Democrats Better?

Let me say up front that I despise everything about the way Trump is running his presidency, and most vehemently how he divides the country.  Even more than him, though, is the contempt I have for the Republicans in Congress who back him up.

But was it better when the Democrats had the White House and Congress?

Let’s look at the signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Obama said he was in favor of nationalized health care for all.

Congress said, that’s not the way we roll.

Here’s the main issue, if you want to subsidize health care for some portion of the population, then some other portion of the population has to bear the cost.  This is a very reasonable issue to debate, who benefits, and who pays.

One way is to fairly distribute the costs over everybody, like with Social Security, or Medicare.  A tax pays for health care for all.  But that’s not what they did.

The cost falls on companies, most painful for the small ones, and self-employed healthy individuals, mostly in the building trades maybe?  Just think about that for a second.  Who are those people?  Well, most likely they’re Republicans.  Great!  Get Republicans to pay for it!

Who benefits?  Low income people without jobs that cover them.  Who are those people?  Well betcha that’s mostly Democrats.  Yay!

So instead of national health, that’s what they did.  And guess what.  The people paying for it were bullshit.  It totally divided the country.  And the corporations brought all their money to bear to fight it.  And recruited all the angry young men who were suddenly asked to subsidize health care.  And we got Trump.  And a Republican Congress.

I’d really love to see some way to break up our two party system, or, maybe more practically, get enough people behind Bernie’s agenda, which is to forget the Democrat vs. Republican thing, go Independent, and campaign on two issues — universal health care and free college education.  Issues that would benefit people on all sides of the political spectrum.


Beauty as a Curse

Bob was an engineer at the first company I worked for.  He had cerebral palsy.  If you ever made cruel jokes as a kid trying to imitate such a person, well that’s what Bob was like.  He walked with a shuffle, his hands were contorted and not that well controlled, he drooled a bit, and his speech was stuttering and slurred.  But, as I’ve been told is common, he was smart.

When you first encountered Bob, if you had never worked with such a person before, it was uncomfortable.  For about five minutes.  Very quickly you learned to understand his speech, grasp the content, realize you’re dealing with an engineer about engineering things, and his whole physical handicap disappeared.  I mean it was there, but no longer commanded attention.

Nobody had a problem with Bob, he was just one of the engineers.

One day our group hired Kathy.  She was a programmer with a master’s degree in mathematics, and an instrument pilot.  A bright, talented woman.  She was also fashion model beautiful.

The men at the company simply couldn’t deal with her.  Unlike with Bob, many of the typical male engineers never got comfortable talking with Kathy.  They couldn’t get over being in the presence of her beauty.  Guys would detour past our offices on the way to coffee, just to get a look.

There was a phone network set up and when Kathy showed up to work in her sports car, word quickly spread and many ran over to the side of the building with windows to watch her get out of her car.

It wasn’t just that she was a woman.  There were other women at the lab and they got along OK, but they were, well, ordinary looking people.  Kathy’s physical beauty was more of a handicap than Bob’s cerebral palsy.


Movie Twists — The Good, The Bad

There’s an art to making a movie or TV show with a twist, a surprise ending.

Consider the movies Sixth Sense and Body Heat.  When you learn the twist at the end, it’s AH-HA!  Your mind races through the scenes in the movie as you realize one, and then the next, all have dual interpretations.  What you thought was one way, was really the other.

That’s why she never acknowledged him at the restaurant!  That’s why such a classy lady was drawn to such a mediocre man!


We’ve just been through two TV series that completely fail.  The Five and La Mante.  (No I won’t spoil the endings, and will say both were enjoyable enough to watch, even if the endings were disappointing.)

In both of these you go through episode after episode, following this false thread, then that until, finally, in the last episode, all is revealed.

So you replay the series in your mind, looking for those wonderful ambiguous scenes.  Nope.  No ambiguity at all.  The director simply lied throughout.  The scenes all very clearly said no way X is the one, don’t even think X is the one.  And then at the end says, guess what? X is the one!

Lazy. Cheap.


Kids and their Electronic Devices

I, and many of my generation, are dismayed at the way the younger generation is totally absorbed in their electronic media.  We don’t understand it, and think how much better our world was, how we didn’t need to be looking at our phones all day.

I guess I’m my mother’s son.  When I was a young adult she used to say how she didn’t like hearing all her peers talk about how much better it was before rock and roll and TV and long hair and disrespect of the government and all.  She said she wanted to know and understand what’s happening today, to listen to the music of the day.

I was at a birthday dinner where, at the table, were four of an older generation and one young adult son of the honoree.  We were all talking, and he, while paying some attention, was absorbed in his phone.  So I asked him what he was doing, what was so fascinating?

He showed me.  It was touches with his friends.  It was saying, hey, they serve this beer you like to one friend, he was telling another about the menu choices, remembering fond times with them about that food, reading about where they were, what they were up to.  While, to us he appeared disconnected, he was actually very much connected, in real time with a number of people close to him.  Geographically dispersed friends.

It was kind of sweet.

Someone posted a picture on FB recently showing three kids playing in the mud, laughing, having a good time, side-by-side with a picture of three kids today staring at their phones.  The point was how much better we had it back in the day.

Well, I liked it then, but was it better?  Or just different?

The kids in the mud had that local environment around them, and the pleasure of the companies of the other playmates.

The kids with the cell phones have the whole world around them, and the pleasure of the companies of friends without the constraints of geography.

The kids in the mud could open their eyes wide and see, well the mud and trees and sky around them.

The kids with the cell phones were looking at a small portal, but through that portal was the whole world.  Pictures from vacationing friends, events from all over the world, and an understanding of environmental issues way bigger than of that one muddy spot by a stream.

I’ve read that my discomfort with the cell phone world is mirrored by the young’s discomfort with National Parks.  They don’t want to be geographically constrained to a raft in the Grand Canyon any more than I want to try to see the world through a tiny screen.

Over Thanksgiving I listened to my grandkids play various multiplayer online games, from war games to soccer.  I listened to their excited chatter with online friends.  It was no different from the chatter we had as kids running around our real neighborhood.

And the knowledge my one grandson has of the workings of International soccer, as a business, is amazing.  All from these online games.  He’s learned things one could never get from just kicking a ball around with friends.

(But, they do both, they are very physically active as well, playing soccer and other games with their friends in the neighborhood.)

Just saying, maybe we each live in the times that are best for us.

But, our music was better.



Relationship Rules

The other day, I went to print something important, and found my printouts were all on recycled paper Nancy had left in the printer.

The other day, Nancy went to print something important, and found her printouts were all on orange paper I had left in the printer.

Clearly we need some rules about printer paper.

Two choices:

1- We should each take care to make sure we leave the printer with plain white paper in it, so the next person isn’t in for a surprise.

2- We should each take care before printing to make sure the paper we want is in the printer.

What a difference in behavior between the two!  The first makes each of us responsible for the other’s printing, the second makes each of us responsible for our own.

If we use rule #1, then, when someone winds up with print on screwy paper, they can get upset and mad at the other for ignoring a basic courtesy we agreed on.

If we use rule #2, then, when someone winds up with print on screwy paper, they’ll say, rats, I forgot to check the printer first.

Which rule best optimizes for a harmonious relationship?

Marketing Phone Sex

This is a post about the importance of having a rapport with the customer.

A number of years ago I knew someone, D, who was dyslexic, MIT smart, a phone hacker, and a cross dresser.  He was straight, and that’s important for the story, but wanted to live his life as a woman.

This was back in the day when people like that tended to stay in the closet. Yet he yearned to be able to talk to others with similar interests.  He had an idea.

Being a phone hacker he went and bought around a dozen phones, wired them together so multiple people could call in and talk to each other, and put a small ad in the back of a local paper saying people who wanted to talk about cross dressing could call this number and chat with others of a similar bent.

Well he was swamped and added more phones, and fast forward, he wound up making all sorts of money, buying a used MCI phone switch (that means a large room full of tiny wires) that let him become a phone company in his own right.

He’d expanded his chat lines to include other interests of his, such as a foot fetish and a love of overweight women.  (That line was called Large and Lovely.)

His ads, his positioning, everything grew his business.  The point is, he wasn’t exploitive, but rather someone who genuinely was interested in the service he was providing, a place to meet and talk with others interested in things that weren’t openly discussed at the time.

As he grew his company, a gay man got involved in the business and tried to help him grow into those markets.  He started all sorts of gay chat lines, but they didn’t catch on.  The two wound up having a parting of the ways, and the gay man went on and built his own company.

That second company became successful in the gay markets, where the first one hadn’t.  D simply wasn’t gay. He didn’t know how to connect to gay customers.

There’s a sort of funny, maybe for software people, aside to this story.  I actually knew D through my wife at the time.  She was a brilliant programmer and did consulting for D’s company maintaining their billing system, which was quite complex.

I enjoyed telling people my wife worked in phone sex, and, here’s the funny part.  She was a very open person and had no problem being associated with a phone sex company, but was most embarrassed by the fact that the programming she did for them was in Basic, a simple programming language that no respectable programmer would want to be caught dead using.

AlphaGo Zero

AlphaGo Zero is the second version of AlphaGo.  It’s a leaner, meaner, smarter version than its predecessor, which beat the best Go players in the World.  This version beats them worse, and beats the first version every time.

I’ve been fascinated with this due to my experience playing Go.  I was a weak amateur player (7 kyu) but used to enjoy knowing that, at that level, I could still beat the best go playing software (11 kyu at the time, the numbers get smaller until they reach 1 kyu, then go to 1 dan and up for the good players).  I took a certain pride in playing a game that couldn’t be mastered by computer, like chess had been.

Articles explaining why go is so difficult for a computer focus on the 19×19 grid the game is played on, and the astronomical number (well, more than astronomical, there are more possible games than  atoms in the Universe) of possible games there are and how hard it is to make a blind search looking for best moves.

But it’s not the 19×19 grid that’s the problem.  It’s the fact that a computer simply hasn’t been able to calculate the score, even of a finished game.  And if it can’t know the score, it can’t decide which moves are best for improving its score.

Here’s the problem. Stones are put on the board in an attempt to control more territory on the board.  If you put your stones in a tight close pattern, your opponent can place stones more loosely and surround more territory.  But, and here’s the complexity of the game, if those loose stones are too loose, then they can be surrounded and captured.

A board, at the end of the game then, will have clusters of stones around various local battles for territory and control, and some of those stones will have been abandoned as dead, but some will definitely be alive and the players will understand the status of each. But there is no way, without playing out all scenarios, that a computer can determine which stones are even alive or dead.

This is the very first, easiest example in a collection of go exercises available online.  Is the one black stone surrounded by white dead?  Looks like it.  Does white then have 4 points of territory?  Or rather, will black with one more stone inside of white kill the white stones?  And own the entire corner?

If this were part of a real game, depending on whose turn it is, a white or black stone would be played at C1 and the players would understand that the situation is resolved and require no more play.  But how can a computer figure out the status of those white stones?

To make matters worse, even if black were to play at C1, and the players were to recognize the white stones as dead, still, if black made extremely stupid, but legal moves, the white stones could become alive again.

The answer is the neural network pattern-matching machine learning software.  No longer is it required to code an algorithm to figure out the score of a situation like this, to decide the worth of it.  The same technology that is used in self-driving cars to evaluate the visual field around the car, is used to evaluate board positions, after studying zillions of games.

Having used that technology to allow the computer to assess the value of different board positions, then it’s back to boring old AI planning software to search for the best moves.

Back to AlphaGo Zero.  Here’s what’s scary about it.  AlphaGo studied the vast libraries of human go games to learn how to play. AlphaGo Zero simply played against itself.  It rederived centuries of Go wisdom on best play combinations in the opening moves, and then grew that knowledge.

It didn’t need people to teach it how to play.

Conservative Issues

I’d hardly call myself a Trump supporter, but I do have some conservative political roots. It is difficult, no maybe impossible, today to have a reasoned discussion of conservative vs. liberal ideas without the emotion surrounding Trump swamping the discussion. The screaming comes from both sides.

For example, the ACA. The liberals are screaming about millions of people losing health care! The conservatives are screaming to repeal the horrid law! I wish there was a way to have a reasoned discussion. There are two sides. We want better health care for all, but that requires subsidizing those who can’t afford it, so someone has to pay for it. This is a difficult, but fair discussion to have. I’d like to see the liberals talk about why they think it’s OK for healthy individuals and small companies to pay for that subsidy? I’d like to see the conservatives talk about a desire to expand health care to those who can’t afford it.

For example, the EPA and other governement programs that put constraints on business. One side is screaming to protect the environment, without care of the cost, the other screaming to let business to it’s thing, without care of the cost. There are real tradeoffs to be discussed here. The environment is what we live in. It’s important. Businesses are how we all, either directly or indirectly, make our livelihood. We really need a balance between a healthy environment and healthy economy. So where is the line? Has the EPA gone to far in some cases? What are the costs of various regulations? And the other way, has the EPA gone far enough? These are debates reasonable people could have, but simply not possible today.

One of the liberal positions that drives me nuts is the constant claim that the corporations can pay for it, whatever ‘it’ is. Like health care. I know corporations. They won’t pay for it. They’ll pass the cost on to us. They are soulless algorithms, income needs to exceed expenses by a certain percentage. It always will. It’s stupid to ask them to provide health care, because that’s just a tax on all of us in the cost of goods and services and lower salaries. Let’s just come out with it and tax the people directly for health care (yay universal health care) and let Exxon concentrate on energy, Applepees on crappy food, and all the small companies, selling furniture in your downtown, running a lawn service, etc. not have to worry about becoming health insurance providers as well.

The thing is, corporations are good for us. It’s how all of the wealth in our country is created. We all benefit financially, either directly or indirectly. But they have no soul. So again, there is room for a reasoned discussion on how much they need to be regulated in order to preserve the economic engine we all rely on, and yet have an environment that provides us all a good quality of life. They gets into income redistribution, how much is good? how much is needed? Could be a reasoned discussion. NOT.


If I Were a Trump Supporter

Some one asked, how can anyone still support Trump.  Fair question.  This is my take on how maybe a majority of those 40% or so who support him think.

If I were a Trump supporter I would first of all have a conservative point of view, not a nasty one, but one that seeks more free markets, smaller government. And as a conservative, I would read the main stream media and be constantly upset with the liberal bias. Yes, Yes, it’s there, but maybe hard to see if you’re aligned with it*. So all the media attacks on Trump, I’d dismiss. I’d turn to Fox news, which, like the mainstream media is NOT fake news, but real news reported with a political bias.

Next, but maybe foremost, I’d be really disturbed by our government as usual, how it appears our politicians have all been bought. That would really bug me. And I would believe Trump’s claim that he doesn’t need money, that he will drain the swamp. That he will upset the apple cart and piss off the business as usual politicians. Everytime he did something to piss them off, I’d be cheering.

I’d be concerned that Obama did sell us down the river on all sorts of deals. I’d think that his policies were trying to be global, but that we, the average citizens of America were getting screwed, and when he said he’s dropping the Paris agreement, I’d say, right on!

I might be an independent worker in the building trades. Young and healthy. I’d be really pissed I was forced to buy insurance so other’s could have cheaper insurance. If I ran a small business getting close to 50 employees I would be bullshit that I couldn’t grow my company without taking a series financial hit as I suddenly had to become a health care expert as well as a lawn service, or whatever guy. Trump said he’s going to dismantle it, great!

More on that — it was Congress, not Obama that gave us the ACA, and it has flaws. And it’s Congress that won’t fix it. I’d be cheering Trump on as he dismantles it himself. I’d be happy to have a strong leader who tells it like it is and does what he needs to do.

Immigration? racism? I have a harder time here. Although I can say that there have been times when I’ve felt like I live in a foreign country in parts of Florida. Not saying I don’t like it, but still, when everyone around me is speaking Spanish, well it just doesn’t feel like America.

The point is I know a handful of Trump supporters who are not crazy. I know some that are as well, but that’s a different point of view. I have a hard time seeing how a fundamentalist Christian thinks God has chosen him, but that’s a different story.

If I was a Trump supporter I’d think all this sensitivity regarding speach and what can and can’t be said, and the correct terms that now have to be used because the perfectly good old terms were offensive… What a pile of crap. I’d cheer everytime Trump showed he didn’t give a damn about that.

And football. I would really like to just relax and enjoy football, it’s a place to get away from all the political turmoil in this country. It’s my happy place. And now I’ve got to look at black athletes using the game to make a statement about the difficulties of being black? About police shootings. No, no wait, even if I was the most sympathetic BLM person in the stands, the media is full of non-stop coverage of the atrocities of police racist brutality. This is not some hidden issue that someone is going to say, oh wait, really! I’d say get some other forum and just play football. I wouldn’t want any other displays of any other political issues either. and I wouldn’t want them at the academy awards or any other entertainment platform. There are enough others, so yay Donald for calling them out on that one.

For me, these are not unreasonable political stands, but positions that could be fairly debated.  I hate how Trump has used them to further drive us apart.

* liberal bias — here’s one small example, the media were all in arms because, according to the headline “Trump calls Hillary the Devil!” This conjures up images of Trump going even further over the line of absurdity by casting demonic aspersions on Hillary.  Well I listened to what he said.  He was actually making a reasonable comment about Sanders throwing his support behing Hillary.  He said Sanders “sold out,” which indicates that he had respect for the other candidate in the race who was trying to change the way government works.  He then used a common phrase to describe it: “he made a deal with the devil.”  He then, as an afterthough, saw a clever way to dig at Hillary: “and Hillary is the devil.”  If I were writing the headline, I would have said: “Trump says Sanders sold out by supporting Hillary.”  That’s the essence of it.  So the liberal media was factual, not fake news, but very biased in it’s cherry picking of the statement to make Trump look bad.  Google “trump calls hillary the devil” to see what I mean.  Read all the outraged media you know, and then read this: Imagine that you were a Trump supporter, would you want to continue to get your news from a source that so twisted this incident?

White Privilege — Action Items

I ended a post about white privilege (although it’s really more general, it’s dominent culture privilege (like would you rather be a Buddhist or a Muslim in Myammar today?)) with a question, that being, what is the action item?  Those posting about it seem to simply want people to know it exists.  But aren’t there steps we can take to make our country more balanced?  Some political positions we might take?

Well I’ve thought of some that I put up for discussion.

Universal health care — even the playing field for those most in need of simply good health.

Free college education — even the playing field in a society that is ever more dependent on an educated work force.

No real estate taxes for schools — one of the greatest advantages of being white is living in a neighborhood where the schools are well funded by real estate taxes.  If state or federal taxes were used for schools instead, there would be a much better balance of education opportunities for those most disadvantaged.  And there would be no need for ‘white flight’ as parents try to optimize the educational opportunities for their kids by moving to ‘good’ school districts.

No homework — I watch my daughter-in-law work with her kids (my grandkids) on their homework.  She’s an amazing mom, makes sure her kids do well in school.  As I watch, though, all I can think is it’s simply not fair. Kids in school without a parent like her are simply not going to be able to compete.  Extend school hours, do homework in school with teachers around to help all, equally.

For any government programs that benefit a portion of our society, someone has to pay for it.  Who will pay for these things?  Well I would use my votes and tax dollars to support each of these programs.