Writing

Some Videos I’m Showing in Class

In class last night we examined how to make better decisions. The lecture focused heavily on cognitive biases and heuristicsac10ec1ace51b2d973cd87973a98d3ab.jpg.1347400360781 that affect our decision-making.

The anchoring heuristic, explained by Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking Fast and Slow:

An explanation of the availability heuristic:

Kahneman’s explanation of the focusing illusion to New York Times columnist David Brooks:

A discussion of the sunk costs fallacy:

We also discussed analysis paralysis and The Paradox of Choice, a book written by Barry Schwartz. Here is his TED Talk that synthesizes the book well:

Weight Loss Journeys & Eulogy Traits

Rivard Report founder/editor Bob Rivard has written eloquently and poignantly about his weight loss goals and journey. It’s a piece that I can identify with and has made me think about resolutions in general. One of Benjamin Frankin’s virtues was “resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.”

On December 31, 2013, I wrote my 2014 New Years Resolutions. Here they are with some commentary:

  • Workout 225 days
    • Today, I reached workout #196 for the year. It looks as though this resolution will be accomplished in early October.
  • Wake up at 5:00 am on weekdays
    • With the occasional exception, have stuck to this one.
  • Be more orderly, temperate, frugal, and industrious 
    • I have completely failed at this one.
  • Run the Alamo 13.1 Half Marathon
    • Ran it in March. Ran another in April. Training for one on October 5 and another on November 8.

This list of resolutions essentially addresses weight loss and career advancement. Two weeks ago a dear friend was in a serious car accident, and I couldn’t help but think of the talk David Brooks gave at the 2014 TED Conference:

Here is my favorite passage:

So I’ve been thinking about the difference between the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the ones you put on your résumé, which are the skills you bring to the marketplace.The eulogy virtues are the ones that get mentioned in the eulogy, which are deeper: who are you, in your depth, what is the nature of your relationships, are you bold, loving, dependable, consistency? And most of us, including me, would say that the eulogy virtues are the more important of the virtues. But at least in my case, are they the ones that I think about the most? And the answer is no.

So I’ve been thinking about that problem, and a thinker who has helped me think about it is a guy named Joseph Soloveitchik, who….said there are two sides of our natures, which he called Adam I and Adam II. Adam I is the worldly, ambitious, external side of our nature. He wants to build, create, create companies, create innovation. Adam II is the humble side of our nature. Adam II wants not only to do good but to be good,to live in a way internally that honors God, creation and our possibilities. Adam I wants to conquer the world. Adam II wants to hear a calling and obey the world. Adam I savors accomplishment. Adam II savors inner consistency and strength. Adam I asks how things work. Adam II asks why we’re here. Adam I’s motto is “success.” Adam II’s motto is “love, redemption and return.”

And Soloveitchik argued that these two sides of our nature are at war with each other. We live in perpetual self-confrontation between the external success and the internal value. And the tricky thing, I’d say, about these two sides of our nature is they work by different logics. The external logic is an economic logic: input leads to output, risk leads to reward. The internal side of our nature is a moral logic and often an inverse logic. You have to give to receive. You have to surrender to something outside yourself to gain strength within yourself. You have to conquer the desire to get what you want. In order to fulfill yourself, you have to forget yourself. In order to find yourself, you have to lose yourself.

We happen to live in a society that favors Adam I, and often neglects Adam II.

Living a healthy life is a worthwhile goal. As is career advancement. But we find happiness in love and “surrendering to something outside ourselves.”

via Brain Pickings
via Brain Pickings

Maybe next year’s resolutions should address eulogy traits.

Constitution Day Remarks

Last night I had the privilege of giving the introductory remarks at A Conversation with the Constitution, a Constitution Day event at KLRN Studios sponsored by East Central Independent School District, Gemini Ink, and the San Antonio Public Library Foundation.

The text of the remarks:

Our American Constitution set the stage for an ongoing debate about what our democracy should be. There is no better way to honor that spirit than an examination 10666015_10102627616292848_5113669244400168228_nof the recent groundbreaking Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. FEC, which we will be discussing tonight.

The seeds of this case were sowed over a century ago, when the United States faced many problems that might be familiar to some of you. There was unrest throughout Europe and the Middle East. At home, the gap between the richest and poorest was widening. Enormous corporations were exerting their influence over the American political system to protect their monopoly power.

A group of Progressive Era reformers led by President Theodore Roosevelt were able to minimize the political influence of corporations by prohibiting direct corporate contributions to political candidates. While this law has stood the test of time, you still meet people every day who feel that the deck is stacked in favor of corporations and lobbyists and against folks like you and me. A lot of them will cite the Supreme Court’s groundbreaking decision in Citizens United v. FEC as evidence of this.

Just as 100 years ago, folks are beginning to lose faith in the basic American bargain: that if you work hard and play by the rules, you will have a shot at success.But there is reason for optimism and a light at the end of the tunnel because the students in this room will solve our challenges just as the Progressive reformers addressed theirs.

The Citizens United case started with, of all things, a movie. Seven years ago, Senator Hillary Clinton was the front-runner over Senator Barack Obama to become the next President of the United States. In fact, many believed her to be “inevitable.” A small nonprofit group with funding from corporations called Citizens United wanted to release what they called a “documentary” film- one that was very critical of Senator Clinton.

Unfortunately for Citizens United, there was a law on the books that prohibited corporations from engaging in “electioneering communications.” This meant that corporations were not allowed to independently spend money to put an ad on TV or in a newspaper that was meant to endorse or oppose a political candidate.

The Supreme Court was asked to answer a simple question: Was the documentary an electioneering communication? As the court considered this, the issues became deeper and cut to the heart of our First Amendment. We’ve all learned that we are guaranteed free speech, but questions remain about what that actually means:

  • Does the First Amendment guarantee free, unlimited speech in all contexts?
  • Do corporations get the same constitutional protection that you and I do?
  • Should the First Amendment guarantee equal access to free speech?

There are those who believe that the law prohibiting corporate electioneering prevented corporations from exercising free speech rights. There are others who believe that too much corporate influence in our political system will corrupt it- and that this is a compelling reason to prevent corporate expenditures.

The Court decided that corporations can independently spend as much money as they want to support or oppose candidates, as long as it is independent. Corporations still can’t give money directly to the candidates themselves.

There is an old saying- “money in politics is like water on pavement- it will find its way into every crack and crevice.” Think about it, it’s true. Tonight, we will be discussing what role the government should have in regulating the flow of money into our elections.

We will not answer these questions tonight. In fact, we will likely walk out that door with more questions than we had when we walked in. That is the brilliance of the American Constitution. Happy Constitution Day.

Thoughts on Uber

Yesterday, my boss came out in favor of a deregulated vehicle-for-hire industry which would allow companies like Uber to operate in San Antonio. The San Antonio Express-News ran a B1 story on his proposal this morning. This is from his post on D8 Dialogues blog on the subject:

Currently, San Antonio lacks the regulatory flexibility needed to unleash innovation in the transportation industry. Even though City Council recently amended Chapter 33 of the City Code, which regulates vehicle-for-hire services, progress and marketplace disruption demand that we revisit its contents.

To open the doors for innovation in the transportation-for-hire industry, the City Council should adopt policies that: 1) level the playing field; 2) encourage competition; 3) ensure public safety and consumer protection; and 4) provide access for all of our residents.

Two years ago, I wrote an op-ed for a political commentary site outlining my views on the subject:

Uber exists as a mechanism to streamline processes, making urban transportation more convenient for every party involved. Uber has even used market forces to protect the public (a novel concept!) because consumers know more about a driver because of information available about each driver on the app.

Critics of Uber are ostensibly attempting to “protect the public,” but are actually just safeguarding their own…oligopolies of urban transportation. 

My time working for Councilman Nirenberg has changed my perspective slightly, but I wholeheartedly support his proposal.

“Truth Commissions” Chill Free Speech

Should the government be in the business of regulating speech in any manner? If so, to what degree? These are very heady questions that lie at the heart of how we think about our First Amendment. The American political left has long been seen as an advocate for the notion that the truth will emerge in a robust free exchange of ideas. Recent events have poked holes in this reputation.

In 2012 the Supreme Court considered a federal law that made it a crime for someone to falsely claim receipt of a military honor. They found that such a crime “chilled” free speech. At the time, I wrote:

Justice Kennedy claimed “permitting the government to decree this speech to be a criminal offense, whether shouted from the rooftops or made in a barely audible whisper, would endorse government authority to compile a list of subjects about which false statements are punishable.”

This is the crux of the matter…Slippery slope is taught in college as a fallacy, but First Amendment thought is, and ought to be, filled with slippery slope paranoia.

On Tuesday the Court will hear arguments in a case called Susan B. Anthony List v. DriehausMany10056df14792ef2c9260373acd72ca58 states have adopted laws that allow the government to fine or imprison people who make false statements in political campaigns. This seems perfectly reasonable on its face. We are sick and tired of politicians and special interests lying to or misleading us. However, these states have given “truth commissions” (government bureaucrats) the authority to determine what statements are true or false.

The attorneys for Susan B. Anthony List, who sued under threat of punishment from such a law in Ohio, penned an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal:

The relevant question is thus not whether there is a constitutional “right to lie,” but rather whether the state may force citizens to defend the “truth” of their political critiques before bureaucrats who may well have been appointed by the politicians being criticized. Such a regime imposes substantial burdens on core political speech and therefore chills robust political debate.

The premise of the First Amendment is that the people should decide what is “true” and what is “false” in the political arena, and punish or reward political candidates at the ballot box. Political fact-checking is not a task for courts of law. Criminal penalties should not hang over the heads of speakers who disagree with their version of political “truth.”

Laws that penalize lying in political campaigns are rooted in noble intentions. But they lead to the creation of government “truth commissions” that belong in an Orwell novel. The Court should err on the side of free speech.