Grover Norquist (president of Americans for Tax Reform) recently stated his belief that there are only 6 Republicans who have a chance of getting elected in 2016. If those are the only contenders, the GOP is in serious trouble. In a way, it shows how insulated and out of touch leaders in the GOP have become – Rand Paul is a darling among conservatives but is about as likely to gain mainstream support as his father. Christie is probably the best bet of the list, and would have been quite a strong contender before the scandal that just broke. (People will largely have forgotten the scandal by the next elections, but the democrats would be happy to remind people). If I took Norquist seriously, and I were a GOP partisan, I’d be rather depressed right now.

But here’s the thing, Obama wouldn’t have been on anybody’s radar at this point in 2006 – by 2008 he was beating out top political veterans like Clinton and McCain. It may be that the GOP puts one of those 6 forward – the democrats surely hope so. But there is a long time until 2016, and many opportunities for somebody to emerge as a plausible contender. If I were a GOP strategist, I’d be searching for those people…

 

There is a big difference between training and education. Training is practice in a specific set of skills to allow one to better perform a particular task. Education is broader; it focuses on helping people be better thinkers and consumers of information. Education helps people be more effective in everything, including training. A well educated person can more efficiently learn to do specific tasks when trained, among its many other benefits.

Universities exist to educate, but a lot of people seem to have confused that with training. The other day, I ran across this article which lists majors to avoid. Why? Because they aren’t employable because they don’t train the right skills.

But that’s not the point of college. College education makes for a more cognitively adept employee – one who will be able to adjust to situations that training has not prepared him or her for. And an educated employee can be trained cost effectively to do present tasks, or retrained cost effectively in the future for whatever tasks the changing environment creates. If you’re looking for somebody who just does mindless drone work, why are you bothering with a college grad at all?

The article advises against anthropology because “he problem with majoring in anthropology – like other liberal arts disciplines – is that most opportunities in this field exist in teaching”. That’s a terribly ignorant view of an anthropology major. Anthro majors learn to critically analyze arguments, integrate information across a diverse array of sources, distinguish reliable from unreliable information, master large quantities of information quickly, and work with and understand people. Those are some of the most valued skills out there. And maybe the person doesn’t know how to do accounting: guess what, you can learn that for free from a dozen online sources. An employer who doesn’t realize that better thinkers are the best return on investment… well, you shouldn’t want to work for them because such a lack of foresight suggests the business won’t be competitive long term.

If you’re not an engineer, going on to a PhD, or otherwise in a highly technical field, then it doesn’t matter what you major in – all that matters is that you take advantage of the opportunities to educate yourself. The content you’re learning is secondary to the cognitive growth that occurs while you learn that content. (That said, there may be signal value in your choice of majors – some schools have ‘gut’ majors, and employers may know that students chose those majors so as to not challenge themselves or educate themselves – that may be a good reason to avoid a major, although perhaps those majors are also places you could stand out from the less motivated crowd).

At least once a week I see an article on the Yahoo lead page that suggests that your employment will be largely based on your major. That’s largely a fallacy, and it annoys me that the media keeps propagating it.

 

I’ve been reading a lot on what’s going on in the Ukraine. And I can’t endorse Putin’s move – it was a blatant act of aggression that further destabilized the region. Pundits have spent a lot of time analyzing the military implications (will the benefits to the Black Sea Fleet outweigh the fact that this act of provocation will encourage the west to go forward with the missile shield?), the economic consequences (how much will this hurt the Russian economy, especially if there are sanctions?) the political implications in Russia, the Ukraine, as well as the rest of Europe and the US (which parties will it help or hurt in future elections?) etc.

But one thing I haven’t seen discussed much is whether it makes more sense for Crimea to be part of Russia than the Ukraine. That is, the manner in which Putin acted in occupying Crimea aside, where does Crimea fit?

I’m struggling to understand why Crimea was part of the Ukraine in the first place, aside from historical reasons. The population speaks Russian rather than Ukrainian. They identify with Russia and want closer ties to Russia, as opposed to the rest of the Ukraine which prefers distance from Moscow. Granted, this may be because back in the ’40s Russia relocated all the Tartars and a bunch of other Crimeans, thus diluting the national affiliation with the Ukraine. But be that as it may right now it seems like Crimea might prefer to be Russian. If it were possible to hold free and fair elections (which can’t happen when Crimea is occupied by Russian troops), I wonder which country the Crimeans would vote to be part of (or would they prefer independence). And if they wanted to be Russian, would the US be in the right to stop them from being so, just because Putin forced the issue?

 

There’s  a very interesting “Room for Debate” section on NYTimes.com on the efficacy of economic sanctions.  I encourage you all to read it, but let me add my own take.

There are three pieces of “common knowledge” in the wider debate about sanctions:

  1. Economic Sanctions are a valuable and useful tool for encouraging good behavior or penalizing bad behavior.
  2. Economic Sanctions work better when they are multilateral; that is, the more countries that agree to the sanctions, the more powerful they will be.
  3. Economic Sanctions, if not implemented properly, harm the wrong people.

It turns out that none of these assertions are nearly as simple as they first appear. Continue reading »

 

I was thinking about privacy recently. The NSA has been reading a lot more than they let on. And there are starting to be organized responses and protests as many people are angered and concerned over the invasion of the government into our privacy. It is troubling to think that everything you do is being observed and monitored and evaluated. But some people aren’t troubled at all by this. And I started to speculate as to what leads people to be differentially concerned. I don’t think it easily splits down partisan lines – the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement are both equally disturbed by government invasion of privacy. There are probably individual personality differences in desire for privacy, or paranoia, that influence people’s responses.

But it also occurred to me that- many people who believe in an omniscient deity believe that they are always being watched and evaluated by a higher power. That higher power is perceived to be benevolent, which is possibly but not necessarily true of the government. Nonetheless the feeling of chronic surveillance may be less disturbing to people who are religious and are used to feeling as though their actions are always noted, than to folks who are used to believing that actions taken in private are in fact private. This possibility is entirely speculative with no data whatsoever to back it up, but it would have interesting political ramifications were it true.

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