The US Senate is deliberately non-democratic. This is known. How it got this way goes beyond the Connecticut Compromise, however, and the advantage to the GOP doesn’t necessarily come from where you think it might.

The Senate

US_Senate_2007It is well-known that the United States Senate disproportionately favors less populated states. Wyoming, our nation’s least populated state, has two senators for its population of roughly 580,000 people. California, meanwhile, also has two senators for its population of over thirty-eight million people. Meaning that the average citizen of Wyoming has Senate representation greater than sixty-six times that of the average Californian.

Disparities in upper houses aren’t unique to the United States. In Germany, each of the states have between four and six members of their upper house (the Bundesrat). Though it’s is apportioned by population, but that doesn’t come close to accounting for a population disparity where the least populace state has 600,000 and the most populous over seventeen million. Like the United States, Australia’s upper house gives uniform senate representation despite significant population disparities. Canada’s upper house representation is hard-coded into their constitution in such a way that New Brunswick (population 750,000) has ten senators while British Columbia (population 4,400,000) has only six.

The circumstances in all of these upper houses are different, of course. They also have different powers and responsibilities, with some having more than others and few having as many as the United States. In the Bundesrat, the members are appointed by the state executives, while in Canada they are appointed by the Prime Minister.

What makes the United States unique is the combination of how selection occurs, the scope of the population disparity, and the amount of power enjoyed by the senate. Not just by virtue of the fact that (unlike Australia, Canada, Germany, and others) we don’t have a chief executive derived from the other house, but because of custom, legislative rules, and powers specifically given to it in the Constitution. All of which make the sheer size of the population disparity more contentious.

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Category: Statehouse

For the most part, I am a LibreOffice user in lieu of Microsoft Office. LibreOffice is free and meets most of my needs. I also sometimes dip my toe in Apache OpenOffice. LibreOffice and OpenOffice both use ODF formatting, which is an open-source standard in competition with Microsoft Office’s old binary format (doc, xls) and their newer streaming format (docx, xlsx).

For the most part, I don’t miss Microsoft Office*. The problem is… Google.

Google’s Android apps, Drive and OpenOffice, don’t read ODF files. There is a third-party app that can read them capably, one that can edit them clumsily, and one that can edit documents but not spreadsheets. It’s all harder than with regular MS Office docs, however, where there are multiple apps that can edit them well.

If Google were to offer support within Drive, that would be remarkably convenient. Not just for my phone, where I wouldn’t be doing anything non-major, but for the desktop as well. Their refusal to support ODF files is maddening. It’s honestly not clear to me why they, like OpenOffice and LibreOffice, shouldn’t use ODF by default. Their decision to do so, as well as their decision to not even support ODF at all (as Microsoft Office does) reaks of a desire to challenge Microsoft’s formatting with their own rather than simply to support an alternative.

Happilly for me, the UK has announced that it will be shifting to ODF formatting for all of its government documents. This may not stick, as the state of Massachusetts did the same (more or less) and then backed off. My hope, though, is that this will be the burr in the saddle that Google needs to finally do what they should have done all along.

* – Other than Google, the only problem with my decision has been that I do not have the command knowledge of MS Office that I used to. Which means that when it comes time to job hunt, I am going to have to re-familiarize myself with software I once had mastery over.


Category: Server Room

So we are buying a house. It’s actually a house that, on my wife’s current salary, we would never buy because we wouldn’t be able to afford it. But she’ll start making more money by year’s end and it won’t be a problem.

I had this silly notion that getting a loan for a house we cannot presently afford would be difficult. Haha. Or at least that we would have to demonstrate earning potential to be able to afford it. HAHA!

They really don’t care about my wife’s earning potential. They don’t care that we cannot afford the house on her current income. As far as they’re concerned, we can afford the house in our current economic situation.

Which I guess actually makes sense. Clancy and I are really conservative (“chickenspit” may be the more accurate assessment) and if everybody held themselves to the same standards that we do, nobody would be able to afford a house anywhere. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. But given home ownership rates, and despite the housing bubble, our country does seem to somehow make it work.

I ended up consulting two banks for loans. Both made good offers and had friendly and helpful agents that I didn’t want to say “no” to. I ended up going with our regular bank (ORB) instead of the credit card company (3C). I actually felt really about sending the email to my contact at 3C because she was so helpful and had put together an impressive deal. I would have felt just as bad sending an email to ORB guy. I suspect at some point I will feel buyer’s remorse when something goes wrong with a grass-is-greener view that everything would have gone perfectly had I gone the other way.

I emailed 3C lady yesterday evening, and she’s taking it pretty hard. I got an email asking why I jilted her. Then I got a phone call. I missed the phone call, but responded with the email explaining that it was a really tough decision and I made it based on something really minor and situation-specific*. Today I got an email with my disclosures. “This is what you’re missing out on!” I guess. Actually, it’s probably automated.

I was pretty open about the fact that I was talking to two banks. This is why I am such a rotten consumer, though. I hate the idea of taking up someone’s time when I am not actually going to buy their product. This was inevitably true of one of the two companies I was talking to. At the same time, on a purchase this big, it wouldn’t have been responsible to take the first offer.

* – Basically, ORB already had more of our financial documentation in hand. They also required a bit less generally. Most importantly, they didn’t need it right now, which was a big deal because I am having to track a lot of it down.


Category: Bank

KickedTowerA Harvard sleep specialists argues that sleep is more important than practice for championship sports teams.

Universities may not be hospital to conservatives, but have become an unexpected laboratory and farm system for the GOP.

Some guy went to North Korea and learned twenty things.

Remember the whole Faces of Meth thing from Oregon? I was reminded of that when looking at these pictures of housing in Detroit.

Japanese guide learning to use the word “fuck.”

Men’s Journal explains the genius of Subaru.

Adam Ozimek tackles the “Should everyone go to college” question. Derek Thompson looks at which degrees and colleges don’t pay off.

Katherine Mangu is right: Text from the toilet with pride!

Daniel Fincke takes issue with the notion that “You can’t stop teenagers from having sex!” because he was so stopped.

Paging Former Mayor Bloomberg: Divorce is linked to obesity in children.

Sprawl, in animated GIF form.


Category: Newsroom

I previously wrote a superficial review of Atlas Shrugged. Today, I want to talk about my emotional reaction to two scenes. There are no spoilers here beyond the first third of the book.

Early on, Taggart Transcontinental Railroad’s CEO, Jim Taggart, pulled the levers of the trade group to force a regional rival, Dan Conway, to cease operation of a superior competing line, the Phoenix-Durango. The program for Taggart was that their own line, the Rio Del Norte, had fallen into disrepair and was not ready to carry magnate Ellis Wyatt’s cargo out of Colorado. Though Conway agreed to cease operations, he declined to turn his existing lines over to Taggart.

Later on, Ellis Wyatt makes the decision to join the other Makers in Galt’s Gulch. The last straw for Wyatt is a series of regulations that were tailor designed to soak every extra bit of productivity out of him for everybody else (the “common good”). Rather than simply disappear, or take what capital he could with him, he essentially destroyed his mines in a blaze of glory.

There are similarities between the two events, in that they were both examples of successful industry injured significantly by interference in the markets by outside forces (a trade group for Conway, the government for Wyatt).

There were differences, too, that lead me to view the two cases so differently. To the point that I was happy with Conway’s decisions, and angry with Wyatt’s.

The less important difference between the two was that Conway was quite directly forced out of business. After losing his line, he had no business to operate. He could have gotten a job elsewhere, but he was displaced. For Wyatt, the expectation was that he would continue operations. He had operations to continue.

The big difference, though, was that Conway tore up the lines and sold them. That he refused to sell them to the place where they were most needed bothers me less because it’s the people who most needed it that played the central role in killing his business.

Wyatt, though, simply destroyed everything in site. He left a note saying that was basically leaving everything as he found it. I’m sure Rand saw some justice in that, and perhaps there was. I had an enormous amount of difficulty seeing anything other than needless destruction.

It’s one thing to prevent somebody from having something by keeping it or deliberately giving it to someone else. In the Trumwill Way of thinking, though, it’s another to destroy it to keep them from having it.

Most likely, though, it’s my own visceral reaction to destruction itself. Though I have defended Cash for Clunkers at Hit Coffee for not being particularly responsible for the rise in used car prices, I could only look at the whole process with dismay. I understand the environmental rationale for it, but the whole thing was dedicated to taking something useful and putting it out of the reach of the people who could actually have used it.

Presumably, like Conway’s tracks, there was a recycling and re-purposing of the metal. But there are people all across the country who could use cars in good working order, and there we were destroying them. Better that they should without than that they pollute the environment with it, while large numbers of middle class Americans got a new car at a reduced price.

Whether one considers my response to C4C to be right or wrong, I do admit that this reaction of mine does go to the almost certainly irrational. While tearing something down to build something new over it isn’t really a problem for me, I get that twinge of resistance when I see something torn down because it can’t be re-used and has been declared unsightly or (less unreasonably) a hazard. But if we’re not going to do anything with the building, it really shouldn’t matter. I just don’t seem to care.

In my own personal life, this relates to my historic inability to throw away old computers if there is even a semblance of functionality. There are very, very few uses I can imagine for a Pentium laptop, but by heavens it works so how do I throw it away or turn it into the recycler? It’s something I have struggled with enormously.

Logic did finally prevail earlier this year when I spent several hours trying to get a couple of old, single-core processor machines working. I mean, that’s not when logic prevailed. Logic prevailed when, after having done so, I realized how utterly useless these computers were and did dispose of them with prejudice.

Even then, it’s amazing how hard it is. It turns on! It works! It takes twenty minutes to open up an email but… functionality! In theory, anyway.

Presumably, had Wyatt simply left the mines in tact, the “looters” would have run it into uselessness anyway as they did with the society that they were left. In the context of the story it did make sense to hurry the process along because progress in Randverse was more-or-less predicated on the collapse of civilization. Burning the village to save in and all that.


Category: Coffeehouse

Some high-falutin’ math-wiz guy on the Internet thinks that PEMDAS is stupid:

For those of you who do not recall, PEMDAS is the shorthand for the order of operations in math. Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction.

Except that from the start, we were not taught that was a rigid order. To use parenthesis, it was: Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication or Division, and Addition or Subtraction. Judging by the comment section, this was the most common way of teaching it. No matter how many times people say “No, PEMDAS means you have to put Addition before Subtraction!”

He says that PEMDAS means that 8-2+1 is five. Except that I was taught by PEMDAS, and was taught that the answer is seven. I arrive at the right destination, but according to this guy the “wrong” way because I don’t expressly consider the -2 to be + (-2).

Which brings us to his larger critique, which is the algorithmic versus conceptual math debate. My own position is that concepts are important (I was indeed taught that “-2″ is the same as “+(-2)”), but that you start with the “what” before moving to the “why.” That way, even if you don’t get the “why” you do at least understand the “what.”

More to the point, though, it makes me think of the whole vs phonics debate. Conceptual math is good for kids that are naturally good at or interested in math. It seems to be boosted by those same people, who seem to believe that if others understood math the way that they do they would be adept at it. Meanwhile, I think it will hobble the kids who will simply never understand the “why” by making learning the “what” more difficult.

Which is pretty much how whole language worked. Phonics was annoying for the verbally gifted because it was crude, unreliable, and forced-walking when they were capable of running. It, too, was a program advanced by the best and brightest and well-suited for bright kids. It was also a disaster for everyone else.

Since we seem to be moving towards the new way of doing things, I hope that I am wrong about this and it will indeed be the innovation that its proponents say it will.


Category: School

Barring something unforeseen, we are about to be homeowners. We made an offer. That offer has been accepted. Still need to get the financing. Home inspection, termite inspection, yada yada.

The whole thing is surreal. We weren’t going to start looking seriously for another few months. We were mostly looking at houses online in order to sort out amongst ourselves what we were looking for. Then I saw a house that seemed to almost perfectly walk the fine line between what she wants and what I want, at a remarkably low price. I suggested on Sunday that we go see the house for an Open House. We went, we saw, we liked. Momentum increased from there. Monday morning I talked to the bank to make sure it was do-able.

I was afraid that I might have low-balled an already generous price with our initial offer. I stuck with it, but Clancy and I decided that since we were perfectly fine with the asking price that we would probably accept whatever counter-offer they made. Their counter-offer met us half way and we took it.

It’s about fifteen minutes away from here, which means that Clancy will have a bit of a commute. It’s in Lancaster, which interestingly enough is (a) tiny and (b) more well-known than where we live. Mostly due to historical reasons. (I tell people “I live in Stonebridge” (pop >10,000) and they are confused. I say “We’re near Lancaster” (pop <1000) and they recognize it.)

Anyhow, now begins the fun part of securing financing.


Category: Home

growlGoogle Now can remember where you parked! Remembering to do this would have been very, very helpful in DC. Sorry Vikram!

An ethical question: Should your driverless car kill you to save two other people? That ethical/philosophical question doesn’t seem so pointless now, does it? [More]

Chinese employers are moving to Africa.

Houston’s bayous house over 100 vehicles.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry says that Europe’s desire for a “Right to be forgotten” is emblematic embrace of its own decline.

The case for biking without a helmet. I don’t think I can sell Clancy on this…

Obesity comes from everywhere and nowhere at all.

This student loan calculator is pretty cool. Turns out, student loan amounts for students at Southern Tech are less than I would have guessed. Less than most schools I have found, in fact, both above us and below us in the pecking order.

What did addicts learn from DARE? How to smoke crack.

Near-earth orbit is getting cluttered with garbage.


Category: Newsroom

NavFreeOne of the many things that smartphones are good for is car navigation. Android comes with the Google Maps navigation system, but you may be interested in alternatives either because there may be something better out there (there is) or because you want to be able to use maps offline. So over the past several weeks, I’ve been using nearly every mapping option I could find, looking for the perfect free or near-free offline navigating option. Unfortunately, I didn’t find it. I did find some options that would work in a pinch. I looked at Accuracy (How up-to-date and comprehensive are the maps), Appearance (Does it look cool?), Addressing (How capable and convenient was it finding addresses), Estimations (How well it could guess how long it would take), Exploration (Can you use it to drive around without a destination in mind?) Offline Status (does it work offline), Retention (Did the program stay open and remember your route if you switched over to the music player and back), Features (what else it can do), and Voice (Whether it pauses your music while it’s talking, for example). Any grade not listed is a “C” which means that it was satisfactory but did not exceed expectations at all. (more…)


Category: Road, Server Room

Candy. From World Candy Confections. Some observations:
WorldCandy

  1. The individual “packs” are quite cool. The designs are pretty simple, but with a bit of touching up could be made to look cooler than most real cigarette packs. The brand names are actually better than a lot of the real ones. I’m eating a “Victory” brand now, which makes me think of 1984.
  2. Other brand names include Target, Stallion, King, Lucky Lights, and Round-Up. I particularly like Target and King as designs.
  3. The “Carton” doesn’t actually say “cigarettes” on there anywhere. I don’t know if that’s a recent development or they never did. I can see why they don’t now.
  4. The pieces themselves don’t look nearly as cigarette-y as I remember them. I suspect this was the case before. But in my mouth they look as much like a glorified toothpick as anything.
  5. They taste exactly as I remember them.
  6. These things used to be relatively ubiquitous. For a time, anyway. It’s not surprising that they mostly went away.

Category: Market

Queenland

Greetings from Stonebridge a fictitious city in a fictitious state located in a tri-state area in the interior Mid-Atlantic region. We're in western Queenland, which is really a state unto itself, and not to be confused with Queensland in Australia.

Nothing written on this site should be taken as strictly true, though if the author were making it all up rest assured the main character and his life would be a lot less unremarkable.


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