Octavo Dia

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and God's Judgment

One thing is easy to predict - after any great national disaster a self-appointed spokesman for God will declare that this is God's judgment.

Every single death is a direct consequence of sin.  Many sins have direct, specific consequences, but as soon as Adam sinned, death entered the world.  So you could say that the deaths caused by hurricane Sandy were caused by lying, stealing, lust, hate, etc., and you would be perfectly correct.

Aligning a specific catastrophe with a specific sin (or group thereof) is considerably harder, particularly because, in the Bible, the exact consequences of catastrophes were prophesied beforehand--a feat which none of these "self-appointed spokesmen" have been able to manage.  Plagues, famine, drought, conquest, pestilence--they were all explicitly prophesied prior to their occurrence.  To the best of my knowledge, the only Biblical catastrophe that wasn't prophesied ahead of time was the storm that nearly swamped Jonah's boat.

Finally, a temporal judgment is not what we should be afraid of.  While nothing to sneeze at, God's wrath in the form of a hurricane is far superior to God's wrath in the form of hell.  As St. Augustine argued, the suffering and death in this world should make us hate the sin that caused it.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

We Should Never Re-elect Anyone

How does a politician represent their* constituents in a polarized nation?  Not well, generally, but particularly poorly when running for re-election.  It is during a re-election campaign that it is impossible for a politician to maintain the pleasant fiction that they're representing all of their constituents, and not just those who voted them into office.  During a re-election campaign, a politician, who is supposed representing everyone, will openly attack the ideas and interests of those who oppose them.  For months prior to an election, every turn of the radio dial reminds nearly half the electorate that their "representative" disagrees with them in the strongest terms, and thus cannot hope to be representing them adequately.  At the very best, it's dispiriting.

You may argue that, in times of crisis, a constant hand on the tiller is vital.  Be that as it may, the exigencies of a crisis do not mandate maintaining them in perpetuity.  For every steady hand during crisis, there are many more who it would have been well to be rid of.  For every Lincoln there is a second Wilson term or a fourth Roosevelt term.

You may also argue that, in times of peace, we would lose the expertise of a particularly able leader.  By contrast, if everyone knew that there would be only a single term, after which the leader would be replaced, they would devote far more time to developing depth of talent, rather than relying on a handful of individuals.

In short, for the few extremes in which we may not wish to change horses in mid-stream, there are many more in which we are beating a dead horse.  However, if there was no such thing as a re-election, the changing of horses in mid-stream would be prepared for.  Our political system would be more resilient, we'd improve the quality of government, and even if our politicians don't represent us well, we can at least pretend that they do.

*Per the Oxford English Dictionary, the use of "their" as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun dates to 1395 in Chaucer's "The Pardoner's Prologue" and was similarly used by Shakespeare.  So there.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

How to fix the Electoral College

Every four years we go through another round of complaining about the electoral college.  And every four years the same arguments come up:

Q: Why can't we just go with the majority popular vote like everyone else in the world?

(1)  Because it protects the rights of rural minorities from urban majorities.
(2)  Because, like the World Series, it's not enough to win one game, you need to prove that you can win in a wide variety of circumstances.
(3)  Because it's one of the last vestiges of a Federal system.
(4)  Because it amplifies the margin of victory, thereby granting more legitimacy to the president.
(5)  Because etc.

Really, the main complaint about the electoral college is from people whose states are rarely in contention.  New York state is receives little attention from either party because it's so solidly Democratic.  The Republican candidates rarely bother to visit, and the Democrat candidates just stop by for fundraisers.  However, this is a function solely of the winner-take-all electoral college, and it doesn't have to be that way.

Maine and Nebraska choose their electors by Congressional district, and award the two senatorial electors based on the popular vote.

If every state did that, there would be electoral votes in contention in every state, and only in the deepest of red and blue Congressional districts would anyone's vote be taken for granted.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How to Cut Federal Employees' Pay

When you think of cutting pay, you immediately think of cutting wages or remunerative benefits (such as healthcare), which is what every cost-cutting proposal comes up with.  The problem with cutting pay in this way is that people react very strongly to losses of nominal wages--you're likely to lose in productivity what you gain in cuts.  Another way to cut pay is to make employees work more for the same pay.  In terms of raising productivity per hour, this is also not an easy feat, since you have a management team already devoted to that very prospect.

However, it is possible to raise productivity without cutting either compensation per hour or raising productivity per hour: get rid of a holiday.  On a holiday you already bear the cost of compensating the employees without the benefits of them actually working.  I know some Libertarians among us would argue that Federal employees working is actually harmful to society and we should prevent it at all costs, but that's another issue.

Normally, you would expect to receive some push-back for cutting holiday hours.  However, there is one Federal holiday that is so devoid of meaning that there would be little than ritual griping if it was removed: Columbus day.  Employees from the private sector are often surprised that they get Columbus Day off--the most they get out of Columbus Day is a Columbus Day sale.

If, however, the average Federal employee works 230 days a year (30 days of holidays, vacation, and sick leave), removing Columbus day from the holiday calendar would be equivalent to a 0.435% increase in productivity at no extra cost.  I guarantee you'd get much more push-back from a 0.435% wage cut than you would from eliminating Columbus "Meaningless Three-Day-Weekend" Day.

Book Review: The Courageous Follower

The Courageous Follower: Standing Up to & for Our Leaders.

In one of the leadership courses I've taken, the personality/behavioral inventory told me that I was the quintessential follower.  As you might imagine, a book singing the praises of followership would be right up my alley (but only if the boss approves).

The main thing I got out of this book was the importance of independent followership.  A follower who cannot separate from the leader is a poor follower.  As such, a follower needs to build a base of independence, i.e., savings, a side business, potential jobs, etc., so that, if need be, the follower can vote with their feet.  On the leader's side of things, though squeezing a workforce may provide short-term gains, cutting independence through reduced wages, long hours, or cutting training leads to a dependent workforce which is bad for the leader.


Thursday, October 04, 2012

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

I said in my last review that J.K. Rowling really hit her stride in the third book.  In this one, the complicated storytelling for which she is famed first became evident.  It was in this book that she began tying together all the threads she'd spun in the first three books.  It was oddly reminiscent of Tom Clancy's writing style, in that he'll spend 500 pages laying the stage, and the last two hundred pages telling the story.