December 8, 2010

Social insecurity

An overwhelming majority of our federal budget is spent on what we call social programs. The most famous and far reaching of these programs is Social Security. There are also numerous welfare programs, unemployment insurance, and medicare, medicaid, chip, and even many of our education programs such as the school lunch program that are part of these social programs.

But, what is the purpose of social programs. I think most of us have ideas as to their purpose. Things like "to help the poor" and "to create economic fairness". But perhaps one of the best definitions I have heard I read the other day in an article about what was wrong with privatizing social security. They said that "Investment is about risk; Social Security is about certainty."

With that in mind, lets briefly revisit our overall approach to social programs. Well, we don't have a lot of consistency. We sometimes provide end user services. Often we pay for services provided by the private sector, such as health services. Sometimes, and is Social Security and some forms welfare, we provide cash payments to individuals. Now, social security is supposed to be some form of certainty for those who retire or are disabled, but all that is certain is that those who start poor are guaranteed to stay in their situation under social security, but, at least it is consistent. The real benefit is that those who either were not able to plan for retirement or not able to afford putting money away for retirement have something to provide for them. Similarly, we have unemployment insurance. This is supposedly paid for by employers who are viewed as responsible for the unemployment, but often the benefits received are paid for by the general public.

How about a different approach? What if 20% of what a person earned went into an account that was accessible by that person only. It would be taken out directly from their checks. Ok, sounds like I am back to privatizing social security. Actually, the money in the accounts would not be eligible for investment purposes, apart from the most secure and government backed "investments". Congress would not have any access to the funds in these accounts. In fact, the owners of these accounts would only have access to their accounts by application through some form of social verification system. They would be able to receive payments from those accounts in the event that they became unemployed or retired. The employers would not be left holding the bag. The government and indirectly the people would not be left holding the bag, and everyone would have some security. If someone has worked 15 years, they would have 3 years worth of their average yearly wage available to them.

Implementing such a program would have to be a phase in, but could be done over 10 or 15 years with special carryover programs for current social security recipients.

There are other things that could improve the situation as well. Make the 20% of their wages include 20% of the cost of their benefits. Put the accounts in a national bank (which would replace the Fed), where they can be loaned out to banks, but backed by FDIC without limit. Implement the Fair Tax, only increase they prebates to be equal to twice what a one at the poverty level would pay in taxes every month. Fix the health care system by fixing the FDA and AMA and mandating equal access to care and coverage by combining all coverage groups and prohibiting exclusions, but allowing limitations on specific payouts and by making a publicly accessible symptom, tests, and treatments match database. Make welfare an education grant program, and mandate life skills training in addition to emphasizing practical work skills training. I could go on, but I think I have made my point. Each program needs to be self contained, to a degree, but needs to fit into the overall holistic system. In doing so, all of our social programs can work together to provide what they were intended to provide.

December 2, 2010

Utilities and service

You may have heard about the latest bruhaha with Comcast and L3 communications. There are a lot of other issues related to Comcast's behavior lately, and they are not doing anyone any favors. Comcast is easily identifiable as a Utility. The problems it seems intent on creating have always been issues with utilities.

The solution is simple. Utilities have 2 parts. There is a simple delivery mechanism that is location based, and there is what those delivery mechanisms deliver. In the case of Comcast, they deliver telecommunications services. The easy way to think of it is connectivity and content. I had the privilege of living in Texas recently, and they have a classic example of this solution implemented with their electricity providers. There is one connectivity provider in Texas. It is actually owned and operated by the state. It is prohibited from providing actual content, in this case electricity. It works well. The service is way faster than in other states, and the rates are generally lower. I actually had a slightly higher rate, because I went with an all renewable electricity provider. That was my choice because I was supporting something I believe in.

The same thing needs to be applied to phone service and internet service and cable service, and maybe even natural gas and water and other utilities. The provider of the connectivity needs to be separate from the provider of the content. That way, there is no conflict of interest, and market competition keeps the price of content down and the quality of content up. Only the connectivity provider needs be regulated. For companies like Comcast, the choices would be simple. Provide the connectivity, and be regulated, or provide the content and compete. You can't do both. If necessary, split the company into two, one for the connectivity and the other for the content.

That is the best solution. It could be done at the state level. Then, our rights as consumers would never be infringed by a monopoly connectivity provider that forces us to use their low quality and high cost content.

November 23, 2010

Liberals, Conservatives, and Assumptions

I often find myself completely amazed at how very intelligent individuals make the most bone headed comments relating to their political perspectives. The more they espouse themselves to an extreme agenda, either liberal or conservative, the more bone headed they get. I am not talking about just an everyman on the street, but some extremely intelligent and highly successful people, who, for the sake of fairness (cause a list of them would be way too long, not to mention rude) will remain nameless. (If you think I am talking about you, either you are way too vain or right, or both.)

I guess I should explain what I mean when I say they make bone headed comments. Often the come in the form of complaints or criticism. Something like: "[some politically connected individual] said that [some other politically connected individual] was [some derogatory label], but they really are the [another derogatory label]." Another form might be "[Liberals or conservatives or some other political group label] are all [some completely generalized derogatory characterization]." Well, statements of this type indicate that the individual making such comments are guilty of several major flaws in their thinking.
  1. Assumptions. We assume that we are experts. We assume we understand what others are talking about. We assume that we are right and don't make ourselves think things through. We assume that what we are saying will automatically make sense to others. We assume that everyone else will think like us. We don't do ourselves any favors when we make assumptions. In politics, we don't have to make assumptions, but often we do for various reasons, most of which aren't very good reasons.
  2. Shallow thinking. When we really think through an issue politically, and we evaluate all the potential inputs and outputs, the reasons, and the influences, it takes a long time, and a lot of effort. Anything less is shallow and lazy, but, really, how many of have the time in our lives for a real solid analysis of issues. I suppose we all could, but something else would have to give. Still, wouldn't it be nice if every time someone really didn't think things all the way through, they either held their tongue or prefaced their comments with "I haven't really thought this all the way through..."?
  3. Inconsideration for individual differences. Politics and political opinion are very complex and based upon even more complex personal experience. I have my experiences, and you have yours, and even if you are my twin brother (I don't really have a twin) you still are going to have differences in your experiences and consequently, in how you view the world.
  4. Generalizations. This is probably the biggest source of lazy and bone headed comments form intelligent people. The only statements that make good and accurate generalizations are very simple where there is an either or choice, such as male or female, alive or dead, or so forth. Statements judging sanity, intelligence, morality, etc don't make good generalizations due to the complexity of the issues. Political statements mostly fall into this category. To say all republicans are greedy, or that all democrats are immoral, is like saying all birds are black. Obviously, it is wrong. Some birds are black. Most birds have some black on them. But even then, many do not. Even saying all birds fly is wrong. To make an accurate political generalization, you have to put in so many qualifiers as to completely sterilize and invalidate the point you are trying to make. Still, people do it, but it isn't helpful, and doesn't make for effective discussion.
  5. Emotional responses. Far too often in life, we make emotional responses. We shut off the logical side of our brains, and vomit emotional bile in the form of words. Few subjects in life elicit as strong of emotional responses as politics. Maybe religion might, but only for some. Perhaps the Vulcans (you know, the fictional race from Star Trek that eliminated their emotions and viewed everything logically) were really onto something. If we could be less emotional about politics, I can't help but think we would have a more civil discourse, and probably more effective government.
  6. Zero sum game. Why do we see politics as a zero sum game. Winners and losers. Spoils to the victor, to the loser nothing, or worse. We don't have to think that way. In fact, politics is almost never a zero sum game. In fact, why does there have to be winners and losers in politics at all. Ok, well, someone has to win the elections, but as far as what it means for non-candidates. Just because I voted for somebody, does not mean I win. What if I vote for someone, and then they pass laws that are to my detriment. How is that winning? Surely, almost nobody agrees 100% with the people they vote for. So, why all the venom in politics. How about this. We have a perfect laboratory situation. We have independent states that can be testing grounds for programs. We can try out half a dozen or so solutions to a given problem, review them for a while, come back with tweaks, and eventually, we will know what works best. Thinking one political philosophy is the answer to all things is really bone headed
I know, my rant is not going to change things. Even those who know better will probably continue making bone headed political comments. I probably will too, but I will try not to. If you catch me making one of the errors I mentioned here, call me out on it.

November 5, 2010

Political ideologies vs reality

Well, the midterm elections were yesterday. Today, my wife was listening to Obama talk about the message of the elections. He was first trying to make the point that he "get's it" in regards to why people are upset. He continually mentioned the results of their efforts were weak, and that people are mad about the economy. When asked about his health care bill, he defended it left and right. It was a good thing, etc. etc. When asked specifically about other actions by his administration, not once did he ever seem to "get it" that there are things he has done that people didn't like.

I realized that somewhere in there, it never occurred to him that perhaps the ideology he espouses is potentially wrong in the eyes of the people. It probably also never occurred to him that ideology does not solve problems. We as a people are tired of ideologues who can't understand that first and foremost, we want the problems solved. Particularly the ones that naturally fall in the purview of government. As for our own problems, let us solve our own, but don't make it more difficult for us to do so.

This got me thinking about what people want, and what upsets them. First, they don't like their freedom being taken away. They don't like being told that they have to do something. They don't like being manipulated. They like having options. They like to feel independent. They like to feel valuable. The like comfort. They like adventure. They like to feel intelligent and capable. They don't like to be told they are wrong. Perhaps government would be better off if instead of mandating programs, they just made things available to the people.

The one exception is regulation of business. Business needs to be regulated, just not too heavily. A business that takes care of it's employees and is honest with it's customers and follows good business practices should not incur any cost in following regulation. On the other hand, those who do not do those things should feel the incentive to change.

So, there you have it. Limit government to just serving the people, limit business to good business practices, and let the people be. When they need something, well, that is why government should have voluntary programs, and those programs should be easy to use, but hard to abuse. Is it really that hard? Well, I guess in reality, maybe it is.

November 1, 2010

Hit the political nail on the head

Ok, just read an article that really hit the nail on the head from the Wall Street Journal, well, they published it, but it was written by the guy who runs the Rassmusen polling company. There are 2 paragraphs that really sum up what he had to say, and that really address what I see as the political reality of our country right now. Here is the first one.

"More precisely, it is a rejection of a bipartisan political elite that's lost touch with the people they are supposed to serve. Based on our polling, 51% now see Democrats as the party of big government and nearly as many see Republicans as the party of big business. That leaves no party left to represent the American people."

Exactly, and here is the summary.

"Elected politicians also should leave their ideological baggage behind because voters don't want to be governed from the left, the right, or even the center. They want someone in Washington who understands that the American people want to govern themselves."

Wow, if only all the talking heads out there could see it so clearly.

A better home

In the last year, I have lived a couple very different climates in very different housing. Also, the last 5 years I have had the experience of helping completely rebuild more than one house from top to bottom. These experiences have given me some insights and ideas related to modern housing, and some idea for what would be better.

First, housing today is too expensive, too slow to build, poorly designed and built, and not very effective.The biggest failures of housing today are poor insulation, poor usability, and poor quality. Unless where you live never gets over 80 degrees or under 60 degrees Fahrenheit, you probably could use much better total insulation in your house. This isn't saying that those with R40 insulation in their attics are doing badly, it is just that there are far too many other parts of modern houses that even when highly insulated in the normally insulated spaces, still are sources for massive energy loss.

Second, if you have ever had a house for more than a couple of years, you probably noticed that they fall apart and wear out very quickly. The materials used for them is about as cheap as can be had, and the overall quality of workmanship often leaves something to be desired. This is not saying that you can't get quality products or workmanship. I have seen those homes and other buildings which are built to last with very little maintenance, and they are awesome, but with a very high premium attached to their price tag. Most people and developers are not willing to go this route for a couple of reasons. They couldn't resell the home for anything close to what it cost them, and the don't plan on keeping the home for a very long time. This only exacerbates the first problem.

What if we could have a housing system that would create high quality houses with extremely high efficiency and very low upkeep requirements that could be built very quickly by very small teams of people for costs equal to or less than our current housing offerings? If you had developed such a system, how would you go about marketing it? What would such a system include?

I can picture a day, not very far down the road, where you can order such a house, or office, or whatever, and it can be put together and finished in only a few days, but would last centuries. It would be well laid out, and custom configurations would be available and would not add huge overruns on the initial cost. There are those working on such systems, and they are, for the most part, not compatible with current building methods. Who will be first, and how will they succeed?

October 30, 2010

Local sustainability

Some time ago, shortly after I started this blog, I created a whole list of topics that I wanted to do posts on. Today, I realized that I still had a few that were not done, so I am finishing all the posts I had sitting in my backlog. Then I can move on with some other ideas that I have.

One of the ideas I wanted to write about is what I call local sustainability. The idea of local sustainability is that a locality, whether a city or a town or a county or what ever distinction it might have, should be able to provide for its own needs, and not depend on outside resources for the necessities of life. It has been a long time since this sort of thing actually was common, but I don't know that it is necessarily a bad idea. Lets evaluate why.

First, lets look at what our current situation is. We mostly live in large cities. Our cities mostly provide services, with a few very large concentrations of finished goods manufacturing. Our cities certainly, with very few exceptions, do not provide raw materials. In some degree, they do process raw materials into finished goods (or some form of intermediate goods). People in cities mostly consume, and produce little. Our raw materials and even most of our finished goods come from elsewhere. Lately, most of it seems to be coming from China, but there have been other sources at other times. Our food doesn't come from where people live either. We have an estimated 3 days of food on shelves in most American and Industrialized cities. Our energy is generally not locally produced either. Some power plants are thousands of miles from the cities where the energy produced is used. Much of our oil and finished products now comes from overseas. Even most of the oil and finished products that are produced domestically still has to be shipped thousands of miles.

There are benefits to our current situation which unless maintained, would not make a switch to local sustainability an acceptable choice to most people. In our current system, we have very low cost, high end or high tech goods that are available from a large variety of sources. We can get almost anything we want nearly instantaneously if we have the means to pay for them, and even for those with smaller means, the amount of goods in their economic reach far exceed anything available in past eras.

In order to make a switch to local sustainability one of two things has to happen. The most likely and least desirable of these is some form of economic collapse affecting infrastructure, and lowering the availability of goods to crisis levels. The variety of goods would shrink 100 fold, and the costs would out pace all but the wealthiest of people for anything but the most basic goods. Famine and death would be rampant and most of us would die or wish we were dead.

The other option would be a new set of technology, business, and regulatory developments which when functioning jointly, would enable localities, or at least city sized regions to become able to produce 95% of what is consumed in those cities, using either directly produced or recycled raw materials or at the very least, with raw materials being primarily the goods being shipped into the cities from multi-regional or semi local supply sources. These developments would have to be able to produce almost anything on demand. The one thing that would be truly global would be the designs and manufacturing blueprints use by flexible micro manufacturing facilities which would need to be able to produce anything within a very large range of materials. For instance, there would need to be a electronics manufacturing facility that could use designs and blueprints from any developer to produce whatever the local consumer wanted, and produce it on demand.

In order for this to work, there would also have to be certain green space requirements primarily concerned with organic food production. The food production would have to have a much greater level of automation in its production, but instead of the mammoth machines currently being used by agricorps, these would require smart, possibly robotic, cultivators which would be able to produce higher quality and healthier crops in relatively small spaces. They would also need to be able to cultivate a wide variety of crops simultaneously, and with a minimum of pesticides and other chemicals. Larger green zones would also be needed for the raising of animal crops, with other more novel approaches facilitating the raising of the animals. Energy would have to be a local product, but with photovoltaic, wind power, and other systems becoming more efficient and less expensive all the time, this is become a real possibility today.

Of course, this kind of development would take a huge effort, but it would also have huge payoffs for just about everyone, from rich to poor, government, business, and just the lay consumer. The question is, who is willing to devote time, effort, and resources to the development of such a system.

The problem of property taxes

I have a problem with property taxes. Yeah, I know, everybody pays taxes. I don't have a problem with the fact that we pay taxes, but I have one, well, more than one with property taxes.

First, I don't like how arbitrarily income taxes can so often be raised. In the last year of living in various jurisdictions, I have seen how all of them have multiple entities that can raise property tax rates without consulting the public. Not only can they raise the rates, but they do raise the rates. And often. Many of these are not directly elected bodies, and there really isn't much of a process where the voters have input on those tax increases.

The bigger problem I have, however, is that with property taxes, it means that you really don't own what you think you own. If you own something, and you still have to pay someone else, or that they have some kind of right to your property that supersedes your own, then you really don't own it. I mean, if I purchase something, do I own it or not. I know, it is like software licenses, except that, when I purchase software, I know I am buying a license, not the ownership of the software. When I buy a house, what I am paying for is the full rights to the actual house and the land it is on, right. Well, obviously not. I have to pay property taxes.

I don't mind that we pay taxes, but I think property taxes are about the worst way to pay for government services.

Someone in the past came up with the brilliant idea that property taxes should somehow be reserved for schools. I recognize the importance that education can have in the lives of our children, and even if our current method of schooling might be failing, publicly funded education provides at least a small degree of opportunity and a slight leveling of the playing field for the disadvantaged. I just don't think property taxes are the best way to fund anything. What does property have to do with education. Is it supposed to make it so that those being educated are paying for it. Why not a sales tax then. If states were to institute a local version of a Fair Tax, wouldn't that be far better? Property taxes just don't balance out, and have too many other negative side effects. We would be better off getting rid of them.

October 21, 2010

Need we say more.

There has been much made of the Tea Party movement and the influence they have been having in this last election cycle. There is a lot of anger out there, but it isn't all being directed at the same things. Neither is there any kind of real leadership of this movement, but there is a somewhat commonly held set of beliefs and feelings that most involved share. I haven't seen anyone articulate it really well in recent days.

However, I have seen it articulated almost perfectly by someone over 200 years ago. That someone was Thomas Jefferson. Here is some of what he said.

"When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as  Europe."

"The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not."

"It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world."

"I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them."

"My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government."

"No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms."

"The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government."

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

"To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical."

"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property - until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered."

While the statements above are not any officially recognized platform, the message is clear. From what I can tell, it is a good representation of the motives behind the Tea Party movement. What else is there that needs to be said.

October 12, 2010

Shake the Google out of my head

My wife and I have a variety of isms that we refer to. She has a particular set of isms that are all her own, mostly consisting of very memorable yet completely nonsensical phrases and words which sound like other things, and that somehow, most people can make sense of, even though they have certainly never heard them before. She doesn't think these things up intentionally, she just speaks and these things just come out. One of the first ones she uttered after we were married was bravewength. It was kind of a combination of brainwave, and wavelength, but didn't come out quite right, and at the same time, expresses a little bit more than either of those terms.

The other night, my wife was fairly tired and meant to say "I need to shake the gobbletygook out of my head." We were sitting down at the computer, and what came out was "I need to shake the Google out of my head." I laughed and laughed, and the more I thought of how applicable and meaningful that erroneous sentence was, I laughed even more.

We can find just about anything in Google. It has tons of info, and makes it easy to search for stuff. But really, how often do we enter a search and get nothing but garbage. And not just a little garbage, but incomprehensible amounts of garbage. Who can really wrap their head around several million (or more) virtually irrelevant search results. So, when she said she needed to shake the Google out of her head, I thought of all that sentence could mean.

Out with the massive volumes of worthless, meaningless, incomprehensible yet potentially distracting and deceptive garbage. How often does the content of our brains resemble a Google search results page. So much there, and yet so little. Perhaps we all occasionally need to "Shake the Google out of our heads."

October 1, 2010

Who's In Control

I am a control freak. I hate control freaks. Ok, maybe that isn't quite accurate. I hate being a control freak. The problem here is that just about everyone is a control freak some of the time. What I mean by control freak is that we want to control what is going on, and freak out when it isn't going our way. This might only apply to ourselves, which, if that is the only way you are a control freak, you are doing way better than most of humanity.

Often, control freakishness manifests itself way stronger in parent/child relationships. I look at my own relationships with my children and can see a lot of instances where I get bent out of shape over issues of control. Of course, that isn't what I am thinking at the time. It might be that they aren't "listening" to me, or that they haven't done what I have told them to do. When boiled down to it's essence, it is me freaking out over not being in control. I know from experience that things work much better when I calmly and maturely sit down and discuss an issue with my children, help them see their choices and the attached natural consequences, and then empower them to make their own choice. I feel better about it, they feel better about it, and more often then not, choose to do what I would otherwise have been telling them to do, with the significant difference that they typically do it better and faster if they are the one who made the decision.

I also see control freakishness happening on larger scales, in institutions, and in communities and societies. Most of the laws in the world are about some individual or group telling some other individual or group what to do. Our institutions, specifically our government, rarely, if ever, has that mature conversation where it helps us see the options and natural consequences and lets us make the choice. Instead, it is all about pressure and force. "You have to do it this way or" ... insert some form of either social condemnation or physical force.

My religion teaches that before we were ever born, we once had a choice between two ways.

The first way is that we would be given agency to decide for ourselves and be free to make choices, being responsible for our own actions. Because of the nature of mortal existence, we would all sin, but would be able to repair the damage of our sins and bad choices (repent) through an atonement for our sins. If we chose to repent, we would be able to continue to progress and become more like God. The primary advocate of this plan is Jesus Christ, who held the responsibility of performing that atonement for our sins.

The second way is that we would be forced to do what is right, and that we would not have the ability to choose otherwise. The consequence of that would be that no-one would ever sin, but that our progress would be damned. The leader and major proponent of this way was Lucifer, who we now call Satan.

We are taught that those who chose the first way got the opportunity of receiving physical bodies and continuing our progress in this mortal life. Those who rejected the first way and chose the second became damned in their progress and got kicked out of heaven. They are left to tempt us to make bad choices, which includes trying to get us to follow their plan in practice instead of following the one we originally chose to follow.

We all can fall to temptation and try to control others. In fact, we often do, in part because we fail to recognize the long term consequences really fall short of what we typically really want. Agency, or the freedom to choose for ourselves, is the most important thing each of us has. Efforts to limit or take away our agency are contrary to the nature of the plan of Jesus Christ. I guess that means that those who try purposely try to limit the agency of others are Antichrists. I surely don't want to be an Antichrist. Do you?

September 27, 2010

Lasting Happiness

Just about everyone I know or have ever heard of wants to be happy. Unfortunately, there is little agreement on how to be happy. Everybody has their angle they play. While most people don't list happiness as their top motivation, it does generally underlie their ultimate motivations. We as people try lots of different things to try to get happiness, and most of us achieve it, but only temporarily. What I think most people don't consider is that far too little of what we do brings lasting happiness, and instead only brings temporary happiness.

Consider many of the things people do to be happy. They go to parties, hang out, date, play games, watch sports, drink alcohol, take drugs, seek adrenalin rushes, seek fame, seek social approval, spend money, try to get money, etc. etc, etc. I could go on for a long while and still not exhaust the list. If we consider much of our economy and culture, what would be a fair estimate of what percentage is based around finding or achieving happiness? Probably very close to 100%, if not actually 100%.

Perhaps we might be better off if we were to consider what would bring us lasting happiness instead of temporary happiness. One thing is certain, lasting happiness can not be based on specific situations, as by their very nature, situations are temporary. Of course, there is the argument that everything is temporary. I suppose it depends on your belief system. Ultimately, belief systems and religion are a structure for defining how to find lasting happiness. Interestingly enough, even amongst active members of any given church or religion, the beliefs about how to find lasting happiness are often dissimilar.

What are your beliefs about how to find lasting happiness?

September 18, 2010

Vision and Direction

Today, my family and I went to one of the many patriotic functions around in recognition of constitution day. Yes, I know, it was a day after constitution day, but they had this stuff going on with people dressed up as major figures from American history, and booths and storytelling, and speeches, and so on and so forth. I had expected to find a bunch of Tea-Party activists or something like that. Really, despite all the flags, there weren't that many people there.

They had several "Winners" from some local speech contest give their speeches, and a little video presentation punctuated with re-enactments of famous speeches and quotes. While listening to this, it brought back an epiphany I had last night in relation to revolutions and movements. During a labor and delivery false alarm, my wife and I spent several hours at the hospital, and the only thing on the hospital TV that was not completely stupid was Glenn Beck's show, where he was discussing revolutionary figures from history. Specifically, they discussed Moses, Jesus Christ, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. Most of his panelists had some kind of personal connection to one or another of the historical figures, and mostly said nothing in a lot of big fancy words. One point they did make, however, was that for each of these figures, they placed the their purpose and mission as higher than themselves.

However, in the political context of the day, I realized that there is something distinct about real revolutions and movements that transcend the individuals who might be tied to them. That something is clear vision and direction. Now, most of you who have ever read a book on goals, or planning, or achievement, or project management, or leadership, etc, etc - have heard this sort of thing, but I wonder how many of us who think we know it really do. When I say vision and direction, vision means more than just a pretty picture or conceptualization. It defines what needs to be done. It requires the foundations that lead to direction, and direction means actual steps and things for the followers and proponents of that revolution or movement to do.

While listening to tonight's speeches, many of which would probably be best described as tea partyish, I realized what problem I have with the whole thing. There are not clearly defined problems with clearly defined visions of what things should be with clearly defined direction for what each of us should do about it. There were a few things listed here or there, but all vague, or ethereal, unclear in some form or other. Ok, maybe I could support the Tea Party movement, if only I knew where it was going.

September 9, 2010

Economic Justice and Mercy

"It's Not Fair!"

How many times do we hear that phrase in the course of our lives? Surely the average for each of us has to be somewhere between once a month, and perhaps, once an hour. Those with young children, such as between the ages of 5 and 25, probably hear it more than others.

Do we ever stop to think about what Fair really means? If life were truly fair, we would all start out the same, with the same parents, culture, language, talents, and access to wealth and opportunity. If that really were the case, think how boring life would be. Same interests, same abilities, same - same - same. Not that it wouldn't be fair, just not desirable.

At the same time, it isn't desirable either to have huge disparities between individuals that prevent happiness in some, and condescension in others. This leads to all sorts of negative emotions, and for every individual that somehow overcomes a really bad starting place, there are many who become bitter, hateful, or full of despair.

The ideal is that despite our many differences, if we have equal access or near equal access to opportunity and life is what you make of it, then we can all thrive to the best of our abilities and interests. Unfortunately, the ideal is generally not reachable. Ever. There are some things that can at least move toward the ideal though. We can make sure everyone gets a chance at a good education. Well, no, we can't. There are no public schools that provide what I would call a truly "good" education. In fact, there really aren't private schools that do either.

We can try to balance the playing field economically. Usually this is done through taxation. It gives money to those who don't have it, and takes from those who make it. Those who have amassed huge fortunes, however, somehow seem pretty immune to it, since it only taxes earnings, but not if those stay invested. So much for balance. But, aren't we in a country were we are proud of our imbalance? We love our capitalist system. You know how this works. "Those who have the gold make the rules." "It takes money to make money."

Ok, so perhaps not all of us like our system, but it is what it is, and it isn't likely to change any time soon. So, what we have, at the moment, is economic Justice. Certainly not the same as economic balance. Those who start in a good place have all the advantages. Those who start with very little, have a very hard time making progress. But, what each of them do results directly in the natural consequences of their actions. Cause and effect. That is justice, and when you start imbalance, it takes extraordinary effort for the guy on bottom to get on top, and extraordinary bungling for the guy on top to end up on bottom.

What the people who complain about the system usually want (what they call 'fair') is mercy. It has nothing to do with fairness, and everything to do with compassion and kindness and love for ones fellow man. More fortunate people give, help out, or provide opportunities to those who are less fortunate because they care or because the think it is the right thing to do. This usually comes from the Christian ethic of mercy taught by Jesus Christ. None of the other major religions teach about mercy in the same way. It says we are all indebted to Christ for his atonement for our sins. If we want mercy, we have to give mercy. If we give justice, or demand justice, we will get justice, and pay for our own sins.

So what does money have to do with this? Scripture talks about the city of Enoch and about the followers of Christ after the day of Pentecost sharing everything and having no poor among them. The didn't do it by force, but by choice. It wasn't based on law, but upon mercy. If we have mercy economically, we do what we are able to help all those around us who are less economically fortunate than ourselves. If we have economic mercy, the poverty problem around us will be solved.

Unfortunately, the real disparity between rich and poor is a sad and indicator of the lack of mercy in the American economic system. We don't give unless we have to. We are focused on ourselves and how we measure up to either our neighbors, various celebrities, or some ethereal standard of success, and we never look outside ourselves and think of those in need who are constantly around us. We each need to re-examine our economic values. Perhaps the success and happiness of our fellow man should factor in just a bit more.

August 31, 2010

Fair Tax, or not Fair Tax

I have made no secret that I support the Fair Tax. It has some really wonderful components that I think would be an overall boon to the whole country. Unfortunately, it really doesn't have support from across the whole political spectrum like I would have expected it to. And, here is the thing. I was originally attracted to the fair tax for five main reasons.

The first reason is the prebate it gives everyone. It isn't a huge amount of money, but enough to make a difference for the poor. Now, for the richest of Americans, what they would get for the prebate wouldn't even be pocket change, but there are some of the poorest Americans who live on not much more than they would be getting in their prebate, therefor it would almost double their available finances. Anyway, that was the first thing I liked about it. It helped those in need, but it helped everyone the same amount without taking away their freedom.

The second reason is that it eliminates the regressive, ineffective, and punitive payroll taxes. Lets face it, payroll taxes suck. And the only people who get out of them are those who make too much. Replacing it with the consumption tax would make it much more fair for everyone and less punitive, especially for those who are self employed.

The third reason was the nature of a consumption tax means that I get to decide how much I get taxed. If you don't like getting taxed, reduce your spending. But, with it being an inclusive tax, you don't have this big add-on at the checkout stand, it is just there, but since it is a standard rate, you know exactly how much you are paying in taxes, but you don't have to file a tax return, and you don't have to worry about some IRS auditors making your life hell just because you added something wrong.

Fourth, simplicity. No tax cheating. You pay by buying stuff. It is the only tax you pay. It gets rid of all those layers of tax garbage that we currently deal with. The tax code is possibly as short as a single page.

Fifth, economic stimulus. Our products are too expensive overseas, so we don't sell as much, and other countries products are too inexpensive here for us to want to buy our own products. If the we sell our stuff overseas, the cost is high in part because of all the layers of taxes that are rolled into the costs. Theirs are cheaper, cause their taxes aren't as much. But with the fair tax, suddenly, they lose the benefit and we gain it. Sure, we still have a higher standard of living, but it eliminates a disadvantage that can be as high as 50% of the cost of goods. We sell ours for about 23% cheaper, and theirs cost about 30% more, and all of a sudden, our goods are much more competitive, if not cheaper for better quality goods.

So, in all of this, I have looked into the fair tax, and understand the economic advantages, and the only thing I couldn't understand is why there was such lopsided support. I decided to write a blog post about how liberals and progressives should be coming out in droves to support this thing. I first decided to do some research. has a calculator that you can use to determine what you would be facing under the fair tax. I have used this to figure how it would have affected me before I shut down my business and sold my house, and again after everything kind of imploded and I lost everything, and based on how much I expect to be making now that I am closer to getting back on my feet. Each time, things are quite a bit better for me under the fair tax.

For my research however, I decided I was not typical in terms of economic conditions, so I created Joe Doe. Single college age kid but not in college, working for $9/hour in a dead end job and not sure what he wants to do with his life, but he is having fun right now. Well, guess what? The fair tax was not as fair to Joe Doe. "Wait a minute," I thought, "That can't be right!" Well, I double checked the calculations, and guess what, if you are really close to the average, it isn't such a great idea for you. Not terribly worse, and in the long run, you would still probably benefit due to the other features, but I thought this thing was supposed to be progressive. Well, what if we give Joe a couple more years, a wife and 2 kids. Well, it got even worse for poor old Joe. That doesn't sound very fair to me. I mean, sure, I benefit greatly, even when things are really bad for me, but us independently minded entrepreneurs don't represent mainstream America very well. Joe is the definition of main stream America, well, the poorer side of it, anyway.

So, am I saying that I don't support the Fair Tax anymore? No. I just don't support it as enthusiastically as I did before. There are 2 or 3 main things wrong with the current configuration of the Fair Tax.

First, the prebates need to be bigger, a lot bigger. Like, try double. If you need to raise the overall rate to cover it, then do it, but first try the other two suggestions.

Second, education (and I work in the education industry) needs to be taxed the same as everything else. Education does not really help people become more productive. That idea is just industry marketing doing its job.

Third, all investments need to be taxed, but at a much lower rate, something like 3% to 5%. Not so much that it becomes a bad thing to invest, but enough so that it takes most of the vampires out of the system and causes the stock market and other investment systems to become much less volatile. Then you wouldn't have non-productives leaching on the rest of the economy. Those making long term investments would hardly even notice it. Day traders, on the other hand, would have to go find real jobs.

These changes would make for a much more "fair" tax, and be supportable by more of those who are not on the extreme right of the political spectrum.

August 24, 2010

The resurgence of the local community?

Today, I was reading an article that referenced "the widespread 'work at home' phenomenon". When I read that, I pictured in my mind a neighborhood, well, actually, the neighborhood where I currently live. I pictured all, or almost all, of the people who live here working from home.

In such a scenario, who would their personal interactions be with. Well, first of all, they would still be with their co-workers, but at a more formal, less personal level. Sure, there might be those who "hit it off" virtually, but I have found myself, after working in a digital nature at least in a small degree for more than 10 years, that the virtual friend phenomenon is wearing thin. So, I actually spend quite a bit of time, when I am not working, out in my neighborhood. Unfortunately, most of my neighbors do not work from home or are still mesmerized by the whole virtual friend concept.

But, imagine with me, a few years down the road, a majority of people are working from home, at least part of the time. When they are done with work, what are they going to go do. Go to the most local stores, restaurants, theaters, and parks. In doing so, they will begin to see more of the same people all of the time. I can also see that, as the virtual and extended world becomes increasingly complex, people are starting to desire to simplify their lives more and more. They don't want to chase all over the place. At the same time, they have spent all day in the house, so what might they do? They go outside. They work in their yards or go to the park.

I almost never go anywhere anymore. I go to the store or the bank a few times a month, but most of my personal transactions are handled online. What do I do to get out of the house? Well, we have a really nice park down the road a bit. I go there almost every day. If not there, I love to sit on our deck and enjoy nature. We have a really shaded back yard and it can be very relaxing and therapeutic. My wife and kids are getting to where they like to do many of the same things. We had water fights in the back yard many of the hottest days of the summer. Not sure what we will be doing here during winter (we didn't live here last winter), but I hope the trend continues. Unfortunately, I don't know a lot of the other people around me, but I have met a couple. Most people haven't uncluttered their lives to the point that they spend much time in their neighborhoods, but I am seeing what could be an early trend.

It is probably being too optimistic, but I can picture most people staying closer to home and spending their free time with more of their neighbors. We could get a resurgence of traditional local communities even though most people don't work "locally". They still would work from home, and so who they interact with will be their local community. Sure, just as local communities in the past had complications and all the fun features whenever you have a lot of interaction between people, such new local communities will sometimes be frustrating, but they will offer a richness of relationships and interaction that has been too rarely experienced in the modern world.

August 20, 2010

Industry Acceptable Innovation

A while back, I was talking with a friend of mine that is almost always got his fingers in some form of disruptive innovation or other. Since then, I have thought a lot about some of the things he told me, and I think I have come up with a new (or at least, new to me) concept, relating to innovation and what could be successful or not. In any industry, there are major forces at work fighting innovation. I am not talking about incremental evolutionary changes, I am talking about the big, in your face, revolutionary innovations. There are many of these forces, some of them from somewhat surprising sources.

Lets say you were to invent a megawatt wind power generator that cost less than say, $5,000. That would be a very disruptive development. Why? Because it would require changes on the part of almost every other aspect of the energy industry. The current cost of approximately $1Million per 1 megawatt wind power generator unit tells you that things would change immensely. In this case, no longer would the investment for such generation unit be limited to major power players, investors, and idealistic billionaires. At that cost, they would be springing up all over the place, putting thousands and tens of thousands of people in the current energy industry out of work. Not that the industry would stand idly by. They would refuse to connect them to the power grid, and even then, they would require new wind generator users to pay for costly upgrades to the power grid. If that didn't work (and they probably wouldn't wait to see if it did), they would seek all sorts of legislation to make it both much more costly to own and run such a unit, and much more difficult to produce. It would be in their interest to make your supplies and manufacturing process much more costly and inefficient. They also would want a piece of the action as a way to hedge their bets, but with this much disruption, they would be more encouraged to buy up the technology rights and hide them (maybe use them, but only to the degree that it doesn't negatively affect their bottom line). What most innovators seem to forget, is that energy companies are not in the business of making energy, but in the business of making money.

One more example. Lets say I created a new ERP system that increased productivity by 10 times for those implemented it. Lets say I created it in such a way that it was 10 times easier to install. Now, lets say I price it very closely to the existing systems. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Well, maybe. Most companies love increases in productivity. They especially like it in little bites. 10 to 40 percent productivity gains make a company just thrilled. But what would it mean to have 1000% productivity gains. Well, they are either producing 10 times the product or need 1/10th the workforce to produce it. The might decide to produce only twice as much with only 1/5th of the workforce, but the changes are extreme. People, and companies, do not like that much change. It hurts. It is uncomfortable. Not to mention, existing ERP providers wouldn't like my creation of such a new disruptive presence in their market. They would scramble to develop enhancements of their products to make them more competitive, but again, as we are talking about dollars being the main purpose and not product effectiveness, it would probably come to an attempted buy-out situation or extensive use of legislation, courts, and negative marketing.

Beyond the items listed in each example, I have heard that some companies or executives (but not most) get even dirtier, and do things like economic or social or even literal assassination to get the people involved to stop ruining their party. I have never been shown any incontrovertible evidence that this has happened, but I have heard at least one businessman say that he had taken out a contract on the life of someone they found particularly troublesome. Now, whether or not this is a common consequence of radically disruptive innovation isn't really the point. The point is that there is a limit to how radical an innovation can be in any given industry and any given point before it is too radical for acceptance by the industry and consumers. It therefore follows that there might be an optimal level of innovation for any industry at any specific point in time, and that the more that optimal level is exceeded, the more difficulty there will be in turning the innovation into successful products. Most industry sponsored innovation will usually be well within that acceptable innovation limit, and generally moves much slower than that.

August 19, 2010

Better news service.

I just got a CNN Breaking News email. The subject of the breaking news really doesn't matter, but it brought to mind some ideas. Some years ago, during some political something or other, I signed up with CNN to get their Breaking News email updates. They come in this nice little string of text with just enough information to let you know what is going on. I have learned that a Breaking News email update usually means that they now have a great article on their site for me to read if I want to know more. Most of the time, if it interests me, I want to know more.

If you are not familiar with their Breaking News emails, you might guess that it would include a nice little link to the related article or maybe a stub or topic page that links to all the related articles if it is an ongoing story.

Nope. Nada.

They have an unsubscribe link. They have links from the ads that they stick in them. But nothing to get me to their site so they can do their job of getting me to read more of their content. Come on people, my kid could program that. The whole concept of hyperlinks in emails is almost as old as the web. This should have happened 15 years ago. Think of the change to readership and the bottom line in terms of ad revenue.

I should probably thank them, though. If I clicked off to CNN every time I got an interesting Breaking News update, I would probably spend a lot more time on their site, and consequently, less time actually trying to be productive. That brings me to another point. More than half of the Breaking News updates I get, I don't care about. For some, yeah, I am sure they are interested, but different people have different interests.

Let me pick my interests. Please. I don't care about sports, or entertainment, and there are only a few sub topics that interest me in travel, health, and living. Come to think of it, I really don't care about most of criminal proceedings under the justice section either. Constitutional law, business law, and patent law, yes, but the rest of the stuff, just let me opt out of it.

Make a general list of subject tags, arranged categorically, and let me pick whole sections, sub-sections, or even individual subject tags, and only send me the links on those. If you did, I can promise I will click the link much more often. Yeah, that link that doesn't exist yet. I figure, if you can tailor my content to me, you certainly can make it easier for me to get to.

August 13, 2010

Big Water Projects

I am not a nature freak, and do not consider myself environmentally active. I see a lot of the environmental propaganda, and it usually ticks me off that they are so slanted and usually are either flat out dishonest, or leave out the full story. However, I do believe that we are stewards of the world we live in and will be held accountable for how we treat it. Furthermore, I think we as a species often do things that are less then optimal, simply cause we don't want to take the time to figure out the optimal or because we just can and we don't like anyone to tell us that we can't.

One such activity that can be handled this way are the building of huge dams and reservoirs. I can understand that we often have a need to collect and store water, and that a reservoir is often the best way to go about it, but too often, we are building these things for electricity and not for water storage. There is a better way. What brings this to mind are some articles I have read about the Belo Monte Dam Project in the Amazon. It is a hydroelectric dam, and not intended for water conservation. Unfortunately, it will destroy millions of acres of amazon rain forest. More so than that, the indigenous locals are completely against it. If they were all for it, well, even though the amazon is the lungs of the earth, it is their home, and really their vote should matter more than anybody else's vote.

Here is a better way, that won't cost as much, will be more resilient, won't take as long to start providing benefits, would destroy hardly as much amazon rain forest, and might even be well liked by the locals. In-stream generators. A large series of small dams or dikes which then sends the water through small hydroelectric turbines each involving a vertical drop of only a few feet, not more than 5 or 10. Yes, there would still be some forest loss, but a tiny percentage of what the current plans entail. Each dam or dike would be a small separate project, but would be able to be put in much faster. You still get the hydroelectric benefit, but now you have much smaller localized generation units, but in a mass quantity. If one has a problem, the others are still fine. They could also ensure a more regular flow without the flow stoppage involved in the larger dam. River wildlife would be virtually unaffected in the long run. Sure this is different, but wouldn't it be better than destroying so much precious rain forest? It would be a lot easier to replicate lots of other places, and could be scaled out to meet demand on a much more continual basis. How about it folks. Who is in favor of a better way?

August 12, 2010

Health mess continued

The health care debate has nothing to do with health care, but everything to do with money. Mostly, it deals with insurance coverage. It does nothing about the quality of health care and very little about the accessibility of health care. It doesn't address the problems with our pharmaceutical industry or with the FDA or with the shortage of medical professionals, or with any of a myriad of other health issues, except abortion and euthanasia, which aren't about health care, but religious and moral issues instead (we are not going there on this post).

I have seen many instances where the medical treatment offered was not the best available for the situation, but was instead based on how much money the practitioners would make. The bigger the size of the organization, the worse this seems to be, in general. I have however seen a fair number of cases where they practitioner is a small operation and they still push everything based on what is best for their finances rather then what is best for the patient.

I have had people tell me that the answer to this situation is insurance, but I believe it is just the opposite. I think that the insurance industry is the primary cause of this greed. Sure, there would be the small time medical scam operators that push their patients into something that either they don't need, or that is the most costly of the viable alternatives, but for the most part, before our insurance industry did their takeover of the health care system, practitioners did seem more concerned with the actual health and well-being of their patients.

Part of the problem is that the insurance industry has been making health care choices for all of us. The doctors don't really get the choice of the best treatments, just the choice of the best treatments the insurance covers. The patents don't get informed of their options, cause usually there is only one covered option. It no longer is about the best care for the situation, but about what the coverage is for the situation.

There are lots of examples where offshore clinics have far better care at a much lower cost, using much more advanced techniques. We don't have those options here, because even if the techniques are approved by our almost non-function governmental agencies, the insurance plans don't allow those treatments. They say they are trying to save us money. I have a hard time believing it. I have seen a system wide case where the US health care industry continues to do thallium treadmill tests to gauge arterial blockage, when other tests exist that are more than twice as effective, cost less than a fifth and often less than a tenth of the cost of the thallium test, and are usually up to five times faster. I say system wide because I have seen it happen to multiple people, in multiple states, in multiple hospital systems.

I have also seen and heard of many instances where the doctors (the good ones) pull people aside to a corner and whisper that what they recommend is some kind of do it yourself homeopathic or over the counter treatment, but that they have to issue this prescription or that. I even had one doctor explain that they have a quota that they have to meet in prescription writing in order to keep their license. I don't know the validity of this claim, nor the mechanism it would work by, but just the very mentality of the industry pressuring doctors to always prescribe the latest drugs in the maximum of situations leaves me thinking that the whole thing is just another corrupt system of greed.

We need some kind of impartial informing diagnosis web based system, perhaps not to be required use for doctors, but freely available so individuals can at least see what their options are and to get a non-biased second opinion. Sure, such a system would not be able to write prescriptions, nor would it recommend courses of treatment, but it could show possible diagnoses with all the known courses of treatment and what forms those treatments take. It could even show experimental treatments and list locations where different treatments are available. It could also show how reliable various treatments are shown to be. To put this together would require the input of many people, but if it were built correctly, it would be a learning system. Therefore, it's diagnoses would increase in accuracy over time. I can even picture it being a valuable resource to doctors, regardless of their expertise, experience, and training.

August 10, 2010

Seatbelts and Freedom

I wear my seat belt when I am in a car. I think you should wear your seat belt when in a car. But I don't think I have the right to tell you to do so. In our country, and across the world, we have a lot of concerned individuals. They, like I, think it is just tragic when someone dies or is badly injured when it could have been easily prevented. However, are we going too far in making every safety precaution a legal obligation? Benjamin Franklin is known to have written "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

This is exactly what is going on. We decide that we need temporary safety when we get in a car, so we mandate that individuals no longer have the choice to use a seatbelt, but that they have to or else... (they get fined, etc.). They now have temporary safety. What they have given up is freedom. According to Dr. Franklin, they therefore deserve neither. Is freedom really that important. History has shown that without it you get tyranny and oppression in unequaled severity. Is that what we are heading for. As a student of history, I have to conclude that yes, we will get to that point. Sure, it probably won't happen overnight. But it will happen.

That sounds bad, but if we shouldn't mandate intelligent behavior, what then can we and should we do? Also, what is appropriate in terms of laws so that our society functions. Since we are using traffic laws as an example, lets continue with them. Should we have speed limits? Why or Why not? What about required stops at stop signs and stop lights? How about lane changes? What should we do about them? Obviously, there has to be some kind of regulation to ensure that our traffic system functions, but does that logically extend to forcing people to wear their seat belts? Perhaps we call out the difference in that it doesn't affect other drivers or passengers in other cars if I don't wear my seat belt, so therefore, it shouldn't be a law.

Seat belt usage still is desirable, though, cause it certainly has a positive outcome for society. So what should be done about it? How about public education and encouragement programs? How about seat belt billboards quoting the smartness of it, or the statistics of how smart it is? I think much of our mandated laws could be converted to educational programs. No force, but it would be something that people would know. Then we could have both freedom and safety, and be deserving of both.

August 6, 2010

Back from the dead

Ok, I admit it, I have dropped off the face of the earth. Well, actually, life happened, and I keep meaning to get back here to post some more. Well, amongst all the other things going on, like a lot of trips to the hospital due to my wife's preterm labor, I finally have a new job. I am now working as a content developer for a company called Socratic Arts. I was supposed to start as a project manager for them, but that project fell through, and the next one needed someone local to the New York City Metro area, so I got the content developer role instead.

Well, in the mean time, I have added another blog that comes from the president of my new company. He is a really incredible thinker. I also added a list of recommended sites for further reading. Really, you should read those sites. Well, at least as much as you have time for, but the information is quality. I have only read the free chapter of the startup book site, and I figure, once I have done everything in that first chapter, then I can worry about the rest.

Well, that is the latest update from me. I hope to get back to making regular posts on here so you have more to think about. After all, I am sure you of all people wouldn't be suffering from information overload. That is just for the rest of the folks. :)

May 17, 2010

Fundamental Flaws in American Education

Public education is one of the things that made America great. It surely wasn't the only thing, but it was a huge factor in America becoming the "Land of Opportunity". Unfortunately, any time something becomes institutionalized, it also becomes a target of political, social, and economic forces who view it as a short cut to achieving their goals. Education is even more so a target due to the effective of having nearly all of the very malleable minds in the country captive and required to participate in the activities. Education in America has become a battle ground between opposing sides in far too many wars. Conservatives and Liberals, religious and anti-religious, business versus... well, business fights well enough by itself, call that the civil war of business philosophies, and many other sides fighting to influence the collective minds of American youth. The casualties in this war too often end up being the students who are supposed to be served by education, and instead they become cynical, bitter, and/or hateful. Doesn't matter which of the various sides they end up on, they are given disservice by this situation. At the same time, there are a few who make it through this maelstrom who are highly enabled to thrive in life.

There are a few things that could be changed about our educational institutions which would greatly expand the number of students who are able to greatly thrive as a result of their education. The first thing has to do with those sides. The ability to lobby and influence education is strongly related to it's centralized nature. The solution then would appear to be the decentralization of it. However, there still need to be standards, and those standards are where the various sides will try to attack or influence our youth. Our youth are not stupid, and we should stop treating them like they are. They are inexperienced, and we should try to help them understand the challenges they will face because of that inexperience, but we should do so in a respectful and supportive manner. If there is a side of something presented, then any other side of that issue should also be presented, regardless of how unpopular it might seem. If you don't want certain sides of things presented, then just define that there is an issue, and inform the kids they will have to ask their parents or research it on their own. Also, when an issue with it's various sides is presented, the alignments and history of those sides should be presented, but no side should be favored over another.

Sounds pretty lofty, doesn't it. I know it is possible, cause I had a professor in a philosophy class that did it with such exactness that none of us could guess or even come close to what his personal philosophy was. He ended up being pretty normal.

The next thing that needs to change about education is that we need to stop limiting the growth and progress of some students in order to keep them at the same place as their slower peers. In fact, we need to change our whole approach to education from a group based progress, to individual progress in a structured, yet self paced, environment. There are several forms of this. Some of the older forms often are used in independent study programs, but there are much better scaffolding programs that can incorporate both the independence of the individual as well as social learning and support structures. In this way, each student could progress at a rate where they felt comfortable and could best succeed at.

Thirdly, and there will be many who will think I have political motives here (I really don't. Read carefully and you will see what I am getting at.), we need to change how education is funded. I recognize that if we removed government involvement that we would just be favoring the upper classes over the lower classes. This is not intended, nor desirable. The government has a very important role in the funding of education, as well as in the standards that are set for it and in making sure that it is not abused. However, creating a big bureaucracy and turning over a major portion of each state's budget over to that bureaucracy is worse than most other ways you could go about it. I recognize that any effort to standardize or support or govern education will require government funding, but those funds should be completely separate from the funding of the actual education. The parents should determine which qualified school or teacher should receive the funds paying for their child's education. I am not saying just open up the funding spigots and dump it on private schools. On the contrary, if a private school wants to be eligible to receive public education funds, they should have to meet the standards attached to receiving those funds. In this way, there becomes more of an economy around education, which will help maintain the quality of education.

One last thing, and perhaps this would never fly, but a parent should be required in every class that is conducted. Just to sit in and listen, and they could help if they and the teacher agreed on it. Just one parent. Assuming that each class has 20 students, and half the students have both parents at home, each parent would only have to go to every 30th class. The point here is that the parent is the consumer. They are the customer. They need to know what is going on, and far too many parents are complacent to just ship the kids off and not look into the quality of the education again until report card time, and sometimes, not even then. Would this create an additional burden on parents? Sure it would. And for those who have a lot of kids, even more so. If you have that many kids, you need to be involved. I suppose you could designate someone else such as a grandparent, or some other responsible adult relative, and meeting the requirements should be somewhat flexible, but a parent needs to be there. The result this would have would be better performance by the teachers, the students, and most especially, the parents.

Scary, isn't it. But, it would work. I am sure of it.

May 15, 2010

How much wealth is too much?

I was reading a wikipedia entry yesterday about globalization. One of the statements was that "The three richest people possess more financial assets than the poorest 10% of the world's population, combined." Now, it said there was a citation needed, and the link they listed there got a 404 error (meaning not found). However, it got me to thinking. How much wealth is too much wealth. Is there a problem when someone is vastly successful and thereby amasses amazing wealth. I don't have a problem with people being successful, as long as they were honest, and didn't abuse people to get there. However, I do have to agree that having too much wealth in the hands of too few is a problem, but it wouldn't be fair or right, or productive, to restrict people from earning as much as they can. So what is the answer.

What about those who inherit significant wealth. Well, I think about my own children, but I wouldn't want to dump ridiculous wealth on any of them, but I would want them to have enough to be well established. I thought about Warren Buffet, who has often indicated that he won't give significant inheritance to his children. He is strongly in favor of the inheritance tax. I began to think about this. If there were some kind of limit on inheritance that would meet with Buffet's famous statement that "I want to give my kids just enough so that they would feel that they could do anything, but not so much that they would feel like doing nothing", but that provided that kind of limit for everyone, then that might provide a better distribution of wealth.

I often think of wealth in terms of the poverty level. And by poverty level, I mean the poverty level in the United States. If there was unlimited inheritance up to say, 500 times the poverty level, that should be enough to provide a great start for anyone. Those who then have way more than that, would have to look for additional heirs to distribute their wealth to. Beyond just an inheritance tax or limit, I would also apply it to gifts given before death. The total anyone could receive should be the same whether the received it before their benefactor's death or after. If donating to a trust, then the total number of full beneficiaries of that trust should be multiplied by the limit. Buffet's donation of over 30 billion to the Gates Foundation would be just fine in this instance, since the trust specifies everyone as beneficiaries. All assets should fall in this category, whether cash, stock, real estate, or anything else. Any assets not specified to an heir would then be liquidated and turned over to the government. By distributing wealth better, there would be less pooling and reduction in economic activity, and also result in greater opportunities as there would less plutocracy and fewer inherited power positions in big companies (think Walmart or Ford).

I would say that this would be one of the first requirements for the Good Government Initiative. It wouldn't work if there was a permanent royal or elite class. Distribute that wealth and get it back in circulation. That is what will benefit the nations and individuals.

May 14, 2010

The follies of globalization

The last couple of centuries have witnessed an ongoing march of a phenomenon that most people in business applaud, but which often has been fought against, protested, and accused of the worst of atrocities. I speak of the phenomenon of globalization. The economic practice and concept is the removal of barriers between national borders in order to facilitate the flow of goods, capital, services and labor, so that all parts of the world make specialized goods and compete in a global marketplace for these things. There is much debate over the benefits and ill effects of globalization, but perhaps the strongest effect is that no-one is immune.

For the poor of the earth, good times under globalization means that they have sweatshop type job opportunities and many chances to be exploited. For the richest of individuals, good times under globalization mean a great increase in wealth and expansion of power. For the bulk of us in the United States, good times under globalization means we have ever increasing options of cheap consumer goods to purchase to pad our consumption centered lives. Under bad times, globalization means much worse news for the poor, not much difference for the richest, and probable economic discomfort for those with a standard of living equivalent to the average Americans.

There is some mobility between groups, and globalization has generally had the effect of increased mobility for the highest and lowest performers from each group. However, for many, globalization means the loss of dreams and traditions. Especially for those engaged in the more traditional forms of business. Most of the small independent retail and service business are gone world wide. The more industrialized an place, the worse it is. Besides the obvious loss of quality and custom hand made goods and custom lunches at the local diners, there is significant loss of opportunity to build ones own future with your own hard work. Beyond that, and perhaps most tragic of all, is that now it is very difficult to be truly self sufficient as individuals and impossible as communities and towns. I applaud the global dissemination of technology and even culture, but at the cost of destroying any long term security, and often the freedoms that come with it, I have to conclude that unrestrained globalization isn't all that it is cracked up to be.

A while back, I applauded a move by Walmart to help restore some local viability into local markets, but the effort so far has been weak and insufficient to have much of an effect. I suggested at the time that they should try to get more of what they sell manufactured and produced locally. I recognize that some things will always have to be brought in from elsewhere. Wisconsin will never grow bananas or pineapples, but they can do a lot of other things. If the means for local economies to produce their goods locally were more prevalent, then perhaps all this social and economic upheaval that we call globalization might not be so bad.

May 13, 2010

K.I.S.S. the governement

I love our founding fathers. Not so much as individuals, but collectively. Sure, there are individual standouts, but this isn't about them, instead, it is that they looked at what they had for government, and said, we can do better than this. They acknowledged that people are people and while basically good, people are also basically flawed. They said, hey, we can create a system where each part of the whole works together to both strengthen the whole, and prevent any one part from becoming too strong and therefore out of balance with the other parts. The great compromise during the constitutional convention in 1787 had to do with small states and large states, but what it resulted in was dual sovereignty. Both the federal government and the state governments were sovereign, strong, and effective. The 17th amendment went a long way in subverting the interests and power of the states in our federal government, but considering the problems of the day, I can see why it was passed. What it in effect did was change the squabbling in the legislatures for power brokered senators. Instead of having special interests directly bribing the legislators, they now indirectly bribe and manipulate the populace.

I am a big fan of representative government. We live in a republic, not a democracy, and I am glad that we do. At the same time, republics have a tendency to experience corruption and bribery. There are a few things, however that seem to help that. One is the recall. Now, the most famous example of the recall is when California Governor Gray Davis was recalled and replaced with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Unfortunately, this is a bad example of how recall should be done and used. Sure, Gray Davis was stupid for the errors he made, but it really isn't about him. Perhaps he should have been recalled, but the method should have been different and shouldn't have been such kangaroo court.

Ideally, recall should happen on a much more intimate level. Recalling a governor in California hardly qualifies as intimate. Secondly, recall should be automatically pick a slate of eligible candidates. More like a regular election where if the sitting politician is ousted, it is in favor of a specific other. As much as I don't like the system, the first second third preference ballot actually makes a lot of sense here. One of the major problems with initiating a recall, is that you have to direct it at the general populace. The legislature should have the option, but there need to be others who can also initiate it, such as a majority of city councils or county commissions, or something like that. The problem with that is that our governments are not set up hierarchically. They overlap and are a hodgepodge of authorities, who most people really don't care about, since they don't seem to matter anyway. Perhaps the key is making those positions matter more.

Another major problem with politics today is also related to the separation of the governed from the governing. Specifically, bureaucracy. When you have some kind of interaction with a government authority, how often do you know that person from elsewhere? Almost never. It is impersonal, it is obscure, it is inefficient, and often, it is downright mean. Even with police today, too often, we don't know who is serving us. They are complete strangers. Some time ago, there was a notion of a beat. An officer had a specific area he served and where he knew the people and what went on. If there was someone strange in his beat, he made it is business to find out what was going on. Now a days, there are very few beat cops, and the beats are so large that there is no way that they could get to know the people and what is going on. A stranger looks just like everyone else, cause everyone is a stranger to them. Instead, we have tons of traffic cops. They are focused on catching everyone so they can give them a ticket. Then, the department can get more money. Their performance is based on how many tickets they write. What an awful and ridiculous notion. Any other government departments are just as bad if not worse, and magnified exponentially at the federal level.

We need to apply the K.I.S.S. principle here. The solution is to get the services, and the service providers, back close to the people, and to make them accountable to the people. And not just the people, but at a level where there are personal relationships. With personal relationships involved, you know people better, you know how they think and how they live. If all government service providers and representatives served a small enough group of individuals that they knew them personally, and could be replaced by them if they screwed up too badly, I think things would change quickly. I have designed a solution, that until now, really hasn't had name. I think I will call it the Good Government Initiative. I will begin detailing it in the weeks and months to come. Most of my posts will still be on other things like technology and innovation. Still, since this is something that affects all of us, perhaps this is innovation that needs the most attention.

May 11, 2010

Where politics and technology intersect.

Yesterday, someone sent me a link to a video regarding a supreme court case relating to business process patents and by extension, software patents. I have a pretty slow connection right now, so when I watch a long video, I usually get it started, and then pause it to let the rest download. While I was waiting for it to download, I read the comments on the video to get a feel what others had to say about it. That left me with almost a feeling of dread before I even viewed the email. The problem is that too many of these process patents are locking up common sense approaches to doing business or of programming.

As both a business entrepreneur and a software programmer, this issue affects me. I also have the background of having been an assistant patent librarian for a patent repository library (a while before everything went web based) and helped patent attorneys and inventors search for patents and make sure they had all the information for protecting their own intellectual property. I believe that patents were a major factor in helping the United States of America become the leader of technology world wide and really were one of the keys of the industrial and post - industrial revolutions. However, I can also see how the system must be very diligent so that it isn't abused so as to stifle innovation instead of encourage it.

For my current situation, I have a fair number of innovations (that I am not sharing on here) that I am working on, that since they do things that have never been done before, are, in my opinion, very patentable. At least, they are under the current software patent regulations and tests. At the same time, I don't want patent trolls keeping me from creating new innovations by locking up basic functions of programming. So, in all my huff and puff prior to watching the video, I was concerned that what the comments were saying is that the court had given even more blank slate to the patent trolls, which I would view as bad for the industry, and for the economy.

Well, then I watched the video. And I was like... "and so..... what was decided?" Well, after some searching, I found that while the arguments for the case were last year, the decision is not expected until sometime this June. From some of the transcripts of the arguments, I have to conclude that the Justices are not as clueless as many people like to pretend they are. Then again, I have heard comments from Justices before than seem to go completely against the decisions they write, so, take that conclusion with a pound or two of salt, and maybe some indigestion medicine. Anyway, my thoughts are, why is everybody in such a huff, if the decision hasn't even been released yet. 

Then, something else happened. I read that Obama hates technology, and went, huh, I thought he was "Mr. Technology" during the election. Then, I read from InfoWorld that the whole thing was a joke. Ok, I have to admit that I am not an Obama fan. I think he has way too many control freak fascist tendencies, even worse than Bush, but perhaps about as bad as Cheney. The hubbub on this one is that people took snippets of an address he gave and missed that they were part of a joke. Not only did they not get the punchline, they never even knew there was a punchline.

Now, it is just too bad that there is sooo much venom out there that people jump to attack without know why they are jumping. Like most jokes, a good part of the humor worked because of the true parts of the joke, like the parts about media and how "some of which don't always rank that high on the truth meter" and "some of the craziest claims can quickly claim traction". Ok, they Obama hates technology headline should have made people go, "wait a minute" this doesn't sound like it is fully founded in reality. Need to get the whole story.

I suppose getting the whole story is too time consuming, especially when seconds count in being the first to break a story. I know we aren't going to get all cyber-journalists and bloggers to be more responsible, but perhaps there is a way that we can leverage the strengths of the internet to fix the problem and create better news sources at the same time. If there was a blog/cybernews integrator, it would still give credit for breaking stories, but if it allowed add-ons by other journalists who provide "the rest of the story" or additional details, then the truth would eventually come out in a single source for each story that is out there. At the same time, those who have an axe to grind could post as additional details, but the rants and slants could quickly be voted as such and relegated to comments and rants, and leave the real additional details in the body of the page, each with their respective authors getting their due. We could call it associated bloggers or something like that.

May 6, 2010


Bootstrapping (in Business) is to start a business without external help or capital. The hard thing about bootstrapping is that there are a whole bunch of business processes and areas of expertise that have to be known and executed correctly. Now, often when someone is talking about bootstrapping a startup, they have some minimal and often much more significant financial resources, and they are able to outsource a whole bunch of those business processes and just pay for them. What happens if a startup doesn't have the funds to pay for such services. Well, they better be good at accounting, and have a thorough understanding of legalese, and be technologically savvy, and know hr policies, oh, and not just regular accounting, they also need to know enough about merchant accounts and banking to be able to make sure they are getting paid. They need to be an expert at taxes, which while most people think that means accounting, there is a whole separate class of accountants that deal with taxes.

My personal experience with bootstrapping wasn't quite that bad, but close. We got a pretty big contract right out of the gate which paid for things like an accountant/tax professional, got some legal advice on trade, and had enough cash that when our merchant account got messy, we were able to make it through that without too much problem. We had the technology understanding, so we were able to get around that. They problem was, we wanted to do far more than what we could afford. We did contract work for other companies with the hope that it would pay enough for us to work on our own projects. Well, being our first attempt at running our own business, we didn't execute it flawlessly or even close. We did survive being stiffed $40,000 by a client, and were able to continue operations for 2 years until the economy collapsed and most of our clients went with it (for some reason, we had a lot of mortgage and real estate clients at that time).

Since then, I have reverted to the garage band version of business. I am developing a big software system in my spare time with two partners, but we have no business at this point, as we have no product to sell. We have no cash, and all our work is done on our personally owned machines. We would love to try to venture a small trial balloon offering to see what kind of response we would get, but that would constitute conducting business, which would mean bank accounts, business licenses, accountants, lawyers, taxes, and so forth. I think back to the days of yore when you built something or had something or provided some service, and you just went about doing business. Sure, the tax man would want his share, so some simple accounting would be needed to track what you did so you could pay your share of taxes, but that would be the end of things. I know there are some who still try to do it that way today. The problem is that complying with the law and regulations has become more complex than most people can manage unless that is all they focus on.

It shouldn't have be like that. We need some kind of established system that in a very cost effective way, provides all these services so that a businessman/bootstrapper could focus on what they are doing. Intuit provides a lot of those services, and even pretends to integrate them, but it really doesn't meet the needs. They, or their competitors, need to provide a complete small business we take care of your headaches so you can take care of business package. No nickle and dime marketing, just a single upfront, complete, take my headaches away small business startup solutions package. Yeah, I know, each small business has different needs, so they can offer an a-la-carte service selector, but when all is said and done, they take care of the headaches. They business registrations, the tax payments, the payroll, the hr, etc, etc, etc. Yeah you will need to sign off on things, but they do all the prep work. Much of it could be automated, and the rest could reach into a community of providers that work from a standardized set of requirements. And, I should be able to get price without committing to the purchase, just in case I am not ready to pull that trigger yet.