Sunday, June 24, 2007

A logical look at Intelligent Design

By Captain Capitalist

Both proponents and opponents of intelligent design have made some serious mis-steps in logic. Intelligent design is the idea that the universe was created by a sentient being. I have not ruled out that possibility. But many have attached to the idea a whole range of assumptions that have no basis in logic.

If we start with the premise that the universe as we know it, was created by a sentient being or beings, it does not logically follow that said being(s) are immortal, all knowing, all wise, benevolent or in any way superior to humans other than in the accumulated knowledge and technology needed to create what they created.

The advancement of human technology didn't take off until we learned to record and share information, with each other and with future generations. We've only been doing so on a grand scale for a number of decades. Imagine a group of sentients who have been around for billions of years. They may have accumulated a huge mass of knowledge and technology. One doesn't have to be supernatural or super-intelligent to make use of and build on the discoveries of previous generations. Individuals within such a society could be relative dolts compared to humans and still be capable of things that seem magical to us.

Human beings will soon be able to essentially transfer our consciousness to remote locations across the solar system and beyond, by using probes outfitted for audio, video and eventually even odor, touch and taste and we don't even know what consciousness really is yet! We can genetically alter living things and will likely soon be able to create new life forms. Note that I'm using the term "we" when in fact these things are accomplished by multiple individuals across many generations. Steve Jobs did not waive his arms and say "Let there be iphone", and he is not supernatural. Humans have only been at the creation game for a millisecond or so in cosmic terms and have already accomplished some amazing things. It demostrates the power of parallel processing. There is no reason to believe the same dynamic didn't take place with respect to the universe.

Fractal geometry demostrates that one can create a relatively simple mathematical program, press start, and get an increasingly complex and boundless result that continues to change and grow over time with no additional input from "the creater". There is no reason to believe that an intelligent designer(s) had any idea how all the details of the universe would work themselves out, evolve and grow.

We are in the process of reverse engineering creation. If we don't blow ourselves up first, we will eventually crack the code of the universe. I think we'd do better and progress faster if we were to lose the mindset that things we don't yet understand and can't explain must therefore be supernatural or magical. If the human race is to survive for billions and billions of years we will have to weather cosmic catastophes like comet or planet collissions, the death of the sun and more. Cracking the code is not optional in terms of our survivability. It's imperative. Step one is to realize that it can be done. Step two, if you are going to go with the premise of intelligent design, don't assume that the designer(s) have your or our best interests at the top of their agenda. That doesn't mean we all can't get along, but we don't subjegate ourselves to those who may have come before us. If they exist, seek peer to peer relations. In fact, I think that would be mighty generous of us, given that any surviving creaters have evidently chosen to remain incommunicado to this point. Not very diplomatic of them.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

What to do About Global Warming?

By Captain Capitalist

Is global warming for real? Is it a short term trend or a major climate change? Is human activity responisible? I don't know. What I do know is that at some point the climate will change. It always does. What do we do about it? Be aware, and be prepared.

Climate change isn't something that happens overnight, but recent studies suggest that major shifts in the Earth's climate in the past (way before SUV's) have taken place over a period of decades rather than centuries. It can be devastating to individuals and economies. But in each instance of climate change over the past million years or so, hearty humans all over the globe made it through, because they found a way to adapt.

We have the benefit of accumulated knowledge, experience and technology. That puts us in a better position to deal with climate change than humans have been in any point in our history. Yet, we spend most of our time trying to figure out how to make it stop or who to blame and very little time thinking about what we're going to do when, not if, the climate becomes substantially different.

Companies and households have been encouraged to make contingency plans in case of fire, flood, severe weather, why not climate change? It's not something one has to spend hours a week on, but as a company, a meeting once a year to discuss what if's in the event the weather gets a lot warmer, or colder, or wetter or drier might be time welll spent. As a homeowner, one might at least spend a little time thinking about what modifications one could make in the event of climate change, and maybe put a little money away for it. As an entrepreneur, think about what products and services might be in demand should the average annual temperture or rainfall shift. Look to other areas of the world for answers. How do people in the middle east deal with 130 degree days? How do people in the Arctic deal with 35 below zero? Instead of just thinking, "How can I put a stop to this?", spend some time thinking "How do I take advantage of this?".

I'm not suggesting that we ignore the impact of human activity on the environment or the weather. I am stating the obvious fact that the climate has always changed and will do so again. It may do so in your lifetime. When it does being prepared to adapt and look for opportunities might be a better use of time and resources than figuring out who to hang in the town square or shaking your fist in the air and demanding someone do something about the cycles of the sun. Part of "being in tune with the planet" is the ability to adjust to its changing temperment. Climate change is going to happen, no matter what kind of car you drive or how many waterless toilets you install. Deal with it.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Immigration "Reform"?

By Captain Capitalist

The Senate and the White House are desparately trying to revive an immigration reform bill that can be passed this year. On one side of the debate are people who believe the other side is anti-immigrant or anti-hispanic, while the other side sees their opponents as being anti-border control and pro-amnesty. The public at large, meanwhile, sees a total lack of credibility on the part of our elected representatives. I believe the public has it right on this one.

Immigration reform is not new. We've passed reform bills before that granted a form of amnesty for those already here while promising tougher border enforcement. Enforcement never happened and we have no reason to believe that Washington is serious about making it happen this time. While proponents of the bill debate this amendment and that, most put dealing with illegals already here as priority number one, and treat border enforcement as kind of a side issue that they'll get to later. The illegals already here aren't going anywhere. We have plenty of time to figure out how to deal with them. If we don't get control of the border, whatever else we do is absolutely meaningless.

If we need more immigration, let's make legal immigration easier and allow more people in. Allowing throngs to sneak across the border, then granting them amnesty is not an immigration policy, it's just negligence. The suggestion that our economy will fall apart if we get control of the border is fiction. Life as we know it will not come to an end if we have to pay 95 cents/lb for tomatoes rather than 90 cents. If our economy is dependent on employers being able to hire help at below market rates, the economy needs to adjust. There is no shortage of workers, just a shortage of workers willing to accept the wages employers would like to pay. If higher wages push the price of your product up to the point that demand drops off, then your product obviously wasn't as critical to our existance as advertised. No the answer is NOT to subsidize the tomato industry. Let supply and demand do it's thing. We'll deal with it.

If we are able to secure the border in a a meaningful way, I'll get 100% behind some kind of amnesty program. I don't believe a $5,000 fine, as has been proposed by some, is unreasonable. There are low income people who pay more than that for wide screen TV's and game systems. We could even work out an installment payment plan. But borders security needs to come first. I would like to see two separate bills. Border enforcement first, then, after the promises have been kept and measureable results demonstrated, a means of accomodating those who are currently here illegally.

The American people are not anti-immigration or anti-hispanic. They are anti-BS and are becoming increasingly aware that BS is the number one export of Washington DC.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Health Care Solutions

By Captain Capitalist

The debate about health care continues to rage. There are good ideas out there. Many are shot down instantly because the wrong political party proposed them. Here are a few points I'll put out there without mentioning which party or politician, if any, suggested them.

1. Individual health insurance. One proposal being talked about these days is to make health insurance more like car insurance. You would purchase your own. You wouldn't have to worry about transferring from one workplace to another. Your rate would fluctuate according to your risk level and the number and amount of claims. There could be provisions for a "high risk" pool, with rate limitations or a (dare I say it) government backed policy for those who can't qualify for strictly private sector plans.

2. Tax deductibility. Of course there are Health Savings Plans out there, but wouldn't it be a lot simpler to just make health care expenses (and individual health insurance premiums) tax deductible? What do you care if I pay for my health expenses from a pre-designated bank account or put it on my Visa? Again there could be government backed lending plans, similar to Fannie Mae or the Federal Student Loan Program, to accommodate those who don't have ready access to funds or credit.

3. Realistic goals. How do you prevent someone from being driven to bankruptcy by extraordinary health care costs. In some cases, you can't. Bankruptcy is a hassle. It's not the end of the world. In fact, capitalism wouldn't work without it. You have to have a mechanism for "do overs" when one's financial situation becomes untenable. Starting over can be and is done, every day. The important thing is to ensure that nobody is denied critical care due to lack of funds. Every industry deals with write-offs of noncollectable accounts. Health care is no exception. In many cases, bankruptcy situations can be avoided through access to affordable credit. In cases where it can't, the economy can and does deal with it 24/7.

4. Last and most importantly, focus on common goals and good ideas rather than on who's liable to get credit for them. This runs counter to current political thought processing. Let your elected officials know if you're tired of hearing about what wont work and you'd like to hear about some things that will.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Crisis? Don't Buy It

By Captain Capitalist

It's a commodity we've come to depend on for our very way of life. It's trade has brought about the rise and fall of cities, countries, entire regions of the world. Wars have been fought over it. Wars have been won and lost according to who had better access to it. It's been used as a currency, a status symbol and an international diplomatic bargaining tool. I'm talking about, of course, salt.

Yes the commodity we all take for granted today and even dump on our highways by the truckload every winter, was once very litterally, a king-maker. Salt was a highly sought after and fought over resource for at least 4,000 years. Timbuktu was once a world economic superpower because it was centered on salt trading routes. What happened? Technology and innovation has made it almost universally accessable and cheap.

Today's commodity market king of the hill is oil. We've come to depend on it for so much that it's easy to forget, we've only been economically addicted to the substance for 50 or 60 years. If the history of homo-sapiens were a day, that would be about 45 seconds. It's true that it has helped give rise to the largest, fastest rise in world economic development in history, but if you're counting on it reigning supreme over the long term, or even for more than another generation or two, you're in for a rude awakening.

Here's the reality of the current situation. We've been lead to believe that we're in the midst of a global energy crisis. The fact is that the world has enough total fossil fuel reserves, even by pessimistic estimates, to feed our energy jones for another century or so. There are a number of alternative fuel sources under development, which will be widely commercially available, competitive, and likely economicially superior choices, well before then. Fusion's a biggie, but probably 50 years off at the current rate of development. Other technologies like Thermal Depolymerization, Fuel Cells, Electolysis (which will produce hydrogen from water for both fuel cells and internal combustion), Hydrogen on Demand (from borax), Sterling Solar and Biodiesel, just to name a few, are almost ready for prime time now. When one crosses that threshhold of being cheaper, cleaner and at least equal in performance to gasoline, it won't take 25 years to deploy. The market wont leave it up to current government and industry leaders to figure out how to make it available. Entrepreneurs and risk takers, as always, will get the job done without their blessings.

So why the big paranoia over a commodity that will be largely obsolete long before anybody runs out of it? The many parties who benefit most from the oil market status quo have done a great job recently of controlling supply, regulating production, discouraging alternatives through selective subsidies and tax incentives and generally selling the idea that we can't live without it and that trying to do so would be economic suicide. This can slow, but wont stop market evolution. Change wont be gradual. I don't know when, but relatively soon, the oil market is going to fall hard. Here's what to look for preceding the event. Mechanisms will be created allowing average consumers to purchase oil and gas futures fairly easily. Brokers and trading houses will run constant commercials advising everyone to "get in now" before it's too late. The price of oil will go insanely high, then suddenly, the bottom will fall out. The same folks who bought into the Y2K scare and loaded up on any stock that had the word "intenet" attached to it just before the bubble burst will be left holding the bag.

So what do we do about energy prices today? Today we deal with the reality of today. But sleep well. The sky is not falling. Keep your eyes and ears open, your objective thinking cap on, and remember, so far everyone who's forcast the end of the world has been wrong.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Big Brother Better Watch His P's and Q's

By Captain Capitalist

George Orwell's gloomy predictions in the book "1984" have turned out to be exactly backward. In Orwell's view, the advance of technology empowered authoritarian government (Big Brother) to keep tabs on individuals and control every aspect of their lives. The reality has been just the opposite.

First of all, for an economy to develop advanced technology, one must have free enterprise. That's where the money comes from. The Soviet Union lost the cold war because they couldn't afford to keep up. China is gradually moving toward free market capitalism because it pays well. They will never reach their full potential until their society is also free. If and when that happens, more power to them. The reason for that is simple: Resource allocation as determined by billions of individual decisions made every minute is a much more efficient system than resource allocation by a handful of self-anointed elites.

The advance of technology in the west has actually lead to scenario's like the recent rebirth of Radio Caracas Television. Venezuelan strongman and international idiot, Hugo Chavez (until recently lauded as a visionary by many dolts, I mean pundits), shut down the station because it did not promote views consistent with his agenda. The station is now broadcasting daily via YouTube. The authoritarian government shut them down and the private sector put them back up.

Many people are now up in arms about Google's new Street View technology. Google's satellites provide a panoramic view of streets and intersections. When you look up an address you can actually see exactly where the building is, and what it looks like. People fear this may lead to a "Big Brother" scenario where the government can keep tabs on you 24/7. A real "Big Brother" scenario would be if the government took control of Google's cameras and pulled them from the web so that you and I couldn't access them. What we speculate was a massacre (we have to speculate because there were no camera's) at Tienemin Square in 1989 didn't take place until after the government kicked out the media and shut down all the cameras.

Bad guys and bad governments are like cockroaches. They don't like the light. The technologies being deployed today are not part of a monolithic enterprise, working together to keep you down. They are individual pieces of technology being made available to the public by a wide variety of organizations with differing and sometimes conflicting agendas. They are competing for your business and when one steps out of line, the others are more than happy to point that out to you.

Information technology is an extension of memory, but it's much more reliable and accurate. The current boom in sharing, transferring and storing information is akin to the invention of the written word. Billions of individuals can now share and build on each others ideas, and carry the effort forward to future generations. It's much harder now for governments and con men to hide the truth from the masses, and good ideas have a better chance of being brought to fruition than ever before.

If you're concerned about individuals being able to see what you're doing in public, here's an idea: Stop cheating on your wife, lying to your business partner, running red lights, stealing from you boss or trying to dupe the public. Then go home and get a good night's sleep.

Big Brother, we're watching you.