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Let's Celebrate!

Feb. 12th, 2010 | 12:08 pm
location: Home
mood: contemplativecontemplative
music: None


The traffic jam that is Washington, the mess that is the economy, the lingering effects of war and much more besides don’t seem to bear it out at the moment, but I would argue that America needs a big pat on the back. For going on seventy years, the United States has worked around the world to bring democracy, freedom, and economic development to every corner of the globe. It was a job that could never be accomplished of course, but hey, we tried. We messed up a lot - Who has never made a mistake at work? - but we tried. Like a retiring politician that didn’t get quite everything done he set out to do, through his own fault or otherwise (I’m looking at you Patrick Kennedy), or civil engineer that built ten bridges, but had to bow out on the eleventh, we didn't get it all done. But fixing the world is an impossible and ongoing task. It will never be done, so there comes a time when one just has to move on into one’s golden years, and that’s what I think we need to do today.

So if we were to explore the possibility of bowing out purposefully, collecting our watch-in-a-box and years-of-service plaque and moving on deliberately before we get downsized, we should probably talk a bit about the kind of retirement we’d be looking for.

First of all, we need to be the kind of retiree that is nice to strangers, especially young ones. In other words, we shouldn’t get mad when kids play on our lawn. One can go on and on about immigration control and so on, but the fact is, we need these immigrants. We need them. Why? Because an expanding economy depends on a growing population base and/or a rise in standards of living. America’s population is aging, and that’s not going to change. In fact, life-extending medical technologies and longer old-age is nearly always portrayed as a good thing, and it is, mostly. We can say the same thing about population control. Americans are having fewer children, and less children means less poverty, more resources for the rest of us, and access to that medical care I just pointed out we’d be needing. But one of the consequences is older people don’t have children and don’t produce much of anything for the economy. Our friends in Europe have seen this even more than we have, and one of the big reasons is less immigration in Europe. Without young, strong, healthy, ready-to-work immigrants, how exactly are we going to keep things going around here? We’re going to have to get along with all these people because realistically, we just won’t have any choice. Their schools and jobs and such are the only things we have to pay for our retirement. And besides, it’s the right thing to do.

Furthermore, in the future, more and more people and more and more wealth will be concentrated in places other than the United States, or even in places other than what we’ve called for ages now the “Western World.” The big growth in people and burgeoning middle classes will be facts of life in China, south Asia and the Muslim world. That's not a threat, it's a fact.

Second, we need to be the kind of retiree that pays their taxes and shows up to civic functions, and here I’m talking about honoring international commitments, participating in the international justice system, paying our dues to the United Nations and participating in conferences, operations and what-not put on by the UN, NATO and whatever other clubs we belong to. Once in awhile, maybe we can even wear a special hat and be the temporary head of this or that, like an elderly church deacon or president of the Lions Club. But the day and age of American hegemony is over my friends. We can’t run the world. To be fair, we did a pretty good job of it I think. Yes, there were mistakes all over the place and it got messy far too often, but after the Second World War no one else was going to pick up the pieces, because no one else could. We had to be the torch of freedom in the night, or whatever it was we were trying to do, and so we did it. In the years since we have stabilized governments, even writing constitutions here and there (you’re welcome Japan), donated massive funds to rebuild parts of the world (you're welcome Europe), funded the rise of others (you’re welcome China) and a lot else besides. We’ve spent more money than anyone on this fixer-upper world, and not all of it was on guns; too much of it, yes, but not all. Did we also topple legitimate governments and murder people and generally misbehave – yes. And we should probably have an accounting for some sort for those things since we can’t undo them, but for a long time a good starting point was what was good for America was good for the world, and while there are inevitably problems with such broad statements, there has been a lot of truth in that as well.

Let’s face it – policing the world is an impossible job and one that we just can’t do anymore, so we’re looking for help all over the place. It’s true that we were never terribly good at it, but look at the size of the task. Could anyone ever be good at it? Going forward, let's just go with the idea that international law should be internationally determined and as I said, we’ll show up, vote, speak our piece and pay our dues. But everyone else needs to too, don’t you think?

Finally we have to plan for a long retirement. Our golden years are going to last a lot longer than our mover-and-shaker years did. After all, the kind of retirement I’m talking about is just being the kind of nation just about every other great nation has been, on their good days, through all of history. We need to build goodwill investment strategies and generally mind ourselves. We need to stay active, stay involved and be ready to help out where we can. We can "retire" and still be good citizens and carry our fair share. In fact, that's what good retirement is.

There will be a lot of King of the Hill going on. There always has been and always will be. There will always be a place for peacekeeping forces and humanitarian assistance, and we should keep doing more than our share, because we have more than our share of the money. We need to be realistic about what is and what is not a manageable threat, and whether "opportunity" wouldn't be a better term or outlook than threat in the first place. When people look around the world neighborhood they see “the rise of China,” “the Decline of the West,” and so on, and that’s all likely going to come to pass. It’s the way of things no matter what we do, so get used to it Neocons. If we think about it though, what we’re seeing is really a return to a multi-polar world, and that’s the kind of world that’s been for the vast majority of human history. Again, there is nothing we can do about this, so we might as well make the best of it.

The things that have been true about the United States over these past many years are still true – we have the world’s largest economy and will be for the foreseeable future. Even when this is no longer true, we will have a very, very large economy. We have the largest and most capable military the world has ever seen. We probably need a smaller one than we have because we really can’t afford it, and it’s not good for most of our future problems anyway, but we can and should be proud of our armed services and look up to those that serve in them. One thing a multi-polar world is going to mean is that some of our "hard power" is going to be needed for its most obvious purpose - defending the homeland.

And we have by far the most “soft power” of any country in the world as well. The American meme is one that is so virulent it shows up in everything from near-ubiquitous suits and ties amongst world's the ruling classes to the limiting the spread of English into French (a bad thing, apparently, if you’re French). Maybe all of the fast food restaurants, mass-produced cars, airplanes and all the rest are so obvious they get missed, but they're all America whispering (or shouting) to the world, and a lot of the time, the world likes it, buys it and uses it.

We have no reason to have a chip on our shoulders and no reason to resent becoming one strong nation among many, or at least several. It’s just the way of things, and it’s OK. So let’s pack up our superpower desk, shake hands with the coworkers we got along with, and get ready for some well-deserved rest. These are going to be good years!

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This whole time passing slowly thing....

May. 30th, 2009 | 01:37 pm
location: Home
music: None

1. Do you like bleu cheese?
Yes. With wings, crumbled on salad, whatever. Yes.

2. Have you ever been drunk?
By ever I assume they mean today. No. But often, yes.

3. Do you own a gun?

4. What do you like to do on weekends?
Read, movies, gaming, out with friends and loved ones.

5. Do you get nervous before doctor appointments?

6. What do you think of hot dogs?

7. Favorite Christmas movie?
I don't have one. If I did it would be Nightmare Before.

8. What do you prefer to drink in the morning?

9. Can you do push ups?

10. What's your favorite piece of jewelry?
My MBA class ring.

11. Favorite hobby?

12. Favorite novel?
Iain Bank's The Player of Games.

13. What's your favorite shoe?
Any of my Allen Edmonds dress shoes. My black monk straps are probably my favorite.

14. What is your middle name?

15. Name 3 thoughts at this exact moment?
I'm looking forward to sitting in the gazebo later.

I hope we get all our projects done ahead of the party next Friday.

Should I change my favorite novel? Yes. No. Yes. No. Y....

16. Name 3 drinks you regularly drink.
By rough order of Volume:

1) Beer (esp. Spotted Cow)

2) Red Wine (esp. Cabernet Sauvignon)

3) Fun Liquors (esp. Grand Marnier)

17. Current worry?
Ummmmm.....guess not.

18. Current hate right now?
"Marriage between a man and a woman" people. Especially the ones that say I'm out to destroy theirs, somehow.

20. How did you bring in the New Year?
At home.

21. Where would you like to go?

22. Name three people who will complete this:
Dunno or Not Applicable given it's on LJ.

23. Do you own slippers?
Many. "Good pair," "old pair," "travel pair," etc.

24. What color shirt are you wearing right now?
Burgundy, which is odd because it's probably my only shirt even vaguely that color. A more typical answer would have been blue, but not right now.

25. Do you like sleeping on Satin sheets?
No. Like others I feel like I'm going to fall off. However, satin sheets are good for non-sleeping things in bed.

26. Can you whistle?

27. Favorite colors?
Red, black.

28. Would you be a pirate?
A fabulously coiffed romantic pirate in a fictional world a la Erroll Flynn or Orlando Bloom? Sure. A real pirate - seriously, who would answer yes to murder?

29. What songs do you sing in the shower?
Bad 80's love songs. It's sad, but it's true.

30. Favorite Girl's Names?
Diana, Nadia, Sasha

31. Favorite boy's names?
Zacharias, Thor, Sasha

32. What's in your pocket right now?
Who says I'm wearing pants?

33. Last thing that made you laugh?
A chipmunk hiding from Tim while trying to grab maple seeds from under his nose.

34. Favorite summer activities?
Anything in the shaded outdoors with friends and loved ones.

35. Worst injury you've ever had?
I'm a walking medical disaster, so there are many things. Dislocated shoulder is the most painful.

36. Do you love where you live?
Yes. I love my house, neighborhood, city, state, country. On days when the weather is nice there is seriously, in my opinion, no better place to live. (In February, it's probably not in the top 100.)

37. Who is your loudest friend?
At the risk of repeating others, I'll have to go with whymc also.

39. How many dogs do you have?
Zero. Tim does not allow pets.

40. Does someone have a crush on you?
I would have no idea, but I doubt it.

41. What is something you are really looking forward to?
Group trip next year.

42. What is one thing you do several times a week?
Avoiding TMI, and obvious things, I'll go with think of some person or another that is no longer here.

43. What song do you want sung at your Funeral?
My family has a tradition of How Great Thou Art so I guess that's it.

44. Name something or someone you love.
Tim of course.

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Thursday Question

Mar. 12th, 2009 | 08:31 am
mood: working

White House Council on Women and Girls - Pay Inequality

I may be walking into a minefield with this, but it's been on my mind ever since I heard a snippet about the new WHC on NPR this morning. The head of the council (and long-time friend of the President) Valerie Jarrett was talking a bit about what it is, what it will do, etc.

One of the issues she brought up was pay inequality which is certainly something that I think needs to be addressed such that anyone, no matter who they are, does not suffer discrimination in pay. (Ms. Jarrett will focus only on pay equality for women of course, which is probably a tall enough order.)

All of this is only tangentially related to my question though - which is:

Having heard the argument that women take "different paths through the workforce" so they can focus on care-giving for parents and in-laws, having and raising children, etc., what is the best way to deal with this particular component of the inequality situation?

(Yes, men could do this too. It is mostly women that do however, so the effect at the society level becomes a women's issue.)

I don't know that anyone knows how much of the pay inequality is because of this "different path." I've heard anything from "most if not all," down to "some but not much" from various feminists and other talking heads. Regardless of how much it is, what if anything can or should be done to normalize pay to remove this effect?

As a specific example of what I'm talking about, one of my employees was working for the UW Hospital System nearly 20 years ago in a career that would presumably have gotten her into a middle- to senior-management position by now (if she wanted it to). Returning to the work force a few years ago, she works part time for me at the bank. She chose to be a stay-at-home mom instead of a member of the workforce for many years and now works part time as her daughter has finished high school and is in her first years of college. She may or may not (my guess is will not) ever work full time again. The decision she made two decades ago has clearly impeded her progress up the ladder. (Don't get me wrong, she would of course say it was "worth it.")

(Note the "if she wanted to" above. Another component to this is the idea that women may in many cases choose less demanding positions in the workplace so that they have time and/or energy left over to deal with the other things that are on their shoulders.)

Now, my take on it is that the reason these kind of choices are tough is because you are giving something up. As an employer how do you weigh the economic value of a child or family or well-cared-for parent into the equation when making pay decisions? All you can really do is evaluate market value of that person's work, some consideration of their value to the company (maybe) and pay them accordingly. While time away for family purposes is certainly admirable, I can't think of a workable way to treat it any differently from a pay perspective than time away to write a book, wander Nepal, or sculpt kittens in silly putty - they are all off the (most) linear career path(s) and probably have to be dealt with the same way.

You could look at whether the skills you pick up in care-giving/homemaking/whatever are of value in the career path you dive back into, just as you could for whatever else you might be doing. If you were going to be a guide on an adventure cruise in Alaska, that Nepal excursion could be valuable resume experience. But just treating it like it didn't happen and giving someone "credit" somehow for being in the workforce, on a career track, when they weren't - I don't see how that can work.

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Mar. 11th, 2009 | 08:17 am

I know that some of the people that read this have seen the film. T and I went last night to see it on the IMAX screen at Star Cinemas. Let me say first that I can't say with certainty that seeing it in that format didn't improve the viewing experience.

Having said that, I really, really liked the movie. I know that's not universal, even in our little clique, but I thought it was just really well done for what it is - a dark, violent, superhero drama.

I realize that when the books where penned it was an alternate present piece and now it's an alternate history piece, but I don't see how that diminishes from the overall effect. Also, if superhero movies aren't your thing, if you just can't get past the implausibility of people wearing spandex (or in this film, more like rubber and plastic-perhaps-meant-to-be-metal) and fighting crime by smashing the bits out of criminals, then, well, you won't like this movie.

Also, some people may be uncomfortable with the ultra-violence, the sex (especially the violent sex), the callousness of some (several) of the characters, and so on. Perhaps deservedly so, but I didn't think any of it was gratuitous (in the book or movie, which were very close to each other in all important regards). It perhaps made it much, much harder to sympathize with certain characters (much like was true in the Thomas Covenant books) but I didn't think it was out of place, or glorified, or the negative consequences were ignored, or any such thing.

Anyway, curious to hear feedback if anyone is inclined to give it. I'd give the movie 4 1/2 stars, the last half withheld only because in a few places perhaps the dialog was if anything too close to the book, and because Nixon was very slightly, though gratingly, off in my opinion. So was Kissinger.

Later all!

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Looking Out There...

Mar. 5th, 2009 | 12:24 pm

Pray to...whomever...or just cross your fingers tomorrow if you're not spiritually inclined, that the Delta 2 rocket doesn't blow up tomorrow evening and they actually get Kepler on its way.

(What is the squatting down person looking at? Their Oompa Loompa suit?)


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Campaign Design "Summit"

Mar. 5th, 2009 | 11:05 am
location: Work
music: Magic 98

All of the many meetings President Obama is having at the White House of late (which I'm all in favor of, as long as something comes from all the talk) has put me in mind of an idea.

What do people think about the possibility of getting together for a few hours some Saturday afternoon for a discussion on game design, followed by dinner and drinks for people who are physically there. (I'm guessing if financenerd is able to "attend" it will be in his guise as Lex MacHeadroom.)

My thinking is this - it doesn't seem that full communication is always forthcoming during a game (play disruption) or even afterwards (don't want to criticize; some game better than no game; etc.), but right now with the group being between "real games" (D&D not really fitting the bill) might be a great opportunity to discuss such things without pointing at any particular game master. Some topics off the top of my head would be:

1. Power Level
2. Game System - detailed, or free-flowing, or...
3. Character Progress
a. Slow, like Burning Wheel
b. Medium, like Ars Magica or 4th Ed D&D
c. Fast, like old Shadowrun (unsure about new Shadowrun)
4. Setting Design
5. "The Fantastical" (level of magic or technology)

etc. (Would like much more feedback on topics, including sifting and winnowing the above, if we're going to do this.)

What do people think of this idea? It would be a forum for people to hash out their ideas and also serve as prep for both my far-off GURPS Space game and Ken's upcoming ___________game set in the Commonwealth universe.

Sadly we likely can't have any of Pres. Obama's famous breakout groups as there will be too few attendees to have viable audiences in any of, "Whither the girlfriends - romantic entanglements in a fantasy setting." or "My plasma rifle is higher wattage than your plasma rifle - avoiding super weapons in high tech games." And the like.

What do people think?

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Monday Question (I know - shocking)

Feb. 2nd, 2009 | 08:42 am
location: work
music: HVAC humming

If you could wave a magic wand and charm the correct 536 people into supporting your own "Stimulus Package" down to the smallest cent, what would be in it (in broad strokes) and approximately how much would it cost?

If you'd like to review what's in the current version, this is a nice little snippet from our friends at NPR: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=100125224

As for me, and this should be prefaced by pointing out that the magic want technique removes any necessity for politicking to get this done, I have a few ideas.

First, it seems to me that the "package" needs to be divided into pieces - call them "short term" and "long term." The short term items would include continued unemployment assistance, health care credits (or something), incentives for companies to not lay off workers, and so on. Basically a braking maneuver to try to slow down and ultimately stop the economic free fall. The long term items would job retraining and other educational items, tax incentives for businesses to hire American workers, tax credits for individuals that fall into some or another lower income group and other "stir the pot" kind of programs.

I'm of two minds regarding the pieces that seem to be thrown in there to get them done. Since this is the magic wand technique and since I think that our nation's infrastructure is in a disgraceful state, I like the idea of incorporating some roads and bridges and such into the pile of projects to get them done. On the other hand, I have no data to say whether spending in that arena is or is not targeted in the right direction to help the right people. Thus my other thought on this is those types of items should be in an entirely separate, multi-year category that works to solve this problem separately. I understand the idea of two birds with one stone, but my point is are we providing stimulus or are we rebuilding infrastructure? I'm not sure that both really works, though it might. This also brings up some of the gender issues in the news that points out that single moms with small children don't get much out of this kind of spending directly. They would benefit of course if it included improved mass transit in and between cities and the like as maybe, possibly, more people could make do without a car. (Though Michigan isn't going to be helped if that happens - it's awfully complicated, which is why I said "broad strokes.")

To summarize, I think this takes vision, and before any wand-waiving, I'd want to think through the effects and try to predict outcomes using as many Nobel Prize winners and super computers as possible. The theory though I think might flow kind of like the above.

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First ever complaining post...

Jan. 12th, 2009 | 04:18 pm
location: work
mood: crankycranky
music: Magic 98

I've been trying all day to think of a Monday Question, so no, I didn't forget. I feel as though I have a right not to feel too bad about missing it this time (other times, yeah, my bad) because I dislocated my shoulder (AGAIN) on Saturday and am very, very sore from "over doing it" today; the weather is bad and getting worse; my department of eight has had one person leave, one person about to be off on maternity leave, and one person out on medical leave in the past week; did I mention the weather?

Anyway, just not feeling like doing a question so I'll just pout instead.

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Friday Question

Dec. 5th, 2008 | 08:07 am
location: Work
mood: mellowmellow

The simple version is:




To expound a bit further, do we agree that regardless of your personal opinion on the "bailout," most people have no idea of what it is, or what it's for? Whatever you think about this, the questions that popped into my head are:

1. Do we live in a society where things are just too complex for people to begin to understand?

2. If so, is it because they ar lazy, poorly educated, dumb, uninterested or just busy?

3. Depending on the answer to (2), what does that mean exactly?

4. Has society getting more and more complex, and industries getting more and more specialized exacerbated this problem?

5. (And this is really where I started, and off-track from the article itself, but it's where my mind went.) Will this string of complications get worse and worse, such that future man will live in a cloud of total ignorance as to how their world, society, financial systems work, even more so than today? You could argue that people that keep themselves moderately informed can at least have a broad-strokes idea of what's going on in many if not most arenas of human interaction today. What if this isn't true in the future? (I'm thinking of a notable exception, which is the derivatives market, which no one, including the people that work in them, really understand in my opinion.) If any of this is true, what are the ramifications? I'm thinking here of the scene in Matrix II where the Counselor takes Neo down to the Engineering Level to show the machines, and makes a point that he has no idea how they work. Kind of like that. When/if these complexities are made more complex yet by being turned over to computers.... (Note that my exception carries through here, as the derivatives market is heavily dependent, as I understand it, on the magic of silicon. Is this true financenerd?)

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Artificial Life/Artificial Intelligence

Nov. 30th, 2008 | 01:15 pm
location: Home
mood: contemplativecontemplative
music: Washing Machine Running

There is a neat YouTube video that talks, at length, about AL/AI:


The whole thing is pretty neat, but even just watching the first 12 or so minutes (of just over an hour total) provides some interesting "Aha!" moments.

The presenter is a guy that was profiled in the NYT Magazine a week ago named Virgil Griffith. His uninspired but focused website is at virgil.gr.

Later all!

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