Friday, October 31, 2014

Tim Cook... iAssassination Dream?

Yesterday Tim Cook spoke up, publishing a statement where he proudly promoted himself from the title of "CEO" to the more descriptive and meaningful title of "Gay CEO".  Rumors concerning Cook's sexual orientation have bubbled up from time-to-time, so the news is not necessarily a surprise, although the announcement seems noteworthy.

The piece is remarkably focused on the self.  6.7% of the words in the piece (54 of 801) are "I", "me", "myself" or similar.  Over of 75% of the sentences (31 of 41) are self-referential, and all 10 of the paragraphs contain a reference to the writer.  This would be expected, since the piece is about Cook's own sexual orientation, but it does seem to contrast with the moral reasons he includes for writing this piece, and for publishing it at this time, which he states is to follow Dr. Martin Luther King's challenge of "What are you doing for others?"  Cook appears to be writing this for himself.

The nod to MLK would be in keeping with the Apple branding campaign "Think Different."  This campaign is referenced again in the final paragraph, as Cook pairs MLK with RFK, adding in Robert F. Kennedy and making reference to the posters of both men that adorn the office space at Apple's headquarters.  Cook doesn't "pretend that writing this puts [him] in their league."

What league are these two prominent public figures both members of?

Well... not only were the lives of both MLK and RFK stopped short by the bullet of an assassin, but the period between these two tragic events includes a memorable eulogy of Dr. Luther's life given by Robert Kennedy shortly after the first of these two murders.

Assassination is arguably the most prominent connector between the lives of these two men in the public's memory of them.  Search for "dr martin luther king AND robert f kennedy" on Google.  On the first page of results the word that appears most often (after filtering out their names) is "assassination".

created at

What does this mean?  The combination of the self-focused nature of the editorial and the inclusion, out of many impressive choices, of two famous persons that are persuasively linked by assassination makes it possible that Tim Cook hopes the public announcement of his sexual orientation will put him in the crosshairs of an assassin and thus earn him a spot in the vaunted ranks of revered, deceased pop-celebrities.

Perhaps this is how Cook intends to step fully out of the shadow of his predecessor...

Friday, October 24, 2014

Ensuring Government Provided Preschool

The City of Seattle has figured out a fabulous way to ensure that the city residents support and pay for publicly organized pre-school.

Our ballots for this November ask Seattle residents to vote on Propositions 1A and 1B.  Both concern providing funding for and creating regulations of pre-schools in the city.  1A was added to the ballot through the collection of signatures.  1B was added by the city council.

The city council also decided that these two initiatives were in competition.  Rather than an up-or-down vote on each initiative we have a two-question ballot:

  1. Should either of these measures be enacted into law? [Yes / No]
  2. Regardless of whether you voted yes or no above, if one of these measures is enacted, which one should it be? [Proposition 1A / Proposition 1B]

We can choose to pass 1A, pass 1B, or pass neither... and the city has stacked the deck in favor of increasing government provided preschool by reducing exposure to the idea that voters can in fact vote "No" across the board... that the third option of rejecting both is actually available to the voters.

Seattle Municipal Code lays down the guidance that the city must produce an election pamphlet prior and mail it out the city.  Regarding initiatives, SMC 2.14.010.A.1 states that the pamphlet shall contain:

For each measure, the identification by serial number, the ballot title, the text, an explanatory statement, and arguments for and against the passage of the measure;

Since the two propositions are bundled together on the ballot, the pamphlet contains the explanatory statement for 1A, the explanatory statement for 1B, statements in favor of and in opposition to 1A, and statements in favor of and in opposition to 1B.

Notice what's missing?

The pamphlet does not contain statements in favor of and in opposition to the first question on the ballot.  The "Please do not allow the city government to become more deeply involved in the provision of preschool!" viewpoint is not represented in the pamphlet.

The absence is telling.

By deciding that these two propositions are in direct competition and combining them on the ballot the city council has reduced the likelihood that the voters will consider whether either of these initiatives is worthy at all.  The conversation in the pamphlet is about choosing between 1A and 1B, (and that is likely the case in the public discussion as well), and all voters are asked to select their preferred proposition, even if their answer would otherwise be "No" to both individually if they were presented with the option.

Politics is a messy sport.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Toll of Improper Attribution

The WSJ published an interesting article Tuesday about the growing use of toll roads to enhance traffic flow in and around the major metropolitan areas in Texas.

The following paragraph purports to explain the funding issue that is leading to the choice of tolls vs. taxes to pay for the road-building:

The toll boom is taking place in part because a primary source of highway-construction funding in the U.S., a federal tax of 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline, hasn't changed since 1993.  Many states also haven't raised state gasoline taxes for decades, including Texas, which hasn't increased its 20-cents-per-gallon tax since 1991.

Note that these statements are presented without any attribution.  No research study was referenced.  No budget documents were referenced.  No public hearings were referenced.  No politicians' statements were included in quotes.

We the reader are supposed to simply understand that toll roads would go away if only the citizens would agree to raise these specific taxes, and there are no other factors involved.

By not including some attribution, the paragraph above becomes the opinion of the authors (Miguel Bustillo and Nathan Koppel) and should be relegated to the Opinion section.  It allows the reader the opportunity to assume the authors would encourage the government to raise taxes.  It's possible the statements about fuel taxes are true and were validated by presentations at referenced public meetings, but by excluding attribution the authors deprive their readers of that truth.

The lack of attribution even proposes the possibility that the authors are engaging in a one-sided argument with the citizens impacted by the increase in toll road development, especially considering that one local man is quoted in the immediately preceding paragraph:

"We pay taxes for roads and bridges, and if that's not enough, if you can't afford it, don't build it."

News articles should be news, and the WSJ has an obligation to ensure the quality of the journalistic product of their authors.  A correction or follow-up is appropriate.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The PC Left Eats Its Own...

Last night NPR's Fresh Air program ran an interview with Ed Norton, promoting the new movie Birdman.   In a discussion of a fight scene, Ed Norton referenced a Dorothy Parker quote:

"Scratch an actor... and you'll find an actress"

The implication of the quote, as used in context (a discussion of a fight scene) was obviously that actors (male) were actually soft, over-emotional, perhaps even weak... like actresses (women).  In short: Women are weak, and men who act are actually weak as well, the men merely wear a costume of masculinity.

The conversation about the fight scene begins at 9:00 in the audio.  The Dorothy Parker quote happens at 10:22. (Audio of the interview is available at the top of the article linked above.)

Interviewer Terry Gross pounces on Norton's use of the quote and doesn't let go easily.

"Can you explain that to me?  I don't get that, honestly I don't get it."
[Pause, as Ed Norton mumbles]
"Is that that actors are effeminate? Is that the joke?"
[Norton responds a bit...] 
"Oh, so we're equating women with vanity, are we?"
 It was a pleasure to listen to Ed Norton attempt to dig his way out of that thread, and you could almost hear the sigh of relief when Gross moved on to the next topic (finally!)

I've not run into the quote before, but it seems a perfectly reasonable one... as long as you are someone that takes a traditional, and I would say reasonable view on the inherent differences between men and women generally.

But tread carefully if you want to be 'in the club' on the Left...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Initiative Measures of Insanity

The ballots in the State of Washington for this November's national elections will include three initiative measures. I took my first hard look at the three of them this weekend, after receiving my voters' pamphlet from the state.

All three initiatives make me very sad.

The initiative process itself bothers me. Why go through the effort of ensuring we have a representative form of government with careful assignments of authority and subject to regular election if we reserve for the people the right to overrule the government with a simple majority?

The presence of an initiative process would seem to dilute the seriousness of the elected government. Why should our elected representatives work hard to make the laws sound and reasonable when the people can write any rule they want into law themselves?

Initiatives would also seem likely to radicalize the government. As the use of the initiative process flourishes, the voters would begin to realize that it really doesn’t matter too much who gets elected (we can just overwrite the laws they pass!)  The politicians won’t need to tap into the pool of politically moderate voters to win elections, so they need not temper their messages or build compromises.

I like the idea of reserving for the people the ability to override their government when it goes astray, though. So perhaps an initiative process that would only be valid if sustained by a super-majority or more of the voters. Something that requires a significant uprising of the people to generate change outside of the normal legislative process.

Nonetheless, here we are. The three initiatives in Washington State this year are:

  • I-1351: Changes the allocation of state education funds to school districts and establishes new standards for teacher- and staff-per-student ratios in K-12 schools.
  • I-591: Prohibits the government from confiscating guns without due process and eliminates background checks for gun purchasers unless mandated by federal law
  • I-594: Requires private-party sales or exchanges of guns to complete the transaction with a third-party, licensed gun dealer who would perform a background check on the purchaser.
I-1351 is incredibly complicated, with tiers of funding allocation based on the wealth of the community or grade level or type of program, specific changes to staffing-to-student levels for eleven different class of educational personnel, changes to funding for services and materials, and a detailed schedule mandating when portions of the law must be implemented over a four-year span.

The complexity of the law illustrates why we hire (elect) a representative legislature, in the same way that we might hire a contractor to renovate our kitchen.  We simply can't spare the time and don't have the expertise, so we outsource the task.  This initiative is a great example of minimizing the importance and value of the legislative branch of government.

I-591 is deceptively simple.  I must say I am very attracted to the brevity of the language and that the law restrains the authority of the state as opposed to most laws that impose restraints upon the citizen.

However, on closer inspection it appears that this law will not accomplish much: The government can't legally take property without due process (so if they already were doing so, they wouldn't pay any more attention to this law than existing law...) and it appears our state laws for background checks already align to federal laws requiring the same.

Perhaps the language will protect a citizen gun-owner in some future case... but by using the initiative process, we are just as likely to see an initiative in the future that overrules this one, as the simple majority shifts over time.

I-594 is a great example of the majority attempting to enforce its whims on the minority.  If we were talking about an initiative promoted by white people to exclude black people from education or jobs or similar the people would be up in arms resisting this effort as racist.  This law is a different form of popular vs. unpopular competition, albeit with a similar result: Otherwise law-abiding citizens have their ability to transact business restrained by the power of the state at the behest of an oppressive majority.  The American form of government is supposed to establish a reasonable balance between the power of the majority and the rights and freedom of the minority.  So much for that.

This initiative is also very complicated to execute.  It adds new sections to state law, and revises specific lines and wording of the existing law.  Similar to I-1351, the average citizen, recognizing that they have neither the time nor expertise to consider the implications of these detailed changes, hired their legislators to provide the requisite expertise and debate the issues on their behalf.

I'm inclined to vote no on all three.  We'll see what happens when I crack open the envelope containing my blank ballot in a few weeks.

Perhaps we can start a new initiative to amend the state constitution and require a 3/4ths majority to pass any future initiative measures.  Would be fun to watch the majority vote away its own power in favor of a healthier state government, no?