Daily GUIDE-ance:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Drain it to Help!

Life is so wierd. Learning to see from alternative perspectives surely takes you to some interesting places, and makes you smarter in the process. This is one of the many techniques I have used to bring myself to my curennt pinnacle of intellectual, moral and spiritual greatness. Also grammatical greatness, and Polemic greatness. Also greatness of vocabulary.

Well crap. It turns out that Polemic is actually a word. 3 minutes and a google search ago, when I wrote that word above, I had thought it was a nonsense word that I had just made up. Well by thunder, it turns out to have a meaning. Drain it! Drain it to Help! Well, I'll let it stand as written. Its not hurting anybody.

So the point is that this last year on my Birthday, and event occured that somewhat was one of those wierd 'ah-ha, so THATs what its like to be someone else!' moments. The other person that I was 'being' was my foxy wife. Foxy beyond the lot of mortals. Its 3am as I write this. Allowances will have to be made.

Seeing 'something' briefly from her point of view, by extension and extrapolation, allowed me to see the same 'something' from alot of other peoples eyes.

Now let me tell you what to do, if you ever have the experience of looking out of another person's eyes, because its pretty much the only time you can ever do this, so you want to be ready and take advantage of the opportunity if you ever have it: what you want to do, when you look out of someone else's eyesockets is (be like me) and immediately look at yourself. Its the only time you can ever see what you actually look like.

Gosh this is taking me a long time to explain.

I'll just cut to the chase. In my family, the hardest person to buy gifts for is my Dad. I think that's universally agreed apon by all educated persons, surely? But, irritatingly, the evidence over the last couple decades, has begun to amass that the second hardest person to buy for is Me. Bah. Hard to beleive isn't it? But it seems like it must be so. In fact, I can do an interpolative calibration here, and infer that since I don't LIKE the idea of being hard to shop for, that it must mean that probably the situation is even worse than I think, which logically must mean that I MAY VERY WELL BE even harder than my dad to buy for!!! Holy Crap. I'm a nightmare. I'm like a monster.

So this is the 'something' that I saw for the first time, from the sexy wife's perspective, over my birthday.

Now the thing is, WHY do I suck so much to buy for? Its because... oh schmee that's too deep a subject for 3 am. Its because I was warped at birth and hate all humanity. Lets just go with that assumption for now, it'll be simpler that way.

Now Liz is a type of person that Loves to give gifts. So being married to me has its drawbacks that way. So basically, although my internal nature has always felt abhorance for the making up of lists of things you would really like- (aside: the logic there goes something like: if I am going to basically Tell you what to buy me, and then have a cultural obligitory gift giving holiday, then how the crap is this a gift and not a stick up? I dont Want to stick up the people i love. I like them.) -I basically turned 39 and realized Liz hates hates hates not knowing what to get me. Schmee, probably alot of my clan feels the same way!

I love being married. Its so fun, and hilarious. It goes like this:
"Here's a present, I love you Happy Birthday!"
"Do you like it?"
"...? :( "
"I love you! Thanks for getting me a present!"

Anyhow. That's a long long long way to say, here's some stuff, a partial list that is, of things I like.
(Parenthetically I have to say that (its redundant to say parentheically in parenthesis isn't it!) clueless as this must sound to you all, that I just don't get how it is that I am so hard to give stuff to. I'm a simple guy!)

On with the freaking list, even though it goes against my whole nature to make this list. Its an act of love baby.

Books: I read some mindblowing landmark books this year that I would like to have around the house to reread at will over the course of my next chunk of life:

Guns Germs and Steel, by Jared Diamond
The Greatest Show on Earth, by Richard Dawkins
The Art of War, By Sun Tzu
(and I seem to have misplaced my copy of Frederick Douglas's Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglas, which is possibly the best thing I have ever read. I'll be getting myself a new copy when the chance arises, but who knows when that will be.)

I started, but failed to finish US Grant's memoirs. They seemed good though, but possibly a long term proposition.

Jim Butcher's Cold Days is coming out soon.

But what I REALLY can't find and it bugs me to no end is all of Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden short storys that have come out in the last year or two since Side Jobs.

I don't have Clockwork Angels or Snakes and Arrows.

Here's a couple links for inspiration:



This is hardly an exhaustive list, and I hate the idea of taking fun and creativity out of this sort of thing, you know, so please, schnaaa...

I'll add to this list as time rolls on.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The 3 Fat Pigs

By Jonni & Erik Sever
 Once upon a bacon strip, there were 3 fat pigs about to become ham and bacon. When they found out, they ran away and hid in giant piles of junk. The fattest pig hid in hay. The second fattest pig hid in dung. And the least fat of all hid in rocks.
Then one day a wolf who loved ham came along. He stomped on the hay and pretty soon he hit the fattest pig. Fat pigs can’t run fast so when he tried to run he only got 3 steps before he got caught and eaten by the wolf. The wolf did the same thing with the poop. The second fattest pig could run faster, but it was stupid. He tried to climb a tree but pigs can’t climb and pretty soon the wolf ate him too. The wolf devoured the last pig with no trouble at all. He was taking a nap and he was a really heavy sleeper. The wolf stomped the pig to death and ate him.
By now, the wolf himself was very, very fat. The next day he went exploring and met a tiger. The tiger thought that the wolf smelled good so the tiger ate the wolf. “Mmm…”  he said. “Tastes like bacon!”
And the tiger was happy.  

                                                     Or so we say…

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Here's a link to a little footage of Me, Todd Sever, and Renae Sever Eldridge crossing the finish line of last saturday's 5k. Todd crosses at 7:00ish on the video, I'm at 8:00 and Renae is at 10:20 or so. Fun stuff. First race I have done in a few years. 24:35, better than I thought I'd do.http://results.bazumedia.com/athlete/index/e/1902521

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Save the Unicorns

A while back, a friend and I postulated that, given the current trend in the world to "Save the ..." (insert popular species here), the prime survival factor for most animals is rapidly becoming how interesting that animal can make itself to human beings.

Its generally easier to raise funds to save cute animals like dolphins or koala bears than it is to save dung beetles or endangered species of mold. The prime evolutionary driver is becoming an animal's entertainment value.

What will this do given another half dozen centuries or so to play out? Will species begin to exhibit larger, more prominent eyeballs and longer eyelashes to increase their appeal to people? Will species become increasingly neotenized to trigger human female nurturing instincts as a defense mechanism? Will we be able to go for walks in the woods and be spontaneously entertained by juggling bears and dancing monkeys and parrots with elaborate stand up routines? Will dolphins and leopards learn to hold up their own "Save the dolphins" (or leopards) signs? Will critters learn to instinctively put on their own rallies and protests? Will horses evolve into unicorns because people like unicorns more? Will hyenas and other un-cute animals, perhaps compete for the underdog niche by developing Goth markings and punk hairdos? Will the natural world become one hilariously entertaining and human-o-centric theme park?

At the time, Paul and I thought it was an absolutely hystercial bit of imaginative silliness, (but of course only silliness), made all the more funny because, the more we joked about it, the more we couldn't find any logical reasons why it couldn't happen. We knew it was absurd anyway, naturally, even if we couldn't explain why.

Then I saw this video, and I have to wonder...

Sunday, April 8, 2012

I really was planning on writing about the Supreme Court before this week happened. It was just one of those weird synergy things that this week happened to be the week that the president lashed out verbally at the Supreme Court and wound up getting smacked with a court order to publicly explain whether or not he understands remedial Constitutional principles.

I don't plan to talk a lot of current events here, but in this case, it makes sense.

The president used the term "unelected" to describe the Court and his context implied that this should diminish the authority of the court. The opposite is true.

The constitution creates a tripod government, in which each pillar held up less by its own strength and integrity, and more by being balanced and opposed against the other two pillars. Of the three branches, (Executive, Legislative and Judicial) the Judicial branch is the most reliant on the integrity of its own members for its stability. The Judicial Branch is the heaviest and most vertical of the tripod poles. That makes it the most dangerous pole to be underneath if it falls.

Of the three branches, the Judicial comes closest to being a backbone. If a professional politician is the least employable of people, a corrupt judge is possibly the most employable.

The reason the founders arranged that the courts would be unelected, was to insulate the courts from partisan pressures, to protect the objectivity and impartiality of the judges.*
Good Thinking, Founders!

If/When we get a chance to restructure the Constitution, we'd be smart to consider additional measures to armour the judges against impartial influences. Apparently, they need all the protection they can get.

This week's
Idea #1:

Currently, SC judges are appointed by the president whenever a vacancy happens to occur. This introduces an element of chance into the selection process that could be improved on.
I suggest a consitutional amendment that would create an 'on deck' pool of SC justices.

Each 4 year presidential term, the sitting president and Congress would appoint an SC Justice, even if there is no vacancy to be filled. That Justice would wait 'on deck', until a vacancy to occured. If more than one presidential terms passed with no vacancies opening up, then additional 'on deck' justices would be appointed.

The sitting president would never appoint more than one SC justice per term, unless several vacancies happened at once and the 'on deck' pool was not enough to fill them.

This would make the transition from Justice to Justice smooth and seamless; we would be less likely to see a Supreme Court understaffed. It would also put an element of distance and objectivity between the appointment/approval process, but more importantly it would create a more uniform presidential legacy of SC appointees. The current system has a small but potentially lethal leak here. Elected officials come and go, but Supreme Courts set precedents that last for decades.

The president also expressed concern about "Judicial activism". In other words, while the courts need to be protected from people like the president, everyone else needs to be protected from the courts. The president's recent statements show that there is strong bipartisan concern about this.

Idea #2

I see no reason why any court below the Supreme should have authority to overturn a State Constitution.

An Amendment to the US Constitution that protected state constitutions from lower courts would save a lot of wasted time and energy in the lower courts trying cases that will not truly be decided until they reach the SC anyway. More importantly, it would go along way to put the self back in self governance, by returning and affirming the sovereignty of the states. There's a risk of straining the SC in this but State Constitutions ought to mean something.


This is the most important of the three potential amendments that I am chewing over today. Currently there is no appeal from a SC decision. The president's concern that this unelected body might not always reflect the will of the people is not invalid. I am tempted to recommend an amendment that would allow an SC ruling to be overturned by a popular vote of the people. However, an SC ruling has binding power similar to Constitutional law. The founders were careful to protect the Constitution from dangerous, casual change.** So, instead, I suggest that SC rules should be overturned by the same procedure used to create new amendments to the US Constitution. 3/4ths of the State legislatures acting in concert could overturn any SC desision, either supporting the existing SC minority ruling, or writing a new one. This would make the Final court of appeals the people of the USA, or at least their local representatives.

*It would take a very dedicated dogmatism to interpret the president's statements as anything other than an attempt to interfere with the partiality of the court. I am forcibly reminded of the attitude demonstrated by Clinton after he was impeached by the House: the 'how-dare-you, who-do-you-think-you-are' attitude. Clinton, at least, had the restraint (there's a new phrase!) to wait until the after verdict had been rendered against before he went all hubrissy.

**Also, when there is an irregularity in a popular vote count (think Floriduh 2000) the courts must split the hairs and rule on election fraud. If a popular vote overrules the court, but the court must rule on an irregular vote, there is an infinite feedback problem.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Obvious (partial) Solution

Without trying I could rattle (oh. hi, by the way. Listen, I hope you'll forgive me. I really hate talking politics most of the time because usually there is so little said that isn't worldclass obvious anyway, and I hate saying the obvious. There are only three reasons to do so:

  • to insult the other person's intelligence

  • because you yourself are so dim that you don't realize that the obvious is obvious

  • because you are are the kind of person who likes to point out the obvious.

So its with irritation and regret that I have to, yet again talk... not exactly politics, I hope... maybe sort of a metapoltics, that avoids the obvious and possibly cuts newer turf. Its the only way I can get these ideas out of my head: writing them down some where. So here we go. Sorry!)

Without trying I could rattle off a long list of terribly important issues being decided in the political world right now. Should I run though some of the list? Just thinking about it makes me tired. Anyhow. About anyone of these issues I could put on my 1950's radio drama voice and say : "This could be the end of freedom and life as we know it!" It might be a little over the top if I did, but I could still say it.

But it would only be a little over the top.

But, even so...

I am starting to believe that all of these issues are a waste of time.

Why? Because:

Our current crop of Washington decision-makers are not exactly America's best and brightest minds. The last crop was nothing special either. Neither was the one before that.

It's tempting to think that we were better off with inbred, hereditary dictators. (We weren't).

Our current leaders simply don't have the mental or moral equipment needed to solve the critical issues before us.

And I am starting to believe that if we want to make any progress, we'd better first look at the process by which we wound up putting all these rather drab, uninspiring people in charge. Each election, candidates are drawn from the same blah pool of politicians as the last. Each election amounts to a just another shuffling of an old worn out deck. What we need are some new cards, and maybe a new game, if we ever expect to see a better hand.

The simplest, most obvious, and most bulletproof change that I know of is putting term limits on Congress.

The 22nd amendment limits the President to just two terms of four years each. Why don't we have a similar amendment to cap the amount of time one person can spend in Congress?

Its hard to imagine why anyone (other than a member of Congress) would oppose this fairly obvious concept. It's such an obvious concept, that its pretty hard to understand how we have gone this long without implementing it.

In the 90's the Republican party achieved a majority in Congress in support of just such an amendment, but irritatingly the Democrats (and the fact that this somehow became a partisan issue is a bit pathetic, if you ask me, as well as a pretty freaking good argument in favor of the idea that I have been pushing here, which is that the system has some fundamental flaws) were able to shoot it down because the Constitution requires a two-thirds majority to initiate the amendment process. Needing not just a majority but a super-majority of Congress to simultaneously agree to fire itself in order for this basic improvement to take place is such a hilariously exasperating mistake, that if there were a Darwin award for this sort of thing, this error would surely win one. It also explains why we don't have this amendment yet.

Luckily, this actually is not a requirement. It turns out that there are two ways Constitutional amendments can be proposed and going through Congress is only one of them.

It turns out that if 2/3rds of the state legislatures get together and agree, they can propose amendments to the US constitution, and if 3/4ths of them ratify the proposed amendment, it becomes constitutional law, without the US Congress ever touching it. Good thinking, Founders!

I have this impossible fantasy of somehow keeping such an amendment secret from Congress until all the necessary states have signed off on it, and then springing it on the House and Senate as done deal.

I can't think of anything one less employable than a career politician in a representative system of government. Such a creature is inherently non-representative. The phrase 'career representative' is a contradiction in terms. It might be ok for a college professor or pastor to have never held any other kind of job, but in a leader its a pretty bad idea. There is, in fact, already a lot of support for Congressional term limits and I think everybody should check it out. Consider signing this petition, for one. I did.

What I'd like to see is a Congress made of a broad range of professionals and leaders with wildly differing skill sets, experiences and perspectives. I'd like to see the best of the best of American doctors, scientists, business men, religious, social and military leaders, thinkers, entrepreneurs, inventors, taking a short leave of absence from their careers (and adding one heck of a sharp line to their resume in the process) to advocate, create and lead. If America put all its best minds together, as a Congress, the potential would be wicked cool. But no one of any real caliber is likely to leave a successful career to become a career suit-pinhead. So who do we get instead? Lawyers. Not even practicing lawyers. Congress is made out of dead lawyers. Sharp term limits would go a long way towards clearing out the deadwood, making room for some new, intelligent growth.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

America is Maxed Out

I'm currently a designer but before that I was a gamer. The two skill sets are not uncomplimentary.

There is a life cycle to designs and strategies. I'm sure that if I wanted to bother, it would be easy to find several websites with alot of boring corporate talky talk that would break "The Lifecycle of a Design" in to phases like "Concept", "Feasibility Evaluation", "Prototyping and Field testing" etc etc... any one who has ever developed a deck for MTG will recognize these phases, as will product designers... then there's finally "Combat Ready" (well, in the business world you'd call it "Production") and then "Tweaking".

There's a final phase after all these. I'd call it "Maxed Out". When your deck/strategy/design/product has been tweaked for all its worth, and can no longer be improved on, at least not without radical restructuring or starting over, its Maxed Out. A maxed out out strategy can still win games, and a maxed out design will still sell, but being maxed out is the first step towards being "Obsolete" if you have any decent competition.

America is Maxed Out.

Now get me not wrong, the Constitution is an amazing piece of work, and 200 years ago it was extremely bold, innovative and cutting edge. In terms of design, it was the new predator on the block, an awesome, out-of-the-box concept that took the world by storm and spawned imitators and rivals everywhere.

The fact that, after 200 years, it is still functional at all is a bit mindblowing. I can't think of any other design that hasn't been radically reworked in the last 2 centuries. Even the most basic technology: the wheel, the chair, metallurgy, even the way we use fire and speech- all have been hugely revamped since 1776. The fact that the Constitution is still here at all is terribly impressive. So when I say it needs a tune up, I am not saying it lightly, but it shouldn't be a shocking or terrifying or even surprising concept to anyone. It is a very old design.

How long has it been since anyone seriously thought words like: 'Bold, 'Innovative', 'Cutting Edge' or 'Out-of-the-box' applied to Washington DC? Don't laugh like that. But what about 'Moribund', 'Gridlock', 'Ponderous', 'Top heavy', 'Idiotic', 'Retarded', 'Imbecilic?' Even words like 'Corrupt', 'Injust', 'Psychotic' and 'Cruel' are frequently accurate. Most people are thrilled if Congress shows a temporary lapse in to ordinary common sense, but nobody looks to the government for leadership or wisdom these days. Among our leaders, mediocrity isn't the rule any more, incompetence has become the rule, and mediocrity is now exceptional

If that last paragraph is true (and it is so true that it has become a hackneyed cliche) don't we have to admit that America is in decline? There is an ostricheqsue instinct to avoid the obvious conclusion, but the cold facts indicate that the shark has been jumped. The design is maxed out. It is headed for obsolete. This shouldn't be a surprise.

But none of the founders ever thought the Constitution was perfect. They built in provisions for adaptation and evolution. Good thinking, founders.

With our 200 plus years of field test data, we are equipped to make some fundamental, constitutional level tweaks.

What needs to be tweaked? I'm interested in your thoughts but a few areas that seem obvious to me are these:

  • The Judicial branch has begun legislating. A check or a balance is needed here.

  • Our representative government is too frequently representing no one but itself and protecting no one's interest but it's own. We are developing a ruling class, disconnected from the ruled class.

  • There is a distinct tendency over time, in the present design, for the top levels of government to expand at the expense of the local levels. It rarely shrinks when shrinking is needed, but always grows if given half a chance. This should be addressed.

  • If there are historians 200 years from now, they are going to laugh at our national debt the same way we laugh at those hilariously backwards morons who used to think the world was flat. We simply have a massive cultural blind spot. We tend to think we are only stuck in the mud, but the numbers show that we are fully submerged. And everyone with a shovel digs down, all the while arguing about how fast we should be digging. Digging up is not even considered. If people actually understood how deep the politicians have taken us in there would be war in the streets. Some serious shoring up needs to occur here.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

As Soup, they probably had their Finest Hour

Tim didn't have anything to recommend him; he was as coldly vicious as a guillotine. But Jock had some slight awareness of right and wrong, or he wouldn't have tried to justify himself. You might say he was just weak.

But I don't hold with the idea that to understand all is to forgive all; you follow that and first thing you know you're sentimental over murderers and rapists and kidnappers and forgetting their victims. That's wrong.

I'll weep over the likes of Peewee, not over criminals whose victims they are.

I missed Jock's talk, but if there were a way to drown such creatures at birth, I'd take my turns as executioner. That goes double for Tim.

If they ended up as soup for hobgoblins, I couldn't honestly be sorry- even though it might be my turn tomorrow. As soup, they probably had their finest hour.

-Heinlein, from Have Space Suit, Will Travel

Heinlein might have turned into a deranged old perv as he aged, but he got this right on. This is exactly how I feel.

A black widow spider can't help it, but that's the point.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Conformance and Rebellion

People are driven by two survival instincts. The drive to conform and the drive to rebel. From an evolutionary perspective, this creates an interesting conflict. Conformity is a very useful trait if you are potential prey. Herd animals, in larger herds, can afford to, and do, put less effort into watching out for predators than than do animals grazing in smaller groups. The reason they can afford to do this is because they conform. If suddenly the deer next to you starts sprinting, you don't need to see the attacking predator for yourself. You don't even need to verify for yourself which direction its coming from. You just conform. You run with the rest of the gang. The one or two rebel deer, who refuse to panic just because everyone else is doing it, but insist on seeing the mountain lion for themselves before they run quickly get Darwined out. Conformity saves lives.

But conflicting with that primeval instinctual programming, human beings have another instinct. The instinct to rebel. We are one of the few creatures who have had some success getting out of the box. All our really cool advances in technology, agriculture, etc began with one or two or more individuals not doing what every one else is doing. All our heros are innovators, outside of the box thinkers, trend setters. In fact, you could claim that the basis of all intelligence and thought is rooted asking 'why' or 'why not'. It would not be wrong to say that thought is the opposite of conformity, and conformity is the absence of thought. (The garden of Eden story, with the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge only being obtainable via rebellion is an interesting ... corollary to this.)

So we have two conflicting instincts: Conformance and Rebellion. We tend to either deify the one and hate the other, or despise the one and worship the other. But this is a mistake. Both are valuable. Sometimes running like a panicked lemming is a good thing to do. Sometimes spitting in the face of tradition is a stupid thing to do. The trick is knowing when to do which.

I'm smaaaaaaaaaaaaart!