Because you’re about to be forwarded…
Because you’re about to be forwarded…
… dot net.
And introducing, HitCoffee.com.
Very soon, the front page of this site will automatically forward to that one. Soon after that, the this site will cease to exist. However, dot-net will mirror dot-com and dot-co, so you don’t have to update your bookmarks. If you use RSS, though, you will need to update that. RSS feed links are on the sidebar.
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Still working on things.
I am coming around on the idea of Ubuntu smartphones, which are supposed to be coming in October. I’m not sure I will get one, but I’m a little worried that after I throw in my lot with Android, Ubuntu will get it right.
In other smartphone news, it’ll be interesting to see how the Kindle Phone does. Jose Gonzales calls it a sure thing, but I’m not so sure. The Kindle Fire succeeded in part because it was a tertiary device. It’s different to hand one’s phone over to Amazon. But it could well work out, especially if they subsidize the crap out of it.
Big Coal may be in for some pain ahead, and for once it isn’t because of the Obama Administration.
A new report says that the Family and Medical Leave law is working. We were certainly glad to have it.
According to the Canadian Press, Mining companies that are getting visas for foreign employees are rejecting candidates with 30 years of experience.
I am inclined to criticize employers who expect perfectly qualified employees to roll up on their doorstep, and think that the notion that we have a shortage of skilled workers is built on this mentality. Dominic Giandomenico makes the opposing argument.
I disagree with Michael Calabrese. What is bring proposed here is actually much better than government-sponsored WiFi everywhere.
Maybe this is why Google wants us to use something other than passwords. (Seriously, an interesting article on James Fallows’s wife’s email being hacked.
The residential property in the ten most expensive London boroughs is now worth as much as all the housing in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined…”
Atlantic Wire looks at political types who tried to make it in Hollywood and succeeded or failed. The record for Democrats is mixed, but Republicans generally failed. There are remarks each side can make about that.
Florida has approved birth certificate with three parents. I still don’t fully understand why, given the lack of rights/responsibilities of the third parent.
Last year, for 2010, we sent in to the State of Arapaho our taxes and were due a refund of $314. We were late getting it in due to the federal government inexplicably doing a system update in October that rendered some necessary tax documentation inaccessible. I was informed that, as long as you’re talking refunds, it didn’t matter that you were late. Now, it took the IRS a while and several phone calls to get us our money, but we got it.
As far as Arapaho is concerned, though, they don’t owe us anything. They had a record of the $314, but… simply did not feel obligated to pay it. Was that because we were late? They wouldn’t say. But they did not owe us the money, as far as they were concerned.
Last year, we owed Arapaho money. The $314 did not count towards what we owed Arapaho, because that money apparently went into an ether.
It resurfaced last week. Arapaho finally admitted that they had an outstanding debt to us of $314.
What changed their mind about this? They wanted to make sure - even though same documentation said that we may not have actually received it - that we paid taxes on this “income.”
Leave it to the Truman-Himmelreich household to somehow lose money on a tax refund.
I set a homeless alcoholic friend up in a motel and gave him some money. He got drunk with my money in the motel room I paid for.
I suppose that was an obvious outcome. However, that does not stop me from dwelling on it.
When I told him he appeared drunk, he told me I was right, and said, “At least I’m honest.” How many points would you award for that honesty?
He thinks rehab, AA meetings, and therapy are a waste of time. He drinks excessively, he says, because of environmental circumstances that compel him to do so. When those get around to changing in his favor, if they ever do, he may stop drinking excessively.
It was this guy. That will also probably not be surprising. Maybe it also won’t be surprising that I’ve been through this same general situation with other guy friends, but I’m trying to only dwell on one thing at a time right now. I sure hope it is the last time, but there’s that good old end-of-history illusion. I sure hope this isn’t happening in 20 years with one of my sons. It seems that I have known and even been related to many men of protracted unemployment and terrible attitude. Maybe they even form a majority, but I should recalculate when I’m in a better mood.
I can’t argue with the logic of “I don’t WANT to.” Of course, neither am I going to pay for it. Therefore, I am ignoring his calls now. He apparently considers himself above leaving any message or text that states his purpose, other than “It’s important.” Fuck that. Tell me what it’s about and I’ll decide if it’s important.
He stayed with another friend for three months after he lost his apartment. There were two rules: No drinking, and shower every day. He was really irritated by the shower-every-day rule.
This is what happens when you get older. You either get uptight and boring or you become a loser screw-up. He doesn’t like my choice, and I don’t like his. This is the crappy thing about when there’s a lousy economy — it gives cover and excuses to the shiftless. Yes, I used the word shiftless, and I think the word layabout is useful too. Before you mock me, brother, think about whether the logical extension of your attitude leads you to Fish’s fate.
Russell Saunders explains why Connie Mariano should shut up about Chris Christie.
Dick Tracy watches are truly an idea whose time has come and kudos to Apple if they’re on top of it. There are “smartwatches” that talk to smartphones, and smartphones that go on your wrist, but there’s still work to do to get it right.
Remember the robber that accepted an offer of pizza for his family instead of robbing the place? Too nice a story to be true, I guess. He was lying.
Bitcasa touts infinite online storage. They have my attention.
Paging Ryan Noonan: A man who took his wife’s name was accused of fraud. It does seem to me that there ought to be documentation for both men and women to change their names, but if you’re going to give one a pass, so should you with the other.
If you like Chuck Klosterman or professional basketball, or if you’ve heard of Royce White, I recommend this article.
Fans of the movie Spaceballs will appreciate this.
The Obama Administration may be holding up the pipeline, but they have approved substantial offshore drilling leases.
UMass got a lot of early mentions for a possible invite to the Big East. Then we stopped hearing anything about it. Maybe this is why.
LibreOffice 4.0 is out! I’m still waiting to see what OpenOffice does with the code they got from IBM before I go all-in with Libre (except Access, which I just can’t quit).
If you just stole an iPhone from someone else, it’s not a particularly good idea to call the cops when someone steals it from you.
According to the Daily Mail, the NHS in the UK is going after your data.
Automation may not take away jobs, but they will suppress wages. This is one of the things that makes me skeptical of trade restrictions to boost domestic employment and wages. There are very often going to be other options.
Lain cries. A lot. Clancy and I debate whether or not there is colic involved. The threshold is something like three hours a day three or more days a week. Are you kidding me? Make it four hours five days a week, then maybe it’s close. That’s my position. Clancy’s position is that it seems like her bouts of crying last longer than they do.
Now, fortunately for me, I tend to be very patient with the crying baby (more on this at a later date, perhaps). It doesn’t bother me as much as it seems like it should. But I still don’t like the baby crying, especially if it’s indicative of there being something wrong.
Clancy got a hold of a book about napping and we wondered if maybe that was the reason she was so constantly cranky. The book said that little ones tend to have 90-minute awake cycles, so you try to put her down every ninety minutes for a nap. It seems to have actually helped. But it hasn’t been easy. She is becoming really, really reluctant to nap. Almost like it was before we started this.
The routine is that I take her upstairs and hold her and sing to her. She spends the first part crying. But I sing all the same. It’s certainly easier on the arm than singing while walking her around. And, around the 90-minute mark, she used to rather suddenly get very tired. And she was in a better mood when awake. I was getting some time to do some packing. So it was really working out.
For some reason, though, she is fighting the naps harder now than before. It’s now taking 30-45 minutes a go, sometimes. Which really, really disrupts my day. In some ways more than the crying baby, because the crying baby was kind of a constant.
Anyhow, my brain has increasingly geared towards the 90-minute wake cycle. Even when she’s asleep for the night, I stop after 90 minutes and think “Isn’t there something I need to be doing?”
Some businesses are looking to fix our sleeping habits. I’m a big fan of employee nap rooms. That my wife’s hospital didn’t have one for on-call docs was always baffling to me.
If this is Google, I once worked for the anti-google. Google tries to find ways to make its employees happy. My former employer tried to find employees who would be happy in its oppressive atmosphere.
I pass on a lot of links about alternative housing. Here’s one on alternative hoteling!
Graphic novels rule, books drool. People retain more information from graphic novels than typical books.
This is pretty cool. A phone for your smartphone. I really hope that the future of smartphones includes modularization. They need to get everything talking to everything else. In addition to smartphones-as-car-keys, I want an Android fridge.
Apparently, back in the 80’s in fear of a Sam’s Club’s arrival, Oklahoma passed a law requiring a six-percent profit margin.
I’m about as pro-resource-exploitation as you can get whenever the economics warrant it, but I will admit that this makes me uneasy.
Google is hoping that we will trust our personal information to a USB drive. Speaking of passwords, when I read this post at Dustbury I was thinking “Hey, that guy had the exact same problem I had!” Then I realized that “this guy” was me.
The neat story of how a guy filmed a movie as Disney World on the sly.
Farhad Manjoo is singing the same old tired song about the death of the PC. Bring able to do 80% of PC functionality is enough to use the tablet on the go, but heaven help is if, as a culture, we simply forgo the other 20%. Meanwhile, Rob Enderle hits the mark.
We got the keys to the new house last Tuesday. A few observations:
It has a garage, but it’s of little utility for its intended purposes because it’s not very accessible by car. It’s connected to something that’s more like an alley than a street. I also doesn’t have an automatic door and cannot be unlocked from the outside. It actually makes me wonder why - when they were building it - they didn’t just incorporate it into the house. It would have added significantly to the square footage. I’m not sure what extra expense there would have been, but I’d imagine it wouldn’t take long to recoup in higher rent.
That said, it works out perfectly for us. Moving from a larger house to a smaller house means we have extra stuff that needs to be stored. So even if it were a room, we’d probably still be using it for storage. This way, at least, there is a huge door that makes it easier to move stuff in and out.
It’s the little things you notice when you buy a “new” house that was put together by non-developers. There’s no toilet paper roll. There is no mailbox, though they have agreed to put one on there.
I noticed the lack of a toilet paper roll, and remembered that I had not yet taken any toilet paper over there… at an inopportune time.
We’d hoped to hire the realtor’s unemployed brother to help us move stuff. It’s… pretty hard for me to pack with a baby attached to me. I mostly just wanted some help putting stuff into boxes and moving heavy furniture. They wanted $1,600, I was not willing to may much more than $1,000. So after having got used to the idea that I wouldn’t have to move everything, I started having to get used to the idea of moving everything.
We’re going to miss having a yard with a fence. Where we are moving to means that I am not going to be able to let my dog out on her own. Too many streets with too much traffic and too many rabbits that might tempt Lisby into traffic.
Dr. Phi gives us a glimpse into government IT.
I link to this article of a fire in Chicago because you have to see the picture. It’s far out.
The USPS sent Laura Northrup’s package 1,688 miles out of its way. I had a package from the east coast sent to me in the mountain west that, for some reason, went through Hawaii.
XXfactor takes exception to GQ separating out Indian and Asian women from its “Hottest Women List.” It seems to me that you can just as easily chalk this up to “Yay diversity!” rather than get irate. The follow-up on modeling specification is a good point, though.
Apparently, the magic number for an economy is $8,500. Once average purchasing power reaches that number, political extremism and populist promises start losing their appeal.
The few remaining ninjas out there are financially struggling.
How Newegg fought back against a patent troll and saved the online shopping cart.
It really is annoying that all-in-ones won’t let you scan images if you are out of ink. Apparently there is a bypass for my Canon, though. Cool.
I’ve never understood tail-bobbing. Tails are awesome!
How much does Yelp help businesses that get positive reviews? It turns out to be significant.
Researchers are looking at the Facebook pages of people that commit suicide to see if they can identify warning signs.
Megan McArdle wonders what will happen if we turn physicians into middle class employees:
The first thing to point out is that under the hoped-for models, we’ll probably need more doctors. The payment reforms being proposed are going to push us much farther down the road towards corporatized large practices capable of bearing substantial capital and regulatory burdens, and pooling risk over a large group of patients. Doctors will become employees, rather than small business owners.
But if it’s hard to maximize their income, doctors are going to want to maximize lifestyle instead, working a lot fewer hours in exchange for their lower pay. This may be better for patient care (I don’t really like the idea of my surgeon working twelve hours a day, six days a week). But unless you really believe that doctors are creating most of the demand for their own services, this implies that more doctors will be needed.
The second thing to point out is that it will be difficult to get people to give up 10 years of their life and $250,000 in exchange for a salary that will top out at, say, $150,000. Yes, some people want to be doctors because they just love doctoring. But ten years is a long time, and $250,000 is a lot of money. If you’re good enough at school to get into med school, it probably doesn’t make financial sense to go.
She paints a pretty dour picture. It’s not completely unwarranted. There are at least some things we can do that might help immensely. The biggest thing is to collapse medical school into undergraduate as much as possible so that doctors aren’t having to wait ten years. It might be hard to accurately predict good future doctors straight out of high school, but I don’t think you have to wait until they have an undergraduate degree in something else (Clancy majored in bio-chem and psychology)
Importing doctors from abroad is an attractive possibility. They’d be willing to work for less. Or would they? It seems to me that we can attract a lot of doctors from overseas with the offer of money, but it would become notably harder if we try to do it at regular middle class wages. Especially if we expect them to go through residency. Of course, we can consider bypassing residency, but we would only want to do that for doctors from similarly situation nations, who are the least likely to want to come here for diminished wages.
We hear a lot about how other countries pay for their citizens’ medical care, but hear very little about how they make their doctors. Given the shortage, as well as the desire to reduce physician wages, it’s something we need to start giving a lot of thought to.
I have my ideas, though I think it’s ultimately - if we do anything - going to involve redefining “doctor.”
An assistant football coach of the Texas Longhorns had sex with a UT student at the 2009 Fiesta Bowl:
In separate statements released Friday night, Dodds and Applewhite called the incident a one-time occurrence. [UT Athletic Director Deloss] Dodds said it happened during activities related to the 2009 Fiesta Bowl, when [UT Offensive Coordinator] Applewhite was UT’s assistant head coach and running backs coach.
Dodds said he learned of the incident later that month, and that Applewhite admitted his “inappropriate conduct.” Applewhite “fully accepted his discipline, including counseling,” Dodds said.
“Several years ago, I made a regretful decision resulting in behavior that was totally inappropriate,” Applewhite said in his statement. “It was a one-time occurrence and was a personal matter. Shortly after it occurred, I discussed the situation with DeLoss Dodds. I was upfront and took full responsibility for my actions. This is and was resolved four years ago with the university.
The university may have had reason to make this belated disclosure:
Last month, Bev Kearney, the women’s track coach at the University of Texas, resigned over an affair with “an adult student-athlete” in 2002. Was the African-American, gay, woman forced out over a consensual affair while the white male football coach (who was also a star football player at the school) received preferential treatment? In Applewhite’s case, the affair was not with an athlete, but there may have still been a supervisory role. It will be interesting to see how Texas spins this.
It seems to me the central question is whether or not there was a supervisory role (and if there was, what was the nature of it). That, to my mind, is a critical difference between the two incidents. I could be convinced that Applewhite should have been fired for his transgression (UT is reviewing the policy). The case that Kearney shouldn’t have been fired is much more difficult to make. Even at the professional level, where there is a much more ambiguous power relationship between coach and player and the players are older, that is a fireable offense under any reasonable handbook. Such things are almost certain to cause instability within the team the coach was hired to lead.
In the Applewhite case, I can really see it going either way. It seems inappropriate for anybody who is even technically a sorta-member of faculty to be sleeping with students. It also sets a bad standard for the student athletes and their conduct (how they handle the attention and adulation they receive, if of course we care about such things). It can be hard enough to get coaches to crack down on inappropriate (or illegal) personal conduct without coaches having inappropriate relations with students ten years their junior. On the other hand, it’s consensual and there is very little to indicate that their was sufficient power differential to cause concern for coercion.
One suspects that the Applewhite case is one of those things that is going to depend heavily on factors unrelated to the allegation. Which means that someone more prominent like Applewhite stays, while a lesser-known figure would be quietly dispatched.
Megan McArdle expresses her disappointment that EMR is not saving money. I think that a lot of people have been under the impression that increases in efficiency would lead to cost savings. In many contexts, that’s true, but it became pretty obvious to me pretty early on that EMR was not one of them. Among other things, EMR makes billing more inefficient.
While so many conversations about health care costs focus on overbilling and fraud, often left unsaid are the fact that non-fraudulent doctors frequently underbill. There are things they could get paid for if they approached their records a little differently. It’s one of the things we have to worry about if we start trying to bend the cost curve by cutting physician fees. The more we do that, the harder they will look. Or, maybe, it actually doesn’t matter because of EMR. EMR is, among other things, allowing hospitals to more easily find the billing they could send out but don’t. As it stands, my wife’s employer checks doctor notes once every now and again and gives doctors tips on the things that they forgot or didn’t know to bill. With EMR, the review process would become a lot more streamlined
Interestingly, I think that McArdle may have been more right than wrong in her initial view of EMR (cost-savings aside). There is a huge learning curve, and people who have been doing notes one way for the longest time are going to be slower during the adaptation process (which may last the duration of their career…). But for doctors who learn to use EMR initially, I think it’s more likely than not a time-saver. My wife came through under both systems and it didn’t take long for EMR to be the faster way to go. She initially hated it, but now really wishes her current employer would adopt it. But she hadn’t spent years and years doing it the other way.
Not often, but I sometimes get conspiratorially-minded. The case of the NCAA screwing up the investigation of Miami (FL) to my usually dormant conspiratorial instincts. This has the potential to save the NCAA from making a very difficult decision. Enough so that I wonder - at least a little - if it wasn’t sabotaged. I’m sure Miami-Ohio is breathing a little easier, though.
Tom Tancredo lost a bet and will have to smoke pot. Awesome. Good on him for keeping up his side of the bargain.
I link to this article of a fire in Chicago because you have to see the picture. It’s far out.
Canada has denied Randy Quaid’s request for permanent status. It looks like we’re stuck with him.
Via the New York Post and AP, an interesting story of how a clerk at Papa John’s managed to talk a thief out of taking money and into taking a pizza instead.
Having read this list of 10 lessons from creationist-inspired school books, I decided that I needed a drink.
I’ve been addicted to the Android game Temple Run lately. I can play it with one hand, which is very helpful when holding a baby. Here’s the story of how it came to be. Also from BusinessInsider, a look at where Google keeps your data.
Discussed recently on NaPP, a look at the rebound effect of energy efficiency. The “rebound effect” being that people who have more energy efficient things end up using it more and undercut the energy savings. They exist, but are not large enough to offset the energy savings.
Here is more on the giant squid, and its hunter.
Aquaman gets no respect.
After we made one, what exactly would we do with a neanderthal?
And so are a number of other countries (perhaps every last one, in their own way).
Steven Taylor* posts excerpts from and a link to an interview with an American political operative who has done some work in Israeli elections. He comments:
This struck me on a couple of levels. First, this is fundamentally what comparative political inquiry is: the systematic understanding of similarities and differences across cases to help produce a broader understanding of the political. Second, it is a good example of how groups of people like to think that they are somehow exceptional or unique when, in fact, they only think that because they don’t know all that much about other places. This is a mistake that Americans writ large make all time. Of course, everybody thinks that they, or their group, is exceptional (and maybe sometimes they are), but often our view of how special we are is derived from the fact that we only know one thing and we just assume that it has to be special.
There’s not much to disagree with there, that we can learn from other countries and they can learn from us. As Americans, we are often more enthusiastic about the latter than the former.
That said, when we do so, I think that there are ways in which we do have to consider that we are different (just as we should consider ways in which other countries are different from us). To use an example of international comparison that conservatives make, for instance, I don’t think that there is a whole lot that we can learn from Switzerland’s high rates of gun ownership and low rates of gun crimes. And when I take a position against learning from Scandinavian experience, it’s not political rhetoric. Even things that Scandinavian countries do that I like - such as Sweden’s voucher system - are mostly transferable to the US in my mind and imagination. Not that it wouldn’t work, or that it would, but it’s speculation. Ditto Finland.
A lot of my thirties has been spend learning the notion of context-dependent. While I am generally a supporter of gun rights here, if I were in Singapore or Japan, I’d likely not support a second amendment there. I used to glibly state “any nation that needs a draft to staff an army is probably not worth protecting,” but having learned more about the situations in some other countries (like Israel), I’ve learned it’s remarkably context-dependent. And my argument comes across like “any country that has to pressure people to get vaccinations deserves to be struck with polio.
Now, when I talk about the US as being exceptional, one thing I am not willing to argue is that we are exceptional in our exceptionalism. Being the ugly American that I am, there aren’t many countries I actually know enough about to know how alike or different they are than we are. That’s not to say I sink into absolute relativism and decline to make judgments, though I try to be less judgmental of them than I am of US.
In many ways, I don’t worry about when we are out of sync with the rest of the world. I mean, I look at our health care system and the fact that it’s different than elsewhere nearly isn’t as troublesome as the fact that it’s expensive and inefficient. I oppose the death penalty, but the fact that it is banned elsewhere doesn’t play much of a role, and so on. I have a not-admirable tendency to get irked when internationalists look at how we are out of step and seem to imply that such should be an indication that we are deficient. We are us. Exasperating, chaotic, diverse, gargantuan us. Unique, for better or worse.
To one of the points that Taylor specifically points to, I don’t really look at multi-party systems like what Israel has and envy it. I believe that there are definite advantages to the American two-party system. Which sometimes gets me looks like I am the American who is closed off to other options. Truthfully, there are some aspects of other systems I do like (the National/Liberal distinction in Australia, for example), though I am not sure how we would get from here to there. I do like New York’s fusion ticket… but the party apparatus destroyed that. So to an extent, it is very much the sort of status quo bias that Taylor has criticized. But I suppose it’s the small-c conservative in me that is skeptical of widespread electoral reform.
Which all brings me back to my general support for federalism, where it becomes easier to try things on our shores with our people to then start expanding as they prove effective or limiting exposure when they prove not to be. I am far more comfortable taking something that is working in New York and California and rolling it out nationally than I am taking something that is working for Japan or even Australia. (Some of this emanating from a view not typically associated with what Taylor is talking about: My belief that Americans can screw just about anything up, no matter how well it works elsewhere.)
* - I should note that I have a history is misinterpreting a lot of what he says, and niggling at it. Even though I am not sure we are even all that far apart politically, there is just a bit of a disconnect at times and I am sure it’s my fault. This post is not a case where I think I am rebutting what he says, merely tracing my own thoughts of my own reaction. There is a good chance that we disagree only a little, or not at all.
Our new place is ready! We saw it today.
Clancy and I may be pulling the trigger on our month-to-month rental agreement one month earlier than the landlords demanded us out. The question I had was whether or not I could give notice tomorrow and not be stuck with rent all the way through March because thirty days takes us to February 1.
In an earlier age, I might have had to go to the library. Or maybe to the state capital. Or maybe I would have had to consult a lawyer.
In the Internet age, however, I can simply go to Arapaho’s website and see what, precisely, state code is as it pertains to rental agreements.
[X]-[Y]-[Z](2) The landlord or the tenant may terminate a month-to-month tenancy by giving to the other at any time during the tenancy at least 30 days’ notice in writing prior to the date designated in the notice for the termination of the tenancy.
(3) The tenancy terminates on the date designated and without regard to the expiration of the period for which, by the terms of the tenancy, rents are to be paid. Unless otherwise agreed, rent is uniformly apportionable from day to day.
There is, of course, nothing new about being able to do this. This sort of thing is widely regarded as what makes the Internet awesome. But today? Today I am feeling the love.
American companies have pushed their limits on India and outsources.
I think China is in for a world of hurt with a lot of their perpetual construction, but I actually think their knock-off cities and landmarks are kind of cool. It reminds me of Las Vegas, actually. But hard core.
Relatedly, a look at China’s future.
James Bond, for realz. (Well, the seduction angle, anyway.)
Mona Lisa… on the moon.
Minnesota is taking some needed steps to prevent some of the debt collection abuse we’ve been seeing in this country.
My recent experiences with the IRS have been less than pleasant, and apparently I am not alone. But there have been some positive developments.
TechCrunch calls Utah an unlikely tech hub, though there’s really no particular reason for that to be the case. It has a strong white-collar culture, good education system, and business-friendly culture. The corridor between Salt Lake City and Provo is really quite impressive.
The extraordinary cynicism of Dick Morris. What’s notable is that he was a great political mind, once.
US oil production is going up, up, up.
Dave Schuler has some ideas on inequality and stimulus investment that are worth thinking about.
Of the (apparently failed) attempt to rig the electoral college in Virginia, Burt Likko writes:
Forgive me if I’m less than impressed with the notion that this would completely de-legitimize any Presidential election in which a Republican happened to win. After all, I can foresee that district-level allocation would result in fewer campaign resources being put in to a state certain to be divided — Virginia could be diminishing rather than enhancing its role as a key player in Presidential politics by splitting its 13 electoral votes roughly down the middle — if the Republican is going to get not fewer than 5 votes and the Democrat not fewer than 4, then only 4 and not 13 votes are in play, so it’s not as much of a prize.
You see, the fear on the part of Democrats, and the hope on the part of Republicans, comes from the fact that by virtue of controlling a majority of state legislatures at the point in the electoral cycle when redistricting happens, Republicans have gerrymandered themselves into a majority of Congressional districts. The assumption is that election results on a district-by-district basis will roughly parallel elections to the House. Which means Republicans will have a “locked in” advantage of thirty-three votes because the 2012 Congressional elections returned 234 Republicans and 201 Democrats.
In 2012, Barack Obama won 27 jurisdictions (26 states and D.C.) and Mitt Romney won 24, so that means that the Electoral College results of 255 votes for Obama and 282 votes for Romney, notwithstanding that the popular vote was very much in Obama’s favor. And that will be how every election for the remaining duration of the Republic will turn out. (There, I just spared you reading the article on Larry Sabato’s blog.)
The danger, it seems to me, is the redefining of the acceptable. No, Maine and Nebraska don’t make much of a difference. No, Virginia on its own won’t make much of a difference. But once the precedent is set, it’s really hard to take back. Perhaps the most optimistic things that can be said about it are that (a) it won’t spread or (b) that it will lead to a collapse of the electoral college as a whole. The former is hardly a ringing endorsement because the possibility that it might be wrong far could be catastrophic to the system. The latter depends on much to come to fruition, and supposes that the electoral college is so bad that it’s worth getting worse for the possibility of it getting better.
If put to referendum, I would vote to do away with the Electoral College tomorrow. But… I don’t consider it to be evil. I consider the cons to outweigh the pros. There are advantages insofar as it prevents a Republican from winning by running up extreme victories in the south and it prevents Democrats from winning by running up high totals in urban areas. It also forces candidates to spend time away from urban and suburban areas, which I do not altogether consider to be a bad thing. But the breaking down of an election to a select number of states has a distorting effect that outweighs those advantages.
There is also something to be said for election-by-district. There is nothing, in theory wrong with splitting votes by legislative districts. The parliamentary system works with a similar dynamic (a candidate can lose the “popular vote” but still wind up being Prime Minister). However, the totality of events and factors relating to Virginia in particular make their actions nothing short of reprehensible. It’s indefensible. I can come up with rationales for a lot of things, but not this. Gerrymandering may be old hat, and district-based allocation are nothing new, and holding a vote based on who is and is not in the state is not unheard of… but this is all of those things and more.
I am less skeptical than Burt is that the Electoral College is now and always. Because it sometimes advantages one party and sometimes the other, a couple rapid-succession flipped votes could lead to a consensus. Because one party is more predisposed to support it than another, if the supporting party is on the losing end and the opposing party has a long enough view to know that it won’t be to their benefit forever - or if they are given something in return (such as DC statehood), I could see it happening. And lastly, if few enough states become competitive, you might get the 3/4 of states you need right there. Or the NPV initiative could work and you’d only need enough states to get to 270 and large states Republican and Democrat have incentives here. All of this is unlikely, but not impossible. (We’re pretty much debating between a 0% likelihood and a 3% likelihood, but what are blogs for if not debating this sort of thing?)
The last thing I wanted to mention is that even if you put gerrymandering aside, district-based voting favors Republicans and will for the foreseeable future. The reason being that rural voters are not as Republican as core urban voters are Democratic. There are only a couple counties in the entire country that vote as Republican as DC does Democratic. I am relatively certain that if you look at individual precincts, you’d see more Republican ones, but wider margins in the Democratic ones (including some with no Republican voters, it turns out). So because of this, even without gerrymandering, there is a stacking of the deck in favor of Republicans. This is something that we should keep in mind: gerrymandering isn’t the only problem here. This is an area where the Republicans can act and the Democrats are simply incapable of responding in kind.
There are a number of ways to skin a deer. Debating between them is a rivalry of concepts of fairness, for which there is no singular, objective answer. But I struggle to come up with a single manner in which what Virginia is doing can be justified. The best we can hope for is that it fails. The next best thing is trying to keep it as contained as possible.
Bloomberg ran a piece about the inadequacies of the Internet in the United States, making the oft-mentioned point that we really don’t get much bang for our buck. She wonders why broadband isn’t more of a government venture, citing some municipal initiatives such as the one in Lafayette, Louisiana:
In 2004, the Lafayette utilities system decided to provide a fiber-to-the-home service. The new network, called LUS Fiber, would give everyone in Lafayette a very fast Internet connection, enabling them to lower their electricity costs by monitoring and adjusting their usage.
Push-back from the local telephone company, BellSouth Corp., and the local cable company, Cox Communications Inc., was immediate. They tried to get laws passed to stop the network, sued the city, even forced the town to hold a referendum on the project — in which the people voted 62 percent in favor. Finally, in February 2007, after five civil lawsuits, the Louisiana Supreme Court voted, 7-0, to allow the network.
From 2007 to mid-2011, people living in Lafayette saved $5.7 million on telecommunications services.
Since Lafayette went down this path, other communities have followed. According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a group that advocates for municipal fiber networks, these community-owned networks are generally faster, more reliable and cheaper than those of the private carriers, and provide better customer service.
I have seen one of these municipal networks in action, and I have to say that they are a pretty great deal. Especially when the local utility companies are charging too much or dragging their feet on upgrading service. More generally, there is a strong argument to be made that utilities that lend themselves towards natural monopolies, like cable internet, cable TV, and phone service, ought to be government rather than private ventures. I mean, if you’re not going to have actual competition between suppliers, why not cut out the middle man?
Sometimes, it’s because the middle man has something to offer. Out here, broadband began as a co-op but eventually was sold on the private model in large part because the cable company had access to more and better resources for expansion and upgrading. The co-op more or less abandoned the city right about the time I was arriving, though they still cover the outlying part of the county. However you look at it, there’s no good reason that a private company shouldn’t have to prove itself to the people.
There were other aspects of the article I was less keen about, however. Where I felt like the article was misleading.
It’s true that in the past private industry had little interest in covering rural America and needed the pitchfork of the government to do so. Rural America and small towns owe a debt of gratitude to the FDR and the federal government in that regard. And, as is the case in Callie, a lot of it they had to do themselves because they were (and in some places still are) below the radar of corporate America. However, it has to be said that (as far as I can tell) this is a lot less true than it used to be. Proclamations that but for the government, national communications and entertainment companies would tell small towns and rural places to go to hell no longer seems to be true except for a relatively small sliver of what we would consider to be rural.
My current town, Callie, population 3,000 with nary another town of remotely comparable size (or larger) for 50 miles in any direction, has 3G from Verizon and (non-LTE) 4G from AT&T. Verizon’s LTE network extends to cover almost 90% of the country, which includes a lot of small towns. Places such as Butte, Montana, and Twin Falls, Idaho, are covered. You see something similar with local channels in satellite. Back when I used to work for a satellite carrier, they had all but said that there were some DMA’s that they would never bother to cover. Now, Dish Network covers everybody and DirecTV covers almost everybody. Twin Falls and Butte both have their local channels broadcast by satellite. And they aren’t actually charged any more than the big cities are for the privilege (a hat tip to arguments about the USPS being a giveaway to rural America because letters to the middle of nowhere cost the same as letters between population centers). There is, in fact, money to be made in rural America and small towns, and the same subsidies that the government has actually apply to private industry as well (ie Dish Network makes more per subscriber in Seattle than Twin Falls because of per-capita usage they get out of resources expended).l
Another issue I had with the article was any comparison whatsoever between the United States and South Korea and the like. You simply cannot compare the two in any meaningful sense. Not with Internet, and not with cell phone coverage. The US faces enormous challenges that smaller and more urban nations do not. The degree to which we are spread out makes coverage more difficult. This applies to rural areas, but also suburbs (and the fact that our urban cores themselves are not remarkably dense, in most places). This is one of the downsides to American settlement patterns, but it’s not going away any time soon. So coverage of such things is going to be weaker, and more expensive.
Which brings us, of course, to questions of how and where the federal government should promote service. I’ve written on this before. Now, as a rural-liver, I wouldn’t mind it one little bit if the federal government decided to lay broadband out here. I’d use it and happily so. The only downsides are the extent to which the same people who would champion a national broadband policy will turn around and complain about “rural subsidies” and, more substantively, I don’t think it’s actually the best allocation of resources.
While we do need to make sure that everybody has access to high speed Internet of one sort of another (I’m a commie that way, I suppose), I believe it only makes sense to approach each areas needs individually. Callie doesn’t need fiber. A lot of places don’t. As satellite internet gets better and more affordable, this may well be a problem that takes care of itself. So long as we keep expectations reasonable.
Which is why, ultimately, I think this should be mostly a local issue. More cities should either do what Lafayette has done or use the threat of doing so to leverage a equipment upgrades by the local suppliers. The primary role I see in the federal government is to use fiber for redevelopment zones. Take cities that have capacity outstripping their population or that are simply struggling to keep their population numbers stable, and start offering it to those areas. Places like Detroit or Redstone. That could be helpful in enticing employers to utilize these services and attract and retain local talent. But beyond that, different places are going to have different needs. The alternative starts to look like this.