John Voight appeared recently on Mike Huckabee’s show on Fox News. Apparently his intent was to drive home the wisdom of Fox’s disdain for Hollywood celebrities spouting off on politics like their pin-headed opinions should matter to anyone.  If so, this is a brilliant performance.

And if the hypocrisy of Fox News doesn’t get you, consider the irony of Voight claiming supporters of Obama are either uneducated or are leeches on society, while Voight’s alleged educated position is that Obama is a Marxist bent on raping and destroying the country.  Way to use your noodle there John.

Step Up Please

New York State is wrestling a $9.2B budget gap.  In the face of that, public employees are set to receive a 4% raise as a part of their current contract.  Governor Paterson has proposed withholding that raise as a part of trying to close the gap.  The Civil Service Employees Association has filed a grievance.  I’d like to file mine.

I respect the value of unions.  I even believe that in the private sector the unions have largely been neutered in recent decades to the detriment of employees.  But in the public sector, unions are still demonstrating the greed and lack of empathy that caused them to fall from their heyday.  The point of unions is to protect workers from overly greedy and abusive management practices.  It is not to insulate workers from the economics of the industry in which they operate.

I’ve been a private sector employee for almost 30 years.  In that time I’ve absorbed all manner of hits to my personal income as a result of business downturns.   Everything from unpaid furlough weeks, to years without raises, to cancellations of bonus programs, to an across the board 7% pay cut.  While I certainly didn’t enjoy any of those things, I do recognize the business reality that caused each of them.  If my employer is having a bad year, then I share in the pain.

I think that’s why I’m having such trouble feeling any empathy for the public workers who wouldn’t get their 4% raise.  First, it is reasonable they share in the fiscal problems of their employer.  Second, 4% is a big cost of living raise in the current economy.  Last year my pay was flat.  We got a small COLA this year, but not nearly 4%.  I suspect you haven’t seen your pay grow much in the last 2 years either, unless you work for the state.

So step up guys.  Share the pain.

The Simplest Thing

Much ado is being made over the Supreme Court’s recent toe-dip into technology.  The case actually involved privacy rights, but they were over whether or not an employer had the right to monitor or view an employee’s text messages on a company phone.  The chuckling included moments when Justices Roberts and Scalia seemed to get wrapped around the axle trying to understand that messages passed through a service provider network rather than being delivered directly device to device.  And there were repeated attempts by the lawyers and the Justices to equate texting to letter writing.  Most of the confusion was over issues that would have been easily answered by any teenager.  The horror.

Actually, I’m having trouble getting too worked up about it.  The court is largely made up of septuagenarians, and totally composed of lawyers.  Neither group is known for being particularly tech savvy.  Further, I’d be surprised if you polled politicians in general if you’d find a majority were technically literate.  The horror.

And I’m still having trouble getting worked up about that.  It did get me thinking though, how should issues requiring specific domain knowledge be handled?  The world in general is a pretty complicated place.  It’s not just about technology, but global economics and banking is frightfully complicated.  Military strategies in the age of wars without fronts and attacks ranging from the technological to the biological to the nuclear are extremely complex.  It is completely unreasonable to expect politicians and judges to be up to speed on these and other areas such that they can make good decisions.

Historically, when dealing with a highly technical topic, experts would be consulted.  What was required by politicians was the ability to assess the credibility of the expert and the implications of the proposed plan.  Experts are still called on today.  The difference is that in our current 24×7 news cycle, the experts are vetted by the court of public opinion rather than the politicians.  All too often, it isn’t about which plan is best for the nation, it’s about which plan can be digested down to a sound bite and accepted by Joe Six-pack.

Participatory government is a good thing.  However, having everyone involved in the minutiae of every plan and policy is not a good thing at all.  The Founding Fathers created a representative government for a reason.  It wasn’t just the impracticality of holding a national referendum on every detail in the 18th century.  Rather, it was that having that many cooks inevitably spoiled the broth.  Not that government should operate in secret, but recognizing that you elect a President, a Senator, and a Representative to do what they think is best.  Based on their results, you decide whether or not to send them back for another term.  It doesn’t work that way anymore.  The campaign never ends.  The news polls are incessant.  The result is that our politicians have become puppets with many people pulling the strings all at once.

An open statement to anyone I’ve ever elected to office:  if you need advice on computer networks, communications infrastructure, or similar topics, call me.  Maybe I can help.  If you need advice on military strategies, medical policy, transportation planning, economic development, or damn near anything else, I’ve probably got an opinion for you.  But if you pay it any mind, you’re an idiot.

Einstein famously said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”  As a society we’ve begun to habitually ignore the second part of that quote.  We just want it simple.  But the world isn’t so simple.  And we, and more importantly our leaders, keep treating it that way at our own peril.

4-Chord Pop

Way back at the dawn of time I took guitar lessons for awhile.  I always thought how great it would be to be one of those guys who could just pick up an axe and start riffing and singing and wouldn’t that really be a great way to impress girls.  Well it would have been, but it turned out that acquiring such skill required a crap-load more work than I was willing to put in and a lot of talent I simply didn’t have.

Nonetheless, I do remember one thing from the class.  I was surprised that right from the outset we were learning Beatles songs.  I figured I’d be strumming Mary Had a Little Lamb or something.  But the teacher said pop songs were more interesting, and most could be played with just a few chords.  I thought that was great until I realized that even a couple of chord changes seemed to tie my fingers in knots.

I’d kind of forgotten all about that until I ran across this video of an Australian comedy band called Axis of Awesome.  (As a side note, that’s maybe the greatest band name ever.)  They perform a 5 minute medley of Pop songs using not only the same four chords, but in the same progression.  This is either very cool or incontrovertible evidence that pop music is even more lame than you thought.  (Warning: some NSFW language)

Did You Feel the Earth Move?

BurkahIt seems that Iranians have the best sex.  That’s the only reasonable conclusion from a senior Iranian cleric Ayatollah Kazem Sedighi’s claim:

“Many women who dress inappropriately … cause youths to go astray, taint their chastity and incite extramarital sex in society, which increases earthquakes,”

Note that it is women who are the problem here.  Men are just the hapless victims of the temptresses strutting about with their uncovered hair and “bodily contours”.  And the next thing you know, the Earth starts a shakin’.

While I’m uncertain how the sex causes earthquakes, the cleric does have somewhat of a point.  It’s hard to get remotely interested in a woman wearing a burkah.  I suspect they are way more effective than flannel nightgowns at deterring the advances of hormonally fueled and totally not responsible or accountable men.