Tuesday, March 3, 2015
No matter when and where you go, you can never fully escape the weather.
My wife and I just got home after spending five weeks and a couple of days in Florida and cruising in the Caribbean.
This was our version of snow-birding. It was the first time we had been away from home for this long a period in the
middle of the winter.
Our goal was to miss the snow, ice and
freezing weather of the Washington, DC area that is typical during late January and all of February. We missed
lots of snow, ice and cold weather. We got home yesterday, March 2, and what do we find? Temperatures around freezing,
snow and ice all over our driveway, and more snow and cold weather expected in a couple days.
The temperatures for our days in Florida were generally moderate and pleasant,
certainly not hot. It rained hard in Orlando on Saturday on a very cool day. It was very warm every day in
the southern Caribbean Sea with a just little bit of rain on a couple of days. It is easy to understand why the
beaches of the resort hotels in Aruba where loaded with vacationers.
But at some point we all must return to regular life. Vacations come to an end. There is weather everywhere
Friday, February 13, 2015
Focus on Issues via Fiction
Sometimes it is easier to address sensitive issues through
fiction than dealing with them directly through direct discussion or non-fiction writing. Dan Brown's latest novel,
Inferno, addresses two significant issues that are likely to meaningful at some time in our future.
The most significant issue Brown addressed is the world's exponential
population growth. While population growth varies widely between nations and cultures, the overall global population
of 7 billion continues to increase. The UN estimates that the global population will reach 9 billion by 2040. Our
planet will need more food, energy, fresh water and other resources to support about 30 percent more people within 25 years.
How does this get accomplished concurrently with an improvement in living standards for about 5 of the 7 billion existing
In 1798 Thomas Malhtus was wrong
when he famously predicted the continuing population growth would exhaust the world's food supply by the mid-19th century.
However, it is clear today that we are depleting many key resources around the world and our quest for resources is damaging
our environment. How do we provide for another 2 billion people and improve the lives of billions of others? The
question is not answered in a rational manner in Inferno. However, Brown does us all a service of presenting
the issue to us in an entertaining manner. We are we going to do about it? Do we let populations fight over resources
to the death or do we find a way to limit our growth?
The second issue addressed by Brown is Transhumanism. The definition of Transhumanism in Wikipedia is "Transhumanism (abbreviated
as H+ or h+) is an international cultural and intellectual movement with an eventual goal of fundamentally transforming
the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical,
and psychological capacities." I don't think I ever heard the word Transhumanism before reading Inferno.
I have done a small amount of research on Transhumanism and it appears to be a very advanced approach to thinking
about big issues. But as Brown pointed out in Inferno it is not clear that the advanced concepts and technology
advanced by Transhumanists will be a net positive. This is a topic worthy of further investigation.
Inferno is a best seller and a great escapist read. But there are
some very interesting issues presented in the book. We needs to think about what they mean to all of us.
Sunday, February 1, 2015
Lessig and Heinlein
Why would I provide commentary on two completely different books
in the same blog? What do Republic, Lost - How Money Corrupts Congress - and a Plan to Stop It by Lawrence
Lessig and For Us, The Living - A Comedy of Customs by Robert A. Heinlein have in common? I recieved
Lessig's book as a gift and bought Heinlein's book because I read most of his work decades ago and was a big fan of his.
Lessig first published his non-fiction book in 2011. Heinlein's book was written in 1939. It was his first
novel. Heinlein couldn't sell it and it was never published during his lifetime. For Us, The Living was
first published in 2004, sixteen years after Heinlein's death. What ties this two books together other than I read them
one after the other? A lot!
book title is the topic of his book. Lessig, a Harvard professor, explains in great detail how US campaign
finance laws have corrupted our government making it almost impossible for our government to function in a rational manner.
He explains that there are too many corrupting influences created by the constant fund raising that all national politicians
must do to stay in office. Other commentators call our system crony capitalism. Lessig calls it a form of
corruption. His terminology is reasonable in context of his argument. Lessig explains how the system works in
great detail. Based on my personal experience I know that Lessig is fundamentally correct in his assessment. While
my personal experiences in this matter are a bit dated I believe strongly that this situation has only gotten worse in the
past decade, not better. Lessig presents some options for fixing the problem that may be achievable at some point.
But I believe that it will take a major economic downturn, greater than the 2008 financial collapse, to cause fundamental
reform to occur. Lessig spends some effort in discussing the roles of the major banks in overall governing problem.
He didn't focus enough on interrelationship of the major banks and the Federal Reserve. There is no doubt in my mind
that the US needs to return to a form of the Glass-Steagall Act and fully separate investment banking from commercial banking.
It would also help reduce the political power of the major banks. Lessig admits he is very liberal. I would call
him a liberal progressive. He and I probably wouldn't agree on many of the changes in the laws we would like to
see Congress pass. But he is fundamentally correct in his assessment of corruption in our government. We are well
past the time where major changes need to be made in the campaign finance laws.
So what has Lessig's book got to do with Heinlein's first novel? It is believed
Heinlein wrote For Us, The Living in late 1938 and early 1939. It was rejected by several major publishers
and put on the shelf in 1939. Heinlein was a liberal progressive activist and thinker as a young man. His first
book, while fiction, projects an entirely different US political and economic system will be in place in the year 2086
in order to correct the defects that existed in 1939, near the end of the Great Depression. What is amazing is that
Heinlein came to the same essential conclusions about what the future US government structure should look like as Lessig.
While Heinlein's book is a science fiction novel and his opinions are expressed in terms of the plot, it is fascinating
to read his opinions about the future from his period of reference and compare them to what has happened in the
intervening decades. It is also interesting to find out that many of the concepts that he wrote about in 1939 would
have fit in perfectly with the books he wrote in the 1970s and 1980s. Heinlein also attacks the banking system that
existed in his time and recommends fundamental changes to address unfairness in our society. What is happening today
in our government and society would have driven him crazy.
I am not a liberal progressive like Lessig or Heinlein. However, both of these men have accurately pointed
out some fundamental flaws in our political and economic systems that must be addressed. Reworking the banking system
is a good first step. Fixing crony capitalism and corruption of our political process must be high on the agenda.
Is there a way for the voters to force our government to fix these critical problems? We need to find a way soon.
Monday, January 19, 2015
Why Should Feds Regulate Our Lives?
Every time I pick up a newspaper or magazine or read an article
on-line it seems as though somebody is advocating for the US Congress to pass a new law that establishes more
regulations that govern how all businesses, big and small, must provide compensation and benefits for their
employees. I find this topic extremely irritating and a prime example of why the US has been in decline for decades.
Too many people in our country are looking to the Feds to become a party to their employment relationship. They want
Federal regulations to solve many of their life problems involving their relationship with their employer.
We have minimum wage, health care laws and many regulations that impact
compensation and benefits. All of these laws put constraints on individual attempting to start or build businesses.
They apply across all forms of businesses and locations of those businesses. The government has determined that it
should decide how an owner of a business should compensate it employees.
I am not objecting to tax laws or regulations related to child labor, work place safety, discrimination or
other items that don't relate to compensation and benefits for adults. Those are a completely different set of issues
that have the own positives and negatives. Why should the Federal government be involved in a transaction between
two adults concerning the value of a person's labor? What right does the Federal government have in determining
how an individual business owner values the labor of any individual and what benefits to provide for that person? There
is no requirement that any person take any specific job from any potential employer. Every individual makes a personal
decision to take a job because they want the job with the compensation and benefits that go with it. Why should
the Federal government have any say in the matter?
I have no objection with the Federal government establishing the compensation and benefit plans for
its own employees. I have no problem with the Federal government establishing compensation and benefits requirements
for the employees of contractors that work exclusively for the Federal government. I have no problem
with the Federal government establishing compensation and benefits requirements for employees of organizations that receive
federally funded grants of all types. But there is no reason for the Federal government to insert itself into an work
place agreement between individuals where the work has nothing to with the Federal government. At a minimum regulations
on compensation and benefits should be left to state and local governments, if they wish to take any action.
Some people say that this or that country has certain wage plans or benefits
that the US should copy. None of these other countries has a heterogeneous population spread over a vast diverse geographical
area close to what exists in the US. The US is unique in the world with the extent
of its diversity. We need to let employers decide what compensation and benefits that wish to provide to their employees
as they compete for the work force they need to make their businesses function effectively.
Why should the Feds regulate our lives?
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
What Is True?
Read a newspaper, a magazine, a book, a Twitter news-feed,
Facebook posts, material on websites, research documents or a government report on any topic from any source that
interests you. How much of what you read is actually factual? How much of the material you read or information
you received is actually true? Is it true in one context but not another context? Is there any absolute fact in
what you read?
Is the material you read
really just opinion, not based on facts? Is the author lying to you for some reason? Does the author have an agenda
they are not revealing to you? Does the author have any motivation not tell you the truth? Does the information
one author gave you match up with information you received from other sources? Are the sources really independent or
are they a rehash of one source? Are we living in an era where we believe most people are truthful or do you think most
of what people telling each other really isn't true or its context is hidden for some unidentified purpose?
If one thousand people tell the world publicly about an experience
they have experienced, can we reasonably conclude that at least one of them is telling the truth to the very best of their
capability. Is it logical for us to believe another person that tells us that all one thousand people are wrong,
misguided, dreaming, or making up the information they have provided to us because that person claims to be an expert
on the topic? Who decided the so-called "expert" has the proven track record to support their claim of expertise?
What body of knowledge does the expert possess that makes them an "expert"? Who proclaimed the "expert"
In today's world individuals
have access to information in a manner that has never before existed. There is both good news and bad news
as a result. We can access a lot of information at the source without resorting to so-called experts to reveal it to
us. There is also the opportunity for people to present information to the general public that is purposely false.
So we have to be careful in understanding the quality of the source. If the source is a big name or an
"important person" doesn't necessarily mean the quality of the information is any better than information provided
by some random person that is truly an expert. Who is really the "expert" on any topic?
Who is really providing factual information so we can determine what is