Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Earth Moves Around The Sun. So What?

I often complain about "junk science", and in that context I've talked about expertise "within a domain". Here's where I do the same, but with a possibly surprising opinion.

This was seen on NPR.com:

1 In 4 Americans Thinks The Sun Goes
Around The Earth, Survey Says

So NPR reports that 1 in 4 Americans think the Sun goes around the Earth. So did Sherlock Holmes. A.C. Doyle had a point when he wrote that particular character trait. It is a simple fact that there are vast tracts of knowledge that are of no practical use to the general public, or even highly intelligent people whose specialties are not impacted by the knowledge.

As deplorable as we may believe this statistic to be, it's not an indictment of science education. The proper solar model IS taught in school. What the statistic does is indicate that these people don't bother to retain the knowledge. This doesn't surprise me, as for a great many people this bit of information is of no practical use whatsoever. Whereas I hold someone's feet to the fire when they claim expertise, for the vast remainder of the populace, this just isn't the case. Nor should it be.

Even something as solar-dependent as farming does not require an understanding of heliocentrism. Even the most highly respected and accomplished of astronomers STILL say "the sun rises in the East". That's true of the scientists. For most people, there's not a single benefit to understanding heliocentrism. If a practical need for the knowledge did arise, they could trust a specialist to inform them.

Even the most highly educated experts use paleolithic terms.

Keep in mind that the respondents to this survey are not claiming that a centuries-old disproven theory is true, as has been suggested to me. In fact, they're not "claiming" anything. Rather, they are responding to a multiple-choice question asked of them, and they got it wrong. That's pretty harmless.

Perhaps, it has also been suggested to me, a greater understanding would "affect the world". Would pollution be less of a problem if the Earth were fixed in space? Of course not. Poison is poison whether it's on a world that's moving or standing still. It is eminently possible for someone to be environmentally conscious while being wholly ignorant of astronomy. And so long as their actions are in accordance with conservation, their astronomical beliefs are irrelevant. 

It's a matter of domain. And listen up, because getting this wrong has dire practical consequences.

I'm a computer software designer, programmer, and consultant with a background in low-level electronic repair. I'm a generalist who makes his living as a problem-solver, and I've been doing this for over thirty years. I'd estimate that roughly 95% of the people I deal with daily know less about the machines than I do and fewer than half know the basics of how they work internally. 100% of them use computers daily. I could decry the lack of education among computer users, but that's unreasonable, and would be nothing more than elitist on my part. Would knowing how doped silicon and germanium gates are constructed make them better at their jobs or improve any aspect of their lives in any way whatsoever? Absolutely not. It's enough that SOMEONE knows how that's done, and that the users can trust them to manufacture proper tools; and that SOMEONE has the knowledge to create software that works to specification.

This is true of most things today. You drive cars and fly in planes without the knowledge to build them, or even maintain them beyond the barest minimum. Many of the people who trumpet our "advanced technology" couldn't build so much as a toaster from scratch. And there's no reason they should, except by personal choice.

Instead of making my users feel like schmucks, I recognize and accept that my expertise is unimportant information from their perspective. Their expertise is in using the tools I build to accomplish other tasks. Their lack of computer knowledge doesn't make them stupid in the least; all are highly educated professionals. They simply have no need for the knowledge. This is made possible by the fact that we live in a civilization that promulgates division of labor. Humanity didn't get very far when all the knowledge required to survive had to rest inside your own skull. Hell... you try making a flint knife. It might throw the light of reality on your claims of "advancement".

It's a mistake to jump to the conclusion that someone is stupid or poorly educated simply because they have not retained knowledge that is useless within their domain. Adopting that attitude simply leads to unsubstantiated stratification, dissent, discord... arguments. And it opens you up to being treated like a fool when you find yourself within the domain of those people you previously considered to be idiots.

This can come in handy to understand when someone from the "Geek Squad" or some "Genius Bar" treats you less respectfully than you deserve. It is because they don't fully understand the difference between intelligence and intellectual domain. The failing is theirs, not yours.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

It's Election Season. Out Come the Strawwomen.

Michael McCutcheon has written a piece over at mic.com called "9 Reasons Why America Should Never Have a Female President". Keeping to his well-trodden "X Reasons Why..." style of tongue-in-cheek, it's a pointedly sarcastic bit that acts as an unpaid endorsement for Hillary Clinton. Her thoughtful visage dominates the page:


The real purpose of the piece, of course, is to pass on the message that if you don't support Hillary Clinton, then you're a rabid, knuckle-dragging, atavistic sexist.

The problem with it is that it's simply... well, "useless" comes to mind. Because there is no broad audience that agrees with the "arguments" McCutcheon is lampooning. But remember, his audience isn't conservatives; it's liberal Democrats. He's telling liberals what they should think conservatives think, so they can go out and hate conservatives for thinking the things that McCutcheon told them about. I know it's a lot to wrap your head around. There's a reason they're known as "the loony Left".

Anyway, here's what he wants you to think conservatives think:
  1. All female politicians care about is birth control, birth control and more birth control.
  2. Women fail miserably when they run Fortune 1000 companies.
  3. Women governors are some of the most hated in the nation.
  4. No one experiencing menopause should ever be making decisions.
  5. Women just don't have what it takes to get things done.
  6. They have exactly the wrong kinds of traits for a leader.
  7. Study after study reinforces how drastically ineffective women really are.
  8. Women in Congress can't get money for their districts, pass a bill or really get anything done.
  9. And most of all, America doesn't want more women in office.
As far back as the 1980s you'd have been hard pressed to find an American conservative who wasn't a fan of Margaret Thatcher, or who wouldn't have voted for her if they were English, or she an American.  Carly Fiorina (herself a potential Republican candidate for president in the present) is one of those company CEOs talked about in point 2. Of course, HP was a bit better than a "Fortune 1000" company... or "Fortune 500"... or even "Fortune 100". They were ranked #9 during her tenure. And Fiorina herself was ranked the tenth most powerful woman in the world.

The women listed include my own governor, Nikki Haley, Republican. Of course, Susana Martinez of New Mexico also has an "R" after her name. It wasn't the liberal Democrats who voted either of them into office. So, two thirds of the female governors listed were Republicans. If we were inclined to look backwards slightly we'd find the former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, on that list of female Republican governors. That's the same Sarah Palin that was on the Republican ticket as V.P., who was roundly ridiculed by liberals for the very femininity that that conservatives are supposed to hate. Part of their ridicule hypocritically focused on her looks. Part of their ridicule focused on her supposed stupidity in foreign affairs. History has, however, proven her foresight to be somewhat more reliable that that of our "sooooper-genius" POTUS, Wile E. Coyote Barack Obama.

Conservatives couldn't give a rat's ass about a candidate's sex. Whether she's a woman isn't the question. The question is whether she's the right person. The plain fact of the matter is that conservatives aren't the sexists that liberals would pretend them to be, nor does liberalism erase sexism. Sexism is completely and totally part of the Democratic playbook when it targets anybody but a liberal Democrat. This piece of McCutcheon's is an example. Democrats, on the other hand, have no problem voting for someone simply because of their sex[*][**]. 

This piece argues with the invisible man. Since the people he's targeting know their own minds, such a tactic has zero potential to change anyone's opinion. And improper use of the "sex card" is so bloody obvious that the author makes himself look very, very stupid. 

I'll leave you with this parody of Rick Perry in the "Brokeback Mountain Jacket", because McCutcheon somehow managed to miss "obsessed with fashion" in his strawman list, and as we all know, this sort of demeaning "attack" is only leveled at liberal women:



[*] I can't help but point out that the Gallup poll I linked to does not list "would be first female president" as the top response to the question of what would be the most positive thing about a Hillary Clinton presidency. No, the top answer was "Nothing" (at 27%) followed by "No opinion" (at 22%). "First female" was third, at 18%.

[**] Of course, the ghost of Geraldine Ferraro spins in her grave at the chorus of "It's about time!" praises of Hillary Clinton. But that was 30 years ago... what do these kids know?


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Yes, Marxists Really Are Pathological Liars

Found online:
Often I find libertarians, after describing some basic principles (non coercion etc.), make the jump to property rights and capitalism being the bestest thing ever, without fully explaining it.* 
*To be sure, libertarians do have plenty of fleshed out arguments for capitalism’s efficacy as a system; what I am arguing is that it does not follow from their discussion of man and his nature.
Of course it does. Every man is entitled to the fruits of his labor. But "labor" doesn't just mean sweat. It is effort in all of its forms. What it is illustrated when a lever or pulley, or Archimedes screw multiplies a man's effort is that the mental effort of inventing and employing those tools greatly multiplies a man's productivity, and thus increases the fruits of his labor. This is obvious in these examples: the more of one's brain that is employed in an enterprise, the greater the return.

"Give me a lever and a place to stand, and I will move the whole Earth."
-- Archimedes

This applies to principles, procedures, and algorithms every bit as much as it applies to physical tools. Thus we see that an entrepreneur has a higher income than a day laborer. This is because he's engaged in more productive effort. There's nothing inherently unfair about this. The laborer can do the same through his own efforts, and many have.

And I know you're wondering how I could possibly say that an entrepreneur is engaged in "more productive effort" than the guy breaking his back.

I say it because it's true.

Let's put it this way: The worker is working to feed himself and his family. He does so by engaging in activities that do just that, and barely. On the other hand, the entrepreneur is engaging in activities that will employ hundreds or thousands of people and feed all of them and their families. That's not figurative speech. His activities will result in sales, opportunities, markets, and income that will directly pay them all. And not just them... he will also pay their unemployment insurance, and the employer portion of their Social Security contributions, and provide whatever other incentives he finds necessary to retain people who can together meet those opportunities, as well as typically set up philanthropies and charities. Without him, most of the people in his employ would simply find other similar low-level jobs. Only a very few might start businesses of their own.

You ask someone who isn't employing thousands, and they're likely to say that the CEO is just some lucky fat bastard raking in the cash. That's only because they're pitifully ignorant. They're also demonstrably incapable of the same feat.

The same on-line source repeats Marx's tired assertion that the capitalism and the resultant division of labor separates a person from the products of his labor. This simply and conveniently ignores the fact that no Communist government has ever eliminated currency, the division of labor, work schedules, oppressive work conditions, bosses and overseers, an over-privileged elite class, or ANY of the conditions for which Communism was originally conceived to alleviate. In terms of achieving its goals, Marxism is the most brutal failure in history, bar none.

On the other hand, capitalism is the "bestest thing ever" because it is the one system that allows a person to focus on his talents and strengths, converting that which he has in abundance into that which he does not have and can't readily produce for himself. And that is possible through ownership. I am compensated for that which I produce and am able to save that compensation as my possession. In this way I can make trades that aren't practical in barter alone and can leverage many small "sales" into one large purchase, or do myriad other things. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the system that enables this.


The Free Market is Win-Win

Furthermore, capitalism allows this exchange of talents without coercion. Keeping the above in mind, remember that a free market is this is the activity of many individual transactions, each of which is a freely accepted "win-win" proposition. In a free market nobody engages in a transaction unless they want to. I can't make you buy my products, but I can adjust my prices or quality until you decide you'd rather own what I'm selling than keep the money. I make a sale of widgets because you need widgets more than you need the money, and it's vice versa for me.

And if I screw my customers on price or quality, I don't need the government to shut me down... my customers will do that through loss of sales by boycott and bad publicity. They'll go elsewhere and enrich my competition. Some will see my failure as their opportunity, and they'll go into competition with me. It is that competition which defines a free market. The moment you have a monopoly, you have a de facto government.


Necessity Isn't Force

We've all heard the Leftist arguments that because people have certain "needs" that should be free for all without labor or expense. This starts with basic abstract Freedoms... speech, defense, personal space, etc., all non-materialistic and easily free. The Left then extends it to those things that are material... water, food, air... and then on to things that are unquestionably desires... cell phones, cable TV, spending cash. And they should all be free.

Not only is it simplistic, it's a deliberate lie.

Ignore the Blob-like expansion for a moment and keep it to basics... something that seems most reasonable. Let's take food for an example. And let's imagine that you're living an agrarian vegan carbon-neutral macrobiotic lifestyle where lions and lambs comb each others' lustrous coats in perpetual sunshine and lurrrrve. And it's yours, all yours!

There's no one to give you anything. You have to till the soil, tend and water the plants, defend them against blight and pestilence, pick the fruits, prepare and preserve them for the winter months. Despite the fact that you have a right to Life, it is still up to you alone to secure that right. All that free food isn't free, not at all. Not even when there are no owners. Not by any measure. This doesn't change when someone moves in next to you. No one is obligated to slave for you simply because you don't want to be responsible for yourself. And yet that's the position of the Progressive Left.

The Library Company of Philadelphia
was started by Ben Franklin and his
friends because they each wanted a
better library than any of them could
afford individually. It's still in
operation today, free and open to the
public. That's how Libertarians
solve a problem.
The plain fact is that even if food were lying around for the taking, it's still up to you to get off your ass and get it. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch. That said, there are people who will, out of the goodness of their hearts, pay for your lunch. It's called "charity", from the Latin caritas, meaning "love". The thing about charity is that it is by definition a gift of love. Such a gift can only be given freely. When taken by force, such as taxation, it's not charity: it's theft. That's something to remember on a day like today, April 15th. Socialists would like to pretend that society would fall part if it were not for taxation. But those things that taxes pay for would still be paid for. If there is a need, then people will always find a way to fund that need. Sites like GoFundMe, KickStarter, Patreon, and IndieGogo should be all the proof you need of that. If Libertarians want a library, they'll just contribute and build one... and how do we know? Because that's what they've always done. Crowdsourcing isn't new... not by a longshot.

If that's not enough, you're left to explain Shriner hospitals, which operate without charging their patients; and RiteCare centers for language disabilities, which provide their services to those children who need them without requiring them to pay a dime; and Ronald McDonald houses; and myriad other charities. These are done voluntarily, in addition to taxes. You cannot seriously believe that if people had more to give that they would give less. And you cannot seriously believe that enlightened self-interest is at odds with charity unless you know little of either. I've discussed charity before... if you want a society in which there are good people, there is only one way to guarantee it: be that person.

The benefits of capitalism are those which directly result from the libertarian principles of self-ownership and non-coercion. It is human nature to be generous so long as the means have not been stripped from them.

Overwhelmingly, the richest people... those mean old money-grubbing capitalists... have always been the biggest philanthropists. What's better than a person who gives to charity? A person who creates a job. A philanthropist is both. One of the things that a Libertarian wants as much as the next person is "a better world". Of course, to a Libertarian, this means that people are voluntarily charitable and don't have to be robbed; where they're nice because they're educated in civility, rather than forced into compliance. Those who benefit from institutional robbery have fewer barriers against the more personal sort. Furthermore, private charity is more effective than the public dole because it doesn't result in disincentives to achievement. This requires that people not only look after themselves, but look to better themselves and in so doing employ others.

The title of the piece to which I linked in my first paragraph is "Yes, Libertarians Really Are Lazy Marxists". This is hilarious, as it comes straight from the ideology espoused by the laziest ideologues ever to walk the face of this planet; and is directed at those who they would have as slaves. 

Yes, Marxists really are pathological liars.

“How do you tell a communist? Well, it’s someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It’s someone who understands Marx and Lenin.” -Ronald Reagan


Monday, April 13, 2015

It's Really Not That Hard to Understand


Here we have something that's making the rounds... CNN's Dana Bash questioning Senator Rand Paul on the subject of same-sex marriage. Now, he does accurately state his position... however, one thing this interview and the commentary about it has shown is the lengths to which people are willing to mis-interpret it. Here's one. Here's another.

It is certainly the case that people hear what they want to hear, and let's acknowledge that it's a little difficult to get a point across in responses that are edited by those who are asking the loaded questions. Since Bash is asking him "as a libertarian" I, as a libertarian, am going to take an unsolicited stab at the issue. For many of you it's tl;dr. If you can't at least give time to the issue, you're one of the folks we can conveniently label "the Problem".

Bash asks, “Why do you believe – just as a core principle as a libertarian – that people should be left alone, but not when it comes to their right to marry someone they love?”

This is a loaded question, and inaccurate. All people have the right to be left alone. That is, in fact, what Paul's trying to communicate here. But "leaving you alone" does not necessitate anyone's agreement or endorsement of whatever it is you're doing, marriage or otherwise. In 1906, Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote a biography called "The Friends of Voltaire", in which she offers this as an illustration of his beliefs,
"I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it."
Since so few people seem to be able to comprehend the English of a mere hundred years past, let's paraphrase that:
"I may not agree with who you want to marry, but I'll defend your right to marry who you want."
That's the libertarian position. Defending someone's rights despite your own disagreement is called "tolerance". Insisting that someone must agree with you heart and soul is not; and there's no small irony in demanding acceptance from those you repay with intolerance of your own.

What isn't appreciated in punditry is the fact that Paul can't deliver tolerance without being elected; and his position (as you can see) isn't popular with either party, though it does resonate with Americans who don't just think whatever they're told.

"He's on our side? Ignore it and attack anyway."
In politics, people don't matter, only Party.

So why is this a state issue?

Because it IS. You may have forgotten as so many do that the first clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution not only asserts that the government cannot establish a religion (this is the only part that the Left ever reads); and it not only asserts that the government cannot prohibit the free exercise thereof (this is the only part that the Right ever reads): it also states that Congress may make "NO LAW" regarding either. "No law" isn't really open to "interpretation"... merely misinterpretive bullying. It literally means "no law".

The Ninth and Tenth Amendments assert that we have rights that are not enumerated in the Constitution; and that any power not delegated to the United States by the Constitution are reserved to the States, and to the People.

Now, to the extent that marriage is a religious rite... and you have to be both barking mad and historically illiterate to assert that it isn't... it has no place in Federal legislation. Such laws are, in fact, prohibited by the First Amendment, although the remedial readers in Congress and even some judges haven't comprehended the phrase.

It is, in short, a State issue. Senator Paul is just stating the truth, and if you wanted to make it different, then you'd have to carve out some new Amendment.

The fact that we've had Democrats and Republicans offering and passing laws left and right about religion for as long as we've had Democrats and Republicans is beside the point. Just because they've pushed idiocy for a hundred years doesn't mean you have an obligation to continue the trend. And just because they pass a law doesn't make it final... not until it's been tested in Court.

So what does it really mean to be "a State matter"? Well, in times gone by it would mean that the States could pass laws individually, and that you'd wind up with a big mish-mash. They still try that. It doesn't work. The Fourteenth Amendment provides that, "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States," and as a result those rights that are asserted in the Constitution are binding everywhere. And sure enough, the Supreme Court knocks down a shit-tonne of laws for just this reason. The practical result is that "no law" at the Federal level means that these rights are retained by the People. That is, you have a right that cannot be abridged.

We don't need more laws. We just need to follow the Constitution into that dark place in your psyche you don't want to go, where dragons roam free... and so does everyone else.


What about that wording?

To the extent that marriage a social contract it might be subject to legislation... but the fact is that the word "marriage" has been so intertwined with religious sacrament for so many thousands of years that it makes more sense for the Government to keep their stupid ham fists out of it entirely. This is, after all, the same government that would look down on a "moment of silence" in school lest it be used for (*gasp!*) voluntary prayer. "Marriage" is far more intertwined with religion than a moment of silence. And the Left, who have no problem at all passing laws prohibiting free exercise don't know how to react when the free exercise that's being prohibited is their own.

Instead, they viciously bite when Libertarians offer a supremely rational solution.

The solution is not to prohibit it, because that's discriminatory. And it's not to define it, either, because that's inherently exclusionary. The solution is to do exactly what the Constitution says to do and MAKE NO LAW. Then people can live with whoever they want to live; they can enter contracts with whoever they want; they can assign whoever they please to be their "next of kin" for whatever reason they'd like; and they can call it whatever they want to call it, whether it was announced in a church or not. Remove marriage from the law for everybody, and leave the contract for everybody.

So how does this compare with what Rand Paul has said?
In April 2013, in an interview with the National Review, he said, "I'm an old-fashioned traditionalist. I believe in the historic and religious definition of marriage," and "That being said, I'm not for eliminating contracts between adults. I think there are ways to make the tax code more neutral, so it doesn't mention marriage. Then we don't have to redefine what marriage is; we just don't have marriage in the tax code." -via Wikipedia
Yup. I'd get married in a church m'self; but y'all do what you want.

And for those among us who have long wondered at the inherent unfairness of the tax code when it comes to single individuals, this makes even more sense. A revised tax code would treat people as individuals, with their burden measured by their dependents rather than some embattled legal status.


Me, personally....

I don't care. Really. I don't give an ounce of concern over whether you're married, or who you're married to, or what it's called. I give even less thought to what people call my marriage, or whether they call it anything or nothing. If you tell me you're married to a water buffalo, I won't ask you what sex it is. I might think you're a loon, but I probably think that already for a lot of other reasons. If you're a man telling me you're married to a man I will receive the news with the same degree of casual "so what" that I have always seen in the eyes of pretty much everyone when I mention that I have a wife.

I do care about the fact that people are excluded from certain situations that they'd otherwise be allowed were it not for arbitrary laws that should not exist. It's not just taxes. That's why the contract should remain. If I want to empower someone to make decisions for me, for whatever reason I want (and I don't even have to state those reasons), I can already do that with a Power of Attorney and a Living Will and a half-dozen other documents. But it's expensive and inconvenient and requires constant explanation. There's a sense of "vere are your papers, Juden?" But a marriage license conveniently wraps all of those into one document that's pretty universally recognized. Even today, intertwined as it is with sacrament, "marriage" is afforded to atheists and every religion. In the sight of God you need no one but each other to marry you. but legally, you're married when you sign the document, not when you say your vows. The legal aspect does nothing to add or take away from those vows, no matter what they were called.

In fact, the term "marriage license" implies that the government is granting you permission to get married; something that should be offensive to Christians on grounds of piety in that no government has that authority. It is contrary to our natural rights.

If the union described by that piece of paper were suddenly to be called a "civil union" in the courts while I continue to call it "marriage" everywhere else, then I can see no possible way in which it would affect the reality of my marriage.

But then, those who argue at cross-purposes aren't terribly concerned with reality.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Reflections on First Orbit

April 12th, 1961 - Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. This film re-lives that feat in real time using stock footage and footage shot from the International Space Station.


My thoughts on this anniversary may seem odd, seeing as how for the last 54 years humanity has been a spacefaring race largely through the efforts of huge government investments and nationalistic chest-thumping.

But in that time, access to space has been restricted by the various governments on Earth, progress has been retarded by those same governments once they had their TV moments, political sound bites and news coverage; and as a result we remain tied to this planet save for a few pitiful robots and a handful of ankle-waders in atmosphere-scraping orbit. Contrast this with air travel, which has been mostly driven by private and economic factors.
  • The Wright Brothers made their first successful flight in 1903. 
  • The first scheduled air service was in 1914. 
  • In 1927 Charles Lindbergh made the first non-stop flight from New York to Paris. 
  • Jet engines appeared in 1942, in World War II
  • The first supersonic passenger aircraft (the Russian Tupolev 144) was flown in 1968. 
Humanity went from "Man can't fly" to supersonic commercial flight in a mere 65 years, and for the past 50 years commercial flight has been so ubiquitous that we can now earn "air miles" at the grocery store.

In 1954, this is where we thought we might be in the year 2000, and it was a reasonable expectation based on what our parents experienced in their lifetimes:


Ignore the cheesy special effects. It was the quality of their vision, not their models, that concerns us. Of course, our parents were far more daring than we have become. We're not just a nation, but a world populated by the delusional, sharing their delusions, and pretending they like it. We build cages so we can sit in them and pretend we are "free". We are superlative at faking those things that we will never attempt in real life, and patting ourselves on the back about having achieved "realism". It is in equal measure saddening and sickening.

Only within the past few years have our governments experimented... just a little... with allowing visionaries like Elon Musk and Burt Rutan do what they do; and to a huge extent this has been because our governments have proven themselves unequal to the task of sustained national interest, much less technology. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, risk absolutely nothing except that which belongs to them and their willing investors. And they do so in full knowledge of the fact that the vast bulk of monetary returns are yet to be discovered.

Without committees, the entrepreneurial mind explores boundaries outside the confines of convention and national interest. This is important, because if anything at all is true, it is this: The Universe is not owned by the United States, or by Russia, or by China, or the European Union. It is not someone's lawn that we need to be told to stay off of. It belongs to none, and should be accessible to all. It is well past time for governments to back down and quit hogging all the Space.



P.S. On the anniversary of this great achievement it's not lost on me that these thoughts seem somewhat dark and negative. My point is this: the celebration of a past event is meaningless if we cannot use it as inspiration to do so much more than we have done, and to be so much more than we have been. Every advance at every point in the human drama has come about as a result of dissatisfaction. No one has ever done anything new as a result of being "ok" with the status quo. I am not ok with the status quo. We need to step up and do better. Those who are not of that mindset should simply shut up, live their risk-free "lives" and let the pioneers be pioneers. Get out of the way.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Eat less, share more; or New doesn't always mean better.

The Washington Post reports the following:


When shared on social media, this photo was accompanied by
the tag, "You've been making rice the wrong way."





Hmm. I think it would seem intuitively obvious that reducing the food value of "the lifeblood of so many nation's cuisine" is an idea whose time should have come and gone without much fanfare.

I know that news has become a business, and it's all about the eyeballs and the clicks. Nevertheless, I find the tag, "You've been making rice the wrong way" to be incredibly condescending, from people who have no discernible  right to a claim of superiority. There's an entire world of possibilities to consider when thinking "outside the box". Their "solution" solves a problem for one person, and inefficiently at that. The same problem can be solved in a way that benefits many people having more than one problem among them.


To deliberately make food less nutritious is, IMHO, silly.

Instead, eat less rice. Feed the hungry with that which you did not consume, and prepare it in such a way that they get the maximum benefit from it. For the record, "eat less rice" = "more rice to go around". You don't get fat and others don't go hungry.



I take strong exception to the statement, "You've been making rice the wrong way". I respond to the authors with this counterproposal: "You haven't been thinking the right way, about people other than yourselves. Get on the ball. There's a whole planet full of people who aren't YOU. Stop eating like a glutton and share."

I should note that this isn't limited to the rice. The article decries the fact that potatoes have the "right kind" of starch (i.e. indigestible) until they're cooked. Then, horror upon horror, they become digestible. I think these people have a very poor comprehension of what constitutes the "right kind" of starch. When it comes to diluting the food or feeding the world, I'm in favor of the world.

----

A friend of mine notes that he wonders whether trying to be "sneaky" in reducing the calorie value of what you ingest actually works, or whether it will just make you look for those missing calories elsewhere. It's a fair question, in more ways than one. Not only might you look for those calories from unhealthy sources, but you're also training your body to accept a certain quantity of food as "enough". That might be true when you're cooking the rice, but only then.

Milestones

Yesterday was my weirding anniversary. I have been marred for twenty years. Actually, more than that, as this is the third time I've been marred. I keep coming back for more. That's what makes it weird, I suppose. A friend wanted to know how my worf and I have stayed together so long. Since I've done this three times, I've got a pretty good idea what works and what doesn't. Basically, to make a partnership last, it helps if you're both too broke and lazy to file for da force, which is a legal judgement forcing one of you back onto the street.

I've never filed for da force, as I believe that when one is marred it should be for life. However, I've also never been forced onto the street. Both of my previous worfs were made to leave, even though they were the ones who filed. I guess this means they weren't very good at filing, which is surprising, since they were both secretaries of sorts.

In a few days it will be my twins' worthday. That's the day, once a year, when you assess a person's worth. Then you pay tribute to that person based on how much you value them. This tribute often takes the form of gifts and celebration. As this will be the nineteenth such occasion for my twins, we're reaching a cusp. For many people, at this stage, it means negative returns. In other words, you start having to pay in, in the form of rent, instead of getting free room and board. This is particularly true of people who aren't going to college, since we all know they're not worth as much. We charge them for living. Of course, even when they pay in, they commonly get a little something back on their worthday... think of it like a tax refund.

Often this tipping point of paying vs. getting comes shortly after one's degradation day, which is when you stop going to school. Your most important degradation day comes at the end of high school. This is a matter of proud achievement: people often send invitations to friends and family members and expectantly ask, "Are you coming to my degradation?" After your degradation, if you don't go to college, you're sold into slavery and must work for your keep. My twins' high school degradation was last year, but they put off their judgement by attending university.

You can put it off your degradation even longer than that by pursuing a higher degree, if you can stand the heat. I have a nephew who is a Ph.D, which means "doctor of pH" (he's a chemist). To do this he had to defend his feces, which is something produced by all doctoral candidates. Apparently, doctors don't like it when anybody tries to take their shit. This again is surprising, as they don't seem to mind spreading it around.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

They Have An Actual Name

OK, so I saw this today on Facebook.

Seen on Facebook. Reproduced under Title 17 Fair Use for
political editorial comment.

First Impressions

They're called "orchards".

They're all over the place in Florida, as I found out in the mid-nineties when I went to live there. Fortunately I went house-hunting down there at the right time of year... October. The grapefruit and orange trees in the back yard of one of the houses I looked at were well past their harvest date. The ground was littered with rotten and rotting fruit. It was slimy. It stank. It attracted flies and worms. Of course the real estate agent smiled and extolled the benefit of free fruit. I talked to the neighbors, and of course, they confirmed that the year was typically a whole lot of "ain't no fruit" followed by sudden frenzied "WTF am I going to do with all these *&$#&$& oranges?!?!" followed by garbage collection.

I didn't rent the house.

My first thought here was that I didn't really want to throw a damper on the ardor for this arbor, but a modicum of realism is called for if it's not to be shouted down as a gift from Satan shortly after it's planted. As a matter of necessity, to successfully feed anyone it would need to be a farm, no matter how they dress it up.

My parents owned a farm...it isn't "Free".

Again, that's not to say, "don't do it"... rather, it's to point out that the organizers seem to be asking the City to go to a lot expense for something that will bear fruit and/or nuts and feed people for a few weeks out of the year. IF their goal is actually to feed people and not simply stroke their emotions, they will do very well to investigate whether a "food forest" is the best and most efficient way to do that year-round.

So I decided to look into it some more.

The Beacon Food Forest Project 

A bit of web searching found the project. http://www.beaconfoodforest.org/ Go to the website and explore a bit, because it's an interesting thing they're doing here. 

Here's the actual site plan for the Beacon Food Forest project in Seattle.
From beaconfoodforest.org. Reproduced under Title 17 Fair Use for political commentary. I'd have linked you straight to their graphic if it weren't so insanely huge. It takes ages to load and might cause a memory overflow.
My first impressions were based on the misleading infographic and what I already knew of forest gardening, which is a low-maintenance method of landscaping with a "natural" rather than "tended" appearance.  This project has little to do with forest gardening. As you can see, it's not particularly dense as forests go, it's not really an example of forest gardening. It's basically a city park with fruit trees and a reserved section for garden plots. It looks to be expensive in that way that only someone on the West coast could claim it's not. That expense is hidden behind donations (a-ok!) and government grants (not ok). To me, it resembles an art project as much as a serious attempt to feed anybody. To some extent it's the vegetable equivalent of a petting zoo. That in itself isn't a problem either, but it does show that their logic is buried under mounds of emotional manipulation that should never be necessary.

As far as I can tell, the term "food forest" is very fashionable right now because it's really marketable among seven-year-old kids. And let's face it, most of the website's materials are about emotional marketing. And as it is in part an educational endeavor, a lot of it is targeted at about a seven-year-old emotional level. But I'm an adult. I like to teach children new things, such as "the proper name for a 'food forest' is 'orchard'," so my grandchildren don't descend into the world of Idiocracy. I like things to make more than emotional sense.

Fortunately this does, though I have to supply my own arguments to some extent. It's not going to feed people year round, but you don't right now... improvement is better than no improvement, and half a loaf is better than none. It will be labor-intensive, but the splitting up into multiple plots spreads it around, and enough people of Seattle seem willing to do it... for now. I know from experience that farming is difficult, but as people drop out others should replace them.

If they're willing to work at those plots and give the food away then more power to them. This must be done altruistically or not at all if the "free food for anyone and everyone" communistic goal is to be achieved. In other words, you can't complain that 'vultures' descended on your crop and carried away the literal fruits of your labor. Under a 2010 ordinance Seattle residents can already farm on their own property if they would rather raise the food for personal use or sell it (see below), so the only thing that bothers me is the funding model.

To me, public support means I either worked at it with my hands or I donated towards it directly. PBS gets public support from viewers like me. To community organizers, though, public support is code that simply means, "don't complain when we ask for government funding", and that's exactly what it looks like here, to large extent.

The fact of the project doesn't bother me, I'd support such a thing in a heartbeat. If the goal were primarily feeding people I'd find it far more efficient to support professional local farmers who do that well, 24/7, and deserve to get paid for it. But as noted this has educational benefits as well as access to arable land for apartment dwellers and others who would like to garden but haven't the space.

The fact of the government funding bothers me immensely, and not least of all because it undermines the entire premise. "Free to anyone and everyone"?  Wrong. Paid for by everyone at gunpoint.

Like I said, I'd donate in a heartbeat, willingly. But I hate being robbed and then being told that the things purchased with my money are "free". That's a bad way to build trust. The most likely response is, "If you're robbing me already, why should I donate anything else?"


--==//ooOoo\\==--


This 2010 story is far more exciting to me, and I'm using this story as an example because it's also in Seattle. I wouldn't want you to think I have it in for them...
SEATTLE – As part of the 2010 Year of Urban Agriculture, the Seattle City Council approved Council Bill 116907 that supports the rapidly growing local food movement. The ordinance updates the City’s Land Use code governing urban agriculture uses, including allowing "urban farms" and "community gardens" in all zones, with some limitations in industrial zones. Also, residents will now be able to sell food grown on their property.
Idiocy commonly abounds when it comes to government and homeowner association restrictions on urban gardening, and the many government impediments to selling or distributing the results.

Kudos to Seattle for lowering some of those barriers. I only wish they weren't doing it wrong. This being the purported "home of the free", we shouldn't pass laws to permit people to grow food... we should instead eliminate the absolute insanity represented by laws and regulations that prohibit it! No one at any level of government should have that authority. 

NO ONE.