Jan 31, 2008

View from the morning commute

An early train and the Sun is coming up - a sure sign that winter is ending!

Jan 28, 2008

Sebelius to endorse Obama

I've had this secret desire for an Obama/Sebelius ticket for 2008 for several months. As Governor of Kansas, Sebelius has been very successful in moving Kansas in a sane direction. So news that she's likely to endorse Obama just after she gives the national Democratic response to Bush's State of the Union speech sounds pretty awesome to me.

Jan 27, 2008

End of Empire

A long article in the NY Times Magazine on the end of American Hegemony. It covers the top rising powers in the world and how America could constructively participate (as opposed to how it has been doing so far this century).

The numbers on South Carolina

The Democratic Primary in SC is over and Obama won as expected. More interesting is who voted for him. The following posts cover the beginnings of the post-election analysis:

There are positive signs. More voters for the Dems than the GOP (though the weather was better for the Dem primary). Obama got more votes than the top two GOP candidates combined and Hillary was only barely beaten by McCain. Obama continues to draw out youth voters. I'm leaning towards Obama and as usual his speech was inspiring. He was also endorsed by JFK's daughter in a well-written NY Times Op-Ed.
I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president — not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans.
We'll see if he can pull it off. He's won every primary so far - at least in terms of delegates - but in reality he has an uphill road to the nomination as the diary at openleft above pointed out.

Jan 21, 2008

Who votes for a fascist?

Ornicus points out an interesting article in a 1941 edition of Harper's magazine. A reminder that 1930/40s Germany can be repeated elsewhere.

Jan 19, 2008

Chasing email tails

In the news, the Irish Justice Department is going to implement an EU Directive for storing and saving email transaction information (not the emails themselves, just things like to/from/when, etc). Many people argue against this based on privacy issues. And that's a very valid issue. However there's another flaw that rarely gets covered: it won't work. I'd argue it's actually damaging to real security. I'm an Irish resident but I suspect very few of my online communications are logged under this directive. Some of my email is handled by a server in the States (and accessed via an encrypted channel) and I communicate with many friends via IRC frequently via an encrypted channel (and only one server is based in Ireland). With very little effort I could ensure that all of my online communications would be done via encrypted channels, outside of Ireland and in a way that can't be traced. In addition I could do it in a way that wouldn't arouse suspicion - using protocols that any computer professional might use in the course of their job. If I can think of that then surely anyone having discussions they wouldn't want the government to know would take advantage of these methods and more. So the vast majority of this information being stored is of people the government has no interest in. Like 99.999999% of it will be useless information that will need to be stored and sifted through to find anything of interest. And what will be found - the fact that Alice mailed Bob on Tuesday? And it's email so you can't even really prove that it was Alice who sent the mail. That's a lot of effort for the tiniest of facts. Worse still, far too many people will think this issue is solved. There are times when the government has a valid reason to gather information on suspects. Expending all this effort to gather useless information (and to ensure compliance) means we won't be expanding as much effort trying to find important information (and to find out how criminals are really communicating).

Jan 15, 2008

House Prices

As Atrios points out, house prices will settle down to something the average house buyer can afford. Obviously another option is for salaries to rise to afford the average house! Unsurprisingly as a homeowner I vote for that option!

Michigan Primary

Today is the Michigan primary. Unlike the previous two, this will essentially be a Republican-only primary as Hillary Clinton is the only candidate on the ballot for the Democratic primary. Amusingly, this has caused a Democrats for Mitt movement. Last year various states moved their primary election dates up in a bid to hold theirs before the Iowa and New Hampshire contests - which is why the primary elections are so early this year. Eventually the national Democratic Party threatened to not seat delegates from states doing this: a threat they've carried out for Michigan and Florida. What will actually happen is anyone's guess, but that's why only Hillary Clinton is the only Democrat on the ballot in Michigan. Meanwhile more partisan Democrats are encouraging Democrats to cross party lines and vote for Mitt. They're legally allowed to do that since Michigan has an open primary. And for some reason people outside America think our system is weird...

US Senate Races

So it seems there are 35 Senate races this year. Wikipedia has a nice breakdown of the 2008 Senate races. 2006 was a good year for Democrats in Congress. Democrats made gains in the Senate even though they had more seats to defend. This year Republicans have more seats to defend and their national Senate re-election committee is way behind the Democrats in fund-raising .

Jan 14, 2008

"I'm just a Bill"

With all the interest in the current US Presidential election, it's important to remember what it's all about. Thanks to this FCC policy most Americans of my generation learned a bit about their country from Schoolhouse Rock - this video being one of the better known: The presidential election is one of around 450 Federal offices up for election (and technically the presidency isn't even one of them). All 414 seats in the House (plus some non-voting seats in the House) and around 33 seats in the Senate are up for grabs on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

Jan 13, 2008

Triplicate

On Thursday a train derailed on the train line I take. Irish Rail had to shut down the line this weekend to repair it which is understandable. Supposedly my annual rail ticket is good on busses this weekend but instead I was given this form in triplicate to claim a refund. Stellar customer service. Update: To be fair to Irish Rail they say the following in a notice on their site:

Dundalk/Drogheda and Dublin Services: No Northbound/Southbound Commuter services will operate on Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th January.

Dublin Bus and Bus √Čireann will honour rail tickets on both days.

The REAL Ireland Caucus (er, Primary)

Damien Mulley mentions a site called the Ireland Caucus where Irish people can vote for the next US President. While I think it's an interesting idea, it's a shame he didn't mention that there will be an actual primary (for the first time it won't be a caucus) on February 5th through the 12th for US citizens in Ireland. There's a long explanation how to vote here, but the summary is this:

Our primary will be held from the 5th to the 12th of February. The polling station will be set up at O'Neill's Pub on Suffolk Street from about 10am until late. Other than that though if people cannot make it in person, internet and fax voting will be available. Anybody who votes will have to be a member of Democrats Abroad Ireland by January 31st just so we can verify them.
Make sure you register at Democrats Abroad by the 31st and make sure to vote! Remember to register for the general election in November here - this will also allow you to vote in state's Senate and Congressional primaries later this year.

Public sector pay

So the benchmarking report on public sector pay is out in Ireland. It recommends no increase for most jobs pointing out that pension benefits alone are worth 12%. The usual suspects are gleeful and fair enough, benefits have value. However the raises that are given nearly all go to the high end. I don't have figures for all the roles, but elected ministers appear to be well paid. Did pension calculations go into their salaries - do Ministers get negative pensions? Personally I think that pay for lower level civil servants is way too low. And the idea that the civil service should shrink in times of population growth and increased economic activity boggles the mind. But regardless it's pretty obvious that there's one set of compensation rules for those higher up in the civil service and another for those lower down the ladder.