Monday, December 6, 2010

Compromise for Destruction

So I read this article in the NY Times (and also in many other papers) about how a compromise was near to extend unemployment in exchange for extending tax cuts. This is part of th story of why we have huge deficits; we have an inability to make cuts or raise taxes and when the two parties say that they are ready to do either (i.e. make cuts or raise taxes), the other will not. So, now we do neither when we should do both.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Is this Conservative or Liberal?

This article talks about charging vehicle owners for the cars they drive/pollution they cause. It is not that much; however, it would raise funds to invest in pollution control technologies. My question then is: is something like this conservative or liberal? This is very much a "personal responsibility" way to deal with a problem, but it also still is a government intervention.

I overall like this kind of policy. I think people should have to pay directly for what they do. This does exactly that, even if they still get to avoid paying the full cost of their actions.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Vision of Community Through Public Participation

Lately I have been working with a lot of people on the role of public participation in planning, specifically hazard mitigation planning. Many people say little can be accomplished toward any specific planning objective through public participation. As it is done now, I have to agree.

Public participation programs often suffer from a lack of clear objectives, roles, and methods of measuring success. Departments conduct participation in order to "check a box" instead of so doing in order to enhance some aspect of planning or of society. In my current work in Everett, I am hoping to work with the hazard mitigation folks to develop clear objectives and a method for measuring success so that participation can be more meaningful. I am also trying to determine other roles that public participation can have in hazard mitigation planning beyond just the typical "tell us how you prepare" or "what hazards do you think are worse" measures, both of which are nearly useless to actual mitigation efforts and technical improvements to the mitigation plan. I am hoping we use the process to introduce other questions, such as: what costs and benefits people and planning staff can find for different mitigation measures or the relative importance of different measures to specific communities. My interest in participation goes beyond this, however.

Fundamentally, I believe that public participation in local planning will be a/the key to helping to reverse or stymie the breakdown in social relationships due to our newfound ability to "customize" our social environments through our use of technology. This is not to say tech is bad, but that our society has historically depended on strong social relationships to ensure our ability to do everything from fight wars to respond to disasters to plan awesome parties. I believe that engaging people in something that impacts them directly, and so doing on a regular basis, can create a culture of citizen governance, education, and participation. I believe that creating a culture of citizen involvement and governance will allow us to be more resilient to challenges and will help us determine what we expect our government to provide and what we wish to provide ourselves.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Question about Housing Market Rescue

As I read another article about the housing market (this time that some people say it should collapse), I wonder this: why are all the solutions so blasted uncreative? For example, an 8k tax credit was NEVER going to do more than encourage people to buy sooner rather than later (as opposed to inducing buyers to buy rather than rent).

What I wonder is what would happen if the government (who theoretically controls a huge portion of the market anyway because of bailouts to banks, aid to Fannie/Freddie) just said that anyone who:

-Was losing their home because they lost their job and cannot pay (but otherwise could)
-Was able to prove that they had been defrauded by mortgage companies

just would receive a temporary moratorium on home payments until they either got a job or got their payments reduced to a level they could afford.

The reason I say this is because I think that we have yet to see our government actually flex its muscles in this crisis. We could actually save the economy, I believe, if we just decided that it would be some mortgage brokers or banks that were going to lose rather than homeowners. The problem is that a lot of "fake" money has been created and it needs to disappear in order for the market to go back to "normal." Why can't we let that fake money come from a few banks? Why can't we modify payment terms for people who are losing their home because they lost a job due to this bad economy? I am actually interested in answers to these questions.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Microsoft Technical Support

Microsoft Tech Support was fun today. My phone was off, so I started communicating with the guy on the other line via the "Notepad" application on my desktop. We had a nice conversations. Here it is:

ME: If you called, could you call again? My phone was off :P. Thanks. It looks like things are good now, though....

HIM: yes... i will call u in other 5 minutes... okie... :)

Sounds great!

thank you :)
installation will be completed in other 5 minutes...
so once its done....u can open office application to activate the copy.... okie... i will guide u

Sounds perfect. I am just glad this was so easy :)

the problem was there was no sufficient permissions to the user account ur using... so i gave permissions to everyone and started the installation, worked fine... also teh downloaded file was redownloaded file

makes sense... This is my first new computer in seven years, so I had forgotten about the permissions... Oh well, thanks for fixing it....WC :)

click on the installation window

illbe go ahead...sorry for interrupting :D

click on close...
product is activated...WOOOOOOW :)
makes my day!!!!!


with ur permission can i close the case as resolved


Yep! Thanks. I appreciate it. Should I click on the "Stop Sharing" button?

i will exit from my end... in case u have any query please do feel to reply to the email which i have sent u...and we can work together again.,... :)

Thanks. Sounds great. This was fun, actually.

thanks a lot.... fun at work.... :0
I admit it is earth shattering for me too :)
okie then derrick... nice working with such a good person... have a great day ahead... take care.... and ITS HARSHA.... sigining off...:0

Saturday, June 5, 2010

What is it like to be a minority and a Republican?

Apparently something like this:

What I wonder is why Republicans just happen to make so many awful comments "in jest?" I look at things like this and recognize the origin of the slur and that it is an attack against the candidate, the president, and Muslims. Yet, Republicans keep these guys around and invite more in every day. I wonder what it is like to be the Republican who is being slurred just because she looks different? How does it feel to have to agree with the large portion of your party who thinks like your attacker? How does it feel to have to admit that the comment was "in jest" and say that you are not offended? How does it feel to have everyone else in the race get a free pass because they are not minorities hated by Republicans. They never have to defend themselves or prove how thick-skinned they are to racial attacks and bias.

I am just wondering...

Monday, May 31, 2010

Obama and the Oil Spill

Why, oh why, Obama did you not respond to this with greater urgency? I want to support what they are doing, but the truth is that they did not seem to take strong enough action. Sure, they could not have stopped the oil leak themselves; however, they could have mobilized people earlier to keep the oil off the coast. Yet, they did nothing.

The Obama administration has done a number of very efficient and good things; however, he responded to this oil spill as though it was a local problem that could be resolved locally; a very big mistake.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Flood Plain Law

Flood plains are fascinating places. They turn liberals into anti government-intervention conservatives and conservatives into great babies sucking on the bottle of society. They do this because many smaller, more conservative places live within the floodplains and demand dams, levies, roads, etc, (all built at OTHER taxpayer's expense) to keep them safe, while liberals would just as soon tell people to leave the floodway and stop getting flooded and wasting money.

Yesterday in a Planning Law class I presented on the National Flood Insurance Program and hazard mitigation law among other things. What I basically said was that we subsidize bad behavior among floodplain residences and that our inability or unwillingness to require people to not continue to build in such an area is representative of the actual unwillingness of our political system and establishment to make good decisions that impact some people who are loud. There is no doubt that government can regulate floodplains by either requiring people to leave (which may require some form of property compensation), or by requiring people to elevate their homes to avoid further losses from floods. The truth of the matter in this case, though, is that property rights types get angry on a local level when floodplain regulations are enacted. While they feel that the government should stay out of their face most of the time, they whine about not being protected enough as soon as they are in danger, even though it makes more sense just to tell them to get the heck out of the way and to stop costing everyone else huge amounts of money.

Contradiction in Hazard Mitigation

First, I want to say that I have not done much solution thinking here lately. I sound more like a pundit sometimes, complaining about things. That said, I have something interesting today. It is the contradiction between two subjects I study: urban planning/urban design and hazard mitigation.

Despite our seeming obsession with risk in this country, we really do a terrible job of thinking about it in useful terms. For example, our government regularly subsidizes risky behavior by providing flood insurance to communities and people who build in the 100-year flood plain. Similarly, many techniques of urban design and planning or of some of our 'fads' like New Urbanism or the construction of weird buildings at odd angles with stupid facades, actually make us less safe. I am not saying that there has to be a trade-off, just that there often is.

Examples of this problem include narrow streets (makes response and evacuation more difficult) and close-together housing (makes fires more likely to spread), both tools of New Urbanism. Another example are the weird buildings built in Seattle, Vancouver, and Portland by crazy architects (these buildings are often less stable and are prone to tip over, etc). I am not saying that working in concert is not possible, just that it does not happen. There are ways for us as hazard mitigation planners and regular urban planners to talk to one another and make a conscious choice over where on the continuum between a perfectly stable building with no windows on a huge street and with no quality of life or a beautiful street with fascinating buildings prone to collapse and chandeliers that impale you while you sleep, we want to be. Since these are extremes, the answer is somewhere in the middle.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Guns Go South

To me, there are a number of arguments that I find interesting with regards to our southern border. There is one thing, though, that I find especially frustrating.

That article is about a police officer shot by a drug smuggler. The comments afterward are pretty heavy. First, people often spend the entire time blasting illegal immigrants (although drug smugglers are not really illegal immigrants). Second, the gun that was used to shoot that officer was probably bought in Arizona and smuggled over the border. Arizona is a state where anyone can buy and carry assault weapons wherever and whenever they want. These guns are being smuggled south by AMERICANS (Arizonans) and used to support drug gangs. And yet, we are as incapable as ever of recognizing that simple checks on gun ownership or bans of weapons capable of mass murder is not a check on the 2nd Amendment. Anyway, I just find it frustrating that we are willing to complain about illegal immigration, but the same people who complain are unwilling to stop the danger by requiring simple checks on guns to prevent smuggling.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Property Rights

So, I am apparently a property rights moderate.

I know, I was surprised too, but I realized that, relative to what is allowed under the US Constitution, I am a blasted conservative. This is not from some uneducated interpretation of what people think they read, but from reading decades of Supreme Court cases in my Planning Law course this quarter. The experience has been good if for no other reason than it has helped demonstrate how our Constitution actually works, despite how people think it should.

What is Compromise?

I have heard that the best agreement is one where both sides are 80% happy and 20% unhappy. Regardless of what you think of this definition, when people talk about two political parties getting along, we tend to think that a deal is better when no one fully likes the deal, but both are willing to accept it.

How about both see progress on a bill, but both say for different reasons. The following is a quote from an NY Times article.

"But the sides offered starkly different reasons for their optimism. Republicans said that they had forced Democrats back to the bargaining table to negotiate a bipartisan accord, while Democrats said that Republicans were hastily abandoning their opposition in fear of a public outcry."

The reason this is funny to me is because both sides say that they will vote for the bill because the other side completely gave in and had to give up on what they wanted. This is a strange view of compromise that does not bode well for the idea that working together can build better relationships in the future.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Good Use for Social Media?

Alright, so I have complained a lot here and elsewhere about "social" media making us less social. This article shows, in a strange way, however, that it can be used to bring people together.

Sure, pillow fights, zombie walks, etc, are not the kinds of events I would hope people would get involved in (and very specific demographics go to these events), but it certainly makes me feel better about humanity. At least in these days of customizable social spaces, we still get together with strangers to beat one another senseless.

Friday, April 2, 2010

For Templeton Prize, intelligent design opponent Francisco Ayala / The Christian Science Monitor -

For Templeton Prize, intelligent design opponent Francisco Ayala / The Christian Science Monitor -

This is one of the most interesting points about intelligent design made in this article that I have ever heard. It basically argues that our imperfection is proof that random, unguided evolution occurs since if we were all made as we are by God, we would be perfect. Anyway, I would be interested in hearing people's thoughts.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Israel No Longer Bosses

The NY Times had an interesting article on Israel who has really gotten out of hand.

Israel lately has decided to act like a juvenile country and embarrass two of their allies, US and Britain. They should know better than to treat two major foreign aid donors like friends of convenience. It is my hope that they will be forced to act like responsible allies now.

And that we will recognize that Israel is not the 51st State in our Union (or 52nd D.C. STATEHOOD), but a sovereign country with the rights and responsibilities that being a sovereign country entails.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Social Justice Christianity

The above is a petition from the Sojourner's website. They are a group of largely liberal, social justice type Christians. Sometimes they are even too liberal for me!

That said, Glen Beck said something interesting about social justice Christianity the other day when he equated it with Nazism and communism. I have also heard people being interviewed at conservative rallies equate social justice to the same things. The reality is that every good and effective liberal movement contains and element of social justice, the idea that all people are created equal and therefore deserve equal treatment, justice, and opportunity in our society. This is not a radical idea since in many respects social justice is the opposite of tyranny.

To my fellow Christian friends who listen to Glen Beck, perhaps think about who would have been included in Beck's statement; it has effectively equated many great leaders to whom we all have looked for guidance, with some of the great evils of our past century.

Social justice also does not kill people.

Not Paying for Water

The above article is a fascinating foray into our sense of entitlement in this county. It is interesting to me that we have liberals demanding things for free and conservatives demanding that the government give them things - but no one else. I wish I could have highlighted several passages in the above article, such as when someone notes that they pay "$60 per month" and they want their toilet to flush, and that they do not care how the water system works. $60 is nothing. We spend obscene amounts, as the article notes, on upgraded TV packages, and cannot cough up enough to pay to keep us watered safely?

As I said. Sense of entitlement. We believe that, since we have always had water for cheap, it is a right for which we do not have to pay. This problem extends to lots of things, including libraries, roads, schools, etc. I think we should be guaranteed equal access to these things, that no one should be discriminated against in using them, and even that the poor should receive help in obtaining them. I am frustrated, however, by the fact that we do not recognize the cost to provide what we take for granted.

How do we solve this? My goal would be to send taxpayers an itemized bill listing their approximate share of different costs and whether they pay more or less than their fair share. This would include roads and schools, but also defense, diplomatic missions, and even trade agreements (which the rich probably 'use' more). This would overall probably cause a whole new array of problems, but at least people would know the cost of providing government services.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Coffee Party

I just joined the coffee party.

Part of my reason for doing so is because I really miss talking politics and hanging out.

The other part of my reason is because I like the idea of a group that sees itself as moderate (though this may turn out to not be reality). Even more, regardless of whether it is moderate or not, its mission is to create a place for CIVIL discussion. This alone would make me want to join any group, liberal or conservative.

Anyway, here is there website. I think this is the official one, although others are sprouting everywhere.

Cultural Relativism or Protection of Equality?

When working with communities with different cultural or ethnic "values" than my own, I am often forced to come to terms with the post-modern ideal of cultural (and often moral) relativism. I do not believe it, as my recent post on Truth vs. Tolerance discussed. The following article details the problem I spoke of in that post (though this article in particular pertains to the UK).

The reality is that we as countries receiving immigrants must recognize inherent and fundamental practices present in new communities that are against fundamental and universal rights. I believe that we must work to become aware of these problems and approach these communities with a goal of integration and especially education of vulnerable groups within these communities. A policy of engagement as part of the process of becoming citizens should be implemented so that these vulnerable people will know their rights in this country. While I do not believe in forcing people to give up their values in general, I believe that universal rights do exist and that we should be cognizant of them when we work with new communities that may not have access to all their rights because we fail to make them clearly available.