Sunday, December 16, 2012

A political post.

I'm not that big into politics, but I still have a few thoughts on some issues from time to time.  I figured now might be a good time to get some of those thoughts down in writing, if only so I can look back in 10 years and laugh at myself.

As you may know, I stopped voting for people a couple of years ago.  And as much as I wanted Barack to be re-elected this year (for reasons that had nothing to do with policy), I didn't even vote in the presidential election.  But I did stand in line for over an hour to vote on the ballot measures - which, in retrospect, may not have been worth my time.  So I think I still have some of the same thoughts about my vote being wasted in the current two-party system as I did in 2010.  But perhaps it would be good to explore this in more detail.

One thing that (still) really turns me off in politics is the campaign process.  Politicians spend too much time attacking each other's characters instead of focusing on their stances on the issues.  And even when they do talk about the issues, they often make wild promises that they don't keep.  It seems like a campaign isn't really a great indication of what a candidate will actually do if elected to office.  I'm not saying that the campaign doesn't give you an idea of where they stand and how they might proceed.  I'm saying that campaigns are often more rhetoric than substance, and do not focus on the right things.  But I don't think I'm saying anything profound here - people have just learned to deal with this.  I guess I just choose not to.  I just wish that the campaigners would respect my decision not to engage and leave me alone (in terms of mailings and phone calls) in return.

Besides all the campaign nonsense, I think the biggest issue for me is that I don't identify with either the Democrats or Republicans, and there are no realistic choices outside of them.  It would seem that this need not be a sticking point, because we elect people, not parties, into government positions, and these people are free to pursue whatever agenda they believe is right, even if it strays from the party line (thanks to Tim for pointing this out to me at lunch today).  The problem, for me at least, is that nobody's straying very far.  This is understandable - they did get elected as part of the party establishment after all.  But the result for me is that not identifying with the parties results in not identifying with the candidates.

But what does it mean for me to say that I don't identify with the two main parties?  Where do I actually stand on the issues?  Well, the quick answer is that my views are probably closer to libertarian than anything else, though I'd like to think that I'm not as "crazy" as some of those guys appear to be (even though some of my views are as far away from the mainstream).

I think it's pretty well established that I am generally on the liberal side in terms of social issues.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  One is that I am a John Stuart Mill fanboy, and think that his Harm Principle is pretty much spot on.  So for the most part I think that the government should get out of the business of telling people what to do as long as they're not hurting others.  Of course there's further debate to be had about what actually constitutes harm and what types of restrictions of liberty are justified in various cases, but I'll skip that for now.  I will note here that this does not mean that I have particularly strong opinions, or even an opinion at all, on all social issues.  The other, less substantive, reason that I'm on the left socially is that current conservative social policy is driven mostly by Christian values, and it's no secret that I'm not a huge fan of Christianity.  But even the Democrats feel a need to recognize God in their party platform, so I can't say I'm totally on their side socially either.

As far as fiscal issues go, I think I tend to lean toward the right, though I'm not particularly sure that's the case (yes, there were a lot of weasel words in that sentence).  I tend not to like having the government involved in economic policy, but I must admit that I do not have any strong justification for these leanings.  But at the same time I don't feel like economists really know as much about what's going as they pretend to (though they certainly know far more than I do).  I guess my opinion is that if they really had it all figured out there would be no disagreement about which policies most help the economy, which I'm pretty sure is not the case.  So in the absence of this knowledge, I tend to advocate a hands-off approach.  And due to this lack of conviction I have weaker opinions on economic issues than social ones.

So it may be clear at this point that I don't have very much figured out in the political arena.  I also hold some views that I have trouble reconciling.  As an example, I generally advocate less government intervention, but would somehow be OK with universal healthcare.  I'm not really sure how to justify that.  But there's at least one thing that I think is sorely lacking in the current government: fiscal responsibility.  I don't care as much (within reason) which policies and programs the government chooses to enact, as long as the programs are properly funded.  So if we as a country think that certain entitlement programs are worthwhile, we should structure taxes to fully pay for those programs.  The same goes for defense, or any other government expenditure.  And while we're on the topic of taxes, my stance is that the purpose of taxes should be to fund the government and its programs, not to encourage or discourage certain behaviors.  This principle dictates that the tax code should be pretty simple and straightforward.  I especially like it when taxes are explicitly appropriated for corresponding expenditures - this lets you know where the money is going and helps decide what the worthwhile expenditures are.  But anyway, I'm not sure if that puts me on the right or left - I don't really hear very much about balancing the budget and increasing accountability from either party...maybe a bit more from the Republicans than the Democrats.

So...yeah...  That's kinda where I stand.  Waiting for someone to start up the Purple Party...the one that's kinda like the Libertarians, but not crazy.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Ranking Radiohead albums (so far)

If you know me, then you know that I am a Radiohead fanboy.  Well, I just read an article from Paste Magazine which ranks the 8 albums that the band has released so far from worst to best.  I actually agree with a lot of the list, but thought that it would be a good idea to get my thoughts on the matter down in writing.  So here's my ranking...

8. Pablo Honey
I think most people would agree with this decision - there's not much interesting about this album.
7. Hail to the Thief
I actually really liked this album when it came out, and (being the eternal presentist) would have put it above The Bends back then.  While this album probably contains about as many quality songs as some others on this list, nine years have made me realize that there are simply too many songs on this album, and a lot of them are pretty so-so.
6. The King of Limbs
Again, being the presentist that I am, I put this album at #3 of my list of top albums of 2011.  I don't necessarily think that this ranking was too high, so it must say something about my affinity for the band if this album only comes in at #6 when compared to their others.
5. Amnesiac
The toughest decision for me when putting this list together is probably deciding between this album and TKOL for #5.  I find Amnesiac to be pretty inconsistent, and there are definitely a couple of tracks that I skip over when I'm listening to it.  But the highs of "Pyramid Song" and "I Might Be Wrong" are above those of pretty much any song (save perhaps "Little By Little") on the other album, so this one barely squeezes ahead.
4. The Bends
For a while there I didn't give this album enough credit because I got caught up in all the experimental goodness that the band was trying out in the 2000s.  However, I have to admit that there are just too many really good songs on this album, even if they aren't breaking any barriers.
3. In Rainbows
Some may question whether this album can go punch-for-punch with The Bends, but I think that it does much more artistically, so it gets the nod.  It's also probably the best mix of the many sounds of Radiohead in one single album.  Bonus points for the pay-what-you-want pricing scheme they used to sell the album upon release.  
2. OK Computer
This is the album that got me into the band, and what an introduction it was.  There are loads of classic songs on this album, so it's no wonder that it routinely tops critics' lists of the best albums in recent memory.  So I don't get any heartburn when some people say that this is RH's best album.  It's just not my favorite.
1. Kid A
There was a time when people lined up at record stores on Monday night so that they could get a highly anticipated new release at midnight.  That is what I did for this album (well, maybe not lined up, but at least showed up at midnight) because I had fallen in love with OK Computer and then, to a lesser extent, The Bends.  And when I first listened to the album I thought..."W...T...F?!  Is this music?!"  The only song that I could say that I liked the first time around was "Optimistic", so I clung to that on subsequent listens.  But the more I listened to the album, the more I grew to love it...even more than the others.  There's much more that I could bore you with regarding this album, but suffice it to say that it is my favorite album *ever*.
In reality, I'm not absolutely certain about this ranking - it's kind of a "top two or three, the rest, and then Pablo Honey" thing in my mind.  But the relative ranking of "the rest" may be pretty stable going forward, especially since I've had some time since the band last put out an album.  We'll have to see where any future albums rank if they release more...