Fix It! (But Don’t Expect Me To Pay)

Today is election day here in what my friend Kathy calls the Republic of North Virginia. That implies we live in a liberal region but that is very relative and only accurate when compared to the rest of the state.

Anyway, we have no national races on the ballot, which means turnout will be very low. But that doesn’t mean the vote isn’t important, as brilliantly explained here by John Oliver.

With few particular controversies to campaign on this year, all the candidates alternate between describing how evil their opponents are, and how much they support a wonderful life: better schools, better transportation, better health care, more jobs. The stuff that sounds good in 30 second ads, but is very complicated to accomplish in real life.

The problem, however, also lies with us voters. Just about everyone who will bother to vote today will tell you they want the government to improve life in our area, in some way.

They just don’t want to pay for it. No one ever gets elected to office in our little Republic (or anywhere else in the country, I suspect) if they even hint at asking people to pay the bills.

Transportation is a good example of this “I want it all for free” attitude.

Most everyone around here will tell you traffic stinks. The DC area regularly lands at or near the top of the list of most congested cities in the US. Too many cars trying to get to the same place at the same time, even during non “rush” periods.

But the only solutions that interest our local politicians involve building pay-to-drive car pool lanes along major highways – what are called HOT (high occupancy toll) corridors. Roads that require either three people in the car or payments that can be over $10 for five or so miles of relatively congestion free driving. Projects that suck down lots of money while doing very little to address the larger problem.

Public transportation systems that don’t involve cars? Don’t be silly. Most of our “leaders” (including the Congress critters who live in the area most of the year) don’t ride Metro, much less want to pay for it. Buses are for poor people. Walkable, bike friendly cities are for socialist countries.

So, a few of us are choosing many of our local leaders today. The Board of Supervisors, School Board, members of the state Assembly and Senate, various other offices. But they won’t fix any of the problems mentioned (very) briefly in their ads and speeches.

Because we say we want government to provide good public infrastructure. We just don’t want to pay for it. And they know it.

Living in Fear

Considering the events of fourteen years ago, mid September should be a good time to hold a rational, fact-based discussion about security here in the “homeland”. But considering the huge (or maybe yuuuge) crowd of politicians working hard to literally scare up votes in the backwoods of Iowa and New Hampshire, that ain’t gonna happen.

Which is why a recent segment of the DecodeDC podcast titled Terrified of Terrorism should be required listening. From the opening of that episode:

Fourteen years after 9/11, America’s terrorism policy resembles a history museum crammed with dusty old assumptions, antiquated objectives, unexamined ledgers all shrouded in a cloak of secrecy and imminent, invisible danger that vanquishes skeptical inquisition.

As taxpayers, we are being scammed. As citizens, our constitutional values are being compromised. As human beings, we are being needlessly frightened.

One might say this shows the terrorists have won. They haven’t. It’s that our common sense has surrendered.

We’re not much bothered, though. We are too paranoid to seriously question the basics of counterterrorism policy. The fundamental assumptions of the War on Terror have gone unexamined for a decade and a half.

The core premise is this: Global terrorism is the most serious, dangerous threat to the United States and its citizens.

It is heresy to challenge that orthodoxy.

But by any objective measure, it isn’t true.

The rest of the 22 minutes is a good start to that rational, fact-based discussion our so-called leaders are terrified to have. Go. Listen. Think.

Political Disconnect

I try very hard to avoid any kind of political reporting, especially since we are more than 14 months away from the presidential election. Plus our news media is far more interested in polls, sensational arguments, and the flavor of the moment than they are about analyzing actual issues.

However, I stumbled across something this week that’s just too hard to ignore.

In an piece about a focus group explaining why they support Donald Trump, someone was quoted as saying “He’s like one of us.”.

Considering this woman, described as a “former dog breeder”, is likely a long, looong way from Trump’s social and economic class, and probably shares very few of his actual political views, her remark immediately enters the top ten dumbest things anyone has ever said.

Right up there with “That bear is more afraid of you than you are of him.” and “I’ll be rich as soon as the wire transfer from Nigeria comes through.”

Not in the Education World

I’m not sure if this story is a reflection on the political nature of education reform or on the superficiality of MOOC.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education is offering three MOOCS – massive open online courses – with “convenient, self-paced modules to accommodate busy schedules” to help you do more to “advance and effectively implement trending reforms.”

So, who are the wise and experienced educators leading these courses?

Along with [Joel] Klein, the former chancellor of New York City public schools, and [John] King, the former New York State education commissioner who is now a top adviser to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, you will hear from people including John White, Louisiana state superintendent of education; Patricia Levesque, CEO of the Bush foundation, who sent the e-mail announcement; and Greg Hughes, Utah Speaker of the House. The 18 people shown on the foundation Web site who are involved in the courses come from the policy and legislative (and not the education) world. [my emphasis]

That “not in the education world” part pretty much summarizes the entire approach to education reform in this country.

Twitter Droppings

Being a small collection of links from my Twitter posts of the past week that deserve a few more than 140 characters.

Last week Google announced that HTML 5 would be the default format for all videos on YouTube. Most YouTube have no idea what that means (or the explanation in the post) but in the larger picture of the web, it’s good news. And one more sign that Flash is dying as a media distribution format, which can’t come fast enough for those who do understand since the technology is still buggy after all these years, not to mention a major security hole.

After last weekend’s Super Bowl, no one should be surprised that the NFL has annual revenues of $9.5 billion. What should shock you, not to mention the people leading this country, is that they are still a tax-exempt nonprofit organization. And it gets worse when you add in the billions of subsidies from state and local taxpayers that are used to pay for stadiums and other team facilities. “You really couldn’t ask for a better symbol of everything that’s wrong with US predatory capitalism.” Indeed!

Last week, the FCC decided to make some changes to reclassify internet service providers (like Verizon and Comcast) as “common carriers” under something called Title II. What does that mean to most of us who use the internet? David Weinberger asked an expert and their explainer is well worth a read. The issue is not that complicated but this is a major change that goes a long way to maintaining a “neutral” internet.

And finally, Fast Company speculates on why introverts are the best networkers on Twitter. I’m not sure I buy the premise, but much of the advice in the article could still apply to working with introverted students. And with helping everyone make the best use of social media.