How is it the US Government doesn’t understand the basics of economics?

If I need to buy a lawn mower and I go to a lawn mower manufacturer, I can buy one. It’s simple they provide a price list, I choose the one I want and I can buy it.

Now if I need to buy 1000 lawn mowers and I go to that same lawn mower manufacturer I can negotiate a much better price based on the additional volume. And if I go to several lawn mower manufacturers and get them to provide their best offers I can play them off against each other, ending up with the best possible deal.

It’s not that difficult there is huge negotiating power when you are a big purchaser.

Things change when you work with government bodies. Vendors to capture business play all sorts of games, and where possible they try and maximize the price. But the thing that amazes me is that government falls for it!

When a candidate takes funds to promote himself in an election, he or she is expected to provide “favors” in return. This means that businesses get to influence both elections and policy directly and proportionally to the amount of money they spend. More money equals more influence.

This turns politicians at all levels into bought and paid-for stooges.

Other democratic countries around the world have recognized this issue and to differing levels made it illegal for money to be paid to political candidates or their supporting organizations in exchange for influence.

Other countries have mandated that every citizen must vote. They can chose to mark the “none of the above” box of the ballot, but they have to show up and be counted.

In the US more time and effort is spent trying to stop the “wrong” people from voting or manipulating constituency boundaries to give specific parties an unfair advantage than anywhere else in the world. And the amount of money pushed to candidates in elections is so extream as to completely remove the governments ability to fairly negotiate contracts.

All of this adds up to a system that just doesn’t get the most efficient or effective government.

Lets take healthcare, the bits of healthcare that the government does actually cover. These are Medicare and Medicaid, which provide care for those with virtually nothing and those who have reached retirement age. Everyone is so concerned that these programs are going to become unviable and so are looking at creative ways to lower the costs.

But they are missing the most basic ways of reducing costs. Stop paying providers so much for the services they offer.

In the US drugs are not centrally purchased by the government, but are instead bought on a case-by-case basis. This ensures that the US government is paying the highest possible price. And its been made illegal to buy drugs outside of the US, effectively creating a captive market.

Also services are not charged on a results based basis, but on a time and materials basis. This means that if an old lady goes to the doctor complaining of a headache, the doctor is incentivized to give her a whole range of expensive tests rather than as aspirin.

If the doctor doesn’t provide the most expensive and complete set of tests and misses something then lawsuits would likely follow.

Medicine is an art and a science, and we need practitioners that use there best judgment to maximize the quality of life, not maximize their bank account and minimize their litigation insurance.

So here’s the answer. Use the buying power of the US government and its 300,000,000 customer-owners to deliver the lowest prices for every drug and service that is paid anywhere in the world. And balance this by removing the most egregious litigation threats. And lets have a pay for results based system that rewards the most efficient use of drugs and services.

Costs would go down, quality would go up, and the books would be balanced.

Now that’s just healthcare!

The same goes for education, transport, power, telecoms, and every other basic service that every level of government provides.

Some would call this socialism, and get wild about how terrible socialists are. But this is not socialism, this is economics!

Every efficient business uses these same techniques.

Lets remove money from politics and use the power and the scale of the US to get the benefits we deserve.

This is fiscal conservatism at work.


The Limits of National Pride

Living in America, you get to see many very overt shows of national pride. Many buildings and businesses fly the stars and stripes, people at national events take off their hats, place their hands over their hearts and listen or sing along to the National Anthem and political rallies resonate with the sound of the audience chanting the letters U, S, A.

So all in all it’s clear that America is a very patriotic nation, that truly believes in the exceptional nature of itself, and frankly this feeling is honest and often well deserved.

National pride also extends to its men and women who serve in the armed forces. The four arms of the forces (Army, Navy, Airforce and Marines) are all well respected, with civilians regularly showing their respect to vets with comments such as “Thank you for your service”.

There have been times when politics has muddied the waters a little, with veterans returning from wars in Asia not always given the warm and supportive welcome home they deserved. And honor guards to honor the returning dead from more recent wars were at times been shrouded in some levels of secrecy. But these acts driven by politicians and those who were trying to make a political point at the expense of these returning heroes were eventually shown for the mistake they were, and were apologized for and (hopefully) learnt from.

And recently we had the Olympics, where the whole of the United States got behind the US team. The papers were full of descriptions of every performance. Whole swathes of TV broadcasting was turned over to the games. In fact the biggest controversy was that not enough games were being shown, people wanted more!

So for a country that takes every opportunity to display its National Pride, how was it that the Paralympics were absolutely and totally ignored!

Two weeks after the end of the London Olympics the worlds para-athletes gathered in the same location for the world Paralympics. And the United States sent a large team. There was a huge opening ceremony, followed by weeks of incredible sport, followed by most of the world and a very impressive closing ceremony (by all accounts). And in American the coverage was incredible, every channel offer equal time. No channels were differnt, every channel on TV, Radio and in print offered exactly the same coverage. And the coverage from each and every station, channel, publication and website in the United States of America was exactly ZERO.

Yes that’s right, the country which spends so much time talking about its exceptionalism and patriotism, didn’t think it was interesting or important to support its citizens who were disabled.

I just don’t have the words to express how shocking I find this.

Jessica Long , USA Gold Medal Winner

One of the presidential candidates this cycle was the head of an Olympic organization for a winter games in the US, and even he hasn’t been talking about this lack of support for these amazingly talented sports stars.

America won nearly 100 medals in the 2012 London Paralypmics.

31 Gold medals, 29 Silver medals and 38 bronze medals

The USA Paralympic team at London 2012

233 United States of America athletes completed in total.

When they arrive home, will there be any public recognition of their amazing success?

I hope so!



How evolved are we?

Is it actually possible for someone who has read a simple description of evolution supported by experimental evidence or modeled the idea on paper or a computer to seriously question the concept?

And why would someone who has not read a simple description of evolution and has not bothered to review the supporting evidence or modeled the idea think that they have enough information to make a valuable contribution to the discussion?

There in nothing in the concept of evolution that explicitly negates the idea of a supernatural influence on the universe, even though there is nothing in the concept that requires a supernatural influence.

But there is a lot that helps explain the natural world we see, and helps expand the knowledgebase and allow many fields of technology and areas of science to progress.

Why would anyone want a generation to grow up without the skills to work in these fields for the betterment of humanity?

Not teaching evolution is not just irrational, it is frankly abusing children, reducing their ability to understand the world and work in some of the most exciting fields that will appear in their lifetimes.

The Catholic Church (which has been one of the most conservative institutions over many centuries with respect to science) accepts the concept of evolution (even though they have no formal position on how species evolved). Have a look at

Religion and Science while clearly very different should not fight over proven knowledge. Those who seek knowledge are partners.

Religion cannot decide to use ignorance as a virtue. It is not virtuous; it is plain stupidity leading to fear of the unknown.

People who play with words to try and disprove a concept are just wrong. The word “theory”, means “a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena”.

If you don’t agree with a theory then show another set of test results that prove its inaccuracy. If you don’t agree with the theory of gravity then show some results of some test you have performed that explain why what we see is what we see.

If you don’t like the theory of evolution then show the results of some test that explain why what we see is the way it is. It is not enough to come up with a fable that makes you feel better if you don’t think about it too much. The evolutionary process has helped people make many advancements in medicine and biology and can be proven in the laboratory. When you think about it, it makes absolute sense.

A slow moving rabbit is much more likely to be eaten by a predator, so the chance of a fast moving rabbit escaping and mating is much higher. This is natural selection, it works and the results we see are exactly what we would expect to see.

We now know how genes and DNA work (at least at a simplistic level) and we can see the vast array of permutations that can be created. It makes sense that over generations desirable attributes are more likely to be successful and will lead to more offspring with those attributes and how over time the best match for a species and its environment will be most successful.

Denying what we can see and explain is a trick from the middle ages.

Great philosophers, great religious thinkers, great scientists, all are willing to have their ideas tested by others, and when they are shown to be wrong, are happy to learn and rethink their ideas.

There was a time when the Muslim world contained the greatest thinkers in the world. There are still pockets of great knowledge there, but it’s clear that when fundamentalists take control of a religion and choose to dominate their people through the propagation of ignorance, no good will ever come.

This should be a lesson to the western world. We cannot allow fundamentalist religious bigots (or any other bigots) to take control, as it will lead to terrible things.



Saving the world one plastic bag at a time – PLEASE!!!!

I’m angry at the blatant hypocrisy of the anti plastic bag brigade. We are lead to believe that by charging us for a plastic bag at the supermarket the world is being saved from a millennia of landfills, and it of course is a total lie.

When we go to the supermarket apples are packed in polystyrene (Styrofoam to some) and then covered in cellophane (clear plastic) and then labeled. Toothpaste comes in a plastic tube, and is covered by a cardboard box. Cheese is covered in plastic, nappies (Diapers) come in a mix of plastic, paper and cardboard. In fact the amount of packaging we end up taking home from a trip to the local supermarket often exceeds the mass of the items we want to buy.

Yet the plastic bag is held up at the most vile of all items! That must be eliminated at all costs. Why, well the plastic bag is the only packaging that actually has a further use after the trip home. I use these bags to store garbage, and if the supermarket no longer provides them, then like you I am forced to purchase a roll of bin liners.

The only reason why the poor plastic bag has been singled out at the only packaging that must be removed from the ecosystem of shopping is that it is the only packing item that can be eliminated and allow the supermarket to both reduce their costs and increase their revenue.

We are being scammed! Lets see the supermarkets face regulations that demand they take back all packaging that that push on the consumer. All of a sudden I suspect they will find numerous ways to reduce the crap they push.

And lets take in one step further, make it the responsibility of the manufactures to take back their packaging from the supermarkets.

Lets face it we can buy apples from a bin and not require any packaging, we do it from farmers markets, and the world keeps turning, so we can do it from the supermarket.

If the world needs an end to packaging, lets not start with the useful plastic bag, but instead everything that goes inside it.


The beginning of civilization, society and religion.

A couple of decades ago I had the pleasure and honor of being involved with the building of a model that proved how Stonehenge worked. In case you don’t know, Stonehenge is a very ancient stone circle in the south west of England. For a pretty ancient stone circle it’s in quite good condition.

The basic idea of Stonehenge (based on my understanding) was to help compute the position of the earth against the stars, planets, our moon and the sun, and from this information help early farmers to work out exactly when the best times would be plant crops and harvest them.

That might sound rather boring, but at a time when people didn’t know about the movement of the moon around the earth and the earth around the sun, this was a fantastically important set of information to know.

You want your crops to be able to absorb the maximum amount of sunlight so that they grow as healthily as possible. If you plant too early or too late, the crops won’t do well, and if you harvest either too early or too late the crops won’t last as long. It’s really important and really hard to calculate the optimum timing.

The position of the stones in the circle actually allow for complex calculations to be made that deal with the fact that the earth wobbles on its axis over a multi-decade cycle. These stones were the culmination of hundreds of years of observation, many generations of early scientists, keeping careful records.

If you ever go to see Stonehenge or any of the myriad of other stone circles around Europe, you will notice that many of the stones have notches on the sides near the top. This talks to the extensive time they were used for. Because the star field we see from earth does change over the decades, and so the exact position of the stars as measured on the marks on the stones deals with this change. It’s small but really significant.

If you calculate the position of the star fields as they would have been thousands of years ago, you can calculate the exact time that the stone circle was originally erected and from the notches of the side exactly how long there were used for.

These calculations match up with the carbon dating results gathered from remains found under the circle. So are as close to perfect proof for the reasons for the stone circles as has ever been found.

If you accept this idea, then the following makes sense.

Imagine for a second how life was ten thousand or more years ago. The (relatively) few people who roamed the earth were nomadic hunters, who would forage the land for food. Life was hard and lifespans were short. Some families fed up with this life, tried to corral animals and farm crops. Some of these people were more successful than others. And through experience the most successful ones were able to tell their children how to farm and over the millennia these families started to live longer and grow more numerous. With each generation knowledge on how to farm was passed down. And it was noticed by some that the best times to plant crops were when the sun rose over a particular branch of a tree, and the best time to harvest was when the moon fell over another branch of another tree. It wasn’t a perfect system, but the small difference this knowledge made year after year, meant that these families become healthier, longer lived and grew larger.

Over time they noticed that the cycle of the earth was more complex and so they started to record (over years) more and more cyclic details, by measuring the positions of the stars, planets, the moon and the sun. And the more accurate they could calculate the seasons the better the crops would become.

Of course this meant that some people were spending all of their time doing these calculations, and not working the fields or looking after animals. This meant that they needed a series of rules about who would do what, so that as a team (or tribe) they could all achieve.

Other tribes would want this knowledge, so trade was needed to allow them to get what they needed without having to replicate the complex calculations. And fortifications and security was needed to ensure that the other tribes didn’t just come and take it by force.

So the basics of society as we know it today was formed with social roles, trade laws, police and armies, barter, education and knowledge sharing.

As the calculations being performed became more complex and the devices used grew from tree limbs, to wooden circles to eventually stone circles. The operators of these early computers took on priest-like importance to the people. And the payment to these priests became seen as gifts to the gods.

You can imagine how god-like the information being shared must have seen to the people of the time. Generation after generation these complex procedures were passed down on how to calculate the seasons. And even the operators of these stone computers would have seen this knowledge as divine.

Over thousands of years, complex mythologies were formed, where elements of the sky and earth were considered powerful as they imparted such complex and critical knowledge.

So while we look today at these ancient stone circles and think of the religious significance they had to the people who lived at that time what we are really seeing is science and society being formed.

People built an amazing amount of knowledge and applied it to better society.

Is any religion today really that different?



European Vacation: A National Lampoon?

What’s with Europeans (even many former Europeans), taking the month of August off?  The entire month?!!!  How is this possible in the 24x7x365 global economy?

Maybe they’ve set up a scenario in which a “backup” employee covers their ongoing projects and keeps work moving – ummmmm, no.  No backup, no manager filling in, no efficient and pleasant intern… nothing.  Just an automated message with something about enjoying being “on holiday” and a desire to follow-up sometime in September (I’m assuming 2012).

“The Wedding” drove an extra 4 Million visitors and £2 Billion in tourism revenue

European economies in the toilet, sloth-like growth compared to China, massive debt and/or trade deficits everywhere, moving toward becoming tourism-based economies, etc.  A coincidence that these things are happening where entire countries take the month off?  Doesn’t seem like it.

But is there another side to this?  Of course there is.  We deserve real time off and if we want it during the brutally hot month of August, we should get it.  And what if a great euro-friend gets an awesome place for a month in an awesome European “holiday” spot AND invites you to come stay for a week?  You do it, that’s what!  And when you do, you notice how relaxed and happy they all are compared to Americans who are afraid to use all of 2 weeks vacation all year.

The wines and wineries of Provence, France are the world’s best

So, am I angry and puzzled about Europeans taking August off or just jealous and angry because I’ve never taken more than a week off at a time… ever?  What do you think? (61)


Does Your Hiring Criteria Include Diapers and Landmines

Hiring philosophies run the gamut from “We always hire grads from these Top 5 schools and train them to be like us” to “We need people that are fully trained and already had a similar job and therefore know the job” and everything in between.

Do you want an “untouchable” employee?

One hiring philosophy that I find interesting comes from The Untouchables’ Malone who told Eliot Ness, “If you’re afraid of getting a rotten apple, don’t go to the barrel. Get it off the tree.”

So, what characteristics are you really looking for when your firm needs to hire?  Of course they need to be smart enough to handle the role but beyond that, what is most valued?  Is it where they went to school or where they most recently worked?  Is it their current skill set/s or their aptitude to learn?

I would think desire and dedication in the form of being willing to work harder and longer than others would be high on the list.  Also, candidates that will listen to their bosses and follow instructions would be very high on my list.  Finally, I believe you want people that can handle surprises and adapt on the fly.   If you agree with me on these points, then I have 2 pools of candidates that may have flown under your radar:  Military Veterans and Retail Veterans (especially those who’ve worked seasonal retail for 2 or more seasons).

You can work them slide sled dogs and they won’t complain (they’re thrilled to actually get a weekend off and work less than an 11 hour day).  They’re clearly not motivated by getting rich quick (or they never would have worked in retail or the military in the first place), and I’d wager they’ll be more thankful and loyal to your firm.

Few things nastier than a steaming one of these…

They’ve already learned to deal with surprises on the job and to deal with very irrational, rigid and unpleasant people; they also can handle landmine-type obstacles and traps (the retail equivalent of which would be dealing with a discarded “loaded” diaper I guess), because they’ve done it before.  Frankly, anyone who can adeptly handle a life-or-death situation or an angry housewife with screaming kids is a plus for my team.

You’ll notice I didn’t mention what school the candidates went to or where exactly they worked before – that’s because I don’t think it is as important as the characteristics I did mention.  I guess I could use the school as a tie-breaker for two otherwise equal prospects but I would want to know what they did for their summer and Christmas break jobs… And if it was ROTC or toy retail (with loaded diaper parking lot patrol), they’d get the edge. (29)


Pennsylvania Reboot?

The Statue Was A Major Tourist Draw

With all the unpleasantness in State College, PA related to the details of the crimes and cover-up, trials, the firing, the statue downing, sanctions, appeals of sanctions (which could actually trigger the narrowly avoided college football “death penalty”), etc., it is easy overlook the potential economic impact of everything on the Pennsylvania economy.  Large numbers of visitors have flocked to central PA for college football in the Fall for generations and they often stay longer than just Saturday night and also return to PA to experience other fun attractions and activities.  They tell friends and before you know it, Pennsylvania tourism is a model that other states try to emulate.

But what about now?  What can draw visitors to PA each month in the post-Paterno era?  Locals are worried and angry but not short on ideas.  I’ve consulted experts in marketing, local tourism and Pennsylvania (as well as potential political candidates and other locals), and here is a sampling of their plans:

-Groundhog Saturdays in Punxatawney (Can anyone really get enough Phil?)

-“Pennsylvania Steagles” football games each weekend featuring surviving members of the original, legendary NFL Steagles and their children (and grandchildren)

Noxen, PA Rattlesnake Roundups* Each Week (*”Rattlesnake Roundup Now Safer ’cause They’re Tired!”)

Mauch Chunk, PA Bought Some Bones and Became Jim Thorpe, PA

-The town of Mauch Chunk/Jim Thorpe, PA will now have a weekly renaming ceremony and parade with the remains of the famous athlete serving as Grand Marshall on odd-numbered weekends. “We’d like to get JoePa up there with Big Jim at some point; statue or bones is cool with us.” said one football loving PA local.

Lebanon Bologna Drops at 11:59pm each Fri/Sat in addition to their legendary New Year’s Eve Bologna Drop.  The Lebanon Bologna companies already sponsor a Bologna Fest and can easily alternate in sponsoring a weekly “Bologna & Eggs Breakfast Social!” the next morning serving the previous night’s projectile (note: a 200+ pounder has been dropped in recent years).  This new weekly charity event is a natural for big time PA college football fans, because, who is more “full of bologna” they are.  Sure, it is a letdown from their catered tailgates with lobster, pierogies with gold flakes and filet mignon, but how better to reintegrate with the regular and average folk of Pennsylvania, than to share their peasant food and traditions?

Politician, Power Lawyer and Super-Nerd Dick Thornburgh

-Dick Thornburgh look-a-like contests in the state capitol of Harrisburg to both honor the former governor and US Attorney General but also to give some glory to Pennsylvania’s nerds and other bespectacled locals and visitors.

So, keep an eye out for these and other and great new PA promotions, let us know your ideas, and remember, “You’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania!” (35)


Picking and Choosing Ethics

When I was a child at school, we were forced to take a class in religious education, where we studied the world’s major religions, and learnt how to use a condom. Yep it may seem like a strange combination, but as it was the local bucked toothed stuttering church of England middle aged priest who was asked to teach the kids sex education, so it was added to the RE class.

What I came away from my years of religious education classes was a firm understanding that all religions are mutually exclusive, and as such have a flaw so deep as to prove their worthlessness as truth.

But in the process I did learn quite a lot about four of five of the worlds most followed religions, and noticed that each one seemed to have something valuable to add.

One of the most fascinating concepts of the major religions to me has always been the Sikh idea of the saint-soldier, particularly the part about defending everyone’s rights irrespective of their religion, color, creed, sex or caste.

It’s incredible and wonderful (to me) that these hairy, turbaned people (who look just like Muslims to the average global citizen), have such a beautiful forward-looking ideal. If there was one idea in the world today that typifies the highest hope of the modern age, it is this.

And to think that it’s been central to the Sikh culture for five hundred years.

There is a tremendous amount to learn. (73)