Monday, September 22, 2008

The Evolution of Politicians

I actually went to a local political debate between an incumbent Republican congressman and his Democrat and Libertarian opponents. It was sponsored by the ASUSU student organization and a terrific example of the concept behind a cross-sectional longitudinal research design when compared with debates on more of a national stage. You use this to get a look at development over time when you don't want to (or can't) spend the time doing so. Instead, you a snapshot of different phases of development and make the assumption that they are reflective of the normal process. So you might assume that politicians early in their careers are much more frank and willing to take a stand than they are later in their careers. Of course the analogy breaks down a bit because generally you'd be quantifying this and using much larger samples.

We'll start with the candidate (Libertarian) least likely to get elected. He was unabashedly forward about his beliefs, in fact at one point he talked about wanting the free market to prevail in three different things: business (he thought AIG should have been left for dead--as an aside, if we had regulated properly would we have a sole privately owned business with so much market share that it's going down would destroy the World's economy?), health care, and--here's the real kicker, he wanted to make sure the market could prevail on fighting terrorism. Now before you start thinking Blackwater I'm not sure that's where he wanted to go (because they're government contracted--or is it government subcontracted through the Vice President's former company?) but it does frankly strike me as out on the lunatic fringe. Mostly because a private company can't negotiate or engage in diplomacy on behalf of the US, and probably wouldn't have the kinds of incentives to fight poverty and other conditions that can lead to terrorism.

Next, the Democrat who in this year actually has more of a shot than you might think in Utah. He was willing to express his views, was a little more elegant, a little more educated (for instance he brought up the difference between radioactive and nuclear waste), but was still willing to be very direct at times, maybe to his own detriment. For instance, in that same question about storing nuclear waste in Utah he said we weren't currently, just radioactive but that he would be opposed to storing anything in our great state especially waste from overseas. He also called out the Republican for refusing to work with him on a bill to that effect and taking $26k from Energy Solutions.

Enter the incumbent. He's been to Washington, knows the ropes and his response to the
questions was this. In a slightly rough moment (that or massive hubris) he said it wasn't $26k but $28k, and not from Energy Solutions but from employees who "happened" to work at Energy Solutions (which makes all kinds of difference to me, let me tell you--that and the fact that 14 people gave him about half my annual salary for an election campaign makes him sound like a real regular Joe). Now it's possible that I missed what the bill was about or the framing of the original question, but when both of the other debate participants seemed squarely focused on what was happening in Utah this guy proceeded to do something you'll see more about below. He said he'd do whatever Utah wanted, but he refused to work on this particular bill because he saw it as a states rights issue. He was very elegant, he talked about Washington State importing waste from Vancouver and was concerned that the bill would limit the ability of other states to make decisions about what they wanted. My concern is that he never really answered the question.

Now let's take a look at the National stage where Obama and McCain have very close views on Abortion and Gay Marriage. This is a radical over-simplification but they essentially both refer to these as State's rights. It's not their role as executive to push federal law to ban abortion, but it should be up to individual states to decide. I went to WSU after the fact, but heard the stories about how the sovereignty of states creates really interesting consequences. Back in the day the Idaho legal drinking age was lower than Washington's. As a consequence the seven mile stretch of highway 26 between Pullman Washington and Moscow Idaho had no small number of legal/underage drinkers returning home and go figure some of them were driving. I may not be a political scientist but both of these issues have consequences for other states. I think people who fall on either side of these issues should be really mad that their candidate of choice refuses to make a choice (no pun intended).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Even Optimists Can Be Presented With An Undeniable Vision of Impending Doom

One of my favorite short stories is "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" by J.D. Salinger--the easiest way to grab a copy is in a collection titled "Nine Stories" and I highly recommend it. It's not a spoiler in any way to say that one of the big themes is a deeply disturbed character (Seymour Glass) who is seeking refuge in part in the innocence of children (but not in a creepy way, I promise). To make a short story long, he finds out it's not as much of a refuge as he thought it was. Even though I've always loved the story--I've never quite believed it. I get misty-eyed when I hear the song "you are the new day" (especially when coupled with a public television ad and b-roll of Sesame Street and children playing). I tend to think the best about people and about future events, but now I can see why Salinger has cut himself off from the world. For me it's not the lack of childhood innocence. I’m not ready to give that up yet. For me, it’s the train wreck that children are walking into.

Last weekend I cleaned out the garage, which included three different items for the dump: A computer (desktop & monitor), some flooring tiles, and some scrap metal (an old vent for a swamp cooler we had removed). I knew the computer and monitor had to go there for proper disposal, I knew the metal could be recycled, and I was hoping they could recycle the tile too. We also had a bunch of stuff for DI (the local "goodwill")--which happened to be my first stop. I'm unloading there and I pull out and set aside the scrap metal to get at some other stuff, and one of the helpful workers decides he's going to do me a favor and throw my scrap metal in their dumpster--which also happened to be full of cardboard. This is my first sign of our impending doom, a guy trying to do me a solid by sending my recyclable waste off to the landfill. After rescuing my scrap metal out of the dumpster along with other recyclables I decide that individuals can still make a difference--and got pretty jazzed about taking so much to the dump, none of which is actually going into the landfill. As a further boost, the woman at the scales says I can toss my flooring tiles in with the concrete, so I guessed right and they can be recycled too (side note: Jen wanted to try gluing them down again--so not such a great thing after all).

Still, I'm on a high note. Until about 12:30am. We live across from a park that has a dumpster right next to it. I wake up to someone tossing in a truckload of something or other. The next morning I take a peek and it's mostly construction waste--including a good bit of recyclable scrap metal, and some wood and sheet rock.

The amount of green waste we see go in that dumpster from otherwise nice, friendly, and intelligent neighbors is astonishing. What's more astonishing is that they will pick up green waste at your curb if you pay $4/month for a green waste bin. $4/month for weekly pickup! This town makes it incredibly easy to recycle everything from leaves to plastic and we still can’t pull the trigger.

These are pragmatic pressures (proximity of a dumpster vs driving to the landfill or spacing out your tree pruning over a couple of weeks). Imagine the financial pressures faced by big corporations. Heck, I remember a few years ago insurers wanting to know if employees were bike commuting because it presented additional risk that companies either had to pay for or pass on to their employees.

We’re doomed.

Somebody give me some good news. Tell me I’m wrong, tell me you stopped a baby seal from getting clubbed to death (metaphorically speaking).