Thursday, September 27, 2007

Sometimes We Need Emergencies

You may have heard of a perfectly awful situation called "Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy".  In these situations a parent will insist that their child is ill, and even fabricate or induce symptoms in the child.  If you've seen The Adventures of Baron Von Munchausen, you may recognize the similarities.  In the story the Baron spends a lot of time not helping people.  If he fixed problems before they were problems, he wouldn't be much of a hero.  Heroes fix big problems, not little ones.

Many of us see and try to fix problems every day, but we are often stymied by people who do not perceive the same level of emergency.  If we repeatedly try to impart our urgency, eventually we'll usually get tuned out.  Perhaps the Baron had a better approach.  Fabricate the solution, and wait for an emergency to arise.  Then people will be ready to listen.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Chunking and Self-Discovery

When people mentioned trying to "find themselves", I always wondered what they meant.  How does one "find" their "self".  Over time I realized that the definition of this discovery probably changes from one person to the next.  My own definition is to "know ones-self and understand what one can reasonably expect from themselves."  For example, I know that I have a difficult time letting a problem go unsolved.  I can expect myself to battle with keeping appointments if it means I have to stop working on a problem.

You may have heard of "chunking" in the psychological sense.  If you haven't, it is the act of dissecting an experience and filing away the important parts.  Your brain does this for you because it would be silly to remember every minute detail of every experience.  At one time or another you probably had a difficult time trying to remember something.  This is because it was not important.  Not to your brain, at least.  Perhaps you are thinking "But, it was really important."

No it wasn't.  Not to the "real" you.  If you examine what you do and don't remember, I suspect you'll find out all kinds of things about what's really important to you.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Strange Bedfellows

You've surely heard of the scandal surrounding Senator Craig.  While he should certainly have known better than to plead guilty to any charges, I'm not entirely convinced that the police were acting ethically.  In fact, they might have been acting illegally.

My idea of political nirvana is a virtual stalemate.  Most of the laws we need are already on the books, and the really important ones will still get passed.  The rest are simply a waste of time and complication of the law.  One of the great tools for maintaining that stalemate, and exposing the absurdity propagated by our government is the legal system.  My conservative friends usually shame me for cheering on the ACLU, but who better to stall legislation and inspect the interpretation of the law?

You can imagine my surprise, and mirth at the idea of the ACLU defending Senator Craig.

The Great Coffee Scam

At our office, we've got these huge coffee machines.  One on each floor.  These monsters have three burners, brew a pot of coffee in under a minute, and can burn an entire pot of coffee in less than 1/2 hour.  Not coincidentally, the stuff is so hot that it's undrinkable until it cools for several minutes.

On the first floor we've started using air pots.  The coffee stays at a pleasant temperature without burning for hours.  Why would anyone make a coffee machine that burns coffee so efficiently?  Maybe it's because we were silly enough to get our machines from the same company that supplies our coffee?  After all, the only cure for a burnt pot of coffee is to brew a fresh one.

Monday, September 17, 2007


In a recent post I complained about the state of social security, comparing it to a Ponzi scheme.  In a recent interview with CNN Money, Alan Greenspan appears to agree on the urgency of the situation:

What should we be worried about most right now in terms of the economy?

Strangely enough, I think it's politics. We have a dysfunctional political system in the sense that there are very serious fiscal problems out there, most importantly Medicare. As best I can judge, when the baby boom retires, we are going to have to either raise taxes very sharply or cut benefits by half. No politician wants to confront this. And this is a very sad event because what's at stake here is the fiscal stability of the American government.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Pass it On

You might have seen the billboard featuring Christopher Reeve, with the caption "Super Man" on it.  This billboard has several brothers along our freeways, inspiring virtue in passing drivers.  One day, I became curious what good soul was sponsoring these billboards.  As it turns out, they are the product of the Foundation for a Better Life.  Interestingly enough, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America notes the fifth stage of the "Pass it On Campaign" on their Public Service Campaigns page.

This morning, another billboard caught my eye.  It told me that "Save your money, and one day it will return the favor".  The advertisement was sponsored by FeedThePig.Org.  "Boy, that's good advice, " I thought to myself, "people really don't save enough money.  Who would sponsor such good advice?"  The answer came to me quickly enough.  Banks.  As it turns out, I was close.  The sponsor is the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.  When I realized that this good advice was probably paid for by someone who would benefit from it, I was irritated.

The Outdoor Advertising Association of America certainly cannot fill all its billboards, all the time.  As a result it can donate billboard space to charitable foundations, like the Foundation for a Better Life.  This donation becomes tax deductible, thus recouping some of the expense of an otherwise unoccupied billboard.  Similarly the AICPA can drum up more business for itself, and get a tax deduction at the same time by creating the Feed the Pig organization.

Does a dual purpose behind a message negate the meaning?  Yes.  Should it?  Probably not necessarily.  The Foundation for a Better Life has certainly made my commutes, and those of others more pleasant.  The foundation may actually have inspired a few "random acts of kindness" here and there.  A nice use of an otherwise obnoxious billboard space.  Does Feed the Pig offer good, or bad advice?'s good advice, espousing the virtues of sound fiscal management.

Now I'm left wondering how I became such a cynic that my first priority when I encounter a charity is to discover who benefits from it.  That isn't bad either, though, because we should be aware of who may be manipulating us.  Now that I know, I still enjoy both sets of billboards while I commute.

Friday, September 7, 2007

National Ponzi Scheme

As I read through the news this morning, I came across the term "Ponzi Scheme".  I've never looked up the definition, so I figured now would be a good time to do just that.  It turns out that a Ponzi scheme is a rouse destined to fail.  "Investors" are promised enormous "returns" on their investments, which they get because they are paid by other "investors" money.

Sound familiar?  In case your primary residence is under a rock, let me tell you something awful.  Social Security is a revolving door.  Money paid in by people today isn't put into a special account.  It is paid right back out as a benefit to someone already using the system.  The system works really well as long as the number of workers in the country always increases.  If the number of workers decreases enough, and the number of people using the benefits increases enough then the system will collapse.  As a matter of fact you may already have heard that people are having fewer children, and living longer.

As with so many other ideas, someone else has thought the same thing.  Check with the All Seeing Eye.  I'm pretty sure we should treat this like other Ponzi schemes.  Shut it down and throw someone in prison.