2015-11-28

Owning Up ....

"Birds of a feather flock together"

A bit of background:

That phrase was taught to me by my parents way back when.  Often, it was when they were pointing out examples of people they thought I should probably not 'hang with' or whatever the long forgotten term for spending inordinate amounts of time in a certain social group was back then.  I have generally thought of myself as an outsider and someone who is loath to 'join' much of anything.  Sort of a both secular and sectarian "in the world but not of the world" attitude I suppose.  I prefer to be able to float into pretty much any social situation and then float back out at will.  

I like it that way.  

Call me selfish, but I don't like having to carry the load for some other jerks stupidity just because 'we're buds' or whatever.  If those I am with are getting stupid, I simply exit.  The inverse advantage of this approach is that others (hopefully) don't end up burdened by my stupidity. Of course it does not always work out that way, but the concept is nice and clean.  It is an ideal to strive for... .  

When it comes to belief systems, standing alone holds true for me.  I am a Christian.  I was raised a Christian.  We studied theology at home(my parents met in seminary).  I am fairly conversant in protestant theology, not an expert by any means, but far beyond the fundamentals that I hear most Christians talk about when they decide to sit and discus their faith.  That being said, I am far from the bible toting and quoting evangelist.  I have my beliefs, they are mine, I don't expect anyone else to agree with them.  Nor am I interested in convincing anyone else that my beliefs are 'right'.  They are good for me.  On the flip side of that, I am more than happy to sit down over a brandy and coke and delve into beliefs, whether mine or someone else's.  It is really fascinating!  It is a meta-physical exploration and as such, wide open and freeing...   

Me Owning up: 

Regardless of how independent I think I am, my belief system associates me with a particular group of people: Protestant Christians. There are all sorts of these folks.  They come in all sorts of flavors, many of which I find to be bitter.  Others are tolerable, and some are just cool.  But they all call themselves Christians, and thus don the 'feathers that make the flock'.   Buddhists, Atheists, Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, Muslims, Mormons, Christians, etc... .  People gather together to support each other and to achieve some external source of self-affirmation. There is nothing inherently wrong with that.  It is natural and normal.  

It is also dangerous and potentially destructive....

Wars have been fought, kingdoms destroyed, rape, pillage, plunder, enslavement, torture and other nasty things have been done by and to people because of differences in belief systems:  Mine included.   I could sit back and say "well, we have come a long way since ..." and wash my hands of some of the things that have been done, and are being done, in the name of Christ.  Frankly, I think Christ (if he exists as I believe he does) is probably appalled.

But appalled or not, agree or not, I am associated with the flock of Christians for good, bad or indifferent and am thus associated with the actions and consequences of that group.  I am compelled in some ways to own up.  When Mike Huckabee or Ben Carson start using their belief system to justify their politics, I have to own up to that.  I don't think they should.  I take a very firm stance on separation of church and state.  

As an example: Mike Huckabee argues that we should support Israel in the building of homes on land given to the Jews by Abraham.  Frankly, I have not seen Abraham around recently and really don't understand why something Abraham said should be used as a platform for current foreign policy.  The old testament is not to the best of my knowledge a binding document for every country in the world, nor should it be.  There may be very good reasons to support Israel in building homes on the contested land.  What Abraham did or did not say is not one of them in my view.  I will forgo other issues (some of them simply embarrassing to me because of the 'flocks' approach to them) and simply leave the this as an example of how I think about belief systems relative to politics.....  

The point is that, whether I want to be or not, I am associated in name with Mike Huckabee.  I have to own that or I can not rightly call myself a Christian.  One does not get to just float in and out of such a broad category.  One chooses....  I chose, so I own it.  And yeah, for me that sucks!  I am sure that Huckabee is a good guy on a personal level, but his politics is just plain un-American.  It is that simple to me. 
 But I still own it..........

Picking on Muslims and Owning up:

Islam is interesting.  I have been reading the Quran (slowly) to try to educate myself a bit.  I have a long way to go, and that is fine.  I wish to be informed, not converted.  

Islam is a belief system, just like Christianity and the rest.  And those folks who identify with that system own it.  And frankly, I expect them to hold up to that ownership.  I have to live with my Huckabee, and the Muslims have to live with and own up to Jihad.  Neither is acceptable.

I am going to simply state it bluntly.  Jihad is a Muslim problem, and it should be up to Muslims to solve it.  The rest of the world should be in support of that effort.  However, we do not have to tolerate it.  Same goes with Sharia law.  If Sharia is important, that is understandable and acceptable as long as it does not infringe on others.  In the United States, there is one source of all law:  The Constitution.  So if you want Sharia, live elsewhere.  

Theocracy is fundamentally anti-American.  And Christians ought to remember that too!  If you want a Christian nation, go make one somewhere.  I prefer a nation that allows me to be Christian, but has no right to compel me to be one!  

Separation of Church and State.  There is a damn good reason for it!  It is called "free will".






2015-11-17

Just living...

This is yet another naval gazing post in some ways I suppose, except I am writing for someone else this time, not just for me.  A person (who I know by name only really) has cancer.  It is serious and life threatening, just like mine is.  And that is what I want to examine from my own perspective for that person with the hope that they and those who support that person find some value in what, and more importantly how, I think about my good buddy - Multiple Myeloma.

First of all, it is a bitch.  I sometimes feel sorry for myself to the point of sitting down and weeping.  I don't care if that makes me a weak-assed wimp.  It happens.  I have taken pride in my ability to face adversity in my life, and I know damn well that there are those who have faced a lot more of it than I have.  Never-the-less, cancer is the unexpected challenge for which I was totally unprepared.  And yeah, it kicks my ass some days.  I hurt, I often can't sleep, I look in the mirror and don't recognize the reflection.  For 51 years, on the rare occasion that I looked in a mirror I pretty much knew what to expect.  I still expect it, and am still surprised at the contrast between the reflection and the expectation.  It goes deeper than that....

I have seldom been one who recalls dreams, or even that I had dreams.  I just didn't connect with that part of my conscious on a regular basis.  Now however, I dream and I remember them.  In my dreams, I am what I was before cancer.  I work, I run, I am strong and agile and reasonably coordinated with good balance, ...and I am a fighter.  Not in a physical sense, but in the sense that I have fought all my life with concepts and ideas and values and principles.  I am not a good fighter, but I am persistent....

.... and then I wake up, and for those first few milliseconds of dream recall - I am what I used to be - .  It is a real shock in the following milliseconds to recognize that my reality and my conscious perceptions are substantially and drastically different than my subconscious perceptions.  I am sure this sounds like a bunch of hacker psycho-babble, and maybe it is.  However, at the same time, this is my truth.  I am a self image overlaid with reality.  The two do not mesh.  And that is difficult.

Like the person I am thinking about and writing for, my cancer is advanced.  I have outlived my statistical life expectancy twice now.  My cancer is comparatively rare.  The only thing I have going for me is that I got it at an younger age than most.  I am twenty months into a 28 month life expectancy.  Yeah, those are just statistics.  I may live 20 years, who knows?

Like the person I am thinking about, I am sometimes frustrated, sometimes angry, sometimes just bummed, and sometimes all of them. Every time I go to the oncologist I wonder what the blood work will look like.  Will the test show an increase in the ratio of kappa and lambda light chains that indicate the cancer is re-activating?  Will we have to increase the chemo again... take the mind-bending steroids?

This is part of my life..... and in those few words comes the reprieve....  .  To the person I am thinking about..... you got some information today that is disappointing.  But remember, it is only information.  Information is good.  It informs one of what options one might have.  It provides a path forward.  I would rather know.... and I hope you would too.

Another observation:  We talk about fighting cancer, beating cancer, eradicating cancer.  We talk about fighting to live, of doing everything we can to hang on to life.  Life is a beautiful thing, from which we all will exit at some point.  i did a lot of fighting to stay alive, I still do a bit of that fighting, but not so much anymore.  I found that fighting to stay alive took so much time that I didn't have time to live life.  I was so busy fighting for it that I was not living it.  I don't know how much life I have left.  Some days I suspect it is a lot, some days i know it won't be much more.  The bottom line is that I just don't know.  So I am just like everyone else, ignorant of when I will go.  I like not knowing.  I didn't know before I got cancer, and I really don't know now.  Same shit, different day....
I am not saying don't fight: I am saying don't spend all your time fighting.  Spend all you can living, just like you would if you didn't have cancer....

Those of us that have cancer are different from those that don't have cancer in a lot fewer ways than we think.  Cancer has become a label, sort of like leprosy was a long time ago.  There are the physical impacts of course.  The time spent with medical professionals, insurance companies, etc... .  That is sort of differentiating of course...   But that label also affects our self image... more than it should I think.   My dreams are true...that is me in those images, strong, agile, cantankerous... .  I have not changed really.  Inside, where it counts, I am still me.  Outside....well, does it really matter that I am a cancerous hunchback?  I don't think so, not as much as we let on.
I hope that person that I am thinking about remembers that we are living, not dying.  That person, I have learned, is open, interesting, engaged and, I hope, proud of themselves.  I hope that when it is time to cry, you are strong enough to cry, and then when you are done crying, you laugh.  You laugh at yourself, at the craziness in the world you see around you. I hope that you do those things that you simply want to do.  Just do them as if you will never stop doing them.

I hope that you understand that even though I don't really know you, I give a damn.  We share similar challenges, and more importantly to me, you share it openly.  Because of you, I know I am not alone.  We are not the same of course, but we are similar.  I find that comforting and intriguing.  I hope you know that your sharing openly is one of your unique strengths, and that it is valuable.  I like that about you.  I hope that this is in some way helpful ... maybe you know all this and I am being presumptions(it would not be the first time! ).  At any rate, helpful or otherwise, I wish you laughter and joy and peace of mind...  from those things comes strength I think.

2015-10-03

We Just Want To Win...

...am up, as in awake, still.  Have tried to sleep twice now and it isn't working.  My body is a mess: I worked too hard today.  My doctor would be all over me with stern but professional caring if she knew what I did today.  I hurt.  But that is not keeping me awake, not really.

My mind won't shut off...  It won't make sense either.  I mean, all my thoughts make sense, but they don't finish.  Any given thought gives rise to a tangent thought which then becomes the focus, which means the last thought just dropped into the nether world, probably to be encountered again at some similar cognizant node.

So I make a pan of brownies.  Off to the little white cabinet, pull out the box I got at the Dollar Store five weeks ago along with the small plastic bottle of vegetable oil. Grab the 9x13 cake pan that I got at the same place for three bucks.  Then to the tiny white fridge for the butter and eggs.  I check the box to make sure I know how much of what to use:  Two eggs: that is easy.  A third of a cup of water, and two thirds cup of oil.  Pre-heat the gas stove I yanked out of the camper in which I resided all last summer after the transplant and half of this summer...but that is another tangent....focus Wes.  Your drifting again....

I don' have a measuring cup, so guess at the oil and water amounts.  Grab the box again to see what temp the oven is supposed to be at.  350...  ...my eyes drift to the nutrition listing on the box, then to the ingredients:  Good God!   One would think that flour, sugar and cocoa would be about it.  Someone decided that fudge brownies should have other stuff in them.  And some of the ingredients MIGHT be included, or not.  I guess it must be up to whether or not they have this in stock today, or if the have that in stock today.

I check out the bottle of vegetable oil: Same shit.  Might have some stuff, certainly has other stuff, some of which hurt my teeth to pronounce out loud.  I realize that the only thing I can count on are the eggs.  I know where they came from, right here on the Farm.

I check Face Book:  There are several conversations I have glommed onto:  The recent 10 dead in Oregon, Monsanto's new solution to super weeds.... and I realize that, as is often the case, the conversations quickly devolve into two general themes, as if there are two sects of the same religion, both worshiping the God of Right, but disagreeing about the Right part.

...my mind drifts... Right.  I long ago determined that Right is God's territory, not human kinds.  We just don't have that capability.  Too many variables for our limited minds.  We can sometimes get things Good, but only by chance do we get things Right.  I gave up on Right.  I am satisfied with managing some good now and again.

Why is that?  I used to fight, argue, malign, slander, libel ...whatever it took to get it Right.  Now I don't give a shit.  There is no right.  And yet I find that everyone wants to be right, everyone wants to win.

We are not looking for solutions: We are arguing about the problem.  Some use data, some use ethics and morality.  Some use both.

But it seems to me that it is not about finding a solution, finding what might be good.  No, we would rather be Right.  And as long as we argue about what is Right, we are highly unlikely to do much fucking good.

#########################################################################
...drifting... back to the brownies now in the oven with my phone counting down the time to when they are supposed to be done.  Is making brownies the Right thing to do?  Hell!  I don't know!  Seems good to me at the moment.  ....oh yeah.... I just remembered: I don't give a shit.
########################################################################

....drifting.... I recall driving my rig through Korea back in '85.  The mountains are beautiful, the roads are narrow and the load on my trailer is dangerously loose.  I come around a corner, downshifting because the brakes are already hot.  Half way through the corner I stomp the brakes and yank the handle on the trailer brakes as well.... I come to a stop not 10 feet from some goofy old guy in rags with a walking stick, traipsing down the middle of the road: And I mean the middle.  If those roads had center lines, this SOB would be stumbling along right on it.  WTF!

I climb down out of the cab to make sure he is OK.  Maybe he needs some toilet paper or something.  I sure would have if I was him, but then I would not be walking in the middle of the bloody road either...

#########################################################################
Memory interuptus... brownies are supposed to be done according to my phone... I check.  Nope, set the phone for another eight minutes.  No idea where I got that number, it just showed up in my fractured thoughts.  ....an even number...  ...shit!  I am drifting again... forget the number!
#########################################################################

....the old Korean guy just smiles at me when I ask if he is OK.  He does not speak English.  I could have looked concerned and called him every name in the book and he would have just smiled....and simply walked around the truck, staying as close to the center of the road as was possible, walking stick clicking on the tarmac.  I shake my head, cuss him under my breath, get back in the semi and cuss him some more.  He just does not care, I think to myself.  He does not care if he get smeared all over the road by a thirty five thousand pound vehicle.  He does not care whether he lives or dies.  He does not give a shit that if I killed him, I would end up in the brig, lose rank, lose my chance at an honorable discharge...  what right does he have not to care!  Why the middle of the God damned road!?

He is not unique.  A lot of old men in Korea do this.  Simply wander about making an impediment of themselves, getting in the way of all that needs to be done.  They don't care, I think....

And here I am, some thirty years later, realizing that those old fools do care.  They do want to live.....

########################################################################
Realization interuptus.... the brownies again....  what did I do with the damn fork!?....  Still aren't done... .  Clearly the folks that put the instructions on the box must have also been the ones who stated that 'maybe' some things might be included in the ingredients.  Morons!  .....
########################################################################

...and I want to live too.  But I no longer want to play the game.  I don't want to do it the way it is 'supposed' to be done.  I want to do it the way that it makes sense.  I don't want to do it the Right way.  I want to do it so that maybe some good comes from it.....  I want to be part of coming up with a solution.  Knowing that the solution will last only until the problem mutates into some other form of itself, forcing a modification to the solution.  And that is why there is no Right.  Right is static.  It is binary.  It is immutable.  Our Right is Wrong!

...drifting.... I wonder about the Heaven that my slowly dying father does so look forward to.  I hope for him that it is what he yearns for.  I hope for me to.  Endless perfection is not heaven to me.  Endless perfection seems static.  I don't think heaven is static....   ...don't know where that came from either..... another fucking tangent...  focus Wes!  Geez!

I don't want to win, I don't want to be Right.   I just want to walk down the middle of the road....

...the brownies are done.....

2015-09-15

There Is No Theory of Everything - An Article Worth Reading

..There Is No Theory of Everything..

This is well worth the read in that it is applicable to the incredible mess we have turned ourselves into as a society that mixes fact with elucidation and assumes that either one should work equally in any given situation.  Our choices in dealing with any given contentious issue is to apply one or the other, when one would work and the other not work at all.  The "Blue Pill" analogy is particularly poignant in contrasting the applicability of either 'answer'.

Frank, the subject of much of this article, reminds me a great  deal of Robert Pirsig, the author of "Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" and subsequently "Lila".  The assumptions made are very similar, though the story Pirsig tells is disturbing in it's setting while Frank remains in the real world of applied philosophy.  Both of these authors look for a 'balance' between objective fact and subjective deduction based on more distant observation.  Two tangents aimed at the same belief that we are missing the boat when we argue one world view against the other not to mention mix elements of both to make a point without really understanding the point we are making.

There is one additional similarity as close as I can tell(I have not read Franks works, only this article about him, whereas I have read both of Pirsigs books a couple of times).  Neither one of these authors addressed spirituality.  Pirsig would describe a belief system, but never really address in terms other than 'it's existence is explained by the need to deal with those things which impact us but for which we have no provable evidence'.(that is not a quote, it is my interpretation.  Franks view on belief systems is not mentioned by the author, which may or may not mean that it was irrelevant to Frank.  However, I assume for the moment that had it been, the article author would have mentioned it.

A major difference between the two is that Frank has no time for metaphysics, whereas Pirsig was all about metaphysics: Which is one of the things that I really like about Pirsig. On the other hand, Franks approach is very direct which is also very attractive to me.....


2015-09-11

Drive Them Into the Sea..... This Ain't the Civil War Idiots!

As an individual interested in technology I get a number of 'suggested posts' on Face Book and other media touting one form of tech or another that is going to be the 'answer to oil' or 'the carbon based fuel buster' or some such.  What a crock!  There are entirely too many forces driving carbon-based fuels into our consumption model for any one given technology to replace.  It is not that the technology can't do it: It is that we are too lazy to allow it.  It is easy to bitch about the crooked oil companies.  It is easy to bitch about the polution.  Just as it is easy to bitch about 'eco-terrorists' disrupting our handy business model that keeps homes warm, trucks delivering goods, and Aunt Martha on the plane to Thanks Giving dinner every year.  Oh, and to ignore the cost of all that convenience.  The opposing sides of the traditional/alternative energy debate are equally deluded.  Alternative energy is not going to drive carbon-based fuel usage into the history books any time soon.  And the energy industry is long past the days where they can dump and run with the money.

This is not the civil war.  This is not North vs South.  And the war will not be won by one side defeating the other.  There are, however, very similar driving forces involved.  There is a moral imperitive, there is money and the accomanying power, and there is change ahead, big change!!

Like the civil war, business is the driving force in this battle.  Two different models competing, not for dominance, but for the anaihalation of each other.

Societal change:  global population, aging US population, increasing imigrant population.

Economic change: Further automation=fewer jobs, increasing wage/corporate profit disparity,

Natural change:  Climate?  Water availability?  


Our current infrastructure is both physically and economicaly tied to a monopolistic model. While there are numerous companies that generate useable energy, there are really not any little guys, are there?  Nope, power generation and delivery is tied to a central system, and it is highly inconvenient to have individuals contributing to the centralized system in any way other than by paying the monthly bill.


My interest in alternative energy tech is two fold:

  1. I like the idea of doing things differently.  Change is good, it means we are responding to a real world, the changes it presents to us, and the changes we make in it.  Not changing is likely to lead to things being changed for us, which puts us in reacive mode instead of directive mode.  I like direciive mode.
  2. Energy should be free.  Why?  Because we are bombarded by it every mili-second of our existence.  


We are not (yet) charged for the air we breath, why should we be charged for the energy we use?  Ahhhh.... there is the rub!  We are not being charged for energy, just the use of it.
I don't like that.  We can and should do better.




https://crowdenergy.org/mobile/?ims=fbcommo

Outsourcing War

A recent NY Times article on the state of so called 'security companies', written in the wake of recent sentences handed down for killings in Iraq by Blackwater Employees, shows just how unsavory the industry is.  The article itself does not seem to take a side, but the points it brings up beg some serious questions for us as tax payers.

We fund the largest war machine on the planet.  No one can contradict this.  While China may have more soldiers, they are no match for the combined technical acumen and funding of the Unites States armed forces.  We spend more than $600 Billion each year on defense.

Questions:

  1. Does that $600 Billion include these contractors?  Or do the contractors draw their pay from other sources as well, like the State Department, the CIA, the NSA, etc...
  2. Are these contractors held to the same standard found in the Uniform Code of Military Justice?  If they are working for the military, shouldn't they be?
  3. Are they paid at the same rate as our soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen?  Shouldn't they be?
  4. If a company makes money by participating in a war in a function which provides armed resources, is that not a company of mercinaries?
  5. Why, with the largest, most expensive standing force in the world, would we need to hire mercenaries?  Is it to get around the rules of war?  Is it to distance ourselves as a government from actions we would not allow our military to take?  If so, do we want our government taking such actions?



http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/15/world/middleeast/blackwaters-legacy-goes-beyond-public-view.html?emc=edit_th_20150415&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=55050665

Conservative - On a Personal Note

Always the labels!  But what do they really imply?  Conservative, Progressive, Liberal, Neo-Conservative, Neo-Liberal, Left-Winger, Right-Winger, etc... .

For about 30+ years I considered myself a middle of the road Republican for many reasons.  Some of those reasons were 'inherited' because I really did not take the time to think about the issues and simply followed along with those that I associated with(family, friends, work associates etc...).

Now that I have time to actually break down those reasons into component parts and think about them, as well as the time to actually consider other points of view, I have found reason (or many reasons) to disassociate myself from that long cherished label.  I am not, and probably never would have been a Republican (nor a Democrat for that matter).  I am however a conservative by my reckoning.

So what does it mean to be a Conservative? (To me, that is)

Start with the word 'conserve'.  To me that means maintain that which has value.  Also implied is the discarding of that which does not have value or which reduces value.  To maintain without discarding is the worst form of orthodoxy.  The result is a convoluted, tangled mess of rules which are abused to the advantage of a few and the dis-advantage of many.  To conserve, one needs to determine what is valuable, and to whom it brings value.  To do so, one has to decide what is valuable; And that is a tough proposition!

Why is determining value hard?
The tough part of determining value is that it requires one to 'decide'.  There is no formula to come up with a fixed definition of value.  The word itself implies that it refers to a quantitative and deterministic result of measurement.  But value is anything but either deterministic or quantitative unless working within the world of science.  The essence of value is subjective; we have to choose what is valuable.  What then is valuable to me?

It used to be that which:

  • Improved my lot and the lot of my family
  • Improved the lot of those in my community
  • Improved the lot of my country
  • Improved the lot of humanity
...in that descending order of priority.... and that remains the same to this day.  What has changed is that I now realize that I am inversely constrained by by each of those priorities.  The closer I get to that which improves that which I hold most valuable, the more constrained I find myself.  This is the source of my 'libertarian' streak.  I am strongly opposed to that which diminishes what I can do to bring value to myself and those most important to me.  The more rules there are at the lower two prioritized value measurements, the less I am able to do at the upper level priorities.  As a result, my focus has shifted from the upper priorities to the lower two.  I don't like constraint.  It diminishes value and therefor is anti-conservative.

This view however is not linear.  It does not work to attack the lower two in order to achieve the upper two.  Were it to be that life would be so simple!  We live in a world of each other, where the more value the 'one' gains, the more impact one has on others.  Conversely, the more value the community one lives has and brings to the table, the better one is able to achieve improvement of 
one's own lot.  It is a symbiosis of cause effect: And that implies balance.

So my definition of what it is to be conservative is no longer fixed, it is based now on the process of change.  At one time, it simply meant voting Republican.  I kid  you not.  It was that simple and that uninformed.  I assumed that my list of priorities had it's best chance by my taking the simple action of marking the ballot straight Republican.  I am not the least bit sheepish about this, why should I be?  In the face of today's bellicosity and ignorant analysis of domestic and foreign policy issues, I find most with whom I speak seem to have little information and are perfectly happy to sustain their political convictions on this diet so thin on facts and rich in surgery entertainment provided by the television.

To be conservative is to understand what is, to explore it, to think about it.  How can one conserve if one does not understand the nature of what it is they wish to conserve?  Most importantly, to be a conservative is to look forward.  To be able to determine those things which will continue to bring value, those new things which will replace that with diminishing value.  To be a conservative, one must change.  The old saying "the only thing that never changes is change itself" demands that conservatism is in fact progressive.  To deny that is to enter into the realm of orthodoxy, and therein lies the power of the dictatorship, of repression.  To conserve is to embrace change and know when to bring along those things from before which will maintain our ability to drive change ourselves, and accept and adapt to changes that are outside of our control.

It is a process, it is balance, it is change...

Its Flow...Not Accumulation!

A recent article regarding the company that is moving toward raising the minimum wage(internal) to $70k/year noted that 'labor is businesses biggest expense".

I find it odd that labor is considered and expense: Is it not an investment?  Are not the people who are doing the labor the ones who are buying the products and/or the services that the products allow to be provided?  How then is it that those who declare that an economy must continuously grow to be healthy, are the same ones who whine that the 'expense' of paying for labor is always too high and, almost without pause for thought, claim that they are doing everything they can to contain this cost?

This attitude reflects a basic flaw in our implementation of capitalism.  That flaw is called "Trickle Down Economic", and it has proven itself not to work, again and again.

Apparently these folks simply do not understand basic economics.  Economics is based on flow, not accumulation.  Accumulation is to an economy what a puddle is to a road:  Bad news.  I am not talking about personal savings here, I am talking about massive amounts of money/property tied up in large corporations and financial institutions.

Like the puddle, the longer accumulation sits, the worse the road becomes for everyone.  The puddle gets bigger and the road gets smaller, causing congestion, accidents and damage to the equipment on the road.  Same goes for accumulation:  When money sits in one spot, everyone else has to work around that spot, with less room to maneuver.  And like the puddle, the accumulation gets bigger while the system that enabled the accumulation gets ever smaller.  It is a self-destructive mechanism.  It is stupid in that it ignores the very basis of capitalism:  Flow.

Healthy growth happens system wide.  Massive growth in only a few areas or for only the very few is analogous to cancer: Bad news.   The stronger and larger the tumor gets, the weaker the rest of the body becomes.  For capitalism to work at all, it has to work for everyone, on the same playing field, with the same rules.

I won't judge the $70k/yr policy, there are arguments for and against it, many of which are valid.  The sentiment is good, the implementation might be a bit ragged though.  However, seeing labor as an expense?  Using the government as a lever to dis-empower labor when the middle class is shrinking and the wage gap is widening?

The Daily Snide, Sarcastic and Mostly Ignorant - By WJW

NYT - China Again....

A couple of points regarding the above article:

1) This is being mis-represented as a China issue. It is not. China would not know what the internet was were it not for the US and other Western countries. For those that don't know, the 'internet' was developed by the DOD/DARPA here in the US(Yes, your tax dollars at work). The UNIX operating system, which is what the internet was built on was developed here by MIT, ATT and Bell Labs as well (Not Microsoft, and no, Al Gore didn't have anything to do with it either). China from an industrial standpoint is basically the knock-off champion of the world. For all intents and purposes, the only thing China has going for it is a very large and 'willing' workforce and an utter disregard for their own environment and health.

2) Fundamentally, the internet is a concept built on the afore-mentioned DARPA tech by an English guy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Berners-Lee) with the intention of openly sharing information in an academic setting. This very cool concept was of course, glommed onto quickly by commercial interests, leading to the amazing thing we call the 'web' today(or whatever the current favorite term is for it).

3) The ironic part: MicroSoft, which is the most insecure OS to ever have been plopped onto silicon, has a major portion of the world market in spite of the fact that their product is sub-par in almost every respect other than marketing acumen. Apple, Google, IBM and the rest, just like Microsoft, along with the telecoms, owe their success in a major way to .... yes, you - the American tax payer. You funded the underlying tech, and you pay more for telecom services, hardware, and software than pretty much any customer group in the developed world. Additionally, you pay for it in the way we are seeing in this article.


#‪#‎The‬ above skips over a cacophony of related issues on which there are volumes written, but serves to narrow the focus of my probably narrow minded point of view.##
This is one case where I am pretty hawkish, and am certainly consistent with my view that our most successful companies, tech and otherwise, seem to forget where they come from and to whom they owe allegiance. We allow them (yes, allow) and encourage them to expand on tech that was developed by tax payer dollars to the benefit of our economic interest. They, in return provide jobs and products which we enjoy and are made more productive by (well...kind of). In return, they stash 'their' $$ overseas so they don't have to pay taxes, all while bitching about foreign pirating of their products on the one hand, while trying to get between the sheets with those that are ripping them (and us) off - (more on that in a bit). And who do they bitch to? Well, the US Government of course. They are more than happy to hand over your information to the NSA without telling you until they get caught at it (Snowden - another non-issue really ... bound to happen ... remember the Rosenburg's and company during the cold war?), at which point they are all of a sudden 'reluctant to cooperate', which they damn well should have been to begin with. And the US government is supposed to step in - at tax payer expense - and try to make nice with the knock-off artists on behalf of the tax evaders who gather your data and sell it to whoever will pay for it (You sometimes get the opportunity to 'opt out' in the small print, but not often). ... Ironic isn't it? Gotcha coming and going.

## Personal Anecdote:
Referring to the "more on that in a bit" above: I run a small server at my home for my personal use( Nope, no state secrets on it, I won't need to apologize like Mrs. Clinton just did). A couple of years ago I noticed that I was seeing a bit more traffic than I would expect from my own and my family's' use. I dug in just a bit and found that there were all sorts of folks interesting in my little server: And they were not going to my goofy little web site that I play around with either - they were trying to crack the system. I wrote a little program to track who was cracking and from where and discovered that the vast majority of these attempted incursions were coming from .... yes... China. By a factor of over 100 to 1 as compared to any other source country. I have been collecting this info out of curiosity for a couple of years now. The margin is shrinking a bit, with India, Russia, Taiwan, the US, the UK, and the North African countries dropping by to take a crack at things a little more often now. Yet still, by a margin of an order of magnitude, China is the leader. To give you an idea, I take between 300 and 2000 such attempts each day. Fortunately, I gave up on Microsoft products in the middle 90's, so have some better success at thwarting these goofy, stupid probes. One would think that these 'sophisticated' crackers would bother to check their targets to see if it is likely that they are making good use of their cracking skills: they apparently don't.
## End Personal Anecdote:

## On to snide, sarcastic, ignorance based opinion:
I am not a big fan of governments in general, other than the fact that we could not exist without some form of them. They are a necessary nuisance, usually forgetting that they exist to serve, and instead acting as if they are there to be served. That said, I have even less respect for the Government of China(though a lot of respect for the Chinese people based on what little I really know of them). My opinion is born of ignorance, and yet here it is:
Send the Chinese Government a little note telling them they may stop in and have their little meeting with 'the important people' in Washington State as long as they broadcast the meeting live to all US citizens as well as Chinese citizens. Another little note should be delivered to the 'important people' in Washington State telling them that they are welcome to have their 'little meeting' just as soon as they move all funds controlled by their companies back within continental US boarders and pay all taxes, past and present, on those monies at the same rate a regular citizen does, along with the fines for tax evasion.
And China? Freeze their assets: It would be good for us here in America to face the hardship of not being able to buy 'made in China' products from Walmart for a few years. Who knows, maybe we would start to manufacture and innovate in the area of manufacturing processes again. Maybe start investing in education again with the intent of achieving something other than test scores. Yes, it would hurt ... bad! But then maybe we would have something else to focus on besides who is marrying who, and which part of the world we can go 'politically evangelize' next...
My, My! My vitriol is in good health this morning. It all ain't nothing but a thing, hope there is plenty of sweet in your day to go with the sour of this opinion... smile emoticon
Gosh! What a novel idea.... born of my ignorance I am sure. Sorry for going all gung-ho redneck on this issue(well, kind of sorry ... I guess ... if I have to be...).

Just Quit Bickering and Do Something!

One of the things that bothers me about those that support the efforts to clean up our emissions (climate change supporters?) is that they are using the climate change argument as the primary leverage point for their argument to clean up our act. It is not really a good argument.

There is a little clip of Murdoch stating his position on climate change that shows that he

a) Does acknowledge climate change, but
b) does not acknowledge that humans have much if any impact on the issue.

So he is half right. He asks the very pertinent question, "what are we going to do about it?", and then suggests in a rather anecdotal way that we should quit building on beaches. Pretty pragmatic if you ask me.... makes sense.

He does not think we humans make a difference. So why focus on arguing against his disbelief instead of focusing on what he might be useful for. Encourage the Murdoch's of the world prepare for the results of climate change regardless of the cause. Let them lead that effort, they are probably well suited to it. In the mean time....

Those of us who know we impact our environment to some extent should quit barking up the climate tree as if the rest of the forest has already been cut down. There are plenty of reasons to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels. For one, they are getting harder to come by and more costly to extract, despite what oil prices would indicate. Fossils are a geo-political fixed resource, which means we have in the past and will continue to have conflict over who gets access to extract them(note the simmering dispute over the Arctic right now). Additionally, the oil, gas, and coal industries (energy industries in general actually) are monolithic behemoths that don't supply us with very many jobs; they don't really add to the flow of the economy in a way which would ensure that the market remains a level playing field. While not true monopolies, they are damn close to it.

I seems to me that the problem needs to broken down into parts that reduce the ridiculous, costly bickering and simply get things done by those who are interested in whichever part trips their trigger.

For example: Those like Murdoch should lead the effort to encourage preparation for potentially rising sea levels, increased heat indexes, etc... . Those that simply want to clean things up (like me) because it is stupid to shit in your own living room (earth), should focus on encouraging the alternative energies in the ways that they can. For example: Demand that your grid based energy provider pay for back feeds from small or home producers. Support those products that come from companies which have done comprehensive Life Cycle Analysis of their products. Buy their stuff! Additionally, encourage small energy producers in your area, including home energy producers. And educate yourself on how these alternatives work, where they work, and where they don't.

Some of the most misleading stuff I read about regarding the energy sector are the 'articles' that blatantly state that some new tech is going to bury the oil and coal industries. No, some new tech is not going to show up and replace all our cars, power plants, lawn mowers, factory farms, etc... in some short period of time. It ain't happening - Period.

What can and should happen is that we encourage the energy companies to work thoughtfully to sustain us as we learn about alternatives. The oil industry is not the enemy of the environment: We the consumers are. We need to think this issue through and simply go the direction we want to go. I think we will get what we want if we do so. After all, the market follows demand unless we let those that are good at manipulating it dictate it to us....

Bottom line, quit fighting fights that don't matter and just move the direction that we all really know is probably best for us..., after all, it is our living room...

2015-06-11

Faith - A Beautiful Thing

Faith is an amazing and pervasive thing.  There are so many stories of people doing good things based on faith.  From those that rescue an abandoned animal, having faith that someone will claim it to investing time in a business venture that they believe will be of value to others and provide a living wage for their families.

As I think about my fathers fast fading days, I am reminded of the faith that he has and that he shares with others so enthusiasticaly.  His faith is that of the Christain, no denomination or brand attached.  Just a faith in a single God.  But the amazing thing is the way that the basis of that faith branches out, geometrically expanding into all aspects of his life.  His faith in his wife.  His faith in his sons.   His faith in his community.  And most importantly, his faith in himself.  He and Mom had the temerity to grow two businesses, to hire people who needed work, to invest in things that they thought were valueable to themselves, to thier family, to their community, to their country.

This is only a single example of many kinds of faith though.  I am reminded of the faith of our servicemen who willingly face some of the most inhumane circumstances based on the belief that those who sent them, those who asked them to go, are part and parcel of a people and a nation that respects that faith they adhere to.  They take an oath, and from that point on, they operate on faith in a system of government, a society, a culture.  They hinge their lives on a faith that the oath they swore to is worth fighting, living and dying for.

There is the faith of the secular humanist who believe that humans, and humanity in general, are rational beings that can work together, reason through problems and comprimise to reach solutions.  Perhaps thiers is the greatest faith of all, because they don't look to the mystical outside influence for help or guidance.  They simply rely on themselves.  I don't share that view, but I do admire it.  It is an incredible undertaking to endeavor to be so self-reliant, so incredibly confident in the capacity of the human being, both individually, and collectively.

There are the simple faiths we indulge in every day, from the old adage of the sun rising tomorrow morning to the belief that our day, and each of us in that day have a purpose, whatever that purpose might be.

We exist on faith...

A paraphrase from Dune by Frank Herbert which I am partial to:
"By my will, and by will alone, I set my mind in motion."

...and yet I must have faith that doing so will contribute in some way....
Faith:  A beutiful and mysterious thing.

Banks Lose Their Lunch?

....but similar to lunch, this lending us unlikely to last long or be the staple of the day like breakfast or the celebration of making it to the end of the day like supper.
There is a disturbing trend here; behavioral economics is a relatively new field, and this technology based approach to the arena makes heavy use of it in formulas that are unproven, using data points as key variables that may or may not have anything to do with success or failure.

"Automated lenders threaten to eat banks' lunch" - http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN0OR0BC20150611


Once again, we see a trend away from people doing business with people, and towards those in the middle and lower classes being commoditized in algorithms.  Lending institutions that demand access to very personal and questionably relevant data offer up money at an exorbitant rate (30% APR in the example case) are going to be how willing to work with the borrower other than through some automated phone system?  This is not business:  This sounds a lot like the automated version of the same bait and switch game that led to 2008.  The lending institutions are already securitizing these loans....and the same old bunch is still rating the securitization.  Hmmmm....

What do you want to bet that, should the shit hit the fan in the face of this 'new' lending trend, that the tax payer will yet again be the one to have to bail out the institutions that treat them like nothing but a number in an equation? 

2015-06-10

And You Have a Bachelors in....?

In a recent article by Thomas Friedman (http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/06/10/opinion/thomas-friedman-how-to-beat-the-bots.html), he argues that we need a better way of connecting those of "middle skills" with positions in companies that have work to do.

Those with "middle skills" are those defined as having spent a good part of their career doing jobs for which bachelors degress (B.S., B.A.,B.etc...) are required to even be interviewed.  So if these 'uneducated' folk for some reason find themselves out of a job due to a 'bubble' in the economy, they are going to have a damn hard time finding their way back into the same work at the same pay rate.

This is a cute little 'side effect' of these economic downturns we experience.  Busisness can say; "Oh my God! We have to cut costs! We have to reduce the work force.  Sorry, thanks for the service and all, but we can't afford you now".

Subsequently, they re-define the 'job description' and add the requirement that a Bachelors Degree be in the pocket of those who might apply, disqualifying those who had been doing the job previously.  So they get some bright educated individual who carries a boat load of debt to do the same job the uneducated shmuck did previously at the same price, except now they have someone who is afraid to make a move because getting a job with benefits is what you hang on to; and can you risk not being able to pay that loan off?

Looking at jobs(which I do often), I am finding that those requiring a B.A. or B.S. are a joke.  If it takes a B.S. to proofread high school text books, then our education system is truly failing.

The complaint that the middle class is shrinking is very valid.  The numbers show it.  But think of the expectations laid on the middle class, that group is expected to:
  • Pay their student loans (two if married) 
  •   Save for retirement 
  •  Save for the kids college tuition
  •  Own a home(just ask Bush or Reagan...67% should anyway) 
  •  Buy vehicles that get them to work and back and the kids to whatever. 
  •  Maintain insurance on all of the above
Yeah, right!  All while starting out with $40k to over $100k worth of student loans?

 The problem is not robots taking our jobs; The problem is that we are expected to buy our way into a job.  And the cute little setup between the government, the universities/colleges and business is that even if you pay all the prices, you are still nothing but a commodity.

I think it is time the middle class took a break for a week or two:  You know, just call in and say; "I need to think about what I am really worth.  It is going to take a couple of weeks.  Will give you a call when I figure out why the CEO and the CFO and the CTO make several hundred times more than I do, when they have the same B.S./Masters that I do".

I wonder what industry would do?  Hire illegal immigrants?  How much do you want to bet immigration policy would be turned on its head overnght?

2015-04-08

Earth Quakes - Geological and Political

A recent article in the NY Times relates a story in Oklahoma where a fairly recent spate of earth quakes has shaken up more than just a few houses.  It has triggered questions around the possible causes of these geological phenomena and spurred legal actions based on assumptions about those causes.

Once again, the question of correlation vs. causation is ending up in our court system, an institution based on the idea of seeking the truth and the least likely to dig it up when faced with the nature of the question at hand.  That question is: Does fracking have an impact on the geological forces which cause earth quakes?

The question itself is valid, and is much like the question of human impact on climate change.  Both questions have little data to support either of the opposing views.  Both are highly politicized for the same reason:  They each have a significant impact on the most important industry in the US and arguably in the world, that being the energy industry.

Unfortunately, the rush to litigate and politicize the issues will be unlikely to enhance our understanding of the underlying natural systems, and even more unfortunately, will most likely slow the  process of learning enough to answer the questions.  While the forces of industry scramble to discredit any science that might support human impact, the forces of those with mis-guided win-at-all-costs anti-oil will grasp at any psudo-scientific data-straws that might sway public opinion their way.  Thus, true science will be set aside to get to the perceived real issue of who will or won't make money.

An interesting statement made by a lady whose house was damaged in one of the recent quakes and who is suing the energy company that drills in the area:

 “If the truth destroys something,” she said, “then it needs to be destroyed.”

Regardless of which interest the truth supports, that truth will most certainly not be found in a court room, nor in the pages or videos of any news media.  The sad truth is that neither of those institution are capable of finding the truth, and the latter certainly has no vested interest in it being discovered; after all, the truth is not controversial, and does not sell news copy....

One final note about the quote from the lady filing suit:  The truth may destroy, but it is well known to set one free.


http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/04/us/as-quakes-rattle-oklahoma-fingers-point-to-oil-and-gas-industry.html?emc=edit_th_20150404&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=55050665

2015-03-26

American Muslim...?

Let me start off by saying I am fundamentally ignorant of Islam.  I am also relatively ignorant of constitutional law.  That being said, I have lived nearly my entire life here in the US and feel I have a pretty good understanding of how things are supposed to work, here in the US anyway.  Apart from that, I certainly have opinions about how things should work.  Here are some of them.

The United States is a Christan Nation:
First off, I hope not.  Christianity is a belief structure which has become a religion.  A Nation is a sovereign state, a political construct.  Our constitution has a statement in it which has been broken down into the "establishment clause" and the "free exercise clause".  Basically, no state sponsored religion, and freedom to express belief as one sees fit.(article 6).  Going beyond that, the 1st amendment and the 14th sort of hash out a few details in support of article 6.  To say we are a Christian Nation is to cross the line into very scary territory.  Once we do that, we are back to a situation that many of those that came here in the first place were attempting to get away from: State backed churches.

Christians are not so very special that they would not fall into the same habits that some of our European predecessor's did back in the good old days of, dare I say it?.. the Inquisition.  There are enough rich religious fruit-cakes out there who would love nothing more than to expand their power base by being able to segment our citizenship into convenient little groups of 'ok believers'' and 'heathens'.  Not something I am willing to give over to anyone!

The Separation of Church and State: 
To help prevent that we have the aforementioned clauses in the constitution along with some fairly indicative writings from folks like Jefferson who, while not irreligious themselves, did not like the idea of either encumbered or enforced faith.  And while they did not always agree on where the line was to be drawn, they seemed agree that there should be one.

In spite of all that, we seem to still struggle with the idea.  I am not talking about the stupid issues like refusing to say the pledge in schools because it mentions God.  Get the fuck over it.  Like saying it once a day is going to turn a kid into some raving evangelical freak.  On the flip side, demanding that creationism be taught in public schools is just as far over the line.  Get the fuck over it.  Like learning some science is going to turn a kid into some atheistic lunatic like Richard Dawkins.

What I am talking about is some of those issues which have been prevalent recently.  Recognizing gay marriage for example:  It is not up to the government to determine such things.  If one does not believe in it, then it is probably not a problem for said individual.  It quickly becomes a problem for such individuals and groups when they attempt to legislate their belief systems on those who might be affected.  In the long run, it is more of a problem for those who exclude than those who are excluded.  Think about it; Once such exclusionary laws are in place, then what happens when it is your son or daughter that must now live in exclusion.  Believe it or not, Christianity is not a medicine against being gay.  Writing a law that bans being gay is like writing a law that outlaws being born with blue eyes.  What comes next?

Well, then we write laws that say women belong at home taking care of children, that science is ok'ed by the church, that the church must have the final say over when to go to war, and then that they need their own military force.... followed by Christ being the head of state(who in physical absence is represented by someone politically savvy enough to rise through the ranks of church politics to stand in his place)... and now we have a Christian Nation... don't we?

Go ahead, but let me know ahead of time will you?  I would like the opportunity to move elsewhere should that become the norm.

Islam(as I am dimly familiar with it) and the Lack of Separation:
And therein lies the problem with the concept of an American Muslim.  As I understand it, (again, not very well) there is no question of separation between church and state in Islam:  There is no question, because the church is the head of state.  We have seen the radical elements of Islam for years now, and some of their claims of poor treatment by the West are valid.  For all I know, they may have valid reasons for their animosity toward Jews.  Those are not the problems, in spite of what the media, Western religious leaders, and snaky politicians on both sides of both ponds would have us believe.

The problem is very simple:  A belief system which insists it's laws are beyond the laws of our constitution simply must change in order to rightfully claim the title of American.  In this country, our laws may reflect certain beliefs, but they are not dictated by them.  And they best never be so.

There have been several attempts made by groups of Muslims to establish "parallel" community courts based on Sharia law which would have jurisdiction over and authority to exact judgement and punishment their community members.  They have sought to have these 'courts' acknowledged by state courts.  This must never happen, ever!

Therein lies the problem with the term American Muslim:  When Islam develops a system of beliefs compatible with our constitution, I will be comfortable with that term.  Until such time, my firm belief is that we, whether Christan, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Atheist or other, are Americans first.  Because unless we are Americans first, we will always be subject to one or another belief system imposing itself on the others.  And that is when we will no longer be Americans.

I apologise if my ignorance of Islam leads to inaccurate conclusions reflected above.  I am open to becoming more educated by someone more aware than I am.

2015-03-22

Wandering into 2015...

A tough year last year.  What all with me coming out of a bone marrow transplant with no idea of whether it would be successful or not, the recovery time - very damn slow from my point of view, and my new body shape - a 5'4" hunch-back.  I can tell you that last one is still kicking my ass.  Never the less, 2014 was better than 2013.  I went into 2013 realizing I probably would not come out of it.  So 2014 came as a bit of  a surprise.

Obviously, a lot of things had to happen in 2013 and 2014 regarding the Farm and the role I play with regard to its operation.  When one gets cancer of the blood, legal matters like trusts, ownership of property, protection from probate etc.. eat up a lot of time, effort and money.  Moves had to be made to protect the Farm and all it represents.  Some of those are hard for me to swallow now.  I made it through the God-damned treatment and came out the other side with a new role in life.  I am not always comfortable wih that role, and am decidedly uncomfortable with my new role on the farm.

I spent all of 2014 that I could on the farm.  When the oncology team cut me loose from daily treatment, I headed home to Albertville (Thanks for helping me pack Bruce!) unloaded my stuff, and started looking for a camper to stay in.  We had leased out the Dacha (Trailer house we fixed up real nice on an acre of land a couple of miles from the Farm) to a couple, the husband half of the pair having a disease called plastique nemia, or at least something close to that.  It is even more rare than my cancer.  I leased it to him for life, cause it was the right thing to do.  However, that leaves me without a place to stay when I go to the farm.  Thus, the camper search.

I found a 40 year old Hi-Lo owned by a guy in my neighborhood.  The interior ain't great, but it does not leak much, has a working furnace, stove, oven, and lights.  I talked him down to $650.00, and brought it home and parked it in the driveway.  The thing is 18 feet long, has two tables, each of which turn into a queen size bed, a drop down loft bed of the same size, and it had a toilet/shower.

It snowed shortly after I bought the camper, which is not surprising being that it was the first week in April.  My wife and daughter admitted to me that the trailer was old and ugly.  I could not argue.  But it was solid and didn't leak.  I checked when the snow melted.

By bean planting time I was ensconced in my trailer at the farm.  Good thing the furnace worked!  I bought an extender for the WiFi coming from the house where the Barr's live.  Set up my laptops, monitors and keyboards and started healing up.

There were two kinds of healing I wanted to do, and I knew the farm was the place to do them.  My oncologist and some members of my family were not so sure.  However, the oncologist said stay out of the dust, gave me heavy duty masks to wear, shrugged his shoulders and said good luck.  My family did what amounted to the same.  I will always be grateful to them for that.

The initial placement of the camper worked well until things started to warm up.  I discovered I needed shade or an air conditioner.  I started with a little window air conditioner, having to turn it sideways to fit into the window of the camper.  Worked fine that way, but ran all the time.  My internal body temperature regulation does not work well, so I would go from sweltering to freezing.  Eventually, I hooked the camper up to the truck and set it up under two huge maples on the south side of the machine shed.  And there it stayed.  On hot days I could open the windows and the breeze was enough.  I think the air conditioner only ran three times last summer.

So, I had a place to be.  I began to putz around the shop in the machine shed.  It is a 20' x 40' structure within a structure that has a 16' ceiling.  And it was a disaster.  One could not even walk a straight line from one side to the other not to mention from front to back.  My fault.  I had let it get out of hand as we took on the major projects of getting the farm back in shape over the last years.  Time to dig in....right?  Yeah, right...!

I dug in all right.  I would work for 30, may 35 minutes and be totally wiped out.  I could not understand.  My whole life I have dug into jobs full steam and my internal drive would carry me through.  No matter how tired, hung over, wasted, beat up... I could do the job, and do it all damn day!  Not any more... I still get angry and feel betrayed when I think about it, like right now.  The frustration is almost beyond my tolerance level.  And being on the farm made it ever so much worse!!!

You need to understand: The Wielands work!  We work hard!  "There are no excuses...the God-damn job gets done, and it gets done right or you can get your stupid ass back out there and do the F**king job over til it is right!!"  (Note:  Mom and Dad were not verbal like that, ever!!, but the expectations were very similar)  I spent my summers as a teen, from 11 to 17 on the Farm, and that was the expectation (and method of expressing it) I grew up with there.  I am proud of that!  Those folks taught me to work, and rewarded me generously for doing good work.  They cared for and loved me in their own way, and I would not have traded those summers for anything looking back now.

But I am no longer capable of meeting those expectations.  By rights, the spine specialist told me to never, ever, lift more than 5, yes that is five, pounds.  I have shoes that weigh more than that!  I just can't... it shames me sometimes.  I pushed myself.  It didn't work.  All I accomplished was to further injure myself.  So fucking shaming!

.................
.....Maybe if it had not come on so fast... .  Not eighteen months previously I had been 6', 170lbs, on a ladder hanging a 8' x 8' shed door by myself.  I would go to the Farm on weekends and work from 7:00 am until dark.  Not all the work was hard, but some of it was.  Now, I am no longer that man.  On a good day, I can carry a straw bale if I am careful about it.  I can do ... well, not much when compared to only 18 months before, 24 months now as I write this.

In November of '12 I knew who and what I was.  By March of '13 I was a walking dead man with Dr.'s clearly unsure of a prognosis.  In June I was down to 121lbs and I was ambulatory enough to get to the shower, but not much more.  In July I made it out to the deck that faces North East over a pond at 04:45 one morning.  It took me 45 minutes to travel the 60 foot distance.  I had a talk with God as I watched the sun rise...something I don't do often for my own reasons, neither talk with God nor watch the sun rise that is.  I decided to live that morning.  Then I went back to my chair and listened to some music my daughter had introduced me to.  Transition music... maybe I will write something about that some day...

By August I was strong enough to drive myself to the farm and sit in a chair.  The chemo and radiation had stopped the progression, but my spine was shot.  In only 45 days between early May and mid-June I had shrunk over eight inches.  Yet the progression had been halted, even the Dr.s were a bit surprised.  Hell, at that point I had looked death in the face.  One day I realized that the only difference between me (along with many others that have similar experiences) and every one else, is that for me and those like me, my own death has a name.  For most, it is an abstract thing.  As it was for me before.

In late February of '14 they blasted me with chemo, waited a day, and then fed my own stem cells that had been harvested earlier in the month back into me.  Then a month of staying at the lodge next to the hospital, always accompanied by friends or family.  Thirty days, and not once was I unaccompanied.  I will never be able to express the gratitude I feel.  And those that could not be there, they called me, they did not forget.  They let me call them...  Yeah, gratitude, I know that feeling.
...................

....All that is what led me to be sitting in a machine shop on a 234 acre spread in SW Wisconsin feeling angry, humiliated, and generally sorry for myself.  I won't apologize.  I damn well earned it.  After moping a bit, I notice that there was this one thing right in front of me that I might just as well do.  Such a small thing that it would not matter.  I don't recall what it was, but I do recall it bothering me sitting there and not doing it.  So I got up and did it, and then I found another little thing, and another.  And pretty soon I had been doing little things for better than an hour.  And I began to learn...

I am not and never will be the man that I was.  I don't even think the same way anymore.  Hell, I could not have sat and written all this back then.  I just did not have the patience.  I have no choice now.  But it is a hard row to hoe.  I still dream of myself as I was.  I don't dream often, and I used to never remember my dreams.  I remember them now.  Sometime I wish I didn't.  I wake up ready to go, those few seconds where your mind sort of switches on and you know there are things to do but your not sure what, but your body is ready to do them....and then, well...my body is not ready.  It is sort of a let down some times.

The Farm was the hardest place to learn this.  Therefor it was perfect place to learn it. I started to learn to do what I could do instead of what I expected to do.  The learning is not over yet, but it started, and it started there on the farm.  I found that I am a lot better at picking mulberries and black berries than I used to be.  That I can plan tasks in such a way that I can do them without adding to the damage already done to my body.  I used to be able to just drop a shoulder and bull through, now, I have to think my way through those tasks. Learning.....

The Farm taught me that when I stop because I am tired, that I should look, listen, taste the air, enjoy having to stop.  Shit! I have to stop anyway, why sit there and berate oneself when one can look out over a pasture and see real beauty.  I have a long way to go in that learning process yet, but it has started... and the Farm is patient even when I am not.

So here I am wandering into 2015, still hoping to have the Farm teach me to live differently.  To tolerate myself and to move past the new limits... .

Post Script:
I don't really know why I am writing this now.  I know I need to say what is here.  I started with the intent of writing about the Farm, and ended up blabbing about me.
Maybe it is because I don't see myself as a different entity from the Farm anymore. Maybe, like my aunt Nola before me, I have become a part of it, and it a part of me.

I am certain that this must be about as self-centered a piece of drivel as can be. Again, I won't apologize.  I  think it is time I accepted myself, that I look in the mirror and acknowledge what you, the reader must see when you look at me.  I need to accept that without the shame of comparison to what I was.  After all, being ashamed now assumes I was measurably better before, and that may have been only in my own eyes.  At any rate, herein lies what I have become.  At least it is honest.

Taxation... again...and again...

Why so many taxing authorities?  What purpose is served by the forcing the burden of accounting onto the people who are being taxed?  It seems to me, that to prevent taxation from having even more negative connotations than it is going to have by nature, we should simplify it and put the burden of it on the beneficiary: The Govt.

Note that there is more implied in that last sentence than what is on the surface.  The sentence is one of those poor ones which suggests a problem for the sake of promoting a solution.  I see/hear a lot of sentences like that; from across the spectrum of commentators.  Average Joe's/Jane's, politicians, wanna-be politicians, experts, etc... .  The problem is that the focus is on the solution instead of the problem.  As if implementing the solution would address the problem... well, maybe it would, but I doubt it.

Problems like taxation are not simple, they are complex, almost intractable.  The underlying concept is however simple: We pay into a/some pool(s) so that things that are better done in a consistent manner get done on a consistent basis.  Defense, infrastructure, security(of many types), diplomacy, rule of law and it's enforcement.., all of these things are better done by a designated team than they would be by individuals or groups of individuals in small locales.

Getting back to that sentence: Let's examine for a moment what it implies.

"negative connotations":  I know very few who like paying taxes, preparing taxes, or agree that they are spent wisely.  The attitudes that I am aware of regarding taxes run in the range from absolute rebelliousness to acceptance of a necessary evil.  Perhaps I hang around the wrong folks?

"by nature":  This is perhaps a misnomer.  The only thing about taxes that are natural is that they seem to be ubiquitous in organized societies.  And it is natural to object to having ones money taken away in order to fund things one does not believe in.  I think we, on average, believe in paying for infrastucture, defence within reason...all those things that provide the baseline for a civilized culture.  Not so much agreement however on big ticket items like corporate subsidies, food stamps, foreign aid, heath insurance, etc... .   It is natural to not want to pay for things one does not believe in.

"we should simplify it":  And yes, I am one of those that believes that the tax code should be all of one page long.  At more than 160,000 pages long, with more than 15,000 modifications since it was last written by the Reagan administration, it is a travesty of complex, poorly written, unplanned garbage which represents nothing less than legalized extortion.  A sixth grader should be able to sit down, read our tax code, and present a report on it.  A tax code more complex than that is targeted toward scamming those it is supposed to both tax and benefit.  Income tax should be left in the pages of history books written about poorly thought out policy.

"..put the burdon of it on the benificiary: The Govt."   Now this part displays all the elements of presenting an oxymoron as a solution.  Working backwards:  "..The Govt...".  Yes that is us, we the people.  The burdon should be on us.  So when did anyone vote for 160,000 pages of tax law?  Did you?  I didn't.  In fact, when did we vote for an income tax at all?  Was it in 1913?  Why would we want to have to fill out multiple forms, or like me, pay a specialist to do so?  And why would I pay into a fund so that it could then turn around and refund me my own money?  On top of that, why would I want to put into place an expensive, hard to regulate organization to administer this flow of funds?  Talk about masochistic!

We have generated an overly complex, expensive, self-destructive institution and allowed hucksters to riddle it with added complexity, and for what rational reason? For the life of me, I can't think of one.  It is utter and complete stupidity.

Beyond being stupid: we have let it be a point of leverage for politicians, who promise to return more of our money to us, or put it to better use.  Of course it never does really get returned to us, except as little dribbles that we use up on one purchase at Best Buy, or a family night out.  "Wow! We got our refund! Lets go invest!".  How stupid we have become!  It is embarrassing.


2015-03-21

Social Impact Bonds ?

Recently I was made aware of a finacial instrument that has been around for a while, but that I had not heard of:  The Social Impact Bond.  It is not surprising that I have not heard of it, I am not all that aware of the world of finance.  But when this was described to me by my wife, an economist and professor of economics, I was rather sceptically intrugued.  My first impression was "well, it sounds a lot more friendly that a credit default swap".  Therein lies a good indicator of my financial accumen.

Never-the-less, I thought I would take a look.  The first place I found was Goldmann Sachs, a firm that instills an impression of almost anything but social awareness not to mention investment in anything socially healthy.  However, the graphic they display shows a nice overview of how this is supposed to work.  Do take a look...

http://www.goldmansachs.com/our-thinking/trends-in-our-business/social-impact-bonds.html?cid=PS_01_47_07_00_00_00_01

And of course Wikipedia:

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_impact_bond

Digging into this a bit I found that this concept, or its current description, originated in the UK.  Apparently, the UK faces a prison space shortage.  Recidivism is thus a major problem.  It isn't so bad if a person screws up, does their time, and moves on. But when that person keeps running through that cycle, needless to say it gets expensive for the tax payer.  Housing prisoners is expensive, processing through the courts is expensive, a police force that has to keep dealing with the same problem coming from the same individual is expensive, and on and on.

Of course, this all boils down to money.  Expensive programs that don't work are still expensive, and this does not just apply to jail-flys either.  Emergency rooms end up in the same basic situation when they are used as clinics so folks who can't afford health care can get some care.  That drives up cost for everyone.

So, enter the Social Impact Bond, known by slight name variations depending on which country you look at.  The basic idea is that the risk of the performance, or lack thereof, of a service traditionally provided by the governmnet to address some issue is shifted from the taxpayer to the investor.  If the service performs, the government kicks back money to the investors out of the savings of not having to provide the service.  If the service does not perform, the investors take it in the wallet and the taxpayer walks away supposedly not having to pay for something that did not produce.

I can see some uses for such an arrangement here in the US.  Lets say that community A in State A faces a big problem that just seems to go on and on.  Current services simply have not changed the trend and they cost State A a fair amount of money.  The state could go to the Fed, but lets face it, the Fed really is not all that good at dealing with local or regional issues.  And they shouldn't.  They are too big and clumsy to recoginize let alone handle such problems.  So usually a bunch of money gets tossed to State A, much of which get diverted to ...well... wherever.  Community A ends up with some cookie-cutter service which ignores the cause of the issue and simply provides a means of disbursing whatever funds that the state didn't abuse to implement solutions that don't fit the problem.  So, that does not work.  What then?

Well, what if Community A goes to State A and says "Hey, we have this problem that is costing us a lot of money, and here is a solution tuned to address the causes of our problem while helping those that are affected by the problem. We think that if we to (list of things), the result will be that the cause of the problem is addressed, those affected by the problem will no longer require assistance(because the cause of the problem has been addressed), and this will be accomplished in X amount of time. The savings to the taxpayer will be Y.  How about issueing bonds?"

Now, a solution that is more likely to fit the problem and address both the causes and the immediate impacts of it has been proposed by the folks who know the problem first hand.  If the solution seems reasonable, bonds are issued and investors buy the bonds which provides the initial investment to get things going.  The project is monitored regularily and measured against performance goals.  If the project is showing results as expected, good deal.  If not, it adjusts or is closed out.

This leaves one of two likely outcomes, the project fails and the bond-holders are out thier money.  The project succeeds and the bond holders are paid by the tax payer out of savings that come from the issue having been resolved.  The only way the tax payer pays is if there is measurable success.

Sounds easy right?  Well, not so much.  How does one establish measurements of success, of progress toward success?  Some of the issues like health-care for those that can't afford it are not well suited to this.  They are too big, and too pervasive.  But what about regional social issues like pockets of drug abuse, poverty-driven crime or even something like poaching?  For issues that are regional and/or local, where a cause-effect might be stated fairly clearly, this might work very well indeed.

No need for huge programs which don't address the cause of the problem.  The tax payer pays for what works and does not pay for what does not.  And, most importantly from my point of view, it is defined as a project: that means it has an end.  And that is it's most attractive aspect to me.  There is a reduced risk of it becoming a program, something that goes on and on, and costs and costs.

I like that.


2015-03-14

Correlation Vs.Causation

Nowhere more than in politcal discussion is there greater evidence of our misunderstanding of what it is to make a correlation as compared to arguing, not to mention proving, causation.

I thnik that a lot of folks don't even know the difference, and the greater majority of the remainder don't bother to make the distinction when discussing an issue.  So?  What is the difference?  And why does it even matter?  What is the big deal?

As usual, I will start with a rediculous example:  This morning, while getting a bit of fresh air on the front stoop, I noticed two garter snakes soaking in the sun on the rocks in the front garden.  This is the fouth day in a row that I have seen these pretty little creatures in the same general vicinity at approximately the same time of day.  In the  eight years we have lived here, this is the first year that I have seen snakes out this early in spite of the fact that we have had similar warm weather this early in the year.

Now, using only correlation, I could draw all sorts of conclusions, anything from there is a growth in the population of gartern snakes to a warming climate and on to food supplies and the desire for slithering creatures to be around someone like me.  I have verifiable evidence for any one of these conclusions including dated photos on my cell phone.  However, I have no proof that there is a direct link between anything I might conclude and the fact that the snakes are suddenly appearing at the aforementioned times.  There is no evidence of causation.

I have recently witnessed some of the most rediculous examples of mistaking correlation for causation that can be immagined in the news, on facebook, on the radio, almost anywhere I look or listen.  Many of the examples of this confusion are tightly coupled with political issues.  Some of them simply defy common sense.  Others are understandable because the issues are tightly coupled to our daily lives, whther in how we believe or in how we operate.  Issues like climate change, where we are only now beginning to be able to gather and assess data that might indicate causation.  Other less tangible issues like LGBT rights, or race and gender equality have plenty of data which indicates how things are and have been, but not how to change them if we wanted to.

Don't get me wrong:  There is nothing wrong with correlation!  It is how our minds recognize patterns, and pattern recognition is a huge part of our ability to think.  But a big part of thinking is asking questions about what the patterns we recognize might mean.  Thinking is our biggest asset as humans.  And yet by drawing conclusions based on observations we have not asked fundamental questions about, we shortcut the thought process and often as not, based on what I have been seeing recently, make asses of ourselves.

Theorizing about correlations we make is good, drawing conclusion based on them without providing real evidence of a causal model is self destructive and destructive to the process of exchanging ideas and learning from that exchange.

Might I suggest we at least understand and distinguish between correlation and causation?  What can it hurt?

2015-03-12

Research: Does a funding source invalidate results?

We as a society, strongly centered in classical thought, place a great deal of importance on scientific method.  Scientific method has proven time and again to provide benefits in knowledge and subsequent benefits when that knowledge is applied in new and innovative ways.  There is little reason to list examples because we are surounded by them, all the time.

Scientific methodology is, in it's simplist form as follows:
  • Ask a Question
  • Do Background Research
  • Construct a Hypothesis
  • Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
  • Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
  • Communicate Your Results
(http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_scientific_method.shtml)

Pretty straight forward, right?  Well...., maybe not.  Asking a question is not too difficult: ex... how much surface area is represented by a head of hair?  A goofy question that would only be interesing if you happen to wonder what the absorption rate of the average bath towel is when applied to the task of drying hair.

So, we have a question.  Background research on this these days would probably involve a quick Google or Duck-Duck-Go search.  No problem.  A quick search showed that someone else has in fact asked this question and got a response of 'dumb question' in one case.  Well, not if you are a towel manufacturer...  Anyway, for the sake of argument lets say I found no definitive answer.  (I didn't because I really didn't look beyond the 'dumb question' result)

My next step would be to construct a hypothesis.  So, I think that the surface area of a head of hair is equal to the sum of the surface area of one hair multiplied by the number hairs in a given unit of skin surface area multiplied by the length of the hair on the head in question multiplied by the number of units of skin.  Hmmm.... leads do more questions..., Ok.....

As part of my hypothesis, I might model this by plugging the equation described above into a spreadsheet or some other funky tool and do some modeling.  First I will establish some basics:  A human hair is on average 0.004" in diameter.  This is an assumption, which will have to be proven or dis-proven later(note to self).  We will also assume 120 sq inches of scalp with 130 folicles per sq inch(also a web search), that means about 100000 hairs.  100000(hairs)  x .002(radius) X 3.14(pi) x 2 x 3(l).  We can play around by adjusting the any of the variables in the equation(this is modeling).

Ok, so I have my question, hypothesis/model, have done my reseach(prior art), and now all I have to do is the experiment, right?  Anyone feel like sitting aroud while I count the hairs on their head?  Bet not so much.

So, time to experiment.  Need volunteers to sit and have hairs counted and counters too.  Hmmm, we can assume that this is going to take time...and money, cause hair counters don't come for free, and countees probably won't either.  Ok I need some funds... hmmm...

Write some grants, approach the Grecian Formula-like companies, the bath towel companies, Martha Stewart maybe?  Someone must be interested... .  Lets say Martha is looking for a tax break this year and gives some money for this study.  But while handing me the money, she mentions that KMart's bath towels work really well for drying her hair and she has lots of them to sell too!  Gosh!  Wouldn't it be nice if it worked out that for some reason her favorite bath towels actually dry hair better?  She would make money which could be invested in further research on ...well ... whatever!  Hmmm....

So away I go with money from Martha.  Hire my counters and countees, gather my data, analyze my data against my model, and publish the results.  My results are peer reviewed and all is hunky-dory.  Everyone is completely uninterested of course.

Now what do I do?  I gotta pay the bills after all.  I bet that if I go to Martha, she can come up with an answer which needs a question which fits that answer and I bet that there will be more money available to prove that the question I come up with fits the answer that is desired....

Just think, all the components of good scientific methodology will be there, just like the first time.  (Refer to list at top).  So the order is a bit different... and now we need a truth to match our convenience....  and an inconvenient truth is not what is being paid for is it?

Yeah, I guess funding sources make a difference.  Do funding sources invalidate results?  Not by default, but if the methodology is impacted... well... you tell me.

So when Monsanto says the GMO products have not been found to be different than non-GMO products from the perspective of health, and the FDA agrees with them, it might be a good idea to ask: Who did the science?  Who paid for it?

Because science is there to ask questions and discover truths.  It is not there to create truth by asking convenient questions.