Sunday, December 27, 2009

Turn the tub around, a failure of capitalism and all other modern systems

Take a fun song by Gloria Estefan, a good singer/actress Megan Mullally, some big money, and an excited cast of singers/dancers and you get a dedicated satellite channel (DISH Channel 125, labeled DANCE) and Internet site that lacks excellence in so many ways that it makes you doubt the ability of mankind to create anything of value. We take talent, energy, and money and transmogrify them into a black hole that sucks in our souls. And fills our minds with catchy kitschy tunes that drill themselves into brains. Boring, yet disgusting, yet slightly hypnotic. Kind of a "This smells disgusting - here smell it" moment.

I am referring to Turn the Tub Around, a marketing campaign for I can't believe it's not butter featuring Ms. Mullally singing a song about non-hydrogenated oils and such to the tune of "Turn the Beat Around." I don't know what they have on Mullally and Estafan, some sort of extortion or just a big pile of money, but at some point you have to bite the artistic bullet and say this is not something I want on my resume. I could sink to that level, because I don't have any artistic credentials, and I don't have a big pile of money. They have both, so they can resist.

You can see it at the link below. The links sends you to a Google search, so you can click on the ad at the top and make them pay something for your attention. After you watch it, you'll really want the minutes of your life back, but the knowledge that the tub people had to pay Google a few cents and also a few cents to their bandwidth provider may provide some comfort.

I'm not an artist, so on some level I can't really critique this creation. But I am a human, and I know this whole idea seems rotten, even inhumane. Why are resource committed to what is not even good enough to be a parody of a butter substitute? Couldn't we make a modern remake of the classic "I learned it by watching you" anti-drug commercial from back in the day? Who know how many lives could be changed? Do we need a satellite channel that broadcasts this commercial 24/7 for weeks?

And the idea that I would spend so much time thinking and writing about it is also rotten.

Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this tub!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

May I use my part of the trillions somewhere else?

I don't have the answers. I just want to call for some cool-headed debate on what is a complicated debate. You may slap me the next time you see me for my wrong-headed views, and I will donate $1 to charity (Subject to Global DanPark liability limits).

In this postmodern world, nothing is certain. Everything is up for analysis and debate. Except, one rock-solid tenet of belief: Global warming is imminently destroying our Earth, and Al Gore is its prophet. Only big oil companies and morons doubt the wisdom of fixing this problem at any cost. Think of the children!

Talking politics tends to me into trouble in life, so maybe I'll talk about it here to get it out of my system. I was a little hurt this summer when, after a political discussion, a new friend asked, "Are you an anarchist?" No, I'm just a little scared of the government providing all the solutions with a lot of unintended consequences. Climate change and carbon control initiatives are a way for government to assume a massive amount of revenue and control over the economy. Since we leave carbon footprints everywhere, control those footprints, and you control our lifestyles.

I don't have to doubt the premise of global climate change to doubt the intensity of its effects or the worthwhileness of spending trillions of dollars to make a slight modification, maybe around 1 degree, to climate predictions a century for now. For a few million dollars, we could be saving people from Malaria and AIDS and Africa. For probably a few billion more, we could educate those same people and lead them to better jobs. For trillions, we can maybe change their weather dozens of years from now.

Buy why not just change everything in case it turns out to be a problem?
The trillions of dollars it will take to stop or reduce the carbon used to power Duke University (take a trip to Coal Pile Drive sometimes and you'll see it is named that) to the car you drive to the higher prices you will pay for air conditioning, to more expensive groceries caused by higher trucking costs. If we are going to change every thing based on an invisible gas, we need to be really sure we know what we are doing. If it is a big problem, and after spending a lot of money, it will just be a slightly less big problem, we need to think hard about solutions.

But we don't know. Writer and intense researcher Michael Crichton pointed out that we don't know the weather 7 days from now with any confidence, so why should we change everything based on a forecast of 100 years from now. People assure me it's different. They wouldn't tell if they didn't know. But the East Anglia scandal has made clear that there is a lot of fudging and judgement calls to make the data "work." Will we have snow tomorrow: maybe? Will Pacific islands be underwater 100 years from now? Of course. If I make my predictions more dire, will more people listen to me, and will I get more funding? How well do we predict the number of hurricanes each season? How well do we predict each hurricane's path. When it comes down to it, most people believe because it's been warmer lately, forgetting that there is considerable natural variation from year to year and decade to decade.

Every process and every person and every animal (especially cows with their methane) are now enemies of the future, raising seas levels as they produce carbon, methane, and water vapor that will melt the planet. In fact, C02 is actually only 0.037% of the atmosphere (see Duke page). This little bit may cause a lot of trouble, but I would like to understand why, and our current news reporting doesn't bother to explain these ideas because the verdict has already been made.

Not every one who thinks this way is crazy. Robert Lindzen is a professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the WSJ, he writes

The answer brings us to a scandal that is, in my opinion, considerably greater than that implied in the hacked emails from the Climate Research Unit (though perhaps not as bad as their destruction of raw data): namely the suggestion that the very existence of warming or of the greenhouse effect is tantamount to catastrophe. This is the grossest of "bait and switch" scams. It is only such a scam that lends importance to the machinations in the emails designed to nudge temperatures a few tenths of a degree.

The notion that complex climate "catastrophes" are simply a matter of the response of a single number, GATA, to a single forcing, CO2 (or solar forcing for that matter), represents a gigantic step backward in the science of climate. Many disasters associated with warming are simply normal occurrences whose existence is falsely claimed to be evidence of warming. And all these examples involve phenomena that are dependent on the confluence of many factors.

Our perceptions of nature are similarly dragged back centuries so that the normal occasional occurrences of open water in summer over the North Pole, droughts, floods, hurricanes, sea-level variations, etc. are all taken as omens, portending doom due to our sinful ways (as epitomized by our carbon footprint). All of these phenomena depend on the confluence of multiple factors as well.

Consider the following example. Suppose that I leave a box on the floor, and my wife trips on it, falling against my son, who is carrying a carton of eggs, which then fall and break. Our present approach to emissions would be analogous to deciding that the best way to prevent the breakage of eggs would be to outlaw leaving boxes on the floor. The chief difference is that in the case of atmospheric CO2 and climate catastrophe, the chain of inference is longer and less plausible than in my example.

For somewhat of a rebuttal and summary of combating climate change, see .

And lastly, Global Warming, with its certainty of end times disaster, heroes like Al Gore, and vilification of evil resisters, is becoming a religion. It self-evidently true and questioning it is a fool's game. It is a cause that must be advanced at all costs despite any guarantees of return. Here's another Wall Street Journal piece on this issue: .

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Context: Are You Hearing What I Am Hearing

"I know that you think you know what I said. But I'm not sure whether you understood that what you heard is what I meant." - Alan Greenspan

Mr. Greenspan was just trying to be confusing so as to not reveal his next Federal Reserver move, but the idea that two parties bring different understanding away from a conversation stands on it own.

First some personal examples, and then the ones that matter more.

When Lara expertly scheduled house swapping to keep the costs for Europe low, she located a Andrea, who was near Rome and could lend us his apartment for free and then he could stay at our house later. With language problems which Google Translate mostly solves, we never actually spoke to her. She mentioned to add her on Facebook. Lara started looking through all the Andreas in the area, and found they were all men. She was a he. "Andrea" meant one thing over her and another over there. When he visits here, I might suggest going by Andreas or Andy. He's a body builder (though the gym there didn't open until 10, again our idea of a gym is different than theirs) and a bodyguard, so I guess he brings manliness to the name regardless.

Next confusion:with the way many apartments are wired up, the total current of the house is low. A washing machine is also a different reality over there - this thing ran at 100 RPM and heated its own very hot water. So using the washing machine and the oven blew the electricity out. I ran to the pay phone at the top of the hill to call Andrea. He answered, saying "Pronto." I tried to cobble together from the pocket translation dictionary that the lights were out. I was slow, so he kept saying "Pronto" again. I heard this as hurry up and spit it out, American boy! Later I saw Pronto meant "Ready," and he was saying to go ahead. He had the problem fixed by the time I made it down the sweaty hill.

One last confusion:We were planning our departure from Rome, and I put together a plan of Bus-->Subway-->Walk a Block-->Airport Train. I told of my well-researched plan. He said, "Buses are retardo." Oh, my, he's seen some insensitive movie from America and doesn't realize he's making fun of mentally disabled people. Don't they have those after-school specials to talk about these issues in Italian? How do I put this delicately when we don't have a language link that allows for delicacy? I held my tongue, thinking a better way to explain would come along. I eventually looked it up and retardo just means slow. Yes they can be retardo, with all the stops. He drove us to the airport and saved us a lot of time over public transportation.

Now More Important Context Questions
Understanding the Bible in Context
Two of our pastors at Emmaus Way, Tim Conder and Dan Rhodes, have talked about how we need to understand the context within the parts of the Bible were written and the context with which we are approaching the Scriptures. Their book, Free for All (Amazon CB), discusses this in a way that can be hard to take depending on your background. The Bible is unchangeable, a rock to hold onto. However, which angle you view the rock makes a big difference. It's hard to explain, so just read the book.

I can't just unprejudice myself, removing my German and Tennessean roots, middle class suburban upbringing, media influence, political leanings, marital status, and my feeling about indexing the capital gains tax to inflation. If I talk to other people who have valid different perspectives, although they may unfortunately not even know what a capital gains tax is, we may bring each other to a fuller understanding. It is not disrespectful to acknowledge context because the whole idea of a living Word is to be understood fully and received as freely as possible from cultural and personal constraints that aren't part of the message.

Rules about an ox falling into a hole in Leviticus have to mean something different to be understood today. Somewhere in my mother's upbringing, she learned that you take responsibility for what you do with hole digging. So when we dug giant holes on the beach, she insisted that we cover them up. And as a lover of beach walks, I wish everyone cared about me like the Israelites cared about an ox.

Understanding the Quran in Context
I have no familiarity with interpreting the Quran, but Salam Al-Marayati wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesay where he speaks about the accused Fort Hood killer:
Maj. Hassan's critical fault in understanding the Quran was his failure to distinguish between two very important categories of verses: those tied to the specific context of seventh-century Arabia, and those that are absolute and permament.

Maj, Hassan's hodgepodge of verses from the Qran quote from extremists left out the most important Quranic verse in his section on enjoining peace and forgiveness: "God invites you into the abode of peace" (10:25)

Now I remember something like this belittlingly called situational ethics and that it could be twisted into whatever we wanted. But this implies that can remove ourself from a situation and our prejudices. And if we really want to abuse a system of ethics, we can find a way.

Understanding People We've Never Met

In Europe there were pictures of American products, people, and media everywhere. I worried that if these presentation were the primary input for how Americans are viewed, then we would look pretty bad. And if the primary thing we see about those in the Middle East are violent extremists, we can be lulled
into think we have the full picture. This front Page WSJ AP picture showing a many crying over his wife's coffin really brought home to me how he could be anyone anywhere in the world who is tired of violence and just wants to live in piece. I'm not a pacifist, and I believe in opposing injustice, but I really wish the terrorists who killed his wife would stop, so we could stop, and we could find solidarity over happiness instead of intense pain.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Paperwork and Redemption in an Italian Subway

The events of the past six months involving six Euros and proving that all it is not lost when a machine fails. The System can redeem itself, in a small way. Viewing it through the lens of Economics, it's about incentives. The subway system needs to feel some administrative and financial loss when a machine fails - accountability that can push for change. No loss means no need for change.
  • circa July 1, 2009 A vending machine in Rome steals 6 Euros from us without giving us anything in return. We keep piling in the coins because the machines are often slow to register them. If only they all took credit cards. An old lady bangs on the window to get an uninterested employee to give us a claim form.
  • August 19 Having just returned to Europe, I am excited to go to the post office to collect a piece of international registered mail. After the poor clerk searches through all of the certified mail, she finds mine in the registered pile (I guess there's a difference?). She asks if I know what it is. A subway refund, I respond. At home, it turns out to be a speeding ticket from Spain from a secret camera speed trap. I guess fines move more quickly than refunds.
  • circa September 20 I receive an acknowledgment from the Rome Transportation Agency that my claim has been approved. For payment, I need to forward them my European banking account number, called an IBAN code. My address is labelled USA, so they know I probably don't have an IBAN code. But I have a lot of time, so spending hours for 6 Euros seemed to make sense at the time. My bank in Texas works with a lot of military families, so I thought they would have a way to use IBAN. No luck. Citibank, who gave me a free iPod to sign up for a checking account, is a multinational corporation, but it said no. I have a Scwhab credit card that gives me rebates through Scwhab brokerage. They said yes, the transfer could go through a Citibank affiliate in Germany where Schwab had an account and then come to America to my Schwab account. (See if you want the complex details). It was too complex with too many countries involved, but why not?
  • Oct 2 I faxed the bank information to Italy. It wasn't a simple account number, it was Schwab's account with a comment to use my account.
  • Nov 16 I received a letter. I provided a fax, but I guess they wanted to spend the Euro to send a real letter. It certainly make a better souvenir: "With reference to your last communication received on October 02st 2009 (ref. nr. 116174 - cl. 110427), We inform that We transmitted your IBAN code to the qualified office that will provide to refund you [sic]."
  • Nov 30, In my Schwab statement: 11/27 Funds Received FOREIGN CURRENCY DEPOSIT 8.95
Victory! And there were no fees to destroy the value of the refund. Cashing a foreign check at my bank would have cost me $20, but the electronic process was slow but free. Five months later, justice is served! The decline of the US dollar since then actually made me a profit of about $0.50.

Well, then Saturday Dec 15 came along. Lara went to and ATM and was issued a counterfeit $10 bill. The Bank of America teller told us to talk to our bank in Texas. I'm back on the hunt for justice.

Wireless Hospitality and 00:18:f3:f7:6a:67

When something doesn't cost you much, it's easy to share. The marginal cost of Internet use is near zero, so why not keep your personal wireless network open, like McDonald's or Panera? Sure there are security risks from your neighbors and passers-by. But I don't think they are going to use my printer at will, and the security is not impossible to crack for people who really know how to do you harm.

In Europe this Summer, we were in places with a dozen wireless networks, all of which were locked down. We just wanted to check e-mail or post to a blog, actions which don't tax a network. But we had to literally hold our laptop out the window to pick up the stray free signal in Italy. Another time, I sat on a flower planter outside an apartment building with a free signal as an old lady stared at me. Not from her window; she was sitting a few feet away. I'm not good on picking up on nonverbal cues, and I used this to my advantage. Give a little wave, don't make eye contact, and keep reading e-mails.

So I don't want to be that person locking others out of vital communication. But this hospitality is not unlimited. I haven't seen a cheap wireless router that can partition a small portion of bandwidth for public use (I did see a DSL service in France that allocated some wireless for other DSL users which is a really worthwhile idea in dense areas).

Without limits, guest users can hog bandwidth. And that's what I noticed Thursday. Sites like Google that don't ever go down were timing out. Speeds were slower. I checked the router ( for the default D-Link configuration. See to look up the location of IP addresses). At the same time, one computer on my network was connecting to sites in
  • Augusta, Georgia
  • Hammond, Indiana
  • Salzburg, Austria
  • Philadelphia
  • Medina, NY
  • Ontario, CA
  • Bogota, Columbia
  • Saint Catharines
  • ON Canada
  • Swansea, Z1 Great Britain
  • Denton, TX
  • Olive Hill, KY
  • Paterson, NJ
  • Marysville, OH
  • Tokyo
  • Saint Clair Shores, MI
And the bandwidth use matched the number of sites. This probably represented P2P file sharing, where each computer downloads files from many other computers while serving up files for other computers. These downloads are often illegal rips of copyrighted material though some providers like NBC use them for legal downloads. It could also be a virus checking other computers for vulnerabilities. This is not a gracious use of someone else's network. So I locked that computer out. In our small neighborhood with a small wireless range, five users outside of our house, from other computers to iPhones, have connected to our network recently. I don't have a detailed analysis, so it's hard to know how much each of them has used the network.

So MAC address 00:18:f3:f7:6a:67 is blocked from our network. Sorry. (A MAC address is a unique identifier for a network card). I don't know which neighbor was using it or whether they were just accidentally connecting to the wrong network. Things cleared up after the problem computer was gone. I am still faced with how to be friendly yet not abusable.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Who runs this planet, anyway? And a peppy tour guide.

(If you ignore everything else, please see the Chinese/Spanish/English tou
rist video at the bottom. This is a Youtube clip you aren't going to see anywhere else (maybe for good reason). Imported from a middle of the night Chinese satellite transmission, it's more than another dancing cat (I have no beefs with dancing cats:) ).

I at least partially take the view that America is different than other countries, like say Norway, and that we have a larger responsibility to the world as a country that has prospered in an outsized way. (See wikipedia for how this idea makes everyone from leftists to the Pope mad). However, our role in the world is changing, and China is certainly a candidate for future top global dog.
And they want us to know that. So CCTV-9 exists to tell us what China wants us to know about the world. Kuoyong, our resident expert with roots to China, Vietnam, Japan, and African-American parts of Dallas, agrees with me that CCTV is propaganda.
Do a search on CCTV for Tiananmen 1989 and nothing much happened - no twenty year anniversaries or any such event. Now a Google search says a massacre of around 500 people happened 20 years ago, with pictures of tanks. Scarily, a search also does not show the tanks. Sure, America has Voice of America, but it will actually acknowledge embarrassing stuff like the recent ease of entry to the White House for an uninvited couple (on this story, cut the guys some slack, it wasn't very difficult for a good looking girl to get into the Clinton White House either). NPR is funded with a lot of government money, and it feels free to mock the government,

There are broad global communication goals for China - also CCTVE for Spanish speakers (also on Dish Network) and new channels for Arabic and Russian speakers this year. Portuguese is in the works. Portuguese? They want to give everyone the news, the way the Chinese want it to be given.

But not to worry, the battle for our hearts and minds is not won yet.

USA production values win out, hands down. The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and even the old MTV News with Kurt Loder knew how to produce a news show better than CCTV (Global DanPark lawyers advise that this critique actually comes from John Smith, Anytown, KS 66505 - launch sequence code 3239-323-2121-ABFUI-图片可能 for your missile convenience). The clips don't roll together correctly, and the anchor is often left uncomfortably smiling. There are many many perfectly bilingual English/Chinese speakers. There are also those who sound like Mr. Spell. CCTV-9 prefers the latter. Subject/Verb agreement is not a valid treaty on the air. If you are trying to assimilate us, try not to sound like a 4-N-R. Durham has a Doppler 5000 XP Supreme With Expletive radar, but not CCTV weather. The level of charisma on air implies that a censor, armed with a rifle pointed at the head of the anchor, lurks behind the camera. You can almost see the dot from the laser site on her forehead, or so I hear if you have HD TV. Or maybe they have just chained the anchor to the desk.

If you want to bring the effects, they best be special, or we will cancel you like a poorly-conceived OJ book.

You have thousands of years of history and literature, are closing in on 2 billion people, loaned the US over a trillion dollars, possess H-bombs, and have an authoritarian grasp on power that includes the ability to erase even the recent past. And WRAZ Fox channel 50 in Raleigh can do a more professional newscast? Spend a little less on the H-bombs, please? There's a Chinese Ryan Seacrest or two scattered amongst them millions. Find him. Or maybe even that Slater guy from Saved By the Bell. He's actually into NewsISH things right now. You don't have to find a Chinese version of him - you can actually have him, we just might need him back occasionally for court-ordered SBTB reunion movies. Or maybe buy one of those iMac computer thingies that come with movie maker software. They probably make those in China. Take one off the line, play around with it, and see if you can produce a video.

And yet, Kuoyong and I watch, hypnotized by the quaintness of the technical aspects and the aims that are behind the news being delivered. Why aren't the Swedes delivering us news in English?

Years back, Sarah H and I even became hypnotized by CCTV-E. We watched a segment in English with Spanish subtitles featuring Chinese tourism. The Chinese speaker spoke English perfectly, with a Valley Girl sensibility. Well, just watch:

So I guess you can't spell propaganda without F-U-N. And USA USA USA USA!

And one last fun international fact. A-Ha is the Abba of Norway. I saw this in a guidebook Reading is good - kids, stay in school! USA USA USA!