Charles Pillsbury III

Geek. Dad. Writer?

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Archive for October, 2008

Quote of the Day

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Jake is involved in the FIRST Lego League competitions… Dean Kamen is one of the FIRST founders… he’s a smart guy.

You know, people always talk about rights in this country—I wish we had a bill of responsibilities. So I think the president has to stop thinking of the crisis du jour and say, “In this race between education and catastrophe, we need education to win.”

[From Dean Kamen Q&A: American culture needs a geek overhaul - Boing Boing]


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October 29th, 2008 at 9:32 pm

Posted in Misc

Lesser of two weevils? (more politics)

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More political rambling ahead… beware!

I should clarify my earlier post. I don’t think either McCain or Obama are ‘evil’ per se, I do however have fundamental disagreements with their proposed policies and the way they’re likely to run the country. One of the brilliant and amusing people I follow on twitter posted this simple civics 101 description on her blog.

The conservative ideology is built on an idea of individual rights and responsibilities. Government should be small and as little as possible involved with people’s lives. Taxes and spending should thus be low. The people, unfettered by intrusive government, can succeed on their own merits and hard work, helping their neighbors without being compelled to do so by the government. People can manage their own money better than government can. Conservatives believe that power ought to be more concentrated in local and state government than federal.

The liberal ideology, on the other hand, is built on the idea that we have a responsibility to pool our resources via government to ensure that everybody has their basic needs met. Government should be bigger to enable it to provide more services, thus taxes and spending should be higher. Liberals believe that we don’t start out with equality of opportunity, so there needs to be some leveling of the playing field done by government, so that everyone has the opportunity to succeed. Liberals believe in power centralized more in federal government than states or localities.

[From How are you today? I'm superfantastic.: Civics 101: Political Ideology and You]

Pundits and die-hards on both ends of the political spectrum like to make more of this difference than there actually is. While there are certainly crooked politicians, I believe it is prudent to remember the quote: “Never ascribe to malice, that which can be explained by incompetence.” (attributed to Robert J. Hanlon and others). More often than not when things go wrong because of somebody’s policy choices it not because they were ill intended but that they were either poorly executed, or poorly planned (meaning it is either a good idea poorly planned, or a poor idea planned as well as it could be). While I disagree with the idea the government should level the playing field, I can certainly see it as an understandable position.

The thing that gives me pause is not Obama (as McCain said, he’s a good family man with whom I have some policy disagreements), but a democratic super majority in the house and senate coupled with a democratic president (the later being largely a forgone conclusion, the prior just a possibility). I’ve said before I don’t feel comforted by a congressional majority and white house occupied by the same party, something to do with absolute power corrupting absolutely. Though the reactionaries on both sides would argue against their opponent having that sort of power, the saving grace of the situation is that the people who get in power won’t be able to keep it for long if they’re running things completely into the toilet. I know there are people (on both sides… do I need to keep saying that?) who would tell you if X or Y gets into power they will put things in place that won’t allow anybody else to get elected and America will become a dictatorship. *sigh* I’ve been hearing this since grade school when my teacher was sure that Reagan getting re-elected would bring about not only a dictatorship, but the end of the world. I didn’t buy it then. I don’t buy it now.

So VP candidates aside, while I think both candidates are ‘bad for America’ (as envisioned by the founding fathers in the constitution, etc) I don’t think either candidate will ruin the country forever (and will both probably be equally bad but in different ways). Whoever wins next week will make some good policy decisions, and some bad ones, and in 2 years we’ll elect new senators, and in 4 we can try for a different president if this one hasn’t panned out so well. This is the American way (of course it’s also the American way to keep attempting to choose the lesser of two evils, but I’m trying to be optimistic here… work with me).

I read an interesting article on politics recently by Jonathan Haidt. Haidt is obviously ideologically a liberal, who brings a certain bias to his piece, but who at least makes an effort to set it aside (though I think he fails at this, I applaud the effort in spite of his apparent contempt for the ‘other side’). I don’t think he hits the nail on the head for all republican voters, but I think he does for some. This blurb is from his section talking about the morality in play for a certain segment of the republican voting public.

Here’s my alternative definition: morality is any system of interlocking values, practices, institutions, and psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate selfishness and make social life possible. It turns out that human societies have found several radically different approaches to suppressing selfishness, two of which are most relevant for understanding what Democrats don’t understand about morality.


After reading Haidt’s piece I discovered that Edge had done a great job of collecting interesting and intelligent responses to it. One of my favorites is from Michael Shermer:

Two cheers for Jonathan Haidt’s essay. At long last a liberal academic social scientist has recognized (and had the courage to put into print) the inherent bias built into the study of political behavior—that because Democrats are so indisputably right and Republicans so unquestionably wrong, conservatism must be a mental disease, a flaw in the brain, a personality disorder that leads to cognitive malfunctioning. Thus, Haidt is mostly right when he asks us to move beyond such “diagnoses” and remember “the second rule of moral psychology is that morality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way. When Republicans say that Democrats ‘just don’t get it,’ this is the ‘it’ to which they refer.”

[From The Reality Club: WHAT MAKES PEOPLE VOTE REPUBLICAN? Response By Michael Shermer]

One thing I’ve found interestingly absent from much of the commentary (at least what I’ve read) on self interest in tax policy (the “why would lower middle class people not vote for a candidate giving them a tax break but raising taxes on the richest of the rich?” question), is that perchance some people don’t actually view things in a black or white self interested way. While I don’t think the ‘working poor’ should have to pay more than I, in the middle class, or the wealthiest in society, I likewise don’t think that it is just to take extra from those who have attained wealthy status. I’ve heard conservative pundits rail on liberal’s use of “fair” and how taking more from the poor isn’t “fair”, but you don’t hear it stated as often that it isn’t “fair” to punish people for success (and yes, I’m using punish loosely there, it’s not like taxation is a sound beating in the public square). The nuance of a useful tax code that benefits society in the right way is not an easy issue (a truely oppressed working class is a good way to get a revolt after a time, but an oppressive one for those who drive the business and commerce is a quick way to lose in a global economy). It’s also wrapped up in how and what you spend that money on.

FWIW Addendum:

While I’m not certain it would be the best possible solution, I do think something like the “Fairtax” which does away with income tax, pre-bates the amount of tax expected to be paid for essentials (food, etc), and puts a national sales tax on all new goods (check out the Fairtax site for more information) has a shot at working. This should coincide with a drastic cut of federal spending IMHO as well, and a thorough review of what is and isn’t working as planned/advertised by uncle Sam.


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October 29th, 2008 at 8:06 pm

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Why I won’t vote for Saxby

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Nope, I’m not voting to re-elect my senator this time. It’s not because of the three fear-mongering phone messages I had on my machine from his campaign when I got home yesterday (though that did annoy the crap out of me). It’s not due to the jackassery flyers he’s sending out slamming his opponent (who is doing similar right back, though I think Saxby’s manage to look even worse). It’s certainly not due to his support of the Fairtax (hell, that’s the only reason I’d consider voting FOR him right now, because I think that’s something that should be at least brought to the floor). I won’t be voting for Saxby Chambliss because he voted for the 2nd bailout bill (well, in all fairness I was going to vote for the Libertarian candidate anyway, but because of the Fairtax I was considering Chambliss still).
This quote from Wise Bread (the link is to a great little article on all the bailouts this year… and by great I mean depressing as hell) sums it up nicely.

Finally, the scariest thing about these bailouts is not just the amount of money they will cost American taxpayers for generations to come, but that these bills were passed with haste and little concern for the voice of the people. In this video, Senator Diane Feinstein states that she received 91,000 phonecalls of which 85,000 were against the $700 billion bailout, but that she believes that these angry citizens do not understand the good the bailout will do. Is a democratic government really democratic if most of the elected officials do not serve the people that voted for them?

[From When will the bailouts stop? A summary of 2008 stimulus packages and bailouts in the United States | Wise Bread]

I wasn’t opposed to the government taking some action, but the apparently reactionary pork laden way it was handled (and the ignoring of the constituency by so many congress critters) annoy me to no end. I appreciate a desire to take action. I don’t appreciate planning and thought taking a back seat to a political “let’s look like we’re helping” posturing.


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October 29th, 2008 at 10:37 am

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Jerk of all trades, master of none

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… anyone can tell you, “talent” is like having a nice ass or a rich father; it helps open doors, but the actual work on the other side of the door is all on you.

[From Attention & Ambiguity: The Non-Paradox of Creative Work | 43 Folders]

One of my favorite books in recent years was “An Abundance of Katherines” (John Green), the protagonist of which is Colin, a former child prodigy. While it would be more than exaggeration to imply I was a child prodigy in my time, I was a fairly bright kid, and Green points out something in this book I’ve been pondering for a while now: being a child prodigy is really just a head start in the “race” of life, eventually others catch up and pass you. School wasn’t effortless for me, but it came easier for me than others, though dropping out of college with less than a year under my belt means most of that head start was wasted in terms of career.

As Merlin points out above, “talent” (much like prodigy) will only get you so far, at some point you’ve got to do the bloody work. In recent years I’ve realized that in most arenas I have a rather minimal level of what you would call “talent.” My only real talent is an ability to pick up a marginally better than basic level of understanding of many subjects. What I’ve yet to find is anything (from photography to construction to baking to programming to writing) in which my level of talent is high enough to truly excel. I’m not Ansel Adams or Charles Pillsbury (oh wait, I am that one, but not THAT Charles Pillsbury, let’s go with Wolfgang Puck instead), or Linus Torvalds, or Frank Herbert (or Orson Scott Card, or Steven King, or any number of others), those are people with enormous talent for what they do.

Which brings me to the work. Mur Lafferty has said that she realizes there are probably many more talented writers than she is, but if they don’t do the work then she’ll be the one getting published (or something like that, it’s not a direct quote, work with me here). I fear I’m too prone to ADD and flit from skillset to skillset without dedicating myself to the time and energy needed to overcome my lack of genius level talent in something and push into another level.
I don’t know what, if anything, this realization and pondering are going to do for me. I enjoy my job, but I don’t really love it. The things I really enjoy doing (writing and baking) are things I know I can either not make a living at (and feed the kids), or I’m not sure I’d still love them as much if I was doing them all day every day. Now if I could just pay the bills from a job involving reading websites and dumping piles of useless (and occasionally useful) information into my head. Sadly, the most likely scenario is that the thing I’m best at, is being marginally better than mediocre.
What things are you a prodigy at? Have you found your passion?


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October 12th, 2008 at 11:06 pm

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I’m sick of guessing which is the lesser of two evils

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Two similar quotes recently caught my eye in regard to the upcoming presidential election here in the US:

Gutter politics is gutter politics, and both parties do it. Unfortunately, partisans tend to have convenient standards, rationalizing their candidate’s lies while demanding apologies whenever their opponents shade the truth.

[From there’s the truth, and then there’s THE TRUTH! « ATLmalcontent]

It’s been odd to watch this reaction to the general slide of both campaigns towards the same self-serious, jab-and-duck, low-blow campaigning that has riddled our political discourse for so long.

Both sides seem to live in the same mental bunkers, convinced “their guy” is still OK. Convinced that, at some level, “their guy” is only doing it because, jeez, they need to win. Or that its the other guy’s tactics that are forcing their hand. Or worse, that “their guy” isn’t doing it at all.

Both of “our guys” are guilty…

But whatever delusions I had that this election would be a substantive debate between two honest men who respected each other is gone.

It’s just another election now.

[From Big Contrarian → How big can you #### up?]

I likewise had high hopes that, though I didn’t want to vote for either of them, McCain and Obama would have produced a better campaign season than this. Alas, we’ve had the same party-hack driven politics we’ve seen in recent years. I know my vote may be “wasted” on a third party candidate, but if all of us who feel neither candidate is what we actually want, keep voting against the guy we like the least, we’re never going to get anybody running for high office, let alone winning, that does anything aside from playing to one “base” or the other.


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October 4th, 2008 at 4:32 pm

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Chad Perrin on the “bailout”

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Chad, rather succinctly, sums up a lot of what has caused the current bailout scenario.

All this crap is the result of tons of bad, awful investments, offering terrible loans to abysmal-risk borrowers. Much of the reason for that is Clinton-era policy that encouraged loaning money so people who can’t afford to buy homes and expand marginal businesses would then buy homes and expand their marginal businesses, specifically to help urban development. While the Bush administration has done nothing to correct the matter, as far as I’m aware, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s statements to the effect that George W. Bush should apologize to the American people for “causing” the current financial crisis are somewhat off the mark.

. . . to say nothing of the forty years or so of piss-poor economic policy under a long line of crappy Presidents before Clinton came on the scene, all of which set the stage for Clinton’s gaffe.

Now, Ben Bernanke (chairman of the Federal Reserve board) and Henry Paulson (Treasury Secretary and IMF board member) are trying to harangue Congress into approving a $700 billion dollar bailout for more failing organizations considered “too big to fail” by supposed fiscal wizards like them.

[From Chad Perrin: SOB » You've heard about the $700B bailout. Right?]

I realize there is some segment of this plan which is designed to use public funds to loan to private enterprises (or buy our private assets) in an effort to stabilize the economy so we don’t all end up poorer than the bailout will make us. However I think the government trying to be the visible hand to “fix” things after its own efforts to be the vaguely translucent hand managed to screw up the invisible hand’s market regulations is a bit of throwing good money after bad (ok, so that invisible hand metaphor was stretched a bit). Realistically the last 15 years of government have done the majority of the damage to the economy, and that has come under democratic AND republican presidents and democratic AND republican led congresses. To use a sports(ish) metaphor, it seems we keep asking the Yankees and the Red Sox how to run a team on the cheap, and somehow are surprised that neither steer us well.
It looks like they’ve passed some version of it now, though I’ve not looked at the final revision enough to know how much worse (can’t assume it got better) the final one is than the initial version was.


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October 4th, 2008 at 11:04 am

Posted in Blog Entry, Misc