Archive for February, 2011

Last week, the NPR program All Things Considered ran a segment on sounds derived from the electromagnetic radiation of sources in outer space.  During the segment, they interviewed Jill Tarter, one of the co-founders of the SETI Institute.  The segment ended with the follow quote from her:

As Carl Sagan said, we are all made out of stardust.  You are actually made out of the remnants of that star that blew up billions of years ago, and the connectedness of life to the Cosmos and the idea of thinking about, maybe, life somewhere else, I think has the opportunity to trivialize the differences among humans on this planet that we find so troublesome.

The bolded portion struck me as a rather strange aspiration, but not one that is altogether uncommon.  Indeed, in the quote, she references the late Carl Sagan, who often expressed similar sentiments.

Sagan’s Vision

One of Carl Sagan’s most famous pieces was his meditation on the meaning of a photograph taken of the Earth by the Voyager 1 spacecraft as part of a solar system mosaic it took a few months after passing beyond the orbit of the gas giant Neptune:

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In a follow-up to the discussion of American inequality, here’s an interesting pair of charts produced by the Economic Policy Institute and found by hbd chick that show a measure of income mobility for men and women in the United States and a collection of northern European countries:

While this runs against the common narrative that women are an oppressed social class as evidenced by pay levels that are, on average, lower than those of men, it shouldn’t be surprising.  Indeed, it seems to me that the pay inequality and the difference in social mobility are two sides of the same coin: men tend to be the primary income earners of a household, whereas women have the option to either work, stay at home, or compromise between the two.

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Recently, the liberal magazine Mother Jones published a collection of infographics under the headline It’s the Inequality, Stupid, which was connected to Kevin Drum’s article on the standoff in Wisconsin, which had the subtitle “How screwing unions screws the entire middle class.”.  Here are two of the infographics and their associated captions:


The superrich have grabbed the bulk of the past three decades’ gains.


A Harvard business prof and a behavioral economist recently asked more than 5,000 Americans how they thought wealth is distributed in the United States. Most thought that it’s more balanced than it actually is. Asked to choose their ideal distribution of wealth, 92% picked one that was even more equitable.

As a further supplement here’s a pie chart by Alex Knapp showing financial wealth distribution:

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Protests in Wisconsin

One of the first topics I want to broach is the ongoing protests in Madison, Wisconsin by public sector unions objecting to a portion of the budget favored by Governor Scott Walker which strips them of the right to collectively bargain on issues of benefits and hiring practices. In the meantime, the state’s Democratic senators have absconded across the border to Rockford, Illinois to avoid apprehension by state troopers in order to break quorum and block the bill.

It is worth describing the background to this crisis before I give my opinion on the matter.  Wisconsin is in bad shape fiscally and economically.  It’s budget deficit rivals that of California on a per capita basis.  In last November’s election, the state went from Democratic control of the governorship, the assembly, and the senate to Republican control of all three institutions.

Wisconsin was a state that pioneered the establishment of public sector unions in 1959.  Part of the reason that this budget fight has gotten national attention is because of the possible political effects outside the state of Wisconsin.  Wisconsin was the first state to allow collective bargaining among public employees as referenced above.  Since then, many states have followed Wisconsin’s example leading to a map of public sector collective bargaining laws that cuts along regional and cultural lines:

As Wisconsin lies at the core of public sector collective bargaining rights, both historically and culturally, a Republican victory on this issue would send shock waves through the nation and would encourage other states to use similar measures to balance their ailing budgets and prevent municipal default.

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I started this blog as a way to present my views and discuss issues that interest me.  I come from a liberal Christian background in the American midwest.  However, I have found over time that my political and religious views have strayed further and further from those of my family and friends.

On religious issues, my position is relatively clear-cut: I’m an agnostic atheist.  That is, I don’t believe that there exist any entities that would be worthy of being called deities in our Universe, but I also admit that it is difficult to impossible to know this with a high level of certainty.  I accept the scientific consensus that the Universe as we know it began about 13.75 billion years ago, that the Earth formed about 4.54 billion years ago, and that life has evolved by a long dysteleological process of natural selection.

It is a bit more difficult to describe my political views.  They are easiest to define in the negative: I, unlike most of my friends and family, am not a conventional American liberal or progressive.  I do not accept many of the main tenets of American liberalism, though I do not reject all its positions outright.  In posts to come,  I hope you’ll get a better sense of where my views lie.  I do not currently have an ideological home and I consider my positions to be in a state of flux.  For now, I will say that while at times I default to liberal positions on some topics, my thinking has been influenced by libertarian thought and elements of the Right, though I think it would be incorrect to describe me as either a libertarian or a man of the Right.

Ultimately, I’m an ideological pluralist.  I enjoy a vigorous debate between competing viewpoints and believe that situations where people are not exposed to ideas that challenge their viewpoints are breeding grounds for sloppy thinking.  I don’t believe that all viewpoints are equally right, but I do think that no given viewpoint holds a monopoly on important insight and that it is thus wise to listen to people from a wide variety of ideologies and I seek to do so myself.

That is all for now.  I hope you enjoy my blog.