Monday, July 27, 2009

Small and Inconsequential

I was reading briefly on the subject of Idaho bike laws, under which cyclists are permitted to treat stop signs like yield signs. This makes intuitive sense given that a cyclist's not-stopping-at-all can often be roughly the same speed as an automobile's rolling-stop.

The following quote stood out:
The “momentum” argument is garbage. If the stop signs are located for good reasons (not always the case), then conservation of momentum should take a back seat to other considerations. If the stop signs were not located for good reasons, then cyclists and motorists should unite to get them removed.

Why wouldn't cyclists and motorists unite on this subject? Because a cyclist notices energy inefficiency at the moment it occurs: the cyclist has to pedal harder. The motorist doesn't notice the inefficiency until reaching the pump, and at that point it usually gets framed to oneself as a "gas is so expensive!" complaint, rather than a "cities are designed so inefficently!" complaint.

And, even recognizing that the stop-and-go of most day-to-day driving is the cause of much of the inefficiency is another couple of steps away from realizing that the quantity of automobiles contributes to that stop-and-go, and that your-car-in-particular is part of the quantity of automobiles.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Wonkette, Irony & Sincerity

In E Unibus Pluram: Television & US Fiction, David Foster Wallace wrote of irony, "It’s critical and destructive, a ground-clearing... But irony’s singularly unuseful when it comes to constructing anything to replace the hypocrisies it debunks."

In turn, I love reading wonkette, and find it to be kind of like a daily show in print (but with more curse words). I bring this up in this context because in the past two days I found two unexpected moments of sincerity from your wonkette that I found quite pleasing.

The more recent was in response to MSNBC's First Read describing the presidential press conference as too boring and policy-filled:
If all you can muster are condescending vagaries about the bad politics of the “average viewer” being treated like an adult, then don’t say anything. Because it’s bad for your country.

On the other hand, health care reform is a very difficult, tangly, economicky subject, and most people are too busy to read all the latest white papers on it. Which is why they elect representatives to go to the Capitol and make the right choices on their behalf!

UPDATE: AND ONE MORE HOT-POTATO OF A POINT. Obama should have been more wonky! People need to understand how crucial good health care reform is to everything.

The earlier was regarding the treatment of congressional interns who answer the phone of constituents across the country, many of whom believe ridiculous things like "the government will invade your house and force you to accept public health care."
So, today or maybe even tomorrow, call your representatives — your senators, your congresscritter, maybe a couple of Republicans in the House, why not? — and politely express your support for whatever libtard Nobama stuff you like.

You could say something along these lines:

“Oh hi, what is up, I know you people are just getting so many calls from angry old white people. Just wanted to politely register my support for the Obama health care or whatever’s the big deal right now. And I promise not to march on Washington and just make the Metro unbearable. Thanks for interning, we appreciate your free work!”

Here, find your reps’ phone numbers, just enter your zip code, easy!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Independence Day

Thus an omnibus, poorly-thought-out post.

Paul Krugman posted a few times on the subject of Malthus, and how his theory has largely been rejected because the two centuries that followed his theory were the only ones on record (out of 60(!) i.e., going back to 4000 B.C.E. or so) in which income gains weren't eaten up by the increase in population. Many attribute this to the magic of capitalism or the magic of the industrial revolution; I, however, would like to hypothesize (based on very little data... scientific method in process!) that this economic boom we call the modern era could have been merely the result the "western world" (which is usually what our extended economic data is based on) discovering another continent to move into, thus easing the pressures of increased population. This would mean that this boom that we attribute to capitalism or industrialism is only temporary, now that we are living in a global economy.

Krugman also points out that the risk of deflation was and is very real, thus providing some additional justification for deficit stimulus spending in the face of those who would suggest it could cause inflation.

Ed Glaeser, however, points out some of the disappointments in the stimulus spending on transportation, specifically what a disproportionate amount has gone to fund roads in places that already have plenty of existing roads in comparison to people. Though his point is valid that "mass transit" is typically helpful only where "mass population" already exists, I might like to believe that implementing an actually-useful mass transit system will encourage people to live more densely. At the very least, if that alone does not induce more dense living significantly, I'd prefer we treat the greater efficiency of denser living as a goal and not a mere circumstance with which to reckon.

My own colleague (I use that term charitably*) Mano Singham posted yesterday on the subject of the pursuit of happiness, drawing heavily from Vonnegut. I have never formally read any Vonnegut, but every excerpt I come across, every time I hear him speak, I am intrigued and feel as though I've found a kindred spirit. I'd like to remind everyone, however, that Jefferson's inalienable rights were borrowed and subsequently reinterpreted from John Locke, who instead wrote these rights to be "Life, Health, Liberty, and Property." Though it may be more noble to pursue happiness than property (though again, it is worth noting Vonnegut's question of whether happiness can be pursued), I am suspicious of the swapping of one for the other.

The Mark Sanford movie trailer embedded at the end is also semi-comical, if for only the final line of "Maybe like, five celebrities will die at once and everybody will just forget about it."

Sarah Palin resigned, ha ha, and there are any number of poorly-thought-out (like this post!) reasons why this might have happened. My favorites are the ones given by your wonkette, “I’m going to resign because governing a state is hard when you have absolutely no interest in governing a state,” and that given by my dad, which is that she got offered a position commenting for fox news that was to good to pass up.

This was far more comical last night when I read it than it appears to me now; I thus pass along with no further comment except to point out that per commenter gumplr, the final Lincoln statue does in fact look like Egon Spengler.

I note that on the holiday celebrating our nation's independence my mind naturally is drawn to the elusivity of pursuing happiness as our founding father suggested and the potential hazards of relying on the effects of this continent's discovery for our well-being. The irony is not lost. Ahhh, holidays.

* - Lest anyone be confused, the charity here is toward myself, or perhaps the nature of the relationship. We are employed by the same school, myself in a far less prestigious position.