Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Golden Rule of Commuting

Do you consider yourself a good driver?

I don't think I've ever encountered a person who claims to be anything but a good driver (except as a joke). Just as abundant, it seems, are the drivers who think everyone else on the freeway is a terrible driver. It reminds me of an old joke I heard about the mental capabilities of other drivers: if someone is driving slower than you, they're a moron, and if they're driving faster than you, they're a maniac.

Nevertheless, logic would indicate that there must be a high number of drivers who are self-proclaimed "good" drivers while simultaneously being judged by others as a "bad" driver.  Clearly there is a hint that most judgement in this scenario is highly subjective; when in the context of a driver's personal objective (getting from A to B as quickly as possible, or as fast with strict adherence to safety, for example), they are obviously performing well and anyone who gets in their way or otherwise impedes them must lack some large number of brain cells.  Rare indeed is it to regard another anonymous driver as a good driver... only, it seems, when they seem to be on the same page as the judger.

So we have an issue: traffic.  Traffic happens.  Sometimes there is a good reason: safety concerns.  Most of the time, however there is no apparent good reason.  Yet with everyone pointing biased fingers at their fellow commuters, and placing a halo above their own head, how can society hope to reach a solution?

Traffic is a problem for a commuter, such as myself (newly admitted into the ranks).  Eliminating or reducing traffic would obviously be beneficial to everyone... lower commute times, fewer headaches, and likely a safer commuting environment.  Hrmm... sounds like a market failure, doesn't it?  A perfect challenge for my utilitarian mind as it wanders during the half hour of sub-optimal commuting speeds to and from work each day.  

I call it "The Golden Rule (of Commuting)."

Before I get into the traffic specifics of The Golden Rule (we'll just call it that in this context), let me first explain some general basics about my utilitarian principles.  For one, they need to serve the ultimate purpose of solving the problem, and it needs to do it practically with as little hassle as possible.  Sure there are some ways to force less traffic (such as metering lights, which I don't think do anything useful), but those require a lot of government work which, of course, I am not in favor of.  After all those taxpayer dollars, who here says, "Well, thank god for these metering lights; otherwise there'd be a ton of traffic!"  I can assure you, no one who is in line for the metering lights thinks that.  I could explain more of the basic economic inefficiencies of metering lights, but for now, back to The Golden Rule.

The Golden Rule essentially states if you, a driver, are not in the far right lane, you must be gaining on or passing the car in front of you and in the lane to your right, or else you should move to the right a lane.

Simple, huh?  Notice I did not mention anything about the speed limit nor about the speed of traffic... the former is a government-imposed speed ceiling which quite honestly can be ignored for the purposes of this rule.  Note that I am not saying speed limits are not important, just that even if you are going the speed limit you are not immune to the rule; in other words, you can't sit in the left lane and be content going the speed limit.  You must qualify for the rule to be in the far left lane, otherwise, get over to the right cause you're slowing the rest of traffic behind you.

Speed of traffic is also implicit in the rule and thus irrelevant.  To be in a left lane, you must be going faster than the car that is in the lane to your right.  Once you pass that car, and there is no car to go faster than on your right, you are not fulfilling the rule of being in the left lane so you must get over to the right.  Going faster than the car you just passed no longer permits you to be in that left(er) lane; the rule is a constantly-refreshing rule that, when abided, will eliminate most forms of traffic or slower-moving mini-congestions.

So as I've said, immunity to the rule is not granted to people going the speed limit, nor to people going with the flow of traffic, nor to people who are in the carpool lane.  As a carpooler myself, this aspect of the rule can be particularly frustrating.  Just because you have two people in your car doesn't mean you're "entitled" to the carpool lane.  Consider the lane an extended left lane that you have access to while others do not, but you should still abide by The Golden Rule... if you are not passing the "non-carpool" lanes to your right, then (you guessed it) get the heck over, cause you're slowing down people behind you.

There is only one place to be safe: the right lane.  If a driver is unsure about how to proceed in a situation on the highway, moving to the right lane is always the perfect starting point.  From there a driver can assess the situation at hand while not being in the way of other drivers who may be driving at a faster speed.  If, from the right lane, it is determined that a pass need be made, a driver can move over into the faster left lane, complete the pass, then return to the right lane.

As I've said, all this is fairly simple and straightforward, can be applied at any and all times and on any multi-lane road, and should solve the problem of many traffic jams... the worst of which being the "wall," where four cars occupy the four lanes of a freeway and they are all going the same speed all in tandem.  Another contender could be the "box-in," where a car in the second fastest lane is in a semi-phalanx formation with the car in the far left lane... this formation is more meddlesome than a simple 2-car wall, as getting around this barrier is even more difficult, time consuming, aggravating and dangerous.  Both could be solved if everyone followed The Golden Rule.

So the next time you're out there driving somewhere, think about the rule.  Practice it yourself.  Notice how many of the frustrating driving scenarios that you witness on the road could be solved by uniform adherence to The Golden Rule.  Like all utilitarian concepts, The Golden Rule does not discriminate (no one is exempt) and everyone either benefits (can get where they're going faster) or remains indifferent (if they stay in the right lane).  Win-win, in my book.

I guess that's why I wrote it up.


The Real First Post: Meet Your Author

Hey everyone.

If you're reading this, you probably don't know me, since I would have likely linked you to a direct post, or you're bored and scanning through the archives, or both. Either way, let me first say, "Welcome."

Let me say next that I don't write recreationally often.  However, when I do, I get my money's worth.  I write a lot (scroll down if you don't believe me).  Reading my work will be a time commitment, no doubt, but I personally feel I write in a very free-flowing, intellectual but fun, upbeat tone that is very easy to read.   This first post will provide an insight into where I'm coming from when I write about things, but will not necessarily be a requisite for understanding my other posts.  This would be a good post to read, however, if you think I'm crazy, if you want to know how I came to think the way I think, or if you think I'm an awesome person in general.

So what's this blog all about, you may be wondering.  Well, to be honest, it's a place for me to write down my ideas, which will, admittedly, often stem from frustrations in the world.  After all, how can one come up with ways for things to be better if there isn't that room for improvement? (cough euphemism cough)

Perhaps a bit of information about me, the writer, is in order.  I'm a young adult, recent graduate of a southern California university with an emphasis in Economics and a minor in French.  Economics was a major that I came to love and embrace, and I have found it has equipped me well to deal with many of the issues going on in my new life, such as politics and (of course) the economy; my thought processes and methodology for dealing with information from the news media and other sources I feel have put me at an advantage over a staggering percentage of my co-workers and friends.

Here's the thing, and this may come as a shocker to some people, seeing as how I'm in my early twenties: I'm what traditional politics would call a conservative.  WHAT?  Well if you haven't closed my blog page yet, I ask for you to have a bit a patience and allow me to explain myself.

I wasn't always a conservative.  In high school, where my awareness of politics (and most of the outside world) began, I was a liberal.  Although I came from a "privileged" area, I thought rich people were too rich and that the atrocities in terms of income distribution were absurd and a clear sign of greed, the principle fault of our economy and of our country.  It makes sense, looking back on it now: when you don't have any money, it is rational for you to be liberal.  You want government spending and increased taxes (on the rich) to promote income redistribution.  Granted, government spending is a large factor in GDP (Gross domestic Product), a renowned measure for an economy, but I'm sure I will have plenty of time to talk about that stuff later.  Suffice to say I was a liberal and thought anyone who was young and not a liberal was stupid.  And I do not mean the childhood, "I accidentally backed into the curb, I'm so stupid," stupid, I mean like I thought they were suffering from some lapse of judgement such as severe stubbornness.

I went to college and there undertook in the same sort of silent prejudice against student Republicans that goes on in many parts of the collegiate country.  I had a good friend, now one of my best friends, who was a Republican, and it was very difficult for me to discuss things with her... both of us were relatively equally uninformed about the whole process, and at least in my eyes I could not get over the fact that being a conservative as a young person seemed silly.  I practically believed young people should be liberal just because they were young... anyone who denied it was wrong.  How naive I was...

It wasn't until I began taking economics that my perspective changed.  All of a sudden I began learning about the government... not the history of the Constitution or the Civil War or the 1960s (although I did take a year-long course on the history of the 60s), but about the fiscal government: how it worked, what it did with those taxes that everyone but us students had to pay, who decided where it all went.  I learned about the free market, the concept of mutually beneficial trade (now something I sort of live my life by), how markets can act at complete efficiency and how interference (such as, by a government) usually only creates a waste of resources and a loss to society.  I learned about how even when markets fail, the sole chance that government interference can help (excuse me; my econ teacher would prefer if I said "hurt less") comes only if the government can manage to not screw up, and how many factors could lead to a negated assisting hand in the market or even push that interference toward the omnipresent realm of making things worse.  After all, even if the government's cost of operations were low (and they are woefully high), how can we know that the government will spend the taxpayer's money better than the taxpayers themselves could?  It would be difficult to justify most of our current government spending programs if they had to answer to that prompt.

And so I learned, and, more importantly, understood (a key distinction).  My liberal paradigms were dashed into a million pieces.  It didn't take me becoming rich and not wanting to get taxed so the government could give my hard earned money to a poor person who doesn't pay his fair share to make me conservative, it was my economics studies.  I'm not saying I'm against government; this is one of the most frequent attacks on my when I explain my reasoning.  I've said that government interference can be good when there is a market failure due to externalities.  A traditional example: 10 people in a town suffer $200 each in flood damages, but no individual wants to build a $1000 levee.  The government steps in and taxes everyone $100 (or perhaps more realistically $150) and builds a levee (for $1500 instead of the private sector's $1000).  Now people are saving $200 and only spending $100 ($150)... society has benefitted.

These examples can exist in many other areas of life beyond flood prevention (modern example: national defense... who would individually want to fund and hire an army to protect their personal assets?), and not always with saving money against bad things.  Sometimes there can be positive aspects of an activity that are being underutilized because they aren't being accounted for.  A real simple example would be, let's say algae production.  An algae farmer produces algae as fish food, but doesn't really care about the fact that algae produce fresh oxygen.  The government (on behalf of society), however, does care, and may subsidize algae production so that the farmer produces more than he normally would if left alone so that society might benefit more from the increased algae production.  A simple example that should prove that I am in favor of government at least in its purest form.

Anyhow, where was I?  While I don't hate government, I believe that its interference into the free marketplace should be kept to a minimum: government interference via taxes/subsidies on producers or consumers, price floors, price ceilings, tariffs, etc, should only be applied during market failures (when an externality is not being properly accounted for, from society's perspective) and only if the chance of improvement is high (i.e. the market is badly failing, or our government is just spot on correct concerning a solution and can have low costs while executing it).  If this is my belief about the government, what does that say about me?  That I am a conservative.  A fiscal conservative, at least.

I want to minimize government intervention.  I don't want the government to tax me and spend it on something I don't want... I can spend my money in a manner that is efficient to our economy, and the government doesn't always do that (in fact, it often doesn't).  Thus I believe taxes should be lower and government spending should be cut.  This aligns me with what is known as the conservative right: the GOP.  While I would prefer to call myself a Libertarian, the closest realistic political affiliation I can adopt is that of a Republican.

Now if you've made it this far, I salute you.  This thing is probably one of the longest blog posts you've read and it's coming from a rookie author.  Kudos to you, as well as a personal thanks re: the vote of confidence in staying with me til the end.  I'm almost done here, let me just say that if you still would want to argue with me about what I've said in the preceding paragraphs, please, take some economics classes first.  I've gone the route trying to explain economics principles to people who haven't taken classes; it's a frustrating, annoying waste of time, especially when the person is liberal and a name-caller.  If you have an issue with what I've said, take some economics courses, understand the basic principles and if you still feel the same way you do now, I would be more than happy, in fact eager, to oblige a discussion on my personal economic policies (which are only, don't laugh, briefly described here).

Whew.  Ok, we're done for now.  On to the real posts, eh?


Monday, October 20, 2008

Archive: Why I Like: The Big Lebowski

A bit of a preface:

When I saw The Big Lebowski for the first time, I was not the first person I knew who had seen it. I was certainly not the first person of my friends who had liked it, and I most assuredly did not fully understand it. In fact, I must admit that I saw it at the behest of my friends who, I am almost positive, only liked it because they felt they were supposed to like it, as if their older siblings had told them so.

My friends and I, back in the late nineties, never truly appreciating the depth and genius of the film, would recite a few of the popular lines from the film such as, “This is not ‘Nam, this is bowling; there are rules,” or “Mr. Treehorn treats objects like women, man,” or “Careful man, there’s a beverage here!” ... the amusing, cheap-thrill one-liners that only really stand out as memorable tidbits to the viewer that doesn’t really pay attention, or is simply incapable of understanding what’s actually happening on screen.

Within the past six months, I think I have watched this movie about 12 times, roughly once every two weeks. I can’t help but love this movie. I took a quotes quiz on Facebook a few days ago about the movie, with something like 125 questions; my best streak was 57 right answers in a row, and I got 119 correct overall. I think I placed eighth out of everyone who’s taken the quiz (probably only a couple hundred people). I was pretty proud of that, actually.

Every time I watch The Big Lebowski, the movie gets better. That’s right, better. Logic tells me that there should be some optimal number of views that maximizes a movie’s entertainment value. Sometimes it’s only once, then the enjoyability begins to taper. Sometimes it’s twice, where the first time may be a bit confusing, and a second viewing, where one does not have to focus on the plot itself as heavily, allows the appreciation of other aspects of the film. Sometimes the optimal number is zero, perhaps if one appreciated and was entertained by the trailer more than he was for the movie itself. For The Big Lebowski and me, I can only conclude that I have not yet reached that optimum.

Naturally, such a claim begs explanation, and as a now-official “blog writer” I, of course, am happy to oblige.

The Coen brothers, co-writers, co-producers, co-directors of this barely profitable endeavor, really poured their brilliance into the film. From a literary perspective alone, it is written rather masterfully. The concept of taking an amiable but incompetently simple character and throwing him into an impossible, highly complex, dangerous, dynamic scenario made for a fun ride. The fact that the plot itself turns out to be unimportant and resolved by means in no way legitimately foreseeable by either the audience or the protagonist makes the earlier events seem like a joke on the Dude. Thus another viewing with the true resolution to the plot in mind will make certain scenes seem even more ridiculous, and characters that one perhaps had thought, during the first viewing, to be more informed than they (i.e. the protagonist) can now be seen in a different, more ironically amusing light of misinformation or incorrect assumption.

The cast, at the same time, leaves very little left to be desired, in this humble fan’s opinion. I almost don’t want to go into detail about the cast for several reasons. Firstly, I don’t want to leave anything out. I feel like if I begin to talk about one actor’s portrayal of a character, I will be compelled to go into too much depth about why I enjoyed them so much. For even one character this would likely be rather dull for you, the reader, and if I did it for one I would have to do it for everyone (since they all deserve, in my eyes, such treatment). Secondly, however, while I do not suffer from a lack of confidence about my writing ability nor about the quality of my ideas (nor a true lack of confidence in general, I suppose), I am no fool and I am sure that others have already gone into greater detail and in a much better fashion about the cast in this movie than I am capable. So, as a proclaimer, if my praises and examples on the excellence of the cast seem brief, it is due to these hesitations (and other constraints, such as time, and attention to reader interest).

First, the Dude. Jeff Bridges, I don’t know how he does it, creates exactly the Dude I want. From his bizarre and incomplete pre-roll stretches during the first bowling scene to his hilariously brilliant mastering of the confused demeanor in Maude’s apartment or his awkward surprise at the “note” scribbled by Jackie Treehorn, there is no flaw I can find in his performance. If he is not exactly the Dude that the Coen brothers intended to create at the onset of production, surely they could not be happier with what he created. John Goodman, a show-stealer himself, was able to match the Dude perfectly with his Walter. The toe conversation in the diner, really, if you think about it, is just so f***ing funny. Steve Buscemi is great, John Turturro is so convincing (I didn’t realize the actor was Italian the first time I saw the movie), Julianne Moore with her made-up accent is hilarious and my buddy PSH (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the perfect Brandt.

Forgive me if I have already written dangerously close to your attention span (I wouldn’t be surprise if some readers have given up paragraphs ago, or even decided not to read the post at all upon seeing its length). But if you’ve read this far, then I suppose I can say with an air of argumentative victory that, hey, you did ask for it, and since you’re this far in you’ve proven me right. I will finish by saying that, quite simply, the soundtrack to the film is something I’ve come to love as an entity of its own, as if it’s another character, and, lastly, that there is much more I could say about the film, but the best way to get me to talk about it would be to watch it with me. I’m sure I’d be willing.

Ok I lied. The last thing I’ll say is that writing this has made me want to watch it again. From start to finish.

Seeeeee them tumbling down....