Sunday, December 27, 2009

Stones into Schools

I just finished Stones into Schools, by Greg Mortenson. After reading his book, I feel guilty that I took any of his time attending his lecture earlier this month. Let me just say: Good work Greg!

I've never been a big fan of being a tourist, and as a result have traveled little. I did have the opportunity to live in Brazil for 16 months and work in Switzerland and Wales for a few weeks. I enjoy getting inside a culture, spending time with real locals in their everyday habitats, as opposed to the scurrying through the usual tourist facade. That's why I enjoyed both "Three Cups of Tea" and "Stones into Schools". I was able to read about a real person having real experiences in Pakistan and Afghanistan (if they aren't real, then I must say Greg is very creative). I trust very few sources to give me the same insights provided by Greg.

We are usually bombarded by an endless supply of people over-selling us on stuff that we end up becoming cynical. There is this rare moment however when you interact with or observe someone and you realize that you are experiencing something real. This was one of the main reasons I married my wife. I had never met anyone so real. Next book: "Hold Me Tight"

Monday, December 14, 2009

Global Warming: Leave CO2 Alone!

I find it confusing when I see groups with strong positions in direct opposition to each other. Somewhere between the two extremes is some version of the truth, and I wish more than anything to discover the truth. With Global Warming I think I'm getting closer to the truth.

First, I think I should disclose that I have sympathized more with the Global Warming deniers. This comes partially from distrust and discomfort with phrases like "the debate is over", "everyone knows", "if we don't do something now...", etc. However, I decided that in my quest for truth, I needed to be willing to accept the truth, whatever it might be. I have therefore put on my objectivity hat making myself willing to accept the truth.

I've tried to make my analysis as simple as possible, since global climate is extremely complicated. My focus is on the question: Are humans increasing the emissions of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and are CO2 emissions causing the planet to warm up?

To save you time from reading this whole posting, I'll give you my conclusions up front, with the analysis after. I found some surprises.

Global Warming Conclusions:
  1. CO2 levels have been rising for the last 50 years.
  2. Humans may be responsible for CO2 rising (CO2 growth appears to match population growth).
  3. CO2 DOES act as a greenhouse gas with a warming effect (this was a surprise to me).
  4. The CO2 warming effect is much weaker than reported by the media.
Besides CO2, I think that humans are affecting the environment and we should be serious about monitoring what we are doing. Still, draconian measures are not yet justified.

CO2 levels have been rising for the last 50 years

The primary support for this are the CO2 measurements at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii [1] [2] These show a steady rise in CO2. Although this might be expected near an active volcano, other data from around the world show the same trend [3]. The data before 1959 are not as reliable, but an interesting study has been done by Beck [4].

Man may be responsible for CO2 rising

This required a little more analysis. I tried to find reliable data for CO2 from fossil fuel emissions and finally settled on data from the CDIAC [5]. The fluctuations in the fossil fuel data don't show up in the atmospheric CO2 data. The atmospheric CO2 data does look suspiciously like an exponential growth curve. The world population also follows a exponential growth, so this is included as well. It's reported that people exhale about 1 kg of CO2 per day (by my calculations, people breathing produces about 30% as much as fossil fuel use).
This chart (click to enlarge) shows the CO2 from fossil fuels, atmospheric CO2 concentration above 265 ppm (since we are talking about an increase over some supposed baseline), and world population. Both CO2 levels are scaled (normalized) to the 1959 population data. I purposely picked a 265 ppm baseline since it shows how closely atmospheric CO2 and population growth are correlated. The most important note is the fluctuations in fossil fuel consumption are not reflected in the atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

This chart of the Carbon Cycle [5] also shows that CO2 from fossil fuels is only a small part of the overall carbon cycle (Though there is no reference to where the numbers come from).

The chart below shows the fluctuations of CO2 concentrations derived from ice core data for the last 400,000 years. It would be interesting to know what caused these fluctuations (volcanoes, natural climate change cycles, etc.). These numbers are used to show that we are currently at the highest levels in 400,000 years, although it is disputed whether or not the ice core data accurately show peaks in CO2 occuring, this site attempts to dispel this as a myth [6].

CO2 acts as a greenhouse gas with a warming effect

Much of the "proof" that CO2 is a hazardous greenhouse gas comes from complex computer models of the climate. While I don't have the expertise to critique these models, I do have enough experience to be suspicious of the claim that CO2 is a problem.

I use a simple model. Consider a sphere just slightly larger than the earth and its atmosphere. If more energy goes into the sphere than comes out, the inside heats up. The energy going in is solar radiation and the energy coming out is reflected solar radiation and thermal (infrared) radiation from the earth. CO2 doesn't absorb the solar energy but it does absorb some of the infrared energy. See my post on Black Body Radiation for more info.

My suspicion comes for the fact that CO2 absorbs 100% of that thermal radiation (energy) over a short distance and increasing CO2 shouldn't result in more absorption.

An analogy for this is a car parked in direct sunlight. The car gets hot inside since the sunlight goes through the window and heats up the interior. The thermal or infrared radiation from the interior is then blocked by the window glass (glass is opaque in the infrared). Making the glass in your windshield slightly thicker is similar to increasing CO2 levels and unlikely make your car hotter.

Luckily we don't have to depend on my hunches or an analogy to show whether CO2 acts as a greenhouse gas. There is a computer model (MODTRAN) that has been well verified for computing the transmission of radiation through the atmosphere. MODTRAN can be run using a simple web interface that allows setting atmospheric CO2 concentration and surface temperature of the earth [7]. This is much better than many of the crude calculations I've seen on the Internet [8][9] The chart below shows the MODTRAN output for a Mid-Latitude Summer Day, 375 ppm CO2. The red line is the energy leaving the earth's atmosphere. The big dip in the middle (between wave numbers 600 and 800) is due to CO2 absorption.
The next chart is the same results with no atmospheric CO2. You can see the dip is missing, which means with no CO2, the energy is escaping the earth's atmosphere.
The next chart shows the difference in radiation leaving the earth for 375 ppm and with CO2 doubled at 750 ppm.
The total area under the blue curve is the radiant energy at 375 ppm. The red curve (mostly overlayed by the blue) is for 750 ppm. There are small differences at the edges of the CO2 absorption band. Though small, this does show that CO2 acts as a greenhouse gas, blocking some radiant energy.

The CO2 warming effect is much weaker than reported by the media.

Two questions need to be answered:
1. How much energy is trapped due to the CO2 greenhouse effect?
2. What is the effect on temperature?

Update Jan. 20, 2010: The IPCC refers to this as "radiative forcing" or "the change in net (down minus up) irradiance (solar plus long-wave; in Wm-2) at the tropopause AFTER allowing for stratospheric temperatures to readjust to radiative equilibrium, but with surface and tropo-spheric temperatures and state held fixed at the unperturbed values".IPCC definition of "Radiative Forcing"

I will show that the IPCC definition is flawed, since allowing the surface temperature to change significantly offsets the green house effect.

MODTRAN can be used easily to demonstrate this. The next step is to balance the radiative forcing (solar in, thermal out) while assuming solar irradiance is constant. As the earth heats up from the green house gas, it emits more thermal radiation, which is only partially absorbed by CO2. So the earth only needs to heat up slightly to create a balance.

The table below shows calculations for various CO2 concentrations. The Radiant Intensity is how much energy (Watts) is leaving the surface of the earth per square meter (300 Watts is the same as three 100 Watt light bulbs). The surface temperature was determined by running MODTRAN with various surface temperatures until the radiant intensity matched the baseline. As you can see, the temperature changes are not as severe as those predicted by the experts [10].


Atmospheric CO2 (ppm) Radiant Intensity (W/m2) Surface Temperature (Kelvin) MODTRAN
Predicted
Temperature Change due to CO2 (C)
Measured and Predicted (p) Temperature Change (C)
Baseline 265 281.093 290 -0.21-0.25 (m)
1959 316 280.371 290.21 0 0 (m)
2007 375 279.648 290.41 0.20 0.35 (m)
Double 750 276.791 291.27 1.062.5-3.5 (p)
Worst Estimate of CO2 in 2100 1000 275.598 291.64 1.43 4.4 (p)


Notes

  • My analysis does not address the hypothesis for the potential magnifying effects of CO2 (i.e., slight CO2 warming causes more water vapor in the atmosphere. The water vapor acts as a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2.). See The Climate Effects of Water Vapour
  • Besides energy transfer outside the earth's atmosphere, there is also transfer at the earth's surface (land and oceans). There are many potential processes here (geothermal, ocean warming/cooling, etc). The only human activity that I could think of was mining/drilling and then burning fossil fuels (converting chemical energy into thermal energy). I calculated this effect to be less than 1% of the greenhouse effect.
  • Melting glaciers and polar ice caps cools the atmosphere (Most likely by a very small amount).
  • Water (clouds and humidity) have a much greater greenhouse effect than CO2
  • Other gases (Methane, etc.) from human activities were not included in my analysis. If they are the real problem, than I think we should stop talking about CO2 and focus on emissions of these other gases.
  • Climate change addresses local variations, global warming addresses thermal energy being added to the whole system.
Cosmic rays the real cause of Global Warming?
Update Jan. 16, 2010: Climate experts divided on implications of brutal cold spells
Evidence of Arctic Warming
Update Dec. 2, 2011: The climate may not be as sensitive to carbon dioxide as previously believed
Update Oct. 14, 2012: Global warming stopped 16 years ago
Update Oct. 17, 2012: No, Global Warming Hasn't Stopped
More info at the Petition Project

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Greg Mortenson in Person

Thursday night I went to hear Greg Mortenson speak. I was moved by his book, "Three Cups of Tea" and I luckily got tickets before they sold out. He shared many great thoughts, which I should probably share, but I've been a little obsessed by Global Warming (trying to understand it) and Greg mentioned something that started me thinking.

I will point out one thing: Greg is passionate that educating girls is the key to bringing peace to the world. It makes sense. There are many reasons and statistics to back up his stance. I agree with him 100%.

Greg said “In the holy Koran when a young man goes on a jihad he first has to get permission and blessing from his mother. If a woman has an education she is much less likely to condone her son to get into violence or to terrorism.”

This is the point I want to focus on. He said that Islamic extremists (Taliban, Al Queda) are going into the illiterate, uneducated villages to recruit since mothers elsewhere are getting too smart to give their sons permission to become terrorist.

So what could this possibly have to do with Global Warming?

First start by looking at the Climate Conference in Copenhagen where they are proposing that wealthy countries send billions of dollars to poor countries to help them deal with the effects of climate change.

While it seems like the right thing to do to follow this solution, I believe the backers of this solution are worst then the terrorist recruiters. It is becoming more and more difficult to squeeze money out of our prosperous country, because we are getting too smart. So "they" get smarter and design a plan to send wealth to impoverished countries. These countries are like the illiterate villages, where it will be easy to siphon off some of the GW reparation money.

I know it sounds a little like a wacko conspiracy idea, but who honestly thinks that billions of dollars will in any way be effectively spent to deal with climate change?

Here's my question to anyone that thinks a lot of money can do any good:

If I gave you $1 million, could you do something good for your community, without wasting a penny? (Most people answer yes or probably).
How about if I gave you $10 million? (Most people realize that it's a little harder to track this much money)
How about if I gave you $1 billion? (There are plenty of examples of how hard it is to insert this much money into a community to help them. Usually it results in unintended consequences like what happens to lottery winners).

Oh, and here's an interesting report from Copenhagen

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Black Body Radiation and Global Warming

Here's a quiz:

You hear about a new band called "Black Body Radiation" and you think:
a) Just another rock band with meaningless long names like "Red Hot Chili Peppers", "Bare Naked Ladies", "Stone Temple Pilot", "Nine Inch Nails"
b) A racially motivated name
c) A name based on some obscure sexual innuendo
d) A name created by science nerds

The answer of course would be d). Any other answer would be an amazing coincidence.

I remember learning about "Black Body Radiation" and scratching my head at the name. Surprising I ended up spending 10 years of my career focused primarily on this subject. So what is it?

First, I need to explain how things heat up.
  1. Touch something hot (also called "conduction"). The heat moves from the hot thing to the thing touching it.
  2. Blow hot air (also called "convection"). This is where the convection oven gets its name.
  3. Stand by the radiator (also called "radiation"). Invisible light called thermal or "infrared" radiation is put off by warm objects. This is where "Black Body Radiation" comes in.
The hotter an object, the more thermal radiation it puts out. You can test this by putting your hand close to your face with your eyes closed. Without touching your face, you can feel the heat from your hand. This is the radiation part of "Black Body Radiation".

If I take two pieces of metal and polish one to a mirror finish and paint the other with black paint, the black piece will feel hotter if I put my hand near it (without touching). This is the "Black Body" part since its black and any thing solid is called a "body". The reason scientists like "black bodies" is because then they can use mathematical formulas to figure out exactly how much energy is being radiated.

Here's an online calculator (Not the best).

Another interesting thing that happens as things heat up is that the "peak" of the thermal energy gets closer to visible light. The first color is a red, thus the term "red hot". As it gets hotter, it gets orange, then yellow. Here's an online viewer for the color of hot objects. As you slide the temperature back and forth you can see how the color goes from black (invisible radiation) to various colors. The temperature input is in Kelvin. If you want to convert it, type "convert 500 K to F" in google and it will do it for you).

A 1 sq. ft plate (black of course) at room temperature (70 F) emits (puts out) about 12.5 Watts.

To double the energy emitted from the plate to 25 Watts, the temperature has to be 170 F (40 degrees below boiling).

To equal a 100 Watt light bulb, you would have to heat the 1 sq ft plate to 430 F and it will start to glow a faint red. This is just below the 451 F required to burn books! (Just ask Ray Bradbury).

A wall (at room temperature) 8 ft tall and 10 feet long would put out 1000 Watts. In a room 10 ft by 10 ft (4 walls, floor and ceiling), 8500 Watts are being emitted! That's equal to 85 100 Watt light bulbs.

Now for Global Warming. The earth emits from its surface roughly 100,000,000,000,000,000 (100,000 trillion) Watts. If the earth heats up just 1 degree F, it will emit an additional 600 trillion Watts. What that means is the earth is losing this energy, or in other words the cooling power is almost the same as the CO2 greenhouse effect.

More on this later.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hope and Faith

Which is better, hope or faith? I read an article recently that actually tried to answer that question (I don't have the reference). They argued that hope is better since it usually means actually doing something (implying that faith involves no action).

I've thought about this a little since and here's my view on hope and faith. I'll use a story to illustrate. The characters are Bob Hope and Faith Hill (No relation to famous people, just convenient names). Bob is most interested in results and the actual outcome. How he gets this isn't as important. Faith is more likely to conform to the rules. She spends a lot more time worrying how she does things than she does worrying about the results.

Bob Hope and Faith Hill are enrolled in the same class and are taking a test today.

Bob: "I sure hope I pass the test".
Faith: "I have faith that I will pass the test".
Bob: "How can you know that you'll pass the test? You and your blind faith! I heard this test is hard!"
Faith: "I didn't say I 'know' I'll pass the test, just that I have faith that I will. I took the prerequisites for this class, I go to class everyday, I've taken good notes, and I followed the study guide. In our study group, we had copies of last semesters test and we were able to go through it. Mike helped explain a couple of ideas I didn't quite understand from Chapter 1. We were able to help Steve and Karen with Chapter 2. Mike was sick when we covered Chapter 3, so we helped him and now he's up to speed.".
Bob: (sigh) "I sure hope I pass the test."
Faith: "I sure hope you pass the test too, Bob."

This little story is of course lopsided. All hope isn't this empty and true hope can be a great motivator. When it comes to long shots (making the Olympic team), hope is the way to go.

Faith is still good, but sometimes faith can be blind. When it comes to religion, faith is based on many things that can't even be seen (Heaven, God) and so religious faith is considered by many to be "blind faith". However, religious faith is also similar to preparing for a test. Religion provides proven traditions, a system of moral guidelines, and the support of a group that share common goals and values. This is all good as long as the goals are along the lines of "build and strengthen" and not "conquer and destroy". Religion can be powerful, so if you pick one, be sure to pick a good one.

I have hope that you'll understand what I've written; but not faith (faith requires a little more effort :-)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Double Standards

Tonight I listened to part of Pres. Obama's speech about sending more troops to Afghanistan. I also listened to several commentaries on the radio while driving home this evening.

I was surprised to find that I agreed with the President. I am a non-interventionist and I am proud that I didn't fall into the same "somebody's got to pay for 9/11" trap that many Americans seemed driven by when we went to war with Iraq.

What I found interesting was the sharp criticism from conservative commentators. If Pres. Bush had done the same thing (carefully evaluate, determine a strategy, and then commit troops) I'm sure he wouldn't get the same vehement criticism. A double standard.

On the other hand, if I remember last years debates, Mr. Obama claimed the "surge" didn't work, and yet it sounds like he is taking the same approach. A double standard.

I would love to see the press, commentators, politicians define a standard and stick to it, or at least acknowledge that they were previously in error.

Maybe someone will read all of my blog postings and point out potential double standards. (I put this last sentence in to immunize myself from the double standard bug that seems more widespread than H1N1).

Sunday, November 29, 2009

I Can't Drive 55

I just got back from vacation. I kept humming the Sammy Hagar song "I Can't Drive 55" as I drove 75 mph. On one section of the road there was an 80 mph "speed limit test section". I was wondering how they test this. Maybe they count the number of accidents to see if it makes a difference.

I still remember getting a speeding ticket years ago on this same road. I was the third car in a row of cars in the slow lane. The highway patrolman only stopped me. If I remember correctly, the ticket was for going 18 mph over the speed limit (73 mph). I think the spot I stopped is now marked with a 75 mph speed limit sign. I've always been ahead of time.

I decided to research a little the old 55 mph speed limit. I thought it was Jimmy Carter that pushed for the lower speed limit (he was a big preacher about the energy crisis). I was surprised to find it was the previous liberal president, Richard Nixon. He actually wanted a 50 mph speed limit!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

CNN, Glenn Beck, Connect the dots

In July I wrote about how I thought Glenn Beck focused only on negative news and not positive news here.

This morning I turned on the T.V. to watch a little news. The first station to come up was CNN. Fedricka Whitfield was the news anchor. Occasionally I watch different networks to get different viewpoints. It was interesting the stories:

1. A CNN poll indicates that a majority of Americans are in favor of the public option for healthcare.

2. A judge in a court case found the Army Corps of Engineers liable for the Huricane Katrina flooding.

3. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat Senator from Louisiana announced her support to vote the health care bill through committee.

My apologies to Glenn Beck, who always says to connect the stories. That idea he's right on. All three of these stories are connected, but CNN missed it. Thanks to my new, favorite news aggregator Instapundit.com (sorry Drudge), this news story that I read on Thursday makes the connection. Harry Reid's changes to the healthcare bill that vaguely include “certain states recovering from a major disaster...during the proceeding 7 fiscal years” apply to only one state: Mary Landrieu's Louisiana. That's a pretty expensive way to buy a vote. Since American tax payers are now on the hook for Katrina, is the Army Corps of Engineers off the hook?

I wonder how CNN worded their question for their poll: "Would you rather have a public option with the healthcare plan or move to Pakistan and have their healthcare?"

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Solution for the US Post Office

I was getting our mail after work and as usual, most of the mail was junk. So as I walked back to our house, I thought of a solution to the post offices budget woes.

Raise the bulk rates on junk mail.

This would result in some combination of two things :

1. Increase revenues for the post office due to all the junk mail.

2. Decrease the amount of junk mail thus decreasing the burden on the post office. This would most likely reduce cost (Think how many fewer airplanes and big trucks need to cart the junk mail around the country). There would also be an environmental benefit due to creating less trash in our landfills and reducing carbon emissions.

Just a thought.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Nonsense

I'm currently reading "Nonsense: Red Herrings, Straw Men and Sacred Cows: How We Abuse Logic in Our Everyday Language" by Robert J Gula. I think this book should be required reading for all high school and college students. Anyone in the media or politics should be required to read it every year. At least this is the conclusion I've come to after reading only 1/3 of the book. Here some of the "abuses" and examples of how they are happening today.

Emotional Appeals

Appeal to Pity (argumentum ad misericordium) - Instead of giving carefully documented reasons, evidence and facts, a person appeals to our sense of pity, compassion, brotherly love.

Example from News: We need to provide health care for all Americans, end discrimination against pre-existing conditions and stop insurance companies from dropping people who are sick. "No one should go broke because they get sick". [1][2]

Problem: Limited (or no) facts or evidence that this is happening.

Appeal to Guilt - You have it good, so shouldn't you help those less fortunate

Example from News: "We need to spread the wealth"[1 at 4:42]

Appeal to Fear - "If you don't do X then Y will happen (and Y is bad)"

Example: Pass TARP or else banks will fail and economy will crumble, pass the Economic Stimulus or else unemployment will rise, pass Cap & Trade or else we'll destroy the earth, "...
health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year." [1]

Appeal to Hope - "If you do X, Y may happen. Therefore, if you want Y to happen, do X (and Y is good)". Example: [1]

Appeal to Sincerity - The person presenting the argument seems very sincere, therefore we should trust them. Example: [1]

Propaganda

Appeal to Status/Bandwagon -
  • You can gain status by making this choice
  • Anyone of importance is doing the same thing
  • "Everyone is doing it"

Example: every poll, pollster, and [1 at 2:03]

Repetition - The theory is that if you say something often enough, people will eventually believe it.

Example: Google Search -

  • "global warming facts" -> 35,500,000 hits
  • "health care reform needed now" -> 21,700,000 hits
  • "obama hope and change" -> 108,000,000 hits
  • "economics stimulus package new jobs" -> 10,200,000
Oversimplification - Takes a complicated issue and looks at a from a narrow viewpoint.

Examples:
  1. Global Warming is caused by man made carbon dioxide emissions. Natural cycles, solar variations, ocean CO2 absorption and emission, etc. are all ignored.
  2. Our current health care crisis is caused by greedy insurance companies (specifically executives). Poor health habits, over regulation, and many other issues are basically ignored.

Name Calling - Use names with strong negative emotional associations for people you don't like or who oppose your position. These terms should be first defined and then evidence should be provided.

Examples:
  1. Tea Party protesters are "Un-American, Astro-turf, teabaggers" (Until April 15, 2009, I never new that teabaggers was a sexually obscene term).
  2. If you don't agree with Obama, you are a racist.

It's late so I'll have to comment on the Chapter 6, Irrelevance another time.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Purple is Good

Several years ago my company had an all hands meeting. At the time, we had grown so large that there wasn't a room or other space large enough to hold the meeting. The solution for this problem was across the street, at the local mega church. We already had an agreement to share parking lots for overflow, but letting us use their meeting hall was a very generous offer.

On the day of the meeting, we all walked in mass across the street. I listened to others conversations as we walked for this interesting event. One surprising comment made by an older man was that this would be the first time he ever stepped into a church.

The corporate vice-president was visiting to give the presentation. The one thing that stands out is a chart he put up. It had a grid of colored boxes, each apparently representing a different area of our business. The colors were red, yellow, green and purple. I guess when you're put in charge of a very large organization, it's hard to know the details so you need a high level summary.

The vice-president could apparently tell that we were confused by this chart so he explained to us "Purple is good". I chuckled quietly and was a little embarrassed for him.

It reminded me of a joke I once read:

The president asked the director for status on a project.
  • The director asked the manager.

    • The manager asked the lead.

      • The lead asked the engineer.

      • The engineer replied "This project is crap!"

    • The lead thought, "I can't tell that to the manager", so he toned it down a little and said "This project is cow manure!"

    The manager thought, "I can't tell that to the director", so he toned it down a little more and said "This project is fertilizer!"

The director thought, "I can't tell that to the president," so he toned it down even more said "This project promotes growth".

Purple is good.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fun Theory

How do you change behavior?
1) Pass Laws
2) Tax bad behavior
3) Give financial incentives for good behavior.
4) Threaten physical harm or go to war to change behavior

This is one of the best ideas I've heard about in a long time.
5) Make it fun


Share/Save/Bookmark

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Blink

Blink is the 3rd book I've read that was written by Malcolm Gladwell (The others were Outliers and Tipping Point).

It was another interesting viewpoint on the world by Malcolm. This book talks about how our first impressions can be very powerful. The example that stood out to me was a Greek Statue purchased by the J. Paul Getty museum. It was in incredible shape, so they had scientists examine it and attorneys follow the paper trail to verify its authenticity. When an antiquities expert saw it (unfortunately after it was purchased), he immediately knew it was a fake. He couldn't put his finger on it, he just knew it (and ended up being right).

Blink also presents examples of how this instinct can be clouded. For example, by asking well chosen questions, researchers can change the behavior of their research subjects. My personal example of this was when my tennis partner asked if I breathe in or out when I serve the ball. My next serve was disastrous. The wrong part of my mind was engaged and upset the delicate balance of mind and body.

Now to tie this into politics. Many Americans are having "Blink" like experiences with the changes going on. They know out of control spending can only lead to trouble. We really should be paying attention to these "Blinkers", especially our senior citizens.

Also, politicians and other power brokers know that a careful presentation of their agendas can cloud the "Blink" instincts. The result is that many people are sucked into their propaganda and support their campaigns.

I recommend reading Blink.

Share/Save/Bookmark

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cool Robot!

This is a pretty cool robot. Very innovative!

Think Stretch Armstrong with a brain.



Link

Share/Save/Bookmark

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Best Healthcare Solution I've Heard of

Whole Foods market is using risk management and free market principles to cut health care costs. In risk management, you allocate resources based on the probability of something bad happening and the impact or severity of the consequences if it happens.

For example:

Cancer is low probability, high impact.
The common cold is high probability, low impact.

High deductibles basically cover the first (Cancer) and make you pay for the second (common cold).

Low deductibles basically cover both, but make you pay for it up front in higher premiums.

Therefore, every time someone gets health care and says to themselves, "Go ahead and do X, my insurance will pay for it", what they are really saying is "Go ahead and do X, all the people with low deductibles already paid for it". This increases demand and results in higher costs.

Additionally, when you use your insurance, health care costs more because the insurance company charges additional fees.

The best deal is high deductible insurance: you're not paying the insurance company for your low risk care AND you're not paying for all the frivolous low risk care that everyone else is getting.

Whole Foods' approach is to have a high deductible ($2500), which greatly reduces cost, and then put the savings in an individual employees account which they manage themselves.

The employees then decide how best to use the limited resources of their spending account using free market principles.



Share/Save/Bookmark

Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama, the Prince of Peace?

Yesterday I watched an interesting video by Andrew Klavan on "Is Barack Obama Jesus Christ?". At first I thought it would sacrilegious, but I ended up entertained.

Here's my version of the points he made of how Obama and Jesus are the same.

Associating with undesirables

  • Jesus associated with "publicans and sinners", or basically "undesirable" people.
  • Obama associated with "undesirable" people as well: Reverend Right and Bill Aires.

Free Healthcare

  • Jesus promoted free health care by healing the sick.
  • Obama is also for free health care, he just wants to raise taxes to pay for it.

A Debt that can't be repaid

  • We all are in debt to Jesus, as he paid for our sins and there is no way for us to repay him.
  • Obama is creating such a huge debt that there is no we can pay for it.

Predictions of the Prince of Peace

Andrew Klavan missed one, since the news only came out today about Obama getting the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Before Jesus was even born, there were prophecies of him coming as the prince of peace.
  • Before Obama even did anything, he was given the Nobel Peace Prize.

Share/Save/Bookmark

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

My Christmas Wish - To be a Jedi

I found something for my Christmas list. I have to say I was shocked since I thought that Jedi skills were pure science fiction. I've heard of researchers developing technology to help disabled people use their minds to control computer cursors, etc., but I never expected this technology to be available as a game.Click Here.

These games are actually very simple. How much you concentrate moves a ball in one dimension (up or down). I immediately imagined my future grandchildren wearing game controller "caps" to control complicated games. Seems far fetched? Here's a couple things to think about:
My grandmother couldn't figure out how to use a microwave oven. Now we use microwave ovens, computers, cell phones, MP3 players, etc. I can do most of these things better than my parents and my children are better at using some technology than I am.

My first computer game, Pong, had a controller that only controlled one dimension (You turned the joystick left and right). We loved it and would play for hours. Today's controllers are much more complicated and kid's are experts.

So will our children's children develop crazy mind control skills?

Share/Save/Bookmark

Sunday, October 4, 2009

10,000 Hours

I have been a little bit busy lately. I spent two days last week at medical facilities for my wife's kidney stone removal (Wednesday) and my son's concussion from a basketball game (Thursday). I started thinking that universal health care sounded like a good idea. This was just before asserting myself to avoid my son being sent to the emergency on an ambulance, since their CT Scan machine was broken and they couldn't get authorization from my insurance company. It all ended nicely and I rewarded the urgent care staff with $2.40 worth of doughnut holes. Their response: a lot of smiles and a "You can never go wrong bringing nurses treats".

I had plenty of time to think about during my wait and I realized that while universal health care is a great idea, I have no confidence that our Federal Government can accomplish it effectively. The main reason is that our U.S. Constitution makes it very difficult for them to administrate such a complex enterprise. There are good reasons for this.

So why is this blog titled 10,000 hours? I'm finishing Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers" (I recommend it!). One of the ideas in his book is that in order to master a complex task (i.e., become a top musician, athlete, etc.) a person needs to spend about 10,000 hours. These were his findings:
  • Top violinists at a performing arts school had all practiced or performed roughly 10,000 hours. The "B" Violinists had practiced 8,000 hours and "C" group about 6,000 hours
  • Professional Canadian Hockey players had played about 10,000 hours
  • Bill Gates had spent roughly 10,000 hours writing software before founding Microsoft
  • The Beetles had performed about 10,000 hours before making it big (I always thought that Ed Sullivan just plucked them from Liverpool).

Some of these cases involved very fortunate circumstances: what month you were born in; going to a private school that happened to have access to the latest computers and living within walking distance of a university that had the same; getting a gig in Hamburg that had you performing 7 days a week.

"Outliers" also talks about the benefits of hard work and spending extra time.

Last night, I watched the General Priesthood broadcast for the LDS church. One of my favorite speakers, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, talked about being a refuge in Frankfurt, Germany after World War II. He shared two important principles he learned from this experience: Work Hard and Learn. You can listen to his talk here.

Share/Save/Bookmark

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Insta-Editorial

I think my favorite aspect of reading news articles on-line is the reader comment section. I'll read an article, feel a little slighted by the author's spin on the news, and then I read the comments. Sometimes it's like road rage on the internet superhighway (sorry to use a worn out metaphor). I think I am getting skilled at distilling the comments into the general consensus of the readers. This involves toning down some of the "emotionally charged" words. For example:
  • "kool-aid drinker" - someone who isn't taking a balanced view.
  • "Dumb-o-crat" and "Retard-icans" - the people responsible for all our problems or who refuse to fix our problems or anyone who doesn't agree with the commenter.

Sometimes the story isn't so polarizing, yet the comments are still interesting.

For example, I found an article on the finite supply of willpower to be very interesting. Basically, our physical, mental and emotional efforts tax our energy resources. The comments included:
  • How to avoid the drudgery of boring jobs by wearing an IPOD.
  • How the Military trains you to push yourself even when you run out of energy.
  • A discussion on labor saving ideas
  • Eating candy to cope, but it makes you fat.



Share/Save/Bookmark

Thursday, September 24, 2009

First Class

I've flown First Class exactly four times in my life. It's amazing how after flying First Class, you actually feel entitled to it. You realize how inhumane flying coach is and somehow you justify that you deserve better.

The first time was on my honeymoon. My wife and I naively got to the airport only a few minutes before boarding. Frontier Airlines had gone out of business the day before and our airline, Continental, was trying to accommodate all of the Frontier customers. The man in front of us was quite belligerent to the person boarding passengers. He was irate that his party couldn't sit together. I feared that my new bride and I would be split up (we couldn't stand being apart). Our turn came and we meekly approached the desk. We were shocked when we were told "We have two seats in First Class. Will that be okay?" Of Course!!! As poor college students, we felt very pampered. I remember having the best airplane food I've ever had!

The next three trips were business trips. The second trip I was delivering a proposal and our company had a policy that if you flew round trip coast-to-coast, the return trip was First Class. I think I slept the whole trip (which was more comfortable since it was First Class).

The third trip was a fluke. Somehow the secretary booking my flight got a free upgrade. I was flying to a conference with coworkers. I was a little embarrassed as the more senior coworkers walked pass me on their way to coach.

The fourth trip was the most amazing. I had three trips to Europe planned. Our company had a policy of flying us Business class overseas. On the second trip, I started worrying when my traveling companion didn't show up at the terminal. I asked the boarding agent if he had checked in. It turns out that he had checked in and because he flew so often, he was a platinum/gold/diamond or whatever flier. This gives you the special privilege of waiting in the executive lounge (I never knew these lounges existed before this, though I was able to use them in Germany since the lowly Business Class fliers got to use them). The agent then mentioned that my friend was flying First Class and he noticed I was flying Business Class. He asked me if I would like to sit with my friend. I think I asked how much it would cost. Flying First Class from Los Angeles direct to Europe is wonderful! There was a fresh rose at every seat, the flight attendant was gracious, the food gourmet, the refreshments continuous (swiss chocolates). We each had our own entertainment unit (you pick the movie). They had a choice of light sweater, light blanket or heavy blanket. The seat converted to a bed - completely flat! Everyone deserves First Class like that!

I think that Congress should pass a law that ALL airlines must provide First Class seating for everyone. Everyone should be able to visit relatives, historical sites, etc. and not feel like cattle. We can call it Universal First Class -the Public Option.

By the way, my last trip to Europe I was able to bring my wife. I had a choice: pay about $3500 to fly her Business Class with me or pay $600 to fly her Coach. We chose the $600 Coach ticket. It didn't seem right to fly Business Class with her back in Coach so I downgraded to Coach (it was terrible). I pointed out to our travel department that I saved the company $2900 and was wondering if they would be willing to pay for my wife's ticket. They said no. I think most smarter companies would have.

Moral of the story: Everyone has a right to First Class as long as someone else is paying for it.

Share/Save/Bookmark

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

My Russian Friend and Basic Economics

My last post was about hiking Mt. Whitney with my coworkers. The day before our hike we drove to Cottonwood Lakes to acclimate. I had the chance to have a conversation with a coworker from Russia (She's now a U.S. citizen). I found her journey to our country very interesting. I'll share one tidbit.

I almost never met her as she planned on living in New York. Thanks to laws in New York that were intended to protect young families with small children from being evicted (landlords are required to give one years notice), her family (husband and their young infant) were unable to find housing so they moved to the west coast. It turns out that no one wants to rent to young families as the law makes it too hard to get rid of them. Renting to good families is just not worth the risk of getting stuck with deadbeats for a whole year.

It's interesting that I just finished reading Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell and he pointed out that housing laws always have the opposite effect of their original intentions.

My friend also mentioned something about Vladimir Putin and high taxes. It was rather ominous. I'll ask her again to get the story straight.

Share/Save/Bookmark

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hike, Camp, Economize

This past weekend, I climbed Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States (14,500 feet tall) with 14 coworkers. We camped the night before at Whitney Portal, woke up early the next morning and made the 22 mile hike in one day. The whole experience was a lesson in economy.

1. With 15 people riding in three cars, there was a scarcity of storage space, which I didn't properly account for since my overstuffed duffel bag blocked the back window.

2. The small hammock that I brought proved popular as we rested in the afternoon, while my tent went unused as I slept under the stars.

3. Packing for the hike was more restrictive. What could I carry on my back to provide food and water for the day and protection from potential unknown weather conditions. Conflicting goals of a light weight pack yet sufficient supplies let me confused.

The result:
-2 liters of water with a filtration pump worked mostly well with the exception of the dry spell from the last fill spot to the summit and back.
-Two much food (trailmix, dried mangoes, granola bars, etc).
-Unused warmer clothes (long sleeve underamor, windbreaker, gloves). These would have served useful in more uncertain weather conditions.

Of course all this planning in no way accounts for the brutal experience had by your feet, legs, arms, lungs, heart, neck, etc.

Share/Save/Bookmark

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Absolute vs. Comparative Advantage

Pres. Obama "opted" today to impose a tariff on tires imported from China [1]. It's funny that today I listened to the chapter in Thomas Sowell's book "Basic Economics" on why tariffs are a bad economic decision.

I also listened to the chapter explaining absolute economic advantage and relative economic advantage. An absolute advantage would be the case where a country can build products cheaper than another country. Dr. Sowell gave an interesting example to explain a relative advantage. Hang in there while I try to explain this (the result is surprising).

In his example, he considers two products: chairs and televisions. The countries are America and Canada. America has the absolute advantage since one American can produce 500 chairs per month while one Canadian can only produce 450. Also, an American can produce 200 television sets per month while a Canadian can only produce 100 (If you're Canadian, switch the numbers if it makes you feel better).

If there are 500 hundred American workers and 500 hundred Canadian workers, we could have 300 of each make chairs while 200 make televisions. I'll spare you the math, but the result is 190,000 chairs and 90,000 televisions.

If instead, all 500 Americans make televisions and all 500 Canadians make chairs, you end up with 225,000 chairs and 100,000 televisions. This is an increase in both numbers! The reason is "that Canada has a comparative advantage making chairs. That is, Canada loses fewer television sets by shifting resources to the production of chairs than the United States would lose by such a shift." This seemed counter-intuitive to me.

Back to tariffs. History shows that countries that reduce trade barriers prosper more (gain more jobs) than countries that impose tariffs. If this is true, why do Politicians support tariffs?

The answer is comparative advantage. For a politician that wants to get reelected, the workers (from our example, American chair makers) have the comparative advantage when voting, since they will be angry about losing their job and more likely to "vote the bum out". The rest of the voters will probably be split about the decision. The problem here is that the comparative advantage for voting is BAD for the whole economy, since this influences the politician to impose tariffs to save jobs. But what if China has a comparative advantage at making tires? Wouldn't it be better to have Americans making something that they are more productive at than making tires?

Many economists believe that the protectionist policies imposed in the 1930's are what lead us into a depression. If so, why do our politicians keep making stupid financial decisions? It's simple, they follow the economics of the vote, instead of the economics of prosperity.

What does the average citizen do about it? They attend Tea Parties and Town Hall meetings, talk to neighbors, forward emails, write on blogs, etc. Hopefully this will get the attention of politicians and result in a realignment the two economies.

Vote for prosperity!

Share/Save/Bookmark

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Labor Day Flags

I was driving from LA to San Diego today and noticed hundreds of American Flags posted along I-5 next to Camp Pendleton. I found this link to a news story. Here's a photo with my cell phone from my car. Seeing it in person is much more impressive as it stretches for miles.



Share/Save/Bookmark

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Government Efficiency

Cash For Clunkers


An old friend called me a few days ago and during our conversation, I asked him how his job was. He works in accounting for an online car dealer. He said that his group is already bare bones, but that the dealers were hit the hardest over the last year.

I asked how the "Cash For Clunkers" program is going (in case you didn't know, this is where the government gives you $4500 to trade in your old car for an efficient new model). He said that it has boosted sales for the dealerships, but that it was a nightmare for the people doing the paperwork because of the complicated government forms. The deadline for filing was the day I talked to him, but the servers handling the applications kept crashing so the government had to keep extending the deadline.

Cash for Clunkers video from NY Times

Software


I develop software for a government contract. My company has a very rigorous hiring process compared to the previous company I was at (a competitor). In our staff meeting, my boss was talking about the "visibility" that our project is getting. As such, there is more government oversight in how we do our work. We had to come up with estimates for how many lines of code (SLOC) we produce. Looking back over the last two years we have developed about 7 lines of code per hour (this includes everything including extensive testing). The industry average is about 1 line of code per day.

The government's response was to scoff because our numbers aren't credible. They obviously need to impose more of their process on us, since we don't know what we are doing (Even though they have been buying more of our products than our competitors and we are less expensive). I'm sure that eventually, we'll only be developing 1 line per hour and they will feel justified that they helped us to correctly measure our rate of production.

Health Care


I hope you're healthy and stay healthy for a long time.

Share/Save/Bookmark

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Plan to Get Rid of the Federal Debt?

A Canadian friend just became a United States Citizen last week. He was telling me about the process.

  • A long form to fill out (Where you've lived, who you've been married to, etc.).
  • The citizenship test (there are 100 questions from which they randomly select 10 questions of which you have to get 6 right).
  • An English Language Test


The English Language Test had two tasks:
  1. Write down a sentence that is spoken to you.
  2. Read a sentence to the interviewer.


The sentence my friend had to write down was:

I pay taxes


The sentence he had to read was:

How much do I owe the government?


As you can see, our government DOES have a pay to pay off the Federal Debt! The Plan: Convince all the new immigrants that they owe the government!

Update: Sept. 21, 2009
I was talking to a coworker who became an American citizen in 2008. She is from Russia. The sentences for her English test had to do with education (not paying taxes). I don't know if this is a change in policy from 2008 or if both questions are selected from a random pool.
Share/Save/Bookmark

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wicked the Musical

Last night my wife and I saw the musical "Wicked". We wanted to see it last year, but the tickets were too expensive. We finally splurged and saw it for our anniversary (we went to a fast food restaurant for our anniversary dinner to help offset the cost).

We both loved the show. I was surprised by the broad appeal of wicked. There were a lot of people that didn't "look" like the usual theater goers. We sat next to a group like this. After the first act, they got up and went on intermission with everyone else. They never came back for the second act. I hope that if they were enjoying the show, they didn't leave because they thought it was over. I think their seats were the only empty ones in the house.

During the show my mind started drawing analogies to the morale of the story. (Warning: I might reveal a little of the plot of "WIcked", so if you don't know the story and plan on seeing it, read this with forwarned).

The beginning of Wicked poses questions on where "wickedness" comes from. It proceeds to tell the story of Elphaba (the wicked witch of the west) and how she was actually a good person who had been discriminated against.

The "establishment" or the Wizard of Oz and his cronies is revealed to be the force pushing immoral change (locking up all the animals) in society with the pretense of being good for everyone. Elphaba uncovers the truth and commits herself to social justice. At risk of being exposed for what they are, the Wizard and friends start a public campaign defaming Elphaba by portraying her as a "wicked witch".

In a later confrontation, the Wizard confesses how he really was a nobody, but got sucked into the idea that he was great as he harmlessly gave the people what they wanted.

Connecting the dots to today, let's see if we can identify the wizard.
-Who is widely popular even though he/she hasn't really accomplished anything?
-Who has a plan for change to society that will be "good for all"?
-Who is attacking anyone in opposition to this plan and portraying them as "wicked"?

How about George W Bush?
-His popularity was brief.
-Never really had a big plan
-Ignored his critics (I always thought this was a bit pretentious).
Conclusion: Not the Wizard

How about Barack Obama?
-A freshman senator, with no significant accomplishments, yet wildly popular.
-Won the election on the platform of "change"
-He and his friends are portraying protesters to their plans (including senior citizens) as un-American and potential terrorists.

Update:


I just got this email:

From my sister-in-law's father:
Well folks, I just received the following via email from my cousin's wife. She sent it to all on her mail list. They live in Bozeman , Montana .. The only thing I've changed in the email is my cousin's name, for the sake of privacy. My cousin was a Navy pilot. He then flew commercial jets until his retirement. He still flies his own plane and is very involved with the airport operations near their home. He is one of the most patriotic people I know, AND both he and his wife hold themselves to the highest standards of integrity. The following email describes their experience at Obama's "town hall" meeting in Montana ...

From my sister-in-law's father's cousin's wife:
Hello All,

By now you have probably heard that President Obama came to Montana last Friday. However, there are many things that the major news has not covered. I feel that since Joe and I live here and we were at the airport on Friday I should share some facts with you. Whatever you decide to do with the information is up to you. If you chose to share this email with others I do ask that you DELETE my email address before you forward this on..

On Wednesday, August 5th it was announced locally that the President would be coming here. There are many groups here that are against his healthcare and huge spending so those groups began talking and deciding on what they were going to do. The White House would not release ANY details other than the date.

On about Tuesday Joe found out that they would be holding the "Town Hall" at the airport. (This is only because Joe knows EVERYONE at the airport) Our airport is actually located outside of Belgrade (tiny town) in a very remote location. Nothing is around there. They chose to use a hangar that is the most remotely located hangar. You could not pick a more remote location, and you can not get to it easily. It is totally secluded from the public.
FYI: We have many areas in Belgrade and Bozeman which could have held a large amount of folks with sufficient parking. (gymnasiums/auditoriums). All of which have chairs and tables, and would not have to be SHIPPED IN!! $$$$$
During the week, cargo by the TONS was being shipped in constantly. Airport employees could not believe how it just kept coming. Though it was our President coming several expressed how excessive it was, especially during a recession. $$$$$

Late Tuesday/early Wednesday the 12th, they said that tickets would be handed out on Thursday 9am at two locations and the president would be arriving around 12:30 Friday.

Thursday morning about 600 tickets were passed out. However, 1500 were printed at a Local printing shop per White House request. Hmmmm.......900 tickets just DISAPPEARED.
This same morning someone called into the radio from the local UPS branch and said that THOUSANDS of Dollars of Lobster were shipped in for Obama. Montana has some of the best beef in the nation!!! And it would have been really wonderful to help out the local economy. Anyone heard of the Recession?? Just think...with all of the traveling the White House is doing. $$$$$ One can only imagine what else we are paying for.

On Friday Joe and I got out to the airport about 10:45am. The groups that wanted to protest Obama's spending and healthcare had gotten a permit to protest and that area was roped off. But that was not to be. A large bus carrying SEIU (Service Employees International Union) members drove up onto the area (illegal)and unloaded right there. It was quite a commotion and there were specifically 2 SEIU men trying to make trouble and start a fight. Police did get involved and arrested the one man but they said they did not have the manpower to remove the SEIU crowd.
The SEIU crowd was very organized and young. About 99% were under the age of 30 and they were not locals! They had bullhorns and PROFESSIONALLY made signs. Some even wore preprinted T-shirts. Oh, and Planned Parenthood folks were with them.....professing abortion rights with their T-shirts and preprinted signs. (BTW, all these folks did have a permit to protest in ANOTHER area)

Those against healthcare/spending moved away from the SEIU crowd to avoid confrontation. They were orderly and respectful. Even though SEIU kept coming over and walking through, continuing to be very intimidating and aggressive at the direction of the one SEIU man.

So we had Montana folks from ALL OVER the state with their homemade signs and their DOGS with homemade signs. We had cowboys, nurses, doctors you name it. There was even a guy from Texas who had been driving through. He found out about the occasion, went to the store, made a sign, and came to protest.

If you are wondering about the press.....Well, all of the major networks were over by that remote hangar I mentioned. They were conveniently parked on the other side of the buildings FAR away. None of these crowds were even visible to them. I have my doubts that they knew anything about the crowds.
We did have some local news media around us from this state and Idaho . Speaking of the local media...they were invited. However, all questions were to be turned into the White House in advance of the event. Wouldn't want anyone to have to think off the top of their head.

It was very obvious that it was meant to be totally controlled by the White House. Everything was orchestrated down to the last detail to make it appear that Montana is just crazy for Obama and government healthcare. Even those people that talked about their insurance woes........the White House called our local HRDC (Human Resource and Development Committee) and asked for names. Then the White House asked those folks to come. Smoke and mirrors...EVERYTHING was staged!!!!!!!!!!!

I am very dismayed about what I learned about our current White House. The amount of control and manipulation was unbelievable. I felt I was not living in the United States of America , more like the USSR !! I was physically nauseous. Joe and I have been around when Presidents or Heads of State visit.. It has NEVER been like this. I am truly very frightened for our country. America needs your prayers and your voices. If you care about our country please get involved. Know the issues. And let Congress hear your voices again and again!! If they are willing to put forth so much effort to BULLY a small town one can only imagine what is going on in Washington DC . Scary!!

Bozeman , Montana

Share/Save/Bookmark

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Audit the Fed - Sign the petition!

I encourage you to sign this petition and spread the word:

(Click to enlarge)



Sunday, August 16, 2009

My morals can beat up your morals!

I remember as a kid when a fight would elevate from name calling to the ultimate claim: "My dad can beat up your dad!". There seems to be polarizing conflicts all around and we all like the reassurance that the authority we rely on is valid and better than that of your opponents.

We no longer pit our fathers against each other in an imaginary fight, but we do pit our moral views against each other. The problem is, we lose focus on what the real issue is.

For example:
Is protesting American or Un-American?

Here, Nancy Pelosi is distracted by protestors. Instead, she should say that she thinks war is immoral and providing health care is moral. Calling your opposition "stupid", "bigotted", etc. is a step backwards in resolving moral conflicts.

Religion and Science


This weekend I watched Expelled, No Intelligence Allowed. A compelling movie by Ben Stein about how the scientific community is systematically suppressing any thought on Intelligent Design (the thought that an intelligent being like God had to be involved in creating the world). I then read Expelled Exposed, a website that refuted most of Ben Stein's claims.

The truth is that Ben Stein carved out a piece of truth to make a compelling movie. Also true is that Expelled Exposed refuted many of Ben's claims. So what clash of morals was left out?

Here are some truths that I see in the science vs. religion moral battle:
  • Science has shown value in finding deterministic laws and using them to understand aspects of the world in ways beneficial to us.
  • Science, by it's nature is limited. If by strict scientific method, a theory is not proved ,then science rejects it. Examples:
    • You feel sick, you go to the doctor. He/She orders all tests available for your symptoms, which come back showing no problem. The doctor feels content saying you are fine when in reality, you are not.
    • Scientists have no explanation or provable theory as to "how" life began. Even so, life did begin. Neither scientific nor supernatural processes can eliminated until we know how it happened.

  • Scientists can be arrogant in their viewpoints and blind to the limitations of science.
  • Religion has shown value in providing hope, structure and purpose.
  • Religion embraces some challenging ideas:
    • An all powerful, all knowing Being, or God
    • Life after death
    • Supernatural events.
      • The Flood
      • Parting the Red Sea
      • Birth and Resurrection of Christ
      • Etc.
    • Religion has the potential of being abused.
      • Bloody sacrifices to appease the gods
      • The Crusades
      • Salem witch trials
      • (The Old Testament consistently deals with religion gone bad)
  • Religion and Science sometimes take a "throwing out the baby with the bathwater" approach to each other.

War and Peace

I just finished the audio book "Churchill, Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War": How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World" by Patrick J. Buchanan.

One of the key points I found is that brilliant people can be mislead by their own views of morality. For example, Churchill's strong moral opposition to Hitler:
  • Turned a European war into a world war
  • Caused him to ally with Stalin, who's own crimes nearly paralleled Hitlers [1]
  • Resulted in the use (or consideration of using) of conventional, chemical and biological weapons against German civilians.
  • Resulted in the bankruptcy of Britain and the downfall of the British empire.

NOTE: I'm not arguing that WWII was unnecessary, but instead I'm trying to point out conflicting moral stances. I'm reminded of a quote I saw recently:

"Why is it okay to kill people who kill people to let them know that killing people is wrong?"


It was interesting to read how the United States:
  • Felt mislead into World War I (the "war to end all wars" and a promise to spread democracy)
  • Strongly resisted entering World War II, even with the reported atrocities.
  • The U.S. did not experience the same destructive forces as the other world powers, which is why America emerged as a world power (the author's conclusion).

Lessons for Us

Be careful when implementing your own morals.
Be understanding when judging the morals of others.
Realize that conflict will always exist and resist the temptation to make the conflict worse.

Share/Save/Bookmark

Friday, August 7, 2009

Health Care Rational or Rationale?

In the current debate on Health Care, there are still people who want to have rational discussions (like me), while others (Congress and the White House) appear interested in providing a "rationale" for why we must follow their plan (whatever it ends up being).

(See if you can make it through this paragraph without falling asleep) I've been involved several times with the design of complicated systems. We carefully analyzed the system requirements, documented the design, developed prototypes, reviewed designs with key stakeholders, redesigned, and implemented these systems. The design continued to evolve throughout the development cycle. The resulting system didn't look much like the original idea.

What does this have to do with Health Care Reform?

Health Care Reform is addressing a "system" more complicated than anything I have ever worked with and frankly this scares me. Especially based on a little research on my part.

My observations:

  1. Watch C-Span - After watching a portion of the debate on health reform by Congress, I absolutely do NOT want these people reforming my Health Care. I've been in two types of meetings as part of system development. Meetings with people who know exactly what needs to be done, and meetings with people who have NO idea, but still feel inclined to spew hot air. The debate in Congress reminds me of the later.

  2. Read the White House Health Reform Website. From the page "What People Are Saying", all of the articles referenced are pro-reform (and mostly from left-leaning publications), YET the comments are mostly negative and against health care reform.

  3. I followed the link to How Health Insurance Reform will Benefit California.

  4. I found empty promises like:

    • "Health insurance reform will also ensure that you will always have guaranteed choices of quality"
    • Improving our health care system.
    • Health insurance ... will become more affordable
    • Insurance Stability and Security: Health insurance reform will strengthen our system of employer-based health insurance

    I did find details that all translated to "Increase Taxes"

    • Ending the Hidden Tax
    • Covering the uninsured
    • Premium credits

Conclusions:


Our federal government was designed to prevent the President and Congress from getting too much power. They have found loopholes to this design by creating pork-laden bills to entice votes. Such bills are in no way capable of managing complex issues like financial recoveries or health care reform. My solution would be for Congress to define goals: reduced cost, improved access and quality, etc. Congress should then ask the states to design health care reform and should work with states to remove any obstacles. States should then pass the responsibility to Counties and also work with them to remove obstacles.

My question for Pres. Obama:
Under what conditions would you veto a health care bill? I'm guessing there are no conditions.

Links:
I liked this article a friend sent me:
Utopia versus Freedom
From a liberal viewpoint Obama's healthcare horror
From Sara Palin "Death Panels" (Did she really write this?)
Health Insurance Profits Ranks #86
Some good insights from C4L (Read the comments as well)
Caroline Baum at Bloomberg
Share/Save/Bookmark

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Eat to Live

I remember one summer my parents decided our family was going to go on a "fruit fast". I guess they hadn't invented the word "vegan" yet. We ate fruits and vegetables, not meat, and maybe some whole grains. My parents both claimed they felt wonderful. I remember being very hungry, though it was nice breaking the sugar addiction.

This memory came flashing back two weeks ago when my wife came home from visiting friends and introduced me to Joel Fuhrman's book "Eat to Live". It sounded a lot like my childhood "fruit fast", and since it made my parents feel better, I figured it might work for me.

I started reading the book the same time we started the diet and found it convincing. I tried to find critics of "Eat to Live" and the only critics I could find where on a forum at a Low Carb website (Adtkin's Dieters who love their meat).

I was enjoying our new diet and started losing some of my midsection (I went from 201 lbs to 196) while my wife, who was more interested in losing weight (along with the health benefits) GAINED 4 lbs. I couldn't believe anyone could gain weight on this diet.

After she visited a doctor, we are on a new diet. We'll keep eating healthier but include more protein. My wife has already lost 5 lbs. in less than a week.

This all leaves me a little puzzled trying to reconcile the research that Dr. Fuhrman presented. He made a very convincing argument that eating food derived from animals (meat, milk , eggs, cheese, etc.) resulted in higher incidents of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc.

I still need to read How to Lie with Statistics, but I'm guessing there is something related here. What I want to understand is whether eating meat is like playing Russian Roulette, if you eat it you have a greater chance of dying? or whether it depends more on your genetic makeup whether or not you should eat meat.

Either way, I heard a very compelling argument for the "Eat to Live" lifestyle. Basically, it is more sustainable, since every pound of meat takes 50 to 100 pounds of food (from plants). Therefore, a meat based diet takes 50-100 times as much water and produces a lot of nasty waste. I would think that the Global Warming, Anthropogenic Climate Change zealots would adopt "Eat to Live" as part of their morality.

A final note: The 50-100 pounds of food making one pound of meat is reason that we don't eat carnivores (Lions, etc.), since every pound of Lion takes 50-100 lbs of meat, which takes 50-100 pounds of plants. In other words, 1 pound of carnivore takes 2,500 to 10,000 lbs of plants. It's just not economical.

Share/Save/Bookmark

Monday, July 27, 2009

Are you a "Birther"?

I think it's funny that they came up with a name for conspiracy theorists who believe that Barack Obama is not a U.S. citizen. Don't these Birthers realize that:

1. Barack Obama was undeniably born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961.
2. Even if there is no birth certificate to prove it, there is a "2007 certified abstract copy of his Certification of Live Birth".
3. Even if his father was a British Citizen, making Barack a dual citizen and not qualified for U.S. Citizenship, an 1898 U.S. Supreme Court case says anyone born in the U.S. is a natural born citizen.
4. Even if Barack was born in Kenya and that foreign born children can obtain a Certification of Live Birth in Hawaii, his mother was a citizen of the U.S.
5. Even if the then-applicable law would have required Obama's mother to have been in the U.S. at least "five years after the age of 14", but Ann Dunham was three months shy of her 19th birthday when Obama was born, um, ahh, um. Gibbs? Can you help me here? Oh yeah, he's a natural born citizen because I say so!!!
6. Even if he did relinquish his citizenship when he lived in Indonesia as a youth (6-10 years old) after his mother married Lolo Soetoro and moved the family to Jakarta, remember what I told you: he's a citizen.
7. Even if Barack is still not a citizen, what do you want to do about it? Put in Joe Biden?

Other Links:
NRO Article
Hawaiian Birth Certificate

Share/Save/Bookmark