Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Pay More Taxes

A couple of years ago, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine. To protect his identity, lets call him Tom. Tom was a Democrat, and a supporter of Obama.  Tom and I had many conversation about politics and the world. Despite our differences we were friends. Both of us are reasonable people, and we could have discussions without resorting to yelling, name calling or violence.

Discussing the potential of a second term of Obama, the topic came up of taxes. Clearly, and I make no secret that I think I pay more in taxes than I should. Mostly because I don't think it is being used in a way that is representative of me.  His response was shocking.

"I wouldn't mind paying more taxes." Tom said. "I can afford it."

I was shocked, but that didn't stop me from replying. "There is nothing to stop you."  I said. "Adjust your tax form and don't take any exemptions. And if that is not enough, on the same form you can request more to be withheld from your paycheck."

Well he didn't want to do that. And as far as I can tell he hasn't made these changes. And I doubt he will. Not because he is a bad person, indeed I think he is a great guy. But he won't do this because when he says, "I wouldn't mind paying more taxes." and "I can afford it" the "I" is not "I, Tom." but is a collective "I" that represents all Americans.

Democrats and Liberals believe that individuals are not really individual people. But they are collective individuals. The unconscious collective individualism is one of those examples of cognitive dissonance that C.S. Lewis talks of in the Screwtape Letters. Its the ability of people to hold two or more conflicting ideas in their mind at the same time.

When I suggested that Tom pay more taxes than he was assessed, or than he owed, he was confused by the suggestion. Why should he do that? No one would want to do that, it didn't make sense. The statement moments earlier that he could afford it didn't actually relate to Tom, but just people like Tom.

Well, the Supreme Court has agreed with the Justice Department that our Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is a tax. And now many people like Tom are getting the chance to pay more taxes. I think Tom may have been thinking that he could afford $50 a month, or maybe even $100.  But thanks to the new tax, many people are paying an additional $1000 a month.

Congratulations. We are now paying more taxes.  But I don't think its what Tom was expecting.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Patience Overshoot Day

According to a think tank populated with under worked academics, today, August 20th, 2013. We pass the ecological landmark that predicts that we have now used more resources this year than the earth can provide in a year.  This announcement is supposed fill you with fear, and make you want to buy a Prius.

I don't feel this fear. But I do wonder how much of these resources they are so worried about are being consumed making these predictions.
The Earth is Closed

Let's assume for a second that the earth is a closed system. And just to be clear, in a closed system, nothing gets out.  Water, that runs down your drain, is not lost forever into the void. It goes on a journey from your sink, into streams and rivers, ultimately into oceans.  Where it then evaporates, becomes clouds, that make rain, that is collected and used to provide water for you to pour down your drain. (And so it continues. Forever.)

So, to believe that we can use more resources than the earth has, is like thinking that we can drink all of the water. Or breath all of the air.  It doesn't really work. It can only make us afraid of the darkness.

I am not afraid of this darkness. I fight it by turning on the light. (And I use an incandescence bulb when I do. None of those LEDs or compact florescents for me.)  So, what are these resources we are using up with such abandon?

Yes, guessed it. Our friends at the Footprint Network are talking about CO2.  They are talking about our Carbon consumption, because we need to be afraid of the most fundamental building block of life. The thing that makes the plant grow, puts food on the table, and gas in your car. The evil beyond evil.  That substance that you exhale whenever you breath.

If you have been following along, you will know by now that I don't put a lot of stock in the CO2 scare tactics.  I have two major problems with it.

1st problem. 

I haven't met a Global Warming argument that I can't poke holes in. (This means I am either very smart. Or that I haven't found the right arguments.) If I can poke holes in these arguments, this means I am no persuaded by them. And they either need more evidence, data, and facts that can be verified, or its a lie and I need to fight it. (Professor Demming adds 24/hrs of sunshine a day in his calculations of the green house affect on the surface of the earth. Yes the sun does shine all day long, but not on the same surface.  And now we have half (or less) of the energy absorption necessary to increase the temperature as is predicted by his equations.)

It doesn't take many simple errors like this before the tale of global lukewarming sounding like the tale of chicken little when the sky fell. 

2nd Problem.

The arguments are presented not as science, but as behavioral imperatives. Environmental 'scientists' don't just tell us the facts, they are advising behavior like buying a certain car, or adopting a certain life style, or outlawing certain products and technologies.

A scientist says, "eating french fries causes weight gain in 7 our of 10 cases."  A fake science evangelist says, "French fries cause obesity, we should outlaw them or make them really hard for people to get so they will make better choices."  I examine what the scientist says, and I mock what the fake science evangelist says. Its just the way I am.

Party Time

So I am going to celebrate tonight.  I am going to crank up the AC on my house, and then head out for a long drive in my SUV.  Maybe stop and get an conspicuously large meal with a 32oz drink.  And top it all off with an attempt to add even more humans to our 'over populated' planet. (Because I am always looking for excuses to celebrate.)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Connect the Dots Surveillance

I have nothing to hide. So I should not fear aggressive data collection and surveillance. Right?

Well if I had reasonable trust that the data would only be used to find real threats, I might be. Or if I had reasonable trust that an abuse of the data would not bankrupt me and send me to jail, I might be.

But I'm not.

Here are the dots.

1. Big Brother gathers the metadata of your communication. Metadata, is the data about your data. So they don't listen to your call, of read your email. The just gather who you are calling, and how often. And they put this data in the database with all the others, and mine it for patterns.

Doing this, Big Brother can create a terrorist communication profile. And just like any other profiling technique, identify likely threats. Then they can get authorization to tap phone and read email.

I think this is a great use of technology.

Is powerful.

And accurate.

2. Everything, and everyone has a profile. Terrorists have a profile. And bankers have a profile. Serial killers have a profile. And soccer moms have a profile. And in order to make a profile to catch the bad guy, you also have to build the profile to identify the good guy.

This means there are profiles for potential republican voters. And democratic voters. And donors. And organizers.

There are profiles for people that are likely to buy a car this year. Or a house. Or a new computer.

All you have to do to find these people, is have enough data. And have the profile to filter out the targets.

3. There is no check on the use of this data. Anyone in power, with the authority to ask, can ask for people that match any profile. There is nothing to stop them. And they don't have to tell anyone they retrieved the list.

If a senator asks for a budget estimate from the CBO, its public record. But if he asks for a list of names of people likely to donate to his competitor in the next election, no one will ever know.

4. It is a fact that the IRS targeted people for audit based on political information. This kind of attack is expensive for those that receive them. And almost impossible to defend against.

There are other ways to damage your political opponents if you can identify them early and silently. Damage those that support them, and you have silenced political opposition.

5. Now ask yourself, "Is there anyone in government, now or in the future that would target me, or people like me, for something that I do or might do, if they had this type of data at their fingertips?"

When you answer "Yes" you have joined the group of people that don't like the NSA surveillance program.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

To Fathers

And to complement the poem I wrote on Mother's Day, I penned this one for Father's Day.

Fathers are our special heros
They banish children's fears.
They slay our dragons with a song
And put and end to tears.
Fathers are our special leaders
They show their love with deeds
They teach and guide and show the way
And fill our earthly needs
Fathers are our special teachers
They help us to stand tall
They carry us when we cannot walk
And lift us when we fall.
by roy hayward
June 16th, 2013

Friday, June 7, 2013

Why your government programs can't solve problems

I know this is going to be news to people, but none of the government programs actually solve any problems. No really. They can't, because they were never designed to.

What would solving a problem look like? Well I have a favorite analogy about problems and their solution.  We start with a mountain path where people sometimes fall on the rocks below and die.

There are two proposals put forward.

Proposal one, is that we create an express ambulance service to transport fallen people to a special hospital that we also construct near by, so that when people fall, they can be saved.

Proposal two is simpler.  We build a railing by the path.

Current government programs on welfare, social programs like affirmative action, energy, safety, and the whole system all fall into the proposal one category.  There are no proposal two programs.

See when you solve a problem, it stops being a problem.  People stop falling off the mountain path.  And we all go on with our lives.  But we don't do this.  We never solve the problem of welfare, or racial inequality, or safety.  If we did, the bureaucrats would lose their jobs and have to find new ones.  So instead of solving a problem we simply put bandaids on them.

The blanket principle works like this. Programs that solve problems need to actually have steps to end themselves. Like, program X will do Y in 3 years, by using A, B, and C. At which point this program ends. If it fails to solve the problem also ends, because it has failed.

But we don't do government programs this way. We throw program after program at the same problems, regulation after regulation, and law after law at the same problem with no end in sight.  And there never is an end.

Oh sometimes we pretend to have a termination date. But when the day comes, we extend it, raise the limit on debt, and get a bunch of people that benefit from it to run around with picket signs and sob stories. Government programs never end.

My favorite rant about programs is our welfare program that is supposed to fight poverty. When we do the math, we are spending more money running the program than we have actual success at raising the standard of living of the program participants. In other words, it would be more effective to end the program, and just give the people cash.

But we are in love with these band aids. Most of them are so far removed from the original problem they were created for that we can't really tell what the purpose is supposed to be.

In the end it all boils down to money. And the solution is also money. Not more money, but less money. Reduce funding, or end funding two all programs that don't solve their problem in a year or two.  If you can't do something in two years, odds are that you can't do it.  So why keep paying them to try.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Poor vs Broke

I heard a man talking to his kids on day.  The snip of conversation went like this:

Kid:  "Dad, are we poor?"

Dad:  "Nope, we're not poor.  We're just broke."

And this started me thinking.  Every month it seems I set down in a budget council with my boss (wife) and we discuss where all the money is going to go for the next few paychecks.  Most of these council sessions end up with us selecting some priorities that get pushed off of the budget.  (This means we don't spend money on them for those of you in Washington D.C. Try it some time.)

Spending all of the money, or allocating it to things like food, and rent and car repairs doesn't mean I am poor. Poor is when there is no money. Broke just means we have reactively spend money on what must be spent on. (Being in debt is a form of broke.) The spending items become prioritized and sometimes some priorities don't get any money on them in a paycheck. (This doesn't mean I don't want to spend money on them.)

But I look around the community of America, and I see people that think like this child.  They think they are poor.  They think this because they think whenever they can't afford what they want, that it is a form of poverty. This is false understanding of the world.

As an American, I live in a truly rich nation.  And if you have the time and they ability to read this blog, chances are that you do too. Why? Because as much as I like this blog, it is not an essential.  It is not, food, shelter and clothing.

Missing essentials is poverty.

If you live in a place where there are no shoes to buy, or no houses, or no food.  This is a poor place.  The essentials are missing. No matter how much money you have, you can't buy something that is not on the shelves of the store.

How much you like something does not determine if it is an essential. Food to sustain life is an essential. (Chocolate is not an essential, sorry.) Clothing and Shelter to protect yourself from the environment and keep you healthy is an essential. (Clothing from Abercrombie and Fitch is not an essential.) Drinkable water is essential. (A 2 liter of your favorite soda is not an essential)

Entertainment is not an essential  The internet is not an essential. Almost everything you spend money on is not an essential.

We live in such a rich nation, our homeless have cell phones.

We live in such a rich nation that we don't worry about starvation, we just worry about hunger.

There are no poor here, only the misinformed. (And those bad at budgeting.) And that is most of us.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Prescription Lenses

Let me start by saying that I think we have the best healthcare system in the world here in the US, and that includes those in the optometry field. But I have a slight issue with the way we treat prescriptions for contact lenses. Here is my story.

I began wearing glasses when I was 11 years old. When I was 19, I spent two years in South Korea. While I was there, I decided to get contact lenses. So I went down to a place where they could be purchased cheaply, the open market. (Open Market is not like a free market, it is a street or field where people setup carts and sell stuff off of them to customers. If you go back the next day because you were not satisfied with your product, the seller might not be there.)

At the open market, I found a seller of contacts. He looked at my glasses to get the prescription, and then asked me if I could read with them. He then sold me two contacts and some saline. I wore these for two years.

But back in the states when I tell this story to eye doctors, (which I do to get their reaction) they react with something akin to horror. As if I were buying Viagra off the internet. (To which no one seems to react with horror these days.) And here in the states I have to get a new prescription each year, even though the one from last year is the same, so that I can continue to legally by contacts. And each time they look at my eyes and do tests to tell me that my eyes are still fine, I still don't have glaucoma, or cataracts, or any other eye disease or damage.

Of course I know this because unlike my blood pressure I literally have to look my self in the eye every day to get my contacts in. (except for some that I can wear for a whole week, but then it is still every week.) And I will know before anyone else if my eyes start to worsen, feel bad, or give me pain. But I still can't get more than a years worth of contacts, (some states let me go 2 years, thank you! (sarc)) without a doctor telling me that my eyes don't hurt.

Really people. They are my eyes. I pay good money to be able to see out of them. Do you really think that would do that and then not care if my vision blurs or my eyes start to have pain?

Yes, eye health is important. But so is foot health. Lots of people wear shoes that contribute to back pain and other problems. Some women wear shoes that produce long term damage to their feet and legs. Why don't they have to get a prescription for shoes?

To be clear, I am not advocating prescription shoes.

Glasses and contacts are not something that I put inside my body. They are something that I wear on the outside. And the eye is a sensitive organ that will let me know when there is a problem. I think that I should be able to buy glasses and contact of any prescription, size, color, etc that I want to just like I can buy shoes. I will know if they don't fit or are not comfortable as soon as I put them on and try to use them.

And I am not advocating that we don't need eye doctors.

Having eye doctors allow me to see and I am very grateful that they exist. I like to see. I plan on using my eyes the rest of my life. But I don't think that I should be held to a yearly visit if I can still see. It just seem like a waste of time and money. (Time may be money, but they are not interchangeable  Try buying more time and see what happens.)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Testing the Science of Global Warming

Once upon a time, I studied physics and chemistry (chemistry was my original major in college). As aspiring scientists, we did more than just read facts written by experienced and learned scientists, we made our own observations, and formed hypothesis, designed and conducted experiments, recorded our results and concluded whether our hypothesis was true or not.

There was another thing that we did in our lab reports. We recorded areas where our experiments may have had errors. Some of these were routine.  Things like test tubes might not have been sterile, variances in room temperature and so forth.  Some were very specific to what we were doing.  Not being able to reuse a sample for our tests was always frustrating. And if you looked hard enough on any experiment, you could find areas where measurements or results could have been influenced by an outside factor. If you couldn't find these, then you weren't looking hard enough. And we lost points if we didn't list these in our report.

Here is how this works. If we designed an experiment to study the average speed of marathon runners.  And we decide to do this, starting two thirds of the way through the race.  Can we get data to do this?

Lets see, we can pick a runner, and retrieve his check in time at the various check points along the course.  This will give us the historical time and distance references.  Then we can graph the results and show a nice flat line with little change in speed between the checkpoints.

Now the race isn't over yet.  We have miles left to go. And the University has given us another tool other than a calculator and a stop watch. We have a radar gun so that we can get the exact speed of a runner at a given moment in time.  This is great for us because we can get more samples of speed instead of having to rely on check point time records.

So we start to setup at a variety of places.  They just happen to be next to water stations along the route.  And we find an alarming trend. All of the runners are slowing down in all of our new reading.  Even the fast runners are slowing and it looks like that if this trend continues all of the runners will be finishing the marathon at a walk.

We even graph our data and show it to people with a nice downward hockey stick shape.  We have a slowing trend across the entire set of competitors.

But is there something wrong with this method?  Aren't getting more samples of speed making our experiment more accurate?

Obviously two things are wrong.  First, we have changed our method of reading speed. Changing this method makes our readings uncomparable and my professors would have thrown out my results and made be go back and do the test again.  Second, there is a bit of lazyness in everyone, and setting up next to the water stations may have seemed like a smart move for the speed taker, but it adds an environmental factor that is negatively influencing runners speed.  That is slowing down to get water, or being slowed by others that are getting water.

I was curious.  So I looked about and found that to get an atmospheric C02 level for times in the past, we go to ice core samples.  We then crush them and use gas chromatography to find the composition of the atmosphere.  Okay, stay with me.

I then looked up how to get CO2 readings from the atmosphere today.  Guess what.  They don't involve getting ice cores.  They are taking direct measurements.  Yes, this gives us more samples, and can give us better results of the CO2 concentration, but the comparative measures should not be related. (stopwatch and radar gun comparison)

Why does this matter?  Aren't we still talking about how much CO2 is in the atmosphere?  Shouldn't testing the air trapped in the ice give you a good enough reading?  Nope, remember the Marathon checkpoints and the radar gun measurements, where we put the guys with the radar right next to the water.  Our ice core samples come from areas of the world with ice.  (I know that sounds obvious.)  So it stands to reason that the air trapped in them comes from those areas.

But where are we getting our current temperatures?  Why from all over the world, replies NOAA, NASA, and other organizations.  And this sounds good until you realize that "all over the world" includes the observatory on Mauna Loa, a volcano in Hawaii.  (No ice, and volcanoes have a habit of emitting lots of CO2.)

This is why we examine our experiments and see what could skew our results.  Changing the method of collecting measurements, and the locations of the measurements can skew the results. It makes the data hard to understand. And it gives us reasons to doubt the results and conclusions based on looking at this mixed method data.

When we are looking at something important like our climate change, it is necessary to stick to like data, and like methods and not mix and match apples and oranges. The failure to do this casts dirt on the claims of the scientists that present them. Its why I keep giving the global warming predictions a failing grade.

In fairness, climate is something that we should seriously study. And it matters if there is a warming trend. But before we start making claims that we can prove something, we need to get our science in order.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

To Mothers

Sometimes I go to say something simple like, "Happy Mother's Day" and instead a poem comes out.  So I thought I would share with y'all the poem that came out today.

Mothers are a special gift
They bring the world such joy
They are the first friends that we know
And love each girl and boy.

Mothers are a special strength
They guide us as we grow
They hold are hands and kiss our pain
The first love that we know.

Mothers are a special light
They help us really see
They don't just show us who we are
But who we all might be.
by roy hayward. 
May 12th 2013

Monday, April 8, 2013

Why is the TV gone?

I was reading this article Broadcasters struggle to win back the "Zero TV" crowd and I thought, "Are they nuts?" There is no way to "win back" people that have moved on. And then I decided to make as list of the perceptional problems of the Networks and Studios, and give the advice that could save their corporate lives.

Misconception #1.  When restaurant patrons choose Wendy's over McDonalds. McDonalds can try and win them back because they have chosen an essentially equal option.  But when restaurant patrons go on a cruise ship, there is no way to win them back while they are there.  They are no longer accessible to the McDonalds market.
Those of us that have entered the online and on-demand entertainment model are no longer interested in a broadcast schedule, an antena, or a cable subscription. We have moved on.

Misconception #2.  When people started to go see talking movies, I am sure there were some movie executives that said, "How can we win back people to our silent movies?" Where are those executives now?  (okay that was a long time ago, and they have probably passed on.) There was no way to get people to get excited about really great silent movies after those talking pictures hit the screens.  This is what has happened. On Demand and On Line entertainment is here. Its here to stay. Start making it like that, or go the way of the silent movie studio.

Misconception #3.  Our content is better and more desirable because we are the "Network" or "Studio."  This may have been true once, but not any more. There is so much content out there, consumers don't have to watch on the network's schedule, so they don't.  Consumers don't have to buy the whole channel of content to get the one show, so they don't.  Consumers don't have to pay to watch most content, so they don't. (or they pay a membership to Netflix and get a high level of access.)

Misconception #4. Because there are still hundreds of thousands of regular TV watchers we don't have to do anything new for a while. Back when I had TV, it just got turned on and left on. No one watched it more than 50% of the time it was playing stuff. The same is not true for Hulu and Netflix. I am watching when it is playing. So you can tell your advertisers that. Not just guess. But use actual numbers. And if you wait to adapt, by the time you do, you will have lost the market share of eyeballs and will be just another also has content.

What should the networks do?

  1. Release content online sooner. Leave no market for pirates and others to re-package your content.
  2. Play it on venues like Hulu and Netflix.
  3. Play all the episodes that are available. (I have walked away from shows that no longer show the first episode online. You have missed the point of on-demand if you roll them off so that I have to wait for the re-run.  And I may never remember to come back.)
  4. Make the easiest and best way to get the show, be your site. If you make it difficult, have a bunch of barriers, restrict availability, or do anything else you think is cute to annoy your viewers, they will go somewhere else.
  5. Make money on your commercials, and find new ways to place advertisements in content so that when commercials are not viable you have a revenue model that will support you.
  6. Watch for the next trend. People are still consuming content. Make sure they are able to consume yours.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Global Warming is Real

There are some conversations that have happened again and again. And just like a chess game with an opponent that has a favored opening move, you can develop a standard response. I have such a response when people are shocked that I dispute the existence of Global Warming.

I agree with them.

Yep, I know that this will warm the heart (if not the globe) for a few friends of mine, but I have decided to admit the existence of Global Warming. I just call it weather.

And once I have redefined GW as weather, the argument begins again. And it goes on and on. But for the sake of this post, I don't want to debate the religion of Global Climate Weather. For the sake of argument, lets assume that the priesthood of climate models is the gospel.

Lets instead talk about carbon. CO2 is one of the most common compounds around. The exchange of oxygen for carbondioxide or O2 for CO2 is the root of fire, respiration, and decomposition that allows all life to exist. Without CO2 we would not have life.

CO2 is not a greenhouse gas as understood by GW Evangilists. The thumbnail of the belief is this. Light enters the atmosphere, and heats the earth.  Then Greenhouse Gasses reflect the light and heat back into the earths atmosphere and prevent it from escaping. (Like entering a greenhouse in winter, and its warm there even though there is no heater.)

Now we get all sciency and I loose most people. A green house gas is a gas that absorbs heat energy from sunlight, and then radiates that heat. Most of the places that you can look this up either explain it very poorly like wikipedia or just want to list a bunch of gasses found in the atmosphere.  Ick.

Generally speaking all matter when heated, will radiate that heat.  (Molecules that are hot, vibrate.  When they bump into other molecules, they transfer some of this vibration to the other molecule. This is what you are feeling when you put your hand over a flame or other heat source.) All matter absorbs and radiates heat.

Some are better than others, this is why we have hot mitts and insulation.

The best green house gas will have two properties. First, it should be a gas that is found in the atmosphere.  This disqualifies heavy gasses like chlorine (its also poisonous) and really really light gasses like helium.  Second, it needs to a really good heat absorption and transference or radiation  ability. The best substance for this is water.

Oddly enough when you check out what the EPA has to say about this, they leave water out.  I guess they only care about the miniscule amount of gasses that humans influence minusculely, or they know that there is really no way to put a lid on all the bodies of water on the planet that are evaporating tones of water every minute.

(The counter argument that water only remains in the atmosphere a short time is odd.  I will contemplate this while I look a the accumulating clouds in the sky.  I wonder what they are made of?)

Anyway, why is it that CO2 is not a good green house gas. If you take CO2 and cool it way down, you can get it to form a solid. We call this dry ice.  And you can do the same thing with water.  Now if we set both of these out we will see something strange happen.

The ice will melt. Melting is a process where a solid turns into a liquid.  When ice melts it forms water.

The dry ice will not melt. It does something much ... er... cooler! It sublimates.  It changes from a solid directly into a gas.

Well, we can heat water and make it into a gas as well.  So what is the big deal?  Well the big deal is that if we have a cool surface above our heated water, we get this thing called condensation.  The water vapor commonly called steam, turns back into water, the liquid.

But no matter how cold of a surface we place near the dry ice, we can never get it to condense back into its solid.

CO2 will absorb the heat, but it is really bad at it compared to water vapor.

There are two more tricks I like to play with CO2.  If you heat up a tub of sea water, and a tub of dirt, they both emit CO2 gas.  In fact according to the Berkley Climate Models, all throughout history we can see that when the earth temperatures increase, there is a corresponding reaction of a rise in CO2 levels.

And GOD said, "LET THERE BE LIGHT." And there was light. And as the first rays of the sun touched the surface of the earth. Warming it. And releasing CO2 that caused a chain reaction killing the chances of any life on the planet.  And GOD said, "AWE SNAP. THIS IS NEVER GOING TO WORK."

If you look at the data, a rise in CO2 is the earths response to raising temperatures. If it didn't work that way, there would be no life here. There is life here, so this is how it works.

In spite of the overwhelming trend that CO2 levels rise in response to increased temperatures in the past, todays rising temperatures are caused by it.  This my friends is an amazing thing that no one seems to explain. (or even acknowledge.)

Okay, my last trick with CO2. Lets revisit the carbon cycle. Here is how it works.  Plants consume CO2 they breath it, and need it for pesky things like photosynthesis and making stems and leaves.  Just like we breath in oxygen (O2) plants breath in CO2 and exhale O2.

Next, are animals like you and me. We breath in this O2 and exhale CO2.  This cycle repeats, over and over.  Air moves stuff around, and we all have a pretty easy going tolerance for CO2 and O2 levels, or you would suffocate at night in a closed room with the window shut.

Plants also have a pretty easy going tolerance level. Just as humans are happiest at sea level with lots of O2 to breath, plants are happiest with CO2 levels that will kill us.  When plants evolved, or were introduced into the earth by GOD, there was lots of CO2 and very little O2.  And they thrived.

We still use this today. People that run green houses ramp up the CO2 level inside them to lethal levels to get the best growth out of their plants.  The best flowers and the biggest tomatoes come from an atmosphere that would kill us mammals.

The point here is that the earth, is just find with global CO2 levels 10 times what we are seeing today. We might not be happy there, but the earth, and the plants and the fish would all keep on keeping on.

But don't worry, we have such a long way to go that there is really no danger of this happening.  Not from anything Man is doing anyway. Volcanoes and asteroids are much bigger threats here.

We all live in a system of cycles. And cycles within cycles. And freaking out because we are on the down swing of one of the cycles makes as much sense as freaking out because the sun is going down and we will be doomed to eternal darkness once it is gone.

So in the end. Yep, I admin Global Warming is real.  It is really part of the normal cycle of our planet, sun and solar system. Its the way God created it to work. Or its the way it naturally evolved. Or its the way the aliens liked it when they decided to settle on this planet.  But its is real, and really nothing to worry about.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Baskets of Food

As some of you may know, my wife is an amazing shopper.  She gets 5 Sunday papers and cuts their coupons out. She is a magician at finding great deals at garage sales, consignment stores and clearance sections at stores.

Well, a few weeks ago my wife came across something called Bountiful Baskets. And today was our first day trying it out.  They have website where you can get all of the information, but basically it is an online co-op where communities of members buy produce collectively. The idea is that you get fresh, quality produce, save time and money and support local growers.

Here is what happened.  We showed up a few minutes early, and there were only 3 or 4 people waiting for it to start. The volunteers that day had the presorted baskets lined up and queued for us to get. And another had the list of names on her clip board.  When we started, they checked our names, and gave us our fruit and veggies.

The whole process took less than 5 minutes.

One Bountiful Basket costs $15. I looked at the basket of produce and wasn't sure what to think.  We had some onions, potatoes, asparagus, a pineapple  oranges, and so forth. They tell it is will be different each time depending on what is available for the best prices. And I was curious at just how good of a deal we had made.

I am all for supporting local growers, and getting quality produce, but not to the point to pay more for it.  So I made a list of what we had in our basket and took it to a grocery store that also has good prices.

My wife and I collected as close as we could get to the same produce from the store and totalled it up.  If we had purchased it at the store, we would have been paying $23 before taxes.

And that was all it took for me to be a convert.

I will be doing this comparison for the next few weeks as we get more produce this way, but if this is the standard savings, it is well worth getting up and spending a few minutes on a saturday to get fresh food.

And if it gets even more impressive in the summer and fall as more local produce is available, well then you can expect more posts praising this group.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Opening lines

So a guy walks into a bar.... and then something fun, ironic, moronic, interesting or lame happens. We all have heard these stories. Openings that are used over and over again become tired, boring and cliché. And as writer, let alone a joke teller, you have to watch out for these.

We have all started a story with our genre's version of "A dark and stormy night." And when you are starting a story, you may as well start with one of these lines. They can get you going on writing your story so that you can develop the characters and plot. (And then come back and change the opening.)

There is this movie about writers/writing called "Finding Forrester" that I like to use as an example. There is a point where our main character is having some trouble writing. He can't seem to get past the blank page.

To help solve this problem Forrester pulls out something that he wrote long ago, and tells him to start copying it until he feels his story start to emerge, and then to break away and continue writing. This piece of writing becomes important later in the movie.  But what did it do for our young writer?

Starting a Story:

It got him started. He was no longer on line 1, but on line 57, and had broken through the barriers that were holding him back.  Sometimes the first word is the hardest word to write.  The first sentence is the hardest sentence.  And the first paragraph is the hardest paragraph.

When this is the case, skip it.  Skip the first line, sentence and paragraph and jump into the story. You can use this method, write "A guy walks into a bar." Then move one.

Fix it Later:

We know that first lines are important. If we don't get them right, we can lose our reader before they start. And sometimes this gets us stuck on these lines. But we don't have to get it right right now.

Save it for your first edit, or a rewrite pass of the story. No one writes without making corrections, so let one of your corrections be fixing the first line or paragraph. Even if you spend the same amount of time on the task, you won't be staring at the blank page when you do it.  The pressure of all the other writing will be gone.

But don't forget to fix it.

Don't Forget:

Just because the "Good enough for now." plan worked to get you started, doesn't mean it is good enough to leave that way. Don't let yourself be lazy, just focused.

After the story is out and written to the first draft, it is time to revisit the beginning of the story.  Generally there are one or more things that happen to my stories;

1.  I started the story too soon. I should cut the whole opening, sometimes the 1st chapter and start there.  It can be hard to do, but sometimes it is soo much better for the story.
2. Started with a crutch like "A guy walks into a bar" and I need to fix this now so that people won't burn the book. (or in the case of ebooks, delete them and then blog about how bad the opening was.)
3. Missing beginning. From time to time, I start writing a fun part of the story and just skip the part that sets it up. In these cases, I need to write it.
4.  Identity crisis. My story started with a main character that I end up not liking and I need to write a beginning with the real main character.

I am sure this is not an exhaustive list. For me, and certainly not for you.  But I know what are my common corrections are, and I don't beat myself up for using them. In fact, I rely on them.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Review: Oblivion

Oblivion, by Joseph Brown is a story about a young man .. er .. elf that is thrown into some pretty hard spots and find the strength inside himself to overcome them, survive and even help others. It was fun to follow and read the events of Laz's life and see how they help to shape and prepare him even as he was shaping them back in return. And watch him rise above his own misfortunes and still be his own man .. er .. elf.

Okay, Laz is an elf, or dark elf to be exact. And in a world dominated by humans, this makes things more interesting for him. But in the end, it is not what's on the outside, but the strength inside us that makes or breaks us. And Laz has more strength than he knows when he start out this journey to change and save the world he lives in.

If you are looking for a fun fantasy novel to read, then this a book that I can recommend. It was a fun read, and takes you from woods, to towns, to city streets, pirate ships and prisons, and even to the imperial palace and then into, well, Oblivion of course. What did you expect?

Laz may be young. And he may not have had the best upbringing; thieves, beggars, and other unsavory role models, but inside him is a goodness and source of strength. And a power that he is just getting to know.

Just like each of us.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Accepting Criticisms

As a writer, there was a time when I agonized over each word. Felt pain at the placement of a period and coma. And sculpted each paragraph character by character with great love and care.

Then, once these words were placed and the thoughts and concepts were formed on the page, I would show them to other people. And invariably, these people would comment on them. I have to confess that I took these comments poorly.

Anything less than glowing praise of the writing I had given birth to was greeted like someone calling my baby ugly. I argued with my readers. I talked down to them. I drove them away with my defensiveness and disdain.

That was the wrong way to take criticism.

It took some time to learn to accept criticism with more grace. This process took me through three phases; The Outward Phase, The Mechanical Phase, and The Storyteller Phase.

The Outward Phase:

The first thing I had to do, was to stop myself from stopping the critical comments. Not every reader followed the reader's group rule of making three positive comments for each negative. They will only state negatives. And it doesn't always sound like they are even trying to be helpful.

You can feel and think and fume inwardly over these encounters.

But outwardly you need to say, "Thank you."

I started actually saying, "Thank you." when I was faced with negative criticism. This had the positive effect in two ways.  First, readers stopped being as harsh, because they felt they had my attention. Second, it let some of these critics get to the good comments because I didn't spend time arguing and correcting their negative comments.

And in my head, I would start my replies to critical questions with a thank you statement, and this changed the way I was talking.

The Mechanical Phase:

At this phase I realized that it wasn't my job to explain things to my readers, it was the story's job to do this.  And if a reader didn't understand what was happening and what a character's motivation was or what anything in the story was supposed to help the reader understand, then it was a failing in the story.

And if the story was failing, then I, the writer, needed to fix the story, not the reader.

So getting negative criticism becomes a list of story problems to be fixed.

A reader says they didn't get that the main character was a woman until the second scene, lets look at how to fix that. A reader says they didn't understand the emotional connection between the two brothers, then the story needs to mention that somewhere before it matters in the plot.

So in this phase, after writing a story, I became the mechanic in charge of fixing all of the problems so that the story would be better.  This helped me to deal with criticism because it helped me to actually be looking forward to hearing about what is wrong with a story I had written.

The Storyteller Phase:

Before this phase, I was still in love with my words. Words were my friends and my children. "Ain't nobody messing with my words."

And I had to let this go.

I think it was natural, when I was just starting to write, and trying to build my own voice, that I cared so intensely about the words I was writing. But I reached a point where it no longer mattered.

I still enjoy a good turn of phrase, and take pride in particular bits of prickly dialogue, but the placement of a word is not a big deal.  The words are no longer my offspring, they are just the tools that I use to construct my story.

In this phase I am still happy to get the list of things to fix. And I thank people for giving me negative comments. But what I am really after is anything that will help me tell my story.

So if my readers don't link a scene or plot twist, I can drop it. If they don't like the way I am writing the dialog, I can change it. If the placement of a period or adverb is confusing or distracting, I can fix it.

I can make any change that helps me tell you the story. Any change.

Because I am no longer just a writer, I am a storyteller.

There may be more phases.  It may be that other people experience these phases in a different order than I. But for me, it has been a journey of becoming a better writer and learning to tell my stories in better ways so that readers get to experience more than just words on a page, but the story that I have to tell.

PS:  Yes, this is a license or permission to tell me my story sucks and that I must be crazing to call myself a writer and should seriously consider that career in drywall hanging.

Monday, January 28, 2013

You can make good money...

I love my parents. And I am about to tell a story that could be perceived as being critical of my Mother. It was not her intent, or mine that is the point. It is just what happened. And what I learned.

I grew up in a rural community. This gave me lots of experience with hard work and down to earth people. Good folk. Good work. And good times.

After graduating high school I needed to earn money to get myself to college. I took jobs doing more construction work and became a skilled drywall hanger. I learned to make nice flat walls, ceilings, and take them from bare studs to attractive rooms with paint.

It was hard, back breaking work. It paid better than bailing hay and walking beans. And I was good at it.

A few weeks before I was planning to leave for college, my boss, and friend took me aside. "Roy," he said, "If you stick with me, in a year,  you will be able to hang out your own shingle as a contractor." I was being given a great honor. This man was offering to mentor me. To take me under his wing and teach me his business.

But I dearly hope the absolute fear that I felt didn't show on my face. I was going to college. I was not planning on doing hard, back breaking work the rest of my life. I may have been really good at hard labor, but it was a means to an end, and not a career.

So I went to college. After college, I was looking for jobs. (I had jobs during college too.) Because as a responsible husband and father, I needed to put food on the table and a roof over that table, I grabbed a short term jobs in ... construction.

I worked hard all day, and searched for employment in my area in the evenings and weekends. One day while discussing this, my loving mother came up with this. "You can make good money doing drywall. Have you considered focusing on that?"

I understand that she was just trying to be helpful, but my wife and I both burst out laughing. There was no way that I was simply going to lower my sights to point at the ground I was standing on. I had bigger dreams.

Now let me say. I really love and enjoy opportunities to get my hand dirty and build something from time to time. I am pretty handy when it comes to fixing things around the house and helping my neighbor in a time of need. But I am not a drywaller. I am many things, a computer programmer, a writer, a teacher, a husband and father. But a temporary job I had while I was starting out does not define me.

From time to time, mostly during our budget summits, my wife or I will still quip, "Well you know, you can make good money drywalling." It still makes us laugh. And I remember the boss that offered to mentor me as a contractor with fondness whenever I am doing any home repair.

As I look at these two events, I see that both my boss, and my mom were trying to be supportive and helpful. But I also see that they were missing the plan, and not really valuing my own goals. I may not succeed all the time, but I try to ask people what they want and where they see themselves going before I offer them career advice. Or life advice.

The point is that you need to have a plan. And you need to understand that there may be detours along the way, but don't let a detour, a job, or a well-meaning friend displace the plan.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tommy's Gun

Tommy watched in dismay as the officers cuffed his father and led him to the squad car. He watched them drive him away as he held his mother. Part of him told him that he should have felt shame at this.  He was after all, 14 years old and considered himself a man.

Later that night he and his mother talked about it.

"Your Dad believes he is doing the right thing."  His mother tried to explain.  "He believes that it is a bad law, and is willing to disobey it as his last protest against it."

"But they took him to jail."  Tommy complained.  He tried to keep the childish whine out of his voice that always seemed to be lurking in his throat when he got emotional.  "And no one even cares."

"People care."  His mother consoled. "We care ,and we are people. Dad is doing this for you and your sister more than for anyone else."

Her last comment confused him. He had heard these things before. Why is parents did something, like make him go to church, or read certain books even though the school library no longer had them for students his age. "Its for your own good." Or "Because there are things that you need to know."  Were the answers to many of these questions. And really, Tommy didn't resist. It was kind of fun to buck the system by commenting and referencing things even his teachers didn't know in class. It gave him and his sister reputations as kind or nerdy rebels. And he got some respect from that.

But he didn't know what he would tell his friends at school tomorrow.  How could he explain that his Dad had chosen to go to jail before surrendering his gun. They had taken the guns from them anyway. And they thought they had them all. But they only knew about the ones that his Dad had purchased, not about the one he had inherited.

Tommy knew that this was really his own gun. His Dad had explained that to him once when he was very young. He had taken him out at just eight years old, and taught him how to hold it.  How to aim it, and how to hit a target with it. It was a small 20 gauge shotgun that his father told him had been passed down from father to son for generations, and now it was to be his as soon as he was old enough to legally own it.

The gun had come into the family long before the government had started to track firearm sales, or require registration. And his ancestors including his father had carefully never registered the weapon. It was part of the family, and one doesn't register members of the family.

Well, after Tommy's father watched the President speak about making our country safer by having all firearms turned into the police, and that those that didn't voluntarily surrender them would have them seized, he did the only thing that he could do.  He took Tommy's gun, and carefully concealed it in their basement.  Tommy knew right where it was. He thought his mother also knew, but she hadn't been there.  His Dad had told him never to talk about it so that no one could overhear.

And then they came for him. It had only taken a week to get to his Dad. When they came, his Dad said he wouldn't give them up.  And they arrested him.  Searched the house, and took the guns they could find. And they had a list of what they were looking for.

The next few weeks were a bit hard.  His dad was in jail, and everyone knew why. Most people didn't talk about it. But the teachers at school did. It was like they were required to call out kids with parents that were non-compliant and tell everyone how tough it must be to have parents that didn't understand or didn't care about public safety.  

Tommy didn't know how to handle this the first time it happened. So he just stood there while the teacher went on telling everyone to be nice to him because he was having "problems at home."  Gee thanks teacher, that makes it so much better now that I will think anyone being nice is doing it because they feel sorry for me.  Thanks a lot.

After he had a chance to think about it, it made him angry.  So the next time he was singled out, he struck back.

"Tommy, will you come up front please."  His teacher, Mrs. Higgins asked him.

"Yes, Ma'am."  Tommy replied.

"Tommy, I know that things have been tough for you lately. And I want you to know that you can always come and talk to me about it, if you feel like it."  She said to him.

"Thanks, but things are fine at home."  Tommy replied. He was angry, but tried to keep it out of his voice.

"Really? I heard your father refused to comply with the gun safety laws and got arrested for it."  Mrs Higgins commented getting back on her plan. "I know that must have been hard to watch. But your home is so much safer now, don't you think."

"No. I don't think we are safer." Tommy contradicted. "I think we are just the opposite."

"But don't you know that guns are dangerous?"  Mrs HIggins was confused now. "Guns kill people. On accident and in the hands of the wrong people, can be used for so much violence."

"Our guns never killed anyone, and I don't think anyone in my family is one of these 'Wrong people' you are talking about."  Tommy was getting a bit angry now and couldn't keep if from showing.  "Or are you saying that my father was a violent man?"

"Tommy, you need to calm down or I will send you to the principal's office."

"Hey, you called me up here to humiliate me. How is any of this my fault?" Tommy asked rhetorically.

"Thats it, young man."  Mrs. Higgins stamped. "You can think about this little outburst in detention."

And so Tommy got a reputation as being a gun safety denier.  Everyone knew that guns were just too dangerous for people to own.  And as the weeks went on, there were more and more reports of guns that had escaped confiscation being used to kill people, used in robberies, and other acts of violence.

The news on the radio and TV kept talking about it. But the way they talked about it was like it was the gun that caused the crime. The gun that turned an out of work mechanic into a gang banger, or an mentally ill homeless person into a murderer.  If there just weren't any guns out there, these problems and acts of violence would go away. But Tommy kept thinking that many of the victims in these stories could have protected themselves if they hadn't been disarmed.

The next week Tommy found himself in the school counselor's office.

"Do you know why you are here, Tommy?" Mr. Forrester asked him.

"Well, I got this note from one of my teachers." Tommy searched for an answer. "It said to come here."

"Sure." Mr. Forester smiled. "And do you know why you got that note?"

Tommy was afraid that he might know why, but he was hoping that he was wrong. "Not really. Why don't you tell me and then we will both know."

Mr. Forester's smile froze a bit. "Well, you have been acting out a bit in classes and making non-compliant comments about gun safety."

"Its a free country."

"Well that may be true."  Mr. Forester continued. "But we can't run into a crowded theater and yell, 'Fire!' just because its a free country."

"What if there is a fire?"  Tommy countered. "Could we yell 'Fire!' then?"

"I suppose."  Mr. Forrester was still trying to keep smiling. "But that is just an example. What we are talking about here is public safety. And school policy. Its the school policy to prohibit rhetoric that promotes breaking the law. And the school honor code is pretty clear about public safety. Don't you agree?"

"I think we both know that I don't agree."  Tommy sighed. "So are you going to give me more detention too?"

"Why would you ask that?"  Mr Forrester said, trying to sound nice and using his, 'I'm on your side.' voice.

"That seems to be what the teachers do around here when you have a different point of view."

"I think that statement is a bit extreme."

"Well, you can think what you like." Tommy continued. "But when a teacher or counselor asks me my opinion or feelings on our latest gun safety laws, they don't want to hear my thoughts or feelings, they just want me to say what they, the teacher or counselor, thinks or feels. And that seem like its wrong."

Mr. Forester jotted down something in his folder. "I see."

"What is it that you think you see?"  Tommy queried.  He was not sure why, but he was feeling a bit aggressive.

"What?"  Mr. Forrester asked.

"What do you see?"  Tommy repeated. "And what are you writing down in that folder?"

"This is your school file."

"I know, but I can't think of anything we are discussing that has to do with my academics, so what are your writing down?  And what is it that you see?"

"Tommy, the types of behavior I am seeing indicate there may be certain types of abuse in your home."


"You have been subjected to some extreme views, and most likely physical abuse was used to enforce your adoption of these viewpoints to please your parent or parents and stop the abuse."  Mr. Forrester explained. "Was it your father or mother that hurt you?"

"My parents never hurt me."  Tommy objected.

"I see."  Mr. Forester commented again, and jotted something else in the folder.

The rest of the meeting with the counselor was just as productive.

That weekend there was a visit from social services.  Mother cried. And they took Tommy and his sister into separate rooms to be examined. They made Tommy take off his clothes to check for signs of abuse, and asked him about the bruises on his arm that he still had from wrestling some fence posts out of the garden. He could only guess that they did the same thing to his sister.

Tommy wished his father had been there.  But at the same time, was glad that he wasn't. They left, explaining that they would be making regular inspections.  Tommy, his sister, and his mother just sat on the couch afterwards and hugged each other for a long time.

The next week was just as painful.  And the next.

Meetings with the school counselor were pointless.  The man sounded more the fool every time he talked to Tommy. And the teachers went out of their way to make him look stupid, and gave everyone the knowing look of, 'See, this is what happens to gun safety deniers, they become stupid.'

It was the next week that the house of cards really came down.  Tommy was in the basement getting ready for bed when he heard a noise that he had never heard before, but that he immediately recognized.  The door had been kicked in. He heard his mother scream, and then tell them they could take whatever they wanted.

He could hear the whole thing clearly through the heating vents in the house.  They had always acted like an intercom between his room and the kitchen.

He heard a man laugh.  Then a sound like a slap.

"We don't want you, we want your girl.  Where is she?"

This was followed by more slapping, and more demanding.

Tommy knew what he needed to do.  He went to the utility room and started to carefully to retrieve his gun.  He could hear his mother weeping, but it sounded like they were done hitting her.

"Leave her. The girl is here somewhere.  Check the bedrooms, and don't forget the closets."  Came the man's voice through the venting again.

Tommy took two cartridges and loaded them into the shotgun.  Then he took a fist full of others and stuffed them in his pockets. He went to his sister's room and woke her. In whispers he explained what was happening, and then took her back to the utility room. There was a gap between the water heater and the underneath of the front porch.  Tommy helped her into it, and then closed the door.  He hoped they wouldn't find her there if he failed to stop them.

Then Tommy went to the bottom of the stairs and shut the door.  And locked it.  The noise alerted the men in the house and they called to each other and came tromping down the stairs.

Tommy could hear his mother screaming at them to leave, but he couldn't listen, he had to be ready.  He waited in a corner with good visibility of the door, but where they wouldn't see him first.  It sounded like there were three voices.

It only took moments for them to break down the basement door.  Then they came trooping into the room looking for his sister. Once they were all through the door, Tommy stepped out of the shadow and fired his first round into the back of the man closest to him.  The man crumpled and started bleeding into the carpet.  The others turned toward him.  One yelled, "Gun!" as if he were truly shocked to see one.

Tommy fired the second barrel.  Since he was not as close, the pattern spread a bit more.  The man closest to him clutched his face and screamed.  The man behind his was partially protected by his friend.  He grabbed his left arm and backed away.  As he did so, he tripped over a laundry basket and fell.

Tommy reloaded. The man clutching his face was trying to find the door by feeling the wall with his hand.  Tommy fired into his chest at close range and he went down and stopped moving.  Then he turned to the man backing away on the floor.

"Don't hurt me!" the man yelled. They were all wearing masks, but Tommy was starting to think he recognized the man’s voice.

"I know I'm not my sister."  Tommy replied. "But I think I can speak for her when I tell you that she doesn't want to talk to you."

Tommy raised his shotgun for the final round. He saw the man's eyes behind his mask get larger, and he held up his hand to says something more.  Tommy really wasn't interested in what he had to say. He fired once more at close range. The shot seemed so much louder than all of the others. It may have been the confines of the hallway, or maybe it was the effect of the adrenalin he was feeling.  Either way, he figured it was over now.

He retrieved his sister, and they found their mother upstairs.  She was so relieved but could barely speak. Tommy quickly ran a cleaning rod through his gun and put it back in its place. One doesn't leave a member of the family dirty after firing. Then he called 911 to report the break in.

As they waited for the police to arrive, Tommy started to feel really tired. He shed a few tears. It was hard to think that he had just killed three people. He hadn't seen their faces, so he wasn't sure who they were, but each time he closed his eyes he could see the terror in the eyes of that last man who had been about to make another plea for his life. He didn't know if he would ever be able to sleep again.

But at least it was over. He had protected his sister.

When the police finally got there, they started asking questions.  And Tommy started telling them what had happened. Then he realized what they were trying to get him to tell them. They wanted to know where his gun was.

"What?" Tommy asked, confused. "What difference does that make now?"

"Son, we need to take that gun." The officer stated. "Its a dangerous weapon, and might hurt someone."

"Have you been down stairs?" Tommy asked incredulously. "Of course it might hurt someone if they break into my house and try to harm my family."

"So you admit that there is a gun here, and you are refusing to surrender it?"

"I don't think I have to admit to anything."  Tommy said.

"We need that gun." The officer demanded.

"I don't have anything to give you."  Tommy replied.

"I am taking you into custody for refusing to comply with gun safety laws."  The officer stated and began forcing Tommy into a posture where he could be handcuffed.

"No!" his mother yelled.

"Stay out of this ma'am."  The officer instructed. "If I have to take you in as well, we will need to call social services to take your daughter."

Mom stopped talking then and just held onto Tommy's sister.

"It will be alright." Tommy said to her as they took him away. But they both knew that was a lie. It was not alright. It might never be alright again.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Terrorism, Suicide, and Unresolvable Issues.

As some of you may know, I studied political science in college.  One day we started discussing terrorism. The class all agreed that terrorism is bad, but we had difficulty coming to terms with why any person or group would resort to it. It looked to us, as if it was the commission of violence for no purpose.

But that is not how the terrorist sees the act. He or she sees it as the last alternative open to achieve their political or other goals. Because it was the world of academics at the time, we reduced the process to an equation to determine if terrorism was the right choice for a given group of people or politics. But in English it is basically expressed like this.

"When all other, legitimate forms of effecting political change or achieving your political goals have failed or are closed to you, then terrorism, no mater how unlikely it is to achieve your goal, becomes the only viable option."

Basically, if you can't win, you try to make the other guy  or guys who are winning so uncomfortable, that they will decide letting you win is less painful.

Its not playing fair.

It is also a method of trying to resolve an unresolvable issue.

There is only one other option other than terrorism.  This option is suicide, or self destruction.

Lets take the emotions out of the dataset and look at the evils of pancakes as our issue.

In a case where a group of people want to wipe out pancakes as a food option.  They have this one, singular political and social goal. So their first stop is the legitimate avenues.

First, they get signatures and write legislators and try to get laws enacted to eliminate pancakes.  Of course this does not work.  When they finally get a ballot initiative, the public votes against it.  This avenue of achieving the goal fails, and looks hopeless.

Next, they may try to elect legislators that agree with them.  Or other means to change the government so that it is one that they can work with to achieve their goal of pancake elimination.  But the group is so small they lack the resources and the support to do this in an election,  or by a revolution.  This avenue of achieving the goal fails, and looks hopeless.

Depending on the area, and form of government, there may be a few other variations of how to make a law, or political change.  Lets assume that they try these as well, and all fail.  Appealing to the UN which normally will support all sorts of crazy agendas also fails.  It seems that all legitimate and accepted methods of achieving the goal are doomed to failure.

There are now two options. 

They could give up.  This is the suicide option. The movement of pancake extermination self destructs and ceases to be.

Or they could resort to unpopular and illegitimate means.  This is the terrorism option. Blowing up IHOP, hacking pancake supporter websites, getting attractive movie stars to go on talk shows to tell people how pancakes are to blame for all of the destruction. There are many ways to play this end of the game.

And if the anti-flapjackers are persistent, and if they hold out long enough, it is possible that people may get tired of the fight. And when that happens, political change is at the door, and pancakes are doomed.

There is a famous quote by Ben Franklin that goes something like this, "Politics is the business of compromise." But people seem to missunderstand how to apply this.  Compromise does not mean, one person starts at 1 and another starts and 10 and they meet at 5.  This is meeting someone half way.  And it is a compromise, but not the only one.

It is not how all compromise works. One person starting at 1 and the other at 10 may also meet at 3 or 7 or 9 or 2 and still have reached a compromise. It is when one starts at 10, and the other at 1 and one or both parties refuse to move at all to accomidate or allow the other person or party to have any room for their view point, belief, preference etc.

Compromise is also not when one player says, "I'll meet you at 5." and then waits for the other person to be at 5 and wants to start negotiating for a new half way point. This is a compromise on only one side and is fake bargaining.

There are many ways to use this framework, but the only summary that applies universally, is this. If you don't think the other player or party will opt for the self destruct/suicide option, then you need to make room for them to exist.  Because the other option is terrorism. And that is a bad option.