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.

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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.
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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

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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.

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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
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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.

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