Octavo Dia

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Jobs

A friend/acquaintance of mine recently posted a rant about how much his job sucks. I remember the first time I worked for a larger company I was astounded. I thought, "This has to be a fluke! The world couldn't keep going if this was how everything was run!" I have now worked for several firms, one of whom is very competitive in its field, and I have come to the conclusion that the world DOES work that way. One cannot run from incompetence.

My current theory is that there is not enough movement down the career ladder. If the people making the decisions had to come and work under the decisions they made, (for a longer period than a few days), every now and then, I think it would improve things dramatically.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Dead Reckoning

I must admit, I have strenuously avoided reading anything about a certain Floridian unpleasantness concerning euthanasia. However, in our media-soaked world, enough has made it through my filters to force my commentary. The arguments that I have seen have been confused and emotional, so, in my vanity, I, standing as a god above it all, descend to clarify things (but in a suitably godlike manner, refuse to render a clean verdict). The issue at hand is not whether to (or who has the authority to) remove the feeding tube. The issue is the exact nature of the patient; i.e., what moral classification should she receive? We can tell that she's alive (biologically). We can tell that she's human (genetically). What we have not determined is whether or not she is a person. In order determine whether we should continue nurturing her, we must first define exactly what constitutes a "person." We might, furthermore, determine that being a "person" is a quantitative, not a qualitative, distinction, and judge accordingly.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Trade Gaps

What does it mean when there's a trade gap? It means that one party is ordering more goods and services than is the other, and is making up the difference by forking out the cash. But what is money? Money is a universally recognized gift certificate--it represents goods and services that have not yet been consumed. Therefore, there is not now and has never been a trade gap. When, for example, China exports more to the U.S. in current goods and services than it imports in current goods and services, it is making up the balance by importing future goods and services, which simply haven't been delivered yet. Eventually, China will begin placing orders for the U.S. to fill, and calling in all of the IOU's which they've accumulated. I'm sure the Chinese will then complain about the trade balance, just as we are now.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Political-Economic Theory

I have a theory, which I have termed "The Invisible Backhand," in reference to Adam Smith's "Invisible Hand" of the market. When wealth distribution becomes so unequal that it is (nearly) impossible for lower-class individuals to improve their comparative well-being through market means, they will turn to political (or even revolutionary) means to redistribute wealth. Thus, even though it is not the most economically beneficial course of action, the upper classes must support some redistribution of wealth to ensure that what they do have will not be taken from them. Redistributive policies act as an insurance policy by creating a stable society. In other words, pure capitalism creates income disparities that are inherently unstable. To stabilize the economic system, there must be transfers of wealth between the upper and lower classes.

Thus the title: the invisible hand of the market moves everyone to seek their greatest advantage, but the greatest advantage arises from helping others. If one ignores the plight of others, the invisible hand will move again, but in a far more destructive manner.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Censorship

Since the last post was about what "The government should..." I thought I'd give you my perspective on censorship.

Censorship is great... as long as I'm the one making the rules. However, I cannot guarantee that I will be the one making the rules, so it is in my best interest, as the member of a small and never-particularly-popular religious group, to prevent anyone from making any sort of rule. Thus I am opposed to censorship.

Scare tactics

Do you know what the trouble with politics is? Once an issue becomes political, it also becomes impossible to do any useful analysis. Imagine hearing the following sentence, "The government should..." Already, the red flags are up and everything will be emotionally tainted and unobjective.

Case in point: an unnamed newspaper last Sunday carried a large number of letters to the editor debating the issue of whether "The government should..." ban food ads targeting children and/or food ads during programs aimed towards children.

What do we actually know about this issue? We know that childhood obesity and television with food advertisements are correlated. When I was taking psychology, the one point the professor hammered home was that "Correlation does not equal causation." Think about it this way, obese children have more difficulty being active, thus they watch TV. I can see the headline: "OBESITY CAUSES TELEVISION WATCHING!!!" The two are correlated, but correlations are interpretations. Even if the two are correlated, they could both be caused by a third thing. Poverty and crime are strongly correlated, but does that mean that crime causes poverty, or poverty causes crime? Could it be that, for example, drug use causes both poverty and crime, since drug use is strongly correlated as well? Or could poverty and crime cause drug use? Correlation does not equal causation.

So how does one "prove" causation? Ideally, we would set up a study with these groups: one group that watches no TV and sees no food ads of any kind. (They will be our control group.) The second group would watch no TV but still be exposed to food ads. (The difference between the two will determine how much influence non-TV ads have on kids.) The third group would watch TV with all the food ads removed and have no access to other adds. The fourth group would watch TV with all the food ads removed but be able to view outside ads. (The differences between this group and the first group would tell you how much of an influence TV has. The difference between it and the second group would check for a possible cumulative effect.) Finally, there would be a group that could watch regular TV and see all the ads. That's how one would "prove" that food ads cause childhood obesity. Will anyone do this? Probably not. If they did it, would anyone listen? Probably not.

Friday, March 11, 2005

A man of letters.

I just finished reading a book I didn't like. It's by my favorite author, Larry Niven (collaborating with Jerry Pournelle, whose work I also enjoy). It's 505 pages long, and the title is The Burning City. I began reading it yesterday, and finished it today, approximately 21 hours after I began it (and I slept for 9 hours in that time period). And no, it wasn't a comic book. I didn't like it. There was almost nothing in the story that appealled to me, yet I read it with the quiet desperation of someone reading Swimming for Dummies on the Titanic.

Hi, my name is Octavo Dia, and I am a word junkie.

I normally read academic non-fiction. I remember an episode of classic Trek, "The Trouble with Tribbles," in which Captain Kirk confined Scottie to quarters. Scottie responded, "Thank you captain! It'll give me a chance to catch up on my technical journals!" If someone confined me to quarters with back issues of Foreign Affairs, I'd be happy for weeks.

My fascination with words began before I could even tell them apart, but even then I was hooked. My father said that he did not have the patience to read The Three Little Kittens as often as I wanted to hear it. My poor, poor, under-stimulated mother. What she would have given for a chance to read an entire newspaper.

Every now and then, my Cutie, in an attempt to make me more interesting, inserts something different into my reading. Something strange and intersting. Once it was Catch 22, another time Farewell, My Lovely, then The Fountainhead, even The Indian in the Cupboard.

Even back then I was always pushing the limits and experimenting. The Three Little Kittens was okay, but I began asking for more and different kinds of books. I was trying to recapture the thrill.

Before you call me an ungrateful wretch, it was only a 25 cent book from the library book sale.

Then they sent me to school. I hated it. It was a tease. It was like going to a strip club where the only thing stripped was the steak and your car in the parking lot. Where was the ecstacy? Where was the thrill of the words that they held in such abundance? They had the tools, they could teach me to read, yet they only cracked the door and gave us whatever dribbled out. See spot run. It was a bad trip. School messed me up for a long time.

I remember a song from a group called The Divers about a book that ended up at a library book sale, the refrain went like this, "Oh why did somebody have to write me? I was happy as a tree. I do not wanna ever gotta be no book. I do not wanna ever gotta be no book. I do not wanna ever gotta be no book, anymore."

I was homeschooled through high school. That helped. They couldn't keep all the words away from me now, especially not when I was doing research papers. But the non-fiction kept calling me. Some was like heroin; it hooked me right away. Some was like cocaine; it kept me flying high. Some was even LSD--I'd get some warped thoughts out of those--there was something for every mood, every taste, every whim. And that was in my father's personal collection alone.

I wonder what the book in The Divers song was about? Surely it had to be something academic. Even the trashiest and most poorly written of novels gets read. Academic books can sit in the stacks for decades until someone doing research puts in the right combination of search terms, or some lost freshman stumbles into them.

It wasn't until college that I left the non-fiction behind and stuck to the weaker stuff. "Then the man said, 'The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me...'" And I did sin.

I am a sommelier doing shots. I am a pianist listening to rap. I am a tight-rope walker on a merry-go-round. I am a reader feeding his addiction with the weakest possible fix to keep it under control. It sucks.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Flights of Angels

"If an astronaut and a caveman got in a fight, who would win?"

I'm going for the astronaut, because the astronaut has had decades of solid nutrition, making him taller and stronger than the caveman.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Whether Stone of Lump of Lead

The Economist has reported that crime rates do not rise after the death penalty is removed, thereby "proving" that it does not deter crime. In the interest of justice, however, the utility of a particular punishment to deter crime should not be a factor. Whether the crime was sufficiently heinous to deserve such a penalty should be the only factor. To punish someone to deter the crimes of others is not just--it does not punish them for their own crimes, but rather punishes them for the potential crimes of others. If an act is deserving of death, death should be meted out, even if it causes more crime.

Ukraine's Michael Jackson Case

Government-sponsored murder is so much more interesting than creepy men on trial for being creepy. I've been reading about a current Ukrainian court case, involving the beheading of anti-government journalist Hyrohiy Gongadze. Former Minister of the Interior Yuri Kravchenko was a star witness--he was allegedly ordered to "get rid of" this turbulent priest (a little historical reference for you there). Now Kravchenko has been found dead in his home with a gun in his hand. Several newspapers have reported that he had multiple gunshot wounds (a difficult accomplishment for suicides). The suspicion that it was murder, even if it was a legitimate suicide, has been planted in countless minds. His death may save the defense from jail time, but it has also saved them from the burden of running for office again. From a political standpoint, the former regime should have begun "demanding justice" for Gongadze. By "demanding justice" instead of creating a scapegoat or closing ranks, the former regime could avoid falling if several individuals were found guilty, yet it could also ride their coattails if they are exonerated. Furthermore, by doing everything in its power to speed the trail along, the former regime would have reduced the popular suspicion, or trial by media, that it is enduring.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

I have a theory, it could be bunnies!

Just as I promised you, an example of what is most likely a hideous idea, presented for your commenting pleasure.

Are the Social Security and Medicare systems victims of their own success? The Social Security system is, essentially, the world's largest and most successful pyramid scheme. It doesn't produce anything, thus it has no means of creating income. Instead, it depends on the payments from current workers to support current retirees. As a pyramid scheme, Social Security needed an ever expanding base population to maintain its benefit levels (only thus could it achieve that elusive goal of having everyone take out more than they put in). Medicare is also funded by current contributions.

The "crisis" of Social Security and Medicare is the result of a base population that has slowed its expansion. In other words, people stopped having so many children. Why? Children are the poor man's retirement plan, and the decision to have children seems to follow economic thinking quite well. When there is an uncertain future, people tend to have more children--they invest in resources that will (probably) pay off. When the investment in children is uncertain (aka, high infant mortality) people tend to have more children--they diversify their portfolio. Thus an uncertain environment with high infant mortality (a common measure of health-care quality), will lead to an increase in the number of children. Removing the uncertainty (social security) and reducing the risk of infant mortality, and thus the need to diversify (Medicare), has created a situation in which children are net drains on resources, and are thus not produced in significant quantities. Thus, along with other factors such as the cost of education in a modern economy, Social Security and Medicare created their own demise.