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Archive for July, 2016

As I was saying in my other post, last week I watched parts of the Democratic National Convention. As a new citizen of the US, since I have the right to vote I feel like it is my civic duty to at least be quasi-informed.

But often times I feel lost, a political orphan, because I feel like both national parties don’t align with me. I feel like there are “sane adults in the room” who actually run the party and are smart, thoughtful, and pragmatic. These are people who believe in free trade, protecting individual rights, and have respect for science. But then there are the extreme wings on both sides that get all the press and drive the national debate, and those are the same ones that drive me away from both. People often tell me they don’t know what my political alignment is, and I take that as a compliment. But I also feel frustrated that I can’t pick one side because then the crazy ones would color me with their paintbrush.

One thing that is bugging me on the left-wing’s side is the criticism of Hillary Clinton’s recent Vice Presidential running mate Tim Kaine for trivial, fluffy reasons. When it was first announced, I said to myself “Oh, Senator Tim Kaine. He seems like a smart guy, I’ve read a few of his responses to questions on Quora and they were really good. Kudos to him for taking part in online discussions, and kudos for making sense on the issues.”

But the criticism of Kaine is superficial:

  1. He’s too boring

    In a campaign filled with everyone complaining about how TV ratings are driving the debates and the campaign, we get a candidate that is not sizzle and instead is substance and people complain about it! It’s like we’re addicted to whining about how much candy we eat, and then whine when the candy store closed.

  2. The lack of diversity

    This one irks me even more. People say “What does Kaine buy Clinton?” The idea is that Clinton had to pick someone strategic to appeal to… someone. Tim Kaine is a white male. He’s not an ethnic minority, nor is he a woman. He’s a white male. Where’s the value in that?

    To which I think “There are only two people on the ticket. And he’s qualified – he was a city councilman, then mayor, then governor of Virginia, and then US Senator. The value he provides is his experience and his good ideas.” The criticism that there should be diversity for the sake of diversity is wrong. I understand why we need diversity, that is not beyond me. But part of diversity is the awareness that you aren’t representative of all ethnic minorities at the table, and Kaine seems to have this self-awareness. Besides which, diversity for the sake of diversity isn’t a good thing if everyone went to the same schools and believes the same thing.

Where I get off the progressive train is the conspiracy theory of oppression. For example, we often hear the claim that women earn 78% of what men earn, and that sounds unfair. It is unfair, but it’s also more complicated than that. For one thing, men and women choose different occupations and in general, men’s occupations (that is, jobs that more men choose to go into) pay more. Secondly, in professions where men and women are compared against each other, the gender pay gap narrows to be almost indistinguishable. In other words, male and female engineers make almost the same amount of money. The only time where is a gap is because men have more experience because women take more time off for childcare.

The progressive left claims this is a big conspiracy theory that society pushes men towards certain disciplines (science and engineering) and women towards others (early childcare and psychology), and that even though one pays better and though people have a free choice, we are steered in those directions by gender stereotypes.

I disagree.

While I agree that society rewards and pushes people in certain directions and there is bias in the system, society did not invent gender stereotypes. Instead, through evolution, men were selected to be competitive and women co-operative. In all societies everywhere, women provide a greater amount of childcare than men. Thus, men and women naturally pick different paths, and society rewards men’s paths better. Women get rewarded financially roughly the same if they choose the same path, but they don’t, and these decisions are biologically influenced because of our evolutionary heritage.

I think progressives completely miss that.

HOWEVER!

I think society shouldn’t shrug their shoulders and say “Well, if women picked better jobs, then the gap would disappear.” Instead, we can still embrace our evolutionary heritage (because that’s not going to change) and instead institute social programs that account for this. For example, in some Scandinavian countries, women are given 1 year of maternity leave. That’s a lot. But, men are given 1.5 years of paternity leave, even more. This provides incentives in the system to even things out.

Thus, through social policy like the Scandinavian model, we can account for real differences. It’s fine that men choose better paying professions, but social safety nets can ensure that people who don’t choose the high paying jobs can do okay, too (it doesn’t have to be maternity/paternity leave, but instead can be national childcare, subsidies for women, and so forth).

I feel like both sides of the debate are missing out on some key realities.

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The past few days, we’ve had a chunk of home repairs or upgrades that we’ve had to look at. It’s basic maintenance but it also needs to be done:

  1. Dead car battery – A couple of weeks ago I left the lights on in one of our cars. This car does not go “ding, ding, ding” when you leave them on and take the keys out of the ignition, a serious design flaw. But to be fair, the car is a little old (so why don’t we upgrade it?).

    Anyhow, I successfully gave it a jump start a couple of weeks ago but this past week it was completely dead. No jump starting would help. Rather than have it towed and bring it to a garage to change it, I decided I was going to change it myself. I looked it up on the Internet and it seemed straightforward. I headed down to the store, had the staff get me the correct battery, then went home to change it. I took of the cables, unscrewed the various pieces screws holding it together (and wished I had a socket set), swapped in the new battery, refastened everything, tested it and it worked! Success!

    I was proud of myself.

    I then took the old battery back to the store where I got the new one wherein they gave me a refund of $20.

  2. Analysis of a bathroom upgrade – The wife wants to redo the bathroom in our bedroom; I hesitate to call it the master bathroom because it’s not big. We had a guy come this past weekend and take a look at it, getting an estimate of what it would take to replace the shower and maybe change out the mirrors (and subsequently change the sink/structure the sink is in).

    After we had him take a look at the main bathroom about changing the tiling in the tub (and possibly changing the tub), and we also had him look at the downstairs bathroom which is the smallest of all. We’re thinking (but not seriously[?]) about putting in a fuller bathroom, maybe just a shower, so if we ever want to do AirBNB with our house, the basement could be entirely self-contained if we also put in a toaster, microwave, and sink.

    This project is expensive, it’s not at the top of the list.

  3. Yet another plumbing problem –  We discovered today that we had a drainage problem in our house. When the tub in the main bathroom would run for only a few moments, the kitchen sink (not bathroom sink) would start to back up. Uh oh. I surmised that the two go to a common drain, but since the kitchen sink is lower than the bathroom tub, when it backs up it is the first to see the backed up water.

    I hate plumbing problems because nothing I ever do works. I took the kitchen drains off and ran a 20-foot snake all the way as far as it went and tried cleaning it out. I withdrew it, reattached the pipes, and ran the tub. Nope, still backed up. I had to call a plumber.

    He came and ran his professional snake, attached to a machine, and cleaned it out. We did some testing with the tub and a bunch of water backed up, spilling water everywhere. Oops. He ran it again and this time it worked. $217 and an hour-and-a-half later, the drain works fine.

    This process of me trying it first and not working, and then having to call a plumber, is the same thing that happened before a couple of years ago. I don’t know why the pipes clog like this, but clog they do.

  4. Yard cleanup – We don’t always do a great job of maintaining the back yard. It tends to get overgrown with weeds and stuff. It’s a job I don’t enjoy doing, and the problem is that if I did do it, it hurts my back. Hours of desk job work has made my upper back, neck, mid-back, shoulders, and lower back susceptible to pain. I know when I have to rake leaves, I feel it in my hips after a while.

    So, we had the yard people come a couple of times, do a mediocre job, and remove all of the junk. I don’t know what the charge for this was but it’s several hundred dollars.

  5. Yard prettying up – Hot on the heels of #4, we recently had some landscapers come and lay mulch down. Mulch, if you don’t know what it is, is a bunch of wood-chip like material that you can lay down around the dirt parts of your grounds. It adds “character” to the look of your house so it doesn’t look so unkempt.

    We had it put in a couple of weeks ago, and it actually looks pretty good. I’m happy with this. I don’t know what the charge for this was either, but it’s several hundred dollars, too. Somewhere between one and two thousand.

  6. Replacing the back fence – Last November during a windstorm, two panels of the fence between the back neighbor fell down. The panels next to that had fallen down two years prior. The neighbor and I decided to leave it for a few months and finally revisited it this past month (or was it June? I forget). Anyhow, rather than replace only those panels, we decided to replace the entire fence to improve its total lifespan.

    Several hundred dollars later and this job is done, too.

  7. Repaving the driveway – The wife is not satisfied with the quality of the asphalt on our driveway. I will admit that compared to some of our neighbors, it doesn’t look that good. It’s cracked in some places, but overall is in okay shape. We had someone take a look and give us an estimate of how much it will cost to repour to make it look nice. The estimate came back at $12,000 or so. Ergo, we’re putting that off.

Those are all the things we did just in the past month. But earlier in the year, we had a couple of other things looked at:

  1. Replace the insulation in the attic – We redid the insulation in the attic, basically doubling the thickness. We also had some insulation in the garage removed because it was falling down. That ran us about $3500. We thought that it would make the house a lot warmer and lower the heating bill, but I didn’t notice that much difference.

  2. Looked into solar panels – Solar panels are becoming more and more popular in the US due to the drop in how much it costs to install them, increases in efficiency, and tax credits you get for installing them. Even though Seattle is rainy for several months a year, it’s sunny in the summer and parts of the fall. And it’s not like we get no sunny days in the winter. During the summer, you can sell back any extra energy you generate back to the power company so over the course of the year, your electric (but not gas) bill can become almost even… even in Seattle. Of course, that’s not the most likely scenario but it’s possible to lower your bill.

    We had someone come in and analyze our house, and it’s not an ideal candidate. You need a house with a roof that is primarily south or west facing. Ours is mostly east/west, but not enough west to make it cost efficient at this time.

    So, that was out.

  3. Got another couch – We decided it was time to get a new couch. The wife and I search high and low for a new one and we finally found one we liked. I think it could have been better (we’re looking for a place like that AirBNB we stayed at in Krakow, Poland; and Vienna, Austria) but this one is good, too.

    We thought we were going to get rid of the old couch, but never did. We ended up keeping it and putting it in a different place in the living room.

I’m sure I’m forgetting some other stuff, too, but you can see we’ve been making strategic upgrades the place we are living. I still feel like we have a long way to go. I used to think that we were a couple of deadbeat residents of the house we live in, but now that I look it over I see we’ve done quite a bit.

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This past year in January, I became a naturalized citizen of the United States after having moved here from Canada 9 years ago. This is the second time I’ve been an immigrant, the first being when I moved to England in 2001 and lived there for ~18 months.

Because I can vote this time around, I’ve started paying more attention to the candidates. I don’t know why I am doing this, I already know who I am going to vote for and have been decided for several months now.

A couple of months ago, I tried watching a few of Donald Trump’s speeches. My assessment is that he is a talented speaker, great mannerisms, great gestures, and can own the room. But, I could usually only last about 10 minutes of watching at which point I got bored. I was out of town last week and didn’t watch any of the Republican National Convention, but caught a few highlights in my news feed.

This past week, I wasn’t that interested in watching any of the Democratic National Convention either until this past Wednesday night when President Obama spoke. His speech was about 45 minutes, and I got through 20. Then today (Friday), the wife watched most of it, and then we both watched parts of Hillary Clinton’s speech, which was around 50 minutes. Once again, I got through about 30.

I don’t trust the public perception of politics. It doesn’t really matter what the candidates’ positions are on anything, the media and your friends on Facebook will hyper-distort what they believe and stand for in order to create a caricatured villain of who to vote against.

As I said before, I’ve twice been an immigrant in my life, and now as a naturalized US citizen, and as a white male living in a wealthier area of the country and myself doing reasonably well for myself, I am in the most privileged demographic there is. As Homer Simpson said, I’m a white male aged 18-49, everyone listens to me no matter how bad my ideas are. And what I don’t like about Trump’s campaign is his anti-immigrant rhetoric, anti-non-white-voter rhetoric. His defenders try to surround it with layers of nuance, but the fact is that if Trump gets elected it is entirely predictable that we’d immediately see a wave of anti-immigrant crime and hate speech.

Why is that?

Trump has denounced illegal immigrants from Mexico as rapists and criminals; he has said that the Chinese are screwing over and laughing at the US; he has proposed (and walked back) a blanket ban on all Muslims from entering the country. His defenders claim that these statements are nuanced – it is not all Mexicans, it is the illegal immigrants; it is not the Chinese people, it is their government; it is not a particular race of people, it is Muslims who belong to any race (even whites). But that’s not how the lower uneducated classes see it.

Because the top ranked leader of the country says it’s okay, and because people simply don’t draw the distinctions that Trump is drawing but instead clump them together, I would expect to see a wave of violence or hate speech directed against people of Mexican or far-east Asian descent, or people from the middle east, Pakistan, or India. People use simple heuristics to identify us-vs-them, and skin color makes a handy differentiator. People who aren’t white would be subject to insults or violence because the President gave them permission to hate them, it doesn’t matter that he made his statements conditional.

I do understand why some people would want to vote for Trump. In a world of globalization, there are winners (like myself… for now but that’s not necessarily going to last forever) and losers (like coal miners in rural Kentucky and Pennsylvania). The solution is not to build trade barriers but instead to spend money on social programs for retraining. This means longer time periods where workers can collect unemployment benefits; training programs like apprenticeships and subsidized college tuition; and other specialized placement. That’s the way to ease the fallout from globalization. Humans move slower than the pace of technology.

So you see, I believe in globalization, trade, and classical economics but realize that gains are not distributed evenly among people. Left to their own devices, because humans are such irrational creatures they don’t even out; people don’t go ahead and take the bull by the horns. Private enterprise does not come and fill in the gaps. Many times it does, but there are some markets where it doesn’t make sense for them to go into because margins are not good enough, or non-existent. That’s where government does have to fill in the gaps.

Anyway, that’s how I see things right now.

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For many years, the wife and I have lived in Seattle and sweated it out during the summer. You may think “Are Seattle summers hot enough to need air conditioning?”

For many years, the answer was no. Seattle does get hot summers (30 degrees Celsius) for 1, 2, or even 3 weeks at a time. But for years that wasn’t that common. Most people in Seattle just lived with the discomfort because summers didn’t get that hot and it didn’t last all that long. Furthermore, for ourselves, we lived in the ground floor of a condo and that stays a lot cooler anyway.

Well, a couple of years ago we moved into the house we’re living in now. That was in September and I noticed that it was warm. The next year, 2014, was too hot. Our bedroom is upstairs and we had to sleep with a fan on all night because it was too hot there. Then, in 2015, it was just as bad and the entire summer I threatened to get an air conditioner but we never did. I figured we could tough it out, and we did. But it sucked.

Well, this year, this past May, we got a portable air conditioner from Costco. It’s a big and heavy thing, and you have to vent it out the window. But, we took it upstairs and while it’s a bit loud, it works great.

Seattle didn’t really have warm weather this year for long stretches until the third week in July. We were thinking to ourselves “Yeah, we got this $450 air conditioner and it’s not even hot.”

Well, it’s hot now. And we do use it, and it’s fantastic. I say to wife “Why didn’t we do this earlier? I don’t want to have to sweat so much!”

Because we bought it two months ago, we were prepared for the hot summer weather when it came. We planned ahead on that one.

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Well, this is weird.

For many months now, after we got our new cat Esmerelda (Zelda), our first cat Ruby has hissed and growled at her. Over time she got better such that they could be near each other so long as Zelda stayed out of her face, but Ruby would never go over to Zelda first. Instead, she’d be like “You can stay over there and that’s fine. But breach the line and you’ll get a beating!”

And so it’s been that way for a while.

But recently, Ruby has been treating Zelda differently. She’s been invading Zelda’s space and not growling, beating, or whacking her. In fact, the other day, Zelda was looking out the window and Ruby walked up and sat down beside her, 1/4 inch away. After a while she got up and walked around the room, and then returned to the window. She sat down next to Zelda and was touching her!

I was shocked.

I took a picture (see below).

I don’t know what these cats are up to, but I don’t trust them.

cats

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