Slate on the pledge

From the Slate Daily podcast, I learned something (with the risk of  invoking Godwin’s Law) about the origins of the Pledge of Allegiance controversy:

For those who may have skipped that day in your constitutional-law class, it’s worth repeating that the pledge controversy began in Hitler’s Germany when the Nazis sent thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses to concentration camps to punish them for refusing to make the Hitler salute to the Nazi flag on the grounds that they don’t believe in swearing allegiance to any worldly government and didn’t recognize Adolf as a semi-demi-divinity.

As a result, the American leader of the Witnesses denounced the hand-over-heart flag-salute American Pledge of Allegiance on similar grounds. The flag as false idol. It would seem to me other religions should have joined in.

Just to reminds us what we mean by false idol; Cue Exodus 20:4-5:

4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me,

Maybe the point of having the “under god” line added, to make sure it’s clear that country is second before religion, although I think there are some wouldn’t like that interpretation. Of course if one believes that the American government is fundamentally supposed to be a religious organization, then that might be a way out  of the contradiction too.

G+E: Breast Milk and IQ

As I learned from the Slate GabFest Cocktail Chatter segment, we have learned a bit more about how breast milk was giving an IQ boost. Turns out that some 10% of babies do not have the genetics to receive the IQ boost. The overall theme, It’s Genetics + Environment, not Nature vrs Nuture.

Just Don't It

I’ve never quite understood how economic conservatives deal with the cognitive dissidence of supporting abstinence-only education. Aside from being a wasteful use of tax money, the position runs counter to what makes free markets work; individual choice and information. Abstinence only education is on the wrong side of the equation; limiting choice and reducing available information. Why should anyone be surprised it is less effective at producing good outcomes?

Modern National Politics

Robert Reich recently passed through Seattle and one of his engagements was recorded on the KUOW Speakers Forum podcast. He had earlier that day been by Microsoft and I unfortunately missed the event, I will have to see if it was internally recorded and skip to the Q/A. He is currently out on a book tour for his new book “Super Capitalism”. The premise of the talk seems to attempt to explain the change in American politics from the 40s and 50s where people were widely involved and optimistic about democratic politics and organizations.He sketches out a model of how he feels the relationship between democracy and capitalism should work. In so many words he describes the idea the prisoner dilemma for consumers. You want to support some random cause such as not supporting companies involved with terrorist states or using child labor, but you rationally believe that your individual choice to not get the bet price/quality mix won’t really matter. Specifically that you can’t trust others to make the same buying choices. The solution is to control to common rules of the game via laws. However this runs into two major problems.

First, corporate lobbyist control a lot of the campaign cash flow and potential get a lot of stopping power against rules they don’t like. Reich shows this by pointing out how common Congressional chastising is without any legislation. The appearance of concern without doing anything about it. A dog and pony show that works for both the companies and the politicians. Reich avoids blaming the companies for being in Washington because the primary reason they are in Washington is that their competitors are. (Proving the point, he mentions Microsoft and Yahoo for why Google has a large presence, when it was companies like IBM, Novell and Sun is why Microsoft has its presence).

Second, The effects of globalization (Reich calls it the technology inheritance of WWII). The transportation improvements meant that more companies could compete and putting a lot ore pressure on prices. The same technology boom enabled a huge growth in investment. These two pressures build up and give companies a lot of incentive to cut cost every way possible, leading to his point that you can’t expect a company to be moral. Shame is a PR problem and it is responded to with more PR, not real change. He takes the PR shame approach to activism as a fundamentally flaw methodology. He doesn’t adequately address the next problem, with laying down laws as the approach to corporate behavior change, globalization and very weak world government means that many such laws only hurt the country passing them. He makes two counter arguments. The extra-territorial affect of the US is really large and second that doing the right thing will cost something.

This last concept that there is a cost and benefit to such actions resonates deeply for me. All to often I’ve seen otherwise smart people rely on a form of wishful thinking to believe that you can’t take actions like lower taxes or build roads and not have to pay for it somehow. Yes, yes, sometimes the system is so off that there is such an effect, but it’s bizarre to me that people believe it is the common case. This brings us to Former President Bill Clinton’s visit to campus. (You can catch roughly the same speech at slate). Clinton made almost the opposite argument from Reich. He basks in the glow of how many new non-governmental organizations now exist and how much money and affect they have. He also sells fixing global warming as something that actually benefits one’s economy instead of hurting it.

Overall I was very happy to start to feel some of architectural underpinnings of our current political system and some views of what it should be like. Reich sounded fundamentally backwards looking in approach, but was able to diagnose some malfunction, Clinton seems to be proud of some of the aspects of where we are today, but I’m not convinced that the new system works better.

Prop 1 – Not the Hospital One

I first learned the name of the big Seattle area roads and transit package at a Microsoft Hosted Forum regarding the package. Microsoft had gathered together a republican King County Council Member, the President of the Cascade Land Conservancy, the Executive Director of Transportation Choices and our Sr VP of LCA, Brad Smith. The made sure to be clear that they were talking about the Roads and Transit prop 1, and not the hospital prop 1 (apparently there are name collisions on the ballet). While this wasn’t an “all sides” group, they represented a wide span of interests who believed in the compromise as exactly that, compromise.

It seems like on the surface that no one likes this package. My more conservative friends who have been arguing for roads for a long time balk at actually have to pay for more roads. Generic liberals (I haven’t talked about prop 1 with my liberal friends) think that any roads are bad for the environment and unnecessary. Plus they will have a chance to try to get the transit package voted in without being tied to roads. The problem I have with the conservative position is that the longer they wait to approve a roads package, the more expensive it will be. They seem stuck in the “I want a pony, but I shouldn’t have to pay for it” mentality. The problem I have with the liberal position is that all they are going to do is devalue the Seattle area, by letting the problems get worse. If they truly cared about the environment, they would understand that growth happens and they are just shifting the problem to somewhere place in the region/country.

I’ve looked at the big projects involved in the package, and I have to say that the priorities seem right. Fix 520 bridge, fix the mess between 169 and 520 along 405. Get 9 better. Get light rail north and get light rail to the east side (and to Microsoft). I also don’t believe that the transit package will pass alone. After giving the finger to eastsiders, a big Seattle focused transit package isn’t going to do well.

We will have to see how this one plays out.

Snoqualmie I-90 Exit

One of the not so good things about living out in Snoqualmie Ridge is that we share an exit with the north end of 18, a bypass around Seattle and frequent location for traffic backed up onto the highway, which has actually led to a number of accidents and I believe a few deaths. The government has done a lot of work on the exit, making everything two lanes, having left versus right turn lanes, etc. However the problem of all the traffic heading south on 18 from Eastbound I90 remained and cutting over at the last minute could get you some nasty honking and a ticket. Until a couple days ago that is. Thanks to some quick work, the right lane of the highway is exit only with the next lane an optional exit directly into the left turn lane.

They are just more critical these days

Since the launch of Vista, I’ve simply been amazed and the frequency and severity of criticism Vista has received. I humbly accept the places where the complaints make sense to me (Performance/Compatibility; and in many cases I grok the reason compatibility was broken), but much of it, like the DRM hype is just astonishing to watch. Worse, there are many features and improvements that I’ve yet to see Vista get credit for. Anyhow, I’ve been collecting theories of what happened:

  • Security trumped compatibility in this release. (Most of the things that Windows could do without breaking stuff was done in XPSP2)
  • We didn’t focus on compatibility like we did in Windows 95
  • We shipped new Networking, Audio and Video stacks in Vista, and that will cause application compatibility issues and it’s going to take a while for drivers to catch back up to the level of optimization we had before.
  • Too many little features, not enough big ones.
    • Broken planning, dependency tracking, etc.
    • Ship everything at once mentality, instead of incremental improvements
  • There wasn’t enough architectural oversight of the product
  • Too many shifting and impossible to follow through “Basics” (Don’t worry if you don’t get this one)
  • Vista wasn’t selfhost-able until way too late in the product cycle
  • Since the product shipped late, expectations were set to negative by default
  • XP brought the reliability people were screaming for, XPSP2 brought the security people were screaming for. Vista just meet a fundamental need the way XP did.
  • The big stuff people were promised didn’t show up (WinFS and ???)
  • This is really the same thing XP went through
  • ABMs (Anything But Microsoft) people are more are listened to more and more effective with FUD then in the past.
  • They are just more critical these days

I must admit, I didn’t get the last one when I was told it, but I’ve been warming up to it. Enough people are computer savvy now that they no longer blame themselves when things break, they blame the hardware and software people. Well actually, most people just plain blame Microsoft, but give it a couple another decade and people will get better at blaming individual hardware/software manufacturers. While none of the the list is self sufficient as a reason, the recent criticism around Apple’s Leopard release is giving more and more credit to the theory.

Live Maps: The Little Things

While Live Maps haven’t copied the eye-popping drag and reroute feature of Google maps, there is a number of really cool improvements in the latest release. The Live search blog has a list of ten improvements that haven’t got the press of other features like the “model your own 3d building on a map” one. My personal favorites from this list are the End/Start details where you filter down driving instructions to allow you to ignore the stuff you don’t need to see (like how to get out of your neighborhood), the new black color on the traffic map for dead in the water congestion and some of the extra business information they now have.