Proper Guarding

I was reading The Airlords of Han, the Nowlan tale about Anthony “Buck” Rodgers, written back in the 1920s.

It has exceptionally good presentations of military tactics, miles better than TV and Hollywood nonsense.

The one that particularly caught my eye was how the Hans guarded Buck when he was captured. None of the usual TV nonsense – they had two sets of guards:

  1. Firstly, a guard at his side. As we can always expect, even on TV. Close enough to usually stop the prisoner. But with the risk of being overpowered, of course!
  2. Secondly, a layer of guards that are forbidden to get within reach, but no more than 40 feet away. Too far away to be overpowered.

Buck does not overpower these guards to escape. And my intelligence is not insulted :-).

The “Han” of this tale are evil, but they are not idiots. Unlike Hollywood writers…

Adaptive Tax Policy: Enemy of Budgeting

The simple principle…

Since western democracies have come to eschew “head taxes”, generally in favour of
A) Sales taxes (of sundry forms!)
B) Income taxes
C) Of late, governments have gotten keen on charging fees for services (as for passports, licenses, and such)

People of varying political stripes may argue over the individual merits (or demerits) of these, for instance over whether or not they are progressive or regressive taxes. That may matter, but not for this argument…

In troubled times like these, there is a good thing about all of these sorts of taxes (contrast with relatively fixed property taxes…) which is that taxation naturally falls when the people haven’t as much money to pay out as taxes.

I have heard complaints levelled notably at Stephen Harper that he didn’t lower tax rates to help people during these times. I disagree – the tax systems (at least at Federal and Provincial, and in the US, states) are already designed to reduce the tax burden.

When incomes and spending increase, tax collection will naturally increase, as a direct consequence, and this is a good thing.

Unfortunately, we now come to budgets…

Governments try to set budgets, and talk of balancing them, and all of the preceding represents a direct enemy to that balance.

When the budget is set, they do not know what sales and income taxes will truly come in, and tax collection amounts are sure to be affected by factors that will not emerge until later. The practical effect is that these levels of government are fabricating wishful tales whenever they claim anything about balancing of budgets.

Municipal governments have a somewhat different situation – property taxes tend to be more stable. Which is less helpful than one might hope, when municipalities are responsible for welfare coverage – that throws in a nice dose of postfacto variability to prevent predicting the balancing of the budget.

In any case, this indicates that the “balanced budget” idea is chasing a mirage.

So what shall we do, if balancing budgets is nonsense?

Simply: budgets should recognize the inherent sources of variances, and provide reserves to either add to (in good years) or to draw on (in bad years).

Providing reserves requires that there is a regular plan to charge a little more taxes to allow for this. This is anathema to today’s “neo-conservatives,” but that is another story…

Given reserves, it’s fine if there’s an extra snowstorm to clean up after – reserves were meant to cover such things. In a “light snow” year, it’s fine that there’s a surplus, just as a “heavy snow” year does not demonstrate incompetence of the politicians.¬† (Other things could, of course!)

Awesome TShirt Idea

ThinkGeek carries lots of geeky T-shirts.

I am wearing the “No, I will not fix your computer” right now!

One that they ought to have is the IMHO one, perhaps with IMNSHO on the back.

That needs more development but seems like it ought to be able to become a subtly insulting product :-).

More Slony work

I have been way way too busy to do substantial Slony work in a while. Very very engaged on internal (infernal?) DB apps work.

At long last I reached a certain degree of completion that allowed me a breather, and a little time to look at Slony 2.0 issues.

I have been experimenting with Git lately, in several contexts, so pulled the PostgreSQL Git repo, with a view to using that as my “PostgreSQL HEAD” for testing. While the “official” PG version for our apps is 8.3, I usually do my builds/tests on either 8.4 or CVS HEAD, or, I guess, now, Git “master” ;-).

After checking out Git master, I found problems with both the internal app (minor thing in accessing information_Schema) and, alas, Slony :-(. A function now has 3 arguments (and, in the Klingon tradition, always wins them!), thus needing a bit of autoconf remediation. I hate autoconf… But absent some substantial Tilbrook contributions, that won’t be changing soon! ūüôĀ

I surely hope I can run through a set of regression tests this coming week so as to get 2.0.3 released!

Inconceivability

The “lack of imagination” problem I wrote of last year is clearly a real, ongoing phenomenon.

Our society seems to be falling into the kind of tyranny envisioned by Huxley in Brave New World, rather than that of Orwell. We get so distracted by the flurry of Twitters, YouTube videos, and blogs that interest us that we are too busy to even notice the absence of reasoned political debate.

I am not sure how I can get at (nay, even that it exists to be gotten) objective reporting these days.

All I can get, in reporting, on Obama, seems to have either a Democratic or Republican political slant. Both varieties tend to be so biased as to make them unuseful.

Likewise, in Canadian political reporting, I see little real information – only pro-Liberal or pro-Conservative (or anti-one-or-the-other) propaganda.

Blogging from my iPod

I wonder how much more often I will post reflections if I have software that makes the process more portable.

Hopefully portability cuts down on the cost of deciding to reflect. We shall see…

Unpopular Truths About the Lending Crisis

Firstly, not everyone deserves to keep “their” home, even if this is not politically tenable.

If you can’t afford to own your home, that is unfortunate, but that doesn’t mean you should still get to keep them.

Whether you like the Bible or not, there’s a pretty good passage that is mighty relevant, Luke 14:28-30:

For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.”

The problem is getting blamed on “predatory lending,” but for every dollar worth of that corruption, on the part of bankers and realtors, there was also a dollar worth of predatory borrowing on the part of average individuals that didn’t “count the cost”, who, more than likely, lied about their income, and took out loans that they should have known they could not repay.

It is easy and convenient to blame this all on people in New York City that you don’t know; it is far harder to accept that your realtor, and your local “mortgage officer,” and YOU were jointly responsible for collusion to fraudulently take out loans that you could not repay.

The Enron “crisis” showed that the big accounting firms are capable of really big lies; the mortgage crisis demonstrates that the same morality has permeated society a lot more deeply than that.

Why “Lack of Imagination” is a problem

My previous blog entry discussed a problem of “lack of imagination,” specifically that many people suffer from the problem that they cannot even imagine how it is that a “thinking person” might vote for some party that they consider somehow heinous.

  • ¬†Many acquaintances in Toronto cannot fathom how anyone would ever vote Conservative
  • The same population appears unable to grasp how anyone¬† would ever vote Republican, in the US
  • There are also demographics that cannot fathom what kind of person would vote for either of the Clintons, or that “dangerous I-heard-he-might-be-Muslim” Obama, or Canadian left-leaning parties such as NDP or Green.

Now, I know folks who have been strongly associated with one party or another, and I’ll give the caveat that I do not intend this to be a criticism of them.¬† Once you have chosen to commit to particular involvement with the “party apparatus” of one party or another, it’s actually pretty important to stay with that choice.¬† Someone who has committed a significant portion of their personal time (paid, or not) shouldn’t easily change their vote.

I don’t anticipate that members of the respective caucuses of the various parties can have all that useful an ability to imagine correctly about “political bubbles” that differ from the one that they live in.

However, most people aren‘t that committed to any particular party, and are subject to the vagaries of the periodic swings of population attitudes between one preference and another, and it seems to me that it’s good “economics” to be prepared to consider political positions other than some single absolutist one.

Notably, if you wouldn’t even imagine the “other party,” then neither party has much reason to listen to or care about your views, desires and needs, neither the party you vote for, nor the ones you wouldn’t consider.

  • The party you would never vote for doesn’t need to worry about your opinion, because since they can’t get your vote, there’s little point in soliciting¬† your opinions.
  • The party you do vote for¬† also does not need to worry about you very much, since, particularly if you don’t believe any alternative exists, they can’t lose your vote.

There’s a lot of room there for nobody to care about about your opinions.
I was living in Texas during the campaign that brought George W Bush into the US presidency, and could see this pretty clearly in the way TV ads differed from state to state.¬† The Republicans knew they had Texas wrapped up, and as a result, didn’t bother airing many political ads, as it would be unlikely to influence many votes.¬† The very same thing was true for the Democrats.¬† Neither were competing for votes in Texas.

To a goodly degree, there are some ongoing parallels in the present campaigns in both Canada and the US.

  • The “right-leaning” parties have stronger constituencies in rural areas
  • The “left wings” are stronger in large urban areas

There will doubtless be some battlegrounds where the parties “duke it out” for dominance, but to a considerable extent, the parties will ignore (for practical purposes) large portions of the nations.

I believe that this is a problem; with the fairly close splits (in both countries!), the results of both elections are likely to involve certain portions of the populations being dominant over other portions of the population.

  • If the Conservatives win, rural regions, and, to a considerable degree, the West, will control the House, and urban areas will correspondingly not be particularly well represented by new government policies.
  • If the Liberals should win, then, as the opposite hand, urban regions would be over-represented, and rural concerns under-represented.
  • In the US, a Republican presidency leaves those “more on the left” underrepresented, and a Democrat presidency does the obvious oppposite

There is an essential difference between the two countries, in that Canada is presently unlikely to see majority governments, and the resultant need for coalition prevents a “winner” from dictating quite as much over- and under-representation.¬† Minority rule is an interesting topic for another time!

It seems to me that voters that aren’t part of party apparatus could get a lot more value (which smells like economics, of a sort) if they did consider¬† “swing voting” much more seriously.¬† All the politicians have good reason to value your vote if they consider it to be possibly theirs.

People should ask, and perhaps tell their would-be politicians what they would expect them to do in order to gain their votes.¬† I’m not suggesting vote-buying; part of the political process is, legitimately, telling your would-be candidates what you wish them to do, as your representative.

A Common Problem: Lack of Imagination

I have been noticing some essential parallels between US and Canadian political views that very successfully cross all kinds of political lines, that amount to people having a supreme lack of imagination.

I happen to live in Toronto, an urban area which has tended to vote a mixture of Liberal and NDP, with a certain amount of Green mixed in.¬† In my own riding, the Liberals took a staggering lead with about 63% of the popular vote.¬† My acquaintances tend to mirror the tendancies, with mostly a mix of Liberal and NDP.¬† The “lack of imagination” bit is that they clearly cannot imagine voting Conservative.

In contrast, my parents grew up in the West, and spent their early adulthood years around Edmonton, and the bulk of the extended family lives, these days, strewn across Alberta and BC.¬† (That used to be Alberta and Saskatchewan, but there has been a tendancy to migrate westwards to the pleasant climate of BC.)¬† They came from rural areas, and still have family in such places.¬† And there is a concommittant “lack of imagination” that, as an aggregate, what they cannot imagine is how anyone could vote Liberal or NDP.

I spent 1996-2001 living in Texas (in the DFW region), which was the “home of GWB,” and while I certainly did hear reports to the effect that he mightn’t be the “sharpest knife in the drawer,” the tendancy there generally was that people cannot imagine voting Democrat.¬† But even that is quite an oversimplification of things; most people I knew were not originally from Texas, and had very little in the way of longer term perspective.

One buddy was an exception: he certainly did fall into the “pro-Republican” camp, but could step back to his grandparents’ perspective to have a somewhat broader view, and he observed something interesting, namely that things have changed in the last 50 years.¬† Around 50 years ago, President Lyndon Johnson was the last president to come from Texas, and it is useful to observe that he was a Democrat.¬† Apparently there had been family discussions about this, and evidently, back in the 1960s, it was as unimaginable for a Texan to vote Republican as it would be for them to vote Democrat today.

I have not spent “quantity time” in any of the Democrat-biased states, but have certainly observed a consistent indication that there are large populations that consider it “inconceivable” to vote against whatever is their bias.

There is something extremely troublesome about this:¬† I am watching our respective populaces fragment into sets of people that cannot imagine having votes in common with one another.¬† They’re not much worth polling; they’re not worth lobbying; there’s no persuasion that they imagine could work on them.¬† (Mind you, Texas swapped polarities, so it’s obviously not as “inconceivable” as they imagine!)

We’re certain to have large population blocks that are not represented.¬† In the US, we’ll either see next year a Republican president that doesn’t reflect the desires or attitudes of almost 50% of the voters, or¬† we’ll see a Democrat president that doesn’t reflect the desires or attitudes of the other almost 50%.

The “lack of imagination” is also troublesome.¬† In order to understand what’s going on in their own country, I would contend that people need to engage their imagination enough to grasp why other people would vote for the “evidently unimaginable.”¬† There aren’t so many “moustache-twirling arch-villains” running for office that it ought to be so unimaginable.

Dumb Things Seen

Yesterday, I saw one of the dumbest things in recent memory, namely a “Support Obama” sign on a local automobile.¬† Now, there is a country in which that sort of thing would be neither surprising nor strange nor the least bit dumb.

However, this car had Ontario plates, thereby making it singularly unlikely that the in-duh-viduals involved are in a jurisdiction where the good Senator is actually running for office.

People may recall a case earlier in the year when there were some calls back and forth between the Canadian PMO and US candidates concerning NAFTA.  Apparently Obama made some noises in public about wanting to cancel it, but  there were supposedly comments made by officials on the side indicating that this might merely be campaign rhetoric.  The truth or falsity of this is fairly irrelevant; what IS relevant is that when the Canadian officials publicized this, it was suggested that this might reflect improper action, as an attempt for Canadians to try to influence the US political process.

If that is so, then running support signage in a foreign country would seem similarly inappropriate.