Thursday, January 19, 2017

From Trump to the Tribulation

Preface and Disclaimer:
I am politically neutral and neither support nor oppose Trump. Though I live in the United States and am affected by what happens, I have no political affiliation of any kind. I look at things as a detached observer. Much as one would look at the history of ancient political developments, some of which we will consider here.

Under the Big Top
When Donald Trump announced his run for the office of president of the United States I chuckled. Knowing his record of manipulating the media I thought this might even be a publicity stunt. I mean really a reality TV star as leader of the worlds most powerful government. It reminded me of the movie Idiocracy where a professional wrestler is president. But after a bit more consideration I wondered; is it really that unusual. There have been many others in high offices who have similarly odd resumes. Remember Sen. Sonny Bono, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gov. Jessie Ventura and Sen. Al Franken? In fact Trump is not even the first show biz president. In any event I settled in for an entertaining election cycle

I've always seen him as a showman/businessman, somewhat like P. T. Barnum. For this reason I initially assumed his motive, ever the showman, was likely just more self promotion. I also didn't take very seriously many of the things he said. Things that seemed to freak everyone else out. My main reason for this is as an experienced businessman and negotiator he is probably just using a standard anchoring technique. The way this works is you anchor with an opening bid in an extreme position and negotiate back towards the other side, likely settling in a position far more in your favor than if your opening bid was more reasonable.

As his candidacy picked up steam the old movie Brewster's Millions, where the protagonist Monty Brewster runs for Mayor of New York, never intending to win, came to mind. I still think that the "Vote for None of the Above" sentiment was going through the minds of many who supported him. As he defeated all primary candidates I began to take him more seriously. By the time the British voted to leave the E.U., despite the same full court press from the ruling elites, I could see that not only was he very likely to be the next president but something greater was going on here.

Some historians subscribe to the Great Man Theory. I tend to believe that the constantly undulating mood of the sea of humanity has more to do with the shaping of events. Great men may change history but they arise from the sea of humanity and only by its permission. That is to say they are shaped by the conditions created by the events of the current and previous generations and can only really do anything with the cooperation of their contemporaries. Trump could never get to where he is without the current zeitgeist being what it is.

Oddly enough Trump has been talking about running for president for at least the last 30 years. Why did he wait until now? Is he a genius who was waiting for this perfect time? Did he just have other things he wanted to do first? Or was there something else at work here? I'll not answer that last question in this article, but I will give some food for thought.

The populist wave that Trump rode into office is not confined to the U.S. The spirit of anger and rebellion toward the establishment is truly Global. It's also not something confined to our times but rather heralds all the way back to the very beginning of humanity. Mankind has been self willed and rebellious for a long time.

As alluded to before, the current mood is a product of the events in the recent past that precipitated from the actions of the previous generation. Most of the attitudes and actions of today's ruling elite were shaped by events in the early twentieth century, most notably the two world wars. The wide spread fear of repeating such a horrific slaughter shaped both the values of those who ran for office as well as the others involved in helping them get into office. But it's more than just cause and effect, when it comes to social change there seems to be a cyclical rhythm to it.

Because human nature hasn't changed in thousands of years we see the same patterns appear over an over again through out history. Ideas like Generational Theory as explained in The Fourth Turning provide a fascinating insight into how this process works. Other theories such as the PI cycle provide a more abstract view into the cyclical manifestations of mass psychology. Everything is driven by human psychology cycles: the economy, views on parenting, social mores and populism.

Initially when a cycle begins, whether it was initiated by the branching of a tribe or a cataclysmic fall of an empire, everyone starts out relatively equal. As time goes on wealth and power gradually accumulate in the hands of those who are diligent, bold, ruthless and/or clever enough to acquire it. And these, wishing to hold onto and grow their wealth and power, begin to rearrange things to favor themselves and there progeny. As the system becomes more and more rigged and the disparity of wealth increases, so the discontent of those who feel left out grows until it reaches the flash point. Such is the cycle of populism and revolution.

About 80-100 years ago populism disrupted many long established regimes. In 1917 the Russian Revolution overthrew 300 years of Czarist tradition. During the 1930's the desperate conditions the Great War created resulted in Fascist regimes through out Europe and various populist movements in the rest of the world, including the U.S.  During the 1930's Heuy Long promised populist reforms that make the promises of Trump and Bernie Sanders look conservative. He made a run for president of the U.S. and was assassinated before he got very far.

After WWII the world entered a period of strong economic growth. The U.S. especially benefited by being the only major economy to escape the destruction that befell much of Europe and Asia. But everywhere else too the relative peace, coupled with a demographic baby boom and accelerating technological ability increased prosperity for all. Now we are in the twilight of that demographic bubble and what little economic gains there are to be had are not distributed as evenly. Today the growing disparity between rich and poor along with the growing irritation at elites, who seem to be prospering, would seem to suggest we are entering another era of populism. I suspect recent events are just the beginning.

Nothing New Under the Sun
The constitutional republic of the United States is thought by many to be a marvel of civic human achievement. The originators of its divided powers are haled as far sighted geniuses. But let's simplify it: out of the dread of tyranny they essentially created a system that makes it difficult to govern. The often complained about "Gridlock" is by design. Those "checks and balances" are designed to slow the inevitable rise of tyranny. That's really all there is to it.

The American experiment, as it's often referred to, is really not that novel either. Rome has been there, done that. Most people can immediately see the superficial resemblance the American Republic holds to ancient Rome. A quick stroll through Washington D.C. not to mention a consideration of the excessive use of Latin in the legal terminology, money, national and state mottos, etc gives one the impression that the people who created this country were quite enamored with Rome. But the similarity goes much deeper.

Most know about the Roman senate and understand it to be the source of inspiration for the U.S. Senate. What is less understood is that over two millennia ago the Roman Republic had many of the familiar "checks and balance" mechanisms the U.S. Constitution provides. The reason for these was the same paranoia toward tyranny that the the so called "Founding Fathers" of the U.S. had. Rome did not just have a Senate. They had various other government offices some of which were specifically designed to limit the power of the Senate.

Consider as an example the highest office in the old Roman Republic, Consul. Two were elected for a term of one year and they would alternate dominance each month. These would perform many duties including judge, legislator and, much like the office of president, commander of the army. Initially the class known as the patricians (wealthy land owners) were only allowed to be elected to this high office.

As time went on the plebeians (common non land holders) gained access to the consul and other offices meant to be a check on the senate and patrician power. Chief among these was the office of Tribune of the Plebs. The tribune had significant power up to and including the power to veto the actions of consul and other magistrates. Additionally they were protected from harm by law to prevent their power from being diminished through intimidation.

This is just a cursory view of the complex web of ancient Roman political institutions. When you add to this the various other familiar checks on power they had such as term limits and filibusters, you begin to see that the United States of America is not as unique as it is often portrayed. As a wise man once said, "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." - Ecclesiastes 1:9

Fall of the Republic
Everyone knows that the Roman Republic officially ended when Gaius Julius Caesar became the first Roman Emperor. What is less understood is the series of events that lead to a reasonably stable republic loosing power to a dictator. To understand this we need to understand why the Roman Republic was so stable for so long.

As stated before, Rome was paranoid of tyrants. This was a part of the culture and anytime someone would even so much as be perceived to gain an inordinate amount of power, they would be countered by any means necessary. For much of the republic's early history those in power respected this notion religiously. Thus no one even entertained the idea of being a king let alone make a play for it. Such a thing was viewed as the most hated villainy.

By about the last century B.C.E. Rome had defeated all its major enemies, at least those that stood a real chance of threatening its existence; Carthage to the south, Macedonia to the east and the Gauls to the north. With the external threat gone they began to experience a threat from within. The lower classes along with the Italian allies began to want more from the ruling elites. Enter stage left, populism.

The first major populist was Tiberius Gracchus. Depending on your level of cynicism, he either championed or pandered to the plebeian's as their tribute. The disparity between haves and have-nots that creates populism had risen to unprecedented levels in Rome due to the newly conquered lands and the death of so many who fought to do the conquering. Essentially those who survived bought up both the lands abandoned by the dead legionnaires as well as the newly conquered territories. Couple this with the lack of a credible external existential threat and Roman unity began to unravel.

Tiberius Gracchus forced through land reforms even, as some report, illegally overturning a veto by another tribune. This lead to the senate's paranoia that he had ambitions to be king and to Tiberius' assassination. Then, much to the senate's horror, Tiberius' brother Gaius Gracchus took up the populist mantel and using the lessons of his predecessor went even farther with populist reforms. Though he was hugely popular among the people the ruling elites in the senate hated and feared him. Subsequently he eventually suffered the same fate as his brother.

Likely the senate thought they had put an end to this nonsense and everything would go back to the way it was. But that would never happen. It was too late to put the genie back in the bottle. The Gracchus brothers opened the door for what would eventually lead to the end of the Roman Republic. A whole series of populists one after another began to degrade the senate's power.

In addition to the populists, one very powerful conservative Lucius Cornelius Sulla ruthlessly attempted to regain control for the oligarchy. In a reactionary campaign he literally killed off anyone who was even rumored to support the previous populist he had eliminated when seizing power. Then he passed government reforms to prevent anyone from rising to power the way he did, creating an even more tangled web of checks and balances, term limits, political road blocks, etc. All these were meant to restore and safeguard the republic. Feeling satisfied that he had accomplished his goal, he stepped down and returned power to the senate.

For all his efforts to restore the stability of the old republic, Sulla's reforms did not stick. In fact his unprecedented and lawless tactics used to gain power to do the reforms, simply provided a road map for others to follow. The core of the problem was that once tradition had been broken and the new precedent set, the door was opened to even further political innovation.

Over thousands of years we've seen how man has tried every possible form of  government: Monarchy, oligarchy, direct democracy, representative republic. Likewise with the various forms of economic system: Capitalism, socialism, communism. They all end the same. Thus it will be with the current establishment and any that may come after it. They all have the same flaw. Man's imperfection. This is one reason for my neutrality.

What About Trump?
The U.S. has been a stable republic for far less time than Rome was. It is not inviolable. The stability of any system relies on everyone agreeing to abide by certain rules. Some of these are solidly written down. Others are merely implied or viewed as traditions that you dare not break. When someone violates these it invariably encourages others to do the same.

Trump has shown himself to be no respecter of tradition. As the media continually reminds us he is breaking one precedent after another. And most, if not all, of it is intentional. He purposes to completely change the way things work in the halls of power. Everyone understands this about him. But does everyone understand that even if the elites eventually succeed in taking him down, there's no going back to the way things were.

So whether he's reelected in four years, impeached or assassinated, succeeds or fails in his reforms, Trump has blazed a trail for others and opened many minds to new possibilities that not so long ago were unthinkable. A door to a new era has been opened. One that will be very different than anything we've ever experienced.

So What's Next
The past is hard enough to piece together, but the future, who can tell? Well, I don't know the future, but I know someone who does: “The One telling from the beginning the finale, and from long ago the things that have not been done.”—ISAIAH 46:10. The creator of the universe Jehovah God knows the future and he has revealed some of it to us. Though we don't know much of the how and when, we do know the major sequence of what.

1. Cry of peace and security
2. All world governments give at least some of their authority to the U.N. to eliminate false religion.
3. A period of great tribulation and fear.
4. Attack of the king of the North, Gog of Magog, upon God's people.
5. Armageddon, God's war on all who do not submit to his appointed king Christ Jesus.

Peace and Security
At some point in the near future there will be a conspicuous announcement of peace and security. Though there will not actually be true peace and security it may appear as though there is or is about to be. Will this be tied into Trump's "make America great again" slogan or some new technological break through. Perhaps it could even be an attempt by the elites to regain control and they will declare victory against the populists. One thing is sure, this announcement will be quickly followed by the demise of the entire system.

"Whenever it is that they are saying, “Peace and security!” then sudden destruction is to be instantly on them, just like birth pains on a pregnant woman, and they will by no means escape." - 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3

End of Religion
Immediately after the cry of peace and security the governments will turn on religion. The Bible tells us in graphic symbolism that 'God will put it into their hearts to carry out his thought (removing his enemy false religion) and their one thought' (maintaining and increasing their hold on power). Apparently the nations will see it to their advantage to eliminate religion.

"...The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is sitting, mean peoples and crowds and nations and tongues. And the ten horns that you saw and the wild beast, these will hate the prostitute and will make her devastated and naked, and they will eat up her flesh and completely burn her with fire. For God put it into their hearts to carry out his thought, yes, to carry out their one thought by giving their kingdom to the wild beast, until the words of God will have been accomplished. And the woman whom you saw means the great city that has a kingdom over the kings of the earth.” - Revelation 17:15-18

The financial crisis that began in 2008, the one that most experts agree almost gave the entire global economy a fatal stroke, has by all accounts not been stopped but rather diverted and delayed. The various schemes of central banks have not fixed the actual cause of the problem for it cannot be fixed with financial maneuverings. They are systemic and thus will only be resolved painfully when the system completely collapses and a new one replaces it. One thing they have accomplished is converting much of the private debt to public debt. Therefore the next crisis will not be just companies failing, it will be countries.

So where will desperately indebted nations turn to for help, particularly when all the other nations are likewise in crisis, and its people have already been taxed to the breaking point? Who seems to always be well stocked whether the economy is good or bad? Who lives in shameless luxury and often doesn't even seem afraid to flaunt it? Who not only has the needed funds to pay the crushing debt of the nations but also has been losing favor more rapidly than any other human institution? Who's public services and social value, that in previous times seemed to make her an invaluable asset to society, have withered and been replaced by the services of governments and other social institutions? None other than Babylon the Great AKA false religion.

As for Trump he has already gotten in a war of words with the Pope and mentioned that it might be a good idea to ban all Muslims from entering the country. It's not hard to imagine a man like him, who enjoys slaying sacred cows, making an effort to eliminate religion all together if they get in his way or if doing so seems like a pragmatic means to an end. Could it be that "...devour her flesh" indicates the seizure of the great wealth of the worlds religions? That's a quick way to finance expensive infrastructure projects.

Notice the obscene wealth of just a few of the worlds religions. For most of these religions it's impossible to calculate exactly how much they have because being tax exempt they don't have to tell anyone.

Catholic Church
Church of England

This situation has not escaped notice and there are many indications that the days of religion's tax exempt status are numbered.

Religion will also be a target for many other reasons including the destabilization and fear created by the growing violence of Jihadists and a refugee crisis which forces very religious people to live in close proximity with mostly secular humanists who have very different world views and sense of morality.

The Great Tribulation
After this attack on religion begins a great period of fear will envelope the entire global society. True
 religion, the people who as Jesus stated were doing the will of his father (John 7:21), will be ignored by the governments least initially. Perhaps this is because they are less prominent or less wealthy and so are not as tempting a target. Maybe their refusal to meddle in politics and their non violent, tax paying, law abiding lifestyle will show they are no threat to the governments. Interestingly Jared Kushner, who purchased the Watchtower buildings in Manhattan recently, is to be the senior adviser to Trump. This is a man who likes and respects the Witnesses and even gave an interview showing his appreciation for their integrity.

During this time, as mainline religions that have existed for centuries are being dismantled, Jehovah's Witnesses will stop preaching and conducting Bible studies and will shift their efforts to a warning work. As they are still boldly and diligently serving their God and everyone else has abandoned theirs, it will become increasingly apparent who are God's people and who are not. This will make many very angry as it becomes obvious that the door to salvation has closed.

At this point, when all false religions are completely gone an attack on God's people begins. This attack is described in both Daniel 11:44,45 and Ezekiel 38:1-23. The king of the North will lead this attack and God will step in as the final war begins. God's people will seem vulnerable to the nations. After all they have no weapons, no political power, no vast wealth to protect them. Only their God Jehovah to defend them.

 “You will be given attention after many days. In the final part of the years you will invade the land whose people have been restored from the ravages of the sword, collected together out of many peoples onto the mountains of Israel, which had long been lying devastated. The inhabitants of this land were restored from the peoples, and all of them dwell in security. You will come against them like a storm, and you will cover the land like clouds, you and all your troops and many peoples with you.” - Ezekiel 38:8-11

This will surely be the most intense test of faith and courage ever experienced for all true Christians living at that time. That is why it's called the Great Tribulation.

Once the nations reach for God's people to destroy them the way they did false religion, Jehovah unleashes the execution forces to finish off all who oppose his kingdom. God's people will not need to fight. They will faithfully await their salvation just as they have many times in the past. 2 Chronicles 20:17, Isaiah 37:35, 36.

Once Satan's old system has been completely ripped out by the roots, a new earthly society under God's kingdom will be implemented and true peace and security will be enjoyed by all those who survive and by millions, perhaps billions, who are resurrected Acts 24:15, Revelation 21:1-4.

So is it the end of the world as much of the media seems to believe? Is Trump the guy who will bring on the end of the system? Maybe. Trump's rise to so high a position of power, so quickly with such powerful enemies aligned against him, not to mention his unconventional way of looking at the world could indicate a divine hand is involved. It wouldn't be the first time God has elevated an unbeliever with unconventional views to the heights of power and used him to accomplish his will.

In the sixth century B.C.E. Cyrus the Persian rose from relative obscurity, and in less than 30 years went on to conquer and create a huge empire stretching from the Mediterranean to India. He had a unique policy of respecting the religion of the people he conquered. This was unheard of for his time and it was not by accident. The prophet Isaiah foretold of Cyrus approximately two hundred years in advance (Isaiah 44:24-45:6). Saying that the Jewish people would be released from seventy years of captivity in Babylon by him and that further he would send them back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple.

The thing to keep in mind though is that Bible prophesy is usually only fully understood after it is fulfilled. This is not because of vagueness such as can be found in false prophets like Nostradamus or fortune tellers. No, in contrast Bible prophesies are actually very specific. Cyrus for example was mentioned in Isaiah by name and the method he used to conquer Babylon was laid out in detail. However, Bible prophesies usually contain only the information necessary for God's people to survive.

A perfect example of this is Jesus instructions to first century Christians to leave Jerusalem when the city was surrounded by encamped armies.

“However, when you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies, then know that the desolating of her has drawn near. Then let those in Ju·deʹa begin fleeing to the mountains, let those in the midst of her leave, and let those in the countryside not enter into her, because these are days for meting out justice in order that all the things written may be fulfilled. Woe to the pregnant women and those nursing a baby in those days! For there will be great distress on the land and wrath against this people. And they will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations until the appointed times of the nations are fulfilled."

Who would the encamped armies be? When would they come? How would Christians be able to escape if the city is surrounded? Those early Christians didn't know. All they knew was; when they saw these things, they needed to take action and get out.

In 66 C.E. relations between Judea and their Roman overlords deteriorated. Soon the people of the city found themselves under siege by the Roman legions. Now Christians knew the who and when but how were they going to be able to obey Jesus command to leave the city and flee to the mountains. Well, suddenly and inexplicably the Romans withdrew and the emboldened Jewish zealots went after them. This provided a small window of time for faithful, obedient Christians to leave Jerusalem without being harassed by either the Roman army or the Jewish Zealots. History shows that the Jewish Christians did exactly that, and survived the calamity that came just four years later when, just as Jesus said, Jerusalem and its temple were completely destroyed, never to be rebuilt.

The Bible contains similar life saving instructions for Christians today. Not every detail about who, when and how is included, but we have what we need to survive if we keep on the watch and act obediently.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Age of Immaturity

Its been said that a person spends the first two years of his life learning that he is the center of the universe and the rest of it learning that he is not. Many people today seem to be stuck at levels of maturity far less than their years would suggest. Why is this and what's it got to do with Technology?

Emotional Immaturity
By immaturity, I mean primarily Emotional Immaturity. So what exactly is that? Well, Emotional Maturity (EM) is the ability to control ones emotions and reactions. It is also the ability to cope with life and accept it as it really is not as you want it to be. Someone who is mature can accept responsibility for their actions and their situation. They look inwardly for ways to affect positive change, adapting to the world rather than expecting the world to adapt to them. Because of these positive behaviors they contribute to the well being of what ever community they are a part of.

In contrast someone who lacks EM will:
  • Try to control every situation and person around them.
  • Live in an idealized past, future or fantasy.
  • Dwell on negative emotions instead of moving on.
  • Talk on and on about their problems instead of finding solutions.
  • Throw a temper tantrum when ever they are faced with a situation that doesn't fit their ideal.
  • Blame other people and situations instead of accepting responsibility for their life.
  • Create lots of drama for themselves and their loved ones.
As a result of these attitudes and behaviors living with a person who lacks EM will be very difficult.

Technology's Role
Although, the roots of such behavior are varied and on the surface technology may seem to have little to do with it, the immature attitudes and behaviors described above are at least exacerbated by the influence of today's miraculous electronic world.

Today we have the means to supply instant gratification in so many ways. From the microwave oven to instant messaging we can often times get what we want when we want it with out much effort. Though some of this getting everything we want immediately is due to non technological factors like easy credit and the spoils of living in a wealthy society that lives off the cheap labor of the developing world, much of it is directly or indirectly due to technology.

Technology makes getting things done faster and this reduces our patience. We now find waiting for anything to be intolerable. Today sending a letter through the mail is called Snail Mail and the youngest generation even finds that email is too slow, They prefer to use text messaging. Products can be ordered on line and delivered to your door step overnight. Movies can be downloaded online, no more driving to the theater or Video rental. Even our food comes ready to eat or can be heated up in less than 2 minutes.

Video games and virtual reality allow people to enter a world where its all about them. They can do what ever they want and everything in the game is geared toward their enjoyment. We can talk to anyone on line in a social media app and we can ignore them, be rude or otherwise act in ways that would have been very awkward to say the least without these technologies. We don't even have to deal with boredom anymore because we always have a device nearby to entertain or otherwise occupy our minds.

Effect on children
Children who grow up with machines that cater to their every whim and live in an environment where they are the center of attention become conditioned to be self centered. Additionally, children need inter action with other people of all ages to learn how to be kind, show respect and compromise. They are not going to learn such things simply from watching a cartoon singalong or chatting with peers on social networks.

Discipline is also becoming more difficult. When most kids rooms are stocked with video games, cable TV and smart phones, sending little Johnny to his room is not much of a punishment. Likewise with out the timeout from electronic media how does a child have the time to meditate on any discipline he's been given. Any strong council from his elders will be quickly forgot as soon as he logs on to his XBox or starts surfing Youtube.

To be sure, I love the convenience of our machines. I personally am an avid user of the microwave and I really enjoy being able to order stuff online or download a movie. There is, however, a price to pay. Qualities such as patience, self control and kindness are being eroded by the instant gratification and lack of direct connection to people that technology affords.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

How Healthy Is Modern Life?

Technology has made some aspects of life better. Some would say that one of these aspects is our health. I would disagree.

The Modern Diet
The modern diet consists of way too many calories usually in the form of carbohydrates and in particular refined sugars and starches which have a very high glycemic index. This is in ironic contrast with most of human history in which not getting enough calories was the problem. The modern diet also includes many unnatural chemicals which may or may not, depending on which studies you believe, have strange and undesirable side effects. Pioneer families like the Ingalls never had to understand, let alone pronounce, things like methylchloroisothiazolinone.

The dangerous effects of preservatives and other unnatural chemicals aside, even just the refined sugars and starches are enough to kill us. When you eat things like donuts or even the supposedly healthy cereals like Shredded Wheat you are sending way to much sugar into your blood stream. Sugar is necessary for your body to function, but too much sugar in you blood can destroy your blood vessels. The Insulin reaction, our bodies way of trying to save us from the dangerously high amounts of glucose in our veins, causes us to get fat by making the fat stay in our fat cells so the hungry cells can burn up the sugar first.

Today, mostly due to globalization, there is a greater number of fruits and vegetables available at your local supermarket. Unfortunately most of them are full of pesticides and contain far less nutrients than they used to decades ago. Similarly with vitamins and supplements, there is a greater variety and availability, but you wouldn't need most of them if you just had nutritious food at every meal.

Physical Exercise
Before the industrial revolution all work was done by either humans or animals. This naturally required large amounts or energy from food. For the average working stiff getting fat was not a concern. Today because of desk jobs and a generally more sedentary lifestyle most people are concerned about being overweight.

Sure we have gyms on every corner and even inexpensive exercise equipment at Walmart and if you live in a relatively safe neighborhood you can always take a walk, but most of us find it hard to make the time to get enough exercise to keep a healthy weight. If you are burning calories as you are making a living that time crunch goes away. So I would say technology doesn't make up for the much more accessible exercise as you work method of the past.

Stress has been a part of the human condition ever since our first parents decided to leave the safety of their creators protective headship. There has always been crime, poverty and war, but the level of stress felt by most, whether living in a developed country or the third world is much greater than it has ever been. Obviously things like drought, famine and civil war are stressful. Africa and Asia have seen more than their share of this. Like wise corruption and narco gangs are a terrifying specter to live under, just ask anyone from Mexico or much of Latin America. But its also no picnic living under the corporate oppression and economic uncertainty in the U.S.

Technology has not helped in this regard. Modern life in the U.S. and other developed lands has generally been made more stressful by technology. In fact much of our stress comes directly from technology, such as the constant interruptions and demand for our attention that the proliferation of media and communications affords.

A more indirect effect of technology is the way it allows us to be independent and live almost anywhere. At first this sounds great, but then there is the natural consequence that most of us live amongst strangers. Our family members live far away and most of us don't know all if any of our neighbors. This also contributes to stress and for some depression and a sense of disconnectedness.

While its true that much technology has been devoted to safety, its also true that much of it wouldn't even be necessary if it wasn't for some other dangerous technology. A perfect example is seatbelts & airbags. Great ideas and I'm glad they were invented, but they are only necessary because automobiles are the sixth leading cause of death in most developed countries.

Then there are the obvious hazards found in modern industrial places of employment where chemicals, heavy equipment and other dangerous activities cause many to loose life or limb. Some times in the case of a person working with hazardous materials like asbestos or carcinogenic petrol chemicals it takes years for the affects to manifest themselves. Other times its instant death or dismemberment such as in the case of oil rig operators and electric linemen.

Finally there is war which has been made exponentially more deadly by the invention of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and there oh so efficient delivery systems. Man has always put great effort into finding more effective ways of killing his neighbor. Now. however, he has the ability to kill all his neighbors.

Heath (Sick) Care
Advances in medicine, particularly over the last 100 years, are nothing less than awe inspiring. What used to be a death sentence is now often a simple trip to the pharmacy for antibiotics or an out patient surgery. Our knowledge of how the body works and how we can tweak it to cure disease or repair damage saves and improves lives.

There are some blunders in modern medicine too be sure. Things like drug interactions, blood transfusions, or deadly cures like chemotherapy. Also the general dependency on drugs and the focus on treating of symptoms rather than finding the root of the problem and curing it. Of course It could be argued that these are problems that arise from human nature and attitude rather than technology, so I think maybe this is one area where technology helps more than it hurts.

So, as I usually find to be the case, technology giveth but it taketh even more. I much prefer a quiet life free of frankenfoods, dangerous jobs and weapons of mass destruction to a modern life of deadly convenience.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Codist

A treatise on the oft misunderstood and much maligned programmer.

To most non-programmers the art of making a computer do something can seem like black magic, but its really just a mixture of art and engineering. To be sure programmers, especially if they are good, are a special breed. They usually have certain aptitudes and abilities that can't be learned. Of coarse this in no way discounts the part that experience and hard work play in making an excellent coder or application architect, but just as is true of great artists, athletes or scientists there is an element of raw talent that must be there.

This aptitude is usually accompanied by certain personality traits. Its as if the same hard wiring that imparts the mental ability to code also creates a certain kind of personality. Perhaps this accounts for some of the stereotypical traits of a programmer such as being aloof, less able to communicate with non-programmers, irritable when interrupted, working alone in long stretches of 12-14 hours while paying little attention to normal human activities such as eating properly or bathing. For the record I shower regularly and do not subsist on Twinkies and pizza, although I do often appear aloof and prefer to work without interruption for long stretches of time. However there is another reason why programmers exhibit these traits: The task of designing and coding an application requires you to work in just such a way.

What I mean is a computer program is often very complex and requires the programmer to load and hold in his mind all its moving parts at once. This takes time and the slightest interuption can cause you to loose that mental model and have to start all over loading each class, method and variable into your brain. For those who aren't programmers and don't have experience with this imagine you're building a house of cards one card at a time, you've built it five layers high and someone comes along and bumps you and the whole thing comes tumbling down. If that was your job, you'd be in a basement, away from others where no one could interrupt you too.

The creative aspect of designing and coding an application can also require long stretches of uninterrupted time thinking about or examining different approaches to a problem domain. Like an artist or a scientist, programmers are often deep inside their heads even when they are surrounded by others. This can make them appear aloof to others. I've even noticed in my own experience some people becoming offended or irritated believing I was intentionally ignoring them, when in reality I was just so consumed with the creative idea I was exploring that I was barely aware of their presence.

The truly great programmers and designers are driven people. They can be bold and daring. They also tend to be extremely honest and unrelentingly logical. As such they may not consider others feelings to the degree they should and are sometime perceived as rude. They may also appear to have a one track mind. Seeing the problem they are working on from all angles draws their full attention, as a consequence everything else in their life can become neglected, even the a fore mentioned eating and bathing. All these traits though they may make them a brilliant engineer can often estrange them from the general population.

Because of being so focused on whatever project they are working on they can often lack skill in social situations simply because they have neglected to exercise such skills. After a period of time, especially if they are not around people who understand them they can become uncomfortable and just choose to avoid such situations all together. When this happens you end up with the stereotypical nerd, geek or whatever epithet society gives to the intellectually gifted yet socially inept.

Not all programmers fit this stereotype, in fact no one fits any stereotype exactly because we are all individuals with free will and a complex personality that emerges from both our genetics and our experiences. However understanding why some of these traits exist in programmers or by extension artists, scientists, mathematicians, etc. helps us to see them for who they truly are and not just who the seem to be.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Complexity, Entropy & Maintenance

This post is inline with three other posts I made here, here & here. They all touch on the exponential increase in complexity and the limits to the continuation of that complexity. This post is about an oft overlooked limit to complexity: Entropy and the maintenance required to counter it. The degree of complexity of a system increases the cost of maintenance. When you get to a point where the maintenance of a system consumes all available resources you can no longer increase the complexity of that system. There are many reasons why I believe we are at or close to that inflection point.

As a seasoned software developer I am always interested in reducing complexity. My many bad experiences with having to make changes to kludgy code have made me very conscious of writing clean, simple, easy to understand code. Anything I can do to reduce the amount of code or simplify how its put together makes my job easier latter on when I'm required to maintain or update it.

Many times you start out with bad code because of inexperienced or uncaring developers. Other times you start out well but over the years you accumulate layer upon layer of cruft from different updates, often by different programmers with different ideas on how the app should work. I have seen some legacy systems like this that were mission critical and yet over the years through the process of neglect and entropy they had reached the point of collapse. The same principle applies to any system. As it grows and adds layer upon layer it requires more and more maintenance to keep running. Once the maintenance required reaches a level that resources can no longer sustain, it collapses.

A system's complexity can be composed of not just its size or the number of its parts but more importantly the interconnectivity of those parts. As an example the internet is quite large expanding over six continents. It also has many different parts ranging from a handfull of DNS root servers to billions of individual server nodes and telecom cables. What makes this system really complex though is the interconnectivity of each of those nodes.

For all those pedantic Thermodynamic sticklers I am using the word entropy in a more general sense of the word to mean the tendency for things to go from an ordered state to a disordered state or, more specifically in this article, from a usable state to an unusable one. From my experience, it appears the more complex a system the greater the force of decay. This would also seem to be in harmony with the thermodyamic definition of entropy (S = K * LogW).

Every system exihibits this characteristic. From the virtual world where your codebase becomes more bug prone with each new feature to the real world where servers and fiber optic cable break down and malfunction with time and use. This constant decay makes a system less reliable and in some cases unsafe. Of course any system can be repaired or rebuilt. A codebase that is regularly refactured can stay clean and functional. Likewise a city that is regularly maintained can be kept clean and safe. The real dilema occurs when the complexity of your system has outgrown your ability to maintain it.

When a software department has more decaying systems than it does maintanence programmers to keep it tamed, it has reached a point where collapse is inevitable. The company has two choices at that point. Either it acquires more maintenance programmers, perhaps pulling them off of new development, or it has to reduce complexity by elliminating services. The third option, which unfortunately seems to be the one most often chosen, is to just keep limping along with decreasing reliability and squeezing more out of your programmers.

Like a sprawling legacy codebase that has reached critical mass, the U.S has reached a point where its urban infrastructure is so complex that the cost of maintenance has become too high to sustain. In some areas that have been recently built this may not be as noticable, but in older areas its painfully obvious.

A really critical area where this effect can be seen is the interstate highway system. Here in the united states life for the last 60 years or so has revolved around the automobile. So natuarally the increase in popluation along with that popluation's desire to drive anywhere at anytime has created a need for more road space to contain them. The result today is millions of miles of aging asphalt, bridges and tunnels.

The highway system is not the only aging system in the U.S. The sewer systems, the electric grid, dams, schools and government buildings especially in older cities are all decaying. Of course some of these systems are being repaired and rebuilt all the time. Unfortunately there aren't enough resources to keep all of them in safe working order. For that reson we are seeing reports like these more and more frequently:

NY Parks Close Due To Severe Budget Cuts
ND Asphalt Is Replaced By Cheaper Gravel 
America's Aging Bridges
America's Aging Electric Grid

Since there are strong indications we have reached a peak in resources of almost every kind, its only a mater of time before the force of entropy takes our civilization to greater and greater levels of disorder.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Wilderness Getaway

New River Mesa
Backpacking in the wilderness for a few days is a nice way to escape the anxiety of modern life. Its also a great way to renew your appreciation for the comforts and increased survivability modern life affords. When you are completely on your own with nothing more than what you can carry, you quickly realize that civilization and modern technology have their advantages.

One of the biggest reasons people get into trouble in the wilderness is they get themselves lost. There are no street signs in the wilderness. Having a topographic map and compass is a must if you are going into a remote area, but just having them isn't enough. You need to learn how to use them.  Here are two good videos to start you off: Compass Use & Navigation.

Be very careful when bushwhacking. Its easy to start off in a direction thinking you know where you're at and find yourself hopelessly lost. I make sure I turn around every so often and look back at where I've been. This helps me remember what the way back looks like. If you don't do this the path will look unfamiliar when you try to backtrack. Another method to help find your way back is to place visible markers like these.

Don't Out Hike Your Water.

Another big mistake people often make is underestimating the amount of water they will need. Water is an especially limiting factor in the Sonoran Desert. Water weighs 8.35 lbs per gallon and you can use 3 quarts or more a day. I personally can only carry up to about 50 lbs comfortably and I use the word comfortably loosely. If I used only the minimum 3 quarts per day (That means I didn't sweat much) 5 days of water would weigh 31 lbs. That doesn't leave much payload capacity for gear or food, So you better know where the streams or springs are if you plan on being out there for more than a few days.

Tonto Creek

You also need to contend with the weather. If you pack for warm weather and it turns cold or a sudden violent storm occurs with flash flooding you could be in big trouble and, keeping in mind the previously mentioned payload capacity, you obviously can't pack for every contingency.

Technology Can Be Wild.

Ironically enough, technology can actually make your escape from modern life a little easier. New lightweight materials for making tents and heat retaining sleeping bags can keep you dry and warm without weighing you down. High tech water filtration devices can make bad water drinkable. There are also many high tech electronic devices that are a valuable resource for making your get away from civilization a bit more civilized.

Some of the electronic devices that are nice to have include GPS navigators, pocket weather stations, altimeters and pedometers. One of the most valuable and versatile electronic devices you can have is your cell phone. If you need help and your in an area that's close enough to a tower you can call for help. Coincidentally many cell phones now have many of these other nice to have devices built in. I use a Casio Ravine 2 with G-Zone software. It has a compass, GPS with marking functionality, Sunset/rise times, tide chart, pedometer and thermometer. Its also ruggedized to withstand  a lot of abuse. In addition most phones today have a camera which is a great way to take pictures for your blog.

Mogollon Rim

I try to make sure I match the equipment I carry to the type and duration of the hike. On most hikes lasting more than a few hours and going more than a couple miles from my car, I carry a first aid kit and usually some emergency shelter equipment like a bivy tent and pocket sleeping bag with heat reflective foil. Additionally I make sure I have at least two methods for starting a fire and two methods of purifying water. Its also a good idea to carry some form of protection, even if its just bear spray and a buck knife.

Tonto National Forest
On my 2-3 day hikes I like to carry the same as the day hike but with a thicker bed roll, some dried food and at least 1 gallon of water per day I plan to be out, unless I know there is water where I'm going. I also make sure I have a jacket, beenie and scarf or shemagh for the cold night air and of course a compass and topographic map. Additionally its a good idea to have flashlights and a radio to hear weather reports. I have one that operates on hand crank and receives NOAA broadcasts. It also has a handy USB plug so I can charge my cell phone.

The More You Know The Less You Need.

Aside from good equipment the best thing to help you survive in the wilderness is knowledge. Being aware of how much water you're going to need, understanding what the clouds and wind are telling you about the coming weather or just having enough sense to know where and where not to pitch a tent, these skills are a must before leaving the safe and familiar urban environment you're accustomed to. You will also find the more you know, the less you need to carry.

Fig Spring
Much of this knowledge can be gained by reading books or listening to those who have experience in wilderness survival, I recommend reading any books by Cody Lundin, but you really do need to practice these skills and build up your physical stamina as well as your mental and emotional tolerance to being truly on your own before you attempt to venture to far from civilization.

Hiking in the mountains of central Arizona or whatever unspoiled land is near you is good physical exercise and mentally refreshing. It is a great way to get away from civilization and find some peace and quiet. A place where there's no email, no honking traffic, no smog and no obnoxious advertisements. However, If you're going to enjoy it and be safe, you better make sure you have the right equipment and know what you're getting yourself into.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lazy Gardening

With the recent crop failures and drought here in the United States food will soon be getting more expensive. In addition to this you may have noticed the declining quality of produce at your local market. These are very good reasons to begin a garden.

Gardening can be a lot of work, but it doesn't have to be.  Of course I'm not saying you're going to get something for nothing, like anything else in life the more you put into it the more you get out of it, but there are many things you can do to make it easier.

Lazy Gardeners Look for High Yield Crops
As a lazy gardener I look for plants that require minimum attention with maximum yield. A few plants that seem to fit this category are potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic and swiss chard. Swiss chard has been particularly successful. It doesn't seem to mind either the extreme heat, over 100° in the summer, or cold, below freezing in the winter. It literally grows like a weed. The second best is the sweet potatoes. I've been able to produce enough to overfill a five gallon bucket from one small tuber in three to four months.

Another way to make your garden less labor intensive is to set up drip and soaker hoses with automatic valve controls. I started with a twist timer that I would just turn as needed. It would flood the garden for an hour and shut off. This was nice because I would often turn on the water and then forget to turn it off. However getting a programmable timer is much better. Now I don't even have to think about it. Of course you'll still need to check your garden periodically to check for pests and weeds as well as making sure your watering program is set to what the plants need.

Work with Nature, Not Against It
I try not to use chemicals to control insects. After all I could buy produce from the store with petrol chemicals on them. Fortunately I don't have a big insect problem where I'm at. I do however have a bird and varmint problem. One thing you can do to protect from these is to build a cage to protect plants they most like. Another thing you can do is get a cat that can hunt. I had rodents all over the place until I got a good mouser. She got rid of the them all in about four months. For organic insect and weed control one solution would be to let chickens periodically roam through your garden. Keep in mind you don't want them to be there too long or they will start to eat your crops. They will eat the bugs first then look for leafy greens, these could be weeds or your lettuce seedlings. 

Plants also need nutrients put back into the soil. As with pest control you are way better off doing it the natural way. In fact this is probably the best principle to take away from this post: Work with nature and not against it. Working against nature is inefficient and usually ends badly.

Manure from the nearest barn yard herbivore is the best. I like to use goat since that's what I have. I usually don't even need to compost it. I just scoop it straight from the pasture and bring it to the trees or vegetables. I can work it into the soil or even leave it on top for mulch and moisture retention. Some manures like chicken are so rich in nitrogen they need to compost some before they can be used or else they will burn the plants.

One other excellent and inexpensive fertilizer, and I might add soil conditioner, is coffee grounds. You can probably get the old grounds from your local coffee shop for free and it adds valuable nutrients such as magnesium, potassium and calcium. Add to this any of your table scraps and you'll be replenishing the soil with more than just the nitrogen and other major nutrients found in chemical fertilizers. Using what's available and keeping it simple that's lazy gardening at its best.

Gardening Takes Time To Learn
Gardening takes time to learn and is very specific to your area. What works in my area where the weather is warm and dry and the soil is alkaline will not work in an area with cold, wet weather and acidic soil. This is one of the reasons you can't just pick up a gardening book and after reading it expect to be a successful gardener. You have to try different things and use what works for you. Keep in mind you will have many failures, but look at these as learning experiences rather than evidence that you can't do it.

Aside from the benefit of eating great tasting nutritious food, gardening can be very good for you physically, mentally and emotionally. Its good exercise, a nice break from the hustle bustle of daily life and it feels good to produce something from nothing but water, dirt and a little seed. Its actually what humans were designed to do - Gen 2:15.