December 2007

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Driving Me Crazy 

After a recent conversation at work about driving, traffic jams, the lingering effects of excessive braking and stopping, a colleague sent me a link to this article that purports to have finally solved a mystery of traffic jams mathematically.

To me, this was nothing new or exciting. I recalled reading this much better set of pages years ago. The author made many of the same observations, and reached many of the same conclusions, that I (and I'm sure many others) had done independently.

The basic idea is that the efficiency of the flow of heavy traffic can be dramatically affected by sudden stops and blockages, and these can have long-lasting effects (the wave of stopped cars often grows from the back faster than it shrinks from the front...). If even a fairly small percentage of drivers would change their driving habits to leave more room in front of their cars and slow down more gradually, to reduce complete stops and allow others to change lanes more smoothly, we would see much better traffic flows.

I think that this is yet another case of people's intellectual laziness preventing them from making a simple change to their behaviors that would improve things dramatically. In this case, we can create a huge positive externality (save people's time, gas, stress) with no real cost to ourselves (other than changing how we drive).

Many people will never do this. I know people (and have observed many others) who drive as though it's a race that they will lose if they don't pass other cars, or if they let someone in front of them. So, they make abrupt lane changes that causes others to brake, they follow too closely and have to brake quickly and cause those behind them to do likewise, they refuse to let others into their lane which causes people to stop to make their change, and/or to let a car in. Not only is this stupid, and dangerous, and stressful; but it also makes life worse for everyone else. These people are exacerbating the situation that made them enraged in the first place.

I certainly don't expect to get enough readers of this blog to change their driving habits and make a noticeable change to traffic congestion. But, perhaps if each of you who agrees will not only change your habits, but will also encourage others to do likewise (and so on, and so on...), perhaps it might help.

And even if that doesn't happen, just changing your own habits will help traffic to some extent. And, you'll be beating most other drivers in a more important dimension than being further ahead in traffic: living intelligently.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

I Don't Believe in Mitt Romney 

I've tried to like Mitt Romney.

He strikes me as a smart, decent, presidential-looking guy with a sense of humor and good instincts. His past has certainly seemed pretty socially liberal, even if it isn't feasible to appear that way to the Republican base now. He also seems to understand economics, and talks like someone who wants to liberalize things in that sphere as well. And, his kids seem to think he's great.

His Mormonism doesn't bother me. I don't think it's an order of magnitude more silly than the more popular religions.

But, it's tough for me to tell where his obligatory pandering to the Religious Right ends, and his actual craziness and intolerance begins.

I found a lot about his recent speech about religion to be disturbing.

Not only did he mischaracterize the positions of the founders with respect to the relationship between religion and the government (this is common), but he seemed to exclude the non-religious from the picture entirely.

Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.

And...

Whether it was the cause of abolition, or civil rights, or the right to life itself, no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people.

And...

It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism. They are wrong.
The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust.

And...

And you can be certain of this: Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me. And so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen: we do not insist on a single strain of religion – rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith.

I'm not the only one who noticed this. Romney didn't explicitly say that he hates people like me, but he certainly implied that I'm not included in his sphere of friends and allies.

I found it interesting that this speech took place at the George H.W. Bush Library and included praise of the former president. That's because George H.W. Bush once said:

No, I don't know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God.

Romney seems intent on following the same, stupid, tradition.

[UPDATE] To be fair, I was recently referred to this Meet The Press interview in which Romney clarified his position, saying "Oh, of course" atheists can be moral (on an individual basis), and wouldn't be excluded from opportunities in his administration.