Monday, September 30, 2013

Mother in hospital

Boy this daily blogging thing just got tough. I don't deal with hospitalized relatives very well. Either I'm off the daily regime or the waiting is going to drive me so crazy that I'll actually develop a major posting buffer.

We'll see.

For those who care, unexplained high blood pressure landed my mom in the hospital last night. They've got it down from OMG to ridiculously high but haven't gotten it down to anything reasonable and they don't know why it's high.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Citizen Intelligence use case: the temporarily motivated

It has happened to us all, we read, listen to, or watch something that strikes a chord. We are outraged, motivated, energized, but only for a short time. We move on to the next story on the page, or the next item in the host's stack of topics to go through and urgency and motivation disappear. One energizing moment follows another and only a very few of these moments result in action. That time between motivation and its replacement by some different motivating force is the window that modern idea wordsmiths have to create and effect a call to action.

But what if at the bottom of the article were a button saying 'monitor' and with a simple button press, alerts would be set and a widget would be loaded into your personal government oversight dashboard? What was a few minutes of concern turns into a persistent effort and the creation of a community of people interested and willing to take action.

This is the sort of science fiction result I'd like to see coming out of Citizen Intelligence. A lot of pieces need to be built up before that happy use case becomes available in real life.

1. People are going to need to develop and adopt personal dashboards for government oversight
2. Authors are going to need to sign on to a dashboard plug-in feature.
3. News and commentary outlets are going to need to make this available through their outlets much like they use Facebook and Disqus to handle comments today.
4. Standards for doing all of this are going to need to emerge, at least in a de-facto sort of way.

Ultimately, anybody can do this but nobody is doing this and the imbalance in oversight tools vs tools the elite uses to work their wills on the body politic is tearing the advanced world apart.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

What I learned from my daughter today

Apparently it is possible to make lipstick from crayon.

Who says women aren't interested in science? She had a blast, got it right in two rounds of experimentation, and impressed me with her initiative.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Embedded Infrastructure Assumptions

Every single major piece of infrastructure that you depend on today has a number of embedded assumptions. We assume population will be at a certain level, or will rise or even fall over the course of the lifetime of a project. Within a certain range of figures, the project makes sense. Go outside that range and the project turns into a bad deal. But how would we know it?

Routinely we make big ticket bets far beyond our ability to realistically project the future. We assume certain items which vary over long periods of time are constants. We can't help it.

This is bad enough when we know that we are doing it but very often we don't know that we're doing it. A century ago the US bet that the population will grow enough and be rich enough that we'll be able to replace our water pipes. We're falling billions short and living on borrowed time with pipes that have long exceeded their design lifetime. We're still using wooden pipes to supply water in some areas but until they break it's an unknown vulnerability. Year after year other projects that were more visible beat out the meat and potatoes issue of replacing leaking pipes.

Because we don't routinely track assumptions of population, income, taxation, debt loads, among others for each infrastructure project, it's not immediately obvious what projects are in trouble when a municipality starts shrinking, and when things are likely to start visibly going downhill. So long as we don't visibly track this sort of thing in a way that is widely distributed, it will be an easy call for politicians to stretch out painting a bridge here, replacing a pipe or a wire there. So long as it's only done occasionally and then made up, maintenance delay is recoverable. But stretch out the delays for decades and lives are put at risk.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why don't we have dashboards for public affairs?

Ultimately even the big political junkies like me would love to have a dashboard that allowed a quick review of all the things that government is supposed to do so we can pick out what is working well and what is working badly. It might be based on any number of graphic signals. Traffic lights, an analog dial meter, a color spectrum, thumbs up or down, a lot of different systems could be used to graphically measure what is going on. There would be a common ability to drill down to get details and take action buttons to get involved if things are not going well and you want to actually do something about it.

Business intelligence dashboards have been around for well over a decade and offer a functional model for this. You wouldn't need to do more than repurpose existing tools.

So why don't these things already exist? The work to create them might be tedious but it's mostly a one time effort to get public data made available publicly for free. Once that happens, maintaining access is very inexpensive as it is generally an automated process. Yet with a huge non-profit sector devoted to oversight of government, no general purpose dashboard system has emerged and become popular.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Medical price shopping

There seems to be some confusion on the right as to what to do about Obamacare. The political front is stymied at the moment with no clear path to victory. But there is a clear way forward that requires no voting, no majorities, and cannot be stopped. 

Conservatives can collapse the system merely by acting like ordinary americans do on most things and shop for the best price when they are looking to buy medical services. The current system can't handle that in large numbers. It hasn't been able to since the Johnson administration. So let's do it. 

Expose the rot, hunt for the best prices and be ready to rescue the hospitals as they go bankrupt. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

11 days

My write at least once a day streak just busted at 11 days. 


Time to start over. 

One post a day. 

At least. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Racists are Annoying

One of the side effects of commenting on Disqus enabled items is that I'm much more likely to go back to threads, like this one on Detroit's stray dog problem. The racism insisting that black people cannot be civilized is ordinarily something that I try to ignore in a similar way that I don't make a big fuss about public urination or defecation either. Do you really want to shout and engage that kind of person when they are in the middle of embarrassing themselves like that?

But here I am, being lectured by Dunnyveg about how all men are not created equal. The moniker apparently comes from a defunct Scottish clan, part of the Donalds. The user doesn't seem to mind shaming them by proxy.

I'm actually somewhat surprised at the amount of racialist nonsense brewing on the thread without serious liberal attempts to squelch it. Perhaps liberals have given up on the AP.

Update: The entire comment thread has been stomped apparently. Good riddance. My only regret is that this solution only suppresses expression. It doesn't solve the underlying rot.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Special purpose districts

Every five years the Census Bureau publishes a census of governments. One of the categories that they use is called the special purpose district. They have 37 different categories including one miscellaneous and five "other" categories. The number system used doesn't make much sense but it is what it is, and here it is.

01 - Air Transportation(Airports)
02 - Cemeteries
03 - Misc. Commercial Activities
04 - Correctional Institutions
09 - Education
24 - Fire Protection
32 - Other Health
40 - Hospitals
41 - Industrial Development
42 - Mortgage Credit
44 - Highways – Nontoll
45 - Toll Highways
50 - Housing & Community Dev.
51 - Drainage
52 - Libraries
59 - Other Natural Resources
60 - Parking Facilities
61 - Parks & Recreation
62 - Police Protection
63 - Flood Control
64 - Irrigation
77 - Welfare Institutions
79 - Other Public Welfare
80 - Sewerage
81 - Solid Waste Management
86 - Reclamation
87 - Sea and Inland Port Facilities
88 - Soil & Water Conservation
89 - Other and Unallocable
91 - Water Supply
92 - Electric Power
93 - Gas Supply
94 - Public Mass Transit Systems
96 - Fire Protection and Water Supply
97 - Natural Resources and Water Supply
98 - Sewerage and Water Supply
99 - Other Multi-function Districts

Friday, September 20, 2013

How to Responsibly Not Raise the Debt Ceiling

The biggest problem with not raising our national debt is that when we run out of borrowing authority, we end up with a huge, confusing mess. What bills get paid first, which ones do we slow pay, and what promised spending do we slow down or cancel?

The lack of clarity is entirely unnecessary.

The natural place to put the authority to trim our fiscal expenditures in line with income is with the president. The President is in charge of faithfully executing the laws. The executive is the first to know when money arrives and is available to be spent. Though it will be politically uncomfortable for a Republican majority House to give a Democrat President this authority, it would make clear that avoiding Greek style fiscal collapse is more important for the GOP than temporary political advantage. In such a scenario, not raising the debt limit would allow Democrat priorities to be protected while Republican spending priorities would go under the knife.

None of the corporatists that heavily fund both parties would like legislation that laid out who had the power to make the cuts but it would be difficult to resist a bill that makes it perfectly clear that it is the job of the government to make cuts hurt the least and not the opposite in order to bring political pressure to bear to restart the irresponsible flow of red ink.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

I think we should have police

Despite there being a tiny minority of police who do horrific and awful things that lead to the innocent going to jail and worse, I think we should have police. The vast amount of good that they do far outweighs the evil that accompanies the system. We should be vigilant to reduce the evil that happens because of this system as much as we can but, overall, it is a good thing that we have police.

The exact same thing is true about legal gun owners.

Despite there being a tiny minority of legal gun owners who do horrific and awful things, they too do so much good that this system of civilian firearm ownership should be preserved. It needs to be strengthened so that the good is maximized and the evil is minimized.

Any prospective changes in law should have that perspective of increasing the good and reducing the bad. It's a real shame that this is too often absent from the national debate about guns. This is why we haven't yet adopted standards in all 50 states for reciprocal recognition of concealed carry permits. It is why lawful gun owners keep getting nailed on technicalities and threatened with draconian punishments for minor mistakes in transiting certain jurisdictions. It is why we don't keep proper statistics to even measure all the good that civilian firearms ownership does. A significant segment of officialdom and academia is simply not interested in accurately assessing the benefits along with the costs of the system.

It's time to call them on it.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Simple questions on government oversight

The US government sector runs through approximately $6T or 40% of our $15T economy.
You would think that with that much money flowing and with us decades into an information age, all the easy questions would have already been answered. Here are a few that haven't been.

Who holds elective office?
What are the names of all governments in the US and what are their jurisdictions?
What do governments do?
What does each government do?

Four, arguably five questions that should be at the baseline of any citizen effort to control this huge economic sector. There is no unified list of all officeholders at all levels. There isn't even universal agreement as to what is a government and nobody keeps a list of all their jurisdictions. The data is out there, but fragmented. There is no one unified chart of accounts that could be used to identify all the things that government spends its money on, much less unified regulatory code description tags to easily tease out which jurisdictions ban certain activities like taxicab street pickup.

How can any reasonable person imagine that we have the control mechanisms in place to actually oversee government and stop it from getting out of control. The foundations simply do not exist.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Getting the snouts out of the trough

Over at Samizdata there is talk about how the green tide is receding. A commentor demurs saying "Too late, the scam has been running long enough that there are now too many snouts in the trough" which seems to be a recurring problem with big government, one that is dreaded by the small government movement and a central part of the business model of the big government movement.

It's why we're facing an unseemly number of votes to defund Obamacare instead of just letting it fall flat on its face and get replaced by something better. Once enough snouts are in the trough, nobody seems to know how to get them out and the one way ratchet towards socialism takes another click towards disaster.

But does it have to be that way? Why do those who have their snouts in the trough fight to freeload without serious consequences? It's something to think about and hopefully implement in Citizen Intelligence.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Too sad about the Navy Yard to post much

A dozen dead at current count and mostly questions as to what happened. Security obviously failed but how, where, and is this fixable?

My prayers to those who died and their families. May God rest their souls.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Poverty trap calculator

One of the things we should be able to do, but are not able to do, is to calculate individual poverty trap curves in the HR department of companies that employ the working poor. Since we can't do that at present, raises blindly push a lot of less than well informed people into hitting high effective marginal tax rate poverty traps creating large amounts of frustration all around as workers react in unexpected ways as they hit the traps.

To fix this, you'd have to map out all governments who offer poverty relief and stick that data into a GIS server so that entering an address will give you a list of the relevant governments. You would also need a list of all the relevant programs, their cutoff rules, and how much people can qualify for in aid at which income levels and what family circumstances. 

Put all that together and you should be able to set up compensation programs that are far more tailored to the individuals and allow them to defer income so that they get it at termination, in case of emergency, or compressed in a way that gets them past these pernicious poverty traps. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A quick note

Trying to keep my one post a day minimum vow. Working a bit more on the book templates on Citizen Intelligence. If anyone knows of a good editor, I'd love an introduction.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Citizen Intelligence combines existing 'letters'

Seth Godin nails it today.

The only reason that typesetting works is that a small collection of letters can be re-used again and again to print millions of different words. This seems obvious, but it was actually the conceptual breakthrough that led to the long path that brought us to Gutenberg etc.
He adds that chasing new letters is expensive. The corollary is that reconfiguring existing letters is a lot cheaper. A lot of businesses can be formed out of reconfiguring letters. Citizen Intelligence is one.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Got my first state data on California governments

The fine people at the Los Angeles county clerk's office printed and mailed me a list of the public authorities who they have on file. By guestimate, the numbers are significantly different from the federal list, about twice as many state defined public authorities as the federal Census found, approximately 600 versus 300 respectively.

We don't have a universally accepted count of what is a government. How can you limit government or improve it if you don't even agree on what it is?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

I've said it before but this time I mean it

I'm starting to write again.

The quality may not be quite up to snuff in the beginning but I need to get back into the daily habit.

Consider this a warning.