August 21, 2005

Interpretation

The other day there was a lady I'd just met and wanted to talk to again before she left. Unfortunately, I was deep in conversation with someone else as she was leaving. I didn't stop my conversation so I didn't get a chance to talk with her. Was I..

A. Too polite, I should have ended the other conversation.
B. denying fate, That was my chance and I missed it.
C. saved by fate, Fate and the other conversation stepped in and saved me a lot of misery.
D. honest with myself, If it was really that important to talk to her, I would have ended the other conversation

Answers or more option are both welcome.

March 02, 2005

Not Literally

Why I don't take the Bible literally

The reasons I don't read the Bible literally leads from two factors, freedom of choice and human nature (much of which is captured by the story of Adam and Eve in the garden). We have been given freedom of choice that allows us to choose to believe, to follow God's calling, etc. In the same way, humanity choose which words of God (and Jesus) to include in the stories they told (as the Bible was first an oral tradition), later scribes and listeners choose what to include in the books they wrote, and later individuals choose what book to include in the Bible (as happened in early Christianity). If I had the direct words of God, I would believe them literally, but the bible isn't that. Instead it is the words of God interpreted by generations of humanity. Despite this, I'm an optimist and believe those interpreters did their best and retained most of the important parts. However, it does mean I think the Bible includes human myth and prejudice as well as truth.

February 28, 2005

Looking for God

Thoughts on why the Bible alone isn't enough

God created everything in this universe we live. If I want to understand an artist, I look at all of their creations not just one painting. In the same way my understanding of God will be very incomplete if I only look at one book, the Bible.

Top Ten Listings in the Yellow Pages

  1. Restaurants (Fast Food, Other & Non Specific)
  2. Physician & Surgeons (Specialist & Non Specific)
  3. Automobile Parts-New & Used
  4. Automobile Repairing & Service
  5. Pizza
  6. Attorneys/Lawyers
  7. Automobile Dealers-New & Used
  8. Dentists
  9. Hospitals
  10. Beauty Salons

Source: Top 300 Yellow Page Listings


Dentists? What are they doing on the list? Do they have something they're not telling us?

February 27, 2005

Neocons to Poodles in Five Blogs

A random romp across the blogosphere.

In a post at Decision '08, Mark curses "the day that lunatic George Bush and his neocon cabal took over the reins of this country in a coup d'etat!" A coup d'etat is just what Tim at The Black Kettle fears he has been the victim of, except it is of the judicial type. A more judicial type of treatment is what duckdaotsu argues soldiers like Jason, an Marine deserter, were looking for at basic training. Basic training on customer service would have helped a UPS driver that Tom at No Secret Here needed to deliver a package. A package is exactly what Logan is, according to Hayden at Oy with the Poodles.


Entry Type: Carnival of Random Blogs

February 26, 2005

That Darn Devil

Should Satan be a bigger part of mainstream Christian beliefs?

The Devil should remain a marginal part of Christian doctrine for two reasons. First, the most difficult temptation is very personal. If the Devil visited me tonight, I would not have a problem saying no to him, whatever he said. It is when the temptations come from my own mind (or my friends') that it is hard to say no. Second, people choose to do evil not the devil. Blaming the devil for evil or temptation misses the point and risks abdicating our individual responsiblity for choosing it.


Errata: This post was prompted by a conversation with a Seventh Day Adventist.

February 25, 2005

What should you expect?

Comments on what you, as a reader, can expect from this blog.

Main Topics

I'm currently suffering for a glut of posting possiblities. However, I plan to focus on two types of posts:

  • Religious Snippets – Short comments on religious ideas
  • Lightly and randomly – I make "carnivals" of blog links, list interesting facts and statistics, and any examples of diversity and oddness I run accross.

Style and Perspective

Roughly speaking, I'm an optimistic modernate. My writing style is heavily influenced by my beliefs in the virtues of perspective, tact and civil discussion and debate. I invite your comments on any posts and welcome discussion and debate. I sometimes digress and indicate my digressions with smaller text like this so may read them or skip them as you prefer.

Slowly adapting experience

As my thought on the opening page shows, I believe the future holds surprises and, as a result, this blog is certain to change. As I develop my blogging skills and interact with readers, I’ll adapt the site to my audience and to better meet my reasons for blogging.

Good debate

Personally I can never get enough good debate. This site isn't there yet, but that's where I'm aiming.

Be more intelligent, purchase cheaper drugs, and have enhanced sexual performance

Sorry, scratch that last one out. It seems I accidentally copied the subject line from one of my junk emails. :-)

Overall, I hope you learn a little, think a little, and smile a little while reading my blog.


Note: These expections will updated from time to time.


Someday, I’ll ask the following. Please ignore for now.

If you’re a regular reader, please comment on your description of what readers can expect.

February 23, 2005

Recent Signs of...

Frivilous Law Enforcement

Some individuals in states with legalized gambling are being threatened with fines and jail time for playing poker in bars. This isn't big stakes poker but poker with no money involved.


Farce Hidden in Serious Writing

It is not everyday you read about child abuse, Sesame Street monsters, and complaints that there isn't enough people to call monsters in the world in a serious article.


Clever Procrastination Tools

Ever wanted to make a wall-sized version of your favorite picture? Now you can.


Useful Sites for Useless Facts

Information and statistics about immigration in the United States for the last 100+ years.

February 21, 2005

Current Budget is Future Tax Increase

Press Release of the Franklin Party – For Immediate Release

In 2004, the federal government spent 22% more than it took in. If the government was an average household, it would be spending nearly ten thousand dollars more than it makes. Obviously this is poor money management.


It would be nice if something like strong economic growth would fix the budget for us. Unfortunately, with tax cuts and with spending growing faster than the economy, that fix is impossible.


The current attempt to restraint spending is a good start to reducing the deficit. Strong spending restraint would allow revenue (from economic growth) to grow faster than spending and reduce the deficit. We aren’t holding our breath waiting for this restraint. In the past forty years under the joint leadership of the other two parties, federal government spending has grown four times faster than inflation.


So if those parties can’t restrain spending, how do they plan to balance the budget? They won’t tell you this, but in a few years they will raise taxes. It happened under the watch of Bush Sr. and Clinton after the tax cuts of Reagan and it will happen again.


Some of you are probably thinking that a few years of low taxes and higher taxes someday is a good thing. It would be if there wasn’t a huge string attached. This huge string is years of deficits until that future tax increase balances the budget. These deficits will significantly increase the debt and require additional government spending to service that debt. The interest payment on that debt will increase government spending and require tax increases larger than the original tax cut to balance the budget.


Sources: CBO, Census, InflationData.com


Press Office: email


Entry Type: Franklin Party

New Party

The rather small grassroot political party has been renamed the Franklin party. It will now be providing press releases on current issues and events. These press releases will, of course, be written on the subtle line of between seriousness and humor. Despite this, any facts and figures will accurate and based on widely available statistics.


A list of similar parties is available at the D.C. political report. The American Beer Drinker's party and the Feline party are especially recommended. I don't plan to go as far as making a web page for my "small" political party but anything is possible.


Entry Type: Franklin Party

February 19, 2005

What happens when we die?

I'm in a long running email conversation on religious topics with a professor I once worked for. This is an excerpt from my answer to the question "What happens when we die?".


All we know for sure is that we have one lifetime on Earth. This is our first gift from God. One of the other gifts I believe he gives us is eternal life*, or something after death. There is nothing you or I can do or believe that will guarantee will we receive this eternal life. We will receive this gift from God only if God decides to give it, it is completely dependent on God. However, there is a chance no one will get it, that humanity was fooled by its hopes for eternal life and this first gift of one lifetime on Earth is all we get.


I invite both your answer to this question or a response to my answer, whichever you prefer.


* I consider eternal life to include heaven, hell, and otherwise. (This note added post-publication.)


Entry Type: Continuing the Conversion - Religion

February 16, 2005

Causal Factors for Abu Ghraib

Analysis of the factors that lowered the barriers against torture at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere

Now that all the reports are out and Abu Ghraib has faded from the news, I wanted to look back at what was learned. Understand this, helps better understanding what should be changed and how well the causes of Abu Ghraib have been addressed.


I am most concerned about the torture by the military that occurred in and around interrogation and incarceration. I find this type of torture the most disturbing because I believe it was the most routine (happening over and over in a location) and the most influenced by the government and military.


Background

The overall impression from media and government reports is torture was not widespread in the military but was a very serious problem that sometimes occurred. The most egregious examples were at Abu Ghraib and all of the factors below occurred there. In addition, there were cases of torture related to interrogration in both military intelligence and the military police.

The factors are loosely grouped by the levels (or groups) at which they occurred, not by who was responsible for them. Some factors appear to be widespread in the military and are indicated with an asterisk.


List of Factors

The following list gives many factors that helped make it easier for individuals at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere to decide to practice torture.


  • Administration – no clear leadership against torture
    • The rights of detainees “enemy combatants” in the war on terror are not firmly established.
    • They changed policy to allow more aggressive interrogation techniques.
    • Current policy allows some captured individuals to be “interrogation” (read tortured) by foreign agencies.
  • DoD – *unclear standards on interrogation
    • There were multiple changes in standards within two years. It was sometimes unclear what standard to follow and how to interpret it.
  • Military intelligence –
    • *Standards of interrogation just short of torture on torture were allowed. With the lack of clarity and training on these standards, a few individuals interpreted the standards to allow behaviors generally considered torture. Some of these individuals later stated their beliefs that their techniques were approved.
    • *There was a lack of separation between military intelligence and police. Military police commonly asked military police to help set favorate conditions for integration. This did not necessary mean torture but at some facilities like Abu Ghraib it clearly did. (This also it asks military police to both manage the prisoners and help interrogate them, two jobs that are in conflict)
  • mid level command –
    • There was a failure to significantly address any of the factors below that were within their control. At least two factors were noted in a November 2003 investigation at Abu Ghraib.
  • low level command (Prison officers up to brigade level) –
    • Failure to address or be a squeakly wheel for the problems of their soldiers.
    • There was poor overall leadership including not establishing, explaining, or enforcing standards for allowable behavior.
  • individual factors –
    • The chain of command at one area in Abu Ghraib was unclear. Military integrator were (partially?) responsible for the guards in the area at Abu Ghraib where nearly all of the abuses occurred.
    • *Many soldiers received little training for their job of working with prisoners.
    • Facilities were not well designed for the job of holding prisoners
    • The number of staff was inadequate for the job.
    • *Soldiers work in a dangerous combat zone guarding individual who may be responsible for injury and death in their unit. They were guarding individuals who may be part of the same group responsible for the ongoing violence against (and deaths in ) their unit.
    • *Individual belief or personal knowledge that the CIA and its employees was practicing torture.
  • general factor –
    • *The possibility that the individual has knowledge that could save many lives.
  • final factor –
    • The choices of each individual to engage or not engage in behavior viewed as torture.It must be remembered that many other soldiers present in situations where most of these factors occurred did not engage in torture.

Sources:

various newpaper articles (I should have bookmarked them.)

Schlesinger Report – general review of DoD abuses during the war on terror

Taguba Report – army investigation into the abuses at Abu Ghraib

NGO summaries about prisoner abuse like this report at the Center for public integrity


Did I miss any?

Since this entry is very long, another entry will discuss what I believe should be changed to reduce and help prevent more torture. Feel free to answer the questions, what you believe should be done, now or on that post.Eventually, I hope to discuss how well those items have been reformed.

February 13, 2005

Brainstorming

I'm in a brainstorming mood so here a couple of crazy/interesting ideas for my blog. BTW I'm happy I'm still here after 18 posts


  • Ask An Expert I ask a question that I think they would find of value if they asked themselves and see what I they answer (or if they do).
  • Other Side Awards I give out awards to individuals who do something serious that is unintentionally ironic or humorous. I can think of two award winners I've found already.
  • I'm doubtful When I find an article that has something that I think is wrong I post it and find evidence to link to it.
  • I'm skeptical A lot like I'm doubtful but more about debating which possibility will happen. When the event actually happens, we see who is right.
  • My political party I whimsically have my own political party (Read its statement of principles). Perhaps it needs to make announcements on important political news and issues.

Please speak up if you like one. I figure I'll pick a couple. It's a shame I don't have blogging time for all of them. Ok, only for some of them :-)


On a side note, these are the "thinking on paper" ideas I'm working on.


  • My best case prediction for the end of oil and how I think we can get there.
  • An essay on legality of abortion (or should abortion be allowed in our society). Father Jake got me started on this one from a post on his blog.
  • General lessons and progress from Abu Ghrab scandal
  • Various longterm ones answering tough philosophical questions that are too long to post on a blog

Errata: I can't believe how warm its been this winter.

February 10, 2005

Bombs in Korea

North Korea has officially announced it has nuclear weapons (not that it wasn’t widely known anyway).


Advice for Pres. Bush

“…You fell victim to one of the classic blunders, the most famous of which is "Never get involved in a land war in Asia", but only slightly less well known is this: "Never go in against a Sicilian, when *death* is on the line." -Vizzini in The Princess Bride


Advice for Pyongyang

“We are not bent on conquest or on threatening others. But we have a nuclear umbrella that can protect others, above all the states to which we are allied or in which we have a great national interest.” -Richard Nixon


The Doomsday clock is at 7 minutes to midnight due to poor progress on nuclear disarmament and proliferation.


Entry Type: Random Facts and Stuff

Birthdays and Coincidences

Number of people necessary for better than even odds that...


At least two individuals share a birthday23
At least three individuals share a birthday 88
At least one individual has your birthday254
At least two individuals have birthdays on same or consecutive days14
At least two individuals have a birthday in the same month5
At least three individuals have a birthday in the same month11
At least one individual has a birthday in the same month as you9

I had heard that it would take 23 people to find matching birthdays and decided to calculate it myself. I even found someone who did a little experiment to test it.


Errata: I wish Excel supported regressive functions. A few years ago I called Microsoft to report a bug and request help and they told me if I wanted a fix for that bug I would have to buy the newest version of Office. Not the best customer service I've ever received.

February 07, 2005

The Snow Man

I was recently introduced to Steven Wallace's poem of The Snow Man at Hoarded Ordinaries. These are my thoughts on the poem:

When we focus on our own discomfort, we only see what the world is doing to me. When the wind blows cold, we see cold on our face. When it is raining, we see wet clothes. However, if we move past our discomfort we become aware of the landscape and much more. Now we can see the beauty around us as an artist or a photographer. Finally, we are reminded that the space around us maybe silent, but it never empty and never still.

What does this poem mean to you?


Errata: I'm don't know how I got from politics and science blog to a poetry entry. I guess there's no planning for the contingency of blogging (and life). Also I have multiple entries today since I write my blog entries offline and decided to post some of the entries I'd amassed.

Everyone Dies of Something

Approximate risk of dying during your lifetime in United States from...


Cause of DeathLifetime OddsDeaths per Year
Heart disease1-in-5700000
Cancer 1-in-7560000
Stroke 1-in-23160000
An accidental injury*1-in-35110000
Influenza and Pneumonia 1-in-5566000
Motor Vehicle Accident 1-in-10044000
Intentional self harm (Suicide)1-in-120 32000
Firearm** 1-in-120 30000
Assault 1-in-22017000
Fall** 1-in-22017000
Choking on own vomit*** 1-in-8800420
Drowning in bath tub1-in-11000 320
Hot tap-water1-in-6500057
Lightning1-in-8400044
Dog attack1-in-15000025
Venomous spiders1-in-7400005


Number of deaths are rounded. The lifetime risk is a back of the envelope calculation of risk of dying in 2002 times a lifespan of 77 years. The only exception is motor vehicle accidents which is multiyear.

*does not include medical mistakes. this risk is between 1-in-15 and 1-in-250 (10k to 250k deaths/year) depending on the source.

**includes suicide, murder, accident, and undetermined cause (suicide is top cause for firearms and accidental is top cause for falls)

**exact description is suffocation by stomach contents


Other interesting facts in the NCHS report (2002 data):

A man is about 6 times more likely to die from a firearm than a women.

The life expectance of blacks is 5.4 years lower than whites. Coincidentally, the life expectancy of men is 5.4 years less than women.

Table six in the NCHS report gives the future life expectance at any age. (I can expect approximately 60 more years.)

For all adult age groups, the death rate for married people is much lower than that for people who never married. (I guess married people really do live longer.)

The group with the lowest death rate is children between 5 and 14 years of age (15 in 100000).

The death rate for males is higher than females at all ages.


Sources (in order of precedence): Deaths: Final Data for 2002 Report at National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) at CDC, National Safety Council (NSC) article, LiveScience article


Entry Type: random facts and stuff

Errata: I’m clearly an engineer, even my blog entries look like technical reports. Woe is me. ;-)

Wanted Ad for Blogging Times

Wanted: good blogs to read and readers for my blog

My biggest challenges in blogging are finding good blogs to read and getting discussions started at my blog. I visit lots of blogs only to discover they aren’t being updated anyone or are long since defunct. The percentage of blogs that last over six months must be small (~5%?) for all the abandoned ones I’ve seen. To avoid these blogs, I use link exchanges and the Truth Laid Bear site. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any shortcuts for finding blogs with subjects I like short of scanning lots of them. At the end of this search, I find only a few percent of blogs that are currently maintained about subjects of interest to me with authors that communicate with their readers.


Bringing in reading and getting discussions started at my blog will be much longer process. It doesn’t look like many of them get off the ground until at least a couple of months. I suspect my topics and style are an unusual taste and it will take me even longer. I found a couple of articles by fellow bloggers with their tips (Blog Traffic and Blogging Thoughts).


Errata:

I’ve decided I like cascading style sheets (css) especially since they lets me do digressions. It only takes a few lines of code. Its form matches its function and it getts smaller for each level of digression By the third level of digression you can barely read it which it just as it should be. This decreasing size shows how it is less relevant and makes it easier to skip. and a span for each digression. Sometimes small things are so amusing.


Unfinished business: Why good communication among readers and author define my favorite blogs?

Entry Type: Mostly Talking to Myself

A Favorite Trail

A Favorite Trail


Walk down a favorite trail

Move past scattered trees

Come upon a meadow

Of life, summer and green


The path, it’s familiar

The meadow, often crossed

Move through memory

Recall the old again


Stop along this quiet trail


Stand within quaking grass

Find a young damselfly

Of motion, flight and wings


The sight, not familiar

The road, yet uncrossed

Move through moments

Find the new again


Entry type: I better keep my day job

Alternate entry type: Poetry, Approximately

February 03, 2005

Brave New World

Thoughts on the book by Aldous Huxley

I found Brave New World a book with more complexity than I expected. His imaginary world is divided into two society, a modern scientific one and a primitive one on reservations within the modern society. The modern society is, of course, a distopia, but the primitive world is also deeply flawed. I see distopias as societies where one or two desirable goals like stability or equality are held preeminent. To achieve these goals, many other goals and values are be sacrificed. In this modern distopia, stability is the preeminent social good and happiness is placed just below it. Although not a distopia, the primitive society is discriminatory and violent. Each society has something to offer the other yet they despise each other.
This society has no violence, no war, no unemployment, no old age, and everyone is reasonably happy. However, the cost of these benefits is high.

  • a class system where everyone's place is determined at birth.
  • every individual is a class is as alike as possible, same height, skin color, intelligence, etc.
  • no families and children raised in institutions
  • sex is allowed but relationships are taboo
  • easily available drugs to cure unhappiness
  • general theories of science not taught only specific applications
  • no art beyond advertising slogans and propaganda
The deep irony of this society completely devoted to stability is it is not as stable as it appears. Their stability is quite fragile and has huge underlying instability. Without their current massive intervention in every part of peoples' lives, their society would collapse. This threat of instability has trapped the leaders of this Brave New World. They cannot change their society to a better, fairer one without first making things much worse.

I book like Brave New World reminds us of the benefit of a real world that is difficult to change and human nature that is even harder to change. If it was easy, then "Brave New World" would be much more common.

It is clear why Brave New World is a classic. (4.5/5.0)

A few questions suggested by reading Brave New World:
What are the primary goals of our society and what values have we sacrificed?
How much should we give up to eliminate war, especially considering our ideas might fail?
When we promote stability, is it more important that society is stable on a daily basis or stable under crisis and change?
How much individual freedom ought to be given up for the general good of society?

These question are mostly food for thought, feel free to take a shot at any of them if you want to.