Monday, December 13, 2010

The night the lights went out in Georgia, lyrics analysis

okay, I'm in a mood, so it's time once again for classic lyrics analysis;

here's the link to the lyrics

Now, I've probably heard this song 1,000 times or more, but it was going through my head for some reason recently and it finally struck me what a hypocrite the song's fictional author is.

Her brother is found on the back porch of a guy who's been shot dead. He just fired a shot. The guy had recently admitted cheating with the brother's wife. The brother had motive, opportunity and was found at the scene with a gun he had just fired. (this was before DNA and bullet tracing was available). The trial was quick and he was hanged.

As it turns out, the fictional author of the song is the real killer. She says "the judge in the town has bloodstains on his hands." and we're supposed to feel contempt for the judge because he rushed to judgment. Yet, the sister (our fictional author), who knew her brother was innocent, never piped up (at least not before he was hung) to say, "wait, it was me." We know she was at the trial because she gives us a first hand account - "he slapped the sheriff on his back with a smile..."

So, she's so devoted to her brother that she kills not only the guy who was cheating with the wife, but also the wife. But she's not so devoted that she wouldn't watch him hang for the crimes she committed.

This isn't a song about a corrupt judicial system. It's a song about a psychotic triple killer with no remorse.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The TV/Internet merger: I'm not buying it just yet.

Oh, it's coming alright. In fact, it was evident years ago that at some point, everything you watch on television will be delivered through the Internet. You can already watch TV on your computer and even buy a new Internet capable TV that will let you stream movies from Netflix, watch shows from Hulo, catch YouTube videos and lots more. If you don't want to buy the new TV, you can still enable streaming Internet content with most new Blue Ray players, Tivo boxes and gaming consoles.

So why am I not taking the plunge you ask? Because it's too early to get in efficiently. A bit more than ten years ago, personal computers were in a similar evolutionary phase. I'd buy a new computer with 10 times the capability of the one I bought the year before, and the following year, I'd need a new one. The product wasn't just marginally improved year over year. It was a whole new machine, with new software and new capabilities. My competitors had it, so I had to have it. Eventually things progressed to where even a tenfold increase in download speed isn't a "must have". I can wait the extra 4 milliseconds and so I can actually keep a computer for a few years instead of a few months.

Now the entertainment media industry is in upheaval. The gatekeepers are about to lose control as more and more delivery methods and creative business models and alliances are coming to market. But the situation is fluid. Who knows who is going to dominate the marketplace, if anyone. It's tough to project which business model is going to win out. Do you want to have 11 months left in a paid subscription contract when the same thing or better becomes available for free? There is no compelling reason to make a move right now. There's nothing in the new media that I can't do without indefinitely. I fully expect that in the coming years I'll be able to surf the entire web, watch whatever show or movie I want, whenever I want, wherever I want, in high definition imagery and sound, for less than $100/month. But I can wait. I don't need another collection of outdated equipment. I finally got rid of my Zip drive, my Jazz drive, all my floppy disks, the old computers that I was saving "just in case" and the myriad of cords and connectors that went with it all. I'm not going to start a new pile. I can wait until they get it right.

Naturally some folks want the latest and greatest right now. There's nothing wrong with that either. In fact, if a lot of people didn't pay $1300 or more for their flat screen LCD HDTV's a few years back, they wouldn't be available for $300 now. Somebody's got to pay for all that research and development. So go nuts this Christmas. Take advantage of the deep discounts and get yourself some new tech toys. I'm going to wait for the next round, or maybe the one after that. In the meantime, real life is still available free of charge, without a subscription, and it's actually a lot less crowded outside these days.

Monday, November 1, 2010

You heard it here first...

My political crystal ball says Hillary will resign before the next State of the Union address. She wont announce she's running in 2012 until after the base has run an extensive "draft Hillary" movement. Very Ceasaresk. Karnak has spoken.

Intrade Prediction update

With 24 hours to go, the sampling of races I selected from Intrade is pretty much the same:

Patty Murray wins (Washington Senate)
Russ Fiengold loses (Wisconsin Senate)
Brown wins (CA Gov)
Boxer wins (CA Senate)
Buck wins (CO Senate)
Rubio wins (FL Senate)
Miller wins (AK Senate)
Paul wins (KY Senate)
Harry Ried loses (Nevada Senate)
Toomey wins (PA Senate)
Hickenlooper wins (CO Gov)

The only significant difference is that the spread between Patty Murray winning WA State Senate and Dino Rossi winning WA State Senate has narrowed to something like 56-35. That wouldn't be close if it were a poll number, but for an Intrade position, that's almost a toss up.

UPDATE - Intrade correctly predicted 8 of the above 11 outcomes. Harry Reid won in Nevada, Miller lost in Alaska and Ken Buck lost in Colorado. That's a pretty good showing, but I wouldn't call it amazing. A lot of pundits and regular polls did just as well or better. I'll test it again in future elections, but so far I don't see anything extraordinary about the predictive ability of the prediction market.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Putting Intrade to the test

Intrade is a kind of stock market for predictions. You can bet real money on all kinds of things, including election results. It's much more objective than a poll or a pundits analysis. When people are asked their opinion or even for their objective analysis, they have a tendency to provide answers and insights that favor what they hope will happen, probably in hopes that they might influence someone in the audience.

With Intrade, your betting real money, anonymously. There's no audience to influence. You're not stating what you'd like to happen. You're making a statement about what you believe will happen. That doesn't make it perfect, but it does make it much more objective. How accurate is it? Let's find out. Note: if you visit the website, keep in mind the market prices don't reflect the predicted margin of victory, just the likelihood of victory. If 90% of investors believe a candidate will win by 4%, you're going to see a 90 - 10 (roughly) difference in price between the candidates.

Here's how Intrade sees some key, relatively close races: (I'll check again on Nov 1, then see how predictions jive with results after the elections.)

Note: I'm posting what I believe is the better known candidate in each of the races below and whether they win or lose.

Patty Murray wins (Washington Senate)
Russ Fiengold loses (Wisconsin Senate)
Brown wins (CA Gov)
Boxer wins (CA Senate)
Buck wins (CO Senate)
Rubio wins (FL Senate)
Miller wins (AK Senate)
Paul wins (KY Senate)
Harry Ried loses (Nevada Senate)
Toomey wins (PA Senate)
Hickenlooper wins (CO Gov)

That's a pretty good sampling I think. I should point out that personally, I don't like this as an investment vehicle because the spreads are quite wide on most contracts. Still, it could be a good forecasting tool.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Republican Party Establishment Still Doesn't Get It

I had never seen Carl Rove in hysterics before. But, I think his performance on Hannity last night came pretty close. Rove is among many Republican Party elders that are upset over Chistine O'Donnell's win over career politician and liberal, Mike Castle.

Rove went into the traditional attack mode of throwing out a bunch of questions, designed to simulate accusations without really being accusations. It's a political maneuver used to try to tarnish a candidate without having to present any actual facts. Normally it's done by a party or campaign against its opponent. This time, the party is attacking its own. Both the Delaware state Republican machinery and the Republican National Senate Committee have said they will not support O'Donnell in the general election.

What's the beef? Well, Rove and his ilk are more about numbers and strategy than about principle. For many years, Republicans have ceded many districts and even states; not necessarily to Democrats, but to liberals. They made the decision that it's better to run a liberal Republican in some areas, than to run someone that actually believes in and will advocate for your core beliefs. After all, if your party has the right numbers, your party gets to set the Congressional agenda and the rules of debate. Who cares if half your members don't really support your efforts? The people care.

Rove and other Republican veteran power brokers believe it's a case of rookie candidates and voters who just don't understand the process and the long-term implications of their actions. Essentially, they're calling their own base stupid. What's really stupid is that the powers-that-be aren't grasping the very phenomenon that's put them in a position to achieve many victories in the Fall. People are tired of the back room deals and the going along to get along. They want representatives that will represent them. They aren't voting for a logo or a brand, they're voting for principles. The goal is to convince big government proponents that small government and individual freedom is better; not recruit big government Republicans. If that means you lose some races, you lose some races. Do a better job selling it next time.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Political errors have very real consequences.

President G.W. Bush made at least two big political errors that have lingering consequences. One was to rely primarily on suspicion of weapons of mass destruction to gain support for regime change in Iraq. I believed then that it was a very bad gamble. There were plenty of other cases to be made that I believe the public would have gone along with, without assuming WMD's. The result is that the war effort in Iraq received much less support than it might have if we had not sold the whole thing on a 'strong hunch'. Obviously nobody had any concrete evidence, or they would have presented it. Even if you felt there were a 95% probability of being right, the consequences of that one in twenty chance are far too costly when the same goal could have been achieved using absolute facts.

The other was the temporary nature of the tax cuts. I understand the political motivation. That is pretty transparent. In order to get the votes needed, the sponsors softened the blow by promising a future tax hike. This may have gotten the legislation through faster, but proponents could certainly have sold the idea of tax cuts to the public during a recession. There was no real need to make them temporary. If it turned out later that taxes legitimately needed to be higher, Congress could simply make that case and do what they do. This way gives them the semantic cover to raise taxes without having to say 'raising taxes'. They're just letting the cuts expire.

Why can't we have that the other way around? How about we make all taxes temporary? Then we don't have to go about the messy business of tax cutting, we just let the tax expire. Imagine that. Advantage citizenry. Wouldn't that be a hoot.

There are other issues one might disagree with from the Bush administration, but these two stand out to me because you didn't need to have any particular expertise in anything to recognize that they were bad moves. President Obama has made similar mistakes in that they seem very amateurish for people who are supposed to be at the pinnacle of politics; politics being the art of influencing and implementing community behavior and standards. I suppose preceding administrations weren't much better. We get minute to minute coverage these days that just wasn't available then. The public analysis of politicians is now quite thorough and relentless. Politics in and of itself is not bad. It just seems a shame that we haven't held most politicians to a very high standard in terms of real communication and honest brokerage. Maybe the information explosion ultimately will lead us to raise the bar.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Thank you Rich Terrell

I would have sent an email, but there are far too many Rich Terrell's in the world it seems. I saw an episode of Through the Wormhole on the Discovery Channel, in which Mr. Terrell expressed something I thought only existed in my crazy brain. The idea that the universe as we know it is really a computer program.

The beauty of it was that he used the same logic to come to the same conclusion, and he has a bunch of letters after his name so people actually take him seriously about such things.

The most obvious to me is that we humble, simple humans are only a few decades away from being able to create a simulated universe, complete with thinking beings. In cosmic terms, we haven't been around very long. It stands to reason that if we can do it, it's already been done. This doesn't require a super being, just the passage of time and the preservation and accumulation of knowledge and experience.

The other clue is quantum physics. When I was a kid we learned in math, that theoretically you can divide a line in half forever. As long as you keep zooming in, there's no reason you'd ever get to a point where you can't cut it in half anymore. However, that's not the case in real life. There is a point where particles can't get any smaller, units of energy can't get any smaller, time can't get any shorter. These are quantums. They "shouldn't" exist, but there they are. The presence of such finite quantities suggests something artificial. We probably were never expected to look that close. Another clue is the nature of elementary particles. They take on a specific form and location when observed and measured, and vague properties when they're not. This is similar to how your computer displays things. All of the pictures in your iPhoto library are there, but the file isn't expanded and the pixels aren't lit up until you decide to look at them. This is a major resource saver. There's no point using all that display energy if nobody's looking at it.

Almost nothing goes unobserved on the surface of the Earth, whether by humans or some other form of life. But in space, perhaps it is only the data that's recorded and transferred properly unless and until we "call up the file" by looking at it. The program runs, but doesn't display a particular frame until someone "clicks" on it by turning their attention to it.

That's a lot of computing power, but consider that all of the brains in all of the living organisms on Earth (and elsewhere?) have stored information about everything they've perceived and are perceiving. The system (aka the universe) likely would use this resource as a means of both memory storage and parallel processing. But what if the solar system were to blow up? A lot of information would be lost. That's okay. They system only has to present an observer with a solution that's possible given the existing data.

Anyway, it was refreshing to find that I'm not the only lunatic out there. Thank you Mr. Terrell, wherever you are.

Friday, August 20, 2010

In Search of the Moderate or Mainstream Muslim

I've heard quite a bit about moderate, mainstream Muslims lately as we are told they should not be, in any way, connected to the Jihadist terrorists.

I have a couple of questions I would like to get honest answers to (with some evidence please)

Do moderate Muslims beliieve that woman are equal to men, legally speaking? Can you reference a commonly used bit of text or teaching that supports that, i.e. "women have just as much right to education, career, self-determination as men"?

Do moderate Muslims believe that church and state should be separate institutions and that government should be secular, serving all religions, and the non-religious equally?

What is the moderate view of honor killings?

Do moderate Muslims believe that ulitmately, Sharia law should be the law of the land?

Do moderate Muslims believe the Taliban, Al Quaida and their allies are murderers and their enemies? Have they unequivocally been condemned by the moderate Muslim community? Or do they believe they are working toward the right goal, using the wrong tactics?

Again, if you care to comment, please supply references.
Thanks

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Synthetic life, the next gold rush?

It's on! Genetic scientist Craig Venter and his team recently announced that they have successfully created a living organism using synthesized DNA designed on a computer and inserted into a yeast cell infrastructure.

The debate is already raging about what limits society, through government should put on such research and development. This is one of the cases where the debate is moot. The promise is too great. You can't put this genie back in the bottle.

An ambitious genetic scientist doesn't need Venter's research notes, equipment, support or government sanction. The general approach is already public knowledge and Venter has proven it can be done. That's all they need, and there's a lot to be ambitious about. Other scientists have been mapping genomes for years and lately have been literally scrubbing the ocean to find and catalogue new single celled organisms that perform potentially very valuable functions.

Living cells are like tiny little factories, but without the smokestacks. They produce all manner of chemicals, and genetic research can produce the code that instructs them in exactly how it's done. With a little more research you can code new functions and create living organisms that don't currently exist in nature. One could create organisms that create gas-tank ready fuels, eliminating the refinery process. One wouldn't have to mine for chemicals and minerals, just feed the bacteria, algae or mold and let them do the work.

There are real dangers, but there are also dangers in putting up road blocks and obstructions. This is not nearly as difficult as creating nuclear weapons. It will not be contained or controlled. Do we want to leave the development of this technology to Iran, Venezuela, China, North Korea? As I said, all the world's scientists, professional and amateur need is the knowledge that it can be done. They already have that.

The plus side far outweighs the potential pitfalls. Vaccines will be produced in hours instead of months. Raw materials can be grown instead of extracted. The garbage in our landfills could be used to feed organisms that produce valuable new products.

Whether the United States makes good use of this new knowledge or not, it will be put to use. We can be producers or we can be customers. That's the real choice.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Political Idiots - the Daily Double

It's not rare to have a breaking story of a politician doing something stupid, even career ending, but today we got a bonus. Two for one!

First up, Democratic Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal had to address a story that appeared in the NY Times. The Times points out that Blumenthal has repeatedly referenced his tour in Vietnam and his feelings and state of mind upon returning. The only problem is, he never went to Vietnam. Blumenthal characterized his statements as "mis-speaking". If you had never been in combat in Vietnam, wouldn't you catch that the second it came out of your mouth? Here's what makes this one uber-idiotic. Blumenthal was considered a shoe in for the Democrat nomination and was riding a 70% or so, approval rating. This was such an unnecessary "mis-speaking", it makes you wonder if he's brain dead or a sociopath.

Not to be outdone, Republican Representative from Indiana, Mark Souder, announced his retirement today. The family values candidate was caught having an affair with a staffer; the staffer that regularly drove him to interviews at the Christian radio station. Souder laments that he can't stay in the race due to the "toxic atmosphere" in Washington. Souder has been a full participant in said toxicity, being among the first to call for the ouster of Larry Craig, another lawmaker who had allegedly sought gay sex in a public restroom. Here's a clue for aspiring politicians. The public doesn't want you to stop dogging each other for your outrageous personal behavior. They want you to NOT ENGAGE IN OUTRAGEOUS PERSONAL BEHAVIOR.

The common retort from guys like this and their supporters is "I'm only human" or something like that. As if they just got caught doing something everyone secretly does. Another note to politicians; No we don't all cheat on our spouses. No, we don't all lie about our accomplishments. No, we don't all embezzle, cheat, steal, seduce teen-agers, take bribes or engage in unsolicited tickle fights with our employees. Don't project your personal flaws on the rest of us just to make yourself feel better. If you know you have no self-control, do everyone a favor and find another line of work.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Can Hillary save the Democrat Party?

In an interview with CBS for 60 Minutes recently, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed to initiate the political distancing process, perhaps laying a foundation for a presidential bid of her own in 2012.

excerpt from ‘Interview With Scott Pelley of CBS 60 Minutes’, on the State Department website
NARRATOR: Right away she found that America is in a crisis of credibility.
SECRETARY CLINTON: You’ve got countries who are explicitly saying to me in private, “Well, look, we always looked to you because you had this great economy and now look, you’re in the ditch. And you’ve dragged other people into the ditch.”
QUESTION: Larry Summers, the President’s economic advisor asked this question, “How long can the world’s biggest borrower remain the world’s greatest power?” Is America in decline?
SECRETARY CLINTON: No, we’re not. But it’s a question that has to be answered and I happen to believe it’s one of the critical challenges before us. Our nation has to be strong fiscally at home in order for us to be strong abroad.


Whether you believe this signals a potential challenge or not, it’s an interestiing ‘what if?’. The difference between the Cintons’ (both of them) approach to politics and governing and the Obama approach is that the Clintons are politicians and Obama is an idealogue.

Idealogues are not necessarily bad. The fact that President Reagan would not budge on a number of issues due to adherence to a few rigid fundamental principals, turned out to be a very good thing for this country and for the world. However, it’s only a positive if you’re on the right track.

Obama has a vision for a new America. He has a specific agenda in mind and making it happen is priority number one. Clinton just wants to drive. If the Obama model doesn’t work, she’d have no problem piloting another one. It’s not a sinister thing. Some people are engineers and some are drivers.

The value, to a political party, of a non-idealogue driver is that he or she keeps the infrastructure that is the party, viable until a suitable idealogue attaches him or herself to your brand. The mandate of this type of governing is simply; do no harm. Gerald Ford is a good example.

President Clinton kept his party viable while the idealoges in Congress of the same party were cutting their own political throats. Clinton eventually went along with the Republican agenda, while strict adherence to the party line sent many Congressional Democrats packing. Clinton not only won reelection, but left office still popular, even after an impeachment.
Americans can forgive having a bad idea. They wont forgive insistence on pursuing a course that’s obviously not working. Most Americans are not idealogues. If you make their situation better, you can call yourself whatever you want. They’re not nearly as interested in your beliefs as in your performance.

If Hillary does decide to mount a challenge, she would do well to focus more on thought process and less on selling specific agenda items or visions of a new society.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Ancient Aliens?

Have you caught the show Ancient Aliens on the History Channel? Of course, most folks, including myself would immediately start picking apart the alleged "evidence" and hypotheticals. But, I found it even more fun to run with the premise.

There are those who believe that aliens from another world helped in the construction of the pyramids. In fact, they speculate that the pyramids and many obelisks were actually power generation devices, used to send power to the mother ship, orbiting the Earth. They employed humans to build and maintain these devices, until they had the power they needed, and left.

Suspend your disbelief for a moment and let's just say it's all the absolute truth. Before you get all excited about joining the "brotherhood of planets" consider what that means. Some ship from another planet was traveling in our neighborhood and ran low on fuel. So they stop by the Earth, employ the indigenous hairless apes to produce enough energy for them to top off their tank, and they go on their merry way. Obviously they had no qualms about exposing themselves to the natives, so the fact that they haven't been back can only mean, they see no reason to come back. Even if they did return, they'd soon discover that we didn't even bother to write down any of the great technology they shared, making a third trip to our humble abode even less likely.

So, if the scenario they've laid out is factual, it only proves that among advanced civilizations in the cosmos, we are perhaps the least interesting in the eyes of the rest. But don't fret. The only real valid points made in the documentary were that no one has yet figured out how engineers thousands of years ago could have made the precision cuts and engravings they made and that they haven't found a good explanation for some of the features of the pyramids. It couldn't possibly be that an engineer that lived thousands of years ago might have had some knowledge that today's engineers don't have? Could it? Nah, must have been aliens.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Obama's Nuclear Draw-down. Dangerous or a Tempest in a Tea Pot?

There are a lot of things about the way President Obama has conducted and crafted his foreign policy that might be deemed dangerous or weak. But, his recently announced new policy on nuclear weapons isn't one of them. All he's done is acknowledge military and political reality. The only thing that's really debatable is the presentation or spin.

In a nutshell he stated that he wants to draw down our stockpiles, pledged not to use nukes against nations that don't have nukes, even in the event of biological or chemical attack, stated that we will not develop new nuclear weapons, just keep the current ones well maintained.

Let's address the quantity first. The Bush administration drew down U.S. nuclear weapons from around 6,000 to around 2,200. Nobody raised a stink about that. Here's why. When nuclear weapons were all the rage, the U.S. and the (then) Soviet Union engaged in a nuclear weapons building contest. Now that we've had a few decades to think about it, from a military standpoint the huge overkill in nuclear arms production is a liability, not an asset. Nuclear weapons have to be maintained and guarded and stored. People have to be trained and paid to guard them, maintain them, use them and store them. If you have 10 or 15 times more nuclear weapons than you'll ever possibly need, you're tying up tremendous resources that could be better deployed elsewhere. A few dozen or even a few hundred nukes, strategically placed and well maintained, is plenty. The most hawkish military Commander in Chief still would have drawn down our numbers because the military would have asked him/her to. He or she just wouldn't have made a show of it.

As for the policy of not nuking non-nuclear states, that's once again a policy that likely would have been practiced anyway, if not stated. The rules of warfare have changed. It used to be standard practice to blow away civilians in an attempt to intimidate the enemy into surrender. Today, civilian casualties are no longer acceptable. If a regime commits an atrocity, even with millions of deaths involved, you go after the regime. It may result in civilian casualties due to the fact that you would have no time for warnings or evacuations, but if you kill everyone within the same city as the bad guy, you become the bad guy. I have no problem with a pre-emptive strike if such an attack is deemed even highly probable, and if the bad guy has nukes, well if it's us or them, they lose. The President also left himself an out here. The policy is subject to change as weapons capabilities change. In, other words, if a chemical or biological weapon and delivery system capable of widespread destruction surfaces, all bets are off.

The presentation here is a desire to create an incentive for regimes that don't have nukes, not to develop them, store them, hide them or take delivery of them. A hawk might have presented it a little differently; "We reserve the right to use nuclear weapons against any nation in possession of nuclear weapons." Same policy, different spin.

The drama surrounding the "new" policy is a political technique I like to call "pushing on a train". That's when you put yourself in a position to take credit for something that was going to happen anyway. In economics, you pass some impotent bill with a nice name like "The Restore American Growth Act" a few months before your top economic advisors tell you that historical stats indicate the economy is likely to recover. Presto! You're an economic genius.

A lot of pundits on the right have made a big deal over this policy announcement. I think they should save their capital for something more meaningful.

More info: Yahoo News

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Geithner's statement is unacceptable

Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner stated recently that the Obama administration is very concerned about recovering the jobs lost during the recession. He further stated that he expects the unemployment level to remain "unacceptably high for a long time to come."

In other words, they've accepted and are asking us to accept, "unacceptably" high unemployment for the foreseeable future. I guess what he meant to say was that the current levels of unemployment have officially been deemed acceptable.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Does technology equal progress?

So now NASA is investigating the problems with Toyota accelerators. No kidding. They're trying to determine if solar flares may have somehow upset the electronics in the cars.

Of course, a few years back, if you had a problem with the accelerator, all you had to do is look at it. There was a cable running from the pedal to the throttle. It's either stuck or broken, or it isn't. The whole system was a half dozen or so mechanical pieces that were either obviously broken, or not.

How many hundreds of millions, dare I say billions, of dollars in research and programming/engineering time went into replacing this simple system (a few bucks worth of hardware) with high tech software? How many more millions will be spent trying to figure out what's wrong with it? Can one really say that the new system is an improvement over the old one, by any measure?

I saw a commercial the other day for a self-propelled lawn mower. Not just any self-propelled lawn mower; this one has a secondary handle that slides as you apply more or less pressure, causing the wheels to spin faster or slower. You can actually adjust the speed of the mower you're walking behind! Didn't we accomplish the same thing in the past by just walking faster or slower? Have we really gotten that lazy? "Sure, I'll walk behind this thing and hold the handle, but I'm not going to apply 5 or 6 foot pounds of force to it! I'm not Hercules!"

Audi will be testing a robotic car right here in Colorado Springs this fall. This car will drive itself right up Pikes Peak! A number of companies are working on self-driving cars. If they’re successful, one day, most people wont be familiar with how to manually operate a motor vehicle. Some type of emergency service like OnStar will be an absolute necessity, since you’d just be stuck if anything went wrong with the mechanics or the software. Yes, you’d in effect have to subscribe to your car, adding it to the ever-growing list of things you can buy, but will never really own. This is progess?

Coors has a new beer can that changes color when it’s cold. How else could you possibly know whether the beer in your hand is cold or not? Maybe next we could get socks that send out email alerts to let you know you’ve stubbed your toe.

Have you ever seen the old Saturday Night Live commercial making fun of a 3 bladed razor ad? It ends with some animation and the tag line “because you’ll believe anything”. Guess what? Gillette is coming out with a new 6 bladed razor for their “closest shave yet”. How close do we really need to shave? I think I could make do with 1980 level closeness for the rest of my life and be okay with it.

These are just a few examples suggesting more complicated doesn't necessarily mean better. How about making products that last longer instead of one’s that solve problems that don’t exist. Of course, the consumer is the driver. Money will flow into making more of whatever you buy today. So before you put that internet-ready, pickle jar safety coaster in your cart, ask yourself “Do we really need to spend any more man-hours on this one?”.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Time to get serious about Climate Change

Our climate is changing. It would be highly irregular if it didn’t. I’m not a scientist. I don’t even play one on TV. But I’ve paid enough attention to the issue over the years to conclude that obsessing about man-made carbon emissions amounts to rearranging the proverbial deck chairs on the Titanic.

Earthquakes have increasingly been in the news, which may simply be because they are occurring in populated areas, rather than increasing in frequency, but that doesn’t make them any less hazardous. The northern part of China is rapidly turning to sand, which is a problem for at least half the world, as the wind picks it up and takes it as far as the western U.S.. There’s a hurricane cycle due to hit the northeastern U.S. in about 5 years that has nothing to do with your S.U.V.. It’s just that time again. Yet, we’ve built massive skyscrapers right where history tells us a major storm could make landfall (somewhere in the vicinity of Coney Island). Nobody knows when the next big earthquake will strike in California or Yellowstone, just that it will be devastating when it does.

We may not be able to prevent nature from taking its course, but we need to get better at predicting it so that we can take evasive or adaptive action. The first order of business is to take politics out of it. There’s a lot of money riding on the “carbon is the root of all evil” scenario. But any analysis of climate and geological trends that doesn’t take into account the activity of the Sun, the rotation, revolution and tilt of the Earth and other system-wide dynamics is a massive waste of time and resources.

Government would be within its purvue to examine and prepare for contingencies, including warmer climates, colder climates and geological disasters. While considering input from objective, comprehensive research is logical, advocating for one unproven theory over another is not. Real science is not subject to a vote or an opinion poll. The truth is what the truth is. Convincing people that you’re absolutely right when you’re not is not virtuous. It can be disasterous.

The carbon debate has become so polarizing that I don’t know if we can get back on the right track or not. It’s just as likely we’ll all be mounting solar panels on our sub-compacts about the time the glaciers start advancing or Yellowstone erupts.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Guns at Starbucks

Starbucks recently decided not to ban patrons from wearing their holstered guns into their coffee shops. This has upset many folks who are evidently, afraid of handguns.

One woman on a television news interview asked "If I go into a Starbucks with my child and he asks, Mommy, why is that man wearing a gun? How am I supposed to answer that?" Really? That's a tough question? How about, "Because good people carrying guns discourages bad people from using theirs."

How are we supposed to take the uber-left seriously when they suggest that children will be traumatized by the sight of a law abiding citizen carrying a holstered hand gun? If that hypothetical question really scares you as a parent, maybe you should hire a nanny, because the questions get a lot harder than that.

Friday, March 5, 2010

In pursuit of intelligent design

The Texas public school system is currently mired in debate over updating public school textbook standards. Among the issues is whether or not intelligent design should be discussed in science class along with evolution.

I don’t know that the question of intelligent design has even been pursued enough in scientific terms to warrant a chapter in a textbook. But it has always puzzled me why science has ignored the question. I’m not a scientist, but I’m a big fan of science; good science. Good science means you don’t rule out what you can’t rule out.

Let me be clear. By intelligent design, I don’t mean omnipotent being design. I mean that at least some of what we perceive as reality may have been instigated by a sentient being or beings. The problem with the religious pursuit of the possibility is that it starts with a conclusion and then seeks supporting evidence, ignoring anything contradictory. The problem with the scientific pursuit of the possibility is that it doesn’t exist.

I think its intriguing to speculate that the universe may be a program, designed and implemented by real beings. If there’s a code behind it, we may be abe to crack it. But to come at it from the right direction you have to consider it as something deliberate, not just random. The advantage of thinking in those terms is that you can approach a problem from the standpoint of the designer. Look at how some parts of the system work and extrapolate how others within the same operating system, authored by the same individual or group, might work. Then of course, you have to test your hypothesis. Another aspect of getting into this mindset is that you don’t just look at how a particular part of the system works, you ponder why. What purpose does it serve in the larger picture?

I think intelligent design could be a productive scientific pursuit if done right. First rule: no magic. Even computer code has parameters that can’t just be ignored. A reality that is much bigger than we may know is still reality. It may afford more possibilities, but it’s not magic. The main divergence from eliminating intelligent design is that you assume everything has some purpose. It may just be entertainment, but whatever it is, it’s not an accident. Second, if you come to a new conclusion, you’ve got to prove or disprove it. No jumping to conclusions. Just like any other field of science, you have to carefully design experiments to test your hypothesis and accept whatever data comes out of them. Third, you don’t get to use the old cop-out that “some things are just beyond our understanding.” It’s okay to not know what we don’t know, but that doesn’t make it unknowable.

There are several assumptions in the religious pursuit of intelligent design that have no place in a scientific pursuit. There’s no basis for the assumptions that an intelligent designer(s) is, or are superior, immortal, all-knowing or has (have) our best interest at heart. We know very little about the design itself at this point (if it is a design) never mind the nature or motivations of the author(s).

If proponents of intelligent design would like it to be a serious part of school curriculum and scientific pursuit, it must be an honest, objective and fearless pursuit. The truth is what the truth is. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it. That fact is just as true for "top scientists" as it is for the Pope and the Dali Lama.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The lesser of two evils?

This is a continuation of a discussion on Facebook. I've got a bit more to say on the subject so I thought I should start my own thread.

In a nutshell the debate is whether it's best to vote for your favored party, even if the candidate is not a strong advocate for your basic principals, to avoid a victory by the other party. I submit that it is not.

It's been said that "party trumps person". I'd say that ideas and ideals trump both party and person. Parties and people come and go. Ideas, both good and bad, linger on. That's the real battlefield.

If more people believe that individual freedom, with all its risks, will lead to a better quality of life than central control, they will support individuals that promote individual freedom over central control. Simply convincing them that party A is good and party B is bad may win an election, but does not advance the cause of the war.

Some progressives openly admit that they are progressives. That means they are working within the system, to change the system, to one where we collectively, through our government, provide for everyone's essential needs (as determined by the government). A progressive Republican is no more appealing to me than a progressive Democrat, and I'll support a Democrat that convinces me that he or she is ready, willing and able to work to defeat the progressive movement.

If we do all we can to educate and influence people with regard to the basic principals and merits of individual freedom, and the people reject it, we lose and the consequences will be dire. That's the risk you run when you step into the arena. But it's better to fight and lose than to not fight for fear of losing. As someone who was fodder for bullies in my youth, I can attest to that. I brought misery upon myself by avoiding the fight, rather than engaging in it. Don't settle for "less wrong" because you fear "more wrong". Take wrong off the table.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Don't Care, Shut Up

No, I'm not trying to insult my readers. I'm just suggesting a new official policy in regards to gays in the military.

We have a tough situation in Afghanistan. We're trying to wrap up Iraq. Iran is still being run by a lunatic who may soon have nukes.

On the home front, the government is frantically trying to jump start the economy before its fiscal situation turns into total chaos.

Yet, we continue to pay top elected and appointed officials to spend critical man-hours worrying about whether or not the guy guarding the motor pool in Kabul might be gay. It seems to me we have bigger fish to fry.

If working next to an openly gay individual causes you emotional stress, I don't care. Shut up. Do your job.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Reid's game changing statement

A new book, due out Tuesday, called "Game Changer" contains a quote from Senate Majority leader Harry Reid in which Reid says he's impressed with Obama and that America could be ready to elect a "light skinned" African-American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wants one."

I'm not sure if that statement is more offensive to black Americans or the white Americans who he implies would not be "ready" to vote for a dark skinned American with a more Joe Six Pack tone.

The official reaction has been predictable. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, have accepted Reid's apology and are playing down the statement. Barack Obama, the self-appointed spokesperson for all black Americans, has declared the case closed. I guess that's that.

You may recall that when former Senate majority leader Trent Lott tried to say something nice about a 500 year old man with one foot in death's door by saying that the country might have been better off had Strom Thurmond won his presidential election bid (the comment was made at Thurmond's birthday dinner), he was forced to resign amid much public outrage. It was a poorly thought out statement, given that Thurmond had supported segregation back in the day.

There is obviously a much different standard for Democrats, even among "black leaders". You can't take Reid's statement as anything other than racist. After all, it suggests that most African Americans are not qualified to be president, due to their skin color and voice inflection. However, as long as you tow the party line, any statement can be excused. Recall Joe Biden's comment during the campaign about how "clean" Obama is; like a clean black man is a novelty, at least in his mind. He's now our vice-president.

This really might turn out to be a "game changer" though. It is becoming more transparent that racial slurs are only outrageous if you oppose the liberal agenda. They are acceptable if you support it. I don't know if that policy will stand. Reid's already facing horrible poll numbers at home (60%+ disapproval) and his opponents in his own party might just take this opportunity to replace him, at least as leader. Further, more and more black conservatives (yes, they do exist) are feeling comfortable speaking out. They already didn't like the direction Reid is helping take the country in. Now, there's blood in the water.

The myth of the African-American "unimind" was already on shaky ground. Maybe this incident will blow it out of the water for good. Then we can finally get to debating issues as individual-Americans. That would be a good thing.