Friday, January 20, 2017

This is still America.

This is still the America that elected and re-elected her first black president. That gave the majority of its votes to the candidate who would have been her first woman president. The America that has always stood for freedom, equality, justice, and opportunity. The America of hope and inclusiveness, not hatred and fear.

This is still the America that put a man on the moon and brought him safely back to earth. The America that stands firmly by its allies and tenders the hand of reconciliation and friendship to its defeated enemies.

This is still the America whose moral arc may be long, but bends towards justice — because in critical times she has always found citizens ready to take that arc into their own hands and bend it themselves if necessary.

Any would-be leaders who try to steer us backwards, in a direction that leads away from freedom, equality, and justice into tyranny and chaos, will soon find themselves trampled underfoot.

We are the majority. We are the future. We will prevail.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Weblog 2017-01-18

Jacob T. Levy: "The Party Declines"

Another Niskanen Center blog post examines how the weakness of party structures enabled the rise of Trump, even as strong partisanship in the electorate made it unlikely that Republican voters would cross party lines once he was nominated.

In other words, while we can easily imagine smarter, earlier, and braver action by party elites that would have changed the outcome, suggesting that the party might not have been organizationally impotent, the party elites managed things so haplessly in part because they were organizationally weak and didn’t have tools they were confident in.

In the medium-to-long term, restoring a robust democracy in America will crucially require rebuilding a functioning, rational Republican party.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Weblog 2017-01-17

Jerry Taylor at the Niskanen Center blog argues "The Case for (or Against) Scott Pruitt"

Or at least, that's what it says in the headline and lede; he actually has very little to say about Pruitt himself. Instead, he blames Al Gore and Naomi Klein for spooking conservatives into denying climate change with talk of changing "the very foundation of our civilization" and ending capitalism. He continues by advocating a carbon tax as "the ideal policy response" and argues that a Republican-controlled government is perfectly placed to implement it. I can't help but wonder how he still has any faith in Republicans to do the rational thing.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Weblog 2017-01-13

New York Times interview with Peter Thiel

Thiel alternates between boasting of his own rationality and displaying the most blatant epistemic bias. Some of his responses are downright Trumpian, consisting of a series of insinuating questions capped with a coy "I don't know" — the only thing missing is "many people are saying...". Referring to Merrick Garland by his first name strikes an odd note too. Overall the interview is frustratingly superficial, with a whole series of provocative statements by Thiel left unexamined. Lack of corruption is "boring"? I guess that's one problem we won't have to worry about under the new administration.

Tiago Forte on "Bending the Curves of Productivity"

"But we lack a framework for how individual employees can use small batch sizes to their advantage. [...] We need to change our conception of what we are producing, from final deliverables to what I will call 'intermediate packets.'"

The idea reveals another angle on this "weblogging" experiment — if I write these entries with the intention of creating "intermediate packets", perhaps my web browsing can become part of a productive routine rather than mostly a waste of time and vehicle of procrastination. After all, the point of my online reading was always supposed to be to acquire useful knowledge and not just diversion.

A mini-project I've been working on this week is to distill a Global Market Analysis document I did for a prospect a while back into a template I can use to quickly generate similar documents for other potential clients. But the process has been tortuous, with tangents into studying the documentation on software that's only peripherally related — OmniOutliner, to be specific. The market analysis document is built in Apple's Pages, incorporating a few charts made in Excel, and I could probably reach the objective of creating the template without using OmniOutliner at all, or only using its most basic capabilities. But I also have a background objective of learning to use my key software tools more effectively, so I'm taking the time to dive into the manual even if it delays completion of the template project. Does the "importance" of learning OmniOutliner in-depth really outweigh the "urgency" of completing the market analysis template? (And since the main document is in Pages, should I be learning to do the charts in Numbers instead of Excel?) For that matter, it's quite possible that I'm putting way too much time into building sales tools like the Global Market Analyses I'll be building from the template instead of just getting out there and meeting with prospects. I'm not sure — but in Forte's conceptual framework I can think of "proficiency in OmniOutliner" as an "intermediate packet" with future application beyond the template project.

Forte writes:
So what is required to make this new approach a reality? It requires us to get much, much better at packaging our work mid-stream. Here’s what makes it difficult: we can’t afford to do this packaging during the project, because every spare moment is needed to race toward the deadline. And we can’t do it after the project ends, because by then we’re already off to the next one. No, this packaging has to be embedded into the actual way we work moment to moment, so that it doesn’t take any extra time whatsoever.
And he concludes with some thoughts on note-taking apps as "the next frontier of productivity" that relate nicely to the Zettelkasten approach that I hope to return to in future blog posts.

Umair Haque briefly notes why cutting health care is not just inhumane, but also precisely the wrong policy prescription for America today.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Weblog 2017-01-12

Among other things I'm hoping that "weblogging" will help me resist my bad habit of wasting half the day following endless Internet rabbit trails. But I'm also hoping it will help me capture and retain information from my casual reading that is valuable.

Added to my to-read list:

Niklas Goeke summarizes Simple Rules* on his reading blog Four Minute Books. "Simple Rules shows you how to navigate our incredibly complex world by learning the structure of and coming up with your own set of easy, clear-cut rules to follow for the most various situations in life."

*Yes, it's an affiliate link. Buy ten copies for each of your friends! Make me rich!

Seeing patterns

Pattern-finding (forming heuristics) and meta-pattern-finding is just what humans do. It works more often than not (otherwise it would never have evolved), but it fails often enough to get us in trouble. And then we form heuristics about heuristic failure. And so on, turtles all the way down....

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

New year's resolution: reconnect with civic life

Last night I listened in on the second weekly conference call of Indivisible Austin, an anti-Trump political group. Those who know me will hardly be surprised that I'm no fan of that blowhard from Celebrity Apprentice who thinks he and he alone can make America great again. The election result triggered a strong desire to re-engage with my community, and to become a more active citizen in the national community. I'm beginning to explore ways to do that.

There's part of me that still suspects that, despite the more disreputable members of Trump's entourage and his bull-in-a-china-shop style of communicating, some of the panic over the impending inauguration may be a bit overblown. What's objectionable about El Cheeto may yet turn out to be more a matter of style than substance. But I'm willing to risk a little embarrassment if the Trump administration turns out less bad than it seems, if it means that if worse comes to worst I can be part of mitigating the damage during the disaster and, hopefully, helping rebuild once it's over.

Much more on this in the days and weeks to come....