On the Snowden Situation

Great summary piece at MSNBC about the recent NYT editorial supporting clemency for Edward Snowden. They correctly call out the double standard:

Since the beginning, the Obama administration has adhered to a double-standard when it comes to violations of the law by national security officials, punishing those that arouse the ire of the national security establishment while looking the other way when the law is broken in pursuit of their goals.

Of course this isn’t just Obama, it’s all administrations. If Obama’s failures here were surprising to you, they shouldn’t have been:

Before even taking office, Obama indicated publicly that he was unwilling to look into prosecution of Bush-era officials for their role in crafting torturous interrogation policies, saying he would look into whether “someone had blatantly broken the law” but that he possessed ”a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”

Maybe occupants of the Oval Office eschew prosecution of their predecessors as some kind of insurance against the same by their successors — a kind of dirty political pay-it-forward. Nonpartisan history/political podcaster Dan Carlin has been talking about this for years. I highly recommend listening to his show.

 

Cynicism 2012

Surprising many and relieving others, Barack Obama won a second term last night in a pretty big way. This is my ants-at-a-picnic view of the situation.

Things will continue to get better, little by little, as they always do, even as politicians try as they may to break them more. More people will find jobs because this is what we do: we work hard and provide for ourselves and our families (most of us).

The financial situation will get better because there is no choice in the matter. But one thing is for certain: no matter how measurably better things are, republicans will surely disapprove and continue to obstruct and bash the president at every turn. The media will stoke the fires of resentment and disagreement because we buy it up with our precious attention. Because this is what we do: we tear down those with whom we disagree without understanding.

Obama will continue to wage quiet warfare in who-knows-how many countries, killing who-knows-how many brown people whose families will vow to destroy us. He will continue to erode our civil liberties further and further whether it be wiretapping, spying, detention or assassination. And his supporters will be silent, even though these actions are in stark contrast to their supposed ethos. Because this is what we do: we unconditionally support the person who lives in a shell of that with which we want to identify.

And the rest of us will sit in waiting until one day when we might possibly have a way to express our disgust at all of it.

Crony Capitalism

I’ve written before about what I think is wrong with our financial system. David Stockman’s piece takes aim at Mitt Romney and in the process provides one of the best summaries of Wall Street I’ve ever read:

That is the modus operandi of the leveraged-buyout business, and in an honest free-market economy, there wouldn’t be much scope for it because it creates little of economic value. But we have a rigged system—a regime of crony capitalism—where the tax code heavily favors debt and capital gains, and the central bank purposefully enables rampant speculation by propping up the price of financial assets and battering down the cost of leveraged finance.

Check out the whole article.

The Future of Education: Flipping the Classroom

I just watch Khan Academy founder Salman Khan’s excellent talk from TED 2011. I’m inspired by this kind of thinking and equally entertained by his delivery. He describes a new approach to classroom interaction that arose when he began posting YouTube vidoes of his tutoring sessions to help out his cousins. Specifically, the notion that he’d ask the students to watch the lectures at home and then do what would normally be considered homework while in the classroom:

I want to pause here for a second, because there’s a couple of interesting things. One, when those teachers are doing that, there’s the obvious benefit — the benefit that now their students can enjoy the videos in the way that my cousins did. They can pause, repeat at their own pace, at their own time. But the more interesting thing is — and this is the unintuitive thing when you talk about technology in the classroom — by removing the one-size-fits-all lecture from the classroom and letting students have a self-paced lecture at home, and then when you go to the classroom, letting them do work, having the teacher walk around, having the peers actually be able to interact with each other, these teachers have used technology to humanize the classroom. They took a fundamentally dehumanizing experience — 30 kids with their fingers on their lips, not allowed to interact with each other. A teacher, no matter how good, has to give this one-size-fits-all lecture to 30 students — blank faces, slightly antagonistic — and now it’s a human experience. Now they’re actually interacting with each other.

Brilliant. I highly recommend watching the whole video.

The Value of Content

Content owners have interesting views about what adds value to their product.  Last September NBC  Universal’s Jeff Zucker expressed his disapproval for Apple’s 99-cent price point for TV show rentals (via Reuters).

We do not think 99 cents is the right price point for our content. … We thought it would devalue our content.

His disapproval of the price is understandable — content owners can charge whatever the market will bear.  It’s the wording that caught my attention.

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Thoughts on the Financial Crisis

Since the financial crisis and resulting hysteria have transpired, I’ve been attempting to wrap my head around what happened — in relatively simple terms — and what we can do (or not do) to avoid something like this in the future.  While the financial instruments Wall Street employed in the recent decade were far from simple, I remain hopeful that there are more basic forces at work and thus solutions that don’t involve thousands of pages of legislation, bailouts and government control. Continue reading

Apple Aperture: No Regrets

About two years ago I purchased a Canon EOS Rebel XTi in anticipation of the arrival of our new baby girl. Until that time, I had been using Google’s Picasa (then at version 2) along with the Canon subcompact du jour. I was pretty happy with the usefulness of this combination. Picasa is simple, extremely fast and doesn’t obfuscate the underlying photos in any sort of database or binary file.

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