Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Social Security information

A comment from Lee Arnold on Brad Delong's blog this morning led me to this excellent 12 minute animated video explaining the current Social Security system and possible solutions.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Blogger Images

I wonder if Blogger's new photo option is any easier or better than Picasa.

Well, clearly I should resize and reduce resolution before trying to upload. I'm working with a modem and I won't always have time to wait 20 or 30 minutes to upload.

Now, let me try to figure out placement. I think I chose right justfied in the initial download.

Okay. I can resize them and with trial and error I can move them around.

This is my perennial border last Wednesday:
(Insert text here 'cause I can't seem to space the new paragraph down to the bottom of the picture. I know Blogger doesn't like more than one line between paragraphs. Clearly I'm going to have to learn enough html to adjust borders etc.) Clearly I made the task more difficult by upload two pictures at the same time. Just a little more space...

This is the border on Friday, after edging and mulching.

Okay. I'm going to have to experiment a little. But it's certainly no harder than Picasa. And may be more versatile once I figure it out.

SSI - Social Security Insurance Rhetoric

A few years ago, as Business Director of a not-for-profit arts organization, I was working to establish a retirement program for employees. I think helping employees save for retirement is one of the best benefits an employer can offer. It gives the employee some security, it helps attract well qualified employees and it reduces employee turnover. One member of the Board of Trustees preferred a cafeteria style benefit plan because he thought requiring employees to save for retirement in order to receive the matching money the employer offers was paternalistic.

The current rhetoric in the Social Security debate equally baffling. Is the current SSI tax, matched by the employer, paternalistic? Maybe. Is that bad? Note that it's SSI - Social Security Insurance. It's not retirement savings. It provides workers with an annuity type investment to fund retirement. If you retire early and live a long time, you get more than you paid in. If not, well then, aside from survivor benefits, you're funding someone else's retirement. Maybe that's the part conservatives can't stand.

We're simply not going to let people starve when age or disability forces them to retire. SSI prevents the need to support, outright, people with no other retirement savings (or inadequate savings). And, incidentally, everyone else benefits, too. Would we prefer a tax to support only the people who have no other retirement savings?

I'm absolutely in favor of private retirement savings and investments. I have some myself. Every one is free now to establish whatever private savings plan they want. Some plans are nicely encouraged by tax exemptions and credits. We don't need the government to require private savings. It's enough that there are some tax benefits. What SSI provides is a bit of insurance for people who haven't had enough money or foresight to save enough for retirement.

I know I have neighbors who don't have enough money to save for retirement. I also have friends with incomes considerably higher than mine who've been living in the moment and have saved little or nothing for retirement. I'm okay with that. Let me repeat: it's Social Security Insurance. I'm required to carry liability insurance on my car. In addition, I opt to pay for collision coverage to cover the expense of repairing my car in the event of an accident. So, for thirty five years I've paid hundreds of dollars a year for car insurance. I've never had an accident. Someone out there is paying for their accidents with my money. Likewise, if I live a long time (which I may, given the fact that I've never had an auto accident) I'll be getting someone else's money in my Social Security check.

Consider that other great misnomer, Life Insurance. It has that warm, fuzzy, safe feeling. But it's a bet with the insurance company. You're betting that you'll die before you pay in the value of the policy. The insurance company is betting you'll live a long time and pay in more than the value of the policy. Let me clue you in. The insurance company, just like the Las Vegas dealer, is going to win. They're not doing this for the fun of it. They're making a profit. If I had life insurance I'd be counting on all those people who live a long time and keep paying their life insurance to give my beneficiary a chunk of money when I die.

Hmmm... I wonder how many conservatives have annuity investments or life insurance.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Evolution and knowledge

Sometimes I'm a bit slow to catch on. I don't always have time to follow up on interesting things. So, it's only recently that I looked into the concept of "reality-based community" posted on so many of the blogs I read. Apparently the term arose in the fall of 2004 following a NY Times article in which an unnamed aide to Bush is quoted:

The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

This would be funny if it weren't so scarey. I'm fine with the contrast between faith-based and reality-based. And I'm firmly situated in the reality-based community. But it's truly frightening to hear someone in government say "...we create our own reality."

I always enjoy discussions of evolution and creationism. My friend, Bill (whose picture I posted here), is a retired Cornell biologist. He was internationally renowned in the field of behavioral evolution and nearly everything I know about evolution I learned from him. It's easy to love a framework of knowledge that makes as much sense as evolution. I especially liked his response to a graduate student in the throes of angst about the meaning of life. "Life is just a gene's way of getting more genes." It takes a lot of the heat off the decision of "What should I do today?" Today economist Brad DeLong is writing about evolution here.

When I'm pondering how to influence someone who's views are very different from mine, I usually come to the question of knowledge vs belief. It's relatively easy to influence someone whose ideas are based on knowledge. But so often you come to the place where differences of opinion are based, not on knowledge, but on belief. So, what's the difference?

I know there's a whole branch of philosophy devoted to knowledge, but I'm not well educated in this area. There are things I know because I've experienced them, i.e. if I touch the hot stove I'll burn my hand. And there are things I know 'cause someone I trust told me so and it makes sense: some American colonists were outraged by the Stamp Act. And there are things I believe, without any rational basis, because they work for me: educated is better than uneducated. My sister still disagrees with me regarding "clean is better than dirty." Notice the word in common here: "better." Eventually evidence accumulates and some beliefs become knowledge. I think I was eight when I realized it's not the bending trees making the wind blow, but the other way around. And I'm still not sure exactly why that's true.

But in the end, I don't know how to influence people who cannot incorporate knowledge into beliefs.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Too late, smart

Why has Bush's approval rating dropped so much in the past few months? Why, oh why, didn't voters get this last fall? From the New York Times, June 17:

Forty-two percent of the people responding to the poll said they approved of the way Mr. Bush was handling his job, a marked decline from his 51 percent rating after of the November election...

I have a fantasy that one day Bush ducks into a phone booth, whips off his republican suit and in some fine superhero garb declares: "This was all a nightmare lesson on what can happen when people aren't paying attention. Now, let's go back and do it right."

Friday, June 17, 2005

Public Opinion

I'm pleasantly surprised that Lt Gen James Conway and pentagon spokesman, Lawrence Di Rita, might think that public opinion on the war in Iraq matters. Yesterday they appeared in a press conference describing the progress in Iraq. The DOD press release quotes:

Di Rita and Conway spoke about recent polls that show a drop-off of American support for operations in Iraq. "Obviously, the public support of these kinds of operations is critical," Di Rita said.
Angry, but not surprised, that Senator Warner (R-VA) and others think Senator Durbin's (D-IL)rhetoric about the torture of detainees at Guantanamo is more shocking than the torture itself. From the Washington Post:

During a speech Tuesday, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat quoted from an FBI agent's report describing detainees at the Naval base in Guantanamo Bay as being chained to the floor without food or water in extreme temperatures.

If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime - Pol Pot or others - that had no concern for human beings," Durbin said.

Edited 6/18/05 to add link to Durbin's full statement.

From the New York Times:

Leading Republicans demanded an apology from Senator Richard J. Durbin on Thursday, two days after he compared abusive treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to the war crimes of oppressive regimes like the Nazis and the Khmer Rouge.

Maggy just sent me the link to this story about a 16 year old girl detained by the FBI and eventually deported as a terrorist suspect. the first terror investigation in the United States known to involve minors, the case reveals how deeply concerned the government is that a teenager might become a terrorist, and the lengths to which federal agents will go if they get even a whiff of that possibility. And it has drawn widespread attention, stoking the debate over the right balance between government vigilance and the protection of individual freedoms.

...An F.B.I. agent, posing as a youth counselor, first confronted Tashnuba in her bedroom, going through her school papers and questioning everything from her views on jihad to her posterless walls, she said. Sent to a center for delinquents in Pennsylvania, Tashnuba said she was interrogated without a lawyer or parent present, about her beliefs and those of her friends, mainly American girls she had met at city mosques.

I guess you have to be grateful, on some level, that she wasn't sent to Guantanamo.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Happy Birthday, Maggy!

Happy Birthday, Maggy!
Posted by Hello

This is Maggy trying to think of the perfect birthday wish. My wish already came true: we had a wonderful birthday celebration.

Alan Greenspan

In line with my search for more things to laugh about and my admiration for Greenspan, check out these non-poetic interpretations of fairy tales.

Friday, June 10, 2005

More Trouble

More trouble Posted by Hello

As if I weren't having enough trouble, this guy and his two siblings were trying to reach the bird feeders again. So, I brought the bird feeders in and eventually they gave up. I'm a little worried about the goldfish on the deck.

I also want to say that Alan Greenspan is the greatest. He makes his thinking so clear. So, I've kind of got it about higher short term interest and lower long term interest and globalization. I've had a grip on the debt issue for a long time. But a committee member asked, "Other than raising taxes or cutting spending, is there anything we can do?" Greenspan answers, "Not that I know of." He's not overly concerned about the debt. But he did seem concerned about our ability to continue paying the interest on it. Since you have to have something of value to pay it with, he thinks we need much better educated workers to achieve a competitive level of production. It's a good point.


Here's my troublesome sweetheart. Someone pointed out that I should avoid raising the fence bit by bit and inadvertantly training him to jump higher. Good point. But I have to admit Charlie was getting out by stepping over the fence in a place where he'd leaned on the wire so long it was bent low enough to step over. He can jump (I've shown him over fences) but he
thinks it's stupid. I can't imagine him ever jumping with out being told to.

Charlie Posted by Hello

Thursday, June 02, 2005


I've been reading Losing America by Senator Byrd about the Bush administration. In the first chapter he describes, based on his experience with eleven presidents (since Truman) leadership qualities necessary for a president: "... presidential leadership requires much, much more than an expensive pollster and God-given charisma. Skillfully guiding a great nation...requires a vision,... a plan..., mature, solid judgment...wisdom and restraint. Experience..., good working knowledge of history, a thorough understanding of...our constitutional system and an intuitive grasp of...human nature." Then comes my nomination for understatement of the year: "George W Bush entered the White House with few tools than most." Runner-up understatement in the introduction to Byrd's book: "How can we be so comatose as a nation when so many damaging and radical changes are at once thrust upon us?"

Also, who can resist this list of dangerous books on the website of conservative newsletter Human Events. My favorite, in the runner-up list, is the incorrect title of The Origin of Species which they list as Origin of the Species. I found the dangerous book list, and other fun things, last night in Brad DeLong's blog.

It was interesting to hear Ariana Huffington this morning both on Washington Journal and at the Take Back America conference covered by CSPAN.

On a personal note, much of the past week has been taken up with looking for my horse and mending the pasture fence. Five of the past seven mornings he wasn't in the pasture. He's discovered many more low spots in the fence than I knew existed. And now he's discovered that the people half a mile down the road have horses and they're a lot more fun than our solitary confinement.