Monday, October 6, 2008

Obama's tax plan is the way to go, but ya gotta believe

Another post on, this time a reflection on the discussion of taxes during the VP debate.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pirates and Presidents

My lastest post on, an argument that charisma defines both who wins presidential elections, as well as why we like pirates.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bird on a Hot Rubber Roof

A bird got trapped for about 36 hours in a skylight above our second story bathroom. I wondered whether the following might have gone through his head, before, during and after his bird-brained ordeal...

It's hot out.

It's been
Three months, I think,
Since I pecked my way out.
Three times that the moon has been full.
I don't count too well.
But I think three.

Once it was hotter than this,
But this is about the tops.
It's hard to tell how hot
Something is, just
By walking on it.
But the black stuff,
Under my feet,
In particular,
Seems very hot.

And sticky.
Sometimes my claws get stuck
In the gooey blackness.
It's so different from dirt.
I know something about dirt, there are
Yummy worms below the dirt.
What could be below
This stuff?

Hey, what's that?
Yeah, over there.
I've seen this thing in the distance.
It looks like something cool
To go inside, why not?
Just a short flight.

OK, I'm here now, so
What is this thing?
It's clear on top, with some wire.
There are some walls with slats of wood
Leading down to the sticky black stuff, and
Maybe - dare I dream - to what's below. to get in, try
A few taps with my beak on the glass, ow!
That's not the way in.
You'd think I'd have
Learned that from
Other windows,
But no.

Standing on the black stuff, I can try
A peck on the wood, and
Move a little to the left,
Another peck, a look,
A peck, a little more to the left.
Hang onto that piece of wood.
I can do it with my beak.
Ow, don't get it stuck!

I'm not really wondering just what it is
That's inside, at this point, I'm
Just trying to find a way in.
It's an obsession.
I'm obsessed.

Peck. Step. Peck.
Look. Peck. Look.
Step. Peck. Look.

Occasional frenetic wing flutter.

Around to the other side.
Up to the lower edge of the glass,
Standing on top of the glass,
Looking down over the edge,
I stretch my neck forward, and
Look. With my head upside down,
Back to the sky.
I can do that.


A little give, into something soft, I
Push my head in a little farther.
I've stopped thinking.
I wasn't ever really
Thinking, I
Twist around, and I
Push my head a little more,
And my shoulders,
And my wings, and

Hey! I'm in!

This is not what I expected.
Where'd the door go? That
Door that I made.

Fuck. It wasn't a door.

OK, no matter, let's just see where we are.
Stuffy in here. Hadn't expected that.
Oh, there are two openings down below,
I'll just swoop down and


That's a window down below.
Shake yourself out a bit.
Try the other one, now


Another window.
What the hell is this place?
Let me fly around a bit,
Randomly, aimlessly,
Flap the wings,
Do some circles.
Poop on those windows down below.

I'm in some kind of cave,
Below all the black goo,
And there's a hat on the cave,
Above me, and walls
Around me.

Let's look around while we're flying.
Looking up, oh hey! The sky,
I can just soar up and


That hurt. It's not sky.
It's glass, with wire.
Have I seen that before?
My memory is questionable.
I'll try not to fly into it again.

OK, so up is that glass with wire,
Where only sky should be.
Below is that other glass.
It's about six feet from
Bottom glass to top glass.
Why all this vertical glass I don't know.

And side-to-side a rectangular prism.
How the hell should I know what a prism is,
It just came to me, but anyway
Maybe six feet by three feet,
Let me go back to the top now,
At least close, I think, to where
I came in.

Where was that door?
Right, no door, I pecked my way in.
Well there must be a way out.
I'll just look over here, under
The glass, where there's
Some wood arranged
In horizontal

Nope. Nothing there.
I'll fly back to the left.
Nope. Nothing there.
I'll fly back to the right.
Nope Nothing there.

To the left.
To the right.

Fly to the left. Nope.
Fly to the right. Nope.
Fly to the left. Nope.
Fly to the right. Nope.

I can keep this up all day.
Just try me.

Left. Nope. Right. Nope.

OK, I'll stop for a second.
Hard to get too much of a grip
On these wooden slats,
Up at the top,
But I can just squeeze in.
Better than sitting on that
Slippery glass below, where
I've just pooped so much.

OK, back to work.

Left. Nope. Right. Nope.
Left. Nope. Right. Nope.
Left. Nope. Right. Nope.
Left. Nope. Right. Nope.

You'd think this might get monotonous, but
It doesn't, I have a
Remarkable capacity to
Repeat the same pointless motion

I'll sleep some at night, and
Then try again in the morning.

Left. Nope. Right. Nope.
Left. Nope. Right. Nope.


I'm actually getting a little tired now.
It's quite hot and steamy in here.
And I haven't eaten or had
Any water since I came in,
Which was I don't know when, given
The aforementioned inadequate memory.

I do know I'm tired.
And Hungry.
And Thirsty.

I don't know about death.
I only know a few things,
Like flying and pecking
And eating and pooping
And this rectangular universe
Where I now uncomfortably live.

I'm panting.
I didn't know I could pant.
I didn't know birds could pant.
I'm surprising in my ability to step outside myself.
And yet remain ignorant of most things.
Most especially, how the hell
To get out of here.

So, what have I tried so far.
The glass at the top, with the wire, and
The glass at the bottom, with my poop, and
The other glass at the bottom, with more of my poop,
And flying back and forth a lot, and
Even flying in circles.

I could keep trying all these things
Over and over again.
It's tempting, but
It hasn't helped.

Let me try perching at the top again, even
This is getting difficult, I wonder
If I can rest a bit by
Poking my beak
Into one of
The cracks.

My beak gets a little stuck in something soft.
I wriggle, head back and forth a little, and
As I do, my head actually moves through
Whatever the soft stuff is,
And then my shoulders
And then my wings, so
Without even thinking,
Which I'm good at,
Not thinking,
That is,
I push
My head even further,
So that finally it emerges

Fuck! Whaddaya know, oh RIGHT!
THAT is how I got in.
I should have known.

I'm out now.
Back on the hot sticky black stuff.
Down by the trees, it seems,
There might be water, and
Some bugs to eat.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Those darned switching costs

In this age of cheap and easy development, it seems that every day there's a new online productivity tool that improves incrementally on the last. But there are diminishing returns to evaluating each new thing.

Today (in my daily struggle to get through the information deluge) I read about a new service called PutPlace that gives you access to all your files, wherever they may be, on any computer, and on any online storage system.

It reminded me a bit of another service I use, Sugar Sync, which I had learned about during a previous information foraging session. Sugar Sync is great. I can effortlessly synchronize my files between my home desktop and my work laptop, with backups stored online.

PutPlace adds the ability to track what I've stored on Flickr, for example, in one summary view of everything I have. But does PutPlace do the other things that I value in Sugar Sync? I don't know, and I don't feel like spending the time to find out.

Further, it took time to set things up in Sugar Sync, and it would presumably take similar time in PutPlace. It's not worth it to me to set it up again. Just as it's not worth it to me to try new social networks now that I'm already set up on Linked In and Facebook. I don't want to switch banks, because my online billing is already set up with my current bank.

These switching costs add up. And they create an increasing challenge for makers of better mousetraps to make their differentiators truly worthwhile. Innovators have more opportunity, of course, in fledgling sectors like the one where Sugar Sync and PutPlace play, but the window doesn't stay open forever.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Wave Hello to the Spy Satellite

I have to confess I've never understood the uproar over privacy issues. I'm law abiding. I don't particularly care whether my bald head shows up in a CIA database of satellite photographs. If NSA wants to keep track of my conversations with my brother about the Cleveland Indians' bullpen, that's OK. If things really, truly get Orwellian in this country some day, then we have a lot more to worry about than whether the government is listening into our conversations or taking pictures of our new cars.

Some people talk about an erosion of Americans' fundamental rights and liberties. As an aside, it's ironic to me that those who argue about rights often wade into hypocrisy. Some of those who insist on an expansive view of the right to bear arms are willing to suspend things like the right to a fair trial, while some of those who would like to pretend the Second Amendment doesn't exist want to read a right to privacy into every corner of the Constitution. OK, that's me the centrist talking. There are extremes on both sides of the political divide. But I probably sound like a conservative here to my more liberal friends when I question whether this alleged erosion of liberty is dangerous or is happening at all.

So, just what are our fundamental rights? They are enshrined in the Bill of Rights and in things like the Declaration of Independence, where the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are asserted. And then there's more than two hundred years of precedents set down by Court decisions. I'm not a Constitutional scholar, so this is just one layperson's opinion. But let's look at some of the recent developments related to the war on terror and how they impact our rights, namely the newly legal power of the Executive Branch to conduct wiretaps with diminished Legislative or Judicial oversight, and the changing rules about using "spy satellites" to capture and store photographs of domestic targets. Leaving aside the issue of oversight for a moment, what rights do these developments really impact?

The only impacted right that I can think of is the Second Amendment right to be "secure...against unreasonable searches and seizures." There's no explicit right to be secure against observation or surveillance, unreasonable or otherwise. The inalienable right to liberty, as enumerated in the Declaration and the Fifth Amendment, may be a little fuzzier, but there's little way to argue that increased surveilliance reduces liberty. Liberty impacts what we are free to do, not whether the government is able to watch us do it. It gets a little creepy to think about being followed or watched, and I suppose in a perfect world I'd rather that the government not be taking my pictures or recording my conversations, but it is not a perfect world. If increased surveilliance can help protect us from terrorist attack, it is worth it.

"Wait a minute," I say to myself. There must be things like Peeping Tom laws. I'm not going to research it. I have other things to do. But I'm pretty sure there are laws against looking into neighbors windows. At the very least, it's frowned upon. But that's just weird. There's a sniff test that says this stinks. People shouldn't go snooping around each others' houses, and the government shouldn't capriciously be peeping into our homes recording what we do. But that's not what this is about. It's about letting loose on the reins that society places on its own government, so that the government can do one of its primary jobs, which is protect the people. Allowing a little more snooping seems to have the potential to vastly improve our security, without adding much stink at all to society.

"But what if?" many will hasten to ask. What if this gets out of control, and surveilliance turns into unreasonable searches and seizures, or real curbs on our liberties. What if an unscrupulous administration (such as the current one?) ministerprets data it receives from surveilliance and turns it into an excuse to wrongfully arrest and imprison an innocent citizen? Current plans don't allow for that. Arrests still require warrants, for example. But it's possible to see things devolve in this direction.

So if there's anything to be alarmed about, it's the degree to which Congress is allowing the administration to operate without oversight. The wiretapping authorization is for six months. Congress should take greater care at before the end of that period to ensure that the increased ability to conduct surveillance on domestic targets does not get out of hand, and does not actually go so far as to impinge on our rights and liberties.

So, wave hello to the spy satellite, and whisper sweet nothings to the NSA. As long as there are adequate checks and balances to avoid the abuse of power by any one branch of government, then there are far more important things to worry about.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

My Politics

I've always found politics fascinating, but I've never had the stomach to be a true junkie. I care more about policy outcomes than I do about the political game, which is probably what led me to get a degree in public policy, and perhaps what caused me to become disillusioned and jump ship to the private sector upon graduation.

I call myself a slightly left-of-center moderate. I'm not a polarizer. I try to appreciate nuggets of wisdom in all parts of the political spectrum. I believe in multi-partisanship, and squirmed when I read the Daily Kos extolling the virtues of the populist Dean approach over the centrist DLC approach to building and sustaining a Democrat majority. But I squirm even more when I even think about Karl Rove, so I guess that makes me left-of-center, if my viscera are any guide.

Why left-of-center philosophically? I'm an environmentalist. I believe in a foreign policy based on diplomacy and coalitions, rather than saber rattling and going-it-alone. I want to live in a society where children and youth have equal access to quality health care and education and where there is some kind of economic safety net for all citizens. I don't have a problem with paying a bit more in taxes to achieve worthy policy goals.

Why not all-the-way left? I guess I'm a Clintonian when it comes to welfare. The lefty in me values fairness and a helping hand for those in need, while the amateur economist in me wants to avoid creating incentives for depending on public handouts. I support free trade. If workers get displaced through outsourcing, the answer is more training - and maybe relocation assistance - not trade barriers (although I'm willing to accept trade barriers as a response to other countries' unfair trade practices).

I hate the polarizing issues that seem to hijack political primaries with simplistic declarations and do not contribute to sophisticated solutions. For example, setting a deadline for the pullout of troops from Iraq is not realistic. A desired outcome should be defined, and the withdrawal of troops should be tied to that. Worse than that, political rhetoric can be dominated by fringe issues whose supporters are paranoid of the slippery slope: guns and abortion come to mind. I call them fringe issues - to the irritation of many people, I know - because they are not as important as finding a solution to Social Security and Medicare solvency. They are about rights, which are fundamental to society, but there are easy solutions, if the zealots would just set aside their paranoia. What's so terrible about reaffirming the right for a person to keep a handgun at home or go hunting with a rifle, while requiring adequate background checks and prohibiting the personal possession of automatic weapons? What's so terrible about reaffirming the right for a woman to have an abortion early in her pregnancy, or when her health is in jeopardy, but drawing the line at the point where the fetus would be viable outside the womb (premature babies are surving at something like 26 weeks these days)? The vast majority of Americans would support both these positions, and yet extremists pull political rhetoric in their direction.

It's presidential politics season, and I haven't found a candidate that I like - Obama comes closest, but I worry about his lack of executive experience. I'll keep looking. I'll be intrigued if January finds us without strong, clearcut candidates, opening a door for Bloomberg to throw in his hat.