Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Wesley Clark: "No Problem with Invading Afghanistan"

General Wesley Clark, of the Afghanistan war: "I was one of the ones that said we should go to Afghanistan - I never had a problem with that."

Is his claim accurate?  It seems incredible to me that Clark believes there is "no problem" if the U.S. orders military invasion of country that is not a threat, on the pretext it "refused to hand over Osama bin Laden" when ordered to do so by the leader of another country.  The government of Afghanistan was even told they would be given no evidence of anything: no evidence Osama bin Laden was implicated in any crime, no evidence he was ever located in Afghanistan - but they were threatened.

Surely Gen. Clark knows this is illegal and immoral behavior...How could he not?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dan Choi's Response to Mattilda Bernstein's Criticism

In this interview regarding the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, Mattilda Bernstein claims it is ridiculous to improve access (of LGBT people) to a monstrous, out of control threat to world stability which murders on an industrial scale.  Bernstein rightly added that this killing and destruction is overwhelmingly for the benefit of corporate profiteers, the politicians they purchase, and maintaining the systems supporting their power.
West Point graduate Dan Choi argued that LGBT equality would provide greater credibility for an argument against militarism, since currently the system discriminates, undermining any greater question of militarism's morality, and making such questions moot by critics like Bernstein. 

I tend to think that the defect in Choi's response might be more apparent if we apply this argument to a well understood historical example with which most Americans are familiar.

If we were living in the antebellum South, and someone were to claim: Racial equality would provide greater credibility for an argument against slavery, since currently the system discriminates and does not allow the ownership of indigenous people or other groups, therefore any greater question of slavery's morality is inappropriate.  The lack of equality makes the larger questions moot, but after we have equality, objections to slavery will have much greater moral authority.

It seems clear we would not accept this response in the context of slavery, but why?

If we try to think of circumstances under which a person in those times might reject calls to end slavery, it seems easier to imagine an analog of Choi's response coming from someone attached to the institution of slavery.  This analogy seems plausibly useful based on what it predicts as the likely background for the supporter of the problem institution.

Here, we have a committed military man who believes in duty, honor, and country within a military context.  In the interview, he appears to recognize the actual history of U.S. interventions and military operations are largely at odds with the official pronouncements, which are largely based on mythologies like those of the Lusitania sinking as a casus belli for WWI, the propaganda of WWII that justified using the ultimate WMD's, U.N. resolutions starting the Korean War, and so on.  Nevertheless, his attachment to the military as a means a) generally to do good and b) personally to serve others, is clear.

Modern myths that the U.S. is under attack and needs to defend itself from WMD's, immigrants, non-traditional marriages, rich welfare queens (i.e.: black), incompetent teachers, sleeper celled terrorists, evil corporate executives, and many more are put forward by elites to deflect criticism, prevent reform, and maintain illegitimate control of others.  Like any lie, these myths are accurate in many ways, perhaps most.  Like any aggressive doctrines, from Nazism to Corporate State Capitalism, it is the costs and risks what they overlook which lie at the root of the problem for the greater society.

So, how should we decide whether responses like Choi's represent a valid objection to calls for ending undesirable activities?  It may be that there are times when making monstrous practices more humane can be justified: and that is when it really is the best we can do.  If the costs are too high for trying to eliminate a practice I don't think criticisms can stand well, so long as maintaining the status quo meets one criteria.

That criteria is "understanding".  If we are familiar with the best information available relevant to our situation and understand the consequences of our decisions, we are entitled to make conscious decisions based on our own values.  We may even decide to violate rules of reason and rationality without objection if we understand and acknowledge our decision is unreasonable and irrational.  Many people are in religions requiring them to profess beliefs they really know are silly and cannot possibly be true, but they cannot live without the social support they receive, and they make a rational choice to go along with group rituals and ignore the problems.  Most of the time, this does not involve obvious harm, other than making a virtue out of refusing to use one's brain to it's best advantage.  These believers are not normally asked to categorize this kind collective deception but when pressed, will go to even dishonest lengths to advocate such decisions as reasonable.

Dan Choi's training and indoctrination appears to be at war with his intellectual acuity and moral sense of justice, which I think we see in the interview as he acknowledges the validity of Bernstein's points.

I'd like to hear what readers think.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Review of Complexity Theory and Project Management by Drs. Curlee & Gordon

As a systems analyst, project manager and feral philosopher of science over the past 20+ years, I’ve followed the exciting developments which are now considered foundations of complexity theory.  I had the good fortune to work at IBM during Benoit Mandelbrot’s last years there.  Mandelbrot, the inventor of fractal geometry and the Mandelbrot Set, died last month after an astounding life.  Underlying chaos theory and complex systems ideas, Mandelbrot’s discoveries are well recognized to have incredibly broad application, but to me one of the most revealing realizations of his work is the relationship between the standards and methods of measurement selected, and the results obtained relative to natural structures.

Complexity theory, which could not have been developed without such concepts, deals with complex systems which come in three types: non-linear systems, chaotic, and complex adaptive.  Complexity theory evolved largely in an effort to explain recognizable structures and predictable patterns which emerged, but seemed impossible to understand in terms of the operations of the simple, component parts comprising the systems being studied.

Creation of Complexity Theory and Project Management (CTPM) was based on the author’s perception that “current management practices require adherence to rigid, global responses unsuitable for addressing the changing needs of most projects”.  The number one target of the author’s criticism is PMI’s PMBOK Guide, which is assessed on page 17 of “clearly” being “a completely linear tome”.  In contrast, the authors perceive that the Christian Bible embraces complexity, offering delegation of responsibility by Moses “to enforce and keep the law of the land” and the "detailed plans" for construction of King Solomon's palace as examples.

Crafted as a textbook, the published description of CTPM promises an instructor's companion website, teaching notes, PowerPoint slides, a solutions manual, and a tool box of solutions to common project management problems.  I was able to find some illustrations in the book that may have been copied from PowerPoint slides, but the other components eluded me.

Overview of CTPM’s Structure

The 400 pages of CTPM are divided into five parts: complexity theory itself, how to deploy it, case studies, creating successful communities, and advanced tools.

“Part I - Complexity Theory” comprises an introduction to complexity theory with chapters entitled: “Going Beyond Project Management”, “Virtual Leadership and Complexity”, and “Successful Virtual Projects”.

“Part II – How to Deploy Complexity Theory” is described in its introduction as including review of effective use of complexity, with chapters on strategies, virtual leadership, organizational culture, conflict and resolution, and risk management.

“Part III – Case Studies of Applied Complexity” starts with one of my favorite examples of participatory management: SEMCO, a democratically run company based on mutual respect and equality.  Following chapters include case study chapters of online universities and small teams.

“Part IV – Create Successful Project Communities” reviews the relationship of complexity to leadership, teams, and change. 

First: the Positives

The attempt to use complex systems and complexity theory to better understand projects and improve their performance first struck me as a noble and intriguing goal.  Social interactions are complex and chaotic, much like weather patterns.  if complexity theory could be applied not merely to atmospheric measurements, but to measurements of much more complex human interactions, it would be a revolutionary advance in social sciences, whose effects would certainly transform not just project management, but also cognitive psychology, philosophy of science and even cognitive and behavioral neuroscience.

I was delighted to read the authors’ positional stance regarding academic work, also.  I strongly agree with the value expressed that project management research should be directed toward increasing the available knowledge of the profession.  This stands in contrast to the Project Management Institute’s revised mission statement, which focuses not on creating value and advancing human knowledge as in the past but now, is rather more focused on encouraging forms of dependency on project management, generally for maximizing profits – described in the official wording of PMI's public relations “to make project management indispensable for business results”; Readers will draw their own conclusions on PMI but for me, Curlee & Gordon’s stance is a refreshing example of not constantly "reaching for new ideas to be successful".

Another positive is that Complexity Theory and Project Management cites an impressive list of references for many of its ideas.  While some source authors’ conclusions may appear to stand at odds with those in CTPM, it is reassuring and helpful for readers to be able to review the original work and assess the reliability of conclusions and recommendations for themselves. 

I was also pleased to see the inclusion of an entire chapter focused on SEMCO, one of my favorite examples of participatory economics and worker management based on anarchist principles.  In CTPM’s discussion of SEMCO, sentences like “Everybody is treated equally, from high-ranking executives to the lowest-ranked employees” appear to convey a self contradictory message, since at SEMCO, “equality” is taken to mean that no one has a title, there are no “high executives”, nor is any employee regarded as “lowest” in any way.  This is perhaps a good point to segue to…

Reality Sets In: The Negatives

I would recommend the authors set more modest goals for their book, stick to writing about what they know and understand, and study critical thinking, logic and philosophy.  Because of their obvious passion for the possibilities of CT to assist projects, especially virtual projects in which they specialize, it seems they make a doomed attempt like that of the Joshua tree in Fig. 1.1, which is called: "like a hand reaching for the sky".  A basic rule of risk management is to avoid "reaching for the sky" in favor of balanced, reasonable, and appropriate ideas and goals.  Overreaching introduces sufficient risk to virtually guarantee failure.  As we might predict, the tree and the authors both fail to grasp their respective goals by similar margins.

On every page, this book indicates lack of understanding the basics of modern scientific inquiry appropriate for constructing, developing, and analyzing hypotheses and theories.  Even basic rules for productive discussion appear unknown, including 2000 year old topics explicitly integrated throughout project management literature, such as clearly defining your terms.   Knowledge of what constitutes an "explanation", a "cause", the properties of valid  support, deduction and inference are clearly missing.  We are never told what is “complexity”, a “linear” approach, or distinguishes “sacred” information, which I found frustrating.

The first thing I looked for in the book was a definition of what the authors specifically meant by the main subject of the title: “complexity theory”.  This would give readers an initial scope and understanding of the authors’ approach to the material.  According to the book’s index, there are 95 pages explicitly referencing “complexity” and yet, despite repeated readings of the chapters ostensibly focusing on that attribute, no clear, usable definition is presented.  Meaningless statements that “complexity involves X”, “complexity may be used for Y”, “complexity is a complete system to leverage interactions” and so on suggest the authors possess only a vague conceptualization of their core topic, and much of that appears mistaken.  While alluding to the existence of specific “criteria for complexity”, readers are never given sufficiently clear criteria and definitions to make rational sense of the material. 

This defect is pervasive, rendering much of the book meaningless.  Continuous presentation of dubious platitudes, non-sequitur fallacies, and unsupported claims made me unwilling to invest the time to completely read the last 100 pages.  Random sample turning to any page seems to confirm this.  As a live experiment now, I flip to p119.  Here is the highlighted recommendation on that page:”Be a leader who is serious about trust by talking frequently about trust.”  Talking about trust is not “being serious about trust,” especially when one has not studied to gain understanding of trust.  Frauds and con-men talk about trust quite convincingly.  The way to “be serious about trust” is to study, learn, and make sure one’s behavior is honorable and trustworthy: a polar opposite of CTPM's recommendation. 

Next random flip: p175, where a tyrannosaur skull illustrates a metaphor that “the PM must learn to deal [with conflict] …or suffer a tragic fate at the hands of a cultural T-rex”.  The hands of a T-rex are extraordinarily small, its skull is very lightweight and its nasal cavity is huge.  What does this tell us? T-rex would be in great danger to its jaws trying to hold struggling prey, whereas its roar, teeth and towering size could easily scare off others from a kill, the way lions get most of their calories today.  T-rex’s extraordinary sense of smell enabled location of the kill just like as the similar ability of the turkey vulture today.  Clearly, the authors used poor judgment in their choice of a predatory icon.  What about their core claim that tragedy will befall the PM who does not learn to deal with "conflict".  Several other problems with CTPM's claim arise fairly obviously: one is that "conflict" is never properly defined; It is like a mountain lion, say Drs. Curlee and Gordon.  Conflict, they say : "can happen at any time", "can happen to any team", "can be destructive", "can be constructive" and so on.  The next is the claim that the PM must learn to deal with the conflict.  Unless interpersonal friction adversely affects the project, it may be a very very good idea not to get involved, especially if one is impatient, like me.  The next problem is the prediction of a threat regarded as culturally similar to being ripped apart by a predator.  Such a metaphor is childish, inappropriate for a serious work.  The publisher also should answer for items such as the caption to another black and white illustration, which directs us to “Note the depth and variety of color”.  For hundreds of pages, CTPM continues in this manner.

While we know projects can be “complex” in the everyday sense of the word, the authors never provide sufficiently rigorous criteria that enable us to identify emergent patterns, unexpected structure, and surprising order from complex adaptive systems or other types of complex systems.  What emergent “order” is being explained?  Without adequate definitions or a coherent theoretical structure, such a question is also meaningless and the material is a jumble.

Definitions of foundational concepts are difficult and philosophers of science are working to develop them in what we project managers would consider a scoping effort.  But regardless of inadequacies, we must have some clear rules to guide and govern our passions, whether they are writing or research.  Without a coherent framework, we cast to and fro without any net progress as the authors do, for example by claiming on p194 that people are not generally worried about basics like survival and perpetuating the species because “the human race has reached a higher level on Maslow’s scale of needs.”  One hundred pages later the opposite claim is made, that “the family is focused on survival…when one focuses upon what is essential…it is all about survival.”  While contextual rules could distinguish why one or another standard for analysis is appropriate, as far as I can tell, these are never adequately provided, leaving readers with a stream of random, often conflicting, unwise, or mistaken platitudes and assertions.

Who Might Benefit from Complexity Theory and Project Management?

I believe the primary audiences for this book are students in the authors’ classes, who seem likely to be presented with this as the required text.  The content strikes me overall as a collection of thoughts, concepts and ideas collected by the authors over the course of their own educations without a well-formed plan and packaged into book form.  Complexity may provide a thread that connects the topics covered by its applicability to all project activities, especially when shifting liberties are taken with its meaning.  It is possible that this may help with presentation in a course format; I would guess that will depend on the instructor.


In all, I was obviously and profoundly disappointed with CTPM’s lack of intellectual maturity and rigor in dealing with complexity theory and project management.  The PMBoK criticisms typically seem biased, petulant and sophomoric, without evidence or even a reasonable definition of defects which authors presented as “always” occurring, or as in the example mentioned above as being “totally linear”, etc.  It is reasonable to provide good evidence whenever such broad and strong claims are made, and explain the defects in conflicting views. 

Regrettably, I’m unable to recommend this book as anything other than a cautionary example: the result of drive, ambition, and passion moving ahead without sufficient education, understanding, or preparation.  How did this occur?  A root problem with religious faith is that it makes a virtue of not thinking critically, and the lack of critical thinking alongside religious references within CTPM does not strike me as an accident.  Faith in  mythologies, whether based on stone-age deities or modern free-market fantasies seem to present impediments to serious scholarship because the tools of scientific inquiry make rejection of irrational beliefs almost mandatory in some ways.

Alas, for everyone interested in complexity theory and how it might relate to projects, it seems our ability to obtain necessary metrics for good analysis will remain beyond any reasonable expectations for the foreseeable future.  Serious study of complexity in projects needs data on a statistically significant volume of agents (project team members and the greater group of stakeholders generally), and with sufficient detail on each agent.  If it is possible to get such data for enough people on enough projects to make reasonably reliable predictions on recurring phenomena and emergent properties, we would seem to need a massive amount of additional research in several fields.
Final Score: 1.0 / 5.0

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Radiografia de una mentira (X-Ray of a Lie)

I just recently became aware of a film titled "Radiografia de una mentira", or "X-ray of a Lie" in English.  "Radiografia" claims to summarize the results and conclusions of a debate held regarding the "distorted version" of  facts presented by the film "The Revolution will not be Televised".  The focus and purpose of the debate: "to unravel the mechanisms of such manipulations." Although my experience with Spanish is insufficient to assess nuances of meaning, the English subtitles and much of the video clips indict the film as grossly incompetent in presenting its case, at best.  Crowd estimates do not appear supported by the videos, Chavez' resignation during a coup and while under military siege is called "voluntary", while the self-declared president (usurper?) was "forced" to resign when the lawful government was being restored.  No mention is made that Chavez was taken prisoner (or perhaps hostage) during what was called his "unsigned resignation", while the head of the coup is shown surrounded by corporate reporters.

I can't agree with comments I've read stating  this video lies every time, but some of the objections it raises are rather strange, such as pointing out that the film crew used old footage from when Chavez was initially campaigning.  The film I watched seemed to relay when that footage was shot, when the film crew arrived, and my impression was that the narration made clear the different periods being discussed and shown in the visuals.   Would it be reasonable to criticize this film and its makers based on the same criteria they use for "Revolution"?  Fallacy by opponents (like violence) doesn't justify reciprocity, other than as an illustration to show how rules that are not applicable uniformly tend to be inferior rules, at least if "understanding" is our goal.  It's like justifying violence by claiming: "He started it!" One wonders if the makers of "Radiografia de una mentira" (X-ray of a Lie) would or believe they should accept identical  "criticisms" as discounting their own claims?  If not, it is a hypocrisy they should correct.

Also, to which of the 4 points they are claiming to refute does this objection pertain?  None that I can tell.

To refute "Revolution" (original film) claims about media freedoms, for which evidence exists, "Radiographia" presents Chavez' "attitude".  Although his attitude seems admittedly (and plausibly, IMO) hostile to what he regards as mis-information, it has no relevance to whether his government allowed greater media freedom than past governments.  Yet, even this irrelevant fallacy is badly botched in "Radiographia": Chavez's statements (the "evidence") is spliced rapidly over and over with strange overlays and cuts to clips of people yelling "Assholes", "The people support their president!" giving the camera the finger, etc. in what appears to be a of ham-fisted effort at pontificating what Chavez is REALLY saying.

"Radiographia" claims "Chavez began attacking the media since his first day in office. His violent speeches promoted growing hostility within his supporters against journalists and photographers."  This is probably true.  Unfortunately, whether or not the hostility was justified on the part of the majority of the country, based on systemic criminality by elites (including private media) must be addressed and refuted for this objection to have merit.  Because that issue is not addressed, the objection cannot be held very seriously, even if it were relevant to one of the points under discussion.

The evidence presented of hostility against the media consisted of one anouncer being shoved and one man apparently throwing something too small to be picked up on this video toward a camera.  This is described as "attacking the media" with "violence and aggression running rampant".  This seems doubtful, especially when we see the single, would be thrower swarmed instantly and he appears to be the one in the most immediate danger.  The announcer is being backed up by soldiers in full combat gear, the supposed "violent" Chavez supporter appears to be single guy in a t-shirt who doesn't look like he comes from money.

In Radiographia, Thaelman Urgelles accuses the Revolution of omitting "who started the aggressions against whom", which is a criticism we expect of a four year old, but by seven, the child really ought to know that an objectively minded parent is not going to take that seriously. 

An astounding claim is made that Chavez' election was "supported by almost all the Venezuelan population", "and all Venezuelan sectors, including the media", based on his promise to "produce changes in this country".  I would appreciate the opportunity to ask Mr. Urgelles what examples he could provide of rich elites in any country or society in the history of our species who supported handing over leadership of that society to someone from outside the elites, promising reforms that would radically reduce the power and financial inequalities of the society, and reduce the relative advantage elites had previously enjoyed?  Such a claim is beyond the realm of believability.

Would Mr. Urgelles accept pre-election media clips in opposition to Chavez as evidence that this claim is inaccurate?  This would reveal whether his reasoning seeks ontological truth (accuracy in describing reality) or seeks to adherence to a faith-based ideology.  The level of criticism offered suggests the latter.

Helping rational people determine whether Chavez has committed crimes (I believe he almost certainly has) is pursued by presentation of rationally justified conclusions and supporting evidence in a coherent argument.  Passion and anger are no substitute for clear, insightful analysis.

"Radiografia" points out, undoubtedly correctly, yet  with computer enhanced video, that some Chavez supporters carried arms and stones, above.  Assuming this is true, it is relatively non-violent, given the illegal military coup which appears to have been underway.  As I understand it, the march for Chavez resignation was given government permits for peaceful protest and a march along a route proposed by organizers and the trouble began when some protest leaders directed the group to the presidential palace, which is also the residence, which would have been illegal.  Also dubious is their claimed motivation for suspension of rule of law and Chavez' resignation: that the national oil company had interfered in something - but no details or plausible narrative is presented. With organized strikes, questionable military loyalties and apparent unrest, it is hard to understand how those who are protecting the president from a mob deliberately and illegally deviating in a threatening manner can be reasonably regarded as primary aggressors, anyway.  Were/are there violent Chavez supporters? Certainly.  This does not allow those of us really interested in truth to ignore much greater violence, crimes, or even provocation by one side or another.

The film claims protesters were attacked by Chavez supporters, which is probably true - but the defense argument is ALWAYS invoked for aggression.  Why should viewers take seriously the implication that Chavez and his supporters are more aggressive than the protesters?   This question is especially salient when the description of events are more biased, with less balance, and the language used is consistently even more prejudicial than that of "Revolution".

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How does one vote when insanity rules?

...not that candidates supported by MoveOn provide an alternative to state-corporatism...

The two men attacking this woman are Rand Paul campaign officials/organizers, sure to be dropped for getting caught - with predictable claims being that "violence cannot be tolerated" by national leadership, whereas the grassroots militants and perpetrators will claim that they had no choice and in fact, that they showed great restraint.  The attackers will feel indignant at any criticism, since they didn't do anything like rape and kill her, and only were trying to protect Paul.  Frightening in itself and its universal consistency, this reflex of human cognition shows how tremendously difficult it is for us to view our own actions objectively.  In contrast, what about Rand Paul political leadership's claims and thinking?

Their reflex responses will be more insidious and Machiavellian than frighteningly stupid, biased, and violent.  If the upcoming pacifist claims from leadership were really true, militant radicals would not be welcomed into the campaign, especially when it was learned that these organizers proudly displayed aimed and ready-to-fire assault rifles on their websites with text promoting violence in the name of "defense".  Provocation was invited, just like when Bush II said to the terrorists: "Bring it on!" or when Glen Beck urges anyone to "mess" with "America" so that they can be made a brutal, abject lesson that obedience to US violent power is the only way to survive.  Criticize or resist, and you, your family, and everyone else will die in agony.  Beck and many other sincerely believe this is freedom.  Such terrorist, imperial views are regarded as virtuous and quite Christian, even though they are the opposite of Christ's unequivocal teachings of charity, mercy and forgiveness.

Of course, pointing out the defense argument above is a bit redundant since even the most violent, genocidal mass murderers claim they are "defending" against someone else's aggression.  Another bizarre aspect of such interactions is the widespread belief that "Defending the Constitution" and "freedoms" would certainly be claimed by the attackers as top priorities.  Incredibly, the attackers are seen calling for the police who eventually detained the peaceful citizen but did nothing to the violent perps.  Mike Pezzano, the man in the video holding the woman down to punish and prevent her from exercising freedom of speech states/asks on a Meetup website "What's Liberty if you can't exercise it."

I find myself in a common state of amazement.  In US politics, killing is peace (occupied terr), aggression is defense (Iraq & Afghanistan), hatred is love (of free speech), and violence is charity (to protect whatever).  One simply must wonder: have we largely been driven insane?

Monday, October 25, 2010

US Wrestling Federation SmackOut

Are You Ready to RUUUUUMBLE?

U.S. Election day is almost here, and proud Americans are able to participate in that most precious right: the right to choose their government officials.  Presented as consumer products by advertising agencies, the electorate is carefully manipulated by disinformation propaganda toward emotional confidence in one candidate or party, and emotional aversions to opponents.  Religion, which makes a virtue out of ignoring evidence, is an excellent way to get a large percentage of people to shut off their logical thinking, and we see God frequently invoked. Admittedly, monotheism was a great advance in understanding reality at the end of the stone age, but now?   It makes some of us wonder about whether we are smart enough as a species to survive much longer…as our entertainment, religions, and political rituals demonstrate; But it's no use whining - perhaps we should just wade into it:

In this corner, weighing in at billions of dollars and backed by businesses of all stripes, these enthusiastic supporters of religious fundamentalism and military extremism are dynamic, fear-mongering, war-loving ideologues.  Proud and patriotic, their accomplishments include the most dramatic successes of the Nazis: unbridled executive power, contempt for international laws and treaties, repeal of internal prohibitions against torture and reclassification of certain people as not-human (or in the words of Paul Wolfowitz “another breed”) in support of gruesome medical and psychological experimentation, closely aligned with theories of racial superiority and purity.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Mavericks of Marketing and the Momma Grizzlies, the Elephants of Elections, and the Pachyderms of Politics: Lady’s and Gentlemen I give you...the REPUBLICANS!  (Cue cheers)

(Restless murmuring)

In this corner, weighing in with billions of dollars and backed mostly by big businesses, these enthusiastic supporters of religious fundamentalism and military extremism are dynamic, fear-mongering, war-loving ideologues.  Proud and patriotic, their accomplishments include the most dramatic successes of the Fascists and Imperial Japan: unbridled executive power, contempt for international laws and treaties, legal cover for gross violations of human rights, war crimes and crimes against humanity, vast surveillance and psychological warfare operations against their own population, and industrial scale killing of more innocent civilians even than their "tough" opponents with an iron fist, while while stroking millions of supporters with a facade velvet glove.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you...the DEMOCRATS!  (Cue cheers)

In truth, I'd like to say that our Founders would be horrified, and yet if our income disparity is any measure, then recent administrations have succeeded in the “first purpose” of government: “protecting the minority of the opulent from the majority” (James Madison).  One might even say that making the minority smaller and more opulent by increasing the misery and poverty of the majority is an improvement, if one were sufficiently pious to see things "properly", such as Glenn Beck.

I just read about a dilemma in Connecticut, where a former professional wrestling executive is running for political office and logo gear from her league is used to express support for her as a candidate, making it campaign speech.  Since campaign speech is prohibited within a certain range of voting places, it has been suggested that shirts and other "messaging" that is understood as partisan should be prohibited.  The problem is that not all fans who wear such gear are making a political statement, so should we allow the freedom of expression defense to allow abuse by partisans, or should we allow the balloting protection defense to restrict freedom of speech?  Unfortunately the question is probably moot, since merely a color (red vs. blue, for example) can be as easily used to represent such speech, and in a winner-take-all system, fairness and long term viability of functioning democracy within a republic is in the interest of no one of consequence.

Its amazing that such a state of affairs is widely considered to be a model of democracy and freedom.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Jesus: Communist Pirate

Jesus, that radical Marxist and his wandering commune of disciples and other followers who violated every reasonable principle of free market economics, shared what they had with each other in the belief that turning their backs on capitalist profit would lead to something good.
When Jesus gained access to some bread and fish without paying a dime...
He used his talents to lure new recruits and bribe current followers with free food by "multiplying" the original fishes and loaves to which he had no property rights...
We might note that while the short term results did not serve these utopian do-gooders very well, they were somewhat good for the imperial entertainment industry, providing crucifixion billboards, and the wildly profitable "Arena Survivor", and "The Weakest Luke" spectacles where a panel of lions "voted" contestants to shuffle off this mortal coil.

The unwary may ask: "What's the harm in freely sharing with others?"
To respond, I adopted a recent article on piracy by a left-wing unionist article to reflect the imperial view to provide better perspective.  Note that contributing electricity and computer resources for free to others is not called sharing or donating files, rather it is called theft and piracy.  Either of these terms is much more scary, being associated with perhaps murder, robbery, and/or perhaps rape.  "Sharing and helping" are virtues that we learn at our mother's knee, so it is hard to argue against them.  Read the reworded opinion piece excerpt below to learn how mainstream liberals today defend the imperial view, tyrannical structures, and justification for enslavement condemned by those with who put a greater value on rights of justice than on rights of "property".

Counterfeit fish and loaves were given out on the street. Pirate Christians distributed illegally copied fresh-baked bread and regional fish without any compensation to those who caught and cooked them. While people might think they're getting a steal when they eat an illegal copy of the next big sub-sandwich on the cheap, they're actually stealing from workers. It's theft, plain and simple, and people need to understand the detrimental impact it has on the working men and women employed in the fishing and baking industry and on the greater imperial economy.

The Empire's food industry supports millions of jobs and contributes zillions each year to the economy, according to merchants associations and the imperial treasury.

Theft of bread and fish results in the loss of jobs in these industries and jobs in other industries that otherwise would have been created, such as net-weaving, grain cultivation, and boat & oven building.

The notion that imperial leaders and rich merchants have no real worries is misleading.  Along with the fishermen and baker, there are droves of blue collar workers put at risk by miracles like this.  The scribes and craftspeople -- who handle the aspects of food making that many take for granted, such as farmers, shipwrights, plowmakers, firewood, mills, and saltmakers -- all lose money when people steal, rather than buy, food.

Those who work behind the scenes derive a substantial portion of their livelihood from secondary revenue that their work generates in what are called secondary markets -- foreign distribution, street vendor sales, and Arena meals -- long after initial distribution to such pirates and their disciples.  When bread and fishes are stolen, the downstream revenue dries up, and the health and savings of tens of thousands working men and women suffer, and that of their children. This in addition to the hardship suffered by workers if administrators for the government don't order as much food, since their prospects for taxation are diminished by theft.

Here we see the justification for the argument against "free sharing without payment".  This open freedom worldwide for food or culture is judged not only selfish and shortsighted, but it leads to the destruction of civilization based on corporations.  This is similar to arguments against freedom for slaves, where civilization was based on plantation food production: freedom meant that system would end, i.e.: destruction.  Freedom for Jews, where civilization was based on preserving racial purity of the most productive race, would be destroyed if core, defining virtues of nobility, patriotism, and hard work were abandoned. Such arguments are 96% sensible and in each case,  the Roman Empire, the Reich, and the Confederacy actually did pass into history, so in a way "destruction of the civilization" did occur.  Like chimp DNA, that 4% difference has huge consequences in behaviors relative to what we would call morality.

Its a shame that such a small difference of opinion is so difficult to perceive and bridge, especially to those who fear "stepping over" to the other side.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Trohan's Bombshell

After giving a presentation on professional ethics and the need for scientists and project managers to be particularly responsible for following the "Do no harm" doctrine, I was approached by several attendees justifying the participation of project managers in the planning, design, production, and use of weapons of mass destruction.  I had used as an example the ultimate WMD, (currently: nuclear weapons) as the sort of development in which ethical project managers and scientists must not participate.

Sponsored at the University of Texas at Dallas, which gains heavy financial support from large military corporations (e.g.: Texas Instruments, Raytheon) It was no surprise that several attendees challenged me after the talk, claiming that the U.S. is a uniquely noble nation, and that incinerating hundreds of thousands of civilians in Japan with 2 nuclear bombs was the morally correct and right thing to do.  The justification given was a standard "more lives were saved" argument, which was given in 3 parts: 
  (1) A US invasion of Japan would have been necessary to obtain surrender.
  (2) Fewer people (both US and Japanese) died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki than would have died in an invasion.  This second point was supported by the assertion that:
  (3) Every man, woman and child would have fought to the death to prevent an invasion.

As a hypothetical, I asked the main advocate for this humanitarian interpretation of the US government decision to mass murder innocents whether it would matter if Japan had tried to surrender prior to the dropping of the ultimate WMD's.  His answer was revealing: "...but they didn't!" he insisted.  I agreed that I was presenting a hypothetical and asked again, stating "Yes, but what if they had tried to surrender, say a month before?"  All he could say is: "But they didn't."  Upon explaining that I was only interested in serious discussion, and what he was doing is ordinarily considered refusing to answer a reasonable question, he claimed that it was impossible for him to discuss a hypothetical.  I then indicated that he was now deliberately relaying falsehood to prevent meaningful discussion, suggesting that if I asked whether releasing a ball would allow it to fall would be very easy for him to discuss regardless of whether it was hypothetical or not.

Lately I have come to believe that self-deception in order to ignore counter examples to our beliefs is a primary weakness of our thinking, and a hallmark of the most dangerous ideologies today.  These ideologies appear in politics, religion, nationalism, sports, economics, you name it.  Whenever there's a perceived threat to our value or reputation, something in our brain tends to activate which suppresses our ability to think clearly.

This was almost certainly a trait favored by evolution to assist our species' survival and success, but the competitive environment has now changed, and civilization as well as homo sapiens is rapidly facing extinction.  A core point I was arguing for was one of context: project management needs to be focused on saving our species and civilization rather than on killing and destructive pursuits which hasten what is already a shockingly rapid decline.

Profit maximization as a goal is suicide for long term survivability.  We must evolve to the current reality and coming future conditions or die.  We must reject arrogant religions and face reality and the tyranny of numbers.  We much face that we are mortal, and the universe is indifferent to our suffering or joy, our survival or extinction.
In honor of those attendees who challenged me after my talk in Dallas, I present the following article from 1945, which was allowed to be published after V-J Day (Victory over Japan), is consistent with several other accounts, and AFAICT has been fairly well corroborated.  If you are from the US and anything like me, comprehending what it implies is difficult.

Chicago Tribune, August 19,1945
Roosevelt Ignored M'Arthur Report On Nip Proposals
By Walter Trohan
Release of all censorship restrictions in the United States makes it possible to report that the first Japanese peace bid was relayed to the White House seven months ago.

Two days before the late President Roosevelt left the last week in January for the Yalta conference with Prime Minister Churchill and Marshal Stalin he received a Japanese offer identical with the terms subsequently concluded by his successor, Harry S. Truman.

MacArthur Relayed Message to F.D.
The Jap offer, based on five separate overtures, was relayed to the White House by Gen. MacArthur in a 40-page communication. The American commander, who had just returned triumphantly to Bataan, urged negotiations on the basis of the Jap overtures.

The offer, as relayed by MacArthur, contemplated abject surrender of everything but the person of the Emperor. The suggestion was advanced from the Japanese quarters making the offer that the Emperor become a puppet in the hands of American forces.

Two of the five Jap overtures were made through American channels and three through British channels. All came from responsible Japanese, acting for Emperor Hirohito.

General's Communication Dismissed
President Roosevelt dismissed the general's communication, which was studded with solemn references to the deity, after a casual reading with the remark, "MacArthur is our greatest general and our poorest politician."

The MacArthur report was not even taken to Yalta. However, it was carefully preserved in the files of the high command and subsequently became the basis of the Truman-Attlee Potsdam declaration calling for surrender of Japan.

This Jap peace bid was known to the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Times-Herald shortly after the MacArthur comunication reached here. It was not published under the paper’s established policy of complete co-operation with the voluntary censorship code.

Must Explain Delay
Now that peace has been concluded on the basis of the terms MacArthur reported, high administration officials prepared to meet expected congressional demands for explanation of the delay. It was considered certain that from various quarters of Congress charges would be hurled that the delay cost thousands of American lives and casualties, particularly in such costly offensives as Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

It was explained in high official circles that the bid relayed by MacArthur did not constitute an official offer in the same sense as the final offer which was presented through Japanese diplomatic channels at Bern and Stockholm last week for relay to the four major Allied powers.

No negotiations were begun on the basis of the bid, it was said, because it was feared that if any were undertaken the Jap war lords, who were presumed to be ignorant of the feelers, would visit swift punishment on those making the offer.
It was held possible that the war lords might even assassinate the Emperor and announce the son of heaven had fled the earth in a fury of indignation over the peace bid.

Defeat Seen Inevitable
Officials said it was felt by Mr. Roosevelt that the Japs were not ripe for peace, except for a small group, who were powerless to cope with the war lords, and that peace could not come until the Japs had suffered more.

The Jap overtures were made on acknowledgment that defeat was inevitable and Japan had to choose the best way out of an unhappy dilemma -- domination of Asia by Russia or by the United States. The unofficial Jap peace brokers said the latter would be preferable by far.

Jap proposals to Gen. MacArthur contemplated:
1. Full surrender of all Jap forces on sea, in the air, at home, on island possessions and in occupied countries.
2. Surrender of all arms and munitions.
3. Occupation of the Jap homeland and island possessions by Allied troops under American direction.
Would Give Up Territory
4. Jap relinquishment from Manchuria, Korea and Formosa as well as all territory seized during the war.
5. Regulation of Jap industry to halt present and future production of implements of war.
6. Turning over of any Japanese the United States might designate as war criminals.
7. Immediate release of all prisoners of war and internees in Japan proper and areas under Japanese control.
After the fall of Germany, the policy of unconditional surrender drew critical fire. In the Senate Senator White (R.) of Maine Capehart (R.) of Indiana took the lead in demanding that precise terms be given Japan and in asking whether peace feelers had not been received from the Nipponese.

Terms Drafted in July
In July the Tribune reported that a set of terms were being drafted for President Truman to take to Potsdam. Capehart hailed the reported terms on the floor of the Senate as a great contribribution to universal peace.

These terms, which were embodied in the Potsdam declaration did not mention the disposition of the Emperor. Otherwise they were almost identical with the proposals contained in the MacArthur memorandum.

Just before the Japanese surrender the Russian foreign commissar disclosed that the Japs had made peace overtures through Moscow asking that the Soviets mediate the war. These overtures were made in the middle of June through the Russian foreign office and also through a personal letter from Hirohito to Stalin Both overtures were reported to the United States and Britain.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Another SC2 Gripe

The other day, I lost my net connection, (not tremendously unusual when we have bad weather), and I received this message:
As advertised, SC2 is supposed to be able to run without a BN connection once the owner of the game has registered it.    I decided to play some of the single player scenarios in the meantime while waiting for my network access to resume.  See below what happens when the user click's the button for "Play Offline"...

SC "forgot" that I had authorized it and been playing for weeks with a SC2 character.  It now stupidly demands "authorization" to use software for which I've paid.

Activision has made conflicting statements about the reasons for these harsh, totalitarian-seeming requirements - such as that it is and is not primarily to prevent sharing the software with friends, which they call "piracy".  In other words: your Grandma was evil when she told you that we should share with others, especially those who have less than we do.  (Christ was evil also, according to this kind of corporatism.)  

Another claim is that it is to "enhance" the experience of players, which might be believable if the enhancements were only implementable via draconian centralized control.  To use a favorite example: the Nazi party took over Germany and fed and put to work the huge percentage of the population that was starving and unemployed, yet this does not make Nazism a good choice.  Similarly, making improvements to software after a decade hardly justify tight centralized control - rather: one would expect improved software after 10 or more years.  Anyone who says otherwise is, well... likely selling something you otherwise wouldn't want to buy.

Now I only have one "OK" option in response to not having web access, and when clicking it, I receive this dialog box:

Not to worry, this is surely a way to resolve the problem without network access via a local webpage on your machine right?  I mean, no one would be so stupid as to require network access to correct a lack of network access, right?

 Apparently, Activision programmers and project managers CAN be that stupid!  After a couple of weeks, it seems to be remembering my login (but not password) more reliably, but I'm not making any bets.  In a way, it is good for SC2 to have so many problems: it makes me grateful when it runs - especially considering how much I paid for it!

The investors and managers who profit most from the hard work of creative programmers, artists, and the rest must really be happy they can legally be rewarded for such abusive practices and doing everything they can to create unnatural scarcity via closed markets.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

You Can't Argue...

...with religious belief.  Like the clinically deluded, the faithful will say almost anything to maintain their illusion, but pathological delusion is defined as a concept or value held with certainty that is not credible, that is: based on expert, accurate information. Neutral, average people might understandably regard belief in supernatural beings with superior intelligence and magical abilities to intervene in natural reality as qualifying under such a definition.

The "nice" people of faith try to say that militants "misinterpret" holy texts.  They claim: "our holy books teach peace", which like all lies is technically true, but completely misleading.  Hitler loved puppies...so he teaches love?

What religious apologists for the "nice" religion cannot do is point to a single instruction in their holy books that says how one is to interpret either conflicting commands about what the monotheistic deity wants, or clear commands to commit violence, even murder and mass slaughter or genocide by war.  Yahweh's Torah clearly orders Jews to "Pour out your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you".  Christianity's God of the Bible, in Deuteronomy 17 states that followers must to "stone unto death" any "man or woman that hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the LORD thy God" while in Surah 8:39 of the Qur'an, Allah commands "Make war on them until unbelief is no more".  The most common justification for disobeying these is that "you have to interpret them based on the time they were written".  It's too bad these apologists don't apply that rule consistently.  Gods were great explanations when we had no science, no logic, and we thought we lived on a disk under a dome at the center of everything in a small universe.  We had no knowledge that dynamic, solar-driven atmospheric conditions cause violent weather, floods and drought.  No one imagined that the microscopic germs cause disease, plague and rot had control of us, and yet these microbes keep us able to digest food.  Only about a hundred years ago, scientists were attacked for suggesting that tectonic forces acting on crustal plates create earthquakes, and life evolves based on complex interactions of molecules and environment. 

Jews, Christians and Muslims cannot face the fact that the reason they have been unable to be consistent religions of peace and love is because the texts defining dogma include commands to violence, lack any means for correcting mistakes, and new crops of people come along who take the texts seriously and really believe them, rather than simply professing belief.  While its hard to call such belief in killing "noble", it does have virtue of consistency between doctrine, professed belief, and actions.  In modern society however, unreasonable group beliefs like religion, political party, patriotism, and similar emotional affiliations seem to be corrosive and anathema to happiness, justice, equality, and prosperity. 

If we look at the least religious countries on the planet (e.g: Denmark, Sweden, Norway) we see high levels of societal health: low rates of violent crime and poverty, low infant mortality, high literacy, high levels of educational attainment generally, high per capita income and gender equality. 

On the other hand, highly religious countries where education in science, the nature of reality and philosophy are dangerously subversive to holy revelation, we see overpopulation, poverty, illiteracy, racial and sexual discrimination and exploitation - along with many related  and other injustices we would normally consider *evil*.

In order to live in a civilized world now, religions' presence forces us to do things that don't seem to make much sense.  For example: people who unethically and hypocritically ignore divine commands to murder in their religious texts they claim to uphold are considered acceptable, while those who consistently try to obey them are condemned as fanatics.

In truth, monotheistic religions are like the flat earth model: a spectacularly successful advance for society thousands of years ago - but like fears of the left-handed, such beliefs are best left in the past.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Can't Help But See Democrats vs. Republicans, Commies vs. Capitalists, etc.

I can't help but think Democrats vs. Republicans, Commies vs. Capitalists, etc.

We have so many group beliefs that don't include a rational means for reaching agreement.

One wonders what our species (or at least civilization's) chances are for long term survival.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Initail Impressions of StarCraft 2

To me, SC has always been about the multiplayer experience, since the computer AI really rewarded cautious defense in the past, (a tradition continued in SC2) and the comp never showed or shows the tactical creativity of human opponents. Like many chess programs, (including good ones) it trains players to develop bad habits which would not work in "real" games. Thus, my focus has been on the multiplayer, which now I have actually stopped playing. Why? In trying to develop good Protoss tactics, (I had over 10k wins on the old BN with that race) I lost about 20 matches in a row to Terran Reaper rushes merely in the practice league. I tried static and mobile defense (Z's, Stalkers), rush attacks, and the only response on the boards appears to be early probe scouting which is not possible on maps with obstruction that are in the practice league maps.

It might be possible to test some strategies in the regular league, but if the player tries to skip practice for such a "real" league test, they are forever locked out of practice league! It's astonishingly bad, like the recommended solution to login problems is to check the BN boards, which require login!

It is a bit hard to believe that such admin functions and unbalanced advantages like Reaper Rush could be missed by any *competent* testing effort. I think layers of highly-paid management directing starving programmers, designers and testers in a hierarchical, tightly authoritarian structure has failed the gaming community in a typically predatory way.

I can't let my daughters learn SC on an alternate account, I can't change my username, the game and the website have conflicting definitions of "account name", the cinema CGI is 10 years out of date, (e.g.: Raynor's silly-looking drinks). The dialog writing is childish and cliched. There are no chat rooms. I don't know if multi-player settings allow no rush games, but I cannot ally people who fought well and I want to award a draw rather than give them a loss. The 3D camera rotation movements demonstrated and promised in promotional videos doesn't exist, and the 3D modeling that is left only serves as an obstacle to quick & precise placement of structures. Speaking of which: the pylon power grid for where buildings can be placed is hexagonal, conflicting with the square grid of the surface used for actual building placement.

The game's button for "Online Guide" takes you to a web page which actually tries to sell you the game used to access the page! Speaking of which: the online guide has no search function, so if you want to find out if chat rooms are available, you cannot search for a specific term like "chat room" or "speed money maps".

Structures are more ornate & complicated, but this frequently makes quickly distinguishing them more difficult, especially when the overall shapes are similar to each other and the useless, pseudo-3D enables tall buildings like the Dark Tower to obscure surface features behind it. When targeting a Colosus, does one click on its body (high) or its feet? If either works, can it make something behind tall units unclickable? Probably. Everything relating to this may not be definitely "bad", but some features certainly are, and the expression "gilding the lily" cannot help but come to mind. The 'toss Mothership is a joke, and lacks abilities shown and advertised in the promos. Removing of chat rooms is, IMO, inexcusably incompetent. In fact, there are so many errors, omissions and blunders in the final product, its a shock for many that after 12 years and tons of money on "development", so much of the design has regressed backwards. I admit my standards are high, but this was the standard Blizzard set for itself, it is what they advertised and promised, and their failure to deliver justifies their loss of credibility.

Will we be able to have a vibrant map community? Speed money maps? Clans? Other features that have been disabled/removed? I don't know, and I'm starting not to care. I mean, come on: they took away Mind Control, the most advanced capability of the 'toss, and replaced it with nothing comparable I can detect - contrary to the steady hype we've been hearing for years about every race advancing. Warp Rays seem like a dim shadow of the original Scouts, which could take on fleets of Carriers when fully upgraded. One of my favorite tactics was to park Scouts over Cannons to face incoming Carriers to drain the enemy's mineral reserves as they produced Fighters in an attempt to smash through a well protected base perimeter. Speaking of maps and base layout, Blizzard now "improved" the system in such a way that "players can only access multiplayer maps by connecting to Blizzard's tightly policed and centrally managed online service". Totalitarian or free and open? You decide.

People who think the above choice seems unfairly harsh may want to consider Blizzard's official statements, such as community manager Bashiok, bragging online that the corporation can completely control what people say, do, and it even deletes maps that anonymous employees or contractors remove entirely from the online system for sharing maps, and Blizzard maintains it has no obligation to tell the authors and creators anything, nor to explain why players work was destroyed and their expression silenced. How does Bashiok justify this? You have to read the propaganda to believe it: he claims their corporation now has the "size and ability to enforce these types of things"!  Speaking of maps: did you know that even when they are tolerated, they are locked from being shared across regions?  This prevents global collaboration where maps can evolve freely and rapidly based on the best most creative ideas.  In Blizzard's wet dream of total control of map publishers and even the complete outlawing of players simply getting together for LAN party play, no innovation is tolerated unless it fits Big Brother's mold.

Back on technical usability: the game continually forgets my BN login information, and there is no way to review and discuss games afterward with fellow players. What kind of organizers prohibit people from talking to each other unless the organizers control the topics and content? Are such restrictions more supportive of individual creativity and flourishing or the tyrannical control typical of those who are so insecure, they cannot tolerate free speech?

The instructions for chat state that you can chat with friends. How do you make friends? The instructions mistakenly direct you to "Right-click on their name wherever you see them to add them as a character friend, enabling you to chat, send invites, and check out their character profile." After a recent game, I wanted to discuss the match with "Eggman", and *perhaps* become friends. I don't really know this player, and he left as soon as my attack reached his primary base. On the replay, I see his name and right click to add him (since I can't locate him, msg him to meet in a chat room, etc.) and as I see his name in this location, the right click does absolutely nothing. After a while, don't such large number of incompetent mistakes in planning, execution, delivery, and documentation significantly erode the value? Where were the project managers overseeing the process? Unless one deliberately closes their eyes and buries their head in the sand, it would seem impossible to give this game a 5 star rating. GameSpot gave it a 9.5, with a video review that, AFAICT refers to only a couple of flaws in order to gloss them over.

I admit the few campaign missions I've played are fun and interesting. (I'm saving them for lots of international flights coming up.) I like the bar room interactions and achievements, but core components of game operations, graphics, race balance and other defects fatally flaw the game, IMO. Outright hostile restriction of players while loudly claiming "customer satisfaction is a top priority" and failure to meet promises with the product itself do seem to warrant low ratings of the game.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Piracy of the New StarCraft II

I just read a review by Matt Peckham mentioning the lack of free "pirated" versions of the long-anticipated game, StarCraft II, which he sums up as: "PC gaming 1, pirates 0".  In his view, "PC gaming" is pitted against players who want to play, but are resistant to being forced to pay $60 or more, in advance, to a secretive corporation, which is part of an even more secretive, corporate, profit-maximizing conglomerate.

Matt's framing of the issue is typical in the business world: profits and abstractions like "gaming" are what matter, not people like gamers.  The largely unspoken assumption in business is that people buy the better product and the maker of that will profit from producing improvements which people want.

In graduate business schools, students are drilled for years on macro economics scenarios and problems which embed the idea that "What is good for GDP is good for the economy, and what is good for the economy is good for people."  True, some economic activities are good, but focusing on this is a faith-based approach which lacks "first: do no harm" prohibitions against predatory behaviors.  In science and medicine, we seek empirical results for our processes, and falsifying tests for our theories.  You may wonder: "What does this have to do with potholes in Patagonia?"  Glad you asked!  Let's look at an illustrative example of how business and economics assesses a something science and medicine would regard as bad: roads that have fallen into disrepair.

When potholes lead an area's economy to spend more for vehicle repairs, replacement car purchases, loans for those replacements, and hospital visits from related accidents, all economic indicators go up, but especially the "velocity of the money supply".  Savings levels drop and people become more fearful and insecure, but legions of regional consultants, MBA's, and their professors would enthusiastically applaud the improvement in economic  metrics as a boon for the region, with actual people being largely abstracted to a vague existence in a parallel universe governed by trickle-down physics.  In accord with graduate texts on business accounting and finance the economy, unlike real people, is incapable of perceiving suffering or insecurity.  Of course, Microsoft Excel is not meant to measure irrational emotions and feelings like fear, suffering, or pain, nor is the marketing industry's manipulation and deceit meant to inform people, so when one points out that the tools and theories are problematic when applied to the real world, fellow professors, colleagues, and students question one's sanity.  To paraphrase an MBA candidate version of Kick-Ass: 'Trillions of dollars in profits fuel illegal wars around the globe, people  make vast fortunes by causing others to suffer, elite level academia studying business is completely and deliberately blind to it all...and you ask if I'm crazy?'

A couple of nights ago, our family watched  the TOS episode "Patterns of Force", where Spock briefly relates how admired Hitler was when  he produced an economic miracle during the depths of the global Great Depression.  In broad strokes, Adolph put half the unemployed in the military, the other half into military supply industries, and simultaneously pitted everyone against minorities, especially ethnic and religious ones.  He instituted tyrannical control based on threats and fear, and state management and enforcement over anything to do with resources and markets. This is an example of state managed, "really existing markets" which are invisible to fancy graduate schools, and as you read these words, real markets remain unknown to  authors whose thick texts fill backpacks and minds of students around the world.

In the hypothetical "free markets" of Adam Smith, there are not only no secrets, but everyone has 100% perfect information on everything.  In such a free market, I know the downstream birth defects which will occur 10 years from now if I buy and use a cadmium battery today - and I act perfectly rationally upon that perfect knowledge.  Naturally, Smith realized the same thing as nearly everyone else who studies it: this will never happen, and governments interested in justice must protect citizens and society from evils whose roots so often are revealed to be "the love of money".  This may seem even more obvious in micro economics we deal with every day.

Thus, it seems strange that FORCING people to pay in order to experience the culture of their own society is widely considered the right and proper position for good citizens such as Mr. Peckham.  Shouldn't good creativity and hard work be openly and freely rewarded and shared for everyone's benefit?  In the case of StarCraft II, no one from the top executive to the lowest beta tester would lose a cent from free distribution of the game.  Although executives (and leech speculators who contributed nothing) will certainly receive less profit than they might under an enforced monopoly against fair use, is breaking such monopolies really "theft" akin to piracy? 

If my income depends on undemocratic, secretive, tyrannical restriction of what others may do with non-material ideas, art, video, or data that would otherwise be freely available to everyone, and this restriction is accompanied by threats and real aggression (e.g.: legal, violent, extortion, blackmail) calling enforcement of such restrictions a win for "PC gaming" shows a type of profound bias noted mainly in fundamentalist religion.  Refusing to support such tyrannical control by playing a game hardly seems to qualify as stealing or piracy.

Corporate intellectual property laws have made playing certain popular games, producing certain art, singing certain songs, or even learning certain kinds of math illegal.  For those raised with post-WWII beliefs in "the land of the free and the home of the brave", such laws are puzzling: how could such despotism appear here in the U.S. at all, much less become enshrined into law and touted as a victory for "good citizens"?

Those who play, produce, sing or learn without the approval of organizational tyrannies are called (with a straight face) "pirates", unless they pay, sign secrecy contracts or swear loyalty oaths, etc.  To some of the more conservative observers who really believe in free markets, democracy and justice, this perversion of common sense foisted off as a moral good appears astonishing.

Corporate-State capitalism's propaganda runs deep, it seems.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Saber Tooth Peacock Hypothesis

Didn't the T-Rex give us any lessons?  Once thought to be primarily a hunter, it is now considered mostly a scavenger.  Now comes a new analysis of the Sabre-Tooth Tiger suggesting the primary use of beefy forelimbs developed to assist in restraining struggling prey.

It strikes me that it would be much more likely for the saber-tooth to use it's powerful forelegs and fangs for, respectively and primarily, fighting and threat displays isn't it? 

After investing all those calories in growing gigantic teeth, why spend even more hauling big forelimbs at high acceleration in hunting chases when scaring off smaller predators who actually conducted the kill would be so much more efficient?  The primary source of calories for similar big cats in Africa today is via this method after smaller cats like hyenas "bring home the bacon". 

If truly effective for hunting, large teeth such as those of the sabre-tooth and powerful forelimbs would seem best suited only for quick ambushes or very short chases, and sexual differentiation in "upper" body structure could be an important clue in unraveling their competitive advantage which, like the fangs, would seem on first glance more of more evolutionary value in real or symbolic threats against competing males for mating rights and displays for females.

Science and Magic 001

Science is classically defined as both a method for investigation and a body of knowledge or "facts" revealed by a certain method of inquiry.  Perhaps more fundamentally, both of these can be considered a collection of stories with unique characteristics which distinguish science from other narratives.  After having seen the sun come up every morning in the east and travel across the sky, we've all heard the story that this is a sleight of hand on a cosmic scale with a gigantic Earth slowly turning our point of view.  The story goes: after a colossal burst of energy a zillion years ago, gigantic collection of rocks accumulated, tiny bits of life arose and mistook themselves for the center of everything, until Copernicus claimed the Earth moved and rotated, and over the next few hundred years, that story became the most popular.

In the western, European tradition we like to mock "flat-Earthers" who believe(d) that the Earth was flat, but this would overlook the profound, revolutionary benefits of the view to the people who adopted it.  To understand why, we have to look at what makes for good evidence, good explanations, or a good story: the context.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Star Trek by the Minute 117: My Honor, Commander

"Bones!" says Kirk, slapping his Chief Medical Officer: "Buckle up!"  McCoy rolls his eyes.  Kirk sits in the Captain's chair and calls engineering, "Scotty, How we doin?"  Does ANY ship actually require verbally checking with personnel in engineering in to determine operational status?  Would the Flight Director at NASA actually need to contact a launchpad engineer to make certain the rocket was fueled, or would fuel status be automatically visible in Mission Control?

"Dilithium chambers at maximum, Captain," replies the Chief Engineer, who then turns to Deep Roy and yells "Get down!"  The obvious question regarding Scott's report is: how does a "chamber" vary from maximum to minimum?  I suppose if one knows very little of "Treknology", one might think dilithium is a fuel, like diesel or gasoline, in which case this report would make sense, like saying (of a car) "The tank is full."  Although treknology is not my forte, as I understand it, dilithium crystals regulate the matter/anti-matter annihilation in the reaction chambers, but considering the colossal errors typical of the film, this complete cluelessness about basics of FTL propulsion in Star Trek actually seems quite benign and quaint by comparison.

Back on the Bridge, Kirk orders "Mr. Sulu, prepare to engage thrusters."  Oh boy, this dialog is ridiculous - Sulu already reported that thrusters are not only "prepared", they are "at your command", you can't get any more ready, prepared, etc. than that, can you?  Like the rest of the film, we will probably have to cut to a complete change of subject to keep the obviousness of this incoherent babbling from Kirk being revealed...

In a complete surprise, we cut to Spock standing on the Bridge, which without warning attempts to keep Kirk's incoherent babbling from becoming obvious by distraction with Spock's ludicrous line: "Permission to come aboard, Captain?"  He is not merely aboard, but he's in the Command and Control heart of the vessel, its nerve center, or "brain"...just a little bit of a fait accompli, isn't it?

"Permission granted," smarms Kirk.

"As you have yet to select a First Officer, respectfully I would like to submit my candidacy.  Should you desire I can provide character references."  This line actually fits the kind of understated humor for which the original Spock was famous and loved.  This is one of his best lines, although certainly not in a class with the brilliant repartee at the Vulcan Science Academy.   

"It would be my honor, Commander," replies Kirk.  For a well-developed character, this would be a moving line that portrays mutual respect, but since Kirk has been consistently shown as an undisciplined, unprincipled criminal, this compliment comes off as a self-serving ploy to prop himself up, using Spock to assist in preventing others from discovering how unqualified he is.  Everyone in the audience with experience and responsibility for assigning or delegating authority is tearing their hair out as Spock exits stage left and Kirk issues the meaningless order: "Maneuvering thrusters, Mr. Sulu."

Sulu responds to Kirk's nonsensical phrase by actually reporting: "Thrusters on stand-by."  First, they were "At your command," meaning they were ready for use, then Kirk ordered them "prepared" which would be completed before an "at command" status, and now he orders them to STANDBY?  A standby status is typically used to describe something like a sleep mode, where a component or function is not active or in use, but can be brought to a ready status quickly.

"Take us out," orders Kirk.

"Aye-aye, Captain."

As we cut to an external shot, old Spock reads "Space, the final frontier.  These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise, her ongoing mission, to explore strange new worlds, (Do we ignore the new worlds that aren't strange enough?), to seek out new life forms, (Is this a clarification to prevent us from seeking life without form?), and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before."

Credits roll, without a woman speaking in this segment.

To all the readers and commentators, thanks for reading, enjoying, and your suggestions!  To all: I welcome your thoughts.