Monday, September 15, 2014

Politics creates McCleary vs Reason

The McCleary decision in Washington State just shows how politics can ruin what aught to be a perfectly reasonable discussion.  The Washington State Supreme Court ruled through McCleary that the state was not upholding the "paramount" duty of the state of providing education of all children within the state's borders.  However, politics has not turned this into a discussion of what new spending can be made for education.  The recent decision of the WA Supreme Court to hold the legislature in contempt just adds fuel to the political fire and doesn't lead us to a resolution.

The real issue here seems to be making sure that we are educating the children and not on spending.  I was recently talking to a 7th grader about her classes.  She had been in Movie Making but decided that this class wasn't as interesting as she thought it would be, so she changed classes.  Another student (a junior) had been enrolled in "Yoga and Walking" class for a semester but was going to drop that class in favor of study hall.  Recently, the school session had been extended about a week because of snow, but instead of extending the educating of the students, the last week was spend watching movies in all the classes as the final exams all occurred when they had originally been scheduled.

While Yoga and Movie Making might be enjoyable, and in some cases, educational, shouldn't classes like this be extracurricular, club, or hobby type classes and not take up valuable school time.  In an unrelated topic, Washington State high school graduates are taking remedial math and English when starting both four and two-year colleges.  Since more than 50% of students entering Community College and 33% entering four-year colleges are taking a remedial class of some sort, maybe we should stop with the Movie Making and actually teach the real basics (reading, writing, arithmetic, etc.).

Soon after the initial McCleary decision, I heard people lobbying the legislature for increasing the pre-K (0-3) classes.  Further, more classes like Movie Making have been proposed.  Once again, let's throw money at the problem and not address the real problem.  Democrats took the opportunity to continue their need for additional taxes, while still attacking the Charter School effort in the state.

One interesting side effect of Obama Care may not have been factored into this discussion yet.  With Obama Care, we've effectively ruled that people are children until they are 26 years old.  Current discussions regarding McCleary have only reached up to high school.  So keep an eye out for Washington State deciding that we have to fully fund PhD candidates now in order to fully fund education.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hashtag Representation may be the Future of Voting

Much was made over the use of the BringBackOurGirls hashtag including the tweet from Mrs. Obama.  Reasonable is the belief that the use of the hashtag could build unity between people who cared about the issue.  Unreasonable was the belief that anything substantial would happen because people were using the hashtag.  This unreasonableness was demonstrated by the mocking of the hashtag by the terrorists who stole the girls.

Diving into something which is more of the conspiracy theory type of consideration is how this type of effort could be used for other issues.  For instance, frequently there are twitter bombs used by various organizations, spanning the political realm, to generate focus on a particular issue.  As many people are driven by the social aspect of social media, this deluge of tweets can have an effect on this sect of the population.

In an unrelated topic (for now), consider that a high percentage of the population consider voting to be useless.  This feeling is substantiated either by the belief that all politicians do roughly the same thing or that their issues never succeed in the political realm.  One can argue that political parties attempt to reduce the desire to vote in those whom are not predisposed to vote their way and therefore have been the primary driver of this type of cynicism.

Another unrelated topic (yup, for now) is that politics is driven to a certain point by the polls and popularity.  Not all issues are driven by this facet but those which are pursued without popular support can reek havoc upon the party driving those issues.  A sidebar is that sometimes popular opinion can be driven by convincing enough people that an unpopular opinion really is the popular opinion and thus get that exact result.

Now, back to the twitter world.  Popular theory is that most of the active twitter world are political activists.  Also, recently it has come to light that more than half of the followers of President and Mrs. Obama are fake.  These fake accounts are owned by someone and are active.  Having large numbers of followers is typically used to indicate how popular a person is.  So this large number of fake followers could have been used to influence opinion.

Now suppose we combine the twitter world and the lackadaisical voting populace.  What if significant portion of the populace could be convinced that they were involved in the direction of government through the use of hashtags.  Popular opinion could be "discerned" through the use of hashtags and followers of topics.  Potentially, this belief could gain more and more "acceptance" by the population.

So where does that leave us.  We would have a population that believes government is influenced by social media.  That social media would be dominated by the political activists and includes significant numbers of "fake" people.  Instead of debating issues, activists acting through many fake accounts could generate a false impression of popularity which is accepted by significant numbers of people.  Taking it a step further and combining the push for electronic voting as "fair, equitable, and convenient".  We could arrive at a place where elections occur through social media.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Cashier less registers, ATMs, and the minimum wage

President Obama once blamed the high unemployment on the increasing use of ATMs.  If only people were still going into the bank and having to speak to a teller, there would be more tellers and thus higher employment.  An interesting way to look at progress ... an 18th century way of looking at progress.  Of course, the 18th century is full of technology to which  President Obama wants us return, but that's another blog.

The story behind ATMs is that they provided easier access to the money in your bank account.  They are located in many places and are open (when working) 24 hours a day.  No longer do you have to carry lots of cash, if you need it, you can get it from the nearest ATM.  Convenience, speed, accuracy, that sounds like progress to me.

The current minimum wage in Washington State is $9.32.  According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Washington State has the highest mean hourly wage for cashiers at $12.60 per hour.  If the minimum wage is then raised to $15 per hour (a 62% increase), what affect would this have on the employment.

For a restaurant, the labor costs are approximately 20% of the cost.  If a restaurant retains all the same employment, this increase would increase the cost of food by 12%.  Suddenly, the $1 menu is now the $1.12 menu which doesn't really roll off the tongue very well.  Profit margins in the fast food industry is not terribly high and can vary, but appears to be around 6% for the West region.  So a 12% increase in costs would remove all profit and then some, so no business would be able to stay in business without changing their either their costs or prices.

But what about the employees.  Suppose that you have a good employee that you've rewarded with pay increases and is not receiving $12.60 per hour.  In order to keep the employee feeling valued, you have to create a new pay range of around  $20 per hour.  As for the new employee or the employee you haven't gotten around to firing yet, they get an increase to the $15 per hour.

Suddenly, labor costs become a much bigger and recurring issue.  With the increases in technology, the question now becomes how can you leverage technology to reduce the number of low skill minimum wage jobs.  We've already seen, and many people are already used to, the interaction with a computer terminal.  Asking Siri or Cortana for information and verifying that data is becoming second nature to most people.  In fact, having to interact with a human for some tasks is seen as low tech and very, very uncool.

I've already seen the sidewalk sign twirlers replaced by automatic sign movers.  The question becomes how long will it take for companies to replace their cashiers with technology.  The technology already exists, it just needs to suddenly become cost effective.  Sudden increases in labor costs make that decision much easier.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Brewering up an Offense at Virginia Tech

Coach Frank Beamer has had trouble generating a consistent offense in Blacksburg for years.  Trying to create an offense around "mobile" or "specimen" quarterbacks hasn't resulted in the success for which we've been hoping.  Not since Bryan Randall in 2004 has Virginia Tech committed to a quarterback who hasn't had some sort of physical exceptionalism.  Enter transfer quarterback Michael Brewer.

Admittedly, when watching a number of Virginia Tech football games over the last few years, I've wondered why they didn't just quick kick the ball back to the other team so that the defense or special teams could make their special magic.  The lack of touch and consistency from Tyrod Taylor and Logan Thomas was unbearable.  The question of whether it was the coaching or the players is tough to discern in front of a television screen.

Tyrod Taylor seemed unwilling to put the ball into a position to require someone else to make a play.  This attitude is probably the result of  having undoubtedly been the best athlete on his high school team,  However, in the years where he started at Virginia Tech and the talent around him, he never grew past that behavior.

Logan Thomas, on the other hand, had flashes of brilliance and utter incompetence making you wonder if he was actually awake on the field.  Logan did improve over time at Virginia Tech, but there were times that he wasn't the best quarterback on the team and shouldn't have been awarded playing time.

Which leads me to what seems to be Coach Beamers fatal flaw.  He has a soft spot in his heart for his mobile quarterbacks.  During the 1999 season Michael Vick was injured.  During his recovery, he convinced Coach to play him for a quarter in a game which was not in doubt.  Had he not given into Michael Vick to play in this game, Vick would have been healthier in the National Championship game which may have put the trophy into the case which sits empty in the VT locker room.  This soft spot removed both Bryan Randall and Sean Glennon from their starting positions and kept VT from using their talents to be more successful.

This soft part of Coach's personality is also a strength of his.  Coach recognizes that in the end football is a sport and developing people is more important than winning football games.  The expulsion and re admittance of Marcus Vick is one great example of this commitment to the people who walk into the Virginia Tech locker room.

With Michael Brewer, the offense seems to have a certain click to it.  Granted, against Ohio State, Michael did throw two interceptions and coughed up the ball on the VT 15.  He seems quick enough to get out of immediate trouble and talented enough to move the offense with his head and arm.  Time will tell his future at Virginia Tech and if Coach Beamer commits to this type of quarterback.