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 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 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 (, 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.