Ed Felten named Chief Technologist for the FTC
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Ed Felten named Chief Technologist for the FTC

Ed Felten, known to most as the brilliant mind behind the Freedom to Tinker blog, has been appointed as Chief Technologist for the Federal Trade Commission. This is one of those moves that makes too much sense for me to have ever believed that something like it would ever actually happen. Next thing you know Bruce Schneier will take a job with the Department of Homeland Security.

Where America is headed
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Where America is headed

I’ve read a lot of pre and post-election analysis, and I agree most closely with John Judis on what comes next for America:

Like the depressions of the 1890s and 1930s, this slowdown was also precipitated by the exhaustion of opportunities for economic growth. America’s challenge over the next decade will be to develop new industries that can produce goods and services that can be sold on the world market. The United States has a head start in biotechnology and computer technology, but as the Obama administration recognized, much of the new demand will focus on the development of renewable energy and green technology. As the Chinese, Japanese, and Europeans understand, these kinds of industries require government coordination and subsidies. But the new generation of Republicans rejects this kind of industrial policy. They even oppose Obama’s obviously successful auto bailout.

Instead, when the U.S. finally recovers, it is likely to re-create the older economic structure that got the country in trouble in the first place: dependence on foreign oil to run cars; a bloated and unstable financial sector that primarily feeds upon itself and upon a credit-hungry public; boarded up factories; and huge and growing trade deficits with Asia. These continuing trade deficits, combined with budget deficits, will finally reduce confidence in the dollar to the point where it ceases to be a viable international currency.

The election results will also put an end to the Obama administration’s attempt to reach an international climate accord. It will cripple its ability to adopt domestic limits on carbon emissions. The election could also doom Obama’s one substantial foreign policy achievement—the arms treaty it signed with Russia that still awaits Senate confirmation. In other areas, the Obama administration will be able to act without having to seek Congressional approval. But there is little reason to believe that the class of Republicans will be helpful in formulating a tough policy toward an increasingly arrogant China, extricating America from Afghanistan, and using American leverage to seek a peaceful settlement of Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Why is this going to be happen? Because America is a country that cannot be effectively led. I’m not just referring to the Tea Party here, either. I look at this country and see a majority who are unwilling to grapple with the scope of our problems, much less realistically evaluate potential solutions. I see one political party that is perfectly happy to indulge fantasies about the need for lower taxes and talk vaguely about cutting spending without proposing any spending cuts, and another that worried more over the past two years about positioning itself to minimize its losses rather than going all out to solve our problems when they were in a position to do so.

I’m out of patience for blaming politicians, though. We live in a country with deep problems that portend very bad things for the next generation, and yet voters under 30 didn’t even bother to show up. Old people showed up to vote for cuts to all government spending except the defense budget and the entitlements that benefit them personally, even though that’s the very spending that makes up the bulk of the budget.

We live in times that demand that we rise to the occasion, and yet as a country we are mired in apathy, delusion, and impotent anger. I really wish I could just stand at a distance and laugh.

The point of political advertising
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The point of political advertising

Seth Godin on political ads:

Political TV advertising is designed to do only one thing: suppress the turnout of the opponent’s supporters. If the TV ads can turn you off enough not to vote (“they’re all bums”) then their strategy has succeeded.

There are positive ads as well that are intended to encourage turnout from supporters, but there’s no doubt that he’s right about negative ads.

Here’s my strategy for choosing who to vote for: I never vote for crooks. If a politician seems to be a crook, I won’t vote for them regardless of party. Then I vote for the party whose goals align most closely with my own, regardless of the individual candidate (as long as they’re not a crook).

How the Web audience adapts to Web design
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How the Web audience adapts to Web design

I’m always interested in the ways people learn to browse the web more effectively. This learning seems to center around getting better at filtering out noise and getting straight at the stuff they care about. We have a constant battle between the human capacity to adapt and the desire for publishers and designers to get people to pay attention to ads and appreciate their design skills.

Jakob Nielsen has a new study that shows that people have gotten good at ignoring images that don’t add value what’s on the page. People have figured out how to identify and ignore images that are not “real.” It seems that the leading practitioners of Web design have already figured this out. Most advice these days seems to be to cut the fluff, and this study confirms that instinct is correct. People are getting better and better at filtering out non-meaningful things on Web pages anyway, so it’s better not to put them there in the first place.