Friday, November 11, 2016

Winner takes it all, loser takes the fall

The two-party winner-take-all nature of the american political system makes the stakes unnecessarily high. 

When a loss means you’re party is shut out of executive power entirely for four years, and it doesn’t matter whether you lose by only one vote, or get no votes at all, the stakes are high. The prospect of no power, no influence, no seat at the table, no agenda advanced, humiliation and ostracism amps up the pressure to win at all costs. 

This election demonstrated this so clearly.

The republican party was destroyed.

A week ago, the Republican party as we know it was destroyed. There were to be massive recriminations, soul searching, blame and finger pointing.  They were headed for final defeat once and for all. 

No wait, the democratic party was destroyed.

This week, the Democratic party was decimated. Its now lost, leaderless, with less power than they’ve ever had.  There needs to be recriminations, soul searching, blame and finger pointing. They have been devastatingly and overwhelmingly defeated.  They must figure out what went wrong. 

Wait, wait, pollsters, pundits and media credibility is also destroyed.

Not only did the Democratic party suffer a massive loss, but the pollsters and pundits were massively wrong too.  They too need to do some soul searching and self-reflecting.

None of that is true, except that it is

When I looked at the nearly completed election results it seems to tell a much different story.  Polls predicted a close Clinton victory, in both the popular vote and the electoral college.  And the result was an razor thin Clinton victory in the popular vote and significant electoral loss.  But if you look at the electoral loss just a bit more closely, it suggests that a 100,000 or so votes would have swung the electoral college.  So in reality she won a razor thin popular vote, and lost a razor thin electoral vote.   That’s essentially true of the senate majority as well.  The same amount of votes allocated just slightly differently and the democrats would have won both, but instead lost both.  Its conceivable that it could have come down to one ballot in one swing state that could have decided both the presidency and the senate majority. 

By the way aren’t all of those outcomes within the margin of error of every polling methodology.

Nevertheless, its winner take all, a one vote loss is just as bad as a blowout.  Instead of a Republican ‘destruction’ we saw instead a Democratic ‘destruction’.  We also had a polling error, so now everything we know about polling and science is wrong.

Every vote does matter, but not in a healthy way

Because those are the stakes, we get the need for massive voter turnout organizations, voter suppression tactics, roll purging, voter id laws, gerrymandering, hanging chads, legal challenges, October surprises, spin rooms, false-equivalence, media bias, vitriol, unsubstantiated accusations, gridlock, filibustering, putting party before conscience or country,  outright lying, and a whole host of unhealthy tactics in the name of accumulating those oh so important votes.

Disenfranchisement ping pong

I’m not familiar enough with other democratic systems, parliamentary or otherwise, to know what works best.  But I wonder, especially with the presidential election, if the losers got some kind of proportional influence then the stakes wouldn’t be quite so high.  Maybe losers could earn cabinet appointments with electoral points.  That might even legitimize third party candidacies.  Admittedly, the idea is of the top of my head and may be impractical, and could have the adverse affect of leading to an escalation of parties trying to utterly annihilate each other.  But the point is that we should probably diminish the spoils of victory and the severity of losing, when that’s not really reflective of the will of the people.  Disenfranchising and stressing 50% of the population every 4-8 years seems unproductive, unless you’re working in an industry that benefits from it.

Monday, September 26, 2016

An accident of history

This is a strange, strange election. Its always risky to talk about politics, but we are witnessing a national derangement, so I might as well act deranged.

I’ve long hated political false equivalence, and I’ve essentially given up on the media as having any capability of providing objective information, performing deep and thorough analysis or acting with integrity.  I find pretty much any mainstream news outlet to be purveyors of gossip, shallow ‘facts’ and sensationalism.  I get my news primarily from those that mock that news (if I pay attention at all). 

We live in an era where every election is a 50/50 toss up.  For as long as I could vote, it hasn’t seemed to matter who the presidential candidates are. We either love our candidates straight down the middle or we hate each others candidates straight down the middle.  And you might have been able to make a compelling argument that that is because of party platform differences, the electoral college, the economy or some version of the marketplace of ideas.  But this election crystalizes and emphasizes an obvious dysfunction.  We are split right down the middle again when that simply should not be the case.  When one party has nominated there own worst nightmare, a joke candidacy, a publicity stunt that stumbled unwittingly into a legitimate nomination, and we end up in the same old horse race, something is amiss.

That joke candidate, who doesn’t have the experience, temperament, acumen or aptitude, and I’m still not convinced originally wanted or expected to be president, now has a 50/50 shot of being president.  A completely self-interested, narcissistic petulant child, is on the verge of becoming president and we still act as if we’re evaluating roughly equal evils. 

“You’re either voting for a dishonest criminal or a dangerous nut, there’s no good choice”. 

Except that Trump’s behavior is more dishonest and criminal by a mile. Those qualifications belong on his side of the ledger:

“You’re either voting for a dishonest criminal nut or an uncharismatic, boring politician, there’s no good choice.”

If you phrase it accurately, I think its pretty clear there is a good choice. Not an inspiring uplifting choice, but a morally responsible one.  No matter how much more entertaining a reality TV star is, putting the fate of the world in his hands isn’t funny, and it isn’t sticking it to the Clinton’s.  They’ll be fine. The rest of us need to worry. 

I once thought that it ultimately didn’t matter that much who won. And in the day to day politics as usual it still probably doesn’t.  If it were Romney vs Clinton, it probably wouldn’t matter much either.  But when Bush barely beat Gore, and then we invaded the wrong country after Sept. 11, it mattered.  And it will definitely matter in the next attack, or the next financial crisis, which one of these candidates is actually president.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Batman vs. Marvel

Batman vs Superman was a disappointment.  The best part of the movie was the trailer for Captain America: Civil War.  The movie was dull, retelling again the Batman origin story. It took forever to get anywhere.  The character motivations were unclear.  Why was Batman so angry, and Superman such a sad sack?  Even worse than that, was the fact that the entire movie took place in the dark and the action scenes were so close-up that you couldn’t even follow it.  I’m not even sure what the bat mobile looked like.

By contrast, I just rewatched Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  That movie was cool, fun, humorous, and took place in daylight.  The audience could actually see the action.  There’s definitely a huge difference in tone between the Marvel movies, that took seemingly dull characters like Cap and Thor and made good movies, and the joyless Dawn of Justice.  If they can’t make Batman and Superman interesting, I’m not sure there’s much hope for Aquaman.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

What do Ragnar, King Alfred, and Sam Harris have in common

One point Sam Harris has made many times is to discredit the notion that religious adherents don’t really believe what they say they believe.  I’m definitely guilty of that misconception, I’ve always felt that nobody actually believes their religious doctrines, not really.  There may be elements and features of the belief system that are believed, and they might enjoy wishing some of it were real. But in their heart of hearts, everyone doubts.

Sam has repeatedly hammered home that that is simply wrong.  There are true believers and they can be dangerous.  A true belief in paradise is what allows for suicide bombers.

While watching Vikings and the Last Kingdom, I have noticed how much the clash of civilizations in those shows is about the clash of religions.  The characters are constantly tormented trying to discern the desire of their particular gods and how to conduct themselves so as not to upset them, or win their favor.  Each character interprets experiences in the context of their own religion, and their beliefs direct their actions.  I do realize that these are just TV shows, and the intent of the writers may or may not be to comment on the nature of religious belief.  Nevertheless, for me it did illustrate another example of peoples who actually believe, and how agonizing and all encompassing their belief systems can be.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Race to nowhere

I finally watched Race to nowhere now that its available on Netflix. I had been interested in it since it came out but for some reason it was hard to locate.  I’m always interested in criticisms of the American education system which I think puts the wrong emphasis on obedience and busy work. So I was sympathetic to the documentaries main thrust, homework is excessive and of limited educational value.  However, the movie was essentially anecdotal.  It tells the stories of few families, and blames school work on suicide and mental breakdowns of children. It also seems mostly localized to fairly uniform California communities. 

There was one reference to scientific evidence that suggests that after approximately an hour homework efficacy drops.  Other than that, there was virtually no scientific or statistical evidence to support their claims.  No evidence correlating homework and overscheduling and suicide or mental health issues.  No scientific studies comparing different educational approaches and their comparative results.

So yes, anecdotally, it seems like overscheduling children and burdening them with excessive homework is bad, especially for the kids in the movie.  And standardized testing and no child left behind seem to have played a role in a shift towards worse educational practices.  But if you’re looking for hard facts, or to be convinced, this ain’t gonna do it.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Texting is futuristic

Watching Aliens the other day reminded me of how futuristic video conferencing was at one point in science fiction.  It seemed reasonable that when the technology became available it would be the predominant means of communication.  Yet texting (and messaging, and tweeting) seem way more popular.

It says something about human nature that we prefer terse, disconnected, asynchronous communication over rich real-time interaction.  Maybe its one way that we’re holding on to our eroding privacy.  We’re only revealing the bare minimum information required in order to communicate.  When I send a text you don’t know where I am, how I’m dressed, who I’m with, my facial expression, my tone of voice, anything really.  Its also one way. I just get to say my part, without reaction or interruption.

But I guess the exchange of brief cryptic textual utterances lacked enough cinematographic impact to find their way into the imagination sci-fi movie makers.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The fight against complexity

Short TED talk, which identifies the root cause of lost productivity and employee disengagement, corporate complicatedness.

yves morieux as work gets more complex 6 rules to simplify

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Ragnar Lodbrok has to be Jax Teller’s brother

I recently watched the first three seasons of Vikings.  It was referred to me by a friend who also watched and loved Sons of Anarchy.  I have to give him credit in that he sold it to me based on the similiarity between Jax and Ragnar.  There is definitely something very similiar about the two shows and main characters.  Vikings is sort of like medieval SOA, though less silly than SOA. 

I’ve also watched part of The Last Kingdom, which is kind of the flipside of Vikings in roughly the same time period.  The Last Kingdom isn’t bad, but the characters are more compelling and story lines more interesting in Vikings.  I’m not a fan of shows where there are no likeable characters, and The Last Kingdom is shaping to be like Breaking Bad in that way. Nobody to root for.

I’ve also recently watched Marco Polo, another historically based show. 

The three of them are periods and cultures I knew little about going in, so they are at least as interesting because of the historical context as they are in entertainment value. Rome and Deadwood are similiar shows that I loved.  While Hell on Wheels, I struggle to get through.

Is it better for learn your history from TV shows or not at all? It has at least inspired me to poke around wikipedia a bit to find out more.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Strengths over weakness

When I saw Strengths based Parenting recently published, it reminded me of a post I had written but never published back in 2013.  So here it is:

There’s a lot of literature, career advice, self help and other sources that suggest in order to improve you need to identify weaknesses and work on them.  In fact, in most corporate environments there’s a whole review processes geared toward identifying weakness and developing plans for overcoming them.  I’ve always had mixed feelings about this emphasis on overcoming deficiencies.  If you are trying to achieve a certain goal and lack the skill to get there, then addressing those shortcomings makes sense.   But if your weakness is in an area you aren’t interested in and not in the path toward a goal you do care about, then it doesn’t make much sense to invest the time to improve.  And frankly you probably won’t be that motivated to improve anyway.

A while back I did some reading by Gallup, specifically the Strengths Finder, and took their assessment test as well.  The thing that resonated most with my about their approach to focusing on developing strengths rather than compensating for weaknesses can be summed up in this passage.

Over the past decade, Gallup has surveyed more than 10 million people worldwide on the topic of employee engagement (or how positive and productive people are at work), and only one-third “strongly agree” with the statement:

“At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day”

At a gut level, it definitely feels like doing what I do best everyday would be a lot more satisfying than doing what I’m not good at and trying to get better at it so that I can fill a need.  The strengths based approach jibes better with my own inclinations and world view, although I can see within it the seeds of complacency and limitations (but maybe I’ve been brainwashed to think that way).  The concept of only focusing on weakeness to the point where they are no longer interfering with the pursuit of strengths helps reconcile the two, but there is still something within it that leaves me uneasy.  There’s also definitely plenty of things that people are good at that they simply don’t want to pursue.  Just because you’re good at something doesn’t obligate you to have to do it everyday.

Nevertheless, I’m definitely curious about what a stengths based environment would be like, if such a place exists, and incorporating it more into my own approach.