Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Moderate Political Activism and the Failure of Extremism

Moderate Political Activism and the Failure of Extremism
Could we finally be getting so disgusted with the political status quo here in the US that we're entering an era of moderate activism (that is, activism by moderates rather than extremists)?

Dilbert cartoonist has brass cojones, and demonstrates it every day with provocative blog postings. Among other things, he's asked how one might justify the aid the US provides to Israel (talk about being willing to touch a third rail!).

Recently, he wrote about his fantasy of creating a Pragmatic Party that would focus on transparency and govern based on opinion polls. It is a fascinating thought experiment and an oddly seductive vision. If he ran, I'd probably vote for him. Heck, I might put him as a write-in candidate.

And in a case of truth is stranger than fiction, several veteran political operatives have actually formed a group, Unity08, to create a unity ticket based on secure online voting. This band of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents are trying to tap into moderate activism. As the Washington Post article notes, "Noting that about 85 percent of Americans use the Internet, Rafshoon said that "they can't all be extremists. There has got to be room out there for us.""

Dare we hope?

And if to underscore the frightening attitude of the extremists, here's this howler about how Greenpeace activists who passed out protest flyers at a recent Dubya appearance forgot to remove their own boilerplate:

"In the twenty years since the Chernobyl tragedy, the world’s worst nuclear accident, there have been nearly [FILL IN ALARMIST AND ARMAGEDDONIST FACTOID HERE]."

When even the activists recognize the bankruptcy of their own views, surely a change is going to come.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Startups, America, and Paul Graham

Startups, America, and Paul Graham

Paul Graham has a good essay on why startups "condense" in America. His point is that America has a combination of circumstances which is unique, and which helps startups form. While his assertions are debateable, the do provide a good framework for discussion. These assertions are:

1. The US Allows Immigration. (Why there is no Silicon Valley in Japan)
2. The US Is a Rich Country. (Why there is no Silicon Valley in India)
3. The US Is Not (Yet) a Police State. (Why there is no Silicon Valley in China)
4. American Universities Are Better. (Why there is no Silicon Valley in Germany)
5. You Can Fire People in America. (Why there is no Silicon Valley in Europe)

Brief digression to share my favorite quote from this section:

"Across industries and countries, there's a strong inverse correlation between performance and job security. Actors and directors are fired at the end of each film, so they have to deliver every time. Junior professors are fired by default after a few years unless the university chooses to grant them tenure. Professional athletes know they'll be pulled if they play badly for just a couple games. At the other end of the scale (at least in the US) are auto workers, New York City schoolteachers, and civil servants, who are all nearly impossible to fire. The trend is so clear that you'd have to be willfully blind not to see it.

Performance isn't everything, you say? Well, are auto workers, schoolteachers, and civil servants happier than actors, professors, and professional athletes?

European public opinion will apparently tolerate people being fired in industries where they really care about performance. Unfortunately the only industry they care enough about so far is soccer. But that is at least a precedent."

6. In America Work Is Less Identified with Employment. (Europe and Japan)
7. America Is Not Too Fussy. (Germany)
8. America Has a Large Domestic Market. (Sweden)

Another brief digressive quote:

"However, for better or worse it looks as if Europe will in a few decades speak a single language. When I was a student in Italy in 1990, few Italians spoke English. Now all educated people seem to be expected to-- and Europeans do not like to seem uneducated. This is presumably a taboo subject, but if present trends continue, French and German will eventually go the way of Irish and Luxembourgish: they'll be spoken in homes and by eccentric nationalists."

9. America Has Venture Funding. (Everywhere else)
10. America Has Dynamic Typing for Careers. (Versus vocational tracking in Europe)

Graham goes on to note that this isn't just a rah-rah list. The point is that America is successful at birthing startups for good reasons, and if those reasons go away, so will the startups. That's why we need to keep immigration flowing, keep an open society, and keep our schools on top.

America has a hell of a lead, but there are a lot of ambitious Europeans, Indians, and Chinese waiting to build their own startups. As an American citizen, I'd sure prefer to have them doing it here in our country.

P.S. One area where I fundamentally disagree with Graham is in his assertion that "People who come to work in Silicon Valley face an unpleasant choice: either live in the boring sprawl of the valley proper, or live in San Francisco and endure an hour commute each way."

This is a load of hogwash. There are plenty of folks I know, both techie and fuzzy, who prefer "the boring sprawl of the valley" to San Francisco (or, as I refer to it, that hellhole I hate with a burning passion second only to my hatred for Santa Cruz, which I hate with the burning passion of 10,000 suns). You couldn't pay me enough to justify living in New York City or San Francisco.

Now I know plenty of people who prefer Manhattan or San Francisco. That's fine. But don't project your opinions on to the rest of the world, Paul.

The Housing Bubble Video

The Housing Bubble Video
This is a fascinating video of a presentation by Christopher Thornburg, a senior economist at UCLA's Anderson School, discussing why we are in a housing bubble.

Not only is Thornburg rigorous, well-armed with long-term stats, but he's darn entertaining as well. Of course, at the end of the video, you probably won't be laughing.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Punishing Perfection

Punishing Perfection

Hot on the heels of my last post on admitting your flaws comes this little gem from Kim:

Apparently, in the world of romance novels, authors are very careful to include at least one glaring flaw in their bare-chested bad-boy love interests, because even romance novel readers don't find perfection believable.

There's even a quasi-official term for this, the Strategic Pratfall Effect, from a 10-year-old Inc. article. Psychologist Steven Berglas argues that leaders are more effective when they seem human, and flaws are an innate part of being human.