Sunday, December 30, 2012

Why Not Ban Assault Rifles?

Why not? What does it matter? After all, the assault rifle is a rather ineffective tool. Applying science and logic, there are better choices for most every situation a firearm is called for.

Hunting - For hunting, the purpose of the firearm is to achieve a quick, clean kill, with a single shot. Multiple bullets means unnecessary pain and suffering for the animal and damage to the meat. The ideal hunting weapon has very good accuracy to a reasonably large distance, with a bullet which will make a small entry hole, causing as little damage as possible to the external tissue (meat). The bullet should then expand internally, doing as much damage as possible to internal organs (specifically heart and lungs), to ensure a very quick death. Assault rifles don't have good long range accuracy, as a general rule, there is no need for an automatic, or even a semiautomatic rate of fire, as the kill should occur with a single well placed shot. Most of the best hunting rifles are bolt-action, like the Kimber model 84m or the Ruger M77RSI International.

Home Defense - An assault rifle is a horrible choice for home defense. Consider the situation; tight quarters, short distances, low response time, neighbors. Most assault rifles are too long, awkward and clumsy to be used effectively in a close quarters, in-door situation. You'll be bumping the barrel into walls and furniture. And when you do find your target, you will have less than a second to bring the  weapon to bear, and fire. Even with automatic fire, you are only like to get a few rounds off. Probability of you being able to place a lethal, or stopping round is quite low. And the rounds that miss are going to penetrate your walls and enter the neighborhood, where they have the potential to maim or kill innocents. For home defense, the best choice is a short barrel shotgun, like a Mossberg 590A1 or the Benelli M4 (yes, there is a Civilian model). With a shotgun, you don't have to be especially accurate, as you will have a spreading pattern of balls striking in the vicinity of where you aim. You have a great deal of "stopping power", and the shot will generally not penetrate your walls, keeping the lethal force contained in your home.

Mugging//Car-Jacking/Street violence -  It is pretty hard to hide an assault rifle. If a criminal wants to do you harm, and they see you packing an AR-15   (the link will take you to an editorial note explaining the change) M-16, they will just shoot you from behind. Assuming you have an MP5, or something else small enough to potentially conceal. You aren't going to be able to retrieve it fast enough to do you any good. In this situation you need something small, light and concealable. This is the situation for a hand-gun, even an itty -bitty .22 pistol can be an effective weapon in such close quarters.

Apocalypse - Suppose the country falls apart and it is every man for himself. Surely this is where the assault rifle shines, right? Wrong. Fact is you and your assault rifle will be one of the first to go. Governments tend to resist apocalyptic events, those with sufficient money and power will still have access to trained soldiers, which they will use to ensure their survival. They will have more men than you, and more bullets than you. They might drop you with a sniper round the first time they see you and your assault weapon in the open. They might approach you in a group in which case you might be lucky enough to get one or two of them before they drop you. They might just start a firefight, and let you use up your ammunition. For the apocalypse, you are going to want a good hunting/sniper rifle, and something concealable for the surprise value in a situation you can't otherwise escape. Given limited supply of ammunition, you definitely don't want anything automatic. 

Governmental Defense - What if it is necessary to take arms against your own government? To restore liberty? Such a scenario is not unrealistic. It has happened before. It is happening now, in fact, in other parts of the world. Would an assault rifle be a good choice then? Again, supply of ammunition needs to be considered. If the military stands with the newly self-appointed dictators, they are going to have an unlimited supply of ammunition, and you are not. The simple reality is that the assault weapon is more about intimidation. You hurl an ungodly amount of metal at your opponent to break his will. Maybe you will get lucky and have a round or two strike home. More likely you will keep him pinned down until you can get a sniper in place to execute a one-shot kill. In every situation, there is a specific firearm more suited to the task at hand.

Zombie Apocalypse - Okay, you might have a case there....

The assault rifle is to guns what the Lamborghini is to cars. It is sexy, noisy,  expensive, goes like mad, makes you feel "manly", and ultimately is terribly inefficient and ineffective.

So why not just go with a ban? Why fight it? Why not just capitulate and make everybody happy?

What defines an "assault weapon"? The word "Assault" in the name is not a valid metric.

You  need a practical measurement in order to effectively ban it. The ultimate goal is to prevent loss of life, right? So how do you achieve that? What, based on that objective defines an assault weapon.

Is it an assault weapon because it is automatic? semi-automatic? Have you ever seen Jerry Miculek speed shooting with a revolver?

What about magazine size? Is the threshold 30 rounds? What happens when everybody starts making 29 round magazines? 28 Round magazines? Do you know how long it takes to switch out a magazine?  Do you know how fast you can reload a revolver?

How do you design a standard for identifying and banning assault rifles, which will not run the risk of infringing on basic 2nd amendment rights? How do you ensure that responsible Americans can still defend their homes, families and lives against the unjust or the tyrannical, should the need arise?

If it is loss of life you are truly concerned about? Wouldn't it be better to start by banning alcohol, which accounts for nearly 3 times as many deaths annually? Oh, we tried that once, didn't we? WE still regulate it, yet it present a much higher body count. Why will banning assault weapons be different?

I will admit, when I listen to the pro-gun nuts talking, I begin to think a firearms ban would be a good idea, All that white-trash, red-neck, semi-literate, belligerent, chest thumping makes me nervous. On the other hand, they aren't the ones making the news for shooting people, are they?

In short, banning assault weapons will most likely be a high cost solution, with a relatively low gain. It would be much wiser to invest those resources in other ways, like encouraging and rewarding solid, nuclear families, good educators, and effective peer support programs, positive media,... things which can have a real, long-lasting impact on the way we think, and therefore act. And, banning assault weapons, even though it may seem to serve the greater good, is a dangerous step toward losing fundamental freedoms essential to the evolution of the human experience.

"Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive."
        -C.S. Lewis

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Gut facts

This page is probably going to be a list of random facts about the Intestines. Things I have picked up from some MIT coursework, and elsewhere. Stuff that may be helpful to me or others. I will try to stick to information with relatively solid science to back it up (keeping in mind the Fundamental flaws of science). Of course, if you notice inconsistencies, please let me know, and provide source for validation. I will list sources at the bottom of this document.

  • An average human being is composed of roughly 10 trillion cells

Cells have a fairly high probability of mutation as they divide. That is just the way the system works;  as bits of genetic material attach in sequence to complete a new DNA strand, there is a fairly high probability of a coding error.Gut cells are especially at risk for mutation, due tot he fact they are in contact with the waste products of our digestive process, many of which may have mutagenic qualities.

Cells have mechanisms to watch for these errors and truncate them;strip of the bad code and reconstruct), or destroy the new cell.

  • The gut has a series of valleys, called crypts, and peaks, called villi.

 In the crypts there are groupings of stem cells (stem cells are generic cells which can become/create any(totipotent) or many(pluripotent) types of cells in the body. Much of stem cell research is about controlling these cells, so we can create new organs and other body parts, which could be a genetic match to your body, thereby taking care of the whole rejection issue.). These stem cells duplicate themselves at a relatively slow rate, and have a relatively long lifespan, to reduce the probability of mutations occurring. These cell produce the various specialized gut cells (we'll call them daughter cells), which work their way up to the top of the villi, and make up the bulk of the gut cell tissue.
Some of the specialized gut cells produce a mucus substance (mucin) which forms a barrier (a slimy force field) between the stem cells and the contents of the intestines, thsu preventing these stem cells from coming in contact with potential mutagens.

Since the stem cells produce a relative small quantity of cells, most of the cells which make up the gut are the result of an series of exponential divisions of the daughter cells, which the stem cell originally produced.

These cells work their way up the villi, where they become exposed to the contents of the gut. At this point, they are now a high risk for mutation, so they ... kill themselves (apoptosis), to be replaced by newer cells. This cycle takes 3-4 days.

  • The gut is also home for a host of bacteria. There are more bacteria in the gut, than there are cells in the body (roughly ten time more, in fact). These bacteria perform all kinds of tasks, like breaking down stuff our body can't, extracting use nutrients we couldn't otherwise get access to. They help train our immune system, they help to prevent the growth of pathogens, and they may play a role in the prevention of allergies and Inflammatory Bowel Disorders.

Cats, Swords, Sticks, Guns

In Medieval Europe, a terrible plague once threatened to wipe humans from the map. The humans did their best to help it happen too. See the plagued was caused by a flea, which thrived on rodents. the people of the time, driven by inaccurate data, concluded that cats were the cause. And went on a cat killing spree. The reduction in the cat population, meant fewer predators for rats, who then flourished, and the fleas along with them. You'd think we'd be smarter now, but instead we seem to have made cat killing an art.

A lifetime ago, I had a martial arts instructor who trained in Okinawa. He shared some interesting history with me. At the time, the sword was king. And the Japanese had mastered the craft. The Japanese Katana was a truly formidable weapon. The blade was a springy steel, which would flex, readily, making it less prone to breaking. They would bury the blade in the sand, leaving only the cutting edge exposed. This would harden the edge, while preserving the flexibility of the rest of the blade. the hardened portion could then be honed to an extremely sharp cutting edge.

A skilled swordsman could use the Daito (long sword) to disable a horsed opponent with a single stroke, severing the front legs of the horse and toppling the rider. The shoto (short sword) was equally lethal.

The okinawan commoners were not allowed swords by law. The leaders of the time banned weapons to prevent insurrection. If your soldiers are armed and your peasants are not... So the Okinawan commoners improvised. Farm tools became weapons. Okinawan tradition holds that the Tonfa and Nunchaku were both tools used for threshing grain, beating rice kernels open. Both were adapted to the purpose of combat. Either is capable of delivering a fatally skull crushing blow.

And of course every civilization has used the stick (Quarter Staff, Bo Staff, sharpen one end and call it a spear, lance, or javelin...) when no other option was available.

People who wish to do violence have always found the means to do so, whether by stick, car, plastic knife, or diesel and fertilizer.

Today's cat of choice seems to be the firearm. It is all over the news. One group points out the many recent tragedies. Another holds up statistics showing an increase in crime after gun control laws have been implemented in other countries. And everyone argues about guns.
And everyone ignores the fleas. The problem isn't the piece of metal, the explosive material, the blade, or the stick. The problem is the action. More fundamentally, the problem is the thought which led to that action.

That is where the focus should be. You want to fix violence? Fix that.

Here are a few hints:

Personal Responsibility/Accountability
Highly Available, Accurate Information
Learned Selflessness

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Slavery today

In 1865 Slavery was officially abolished in the United States, with the ratification of the thirteenth amendment of the constitution. Plans to eliminate slavery went back to the original declaration of independence, but weren't acted upon at that time, as some states depended upon slavery, and it was decided unification of the states was more important at the time. There was of course talk of the need to work out a plan to ultimately phase out slavery.

In the Early 1800's, growth of the labor-intensive cotton industry spurred an increase in slavery in the southern states. Originally slaves were a fairly equal mix of Europeans and Africans (Yes, there have always been white slaves in America. No thanks to the race wars, that is all but forgotten).

Then a war was fought, a constitution was amended and the US abolished slavery. Hooray for us. But, is slavery really gone from America?

I'm not talking about the (tens of? hundreds of?) thousands of individuals in the US who are here under duress, primarily by abduction, and often forcibly employed in various aspects of the sex-for-money industry  (not that this isn't a subject worthy of attention).

First, what is slavery? Lack of pay? Early American slaves received pay, in the form of room, clothing, food, and in some cases allowance. Practically everyone who works does so, in order to receive money, which they trade for food, clothing, shelter...

Is it freedom? How free is an individual living hand-to-mouth, working extended hours in a factory?
Is it the ability to walk away if they choose? To change their circumstances? Many of the early American slaves were only slaves for as long as was needed to repay the debt they incurred to pay the fare for their journey to America. They chose slavery for a time, in an effort to obtain a better life in  the future (kinda’ like how we use credit cards, only their debt usually had an end).

What if (extending the conversation outside the U.S., to China, India,…) individuals are lining up to take jobs at those factories? What if you can produce many interviews from those individuals talking about how their lives are better now? It isn't slavery if their lives are better off, right? Well, some American slaves had better lives while in slavery than they had before or after their time as slaves. Sure there were horrible masters who treated their property poorly. There were also a few decent masters who treated their slaves like family.

I have children. They perform chores around the house, which is not how they want to spend their time.  They are also required to attend school, take piano lessons etc..., frequently against their will. They don't get a salary. Yes, we feed them clothe them, provide them rooms, a little spending money (and love of course). Many early slaves have experienced the same.

I'm not trying to downplay the state of American slaves historically, nor am I trying to build a case that the Chinese factory worker is precisely comparable. I am sincere when I ask, what defines slavery?

Quite frankly the definition seems rather blurry; more a buzzword that gets pulled out when some group or other wants to whip a crowd into a frenzy, often over something that frankly has no connection whatsoever to slavery, past or present.

Okay, set that aside for a moment. Assuming we manage to establish a clear definition of slavery. Do we all agree it is bad? Do we all want it eliminated?

Does that seem like a stupid question?

Ever seen the Egyptian pyramids? The Great Wall of China? They are the products of slavery. See, it all goes back to that Law of Conservation thingy. It takes lots of calories to build amazing things like pyramids and massive walls. Those calories are not invested in making food, clothes, shelter.... things people actually need. That means while someone is busy stacking rocks in a pointy shape, someone else has to collect food etc... for themselves and for the rock stacker. What do you do if you don't have enough people willing to do double duty on food collection? Well, somehow, you need to come up with people willing to do the work for less food, shelter, etc...

So, you can go conquer someone, and put them to work for you, you can have lots of children, and let them do the grunt work, or you can find some “economically inferior” country, and magnanimously improve their lives by letting them do your grunt work in exchange for peanuts.

“What about technology?” you may say. Advancing technology does give us better tools which can make the job easier and faster, with fewer people. But, for technology to advance you need people investing their time in advancing education, science, and in designing and engineering said new technology. You are back to needing people making extra food for extra mouths.

Now it is possible, for responsible people to work hard, work together, and accomplish amazing things without resorting to slavery. It is just a matter of hard work, cooperation, a few sacrifices...

In the western world, average hours worked is declining. Many European countries average less than 38 hours per week.  People are working longer (retiring later), but they are also living longer. People are having fewer kids, and fewer of those kids are actually performing the “grunt” jobs, that were a rite-of-passage for prior generations of teens.

Houses are bigger, cars are bigger. Appetites are bigger. What with TVs, game consoles, CD's, DVD's, Movies, Portable gaming devices, Tablets, etc...  The average US household spends about $2500 every year on entertainment

Nine year-old's are packing cell phones. Nine year-old's are in the red on the conservation balance sheet before the cell phone becomes an essential part of their accouterments.

And of course we consume hoards of “free stuff”. Somebody has to pay for “free”.

Our amazing healthcare system is keeping us alive longer; it is also keeping criminals alive longer, criminals who grow their wealth through theft, extortion, and other resource draining activities.

Some of our present welfare laws encourage people to do less. If you make too much money you don't qualify for school grants, you could lose access to essential healthcare assistance.

The future of space exploration is iffy at this point, which means we are no longer actively pursuing options for resources or expansion beyond our 5.972x1024 Kg rock.

In short, the "civilized" world is becoming increasingly dependent on “slavery”, in one form or another, to help balance out the consumption/creation equation.

Just some thoughts to ponder while you're sitting at Starbucks, sipping your caramel macchiato, using the “free” Wi-Fi to consume “free” content with your Apple(or Android or...) gadget, and complaining about immigration, the treatment of Chinese workers...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Random Thoughts about pants on Sunday movement...

Just some random thoughts I had yesterday and today after reading about the "Wear pants to Church on Sunday" thing.

  • Why would you protest a church? It is a religious organization, not a social club. Either you believe it is true, and directed by deity, in which case you do you best to follow its tenets, or you don't believe it, in which case, why waste your time?
  • Why would women seek to lower themselves to the level of selfish thinking that men have already fallen too?
Justification for that statement?
Have you been listening to conference for the past many many years?
Gist of talks targeting the women. Be faithful, have patience keep on enduring, continue to make Jesus Christ your foundation, and charity your motto.

Gist of talk targeting men: c'mon you idiots get your act together! Stop looking at porn! stop cheating on our spouse! stop neglecting your family! stop mistreating your family!
Do something useful will ya?

I might be exaggerating slightly, but only slightly. This isn't a new trend, by the way. A prophet named Jacob gave a similar talk roughly 2500 years ago (Book of Mormon, Jacob 2:6-10)

Point is, women generally speaking have always seemed to have a better grasp on the meaning of true Christianity: of charity, humility, faith, service and obedience. Why would you change that by pursuing selfishness, conflict, divisiveness?

  • Sacrament Meeting is about renewing personal covenants with our Savior, Jesus Christ. It is one hour a week when we attempt to step away from worldly distractions of business and politics, and focus our attention on Faith, Repentance, Bearings one another burdens and strengthening one another's faith? Why on earth would you choose to inject a political statement into time meant to be focused upon the savior?

  • Those of you decrying the Gender inequality in the Church... Have you ever been to a Bishops Council or Ward welfare meeting? I've have been to quite a few, in a number of capacities. The one common thread of every meeting? The Bishop presides over the meeting, but the relief society president calls the shots, and when she talks, the men take notes. Sure there are occasionally idiots who wind up as Bishop or Stake President. There were a few prophets in the Bible who did some rather dumb things too. But referring back to the second point, why would you stoop to their level?

  • Callings in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint's are NOT positions of authority. The church is is not a business, nor a political organization. Nobody in their right mind wants to be a Bishop, or Stake president. Bishops 1 year for every two months they have their calling. It is about service, not about ascension. (I secretly suspect that may explain in part why men are those callings, they need to be ... encouraged... when it comes to service and selflessness. Women, generally speaking seem to be able to 'just get it' on their own.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Free Stuff!

The other day as I was waiting for an update to process for Speak-to-It assistant on my android gadget (Samsung Galaxy Player 5.0. Pretty nice.) I started reading the recent reviews. There were several reviews giving the new update low marks, because you had to pay for good sounding voices now.

As a dug into it, I discovered that the basic voices (male or female) were free, but if you wanted it to talk with a UK accent, you had to pay $1.

A whole dollar. And this had everyone's nickers in a twist.

And this is my one big complaint with the "new free economy".

Here is a program that you talk to. It takes the resulting sound wave, analyzes it, identifies patterns and translates them into words, determines the meaning of those words, and then provides an appropriate response. It gives information about the weather, manages your calendar, launches programs, performs Google searches, reads your email to you, tells jokes....

For free.

But it isn't free. Nothing is free. Someone had to write the code to get all that to work. Most likely a large number of somebodies spent a large number of hours writing, rewriting fixing improving etc... the code that makes it work. These somebodies, like all somebodies require food, clothing, shelter. While they were busy writing this code, they weren't busy gathering food, or making shelter.

This program utilizes servers on the internet to perform all this interpretation/translation/information dissemination. Those server are made of bits of silicon which are amazing feats of engineering, by people who invested their whole lives to understanding and manipulating properties of electricity. The server require power, which comes from a variety of sources, all of which required someone to invest time to manufacture it. The servers generate heat, which is harmful to them, thus requiring cooling, which requires heat pumps or air conditioners, which must also be invented, engineered, manufactured, installed, and maintained. All the people performing these tasks need food, and shelter.

Stuff isn't free. A musician invests time to write and perform music. Government funds for education grants, housing stipend, welfare etc... mean resources were taken from someone, and given to someone else. Those resources don't magically pop into existence. Because uncle Congress snapped his fingers.

One (semi) simple example is Social security. money is taken from me to help fund old peoples existence. When I get to be old. The young people of that time will have money taken form them to fund my existence. So what happens if there are suddenly a whole bunch more old people (because we get better at keeping them alive longer), and fewer young people (because fewer people are having children)? Well, either the old people are going to get less money, or the young people are going to have to give more.

I saw a segment from one of the TV judge programs the other day. A woman was suing her ex-boyfriend for his part of their rent while he was living with her. His argument was that he didn't have to pay rent his company was payment enough. As the Judge questioned him it came out that he was a college student in his third year studying music (you wouldn't have guessed he had even finished highschool, listening to him talk). He was in college on grants, he also received a stipend for housing. He was living for free with his girlfriend, and using this money to party. He was adamant that this was a perfectly legal, moral thing for him to do. All told, over the last three years taxpayer had given this boy seventy thousand dollars to study music, and party. some fraction of my hard work paid for this. Some fraction of my hard work paid for this instead of feeding and clothing two or three families that truly needed help. To this boy, it was free money. He had no concept where it came from.

Nothing is free. Ever. It always has a price, sooner or later, for someone. (go ahead try and think of something that is truly free. Let me know what you come up with).

Unfortunately, thanks to Google, youtube, facebook,...  unlimited cellular plans, unlimited data plans, free wifi, etc...  we have lost touch withthe cost of stuff. So people freak out over a $1 charge to add an accent to a voice in an otherwise "free" application.

One of these days, the piper is going to come to collect. That's gonna be a shock.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Twelve Years of Marriage, No fights

My wife and I have enjoyed twelve years of Marriage now. We have managed to do so without any fighting. I thought perhaps I should share how we have accomplished that. At least what I think worked. My wife may need to correct me.

First, I should say there was probably a bit of luck involved.

I was very fortunate to have been discovered by such an amazing, loving, patient, kind, devoted, beautiful woman.

From the beginning, we had a good foundation to work from. We had similar religious and social values. Not identical by any means, we had, and still have some very differing opinions on some things. But we work from what we have in common, and we respect what we don't have in common.

One thing in particular which we have in common (though I don't recall that we ever talked about it specifically) is a desire for peace. We don't enjoy fighting. that has helped greatly.

I can remember one night coming home from work, and starting into a passionate discourse regarding something I heard on the news that had fired me up (I don't remember what it was now, something to do with healthcare, I think). Tennille responded with an equally passionate, but opposing response. Immediately and unprompted we both dropped into "Spock mode", and proceeded to have a calm, rational, logical conversation. I don't think either of us changed our position by the end of the conversation, but it occurred argument free, and by the end I felt I had gained a greater insight than I had previously. My view did not change, entirely, but it did perhaps shift, as points I hadn't clearly considered were presented to me.

Another important thing which has allowed us to go fight free is the method we use to handle annoyances, yes, there are things she does that annoy, even irritate me sometimes. Likewise there are things I do that drive her crazy. Same stuff every couple deals with; differences in parenting, housekeeping, finance management...

I guess I can't speak specifically to how she deals with these things, I suspect it is fairly similar to the method I use. We have actually never talked out the strategies we use in detail.

Lots of experts talk about the value of talking it out when it comes to that stuff. I think you can overdo "talking it out". Me, I use the 24 hour principle. If I find myself irritated by something my wife is doing, I give myself 24 hours to consider the questions, "Is this really worth talking to her about? Is it worth risking an argument? Is it worth risking hurting her feelings?". Typically it only takes an hour or so for me to realize the answer is "no". Most things are simply not that important, we grew up differently, we do things differently, I don't understand exactly how she thinks about things, I don't know exactly what she feels, so how can I judge her behavior as better or worse than mine? It is just as likely (or more likely) that her way is better than mine.

So she has a habit that annoys me. I can cope. She puts up with me after all.

Now that isn't to see we never talk it out. We have also discussed some annoyances, calmly, and rationally, and we have both made an effort to, if not change, at lest lessen the impact of those annoyances on each other.

Then of course there are those times when I have said something that could be taken badly. She gives herself time to get out of the emotion, than asks me to clarify what I meant, at which point I realize how poorly I worded what I said, explain what I meant, and beg for forgiveness for being linguistically challenged. (How lucky am I that I have a wife who realizes that I was probably being dumb, rather than mean, and gives me a chance to explain myself before calling for my execution).

Ultimately It is a choice we both made. For us, it came fairly easily. We didn't really discuss it, we just both seemed to have made the choice to not argue. I suspect we were an exception in that regard. Most people would probably need to have that conversation, make that choice explicitly, and set out a plan of action.

I suppose perhaps it also has to to with how we view our wedding and vows. When we were married, we made a covenant to each other, and to God, to work together, to be faithful to one another, to stand by each other, to raise our children together, and do our best to help them to become faithful, dedicated, trustworthy, honorable citizens. You don't break promises.

Anyway, for what it is worth. That is how I think we did it.

(I love you, sweetheart. Thank you for the best twelve years of my life. I look forward to many more with you.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fixing the US Government: The new(old) model

This is part 2, I would strongly recommend you read part 1 first...

The US Government was meant to be a representative democracy. In other word,"We the people" would select a handful of representatives who would act for us, speak for us, carry out our will. What we need to do is get back to that, and refine it.

What I propose is a distributed model of government. Actually, I really believe that this is what the founding fathers had in mind.

The fundamental unit of government is the family. Lets begin with that. The family as an autonomous governmental system. Simple enough. The next layer of government is the neighborhood. The families which make up a government should meet regularly. They should establish and codify their neighborhoods mores, discuss the present social and economic issues, and identify their position democratically. The results of their dialog are then taken by their select neighborhood representative and presented before a similar, city wide council (for very large Cities, it might be necessary to have one or two intermediate councils of city districts).

The City government goes through a similar process, after which the results are carried to the County government, the process repeats and goes to the state government. Finally the state representatives, carry the message to the federal level.

Now in this model, most of the action happens at the state and city level. The federal level of government serves primarily to coordinate the state activities, help in the establishment of standards needed to allow the states to interact effectively, and manage those things which must happen at the national level( management of the armies, national transportation and communications systems, and so forth).

The process might look something like this: Texas has 22 dry counties, 146 partially dry, and 46 wet counties (referring to alcohol. Dry counties prohibit the sale of alcohol, partially dry has some restrictions, typically based on alcohol content, and wet does not carry restrictions on alcohol sales). Assume one the neighborhoods in one of the counties proposes that the state should go completely dry. No more alcohol in Texas. The neighborhood representative takes the proposal to the city.

Assuming the other neighborhoods agree (perhaps a 2/3 majority vote), the idea goes to the county level for review. Unless the county level finds some obvious reason not to forward the proposal, it moves on to the State. The state government reviews the proposal, begins the risk/benefit analysis, and sends notification of the proposal down through all the country, city and neighborhood representatives. The state also carries the proposal to the Federal government, primarily as an information point. In this case, the Federal government might raise an issues of concern, perhaps liquor made in Mexico is being brought through Texas. How would this law impact that?

The issue is evaluated, neighborhoods vote, the vote carries to the cities, then counties and finally to the state. The governments job then is to handle the process of information gathering, and dissemination, and then to enforce the will of the people.

Continuing this example, let's assume the vote came back at 95% of the population in favor of the proposal for Texas to go dry.The proposal as approved goes into effect in exactly two years, at which point all alcohol will be prohibited in Texas. To deal with the issue of transporting alcohol from Mexico to other parts of the US, an exception is made for Interstate 35, Interstate 30, and for the brief stretch of Interstate 10 From between Mexico and New Mexico, allowing trucks carrying alcohol, providing no stops are made in Texas.

What of the 5% that voted against? Well, their choice is to accept the position of the majority, or move to a different state.

There are a number of benefits to this strategy.

Reduced influence of special interest groups - It is one thing to lobby to a handful of representatives in Washington D.C. It is entirely another matter to lobby to the millions of neighborhoods in the U.S.

Reduced risk of tyranny - since governing decisions are made from the bottom up, there is no individual or small group in a position to force a questionable bill through the legislative process.

 Progress - The distributed system more readily lends itself to progress. Rather then all positions being decided by two radicalized parties and their pseudo-religious principles (which generally leads to political stalemates), decisions are based on more local interest, need and observation. Decisions regarding how to best safeguard the northwestern wilderness, as an example, are made not by an east coast, urban college graduate, with a prestigious law degree and no practical western wildlife experience. Instead those decision are made by those who live on, work on, and use the land they are trying to protect.

The localized decision making will lend itself to greater variety of strategies in play as well which will allow for real, long term observation of the benefits and pitfalls. As one state discovers a strategy that works particularly well, that knowledge can be shared and implemented by the other states, tailoring to their specific needs.

Bloody revolution (normally) not required - Implementing this model is a bottom up, evolutionary process. Neighborhoods start working together as communities (How often do you talk to all the people in your neighborhood? Do you even know all the people in your neighborhood? They start attending and participating in city meetings. They start electing city representatives who get this model and support it. Those representatives start participating n the neighborhood process, and in the county meetings. And it slowly, quietly works its way up the chain of command.

What is the "downside" to this model? Everybody has to participate in order for it to be successful. Participation needs to be consistently in the range of Utah's 1968 Voting percentage (78.5%). That's really it. You'll have to work for it. And to be honest, considering the history of this country and those who founded it, if you see working together to make things better as a downside, you might have picked the wrong country to take up residence.

Fixing the US Government

(It might be helpful to read "Government 101" First...)

There is only one strategy that will fix the American government. The Democrats don't have the answer. The Republicans don't have the answer, the Libertarians don't have the answer. No political party has it right, nor will they.

The problem is, we keep looking at government in entirely the wrong way. we fail to correctly understand or define government. It is impossible to get the correct answer if the model is wrong to begin with.

The problem ultimately is one of size. No, it isn't what you think. Big government is not the problem. Quite the opposite.

For some reason, we humans are obsessed with kings. We turn everything into a monarchy. We are always looking for someone incredibly amazing to save us. We are always looking for a Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., etc... to lead us to utopia.

We just can't seem to wrap our heads around the fact that kings never work out. It always goes south.

But we still keep trying. it. We try it under every possible guise. We envision communism, where everyone is equal. But to get there, we first have to have a strong group to overthrow the present king. Do you really think someone the with will to lead, the ambition to take on and overthrow the monarchy, is going to then step aside and give up what he fought so hard to attain? Seriously?

 We try it under the guise of pure capitalism, where each attains according to his labor, and talents. We bank on this quality called "rational self-interest" to guide us. Rational is about as common as unicorns (the magical kind). Self interest? A poor attempt to put a positive spin on selfishness. No my friends, John Galt is just another king.  Ayn Rand was as far off the mark as was Karl Marx. (I wonder how many people just stopped reading because I spoke ill of one of their prophets?).

We continually cry for smaller government, when smaller government is precisely the problem. We don't need fewer people to govern us. we need more. Less than half of the population participates in the election of our President and Senators.In a country that is supposed to be a democracy, a minority vote is choosing our representatives, making our decisions.

And for the vast majority of us, that is the extent of our involvement in the governing process (apart from complaining loudly about the liberals/conservatives currently in power and how they are ruining the country). Voting in a monarchy, doesn't make it any less of a monarchy.

So now I propose a model of government to correct this mess. A model that can restore prosperity, and keep kings (both political, and corporate) in check.

Continued in Part 2 -->

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Government 101

This post is a point of reference post, an attempt to clearly define "Government". It may be helpful as a point of reference for a future post or three.

Government is about management and control. It refers primarily to two entities associated with those endeavors.

1. The governmental body: Those individuals who exercise control of a community or organization.
2. The governmental system: The method applied to the task of governing a specific community

Governmental systems can be thought of as a sort of continuum.

On one end, you have a supreme dictatorship. In this case, the government body consists of a single individual, who controls everything. This is really only practical for relatively small communities. As the community grows larger and more complex, a supreme dictator becomes overwhelmed, and must ultimately relinquish some power to equals, or to subordinates (a democratic dictatorship or a representative dictatorship, if you will).

The other extreme is the consensus democracy. A system in which all decisions are made by a consensus vote of the entire community. This is also untenable for groups of any size, as it is virtually impossible to get a large group of people to agree on anything.

Most practical governments fall in between these two extremes. The figure below attempts to illustrate this. Note that Anarchy is not present. It is NOT a form of government, rather it is the absence of any government.

 The most fundamental government then, is the family. In smallest form, a husband and wife make up the community. The system they employ can be a dictatorship or a consensus democracy. Perhaps they will apply both at different times, as one individual makes a 'grab for power'.

The family community grows through the addition of children. In the beginning they have no say in the affairs of the community, and the governmental system looks more like a dictatorship (I should point out, that a dictator is not necessarily evil or overbearing. A dictator can be entirely benevolent, supremely loving, and still be the one making all the decisions. Some may argue the the one month old is in fact the dictator, and does in fact control the decision making process. But in terms of governmental power, within the confines of the family community the parent has the ultimate say, this has been demonstrated all too often in cases of infant abuse and neglect).

As children mature, many families will shift more decision making power, and the family government system will move to the right on the continuum toward democracy. In time, the children will leave the family community and repeat the process.

Beyond the family, we participate in dozens, even hundreds of communities and governments during our lives. Some neighborhoods have governments.  These governments are typically some form of democracy or representative democracy, and exercise control over aspects of neighborhood appearance, dictating size of house, type of fencing, condition of yards, and so forth.

There are of course the obvious; city governments, county governments, state governments, and national governments.

It is sometimes overlooked, but businesses and corporations are also governments. They are communities of individuals. They have certain common goals ("make money" at the very least). They have resources to be managed, and they have a governing body and government system. Most businesses and corporations look more like dictatorships. An owner, CEO, or board of directors make most of the decisions. Some authority may be delegated to lower level 'managers. Employees primarily do as they are directed.

Some would argue that this is not accurate, as an employee, through initiative can be promoted to a position of leadership. That is not forbidden by a dictatorship. Even in the monarchies of the past, a peasant could rise in the ranks, be granted land, and titles through acts of valor (or subterfuge).

This perhaps makes clearer the relationship between corporations and state governments. They are both governing bodies. Sometimes, they make alliances through a mutual exchange of power or resources. Sometimes they wage war over power or resources. It is really no different than the alliances and conflicts of the tribal or feudal past (other than the mode of warfare - infantrymen with swords have been replaced  by lawyers with pens).

In all cases the objective of the governing body is to thrive. It wants to survive, grow, succeed (sometimes, the governing body makes decisions which seem entirely contrary to this objective. that is because governing bodies are made up of people, and people are stupid).

In all cases, the success of the government is entirely dependent upon the community. If the community supports the government, participates in the government (whether by following the dictator, or by actively participating in the democracy), the government will tend to succeed. If the community does not support the government, it will inevitably fail.

Governments are an essential part of human evolution. An individual can only get so far (try building a rocket and flying to the moon by yourself, using only the rocks, dirt, and plants in your backyard, or manufacture a smart phone from scratch). Without community, and common goals, we'd still be running naked through the trees, banging rocks together.

The most common mistake people make with respect to government is that of anthropomorphism; assigning human characteristics to it. A government is just a tool, it doesn't think for itself, it doesn't act by itself. It is a hammer. Those who wield it can use it to build, or destroy. "The Government" does nothing by itself.

The second most common mistake is the assumption that (continuing the tool analogy) government is wielded by the governing body. In fact both the governing and the governed wield it collectively. Those who govern only have power insofar as those who are governed grant it.

As with any tool, the better you understand it - how it works, and how to use it correctly - the less likely you are to cut your arm off with it.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Confessions of a Media Racist

I'm not proud of it, but I admit it, I am somewhat racially prejudiced.  Not in a "White Power!" way or anything. But, When I see a black person, I do sort of go into a fight or flight mode. I over-analyze everything I say, or am about to say. I expect them to go crazy on me , yell at me, call me names, or try to beat me up. I have a similar response to most Hispanics, though to a lesser degree.

What is interesting about this is that I have had almost exclusively positive personal interactions with black and Hispanic people.

I grew up in Idaho, so my experience as a youth was nothing but pasty white. My first real, personal encounter with a person of color was between my Junior and Senior years of high-school. I spent a month in Kirksville, Missouri for a program which allowed a group of (Geeky) kids from throughout the US to take a University Level course and mingle and whatnot.

Our schedule each day included a period we affectionately referred to as "mandatory fun time"; an hour or so in which we were required to participate in some social and/or athletic activity. On this particular day it was basketball. So here we were, a handful of alabaster boys with a slight lean toward nerdiness, playing hoops. Then this one black kid comes in to the gym and is watching us. I assume he was first year college, or local high-school. He just sat down and watched us play. Being the decent sort we were, we invited him to play with us. He was very gracious, very humble... very much better at basketball than any of us. But In spite of the fact that he could have probably beat any five of us single-handedly, he didn't showboat, or ball-hog, he was an excellent sportsman, an exceptional teammate, and a true gentleman.

After high-school, I spent two years in Florida, as  missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints. A goodly amount of that time was spent in and around predominately black neighborhoods. There were some places we were warned were dangerous for white people. Perhaps black people have a respect for young men serving God, but I never encountered trouble in those neighborhoods from the black people. They were kind, friendly, decent folk. I had a time or two when white folks sent their dogs on us or made veiled threats. Only one time that I can recall, in a wealthy neighborhood, did I have a negative experience with a black person. He ranted at length about how we were evil racist usurpers. But that is one negative experience compared to dozens of positive interactions.

My mission also provided many opportunities to work with and around Hispanics as well. All positive experiences. They treated us like family. They were some of the most caring, sharing generous people I met.

There are a couple Black people and a few Hispanic individuals where I currently work. I don't interact with them very often, but the time I do are always pleasant.

So, what accounts for my behavior around black and Hispanic people? I suspect the media.

As I said, most of my life has been spent in the chalk-white Northwest. So most of my experience with other culture comes from television. On the news I hear about the black man who committed this robbery, or killed that person, The Latino gang that is terrorizing some park or neighborhood. There are plenty of fictional televison shows with violent Mexicans or angry black people. As for real voices in the media, Kanye West, Jessie Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Spike Lee come to mind readily, and they seem to always be angry at some white person for something. There are exceptions of course. Bill Cosby for instance. I loved The Cosby Show; the good, clean family values. I can't even imagine Mr. Cosby going postal on anyone. He is the epitome of poise, grace, wit and charm. I used to watch The Cosby Show all the time. Why doesn't that pop into my mind as readily or easily as an Al Sharpton angry speech?

Beyonce Knowles seems like a real sweetheart. Phylicia Rashad, Queen Latifah, Keisha Knight Pulliam, Morgan Freeman, Will Smith, L.L. Cool J... I would love to meet any one of them. They just seem like decent, happy, pleasant people. Why is it that Kanye making a butt of himself,  manages to trump trump LL Cool J being... well... cool? It just ain't right.

Maybe if I spent a few minutes every day watching interviews with Will Smith, or LL Cool J, maybe I could build up a negative media immunity. Do you think?

Will, LL, Beyonce, etc... If any of you happen to read this, and are ever in the vicinity of Logan, Utah, stop by my house and let me take you to lunch or something, so I can  build a positive personal experience to help override the media  refuse poisoning my mind.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

I finally picked a president

No it wasn't last night's debate that decided it. I had already made my choice. first off came the narrowing down process. There were a few hundred candidates after all.

Now I am not a believer in the two party system. I am not registered as a party member. I think the two party system is artificially divisive and contrary to a democratic system.

That said, I immediately eliminated all but the Republican and the Democrat from my list. Why? because the simple reality is one of them is going to be the winner. The other candidates are just background noise.They will grab a handful of votes, they might unintentionally cause a win for either the democrat or the republican by virtue of their not voting republican or democrat, but that is the end of it.

Yes, the two party system is stupid, but it can't be fixed from the top down (unless of course you want to go back to political poisonings, bedroom assassinations, and military coups. No? Didn't think so). No, this problem will need to be corrected from the bottom up (I will write on that subject later).

With that out of the way, I focused on a few criteria; qualities I felt were important.

Integrity - Romney finally released his taxes. Turns out he overpaid. That is a plus; making sure you are on the right side of the line. Obama paid his taxes too. So neck and neck on that one.

(You can argue all you want about "fair share of taxes", the fact is Romney paid what he was supposed to, plus a little extra.Yes, he gets tax breaks for large charitable donations, and investments... Maybe those deductions need to be reduced or eliminated (Then again charitable donations generally go to help those in need of help, and investments usually means money going back into the economy, creating jobs and such.... so... maybe not).

On the other hand, a large number of Obama's cabinet selections were tax cheats, does an honest man keep company with thieves?

I will give integrity a wash for now. Too much speculation is required to say otherwise.

Charity - I want a president who is compassionate. Charitable contribution is a reasonably good measure of that.

Romney's average annual charitable contributions are reportedly 13% of his income. I give him a B for that. It's okay, but not really anything to brag about.

"How can you say that?! Thirteen percent is well above the average (4.7%)!".

Romney's a Mormon, remember? They are expected to Give 10% to Church tithing (pays for buildings, church administrative costs, education programs throughout the world...). They are also expected to contribute monthly to a Fast-Offering fund (used exclusively to help the needy). The average I have seen reported for  this is 1% of income. So an average Mormon (the "C" grade) is 11%. He is a few points above that. I Think a "B" is generous.

Obama on the other hand has averaged right around 3%. He is a wealthy American (even though he keep talking like he's just one of us average Americans). And with that kind of a record, he continues to go on about how Romney "Can give more". D-

Wisdom - Honestly, this one event all but locked my decision, even before I considered the other qualities. The Trayvon Martin incident...

It was big news, it had racial implications, naturally the candidates were asked about it. Every candidate said the same thing. Every candidate said it was a tragedy, and that it was terrible that the Police didn't already have Zimmerman in custody.

Every candidate... except Romney. He said it was a tragedy, and he expressed confidence that the police would perform a thorough investigation and act with fairness and impartiality. This displayed several desireable qualities:

  • A positive approach to management. 
  • The ability to delegate responsibility, and get out of the way (you do NOT want a micro-manager trying to run a country!). 
  • Fairness, when everyone else immediately wanted immediate action, Romney wanted thoroughness. You also do not want a trigger happy president.

So that's it. Romney is my choice. I officially made it official and liked him on facebook tonight.