Now THAT’S Foreign Policy Experience…

We’re back from 2 days in Victoria. It’s like the U.S., but it’s cleaner, and you don’t have to worry that someone else might have a gun, but I digress.

The travel each way was fine. We took the Coho Ferry from Port Angeles, it is a 23 mile ferry crossing. The ferry was cool – it was like a mini cruise ship, except that you drive your car right on. Unlike a cruise ship, you could feel the rocking of the ship, but it wasn’t too bad.

We found a pub on Friday night for dinner, Spinnakers, that was a short walk from our hotel. Saturday, I had conference attending to do. There were some good talks, and at least a couple of things I can bring back to work that will be useful for us. Saturday night we walked into “downtown” Victoria, and ate at a Tapas bar. Really yummy food! We have one here in Ballard, but we haven’t made it there yet.

Things got off to an early start this Morning. We had to line up for the return ferry at 9:00am for a 10:30am departure. It was about 12:45 before we were off the ferry and through US customs back in Washington. (We did have to cross a narrow maritime border between the Canada and United States.) There was a great lunch at Taco Bell (needed something fast), and then driving back to Bainbridge Island. We got the ferry terminal there around 2:50 for a 2:55 ferry. It looked for a moment like we wouldn’t make it, but there turned out to be plenty of room on the car deck!

Once we get back to the downtown Seattle waterfront, we’re only 5 miles north on 15th Ave W/NW. We picked up Ruby and Matilda along the way. They both had a bath today, and they look like they were put in the dryer – they are really fluffy. We’ll snap some pictures tonight.

Luckily we come home to a beautiful Seattle day – clear skies. We could see all the mountain ranges and distinct beaks (Baker, Rainier) as we drove and boated. I will say that traveling by boat is a good way to go. It’s a very relaxed way to travel.

Also – on the ferry ride up, I purchased “Mike’s Election Guide” (Michael Moore) on my Kindle. First – it’s really cool that I can wirelessly buy a book, on a boat, several miles offshore. Second – this is a really good book! I don’t necessarily agree with his solutions to problems, but Moore does a great job at pointing out what exactly is wrong with this country, what is wrong with the current administration (and how John McCain will continue this), and he proposes some solutions to these problems. If you are an undecided voter and/or you are unhappy with how things are going in the country, then I highly recommend you read this book before the election.

North to Canada

I’m taking off in about an hour to head north to Victoria, BC. It’s actually a business trip of sorts, I’m going to be attending the ACM SIGPLAN Erlang Workshop. I know, I know … you’re horribly excited to hear about this 🙂

Getting there is fun, taking the car ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island (crossing Puget Sound), drive about 80 miles to Port Angeles, WA, and then take a car ferry across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria. Last time we went to Victoria, we were able to take a fast passenger ferry (55 minute crossing), but that is seasonal. The car ferry takes about 90 minutes to make the crossing.

The sad part – I’ll be on the ferry during the presidential debate! I will be taping it for watching when I get back.

Election 08 : Issues

The four issues that I have so far summarized are all I plan on formally writing up. I was able to cover technology, health care, environment, and education. The economy would be the next to cover, but is there really a point in writing this one up. At the core of McCain’s policies is a continuation of the Bush economic policies of the last 8 years. This includes tax cuts for the rich and rampant deregulation. If you have seen the news in the last week, you know where this has taken us. Obama actually has an economic plan that makes sense, and helps left up all of society. Economy edge: Obama.

The United States foreign policy, domestic policy, tax policy, and policies towards minorities in our society are simply out of whack and need to be changed. Taking a risk on John McCain’s foreign policy (See this profile in The Atlantic – http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200810/mccain) is an irresponsible thing to do.

I will likely be blogging some additional political content between now and the election, the McCain platform is so bad and out of touch that further coverage is not warranted. I’m looking forward to the first presidential debate this friday. If the moderator can maintain control and have the candidates stay focused on the issues, I predict a decisive victory for Obama. We’ll see what happens. Unfortunately, it looks like broadcast networks are all delaying the debate until 9pm Pacific time, I’m going to need to try and find an Eastern time feed.

Autumnal Equinox

It’s almost that time of year (2 days now) where we exit summer and slide right into fall. Apparently Seattle marks this time of year by using grey skies and rain to push away some of the most beautiful weather I’ve ever seen.

There is good and bad here, from what I understand, Seattle doesn’t actually celebrate Autumn. We’re right into winter weather. It’s going to be highs around 60-62 and lows around 50. That is about the weather we had when we moved here around 9 months ago. So that’s the good – bearable temperatures from here until April (when it starts to trend upwards). The bad, we don’t get to see much sun until then.

Before today, we hadn’t seen rain for over 3 weeks – and despite all the claims, I don’t expect to see rain every day this fall/winter/spring, but the clouds are here for the winter.

On the more interesting note – International Day of Peace is this weekend (tomorrow). Imagine if we could have that every day… We celebrated by participating in the Global Mala project. Our Yoga studio hosted the Seattle event, it was at their Bellevue location. Bellevue is located across Lake Washington from Seattle, and there is really bad traffic to cross the 520 bridge to get there. Anyways, we finally made it.

So, for Global Mala, we did 108 sun salutations (Surya Namaskara A and B). It took about 2 hours and 15 minutes, and was pretty cool. Normally a Yoga class is 90 minutes, so this was longer then we’ve very practices Yoga, but easily doable. We are, however, pretty tired from the whole experience, Yoga is pretty intense.

Now we are on to our normal weekend activity – just hanging around the house. The dogs are actually being quiet – so we are both sitting on the couch. If you move too fast when the dogs are quiet, then the house is instantly filled with barking. We’re trying to avoid the barking 🙂

What a week…

As you can see, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about politics and the country and such 🙂 This week,, as with most people, the economy has been something of a concern.

So I went back to my knowledge from my MBA student days (this time was rather short) and started thinking more about our free markets. I’ve come to two conclusions here (1) the efficient market hypothesis does not work and (2) trickle-down economic policies don’t work. Now you’re probably thinking – why should I listen to this guy, he’s a computer scientist, he doesn’t know anything about economics. Well if you look at what is happening in this country, I don’t think the economists know anything about the economy. I don’t think our financiers know anything about finance. etc…. make your own mad lib here.

Efficient markets require that information is accepted and processed rationally and efficiently . We have seen thinks like an old story cause United Airline’s stock to drop, and problems with a few (or more than a few) financial firms send other stocks plummeting. Maybe I just don’t know enough, but this seems like an inefficiency in the market. I am not convinced that unregulated and free markets simply don’t work. There must be provisions for transparency, minimization of concentration of risk, and transparency (yes – I meant to say that twice). By allowing concentration of risk, we have allowed companies to reap in profits (especially for their top executives) while we (the taxpayers) are left to shoulder the burden. Are we only capitalists when profits are high, and suddenly socialist when times get tough. Why shouldn’t we (the taxpayers) benefit since we are apparently on the hook for the risk? Better yet – prevent this from happening on a massive scale! Make the economy about goods and services again, rather than finance. We can’t all get rich by turning money into more money.

As for trickle-down economics. My theory here is that this theory supposes the absence of greed. As I understand this theory, give money to the rich and the employers (big companies) and the will buy products, hire people, create jobs…. etc. But what do people with money want to do – turn it into more money!!! This wealth is going into financial markets and it is not trickling down to the rest of the population. It is a lie that we have been telling ourselves since the 80s.

Reasonable regulation is a good thing – taxes are a good thing – not running a federal deficit is a good thing – preventing concentration of wealth (and risk) is a good thing. Extremes are a bad thing – in either direction.

Food for the “liberal elite”

We joked about it enough at dinner, and I couldn’t resist the headline. Joking aside, I thought it was time for non-political post…. I’ll get back to those soon enough.

Tonight we went to Campagne, a local French restaurant. It’s located near the famous Pike Place Public Market. We had a wonderful dinner. I had Sea Bass, Cortny enjoyed the Ratatioue. There was great wine, a yummy cheese course, and Crème brûlée. My friend Brad joined us (he suggested the restaurant).

It is always nice to go to a really nice restaurant. The service was great, the sommelier actually described our wine (I’ve never had that done before), and the food was exquisite. It was particularly nice to be able to spend over 2 hours dining outside, taking time to enjoy the food and good conversation.

I know it’s so “European” of us spend a few hours over dinner, but it’s nice to slow down and take a break from our 24×7 lives.

Earlier in the day – Cortny was working at a trade show (I’m sure she will blog about that). I did some house work – cleaning, laundry, recycling, and composting. The dogs slept (that was nice). Other than that – it was a really nice day here, we have had great weather recently. It has been in the low/mid 70s for about 2 weeks, plenty of sunshine, and great mountain views all around. I am hoping that we can hold onto the good weather into October (not unheard of around here).

Oh – and today, at Target, I saw Christmas decorations on sale. The halloween stuff is still being put out, and they are already selling Christmas stuff!

Election 08 : Education

Education represents the future of this country. Education is another topic that I happen to know a little about. I spend 8 years in college, I had the opportunity to attend some of the best colleges in the country and wonderful experience of being a professor at another top institution. Over the past two years I have had 4 of my papers published on the topic of education (1: http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1368088.1368198 2: http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1345375.1345437 3: http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1268784.1268805 4: http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1268784.1268828). Now does this qualify me as an expert on national, comprehensive education policy? No, it does not. I am interested in disclosing pertinent information, especially since this is something that informs my analysis of the subject. While I have experience with education, I don’t have experience with the public school (non-university) system. Just trying to frame my discussion.

From what I have seen – education is on the ropes in this country. Our teachers are grossly underpaid, and we are not focusing enough on the subject that are the future of the country. Jobs in science and engineering are going to be the future of the economy. Technology is going to play an increasingly important role in our economy as the information age progresses.

My personal experience in graduate school – I was one of few American students in the program. Students from around the world flock to this country to seek knowledge from the best higher education system in the world. Why aren’t American students seeking post-graduate education?

I believe that this starts at the lower levels. We have become a country of tests. A country where our k – 12 students are forced to pass a test to graduate. This has lead to “teaching to the test,” a practice where education and instilling a lifelong pursuit of knowledge is pushed aside so that scores on a standardized test will rise. In my experience, this is a long term recipe for disaster.

Now on to the election – what are the candidates proposing?
I’m trying to do more summarizing and less editorializing until the pros and cons portion.

And — I know there are some teachers out there reading, what do you think?

Summary of the Obama platform : View on www.barackobama.com
Barack Obama starts with 5 problems: not enough funding for no child left behind, our students (15 year olds) are ranked 28th in mathematics and 19th in science, one of the highest dropout rates (high school) in the world, problems with teacher retention (30% don’t make it past 5 years), and soaring college costs.

Elements of the Obama plan
• Emphasis on early childhood education, universal pre-school (voluntary)
• Quadruple early head start , and increase head start funding
• Provide affordable, high-quality child care for working families
• Reform NCLB, fund the law. Improve failing schools, rather than punish
• Make math and science education a national priority – recruit scientists to become teachers
• Specific plans for addressing the dropout crisis
• Increased funding for after school programs
• College outreach programs – prepare everyone for college
• Support for non-native english speakers
• Create new scholarships for education majors
• Require accreditation for education schools
• Programs to retain teachers
• Rewarding teachers – merit based promotion and pay
• The first $4000 of college education will be a tax credit
• Integrate applications for financial aid with the tax return (turns a form into a checkbox)

Summary of the McCain platform : View on www.johnmccain.com
This plan was harder to summarize with bullet points … it is a series of beliefs.

The McCain platform is about choice – they are very big on charter schools. McCain believe in competition between schools, that “our schools can and should compete to be the most innovative, flexible and student-centered – not safe havens for the uninspired and unaccountable.” John McCain believe that parents should be empowered to change the schools, and to change the school that their children attend. McCain supports withdrawing funding from underperforming schools. The rest of the plan can be bullet-pointed:

• Create centers for excellence in head start
• Create measures for quality in identifying these centers
• Attract quality instructors – increase pay
• Increased standards for preschool programs
• Integrate health screenings in early childhood education
• Increased parental involvement
• Build on no child left behind
• Providing funding to states who recruit education majors graduating in the to 25% of their class
• Funding for teacher development
• Give principals control over spending
• Give parents control over money (editorial: I think this means vouchers)
• Expansion of the “Opportunity Scholarship” program
• Access to tutoring programs
• Funding for online education programs
• Money to pay for online tutors and virtual schools
• Improve information for parents (higher education)
• Simplify higher education tax benefits
• Simplify federal financial aid
• “Improve Research by Eliminating Earmarks”
• Expanding student lending

Pros and Cons of each plan (As I see it)
• Expansion of early childhood education (Both)
• More aggressive early childhood education (Obama)
• Reform NCLB (Both)
• Increase resources to failing schools (Obama)
• Support for non-native English speakers (Obama)
• Simplified aid, tax credits, etc.. (Both)
• Specific details of the above (Obama)

Cons:
• Decrease funding to failing schools (McCain)
• Run schools like businesses (McCain)
• Total of $500 billion for online and virtual school initiatives (McCain) (note: I think this is a huge mistake, in-person education is something that can’t be replaced with a computer screen. This is coming from someone who has published in the area. Take it or leave it.)

The Edge
I see major differences in this plan, and it is in the details. Obama has many more specific details in this plan (this seems to be a trend in all plans). The McCain plan lacks many details.

I am encouraged by Obama’s plans for boosting failing schools, rather than ignoring them and pulling their funding.

John McCain wants to treat public education like a business, through increased competition. Take a look at business in this country – it is littered with corruption and greed. Running schools like a business is not the answer.

I give this victory to Obama.

Again – anyone out there have comments? Through these reports I want to get people thinking and talking.