Michael Battalio

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Thirteenth Annual Christmas Mass Email

Greetings and Salutations, 
        Welcome to the Thirteenth Annual Christmas Mass Email.  I hope this finds each and every one of you well.

        Usually I talk about the past in these emails, but in this one I want to spend a moment on the future. We spend so much time dwelling on what could have been when we should be considering what we might do now to help us later. What’s the one thing you want to do long term to improve yourself or your situation? Instead of procrastinating or worrying about decisions already made, take the first step towards that goal. Is it learning a language or an instrument? Find some material online to start. Is it writing a book? Write the outline. Want to commit to better health? Take one walk. Before you even realize it another year will be closing. Don’t wait. The future is never that far away.

        However, I don’t want to be misinterpreted. I do not mean to imply that every daunting project need be done or that every goal should be some grandiose idea requiring inordinate amounts of time. The culmination of a large project is the sum of many small tasks, and the size of the accomplishment is not indicative of the importance of it. I merely want to suggest directing time that otherwise would have been spent analyzing the past towards time spent preparing for the future.

        I do not say this to guide any distress forward instead of backward. For while anxiety about the past is pointless, worrying about the future is even more so. There are but two reasons to worry about the future: fear and inadequacy. First, fear can be subdued by awareness of potentialities and planning. Once possible problems ahead are recognized and appropriate solutions identified, there is nothing left to be done (though that plan of action is not as easy in practice). Letting go of the past is the first step as it allows the mind to be free to discern and answer puzzles ahead of you.
        Secondly, everyone feels a bit of inadequacy, but that cannot consume you. I say this at the end of every ACME, but I bring it up here to make a point: Give yourself some credit for making it as far as you have. You could not be where you are right now if you did not deserve some measure of confidence. Ignore my advice from the first paragraph and consider your past self for a moment. Are you not smarter and wiser than they were? If they were capable enough to get you this far, is not your future self capable of getting you further? Thus you should feel confident in yourself.

        So, set aside your troubles concerning what is past and what is coming and dedicate that time to assuaging those doubts by focusing on the future.

        And there you go.  I plug along in school; I’m doing all right.  Once again, congratulations to all of you who have really done something amazing this year, whether it’s finishing a degree, getting married, starting a family, finding a new passion in life or any other accomplishment.  But never be satisfied; always strive for more.  Always question, learn, grow; otherwise, what’s the point?
        Enjoy the season, appreciate the little things, and give yourself some credit for making it as far as you have.  Reply to let me know how you’re doing and what you’ve accomplished; wanting to hear from you is half the reason I send this every year.


The requisite joke:

The local news station was interviewing an 80-year-old woman because she had just gotten married for the fourth time. The interviewer asked her questions about her life, about what it felt like to be marrying again at 80, and then about her new husband’s occupation.

“He’s a funeral director,” she answered.

“Interesting,” the newsman thought. He then asked her if she wouldn’t mind telling him a little about her first three husbands and what they did for a living.

She paused for a few moments, needing time to reflect on all those years. After a short time, a smile came to her face and she answered proudly, explaining that she had first married a banker when she was in her 20’s, then a circus ringmaster when in her 40’s, and a preacher when in her 60’s, and now - in her 80’s - a funeral director.

The interviewer looked at her, quite astonished, and asked why she had married four men with such diverse careers.

She smiled and explained, “I married one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go.”


Best wishes, happy holidays,

Friday, November 28, 2014

Discussions on Wealth (part 4): Chapter 2 discussion - externalities

This discussion on wealth is an offshoot of Serious Conversations parts 53 and 54. We are considering the book The Origin of Wealth by Eric D. Beinhocker. (I do not profit from clicks). (Ed.: we will be taking the general format of outlining the major points of the chapter and then discussing what we believe to be important or intriguing points.)

        The free market is the most just decider in allocation of wealth (pg 28). This leads into an assessment of externalities:  Is there such thing as a completely free market?  It may be the most just, but does that really matter in practice? There will always be forces outside of the market pulling the market in one direction or another.  The wealthy will always be in more control of the market than the non-wealthy, so if the free market is the most just, by deduction, all other markets must be unjust.  And because no market will ever be the ideal market, all extant markets are unjust.  This is the perfect argument for the intervention of government.  
        No market is completely free. The currency of the market cannot account for all of the costs and benefits for all market forces because our economy is so compartmentalized. Externalities are not noticed when they don’t have an immediate effect on the goods accumulated or exchanged. For example, the climate impacts of greenhouse gas emission are an enormous negative externality that is not factored in because a factory owner doesn’t care how polluting the electricity they use is. They only care that the price not vary drastically. The generation, distribution, pollution of the energy production is some other factory owner’s problem. A second example: societal investments in education pay off in the long run by spurring innovation from educated workers, but a company isn’t going to make a voluntary investment because the investment might not pay off until after the executives making the investment have left.
        A free market assumes that everyone started off fairly and the wealth was distributed evenly. Even if you come up with an amazing strategy for a perfectly fair market, people are still going to start out with advantages and disadvantages, and if your strategy doesn't provide ways for those on the bottom to rise up, then it's not going to help them out at all. So, we need an external entity to moderate the not so free market. The market isn’t free because of the government. The market isn’t free because it is an imperfect universe we live in. The government makes it more equitable though taxation and regulation. Only the quantity of government involvement should be debated.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Discussions on Wealth (part 4): Chapter 2 discussion - specialization

This discussion on wealth is an offshoot of Serious Conversations parts 53 and 54. We are considering the book The Origin of Wealth by Eric D. Beinhocker. (I do not profit from clicks). (Ed.: we will be taking the general format of outlining the major points of the chapter and then discussing what we believe to be important or intriguing points.)

        The point was made that specialization is important. The division of labor has played an vital role in spurring productivity. The example provided in the book was the manufacture of pens. However, specialization is not necessarily a good thing. Productivity is gained, but innovation is lost. An understanding of multiple fields is required to use ideas from one field to advance another. (E.g. The mathematics of economics was borrowed from physics. One the other hand the mathematics of economics was overly simplified.) What is the optimal level of specialization in a society?

        Should all people have some generalization or should some people specialize and encourage others to be generalists?  We have to consider the specialization of all people individually for the greater good.  That seems really complicated.  When we’ve talked about specialization before I believe that I noted that it is now impossible to be a total generalist now.  We know so much that it is not possible to know a little bit of everything.  Before the 20th century, one person could accumulate and understand most of the breadth of human knowledge.  Now though, there is too much information being created even in one subject.  Presently, it is more than likely that you can merely be generalist in a few fields, but not completely general.  It is insurmountable to know even all of one subject.  Think of trying to keep up with all of physics or even less general like plasma physics or solid state physics — a nigh impossible task.  This is what increasing higher education degrees lead you toward — less generalization, more specialization.  All of academia is built around that.
        Perhaps instead of generalization we should focus more on collaboration and communication.  Let’s not all work to be general but work to communicate our specialized knowledge to fields tangential to our own. Maybe start up companies that are successful are those that have that just right mix of the generalists and the specifisists with the proper amount of communication between them.

        I just finished reading a book on Chaos by James Gleick.  One of the key themes of that book was that since chaos was a kind of new science and new approach of treating the noise in a system it had to be “discovered” in each field almost independently because no one reads journals from other disciplines.  For example, it took a decade after Lorenz published his work on attractors in the Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences for biologists to recognize that attractor behavior occurs in the growth of populations as well – same thing for particle physicists and cosmologists. And to bring it back around, it wasn’t until the 1980s that economists began looking for fractals and attractors in economic data.  If there had been generalists in each field they would have recognized how useful Lorenz’s work was back in 1963, but no cosmologist, biologist, economist would read a meteorological journal.  I wonder if since we will be applying biological principles to economics if the author will bring up chaos.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Discussions on Wealth (part 3): Chapter 2 discussion

This discussion on wealth is an offshoot of Serious Conversations parts 53 and 54. We are considering the book The Origin of Wealth by Eric D. Beinhocker. (I do not profit from clicks). (Ed.: we will be taking the general format of outlining the major points of the chapter and then discussing what we believe to be important or intriguing points.)

I am struck by how the author faults the assumptions in economic theory for the problems in his examples rather than the implementation of those theories or the mistakes or the people implementing them.  He hints at it in places, but mostly he seems to fault the underlying math for the breakdown in theory.  I’m not saying they aren’t mostly at fault (I obviously have no idea.), but I try to never underestimate human incompetence.  

Interesting point:  economics is a science.  I have never thought of it as such, and I feel a bit stupid for not realizing it earlier. I always lumped it in with the nebulous schools of business and accounting, but I suppose it is.  This might lead us to another large question (what is science?)  By a strict definition science could be simply experimental knowledge that makes testable predictions built within a theoretical framework based upon logic and mathematics.  In that definition economics is certainly science.  

Smith:  wealth is created by improving the productivity of labor and the distribution of that labor is made by individual assessments of happiness for each person.  And efficiency is key to the maximum happiness of all individuals.  

Leon Walras (pg 29) is made to sound like the instigator of all of the problems with the mathematical side of traditional economics.  If only he had not been drawn to physics and statics, we instead might have an economic theory built upon chemistry instead.  Instead I think his assumption of the “godlike auctioneer” is his main fault.  Individuals trade, not entire communities.

It seems in the struggle to bring in physics and mathematics to economics the primary struggle was in modeling human behavior.  All of these physics principles of equilibrium might be completely correct if there were such thing as a perfect human.  This might seem easy if one assumes all humans are infallible and perfect judges of their own happiness.  Neither of these are true, so it seems to me that the failure of traditional economics can be traced to the difficulty in modeling human behavior and not in the implementation of physics analogies.  Perhaps this is why the author will be suggesting evolution as a new foundational economic principle.  

I laughed when I got to Pareto superior trades (pg 36) and the fundamental assumption that people aren’t stupid.  Hilarious.

Growth has always been puzzling to me.  I’ve mentioned it previously.  I don’t understand why growth is such a desirable attribute.  Why can’t production just remain constant? I am intrigued by Romer’s positive feedback loop of growth (pg 42).  Growth begets more growth (i.e. the richer a society gets the more there is to invest in greater technology and that greater technology yields greater growth due to its more advanced nature).  I suppose I understand the endogenous growth more than exogenous.  The question becomes just as with the bicycle rider on a high wire example, where is the point where outside forces drag on the greater input?  What is the frictional force that slows growth?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Discussions on Wealth (part 2): Chapter 2

This discussion on wealth is an offshoot of Serious Conversations parts 53 and 54. We are considering the book The Origin of Wealth by Eric D. Beinhocker. (I do not profit from clicks). (Ed.: we will be taking the general format of outlining the major points of the chapter and then discussing what we believe to be important or intriguing points.)

Chapter 2 summarizes the history of today's standard economic theory, which, according to the author, has become overly academic and relies on models and assumptions that don't accurately reflect the real world. DoW part 3 will begin a discussion on Chapter 2.

- Modern economic concepts were originally thought up by moral philosophers like Adam Smith in order to understand how wealth was created and distributed.
    - Wealth is created by people adding labor to raw materials.  The key to increasing the amount of wealth is to increase the productivity of the laborer   The division of labor allows for specialization and thereby increases productivity.  Specialization necessitates trade, which means there must be an exchange rate for measuring the relative values of different goods.
    - The most just way to allocate resources is to allow free trade and competitive markets (the invisible hand).  The system naturally distributes itself in the most just way and comes to an equilibrium, which is the best overall state for society.  The concept of equilibrium is central to traditional economic theory.
    - The law of supply and demand says that a laborer will only put work and raw materials into producing something until the rewards no longer justify that work and raw material.  On the demand side, a consumer will derive a lot of value out of a small amount of a product, but eventually one more of the same product will no longer have enough value to be worth the cost of purchasing it.
    - Individual economic choices are calculated by the individual to maximize utility. Furthermore, society should be organized to maximize the collective utility. People are rational in economic choices, logical, and consistent.
- Eventually all these conceptual ideas were put into a mathematical framework, with a lot of assumptions thrown in to make the math doable.  The mathematical notions were borrowed from physics and rely heavily on constrained optimization.  Equilibrium was very important in the mathematical theory.
- The original theory didn't account for growth, change, and innovation.  Newer theories use the idea of dynamic equilibrium or balanced growth.  There is disagreement over whether the growth is endogenous or exogenous to the system.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Serious conversations (part 59): Adulthood part 5

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The fifty-fifth – fifty-ninth entries deal with adulthood.

        Previously I consider some criterion for adulthood. Here I conclude with regarding adulthood as a continuum.

        I have had it suggested to me to change my appearance (including hairstyle) to look more adult like, but that begs the question why do certain hairstyles or other physical attributes appear adult-like?  Who sets that standard?  I think these are just more questions that we won’t be able to answer.  We come across a lot of those in our serious conversation. If only we had more general knowledge in psychology or fashion, we could begin to speculate.

        I’m trying to recall the moment that I realized I was an adult. For me though it was a gradual process.  I would agree that I’m an adult now, but it simply happened.  Perhaps I could narrow it down to home ownership, but it never occurred to me at that time. 

        I have realized that adulthood never is a moment; I am always becoming more of an adult. Adulthood is a continuum, and your life is filled with moments of “becoming” a new person.  I frequently think about how weird time is.  In a sense we are constantly dying in that the person I am now is not the person I was a year ago or a month, a day, an hour, a minute ago.  This person I have become supplants the person I was.  The Michael Battalio that experienced the transition to adulthood no longer exists.  Only the present Michael Battalio matters.  I don’t care about my past self because there is nothing I can do to change what happened to him, but I do very much care about my future self even though I will never meet that person and that person won’t really care about me.  I’m not sure where I wanted to go with that only to say that as I grow and mature it will be at the expense of my less experienced self.   Though I submit that it is not possible to know what I will be like in the future, I presently cannot imagine becoming accepting of death.  However, every elderly person I have known to die has been very accepting of it.  I think that is because they are tired of their lives not because they have accepted death.  Once we can extend quality of life as well as we can extend lifespan the age at which people become accepting of death will increase too.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Serious conversations (part 58): Adulthood part 4

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The fifty-fifth – fifty-ninth entries deal with adulthood.

        Previously I consider some criterion for adulthood. Here I consider my interaction with other adults and why I feel more comfortable interacting with people younger than me.

        One thing that definitely helps with my trepidation in interacting with people is that I am now older than a lot of the people I interact with.  That makes people a lot less scary (for lack of a better word) than they used to be.  I have no idea why that is.  The first exterminator I had come to take care of a mouse problem in my house was younger looking (and shorter) than me.  I was very comfortable talking and negotiating prices with him.  I doubt I would have been able to do that had the person been older and more imposing.  Being older simply makes me feel more in control.  

        In reflecting on my time as an elementary then junior and senior high school student, I think I can explain why becoming older makes me feel more comfortable. I can clearly remember as an elementary student the importance placed on getting older, that the older grades were somehow better or more important and how I constantly envied those older than me.  The same thing is true of high school.  Such a big deal is made of how great it is to be a high school senior, how it is your year, and how important it is, and it becomes the entire goal of high school.  That older age is held on a pedestal for your entire high school career.  We are taught that being older is better (Which I submit is absolutely false, I now frequently reminisce over how nice and carefree childhood was.), and that you shouldn’t interact with people older than you. That has stuck with me since then and inevitably shaped my perceptions of age and adulthood.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Serious conversations (part 57): Adulthood part 3

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The fifty-fifth – fifty-ninth entries deal with adulthood.

        Previously, I discussed and eliminated some criterion for adulthood. I eliminated education, maturity, and the ability to biologically have offspring. Here I eliminated age alone and self-sustainability, and adopt a couple of others.

        I briefly addressed age along with talking about having offspring, but to more carefully define it, legally you become an adult at 18 with some rights withheld until 21 and a last one or two privileges at 25. Beyond legality, I know some very childlike old people. In fact I think some adult-aged people aspire to childlike innocence (or foolishness as the case may be). I also know many young persons that are very adult-like, some by necessity and some by personality.  Age can’t be the deciding factor because of the arbitrariness of it.  How can you be an adult the day you turn 18 (or 21 or whatever) but not an adult when you are 17 yrs. 364 days old?  Or perhaps adultness is a graduated concept.  Are there degrees of adulthood? I don’t think there is any way for me to define this other than anecdotally.
        What about self-sustainability?  Are you an adult when you can take care of yourself?  Not entirely because, this also begs the question are mentally disabled persons adults?  Some cannot raise children, but we consider them adults. Do we consider the decrepit adults? Yes. As you age you lose self-sustainability, and certainly seniors are still adults. Some cannot even take care of themselves far beyond middle age, but I would still consider them adults.
        Perhaps adulthood is the ability to recognize mortality. Anecdotally, I cannot consider the recognition of mortality as adulthood. If that is the case I was an adult very young. I remember crying myself to sleep some nights when I was 8 or 9 realizing that I wasn’t going to live forever. It took me several years to begin to cope with that reality. It was terribly depressing. Maybe I should refine this definition to acceptance of mortally. I don’t like it, but I do accept that I will die some day (Hopefully not for a long while, I am counting on the singularity.) Let me state though that acceptance of mortality is not the welcoming of mortality. I believe you can not want to die and still accept it.

        I am left with attributing adulthood to some combination of competency, wisdom (whatever that is), and acceptance of mortality.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Serious conversations (part 56): Adulthood part 2

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The fifty-fifth – fifty-ninth entries deal with adulthood.

        Previously I considered some criterion for adulthood. Here I talk about the reactions of people when they realize my age.

        The days of being mistaken for a high school student are waining, though I am occasionally taken for one.  I find being mistaken for a college student equally as annoying.  Though, that is a bit more understandable.  Sometimes once people realize my actual age, they do begin to treat me as an adult, but other times the disdain continues. Their disdain does soften to incredulousness but remains bubbling on the surface.  I certainly felt it when, for example, that natural gas technician from the last post (see SC part 55, June 6, 2014) came to turn the gas on.  I had a young girl come to sell cookies and ask if I was even old enough to drive. It also happened when I had a person soliciting tree pruning services at my door a couple of weeks ago.  The guy could not believe I was the owner of the house.  He asked if my parents were home.  Speaking of that, another reason that I feel less adult like is that I have a small stature for a male, so when I have to talk to people I am generally looked down to as if I were a child in height. That is obviously my problem, not the person I am interacting with though.
        However, it certainly isn’t that people continue to patronize me after they learning my age, but they do treat me differently than what another person might be treated.  It bothers me to such an extent that I dread having to interact with people on an adult level, as in dealing with adult type things like banking or calling an exterminator, etc.  I even think some of my introversion was caused by my fear of interacting with adults as a child.  I remember a particular instance when my dad was feeling lazy and had me go into the bank and deposit a check for him.  I was trembling with fear, and I ran out without a deposit slip.  I was embarrassed and confused, and I was probably a teenager at that point with no reason to be so frightened.
        In reflecting on that last couple of paragraphs I realize how much of a humble-brag it is. I’m sure a lot of people my age would love to be mistaken for a high school student. And I’m sure as I continue to age I’ll be more and more appreciative of looking younger than I do, as a lot of our society is based on looks. So I really shouldn’t complain so much. The fear I have with interacting with people is a real problem I must deal with though.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Serious conversations (part 55): Adulthood

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The fifty-fifth – fifty-seventh entries deal with adulthood.

        Because I still look like I am a teenager, my adulthood is often questioned. I frequently fear (and have for years) that I’m not taken seriously simply because I look so young. When I bought a house, countless people including my own realtor, lender, home inspector, and others questioned whether I was old enough to own a house. It is almost palpable to me the disdain I receive when I’m asked if I am old enough for something. When the utility serviceman came by the house to first turn on the gas he asked me quite sincerely if the owners of the house were around. I told him I was; whereby he replied, “You, are the owner?!” I could just read his mind: “Certainly you, little child, are not old enough to be doing adult things like this. And if you are old enough, how dare you still look so young.” I can’t help but grimace when thinking back on it.
        In fact whenever I have to go perform some errand that involves me interacting with professionals of some sort or anyone of an older generation, I become anxious that they will question, well, my adultness. Which leads me to, what is adulthood? Is it maturity, as in physical development?  Is it education (knowledge), wisdom, morality, having children, self sustainability, age alone? Looking like an adult certainly isn’t enough, but that is definitely how I’m frequently judged.
        Let’s start with education. That’s clearly not what makes someone an adult. I can think of several professors and other “adults” that have plenty of education but act like fools most of the time. Conversely, I know there are plenty of people who have never even graduated high school but are very adult-like. So perhaps education can cultivate adulthood, but it is not a necessary condition.
        Maturity is a bit of a nebulous thing. I look immature. I’ll probably never be able to actually grow a beard. I’m not going to be getting any taller. I assume I’ll develop wrinkles eventually, but I’m rather baby-faced now. My mom is still mistaken to be my sister at times, and I’m confident in saying my mom in an adult. Thusly, maturity is not the defining characteristic.
        Biologically having offspring can begin as a preteen, so simply being able to bring about a child can’t be the definition of adultness. Perhaps being capable of rearing children should be the better definition, and that age ranges widely from person to person. I’m 28 presently, and I still don’t think I am capable of raising children. Yet, my mother was 20 when I was born, and I have to say she did an excellent job of rearing me. I think most people would consider me an adult, so the ability to raise a child can’t be the only criterion, though simply because I don’t think I can raise a child does not mean I would not be able to do so. However, this also begs the question are mentally disabled people adults.  Some cannot raise children, but we consider them adults.

Friday, May 16, 2014

My Politics (part 3b): Climate Change

        In part 3a I talked about the science itself. I want to talk about a fallacious argument I hear frequently.
        The “appeal to authority” fallacious argument is brandished about as an argument against listening to scientists. That is misapplied. An appeal to authority is NOT fallacious if the authority is legitimate expert on the matter and if there is consensus on the matter (see post 3a). The appeal to authority is a sound argument when it comes to climate change. I also hear that people say that they shouldn’t simply believe authority – that questioning authority is part of their proud conservative heritage or some prattle like that. To prove that as nonsense allow me ask a couple of questions. Would you make a kindergarden teacher a general in the war in Afghanistan? Would you put a dentist in charge of a nuclear reactor? Would you want to drive over a bridge that had just been built by a clergyman? Would you receive open-heart surgery from a gas station manager? Would you want to be represented by a carpenter in a trial? NO, of course not. They might be the best kindergarden teacher, dentist, pastor, manager, and carpenter on the planet, but you wouldn’t want them doing those jobs. The people that do those jobs have been specifically taught to handle the matters in their field. Our entire society is built upon correct application of the “appeal to authority” argument; society would fall apart if you didn’t believe it. You trust expert consensus hundreds of times every day. I therefore implore you to rely on it again. You shouldn’t trust physicists, modelers, atmospheric scientists, mathematicians, and climatologists just because you’ve been told to, but you should recognize that most of these scientists spend inordinate amounts of time becoming experts. Consider for a moment that they know more (and better) than you.
        So the only place this becomes a political issue is what (if anything) should we do about it? I won’t go on about what will happen if we ignore it. There are plenty of places to find that now. Suffice it to say that we are screwed if we do nothing. The US is a top producer of
CO_2 in amount and per capita. Although that will change as time progresses, we are the biggest problem. As the most powerful country on the planet it is our responsibility to curtail the damage by reducing our own production and pressuring other large emitters to reduce as well. This is easier said than done. Renewable energy is being developed tragically slowly. Clean coal and natural gas aren’t enough. The subsidies to oil companies need to be given to renewable companies and to the fusion project. Despite the Japanese disaster in 2012, I believe that fission can hold us over until we get fusion working (though we’ve been 20 years away from fusion for 40 years now). Thorium reactors should especially be developed. Cap and trade would have been a great interim solution, except Democrats are politically inept. The best each of us individually can do is conserve, conserve, conserve. If you don’t need to drive somewhere, don’t. Save electricity. Think of it this way, the less CO2 you produce, the more money you save.

Friday, April 25, 2014

My Politics (part 3a): Climate Change

        Let me start off by saying this is not a political issue. I’ll say it again; climate change is not a political issue. I feel I need to repeat myself again: climate change is not a political issue. So, why am I talking about it here? Because morons have made it one. Let me begin by addressing the science in this post. In the next post I’ll address one of the fallacious arguments I hear a lot in regards to scientists and a general appeal on what to do.

        Firstly, climate change is
happening; it’s always happening. If you don’t think it is happening then you are one of those easily manipulated people that thinks that the economy will collapse if we stop using coal. Or you are one of those people that is so selfish that they can’t take the increase in energy prices if we do work to offset some of the pollution we are emitting. The question is how much is anthropogenic. I’m sorry to be harsh, but this is one of the few issues where compared to the average person I am an expert. I’m not trying to brag, but I definitely know more than you on this subject (unless you are one of my professors reading this). I’ve taken classes on the subject, seen way too many seminar presentations, and even been forced to do the math that shows that we are changing the climate. So if you are one of the few uneducated on this issue, click through some of these links and become educated. If you don’t believe just me, believe the 97% agreement among scientists that do. And if you don’t trust the experts, why trust anyone in anything (more on this in the next post)? Lastly let me point out how much research is being published supporting anthropogenic climate change. In the period Nov 2012 to Dec 2013 there were 2258 articles by 9135 authors, one rejected anthropogenic global warming. Even if you don’t trust thousands of scientists and don’t mind ignoring the complex modeling involved, you cannot ignore the most basic physics that underlies the concern. Carbon dioxide, when released in the lower atmosphere, traps energy that would otherwise pass through the atmosphere and into space (i.e. It is a greenhouse gas.). That is indisputable. Some of that trapped energy is radiated back to the surface. We are increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere through human processes, so the effect must be increasing. You can call scientists liars and cheats, but you can’t ignore physics.
        Lastly, I can’t really blame the deniers for being stupid. There’s plenty of
research showing that any information hardens already formed opinions, regardless of what the research actually shows. So the problem is with us educators, not necessarily the deniers. We have to do a better job of educating.
And one last point on the matter, every single non-degreed climate blogger needs to have this tattooed backwards to their forehead:
you are not entitled to an opinion. You get an opinion if you are an expert in the subject you are pontificating about, not just if you are a regular human being. You have a right to think however you want, regardless of its factual accuracy, but you don’t have a right to have your ideas taken as the truth. Stop pretending that they should.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Discussions on Wealth (part 1):

This begins our discussion on wealth as mentioned in Serious Conversations parts 53 and 54. We are considering the book The Origin of Wealth by Eric D. Beinhocker. (I do not profit from clicks).

(Ed.: we will be taking the general format of outlining the major points of the chapter and then discussing what we believe to be important or intriguing points.)

Chapter one begins with a general overview of some economic concepts.
-Economic activity increased slowly until the industrial revolution.
-Evolution can describe the economy both metaphorically and scientifically.
-Evolution uses trial-by-error to find solutions, and the human decision-marking process is part of economic evolution. Although human decision-making is intentional, the evolution of the system as a whole is not an intentional or designed process.
-The economy is staggeringly complex, more complex than any other human endeavor, yet it runs in the background without some one looking over it.  (I had never thought about that.  It boggles my mind that it runs relatively smoothly for a large portion of the people on this planet, yet no one pulls the levers.)
-The difference in wealth between a New Yorker and the Yanamamo [an isolated group of people (approx. 35,000) in the Amazon] is not just the few hundred fold difference in “income” but the hundred million fold difference in the choice of what to spend income on.
-By the shirt design example (pg 14-15), even though humans are rational and predictive, the economy is too complex to be designed; it must evolve from an initial set of possibilities.
-Economic evolution is the result of three interlinked processes:  coevolution of physical technologies, social technologies, and business designs
-Four implications if the economy is a complex adaptive system
        1.)  Economist have misclassified the economy
        2.)  we are presented with a new set of tools for explaining the economy
        3.)  wealth is the result of evolutionary precesses
        4.)  there are strong impacts to business and society that will result from this paradigm shift (assuming it is accurate)

It really strikes me how interconnected the disparate disciplines of academia are and how specialization in one provides the tools for understanding in another, as in we will be using the principles of biology to aid in the understanding of economics. Given the applicability of ideas and techniques of some disciplines to other disciplines, it seems like over-specialization is a bad thing.  People would be better at their own disciplines if they have broad knowledge of plenty of other disciplines (Ed.: We will return to this topic later).

Friday, March 14, 2014

This I Believe (part 26):

        After about four years it is time for a revisit of my “This I Believe” series. As before, I’m still having trouble defining exactly what it is I prescribe to as a worldview. I hope to figure some of what I believe here.

        Previously I’ve talked about my thoughts on the pope and on the Catholic Church in general. Now I consider the dichotomy of infinities.

        The fight between intelligent design and what I’ll call for lack of a better term the natural world (evolution, the big bang, actual provable science) comes down to a fight between infinities. Intelligent design imagines complexity from the top down (What a conservative, republican line of thought, evoking “trickle down economics”). God, in his infinite complexity, temporality, spatiality, designed the universe, the solar system and us and so on. The natural world makes complexity from the bottom up. Hydrogen coalesces into stars, planets, galaxies, more complicated elements via fusion and supernovae, which combine to form planets then simple molecule chains, then life increasing in complexity.

        Which is more complicated — an infinite universe (multiverse, m-branes, etc.) or an infinite being that created that universe? Which infinity do you believe? The God of most religions is infinite in scope. He always existed — a temporal infinity — and/or he is infinite in spatiality. The religious seem to have no problem with that infinity. (Who created God? “no one, he has always existed”) So why is there a problem with an infinite universe? You can’t reject one infinity for another. They are equal in difficulty for us mere humans to grasp (i.e. we can’t). So the obvious choice in choosing the infinity is the one with evidence (i.e. the natural world).

       I realize that this is somewhat of a false dichotomy for some people.  A lot of people choose to believe in both infinities, as in an infinite God created the universe that could become infinite in scope.  The part of me that wants God to exist takes this philosophy, but the agnostic in me realizes that it can only be one or the other.  The atheist in me automatically adopts the infinite of the universe.  

Friday, February 21, 2014

This I Believe (part 25):

        After about four years it is time for a revisit of my “This I Believe” series. As before, I’m still having trouble defining exactly what it is I prescribe to as a worldview. I hope to figure some of what I believe here.

I was posed the questions: What are your thoughts on the new pope?  Would a liberalized Catholic Church renew your interest in organized religion, or is your personal journey kind of independent from what the Church decides to do at this point?
In the last post I looked at the first question and included a bonus of an argument against the existence of hell. In this post I consider the second question.

While I am very encouraged that the church is becoming a bit more progressive and finally accentuating the important parts of Christianity (i.e. charity, love, etc.) instead of cherry picking passages from the old testament and harping on those (i.e. birth control, homosexuality), what it does has no bearing on my personal beliefs anymore.  I am an agnostic in belief and a Catholic only in practice (occasionally [when profitable]).  I don’t see what could change that other than provable divine intervention.  Additionally, I have seen how corrupt the church can be, and I’m not just talking about the coverup and crime of the child abuse by priests, which is a deplorable enough offense that I think the Catholic church should have its tax exempt status revoked (to cover the money it is taking to prosecute and investigate the crimes).  I’ve seen downright embezzlement by priests to buy themselves new houses and cars from the church coffer. I’ve known priests with substance abuse problems that used their position to cover it up. I’ve seen churches buy $30,000 statues of the Holy Family while at the same time telling the food pantry that is managed out of their own church that they don’t have enough money to buy extra food that month to feed everyone. People are corruptible; therefore, any institution founded and run by people, even with the best of intentions, is corruptible. I think the whole idea of organized religion is contemptuous, a waste of time and money that could be spent actually helping people instead of being wasted on what is essentially a bureaucracy.  A person certainly doesn’t need to attend a service each week to be religious.  And if God exists a person certainly doesn’t need to belong to a church to be “saved” It’s great that there are signs that the Church is catching up to society, but I think the whole institution is a waste.  Modernization isn’t going to help it. The effects are pretty clear. People are abandoning the church in droves, especially in Europe.

Friday, January 31, 2014

This I Believe (part 24):

After about four years it is time for a revisit of my “This I Believe” series. As before, I’m still having trouble defining exactly what it is I prescribe to as a worldview. I hope to figure some of what I believe here.

I was posed the questions: What are your thoughts on the new pope?  Would a liberalized Catholic Church renew your interest in organized religion, or is your personal journey kind of independent from what the Church decides to do at this point?

In this post I tackle the first question along with an argument against the existence of hell.

I am intrigued by the new pope.  He is doing a fantastic job bringing the church up to societal attitudes on many topics.  The church should recognize that if it wants a say in where the morals of vast swaths of society point it must lead on topics of the day and not repeat the draconian beliefs of the middle ages ad infinitum.  Religion and belief are fluid entities; they change as society changes and adopt the views of the time.  Thus the physical entity that embodies the religion of 1.2 billion people must also adapt.   I am thrilled that in so many words he is calling out the hypocrisy of many Christians in selectively picking verses to wail about while ignoring many fundamental tenants, including most importantly to me, charity and compassion to the poor.  I continue to be appalled every day by those who decry homosexuality or sex education in general yet in the same breath condemn the poor for being poor and greedy when in actuality they are the ones being greedy.  I am also shocked and delighted in his words about atheism.  It is refreshing to hear a religious figure not blame atheists for their atheism, embrace the fact that atheists can be good, moral people despite not having “religion”, and and say that atheists are not necessarily going to hell.  (I can think of dozens of people who are atheists that are much more moral than many of the church going Christians I know.)  So in summary, I like him.

Aside:  argument against the existence of hell for atheists.  People are created without any say in whether or not they are created, so an atheist is created by God because he loves them (in theory).  Additionally there are many people who are created with no say in the matter that are never exposed to whatever the true religion is.  How can we have true free will to choose to be atheists or whatever if we don’t have the choice to be born or where we are born?  How can we be punished for eternity for a choice we didn’t get to make? Given the choice between nonexistence and eternal damnation wouldn’t some chose nonexistence? Wouldn’t most chose nonexistence? Hell cannot exist because it would then contradict free will which is required for whole idea of reward and punishment for our actions.

I really like this argument. I find a lot of comfort in it. There may be a God, but there isn’t a hell for punishment. If God exists, perhaps you simply wink out of existence when you die, which in essence is no different than not existing at all, except that for the century you are alive, it is awesome. I can live with that.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Serious conversations (part 54):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The fifty-third and fifty-fourth entries begin a discussion on wealth.

        Last time we began with a discussion on where does wealth come from. We now consider its limits.

        In the closed system of the universe I suppose that there is a finite upper limit to the amount of wealth that can be generated, and I guess it comes back to thermodynamics and specifically the second law of thermodynamics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_law_of_thermodynamics) (i.e. that entropy must alway increase)  What is the highest efficiency with which we can extract those elements that generate the highest produce for humanity?  There is a limit to the natural resources of the universe and a limit to how well we can exploit them for our utility.   Assuming humanity becomes a type IV civilization (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kardashev_scale), which is the type of civilization that can harness the energy of the entire universe, I guess we will run out of wealth to generate at some point because the universe will have fused, fissioned all elements to iron.

        One thing I have noticed is the obsessive need for growth.  I don’t really understand why growth is so needed.  As long as wealth is continuing to be produced to supply the utilitarian needs of man why must there be the production of more?  Is it simply a result of the fact that the population of man is also growing?  Would we need growth to sustain the economy if the population stopped growing?

        As neither my friend nor I really know much about economics or wealth, we now turn to literature to provide us some insight. The next entries in the Serious Conversations will involve discussions on the book The Origin of Wealth by Eric D. Beinhocker, which will begin whenever we start reading it. (I do not profit from clicks).


(ed. the conversation on wealth will be moved to a new series entitled “Discussions on Wealth” to separate it from the“Serious Conversations”)

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