Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Did you know that President Obama is Black?

On Sundays in the Dallas Morning News, there is a section called, “Sounding Off”, that has brief comments by those who live in the Dallas area about a particular topic. The topic is chosen by one of the Dallas Morning News editors, and those of us that are contributors to the Sounding Off section get an email from the editor whenever he is interested in getting our opinions about a given topic.

Today, I got an email requesting two or three sentences about the topic, “What is the great untold story about your community in 2009 and how would it surprise people?”

I actually didn’t quite answer that exact question, but here is what I did submit:

“One great story in 2009 is how easy it has been for us to accept a Black president. I, and many people I know, disagree with many of President Obama’s policies, but his race hasn’t ever come up in my discussions with others. We are getting closer to Rev. Martin Luther King’s vision of judging a person for who they are rather than by the color of their skin.”

This is pretty cool actually. Obviously, there are still bigots out there, but there have to be fewer now than there were, say, 30 years ago. When Kennedy ran for president in 1960, many people thought he couldn’t get elected because he was Catholic.

I would like for us to take this one step further. When discussing policies that affect us, let’s not bring up any labels that serve to divide us. For instance, for a particular policy, does it really matter if the person who is giving their opinion is a conservative or a liberal, a leftist or a rightist, or a Republican or a Democrat?

It’s not that those things don’t matter, but they have nothing to do with whether their thinking about a particular policy is something that you may or may not agree with. In other words, it is best to judge someone’s policy ideas based upon your principles and not about irrelevancies such as the person’s skin color or political affiliation. This is much less divisive, and tends to keep a discussion based upon the merit of the ideas presented.

For instance, consider these policy positions that I have:

1) I think that the private use of drugs by adults ought not to be illegal. (I’m not advocating that people take drugs, I’m just advocating that they not be illegal).

2) I think abortion is almost always bad, but don’t think it should be illegal.

3) I think that we should have the strongest military in the world.

4) I think that we should bring our troops home from all foreign countries.

5) I think having nuclear weapons has been a tremendous deterrent to war, and it would foolish to get rid of all of them.

6) I think that the evidence shows that the Earth is warming slightly but that we have little evidence as to how much humanity is contributing to it. Furthermore, limiting carbon dioxide emissions will have a negligible effect on however much global warming is occurring. (If the Earth does start warming to an unacceptable extent, there are much cheaper and more effective ways of dealing with it).

7) I think that one of best ways to increase the prosperity of Americans and eventually the world is to build lots of nuclear power plants. We would shortly have clean, safe and inexpensive energy, and would have time to properly develop other sources of energy, such as solar power.

I didn’t bring these ideas up here to convince anyone about them, but rather to show how some of them would be considered conservative, some liberal, etc. It doesn’t matter to me what labels a person gives them, and I don’t consider any such labels when thinking about my positions. I only consider my principles. Isn’t that a good thing?


Tim Farage is a Senior Lecturer in the Computer Science Department at The University of Texas at Dallas. You are welcome to comment upon this blog entry and/or to contact him at tfarage@hotmail.com.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Government Job Creation and My Bad Math Skills

Someone tell me if I’m doing the math wrong.

In the 12/3/2009 business section of the Dallas Morning News, there’s an article about a White House summit to create jobs. The good news is that, according to the article, President Obama “returned last week from Asia vowing a renewed emphasis on the role of free trade in job creation.” He’s doing this in a number of ways, including attempting to get better free-trade pacts with Asian countries. And there are other things he wants to do to increase our exports, all of which are good. The article also claims that nearly one-fourth of the manufacturing jobs in Texas depend on exports, so clearly this would be helpful to Texas.

This all makes me happy.

How has the government been doing so far in creating jobs? The article says that unemployment is at 10.2%, “despite the $787 billion stimulus package. The White House argues that the stimulus has created or saved about 1 million jobs, but more must be done. “

Here’s where I need your math help. When I divided $787 billion by $1 million in my head (where is my calculator when I need one?), I get $787,000 spent in stimulus funds per job created or saved.

Obviously, my math skills are diminishing, along with those of the climatologists who can’t understand why their climate models aren’t making correct predictions. Maybe it’s a world-wide phenomenon caused by too much of that extremely-toxic carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

In the unlikely event that my math is correct, how many jobs do you think that you could create with $787,000? I’ll bet it’s more than one.

No, I’m sure my math is wrong. I just wish I knew where.


Your Math-Impaired Blogger


Tim Farage is a Senior Lecturer in the Computer Science Department at The University of Texas at Dallas. You are welcome to comment upon this blog entry and/or to contact him at tfarage@hotmail.com.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Government Based Upon Natural Law - (Part 8) - Foreign Trade, Foreign Relations, and Foreign Aid

"I saw that you could not separate the idea of commerce from the idea of war and peace. You could not have serious war anywhere in the world and expect commerce to go on as before. And I saw that wars were often caused by economic rivalry. I thereupon came to believe that if we could increase commercial exchanges among nations over lowered trade and tariff barriers and remove international obstacles to trade, we would go a long way toward eliminating war itself."

Cordell Hull, former Secretary of State, in his memoirs after observing two world wars

Foreign Relations

We should have cordial relations with all countries who act peacefully. No peaceful country ought to be afraid that the United States will ever attempt to conquer it or forcibly take away its natural resources.

To countries or groups that have ill intentions toward us, our firm message should be: It would be a grave mistake to attack us, because you will end up suffering more than we will. “Speak softly and carry a big stick” was not bad advice from Teddy Roosevelt.

We ought not to preach to other countries about how they should behave, or what their economic or political systems should be. This has frequently led to them resenting us, rather than appreciating our good intentions. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund attempt to do this, and we should have nothing to do with them.

Rather, we should be humble and set a good example for other countries to follow. What this means politically is that our government should protect our right to be free to live our lives as we deem best, as long as we don’t interfere with the right of others to do the same. What this means individually is that each of us ought to love our Creator and love others, by treating others as children of our Creator, and by using our talents to help make the world a better place.

As mentioned in a previous part, we should not have our military stationed in any other countries, unless we are at war. This has created enmity and dependency, as well costing taxpayers a great deal of money. It may help to create temporary stability in a given region, but is this truly our business?

Foreign Trade

Allow free trade with all nations. Free trade, not aid, is the best way to help other nations to become more prosperous.

Benjamin Franklin said, “No nation was ever ruined by trade.”

George Washington, the Father of our nation said, “The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, and to have with them as little political connection as possible.”

And Jefferson said, “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations but entangling alliances with none.”

It would be well to heed these three of the most influential men in the history of our country.

Furthermore, free trade with foreign nations possibly offers one of the best solutions to avoiding war. We went to war with Japan over 60 years ago. Within a few decades, we were buying a great deal of goods from Japan, who then became dependent on trade with us. Do you think that they would consider going to war with us now, even if they thought they could win?

Similarly, China’s economy is closely tied to ours, and they are very desirous of us having a robust economy, so that theirs can thrive. Thus, the more trade we have with other countries, the more we reduce the risk of war with them, and the more prosperous they and we become. It is truly a win-win scenario.

Also, there is no reason to not have trade with Cuba. Cuba has not threatened the United States since the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 1960s. We may not like some of their domestic policies, but that is none of our business. Cubans and Americans would benefit from trade between our nations.

Trade protectionism does not have a history of working well for our country. For instance, in 1930, the year after the stock-market crash, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act imposed an effective tax rate of 60% on more than 3,200 products and materials imported into the U.S., quadrupling previous tariff rates. Although the tariff act was passed after the stock-market crash of 1929, many economic historians consider the political discussion leading up to the passing of the act as a factor in causing the crash and/or the recession that began in late 1929, and its eventual passage as a factor in deepening the Great Depression. Unemployment was at 7.8% in 1930 when the Smoot-Hawley tariff was passed, but it jumped to 16.3% in 1931, 24.9% in 1932, and 25.1% in 1933.

Another important point is that when people of good will trade with each other, they naturally get to know each other. And they frequently find out that these “foreigners” usually have the same values that we do. For instance, they also want the best for their families and for their country. So free trade has the side effect of producing friendships that might not normally be made.

However, free trade cannot occur if countries subsidize their industries. For instance, the U.S. subsidizes farming (often run by large corporations and often at the behest of a strong Farm Lobby), which makes it harder for poor nations to export food to us, leaving them and us poorer. It has been proven that there is always a net benefit when we are allowed to buy and trade with those who make the best product for the best price, wherever they happen to be in the world. And the best way to make this happen is to allow individuals and companies to buy or trade with whomever they wish. This is not a guarantee, but there is no better way to achieve prosperity for all humans. Beside, freedom is the American way.

Congress can and should restrict the trade of goods or services that could harm national security, such as the sale of weaponry to countries that are hostile to us. Also, any imported goods would have to meet the same health and safety standards as domestically made items. For instance, any cars we import must meet the same standards as domestically made cars. Inspections of such goods, which should be made by our government, should be paid for by the company who is selling them. Otherwise, Congress should not restrict trade with other countries.

Developing countries are welcome to ask foreign companies, such as those in the U.S. and elsewhere, to start companies in their country. This may benefit the developing country by attracting the talent and resources needed in order to grow economically. Of course, this would always be up to the home country.

Foreign Aid

The U.S. ought not to subsidize other nations, or provide continuous foreign aid to any nation. However, the U.S. may provide temporary humanitarian aid to a nation or nations due to natural disasters or other such events.

Continual foreign aid contributes to corruption and to dependency. It also can create enmity toward our country in that other countries may wonder why their country is not getting any of our money. And, not infrequently, this money is used to purchase weapons, and buy power, rather than help the people for whom it is intended.

It may also prolong conflicts, as I believe it has done in the Middle East.

This is not meant to be a restriction on individuals or organizations, who may give time and money to whomever they wish (again with the restriction that no goods or services may be provided to individuals, groups, or countries that could harm our national security.) ______________________________________

Tim Farage is a Senior Lecturer in the Computer Science Department at The University of Texas at Dallas. You are welcome to comment upon this blog entry and/or to contact him at tfarage@hotmail.com.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Are you Thankful for your Bathroom?

For this 2009 Thanksgiving, I thought I'd remind us to give thanks for things we don't usually remember to give thanks for.

Things for which we Should Express our Gratitude

Last night I went to the bathroom to take a shower. You won't believe this, but our shower has hot and cold running water, and the amount of water coming through the showerhead can be adjusted! How great is that? Less than a century ago, most people in the United States could not claim this. Most would have to go to back to an outhouse, not a bathroom. And once-a-week baths, shared by all family members were the norm.

Anyone want to go back a hundred years again and lose half the children that are born to a woman before that child is five?

Anyone want to go back to using horses as our main mode of transportation? Don't forget to clean up the manure, and shoo away the flies it attracts, and to close your nose while doing it.

Anyone want to go back before there was heat and air conditioning, sanitation, toilets, vaccines, or modern medicine?

Anyone want to give up their cell phones, computers, jets, GPS, and other technological marvels that make our lives so much simpler to communicate with anyone, anywhere almost for free?

Anyone want to go back before the 1990's when the World Wide Web came to prominence, bringing mankind's knowledge to anyone who had an Internet connection?

Every year, scientists are finding out how special our Universe is, and how special our Earth is – if a few things had been off by just a little life would not even exist. For instance, if the strength of gravity were off just a little, our Universe would not be fit for life. The Universe and Earth are more beautiful than anyone even 50 years ago could have imagined. Anyone want to take a chance and jump to another planet in another Universe at random? You go first.

Anyone want to go back and live during a world war? Due to our technology, our presidents, and our military, we have not been in a world war for over 60 years.

Anyone in the United States want to go back to a time before there was freedom of thought, freedom of press, freedom of religion, freedom of trade, or freedom of association?

Anyone want to go back before the days of the Hubble Telescope and the awe-inspiring images it has sent to us?

Anyone want to go back to before people of all skin colors, and religious backgrounds could get the jobs they were qualified for, could get to sit in the same restaurants, and could get elected to be the President of the United States?

Expressing our Gratitude Every Day

It hard for all of us to remember to be thankful for the many gifts bestowed up on us by our Creator and His Creation, and by the inventions of His children. Here is prayer I learned from a friend, now deceased, that I try to say every day:

"Dear God, thank you for the love, beauty, health, peace and prosperity manifesting in my life. Please guide me in the furtherance of Your work."

And after my evening prayers, I try to remember to say the following:

"I send out love, peace, and goodwill to all of God's children."

A Side Benefit of being Grateful

The more we express gratitude for all that we have, the better we feel about ourselves and the healthier we are, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

And our “attitude of gratitude” is contagious. Others around us respond to it. Imagine a world in which we all express gratitude daily. Our world would be transformed overnight. How thankful would we be for that!


Tim Farage is a Senior Lecturer in the Computer Science Department at The University of Texas at Dallas. You are welcome to comment upon this blog entry and/or to contact him at tfarage@hotmail.com.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Government Based Upon Natural Law - (Part 5) - Border Security and Immigration Policy

Border and Port Security
A primary responsibility of the federal government is to secure our borders, and our borders are clearly not currently secure. Every effort should be made to secure them so that it would be virtually impossible to enter our country illegally. Our borders need not necessarily have a literal fence. Rather, we may be able to use technology in conjunction with the border patrol and/or military to monitor our borders.

Our ports should be secured using the troops that we bring home from overseas. In particular, incoming cargo should be checked for nuclear devices or other weapons that pose threats to our national security.

Immigration Policy

1) Immigration is very important to the U.S. Our immigration policy should welcome many of the best people from all over the world who wish to immigrate to the United States.

Each potential immigrant should be subject to a background check and a medical exam, and we should attempt to discern whether or not the potential immigrant has abilities that are needed by our country. We should also attempt to discern whether this individual believes in the value of properly raising and educating his or her children, as well as his or her belief in the brotherhood of mankind. Also, knowledge of the English language should be required before an immigrant becomes a permanent resident or a citizen. (A person in the U.S. that does not speak English is a considerable disadvantage to himself and to our country.)

Our goal should be to allow into our country only those immigrants who will become exemplary U.S. citizens.

2) There are many illegal immigrants currently in the U.S.; it would be untenable to deport all of these illegal immigrants. Thus, the first priority should be to secure our borders, before attempting to deal with those illegal immigrants already here.

While we are doing this, we can start issuing tamper-proof ID cards with biometric information to all of our current and future immigrants, as well as our citizens. These IDs would be used as we now use driver’s licenses, which are now the de facto ID cards. This would make it easier for the government to keep track of our immigrants. One secondary benefit is that it would make life easier for our legal immigrants. For example, individuals here on a student visa could use their ID card to easily prove their legal status to a university. Also, having such IDs gives the U.S. a better way to determine who is eligible for certain benefits, such as educational subsidies, health-care subsidies, and the previously-mentioned Natural-Resource Tax Dividend, as well as such things as improving airport security. Congress should pass laws that are explicit about when such IDs may be used, and that also state that these IDs cannot be used for any other purpose.

3) Current illegal immigrants who substantially violate our laws should be deported, after serving any incarceration time.

4) Once our borders are secure and the ID cards are in place, those illegal immigrants that have been here a reasonable amount of time, and have beneficially contributed to our country, may be granted a legal status and eventually a permanent status (such as by being given a green card). However, they should not be granted citizenship, since this would be unfair to those immigrants who came or will come here legally. This would serve as an additional disincentive to coming here illegally. It would also make politicians less likely to quickly legalize illegal immigrants in order to get more votes.

The current wave of illegal immigrants has its most harmful effects on our schools and on our public health care resources. Our schools must now deal with large numbers of students who do not speak English. This is very stressful to our educational system and expensive for our schools to deal with.

Illegal immigration has put a tremendous strain on our health care resources. For instance, in the first three months of 2006 at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, 70% of all births were babies born to illegal immigrants, and Parkland now has more than 16,000 births recorded there each year. Furthermore, the out-of-wedlock birthrate among illegal immigrants is substantially higher than that of our citizens and our legal immigrants.

Securing our borders will do much to decrease the number of individuals who enter our country illegally.


Tim Farage is a Senior Lecturer in the Computer Science Department at The University of Texas at Dallas. You are welcome to comment upon this blog entry and/or to contact him at tfarage@hotmail.com.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Million Here, a Zillion There…

Government Debt Made Simple

Have you been scrupulously paying your way out of debt using one of those "Get out of Debt Now" programs? Or maybe you're already debt free. I'm sorry to say this, but you are so wrong. You may be personally out of debt but your beloved federal government has been taking you in the opposite direction.

Let's start with some government debt and deficit numbers, numbers so big that they are almost meaningless. But just for you, I'll reduce these numbers to what they would mean for an average family, so that you can get appropriately incensed. Frankly, most newspaper and magazine articles just stick with the big numbers, and we the people can only wonder what a trillion dollars means, and whether or not a zillion dollars is more or less than a trillion dollars. (Just for the record, a "zillion" is not real, but it is only slightly less not real than a trillion).

So bear with me for giving you the big numbers and I'll soon get to some numbers one can actually understand. You can even skip the next section if you start to get a headache.

Here are the Big Numbers

The National Debt as of November, 2009 is about $12 trillion. The federal government expects the National Debt to be $14 trillion for the fiscal year 2010. Just for perspective, four years ago in 2006, the National Debt was about $9 trillion.

Federal spending for fiscal 2009 was around $4 trillion. (Or was that $4 zillion?) The 2009 deficit was about $1.8 trillion. This means that the federal government spent $1.8 trillion more than it took in during the 2009 fiscal year.

Interest paid during the 2009 fiscal year on the National Debt was $380 billion, about 9% of the entire federal budget. No debt was paid off, but plenty of debt was added.

During the month of October, 2009 (the start of the 2010 fiscal year), the federal government spent $178 billion more than it received in taxes – the $178 billion was "only" the deficit spending, just for that one month. The federal government actually spent over $330 billion in October. Don't try this at home.

Over a year, this would amount to over $2 trillion in deficit spending. And that is the actual deficit estimate expected by the federal government for 2010. This will increase our National Debt to $14 trillion, and the interest we will pay on that will be about $440 billion.

Here are the Same Numbers Given on a Per-Family Basis

To put this in perspective, I'm going to rewrite the information given above on a per-family basis, so that it is understandable to us humans. It isn't hard to do once you know that there are about 110 million households in the U.S. If you had a headache, now is the time to start reading again. Your headache will get worse.

The National Debt as of November, 2009 is about $109,000 per family. (Never doubt my math skills). The federal government expects the National Debt to be $128,000 per family for the fiscal year 2010. Just for perspective, four years ago in 2006, the National Debt was about $82,000 per family. Shame on you for increasing your debt so quickly.

Federal spending for fiscal 2009 was around $36,000 per family. The 2009 deficit was about $16,300 per family. This means that the federal government spent $16,300 per family more than it took in during the 2009 fiscal year.

Interest paid during the 2009 fiscal year on the National Debt was about $3,500 per family, about 9% of the entire federal budget. No debt was paid off, but plenty of debt was added.

During the month of October, 2009 (the start of the 2010 fiscal year), the federal government spent $1,600 per family more than it received in taxes – the $1,600 per family was "only" the deficit spending, just for that one month. The federal government actually spent over $3,000 per family in October. Go ahead and try this at home for a few months and let me know how it turns out.

Over a year, this would amount to over $19,000 per family in deficit spending. And that is the actual deficit estimate expected by the federal government for 2010. This will increase our National Debt to $128,000 per family, and the interest we will pay on that will be about $4,400 per family.

Did You Have Any Idea That We Were in This Much Debt?

Did you know that your family accumulated an additional $16,700 debt in 2009? And that your family's total debt as a result of federal spending will be $128,000 within a year? And that you'll be paying $4,400 just to pay the interest on that debt?

Not to worry, it's easy to solve this problem. Each family just needs to give the federal government an additional $128,000 next year.

I'm sending my money in tomorrow.

Enjoy Your New Debt

This debt is not like student loans that accumulate while a student is getting an education, and then are paid off when the student gets a job. This debt has grown during every presidential administration since 1969 and has dramatically increased over the last few years. Each year it takes up a larger fraction of federal spending, and shows no sign of letting up. (I won't scare you by telling you how much more debt will be added just to keep up with our Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid obligations.  You wouldn't believe it anyway.)

Solutions to Our National Debt Problems

Actually, there are no realistic political solutions. As most of you know, our politicians do not have the courage to face up to this, because any solutions they come up with will be unpopular with a large number of groups, and this will decrease their chances of getting elected (or re-elected), which is the most important consideration for many politicians. For instance, we'd certainly have to increase the minimum age needed to get full Social Security benefits and/or decrease the amount of the benefit. I wouldn't be happy about this myself, but them's the bitter truth. (Why isn't my grammar checker working?)

But I'm not a politician, thankfully, so here are some realistic solutions that can and should, but won't be done:

1) Pass a balanced budget amendment.  (To be realistic, it could go into effect in, say, 15 years, just to give the government time to rein in spending). After that, no more debt would be accumulated. Texas and many other states have such amendments, and it has suffered less through the current recession than most of the rest of the country.

2) Allow federal spending to increase only at the rate of inflation, and population growth. Tax receipts will normally increase faster than this, so we could then start paying down the National Debt.

I could list lots of other items here, but if we do these, you and I would be happy campers (or at least I would). Think anyone could get elected to the presidency with those two items on their platform? Neither do I.


Tim Farage is a Senior Lecturer in the Computer Science Department at The University of Texas at Dallas. You are welcome to comment upon this blog entry and/or to contact him at tfarage@hotmail.com.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Are You a Republican or are you a Democrat? I hope not. (Part 2)

In my previous blog entry, I talked about the problems created by having just two major political parties. Here I talk about what we can do to ameliorate these problems and I also explore some alternatives to the two-party system. 

First, here are a few things we can do to improve the political situation even with two major political parties. These will take away some of the power they have that can burden the citizenry. 

An important solution is to pass a constitutional amendment that requires Congress to vote on only balanced budgets. Also, spending increases (over and above that due to inflation and increased population), would also require a 2/3rds vote from both houses, as would tax increases. Thus, there would need to be a broad agreement to deficit spend, increase spending, or increase taxes; no political party would be able to offer a free lunch to increase the chances of it getting elected. It should have an escape clause that allows Congress to override this with a 2/3rds vote from both houses. (This would allow for deficit spending in an emergency such as a war, or severe natural disaster). 

One other solution offers a way to lessen the impact that the two major political parties have by making it easier for third party (or independent candidates) to get elected. The current system is essentially rigged so that either a Republican or Democrat gets elected. This solution is to change our voting system to what is usually called an 'Instant Run-Off' voting system. 

Briefly, it works just the way a normal run-off works, except that each voter only need vote once. Run-off elections occur when it is required that the winner get at least 50% of the vote. If more than two people are running, it's possible that no one gets over 50%, so the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated, and a new vote takes place. This continues until a candidate gets over 50% of the votes cast. In an Instant Run-Off voting system, each voter indicates their preferences by numbering the desirability of the candidates from 1 to N, where N is the number of candidates. So it's very easy for the voter to do, and with electronic voting, it would be even easier, with the computer asking for the voter's number 1 choice, then asking for their number 2 choice, etc. It can be shown that this voting system is equivalent to the usual run-off system. (For more details see the Wikipedia entry on the Instant Run-Off voting system).

Other than the time saving aspects of this, it also allows a voter to actually vote for the candidate they prefer, and not whom they think might win. Currently, when voting, if you'd prefer a particular candidate you think won't win, you may vote for a candidate that you think can win, so that you're not 'wasting' your vote. With an instant run-off system, you can vote the way you desire, and if your candidate gets eliminated, your next highest candidate replaces the eliminated one, so your vote would not be wasted. This would help to loosen the vice that the two major political parties have on us. 

What we have now that complements the instant run-off voting system is that most jurisdictions allow a person to get on a ballot if he receives a certain number of signatures from voters in their jurisdiction. The number of signatures needed as well as any other requirements would be determined by law. Then all such candidates who qualify would be put on the ballot. The voter then ranks each candidate, and that's it. 

Further, and this is a simple but important modification to the current system, the government ought to stop indicating the candidates' political party on the ballots. There is nothing in the federal or state constitutions that require this, and not putting a candidates' party next to their name would require more knowledge on a voter's part – and that is a very good thing. For instance, there would be no more straight ticket voting, since candidates would not be labeled by their political party. 

Implementing these quite reasonable and eminently fair actions would go a long way toward reducing the need for and power of the current political parties. (Political parties could never be outlawed because this would violate the 1st Amendment). 

Can we have a good government without two dominant political parties? We certainly cannot with just one dominant party. This is typically true in communist countries which frequently require everyone to belong to the Communist Party. So let's pass on that. What about lots of non-dominant political parties? Some countries have this, and it could result in better outcomes for the U.S., but it's hard to make a convincing argument that this would substantially improve our government. 

How about having no political parties at all? Here we'd just vote for the person we think would do the best job (or rather we'd rank all of the candidates on the ballot). This, I think, would eliminate much of the divisiveness that we now have. 

Eventually, we could make the transition into a pure democracy, where the voters would ultimately vote on every potential law, including budgets. Essentially, this would be the same as having only ballot initiatives, with no legislative body having the authority to pass laws or budgets without the consent of the voters. (Still, the voters could not pass a law that would violate the Federal or State Constitution; this would protect individual rights from being violated by the majority). In doing this, we would be voting for ideas and not for individuals. 

I'm open for any ideas you might have about this, so please feel free to share them.

Tim Farage is a Senior Lecturer in the Computer Science Department at The University of Texas at Dallas. You are welcome to comment upon this blog entry and/or to contact him at tfarage@hotmail.com.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Are you a Republican or are you a Democrat? I Hope Not. (Part 1)

"No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems.  They are trying to solve their own problems -- of which getting elected and re-elected are No. 1 and No. 2.  Whatever is No. 3 is far behind". 

Thomas Sowell, Economist

Are you tired of all the divisiveness that exists in the current political climate? A divisiveness that has leaked out into many other areas of life: talk radio, churches, the media, dinner parties, etc. Are you tired of the mounting national debt we are adding to every day? See if you agree with what I believe to be a major cause of both the divisiveness and the increasing national debt. 

Let's start with the divisiveness by first pointing out what is NOT causing it. 

It is not caused by the natural disagreements that occur about particular policies. We disagree about all kinds of things, but they don't usually cause a national splintering. 

And it is not caused by our politicians, as individuals. The vast majority of them want what is best for our country. Thinking about the presidents during my lifetime, I believe this is true of all of them. So the divisiveness is not caused by politicians who are evil, or who want to secretly do harm to the United States. 

Also, it is not caused by us non-politicians, as individuals, because most of us want what is best for our country. 

So what is the main cause of the current political divisiveness? I believe it is due to the fact that we have only two major political parties. Here's why. 

The parties are built around getting elected. This seems rather obvious and rational. If you don't get elected, you can't do nearly as much political good as someone who did get elected. But there are a number of unfortunate sides to this. For example, many politicians from one party will tend to denigrate or even lie about politicians of the other party, hoping that this will improve their chances of getting elected. These attacks upon each other leak out to the rest of us who frequently parrot them thus creating divisiveness. For instance, former Republican Senator Bob Dole, an honorable man, once told President Bill Clinton that the opposition's job is not making deals but "making the president fail, so he could be replaced as quickly as possible." This type of political posturing is clearly not in the best interest of the country, but are the result of political parties doing whatever they can to get elected. 

Furthermore, take any topic related to the government such as; what should we do to combat terrorism? Or what should we do to improve the health of our citizens? There are not two sides to any of these issues – there are many ways to look at them, and many possible solutions to them. But because there are only two major political parties, the parties eventually have to come up with a position on each such question. Since the voters then have to choose between one of two policies, a divisiveness results. Usually, they will defend whatever policy their political party came up with, even if they might agree with some aspects of the other parties' position. 

So why does having two dominant parties result in a large national debt? 

Once again, it has to do with the fact that the political parties are built around getting elected.  Thus, many candidates and politicians tell people what they think will get them elected, rather than telling them what policies they think are best for the country. Most of us are naturally lazy, and would love to get a 'free lunch', especially if no tax increase is involved, or if the 'rich' will be paying for it (which never seems to happen, but it sounds good). So candidates like making political promises that putatively give us a free lunch or two. 

Thus, both major political parties commit us to a fraud; a fraud that we are so used to it doesn't even seem fraudulent anymore. And that fraud is deficit spending. In the federal government, there is no Constitutional mandate to have a balanced budget. So rather than having the courage to say that if we want a certain new program, or we want to increase spending on a program, we'll have to either cut spending somewhere else, or raise taxes, both Republicans and Democrats increase spending without usually doing either. But the piper must always be paid. 

This deficit spending will cost us in numerous ways. For instance, in 2009 the national debt is around $12 trillion. Since the US has about 110 million households, this comes out to each household's portion of the debt to be $110,000. No, you don't need new glasses, the arithmetic is correct. One way this affects us is that for the 2009 fiscal year, we paid $383 billion in interest on the national debt, about $3,500 per household. This is the 4th highest expenditure in the US budget. 

And the current administration expects to add $9 trillion more over the next decade. So by around 2020, the US national debt will be about $21 trillion. Then, each household's portion of the debt will be $200,000, and the interest on that will be $6,700 per household. Is this sound fiscal policy? No, it is fraud, and we and our children will pay for it.  And both of the major political parties have contributed to this.

Are there political candidates who ran for the presidency who actually said what they think is best for the country and did not tailor their messages to get more votes? Yes. Without giving names, it is safe to say that none of them became our president. I don't think that a candidate for the presidency can get elected if he or she says what they truly believe. 

What are some possible solutions? You'll have to wait for part 2 to find out.

Tim Farage is a Senior Lecturer in the Computer Science Department at The University of Texas at Dallas. You are welcome to comment upon this blog entry and/or to contact him at tfarage@hotmail.com.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Has Mexico Read ‘Atlas Shrugged’?

For those of you who haven't read one of the best fiction books of all time, 'Atlas Shrugged', here's a three sentence summary of a 1200-page book: Those individuals that use their talents to create goods and services that are of value to people should not be punished by their government or anyone else. Any attempts to reduce their company's profits or their income are wrong and counterproductive. Rather, society should be happy that such individuals are prospering, since their prosperity will improve the prosperity of all people of good will.

Today, many people are concerned that the gap between the rich and poor is increasing. And indeed it has been for a number of years. But what they fail to mention is that the poor and middle class are still getting richer (over any time span of 10 years or more). So there's no need to begrudge the Bill Gates', the Ross Perot's, the Sam Walton's or the owners of Google. It is much better to be happy that we live in a country where such individuals can prosper, and where the prosperity of the upper class has a positive effect on us all. After all, with fewer prosperous people, fewer new houses would be built, fewer new cars would be purchased, and the list goes on. And who builds these houses and cars? Those in the middle class and the poor.

(Of course, I am not referring here to a rich person or company that intentionally causes harm in some way, for example by defrauding others. Such should be punished according to the law. I am only referring to those people and companies of good will.)

Where does Mexico fit in to this? Mexico is one of the few countries that has a state-owned oil monopoly, named Pemex. Because it is run by the government, the usual problems occur: it has a huge and inefficient bureaucracy and a bloated workforce. And it doesn't allow private investment and profit sharing and thus does not attract the outside expertise that Mexico needs to increase their oil production. Thus their biggest oil field in the Gulf of Mexico is producing one-fourth of its 2004 output. This has been a financial disaster for Mexico. There is plenty of oil to be had. British Petroleum has just discovered new oil fields in the Gulf containing up to 12 billion barrels of oil. But President Calderon of Mexico has said that Mexico doesn't have the technology or the operational capacity to recover this oil by themselves. He has tried to change Mexican law to allow foreign companies to become involved, but with no success so far.

On the other hand, Brazil is enjoying an oil boom because it has opened it energy sector to outside investment. This is a win-win situation since the outside investors provide the technology and expertise to recover the oil, and they pay Brazil for the right to do so.

Any country that wants to prosper must allow their citizens and their companies, as well as foreign investors, the freedom to develop that country's resources on a profit sharing basis so that all can benefit.

Rather than begrudge a person or company that is successful and profitable, we should applaud it.


Tim Farage is a Senior Lecturer in the Computer Science Department at The University of Texas at Dallas. You are welcome to comment upon this blog entry and/or to contact him at tfarage@hotmail.com.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Dallas Cowboys and Math Phobia

If you like The Dallas Cowboys but you don't like math, this article is guaranteed to make you like math. Well, at least you'll see the purpose in being able to solve two simultaneous equations in two unknowns. Wait! Don't stop reading yet. By the time I'm through, it's possible that you might actually understand that some of the stuff you learned and (probably forgot) in Algebra II.

Here's what we're going to do. Given some stuff that's found in most major newspapers, we're going to determine something interesting about the score of The Dallas Cowboys vs. The Carolina Panthers game on Monday, September 28, 2009. If you're reading this after the game, keep reading anyway.

If you look in your paper for the games in the upcoming week, there's usually some information about each upcoming game. For instance, I'm writing this the Thursday before the game and here's what is has:

Favorite: Dallas
Underdog: Carolina
Today's Line: 9
O/U: 47

So what does this mean? The 9 is called 'The Line' and it means that Dallas is expected to win by 9 points. (To be technical, Las Vegas sets 'The Line' so that half the bettors bet on the Cowboys and the other half bet on the Panthers. The rub is that if you bet on the Cowboys, you'll only win if the Cowboys win by more than 9 points). So let's express this with a mathematical equation.

Let X = the Cowboys final score and let Y = the Panthers final score. Then 'The Line' predicts that:

X – Y = 9 (i.e. the Cowboys will win by 9).

Now O/U stands for Over/Under, and that just means that the total score of both the Cowboys and Panthers is expected to be 47 points. So if you bet the 'Over' you'll win your bet if the total score is more than 47 points. The math equation for this is fairly simple as well:

X + Y = 47

Let's put these equations together so we get what mathematicians call two simultaneous equations in two unknowns.

X – Y = 9
X + Y = 47

Now each of these equations separately has lots of solutions. For example the first equation has a solution X = 100 and Y = 91.

The second equation also has a number of solutions, for example, X = 30 and Y = 17.

But what if I asked you for a value for X and a value for Y that satisfy BOTH of the equations. If you found these values, you just solved two simultaneous equations in two unknowns. There are math techniques that allow one to solve these, but you can try to do so by guessing.

Did you get a solution? Not to worry, because here it is:

X = 28 and Y = 19. Note that their difference is 9 and their sum is 47, just what the equations called for.

Now you're going to ask, 'Who cares, and what does this mean anyway?'.

What this means is that the most likely score of the game is:

Cowboys 28
Panthers 19

Don't get me wrong. It is NOT likely that this will be the final score; it's just that this is the most likely score. So if you go to Vegas and had to bet on a final score, this score would have the best chance of winning.

Now don't pick up the phone and call your bookie. Vegas in the long run always wins, so you'll just be throwing your money away. I'm not much of a betting man myself, except that I irrationally spend $1 per week on a Texas Lottery ticket. I do play an occasional game of Texas Hold 'Em with my nephew and his friends, but I always win, so that really isn't gambling.

OK, back to the main point. By using what's in the paper, and being able to solve two simultaneous equations in two unknowns, you can predict the final score of any football game. How cool is that?

Now repeat after me, "Math = fun."


Tim Farage is a Senior Lecturer in the Computer Science Department at The University of Texas at Dallas. You are welcome to comment upon this blog entry and/or to contact him at tfarage@hotmail.com.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How to Transform the World

Transforming the world seems like an extremely ambitious task, but it is actually much easier than you’d think. You don’t have to be President, you don’t have to be rich and you don’t have to be famous. The only thing you have to do is to transform yourself, and anyone can do that. If each person transformed himself, the world itself would be transformed.

What does it mean to transform oneself? It can mean many things, but let’s stick to just two things anyone can do; two things that if we all did would create a world unrecognizable from the one we live in today.

1) Treat others as you would like to be treated.
2) Use your talents to make the world a better place.

That’s it. Were everyone to do this, God’s will would be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Quite simple isn’t it? Simple but not necessarily easy, but not necessarily hard either. It really adds up to doing a bunch of small things that will create a big difference.

Let’s look at 1) first. This is a tenet of every major religion, and is easy to understand. But keep it simple. When you’re at a restaurant, do you treat your waiter or waitress with kindness? Do you look them in the eye, and say something that will make their day better? If you’re an employer, do you treat your employees with respect, and pay them according to value they’ve contributed to your company? If you are married, do you say something nice each day to your spouse and children? These are the kinds of things that help to create happiness in the world.

Now let’s look at 2). Each of us has one or more talents that can be used to make the world a better place. Let’s say that you just graduated from high school, and are taking a job at McDonalds over the summer to earn extra money. Do the best job you can: smile and be cheerful to your customers, as well as your fellow workers. Make the best double cheeseburger that you can. These will lift the spirits of your customers, and the staff. And it might even get you a raise. If you are good at teaching, teach your students well by treating them respectfully, and by enhancing their joy or learning. You will create students who want to continue learning their entire lives. If you are good with numbers and accounting, make suggestions to your boss about how to increase your companies’ profit, while providing better goods or services to your customers.

It’s likely that the most important set of talents are possessed by good homemakers. Raising and teaching children well, cooking healthy meals, making a house into a home, gardening, etc., are all skills that would benefit a homemaker and her family. And a woman who uses these talents well does a tremendous service to humanity.

That’s it. Try this for 7 days, and if your life doesn’t change, I’ll give you your money back.


Tim Farage is a Senior Lecturer in the Computer Science Department at The University of Texas at Dallas. You are welcome to comment upon this blog entry and/or to contact him at tfarage@hotmail.com.

No, Aliens Have Not Been To Earth

We're still not sure about these facts, but our Milky Way Galaxy contains around a trillion stars, and there are estimated to be a trill...