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Almost by definition, popular ideas are boring. If we want something new and better, we must start with what’s currently out of fashion.  Here you will find essays and editorials on society, science and software technology, often with a libertarian perspective. More…

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    It's All Murdoch's Fault

    A 1980’s Bloom County comic strip features a newspaper editor, typewriter and liquor bottle near at hand, composing an editorial. “It’s Reagan’s Fault. Everything’s Reagan’s Fault.” A lot of people still agree and Ronald Reagan’s supposed posthumous legacy now includes our current financial crisis. Let business run amok without adequate government oversight and greed has inevitably led to disaster. It just took a while.

    I disagree and am more than a little suspicious that government oversight was the cause and not the solution. That Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were a disaster waiting to happen has long been clear to many, including me and I am no financial wizard. But Congressman Barney Frank, currently much in the news with calls for increased federal oversight of business, had this to say in 2003, “I want to roll the dice a little bit more in this situation towards subsidized housing.” The administration asked Congress to reign in quasi-governmental mortgage lenders in 2005, but that died when Senate Democrats filibustered.

    So it appears that current problems were foreseeable and at least partially government responsibility. Of course banks were stupid too. But the stupidity of bankers is very old news and the new ingredient that pushed things over the edge this time appears to be political greed rather than greedy business. You may have noticed that the shit really hit the Wall Street fan within days of the government takeover of collapsing Fannie and Freddie. They have always been government sponsored and were very probably the catalyst for the current crisis.

    But if the press blames Reagan, at least in Bloom County, then guess what? I think we might plausibly blame on the press this time. “It’s All Murdoch’s Fault!”, would be the headline, preferably on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

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    Bat Mitzvah Speeches

    My youngest daughter became bat mitzvah yesterday, so I guess it is a milestone in both of our lives. Parents are encouraged to address the synagogue congregation at these events and it has been my custom to try to say something both a little more humorous and a little more meaningful than the typical safe speech, which is often a short biography of the child who has just transitioned to a young Jewish adult. Though I admit that I try to keep such speeches from being too unpopular, so they are slightly off topic for this blog. But I think a few of the ideas may be worth preserving here. First comes yesterday’s speech for my younger daughter. Then below it, I will include the one I did five years ago for my older daughter.

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    Unintended Consequences

    Someone I know cannot get a job. Potential employers simply never ever respond to his submitted resume. To protect this individual’s privacy, I will not divulge his name here, except to say that it’s me.

    This has been happening for years, so it may not be the result of our current economic downturn. Something else is probably going on and there are numerous possibilities. It might be my unpopular ideas, though how would most potential employers know? It might be because I have basically been unemployed for decades, for I have been running my own companies since 1983. It might be that I am unqualified for contemporary software engineering jobs. Though I like to think a degree from MIT with a perfect GPA should count for something, even if it was thirty years ago. It might even be that I am over qualified for most software positions, because I also have a Harvard MBA and most MBA’s aspire to manage. It might be few managers can envision themselves working with some smart aleck who bandies about terms like Harvard, MIT and perfect grades. Finally, it might be age discrimination, since I am 53 years old when almost all programmers are in their twenties or maybe thirties.

    I have a feeling that age discrimination is at least a contributing factor, but not the way you might assume. My theory is that the law against age discrimination is the problem. Ironically, age discrimination may be the unintended consequence of laws against age discrimination.

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    My mother recently died and the task of talking about her life fell to me at the memorial service. Though it is off topic even for a blog a wildly diverse as this one, I think she would have wanted some kind of permanent written record of her life (beyond the inevitable birth and death certificates that in the end are often all that survive). I certainly would if it were me.

    Of course the question arises whether a blog offers any real permanence in the long term. It is a new literary form with evolving norms, but my guess is that many blogs will survive, possibly in third-party “way-back” style archives and probably because heirs may be reluctant to turn off and discard blogs when their authors die. I think it might become common for heirs to keep paying the small bills to keep the blog running as a memorial. And even if not, survivors might well copy at least some of the blog to other web sites.

    So here is Lorraine Simonoff’s eulogy for posterity. Below that is another short eulogy I gave ten years ago for R. Leonard White, my wife’s father.

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    How Unpopular Can I Get?

    Social Darwinism, Capitalism and Charity

    I once made the mistake of proposing to our Rabbi that “Social Darwinism” might help explain Israel’s seemingly miraculous victories in the decades following World War II. After all, in addition to being very lucky, those that survived the Holocaust and made their way to Palestine were probably among the most persistent and enterprising of the Jews who lived in Europe before the war. It was a bad idea, or at least a highly unpopular one. I won’t try that one again here. But I will argue that a good form of Social Darwinism is alive and well in the guise of capitalism. Plus you’ll receive my even less popular critique of charity at no extra charge!

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    Our Evil Federal Budget

    Some acquaintances of ours have a sign on their vehicle with a pie chart of government spending. It’s a big sign, occupying the whole side of their van plus a large sheet metal extension above their roof (which is very nicely done, though probably not very fuel efficient). So I guess they are making a big point. And the point seems to be that US military spending is over 50% of the total budget. As a country, we are spending half our resources on killing people in various ill advised foreign adventures. That’s a very bad thing, right?

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    Unpopular Ideas

    Almost by definition, popular ideas are sort of boring. If we want something new and better, we must start with what’s currently out of fashion.

    This site is called “Unpopular Ideas” because 1) I have noticed that many of my opinions have long been what you you might call non-mainstream and 2) the UnpopularIdeas.com domain was available. You many not agree with these essays. After all, they are unpopular ideas. But I hope you find them interesting and worth discussing.

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