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Freedom to eat Trans-fats Vs Nanny State

Posted by Paul on January 11, 2007

C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity:

“One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons—marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning.”

One of the things that annoys me in politicians and public discourse is the notion that I need to be told how to live my life. The current wave of hysteria in New York these days is about banning “trans-fats”. This supposedly to protect “the people” from their own lack of self-control. Now in the interest of disclosure I am not fat (135 lbs and 13% body fat), so it is difficult for me to sympathize with people who struggle with their weight. But the greater point is not whether we should ban trans-fats, but whether the government should be in the business of imposing their will on everyone on whether they need “saving” or not.

In this aspect, both the left and right politically in this country behave in much the same way. Each operates with religious fervor to “save” the general population from the evils they perceive – whether it be second-hand smoke, pornography, carbon emissions or gay marriage. The religious right thinks that God justifies their position. The left think that because they are not religious that their position is “holier”. In fact, both sides are mirror images of each other.

I think C.S. Lewis got it exactly right in the quote I referenced above. As a Christian my first responsibility is neither to judge nor impose my will on others, it is to change myself. I try my best to be a good role model for my children in my ethical behavior. I am more likely to try to lead by example then give lectures to my kids. Now when in public discussions with others about moral, ethical or political issues, I don’t lay down and just let others opinions go unchallenged. Whether the topic is religious, global warming, morality or anything else controversial I will state my opinion and the reasons for it. But I do not get into arguments and try to convince others to adopt my opinions. If after hearing my opinion, others choose to lead their lives differently, so be it. We all have free will.

It would be nice to live in a world that respected others free will, but I guess that is too Utopian an idea to have much merit. For now we are dropping more and more into a Nanny State that will force us to live the way the left and right zealots insist. Will this make us happy? Not really, happiness will only come when you become empowered to control your life.


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The Fog of War

Posted by Paul on December 22, 2006

One of my goals with this blog was to write posts with some perspective. I have not written about the war yet. War is something that is extremely difficult to keep in perspective during its execution. Even hundreds of years later historians still debate the merits of strategies and events. I’ve read a couple of fascinating books this year about WW II and the Revolution. Malkins In Defense of Internment provides an alternate view of the thinking behind the internment of the Japanese in World War II that is not part of the conventional wisdom and Ketchums Victory at Yorktown is a mind blowing account of how far in despair we were during the Revolution. Few people today appreciate the extent of Washington’s leadership in creating this country.

As a college student in the 1970’s I was mildly anti-war. I cast my first vote for George McGovern – an anti-war candidate. As time has passed I have learned new facts about Vietnam that have changed my views of that war. Most significant was our victory during the Tet Offensive which was spun into a defeat by the biased reporting of Walter Cronkite.

So now we are in a war with a radical foe that is bent on attacking and conquering us. Many people think that if we simply pull out of Iraq the danger will pass. I wrote a post about good and evil that tried to highlight what I believe is a fundamental problem with Western thought – namely the belief that evil does not exist.

One of my favorite books used to be a collection of writings by the Sufi poet Rumi. It contains some tremendous spiritual insights. However, I believe today Muslim belief is dominated by Wahhabism that has taken Islam down a violent path.

While some believe that only a small percentage of Muslims believe in violent jihad (10% of 1.2 billion is still a lot of people), those that don’t believe in violence are at the very least being intimidated into silence and acquiescence by the violent minority. And the problem is not only intransigent, it is generational as the young are being taught to hate.

So we are in the “fog of war” having swiftly conquered Afghanistan and Iraq only to be surprised by a high level of attacks due to a variety of fighters (disgruntled Sunnis, Al Qaeda, Iranian subterfuge, Shia vigilante groups). The President of Iran threatens the end of Israel nearly weekly and police in the west undermine plots constantly.

One perspective that I do have is that no mater our course in Iraq, this war will not end soon. I think at the present many in the West have become quite fearful of Islam. We dare not write the truth about fascist Islam or call it the evil that is now is.

So we may stagger along for many years or even decades living with the status-quo assuming some group does not set off a nuclear bomb in the interim. If freedom were able to take root in the Middle East (improbable but not impossible) we may avoid a great conflict. However, human history clearly shows that when evil is not confronted the worst of our fears come true. I pray that is not the case, but I too am caught in the fog of war and do not know the best course of action or the outcome. The enemy will surprise us and we will find out what kind of people we are again.

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Good and Evil or Christianity Vs New Age

Posted by Paul on December 17, 2006

Since it is Sunday, I thought that I would philosophize on spiritual issues for a bit. I was raised in a Catholic Church but rebelled against it’s teachings in my twenties. When I was in my thirties I was involved in the “New Age” movement which has a strong Eastern slant. I was especially taken with the Tao te Ching and still think it is quite a beautiful piece of work.

One of the most important things I learned from the Tao te Ching was the concept of spiritual paradox. Spiritual paradox is essentially about embracing opposites. Here’s an insightful quote from the Tao:

“When people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly. When
people see some things as good, other things become bad”

In the Taoist philosophy, as I understand it, it is our own understanding that creates opposites, The opposites in and of themselves do not exist. So, if I understand it correctly, evil does not really exist apart from our own understanding.

Now this concept has been seized upon by the New Age group and is what drives their politics, lifestyles and financial concepts. I was an integral part of this for a while and have a lot of respect for the philosophy. I’ve read much of Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra and many other advocates of this line of thinking.

However, I began reading a series of books in the 1990’s by M. Scott Peck, MD who started with the Road Less Travelled and wrote a long series of books. In so doing, he documented his conversion from a Zen Buddhist to a Christian. His logic seemed impeccable to me and I could not dispute his arguments, so, I decided to re-investigate Christianity. Over a period of time I came to realize that the difficulty that I had with Christianity was due to my lack of understanding of paradox. Christianity is filled with many wonderful paradoxes:

  • Jesus is 100% God and 100% human
  • we are all sinners, but are completely forgiven by accepting Jesus
  • whoever wants to be first shall be last
  • we cannot have evil unless God created free will
  • God is all powerful but by giving us free will He is powerless

In the Christian world evil is not a fabrication of the mind – it is real. And I think that this is where Christians and New Age proponents part ways. For example, the common New Age political means of solving all world problems is dialogue. If we only talk to the people that are trying to kill us, they are sure we can reason with them.

In my mind I have come to see that the New Age view of evil cannot be true. I do not claim there is nothing to this view. There is no doubt that by thinking of evil we can create it. If we read the demonic into everything with which we disagree (as some Christian do), then we do not promote love (which is what Christianity is really all about).

The New Age movement has spread the simplistic view that if we could just change our thinking, we would realize that there is no such thing as evil and it will just go away. But the reality is that there are people out there who take great pleasure in killing, maiming and torturing other human beings. Certainly videos like this demonstrate it graphically – these are not people that can be reasoned with – this is pure evil. And the problem with evil is that, if it is not confronted, it grows in power. Denying that it exists will not make it go away.

So now we stand at a great cross-roads in our civilization. A large segment of the world has lost all perspective about the concept of good and evil. No one will judge another actions as evil – we are taught to be tolerant of every one and everything they do.

Perhaps God has a final paradox for us to ponder. One last quote from Road Less Travelled –

It was evil that raised Christ to the cross, so we could see him from

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Prosperity Consciousness

Posted by Paul on December 16, 2006

One of my favorite topics to think about is the concept of prosperity consciousness. It sometimes seems that most of the world is gripped in a scarcity mentality despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Sometimes people blame wars on religions or mad dictators but, in fact, it probably is most likely due to the prevalence of a scarcity mentality.

I wrote earlier about my favorite economic book Unlimited Wealth by Paul Zane Pilzer. It’s not difficult reading as you might expect from an economist, but rather entertaining. Pilzer traces the root of the scarcity mentality to the basic premise on which economics has been based – economics is the study of the limited supply of the worlds resources. If that premise is correct then it makes sense to fight over raw materials (gold, oil, etc.)

But what if resources are not scarce? What if in fact we have reached a point in our history that we can control, through technology, the supply of resources. What if, like the ancient alchemists, we can literally turn base metals into gold. In fact, today we can in essence do just that for most of our needs and the rate of technological advance is so rapid that I don’t believe we will ever run out of anything we need.

Pilzer reminds us of how in 1973 leading scientist predicted that we would run out of oil by the 1990’s, yet by 1990 there was such a surplus of oil that prices were at a historic low. What happened to cause that? Technologies like fuel injectors doubled fuel economy in cars and essentially doubled oil supply. New technologies allowed us to recover more oil from existing wells and dig deeper wells to find more oil. In fact, technology advanced so fast as a result of new R&D (money invested by the profits of the 1980’s high prices), that it surpassed our ability to consume the oil and keep the price up.

In college, I worked on a co-op job for a large copper & coal mining company in R&D. One of my projects was transforming coal into oil products. It wasn’t too hard to do, but it’s not cost effective yet. There are more BTU’s of coal, tar sands, and oil sands in the ground than oil. Once companies can get a decent return on investment. I also worked on a software program which simulated mining precious metals from the ocean bottom. I remember being overwhelmed by how large a source of gold, copper, platinum, etc. existed on the ocean bottom. I don’t believe we’ll ever be able to use all of this material. This has given me a perspective that resources in fact are not scare, but quite abundant.

One of the most intriguing examples of modern alchemy is the conversion of the most common of elements, silica (think of sand) into computer chips. This is about as literal example as can be made of converting a base material to gold. Food is another example. In the 1968 Paul Erlich published the Population Bomb – predicting widespread famine in 10 years (the world’s population was only 3.6 billion in 1968). Today with a world population over 6 billion we have to pay farmers not to farm and most countries export food (even China!). The company I work for is constantly creating genetically modified crops that are increasing farm yields exponentially. We will never run out of food!!

So what does this have to do with a prosperity consciousness? Well, when we live our lives out of scarcity we miss opportunities. I see so many blogger’s writing about being frugal or clipping coupons or budgeting. I believe that people that live in this consciousness are constantly jealous of others accomplishments and this creates lots of conflict between those who make money and those who want to take money away from those who make money. It drives our politics and promotes disharmony throughout the world. I think the current war against us by the radical Islamist’s is driven by this attitude. It’s hard to focus on generating new income streams when you are focused on penny-pinching or taking someone elses money.

Here’s more thoughts from Pilzer:

  • technology is the major determinate of wealth because it determines the nature and supply of physical resources
  • the advance of technology is determined mainly by our ability to process information
  • the backlog of unimplemented technological advances (technology gap) is the true predictor of economic growth

The first law of business is no longer “find a need and fill it” but “imagine
a need and create it

My sister-in-law is a perfect example of someone who has imagined a need and is using the technology gap to exploit it. She started a business InOutSource.com which caters to attorney’s. Lawyers are technologically very outdated. They keep all their records on paper and pay thousands of dollars per month to store and manage all those papers. My sister-in-laws idea was simply to employ technology to manage this information for the attorney’s using technology. And she is succeeding beyond any one’s dreams (except maybe her own!).

I’ve always hated the scarcity mentality. I hate going to thrift stores, clipping coupons, trying to watch every penny I spend. I’m not jealous of those who succeed, but truly admire them for what they have accomplished and found inspiration to keep going when I haven’t gotten wealthy yet.

I hope someday Pilzer wins a Nobel Prize for his thesis.

Posted in business, finances, money, politics | 3 Comments »

Straight Line Projections

Posted by Paul on December 14, 2006

As someone trained in engineering and statistics, one of my pet peeves is people making “straight line” projections. People tend to look at the trend line of past events and continue it into the future. (For the technically minded this is called “extrapolation” and is inherently flawed Vs “interpolation” which is technically sound.) I believe that the reason for this is that 95% of our population doesn’t understand or appreciate the concept of statistical variability (and surprisingly many scientists fall into this due to their desire to be “right”).

Some of the flawed analysis that comes out of this leads to all kind of hysteria and poor decisions. Some easy ones I can think of

  • 1970’s projections of global ice age, massive famines, population explosion
  • 1970’s projections that we would run out of oil by the 1990’s
  • Current projections of global warming continuing indefinitely and running out of oil
  • 1980’s hysteria that the Japanese would take over our economy
  • 1970’s projections about air pollutions
  • Ongoing projections that we are running out of water
  • 1900’s projections about the streets becoming 10 feet deep in horse shit

All of these projections are, of course, nonsense. The only real certainty is that there will be change in the future. Most people do not account for human kinds adaptability and resourcefulness. Take a look at this plot. Now most people and many scientists would say that after 100 points it sure points to a definite trend (maybe global warming!). In fact, this is strictly a randomly generated curve and after 1000 points it is slopped downward.


Take another example – water. The brilliant Marilyn Vos Savant last Sunday said that we are “running out of water”. I’ll be damned – I was taught as an engineer that we couldn’t create it or destroy it (Law of Conservation of Matter), so where is it going Marilyn?

In truth, what she probably means is that the “cheap” water is being used up or polluted. The solution to this is simple – clean it up! One process I’ve personally worked with, reverse osmosis, can be used to create clean drinking water from the ocean.

Can we run out of energy? Never, it’s impossible as long as the sun burns (and might be possible once it goes out). We just have to find a way to creatively extract energy from existing or new sources. Will it cost more? Maybe short term, but look at gas prices. We are back to inflation adjusted prices well below the 1980’s high – and they will go lower.

One of the best books I ever read was called Unlimited Wealthby Paul Zane Pilzer. His basic premise is that nearly all economic models are based on the scarcity principal (everything is a zero sum game).

If you ever want some perspective on the media and political hysteria that surrounds us, I highly recommend you read this book

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Can we win a “civil” war?

Posted by Paul on November 29, 2006

Much of the news these days is preoccupied with calling the fighting in Iraq a Civil War in the sense that the Sunni and Shia are fighting it out between themselves. When I hear the term “civil war” I have much different thoughts.

I look at the way we have been fighting wars since Vietnam and think that we have become more and more squemish about fighting wars to win and instead want to fight in a “civil” manner. In other words, just kill the bad guys, don’t torture them, give them all their civil rights when we capture them, etc.

One of my favorite movies is The Patriot. When I think back to that movie and watch how the British (especially Cornwalis) were determined to fight the war in a “civil” manner, I think of how we are trying to fight the wars of this century.  I think the British lost that war because in many ways they were so intent on fighting by the “rules of war” of the 18th century.  The hero of the movie, Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson), fought in a most uncivil manner.  Thinking back to wars we have won decisively (the Civil War with Shermans march through the South, WWII with the firebombing of Germany and the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima), are wars where we did not fight with what today we call a “civil” manner.

Fast forward to the 21st century and we are fighting an insane group of fanatics holding ourselves to such a high standard that it is (I think) impossible to win. We use “surgical” airstrikes, won’t shoot if we see civilians present or someone is shooting at us from a mosque and provide prisoners with a Koran handled with special gloves so we don’t contaminate their sacred book.  Meanwhile they use barbaric methods of killing (I dare you to just watch the Youtube video of Islamists beheading Nick Berg), use women and children as shields and send in their children as suicide bombers.

When I attended college the anti-war movement was in full blossom. I cast my first vote for the anti-war candidate George McGovern. As did everyone else, I thought we had lost Vietnam. Only in the last few years have I learned that the Tet offensive was a massive loss for the North Vietnamese. I often wonder, what if Walter Cronkite had not declared that we had lost in Vietnam – what would have really happened and how would it effect the way we fight wars today?

Digesting the 24 hours a day blitz of news coverage it’s extremely difficult to maintain any perspective about the war against fascist Islamist. Many don’t think Iraq has anything to do with it. Many believe that we can reason with them and they will leave us alone. One of my collegues who until this election has voted Republican recently told me that Kim Jong-ilis just crying for attention and will stop what he is doing if we just talk to him.  I suppose Neville Chamberlin thought the same of Hitler.

I think that the terrorists think we are a “weak horse” and for the moment they are right.  We cannot win a “civil” war against an uncivil enemy.

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