I’ve marked up a nice little gist for anyone wanting to try out Nomic, the game about making and changing the rules of the game. If anyone wants to fork it, it’s here: https://gist.github.com/yoshokatana/5069948
I’m going to use Github to run a sample version of the game with roommates, just to see how version control might affect the social dynamics of legislating. I hope it goes well!
Over the last few years, there has been a sweeping change in personal fitness. Products like the Fitbit and Nike Fuel Band are allowing people to measure caloric intake, exercise, and even sleep patterns. A small but growing number of people are “lifestreaming,” recording and cataloguing what they read, what they watch, and their social network activity. With this movement comes better analytics to parse these data sets, allowing people to get a better insight on who they are.
These first steps at technologically-aided self reflection might be thought of as narcissistic, but studies have shown that reviewing these metrics cause people to eat better, exercise more, and expand their mental horizons, even without a set diet or regimen.
Governments use data in a similar way. Our census, national polls, and approval ratings help us get a sense of where we are as a nation and what issues we need to address. The problem is, a lot of these polls measure more opinion than fact. It’s the difference between movie reviews and turnstile data: you can get a sense of people’s opinions from reviews, but data showing that they’re going back to the theater two or three times says something much stronger.
I propose that we expand our metrics to encompass more hard data, and have a specific example in mind. Currently, the national minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. It hasn’t changed since 2009, and there is a constant battle in Congress to raise it to match inflation. Both sides are adamant that there can be no compromise, leaving Congress (and the American People) at a stand-still.
I recently read a policy paper on changing pre-distribution policies in the UK, and it put forth and interesting idea: What if we got around the debate by gathering data on the number of people making between the minimum wage an a (regional) living wage? It wouldn’t have to be actionable, and we could even tone down the rhetoric on the minimum wage issue, but it would show which companies are not paying workers enough to live. The simple act of reviewing this data (a lot of which is probably available today) would cause companies to improve working conditions, if not from the kindness of their hearts than the urging of their PR departments.
This is a relatively low-cost measure that would help government and low-wage workers immensely. It wouldn’t impose any penalties on corporations, but might change people’s minds on the issue. This is only one example, but if we put forward this kind of self-reflection on a government-wide scale we could end up with a happier, healthier, more thoughtful nation.
Randy Kinavey, my 9th and 11th grade English teacher, died yesterday of cancer. He was the most respected and longest tenured teacher at my High School, and his enthusiasm and wry wit affected hundreds of students.
You know how there’s always one teacher who gets it, who gets you, and really forces you to step up and do great things? For me, that was Kinavey. He introduced me to post-modern literature, and the books he recommended shaped my worldview more than any other.
I wish I had the words to describe how I feel about this, but many have said it better than me. Read some of theirs.
Kinavey was known for his sayings, and one strikes me as appropriate:
“You’ll do fine … unless, of course, you don’t.”
I originally wrote this in response to a post on the FRC forums, but I thought I’d share it here (since I haven’t updated my blog in forever). This is a pretty accurate account of my ideas about politics, and how reading and school shaped them.
Since I can remember, I’ve been interested in the future. Reading about space travel, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and the like shaped my early worldview, and I’ve been a staunch supporter for technological progress since I was a little kid. (I spent most of my elementary school days playing old Maxis games and drawing massive, intricate space battles.)
In middle school I read Hagakure, a biography of Musashi, and Starship Troopers all in a very short amount of time. I’ve always been pretty outspoken, but got really caught up in the “service guarantees citizenship” idea. I used to give impassioned political speeches in the lunchroom, and my friends and I sort of took over the neighborhood and created a series of fiefdoms, all under a constitutional monarchy. I think I might still have a few drafts of the constitution (and a few laws that we wrote) somewhere in my mom’s house. We would spend our days after school warring with the other kids for control of the neighborhood (and the woods beyond), spending hours finding the best fighting sticks and building shoddy bows. I’m surprised none of us got seriously injured; it was pretty brutal.
When 9/11 happened, I saw the panic and snap judgements made by the politicians in charge, and realized exactly how incompetent the “authorities” were at clear-headed decision-making. I started speaking out against the war in Afghanistan, and then Iraq, and people started labeling me as a “liberal.”
In the first year of high school, I moved to California, land of sunshine and happy people. And I realized that I had probably been depressed for most of my life previous to that (I had gone to a string of school counselors, but I moved around too much for any kind of stable relationship, and I think my files eventually got lost or something). My freshman English teacher was basically a slightly younger Kurt Vonnegut, and he recommended I read “Stranger in a Strange Land.” I did, and realized I had been caring about a bunch of silly, inconsequential stuff (I was basically a left-leaning, militarist totalitarian by that point) and that many of the “great issues of the day” amounted to little more than bitter old-fashioned people trying to prevent others from doing things that harmed no one.
I learned more and more about history, and began to see civilization as a march toward greater and greater cooperation between groups of people, where scarce resources could be shared and brutal wars could be prevented. I learned about the wondrous advancements in science and technology that made our current society possible, and the many failed experiments we’ve had along the way (free market capitalism, totalitarian communism, Italian fascism, etc).
Throughout all this, speculative fiction has been keeping up with the times, and certain things that seemed completely far-fetched now appear to be almost within our grasp (within at least 100 years from now). Neuroscience is shedding light into the last bastion of the superstitious, and medicine is advancing at a blinding pace. Nanotech and personal fabrication has the possibility of becoming a reality, and serious men and women are already contemplating the repercussions of a post-scarcity economy.
In light of all of this, misogynistic, homophobic, Objectivist, and nationalistic ideas seem not just quaint but dangerously barbaric. Flat tax proponents seem like they should be donning robes and sandals, for their ideas belong in pre-Diocletian Rome. Warmongers and chickenhawks sound like petulant children, who should let clear-headed adults conduct the business of government. A government based on evidence and rational analysis, that looks to the mistakes of history and tries not to repeat them.
I’m far to the left of most American politicians, and far more scientifically-minded than the fringe radicals. There are very few politicians I would even trust to run a country, much less agree with their policies and stances. I am completely disenfranchised in this country’s political system.
By the by, if you want to grab a single post and display it on your homepage in Wordpress, here’s how it’s done. You basically create a new loop (with
query_posts) and iterate through n number of posts (usually one to three). Remember to close the loop when you’re done, though! (with