Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Busman's Holiday

Seems like most of us have some cherished idea in the back of our minds about what makes a good holiday. If we aren't careful though we can miss the really significant things that make a real holiday.

My day job involves a lot of work with computers, when I'm not administering a network, helping a coworker with a computer problem, or figuring out where the data went, I'm likely to be patching, updating or otherwise fooling with computers. So it is no surprise that when I go to visit relatives I end up fixing their computers too.

Then there are the now what do we do funny in retrospect things like having the bed you are sleeping in, drop all of the slats on one side at O'dark 30 in the morning. (Talk about a wake up call) Having fessed up to breaking the bed, we were told that the bed had been fixed once before. So after a leisurely breakfast, my dad and I disassembled the bed, decided to replace the ledger on one side and had the bed fixed in time to catch a movie with my brother.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Meaningful Christmas Giving

Rethink Christmas this year.

or maybe this idea -- Inner City Gardening
more good ideas at heifer.org

Hat Tip - New Wineskins / who got it from The Anchoress who found it at Deacon's Bench

Friday, December 5, 2008

No Blogging Until Next Week

Reality intrudes today, and I will be without internet access until Monday.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Floss, Res Publica, Public Service and Me

I've been spending the last year or so reading, copying and reformatting a series of volumes from the Library of Congress. The latest one is Jonathan Elliot's five volume debates on the Constitution of the United States. Elliot collected not only the best records from the Constitutional Convention, but the Debates of the State Conventions that met to determine whether or not the Constitution would be adopted.

The primary value for me is that it shows that the founding fathers and their contemporaries were a lot like us. The had the same fears, the same desires, and the same foibles as we do now. This turns out to be important because there are some who argue that the Constitution, is no longer relevant because of the changes in technology that have occurred since the Constitution was written. On the other hand the era of the Constitution's writers was a time of great change. All of the basic scientific principles that under gird our modern technology. Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy and the other sciences were in ferment. At the same time the English speaking world had just experienced the Great Awakening, and innovative theologians were looking for ways to meet the needs of an emerging industrial society.

One of the basic principles of our government that was adopted from the examples of Greece and Rome was the concept of Res Publica(1) -- the public thing. What we call a Republic, derives from the concept of public things. The Roman's embraced a definition that included public service, public property (Parks, Baths and other things). In the modern age, the public thing includes all of the records of Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Judiciary. America despite its occasional failings is the best exemplar of the public record. The few exceptions have almost always been associated with material that was prudent, to keep secret for a period of time. Over time, our Federal, State and Local governments have accumulated a tremendous collection of documents, diaries, and other records.

As we have moved into the digital age, the quantity of information has increased and shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. As we have moved from computers like Babbage's Difference engine to the latest Intel(r) or AMD(r) powered computers the problem has gotten even worse. Since I have been working with computers word processing has moved from WordStar(r), WordPerfect(r) to Word(r). The problem becomes one of incompatible technologies. Have you ever wondered why "cop speak" for a recording device is a "wire." It comes from one of the first commercial recording technologies that used metal wire as the recording medium. I can remember reel to reel tape recorders, cassette tape recorders, 8 track recorders, and a host of other systems. Before the high definition disk wars, back in the ancient 80's there were Beta and VHS.

Now imagine for a minute what happens if all of our court, legislative and executive branch records are all generated and maintained in a paperless format that does not allow for a simple conversion to readable material. That brings me to the last item not covered in the lede for this post. Stanford Professor Don Knuth, became concerned with the degradation of quality in typesetting. He was writing what for many is the essential series on computer programming. After the second volume was written, he discovered that the publisher was no longer using a Linotype(r) machine, but had moved to a digital system. He turned his expertise in computer programing to the production of TeX. TeX and it's children LaTeX and LyX have become the standard fixtures in Academic Journal production. One of the great benefits of TeX(2) and it's derivatives is that the actual words can be read with something as simple as WordPad, Notepad or any text file reader. By adding "style" modules everything from perfectly formated term papers to a Hollywood Screenplay can be written and consistently formatted. So based on the typical method of doing business in our society you would expect something this powerful and sophisticated to cost a lot of money. Surprisingly, it is available to anyone with a computer at no cost other than the effort of downloading and installing the files. Not only that but like a '57 Chevy hotrod, you can get under the hood, and see just how things are done, or if you like to tinker, you can make changes to the way things work. That is FLOSS(3).

I'll close with a plug for three web sites that operate in the spirit of res publica:

Christian Classic Ethereal Library
Project Gutenburg

(1) res publica
(2) TeX

Monday, December 1, 2008

Training and Conduct Under Stress

Once upon a time in a previous life, I had some training in law enforcement. It occurred during a sideways phase of my 20 years with the US Navy. One of the many lessons that I learned at that time, which has only been reinforced by later experience was the truth of the maxim - "Train the way you will fight, because you will fight the way you were trained." This was especially practiced at the firing range. During my time in the Navy we switched from qualifying by shooting the NRA 25 yd pistol course of fire to a combat type course. Another change that was made on the basis of FBI research into law enforcement vs. bad guy gunfights was waiting until the end of the day to "police" (clean) the expended brass. Seems that in a number of gunfights policemen had been killed by majoring in minors, they were policing their brass while the fight was still on.

Still drawing on my Navy experience, as anyone with Navy or other Military experience will remember, much of our time was spent on drills. Practicing how to do things needed to protect the ship from damage / prevent further damage. In my one experience with combat / disaster, I was amazed at just how much of what I did was done on auto pilot and the amount of effort needed to do things that were outside of the trained responses.

Ok, so you are wondering where I am going with this. I've seen some questions about the terror attacks on Mumbai. I will not second guess the cops who were on the scene. The reason that I won't is that if you weren't there you don't know all of the facts. It would appear to me on the face of it that the Mumbai police department has a training problem. It has taken me a couple of days of thought to conclude that it is probably not an Indian psychology problem as their commando forces were able to take care of the terrorists once they engaged. I feel like I have stepped out onto a thin branch because even that conclusion is based on supposition rather than knowledge.

The closest thing that I can compare the Mumbai incident to is an attempted bank robbery in LA several years ago where the robbers, equipped with AK-47's, body armor and a large dose of ego, forced the LAPD into a stand off, until LAPD was able to borrow from a local vendor, the equipment that they needed.(1)

Don't bother telling me that I am comparing apples with tomatoes. North Hollywood was not a terrorist attack. The point is LAPD officers, out gunned, worked together to overcome the odds against them, get the needed equipment on scene and eventually control the situation. We will never know how many people would have survived in Mumbai if the police there had been more active in confronting the terrorists.

(1)North Hollywood Shootout

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advent Explained

The ever thoughtful and thought provoking Anchoress explains Advent http://theanchoressonline.com/2008/11/30/advent-the-coming-of-love/ don't miss the video.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Light or No Blogging Until Sunday

I'll be very busy tomorrow and won't have much time to blog. PS if you were wondering, my blog is set to GMT. No really good reason for it, or for that matter using local time instead.

Power, Vacuum, Piracy

Jdg 17:6 In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.

1Pe 2:13-14 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; (14) Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.

A major function of government is the punishment of crime. One of the things that emerges from a careful study of history is the discovery that evildoers naturally gravitate to places where governments have difficulty employing their power. In the early 1700's one of the places where governments had trouble exercising power was the Caribbean. In that time the major European powers were not only involved in a series of wars including the War of the Spanish Succession. Fought to preserve the European status quo, by preventing the unification of France and Spain. One of the consequences was the increase in Piracy in the Caribbean.
Spain could only with difficulty provide any protection for its shipping, principally by convoy. The English authorized Privateers with Letters of Marque and Reprisal. The number of Privateers acted to provide cover for the outright pirates.

In our era, we have seen the dangers of regions with week or nonexistent governments. A short and incomplete list would include Lebanon, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan and Post Sadam Iraq. That doesn't include governments which for strategic and tactical reasons have supported, trained or encouraged terrorism as a means of furthering their goals. The history of Al Qaeda provides one example of how vacuums of power were exploited.

As we have seen in the news recently, there has been an increase in Piracy in East Africa. One of the nodes is Somalia which since the mid-1970's Somalia has been divided by civil wars and currently has a weak government with a very limited ability to suppress piracy. Meanwhile in the best tradition of piracy men who are seeking power influence and money are engaging in piracy. Peter Leeson of George Mason University has examined some of the economic elements of Piracy.(1)

The same vacuum of power that permits Piracy to flourish at the margins of governmental power, also provides a favorable climate for Terrorism.

(1) http://www.peterleeson.com/Pirational_Choice.pdf

Thursday, November 27, 2008


As I watched the lead in to this years NYC Thanksgiving Day Parade. I was struck by how much time television now spends telling us what we are going to see, maybe a little history of the event, and the obligatory "man on the street" interviews. Then when the parade starts watching it on TV is nothing like watching it in person. As the director sequences the 5 - 15 second shots.

I remember a TV game show that was great in its day, but seems not to fit in with our modern idea of good television. It was called Concentration and in its glory days it accomplished with simple tools and low tech ingenuity things that now require a room full of digital effects editors and a full staff of pyrotechnicians. The star of the show was not the host, nor even the contestants it was the game board. A 5 by 6 grid with the initial face of each block showing a number. The game was played simply by calling two numbers in hopes of matching a prize. When matches occurred then a piece of the puzzle was revealed.

I was talking with a coworker the other day about a recent trip that I had taken. Then we started talking about sports venues Fenway Park, Gillette Stadium, and a local one Harbor Park. The stories tended to focus on people who had been injured because they were not concentrating on the moment. One injury was a lady who was reading a book at a ball park in seats just off of the 3rd baseline. Another was the high number of balls that go into the stands in Norfolk and the danger posed to persons who are not paying attention to the game.

This problem carries over into other areas of our lives and other activities. We've all seen people doing weird things while driving (shaving, applying makeup, reading, making calls, or even texting) often just an annoyance sometimes these extra activities cross over into dangerous to self and or others.

The ability to concentrate ones attention on a task, is critical to success. Some jobs have a heavy penalty for lack of concentration. In my "day" job for example it is a very good idea to live by this simple rule one hand for the ship, one hand for yourself. If you don't follow this rule you may find yourself on the floor in pain because the ship took a roll that you didn't expect.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Double Standards in Advertising

Have you ever thought about how bent out of shape we get when we think that someone has used a bait and switch advertising technique on us. We don't like it and we have taken it to the point that there are laws prohibiting it in the marketplace. Nationally we have the Federal Trade Commission which regulates advertising and sales in the interstate commerce area. Most states and many municipalities also prohibit such behavior in the local market place.

Yet we willingly suspend our outrage in one arena of advertising. The most despised ads in the country are political ads. If a company is advertising a new formulation of soap for example - they don't trash their competitors product as a general rule. They build on the brand recognition of the old formula and highlight the improved capabilities of the new. In politics however we see most ads fall into one of two categories ad hominem attacks - literally an admission that we have no new ideas so we are attacking the person. And strawman attacks where the ads paint demonstrably false picture of the opponent and urges voters to kick the bum out because he voted against some program or because he voted for some other program.

In the recently concluded presidential campaign both candidates ran on a "change" platform. The principal reason for this is the overwhelmingly negative perception of the current President's policies and actions. Throughout the primary season the winning candidates for both parties ran on radical (for their party) change platforms. Now that the people have spoken, and the winner of this contest prepares to sit in one of the hottest hot seats in global politics, we see that much of the change that was promised seems to be evaporating. As yet however there has been little outrage from either side on the remarkable similarity to the status quo ante bellum.

I've said it before, not that it is original to me: "Insanity is doing the same thing the same way and expecting a different result." I'm not sure how or even if our current political process can be changed. I don't think we should let candidates for office get away with things that we won't let businesses get away with. The various "fact check" type programs, and web sites are a step in the right direction but most of the one's I saw this year were produced by biased sources.

The floor is open for discussion of practical methods of reclaiming political campaigns from the mud pit that they have become.


Reposting So You Don't Have to Hunt for My Position

It seems only fair that I let you know where I am coming from.
  1. Politics
    1. Conservative - I choose to look for the things worth retaining.
      1. In my experience change for the sake of change is usually a mistake.
      2. When change is required most of the time speed is a mistake.
      3. No plan is so perfect that it can not be improved by discussion.
    2. Finance - My position is that the United States should be run in the same way that individual citizens must. Our government at each level should be living within its means:
      1. Restricting its operations to core functions
        1. Public Safety
        2. Education Standards
      2. Maintaining the public infrastructure
        1. Roads
        2. Bridges
        3. Sanitation
    3. Constitution
      1. The founders wrote it so that the average man could read, understand and follow it.
      2. The founders were informed by history and understood that in the aggregate they were neither better nor worse than those who had come before them, and they had no expectation that their heirs would be any different.
  2. Religion
    1. Conservative
    2. Protestant - Methodist
    3. Evangelical -- Proclaiming the Good News

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My Handle

Other folks have asked in the past why I picked my "handle." It is equal parts elementary school nickname, favorite Winnie the Pooh character, and general geographic locater (zip code). I came up with the handle when I first started commenting on a friend's blog. Much of the material there is related to local politics and other local issues. To the extent that I found some of the material resonating with my own local experience, I felt it necessary to indicate in some way that I was not a local, and that I didn't have a dog in the fight.

Because I distrust the relative anonymity of the web I have elected to keep a consistent persona in the blogosphere. The other thing that consistency in my handle does is make it easy for those who want to know what I really think to find my previous thoughts.

Hello World!

Well it has finally happened, I'm making the next transition in my blogosphere life.

I have gone from lurker to responder, and now it is time to make the jump to blogging.

I have numerous interests from coins and stamps to history and politics.

Upcoming posts will provide more details on some of my interests and thoughts. To begin with here are the ground rules for this ball park:

1) Playground Rules are in effect - Watch your mouth, play nice, take turns.
2) Comments are moderated - There is a 99.44% chance that your comment will be approved unedited. On the rare occasions where this does not happen, I will provide feedback on what I found unacceptable.
3) I will not be doing this full time. In addition my real life periodically leaves me without internet access for extended periods of time. I will try to let you all know in advance, but ..... life happens.