Two years ago, I noted that Valentines Day isn’t as aversive when you’re not generally miserable. I am pleased to report that my hypothesis appears to be true. It turns out, I didn’t hate Valentines Day – I hated winter. And now that I’m back on the west coast, I don’t have to experience true winter anymore. I get to complain when it drops into the 50s. Today, I had ice cream outside in a t-shirt. That’s what winter is supposed to be like! And living on the west coast, where I’m actually happy most of the time, Valentine’s Day is just a minor annoyance. Not even that, because there’s free chocolate.

I think there is little doubt that being with people you love is generally better than being alone. But that truth is exacerbated when under times of stress and hardship. When you’re unhappy, that’s the time it’s most painful to be alone (and be reminded of that fact on Valentine’s Day). Ironically, that unhappiness also makes you much less pleasant to be around, and thus increases the odds that you will be alone. It’s a vicious cycle.

Many commenters on my V-day posts have noted that Vday isn’t really for couples. It’s a time when romantic gestures seem unromantic. So perhaps a new Valentine’s day tradition is in order. If you’re with somebody you love, celebrate your love the other 364 days a year. On Valentines Day, find somebody who’s lonely, and make their lives a little cheerier. Invite them to lunch, stop by their office for a chat, maybe give them chocolate. And if you’re lonely, well, do the same – there are a lot of other lonely people out there too, and you can make both of your lives a little better.

Now for the rant: Today while I was on the bus, some idiot cut the bus off – he was reading a work document and not watching the road. What’s wrong with you, you idiot? Can you really not spare to wait a few minutes and not read while driving so you don’t cause accidents and nearly get killed?!?! I mean, the bus is 10 times the size of your car! And you shouldn’t be reading and driving anyway, you could hit a pedestrian. (It’s an ANNUAL rant… I had to come up with something…)

Dec 152012
 

On August 30th, 2012, an elderly driver backed up on to a crowded sidewalk hitting 11 people including 9 children . And this wasn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened: In October 2006, an elderly driver by the name of George Weller drove his car through a crowded marketplace killing 10 people and injuring more than 60 others .

It’s time for this senseless car violence to stop. We need to outlaw cars. Mass car injuries have happened dozens of times over the past decade, and the car lobby has managed to keep any meaningful reform from happening. Even aside from these large scale tragedies, cars account for a huge number of deaths in America – over 32,000 in 2012 so far . But enough is enough – how many more tragedies need to happen before we realize that cars are too dangerous to have on our streets.

In Israel, where there are fewer cars per capita (.35) than in the US (.81) they have less than half the per capita death rates caused by cars. Clearly the U.S. is a nation of car violence. We need to stop glorifying car violence and reckless driving in movies (e.g. Fast and the Furious)! We should pressure the media to send safer messages…

ok, I think I’ve made my point.

Look, I’m not a gun nut. I don’t own a gun – in fact, I’ve never even held a gun. I’m scared of them, and I don’t particularly like them. And the tragedy in Connecticut this week was a horrible, senseless, awful thing. But all those people who are claiming that it was guns that caused the tragedy and that this should be a wakeup call for gun bans need to start taking a more nuanced approach. Guns may have enabled the tragedy – or maybe not. The crime was perpetrated by a seriously mentally disturbed individual. Maybe he would have built a bomb out of fertilizer if he hadn’t had access to guns, and even more people would have been killed. Maybe he would have taken his car, and done what George Weller did in 2006. The point is, blaming guns for the tragedy is missing the point. This should be more of a wakeup call about getting help to people who are mentally ill than the vehicle of delivery of the tragic events.

 

The Citizens United Supreme Court ruling is mostly known for declaring unconstitutional the prohibition against corporations spending money on behalf of candidates.  But it also has allowed companies to campaign directly to their employees; in much the same way that employees can talk to each other about politics, it is now legal for an employer to talk to an employee about politics.  That makes me a bit nervous, but I can at least understand the argument.

But when it comes to politics, there is a difference between campaigning and coercion.  Campaigning is good.  Coercion is bad.  Campaigning is necessary; it allows candidates to talk to the people, and encourages the people to talk to each other.  Coercion is destructive; it undermines the entire principal of a free and fair electoral process.  Anytime an employer is talking to an employee about politics, you have to keep an eye on that line–which is why the ruling makes me nervous.  But I do believe that it is possible for an employer to have a non-coercive discussion of politics with an employee about politics; just like I have seen employers have non-coercive discussions about romance, race, gender, immigration, and many other potentially controversial topics.

Unfortunately, a few employers have already enthusiastically leaped well across that line.  They have attempted to blackmail their employees into voting for a candidate, and in the spirit of the Citizens United ruling, those employers ought to be charged, in criminal court, for interfering with the democratic process–just like you or I would be charged if we attempted to blackmail our neighbors to vote in a particular way. Continue reading »

School Vouchers – Assumptions vs. reality

 Posted by  Education, Uncategorized  Comments Off on School Vouchers – Assumptions vs. reality
Sep 042012
 

I was recently having a discussion with a cousin about school vouchers which forced me to articulate my opposition to school vouchers. Many people are surprised that I’m opposed to vouchers, since I have libertarian inclinations and generally favor individual choice over government mandate. And indeed, my concerns with voucher programs are not the typical liberal concern that it undermines public education (for an example of such an argument, see Mike’s comments on charter schools . My concern is that vouchers wouldn’t actually solve the problem. For vouchers to work, there are a number of assumptions that have to be made:

1) There exist enough good private schools with open slots in their classrooms that kids could actually have a choice to move to better schools.
2) The parents know enough, and care enough about which schools to send their kids to that they can effectively make the choice on behalf of their kids
3) The voucher would allow the parent to cover the cost of private education
4) The issues are primarily institutional (school based) rather than individual (student or family based).

Continue reading »

 

I love the Olympics.  I find it tragic that badminton, table tennis, hand ball, and field hockey are not treated like real sports in the United States; seriously, I think hand ball in particular could really catch on in American colleges if it were ever given a chance.  But I have to say, I’m finding a few things annoying this year.  And no, it has nothing at all to do with NBC’s coverage–look, people, you may not like the fact that the events are time delayed, but you wouldn’t like it any better if they were broadcast in the middle of the afternoon.  Anyway, if I could fix the Olympics, here are the major changes I would make:

1) Pool Play Adjustments.  A pool play tournament is one in which the teams are first divided into groups (or pools) and play a round-robin within their group, and then the winners from each group move on to a single-elimination quarter- or semi-final playoff to determine the medalists.  I actually really like pool play tournaments–it avoids having people go half way across the world to watch their athlete compete in their favorite sport for exactly one match and be done.  With the pool play, everyone is guaranteed three (usually) matches.  It also better ensures that the best teams medal–the best teams can survive an early upset.

The problem with pool play is that the people who set up the single elimination portion of the tournaments don’t do a good job of it.  For instance, in Men’s basketball, the USA is the dominant team; they will get the top seed from Group A.  In the last game of the preliminary pool play round, Spain and Brazil should be battling for the second seed in Group B–but instead, the loser of the game actually gets the easier path to earn the better medal, because the second seed from Group B would have to play the USA in the semifinal, whereas the loser of the game doesn’t have to play the USA until the Gold Medal game (assuming that they win out).  A similar situation led to the fiasco in women’s doubles badminton, where a Chinese team and a Korean team both fought so hard to lose a game that they were booed off the court and sent home from the Olympics in disgrace.

The best answer is to reseed the elimination round only AFTER the results from the preliminary rounds are all in.  That way, during the preliminary rounds, no one knows exactly who will be playing who in the next round until the next round is about to begin.  Moreover, that tournament should be set up, you know, logically, so that the two favorites (based on Group Play results) are likely to meet in the gold medal round–not before. Continue reading »

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