04 December 2010

WikiLeaks: Conspiracy vs. Transparency

Watchdog Journalism is what we used to call journalism when it served democratic principles like checks and balances.

The term is now sadly emblematic of a bygone era of journalism that held people and institutions accountable.

Watchdog journalism has been a historical cornerstone of US democracy.
When journalism is weakened, democracy is threatened.
Lapdog Journalism, its antithesis, is what the US is saddled with now.

Lapdog journalism is now the de facto standard in the US. The Fox Entertainment Group, part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, weakens all democratic principles except free speech.

Fox News perpetrates an insidious flow of event-based entertainment that pollutes us with didactic mis-information.

Fox News is Rupert Murdoch's Corporatist lapdog.
Fox News is the thinking person's unwanted house guest.
Fox vigorously promotes ideas that eventually morph into public policy that is pro-corporation and anti-people. This is done by twisting factual events into news entertainment.

Fox News is masterful at germinating the dangerous mix of fear and ignorance into divisive and misguided animus. It divides us as quickly as it misinforms us. This cancerous flow of news entertainment metastasizes to squeeze out the best interests of ... people.

Enter WikiLeaks.org.

I have been considering the Wikileaks phenomena. Press critic, writer, and NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen uses the fitting term stateless in describing Wikileaks.
WikiLeaks is the first stateless news organization
~Jay Rosen

WikiLeaks is a decentralized, not-for-profit, information radiator. Hosted on distributed servers, it is a social and technological phenomena made possible by the internet.

WikiLeaks is not beholden to a country, or to a profit-making organization. Such a fount of information is unprecedented in journalism.

Hindsight will reveal WikiLeak's impact on global democracy, but it has the makings to be a galvanizing, symbolic radiator of information like the midnight ride of Paul Revere was for colonists in 1775.

In the US, WikiLeaks might well be
The Super Bowl of Conspiracy vs. Transparency
WikiLeaks provides a secure and anonymous way for sources to leak and radiate information. Conspiracy and evil-doing rely on secrecy.


Leaked information from WikiLeaks has the potential to deflate conspiracy or, at least make marginally democratic, fascist, and regressive behavior incrementally more visible and debatable.

WikiLeaks must rely on a network of volunteers distributed around the world -- volunteers united in their belief that transparency advances the common good while secrecy is fundamentally anti-democratic.

To survive, WikiLeaks must diligently push the edge of technology (securing, protecting, & shielding information from agents of evil and mercenary attackers) as it is about gathering, sifting and radiating critical information.

I am hopeful. The WikiLeaks phenomenon might make it less likely that first-world nations like the US will behave badly. It might make it less likely that moral quagmires like the dubiously legal detainment and dubiously legal torture perpetrated by the Bush administration and a complicit US Congress, will occur as frequently in the future.

I am hopeful about the information phenomenon of WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks might be temporarily shut down, or temporarily derailed by powerful purveyors of conspiracy and secrecy, but the WikiLeaks phenomena, the social and technological innovation, might well benefit democracies, free thinkers, and proponents of transparency for years to come.

29 November 2010

Poetically Placed F-Bombs

Spun the elliptical trainer to Dr Dre's "Deeez Nuuuts" this morning at the gym.

Chiggie check... Microphone check one. Now I can't get "I can't be faded" out of my head this morning.

[comedy skit from Deeez Nuuuts]
"If I had some nuts, hangin on the walls, what did I have honey?"
I said, "Darling you'd have some walnuts."
She said, "Well.. daddy if I had some nuts on my chest, would those be chestnuts?"
I said, "Hell yes!"
She said, "Well daddy if I had nuts under my chin would those be chin-nuts?"
I said, "Hell no bitch you'd have a dick in your mouth!"

Since emerging in the South Bronx, hip hop has spread around the world.  Knowing I like repetitive beats, raw language, and poetry, I owe a debt of gratitude to my kids for introducing me to hip hop over a series of family car trips over the years.

Hip hop is my kid's generation answering my generation's soul music. To describe hip hop to my generation, I would first tell them to recall Little Anthony & The Imperials singing Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko-Ko-Bop.

Then I would point out to them that if you added raw and compelling lyrics to Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko-Ko-Bop, and threw in a modest amount of poetically placed f-bombs, you'd have hip hop in its West Coast gangsta flavor.

08 November 2010

Painted Ponies Go Up and Down

I’m a serious person. But the gods of hubris should taze my sorry ass the instant I take myself seriously. And for the matter, the gods of the patronizingly dogmatic should electroshock my super-sized melon if ever I conclude that life has a purpose other than monkey-humping procreation.

I have a hunch about why so many societies have faith in unseen magical powers. I, for one, like to imagine unseen magical powers.

I think about concepts like god, or concepts like the fundamental constituents of matter, but that's as far as reason permits me to go.

It's not that the ancient texts extolling the virtues of one prophet over another -- obviously created second-hand by humans -- aren't convincing as convenient and comforting truth. But divine? Meh.

It's deeper -- DNA deeper.

My hunch is that humans are genetically predisposed to believe in the divine. At some point, humans started burying their dead. It became a comforting ritual -- an offering to the gods.

Burying a corpse effectively stunts any disease vectors emanating from rotting flesh and coagulating blood. The buriers of corpses - those who contemplated a higher power - were naturally selected to survive societies without burial rituals.

A Carousel of Time

We can't return. We can only look behind from where we came. Which brings me to painted ponies and a sweet but profound tune by Joni Mitchell:
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return, we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and 'round and 'round
In the circle game

   ~Joni Mitchell, The Circle Game

Twenty-Something Epiphany

At an age of twenty-something, I realized our lives are an absurd but infinitely interesting carousel ride. After that, I saw the painted ponies go up and down with renewed vigor.

01 November 2010

A Business for People

Yvon Chouinard's Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman reads like marketing copy for his outdoor equipment company Patagonia.

Yet Chouinard's guiding principles are inspiring. Through Patagonia, he has demonstrated it is possible to be a force for the common good in business.

Reading Chouinard's biographical account of the evolution of his company, I wondered if it could have possibly been THAT cool to work at Patagonia. Then I remembered a talented designer I knew at Montana State in the late 1970s who became Patagonia's chief designer for a chunk of years in the 90s.

An adventurer and a craftsman, this Spanish Peaks backpacking buddy I knew in college wouldn't have suffered buttoned-downed, ass clowns for very long. Patagonia draws talented people of uncompromising standards who are much more grounded in the why, then the how.

The essential question anyone in business should be asking is why? Chouinard's why is the natural environment and the animals that populate it - including the human animal.

Yvon Chouinard has learned, on the fly, how to run a big company with people in mind -- employees and customers. Keeping people in mind seems obvious, yet in my experience most organizations don't give a rip about their people, their partners, or their customers; rather their singular quest seems to be the how, as in how to increase profits?

Tweetable Quotes

My favorite quotes from Let My People Go Surfing:

On entrepreneurs, he says,
If you want to understand the entrepreneur, study the juvenile delinquent. The delinquent is saying with his actions, "This sucks. I'm going to do my own thing.
~Yvon Chouinard
Using the patently Uncurious George (George W. Bush) as the poster boy for the simple-minded, he says,
Un-curious people do not lead examined lives; they cannot see causes that lie deeper than the surface."
~Yvon Chouinard
Of the mess human animals have made of the environment, he says,
No animal is so stupid and greedy as to foul its own nest -- except humans.
~Yvon Chouinard
Finally, in a call to action, Chouinard quotes indigenous wisdom:
We are the people we have been waiting for.
~Navajo Medicine Man

27 October 2010

Still Life

I'm captivated by this image. It's a Daguerreotype made by Louis Daguerre on the streets of Paris in 1838. It is believed to be the earliest image that includes a person (ref: The First Photograph of a Human). Early photographic images required exposure times of several minutes.

The human in this Daguerreotype is on the street corner -- standing still with his leg propped on a stand -- looking like he was getting his boots shined. This image was made in 1838! As historical marker, it would be another 38 years before Bell patented his telephone.

It would be another 23 years before Mathew Brady's haunting images of the American Civil War, like the "Starving Soldier" (shown right).

These images must have seemed like pure magic.

Photography is still magic.

When I make time exposures of people using a digital camera, I'm never sure what palette of motion will be imprinted in pixels. Most of my photographs are what master potter Randy Johnston calls Nourishable Accidents. If my photographs turn out to be compelling in some way, I owe a debt of gratitude to dumb luck.

The draw of photography is that it can make life still. Photography suspends the animation of day-to-day life, framing it comfortably for consideration at our leisure - a powerful potion indeed.

A Personal Perspective

I learned about the history of photography from my long-time friend, and former photography professor, Rudi Dietrich (see this video profile of Rudi Dietrich).

Susan Sontag's book On Photography was influential to many would-be media-types of my generation. It gave me an entirely different perspective of the camera in the modern world. Her book inspired me to toss out hundreds of negatives and images in 1980. But I'm back to photography because I'm drawn to illusion that it frames life, and because the act photographing and the time-sliced imagery, lets me contemplate life at leisure.

24 October 2010

Learning, Adapting, & Acting

Someone I follow in the software space tweeted the question
Are you a first-rate noticer?
I responded
I notice so many things, sometimes I miss the most important!
The question was meant to reach out, and perhaps tweak, the sensory-challenged -- the people who don't seem to notice much. In the context of software teams, failing to notice, can be a detriment to the team and to the product.

I am an obsessive processor of new sensory information. My senses are turned up & mostly tuned in. Many people miss too much. Others fail to understand the most fundamental characteristic of perception (i.e., that perception is not always reality).

Still others fail to understand how they're influenced by knowledge, historical context, and comparative experience (or lack thereof).

In Intelligence & Uncertainty, I suggest there's a positive correlation between intelligence and uncertainty. I also mention a cognitive bias known as the Dunning-Kruger which says,
People who don't know much tend not to recognize their ignorance, so they fail to seek better information.
I am convinced my journey is an iterative process of learning, adapting, and acting. Rinse and repeat. I haven't a clue where this leads, but I'm programmed to do it.

In the documentary 180º South, Patagonia's founder Yvon Chouinard says,

The whole purpose of climbing something like Everest is to effect some sort of spiritual and physical gain. But if you compromise the process you’re an asshole when you start out and an asshole when you get back.
~ Yvon Chouinard

23 October 2010

Smooth the Jagged Edges of Fate

I recognize, and mindfully champion, the enormous role luck has played in my good fortune:
  • a spouse who's my best friend,
  • sensitive and intelligent children who exceed my expectations,
  • a comfortable house in a civilized city,
  • a viable small business,
  • and so on.
More precisely, I recognize the role of dumb luck. Dumb luck because I am ignorant of what spring-loaded fate awaits my arrival.

Most of us embrace the notion that we're hard workers, so I don't belittle hard work.
The harder I work, the luckier I get.
~ Samuel Goldwyn
And I don't give short shrift diligence and persistence.
Diligence is the mother of good luck.
~ Benjamin Franklin
I am not yet willing to dismiss the influence that hard work, diligence, and persistence might have, however negligible, in realizing good fortune.

But lady luck is lady luck. Most individual achievements are traceable to chance.
Impressive as a corporate titan may appear, his success is truly testament to a thousand variables far outside his control. Good genes and attentive parents and a smart peer group and a legacy admission to Yale and perfect timing and much else.
~ Ezra Klein
We know empirically that pure chance is a significant determinant of material reward.

In his post The Argument Over Inequality, Ezra Klein suggests the myth of individual exceptionalism undermines society. I agree. American exceptionalism romanticizes the notion that we are a nation of individuals.

Tacit in the notion of a nation of individuals is that responsibility for organizations are preordained to be individualized (e.g., the buck stops here), and as a consequence run from a top-down structure.
A top-down hierarchy is inherently unstable - it assumes the ethical and operational infallblity of those at the top.
A pope is as corruptible as a pauper, if not more susceptible. A top-down hierarchy allows for an intellectually lazy, disengaged underclass. Further, it nurtures self-serving behavior in those in charge (e.g., see Enron scandal).

Klein retells the story of iconic inventor Alexander Graham Bell and his lesser known, would-be competitor, Elisha Gray.
On Feb. 14, 1876, Elisha Gray entered the U.S. Patent Office. Like Bell, he meant to patent a device for "transmitting vocal sounds telegraphically." Unlike Bell, the device in his patent actually worked. But Gray was a few hours too late. Bell's representative had come earlier in the morning to assert Bell's claim. In the log books, Bell is the fifth applicant that day and Gray is the 39th. And so it is Bell's name we remember. Meanwhile, Antonio Meucci, an Italian stage technician, had applied for a "caveat" -- a placeholder patent -- five years before either Gray or Bell. But lacking the $10 necessary to pay the patent office, his claim lapsed.

The recognition that luck plays a dominant role in an individual's fortune, or in a country's fortune, or in a society's fortune, or in an institution's fortune, deflates the insidious notion of exceptionalism.
Exceptionalism The perception that a country, society, institution, movement, or time period is "exceptional" (i.e., unusual or extraordinary) in some way and thus does not need to conform to normal rules or general principles.
source: Wikipedia.
Individuals and institutions are limited in the influence they have on their good fortune.

Like Klein, I believe that public policy should, as a matter of fairness, smooth the jagged edges of fate.

17 October 2010

Regressive Tax Policy is Horse Shit

It's easy for ideologues, king-makers, and hate-filled simpletons to ignore what historical data tell us:
Cutting the top tax rate does not lead to job creation!

Since 1964, the top tax rate has steady declined (pink squares) while the unemployment rate (blue circles) has fluctuated with little correlation to the top tax rate.

It's easy for ideologues, king-makers, and hate-filled simpletons to ignore another thing historical data tell us:
Cutting the top tax rate does not lead to economic growth!
Horse & Sparrow Economics

In this tiresome season of politically-motivated mis-information, friends of the rich are again rolling with shop-worn horse and sparrow economics which says,
if you let horses gorge on oats, some of that grain will pass through their systems and be deposited on the ground for the sparrows to enjoy.
Sparrows eating horse shit? Maybe. People? NO.

Aside from the economically painful reality born out by historical data, cutting the top tax rate for rich people is nonsensical because
  1. They don't need it; and
  2. Many rich people aren't particularly nice, or demonstrably charitable. 
Does it shock anyone that billionaires cut corners on maid service by hiring undocumented immigrants?

Meg Whitman, with a net worth of $1.3 billion (more than the GDP of Belize or Greenland), shouldn't be mistaken for a benevolent queen.

Ms. Whitman, GOP nominee for governor of California, shit-canned her housekeeper after discovering Nicky Diaz Santillan, a trusted "family member", was an undocumented worker.
"I was shocked and hurt that Ms. Whitman would treat me this way after nine years. She was throwing me away like a piece of garbage.
~Nicky Diaz Santillan, Meg Whitman's former housekeeper
Unless you're a self-serving, wealth-hoarder in the top US tax bracket, you've got no business supporting regressive tax policy. Furthermore, no middle class person has a rational excuse to support candidates that espouse the false notion that tax cuts create jobs or grow the economy.

13 October 2010

Why are Funny People Never Conservatives?

Are there any conservative comedians?
A conservative comedian is as much of an oxymoron as noisy silence.
Some of the most pointed commentary & illuminating discourse comes from comic figures. Some of my personal favorites are Marx Brothers, Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, George Carlin, Woody AllenChris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Larry David, and Jon Stewart.

Are there any conservative-leaning comedians that are actually funny?
The only conservative comedian who makes us laugh is Stephen Colbert - and his schtick is a spoof. Ironically, Colbert is funny because, in character, he exposes the pointless indefensibility of a self-righteous, conservative viewpoint.

The best political comedians illuminate the absurdity or hypocrisy of any institution. Religious institutions are a ripe target. Mort Sahl takes aim with
Most people past college age are not atheists. It's too hard to be in society, for one thing. Because you don't get any days off. And if you're an agnostic you don't know whether you get them off or not. ~Mort Sahl
The hypocrisy of political dogma is ripped by George Carlin's pointed joke about the absurdly hawkish nature of conservatism,
Once you leave the womb, conservatives don't care about you until you reach military age. Then you’re just what they’re looking for. Conservatives want live babies so they can raise them to be dead soldiers. ~George Carlin
Chris Rock's solution to gun violence seems both absurd and pragmatic
Gun control? We need bullet control! I think every bullet should cost $5,000. Because if a bullet cost $5,000, we wouldn't have any innocent bystanders. That'd be it. Every time someone gets shot, people will be like, ''Damn, he must have did something. Shit, they put $20,000 worth of bullets in his ass.'' People would think before they killed somebody, if a bullet cost $5,000. ''Man, l would blow your fucking head off, if l could afford it. l'm gonna get me another job, l'm gonna start saving some money, and you're a dead man! You better hope l can't get no bullets on layaway.'' So even if you get shot by a stray bullet, you won't have to go to no doctor to get it taken out. Whoever shot you would take their bullet back. ''l believe you got my property.'' ~Chris Rock
Lenny Bruce was succinct in his assessment of justice
In the Halls of Justice, the only justice is in the halls.
Lenny Bruce
Waxing deftly about our proclivity to political expedience, Groucho Marx quipped,
Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others.

Comedians instinctively understand and exploit human foibles. Conservatives ignore them. Conservatives live in the haughty and delusional atmosphere of human exceptionalism and infallibility.

I contend,
Whenever you feel infallible, you're poised for a comic fall.
How many social conservatives are scandalously discovered ostensibly "hiking" the Appalachian Trail or desperately looking for love by toe-tapping in the MSP airport rest room?

It is almost impossible to be conservative and also be funny, because
Being funny is about being human.
Stand up comedy is a profession about collective humanity. On the other hand,
Conservatism will always carry the distinctly un-funny encumbrance of individual exceptionalism.
Comedy has always been centered about human-kind’s collective fallibility. I don't see that changing any time soon.

I would, but I need the eggs

One of the most beautifully human soliloquys is found in the closing scene of the virtuosic Woody Allen comic film Annie Hall, where narating protagonist Alvy Singer illustrates his point about the need for human connections:
...this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, "Doc, uh, my brother's crazy; he thinks he's a chicken." And, uh, the doctor says, "Well, why don't you turn him in?" The guy says, "I would, but I need the eggs."

06 October 2010

Will Catholicism Implode on Hatred?

A talking head for the Twin Cities archdiocese said Catholics should expect to be denied holy communion if they're wearing rainbow buttons or ribbons in of support gays and lesbians. WTF?

How can Catholicism remain relevant to anyone when its leaders are ignorant, bigoted, sexually-repressed psychopaths?

Can the Catholic church survive its own venomous animosity toward its homosexual brethren?
Believe those who seek the truth. Doubt those who find it.
~Derek Sivers
Archdiocese: Communion too sacred to be used as protest
by Madeleine Baran, MPR
October 6, 2010
St. Paul, Minn. — A spokesman for the Twin Cities archdiocese said Tuesday that Catholics should expect to be denied communion if they are wearing rainbow buttons or ribbons at church to support gays and lesbians.
Full article
If the threat of clergy playing pocket pool with altar boys doesn't repel Catholics, surely this small-minded animus directed from the archdiocese toward the rainbow wing of "god's" children will.

16 September 2010

Flower Power Ain't So Cool Anymore

The venomous Tea Bagging nincompoops of 2010 have give us a better understanding of American politics in the 1960s.

The radical, counter-culture movement of 1960s was grounded in, and driven by, personal freedoms and exceptionalism, and less so on the philosophy progressives hold dear, like human interdependence and the tacit recognition of innate human flaws.

Forgetting about personal heroes, and legendary pop figures, like Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young, the often lionized politics of the 1960s, when examined, is disappointingly me-centric:
  • Don't let me be drafted, and
  • Don't let the government dictate my personal habits;
rather than a generational plea for fundamental fairness, or a generational acceptance of the pragmatic logic of collectivism.
Personal Freedoms Over Collectivism
Through this lens, Flower Power ain't so cool anymore.

Many hippies were no more than over-indulgent, self-centered libertarians, who might just have devolved into the bitter tea baggers so prominently featured on the Ninny-News-Channel.

The music of the 1960s was insanely good, though.

Joe Cocker - Woodstock 1969.

13 September 2010

Freedom From Eye Floaters

I support freedom OF religion -- an important civil liberty.

Equally as important though, is freedom FROM religion.

I don't care if you worship eye floaters. I welcome the eye floaters house of worship anywhere the eye floaters covenant wishes to build it.

However, I don't want to hear any delusional drivel about eye floaters from anyone's pious pie-hole when discussing, determining, and implementing public policy, laws, or governance.
To choose dogma and faith over doubt and experience is to throw out the ripening vintage and to reach greedily for the Kool-Aid.
  ~Christopher Hitchens
My plea to humanity, and my hope for the burgeoning civilizations we leave for our children, is this:
For god's sake, if not your own, keep religious rituals, practices, and notions the fuck out of public policy decision-making.
You burn your candles and incense however you want to burn them and I'll burn mine.

Let it be so.

10 September 2010

Intelligence & Uncertainty

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias that supports a rather disappointing observation:
People who don't know much tend not to recognize their ignorance, so they fail to seek better information.
Ignorance & Confidence

Perhaps the Dunning-Kruger effect explains the correlation between ignorance and confidence.

Would-be Qur'an-burner Pastor Terry Jones is a confident public speaker. Yet this man can't possibly comprehend his seemingly unbounded ignorance.

It never occurred to the cock-sure George W. Bush to doubt the veracity of US intelligence reports on Iraq's WMDs, or to welcome conflicting viewpoints during his Presidency, or to make informed decisions, or to seek better information.

Fact gathering and critical thinking are like a curse to truly ignorant people.
Stupid is as stupid does
~Forrest Gump
Intelligence & Uncertainty

On the flip-side, there seems to be a positive correlation between intelligence and uncertainty.

I was demoted to the slow reading group in 3rd grade for disruptive behavior. This branded my prepubescent psyche with the awkward self-consciousness of the characterization below-average.

By college, a few latent talents emerged. I grew into my native intelligence. A theme in my adult life is reversing the limiting self-image of below-average-ness.

A windfall of moderated self-esteem, and the recognition of ubiquitous uncertainty, is that it drives one toward knowledge. Moderated self-esteem and uncertainty has driven me to doggedly seek better information whether voting for school board members, or making consumer purchases.

Is it possible, in one's lifetime, to truly plumb the depths of one's ignorance?

Uncertainty, or an an appetite for certainty, is one driving force behind many of human-kind's most significant discoveries. This is true in science.

An appetite for certainty is human nature. The weak-minded have the same appetite for certainty as the much-celebrated physicist Albert Einstein or contemporary cosmologist Stephen Hawking.

Unfortunately for civilization, the weak-minded's appetite for certainty is often sated by the pseudo certainty derived from dogmatic religious beliefs. Deity worship, and other superstitions, atrophies critical thinking and renders one intellectually lazy.

Further Reading

The Comfort of Ignorant Bliss by Lane Wallace.

23 August 2010

Ya Gots to Run the Pigeon

People in the US bandy political descriptors Far Right and Far Left as if there's some sort of balance or equivalence. There ain't.

There is no Far Left in the US. Period.

Collectively, the US is about as progressive as a Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

Far Right is the new mainstream. With the systematic dismantling of public institutions - vital institutions like the public schools - begun in the Reagan era, it shouldn't surprise us that anti-elitism is rampant. Reagan's aw shucks demeanor was the birth of decades of appealing to mis-informed, middle-class schmucks, while simultaneously making our lives incrementally worse.

Unfortunately, the US brand of anti-elitism is not a populist backlash against rich folks putting the screws to us. Rather we suffer a peculiar brand of anti-elitism that celebrates the right for all of us to be uninformed, lazy and disengaged.

It is a badge of honor in the US to be a vituperative redneck.

The US airwaves are dominated by the most frighteningly ignorant, mean spirited animus one could have ever imagined in a lifetime. Traveling across Wyoming, the AM dial had 3 venom-spewing talk-show hosts fomenting anger by a manufactured mythology of misinformation and 3 nutty Christian stations in praise of Him.

In fairness there was a lone knothole of light piercing this privy of appalling ignorance -- Yellowstone Public Radio; albeit a public station with a weak signal that faded in and out.

Far Center - Alive & Well

The US Congress, and the Executive Branch, is where the Far Center resides.

Congress, and President Obama, understand the policy issues and how to fix them, but they operate in fear of how the Far Right will spin any inkling of progress, any inkling of a federal program that will help people, into the feared S-word, Socialism.

Welcome to the Far Center. The Far Center panders to the scent of political expedience.

Democrats are NOT aptly described as the Tax and Spend party. But it is now fair to say that Democrats ARE aptly described as the party of Tax and Waste Billions on Two Elective Wars.
I don't get the message so you gots to run the pigeon
~ American hip hop group A Tribe Called Quest from Check The Rhime

I am not a member of the professional left that Obama's press secretary Robert Gibbs recently dissed. The notion offends me. Citizens should critique their president. The flip-side of criticism is apathy, or worse, lock-step simpletons.

I am a seeker of what's rational and what's fair. That's progressive.

Progressives are rightfully disappointed in the path President Obama has taken - the Far Center path.

President Obama's single-most egregious failure is not ending two elective wars on day one. Because Obama chose to escalate in Afghanistan, and chose to continue nation-building in Iraq, his administration has earned the derisive badge of Bush Lite.

Check The Rhime

The Far Center doesn't get the message.

We gots to run the pigeon to politicians paralyzed by political calculation. President Obama, and the soul-less Far Center cohorts in Congress, don't understand that Tax & Spend is good - but only if we Spend on shit people actually need -- like an education, or a job (see Constructive vs. Destructive Spending).

Destructive vs Constructive Spending

I want the US Federal government to spend your hard-earned tax dollars.

Yes, I want the US government to spend your hard-earned tax dollars on essential shit you actually need, like an education or a job.

What if the US Federal government provided equal access to higher education? What would it cost and where would we get the money?

Military Spending for $1,086 billion, Alex.

Cumulative funds appropriated by the US Congress from the 9/11 attacks through the regular FY2010 for US Department of Defense, US State Department / USAID and VA for medical costs for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and enhanced security...is a staggering and indefensible $1,086 billion.

Simple Calculation

A college degree from a public 4-year college costs, on average, $28,080 for in-state tuition and fees.

Recently, about 11.5 million students, ages 18 to 24, were enrolled in either a 2- or 4-year colleges (October 2008).

11,500,000 students x $28,080 tuition = $323 billion

The price to provide students, 18-24, with a 4-year college education is about $323 billion. Useful, indisputably constructive, and roughly equivalent to the $304 billion outlay in Afghanistan since 9/11.

Destructive / Military

Constructive / Education


$748 billion*


$304 billion*


$29 billion*


$6 billion*
*since 9/11 attack on WTC

College Tuition

$323 billion

If the US were not beholden to what General Colin Powell coined the terror-industrial complex, we could provide higher education to all comers with a cool $764 billion to spare.
The only thing that can really destroy us is us. We shouldn't do it to ourselves, and we shouldn't use fear for political purposes —scaring people to death so they will vote for you, or scaring people to death so that we create a terror-industrial complex.
~ General Colin Powell GQ Interview, October 2007
Don't take the wacky assertions of anti-government extremists, like those in the Tea Party, too seriously, but understand the basis of their anger. They are disenfranchised. They are filled with animus for a US government that's done a shit job of providing the basics, and angered by a US government that has idly let its public infrastructure crumble.

As anti-government extremists see it, government takes their money, and then air-lifts their family members to foreign lands be maimed or killed in inexplicable and indefensible elective wars.

We can do better. We must.

Government works best when it helps its people. Plain & simple.

Reference Material

14 August 2010

Little Wing - Paid in Advance

Little Wing is a unearthly tune written by Jimi Hendrix. First recorded in 1967, it is no. 357 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

In the rendition of Little Wing below, tapping guitarist Carlos Vamos coaxes an other-worldly rendition from his axe.

Vamos' ethereal improvising caused one blown-away fan to wax existential:

Fan:I live a fast life, so I'm preparing for the end. You,sir, will play at my funeral.
Carlos Vamos:That's fine,you can book me now, but payment must be before the event.

Hendrix played Little Wing with a unique chord/melody guitar style where his guitar sounds like it is playing two parts. He did this by simultaneously laying down multiple complementary notes.
The unusual flanging sound of the lead guitar part is a result of the Doppler effect which is created using a rotating speaker cabinet, or Leslie speaker. ~From Wikipedia
Little Wing Covers
  • Tibor Tátrai plays Little Wing in a live performance. Stellar solo.
  • Carlos Vamos plays another (better) Little Wing acoustic tapping version.
  • The Corrs play their unplugged Little Wing with beautiful voices, flute, violin, and slide guitar.
  • Jim Richter plinks out a memorable Little Wing on octave mandolin.
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan's Little Wing is perhaps the most faithful tribute to the original Hendrix version but heightened by signature SRV licks.
  • Jamie Winchester & Hrutka Róbert perform a respectable rendition of Little Wing in Jamie's living room.
  • A young Sting with a pony tail plays Little Wing circa 1988.
  • Eric Clapton plays lead on a Little Wing cover featuring an '09 reincarnation of the legendary Allman Brothers Band.
  • Elijah Blue Allman is the son of Cher and Gregg Allman.. Elijah Blue absolutely rips in this stirring rendition.
Little Wing
by Jimi Hendrix

Well she's walking through the clouds
With a circus mind that's running round
Butterflies and zebras
And moonbeams and fairy tales
That's all she ever thinks about
Riding with the wind.

When I'm sad, she comes to me
With a thousand smiles, she gives to me free
It's alright she says it's alright
Take anything you want from me,

Fly on little wing,
Yeah yeah, yeah, little wing

Butterflies and zebras and moonbeams and fairy tales are about all one could hope for. I'd gladly pay Carlos in advance, but how do I know he'll outlive me?

01 August 2010

America, The Continent

Several years ago, I wrote a poem, ostensibly about immigration, called America, The Continent.

America, The Continent is a poem about something we all seek:
a better life
I am often compelled to write after seeing vintage black and white photographs of historical events.

One photograph I could not let go of, depicted a border station where migrant workers were given a de-lousing bath of kerosene and vinegar before entering the US. I had been listening to hauntingly beautiful tune Matamoros Banks by Bruce Springsteen.

Borders often follow geologic features like rivers, but frequently they are anthropomorphic (and imaginary).

David Dorado Romo tells the story behind the image that inspired my poem:
All immigrants from the interior of Mexico, and those whom U.S. Customs officials deemed "second-class" residents of Juarez, were required to strip completely, turn in their clothes to be sterilized in a steam dryer and fumigated with hydrocyanic acid, and stand naked before a Customs inspector who would check his or her "hairy parts" -- scalp, armpits, chest, genital area -- for lice. Those found to have lice would be required to shave their heads and body hair with clippers and bathe with kerosene and vinegar.

My great-aunt, Adela Dorado, would tell our family about the humiliation of having to go through the delousing every eight days just to clean American homes in El Paso. She recalled how on one occasion the U.S. Customs officials put her clothes and shoes through the steam dryer and her shoes melted.

~David Dorado Romo, from Ringside Seat to a Revolution: An Underground Cultural History of El Paso and Juarez, 1893-1923
The poem America, The Continent (below) appears in my new online book Hope Begins.

15 June 2010

Touchdown Jesus

A lightning strike destroyed the 6-story Touchdown Jesus statue in Monroe, OH.

It seems Jesus forgives his followers for all transgressions - except bad taste.

Religious iconography is compelling.

On my death-bed, should I desire a god or gods for comfort, would I then feel moved to demean that god by imagining it in human form?

The Backwards K

It'd be hard to resist imagining my death-bed god in the image of an umpire calling a 3rd strike - caught looking.

06 June 2010

Black Swans & Brown Pelicans

Those familiar with the concept of a Black Swan, know that Nassim Taleb's Black Swan is a metaphor to explain the disproportionate magnitude and consequence of rare, unexpected events.
This decade's Black Swan arrived in the form of a Brown Pelican in the Gulf of Mexico.
Looking back, one can fathom how management disasters occur in a high-stakes system of unregulated capitalism.
There's a financial incentive for going forward, and a financial disincentive for holding back. ~Lane Wallace
It occurred to me that a Black Swan is not neccessarily a discrete event (or series of events), rather it is
the continuous unfolding paradigm of uncertainty we live in.
There is false security in thinking of Black Swans as discrete events.

BP's Deepwater Horizon oilcano disaster is a culture-changing Black Swan. This disaster reminds me that unknowns cannot be conveniently isolated and discretized on a timeline - as comforting as that might be. Rather, the unforeseen continually unfolds.

It bears reflecting on the immutable: the world is a complex system.
Our complex world is like a spirited race horse. The harder we tug to control it, the more it resists to prove a point.
~Roger Martin
Ever fearful of the impact of lurking Black Swans, we feverously quantify complex systems to make predictions.

We are adept at, but not particularly accurate in, making predictions - whether in the sciences, engineering, or business. Yet the lure of predictive numbers is intoxicating (with the side benefit of providing a living to many professionals).

Years ago I made a living as an engineer making computer models of groundwater contamination as a predictive tool. The results from the model simulations were used to design engineering solutions and to support environmental litigation.

These contaminant flow models were alluring mathematical applications that produced aesthetically pleasing color contours of simulated toxic plumes. The problem is, the models had little or no basis in reality; yet millions of dollars were spent based on the results.
Our world is an intensely complicated, ambiguous system of systems that defies comprehensive quantification
~Roger Martin
Risk management professionals are quick to distinguish between the concepts of Risk and Uncertainty, saying
With risk, we know the odds. With uncertainty, we don't.
If risk is "we don't know what’ll happen, but we know the odds", I have become a skeptic. Here's the rub
Unless the odds-makers are gods, what we're left with - after the hubris and volatile gases burn off - is uncertainty.
At times I have been metrics-obsessed. I have deluded and comforted myself with data collection.

The metrics-obsessed believe that collecting numbers will reveal actionable things we can't afford to ignore. Further, the metrics-obsessed believe that numbers might somehow answer questions they haven't yet thought to ask. Perhaps. Like others questioning their faith, I still obsess about numbers - just in case.

I know certainty is an illusion, so I plan accordingly.

01 June 2010

Facebook Dodged a Bullet

In A Key Lesson From The Facebook Privacy Scandal: If Your Customers Don’t Care, Ignore the Critics, Business Insider reporter Nick Saint says
To privacy advocates, that’s a compelling reason to make sharing new information opt-in. For Facebook, which stands to gain from people sharing more, it’s a great reason to make it opt-out. 
But here’s the important thing, from the business standpoint: the majority of Facebook’s users couldn’t care less.
I agree that most Facebook users couldn’t care less about Facebook sharing private likes, dislikes, & associations with its advertisers, but Nick Saint might be too young or unjaded to realize
People are sheep -- they follow the cool people.
One only need look at the sinusoidal coolness of Desert Boots for reference. Facebook nearly reached a Tipping Point of uncoolness.

I suspect we are on the cusp of witnessing a sudden, mass evacution of users from some major website.

Facebook dodged a bullet...for now.

27 May 2010

BP PR - The Ultimate Junk Shot

The Ultimate Junk Shot

The ultimate junk shot is not injecting a clever mixture of golf balls and tire shards into the blowout preventer. It's that we live in a balls-out corporatocracy where laissez faire capitalism - from the likes of Ayn Rand to Rand Paul - repeatedly explodes into a fireball.

Mud Beats Oil

The headline for BP's Top Kill procedure at the Deepwater Horizon calamity read "Mud Beats Oil". This makes me wonder if BP executives do a collegial round of Rock-Paper-Scissors before making all crucial decisions.

Why are so many corporations hell-bent on doing the wrong thing?
BP is destroying an entire region of the world & there's still no talk of cutting their next dividend -- Scott Adams

But, it does make for dark humor.

Here are the funniest and most poignant tweets about the BP calamity from the fake BP Twitter account BPGlobalPR:
  • The good news: Mermaids are real. The bad news: They are now extinct. #bpcares
  • We are dedicated to helping the wildlife in the gulf. Any birds that need cleaning must report to 287 Quartemain St, Baton Rouge, LA 70801.
  • Just got the concession call from Exxon Valdez. They were great competitors and remarkably evil about everything. #bpwins!
  • Not only are we dropping a top hat on the oil spill, we're going to throw in a cane and monocle as well. Keeping it classy.
  • If Top Kill doesn't work, we're just gonna toss a giant "Get Well Soon" card into the gulf and hope for the best. #bpcares
  • BP will be sponsoring the New Orleans Blues Festival this summer w/ special tribute to Muddy Waters. #bpcares
  • We just saw a shark fight an octopus inside the geyser. Almost made this whole thing worth it.
  • We are starting a movement to fix the oil leak. Just mail your garbage to New Orleans and we'll take it from there.
  • Sorry Kevin Costner, if we were interested in what you had to say, we'd rent Tin Cup.

Man With The BP Hat

Modified lyrics to The Man With The Big Hat
performed by Jerry Jeff Walker and Willie Nelson

Click the play button and follow along...

Jeff Jeff Walker:
In a 'lil bar south of Cut Off
Was on a sultry Louisiana day
Oil Boy comin' off the road, just to pass the time away
Pulled a stool up to the bar. Pushed his hat back on his head
I listened to the stories told, the words that Oil Boy said.
He said...

Willie Nelson:
I can tell you stories 'bout shoveling lube in the rain
Talk about Dick Cheney, and the comin' of the shame
I can talk about the slaughter, of the Spoonbills that flew
Sing you songs of baby Terns, come-a-looking for their crew

CHORUS (both)
And the man with the BP hat is buyin'
Drink up while the drinking is free
Drink up to Brown Pelicans a dead or a dying
Drink to my compadres and me
Drink to my compadres and me

Jeff Jeff Walker:
Well his shirt was brown and faded
And his hat was dripping black
The pants that once were blue were grey, had a pocket gone in back
He had a finger missin' from a hand that laid crude-soaked boom
As he laughed and talked of Oil Boy life, you knew it weren't perfume.
He said...

Willie Nelson:
I rode on the cleanup drive from here to Timbalier Bay
Ten days in the Tyvek suit, and my face is ashen gray
I rode from here to Atchafalaya, without a womans' smile
The porta-potty where I took a crap, was the only light for miles

CHORUS (both)
And the man with the BP hat is buyin'
Drink up while the drinking is free
Drink up to Brown Pelicans a dead or a dying
Drink to my compadres and me
Drink to my compadres and me

Jeff Jeff Walker:
He rested easy at the bar, his foot upon the rail
You know he laughed 'n talked of times he had, tossin’ globs in a pail
The silence never broken, as the words poured from his lips
Just quiet as the dispersant he carried on his hip.
He said...

Willie Nelson:
I seen the day so hot your alligator weed would wilt
And if you had a white plastic bag, you’d fill it with oily silt
And sheens, I’ve seen sheens where your boots slipped in the sand
And your only thoughts was leavin', but you witnessed it firsthand

CHORUS (both)
And the man with the BP hat is buyin'
Drink up while the drinking is free
Drink up to Brown Pelicans a dead or a dying
Drink to my compadres and me
Drink to my compadres and me

Jeff Jeff Walker:
Well he rolled one more tar ball, as he turned toward the door
I heard his cell phone jingling, as his Tyvek booties hit the floor
He loosened up his belt a notch, pulled his hat down on his head
As he turned to say goodbye to me, this is what the Oil Boy said....

Willie Nelson:
Now the boom-lines is chasin’ oil slicks, and the newsman stokes his fear
And to see a beachcombing Oil Boy, is a sight that's mighty queer
But an Oil Boy’s life is lonely, and his lot is kinda harsh
But had it not been for men like me, there wouldn't be no marsh.

CHORUS (both)
Alright, and the man with the BP hat is buyin'
Drink up while the drinking is free
Drink up to Brown Pelicans a dead or a dying
Drink to my compadres and me
Drink to my compadres and me

23 May 2010

The Trust Bubble

We might be facing a period where the resilience of our trust will be tested.

The term Economic Bubble has become part of our lexicon. A decade ago we endured the dot-com bubble.

Recently the US seems to be emerging from the devastating foreclosures of the real estate bubble. These are speculative bubbles – irrational price run-ups driven by a toxic combination of greed and delusion.

Our economy seems poised to be buffeted by hard-to-predict events that might burst another type of bubble – a bubble buoyed by reasonable trust. There is not an abundance of trust. Yet most of us share some level of reasonable trust – trust in our corporate and government leaders to do right by us.

Prominent companies, new economy and old, float on precarious bubbles of reasonable trust. What will be the tipping point that bursts those bubbles?

The trust bubble is unlike speculative bubbles. Absent is the irrational optimism of the dot-com bubble. And there isn’t the delusional notion that housing values will always appreciate that characterized the real estate bubble.

The reasonable trust bubble feeds on our naïve, but optimistic notions of decency, common sense, and goodwill.
  • Reasonable trust is what citizens have when they assume an entity like the Minerals Management Service, the federal agency responsible for offshore oil and gas regulation, is dutifully overseeing the redundant failovers companies like BP are reasonably expected to use when extracting our natural resources.
  • Reasonable trust is what social networking website users have when they assume that Facebook protects their personal likes, dislikes and associations from unknown and un-trusted eyes.
  • Reasonable trust is what Google Maps users have when they marvel at Street View images of their homes (not knowing their wireless router SSID and location was also recorded by the roving Google Car data collection system).
There is an unwritten contract (an implied agreement of fairness) between new economy online entities, who hold vast amounts of information about web consumers, and the web consumer. Facebook and Google have earned our loyalty, if not our trust, by providing appealing and competitively superior products.

A less noble approach is to buy our trust. Old economy corporations like BP pour millions each year into positive brand campaigns. In 2005, BP doubled its advertising budget to $150 million with the explicit goal of burnishing its environmental credentials.

The Trust Bubble is the increasing value of companies based on an accumulation of goodwill. Goodwill is an accounting term I learned about during a one-semester stint as an clueless MBA student. It reflects the possibility that a business has some prudent value beyond its assets, like the reputation a company enjoys with its clients.

Google’s widely reported Don’t be Evil slogan is still a bond of trust Google holds with most of its users. Yet, as mentioned, Google embarrassed itself admitting its Street View image collection also included inadvertent collection of wireless router information as the dexterous Google Car rolled by our houses.

Facebook’s popularity grows despite a recent and fervent backlash against their eroding privacy protections. On April 27, a group of Democratic US Senators sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg urging him to implement easier privacy controls.

Kurt Opsahl, Senior Staff Attorney at the non-profit digital rights watchdog Electronic Frontier Foundation observed,
As Facebook grew larger and became more important, it could have chosen to maintain or improve those controls. Instead, it's slowly but surely helped itself — and its advertising and business partners — to more and more of its users' information, while limiting the users' options to control their own information.
A Facebook executive answered a reader's question in the NY Times technology blog Bits, writing
We don’t share your information with advertisers. Our targeting is anonymous. We don’t identify or share names. Period.
~Elliot Schrage, Vice President for Public Policy, Facebook
Sounds reasonable, except that, as the Wall Street Journal points out in Facebook, MySpace Confront Privacy Loophole, it's not true. Not surprisingly, several social-networking sites, including Facebook, sell advertising companies data that can be used to look up your profile.

Facebook spent the past six years connecting us with friends and community – building trust and accumulating goodwill. Yet the Facebook wall posts that brought us closer to new and long-lost friends, have suddenly became a sideshow. Front-and-center is the vanishing act of privacy protection.

BP’s penny-pinching on safety and failsafe protections, followed by an ill-advised spin control campaign of its Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, characterized by denial, finger pointing, misinformation and obfuscation, has people hopping mad.
BP's millions spent on green advertising flamed out long before the oil globs hit the gulf coast marshes.
Bought or earned, the Trust bubble is an accumulation of goodwill. A hash tag like #deleteyourfacebookaccount reaches a trending peak on Twitter within hours then virally spreads throughout the Twitter-verse for days. I await the impact of Quit Facebook Day - May 31st - with keen interest.

Without the inflated chest of goodwill, perceived and real value could vanish - poof. Our trust is worth an incalculable sum. Trust is a challenge to earn. It can disappear in a flash.

Appendix A - The Dot-Com Bubble
We experienced the dot-com bubble during 1995 through 2000. It was characterized by rapidly increasing internet sector stock prices (the bubble), followed by rapidly decreasing internet sector stock prices (the burst). The impact of the speculative frenzy over internet stocks spread throughout the market. The NASDAQ peaked at 5131 on March 10, 2000. It has yet to recover.

Source: Finance.Yahoo.com, NASDAQ composite plot

Appendix BThe Real Estate Bubble
We are in the midst of the downward trend of the Real Estate Bubble in the United States. Single family house prices have in 363 metropolises (measured quarterly by U.S. Federal Housing Agency) have dropped over 15% since 4th quarter 2006.