The Measure of Who We Are

The older I get the more value I place on having timely and frequent feedback. It sounds like an insignificant thing but if you want what your doing to actually be useful it is paramount.

Never underestimate the power of an evolutionary process with a tight feedback mechanism.  –Linus Torvalds

Frequent feedback is so important because of the abundance of bad ideas that actually mask themselves as initially useful. Anyone who has done software development or design has had 100 people say “I have this million dollar idea I need you to implement.”  The reality is that most ideas are bad and seldom deal with the practicalities of reality.  Often their shortcomings are not obvious.

Good ideas (aka theories) are actually pretty uncommon.  We build these perfect structures in our heads and then begin to wonder why our dreams cannot also be truth.  Once we latch onto a theory we will remain “loyal” to it and will seldom surrender it easily until external facts force us re-evaluate them.  In actuality these ideas are not even theories but beliefs, which is what a theory really is until it has been tested.  A feedback loop is really a way to force us to test something with an external reference we cannot ignore.

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. –George Bernard Shaw

One of the major changes in the structure of technology companies and their succeed has been the dissociation between a business BEING an idea, and a business trying an idea.  The new mantra in places like Silicon Valley is get actionable feedback, make a change, fail fast, and pivot.  Failing fast provides as much feedback as possible in the shortest period of time; so fewer resources are spent on bad ideas and thus increasing the likelihood of isolating good ideas.

On the macro level, the key to the effectiveness of capitalism has been the success of the market as a feedback mechanism.  Local government’s superior representation is a direct reflection of the ease at which local officials can be replaced.  The feedback loop for a City Mayor is quite a bit tighter than for the President of the United States.

Notice how, in the last example, by focusing on the feedback mechanism we can evaluate two systems that are superficially identical but function dramatically different.  Why does progressive democracy work so well for Denmark and not for the US?  Because Denmark’s feedback loop is closer to Missouri’s than it is to the whole of the United States.

With genetic engineering, we will be able to increase the complexity of our DNA, and improve the human race. But it will be a slow process, because one will have to wait about 18 years to see the effect of changes to the genetic code. –Stephen Hawking

Feedback is so fundamental that systems that have weak or non-existent evaluation mechanisms are losing their authority overall.  We value academic disciplines by how consistent their feedback loops are.  Things like math, science, and engineering all have well defined and extensively tested methods to evaluating themselves and make corrections when shortcomings are identified.   Non-empirical disciplines like art, philosophy, and religion are suffering from the lack of reference available to the natural sciences, and their overall effectiveness is thus reflective.  Remember, at one time science and mysticism were one and the same until science formalized the scientific method, liberating itself (and humanity) from the confines of dogma.

“Science gives man ever greater powers but less significance. It gives him better tools and with less purposes. It is silent on origins, values, and ultimate aims.  It gives life and history no meaning or worth that is not canceled by time and death.”. –Will Durant

This is not to say that ideologies and theories are likely to disappear. On the contrary, as religion had demonstrated, systems that have no effective feedback loop are nearly impossible to remove entirely because there is no way to “prove” the shortcomings of their beliefs.  You cannot fail a test you’ve never taken.

Nor do I mean to suggest that systems lacking structured feedback methodologies are bad.  I strongly believe in the value of philosophy, art, and religion as part of making a full life; and I passionately love my liberal arts education.  The need for improvement isn’t an absolute and, contrary to popular belief, neither is the need for truth.  But, when the desire is to approach understanding, even if only asymptotically, there is simply no better system we know of then a quality feedback loop.

That Time Does Not Reveal

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy.

Between the NSA, the IRS, the AP, and the US Embassy, it is looking like a tough time for Democracy.  Unfortunately any current scandal is simply an extension of a government refocused towards a propensity to redact the freedoms people before us fought to give our children.  At this point can Syria turn out any better than Afghanistan?  Than Iraq?  For the last 80+ years, slowly, steadily, we have been building a government that can solve all our problems; we cannot act surprised that it tries to.

For those that know history, it is hard to not see what is happening as the slow silent exhale of the last breath of democracy.

The America of my time line is a laboratory example of what can happen to democracies, what has eventually happened to all perfect democracies throughout all histories. A perfect democracy, a ‘warm body’ democracy in which every adult may vote and all votes count equally, has no internal feedback for self-correction. It depends solely on the wisdom and self-restraint of citizens… which is opposed by the folly and lack of self-restraint of other citizens. What is supposed to happen in a democracy is that each sovereign citizen will always vote in the public interest for the safety and welfare of all. But what does happen is that he votes his own self-interest as he sees it… which for the majority translates as ‘Bread and Circuses.’

‘Bread and Circuses’ is the cancer of democracy, the fatal disease for which there is no cure.

We have been betrayed by both

I know this is basically a rant but, there seems to be a fundamental disconnect between people’s understanding of economics and reality.

Just to be absolutely clear, undue political influence by corporations is directly related to the power, breadth, and size of the government they work to influence. This means that, by its very nature, the enlargement (and especially centralization) of government works as an agent for the expansion of corporate influence and NOT, as many progressives hope, a counterbalance to it.

Corporatism is a symptom of the problem, not the cause. Any regulatory attempt to alleviate the pain caused by that symptom only acts, ultimately, to aggravate the problem.  While attention and public outcry may temporarily hide the influence of business; capital never looses attention and will quickly take over when politics has moved on.

Before some conservatives start yelling hallelujah from the roof-tops, understand the implications of this.  The opposite of supporting government is NOT support business because being pro business is effectually the same as being pro government. Ultimately business will work to extend its competitive advantage at the cost of consumer independence and there is no better way to extend a business advantage than to legislate one.  Remember, every monopoly throughout history was created by an act of government legislated preference.

The only solution to corporatism and socialism is capitalism, a real free market.  The free market is not just the only way to limit government influence, but it is the only way to limit corporate influence as well.

When Logic Can Hurt

Got this from pastbin:

I recently asked my friends’ little girl what she wanted to be when she grows up. She said she wanted to be President some day. Both of her parents, liberal Democrats, were standing there, so I asked her, ‘If you were President what would be the first thing you would do? ‘

She replied, ‘I’d give food and houses to all the homeless people.’

Her parents beamed.

‘Wow…what a worthy goal.’ I told her, ‘But you don’t have to wait until you’re President to do that.. You can come over to my house and mow the lawn, pull weeds, and rake my yard, and I’ll pay you $50.

Then I’ll take you over to the grocery store where the homeless guy hangs out, and you can give him the $50 to use toward food and a new house. ‘

She thought that over for a few seconds, then she looked me straight in the eye and asked, ‘ Why doesn’t the homeless guy come over and do the work, and you can just pay him the $50?

I said, ‘Welcome to the Republican Party.’

Her parents still aren’t speaking to me.

Random Excerpts from “Just Courage”

Some notes from the book “Just Courage: God’s Great Expedition for the Restless Christian” by Gary A. Haugen:

“The sin of injustice is defined in the Bible as the abuse of power – abusing power by taking from others the good things that God intended for them, namely, their life, liberty, dignity, or the fruits of their love or their labor.  In other words, when a stronger person abuses his or her power by taking from a weaker person what God alone has given the weaker person -…”

-Gary Haugen

“Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker”

-Proverbs 14:31 NRSV

In-justice is a particularly egregious evil because the sufferer (the weaker person who is being acted on) isn’t suffering because of a random unfairness, an uncontrollable act of nature or bad luck; but because of the very intentional abuse and oppression of a stronger person.

“(caring for the poor of Africa…) is not a matter of charity; it’s a matter of justice”

-Bono

“…we can give all manner of goods and services to the poor, but if we do not restrain the hands of the bullies from taking it away, we will be disappointed in the long-term outcome of our efforts.”

-Gary Haugen

Justice consists not in being neutral between right and wrong, but in finding out the right and upholding it, wherever found, against the wrong.

-Theodore Roosevelt

Violence is just different. Violence is intentional. Violence is scary. And violence causes deep scars.

-Gary Haugen

Those who prey upon the poor are not brave. They only prey upon the poor when they think they can… Most fundamentally the predators (the instigators of injustice) are afraid of the truth.

-Gary Haugen

Justice is the aura of God. It is something every human understands, even from the time they are small children, but something that doesn’t exist as part of “the world.” In a universe that has absolutely no concept of fairness; every being on this planet, regardless of race, creed, or belief, screams out for justice. Those that pursue it are considered the greatest examples of mankind. Those who die for it are considered martyrs and saints. And those who stand in opposition to it will forever be judged on the wrong side of history.

“Ultimately we can choose to be safe or brave.  We cannot be both.”

-Gary Haugen

End of an Era

Pat Buchanan has an article titled “The Party’s Over” on Human Events. It is the best summary of the current financial crisis, its root cause, and its long term consequences. I am re-posting it here in its entirety for reference sake.

The Crash of 2008, which is now wiping out trillions of dollars of our people’s wealth, is, like the Crash of 1929, likely to mark the end of one era and the onset of another.

The new era will see a more sober and much diminished America. The “Omnipower” and “Indispensable Nation” we heard about in all the hubris and braggadocio following our Cold War victory is history.

Seizing on the crisis, the left says we are witnessing the failure of market economics, a failure of conservatism.

This is nonsense. What we are witnessing is the collapse of Gordon Gecko (“Greed Is Good!”) capitalism. What we are witnessing is what happens to a prodigal nation that ignores history, and forgets and abandons the philosophy and principles that made it great.

A true conservative cherishes prudence and believes in fiscal responsibility, balanced budgets and a self-reliant republic. He believes in saving for retirement and a rainy day, in deferred gratification, in not buying on credit what you cannot afford, in living within your means.

Is that really what got Wall Street and us into this mess — that we followed too religiously the gospel of Robert Taft and Russell Kirk?

“Government must save us!” cries the left, as ever. Yet, who got us into this mess if not the government — the Fed with its easy money, Bush with his profligate spending, and Congress and the SEC by liberating Wall Street and failing to step in and stop the drunken orgy?

For years, we Americans have spent more than we earned. We save nothing. Credit card debt, consumer debt, auto debt, mortgage debt, corporate debt — all are at record levels. And with pensions and savings being wiped out, much of that debt will never be repaid.

Our standard of living is inevitably going to fall. For foreigners will not forever buy our bonds or lend us more money if they rightly fear that they will be paid back, if at all, in cheaper dollars.

We are going to have to learn to live again without our means.

The party’s over

Up through World War II, we followed the Hamiltonian idea that America must remain economically independent of the world in order to remain politically independent.

But this generation decided that was yesterday’s bromide and we must march bravely forward into a Global Economy, where we all depend on one another. American companies morphed into “global companies” and moved plants and factories to Mexico, Asia, China and India, and we began buying more cheaply from abroad what we used to make at home: shoes, clothes, bikes, cars, radios, TVs, planes, computers.

As the trade deficits began inexorably to rise to 6 percent of GDP, we began vast borrowing from abroad to continue buying from abroad.

At home, propelled by tax cuts, war in Iraq and an explosion in social spending, surpluses vanished and deficits reappeared and began to rise. The dollar began to sink, and gold began to soar.

Yet, still, the promises of the politicians come. Barack Obama will give us national health insurance and tax cuts for all but that 2 percent of the nation that already carries 50 percent of the federal income tax load.

John McCain is going to cut taxes, expand the military, move NATO into Georgia and Ukraine, confront Russia and force Iran to stop enriching uranium or “bomb, bomb, bomb,” with Joe Lieberman as wartime consigliere.

Who are we kidding?

What we are witnessing today is how empires end.

The Last Superpower is unable to defend its borders, protect its currency, win its wars or balance its budget. Medicare and Social Security are headed for the cliff with unfunded liabilities in the tens of trillions of dollars.

What we are witnessing today is nothing less than a Katrina-like failure of government, of our political class, and of democracy itself, casting a cloud over the viability and longevity of the system.

Notice who is managing the crisis. Not our elected leaders. Nancy Pelosi says she had nothing to do with it. Congress is paralyzed and heading home. President Bush is nowhere to be seen.

Hank Paulson of Goldman Sachs and Ben Bernanke of the Fed chose to bail out Bear Sterns but let Lehman go under. They decided to nationalize Fannie and Freddie at a cost to taxpayers of hundreds of billions, putting the U.S. government behind $5 trillion in mortgages. They decided to buy AIG with $85 billion rather than see the insurance giant sink beneath the waves.

An unelected financial elite is now entrusted with the assignment of getting us out of a disaster into which an unelected financial elite plunged the nation. We are just spectators.

What the Greatest Generation handed down to us — the richest, most powerful, most self-sufficient republic in history, with the highest standard of living any nation had ever achieved — the baby boomers, oblivious and self-indulgent to the end, have frittered away.

The Sun Also Rises

“The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”

–Alexis de Tocqueville

While I disdain liberal politics, I have to say that it made be very proud to see the first black, major party, candidate for President get nominated yesterday. It was a great moment for our country. I wish that such a charismatic candidate was also a strident defender of the constitution, but unfortunately it will not be the case. My biggest beef with both our major party candidates is that they are basically identical on the issues.  From a foreign policy and domestic fiscal standpoint they are both exceedingly liberal (as is the current President.)

I heard a caller on NPR express an opinion that hit close to home for me. The basic summary of what he said was, “I really want to vote for Obama but I simply cannot stomach the idea voting for someone who is pro-choice.”  Obama is exciting, dynamic, and probably the most articulate candidate we have had  since Kennedy.  I want to vote for that kind of candidate.  But how can I vote for someone who stand so starkly on the wrong side of history when it comes to abortion.  There are lots and lots of things I can overlook when I vote for a candidate (how many of us had to hold our noise while we voted in the last election) but abortion is simply not one of them.

A hundred years from now, the great sin of American history will NOT be slavery.   Our great sin will be the institutionalized slaughter of millions of children.  It is a sad expression of irony that, as President, Barack Obama would easily be most ardent defender of abortion rights in the history of that office; supporting abortion through ALL 9 months, without parental consent regardless of age, and even refusing assistance to babies born accidentally during abortions.

I hate this election.  I hate it for getting my hopes up with the possibility of a Ron Paul President.  I hate it because I despise the current Republican presidential candidate (why bother being a Republican if your not going to be conservative/libertarian.)  I hate it because we FINALLY have a black presidential candidate (who is at least honest about being a liberal) that I cannot vote for.  I hate it because we finally have a candidate whose lofty oratory is reminiscent of Americas greatest (i.e. Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, and Abraham Lincoln) but I cannot vote for him.

We have suffered through eight years of a fiscally liberal Republican President.  It just feels like a long night for lovers of liberty.

Oklahoma Primary Day

Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.

-John Quincy Adams

One of my life resolutions is to never again vote for a “settle-on” candidate and I don’t vote for progressive liberal candidates (mostly because I actually LIKE democracy.) Nationally, that means I can vote for Ron Paul, two guys from New Hampshire, and a bunch of dead founding fathers. Thankfully local elections still have significant importance to a community, albeit not for much longer, and locally there are some pretty good candidates.

Now if we could only find a way to keep Republicans and Democrats from shitting all over federalism; maybe there would be hope.  Sorry folks, but my mood gets this way when I think about November.

Fun Facts

Pulled directly from this website; so you should definately read the original.

Doctors:

(A) The number of physicians in the U.S. is 700,000.

(B) Accidental deaths caused by physicians per year are 120,000.

(C) Accidental deaths per physician is 0.171. Statistics courtesy of U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services.

Guns:

(A) The number of gun owners in the U.S. is 80,000,000. Yes, that is 80 million.

(B) The number of accidental gun deaths per year all age groups is 1,500.

(C) The number of accidental deaths per gun owner is 0.000188. Statistically, doctors are approximately 9,000 times more dangerous than gun owners.

Remember, “Guns don’t kill people, doctors do.”

No trick to being a humorist

It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.

–Voltaire

I just LOVE this post by Harry Browne titled The 7 Vital Principles of Government.  My favorite quote from the article comes in the conclusion:

If you really want to cure a pressing social problem, take steps outside the realm of government. If you don’t see how you can convince people to help you succeed in a non-governmental endeavor, how can you expect to control politicians who care nothing for your desires?

These principals may seem alien to many modern Americans; but it is exactly the mindset of the founders of our country.