30 June 2010

Afghanistan Confusion

Petraeus has been confirmed as the war commander for the mission in Afghanistan. Poor guy.

From the outset we've confused war, occupation, and development. The real question is whether we want to stay there for decades until the country develops to a point of government stability beyond that of, say, Mexico. The war is over. The development has barely begun, and won't be by next August.

Everyone thinks that Obama was mad at McChrystal. If I were Petraeus, I would think that he was mad at me. What an appointment.

27 June 2010

Contemplating a New Worldview? Excerpt from Mindwalk

Sadly, the movie Mindwalk, based on Fritjof Capra's writing, is not yet available on DVD. Here are some excerpts that you could watch if you're interested in a world view that might be more effective for our times than the Cartesian model from centuries ago.

How Smart Phones Got So Smart

I think that I'm just going to wait another decade for the Dick Tracy watch.

25 June 2010

Committing to Possibility

“What is possible is not independent of what we believe to be possible. “
- Neil MacCormick

“If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating, as possibility!”
-- Soren Kierkegaard

“The nature of a breakthrough is for you to stand on what you’ve gotten, what you’ve loved, what’s been important to you, what’s touched you, what’s inspired you, what’s turned your life on; to stand on that value you’ve already created for yourself and look out at the possibility for being alive that opens up, like a freedom, in front of you.”
- Werner Erhard

"It’s daunting how many possibilities there are in life for everyone of us. But rather than face that I might be a failure or success – I think both of them are terrifying – people find diversions.”
- Tim Allen

23 June 2010

McChrystal leaves White House after meeting

I guess that's news. You know, that McChrystal left the White House after his meeting.

But still, I can't help but think it'd be more newsworthy if it read,

McChrystal moves into White House after meeting

That seems like a story offering more legitimate cause for speculation.

22 June 2010

Investment Strategies of Party Loyalists

Here is a curious little chart I created to compare stock market performance by party between the time that Teddy Roosevelt took office and yesterday's close.

Imagine that you have two rabidly political families whose allegiance to their party is so strong that each time one of their own take the presidency, they put all their money into the market (as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average). And each time a president from the opposing party takes office, they sell their stocks and put their money under a mattress.

The simple question this answers is, Who would fare better? As you can see in the chart below, the Democratic faithful would have done much better in the last 110 years. Much better. While the Republican family would have grown their $100,000 to $509,720, the Democratic family would have grown their $100,000 to $2,796,037, about 5.5X more. (click on the chart below to make it bigger)

Of course you could say that the market does what the market does and the parties - much less the president - have little to do with it. Or you could point out that the best policy would be to invest during administrations of presidents whose last name start with a "C" (Coolidge and Clinton) or "R" (Reagan and Roosevelt), regardless of party.

You decide what to make of it. Today I'll just offer the numbers. Discuss it among yourselves.

21 June 2010

Reality is Diverse

to be nobody but yourself -
in a world which is doing its best,
night and day,
to make you everybody else -
means to fight the hardest battle
which any human being can fight .
never stop fighting.

e.e. cummings

It is really just in the last generation that we've become aware of how diverse was the world of Christianity in the 3 to 4 centuries after Christ's death. The Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi Library, among other finds, have revealed various gospels and epistles that never made it into what we know as the Bible. Most of these were obviously not written by any of Christ's original disciples or by Paul and for this reason alone were omitted from inclusion in the approved canon. (But it is worth noting that most serious scholars today think that other forgeries did make it in. For instance, 2 Timothy seems to have been written in the second century after Christ and most certainly not by Paul.)

In the fourth century, the canon was defined and various and competing ideas about Christ were consolidated into a (mostly and sort of) uniform view in the form of the Bible. Soon, the church that owned this "true" view even used torture and death to enforce this pure view. Most people look at the Inquisition as evil but I think that the evil originated when the church decided that God could not tolerate diversity of thought and sought to make uniform the theology and teachings that professed to represent his views. Surely God loves uniformity. This might seem reasonable. It does not seem to be backed up by evidence.

This notion that God's will obviously tends towards the uniform does, I think, miss an important suggestion from nature. (I say suggestion because it may or may not be a "lesson.") Nature suggests that the creator loves diversity. There are about 1.75 million species on the planet. Some have bones and some do not. Some breath under water and some drown in water. Some walk around and some are rooted. Some are really cute and some are hideous. Some are peaceful and some are dangerous. Some are huge and some are too small to see. It's not obvious that you can draw many conclusions from nature other than the fact that nature loves diversity. The life form that works depends on so many things that one would be at a loss to predict them all in advance. Diversity, it seems to me, is the lesson of nature.

As communities become more developed and free, a similar thing seems to happen with the human population. That is, diversity seems to spring up. We have goths and hippies, the driven and the laid back, the flirtatious and the prudes, the athletic and the slothful, the intellectuals and the disinterested. The list goes on. It may well be that we have something akin to 1.75 million species of humans.

Ultimately, the Church was forced to use force to try to squelch this great diversity of people. To this day, Protestant churches reject Catholicism but tend to accept the central claim that diversity is wrong (although the diversity of ways that they reject the notion of allowing diversity does, itself, create a fair bit of diversity, from Mormons to Baptists to Presbyterians to Anglicans to Jehovah's Witnesses, to ...). It could be that they are right. It could be. But then how to explain the motives of the creative force behind the massive diversity of nature? And how to explain how attempts to make human life all one way led to one of the Darkest and most violent periods of history when the Church largely ruled the West between the collapse of the Roman Empire and the rise of the modern, secular nation-state?

The more I look across time and communities, the more convinced I am that one of the simplest measures of advancement is how many kinds of people can make their place in the world. It seems to me that diversity is not just a wonderful thing in nature - it works in communities too. And that suggests to me that the Church's attempt to go against this trend meant it was destined to become evil. Next time someone says that they know what is best, ask for who. Some things that make people feel alive really are universal: oxygen, for instance. Other things that make people feel alive really are true for just a minority of folks: live jazz, for instance. Reality is diverse. Any explanation of it ought to accommodate rather than deny this, it seems to me.

18 June 2010

Caption Contest (Because it's Friday)

Alternative captions:
What Santa's elves do on their summer vacation.
Godzilla was seen making the exact same moves just before he attacked Tokyo.
The buzz in the playroom was that his were the world's most dangerous diapers. The buzz, of course, coming from those whose mouths weren't full of chewy toys.

15 June 2010


Regular readers know that I'm stupidly optimistic about the future but still have bouts of frustration when it appears that so few voters and policy makers get how much is at stake (for good or bad). I had to smile to see this report about the two Bills (Gates and Clinton) who do seem to realize how much difference a person can make.

This from Gates' post:

It’s pretty amazing to realize that 50 years ago, more than 20 million children died before their fifth birthday. Last year, it was fewer than 9 million. I think this is one of the greatest accomplishments of the last hundred years.

But 9 million children dying unnecessarily each year is still 9 million too many. That’s why we need to continue our efforts.

To read the whole post ...


11 June 2010

The Unfortunate Eye-Glazing Tendency of Economic Development

Economic development sounds like such a dry and abstract topic. That’s unfortunate. Economic development can mean the difference between a mother crying as her child goes off to college or crying as her child dies in her arms. Poverty brings with it so much grief and prosperity so much possibility. The potential for a human life is vastly different at higher and lower stages of economic development.

As I would define it, no topic has such a pervasive influence on the lives of people. Economic development is not just a matter of getting more goods but of giving people more options. At its most dramatic, economic development gives people the option to eat rather than starve. At its more nuanced, in developed countries, it gives people options about how to define their own lives. In the poorest countries, it can mean life. In the richer countries, it can give meaning to life.

10 June 2010

Sell Your Gold Now

Gold is a lousy investment. Oh, I know it has gone up lots of late - outperforming real estate and stocks by a wide margin. But it is a lousy investment just in the sense that it does nothing for productivity or the economy. It is the natural resources equivalent of putting your money under your mattress. And my belief is that, in the long-run, for something to be a good investment in terms of returns, it has to be a good investment in terms of generating wealth. Gold at best stores wealth; it doesn't create it.

If you invest in real estate development or stocks, you actually put money into a general fund that can be used to create new jobs, new homes, and new products. By contrast, when you put your money into gold you divert money into a nothing more than speculation. (Unless you're betting on gold fillings make a big comeback.)

My guess? Gold will go the way that real estate did over the last few years: the "sure" investment that proves itself as susceptible to bubbles and busts as any.

Gold prices have recently dropped, but they're still high. I say sell now and put your money into something that actually creates something of value. Long-term, that is the only sensible play. For you or the economy that you ultimately depend on for prosperity.

09 June 2010

The End of Men?

Excerpts from the Atlantic, The End of Men by Hanna Rosin ..

Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same.

Of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most in the next decade in the U.S., all but two (janitors and computer engineers) are occupied primarily by women.

Women now hold 51.4 percent of managerial and professional jobs—up from 26.1 percent in 1980. They make up 54 percent of all accountants and hold about half of all banking and insurance jobs. About a third of America’s physicians are now women, as are 45 percent of associates in law firms—and both those percentages are rising fast.

Women now earn 60 percent of master’s degrees, about half of all law and medical degrees, and 42 percent of all M.B.A.s. Most important, women earn almost 60 percent of all bachelor’s degrees—the minimum requirement, in most cases, for an affluent life. In a stark reversal since the 1970s, men are now more likely than women to hold only a high-school diploma.

In 1970, women contributed 2 to 6 percent of the family income. Now the typical working wife brings home 42.2 percent, and four in 10 mothers—many of them single mothers—are the primary breadwinners in their families.

In 1970, 84 percent of women ages 30 to 44 were married; now 60 percent are.

A 2008 study attempted to quantify the effect of this more-feminine management style. Researchers at Columbia Business School and the University of Maryland analyzed data on the top 1,500 U.S. companies from 1992 to 2006 to determine the relationship between firm performance and female participation in senior management. Firms that had women in top positions performed better, and this was especially true if the firm pursued what the researchers called an “innovation intensive strategy,” in which, they argued, “creativity and collaboration may be especially important”—an apt description of the future economy.

01 June 2010

Vampire PR

If I ever hire a PR firm, I want to hire whoever has been in charge of improving vampires' public image in recent decades.