Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Last Sunday I noticed a number of wasps flying around a particular spot in my yard.  I was wearing a white long sleeved shirt and tie that I still had on after church.  I grabbed the flyswatter and started to try and hit them in the air.  As I was doing so I was stung on the back of my arm.  I went inside and removed my shirt and examined the area that was stung.  I picked up the shirt and looked at the cloth, and marveled that any wasps sting could penetrate the cloth because it was particularly thick.  After a moment I put the shirt back on, only to realize that the wasp that stung me was still in the shirt when it stung me again.  Sometimes it's the things you don't see that can sting you.

I remember as a small child in Logan looking out the kitchen window every morning and seeing the temple rising majestically above the trees. I loved the Temple with its towering spires and walls, I also loved what it represented, and how it cemented our family together.

I also remember sitting in church drawing in all the little rocks in the walls of the temple on the front of our weekly sacrament meeting program. I think I learned to like rock walls, and stone architecture from appreciating the Logan Temple.

The sea, a wall, a house, a gate, a forest path, a well, a Temple.

I want to tell you about a place in Wales my family and I visited this summer. It was a place with many rock walls, which were built over many centuries. The walls held in sheep, marked the property boundaries, and would occasionally combine with the side of a barn. They would run between fields, and through forests where fields once were. A man could build a 3 foot length of such a wall in a day, if the rocks were readily available, which they often weren't. You have to gather the rocks before you can build the wall. When men built these walls they left a legacy .

Nearby was the sea, which was rapidly eroding the land. There was a beautiful 4 mile long beach, which largely went unused because of powerful and dangerous currents, numerous jelly fish, and a precarious crumbling cliff of dirt and clay.

The land above the beach was strewn with cracks where the ground was weakened. Often the ground on the downhill side had sunk a foot or two where a crack was. Some of these cracks could be found up to 200 ft inland. Some were wide and foreboding, others were so narrow you wouldn't even notice them. During storms chunks of pasture were prone to fall into the sea. The sheep wandered back and forth grazing in the meadow and up to the tempting grass on the unstable ground at the cliffs edge.
Fittingly, this bay was called Hells Mouth.

The sheep were all numbered by the farmer, and were marked as his. Close to the edge of this cliff was a centuries old stone farm house. It's currently for sale. Whoever buys it will need to move it quickly. I suppose when it was built it was quite some distance from the sea.

Not far away was another house. If was built beyond the end of the beach right next to the sea.  It was equally old, and slightly smaller. It was built on the rock that underlies the adjacent hill. Where it is situated the shoreline won't move. It has definitely seen more abuse from the elements than the first house. I'm sure the builder of the first house thought the green meadows were the perfect place to build, and may have wondered why his neighbor would build so close to the sea. Not realizing that his own home would one day be the one in danger.

We stayed in a house between the other two about two blocks away from the sea at the edge of the hill. This house may have been built on rock, or clay. It was hard to tell.

Nimrod, known as a great hunter in the Old Testament, organized the people and made bricks to build Babylon. When you think about it, all bricks are essentially the same. The same weight, thickness, width, length. You can build great things with bricks. I think Nimrod meant to do the same with the people. He would conquer the various nations and bring them all together to work on building up Babylon. He would eliminate their differences, they all spoke the same language, and they would all fit in the way he saw fit.

Maybe you've heard the statement "no one is irreplaceable". That statement has always struck a discordant note with me, and I know intuitively it's not true. Maybe in a certain economic or business context it makes sense, in the same way human life can be reduced to economic terms.
But in the church we know the worth of a soul, and that every human being is unique and has immeasurable potential. We all have unique talents and abilities. We are not bricks.

I think that's why I like rock walls. You see, each rock is unique, and in a wall each one has its place and fills it. Each one has a slightly different shape, texture, and color. Each stone holds up and supports the others. In our family we are all different and all contribute in our own way, we uphold and support one another. The same can be said for our ward.
In the church, it is on the rock of our redeemer, who is Christ, that we must build. He is our firm foundation. We are to be like him, and take his name upon us. We do that through the covenant and ordinance of Baptism and partaking the sacrament.

There were two types of walls. The ones that ran across the country side were dry stack walls with no mortar holding them together, but the house we were in was solid, and the walls were thick.
The builder built the house with mortar and made sure the rocks that made up the side of his home were sealed together.

The people who lived there in times past had everything they needed. A mill was attached, a stream flowed next to it. There was an orchard, and many fields. It was built to last and has served many generations, but still it's potentially in danger at some time in the future. When, inevitably, the adjacent land is eroded away, and the storms come, only then will we be able to tell if it was built upon rock. Remember, sometimes it's the things you don't see that can sting you.

Next to the house was a path into the woods, the path was lined with wild flowers such as fox gloves, and fuchsias. At the head of the path was a gate. One day I decided to explore this path to see where it led. It went quite a way through the woods, and wound around up the hill. At the end of the path of the was a flowing well, that I would learn was supplying the water to the house. I later found out the well was dug in the 6th century by early Christians who would regularly escape persecution by staying on a nearby island. The well was known for its healing power. Perhaps the water had some minerals in it that could correct a deficiency, perhaps someone _was_ once healed there. I was a little surprised to learn I had been drinking and showering in the holy water all week.

The symbolism of this landscape was lost on me until we returned home, and had a chance to think about it. A treacherous threatening tide, crumbling ground, building on the rock, a gate, a path leading to healing waters. It reminded me of Lehis' dream where you press forward a partake of the love of God, it also reminded me the path and gate spoken of in 2 Nephi, and of Jacobs well where the Savior taught about living water.

2 Nephi 31:17-19
17 Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.
18 And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive.
19 And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.

John 4:6 - 15
6 Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well: and it was about the sixth hour.
7 There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink.
8 (For his disciples were gone away unto the city to buy meat.)
9 Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.
10 Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.
11 The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water?
12 Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle?
13 Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:
14 But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.
15 The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.
We wander a modern shifting landscape, with dangers seen and unseen. Some of us are tempted to the green grass near the edge of a raging sea.

What are the most important things in your life? As Steven Covey asked, what would you cross the I-Beam for? To me it's my wife and children, my parents and the rest of my family, and to an extent my friends and neighbors. No one in my family is replaceable.
All of the most important things in my life are linked back to the Temple. The whole purpose of life is realized through the ordinances and covenants of the temple. It is through these covenants that we are sealed together.

The reason we visited England was to attend my brother in laws temple wedding.  As we approached the temple, the Preston England temple, it too rose above the trees. It projected a strength and majesty that reflected the years of sacrifice and strong conviction to the truth of those who wondered if they would ever have a temple. The church was introduced to the Preston area 175 years ago. Many of the people who joined the church then crossed the ocean, then the plains, and are among our ancestors.

The people who have lived in that area in the interim weren't as blessed as we were, and are, until 1998. For more than a century and a half church members faithfully lived their lives, they built themselves, built their families, built the church, and established a spiritual foundation on which the temple could stand.

The ceremony we attended was beautiful, and a new family was formed. One built on the foundation of Christ, and sealed together through the power of the Priesthood. One that can withstand the storms and the very mouth of hell, if those covenants are kept and honored.

There are unseen things which can undermine us and weaken our walls, if we let them. There may be unseen cracks beneath our feet if we aren't careful to stay on the firm foundation of Christ, if we aren't regularly grasping the iron rod of his word, or drinking of his living water.
1 Corinthians 3:9-16
9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.
10 According to the agrace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.
11 For other afoundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

I remember being in the temple on another occasion, for the sealing of an adopted boy to his parents. Another part of this family was being built. When the boy was brought to the room, his eyes lit up when he saw his parents and he excitedly ran to them. He may not have fully grasped the significance of what was happening that day. I'm not entirely convinced I fully understand and appreciate it either.
There wasn't a dry eye in that sealing room as this boy was sealed into an eternal family.

Jeffrey R. Holland asked: "Do [our children] know we love being in the temple, not least because it provides a bond to them that neither death nor the legions of hell can break?"

Attending the temple often, is the best way we have of reinforcing our walls. Let's not take for granted the fruit of the sacrifices and faithfulness of those who made these temples in our midst possible. When we look at our beautiful Logan temple let's remember that each of those stones represents the time effort and sacrifice of the builders who placed them, and let's think of the significance of the mortar that seals them together.

Sometimes it's hard to retain an eternal perspective. Sometimes our path has a curve in it obscuring our view of the treasure at its end. Sometimes there is one last obstacle to cross before you get there.
Although it provides life giving water, the sheep for the most part will never see the well, but it's there. We have the opportunity of going to the source and drinking deeply.

Build yourself, by partaking of the living water and standing on a firm foundation.
Watch out for those things that would undermine, or weaken your walls.

Build your family
D&C 64:33 Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.

Build your ward, build the church - Love your neighbor as yourself, and keep in mind that our eternal purpose is the same as the Lords purpose.

Moses 1:39 - For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Rights and Natural Law

 Washington is in the process of trying to create new rights through law.  This shows ignorance of the source of our rights.  When it comes to law, we are not on the path of creation, but of discovery.  We are to be instructed by the universe we find ourselves in.  This is the foundation of the concept of Natural Law. 

We as human being do not create law any more than we create science.  We often attempt to write law in ignorance of reality, and even with contempt for reality.  When we do, those pursuits fail.  Even when we attempt to write laws as we see them, we rarely get it right the first time.  In the process of writing law we must reflect reality and human nature, we must recognize natural consequences, or it will inevitably be the cause of pain and suffering.  We must approach law in the exact same way we make note of the observations in any scientific pursuit.  To fudge the numbers, and force and outcome is to cheat. 

Artificial rights are unsustainable without the use of force.  Natural consequences are always without mercy.  Subsequent experiments will point out the folly of an incorrect interpretation of observed reality, providing much needed and even painful correction.  Sometimes several iterations are needed to come to a correct conclusion.   If we create law contrary to reality we only set ourselves up for failure, and when we fail the only honorable path is to observe reality again through the lens of our new found experience.  The ends of the law clearly aren't met.  The law has failed, (not the natural law, but our flawed understanding of it) but at this point we don't need to completely scrap what we had, (although in particularly egregious cases it certainly should be scrapped), but only to revisit and revise the law to fit with our new found observations.

The goal of this process of discovering natural law is to note, record, and teach what is necessary for a civil and just society.  It should not attempt to banish any natural consequence, or enforce any kind equality upon the people.  It should not compel compassion or any good work, any more than it should promote theft.  The law should be kept in it's simplicity, and become over time a complete and static body.  If it is not, this is only evidence of its immaturity.

"When the state is most corrupt, then laws are most multiplied" - Tacitus 

When the law is complex and voluminous, only part of it can ever be executed.  The unexecuted portion of the body of laws will necessarily become void.  Those who have the duty to enforce such a body of law will pick and choose those parts that will suit their agenda, and use the law as a tyrant whether that is their intention or not.  Accountability will be slow in dealing with such a tyrant because the complexity of the law will be used as a defense.  Ignorance of the law, because of its size and complexity, will result in contradictions within the body of law itself, providing cover for those who would abuse the situation.  The people crushed under the weight of this situation will find themselves having to throw off the tyrants and dispose of vast tracts of the law, and keep those based on a foundation of simple well understood necessary principles such as liberty, property, and individual responsibility.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tired of life?

A friend recently told me that on one particular Friday recently she was tired of life, and asked if I ever felt likewise. I quickly answered no. I'm not sure whether I lied or not. Well... I didn't lie, but my answer didn't convey the meaning it should. I have felt that way before, but only briefly.

I'm not sure how deeply she had thought about it. It's a question I've pondered for years, and so with much time and considered judgment, the answer is no. If she was asking if I ever had felt the way she did that day, then the answer is surely yes many times over.

To take my philosophy from a rather superficial source, Marrilla in Anne of Green Gables (Don't Laugh), "To despair is to turn one's back on God". I know she wasn't despairing. Perhaps she was just saying sometimes it is hard to find your motivation and purpose, particularly when you don't feel well. Impatience comes very easily to me at those times. Your motivation can be entirely in the opposite direction of that which you know you must do. Sometimes you just need some time to yourself, with no distractions.

When I was in a Biology class, anchored heavily in evolution on the cellular level, I thought briefly of the introduction of the first cell as the genesis of suffering. Without organization, without life, there is no suffering. Would it have been better for life to simply not have ever come into existence? This is a question that has plagued humanity, and one that defines quite a part of my life. I found initially the answer changes depending on whether you are currently suffering, or not.

In Hamlet, the central oratory of the play is this very question. I have it memorized, and recite it to myself when needed.

"To be, or not to be--that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep--
No more--and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep--
To sleep--perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprise of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action. -- Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia! -- Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remembered."

Notice how quickly Hamlet is distracted from his solemn thoughts, his mortal considerations by no other than Ophelia, who represents all that is right with his world. She is the promise of life, happiness, and continuation, but whom he would never have. It is a tragedy after all. Hamlets view of the world, and his choices made it a tragedy.

We love that which we sacrifice for. We love those who we sacrifice for. To despair is selfishness, and is a symptom of a deeper issue. There are always those children in the hospital who are be able to be cheerful and loving in the presence of great pain and suffering. Joy is not the opposite of suffering, but can be if we aren't in the right place mentally and spiritually when it occurs.

I am prone to get kidney stones. Kidney stones are all about endurance, because there is no avoiding or ignoring the pain. To me they are near the very definition of suffering. I've experienced worse pain, but not so relentlessly. I remember being left in a room off of the emergency room waiting for a doctor, who didn't show up for an hour. I Looked at the clock 5 minutes into that hour assessing my pain. I was sure I could last 45 minutes but it would take everything I had, but after that who knew? I didn't believe I would die, I knew absolutely that I wouldn't, but still the pain made it seem like a possibility.

I would only focus on the next few minutes and try to get through them. I hadn't memorized the piece from Hamlet then, I would tell myself every now and then "Thou art not yet as Job. The Son of Man has descended below all things, art thou greater than he?" I know that is a silly thing to think to yourself, but when you are in pain it is quite comforting.

We can always put up with much more than we think we are capable of. When the film "Touching the void" was on PBS I recorded it and watched it a few times. It is amazing how a climber with a broken leg, left for dead at the bottom of crevasse, was able to crawl, slide, and stumble his way back to camp over a period of more than four days. It is astounding that he survived, that he found his way out of a glacier, and made the tortuous journey on his own. Even in circumstances that seem insurmountable, we have what it takes to continue.

One of the challenges of life is to be gracious in suffering, to be patient when down, to be loving to others in times of pain because we know what it would mean to us. It is easy to snap, to be impatient, to drag others down. When you're suffering it feels like you deserve to be impatient, that it must be communicated, and that you must somehow push for the space you need in order to deal with it. The demands we make on others can be overwhelming and paralyzing.

Pain expressed can become a meme whose ends we can't foretell. Feelings are easily hurt, days can be ruined. The key is to be more concerned for others that we are for ourselves even when we are in the most difficult circumstances. We have the ability to swallow that suffering so that its negativeness doesn't spill out into the lives of those around us. I'm not saying not to take care of yourself, or that you shouldn't communicate your feelings and needs, but just that it is possible to be gracious, patient, and even loving in those times. It is a choice, no matter what we think our nature is.

I am not an expert on pain and suffering. I haven't experienced a lot of what so many go through. I am in relatively good health, and for that I am _very_ grateful.

It has been said that if suffering alone led to wisdom, then all the world would be wise. If suffering doesn't lead you to learn anything, then it is an opportunity wasted. In the long run good times far outweigh the bad. Even in my darkest moments I know that happiness and joy will once again abound. The depth of suffering attests to our ability to feel just the opposite in an equal amount.

Am I tired of life? On the balance the answer is no. Have I ever been? Maybe in a deep dark moment, but not really, not when all things are considered. Men (& women) are that they might have joy. I now appreciate the good times so much more. I have a good job, 5 kids, a beautiful understanding wife, a home, and my health (mostly).

I'm not tired of life, not even close.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

No Fear

Why do I call my blog no fear?

No fear is a consequence of living life right. It reflects pure unselfishness, and full trust in God.

"Fear is lack of faith. Lack of faith is ignorance. Fear can only be cured by vision.
Give the world eyes. It will see. Give it ears. It will hear. Give it a right arm. It will act.
Man needs time and room. Man needs soil, sunshine and rain. Needs a chance.
Open your doors and windows. Let everything pass in and out, out and in...
No man hates the truth. But most often men are afraid of the truth.
Make the truth easier than a lie. Make the truth welcomer [sic] than its counterfeits.
Then men will no longer be afraid.
Being afraid is being ignorant. Being ignorant is being without faith."
-- Horace Traubel

Friday, February 26, 2010


Life is so much easier when you count your blessings. Patience, love, and endurance all increase when you focus on those things you are grateful for.

I have been taking care of my five children for the past week while my wife is out of the country for a funeral. They are great children, and I don't appreciate and enjoy them as much as I should. I consistently ask them to be quieter, to stop making messes, and try to get along. Almost every moment at home is filled with work. I appreciate my wife a whole lot more, even though I like to think I always recognize her contributions.

She arranged everything for me ahead of time, and created a schedule showing a typical day showing who needed to go where when, a schedule of daily schedule deviations, a lists of meal ideas with each child's likes and dislikes among other things. Our children are all under the age of ten, and come home with homework folders that I'm supposed to do something with when they're done.

I hope things aren't in too much disarray when she returns. I haven't had any angry phone calls yet, although I did inadvertently push in the kid pick up line at the school one day. I'm sure mothers where cursing me under their breath, until I noticed what I had done and got back out of the line.

One thing I've noticed about myself, is that I'm starting to appreciate my kids more. I'm noticing the little things they do that I didn't used to notice. You know... the good things, the endearing things. I'm getting a more balanced view of their personalities from being there more. Sure I'm run off my feet at times. At the end of the day even though not everything is done, I'm more contented.

She didn't leave everything to me though. We have great neighbors who are helping out. One comes every other day early in the morning to be there while I go work out. Another watches the two in Diapers while I'm at work, and the rest after school until I get home. Others ask what they can do to help more. I am very grateful for the time, effort, and sacrifices they make. Sometimes we even get a meal at the neighbors house.

Through this experience I am more grateful for my wife, my children, and my neighbors. I'm just wondering now, will those other neighbors help me clean up before she comes back?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Chosen fate

Friends, don't read to much into this

I am the soul of the universe
I am the big bang
If there is no source to the order you see
I am the only thing

The only externality
was that introductory light
condensed into matter and energy
that began the ages plight

But 'tis not true, for the bounds are set
there's much beyond to know
our feeble knowledge persists yet
understanding's pace is slow

The path determined before the start
as Calvin had believed
would have been the the only way
inspiration's not received

There is no random number
still, there's no non-chosen fate
without our introduction
from some other state

Turing's engine paralleled
an infinite field of strings
External influences do exist
directing the order of things

Conceive now from whence you came
not resisting reality
it matters not, if you're ignorant
we all refuse to see

The curves of time, the paths of light
the darkness beyond the edge
obscures our view and leads us to
conclusions that make us hedge

The curtain falls, The heavens move
and in the end we'll see
The soul in this unheaven'd sphere
projected upon thee

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Humanitarian Services

“The Church [of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints] is making a big difference in Haiti,” said Brett Bass, director of LDS Humanitarian Services. “We’re helping thousands of people, including Church members, their extended families, and friends following the devastating earthquake last month.”
Bass—between flights on his return to Salt Lake City from two weeks in Haiti—praised the local Haitian priesthood leaders, volunteer doctors, donated transportation, and thousands of donors who have helped make the response possible. He talked about four current areas of emphasis identified by the Area Presidency and other Church leaders:

• Health care
• Food
• Immediate shelter and transitional housing
• Jobs

“The donations of so many have made a big difference in the lives of thousands,” said Bass. “We’ve provided unique support to hospitals that extended past the provision of doctors and first aid supplies, set up a demand-driven food distribution system, and are on the verge of supplying better shelter for families. It’s almost unbelievable what we have been able to do.”

Humanitarian Services

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ignorance is bliss?

It has been said that ignorance is bliss. If it is, then only temporarily because no one can hide from reality forever. It has a way of enforcing its presence on us, and harshly. The longer it is left unacknowledged and unaddressed, the harsher it becomes. You always have to pay the piper in the end, so you might as well make your payments as you go.

Correct and honest metrics make a business work. If you have incorrect metrics, you are far more likely to make incorrect decisions. Incorrect metrics make you blind to the true status of your business and your processes.

Who would willfuly define and implement incorrect metrics? They are the nerves of an organization, and allow you to feel and react.

The government likes flying blind. They purposefuly obfuscate the truth. They do this in part to minimize panic and overreaction, but the primary motive is, I suspect, to keep their jobs. They blind themselves in an attempt to blind us and then expect to convince us they know what they're doing.

Here's an example. When the unemployment numbers were revised in 2009, it was reported that "the economy lost 150,000 jobs in December, far more than the 85,000 initially reported." (New York Times) The revised numbers are always worse than the initially reported numbers. For all of 2009 the revised numbers showed an additional 1.36 million fewer jobs.

While this was happening, somehow the unemployment rate dropped. The Government uses two different metrics, one for the unemployment rate, and another for job losses. The measure of unemployment has its own flaws. If you are no longer getting unemployment benefits or you are no longer seeking a job you aren't counted as unemployed. You are counted if you work 15 hours a week.

Honesty now comes at a price. Organizations such as Shadowstats.com make a living providing the numbers we used to get for free. If you are interested in the actual job numbers I would suggest you look there.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Team Psychology

When I used to watch NBA basketball regularly, one of the things I laughed about the most was when all the players on each team would point in one direction or another after the ball went out of bounds. One teams player would point in one direction indicating it was their ball, and the other teams players would point in the opposite direction. It appeared that objectivity and honesty had no place in the dispute.

When you play on a team you are expected to do your best, take the falls and the pain and put forward your all. I've played soccer indoors on a tile floor as a goalie, and still dove for the ball, hit the pole from time to time, and did my absolute best every time coming away with scraped and bleeding elbows and knees.

I believe there is a primal instinct involved when you participate or even watch a sport. Your identity is tied to the team, and their success or failure means far more than it should, almost as if your prospects for survival depend on the outcome of each game. Considering the psychological ramifications, it isn't surprising that people would be willing to bend the truth a little to effect the outcome.

Our distant ancestors had no time for games, and the only analogous competition they would have engaged would have been a competition for resources and may really have had a life or death result. Belonging to a clan or tribal community would have been imperative. Their success is your success, and their failures your failures. This is now ingrained in our very nature, and why my pulse quickens and my hands numb when watching a game.

This is unhealthy when it pushes us to lose our objectivity and honesty. In some cases the team has nothing to do with sport. Academically it can lead to dishonesty when you put aside your principals to push for a particular outcome. When it comes to science, objectivity and honesty are inherent in the process, otherwise it isn't science.

One of the newest examples of this is the paper Menne, M. J., C. N. Williams, and M. A. Palecki (2010):On the reliability of the U.S. Surface Temperature Record J. Geophys. Res., doi:10.1029/2009JD013094, in press. A good analysis can be found on the website of Roger Pielke Sr., here: Professional Discourtesy By The National Climate Data Center On The Menne Et Al 2010 paper

The Menne et al 2010 paper is a preemptive strike against the Surface Stations project by Anthony Watts, using a subset of early non-quality controlled data. They used homogenized (gridded) data from 70 high quality stations, and compare it to homogenized data 1228 USHCN2 stations in an attempt to show there isn't a significant difference in the temperatures measured.

The results are not to be believed for multiple reasons. If you take a random subset of the 1228 stations and did the same thing chances are very remote that the resultant grid would be the same or even close. Something doesn't jive with the analysis. If it were true, then why do we have 1228 stations, and not just 70? It seems we could save some money here if more stations don't tell you anything.

The next problem unintentionally illustrated by this paper is what it implies. Station siting apparently doesn't matter, and the urban heat island doesn't exist. If you have a station with a temperature sensor sited in a parking lot, next to a burn barrel, or an air conditioner, (all documented at surfacestations.org) it doesn't matter. The data don't need to be quality controlled, because the process used at NCDC can fix bogus numbers. The whole thing is ridiculous on its face, and the authors are showing either their incompetence or their contempt for science and the public.

They have suspended not only objectivity and honesty, but rationality, in their attempt to take it for the team. We saw the same thing in November with the CRU emails, and repeatedly over the last few weeks with the IPCC Glacier fiasco, the Amazon forest fiasco etc.

Team psychology is good in its place, but science isn't it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Original thought and the monkey equation

When I was in College I took a technical writing course. (I know... you're shocked.) In the course we were given guidelines regarding the proper citation and use of sources. This was before Wikipedia existed. Plagiarism was warned against in the strongest terms, as it should be.

A friend of mine just graduated after going back to school. He recently told me he ran his papers through an online citation checker which generated a list of sources for different statements he'd written. The funny thing about it is that on some of these papers he didn't actually do any research. He knew what he knew, he typed it up, and gave someone else the credit. If these weren't his original thoughts, how can we be sure that the person cited for one of his points was the originator of the thought?

What is original thought? One of the guidelines I was given in class was to use the most recent sources. I disagree. Take for example the Arrhenius equation. k = A e^{{-E_a}/{RT}} It's not exactly recent, but is it original? Who came up with it? It might surprise you to learn that it was first proposed, not by Svante Arrhenius, but by Dutch chemist J. H. van 't Hoff.

There are such things as foundational principles. The Arrhenius equation stands at the heart of many other equations derived after it, and is a foundational empirical equation. In physics and engineering it is much easier to identify the foundational principles than it is in say, sociology. I get the distinct impression that my english teacher was more comfortable with the social sciences, where theories change by the month. My heat and mass transport book was 30 years old, and still perfectly relevant.

There is such thing as original thought, in the hard sciences or otherwise, although we may or may not know its genesis. It is probably easier to find the source when dealing with the hard sciences. I don't envy the sociologists, whose theories often can't be proven or dis-proven, but are often easily accepted anyway, nor can they be reduced to concise equations. (note: The phenomenon of Anthropogenic global warming is more easily understood from a social/psychological perspective, once you have dispatched with the falsehoods)

There are 26 letters in the English alphabet. There are millions of books in the library. I'm sure there has to be a considerable amount of overlap in those books. This could probably be measured using the text of online books, maybe even with a search engine such as Google. I assume there would be a geometrically decreasing relationship to this overlap, this stepping on each others toes, that has nothing whatsoever to do with plagiarism. Three word overlaps would be greater by an order of magnitude than four word overlaps etc. The empirically derived formula could be called the infinite monkey theorem equation, or the Brent equation, unless you don't believe I came up with it first. Not familiar with the infinite monkey theorem? It is the theory behind adding more and more programmers to a project in the hopes that you'll ship on time... OK, just kidding. I think it actually describes an IRS department. Don't believe me? You could check Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinite_monkey_theorem), which has no less than 30 citations for the linked article. The rule is it cannot be considered original thought unless you found it on Wikipedia, then it's as worthless as your original thoughts.

We all think. We all stand educationally on the shoulders of giants. It should be no surprise that some of our thoughts, although originally conceived within our own minds, are not new to the world, and in many cases weren't new to the people who first jotted them down. Inspiration is a trait we all can lay claim to at one time or another. Until I find out otherwise, I'm taking credit for figuring that one out.

Never mind. I just read this. Don't quote me.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Be Prepared

Being prepared is not just the motto of the Boy Scouts, it is an entire philosophy that should be made an integral part of your character.

I was recently traveling over the thanksgiving holiday, and along the way saw many houses, fields, and barns. Some farms were meticulously kept, and others appeared to be junkyards with adjacent fields. Some barns had been painted over the years, and had their roofs kept up, and some were left to ruin. Whenever I see a barn leaning to one side, with holes in the roof or walls, I can't help but see it as a reflection of the person who is or was responsible for it. Barns and outbuildings have real value, they cost time, effort, and money. They can be put to good uses beyond their original purpose.

"Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house...
I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down.
Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it and received instruction.
Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man."
-- Proverbs 24: 27, 30-34

Part of being prepared is improving yourself, in cultivating good habits and a good work ethic. It is vital that a man should work, even if he doesn't have a job. There are always things you can be doing.

I often catch myself thinking that I'm too busy to do one thing or another. My farming ancestors would be disgusted with the excuses I make for not being more productive. Is there something that needs to be done to preserve your house and the assets of your family? Identify it, and do it.

The Hockey Stick vs. Ice Core Data

How significant was the warming trend up to 2000? Watch this:

Friday, September 18, 2009

Authoritarianism in Science

The scientific method is a collection of techniques used to investigate phenomena, acquire knowledge, or correct and integrate existing knowledge. Information is collected through a process of observation and experimentation based on initial hypotheses. Researcher propose hypotheses, which are suppositions, and create experiments to test them.

Using the scientific method knowledge is refined over time into a more cohesive and coherent body. Inconsistencies between different elements within the body of scientific knowledge serve to point out that the picture we have is still incomplete, and point us into new areas wherein research can be performed. Assumptions are made, new hypotheses are formed and subsequently tested, and thereby the process continues.

An example: In the 18th century Henry Cavendish made inflammable air, or hydrogen, by combining metal and acid. He observed that this "inflammable air" reacted with "dephlogisticated air"(oxygen) to form what appeared to be water.
Dephlogisticated air derives its name from the phlogiston theory of Johann Joachim Bechler, which stated that the element "phlogiston" was contained within flammable substances and was released during combustion. What Johann Joachim and Henry Cavendish didn't realize was "Phlogistated" air was air in which the oxygen was converted to carbon dioxide, and "Dephlogistated" air was oxygen itself and that Phlogiston didn't exist.

Antoine Lavoiser named Henry Cavendish's "inflammable air" hydrogen. He later wrote "Reflections on Phlogiston" showing the phlogiston theory to be incorrect. He determined that the components of water were hydrogen and oxygen, and that air was primarily nitrogen and oxygen. In his book Elementary Treatise on Chemistry, he stated the law of conservation of mass, and explained that an element is a substance that can not be broken down any further.

The concept of the element at the time was simply any substance that could not be further broken down by chemical methods. John Dalton was the first to propose that each element consisted of atoms of a unique type which can be put together to form chemical compounds. Mendeleev, using the earlier discoveries by Lavoisier and other scientists published the first periodic table of the elements in 1869.

Now imagine what would have happened if during this period that a scientific/political authority stepped in in defense of the Phlogiston theory and stated that the debate was over. It seems quite silly doesn't it. Debate is not one of the tools of science. Debate in this context could only be used to suppress hypotheses and prevent further experimentation, observation, and interpretation of results. Debate would stop science. Authoritarianism has no place in science apart from the peer review process. When non-scientists get involved and set themselves up as authorities the problem gets infinitely worse.

This is the very message we learn from Galileo's defense of heliocentrism, which properly placed the sun at the center of the solar system. He was forced to recant, and spent his final years under house arrest. This due to the authoritarianism of the Catholic Church.

Not only does authoritarianism have no place in science, it is anathema to science. Peer review is not meant to be authoritarianism, and cannot prevent science but merely serves an editorial purpose for the specific journal in question. It quashes no hypothesis, and stops no experiment.

Government involvement in science, apart from funding, is uniquely dangerous. Governments seek to hide knowledge and stop competing interests, at the cost of science. They willingly blind themselves to reality in doing so, and science becomes just another means to an end.

Global Warming is the latest exercise in defending the phlogiston theory, after all CO2 is just phlogistated air. There is much to discover in the atmospheric sciences, but too many non-scientific authorities are stepping on the scientific process, and in some cases directly hijacking it.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Self Organizing Systems - The Rule of Law

I'm going to start with Disney. One of the most interesting developments in computer animation in the mid 90's was the use of Agent Based Modeling in the movie The Lion King. There is a scene in the movie that calls for thousands of Wildebeests to charge into a gorge. Using traditional animation techniques to complete this scene would have been impossible.
Using a technique called agent based modeling, they were able to create each wildebeest, give each one a set of rules which would govern its individual behavior with respect to the others and the turn it loose. For a simple example of such a system see the Boids applet at the (http://www.red3d.com/cwr/boids/) page by Craig Reynolds.
If you give individual actors a key set of rules, random characteristics and behaviors, you can observe complex phenomenon. In the traffic models I have written you could observe patterns in the traffic that occur in the real world without ever planning or explicitly coding for them. It was self emergent behavior. I'm sure there are many examples in contemporary video games.
People also have various learned and instinctive behaviors, some we are aware of, and some we aren't. Take the simple act of choosing a path across a school campus. There are obstacles, crossings, and other people (agents). If you are a keen observer of people you may have noticed that when someone approaches a sidewalk at an acute angle to cross it, they change their angle within the last few feet of the approach to minimize the distance of the crossing. That is they cross at an angle closer to the perpendicular than the angle of their path in general.
Another example from my own experience: When two individuals are walking towards each other there is a set of unspoken signals exchanged between the two meant to communicate the intended path each wishes to take. Subtle signals are given with the eyes, the next set of signals may be given with a leading shoulder or a sharp shift in direction, or even slightly stepping to the side or looking down to yield. In order to see the full concert of these behaviors just watch for the jostling that begins just before the two individuals come face to face not knowing on which side to pass. I'm sure everyone is familiar with this from experience.
This is an example of a mixture of instinctive and learned behavior. In England pedestrians tend to pass on the left by default, whereas in the USA they pass on the right which happens to mirror the road traffic. Any violation of this convention is communicated through nearly subconscious body language.
I believe human beings have a wealth of such characteristics and rules programmed into us as inherited traits. In order for these traits to work though we have to be free to use them.
Laws in a free society work the same way, and with the same results. Only if people are given a set of rules, and a free environment in which to use them can the complex phenomena manifest themselves. If you believe that people evolved, either macroscopically or just within species, then you must also believe that these complex phenomena exist. Regardless of evolution or not we know they do exist.
Take for example Adam Smiths invisible hand. It is a prime example of the power of complex phenomenon of a self emergent system from agent based behavior. It is also an example of the ability of free markets to meet the needs of the people through a whole series of win-win transactions.
In order for us to reach our true potential our choices shouldn't be suppressed by well meaning individuals who would rather manage the population rather than let them be free agents. In doing so they set for themselves an impossible task, because everyone _is_ an agent and will make their own choices anyway. It would be as if the animator at Disney had chosen to draw each frame of the stampede by hand, rather than appreciating the beauty of the emergent pattern made up of the individual wildebeests even with their simple and limited set of rules.
There is a principal here. Complex societies require freedom. This was known at the founding of the USA. The concept of God given rights is an acknowledgment of the necessity of freedom. The concept of the equality and the rule of law is a corollary to the rules in the animators agent based technique. The animators admitted that some things just can't possibly be managed from the top down with good effect.
It is time that those who believe in a managed society learn the same thing. Our interactions with each other as citizens have to be rooted in equality and the rule of law. If they are, then our interactions will for the most part be mutually beneficial. Our interactions are far too complex to manage, and the results are impossible to duplicate using another technique.
There really is such a thing as win-win. If we are free to use our innate abilities for the benefit of ourselves and others we can see great things emerge, just as America did more than two centuries ago.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Milton Friedman, Nobel prize winning economist back when that meant something academic and not political, put out a series called Free to Choose in 1980. In this series he explains and illustrates basic economic principals in terms easy to understand, and impossible to contradict.

I was listening to this episode (#9 Inflation) on my mp3 player during my bike to work this morning, and considering its implications with respect to where we find ourselves today. Principals are timeless and constitute tools for us to use in navigating reality regardless of prevailing sentiments.

I strongly encourage you to watch this episode, and when you hear contradictory information evaluate it against this standard.