An Inconvenient Bit of Arithmetic

So, President Obama wants to assure us that he’s being fiscally responsible, by urging his cabinet (representing all federal departments) to reduce their combined budgets by $100 million over the course of a year.

What a relief! And here I was thinking that he was piling up outrageous, unsustainable, levels of debt.

It’s good to look for ways to spend less money, but this gesture would be hilarious if it wasn’t a serious attempt by the President of the United States to change people’s attitudes about what he’s doing.

Greg Mankiw gives us some perspective:

Just to be clear: $100 million represents .003 percent of $3.5 trillion.

To put those numbers in perspective, imagine that the head of a household with annual spending of $100,000 called everyone in the family together to deal with a $34,000 budget shortfall. How much would he or she announce that spending had to be cut? By $3 over the course of the year–approximately the cost of one latte at Starbucks. The other $33,997? We can put that on the family credit card and worry about it next year.

I’m not sure which possibility bothers me more: That Obama is stupid enough to think that this is a significant gesture, or that he thinks everybody else is stupid enough to think so.

Is Obama Really Smart?

Warren Meyer at Coyote Blog asks something I’ve been wondering about lately:

By the way, can anyone tell me what the evidence has been for the contention Barack Obama is “really smart,” because I sure don’t see it. Yeah, he went to an Ivy League School, but so did I and there were plenty of people there I wouldn’t trust to run a lemonade stand. Sure, he gives a nice prepared speech and seems to have invested in that vocabulary building course Rush Limbaugh used to peddle on his  show, but what else? All I see is a typical Ivy League denizen of some NGO who thinks he/she can change the world if only someone will listen to them, who just comes off as puerile if you really spend any time with them.

I’m sure that Obama is really smart in some ways. He’s figured out how to be personally charming, how to inspire people, how to remember lots of details of policy issues and to be able to repeat summaries of different points of view. In short, he’s smart enough to be a great campaigner. But, is he smart enough to recognize a flaw in his policy prescriptions? I’m sure he thinks that his leftism is on the “smart” side of political philosophy, but is he smart enough to see a problem with surrounding himself with “smart” people who all think they can figure out what’s best for everyone, but who have never demonstrated the ability to successfully manage anything?

I think he’s smart enough to be really, really, dangerous. I’m with Penn Jillette, and I’d prefer a president who was a bit less smart and a lot more humble about what the state should be doing to help us.

Pound Foolish

I’ve been dieting (low carb) fairly aggressively for the past month.

Lately I’ve been frustrated by my lack of progress as measured by my scale. It reported that I lost about eight pounds fairly quickly, and then stayed within three or four pound of that for the next several weeks.

This morning I got on the scale and it registered a gain of about forty pounds over yesterday’s weight! I laughed and was happy about it. It reminded me of what a mistake it had been to rely on weight to measure my progress. Weight is a very loose proxy for fitness. If I lose 20 pounds of fat and gain 5 pounds of muscle, I’ve done much better than if I lose 15 pounds of fat and also lose 5 pounds of muscle. But, the scale would report that the latter scenario was more successful.

Of course, I knew this already. It’s just that measuring weight is easy, so many of us fall into the trap using weight-loss to measure our fitness success. It’s like looking in the wrong place for a lost item because that’s where the lighting is better.

But, I don’t need fancy equipment to notice that my clothes are fitting more loosly, my energy is increasing, my face looks a little less round, etc. I knew I was making progress, but I still let that stupid number frustrate me.

Of course, I’m still going to get a new scale. But, I won’t use it as the primary indicator of my fitness.