Putting it all in context

The human brain while amazing has some very significant limitations. The basic process of learning is to compare any piece of information to experience. Without a frame of reference we get very confused.

When we are born we get to compare the previous wet warmth to the newly discovered cold and dry. Then we open our eyes and get to experience images and it takes years to fully build up to a level of sentience.

And even then we have a real issue with existence, the toughest is often the end of someone else’s existence. When someone dies, it can be really hard to resolve the fact that they are gone, and so we often use our imagination to make up a place where dead people go. We have absolutely no evidence of these places, but it’s easier to imagine they (the dead) are still with us than to accept they their existence only now exists in our memory.

And if other people reinforce these ideas with stories of god’s and ethereal dream creatures then these other people’s imagination can become our evidence. We call it belief, but it’s actually denial. And the longer a story is retold then the stronger the evidence for its truth.

Since these stories and beliefs become so important, then it is critical for the believers to not question anything that the stories tell, as not believing any one part creates cracks that can cause the whole belief system to crumble. So it doesn’t matter how crazy an idea is, if it’s linked to the belief system it must be upheld as totally true, otherwise the whole of your life’s belief system will be exposed as a total fiction.

So people believe in wild and crazy ideas such as the moon being a source of light, as opposed to a reflector of the suns light. People believe that the earth was created in six days around six thousand years ago and that a talking snake in a park told a woman made of a mans rib to have her man (who was made of dust) eat an apple that was forbidden by a god. That the patterns of stars (as seen only from here) are the bodies of gods; and their positions foretell your personal destiny. That the son of a god (who was also the same god) was born of a virgin woman and died horribly to pay for the apple, but wasn’t really dead (for long) and allowed a bunch of the Romans who killed him horribly to kill people for thousands of years to repent for their killing of him. That each version of god hates each other version of the same god so much that it’s okay to kill and persecute every follower of every other version of that same god. But it’s all okay because if you tell a representative of a god that you are sorry, all will be forgiven and you’ll go where all those people you loved went when they died. And if you strap on a bomb and kill yourself with a bunch of other people (whom you don’t know) then you will end up with a thousand randy virgins in your version of the afterlife who were just waiting to service your every need. And if your version of god happens to have been an alien then you are going to his alien world when you drink that poison, his invisible spaceship is just waiting orbiting the moon for you to leave your Earthly body so he can “save” you. And it’s really lucky that Moses got those ten commandments while walking around that mountain, because otherwise we wouldn’t have realized that murder, theft, swearing at your parents and screwing your wife’s best friend were wrong. And you are still amazed at how awesome your god is that he told all this to people thousands of years ago, and through his inspiration hundreds of people have then selectively edited those aural stories in to written books which have then been selectively edited and translated to ensure that the views just happen to match the ideas of the most powerful and wealthy (and often brutal) leaders over the last couple of thousand years.

But all of this must be true otherwise the people who you have loved and have died no longer exist. And it’s much more important that grand mommy is in heaven than that the world can live in peace and prosperity.

There is a lot of comfort that can be felt from the sharing of good thoughts, but everyone is responsible for everything that happens in the name of every religion and every idea.

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Solemn Ramadan, Enjoy Kwanza and have a great naked Yule dance everyone.

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The Minimum Wage Is Just A Distraction.

Politicians of both parties want to pander to their political bases. Republicans want to show that they are providing good value for their oligarch masters by ensuring that it’s legal to pay ridiculously low wages to employees and that there is a good supply of illegal (ie. Close to slave) labor.

While Democrats want to show their supporters that they are looking to help the working people by increasing wages. But they do very little to actually increase the living wage for anyone below the upper levels of society.

And they both use the minimum wage as a flag to fly to support their cases.

But let’s be really clear, no one is proposing a minimum wage that is high enough to actually be livable in the modern United States of America.

The amount of money it takes to live clearly varies depending on many factors, such as the cost of local housing, basic amenities (water, power, heating etc), consumables (food, clothes etc), healthcare, transport, and services. These costs vary depending on where you live. When you add all these basics costs up, it’s clear that a single person or family living on minimum wage incomes cannot possibly survive anywhere without additional support from government programs (either tax rebates, social services or other forms of grants).

The republican view is that these people just need to work harder; otherwise their employers will find it better to take their jobs offshore.

The democratic view is that these people just need more support from government, either in direct assistance or support programs to help them get a better job.

Neither of these approaches ever work as planned, and I don’t think they are really expected to, so long as the bases of each party believe that their politicians are doing their bidding, the politicians are happy to posture and actually achieve minimal change.

There are programs that can work, but these mean actually looking at the causes of a problem and not the symptoms, and it doesn’t seem that either major party is ready to do that, except maybe at the fringes with lefty loons and right wing nut jobs.

The basic issue is that we need people to be employed and we need these people to earn enough money to be able to live without having to be supplemented by government-collected money and hence re-distributed money. This can happen, and the simplest way to make it happen is to create a system whereby employers must pay employees at least enough such that the employees don’t qualify for any form of government assistance (excluding health and disability related help). If an employer pays an employee less than that minimum level then the employer should have a tax levied on them at a level greater than the cost incurred by the government in supporting that employee, and it can be calculated at an hourly rate to cover full-time and part-time employees. That’s actually a very simple calculation to perform.

If an employee works X hours per week for an employer and is paid $Y per hour, but they get $Z of total assistance from government organizations then the impact of underpayment from the employer per week is Z/40 * X (assuming we expect a worker to work 40 hours a week). If Y > than the threshold for receiving benefits then the employer is paying the true minimum wage and no benefits are being received from underpayment of wages. If not then a tax of (Z/40 * X) * 1.5 should be levied on the employer. So it is cheaper for an employer to pay the worker a living wage than to pay the increased tax, that would quickly encourage everyone to pay a living wage.

This formula calculates the impact of assistance per hour so works just as well for part time workers as full time workers.

And to balance that cost there must be a levy on all services and manufacturing that is provided out of the USA. So it becomes cost effective to employee in the USA.

If employers were paying a level to their lowest paid employees that reduced the need for government assistance, then the amount of money government needed for these services would go down, allowing taxes to go down.

Obviously like any idea, this only works if politicians actually had the aim of reducing taxation and increasing the quality of life of the working class, but it really is not clear that is the true aim of any of them today.

It would be beautiful if there was a politician who actually wanted to reduce the tax burden by actually fixing broken programs, rather than pandering to their personal masters, but I just don’t see it happening anytime soon.

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Enhancing Shareholder Value a.k.a. killing business success

At some point in the 1980’s someone came up with the idea of shareholder value. The idea was that the ultimate success of a company was to maximize the value that the company delivered to shareholders. Seems like a pretty reasonable idea, until you start to see what people who use this term really mean.

What is often done in the name of “enhancing shareholder value” is totally the antipathy of the obvious definition of the idea.

Surely (you would imagine) that shareholders would want to see a company perform well over a long period of time. And you would imagine that performing well would be a simple concept, where the money a company spends on developing and selling its product would be less than the money it brings in from its customers. You would imagine that in the same way you balance your bank account every month a company would be measured as being successful if there was “profit” on the business they perform.

But you would not be correct!

The stock market and therefore the executives of large companies look for increasing returns not just profit. So if a company continually makes a 10% profit every year according to those who measure shareholder value that company is failing.

So the pressure is on to show increases in revenue, and decreases in costs, so that year on year, quarter on quarter the business “grows”, and so the company gets bigger and the shareholders are then told by the “experts” that the shareholder value is increasing.

This drives companies to off-shore their workforce, find lower cost suppliers, reduce their work force and consider unbelievably expensive mergers and acquisitions. In the very short term these things seem to drive down costs or increase revenue and so that’s a good thing. But they really don’t make a company healthier, they kill it.

I’ve seen company executive’s looks to buy a company at any cost, just to get a small increase in revenue this year. It doesn’t matter that the money spent can never be recovered, it’s about achieving a revenue target, not a margin target. It’s often inane.

A large number of acquisitions never make a profit, what they do in move huge sums of money and stock from a healthy company to the owners of a less healthy company. The two merged companies for a short time have increased revenue, but the cost and mess of merging the businesses often leads to reduced performance and so the growth slows down. Angry customers leave, and new customers question the value of entering this created confusion. So all too often the sum of the parts is less than the whole, and within a few years the revenue of the merged business looks like the revenue would have already been of the healthier if the two parts if they had not merged. To me that says that the billions spent on the merger were entirely wasted. At the same time all the changes demanded to streamline the two businesses cause the best and the brightest to leave and huge political infighting between executives takes place to grab the reduced number of top spots. Innovation slows and then the business is forced to go through more rounds of off-shoring and layoffs to reduce costs even further to have to pay for the debt created from the merger.

Of course there are winners from M&A, those who broker the deal, the CEO’s and CFO’s, the banks and the private equity firms all get lucrative multi-million dollar payoffs as part of their self-created wonderland.

And there are lots of losers, employees, customers, shareholders.

I’ve worked for a number of companies who have acquired large businesses over and over again, and I’ve seen the carnage it creates. Apart from the small number of execs and bankers who make the deal happen, I’m at a loss to see who gains, except maybe of course for India and China.

Maximizing shareholder value seems to be the modern euphemism for “Screw you I’m taking it all”.

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Why on Earth would anyone want to be a politician?

Political office is supposed to be a service to society, but today it seems that politicians get power and money.

There has always been an element of power associated with political office, and I suppose that is why most capital cities have special laws that allow things that are not allowed anywhere else, such as legalized prostitution, access to fireworks and lower than average taxes. It’s also why most capital cities are a long way from where most people actually want to live.

But recently it seems that politicians have been awarding themselves much more than their fair share of goodies. Wage increases above everyone else’s, huge pension schemes, massive benefit packages, longer and longer vacations, even the right to insider trade and take money in exchange for influence.

This has been a concern since the Greeks had an empire, and philosophers wrote about an elite class that ruled but couldn’t benefit from the rules they imposed (Plato’s Republic), and the documented corruption of the senate in Rome (the fall of the Roman Empire).

Whenever politicians throughout history have given themselves too much power, the weight of the corruption that this in turn delivers has always led to the balance being reset.

It doesn’t matter what system has been in place, various capitalist systems, different types of democracy, fascism, socialism, communism and even the sycophantic Byzantine Empire model, which used titles and awards to reward people until those very people realized there was this huge lump of unguarded wealth protected only by purely corrupt words.

We now have ridiculously wealthy and powerful politicians across Europe and America, who seem only interested in furthering their own wealth by doing the bidding of those even wealthier than themselves.

The poor don’t have enough to pay a significant proportion of taxes, and the rich have enough to be able to avoid paying a significant proportion of taxes. Those in the middle have and always will pay more than they should. But when the poorer get poorer still, and the rich get even richer, then the middle has to pay even more. And politicians who don’t spot this early enough and allow the balance to shift too far get in trouble.

They can try for a while to pander to people with words about religious fervor, or scare people with stories about terror and those of a different color, but in the end they end up in trouble. The world has moved on from guillotines and now the trouble mostly comes in the form of impeachments, fines , humiliation and prison terms (hellos Blagojevich, hello Neil Hamilton).

And yet today we have a situation in the US where an almost infinite amount of money is spent to influence the political agenda.

It’s shocking that in exchange for money politicians add clauses into laws that directly reward those who pay them. There are actual laws in the US that mean that specific job titles in specific banking jobs pay lower rates of taxes than everyone else. Seriously Hedge Fund managers pay a lower rate of tax! People who earn their money off of stock trades pay less tax (as a percentage) than people who fight fires or dig holes.

We have had politicians who have run large companies, who have actually given no bid contracts to the actual companies that used to run and have huge investments in.

We have billionaires paying politicians to give billionaires lower taxes. And then these politicians ask people who own a house to pay more to fund the schools in their town (because it’s a choice, give another billion to a billionaire or ensure that schools have enough books, there’s not enough for both).

We have billionaires paying politicians to ensure that the government buys trillions in armaments at list price, and using the words “war profiteer” never passes their lips.

The corruption is across the board.
• Gun companies pay politicians to ensure that everyone can buy guns.
• Drug companies pay politicians to ensure that the government pays list price for drugs and that consumers are banned from buying these same drugs from lower priced sellers abroad.
• Coal companies pay politicians to build coal powered power plants.
• Oil companies pay politicians to build pipelines to their oil refineries.
• Huge farmers pay politicians for farm subsidies.
• Banks pay politicians to remove regulations.
• And the list just goes on and on.

The issue is that politicians are able legally to be influenced by money. And while this happens they will always be corrupt.

On the surface different parties blame each other for the corruption, but all the pigs are feeding at exactly the same trough.

In some places in the world it’s illegal for politicians to accept money for influence (it’s considered a bribe), this doesn’t stop it happening totally, but it does send some to prison.

The issue is that whenever I hear a politician say that they want to get money out of politics, I still don’t trust them. I know they have an angle.

Have we reached the point where no politician can ever be trusted again?

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Insurance is socialism

The concept of insurance is very simple, have a large group of people pool their investment in protecting against a risk, in the knowledge that the costs incurred when a risk turns into an event ,while great, will be manageable since the chance of many people being effected by similar events in low enough.

Everyone pays in enough to cover the costs of these who suffer an “event”.

Insurance works best when the group of people involved is very large. If everyone is involved then it works best of all. Insurance is about playing the odds, everyone joins in and all are protected. It’s the most social of all systems possible.

That’s how life insurance works, that’s how car insurance works, it is how property insurance works and yes, and it’s how health insurance works.
There is absolutely no socialist concept that is more socialist than insurance. In fact the most left socialist countries in the world today are less socialist than insurance. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were not as socialist as insurance (but they were naïve enough to think they were of course).

And in the same way that democracy is a flawed process of government, just less flawed than every other choice, so it is with insurance. No one likes paying insurance, but of all the possible choices, it’s the least flawed model.

And the issue really comes down to our ability to deal with a bad situation. If your spouse dies, or you’re sick, or you have a car crash or your house burns down, then you are at that moment in the least effective position to deal with the issue. Insurance is partly about mitigating a risk and a lot about helping those who are not in a position to help themselves.

No one likes paying for insurance, but no one has ever found a more effective model.

Whenever in history there has been insurance society has thrived (greeks, rome etc), and whenever there has not been insurance society has floundered (dark ages). It’s that simple, when people work together for the common good, everyone wins.
I’m sick of crybabies wailing about having to pay for other peoples insurance. If people are left homeless, sick, bereft of the ability to be a valuable part of society, then everyone loses.

But the other side of insurance is fraud and greed. The only way insurance works for everyone is if the costs are controlled as carefully as possible. Greedy bastards living on the backs of insurance, gouging prices and getting kickbacks from suppliers, and lying about services destroys society just as easily as having no insurance.

Simple rules for a good society:
1- Everyone pays for insurance.
2- If you make a fraudulent claim or you cheat on the costs the punishment must be draconian. I’m talking hung by your nut sack draconian.

Insurance is not nice, it’s just an essential part of how our society runs.

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Verbal diarrhea has a new analogy

Thinking is a complex activity, often when you think through an idea, your state to yourself inside your head a point of view, which you can quickly realize is wrong, and so you discount and keep working through all the rest of the possible ideas. This is how each of us considers complex issues and decides on a course of action that is reasonable and we then open our mouths and share the idea with others.
Sometimes even then we realize on reflection of other people’s responses, that the thing that we have said was wrong, and we take a moment to consider a reasonable response. In this way through a mix of individual thoughts and shared ideas we generally can come up with a position on pretty much anything.

Of course there are some people who just cannot ever let an idea stay in their head, or when it comes out and is clearly inappropriate, don’t have the common sense to say so, apologize and take a more reasonable position.

It seems that right now many of the people hoping to be president of the USA have no idea how to either keep stupid thoughts inside their head or when they have popped out, how to say “sorry, that was a silly thing to say, let me try that again”.

The most amazing “postulater” of half chewed misinformed and ignorant statements is quite clearly Donald Trump.

In just a few short weeks he’s accused all Mexican illegal immigrants of being drug dealing, murdering rapists and he’s publically stated that one of the leading elder statesmen of the US government was not a hero because he was shot down and captured while performing a mission during a war.

Everyone at one time or another has said something stupid, it happens, but no one can be that arrogant to think that when they have said something really inane that it’s okay to stand behind the statement, just because it came out of their own mouth.

There are clearly problems with illegal immigration in the US, but the issue is not just the migrants themselves, it’s much bigger than that. Economics drives migration, farmers who use undocumented labor should be imprisoned. Those who help traffic migrants illegally should be imprisoned. There are tough and reasonable actions that must be taken to provide a framework for legal migration for all levels of workers. But it is not by claiming that all immigrants from a specific country or region are immoral at every level.

John McCain is not everyone’s ideal senator. He’s vacillated between being a free thinking “maverick” and a right wing party mouthpiece, but one thing absolutely everyone can agree to, is that he was and is incredibly brave and a hero of the wars he fought in. He took amazing risks to perform his duty, was terribly injured and while in captivity under extreme duress did not tell the enemy what they wanted to hear. And he has spent most of his life serving his country. In the hierarchy of heroes he’s pretty much up there with the best.

Donald Trump should be ashamed of his words, that’s a natural response when you have verbal diarrhea. But instead the “donald” seems to believe that his shit stinks of roses. I really think his arrogance is boundless. If there was ever a need to use tar and feathers and carry someone out of town on a rail in humiliation, it’s now and it’s Trump. Maybe they can turn the process into a reality TV show.

I personally will be telling people they are “pulling a trump”, when they say something really ignorant and insulting and then stand by it.

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Why does anyone care about anyone else’s life choices or nature?

It makes me really angry when anyone decides that the way they are is the only way that is acceptable. Every single person is unique at a genetic level, we all contain a mix of genetic material supplied by each of our parents, with an element of random mutation in our genetic code created by errors along the way and environmental conditions throughout gestation and the whole of our lives. Add to this the huge impact on microorganisms that permeate our bodies and it’s clear that each and every person is as close to a unique ecosystem as it’s possible to imagine.

Everyone is different, and some of the differences are blatant such as skin color, sexual organs, size or weight. Others are harder to see such as the exact location and size of our internal organs, blood type, relative size and interconnectedness of our brains sub-components.
Some people are left handed, some have a predisposition for analytical thinking, some have the innate skills required to perform sports or create art.

Some people find pleasure in the opposite sex, while some prefer those of the same sex, and some are somewhere in between or to the sides of any scale your can create.

What is clear is that absolutely no two people in existence are exactly the same.

Any differences between any people are just that, differences between two people.

Anyone who believes that their perception of normal based on any criteria that they choose is more important than anyone else’s, is a fool.

We are all absolutely different, and it’s this difference that provides the possibility of the continuation of the human species.
Race is a made up concept that looks at a small number of criteria to allow fools to feel superior.

Sexual orientation is about as irrelevant a topic as it’s possible to conceive. You may as well want to consider toe length or thickness of armpit hair.

Who cares if two women want to love each other, or two men. While the outcome is not likely to me more children, it is very likely to be happy, content and valuable people supporting each other and contributing to the overall health and happiness of the human race, in exactly the same way as a man and a woman loving each other do.

It’s shocking to realize just how many forms of discrimination still exist! race, religion, color, sexual preference, fat people, skinny people, disabled people, etc. There is a place in the world where each and every one of us will be discriminated upon based on stupid and irrelevant criteria. Some of these discrimination’s are against the things we are genetically and some against the things we have chosen to be. The reasons are irrelevant. Everyone who discriminates is a fool, and is actively hurting the whole human race.

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The Logical And Ethical Limits To Any Belief

A huge number of people take great comfort in the ideas of religion. These ideas help them deal with the death of love ones, illness and many other uncomfortable aspects of life. The power of being able to share a bond with others through cultural and emotional experiences that don’t directly require conscious consideration of the material world is helpful for the mind. And many people learn a lot of ethical lessons through their religious organizations often through the telling and analysis of ancient stories.

Many people band together under the umbrella of their shared cultural grouping / religious organization to do good things to help those with less or in need.

But there are very clear limits that need to be observed.

When any religion teaches that it’s absolutely right and every other way is wrong the line has been crossed. And every single religion teaches this.

No religion or group should be exempt from the law, including paying taxes.

No religion has the right to “force” their views on anyone, ever!

Religions lost their right to be the arbiters of ethics the first time a priest abused a child and was not punished. The first time a Hasidic Jew stoned a car on a Saturday. The first time a Muslim denied the holocaust and was not punished. The first time a TV evangelist collected money for a new swimming pool for his house or car. The first time the inquisition used pain as tool. The first time a religious zealot was not held to account.

That horse bolted out of the stable thousands of years ago and there is absolutely no way back. Religion can only be decent with humility and with no ability to impose its ideas, ever!

If anyone wants to be part of a religious group they are free to do so, of course, but we all have an absolute responsibility to ensure that every religion and every religious person is peaceful and keeps their ideas inside their own group.

If your religion teaches that people who don’t follow your rules will be punished in the next life, leave that punishment to the next life. If you don’t like how people act, then don’t let them join your religion! That is the absolute extent of any religious groups power.

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We are the Police

I’m very thankful for the jobs that the emergency services perform. The police especially have an incredibly difficult role to play in society. They walk a very important and delicate balancing act. And they do it incredibly well, “nearly” all the time.

The city I call home (New York City) has an amazing police force of professionals who keep this city safe and moving and generally do it with a smile and swagger.

Every now and again one of their number is accused of acting poorly or gets in trouble in any number of ways, and every other member of the police force is there for them, giving them 100% unquestionable support. That is the level of brotherhood and loyalty that gets people to want to do a very tough job. I don’t for one second resent this behavior, and in fact support it 100%.

Is it right that every policeman gets behind a comrade in trouble? It’s not just right it’s critical. Without this why would anyone want to stay in a tough, often poorly paid job.

How do you police those who police is always going to be a complex issue! Whoever polices the police must in turn be policed and those people must in turn be policed, and you can end up with a situation that is impossible, where an infinite number of people must work for policing organizations. So instead we use a system of having a specific department who police the police from within the police, and it “generally” works well, actually it’s the best of all possible tried and considered options. But that does not make it perfect.

Clearly the police force does not want rouge elements who do bad things, but when they do happen, externally is should be expected that they offer total support for every single officer, while inside their ranks fixing the issue. I can imagine that in times past this would have included broken limbs, but clearly that is not a modern acceptable response.

Maybe what exists is not always enough, but as soon as you allow any other group to influence the way this works, what can happen can be much worse.

The crazy asshole who shot two officers in their car this week and then killed himself was clearly an evil nutcase. I cannot imagine what made this lunatic act the way he did, and absolutely no good can come of it.

The poor men who were killed and their families have suffered a terrible act, but being part of the brotherhood of police, those who died will be honored and those who survived will always have support. There can be no exceptions to the support officers give each other, its total and an incredibly admirable thing.

What I do know is that I have no idea what the right long-term answer should be, and I’m not sure anyone else does either. But I do know that the police must be safe and that anyone who dies either at the hands of the police or at the hands of anyone else should be investigated openly and fairly.

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Thought for the day

Each cell in the human body contains a strand of DNA that contains about three billion pairs of molecules organized into forty six chromosomes. Each molecule is around 0.000000002 meters in length. All this is bundled up in a twisted corkscrew of two strands entwining each other. If you could stretch out those two strands they would reach about two meters in length.

When you consider that there are about 10000000000000 cells in the human body, the length of these end to end would be about the same as the distance between the Earth and the sun, SEVENTY TIMES.

That’s a lot of information, and frankly an unimaginable distance.

There are some people who I could imagine testing this theory on experimentally…..

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