Lowering Voting Age to Six

I just ran across this study in Scientific American, May 5th, 2009 entitled “The Look of a Winner”. The study had Swiss children aged 5 to 13 playing a game based on Odysseus’ voyage from Troy back to Ithaca. At the end of the game they were asked to pick their captain to lead them from two images. Unbeknownst to the children they were two rival candidates from the French parliamentary elections. The researchers found that the Swiss children’s choice of captain, based solely on the pictures, was the person more likely to win the French election. Further, five year old judgements were about as good as adults.

The article notes that appearing like a leader is appearing competent, not attractive. Other researchers have found, “That candidate appearances have the strongest impact on voters who possess little political knowledge and spend a lot of time in front of their television screens.”

My knee jerk scientific reaction is more studies are needed but those that have been done are pointing to a consistent conclusion: large numbers of people base their candidate choice consistently with facial appearance. If these results continue to hold up I have a few thoughts:

  • Is just seeing a face good enough? In other words it’s possible that after thousands of millenia of evolving, and the importance of picking good leaders to surviving, maybe we can identify competent leaders by just looking. Though it seems to me that what might have worked in the past, like craving sweets and fats, may not work so well in this obese, nuclear armed, inside the beginning of Earth’s sixth major extinction event, new Anthropocene geological epoch.
  • We think that thinking is important to picking a leader, and that thinking works better in adults. But if 5 year olds have the same competence (or some might say lack of it) as adults in picking their leaders, perhaps we should just drop the voting age to say 6 (just to be conservative)? Imagine how great it could be. We could require voting in school, maybe homeroom for middle and high schoolers, and right after the Pledge of Allegence for grade schoolers. The voter turnout would be very high so presidential candidates would have to come to schools and promise better cafeteria meals with this voter block. I can see it now!
  • Or perhaps instead of voter ID laws eliminating voters we should eliminate heavy TV viewers from the voter rolls.
  • This confirms my reasons for not usually watching the candidates. I strongly prefer to be a data driven voter, looking at what they do first in statistics and policy studies. So I’ve preferred not watching debates, speeches, etc, but instead the analysis of those, or simply read the text. Otherwise it seems they’re judge pulling my emotional triggers. Further evidence of this is the Kennedy Nixon debates where the radio audience gave the node to Nixon while TV views thought Kennedy did a better job (click here for a discussion of that). Of course once I’m sure of the rational basis then I can have fun being emotionally tweaked, so I delighted in watching Clinton’s 2012 Democratic National Convention speech that entwines good facts, reasoning, and strong emotional value appeal.

Check out another post I have on this topic by clicking here.

My Bedroom

My sons have loved to hear “Daddy Stories” during their lives.Originally I just talked, but they took such delight I recorded some of them when they were barely old enough to be in school. Last year one of my sons, recalling he’d heard them (and forgotten many of them), asked me to write them down as a Christmas gift, “After all,” he told me, “you are getting older.” Thanks Matt! With that observation I also found the old recordings, with him giggling at five years old, and copied them into a downloadable format. For their fun and yours I thought I could write some down and put them on my blog.

It’s my blog and I’ll write what I want to
I’ll write what I want to
I’ll write what I want to [sung to “It’s My Party”]

Hastings Power Plant

Hastings Power Plant

I grew up in a small town in south central Nebraska called Hastings. I have come to think of it as a Norman Rockwell painting done in flatlands and cornstalks. Skies there were huge, thunderstorms violent, stars brilliant. My house was built when I was two. I think it’s one of my first memories, because I remember this odd house with walls I could walk through, undoubtedly the framing going up. It was three blocks south of the new high school, and three blocks west of the museum and planetarium that I loved.

My family was prosperous but not rich. My mother was a beautician in our home with two chairs, and a hair drier, my father owned an auto repair shop with my mom’s brother. Mom and dad were stable and loving. In my entire life I never heard my parents argue. In fact the only pique I recall at all is my father, a rational and scientific man, wanting Hastings to have fluoridated water. Mom didn’t want anything done to it saying,  “Good ol’ Hastings water is the best in the world!” They laughed about canceling each other out whenever it was up for a vote.

The Blanket of a Cold Winter Night

When I think of Hastings I often think of my bedroom. On some nights the silence and bitter cold lay on the town like a down comforter, muffling the sounds. I would look out the window on these nights at the power plant chimneys. The more smoke pouring out meant the colder it was, and they told of the wind direction, if there was any wind at all.

Mom and dad didn’t like to waste money heating a sleeping house, and they liked it cold for sleeping anyway. I’d crawl into a cold bed on these nights and lay absolutely motionless waiting for my body heat to warm the several thick blankets. Inch by inch it would slowly spread out, with me following it to spread the warmth inside my cocoon.

Sometimes in the middle of the night, in that absolute stillness, I’d go to that borderland between sleep and wakefulness, where things get blurred. There I’d notice something that was so borderline between the heard and unhearable I wondered what that presence was, Continue reading

Quotation Marks


It’s a great day, I learned something! I have never understood why periods and commas go inside quotation marks. It never seemed logical to me. Ah but now I know why, it was based on the idea that the metal used for printing press technology would often break for commas and periods if they followed the quotation marks. This is not the way the English do it so I think I will revert back to the logical way to do it. Click here to see this site on the use of quotation marks for the explanation.

My Feet Are Younger!

(Photo by Matthew Kirkland, (Flicker simpologist))

(Photo by Matthew Kirkland, (Flicker simpologist))

When I was nine years old I saw a magazine that showed if you went really fast to Andromeda galaxy, then you’d age really slowly. The magazine suggested the round trip on Earth would take 2,000,000 years while the astronaut would age 20 (at least that’s what I think I remember). It also said that many scientists couldn’t believe this was true, and I knew at once I didn’t want to be like them. I promised myself, in a nine year old way, that I’d pay more attention to the means of getting the answers than to the answers themselves.

Einstein’s theories of relativity predicted this and there are probably no theories in science that have been more tested and proven right. The reason for these theories is odd measurements that showed nothing can go faster than the speed of light. This is very counter intuitive (so of course I love it). If we have two cars approaching each other at 99 mph a radar gun in one car would show the speed is 198 mph. If two spaceships were going at each other at 99% the speed of light, the radar gun (or any other way to measure it) would show the speed at a bit under the speed of light, not 198%.

To get this result means the faster you go the shorter your spaceship has to be and the slower time goes. This is in Einstein’s Special Relativity theory. Einstein’s General Relativity theory says the greater the gravity the slower time goes meaning if you’re closer to the Earth the slower time goes. This means time is a very local phenomenon. The passage of time for your feet is generally slower than for your head. And when you’re in a car driving down the street at 20 mph it’s slower than for you than for the people you left in the house.

The National Institute of Standards’ clocks are now so accurate they can measure these time differences. Check out this story on their website, “NIST Pair of Aluminum Atomic Clocks Reveal Einstein’s Relativity at a Personal Scale“. With expected improvements they’ll be able to measure time differences of 1 cm (less than ½-inch) elevation! Future improvements will bring this down to 1mm (about a dime’s thickness). Rocks my world, but I’ve loved accurate time ever since I ran across WWV on shortwave and after a while realized they were telling me time to better than 1 second accuracy. This was in an age when you’d be proud if your wrist watch was only off a minute a day. Now I wear a watch that resets itself nightly with WWV broadcasts to be less than 1/100 second off.

But one thing has kept me up a little later at nights lately. Another effect of near light speeds is increasing mass of the object. Those atomic particles they’re accelerating to huge velocities under the Swiss-French countryside to find the Higg’s particle weigh a lot more than they do when they’re sitting still.

The problem I have is imagining a big lead shield at the back of the spaceship protecting the astronauts. As it gets near light velocities doesn’t this get so much mass it turns into  neutronium, just like a neutron star, with its gravity crushing the astronauts and sort of making it obvious who’s going really fast thus violating Special Relativity? I’ve done the requisite searches to understand this but have yet to find someone who seems to have a handle on this. If you find something let me know so I can sleep better! Please.

9/11 Bread

Since hearing of the heroic efforts, and the loss of life, on 9/11 by the New York City Fire Dept, police, and other civilian workers I’ve felt too little is done to honor them and all emergency workers. We put up gigantic “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED” signs on aircraft carriers to make much ado about the military. I do not begrudge them, but I think there are also others that put their lives on the line to help and save me too that once in a while could use a thank you.

I’ve hoped that 9/11 would become a day when we would acknowledge those efforts. It seems perfectly suited to me. But there has been no organized movement in that direction. So when I moved into this new old house and realized I lived two blocks from the city’s main fire department I resolved to make a personal act.

Sourdough Bread

My sourdough, fresh out of the oven.

I’ve been told a number of times by a number of different people that I make some of the best bread they’ve ever had. So I pulled up my old standard sourdough recipe from my Wonderlicious Recipes website and baked away. Someday I hope to take some pictures while making and baking it to include on this blog but until then you can peruse the recipe for hints of how I do it.

In any case I walked over to the firehouse and gave a fireman there a paper sack with two warm loaves. He thanked me and trotted off to take it up to the guys. In my head I thanked him.

Home Improvements 1

This is our kitchen in daylight.

This is our kitchen in daylight. Look closely at the workbench.

Some have wondered about our new old house so I thought I’d post a couple pictures.

First our kitchen. Notice the wonderful island! It used to be called a workbench. When we got the house they were going to put in an ugly a**ed stainless steel table which seemed more suitable for autopsies. Meg and I said no thanks, and used the money for other things. But we still needed a table, and as we were thinking about where things would go when we moved in, Meg suggested using the Sears Craftsman workbench I had for the island. It had drawers, it had a solid top, and it was about the size we thought we needed from diagrams we’d drawn. Using the workbench would let us see if it was really right. It turns out that it fits just about perfectly for our needs. So now when we have money to build a wooden one, and when we have space to put the Craftsman one somewhere, we’ll  move this one out.

On the left you can see one of our two pantries we have in the house. It was originally for a small stackable washer and drier, but we needed more space, didn’t want to spend the money, and wanted the light, so our old machines went into the basement. By the way, this house is the lightest I’ve ever seen, just an amazing amount of light comes in. On the right is the pink bathroom.

Red Room, Flag, and Dragon

Red Room, Flag, and Dragon

On the right is the study with my father’s old wooden roll top desk and a dragon weathervane we hope to get on top the house someday, perhaps when my rock climbing son comes through town. I originally put it on my “permanent” house in Lincoln, but life is change so when I moved to KC I brought it along. I was born in the year of the dragon, and expect the dragon to rise again. This was the hardest room to paint. The red required five coats which made it so thick it was like a plastic film. When I pulled the masking tape off the paint film pulled away too in some spots. So I’ll be doing touch ups someday in the future.

More pictures soon!

Do Tax Cuts Lead to Economic Growth?

The economic growth that actually followed [tax cuts]— indeed, the whole history of the last 20 years — offers one of the most serious challenges to modern conservatism.—

Daily, it seems, I hear Republicans advocate tax cuts as the answer to significantly improving the economy. It’s the basis for saying let’s reduce taxes in order to reduce the deficit, because the economy will get so much better tax revenues will be more than made up.

Check out this New York Times 15 September 2012 article: “Do Tax Cut Lead to Economic Growth?“, especially the graph. To know if a theory, like tax cuts, is meaningful we have to see if its predictions are working. As my post about Keynesian Paul Krugman indicates, his predictions have been pretty close to right (that unemployment would remain high), while these tax cuts are showing little correlation with improved economic conditions. Nor does the Congressional Research Service conclude tax cuts improve the economy, only that it seems to make the wealthy wealthier.

Trickle Down Takes Down Middle Class

Why isn’t this report from the Congressional Research Service entitled Taxes and the Economy: An Economic Analysis of the Top Tax Rates Since 1945 making bigger headlines? The Congressional Research Service, known as “Congress’s think tank”, is a branch of the Library of Congress. Since their bosses are a mix of conservative to liberal members of congress it is non partisan, so its reports should carry great weight,

This report’s conclusion (highlighting added by me):

Throughout the late-1940s and 1950s, the top marginal tax rate was typically above 90%; today it is 35%. Additionally, the top capital gains tax rate was 25% in the 1950s and 1960s, 35% in the 1970s; today it is 15%. The real GDP growth rate averaged 4.2% and real per capita GDP increased annually by 2.4% in the 1950s. In the 2000s, the average real GDP growth rate was 1.7% and real per capita GDP increased annually by less than 1%. There is not conclusive evidence, however, to substantiate a clear relationship between the 65-year steady reduction in the top tax rates and economic growth. Analysis of such data suggests the reduction in the top tax rates have had little association with saving, investment, or productivity growth. However, the top tax rate reductions appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution. The share of income accruing to the top 0.1% of U.S. families increased from 4.2% in 1945 to 12.3% by 2007 before falling to 9.2% due to the 2007-2009 recession. The evidence does not suggest necessarily a relationship between tax policy with regard to the top tax rates and the size of the economic pie, but there may be a relationship to how the economic pie is sliced.

Let me further distill this: tax breaks for wealthy have no discernible affect on the economy, however they do redistribute wealth making the wealthy even more wealthy.

Since at least Reagan Republicans have strongly advocated for this type of tax policy and thus they have advanced a wealth redistribution to the wealthy. Voter’s need to ask if this is the policy direction they wish to continue.

Update: check out this post by the NYT: Do Tax Cuts Lead to Economic Growth?

Liberal vs Conservative Brains

In college I began to ponder the oddities of political identification. It made no sense to me. It was like people had a paper bag, labeled it “Conservative/Republican” or “Liberal/Democrat”, and threw items in it with little concern if they made much sense together.

This was clearest to me with the Conservative bag where there was “Pro-Life” (and thus anti-Planned Parenthood, more on that in a moment), pro death penalty, and large war budgets. Now clearly in my mind, the basic principle, the prime motivator, of this set of issues was not supporting and nurturing life. Something else had to be going on despite the words being uttered.

And what goes into the bag and out can change too. A recent NPR Fresh Air podcast Continue reading

Obama’s Stimulus Predicted to Underwhelm 14 Days Before He Became President

Paul Krugman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics and op-ed writer for the New York Times, which gives him some (Wall)street cred, predicted the Obama stimulus plan that was emerging after his election would be judged a failure. This in a January 6th, 2009 New York Times article, a full 14 days before he was even president.

He wrote a wonkish article with a lot of economic theory and lingo. But a couple excerpts give the outcomes of that wonkishness:

The bottom line is this: we’re probably looking at a plan that will shave less than 2 percentage points off the average unemployment rate for the next two years, and possibly quite a lot less. This raises real concerns about whether the incoming administration is lowballing its plans in an attempt to get bipartisan consensus….

And that gets us to politics. This really does look like a plan that falls well short of what advocates of strong stimulus were hoping for — and it seems as if that was done in order to win Republican votes. Yet even if the plan gets the hoped-for 80 votes in the Senate, which seems doubtful, responsibility for the plan’s perceived failure, if it’s spun that way, will be placed on Democrats.

I see the following scenario: a weak stimulus plan, perhaps even weaker than what we’re talking about now, is crafted to win those extra GOP votes. The plan limits the rise in unemployment, but things are still pretty bad, with the rate peaking at something like 9 percent and coming down only slowly. And then Mitch McConnell says “See, government spending doesn’t work.”

Let’s hope I’ve got this wrong.

To summarize what he was getting at, the Great Recession took out a lot more money, mostly in stock and housing values, than the emerging stimulus was going to put in. Krugman’s model, based on Keynesian economics, suggested this would stop the plunge but do little to bring us back to full employment; and that the Republicans, who turned the budget surplus they inherited from the Clinton administration, into such a major deficit the USA was hemmed in from borrowing the sums it needed to fully stimulate the economy, these same Republicans would blame Obama and Keynesian economics for the failure.

In fact looking back at that old prediction we can see it has come pretty much true with one caveat: Krugman, Obama, and the country were unaware at the time that the recession was much worse than they thought. More recent analysis published Continue reading