalent, and among younger Americans, much less in effect. I predict that each successive generation will witness a lower percentage of those guilty of this sin.

  • …attitudes toward women — even in the recent past, women were seen as subservient to men, denied career and educational opportunities based simply on their sex. Even the vernacular of the day illustrated this truth — women were referred to as “broads” or “dames”.

  • …things that were hidden then are much more open today. Immorality existed to an equal or greater degree but in an era with no cell phones, 2 or 3 television channels, and a handful of radio broadcasts, the gap between cover and transparency was vast. Today, with the proliferation of the internet, cable, satellite, and ubiquity of cell phones means a lot more laundry is aired out in public.

  • …less acts of violence committed by man against his fellow man.

Our email exchange brought to mind this wonderful essay by Steven Pinker, A History of Violence.

On the scale of decades, comprehensive data again paint a shockingly happy picture: Global violence has fallen steadily since the middle of the twentieth century. According to the Human Security Brief 2006, the number of battle deaths in interstate wars has declined from more than 65,000 per year in the 1950s to less than 2,000 per year in this decade. In Western Europe and the Americas, the second half of the century saw a steep decline in the number of wars, military coups, and deadly ethnic riots.

Zooming in by a further power of ten exposes yet another reduction. After the cold war, every part of the world saw a steep drop-off in state-based conflicts, and those that do occur are more likely to end in negotiated settlements rather than being fought to the bitter end. Meanwhile, according to political scientist Barbara Harff, between 1989 and 2005 the number of campaigns of mass killing of civilians decreased by 90 percent.

The decline of killing and cruelty poses several challenges to our ability to make sense of the world. To begin with, how could so many people be so wrong about something so important? Partly, it’s because of a cognitive illusion: We estimate the probability of an event from how easy it is to recall examples. Scenes of carnage are more likely to be relayed to our living rooms and burned into our memories than footage of people dying of old age. Partly, it’s an intellectual culture that is loath to admit that there could be anything good about the institutions of civilization and Western society. Partly, it’s the incentive structure of the activism and opinion markets: No one ever attracted followers and donations by announcing that things keep getting better. And part of the explanation lies in the phenomenon itself. The decline of violent behavior has been paralleled by a decline in attitudes that tolerate or glorify violence, and often the attitudes are in the lead. As deplorable as they are, the abuses at Abu Ghraib and the lethal injections of a few murderers in Texas are mild by the standards of atrocities in human history. But, from a contemporary vantage point, we see them as signs of how low our behavior can sink, not of how high our standards have risen.

I realize that the focus of this essay was on one aspect of morality, and it was a global outlook, not national. And Pinker cites a number of varied theories on why this reduction of cruelty and violence has occurred, with a caveat that it’s by no means certain to endure. But it’s notable as our perspective on these matters can be so distorted. Consider how increased television news coverage of violent crimes, even while such crime incidents are in decline, are perceived to be more problematic by viewers.

It must be said that the concept of a Post-Christian world that is more moral than the Christian culture of a previous age is troubling to a Christian. But that depends on what the definition of a Christian is — is it applicable to those that call themselves Christian, but who often act in ways contrary to Christ? What of those who don’t flaunt their Christianity but yet do the stuff Jesus did? And what about those who don’t even claim Christ as their savior, yet spend their lives conducting the great commission he instructed his followers to carry out?

On another issue, a litmus test for many conservative Christian voters, legality of abortion offers another puzzle. The less reverent European culture, where abortion is legal and contraception widely available, has an abortion rate half of the rate of the more religious United States.

The wealth of information that comes out of the study provides some striking lessons, the researchers said. In Uganda, where abortion is illegal and sex education programs focus only on abstinence, the estimated abortion rate was 54 per 1,000 women in 2003, more than twice the rate in the United States, 21 per 1,000 in that year. The lowest rate, 12 per 1,000, was in Western Europe, with legal abortion and widely available contraception.

What say you?