I saw the photograph on the left in Reuters (taken by Michael Buholzer) of a sheep herder leading a flock of 500 sheep in search of food. Click on it for a bigger version. It gave me a nice reminder, of the kind I get when I look up to the stars, that life is both beautiful and absurd. The daily struggle takes many forms for people across the world, and at least for how I feel now, that photograph is a damn good representation of it: a man, a dog, and 500 sheep searching for dinner, but also searching for a longer term comfort of a peaceful existence.
I just returned from a long run outside in relatively chilly weather, and enjoyed the hell out of it. The feeling of cool air filling up my lungs took away all the mental exhaustion from a long day of reading research papers. My life is simple now in its challenges and its comforts, and I can’t ask for anything more.
These days I have a lot of trouble taking politics seriously. I do take policy debates seriously, but those usually take place outside of Washington, among academics, and usually with a strong emphasis on a historical perspective.
What goes on in Washington is a food fight televised by CNN, Fox, MSNBC, etc. The more entertaining the food fight, the higher the ratings. An entertaining politician to me is a car wreck. I enjoy watching one as much as the next guy. Here’s what it takes:
- Some degree of insanity
- Radical ideology
- Wit and willingness to use it
- Bad judgment of what’s appropriate to say to an audience
- Long list of political and personal enemies
Based on that here are my top 5 entertaining (in a bad way) politicians:
5. Newt Gingrich
“Really poor children, in really poor neighborhoods, have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works, so they have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day; they have no habit of “I do this and you give me cash,” unless it is illegal.”
4. Barney Frank
“Gay people have a different role than other minority groups. … Very few black kids have ever had to worry about telling their parents that they were black.”
3. Herman Cain
“We need a leader, not a reader.”
2. Donald Trump
On Muammar Gaddafi: “I rented him a piece of land. … and then I didn’t let him use the land. … I don’t want to use the word `screw,’ but I screwed him.”
1. Sarah Palin
“Polls are for strippers and cross-country skiers”
Many folks complain about the rigidity and sameness of the two-party system American system of government. Unfortunately, it’s damn hard for a third party candidate to win, because most people feel like they’re throwing their vote away when they vote for the third party guy.
Instant-runoff voting (IRV) to the rescue! (PS: It’s also called “ranked choice voting” in some places). Instead of picking just one person, you have the option of ranking any number of the available options. So, for example, if you’re a Republican, instead of voting for just Romney, you might rank the candidates in the following way:
- Ron Paul
If none of the candidates have more than 50% of the vote, then the other choices start coming into play. For more details check out the wiki page.
Unlike our current system, IRV gives the voter confidence to choose candidates they actually want even if it seems like they have no chance of winning, because such a choice will not damage the chances of others. A republican might vote for a Ron Paul and a democrat might vote for a Bernie Sanders (not that he is running).
The instant-runoff voting system is one of those things that obviously needs to be embraced but isn’t for some godforsaken reason. Another example of one of those things is the metric system.
It has a chance of being put into place for the 2016 presidential election. Unfortunately, all the organizations pushing for it are having quite a bit of trouble raising funds. The biggest that I know of is FairVote.org and they’ve only raised $400,000 last year. How are they supposed to buy influence in Washington with that kind of cash
“The mind is not a boomerang, if you throw it too far it may not come back.”
I’m not sure where I heard his quote or who it’s from, but there it is, simple and honest.
It’s a nice way to bring up something that I have been becoming very aware of recently. I have frequent intelligent conversations with people who are arguably dwelling on the proverbial edge of society (and sanity). Whether they are political activist or just unpublished (and almost-but-not-quite-alcoholic) part-time philosophers, they have denied themselves the comfort of conformity for the comfort of free-thinking rebelliousness.
These folks claim to have a handle on the truth that the majority of the population is too pre-occupied with the hassles of life to discover. The sad fact about making such claims is that it makes you an outcast, which I believe is not neccessarily a bad thing. What I think is a bad thing is the kind of spiraling effect that it often produces in the person when they pull on the string of “truth” and uncover a whole underworld of conspiracies that can easily take over their mind.
So, I say to all my well-read comrades: tread carefully… A rare successful example I always think about is Friedrich Nietzsche, who masterfully walked the line of insanity and radical free-thought all his life, in the process producing some of the most brilliant philosophical works in the history of our little civilization. But for every Nietzsche, there are millions who did not develop the kind of rigor, deep-rooted knowledge, and mental fortitude required to survive the journey.
The mathematician I admire more than any other in the 20th century is Alan Turing. He is widely considered to be the father of computer science. I’ve studied his work and the consequences of his work for the last 10 years, but not until recently did I learn about the man himself.
I won’t get into a long Wikipedia-style retelling of his life, but focus on its tragic end. He was arrested in 1952 for “homosexual acts” which at the time were illegal in England (and remained so until 1967). Two years after that, Turing committed suicide.
Gay rights have been in the courts and in public discourse recently. The point of contention is whether homosexuals should be allowed to marry. I believe that of course they should (though I do believe marriage is a religious practice, and government should only just grant civil unions to everyone). Many people disagree. However, what bothers me is the amount of value the opponents of gay marriage assign to this issue. It seems the Christian community is making this its primary battle cry under the umbrella of “values”.
So whenever someone brings up the issue of gay marriage to me, I think of Alan Turing, and the suffering he endured at the hands of a society that couldn’t accept who the man wanted to love, but sure as hell could accept the brilliant contributions to technology and science that he provided.
To this day, the British government has not pardoned Alan Turing for having sex with another man.