Nobody Wins! Yay!

“Everybody is a Winner!”

President Obama to children at an Easter Egg Roll at the White House

 

I have never heard of an Easter Egg Roll before.  I only knew of the Chinese food variety, which I love dearly.  Apparently this is an event for kids hosted on the White House lawn.  Apparently, you roll an egg with a spoon and try to win by racing the other kids.  I don’t know if there is betting or humiliation involved (or physical humor, I love physical humor), it would require a blood relation to keep my interest.

 

When I read a statement like our President’s above, I am always drawn to two similar quotes from The Incredibles, that awesome 2004 Pixar movie.  The first is from the super fast kid who isn’t allowed to go out for sports.  This is due to his overwhelming talent and likelihood of being unable to fit in when his powers are revealed.

 

Dash: But Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of, our powers made us special.

Helen: Everyone’s special, Dash.

Dash: [muttering] Which is another way of saying no one is.

 

The second quotes is from the villain, when he explains his motivation for killing everyone with natural super powers, then selling normal people powers equal to superheros.

Syndrome:  Everyone can be super.   And when everyone is super, no one will be.

 

I am reminded of Vonnegut’s short story, Harrison Bergeron.  If you haven’t read it before, read it now, it’s super short so you can do it even if you are unmotivated.

We all know that the egg roll is a race.  Unless you change the rules, there is a winner in every race.  At the track (I’ve heard), you bet on the top three horses coming in with a certain order, not to pretend the limping horse in last place is the equal to the fastest. 

There is pride in finishing a marathon.  There can be pride in even getting off the starting post.  Many people who achieve these goals are winners in their own ways for having overcome obstacles along the way.  But they are not the equal of the runner who crossed the finish line first.  The person who finished first was THE winner, the runner with the fastest time.  No amount of cheering or distraction can take away from his domination of his opponents.

 

Not all movies are Best Picture and not all shots hit the bulls eye.  To pretend otherwise is just an egalitarian fantasy.  Let the winning child bask in the glory of his egg rolling talent!  Let us encourage children to try to be the best they can be.  And when they win, let them feel the elation of their success.  Let’s not demean the efforts of the winner by giving gold medals to everyone. 

 

The Ukraine doesn’t get a gold medal for failing to keep Russia out and the person who is the second place choice for the promotion doesn’t take home a bigger paycheck.  It is worth striving to be first.  We are not simply lucky that the USA became the strongest economic and military powerhouse the world has ever seen.  Russia and the United States were not both winners of the Cold War.  Germany and Japan didn’t tie for first in World War II.  Past generations as well as our own have worked tremendously hard to raise ourselves to our current level.  We should be proud of our efforts, not just because we tried, but because we won.

 

 

 

Pay Attention to a Disproportionate Response

My wonderful father, a man with tremendous insight into people’s character, used to tell our family a rule of psychology.  It has probably been noticed and been around for a long time, but since he brought it to our attention, I’ll give him all the credit.  I think we used to call this Gold’s Rule, in honor of the Gold family (my family, thank you), though I may be confused with that other Gold’s Rule, “Whoever has the gold, makes the rules.”

It went much as follows: a disproportionate response was a fantastic indicator of lying on the part of the responder.  If asked, “Did you do this?”  The answer is often given as “No, I didn’t do that.”  But every once in a while, the response would come back as “How dare you accuse me of such a thing!” or “I am offended you even suggest I did that!”  These responses are almost certain to come from a guilty party.  Not knowing the answer to such a question, but asking two people about it, bet against the one with the over-the-top reaction to the suggestion of their guilt.

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In addition, I would add that facts are facts and science is science.  Facts and science do not change based on who is doing a study or who is asking a question.  Methods used matter, but the source of the information does not. 

If a terrible person comes up with a scientific discovery, it is no less valid than that of a living saint.  It can either be reproduced or it can’t.  If Galileo was a bastard who watered down drinks when he bar tended (I made that up), it doesn’t mean he was wrong about the relationship between the Earth and the Sun.  Fritz Haber, one of the most successful scientists at developing poison gas for Germany to use in WWI, was also the discoverer of how to synthesize ammonia, without which our farming could not support (literally) billions alive today.  Haber’s process for ammonia is not a minor discovery due to the fact that he was a cretin.

And so, we come to the news today.  A brand spankin’ new study says, according to the article on it, “biofuels made with corn residue release 7 percent more greenhouse gases in the early years compared with conventional gasoline.”  This is in direct contradiction to a 2012 study stating that these same biofuels are 95% better on greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline.  I haven’t read either study, only the AP press release on it.  But the article has the response included in it.  It is no surprise that the biofuel industry is going after the study as invalid for a number of reasons, and this response by a billion dollar industry makes sense.  This is not a disproportionate response.  I will not attempt to argue who is right or wrong.

It is the government response that makes one scratch their head.  The study was funded by the federal government and was published in a peer review journal, much like many such studies the government funds all the time.  Since the study was just released, it is a bit early for the government to jump in with an opinion.  Keep in mind, no government or bureaucracy moves quickly, ever, yet this response came the same day as the AP report of the news.  A measured response would be, “We will look into this study and review its significance.  As this contradicts other studies and has new information not published prior, we need to understand why these differences occurred.”

Instead, an EPA spokesman said it “does not provide useful information relevant to the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from corn stover ethanol.”  That was a quick response.  The research was immediately criticized by the administration as flawed.  Too fast for my taste.  NO useful information?  None at all came from the study?  Hard to believe it came through the peer review process and was published at all.  Sounds a bit too much like it didn’t fit a political agenda.  Not knowing the truth of the matter, the EPA response has given me reason to question the government’s attachment to scientific truth.  Nothing wrong with disagreeing with a study.  Something very wrong with behavior out of the ordinary.

 

The Athenian Oath

“We will never bring disgrace on this our City by an act of dishonesty or cowardice.

We will fight for the ideals and Sacred Things of the City both alone and with many.

We will revere and obey the City’s laws, and will do our best to incite a like reverence and respect in those above us who are prone to annul them or set them at naught.

We will strive unceasingly to quicken the public’s sense of civic duty.

Thus, in all these ways, we will transmit this City not only, not less, but greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.”

 

The Athenian Oath was taken by the young men of Athens when they reached 17.

Drones, Theft and a Prediction

Recent news included a tidbit about drones (the kind with cameras, weapons, etc., not the kind from a beehive).  Apparently there is already a prototype drone that can land on electric lines and draw power to charge its battery.  This would enable the drone to remain in the field for long periods of time as it would not have to go back to a base to recharge. 

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Good Lord by Trustocorp, 2011, back lit stained glass

While the military implications of drones are fascinating, I believe the real significance of this article is in the potential of the technology.

If drones can steal electricity to charge their batteries, they can steal electricity to use for any purpose whatsoever.  Image if you have a drone that can perch on a line and has a plug that extends down to the ground.  Free electricity!  You need no knowledge of how to hook up a line to steal it.  You take no risk, the drone just flies up to the power line and you’re good to go.  When you’re done, it flies down and you pack it up.  No evidence exists of your theft at that location and the power plant picks up the bill for your usage.

In addition, if you have an electric car, it would only be a small jump in technology to have a small drone in the trunk and you could recharge your car’s battery anywhere you could find a power line.  No more stopping at a gas station for you.  No more worrying about the low range of your electric car.  Enormous potential abuses exist if there is an easy way to steal electricity with no way to be tracked.

 

My prediction

Perching drones will be made illegal for non-military usage as soon as they appear on the market. 

 

Though they may be as effective as a plastic gun printed with a 3D printer, the potential for abuse is far too high for Congress to allow them in private hands.  On the other hand, the government trusts itself to do the right thing, so their use will be monopolized by the government the instant they are available. 

Because most power companies are so heavily regulated that they depend on the goodwill of politicians, they won’t let out a peep of protest and will pass the cost of the theft on down to the private consumer.  Since the stolen electricity will be “free” to governments, as an expense passed on to private citizens and businesses, governments are guaranteed to abuse their new found powers of theft.  New technology of this sort cannot be put back in Pandora’s Box.  Once you learn to open the Kryptonite lock with a plastic pen, the whole design must change. 

What will become of our power lines?  Will they all have to be buried at great cost?  Will this be an excuse to watch everyone even more closely in our liberty loving society?  Or is there some far less costly solution?  Whatever the case, the winds of change are blowing.  This new technology will have a greater impact than a small plane that gets to hang out a bit longer taking pictures.

Ancient Thought, Modern Agoraphobia

“While we are postponing, life speeds by.”

“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.”

-Seneca

I started reading (or rereading) some of the thinkers from Ancient Greece and Rome over the past two years.  Perhaps it is a time in life or simply an openness to timeless concepts that has drawn me back a couple of millennia.  Certainly the quotes above are meaningful to me, though I have picked concise, brief thoughts to share rather than lengthy discourses of some depth.

What strikes me most is the difference between how we perceive these early philosophers and the nature of their lives.  When I used to think of Socrates, I thought of a portly old man, expounding on life, or drinking hemlock in a sterile environment, wearing a white robe.

Socrates

Influential.  Brilliant.  Sterile.  Tedious.  Long gone and dusty.

 

In fact, Socrates was a very interesting man, always talking, feasting with friends, drinking and socializing.  In reading Plato’s works, I learned Socrates fought in battle as a soldier, showed courage and loyalty, and was invited to feasts as a favored guest.  Socrates spoke of the nature of love and beauty in rich and poetic language, not as a mathematical formula of A=B, therefore C.  Though his ideas were usually accepted as the best of those in an evening, his voice was one of many people enjoying a topic, rather than a teacher dictating to his students.  This was a man who loved his life, loved learning about it, and loved living it.

The more I read of ancient thinkers and philosophers, the more I am unimpressed with the sterile lives led by our current experts.  Modern experts frequently go from college to graduate school and on to professorships, never peeking their heads out of a library, never truly living the life existent beyond the confines of their ivory towers.  How few would attend a feast (or throw one) with a mix of more and less educated guests, from many walks of life, with opposing political and religious views?

I fear I have painted with too broad a stroke.  There are those who write and discuss beyond peer reviewed journals and safe, small gatherings of colleagues.  There are those who live the life of the mind, yet climb mountains, fire rifles and swim in strange waters.  Those who are unafraid to speak their unpopular ideas in their search for truth.  Those who are open to a challenge of their beliefs that they may be either refined or discarded.

I lament there are so few who show such courage.  How many of our politicians or scholars will be read thousands of years from now, much less in a hundred?   Whose words from our time will resonate through millennia as do the words of Cicero or Augustus Caesar?  Perhaps a fierce intensity of living should be placed alongside books as a good prescription for learning and discovering the intense truths of life.  I recommend starting right away.

“Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.”

-Seneca

 

Stinkburger! Meanwich!

So, the news came out yesterday.  I’m a day behind, but what a news day it was!

In the grand tradition of the presidential eloquence of Thomas Jefferson, Abe Lincoln, and Teddy and Franklin Rooesvelt, President Obama called the Republican budget proposal a “stinkburger” or “meanwich,” after visiting a deli.  Apparently those suggestions would be for a new deli sandwich if it were named after the proposed budget. I can’t help but think this is the funniest thing any president has said or done since the Beer Summit of ’09

This is presidential speech writing at its best.  I imagine the writers giggling as they saw this come across the teleprompter.  I humbly suggest he describe the Supreme Court as “filled with crotchety poopypants jerkfaces” in his next State of the Union Address.

All joking aside for a moment, the ability to laugh at oneself is a sign of strength.  Only fragile ideas and people are so brittle they cannot withstand a bit of ridicule and joking.  With this in mind, the Republicans should adopt the title “Stinkburger” for their budget, as nothing is quite as much fun as embarrassing your opponent with his own words.  Plus, it would show Republicans are capable of having a sense of humor, a revelation that would shock the world.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/04/02/obama-calls-gop-budget-plan-a-stinkburger/

 

Sanctions, you’re doing it right.

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Found on a liquor store in Knoxville – “Due to Russian Aggression, we will no longer sell Russian Vodka (Until Putin Modifies his behavior)”

Good for you, liquor and wine store!  Way to take a stand!  I know where I’m buying my booze from now on.

People on both the left and the right are quick to accept economic sanctions as a punishment for poor national behavior, a punishment short of dropping bombs.  As someone who finds turning to the government a lousy choice, I hesitate to leave it in the hands of politicians.  Instead of people complaining about Obama’s unimpressive reaction to recent events in the Ukraine, sanctions can begin immediately in the social sphere through boycott.  In addition, if you want to support Ukraine, buy Ukrainian (not that I have the slightest idea what they sell, but in the internet age, I’m sure Google knows).

So many conservatives who distrust our government are quick to suggest government imposed sanctions.  The first move should be outside of the government through social shaming of those who support and do business with an aggressor.  Since when do we decide to leave all control in the hands of our government when market forces are immediately available for instant karma?

It’s not that sanctions are worthless on the government level, but why would that be the first place to turn?  Since when do governments make good, rapid and appropriate decisions?

Say China (I know, easy target) starts behaving badly.  I don’t know, invades Taiwan or pokes fun at McDonalds or some such.  We know our government will not have the political will to enact severe sanctions.  But what if China knew the public of the good old US of A was going to stop buying their goods, regardless of White House (in)action?  The public would be unconstrained and may never buy as much as they had in the past, even when the sanctions had ended.  That would be a real and serious impact that could exist outside of the weak willed that often dominate our political sphere.

Don’t get me wrong, there are decent, hard working, liberty loving types in politics, and our politicians are much better than many in other nations.  Really, there are.  Not all politicians are weak.  I wasn’t around at the time, but I hear Calvin Coolidge was awesome.