Corrupt Systems

Pollution is a sort of easy to see example of a corruption problem. Costs are diffused benefits are concentrated.

“There’s an old-fashioned word for this: corruption. In corrupt systems, a few bad actors cost everyone else billions in order to bring in millions – the savings a factory can realize from dumping pollution in the water supply are much smaller than the costs we all bear from being poisoned by effluent. But the costs are widely diffused while the gains are tightly concentrated, so the beneficiaries of corruption can always outspend their victims to stay clear.” – Cory Doctorow

Social media or the internet business model is corrupt in this way too.

Plastic pollution fits well.

Examples could also be found in banking, and campaign finance, and industrial farming, and …

Do these corrupt systems need to be created or driven by evil people? I don’t think so, it’s just that a little bit of negligence can go a long way, and that is part of what makes them so scary. Ordinary nice people, who maybe don’t tend to see the big picture well (which might be most people?) can be cogs in this machine, and even passionate drivers of it. They do just fine with sleeping at night in spite of it all, and usually can find some reasonable justifications if bits of the corruption do start to become apparent to them. So there is no conspiracy, in the traditional sense, behind so much of the nefarious forces that influence our lives, just the cold inhumane machine of corrupt systems.

Now, if only there were a better mechanism to keep those forces in check rather than the vastly corruptible government systems…


Zoo Membership

Just spitballing here. What if for places like Zoos, a sort of collective public resource (even if it is privately owned), you couldn’t buy a membership; instead you had to earn it. You volunteer, and if you do that enough, you earn your membership. If a well coordinated and thorough volunteer management system was in place I could see this reducing operating costs for the zoo significantly enough to impact ticket prices for non members.

In tandem also define membership at only individual level, but make membership mean unlimited entry not just for the member, but also for a guest. I think this could replace the increasingly hard to define family membership.

If such volunteer systems could help take care of not just schedule coordination, but certain levels of training I could see this being a really awesome way for people to become actually personally invested in these shared public resources, which is sort of a part of solving the tragedy of the commons issue. How much training does it take to learn to clean a tiger cage, or sort fish to feed penguins? neither really fun jobs to do repeatedly, but with a volunteer system that also handled a lot of the training? Could an approach like this harness the power of novelty?!

Please “Waste” Your Vote

I really lean more toward Christian Anarchism than anything else ideologically speaking, but because of practicality I plan to vote for the Libertarian ticket this time ’round.

I suppose because of my tendency to “like” third party candidates posts on social networks I’ve been seeing stuff about Lincoln being a third party candidate. It’s a marketing thing – “was their vote wasted?!”. Wellll, marketing is just lying most of the time, and that is the case here mostly too. He kinda-sorta was, but not really in a meaningful sense. The Whigs were imploding well before that election over the slavery issue, so in that presidential election it was more that a new dominant second party was completing the replacement of a previously entrenched one.

A take away though is that political parties can and do die!

My read is that the Libertarian party is poised to begin replacing the Republican party. It seems to be one important part of the Republican side – fiscally conservative, and a big draw of the Democratic side – socially liberal. It also excludes a number of things, crony capitalism(R), moralizing(R), surveillance(D+R) and nanny(D) state, and warmongering/world policing(R+D).

This, among other reasons, makes it ignorant and shortsighted to think your vote can only count or matter if it is for the potential winner. A significant percentage (which is far less than a winning percentage) to one third party or to all of them combined might be all it takes to trigger an exodus of otherwise leaning Democrats and Republicans. If not that, it stands that it would still probably change the conversation next time round. Even a chance at that matters some at least.

With the recent presidential debate dominating the news I can’t help but wonder how different it could all be. Gary Johnson was within a few percentage points or less of being included in the debates according to current rules! That is so close! His inclusion would have changed the whole thing, and thus all the ensuing conversation, so dramatically – And I have to assume for the better since I can’t imagine it being a lot worse. A few more people in the poll sample, I mean I am guessing, but probably not more than a dozen or two at most, and he is in. Still the myth persists that a third party vote is a wasted one?

Christians with shitty beliefs hurting kids

We have been doing foster care for a few years now. We have come across kids with trauma. That was to be expected. What I didn’t expect was how much of that trauma was to be inflicted by other Christians also doing foster care who have stupid beliefs and shitty practices. Forcing kids to go to church services, rejecting or not allowing them to be placed in the home because they don’t believe in God, or because they use crude language, or because *gasp* they are sexually active. That junk is just the tip of the iceberg. Most of these kids have attachment issues, and many of them we have encountered have had those made worse by people who ‘just wanted to love them’, but apparently have a very poor idea of what that really should looks like. To be fair, I am still figuring that out too, but at least I am pretty sure loving troubled kids shouldn’t involve heaping even more rejection, detachment, and judgement on them, nor neglecting their needs for attention because of the prioritization of dumb church activities!

Obesity is a problem, but is epidemic the right word?

Obesity is a problem in our society that I feel gets lots of attention in some ways, and yet maybe not enough. Here is a short story to work out my feelings behind that statement.

I was attending a CPR and first aid class yesterday. It was a rather full room consisting of around 30 people, including instructors. In my estimation I was one of 4 maybe 5 people who would not be considered clinically obese. I don’t normally figure out that ratio, by the way. I thought of it because of the course topic. I thought about giving CPR and how it would maybe be quite a bit different doing it on someone who is obese, and how heart attacks are much more likely to happen to people who are obese. The instructors asked numerous times if we had any questions, and I wanted to ask about this, and even though it is probably a very legitimate question, it felt like a very not good idea.

Worth noting is that none of the dummies we practiced on had any simulated body fat or breast tissue. It seems like extra body mass in these cases is relevant to the chest compressions simulation. Awkward though it may be I think the American Heart Association should consider this.

Obesity is a real and very serious problem. The term epidemic is thrown around. I don’t disagree with it, also it feels a bit misleading in that obesity is more of a symptom than a disease in itself. Obesity does get called a disease, but in my understanding it just doesn’t fit that word well, and that word and the epidemic word might be hurting more than helping. Diseases of the epidemic sort are not something we usually associate with being preventable or treatable.

For example, Ebola, never really reached epidemic levels, but it is a fairly contagious disease, if you catch a disease of this sort, it certainly might be no fault of your own. Meaning, you’re just a jerk if you go around blaming people for having Ebola or Swine Flu. AIDS is sort of preventable, but there are plenty of ways to contract it where it would be silly to blame a person for having it. Plus the fact that it isn’t curable factors in. Similar with Cancer, for the most part – depends on the variety I suppose, but the only way I could see getting on anyones case about having cancer is if they had a treatable kind and just didn’t care that they had it, and weren’t trying to do anything about it. But who does that? Everyone knows cancer is serious, so I don’t think there needs to be a campaign to convince people of that! Alzheimer’s, again, maybe preventable in some cases, but not definitely. No cure. Autism… who knows, but inherited, so at least not thought of as preventable by the person who has it. No cure. These all feels like appropriate terms to pair with the word epidemic.

Now back to obesity. Preventable? Yes, definitely. Curable? Yep. More people suffer from it than contract Ebola? Without a doubt – not even close! Kills more people than AIDS? Well, trick question, most people don’t technically die from AIDS either, but generally yes, many more people die from complications related to being obese, like heart disease, than die from secondary infections contracted by people with AIDS. As serious as cancer? Not quite – though obesity is a risk factor for getting cancer – so still pretty serious. And yet it seems like most people don’t take it very seriously. I don’t understand why that is, and that is part of why I am writing this.

So what am I suggesting, that because obesity is preventable and curable, we therefor are justified in blaming or shaming fat people? Definitely no to the shaming, I mean, besides it not being nice, it probably wouldn’t work. Especially not for people who use food as an emotional comfort. Also I don’t believe shame would be justified. To illustrate why consider adult illiteracy. It is an interesting parallel since some people have said there is an epidemic of illiteracy as well as the statistical correlations with socio-economic status. (I don’t think I have heard illiteracy described as a disease though…) Anyway, I feel like shaming a fat person would be a lot like shaming an illiterate person. Ineffective for one, but more importantly it would be a misuse of shame. Shame has a place in my opinion, but it is in the realm of morals and ethics, not of knowledge. When the problem is essentially a problem of knowledge then teaching is the solution and shame is counterproductive, as well as – in this case – pointlessly making people feel bad which is just therefore mean.

My amateur opinion, that I think is shared by at least some experts, is that a primary cause of obesity is bad diet. I see bad diet as a lack of knowledge in two ways. One is that people eat unhealthy foods because they don’t know how unhealthy they are. Two, people have bad habits related to eating, and I think of habits as a type of psychological knowledge. Consider the way we talk about them sometimes. You are taught bad habits and can teach yourself good habits. Therefore  Teaching people about good diet choices and eating habits might be akin to teaching a person to read.

Social Media Commentary That Makes Me Cringe Isn’t All Bad

More refugees, another school shooting, errant drone strikes, and other such things where people are dying or suffering who should not. This is the news lately. But I could almost say this on any given day and it would be true it seems. Tragedy, and evil are nothing new, and yet it feels newly tragic each time. That must be the reason everyone, myself included, feels the compulsion to to make the poignant comment on Facebook or Twitter that is going to mean something. I have been wondering if the underlying desire driving the commentary is to help more often than not. Practically speaking what else can most of us really do except talk about it. Maybe it is just trying to not to feel completely helpless or powerless in the face of such things. Saying something – trying to frame the tragedy correctly, or enlighten about the hidden underlying causes, or to motivate to action in some fashion, or arguing to change things things so it doesn’t happen again, or even reacting against the proposed counter measures one supposes will have undesirable side effects – this is all we have! In this medium at least.

Okay, this is just me convincing myself I shouldn’t feel annoyed or so disturbed by peoples opinions or commentary. At least I should temper my reaction some if I don’t like or agree with what they say keeping in mind that it means people care in some fashion, and that is so much better than apathy!

Getting Okay With Being Unproductive

Kids kill productivity. I used to be able to get so much done in a weekend. Not that I took advantage of that a lot, but I could if I wanted! Now, home projects tend to stretch out for weeks or months. Yesterday I was majorly inhibited on a deck/landscaping project and just now, while writing this, my littlest one keeps trying to touch the computer… I was like 3 sentences in and had to take a break because he was getting upset that I kept pushing his hand away. I only started because I thought he was busy with something else for a while. It is exhausting being a parent in so many little ways that are hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t been trough it, and been through it recently I think, because, at least our parents all seem to have forgotten somehow. Yet another way I pledge to try to do better than them.

Okay, so little guys insisted on hanging out with me, like a jerk, so I tried to split the screen and put YouTube videos on, but since I am not great at doing two things at once, the SmarterEveryDay videos that I had hoped would merely distract him – and they did for a little bit – sucked me in as well. Meanwhile he got bored and began annoying me by chanting something that sounded like “cheese”… seriously?! I am amazed I get anything done at all sometimes. It’s a six-minute video for the love of peanut butter!

Another writing break to get some lunch ready because it has been two hours since they all had a snack and starvation panic attacks are setting in. I’ll be back.

So, where was I. Right, productivity. Just gone. At least in terms I used to think about it. The irony is I do more now than I used to, but is all stuff I tend to not qualify as “productive”; stuff that generally falls into the category of keeping children provided for. Needy little boogie vandals! Note to self. I need to clean the walls in their room.

Maintenance. Maintenance. Maintenance.

Just when you thought you were done – nope more maintenance. Unproductive. I don’t think I am alone in this way of thinking. Typically I don’t think janitors and babysitters are thought of as “productive” members of the workforce.

At various times I get a little depressed about this. Being productive is satisfying in a way. Being unproductive when you’d like to be productive, when there are so many things you would like to accomplish, even if it is just so you can just relax for a while, is so… frustrating!

Another break.

This time breaking up a fight, finding that they have removed most of the stuff from a shelf in the closet. I guess the floor seemed like a better place? Maybe they thought there was a neat picture on the wall behind all that stuff? I decide it’s not worth the fight to get them to clean that up at the moment because it is time to get little mister shit pants ready for a nap. If only I didn’t have to hunt down that confounded stuffed animal at every nap/bedtime.

I am not making this up for effect or something. I didn’t sit down to write with the thought I would be interrupted. In hindsight, of course, I should have expected this. I think most parents will attest that this seems about right. Just a normal day-in-the-life. My wife left me alone with them for less than 48 hours! How in the world single parents stay sane is mostly incomprehensible to me. I figure you’d have to just let a lot of the tasks of keeping children provided for slide. Provided for, but less so. It’s not their fault if that is the case. Simple math. You can only do so much. Even trading sanity, sleep, or personal hygiene is only going to buy you small bits in the Sisyphean effort of child rearing.

Does having two parents present really help? I mean it should theoretically halve the burden, right? Maybe it does in some ways, but in terms of productivity? Nah, at least not in my experience. Kids are around? Then productivity is in serious jeopardy. It’s not like you take shifts with the kids. At least most of the time that isn’t how it works out, and probably wouldn’t be healthy if it did.

Even when they aren’t actively demanding your attention – like when they’re asleep – they hinder things. Have some home improvement project you were hoping to make progress on while they aren’t pestering you? Maybe if it is a quite thing, sure, but most home improvement stuff isn’t. Just need to run to the store? well, you can’t just leave them home sleeping. Coin toss for which parent gets to leave the house tonight! But don’t forget you have to weigh this plan of temporary escape against the risk that the noise of the starting car or opening garage door might wake the gremlins from their slumber. Forget it, lets just use paper towels for toilet paper.

Okay, enough of my whining/commiserating. That wasn’t what I set out to write about.

What I wanted to write about is how I am starting to be able to be okay with it all. This has to do with a realignment of perspective. Life in the big picture isn’t about being “productive”. Not to sound too much like some cliché flowery poster or something, but life is about love(1). And, since love only makes sense in terms of relationship life is also about relationships. Boil it right down, and kids, while they might be just the worst helpers(2) anyone could hope for, and are a huge productivity dampers by way of the relationship they impose on you, cannot be hindering your life. (No matter how much it feels like they are sucking the life out of you sometimes). They reduce “productivity” not life. “productivity” is not a valid synonym for life. A productive existence does not necessarily equate with an accomplished life, and these two might even negatively correlate given how relationships, messy as they tend to be, reduce productivity.

Maybe this is obvious to most people? Regardless, it is a simple truth. It is easy enough to say I believe it. On the other hand, letting it be true deeper down, and actually letting relationships have priority over productivity – this is going to continue to be a struggle.

One thing I have been trying out that is maybe helping with this some for me is incorporating the idea of a Sabbath into my schedule. And I don’t mean the drag the whole family to church services and activities for the day(3) that many people call by the same word, but more like the biblical idea of a Sabbath. One day where I intend to be entirely unproductive. The idea behind it is rest, spiritual rest more than physical rest as I understand it, so for me it isn’t about avoiding things that take energy, but about putting aside whatever to-do list I might have and focusing instead on resting, relaxing, and just enjoying life instead of working. Giving myself a break from the need and drive to be productive.

I think my wife thought this meant I just wanted to be lazy and go off by myself for one day a week since as an introverted person that is a common way I re-energize, however even as an introvert there is a certain amount of rest to be found in relationships when there isn’t any productive work I am supposed to be doing. For example, when I am not being emotionally worn down by the frustrations of trying to be productive with kids around I find I can more easily enjoy them. Even apart from Sabbath days I am attempting to see the ways that relationship interrupt productivity as less of something to be frustrated by and more like the primary thing life is about intersecting into that which is merely auxiliary to life.

1. I won’t bother to make a case for this statement, just read the bible or something. However, if you don’t agree then my conclusion won’t make any sense.

2. I cringe inside every time people at the store say to me “looks like you have a lot of helpers today”

3. Dragging my family to a church service would be almost the opposite of what Sabbath is meant to be. It is only one of the many reasons I think “church” is dumb.

4. Why WordPress doesn’t have flippin footnotes as a built-in feature by now!

In defence of difficulty?

I read this article on today about how some things should be difficult to use. There were a number of really interesting tidbits in there.

It made me appreciate my drive to work in a car with a manual transmission just that much more. On the whole I like the way the clutch keeps me that much closer to the machine. Even though it is close to second nature for me since I have pretty much always had a manual transmission vehicle. I still have to have in mind engine RPM, wheel speed, and the relationship between them through the transmission. driving an automatic not so much. That is the idea of an automatic transmission.It works it all out for you, automatically.

A manual transmission isn’t always desirable – like when I get a phone call, or have children in the car bugging me – but like I said, on the whole, I like it. In general abstracting away the tools we use by making them so easy to use can have the unintentional effect of making the tool less an extension of ourselves than it is sometimes good for them to be. Cars, Cameras, and Computers are just a few examples where a more intimate understanding of the machine and how it functions ‘under the hood’ may tend toward a more skillful use of it as a tool.

I think products or tools can be easy to use while also inviting people to deeper understanding, and that this is desirable over to trying to hide things away. Many products and their designers seem bent on encouraging people to think of them as magic. To stick with the car metaphor; you don’t need to have the hood welded shut or hide the hood release. Just the presence of the seam where the car would open to reveal its inner workings sometimes enough of an invitation, or a tachometer for example. Plenty of people will never open the hood, or grok the tach. They choose not to RSVP. That’s okay. I’m sure they have their reasons. However, products that make hacking into them hard piss me off. Even if I have no intention of hacking into them ever I resent the fact that I am purposefully hindered from doing so. I equate it at a basic level with a hindrance to understanding, to thinking, to learning to skillfuly use a tool. In my opinion is therefore important to make sure, if you err, you err in the other direction.