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York, England
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Once more into the brink
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I've been bemoaned for my poor cropping and lack of color. I apologize, and attempt to make amends:

You'd think there was no method to all my madness.

Contemplating the shot
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China's questionable future
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A compelling argument is made about China's questionable future in Sunday's Washington Post, generally concurring with my recent armchair geo-politicking on China's not-so-rosy-as-one-might-think economy:
.. another weakness in the argument about China's inevitable rise: The place remains an authoritarian state run by a party that limits the free flow of information, stifles ingenuity and doesn't understand how to self-correct. Blockbusters don't grow out of the barrel of a gun. Neither do superpowers in the age of globalization.
The whole thing, in general, is a good read.

Super rough
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Disc Golfin'
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Michael considered fate at 13:33   |   Permalink   |   Post a Comment

that green leaf-a-ma-jig looks surreal! 

Full disclosure: the 'leaf' and the jellyfish were taken by Katie with her underwater camera case. I can't take any credit whatsoever. 


Just add impatience and stir
Michael considered fate at 12:29   |   Permalink   |   Post a Comment
Yahoo! Finance isn't always known for their breathtaking opinion pieces, but Friday's piece "Instant Gratification Nation: Can We Still Sacrifice for the Future?" is an echo of the sentiments I discussed in my recent post on government and politics: that it appears as though the United States of America has lost its ability to delay gratification.
[In Stanford experiments run in the 1960s and 1970s] each [child] was offered an explicit choice that tested his or her ability to defer gratification: Get a reward now or a bigger reward later. The experimenter left the room, leaving a bell on the table in front of the student. If the student rang the bell before the experimenter returned, he or she would get a reward, albeit a less preferred one (a single marshmallow instead of two). However, if the student resisted ringing the bell until the experimenter returned (typically after 15 or 20 minutes), he or she would get something even better -- two marshmallows.
The author goes on to correlate these early traits to future decision making:
For example, one follow-up paper found a statistically significant relationship between how long a student waited to ring the bell and -- more than a decade later -- their "ability to cope with frustration and stress in adolescence."
While this isn't exactly a wow fact - it seems like a relatively obvious outcome - and, in fact, our author goes on to relate it directly to the current Presidential election:
I went to Barack Obama's and John McCain's Web sites to look at their economic agendas. To judge by both their plans, just about every major policy challenge can be addressed by giving some group more marshmallows now -- subsidies here, tax cuts there.

Which is nonsense
. The definition of an investment, whether it's public or private, is an undertaking that requires foregoing consumption in the present in order to achieve higher consumption in the future. It's just like the marshmallows, only you get real money, or more life satisfaction, or something else worth waiting for.
One of the follow-up studies using data from the Stanford marshmallow experiment begins, "To be able to delay immediate satisfaction for the sake of future consequences has long been considered an essential achievement of human development."
And this is exactly what I was trying to get at in my earlier post:
I understand that risk is always involved in reward, but it's been proven over and over again that a long-term conservative stance can often get the job done better and with less risk than a patchwork of short term reactionary decisions.
I'm talking about our marshmellows here, and the idea that squirreling them away is probably the better move in the long run, even if we don't seem to be doing that now.

I'm talking about long-term investment, e.g. the Interstate Highway System and the Manhattan Project.. and this is exactly what the author gets at by the end of his piece:
[we seem to lack] vision for how ambitious collective endeavors can change the trajectory of our lives.

.. we seem to have forgotten that tax cuts can't do anything that requires a major collective investment by society. Tax cuts could never have built the Interstate Highway System, one of the great public investments of all time.
Let's be honest: none of this is news or new. It's old hat, but it is a hat that's been around and stood the test of time. If we could, in one fell swoop, convert our fractional federal reserve system into a government-controlled currency system (thereby stopping the government from paying interest on it's own made up money) and infuse the country with the spirit and chutzpah to attack large infrastructural projects funded by the government, I think a whole lot could change for the better around here.

Sadly, that's one big IF.


Bush sucks
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This table succinctly provides a rundown of, essentially, Clinton's eight years versus Bush's (with respect to budget deficits, poverty levels, and foreign opinion, etc). It's a sad, sad state of affairs.


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It's Wedding Season
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On government and politics
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This whole Obama-FISA thing has really got me thinking about politics and government lately. While I've both engaged, and been engaged in more conversations about politics this election cycle, that might simply be a skewing due to getting older and other external factors. Recently, I've really sat down and thought about politics - in sharp contrast to just yammering on about it - and I realize that it's a very difficult thing to speak about clearly and logically; an election where emotion and speculation did not enter into it has never existed.

And of course this is true of political discourse, as well, down to the citizen-on-citizen debating that goes on in every pub, restaurant, and alleyway. Here is the crux of the problem. While there is a certain intuition that emotion and feeling give us, I could argue that there must be a better system in which roughly 50% of the population is pit against the other 50%, doomed to forever be diametrically opposed.

Mediation has come a long way in recent years, from peer-based high school groups organized to deal with conflicts among students to small claims court, where it can often be a much better solution for both parties involved. This is an approach of compromise, not of win-or-lose. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here for politics?

Now, I understand that the judiciary serves this purpose in some fashion, but I'm talking about a more hands-on approach. If you took a defendant and claimant from small claims court and put them in a room by themselves, you would probably not expect a positive result. By leaving the outcome to the court room instead, you're dooming them both to a win-lose situation. Mediation, on the other hand, could provide the best long term optimal solution.

And this is just the problem with the way our political system is set up: it's based on the short term. The fact that Presidents even have agendas is, in some respects, indicative of this. They are coming in for a duration of four or maybe eight years to ramrod whatever interests they may be getting paid for through the Congess. There is little natural incentive set up for compromise at all, really.

So what am I round-about working to here? Well, entertain me for a second and imagine a mediation-based government where non-partisan professionals who were taught and certified mediated everything from Congressional hearings to bi-partisan meetings. Imagine an amendment to our country's government that mandates that the entire system strive for conservation - and when I say conservation, I mean it in the most general sense - be it financial, environmental, or military.

I understand that risk is always involved in reward, but it's been proven over and over again that a long-term conservative stance can often get the job done better and with less risk than a patchwork of short term reactionary decisions. If that sounds like a quote from an investing guide, than you caught me; that's my first example. Warren Buffet is an incredibly rich man because he practiced conservative investing, aka value investing. He believes strongly in tried-and-true practices like dollar cost averaging. He is extremely rich.

I am not an economist nor a political scientist, strategist, or theorist and I'll admit that up front, but there are some things that seem almost too obvious to see. While governments love to grow their economies (and sometimes population, a form of capital) and it certainly can help to improve the overall living standards of its people, it creates a series of fits and starts, booms and busts. Economies are not objects in motion and they don't tend to maintain velocity unless otherwise acted upon. There will always be bulls and there will always be bears, but I believe a wiser government could capitalize on the long haul approach.

Imagine a government that underspends. Imagine a government that over-taxes, if only slightly, for the rainy day fund. Imagine a Social Security system that was never in trouble. While this might start to sound socialist, let me remind you of our founding motto: Of the people, By the people, and For the people. Even though nobody wants to pay more taxes, it is the job of our government to look out for our best interests, and protect us from our bad individual decisions. The welfare system exists to help those who can not help themselves. The social security system is similar. Unemployment as well. Then is it such a horrible idea that the government could act like it is working for our best interests? A more fiscally conservative government would perhaps slow growth over the long term, but this returns us to Warren Buffet's sage advice to invest a little bit, and do it very often. What we do instead, in government and individually as well, is react. Reacting is especially dangerous because the first system in line that controls our reactions is emotion. Playing the market can really get you going, but it rarely ends better than a long-term conservative approach over the long term. It is hard to see the forest through all those trees, because when you have your own huge green money tree (if only on paper) that money tree hides the real goal.

Now let me take the conservative financial analogy to the environment, consider a world in which the 70's oil scare made a more conservative America begin to invest large amounts of capital into alternative energy. While expenditure hurts and the technology then was a fraction of what it is now, old alternative technology is better than none. Technology is generally a ladder - you must rise one step at a time. A great example of this (and some may argue with me here) is the amazing difference there is between today and thirty years ago in terms of environmental pollution in our country. While isolated atrocities exist, like strip mining sites, we are overall pouring less chemicals in our rivers and lakes and being far more mindful of our environment. If that comment makes you laugh than stop a second and remember how truly bad it was. In my hometown, the Kennebec River - second largest in the state - was so polluted that it would peel the paint off the houses near the river. Outside of hippy enclaves, there was limited recycling on the scale we see today and nearly everyone threw their beer cans away. It wasn't until 1972 that the first bottle deposit law was passed in Oregon (see the excellent History of Recycling PDF).

We've come a long way baby. But we're continuing to allow our emotion to drive our political decisions and this is exactly what I think we have a chance to fix. Evolutionarily, our emotions are lower down the chain than our ability to reason and think logically. Chimps have emotions. Gerbils have emotions. Let me say that again: Gerbils have emotions. Emotions are a hop skip and a jump from instinct and, while I mentioned before that there is some intuitive benefit from it, logical wins the end game. At least for now.

(Sidenote: The excellent (if dry) Your Money & Your Brain by Jason Zweig speaks to this. While it is a book extolling the virtues of index fund investing, it does so through careful analysis of what we know about how the human brain works. Reacting to emotion in investing is a sure way to get burnt.)

While I probably haven't bothered to write this well and I've said a fraction of what I'd like to if my little puppies weren't so sick of tapping on the 'ol keyboard, I think you get my drift here. We need a long term approach and I'm not talking about your kids, I'm talking about everyone who will ever carry any part of your DNA in the future, as well as mine, and everyone else that lives in this country. We need a government in which the future's children are first class citizens in everything we do now, giving them full voting rights (if only exercised in our minds, when we remember to consider them in everything we choose). We need a country in which the environment is a first class citizen - it is one of our top resources. We need a country in which its citizens are first class citizens because human resource is the greatest resource of them all.

The best way to protect the interests of multiple parties in a small claims court situation is through mediation. By "protect", I mean to say "come to the most reasonable solution". While neither party may get the best they could have gotten if they rolled the dice and took a chance (aka, a risk) both parties got something. A mandate of mediation and conservation in our government could transform us, as a nation, into a profitable society. While a conservative long-term approach reduces risk, so does a mediation strategy. Get what you can, a little bit, often. A society where a stronger base provides for less reliance on foreign interests is a society that can weather ups and downs with less turbulence, rely less on fear and speculation, and prosper in the long term. A society where rights are more respected is a society where its citizens remain first class citizens. A society where there is less fear (the most destructive emotion of them all) is a society that does a whole lot less reacting


Michael considered fate at 18:40   |   Permalink   |   Post a Comment

What do you mean by "become recalcitrant"? Was there a point in your life where 'recalcitrant' was not an apt description of monsieur britcoal?

Did you find this word using a thesaurus? To be honest I had to look it up. 

Yes there was a point in my life when I was not so recalcitrant. No, I did not find the word using a thesaurus. While I often rely on the dictionary for proper spelling and to re-check a definition (in order to limit the number of blog comments nitpicking my word usage) I've never been a big thesaurus guy. 

Recalcitrant means nothing to me. Would you please elaborate on this word for us plebeians? 
My usual opening line - it's been awhile.. - is even more true than it's ever been but I can explain it this time. I'm just, it's.. I think..

And that's the problem; too much running around in the brain and nothing to tap it down. Too much input; a neural net so intertwined, where the outputs keep feeding back into the pile of spaghetti, and the inputs change faster than the rest of it can keep up. This isn't a cyclical problem, it's just a big constant problem.

Too much.


I've become recalcitrant. You can't argue with anyone anymore because nothing is provable but everything is "true".

"I saw it in a magazine.."

"Bush said that.."

And when a disputant like myself finds himself in such an awful state (of place, not being) then it really ain't no fun anymore. Knowhatimean?

I guess in the meantime (whatever esoteric definition I intended for that to mean) you should just enjoy the pictures. Maybe I'll snap out of it someday.

The 4th of July
Michael considered fate at 18:23   |   Permalink   |   Post a Comment

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Check out heroecs, the robotics team competition website of my old supervisor's daughter. Fun stuff!
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