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.

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Couple Statistics Regarding Child Vaccinations.

Here are a couple numbers to get you thinking about the validity of child vaccines...

In October 2010 it was reported that 40 children died as a result of Vaccine's, over a 7 year period (roughly 6 deaths per year).

Estimates are that there are roughly 9600 possible cases of adverse reactions/year.

I  haven't been able to find a number for deaths globally, but suspected adverse reactions is estimated to be around 140,000 each year.


On the other hand, roughly 2.9 million Children under the age of 5 die every year from vaccine preventable illnesses.

Every week, 20,000 children under the age of 5 die from measles. Another 20,000 die from Hepatitis B. and just under 10,000 die from Hib (Haemophilus influenzae).

In short for every 1 child that experiences an adverse reaction (ranging from a severe fever to death) to  a vaccine, 20 children experience death as a result of not being vaccinated.

I'm not a gambling man, but if I were, I am fairly certain I wouldn't bet my child's life on those odds.

(These numbers were found by googling a plethora of sites. In the end, I took the worst numbers I  found for Vaccine caused death's and reactions, and the most common (pseudo-average) numbers for vaccine preventable death's. I am not providing links here because I don't wish to encourage the pseudo-science spewed by the one side of the argument, so for the sake for fairness I won't include the others. They are easy enough to find if you want to research it for yourself.)