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Thankful Tuesday

My wife and I now live on different continents because, believe it or not, that’s the shortest route to where we’re going. Right now, it means she lives west of Rotterdam in the Netherlands and I live in what is soon to be the greater Boulder-Denver-Colorado Springs area. She’s been here for a few weeks before she returns to the Netherlands so I’ve been on an un-announced vacation from posting.

I haven’t stopped coming up with ideas. I’ve scribbled down several great ones. But, I’m going with a simple one, thanks and peace to all of you through words to four:

@derickijohnson Dericki Johnson for the great comment I finally just approved and for reposting one of my articles:
Intentional Community and Space

To my friend Jer in Houston and Joe in Dallas, for sharing words. Know I’m there for both of you in and out of medical establishmentarianism even when I’m scarce on Facebook.

And to my wife, for believing in a way that makes everyone else crazy.

Building the Ultimate Workspace

One meta office with divider: office desk on onside, tools on the other… the office equivalent of the commercial grade kitchens, often bigger than many actually commercial kitchens, in larger american homes.

Cross: simplifying: only things used every day on desk, used every week away but in reach, every month in a closet, less: gone. For me working from home, every week, I use my workspaces for paying bills, programming, managing my business, writing books, writing blog entries, social mediaing, publishing, studying, making things, writing poetry.

Do a little boiling. e.g. don’t tie things with no physical footprint to a physical workspace:

paying bills, programming, managing my business, writing books, writing blog entries, publishing, studying, making things, writing poetry

Group closely related and put them in order of “importance”:

  • x programming
  • x writing (books, blog entries, poetry)
  • ? publishing
  • x making things
  • x studying (mDiv)
  • ? managing my business, paying bills

 

More on simplifying… clear your workspace and bring things back when you need them, move them to drawers, closet, gone over time.

 

We are creatures of time & space… use that.

Whoops

A future blog post (“We are toolmaker”) went live early. Worse, it wasn’t actually a full draft. It was more a collection of notes. If you read it, I apologize for the confusion. Worsest of all? It went live early due to me me me. I done did not do what I knew I was supposed to do and…. yeah. “We are Toolmaker” will be start later this week.

The Trace of God

I spent a few years working with Joseph Hinman to release his book The Trace of God:

The Trace of God utilizes 50 years of empirical scientific studies and draws upon sociological experts including Abraham Maslow, Robert Wuthnow, and Andrew Greeley to establish that the Trace of God and religious experience has an impact that is not just positive and life-transforming but vital: that belief in God is rationally warranted.

From a couple of reviews:

a fine introduction and exploration of the meaningfulness of arguments from human experience to the reality of God.

Ralph Hood, Jr, The Psychology of Religion and Handbook of Religious Experience

Joe Hinman has injected some much-needed scientific rigour into the subject of mysticism and religious experience.

James Hannam,God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science (shortlisted for the Royal Society Prize for Science Books 2010)

Hinman’s book will give you something to think about.

Nick Peters, Christian Answers to This Generation’s Questions (with J. P. Holding)

You can read more on the book’s page at GrandViaduct. Reviews since the book was released are linked on the blog and you can find it at Amazon.

Is putting “0 to 60 in 2.3 seconds for a grand” in a title pandering?

I wrote this for my other blog and then realized it made at least as much sense over here. So I steal from myself.

 

Some weekend reads. And, yes “0 to 60…” is in here. Like a good pandering news show, that bit is all the way at the end.

Science vs. PR: “How a piece of journeyman work is turned into patently junk science… One of the major reasons that science is held in low repute among portions of the citizenry is that it has too often allowed itself to become entangled with public relations.” http://www.american.com/archive/2012/may/science-vs-pr

Web Design Manifesto 2012: “THANK YOU for the screen shot. I was actually already aware that the type on my site is big. I designed it that way…” http://www.zeldman.com/2012/05/18/web-design-manifesto-2012/

Enough: Or, why we should all be laughing hysterically in the magazine aisle: “…I remember an author saying once that he raised his children to be wary of consumerism by teaching them to laugh at commercials. Like, the whole family would sit around the TV together and bust out laughing when someone from LG asked, “Is it a washer? Or something better?” (It’s just a washer.) I’ve decided I like this idea, particularly as a woman, who most advertisers seem to take for a complete idiot.” http://rachelheldevans.com/enough

Old & New Project: Great, provocative images (just read the text before you assume). http://oldandnewproject.com/portfolio/balaams-donkey/ and http://oldandnewproject.com/study/domesticating-christs-cry/

Everyone’s A Curator, Everyone’s A Content Creator: “It used to be that we were all just consumers — or most of us were, anyway. We’d watch TV or read a book or listen to the music on the radio that was selected by others for us. But lately, there’s been an interesting shift in behavior…” http://paidcontent.org/2012/03/13/419-everyones-a-curator-everyones-a-content-creator/

2012 Audi Racing with Hybrids: Half of Audi’s stable for the this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship (including the storied 24 Hours of Le Mans) will be hybrids. http://www.motorauthority.com/news/1073543_2012-audi-r18-e-tron-quattro-hybrid-le-mans-prototype-debuts.

Electric BMW M3 entered In Pikes Peak Hillclimb… and more: I stumbled onto this laundry list of electric racing news. If you think electric car means a golf car or the slightly stodgy Chevy Volt, this is an eye opener. If you’ve got a thing for fast cars, the “Electric Sports Car that does 0-60 in 2.3 seconds” piece at the end has an absolutely trippy video: http://www.greencarreports.com/news/racing

Policy: Military Spending

Sander and de Kabouter
Sander and de Kabouter talk Politcs

The political debate in this country is, essentially, one where neither side listens to the other. Which is very strange. The challenges are still the same and two heads are usually better than one in solving a problem. At it’s core, that’s why I started the blog PolicyThunk. Instead of approaching what we need to do from our standard partisan answers, what if we actually took a policy approach and started by understanding what’s so and then said what’s possible. And, if oh by the way, we can throw in the gravy of “here’s why it makes sense for the two extremes of debate” that’s great.

One of my yardsticks of whether I have something to say policy-wise is whether I can see how to see common ground with someone on the other end of the spectrum. One example: military spending. My Dad and I find ourselves in strange agreement: military spending can and should be cut. Funny thing is, the majority of Americans think that it should be cut by at least 83B dollars. That’s according to a new survey (and true both generally and within every standard category: Democrats, Republicans, each age group, etc., etc.)

We’ve agreed that the answer is to subtract a lot of money. But, like mice finding out the meaning of life is 42, now we need the question. In this case, what does the military need to look like for it to cost $85 Billion less?

In some sense, we already know what it needs to be doing. We can pull many of the scenarios out of a careful read of what the U.S. Military is currently dealing with.

Libya is a very different way to fight a war. Pragmatically, it’s not hard to like a war (nope, Mr. Johnson/Bush/Obama, it’s not a conflict or police action, it’s a war) like that. The United States did not have to lead, did not have to send in foot soldiers and did not have to make a long term commitment. In military terms, it was a tightly-focused mission that was clearly defined and achievable. In terms of cost, it was a drop in the bucket.

Part of the success was that the cost of the effort was not primarily ours. It was widely spread internationally. Even other middle eastern countries committed military forces. Perhaps in our increasingly multi-polar world, military force will be more one of focused and smart than stupid and expensive.

But, once you arrive there, you have to start asking what does that new, smaller military look like?

On one level, it looks in a small amount like Donald Romsfeld’s vision. In an era of drones and minimal boots on the ground, do we really need so many aircraft carriers or mainline (read going head-to-head with the Soviets in Europe) battle tanks?

Another recent example is the Somalia pirate situation. There the challenge isn’t the weaponry of the opponents: they’re using speed boats and AK-47s. Movie extras with tranquilizer guns can handle them. The challenge is the battlefield is hundreds of miles across. How do you even find the enemy? And how do you get to them before they capture their target? Do you go with more and smaller ships so somebody is always a short distance away? Wouldn’t you pair that with expanded use of drones?

I could go on from there –the use of computers as a weapon did not begin or end with the computer virus attack on the Iranian nuclear program– but just as the cold war ended (and militaries had to change), another era has ended and the military needs to change again.

But, at this level, military Policy starts with seeing what you’re actually doing and what you expect to be doing. The types of weapons needed are smaller, cheaper, less expensive to operate.

And the skills are radically different. Some positions are going to be de-skilled. The US military is quite conscious of the power of video games. They’re literally adopting video game controllers for control of military equipment like drones. Piloting a drone is a much lower skill position that piloting a fighter jet. At the other extreme, the era of cyber warfare does herald the rise of one new high expertise area in the military.

Another area that will change is what various support services look like. For instance, when far fewer soliders ever spend time in a combat zone (as opposed to jockeying a drone and fighting a cyber ware), the number of combat injuries are going to drop radically. On the other hand, we have no idea what weird conditions are going to develop with people who live in the suburbs, commute to work and then remotely kill people through what feels like a video game. It’s the first time that a significant number of people are warriors, killing people, while being separated and divorced from the results of their actions. Insert your favorite pop psychology and screen play for Rambo as an ex-drone jockey let behind when he snaps.

Clearly there are going to be big losers. Your congressional district is very likely to loose jobs at companies big and small. Your district may or may not get new jobs. But, if we’re honest about what we’ll be doing and how we need to do it, we can save that $83+ Billion dollars and have military that makes policy sense.

Kafka and Imperial Presidencies

Obama seems to be happy to follow in the footsteps of almost every President since Johnson (and probably a few before) in strengthening the powers of the Presidency at the expense of the other two branches, especially the legislative. Under Bush II and Obama, that seems to have taken a very weird Kafkaesque turn with legal justification for presidential actions being classified. What strikes me as an apropos example is covered in the Atlantic’s The Secret Memo That Explains Why Obama Can Kill Americans. The core of the article reads:

“The Justice Department wrote a secret memorandum authorizing the lethal targeting of Anwar al-Aulaqi… The document was produced following a review of the legal issues raised by striking a U.S. citizen and involved senior lawyers from across the administration. There was no dissent about the legality of killing Aulaqi, the officials said.”

…the actual legal reasoning the Department of Justice used to authorize the strike? It’s secret. Classified. Information that the public isn’t permitted to read, mull over, or challenge.

What is truly puzzling is that the US legal basis for this seems fairly explicit in the fifth amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

I suspect the legal arguments revolve around the Grand Jury clause (unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury) and the military clause (cases arising in the land or naval forces). It could be the ruling revolves around a secret Grand Jury and/or Anwar al-Aulaqi, by taking up arms against the United States. In essence, there may be a legal basis. And, there is a strong moral argument for the specific action.

The issue is not one of the basis or justification for the argument. The issue is not one of narrow arguments for a particular action. It is a broader one that is reminiscent of “abuses and usurpations” of King George cited in the Declaration of Independence. That document talks ofan Executive who “(refused) his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers,” “(deprived them) of the benefit of Trial by Jury,” and “(abolished) the free System of English Laws” and “(altered) fundamentally the Forms of our Governments.” Today, we would say that our government is fundamentally based upon the rule of law (that we can see). We are not free unless we insist upon laws that we have to can access and use to petition for redress of our grievances.

One of Kafka’s novels involves a man who spends his entire life sitting outside a door waiting to petition the bureaucracy. And never even having the ability to do so. In this case, we don’t have access to the logic of the ruling. Without the legal arguments, it’s rather difficult to even get in line next to that door to petition.

To be clear, I am not arguing that our Presidents are close to becoming insane absolute despots like the English King George. What I am saying is that cases like the legal memo justifying the assassination of Anwar al-Aulaqi and the legal memos justifying torture of enemy combatants, penned under George W. Bush’s watch, are a particular new development in their inaccessibility. At first, they appear far removed from the lives of most Americans. If I’ve done nothing wrong, I have nothing to fear is the easy response.

But, this pattern of secretly created hidden law is a slippery slope indeed. Pastor Martin Niemöller famously said, “first they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist…. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

When the next terrorist act is another Oklahoma City Bombing, how wide will the net be case then? What about the act after that? And will it even need to be a terrorist act? At what point will they come for “me?”

Oh… except, Mr. me, this approach to law isn’t been restricted to Terrorists. The ACTA copyright treaty was negotiated in secret with a list of other nations over multiple administrations. The current administration refused to release the text of treaty, calling it “properly classified in the interest of national security.”

A treaty covering copyrights (the thing authors have on their books and Disney has over Mickey Mouse) is a matter of national security? Because, treaties causes nasty paper cuts? You’d think they were pitching a Saturday Night Live skit.

Someone who read a draft of this piece put it this way: “The basic issue is not whether or not Al Alawki’s rights were violated but rather whether the president violated the Constitution by creating law, an enumerated power of Congress, and by adjudicating that law, an enumerated power of the Courts. This is exactly what King George did; he created, administered, and adjudicated law that violated the rights of citizens of the British Empire.”

Except, King George never legislated in private. He didn’t keep his edicts secret. Many subjects of the British Empire hated what he did but at least they knew what the laws were.

Weather is not Climate

forecasting the weather is an attempt to get fairly precise information on the state of the atmosphere in the near future. Forecasting (climate) … involves an attempt to identify the atmosphere’s most probable states on far longer time scales. — Why weather != climate: the engine behind climate models

That quote is from an article on Ars Technica, a site that has a great track record covering technical topics such as computers and science in depth. In some cases (like this one), the article probably won’t make anything clearer than mud unless you’ve got the right background.

The article is based upon some of the core ideas in Chaos Theory. Most books on Chaos Theory talk about the Butterfly Effect. In 1961, Edward Lorenz was using a computer to simulate the weather. He decided to re-start a simulation in the middle. In the original simulation, the value at that point was 0.506127. When he re-started the simulation, he just entered 0.506. The new result was completely different than the first. This has been summarized in many ways (see Butterfly Effects – Variations on a Meme) including “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Africa cause a hurricane in the Atlantic?”

The butterfly effect (and Chaos Theory in general) focuses on dynamic (don’t stay the same) systems that are very sensitive to how things start. If you put a ball on the peak of the St. Louis Arch, you really have no way of knowing exactly when it will roll off or which way it will roll or where it will end up. Chaos Theory and common sense say the same thing: there is no way to know exactly what will happen.

Both Chaos Theory and common sense also say that we’re almost certain that that ball is coming down. With a little Chaos Theory and a calculator, we can figure out that it will probably start moving within a very short period of time (perhaps there’s a 99.9% chance that the ball will begin to roll off the peak in under a minute) and where it will probably end up (say 80% of the time it will land between 150 and 300 feet away from the center of the base of the arch).

If you kept putting balls covered with wet paint on top of the St. Lewis Arch, over time you would end up with a lot of dots on the grass and those dots would have a pattern. Eventually, there would be a ring covered with paint. Moving inward and outward from that ring, you would see more and more grass breaking through the paint until you just found a splotch of paint here and there.

At the level of someone asking where will the next ball fall, there’s no way to know. If you ask me to guess what weather we’ll have a week from now, I can guess we’ll have a high in the ’80s or ’80s. Then again, this is Colorado, so there’s a small chance it might be 40 degrees and hailing. You just never know where that ball will land.

On the other hand, if somebody is watching you put ball after ball on top of the arch and they’re interested in what things are going to look like, they can come up with some pretty good answers. First, eventually, someone in charge is going to find out what’s going on and call the park cops on you. Second, there will eventually be a solid elliptical ring of paint around the St. Lewis Arch that fades to grass in both directions if you don’t change what you’re doing.

Improvisation, Part I

I’ve been busy since early in the year working with several people to start a new company. while, it’s left little time to blog, we’ve had many great conversations about what we want to build and how we want to build it. Although our website isn’t finished, we recently started a blog and I’ll be writing pieces occasionally. My first piece went up today:

Improvisation, Part I

When my daughter was maybe four, I taught her an improvisation exercise: Gift. Gift always starts the same way: the two people playing agree who is going to give the gift. If I was giving the gift, I might start by picking up an (imaginary) box; maybe a large box. Then I would hand it to her.

For the game to continue, she would have to take the box she couldn’t see. It couldn’t be just any box but the box I had handed to her. She would have to agree with what had already happened.

At our last retreat, Andrea read a passage about improvisation from Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink to us…

Read the rest