Archive for June, 2011


If you’re a Texan, you should read this (and also if you’re not)

Texas recently passed a law requiring voters to adhere to various requirements to vote, one being a photo ID requirement to vote. The law, SB14, is very strict compared to other states (student ID is not allowed), and is aimed at solving a problem that does not exist.

I’ve done some research on this because I was a little upset about this choice by my legislature. You see, I send a lot of my time correcting Yankee stereotypes about Texas and its culture, and Texas has made a lot of progress on a lot of fronts, but this sort of thing does not make my job any easier.

I’m not a cynic about politics: I think it can work and I think legislators care about the votes they cast and are not conniving bastards. So, I’m writing this to make a reasoned, and somewhat optimistic request that others who like Texas at least take a look at this. (If you went to St. Mark’s, know this: Dan Branch voted for and SPONSORED this bill. I sent him a letter expressing my dissatisfaction with this vote and perhaps you will too. His constituency site is attached below).

The issue is this: many students, minorities and old people don’t have photo IDs. “Ok” you say, “go get one.” What’s the big deal? Well, nothing really except that there is a small fee and if you think about how busy your own life is and how NOT likely you are to do small bureaucratic things that don’t really benefit you in any obvious way, you should be able to sympathize with the idea that for someone who is poverty or old, or just ignorant about this change (as many young people and minorities are) then you are going to be out of luck on election day. Remember, not many people vote, so we want the barriers to voting to be LOW so that we get elections that are representative of our national character and judgments.

Maybe your response to this is something like “But how can we prevent voter fraud?” and that’s a fair point. The answer though is that individual voter fraud (voting under multiple names multiple times) just does not exist and in any case does not have a big impact when it does. If you don’t believe me, you can read about two VERY comprehensive reports on the phenomenon (here and here). This makes sense when you think about it. Who cares enough to vote multiple times in a single day, and even if they ran to every polling place as fast as they can, such a person might be able to generate at most something like an extra 20 votes. By contrast, adding hurdles to the process could prevent something like thousands of people from getting their fair vote in. Even the ACORN scandal a while back was, if you think it was really that bad at all (subsequent reports have shown that this episode of fraud was minor), just about fraudulent voter REGISTRATION, and most of the people fraudulently registered in this way don’t show up to vote.

So anyway, I wrote the following letter to my representative, Dan Branch, in an effort to just politely register my belief that SB14 was an error. His constituency site is here.

Further reading on this is here, here and here.

Here’s a hilariously bad and non-sequitur op-ed from the WSJ trying to defend these laws. The argument basically asserts “these voter ID laws are not as bad a Jim Crow.” Ok fine, I didn’t want to bring Jim Crow into this and I agree its not as bad as Jim Crow, but SO WHAT. If the law is net bad, then we shouldn’t have it. Case closed. There are also comparison to other places in society where IDs are called for, like at the airport, but the purpose there is completely and and obviously different (security, and also helping revenue for airlines by preventing people from transferring their tickets to other people). So this op-ed turns out to be one of the worst I’ve read.





Emotions and Moods

I’m trying to read up on emotions because some philosophers are interested in them. I just got a handbook on the latest psychology about them, so maybe I’ll find some good experiments in there. Always looks for some data points to mine for a theory.

What strikes me about emotions is that they are manifestations of a mood. What I mean is that sometime when I’m in a bad mood, various things will seem depressing to me, but when I’m in a good mood the same things will stir other emotions in me. Thus, I think moods are a kind of blanket status that we take on and emotions are the registering of that mood in specific scenarios in response to specific happenings.

Also there are questions about what emotions there are. I guess I started with a pretty limited taxonomy of what emotions there are: happiness, sadness, rejection, disappointment (but maybe some of these are moods?), but other authors seem to think things like anxiety, terror, and amusement are emotions. I don’t really know what to think…

Interesting, it seems like emotions can spread themselves over other features of our psychology so that if we desire something, we want that object or state of affairs, but we are also in the emotional state of yearning (or we can be in some cases). Same goes for thoughts. I may believe that you stole money out of my wallet and that very thought will be the basis and ground for my anger at you. This is interesting because sometimes, we say “I’m angry at his behavior.” Other times we might just be angry, for no particular reason. “I’m just so angry today.”

There is also a personality trait or type, known as Alexithymic (interestingly, it is not classified as a type of mental illness). An Alexithymic person cannot report their own emotions or cannot distinguish between them and so does not know if they are sad or happy, or feeling embarrassed or whatever. This, as you might guess, makes it very hard for such people to make friends and enter into loving relationships. It also shows you just how important our emotions might be as a kind of social compass that guides us through interactions with others and society.


A variable oil tax would be so sweet

First, take a look at this, my latest article on Policymic, where I write pretty regularly.

A really smart policy would be to tax oil NOT at a fixed rate, but rather at a variable rate depending on what the world price is. If the prices becomes low, the tax should increase to compensate, keeping oil prices always above a certain FLOOR. This means that entrepreneurs looking to develop alternative energy sources can factor OUT of their calculations oil’s huge variability and so count on oil remaining at or above a certain target price.

Also, this move would be politically smart because when oil prices started to rise, the tax would decrease, thus preventing congress from getting heat for keeping a tax in place even as ordinary Americans were hurting (as would be the case of the if tax amount stayed constant).

Lastly, such a tax would smooth the amount that consumers pay regularly for gas and so would help in budgeting, another predictability benefit that would accrue to ordinary people. As a country we would be less vulnerable to sudden spikes in price (to some degree) and might even dull the ability of OPEC countries to threaten supply disruptions.

I think there may even be other benefits that I didn’t get to list here.



Boston is still the worst city

I was supposed to go downtown today to work on this fast-food campaign that I’m a part of, and when I got there I found swarms of Bruins fans getting ready to watch the team parade the Stanley Cup. What a group. Only swarms of Boston’s finest were able to make me not fear for my personal safety.

Anyway, I couldn’t even get to where I was going because every street was shutdown and anyway, it would have been impossible to move anywhere if they hadn’t been. So I had to just cede the day to Boston and retreat back to Medford. O wait, there is maintenance all along I-93.

Now, I understand maintenance needs to be done on this highway (and I think they were fixing some bridges, and thank god, because those bridges need some lovin’), but not only were some lanes closed down, so that everything moved really slow, but various exits were sealed off so that I can’t get off at my exit without going like 4 miles north and then looping around. This is pretty damn obnoxious because Medford is already way the hell out there, and only I-93 working at optimal speed makes it possible to get into Boston for anything. So now, anytime I have to go down there, I can count on just driving past my house at 70 MPH only to blast back at 70 MPH. “Why not take side streets and not the highway” you say? Are you crazy? Side streets from Boston up to Medford would be as fast as if swam out to sea via the Charles and then up the Mystic River to Medford.

Boston murders me again.


Iran has submarines?

This site is, I think, one of the best sites on the internet for foreign policy news and commentary. It’s just great. It’s so good that it charges to be a member, and quite honestly I would like to if I were richer. So look at this, but understand that you can’t see the whole article and I couldn’t either.

Iran has submarines? No way! I love all things related to submarines because they are a kind of terrorist of the seas. They are asymmetrical because a well operated diesel (old tech submarine) can be very quiet and so be a very real threat to even sophisticated navys. It’s also interesting to me that this if the first time Iran has deployed to the Red Sea. Maybe they’re thinking about making some big moves. I’m not sure.

What should the U.S. response be? I have no idea. Maybe follow them around all day bombarding their sonar operators with active pings to make them go insane? It seems like at the very least we should try to get some good data. Do the Iranians know how to work these things with any competence? Tech is nothing without training. I believe the Chinese air force has more planes than us, but since they are so poorly trained, its kind of dangerous for most of them to ever take off. Win for us, for now.


Petrodollars don’t fund repression

The website I’ve been working on for a long time has finally launched its new interface and its really cool. I’m an editor and I also write for it (as do some of my friends) and I have some cool stuff coming out. Check it all out at

I saw this today which seems like a reputable, recent, quite well done paper. But the result is also incredible, which is that high oil prices do not help repressive regimes fund their repression. Now, in one sense, I can agree with this, because I think optimal profits from oil revenue come at around 40-50 dollars a barrel. So that at high prices, money per barrel goes up, but total barrels is going down because of conservation efforts that start making sense at higher prices (all of a sudden oil is so expensive that it makes sense to have your pizza delivery boys bike their deliveries, no matter how cold the pizza gets) This is oil elasticity stuff that some people spend their whole lives doing.

But this study doesn’t say that (well it doesn’t give that rationale), it just says that there is no link between prices and democracy, looked at from a rigorous statistical perspective. Really? If oil went to $10 a barrel, Saudi Arabia wouldn’t have to think about not spending 10% of its GDP on the military?

I guess, to be fair, the article’s conclusion, that there is no general relationship between democracy and oil prices, is compatible with thinking there is such a relationship in specific countries.

What does it all mean? Two things. One is that we don’t have feel so guilty about using oil cause it doesn’t fuel repression. Its a kind of “oil doesn’t kill people, oil dictators kill people” result.

Second, any argument for getting off of foreign oil will have to be pretty heavily (almost exclusively) environmentally based. Environmentalists step up.

(look at this for the opposite perspective)


I’m starting to understand Boston hockey

I can’t really get into hockey, but I can understand why some people would. I mean hey, its a fast paced sport right? Who cares if it feels like scoring is too hard and that a goalie, if fat enough, would make goals a physical impossibility.

What I was really having trouble understanding is why people would get so into a team as a representation of their identity. There have been studies that show that people invest emotionally in teams in powerful ways (see also here), and can even lose self esteem when their team loses. And I’ve been all around Boston the past week hearing comments about Bruins that are just about impossible for me to relate to.

But then today I had a minor breakthrough into seeing how a team could unite people in such a profound way. (By the way some studies say that its better for your psychological health to strongly identify with a team. I guess I must be living a pretty unhappy life. ) The breakthrough came as I walked out of a building downtown and the security guard was watching the game on his laptop. I asked who was winning, and his grumpy looking face lit up like a bulb, as he told me some various facts about the game, a good number I did not understand. So then I walked outside and some tough construction dudes were working a crane, but one guy was standing outside a bar window watching the game. I tried my tactic again and asked who was winning. Again, a bright eyed response, as if I were a long lost buddy. Must be that male bonding thing everyone is always talking about. But joking aside, I caught a real glimpse how when a city rallies around its team, the people of that city rally around each other. Kind of touching actually, but I still just cant’ stand hockey.