Moving the political spectrum

The most important lesson I’ve learned in politics is not a complicated or profound idea. It’s pretty simple actually. But it has helped immensely in my understanding of how things work politically speaking. It’s been especially useful when I have had to come to terms with why my (usually left-leaning) ideas, despite being so obviously wonderful (at least to me), too often do not succeed when put to a vote of the electorate.

The lesson is this:

Positions near the extreme ends of the political scale, right or left, almost never get adopted by the electorate as a whole. It doesn’t matter whether an idea is the most incredible one to come along since humans discovered fire. It’s doesn’t matter by what objective criteria one can prove that the idea is superior to any conceivable alternative. It’s not going to be implemented as long as the position remains seated at the far edge of the political spectrum. Why? Because, almost by definition, positions near the extremes have the support of only a small minority of voters.

In many cases, this restraint is a good thing. It acts as a protection against passage of laws that go off the rails by moving too far in one direction or alternating laws that wildly swing back and forth like an out-of-control pendulum.

But what about those times when an extreme idea is actually a great idea? Is there really no chance for such ideas to be implemented?

We needn’t be that pessimistic or cynical. There is a way for such ideas to succeed.

To obtain success, rather than push for your idea in the short run, you need to go for a long run shift of the political spectrum towards your desired direction — so that your “extreme” idea is no longer at the fringes.

Superficially, this approach may not sound all that different from what I just declared as impossible. However, the two approaches are very different. And this gets us to the core of the “lesson.”

Think of it this way: Suppose you could assign a number to all political ideas, using a scale of 1-100, with 1 being most left and 100 being most right. Let’s further assume that the range of ideas up for debate at any point in time represents only a portion of the total scale. After eliminating any “lunatic fringe” notions, let’s say the current spectrum spans from 35 to 65.

Now let’s say your extreme proposal ranks at 38 on the scale. For people in the middle or to the right of the middle (50 or above), your idea represents a shift of 12 points or more. This requires too big a leap for center and right people to make in one election cycle, no matter how compelling your idea or how persuasive your arguments. As you’ll need support from at least some of these people for your idea to win an election, you have no hope of getting your idea into law. At least not today.

So let’s try something else. Let’s work over the long term of several election cycles to move the whole political spectrum in your direction, step by tiny step. With a combination of skill, luck and shifting demographics, let’s say you manage to move the spectrum 10 points in a dozen years. In this hypothetical example, this would mean that the spectrum now spans 25 to 55. Suddenly, your “38” idea isn’t so extreme any more. In fact, it’s only only two points away from dead center. Put it up for a vote now, and you have a good shot at winning.

This is precisely what conservatives have been working to achieve ever since Barry Goldwater lost his bid for the presidency back in 1964. And it’s what’s they have largely succeeded in doing ever since Ronald Reagan was elected president. Most political analysts would agree that that today’s political spectrum is “center-right” and far more right-leaning than it was back in the 1960’s.

This is partially why “liberal” has become almost a derogatory word, with few if any Democrats wishing to describe themselves with the term. In contrast, as evidenced by the most recent presidential primaries, Republicans eagerly scramble to see who can grab the crown of being hailed as the most “conservative.” When it comes to legislation, Democrats remain largely on the defensive, trying to hang on to the status quo, while Republicans keep pushing for more and more conservative legislation — often with great success.

But this pendulum swing to the right may be coming to end. It’s still too early to say for certain, but signs are sure pointing in this direction.

This is a year when Colorado and Washington passed laws legalizing recreational user of marijuana. It’s a year when Maine and Maryland joined an increasing number of states that have legalized same-sex marriages.

Tammy Baldwin, an openly gay woman, defeated former Gov. Tommy Thompson to become the next Senator from Wisconsin. A clearly left-wing Elizabeth Warren defeated Scott Brown in Massachusetts. In other key Senate races, Claire McCaskill and Joe Donnelly defeated Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock respectively, defeats for those that believe in “legitimate rape” that is “God’s will.” More seriously, it was a defeat for those Republicans who mistakenly believed that women (or men for that matter) didn’t care about such issues.

This election almost certainly signaled the end of a strong push for more restrictive immigration laws, as even the most conservative of Republicans come to terms with how their anti-minority positions are hurting them at the polls.

And, of course, Obama won re-election in an electoral college landslide, taking seven of the eight swing states. And he did so on a platform that strongly asserted an intention to raise taxes.

Here in California, Democrats have a super-majority in both legislative houses for the first time in decades. And Proposition 30, a critical proposal to raise taxes, passed.

Perhaps most significantly, in regards to the point I’m making about shifting the spectrum, “Obamacare” will now be the law of the land. The dangers of a Supreme Court overturn or a Romney repeal are gone. Obamacare is still a far cry from the “universal health care” that those on the extreme left would prefer. But take heart lefties. The spectrum has shifted. Not too long ago, Obamacare was considered so extreme as to have no chance of becoming law. And yet here we are. I predict that, in another few years, Obamacare will be viewed as the “middle” position in the debate — making universal health care seem far less extreme than it is today. This doesn’t guarantee its passage — not by a long shot. But it moves universal health care from impossible to doable.

And that’s how formerly extreme ideas become law. You don’t get the country to support an extreme position. You get the position to no longer be considered extreme.

A few years ago, who would have thought that a gay couple could get legally married in this country, serve marijuana instead of wine at the reception, and not worry about getting arrested? Times change.

Heck, not too long ago, who would have thought an African-American could get elected President?

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Jailbreaking’s Bleak Future

With the release of iOS 6 together with the recent JailbreakCon gathering, I figured it was time for me to once again take stock of where things stand on the matter of jailbreaking my iOS devices.

Over the years, I have been a strong supporter of jailbreaking. This has been both a matter of principle (I have never been entirely happy with Apple’s “closed” App Store policies) and practicality (there were numerous things I wished to do with my iOS devices that I could only do via jailbreaking).

In the past year or so, however, my enthusiasm for jailbreaking has waned.

The primary reason is because of the decline of “practicality” as a reason to jailbreak. Or, as the above linked Cult of Mac article calls it: “getting Sherlocked,” defined as “implementing a new idea only to have it copied by Apple later.”

In other words, almost all the reasons I’ve had to jailbreak my iOS devices in the past are now gone. They’ve been eliminated by the new features added to iOS over the years. I had this reaction after the release of iOS 5. My reaction has only gotten stronger with the release of iOS 6 — due to the addition of options such as Guided Access (which ended my need for the IncarcerApp jailbreak app).

The other reason I am down on jailbreaking (again, as I have outlined previously) is that the process of jailbreaking has become too much of a hassle for me to want to bother with it. In particular, after an iOS software or hardware update, it can be months before a reliable jailbreak arrives. Until then, I am forced to either postpone the iOS update or give up on the jailbreak. Too often, when a dependable jailbreak finally gets released, Apple is already preparing a new iOS update that will render the jailbreak useless. As I an unwilling to postpone major iOS updates, I typically wind up spending more of a year without a jailbreak than with one.

There also continues to be the risk that, as has occasionally happened to me, jailbreaking results in problems for some other apps on my iOS devices. A jailbreak attempt itself may go wrong, requiring a restore of the device to get things working again.

This is not a criticism of the people who work on these jailbreaks. I recognize that they are doing the best they can in combatting the obstacles that Apple puts in their way. It’s just that I no longer have the inclination to fight along side of them.

The lone reason I even consider jailbreaking anymore is to have root access to the drive — via utilities such as iFile. This access allows me to perform an assortment of activities that no App Store app will ever be permitted to do — from simply being able to view and edit all files on my iOS devices to sharing files over Bluetooth.

There are a few other jailbreak apps I would find helpful, but not helpful enough to overcome my resistance to the hassles of jailbreaking. I am no longer willing to rely on apps, no matter how potentially useful they might be, that I know I will have to abandon for months (perhaps forever) after each new iOS release. It’s a one-two knockout punch.

Another quote from the same the Cult of Mac article states:

There could come a day when Apple makes it so unfeasible to jailbreak that the community around JailbreakCon falls apart. But until that day, the future of jailbreaking is bright.”

I don’t share this “bright” assessment. I believe that “unfeasible” is just around the corner, if not already here. Even if an iOS 6 and iPhone 5 jailbreak eventually comes to pass, the iOS jailbreakers have never been more than a small percentage of total users. I am convinced that, with each new release of iOS, that number will shrink.

I still have my objections to Apple’s policies in this arena. The problem is that I no longer believe that jailbreaking will ever be the solution to these objections. Jailbreaking may continue to survive among a small community of users, such as those who attended and followed JailbreakCon. But its influence will be more and more marginalized going forward — until it reaches the point of irrelevance. I’m not looking forward to when this happens. But I believe it is what will happen. At some point, you have to recognize that the war has been lost and it’s time to move on. For me, that time is now.

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Apple’s crazy iPod nano

The iPod nano could be Apple’s answer to “How would a product evolve over time if its designers had a multiple personality disorder?”

Yesterday, at their media event, Apple introduced the latest in the line of iPod nanos. I’m sure the new nano is a fine device, a worthy successor to the previous generation. But come on!

One year the nano is long and skinny. The next year it looks almost like an iPod shuffle. A couple of years later it’s back to long and skinny. As if that is not enough, in between these flip-flops there was briefly a third basic shape: squat and fat.

Then there’s video support. Now you see it, now you don’t. One year, the nano doesn’t play video, the next year it does. Then video is removed. And now it’s back again.

Apple has never offered a clear rationale behind these shifts. They occur for no apparent purpose other than change for change’s sake.

Yet somehow, with each iteration, Apple wants to convince us that the latest offering is the “best design ever.” This is getting to be a really hard sell. Following the shifts in the nano feels more like watching a pendulum swing than forward progress.

I half expect that Apple will someday introduce a new nano as “the second, perhaps the third, most amazing nano we have ever made. The best one was three years ago.”

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Dissecting Apple Link Bait

As the result of a mention on Daring Fireball, I wound up reading a column by Jon Friedman titled “Get that Apple iPhone 5 out of my face.” That was five wasted minutes I will never get back again. The article amounts to a worthless piece of link bait. Here’s why:

Mr. Friedman says: “I am proud to say that I won’t rush out to get an iPhone 5.”

First off, note the not-so-subtle subtlety here: Mr. Friedman doesn’t say he won’t buy a new iPhone eventually. It’s just that he won’t rush out to get one. Maybe he will buy one a few weeks after the announcement. But rather than clearly say that, he phrases it in a more “controversial” manner, designed to make it sound as if he’s fed up with Apple.

Regardless, I’m glad for him and his decision. But where is the news is in this proclamation? “Wait and see” is good general advice for all buyers of any technological device, not something to be linked to a gripe about Apple. Unless you absolutely need a new iPhone in a hurry, or know you want the latest from Apple regardless of what it is, you’re almost always better off waiting until the dust has settled and you can be reasonably certain you won’t regret your decision.

Further, I don’t see why this is a source of pride for Mr. Friedman. It takes no skill, talent or wisdom to not buy an iPhone. Anyone can do it.

Mr. Friedman says: “I don’t want to hear about the presumably superior way I’ll be able to take and store photos and all the rest.” Yet, in the next breath, he adds: “Apple makes useful, shiny products that are more crucial to my existence than clean air or water. No argument here.”

Huh? Give his obviously favorable history with Apple products, why would he not want to at least check out the new iPhone? This makes no sense. If he is unimpressed with the new device, he shouldn’t buy it. It’s not as if Apple forces anyone to sign a contract for an iPhone before they can touch one. And, on the chance that the new iPhone turns out to be a truly revolutionary product, what’s the advantage to sticking your fingers in your ears and failing to find out the news?

Mr. Friedman says: “Fool me once, shame on you — fool me twice, shame on me. I already feel like I got taken by this company. I’m talking about my unsatisfying experience with the much-hyped Apple 4S model.”

“Taken buy this company?” What in the world is Mr. Friedman talking about? He bought a perfectly good iPhone 4S to replace an apparently broken one. Why is that foolish? As far as the reader can tell, his iPhone 4S has worked as advertised. The only feature that Mr. Friedman mentions as at all “unsatisfying” is that Siri did not live up to his expectations. That’s it. That’s the entire basis for his tirade of a column.

Give me a break. Very few people have been completely satisfied with Siri. That’s true. It’s also not news. At the same time, many people have been charmed by Siri and use it regularly. In either case, problems with Siri don’t make you a fool for having bought an iPhone 4S. I have not met one person who would agree with this assessment.

Bottom Line

Mr. Friedman has decided not to rush out and buy an iPhone 5. Personally, I don’t really care one way or the other what Mr. Friedman chooses to buy — unless there’s an interesting story behind his decision. There isn’t. There is virtually no useful information to be gleaned from his column.

Instead, we have an article lacking in logic that offers general and unsubstantiated condemnations of all Apple iPhones, the company’s marketing policies and anyone who is “foolish” enough to buy a new iPhone.

But offering useful information is not the goal of this article. Its main purpose is, via its provocative headline, to attract hits. This is a common practice these days. Given the high interest in Apple and its products, a controversial headline with Apple in its title is almost certain to attract more than the usual amount of attention. Unfortunately, if you follow all of the links to such articles, you’ll wind up reading a good deal of garbage.

That’s why I typically don’t write about such stuff. Why give these articles more attention than they deserve? Still, every once in a while, I feel it’s worth pointing out an especially blatant instance of this trend. That was my intent here. If anyone is being fooled, it’s not Mr. Friedman. It’s the people who mistakenly take the time to read his column.

Posted in Apple Inc, iPhone, Technology | 1 Comment