Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The big trends

The life expectancy metric is obvious and clearly the best possible measure of health.

I would be happier with a wealth metric that better respected cost-of-living variations from place to place.  Clearly these numbers have been adjusted for inflation over time.  But a better metric would be something like percent of income spent on food.  The big trend would be similar, but the differences between the west and the rest would not be quite as large; I think.

If this video doesn't brighten your day then I have to question whether you have a heart and a brain.

The ways of the LORD

Bible study today included Psalm 128.  Verse 1 reads:
"Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in His* ways." (NIV)
I read two sources of blessing in this verse.  First, there is 'fear the LORD'.  Second, there is 'walk in His ways'.

Fear of the LORD is acknowledging that He exists, and that He acts in this world.  Fear recognizes His power and control over the universe.  Fearing the LORD is the beginning of a relationship with Him--you cannot have a relationship with Him if you deny that He exists.

There are real, tangible, benefits to a relationship with the LORD.  The LORD is active in the world, pouring blessings on those who love Him.

The ways of the LORD are attitudes, values, and behaviors; like the Judeo-Christian work ethic.  Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.  Hard work, balanced by rest and community involvement.  Compassion.  Honesty.  Investment and delayed gratification.  Servant leadership.  Responsibility.

These are all good things to believe in, strive for, and do.  Even independent of a relationship with God, justice, honesty, compassion, and the rest amount to the best possible philosophy for a person.  There are no guarantees.  And every person is fallible, and will fail to live up to their own ideals and values.  But of all of the possible targets that a person could aim for, this target is the one that will most often lead to the best results.

Even independent of God, this pattern of life just works best in this universe.  I believe that this is because He created this universe, and it just reflects His nature.  So His philosophy of life is the most in line with the way that the world works.

It is not what comes natural to a person.  We are all selfish and short-sighted.  We are all lazy.  We all seek to avoid unpleasant situations.  But when we can overcome our own natural impulses and live according to His principles, then we achieve better results.

I think that the natural consequences of this philosophy apply to groups as well as individuals.

There is a movement within the business community to do good.  I don't think this is a mere fad.  I think it is a long-term trend towards improving business ethics.  If you study the history of business then you will see that companies in earlier ages were significantly more corrupt than they are today.  Much of what we decry today as corporate evil is simply how business has been done for millenia.

Likewise, government has been trending away from evil demagoguery and towards real justice.  This movement has been slow and methodical (and uneven.)  Power in government has been getting more and more distributed for all of recorded history.  I look at this trend and see hope for humanity.

I had not put it into these terms until now, but Democracy 2.0 is an attempt to better implement the ways of the LORD within a secular society.  I am working to see the values of doing good gain a stronger hold in this world.  Justice.  Responsibility.  Honesty.  Community.  These are the cornerstones of Democracy 2.0.

I can't market it to a secular society as "the ways of the LORD."  But I can, I think, improve the lives of people by giving them better government.  I think I can win the arguments for the mechanics of this type of better government, based solely on the results that will come.

If I can improve peoples' lives, then I believe that I am fulfilling Jesus's instruction to care for those in need.

Am I abusing the text, or is this a valid application of this verse?

* The NIV does not capitalize the h in 'his', here.  I couldn't make myself type it that way, I had to capitalize it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The nuclear solution

(This post is entirely serious.  It might seem like sarcasm or irony, but it is not.  This is a serious proposal.)

I have a solution for the nuclear arms race problem.  It would require a more competent UN than we currently have, but I think that it is within reach.

The US should propose the following treaty at the UN (obviously it has to be fleshed out with more legalese and technical details.)

"Nuclear weapons pose a grave existential threat to humanity.  Any attempt to ban nuclear weapons is likely to start a new arms race using other weapons of mass destruction.  Therefore, we, the undersigned nations, commit to entirely eliminate all weapons of mass destruction and enforce verification methods to ensure that no more are produced.
* We will safely disable and destroy all weapons of mass destruction in our arsenal within one decade of this treaty being passed by the UN.
* We will closely safeguard all nuclear, biological, chemical, and other WMD components for as long as necessary until they can be safely destroyed.
* We will submit to any and all inspections by the UN's WMD inspection team, with the understanding that all inspection protocols apply to all nations equally.
* We will turn over to the UN WMD inspection team all credible information that we obtain about anyone attempting to build WMDs, including both citizens and non-citizens, both inside and outside of our borders.
* We will partner with all other nations to punish any nation that breaches this treaty.
- A nation that refuses to sign this treaty will be attacked and destroyed.
- A nation that refuses to submit to inspections will not be allowed to trade with any other nation.
- A nation that builds WMDs will be attacked in a targeted manner, to destroy the WMDs, the parties that created the WMDs (either private or public), and the government that allowed the WMDs to be created.
- A nation that uses WMDs will be utterly destroyed.
- A nation that lets a private party within their borders breach this treaty is guilty of breaching the treaty--a nation is responsible for the actions of the people within its borders.
- A nation that supports another nation in breaching this treaty will be equally guilty, and subject to all of the same punishments.
- A nation that plants false information about WMD production in another nation; or that supports WMD production within the borders of another nation, in order to get that nation in trouble; will be utterly destroyed."

I believe that this treaty would be effective if even a small number of nations ratified it.  The threat of conventional war, absent any other war-type provocations, would force other nations to ratify it and participate.  The date would slide for a while, as more nations ratified it and asked for more time to destroy their stockpiles.

If I were president, I would do this.

Double standard

If the Bush administration had done this then there would be marching in the streets.  But the Obama administration is given a free pass by the mainstream media.

The Center for Public Integrity is reporting that in the rush to hand out stimulus funds, the Obama administration took the expedient step of simply exempting recipient projects from most or all environmental regulations and oversight.

Duke Energy
Westar Energy


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The heart

Bible study this morning was over a couple of the songs of ascent.  The last verse really struck me as one of those Old Testament verses that had little spiritual meaning to the original audience--the Hebrews, but has deep spiritual significance for Christians.  Psalm 126, verse 6:
"The one who weeps as he walks along, carrying his bag of seed, will certainly come in with a shout of joy, carrying his sheaves of grain."
I'm sure that is all true in the natural, physical, obvious sense.  But how much more true is it in light of Jesus' metaphors about the harvest of souls.

It makes me wonder.  Shouldn't we be more heartbroken about the eternal predicament that sinners are trapped in?  Would our witnessing be more effective if we were genuinely sorrowed about the fate that awaited them?

I think of a scene with a weeping prophet, mourning and crying as he shares the gospel and his audience rejects it.  His emotions are in line with the reality he professes.  He should be heartbroken if he truly believes that these people will suffer eternal separation from our heavenly Father.

Friday, November 19, 2010

It is all part of the plan

Obama inherited a pair of wars that he didn't like.  He pledged to get out of Iraq, and then had to backtrack on that promise once he was in office and really came to understand the situation.  As Bruce Bueno de Mesquita explained in The Predictioneer's Game, if American forces leave Iraq then Iraq will quickly become a puppet of Iran.

Letting Iraq become an Iranian puppet would be disastrous--Iraq would start making plans to do the same thing to Saudi Arabia in order to get control of the oil money.  If you dislike Obama then you probably think that he is afraid of taking the blame for that failure.  If you like Obama then you probably think that he recognizes the danger and accepted the lesser of the two evils--leaving the troops in Iraq.  I suspect that both sentiments are mostly true.

Obama is embarrassed and frustrated that he cannot get the troops out of Iraq.  He probably doesn't allow himself the comfort that he didn't really understand the situation when he made the promise during the campaign. He probably regrets the promise, but recognizes that he had to make it in order to get elected.  But I'm sure that he is still looking for a way to finally fulfill that promise.

So he is selling a massive amount of arms to Saudi Arabia in hopes that a real fighting force in Saudi Arabia will be enough to counter-balance Iran and keep Iraq independent after the US forces leave.

It's certainly not a bad idea.  It could work, though I am skeptical.  But he gets points for creativity.

The Saudis must be looking beyond the withdrawal of US forces and preparing for confrontation with Iran + Iraq.  Saudi Arabia has recently been much more interested in paying others to fight their battles for them.  After all, our ongoing war on terror is really just the externalization of the Saudi Arabian civil war.

Why you shouldn't become an archivist

This site, Xtranormal, has a software that will take your spoken words and add a movie.  The technology is so simplistic that it is funny.  The argument is biting and hysterical, in large part because of the monotonous computerized voices.

Grammar and communication

English is a spoken language.  Maybe all human languages are spoken*.  Writing is just an afterthought.  It's a poor second cousin to speaking, when it comes to communicating.

When you speak to someone in person you are able to watch them and hear the intonations in their voice.  Humor, sarcasm, hyperbole, empathy, and a whole range of other emotions are carried by non-verbal queues.  The speaker winces and you feel her pain, even if her words don't communicate pain.

In technology terms, spoken communication is a relatively wide communication channel.  The words are one channel.  The body movements are another channel.  The facial expressions are another channel.  The pitch of the voice is another channel.  The pacing of the words is another channel.  And the listener is able to communicate back across many of those same channels at the same time.

When we write we are restricted to one channel, and we get no feedback.  You can't see the tears in my eyes as I type.  You can't see how long I spent formulating that sentence.  You can't see the emphasis I placed on one word.  And I can't see the look of recognition in your eyes that tells me that you are understanding what I am typing.

Grammar is our crude attempt to insert some of the information from the non-verbal communication channels into the stream of words.

Commas indicate incomplete thoughts.  Periods indicate completed thoughts.  Repetition indicates emphasis.  Brackets and dashes indicate asides for humor, emphasis, empathy, or any number of reasons.

I struggle with that.  I think in ideas, concepts, and frameworks.  I can work out streams of factual words.  I have a hard time expressing my doubts, questions, empathy, confusion, certainty, sarcasm, etc....  I can add many words to clarify every emotional nuance, but the word channel gets overwhelmed and lost in a sea of descriptive flourishes and asides.

I think that this is a large part of the reason why modern writing is so bloated and boring.

Read any good non-fiction book published before 1960 and you will get one complete thought in every sentence.  You won't get that same thought again in the next sentence, or in a sentence in the next paragraph.  The books are generally shorter, but they convey a massive amount of information and ideas.

Read any good non-fiction book published in the last decade and you can easily skip most paragraphs without missing any points.  Authors feel compelled to repeat themselves over and over again.  I think that they are often trying to add all of the non-verbal nuances.  But they are mostly just repeating themselves too much and becoming boring.

I need a new grammar.  Emoticons fail, but they are a step in the right direction.  I need a simple single punctuation mark to indicate sarcasm.  I need a simple single punctuation mark to indicate that I am in pain.  I need a simple single punctuation mark to indicate that I am skeptical.  I need a simple single punctuation mark to indicate that I am exasperated.  (sigh)

I think that this is part of the reason why humans learn better from real life stories than from dry lists of facts.  This is where I would like to go as a writer.  I would like to learn how to translate my dry list of facts into compelling stories.

Aesop was clearly one of the greatest geniuses ever, not just because of his wisdom; but because he communicated that wisdom in stories that people would read and could understand.  Amazing.

The nearest thing I have seen in the modern era is 'The Art of Profitability' by Adrian Slywotzky.  Adrian told the story of a mentor teaching business profitability to a student.  Easy to read and understand.

Fiction has its own mechanisms for conveying emotion.  I'm not proficient with those yet, but I understand them.  I actually think that fiction has become lazy, too.  Too many authors tell you what a person is thinking instead of showing you the non-verbal queues as they speak.  In my fiction writing I endeavor to never tell you what a character is thinking.  Characters act on their thoughts and feelings, even if the act is merely a wince.  That's how people are used to perceiving their worlds and understanding people.

The other side of good fiction is that it has the strength to tell the truth in ways that other writing cannot.  I was struck by this early analysis of Aesop, by Apollonius of Tyana:
"he was really more attached to truth than the poets are; for the latter do violence to their own stories in order to make them probable; but he by announcing a story which everyone knows not to be true, told the truth by the very fact that he did not claim to be relating real events."

* I'm not the first person to argue that language is spoken first.  I just can't find the articles I remember right now.  If you are very interested in that discussion then you can start with this article.  It argues that conventional grammar is applicable only to written words, and that spoken words need to be managed by their own separate grammatical rules.  Same problem, but opposite perspective and solution.


I like to write fiction because it forces me to think new thoughts.

I like to write non-fiction because it forces me to get to know the things I think.

I'm working on my other blog.  I wrote many of the simple articles.  I got to a set of articles that I could not tease apart.  It's becoming a short book.  (sigh)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Further proof of the corruption in Washington

CNBC is reporting a study by a group called The Center for Responsive Politics about the wealth of members of Congress.

Members of Congress saw their net wealth increase 16% last year.  Average Americans saw their net wealth drop 3% last year.

Members of Congress tend to hold large cap major market stocks.  Which seems fine until you look at the conflict of interest that this creates when these people attempt to legislate regulations and limitations on these companies (this is just some of the interesting companies from the top of the holdings list):

  • GE (one division of which was at the heart of the financial crisis, and was a major recipient of bailout money.)
  • Bank of America (bailed out)
  • Goldman Sachs (bailed out)
  • JP Morgan Chase (bailed out)
  • Wells Fargo (bailed out)
  • Citigroup (bailed out)
  • Morgan Stanley (bailed out)
  • AIG (bailed out)
  • Pfizer (healthcare)
  • Johnson & Johnson (healthcare)
  • Merck (healthcare)

This conflict of interest is virtually impossible to get rid of with our current system.  We certainly cannot expect Congress to fix this problem.  We will have to fix it for them.

This is a large part of why I am working on Democracy 2.0.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The line has been crossed

If this report proves to be true (and given the website that is breaking the report this might not prove out) then the TSA and Department of Homeland Security have way overstepped their bounds.  According to the report the new aggressive pat-down procedure includes a special addendum for people wearing baggy clothes.  A TSA agent will put their hand into your underwear and directly inspect your genitals.

If you don't scream bloody murder at this invasion of privacy then you deserve the Orwellian hell that you life is about to become.  This must end.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I've solved the federal budget crisis

But I still can't find a job.  (sigh)

The New York Times has an interactive budget-balancer puzzle.  I've tried my hand at it (you can click the second link to see what I selected.)
38% savings from tax increases.
62% savings from spending cuts.

The shortfall is $418 for 2015, and I raised $537.  The shortfall is $1,355 for 2030, and I raised $1,805.  I did that by evaluating each proposal on it's merits and selecting the ones that I thought were good ideas.  I didn't look at the amounts each proposal saved.  I would funnel the additional savings to paying down debt.

Unfortunately, I'm afraid that the current two-party system is designed to generate results that no one wants.  So we will never get a fair or reasonable result from Congress, no matter who is in charge of what.

Friday, November 12, 2010

I love Jon Stewart

Funny guy.  Good perspective.  I think he actually tries harder to be fair and balanced than any "real" news program out there.  This interview made me love him more.

Come on, Jon.  Get out on the field.  Let's set up that 24-hours new channel dedicated to fighting corruption.  You, me, and Bill Moyers.  And maybe Jon Stossel.

More in-depth on the mortgage fraud crisis

A new deep article in Rolling Stone takes apart the mortgage fraud mess (warning: potty mouth.)
"You've heard of Too Big to Fail — the foreclosure crisis is Too Big for Fraud. Think of the Bernie Madoff scam, only replicated tens of thousands of times over, infecting every corner of the financial universe. The underlying crime is so pervasive, we simply can't admit to it — and so we are working feverishly to rubber-stamp the problem away..."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The stove of the future

I can't tell who is making this.  It might just be a video mock-up.  But it is pretty cool.  I can't embed the video, so click to watch, and then read the rest of my notes:


This is a big step in the right direction.  Here's what they need to do in order to make a truly transformational product.

* Add a webcam to the vent-hood, looking down onto the stovetop.
* When you set a pot onto the stove, the webcam looks into the pot and identifies the contents (referencing a database that all stoves share.)
* On the little panel it asks you "is this fresh or frozen broccoli?" if it is unsure.
* If the pot is empty it asks you what you are heating the water for.  If the last time you heated water it was for spaghetti, then that is it's first guess this time.
* It asks you how you want the food cooked.  So for broccoli it would ask how tender you want it.  If it has done this dish for you before then it defaults to how you had it cooked last time.  If need be then it shows you pictures of broccoli in various stages of tenderness and lets you touch the picture you want.
* It asks you what time you want each pot done.
* If you have too little or too much water in the broccoli, then it tells you that, too.
* It has a voice that comes on and says "please come stir the broccoli", when it is time to stir.
* The webcam watches the pots and if something is about to boil over it turns down the heat.

Now that's a stove of the future.  All of the food arrives at the table at the same time and cooked perfectly.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

File it under funny

The Center for Tactical Magic has revived the ages-old tradition of placing curses on repressive and harmful organizations.  Their implementation is both hysterical and poignant.

Read it all the way through, especially if you have no background in witchcraft.

I do not believe in curses.  But I recognize the history and applaud the modern interpretation.  I'm almost tempted to stick a few of these, but I can't afford the gas to drive where the stickers really belong.

The church needs something like this.  I'll bet the Catholics have something that I'm just not aware of.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What works and doesn't in eco-living?

I ran across this interesting article in the LA Times about what works and doesn't work in practical terms when it comes to ecologically-friendly living.  This looks to be a case of the implementation details mattering as much as the big strategy.  But it's good information, if you are interested in ecological living.

Monday, November 1, 2010

An interesting counter-point on the economy

I ran across this blog post cum letter to Ben Bernake.  The author is a researcher for an investment house.  He believes that Mr. Bernake is now solving the wrong problem because his research indicates that employment is about to improve greatly.

The article is worth the read if you care about the economy or employment.  It's long, but only because he sites so many data points.