Thursday, December 30, 2010

Light, Truth and Gravity

Once I was asked how I could believe in God and science.  It's true that religion and science have a history of conflict.  I think one of the problems is that religions extrapolate dogmas too far, then new scientific discoveries invalidate unfounded beliefs, and the battle begins.  Usually science wins as the theories are proven out.  When religion rationalizes outdated beliefs, it is discredited and the temptation for the "scientifically minded" is to "throw out the baby with the bathwater".

I've managed to see and experience the value in both systems of understanding, and in many instances I am satisfied to see science and religion in agreement.  This happened tonight as I was reading an article on some of the latest thinking in Physics.  The theories start by trying to explain what happens to "information" in the Universe with results of a quantum mechanical explanation for gravity (and dark energy, which no other theory accounts for).   Here's a quote from the article:
Some physicists are convinced that the properties of information do not come from the behaviour of information carriers such as photons and electrons but the other way round. They think that information itself is the ghostly bedrock on which our universe is built.[1]
There seems to be an interesting relationship between "information", "light" and "laws by which all things are governed".

Here are some religious verses:

D&C 88:11-13
11 And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings;

12 Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space

13The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.

I would equate the bold items as such:
  • "light" with "photos and electrons"
  • "information" with "knowledge" or "enlightenment"  
  • "gravity" with "the law by which all things are governed"
So what does this mean to me?
  1. Scientific understanding is finite.  
  2. Religion provides a hope of infinite understanding.
  3. Religion overreaches
  4. Science corrects religion with new understanding.
  5. Go to step 1.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Enjoy the Holidays with some Economic Headlines

I've been enjoying the holidays: time off work and time with the family.  My usual blog posts tend to be a little too serious and I haven't wanted to ruin the mood for this happy time of year.  The end of the year is approaching so I thought I'd post a list of economic headlines I've been saving up.

The premise I had when I started this was that the economic news seemed to oscillate daily.  I thought I'd try and capture this with the top headline of the day (I missed a few days).  See if you think my premise was valid.

9/14/2010 Wall Street boosted by technology and retail shares (Reuters)
9/15/2010 Mortgage giant losses could reach $400 billion
9/15/2010 Resilient Wall Street edges higher (Reuters)
9/16/2010 Foreclosures Rise; Repossessions Set Record
9/16/2010 Wall Street opens lower after data (Reuters)
9/20/2010 Recession ended in June 2009: NBER
9/21/2010 Housing starts at 4-month high (Reuters)
9/24/2010 Wall St jumps on data enthusiasm
9/28/2010 Wall St flat as consumer confidence on tap (mixed report)
9/28/2010 Consumer Confidence Falls to Lowest Level Since February
10/4/2010 Housing shows stability, factory orders fall
10/4/2010 ...unsustainable fiscal situation... Ben Bernanke
10/6/2010 Wall St opens lower after weak ADP report
10/6/2010 Real estate downturn could last 8 years: IMF
10/8/2010 Economy loses 95K jobs due to government layoffs
10/14/2010 Applications for jobless benefits rise to 462K
10/14/2010 September home foreclosures top 100,000 for first time
10/20/2010 Economy grew sluggishly in recent weeks: Fed
10/20/2010 Wall Street bounces with dollar, earnings
10/21/2010 Shares edge up, whipsawed by dollar, earnings
10/25/2010 Wall St advances on dollar weakness, Fed bets
10/26/2010 Wall St set for weak open on earnings, strong dollar
10/27/2010 Wall St falls on lack of Fed stimulus clarity
10/29/2010 Economy grows at slightly faster pace in Q3
10/29/2010 Economy grew modestly in third-quarter
10/29/2010 GDP growth tepid in Q3, more Fed easing seen
11/4/2010 Wall St rallies as Fed stokes risk appetite
11/8/2010 Fed officials voice concerns about bond buying
11/16/2010 Bond Market Defies Fed
11/29/2010 Citing deficit, Obama freezing federal worker pay
12/4/2010 U.S. unemployment climbs to 9.8%, raising doubts about recovery
12/8/2010 US Treasuries hit by biggest sell-off in two years
12/9/2010 U.S. Initial Jobless Claims Fell 17,000 to 421,000 Last Week
12/21/2010 US teen birth rate at all-time low, economy cited
12/28/2010 111th Congress Created More National Debt Than First 100 Congresses Combined

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

...everything can be taken from a man but one thing...

"We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

All or Nothing

This week, President Obama announced a plan to freeze the wages of ALL Federal employees for two years,  saving billions of dollars.  My first reaction was "Good for him!  Saving billions is a step in the right direction."  After thinking about it, I realized the fallacy of this move.

While I believe that there are many Federal workers that deserve a wage freeze, not "All" do.

Similar "All or Nothing" thinking:

  • ALL people traveling on airplanes are suspected terrorists and are subjected to extreme measures (taking off clothing items, not allowing the carry of any liquids, subject to invasive electronic and physical searching) 
  • ALL deep-water drilling must stop for 6-months (Obama's offshore drilling moratorium after the BP Oil Spill), hurting many viable and safe drill sites and impacting the jobs and related economy. 
  • The $787 Billion Stimulus included ALL spending ideas (Why not pick the most valuable spending ideas and then authorize spending as needed?).
  • The Healthcare Reform Act included ALL 2000+ pages of reform (why not just pick the best couple of ideas and see how they work?)
This problem isn't Democrat nor is it Republican.  It's a "leave it to me, I know best" mentality.  When the All or Nothing decisions are made they typically result in unintended bad consequences.  The resulting criticism draws the excuse that "it would be too hard to sort out the good from the bad" or "we'll fix it later"[1].  

Extreme examples of "All or Nothing" thinking
  • During the French Revolution, the idea that ALL Aristocrats were bad and should be executed.
  • In early U.S. history, the idea that ALL blacks were inferior and NONE should be allowed basic civil rights.
  • Nazi Germany's idea that ALL Jews are bad for Germany 
  • During World War II, the idea in the U.S that ALL Japanese immigrants were bad and should be put in concentration camps. 

What would be a better approach to cutting the cost of Federal wages?  Here's my idea:
  1. Evaluate the relative "value" of all Federal Departments and Agencies (listed here)
  2. Determine a percentage that each Department/Agency needs to cut.
  3. Give the head of each Dept./Agency the task of making the cuts.
  4. The head of each Dept./Agency then performs steps 1-3 for his subordinates.
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 until you reach the bottom of the decision makers.
  6. Repeat steps 1-5 evary 1 to 12 months until you've balanced the budget.

Monday, November 22, 2010

First Effects of the Healthcare Reform Act

Our family is already benefiting from the Health Care Reform Act. Our 21 year-old son stopped being eligible under the old plan, but we can now have him covered thanks to the new law.

Our family is also starting to pay for the Health Care Reform Act. I got this memo from our benefits department:
The purpose of this memo is to provide you information on the medical rates for next year... The premiums for certain medical insurance plans are increasing significantly for 2011. This increase is due to medical trend, increased costs to meet requirements for the Healthcare Reform Act, and primarily, to the high dollar amount of medical claims in these plans over the last year...
The out-of-pocket increases to cover your family:

"Cadillac" plan increased by $529.75/month, $6,357/year.
"Cheap Cadillac" plan costs an extra $157.65/month or $1,892/year.
"Chevy" plan increased by $43.59/month, $523/year.

We had the "Chevy" plan, so the increase seems fair since we are getting the added value of coverage for an additional dependent.

The peasants are revolting over the increase in the Cadillac plan.

I don't know what percentage of these increases is due to the new law.  I know that most of the increase in the Cadillac plan is due to simple economics and not due to the new law.  Our company is trying to ween people off of a local health provider (covered by the "Cadillac") whose costs have risen significantly.  The "Cheap Cadillac" plan very explicitly excludes the evil, costly provider.

Surprisingly, the out-of-pocket cost of Kaiser (yet another option) went unchanged, so Kaiser is getting our business this year for the first time.  Free market forces are still working, in spite of all the rules and regulations.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Senate Save Us From The Practical Problems

I was watching the C-SPAN coverage of the Senate Committee on Air Cargo and Airport Security hearing[1] (a reasonable alternative to watching Glee).  This hearing was timely due to the recent controversy with the full body scanners at airports and pat-downs. [2]

It was obvious to me why Congress has such a low approval rating.  Do these Senators really think they are making us safer? My least favorite was Senator Levin (at 45 min in video [1]). He managed to point out 19 times during his 7 minutes of questioning that the "practical problems" had not been solved. I had no idea what point he was trying to make. The Senators did speak for us public by saying we would rather experience delays in shipping, be patted down by airport security, etc. than suffer another failed attempt like the underwear bomber or printer cartridge bomb.

Thanks for taking care of us!

TSA pat-down leaves traveler covered in urineWoman With 2 Artificial Knees Describes 'Sexual Assault' By Screener...
Searched because she wore a skirt
Cancer-surviving flight attendant forced to remove prosthetic breast...
TSA Apologizes For Making Boy Remove Leg Braces
Wow!  I agree with Senator Boxer on this one!

Going to far...Child scream's "Stop touching me!"

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Civility, Debt and Partisanship

I was raised to believe that debt is bad and should be avoided with few exceptions.  Not surprisingly, every time I hear about the growing Federal Debt, I feel anxious and worried.  Recently, I came across a Wikipedia article titled National debt by U.S. presidential terms. I was bothered by the premise of the article that Republican Presidents increase the debt and Democrat Presidents decrease the debt.
I was pleased to see the discussion section for the article raise the same issues that I would have:
  • What about Obama? 
  • Why blame only the President when only the House of Representatives is authorized by the Constitution to originate spending bills? (Article I Section 7 "All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives", and by precedence that includes spending). 
  • Why did the chart start in 1950, excluding the deficit spending of Democrat Presidents before this period?

I decided to look at the data myself. Of course I abandoned civility by starting with the premise that Democrats are the spenders and Republicans were fiscally responsible. I ended up with the chart below (the color represents the control of the House of Representatives). 

As I looked at the data, I couldn't find a clear pattern. I then looked at partisan splits in Congress and between Congress and the President. If you look at either chart, you can see that there are times when either party was responsible for the debt.

I then remembered my vow of civility and decided to take a fresh look at the data, not blaming either party. The results both surprised me and didn't. Below is a table of periods of rising debt.

What stands out:
  • What political party is in power is not significant
  • Periods of debt seem to be related to wars and financial crises
  • It takes much fewer years to create debt than to pay it off
  • Our government has had out of control spending for last 30 years.
  • Our government has not wisely used the surplus during recent years of plenty.
  • Republicans and Democrats are both right when they blame each other for our debt problems.

YearYears to Peak%GDPYears to PayoffHistorical EventParty
Pres House Senate
190811.5%1Panic of 1907RRR
1916-1919428%11World War IDDRDR
1930-19411226%Not paid forGreat DepressionRDRDRD
1941-1945583%24World War IIDDD
1981-19961635%???Cold War
Off Gold Standard?
2002-Present9+38%???War in Middle East
Great Recession

Monday, November 1, 2010

Night Before The Election

I had a couple friend's over tonight to look over the ballot.  Next election I'll try and get an earlier start.

Here's a summary:
  1. I've lived in California my whole life and I'm frankly scared for its future.
  2. I'm surprisingly voting mostly for incumbents at the local level.   
    • Our city is not in debt.
    • I've met the mayor and I like him.  I also trust him.
    • I like our cities development plan: the new parks are beautiful and I like the businesses that have come here.
    • The schools have continually been improving (at least their test scores).  The incumbents on the school board have lived here over 35 years and raised their kid's here.
  3. I guess I picked a good town to live in.  I hope I don't have to move out of California.
In Conclusion:

The enormous power in Sacramento that resulted from such a great state as California has resulted in greed, corruption and enormous debt.

The limited power at the local level allows civic minded people to act responsibly.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Got This In The Mail

I received all of these political ads in the mail just today.  I haven't made up my mind on all of the issues or candidates yet, but I do know that I don't plan on using any of this information. If I did, I wouldn't have anyone or anything to vote for.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Are You Psychic?

I have a list of ideas for politically oriented postings, but since you and I are both sick of the political blitzkrieg going on before the election, I decided to pick a non-political topic.

Researchers at Cornell University claim to have demonstrated that our brains can "see into the future".  The researcher, Dr. Bem, showed college students a list of words then gave them a memory test.  After the test, the students practiced the words.  The results showed that practicing after the test improved the score on the test they already took.

Your reaction is either:
  • You ignore the results or explain them away.
  • You are willing to believe that this is actually possible.
  • You don't get it (A link to the original article is at the end of this post).
I happen to be one of those that believes the results.  There's some pretty crazy counter intuitive stuff from Relativity and Quantum Mechanics that has proven to be right.  

So why can't we be affected now by events that happen in the future?  I think we can.

The problem is that I don't know how to find a practical application for this.  For example, how long can someone wait after taking a test to study and still get a benefit? Minutes? Hours? Days?  Should I encourage my son to postpone his cramming for a test until it's over?  When does studying give you the most benefit?  Before, after or both?

So are we psychic?  I recommend reading the original article here. (It's short).

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

CNN takes on Fox News - "She should submit to me"

So it seems that CNN's falling ratings have made them go back to the drawing board.  Yesterday I spent about 5 minutes watching Rachel Maddow campaign for the Democrats then I channel surfed to the Anderson Cooper AC 360 show. 

I was quite surprised.  Anderson Cooper said that they want to hold candidates responsible for false campaign advertising, whether they were Republican or Democrat.  The only person they could get was some random Democrat candidate (Rep. Alan Grayson).  Anderson Cooper then did a good job pointing out the problems with his "Taliban Dan" ad about his opponent Daniel Webster.  The worse part of the ad is including a playing a short video clip of Mr Webster saying "she should submit to me" over and over again.  Mr. Grayson defended this, even after the original video was played in context.

The original video showed Mr. Webster saying (see min 3:10 in video below) "we should write in our Journals and pick a scripture for our wives.  DON'T pick 'she should submit to me'".  A pretty blatant out-of-context editing. 

It was funny seeing how awkward it was for Anderson to drill a Democrat, but I do give him credit for acting non-partisan and holding this guy accountable.  I also give credit to CNN for trying out responsible journalism.  I'll be anxous to see what happens when Piers Morgan (from America's Got Talent and Celebrity Apprentice) takes over for Larry King.  He sounds like he wants to aggressively challenge Fox.  I hope the competition gets us better content.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Rachel Maddow's Spin

I find it important to listen to different viewpoints, so while channel surfing tonight I stopped to watch the Rachel Maddow show.  Rachel made some compelling points:
  • While many people were against the TARP, it officially expired this weekend and Rachel claims that the $700 billion only really cost us $50 billion and if AIG pays us back, we'll actually make money.  Our financial markets are sound and it was the right thing to do.
  • The $787 Billion stimulus was designed to save 3.5 million jobs, which it did.
  • The Health Care Bill has provided various advantages (I actually was about to enjoy one benefit - restoring my son to my employer provided health insurance, but it doesn't kick in until next year and my son just got a job with benefits.  While Obamacare may not have helped, you could argue that his new job is one of the stimulus jobs).
  • Here's the real kicker:  the growth in GDP was on a steady decline (thanks to the evil Republicans) from January 2008 until Obama was sworn in office in January 2009.  It went from shrinking by 6% to growing by 5%.  Rachel basically showed this chart. 

I was quite impressed with this story but I was curious why her story ended in 2009.  I decided to look up the data for 2010.  Here's the whole chart.  Why did Rachel exclude the downward trend in GDP growth for 2010?  Was she doing that with her other information?  Are we potentially going to make money on TARP?  Did the Stimulus really create 3.5 million jobs?  Why can't people who claim to report the news provide objective truth?

I continued watching MSNBC compelled to hear Barney Frank dispel Republican lies. He claims that he and the Democrats were trying to stop predatory lending way back in 2004. Here's some info from my September 24, 2008 post:
In 2003, Bush attempted to overhaul the finance industry but his proposal was rejected along party lines. Ron Paul introduced "FREE HOUSING MARKET ENHANCEMENT ACT".

In a related New York Times article on Sept. 11, 2003, there is a quote from Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee

''These two entities -- Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- are not facing any kind of financial crisis. The more people exaggerate these problems, the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing.''

Friday, October 1, 2010

Is Meg Whitman a Witch?

Is Meg Whitman a Witch?

According to the current witch trial initiated by Gloria Allred, the answer is "YES!!!!".  At first there was no proof that Meg Whitman lied about knowingly hiring an illegal immigrant as her housekeeper, but then the smoking gun came out:  the LETTER.   I found a copy of the "incriminating" letter from the Social Security Administration here.  It's surprisingly straightforward and easy to read.  Basically, it shows that the Whitman's complied with the law in every way (Although they were given the false SSN by the housekeeper).  It does not prove, however that Meg Whitman does not practice witchcraft, so the trial continues.  Read it for yourself (or just read the bold sections):
"We are writing to you about your Wage and Tax Statement (W-2) for the employee shown below... We can't put these earnings on the employee's Social Security record until the name and Social Security number you reported agree with our records....

"The reasons the reported information doesn't agree with our records may include, but are not limited to:
  • Record transcription or typographical errors
  • Incomplete or blank name reported
  • Incomplete or blank SSN reported
  • Name Changes
This letter does not imply that you or your employee intentionally provided incorrect information about the employee's name or SSN. It is not a basis, in and of itself, for you to take any adverse action against the employee, such as a laying off, suspending, firing, or discriminating against the individual. Any employer that uses the information in this letter to justify taking adverse action against an employee may violate state or federal law and be subject to legal consequences. Moreover, this letter makes no statement about your employee's immigration status."

    Tuesday, September 21, 2010

    Obama Said What!?

    I recently started a project where I track the news headlines related to the economy.  One day the news is good, the next day it is bad.  I've recorded about a week of headlines so far and will post my findings sometime soon.

    One headline that made my list: "Economic Experts put an official date to the end of the recession!"

    Of course I expected the current administration to take credit for this "success".  I was actually pleased at President Obama's comments regarding the end of the recession:
    "Obviously for the millions of people still out of work, people who have seen their home values decline, people struggling to pay their home bills every day, it's still very real for them ... I know how frustrated people are. I know in some cases how desperate people are"
    "I am confident that if we stay on a course that gets us back to old-fashioned values of hard work and responsibility and looking out for one another, that America will thrive."

    A while ago when I was in a more critical mindset, my wife reminded me that Obama deserves some respect as our President.  He has my respect for this comment.

    If you read my posts, this isn't the first time I like what our President has said. [Click]

    Friday, September 17, 2010

    Homophobic Hemophiliacs and Racist Mathematicians

    I avoided donating blood for years but I've been trying to make up for it lately.  This week I gave my tenth pint of blood.  I actually enjoy giving and will continue giving even though this last was a bad experience (It was a needle problem).

    Homophobic Hemophiliacs

    One of the questions on the paperwork to donate blood that always surprises me is specifically for men: "Have you ever had sex with a man?".    While homophobia is frowned upon, is it okay for a hemophiliac to be afraid of a homosexual man's blood?

    In an attempt at civil discourse, it is important to identify the strengths and weaknesses of any position.  It is true that many people have unfair prejudices related to other people's sexual orientation.  It is also true that even with full acceptance by society, there would still be negative consequences of homosexuality.  When the LGBT community is willing to have this discussion and not intimidate people into silence, then we will be closer to having civil discourse.  (Note: I'm referring to the recent California hearing on Prop. 8 where many witnesses backed out when the plaintiffs fought for a televised hearing).

    Racist Mathematicians

    Have you ever thought about how mathematicians are racists?  Actually not all mathematicians, just the ones that figure out your credit score.  They claim to be objective by using information such as:
    • How good are you at paying off your debt?
      • Have you been late on payments?
      • Have you defaulted on any loans?
    • How much debt do you have as a percentage of the credit available to you?
    The problem is that Blacks and Hispanics have lower credit scores than Whites and Asians.  Is this racism?  Is it a justification to be racist?  If "they" are credit risks, then I do have a right to discriminate against them?  The answer of course is no, no and no.  The reason is that:

    "All ________s are not credit risks.  All credit risks are not  ________".  

    (Feel free to insert White, Asian, Black, Hispanic or your own race/gender in the blank.)

    The credit score formula does not include skin color.  Low credit scores, however, could be a manifestation of systemic racism.  Racial preferences in education and with job opportunities could in the long run result in lower credit scores.  But even here there are counter examples:

    "A ________ can be more qualified than a non-________".

    (Once again, insert White, Asian, Black, Hispanic or your own race/gender in the blank.)

    Once again, civil discourse requires us to look past race.  If there is a group of Whites (or any other color) with low credit scores, shouldn't we desire to provide resources (training, education, job opportunities).  Wouldn't society as a whole benefit from higher credit scores?  Of course not everyone will respond to our efforts, but that doesn't mean we don't try.
    "All ________s deserve the opportunity to succeed.  
    Some ________s will succeed with help from others.  
    Some ________s will reject our best efforts to help them succeed".

    (Once again, insert White, Asian, Black, Hispanic or your own race/gender in the blank.)

    *Inspired by Thomas Sowell

    Monday, September 13, 2010

    Kagan-Obama Connection

    Updated 9/14/2010 (Thanks to my friend Laura B.):
    Apparently I was duped by the Kagan-Obama Connection story.  I'm usually better at filtering info.  To my credit, I didn't fall for the Kenyan Birth Certificate story (see below).  I was tempted to delete the rest of this posting, but have left it as is.

    This post is from what I like to call "the underground blogosphere", which is basically forwarded emails. You never know where they come from, and most of the time they can be easily debunked. I thought this was actually noteworthy since it included links to a valid source: the Supreme Court Docket website.

    I mentioned this connection between Obama and Elena Kagan to my neighbor and he said (playing devil's advocate) "So what?".  My simple answer is that in a true separation between the Executive and Judicial branches of government, I would prefer that the latest appointment to the Supreme Court not be quite so cozy with the sitting President.  To be fair, I should probably research any similar connections between Bush and his appointments.

    BTW, I believe the Kenyan Birth Certificate is fake.  You don't put $5000 on the counter and say "Give me Barack Obama's Birth Certificate".  I'm still waiting for someone to do this and get his birth certificate from several different hospitals.

    The rest of this posting was copied from an email:

    I’ll bet you thought that Snopes never lied!!
    Can they be trusted from now on???  I don’t think so!!   Pass this around, share the light!
    The Supreme Court sites don’t lie……!  At least for now we should be able to trust that site, don’t you think?
    Nice to see that others are finally beginning to realize that cannot always be trusted.
    Why wouldn't we think that the corruption is rampant in this administration?
    I went to Snopes to check this out and they said it was false and there were no such dockets so I googled the supreme court, typed in Obama/Kagan and guess what?   Yep, you  got it.    Snopes lied.   Everyone of those dockets are there.  So here is what I wrote Snopes:
    WND article about Elena Kagan and Barak Obama dockets.  The information you have posted stating that there were no such cases as claimed by WND and the examples you gave are blatantly false.  I went directly to the  Supreme courts website, typed in Obama Kagan and immediately came up with all of the dockets that WND made reference too.    I have long suspected that you really slant things but this was really shocking!
    Thank you.
    Kagan was representing Obama in all the petitions to prove his citizenship. Now she may help rule on them.
                 Folks, this is really ugly. 
    Chicago Politics, and the beat goes on and on and on...
    Once again the Senate sold us out.  Someone has figured out why Obama nominated  Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court.... Pull up the Supreme Courts website, go to the docket and search for Obama.  She was the Solicitor General for all the suits against him filed with the Supreme Court to show proof of natural born citizenship.  He owed her big time.  All of the requests were denied of course. They were never heard. It just keeps getting deeper and deeper, doesn't it?
    The American people mean nothing any longer.. It's all about payback time for those that compromised themselves to elect someone that really has no true right to even be there.  We should be getting so sick of all of this nonsense.
    Here are some websites of the Supreme Court Docket:  You can look up these hearings and guess what?
    Elena Kagan is the attorney representing Obama!!!
    Check out these examples:>Search.aspx?FileName=/docketfiles/09-6790.htm

    Tuesday, August 31, 2010

    C-SPAN and Reclaiming the Dream Rally

    Occasionally I like to watch C-SPAN, since I can watch raw coverage of events and create my own opinion instead of being told what to think by the news networks.

    While watching a congressional hearing on the BP Oil Spill, I managed to chase away my own family due to boredom.  I enjoyed the coverage alone.  Even without special effects and high adrenaline action scenes, it still kept my attention.

    I was surprised to watch the other night and find coverage of Al Sharpton's "Reclaim the Dream" rally.  I wonder if they also covered Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally the same day.  I was shocked during Barbara Williams-Skinner's prayer to hear her say
    "Like Dr. King, we believe that the bank of justice is not bankrupt," she said. "We thank you God for raising up President Barack Obama as a small down payment on that dream." 
    See 3:34 in the video below.

    Friday, August 20, 2010

    Traffic Ticket

    I recently got a traffic ticket for going 50 in a 35 mph zone.  I was transitioning to a 45 mph zone, but the officer showed no mercy.  This is my third traffic ticket in less than a year and the previous 2 points on my record resulted in my insurance going up (I am still trying to get the courts to recognize traffic school for my first ticket). 

    I decided to fight this 3rd ticket after consulting with friends and researching on the Internet.  I went to city hall and got a copy of the traffic survey for this road.  Local speed limits are determined by observing traffic, and then using the 85th percentile to set the limit.  The speed limit can be adjusted due to special circumstances (high accident rates, etc.)  The address of the survey was within 50 ft of the address on the citation.   I happen to be traveling at the 85th percentile (50 mph) but the traffic survey lowered the speed due to an "unsafe" intersection a mile up the road.

    This ticket will cost me about $1350 (a $300 ticket and a $350 rise in my insurance rates per year for 3 years, until the tickets get off my record).

    This has made me think about the our legislative, legal, enforcement system.  Here are my thoughts:

    1. The State Legislature.  It seems that a badge of courage for our state congressmen and senators is to sponsor legislation and have it pass.  The goal is improving our society, but it still results in more laws.  One such law is that Californian's are required to have auto insurance.  This creates the first problem by giving insurers an advantage.
    2. Law Enforcement.  The badge of courage for Law Enforcement is "being tough on crime".  That means more tickets, arrests, etc.  The goal is a safe society, but it still results in more citizens being accused of crimes.
    3. Prosecutors - From District Attorneys on down, the badge of courage is convictions - the percentage of accused criminals that are found or plead guilty.
    More laws = more criminals. 
    Better enforcement = even more criminals. 
    Better prosecution = yet more criminals.

    With this formula, is it surprising that our prisons are overflowing?

    This may seem like a silly jump.  From traffic ticket to overcrowded prisons.  Somehow I'll come up with the extra $1350.  There are plenty of people, however, who this would be a burden.  Some of them might not be able to find legal ways to cope.  Thus starts the slippery slope to criminal behavior.

    In his book "A Time To Fight", Senator Jim Webb tells of his experience visiting the Japanese prison system, which is designed to "re-socialize, reform, rehabilitate" offenders [1].  They incarcerate a much smaller percentage of the population and for shorter periods than in the United States.  The Japanese have had this system for about a century.

    When Senator Webb asked how they started this system, they said they learned it from Europe and America.  Japan had a major prison reform [2] around the time that our politicians started "fixing" our prison system [3].  In fairness, Japan is a smaller county with a more homogenized culture, which may make it easier to implement their system than it would be in the United States.  That doesn't mean that I can't question our current formula.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010

    Cool It

    I just finished reading "Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming" by Bjorn Lomborg.  This book is a rare instance of someone crossing lines in the Global Warming battle, resulting in "friendly fire" from his fellow environmentalists.  I will provide a quick summary, provide my review, and then provide an alternate solution.
    Quick Summary

    Here's the book in a nutshell:
    1. Global Warming is bad, but not nearly as bad as people are saying.
    2. Rather than spend money to stop Global Warming, the money would be better spent prioritizing the problems we fix (HIV/AIDS, malaria, malnutrition, sanitation and water supply).
    3. We should also spend money on R&D to fix Global Warming.
    4. This approach will result in the world being stronger and more capable of fixing Global Warming when it starts to become a real problem.
     Whether these solutions cause the knot in your stomach to tighten or loosen is an indicator of which side of the battle you are on.  Since I am trying to be more civil, open and objective, I recommend that you resist the temptation to either brand Bjorn a traitor or fist pump and think "Yes! One more point for the AGW skeptics!". 

    My Review

    1. I agree with Bjorn that the estimates of Global Warming are exaggerated, however this is based on my own analysis [1]
    2. I agree that focusing on solvable social problems makes more sense.
    3. I disagree with Bjorn's analysis on the cost-benefit analysis of these fixes.  As with any attempt by political scientists to "fix things", the hidden costs are ignored.  There are many issues he didn't address, for example the environmental impact of the oceans absorbing CO2. (I remember an experiment in my college Chemistry class where we put a digital acid meter in a cup of water.   When we stirred the water or blew bubbles in it with a straw, the acidity increased).
    4. I was glad to see someone willing to have a conversation about what to do.  It is much more palatable than "The debate is over.  We have to pass Cap and Trade now or else the oceans will boil, all the continents will turn into deserts and all animal life will die!!!".
    Bonus Material - Alternate Solution

    Congratulations!! You made it this far, so you get to hear my solution. 

    By the year 2100, the world's population will grow to over 18 Billion (at current growth rates) which is 300% growth from the year 2000.  By 2100, each person would need to reduce their CO2 emissions by about 80% (Our current CO2 emissions need to be 40-80% of our current levels.  In 2010, each person's share is 1/3 or 13-27% of current levels, or a 73-87% reduction).  Breathing represents around 6-10% of all CO2 emissions, so there isn't much more to cut.

    The real problem is not how much CO2 each person emits but how many people are on the earth!  Since it is politically unacceptable to reduce the number of living people while at the same time acceptable to reduce the number of births (abortions and China's one child policy), we need to provide incentives to reduce the population.

    1. Create CO2 tax on fashion and cosmetics.  Attractive people = more babies = more CO2 = bad.
    2. Create CO2 tax on alcoholic beverages.  Just reducing the attractiveness of people is not enough.  We also need to reduce the alcohol induced attraction.  I once saw a bumber sticker that read "Beer - Helping ugly people have sex for over 100 years".  Alcohol Consumption = more people = more CO2 = bad.  
    3. Create CO2 tax on automotive industry.  Any car shown to be a "chick magnet" should be slapped with a CO2 tax (This is also a nice payback to Japan for Kyoto and Europe for the Copenhagen Climate Summit).  Sexy car = more couples = more babies = more CO2 = bad.
    4. Create CO2 tax on Hollywood.  Any movie or TV show that shows people having sex or that show lavish lifestyles is a stimulus for irresponsible CO2 emissions.  Sex/Luxury = more babied and energy consumption = more CO2 = bad.
    These solutions are of course silly, but I challenge anyone to show how Cap and Trade or other policies are more effective over the long run.

    Wednesday, August 4, 2010

    Prop 8 Declared Unconstitutional

    Today, California's Proposition 8 was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge.

    This blog was primarily started as a place to document my thoughts, feelings and research regarding this complicated issue.  A matter of fact, after Prop 8 passed, my wife was concerned that I wouldn't have anything to write about.

    I've been asked several times today how I feel and this is my answer:

    • I'm happy for the people who fought for and wanted the recognition of same-sex marriage in California.
    • I'm sorry that the trial seemed "unfair" due to:

      The backers of Proposition 8 called only two witnesses, and both made concessions under cross-examination that helped the other side.

      The sponsors complained that Walker's pretrial rulings had been unfair and that some of their prospective witnesses decided not to testify out of fear for their safety.
    • I'm concerned that if this ruling stands, that this new "right" will be used as leverage to degrade aspects of our society: education, religion, etc. 
    • I hope that if this ruling stands, that it will not have a negative impact on our society
    I am trying to deal with the psychological discomfort (no, not "hate" or "bigotry") that I feel towards homosexuality.   I know that if I knew more gays personally it would help.  My daughter mentioned that there was going to be a gay pride parade near her home.  I suggested she go so that she could form her own opinion.  She went.  She experienced severe "psychological discomfort".  If the gay community truly want more public acceptance, maybe they should be more selective in how they "expose" themselves to the public.

    Tuesday, July 27, 2010

    Why Today is Better than 20 years ago

    While there seems to be plenty of news about everything going wrong in the world, I thought I would share a few things I've come across that show why we have it better today than 20 years ago.

    Flying is Safer
    Air travel is 7 times safer today than it was 20 years ago! [1]  One of the reasons is due to sophisticated aircraft simulators used to train pilots.  Pilots now experience realistic scenarios and learn how to react while putting no one at risk.

    Driving is Safer
    Driving is about 40% safer today than it was 25 years ago (17 times safer than it was in 1920!) [2]  This doesn't surprise me considering that I used to "surf" in the back of Mom's station wagon and now I'm surrounded by air bags and I have "stop-on-a-dime" brakes.  It is impressive considering that speed limits have increased by 10-20 MPH.

    Cancer Rates are Dropping
    Cancer deaths and rate of incidence has dropped about 20% over the last 20 years! [3][4]  Note that this isn't just better treatment; fewer people are getting cancer thanks to changes in habits and other environmental changes.

    The Internet
    The Internet was basically non-existent 20 years ago.  Shopping, banking, catching up with friends, movies, music, libraries, etc. are now available.  The world has changed (I think for the better).[5]

    Mobile Phones
    Mobile Phones were big, bulky and expensive 20 years ago.

    Do you know of any other reasons today is better than 1990?

    Saturday, July 17, 2010

    That's Not in My American History Book

    Just finished listening to the audio book "That's Not in My American History Book" by Thomas Ayres.  An interesting book with rich source of historical anecdotes.  Here are some patterns I noticed in these stories (the best is the last one):

    The Hero
    American History loves it's heroes.  Heroes are created for a variety of reasons.  
    1. Literary License.  An author wants to make his story better, so he makes the hero bigger than life.  This is partly how the Wild West was born.  
      • Example: Belle Star wasn't a beautiful female Robin Hood, but instead a mentally deranged woman who once stole some milk cows. 
    2. Preserving Character -  A prominent figure performs a truly heroic act so flaws are suppressed so that their memory is not tainted.
      • Example:  George Washington actually lost many battles and nearly lost the war.
    3. Promotion - History is invented to promote a relative, political candidate, etc.
      • Example: There is no real evidence that Betsy Ross made the first "stars and stripes".  The first time she was brought to public attention was by her grandson in 1870.
    4. Conspiracy - Besides heroes, we also need good villains to blame things on.  Drastic events need a good explanation
      • There is compelling evidence that John Wilkes Booth escaped and moved to Texas and that there was a cover up related to the person who was killed and lies in Booth's grave. 
    Drugs and Alcohol
    I ended up attending a youth conference/retreat for our church and some of the youth obligingly let me listen to the book on our drive.  They actually seemed to enjoy it, making comments and even asking me to resume playing the book after a short stop.  I noticed this while driving with them.
    1. Apparently one of the reasons General Custer lost and died at the Battle of the Little Bighorn (besides the Indians being better armed) was that his troops had been drinking (their canteens where found filled with whiskey).  Custer split his forces, with Captain Benteen in charge of part of the forces.  Benteen's group survived and it is believed that a hangover prevented him from making the rational decision to help defend Custer.
    2. America's Shortest War (in Texas after the Civil War) lasted only a day after the victors returned to town, got drunk, and then were defenseless against the returning U.S. Army.
    3. Salem Witch trials may have been caused by the side effects of drugs that resembled being possessed by evil spirits or being under a witches spell.
    Another pattern in suppressed history is due to prejudice.
    1. Gustav Albin Weisskopf was a German immigrant that designed and flew airplanes before before the Wright Brothers.  Apparently his accomplishments were ignored due to prejudice towards immigrants.
    2. Heroines of the Battlefield - many woman disguised themselves as men to fight in the Civil War.  Sibyl Ludington was a young girl "Paul Revere".  Sexism has made it hard for these woman to get proper recognition they deserve.
    3. James Beckwourth was a mountain man and explorer.  He discovered the pass through the Sierra Nevada mountains to California (now known as Beckwourth Pass).  His adventures are incredible.  You probably haven't heard much of him.  He's African American.  
    In Conclusion, I highly recommend learning a broader spectrum of our history.

    Sunday, July 11, 2010

    Two Bombs Hit World Cup

    I happened to watch the finals today. I haven't had a chance to watch much, of the World Cup, but I've seen the excitement surrounding the event.  This evening, I just read the news about bombs going off during the World Cup (link).  After reading some of the comments, I felt like responding.

    First, many of the comments were quick to demonize Muslims.  If all of the approximately 1 billion Muslims were dangerous terrorist, then we would be much worse off than we currently are.  If the people responsible were Muslim, then they are a fringe group.

    Some or the comments drew comparisons to NATO actions in Afghanistan and Iraq.  There is a difference between targeting innocent people and targeting dangerous people.  I'm just glad that I don't have to make the decision to pull the trigger when the dangerous people hide amongst the innocent.

    Finally, my heart goes out anyone effected in anyway by this terrorist attack.

    Saturday, July 3, 2010

    The Wow Event

    I just finished reading "13 Things That Don't Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time" by Michael Brooks.  I enjoyed the book and found it thought provoking.  Here are a couple of thoughts.

    The Wow! Event

    The Wow! event or Wow! Signal was a radio signal detected by SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) in 1977.  There is no scientific explanation for the signal and it excited researchers who considered it as possible evidence of intelligent beings outside of our Solar System.  The signal lasted 72 seconds and has not been detected since. The signal provided no information other than a location in the sky.

    Scientists have also been probing Mars for life and searching the cosmos for the existence of inhabitable planets.  The idea is that someday, we may want or need to find somewhere to live besides earth.  Mars is significantly less habitable than the more inhabitable location on earth.  The nearest star with habitable planets would take about 60,000 years to reach with our fastest space craft [1]

    I find it ironic that many scientists are critical of religion's:
    1. Belief in an intelligent being that does not live on this earth.
      • Trying to communicate with this being through prayer.
      • For many, a great source of comfort when they "claim" to have communicated with this being.
    2. Belief that after this life, there is a place we will go to live.
      • There is no way experience this place in this lifetime.
    How is SETI and the search for habitable planets any less acceptable than some of the religious beliefs and practices of today?

    Placebo and Homeopathy
    Another interesting subject in the book is the placebo effect and homeopathy.  The placebo effect is getting health benefits from something like a sugar pill just because we are told it will help.  A couple of interesting points:

    A morphine drip will help with pain.  At some point, the morphine can be substituted by saline solution with the same effect.  This is placebo in action.  Now the tricky part.  There is a medicine that, when administered, will block the effects of morphine.  It will also block the placebo effects of the saline solution. 

    Another tricky fact: it is harder for drug companies to get approval for new medications, since they have to perform better than placebos.  The problem is that placebos are getting better!  The explanation is that people have more faith in medicine, so that are more responsive to even placebos.

    Homeopathy is the practice of diluting a harmful substance to provide a cure.  I guess that it is so diluted, than none of the original substance exists.  I'm still on the fence with Homeopathy, but apparently it has an effect better than a placebo.  There is something unexplainable yet real there.  I think the current problem with Homeopathy is that it is "diluted" with a lot of quackery, so you can never know if you are getting something that actually works.

    Free Will
    I guess there are scientists who believe that free will is not real.  They claim our behaviors are just a result of complex chemical and biological reactions.  I acknowledge that our behavior is strongly influenced by nature.  People with brain injuries and other diseases have been known to change their personalities and behavioral patterns.  But to say that all that man has created: music, art, architecture, automobiles, airplanes, man walking on the moon, the computer and the internet are just a result of chemical compulsion seems silly.  I think our lives and our world is a product of will vs. nature.  I would like to think will is winning.  As Robert Frost wrote
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.". 

    Friday, June 25, 2010

    A Time To Fight

    I just finished reading Senator Jim Webb's book "A Time To Fight".  Jim Webb is a Vietnam Vet (Marine) who climbed the military ranks to become Secretary of the Navy.  He's also a successful author.  I enjoyed his book (with the exception of typical political self-promotion and opponent bashing).  A couple of the key take-aways:

    Japanese Prison System
    Senator Webb had the unique opportunity to visit a Japanese prison.  Compared to the U.S., Japan has highly trained prison guards, about 1/10th the prisoners per capita, of which they keep in prison for a shorter period.  They have the of re-integrating the prisoner into society (they teach work skills, respect, etc.)  When asked how they started this they replied that they have been doing this for over a century.  How did they develop this system?  They learned it from the U.S. and Germany.  Where did we go wrong and how do we fix it?

    War Strategy
    Senator Webb was very critical of the war in Iraq.  His description helped me to better frame my opinion about the war. I believe in being supportive of our troops while at the same I generally oppose having gone there in the first place.  I believe that we justly carried out the war and have done good there.

    The issue is long term strategy vs. short term tactics.  In the game of chess (for example), you have to consider the value of all your pieces.  You might make a sacrifice, but only for a greater advantage. 

    • Global Relations - Before the Iraq war, the U.S. had basically universal support in the war on terror.  Our motives are now in question and support has fallen.
    • Financial Costs - The $1 trillion and counting cost of the war was an unfortunate expenditure considering our current crisis.  The additional cost was that it resulted in turning over Congress to the Democrats with basically an open line of credit.  
    • Human Cost -  
      • ~4,000 U.S. Deaths [1]
      • ~30,000 U.S. wounded .
      • ~300,000 to 500,000 with mental health issues.  This was according to an article in a recent issue of the USC Alumni magazine that claims 1 in 3 will return with problems.  Another article claims 1 in 5. [2]   About 1.6 million people have served to date.
      • ~100,000 Iraqi Deaths
      • 1-3 million Iraqi refugees [3]
    • Balance of Power -  This wasn't in "A Time To Fight" but I read another article about the FBI agent, George Piro, that gained Saddam Hussein's confidence [4].  He found that "[Saddam's] prewar weapons of mass destruction deceptions were a ruse to convince Iran - whom he feared - that he had an arsenal." [5] Since we now seem to be worried about Iran, maybe a better strategy would have been to leave Saddam Hussein in power to counter-balance Iran.
    I'm sure there are plenty of benefits to the war, but I'm still not convinced that overall strategy for the Iraq war makes any sense at all.


      Sunday, June 20, 2010

      A Briefer History of Islam

      ~2000 B.C. - The prophet Abraham is Born. Abraham marries Sarah. She can't have kids, so she gives her handmaiden, Hagar, to Abraham. Hagar bears a son, Ishmael, the ancestor of Muhammad, the founder of Islam.
      ~1900 B.C. - Abraham (100 years old) is told his wife Sarah will bear a son. Sarah Laughs. She bears a son, Isaac, the ancestor of Israel and Jesus.
      ~1885 B.C. - Abraham is told to sacrifice his son. Just before he does it, an angel stops him. Because of his obedience, Abraham is promised by the Lord that he will "be a father of many nations" and his seed will as numerous as the "stars of the heaven, and as the sand ... upon the sea shore".

      Bible version: The son was Isaac.[1]
      Islamic version: The son was Ishmael.

      ~570 A.D. - The prophet Muhammad is born.
      ~610 A.D. - Muhammad is meditating in a cave and is visited by an Angel. Over a period of time, he receives revelations that end up being the Quran (Koran). The revelations include instructions on moral living, which help Muhammad and his followers prosper and overpower the barbaric culture that he was raised in.

      750-1200 A.D. - The Islamic Golden Age. During this period, the Islamic world contributed to agriculture, the arts, economics, industry, law, literature, navigation, philosophy, sciences, sociology, and technology.[2] The Middle East was positioned along major trade routes adding to the power of Islam.  Islamic territory expanded to include North Africa, Israel, Spain [3], Bulgaria.  The Crusades attempted to retake Israel.

      1300-1500 A.D. - The European Renaissance.  During this period, Europe absorbed the knowledge from the Islamic world [4] and made advancements in the areas of literature, philosophy, art, politics, science and religion.

      1500-1900 - The Modern Era.  During this period, the Western World saw significant development in science, politics, warfare and technology (including the printing press, advances in navigation, etc.).  Shipping allowed Europeans to bypass the Middle East, reducing the power of Islam.  European weapons and warfare shrunk Islam territories. Islam becomes relatively insignificant.

      1900s - Oil. The world starts getting hungry for Oil and the Middle Eastern Oil fields are discovered. Western technology and know-how is imported to exploit the Oil fields.  Islamic countries start getting more powerful.

      1964 - Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr joins the Nation of Islam and changes his name to Muhammad Ali.

      2001 - 9/11.  Islamic Fundamentalists crash airplanes into the World Trade Center and remind the world about Islam.

      The author and historian Bernard Lewis describes what went wrong [5]. My summary is that while Muhammad's revealed morality greatly benefited Islam, the success resulted in arrogance causing Islam to reject anything from the "infidels".  Unfortunately this included many critical advancements that left Islam way behind.  Bernard Lewis also claims that Islamic restrictions on women reduce the potential contributions from half their population.

      We can all learn a lesson from this history.

      [1] Genesis 22:2
      [2] Howard R. Turner (1997), Science in Medieval Islam, p. 270 (book cover, last page), University of Texas Press, ISBN 0-292-78149-0
      [5] What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East

      Wednesday, June 16, 2010

      Terrorism kills, and Barbara Boxer’s worried about the weather.

      The primaries are over and Barbara Boxer has launched a website to provide "facts" about Carly Fiorina.

      I think that some of "Call me Senator" Boxer's attacks may backfire. Specifically the "Fiorina’s Flippant Climate Change Attack".
      “One of the very important national security issues we face, frankly, is climate change,” the ad shows Boxer opining in 2007. “Terrorism kills,” Fiorina declares in response, “and Barbara Boxer’s worried about the weather.”

      First of all, equating climate change with the weather is childish in its ignorance. Fortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency has a helpful kids’ site that enunciates the difference. “Weather,” the site notes, “describes whatever is happening outdoors in a given place at a given time. Weather is what happens from minute to minute.” In contrast, “Climate is the long-term average of a region’s weather events lumped together…Climate describes the total of all weather occurring over a period of years in a given place.”

      I didn't know "equating climate change with the weather" was such a serious fault. I would like to see a definition of "Climate Change" that doesn't use the word "weather" nor have anything to do with the weather.

      Fiorina should have said "Terrorism kills, and Barbara Boxer’s worried about the long-term average of weather events". Not as catchy.
      Don't call me ma'am

      Tuesday, June 8, 2010

      The Bachelorette

      After the TV show "Lost" ended, I thought that I would have an extra hour per week. Last week, my wife was watching The Bachelorette. She makes fun of me for acting uninterested as I ask questions, make comments and laugh.

      I have to confess that I genuinely like The Bachelorette. If you read my blog much, you may be surprised to read this. Why do I like it?

      1. I have developed a genuine interest in "reading" people. Lately that has included a lot of politicians. Its funny how they respond to Tea Parties, angry Town Hall meetings and basically any criticism. Non-verbal communication fascinates me and The Bachelorette is very rich. A bunch of guys competing for a very nice, attractive young lady creates an intriguing reality.

      2. I recently watched a couple of Oprah's New Earth classes. Most of it is way too esoteric, but there is a cool concept of "the power of now". It reminds of the book "The Inner Game of Tennis". When the guys on the show start thinking about what's at stake and not enjoying the present moment, you can see it in their face and whole body. It's a death sentence on this show. It's a real kick to see these guys go from confident to worried panic.

      The Guys:

      The Weatherman - Last week he was being bullied by another guy. He really got his feathers ruffled. The tenseness in his face, his obsessive reaction to everything the bully did. He felt obligated to warn Ali about the bully. He was given a rose (saved). My wife pointed out that while all of these guys are vying for Ali, she saved the Weatherman because she now had a spy into the house. No matter what he does, he sets himself up to be used.

      The Bully - He saw the weak one in the herd (the Weatherman) and it was too easy. He was actually pretty funny. He got kicked off because he competed against the guys, not for the girl.

      Enough for now. The show is surprisingly entertaining.

      Friday, June 4, 2010

      Civility and the Oil Spill

      I think its time for a dose of civility related to the current oil spill.

      1. Can Hollywood help with the Oil Spill?

      • James Cameron, Kevin Costner, Spike Lee and Robert Redford offered to help.
      • James Cameron was rejected by BP.  His response: "They're just a bunch of morons."
      • Actor Paul Sorvino thinks BP should accept their help.  Watch this video:


      Complex problems need the people and organizations best equipped to solve the problem.

      After spending my career as an engineer and scientist, there is nothing more frustrating than having someone try and help who doesn't fully understand the complexity of a problem.  For example, in the case of the oil spill, there is a complex mixture of hydrocarbons flowing out of a complex system of pipes one mile under the ocean. Remote controlled robots requiring extensive training and experience to operate are being used to fix the problem.

      Asking Hollywood to help makes about as much sense having James Cameron ask deep sea oil experts help make an Avatar sequel.

      In fairness to these actors, I respect their willingness and desire to help and it would be great if their resources could be used, at least to help with the clean up.
      2. Are Obama and/or Bush to blame for anything to do with the oil spill?
      • Political types are quick to blame Obama or Bush for the oil spill, depending on which side they are on.  Why did they let this happen?  Why aren't they doing more? What should they be doing?

      I was very impressed with the interview between Larry King and Obama.  I thought Obama actually sounded presidential. Video Here

      1:35 Larry: "...wants the Defense Dept. more fully involved...more troops..."
      2:20 Larry: "What part of this is your baby?"
      3:00 Obama: "My Job ..."
      3:10 Obama: "When it comes to solving this problem..."
      3:30 Obama: "BP has the best equipment and technology"
      3:39 Obama: "Our Responsiblity ..."


      People need to understand that this world is way too big and complex to hold one person responsible for problems, even if they are the U.S. President.  It's fair to criticize the politicians when they claim they are going to fix things (Health Care, financial crisis, immigration, etc.)

      If your are strongly opposed to a person, group, etc., you don't have to hate everything they do.

      A post about naturally occurring oil leaks in the ocean

      Tuesday, June 1, 2010

      He hit me first

      I was reminded of a scientific study where two people had sensors placed on them (their arms or chests, I don't remember). The first person was told to tap or hit the second person. The second person was told to tap/hit the first person with the same force.

      The result: The second person always hit harder than the first.

      Not surprising. Tender flesh is more sensitive than your knuckles, so you do have to hit harder to have equal pain.

      Recently I made a comment on a website. The author of a new book was interviewed and I made a comment:
      I started wondering if [the author] was a disgruntled employee at ..., since he seemed to depart from scholarship and opted for unsubstantiated innuendo. He left me satisfied at the end [of his interview].
      He responded
      please advise me re: scholarship and unsubstantiated innuendo, as I’ve only written a doctoral dissertation and published a lengthy volume which documents what I describe. You have apparently listened to some of a podcast interview. Now feel free to read what I’ve written, and get back to me with your counsel.

      I was never, to my knowledge, gruntled as an employee, and thus cannot see how I am currently in a state of disgruntlement. Did I sound disgruntled? Was I pleased with how things ‘worked’ there? Obviously not, for reasons I give in the book. Of course, that I may or may not be a disgruntled employee entirely answers every argument I make, and clearly proves the contrary case, whatever that may be. Only gruntled persons can make true statements, for sure.
      He was hitting me back harder than I hit him. I then responded:
      I owe you a read of your book or dissertation (is it available?). My apologies for the use of a poorly selected word “disgruntled”. I was only responding to your language where you seemed to communicate dissatisfaction with your experience
      Did I take the easy way out of a good Internet flame war?

      His final response answers this question:
      No problem, I am sorry I reacted rather prickly. There’s such a loss in communication when we don’t have the voice to attend to the words. I actually made a few jokes about being ‘gruntled’ in the book, as I was expecting the term to be thrown at me. The links to both volumes can be found on the first page of the interview.

      Friday, May 28, 2010

      Restasis Commercial

      I keep seeing the same Restasis commercial on TV and I seem to be the only one bothered by it. When it comes on, I pause the commercial and do a play-by-play analysis for whomever in my family is watching.

      1. It starts with a woman telling her doctor that she's tired of using eye drops "several times a day".
      2. The doctor gives her a prescription for Restasis and says that it will "promote tear production" and she can use her other drops less.
      3. The woman acts nervous about using a prescription eye medicine.
      4. The doctor reassures the woman saying she uses Restasis herself, twice daily.

      If Restasis is so good, why does it only reduce the need for drops from several times a day to twice a day?

      The poll results from my family:
      My mother-in-law said she didn't notice this (she's very polite to me).
      My son said I was over analyzing it.
      My wife didn't seem to really care.

      Full disclosure: I used Restasis after Lasik eye surgery. It was very expensive, but also pretty darn good. I look forward to the generic, over-the-counter version someday.

      Monday, May 24, 2010

      Lost Finale

      I guess I better write about "Lost" while it is still a news story. I have to confess that I have been a faithful viewer.

      I am amused at the response to the final episode of "Lost" from other viewers. Many were disappointed that a grand unified meaning of every quirky thing from six seasons wasn't provided. Others were content with the "happily ever after" finale.

      Here's my analysis:

      The writers had a responsibility to sell each 1 hour show and try to get people to come back for more. Fortunately, the writer's were intelligent and made the story interesting: interesting characters and crazy situations. Some of these situations were resolve in the 1 hour, others took several episodes, and some were never resolved (kind of like real life). I think it is unrealistic to expect anything more.

      I appreciate what was created, I enjoyed it, but I'm glad it is over. That's an extra hour I now have every week.

      Saturday, May 22, 2010

      More FDR: Wheat and Tares

      I heard a positive news story recently that ties together several of my past blog posts. San Diego State University gave honorary degrees to Japanese American students who were forced to leave school in 1942 due to being sent to an internment camp [1]

      As I read about the story further, I learned something shocking about this embarrassing episode in U.S. history: It was Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) who signed Executive Order 9066 that created the internment camps! This info made me think of a few of my posts from last year where I tried to answer the question: was FDR's New Deal good or bad for the country? My source of information were interviews with some of my octogenarian friends[2][3]

      To save you the trouble, the results were:
      The New Deal was great, putting people to work and literally saving lives, unless you were a small business owner who had to pay more than your fair share or a rancher/farmer who felt a man needs to fend for himself.

      I don't think I need to do another survey to see if people agree that the internment camps were bad. This is where my post Wheat and Tares comes in. We all have good (Wheat) and bad (Tares) in our conduct and character. With another election coming up, I wish the candidates (and critics) would acknowledge this and quit the character assassinations.

      Also, I wonder how many Americans called FDR a racist for what he did. I think we've come along way as a country since then.

      Tuesday, May 18, 2010

      Time For a New Name

      I was surprised that this article didn't point out the interesting name of the "Chair of the Pro Choice Caucus". If I were for abortions, I wouldn't want my name to be "Slaughter".

      The chairwoman of the House Pro-Choice Caucus urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to press Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan about her views on abortion rights.

      Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said she was concerned about a memo Kagan wrote during the Clinton administration supporting legislation to ban some partial birth abortions.

      Saturday, May 15, 2010

      The Boy Who Harvested the Wind

      This is a review of William Kamkwamba's book "The Boy Who Harvested the Wind". This book is an amazing story of life in Africa today, told first hand. It shows:
      • The superstitions that still exist.
      • Struggles of individuals due to lack of education and other opportunities, as well as alcohol abuse.
      • Political corruption that lead to a devastating famine.
      • First hand account of the famine.
      • The story of individuals struggling to survive.
      • The amazing inventiveness of one boy to improve the quality of life for his family and village by building a windmill out of junk.
      Many of my views were reconfirmed by this story.
      • Human suffering is tragic and real.
      • Giving aid to corrupt governments is a VERY ineffective way to reduce this suffering.
      • Local community leaders are a better source of meeting the needs of a community.
      • Solutions to problems can come from the most unexpected places.
      • Providing people opportunities to learn and help themselves is the best solution.
      Here's a video of William Presenting what he did at a TED conference.

      Here's a clip from a documentary:

      Assault on Reason

      This is a review of Al Gore's book "Assault on Reason". If you're familiar with my views, you may be surprised that I would even read his book, but I am seriously trying to be more "civil" in my discussions [1].

      Pres. Obama actually made a valid point in his commencement address at the University of Michigan [2] about listening to opposing viewpoints:
      Still, if you’re somebody who only reads the editorial page of The New York Times, try glancing at the page of The Wall Street Journal once in a while. If you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil; your mind may not be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship.
      A year ago I read the "Conscience of a Liberal" by Paul Krugman and so I figured it was time for another dose of opposing views.

      I was actually quite surprised by how much I enjoyed and agreed with Al Gore's book. He made a good case about the problems of politics in the U.S. today, presenting scientific studies and other information. He discussed the problem of special interests and how they manipulate the political conversation and agenda.

      The problem that I had with this book is that after a convincing discourse on America's "assault on reason", it then proceeded to carry out an "assault on reason". The book waged a full attack on President Bush and Republicans. Everything they did was criminal. Not one mention was made of any crimes made by Democrats. "Reason" and civil discourse lead me to acknowledge the faults in my own thoughts and beliefs and recognize the good in opposing views.

      Al Gore missed an opportunity to do this. I was surprised to actually make it half-way through the book before getting tired of the force-feeding of anti-Bushisms. I think the best way to summarize this book is "A spoon full of sugar helps the kool-aid go down".

      Sunday, May 2, 2010

      Marijuana and Earthquakes

      California has an initiative on the ballot in the Nov. 2010 election to legalizing marijuana. One of the main arguments for this is that criminalizing pot results in the problems found in the 1920s during prohibition. This is a compelling argument but reminds me of my experience with earthquakes. Every time there is an earthquake, my friends and relatives from out of state call to see if I'm okay. They see the dramatic coverage of large fissures, fallen buildings, etc. and immediately worry about us. Meanwhile, we get about 30 seconds of shaking to liven our conversations (no material damage).

      The "narrative" for prohibition seems to focus on the epicenter in Chicago with Al Capone and his bootlegging friends. However, today there are 100s of dry counties in the U.S that prohibit alcohol without even the slightest aftershock. The best argument I found against "dry counties" was that people who consume alcohol have to drive farther to get intoxicated and therefore are driving drunk longer.

      Here are my views on legalizing marijuana:

      1. The Federal Government does not, nor should it, have the power to restrict our liberties (At least they realized in 1920 that this was unconstitutional resulting in an amendment).
      2. There are plenty of people who will make bad decisions when trying to provide, procure or use self-medicating substances.
      3. There are plenty of people who are perfectly content avoiding self-medicating substances (legal or not).
      (The next two are from a friend who is a Criminal Defense Attorney).
      4. "There is nothing that leads a person faster to a worthless life that smoking pot".
      5. "We should expect all citizens to be productive members of society, otherwise they are a drain on our resources".
      6. If thinking about this gives you a headache, please don't go and get a medical marijuana card.