Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The cheese and listeriosis issue

Well if you have read the previous blogs about listeriosis, you should remember that I saw the cheese issue was a knee-jerk reaction. As in when the meat infection spread was known to have been caused by a slow response time based upon the existing evidence.... the cheese infection was a super quick response time based upon non-existing evidence. For the meat, we "knew" that X products were infected and we slowly had a recall. For the cheese, we "assumed" that X products were infected and we promptly destroyed the whole batch.

The retail store owners are upset and have lost quite a bit of money. They are not requesting compensation, they are demanding it. Their argument? The inspectors were told that 3 brands out of several dozens were infected, so the inspectors decided to destroy all the brands of cheeses without verification. The store owners pleaded to place the other brands in a special refrigerator so that they could each be tested for the infection. If the infection was there, then they would agree to destroy it (common sense). The government inspectors, from a bureaucratic mindset, could not understand the request.... they had one task: do a show of force to eliminate public fears; forget evidence, forget common sense, just do something, anything to demonstrate that they have controlled the listeriosis infection in the cheese. Avoid a repeat of the meat infection. No thinking, just reaction.

Naturally, the store owners want compensation for destroying cheeses that were not proven to be infected. How does the government bureaucracy respond to this? They make a statement that the government is not in the habit of providing insurance when the merchants lose products through a disaster, in this case, a listeriosis infection. That would be like a firefighter who decides to fight a house fire accross the street from your house, decides to run accross the street towards your house, busts down your door, sprays your entire house down with water ruining your furniture and electronic devices. When you point out to him that your house did not have a fire and that you demand compensation for his act of vandalism, he answers: "Fire departments do not compensate a person who has water damage from fighting a fire." Can you be any more brain dead than that as a bureaucracy? This proves that they are not listening to the complaint. The merchants do not want to be compensated for the listeriosis infected cheeses that were destroyed, they want to be compensated for the perfectly intact cheeses that were not infected but were destroyed nonetheless.

The government bureaucracy would then say "how do you know they were not infected?" To which the merchant would say: "how do you know that they were?" The merchant offered a proposal to verify but the inspectors rejected the proposal.... probably because it would have cost the government too much money to inspect, instead they stole from the store owners and now they don't want to admit their crime. As much as it is interesting to know that there is an independent judicial branch in the government to arbitrate between the brainless bureaucracy and the unfortunate merchant.... I find it sad that it even reaches that stage. Its pretty obvious who is at fault, we don't need to spend more money in the courts to deal with this.

Alternative argument: if the cleaning and cutting areas were not properly controlled environments, then the solution was to fine the owners and publicly state that the store did not proceed in the proper procedures. Destroying the cheeses was not the solution, at least not until the verification was made to prove an infection. If the merchant did in fact have improper storage or improper cleaning methods, inform the public and fine the merchant. Remember, use proper judgment and punish harshly deliberate incompetence. If the merchant is at fault, destroy his reputation and explain why he is at fault. If the bureaucratic machine is at fault, then they bloody well must compensate such a foolish act, moreso if they wasted the time of the courts. Human judgment should prevail, not written regulations that can never see the entire issue. If humans can err, how much more can rules written by humans err? There is no way you can cover every possibility imaginable with a written rule. The rule can only be a mnemonic device to help point you in the right direction of where you should go in any given situation.

Exercise for my readers: Try to write a training manual on how to ride a bicycle. Try to cover as many possible outcomes as you can. Then ask someone if they can read your manual and have acquired the skill of riding a bicycle from just reading your instructions. (If you succeed, submit your brilliance to scientific journals as you will have been the first human ever to succeed such a task).

Rules guide, they do not command us. Bureaucrats are expected to have the rules command them and this is a bad road to take. The two listeriosis cases, the meat and the cheese, were caused by this wrong direction. Even if both were opposite actions to each other, one was a lack of action, and the other was a very firm reaction.... both suffered from a lack of human judgment and both followed bureaucratic procedures.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Listeriosis in meat products, the Aftermath

Well its been a few months and the news have had their comments and the public has had its scare. What, if anything was learned from this? Absolutely nothing. Problems like this will just happen again and again. Don't get me wrong, changes have been made, but they are only cosmetic changes. If you have a corpse in your living room and a visiting guest points it out to you, I guess your first reaction would be: "how can you tell?" Well the face of the corpse is white, there is no blood flow, that's the evidence. Explain to me how putting make-up on this corpse to give it some flesh tones change the fact that it is a corpse? Well that is the reaction of the corporations when presented with the evidence of something wrong, they apply make-up instead of getting rid of the corpse.

Remember the Emperor's new clothes? Someone had told the Emperor of the latest fashion and he paraded himself in the newest fashion and everyone said "wow, what great fashion trend!" Until a child spoke out and said that the Emperor was not wearing anything at all. Now take the story to its logical conclusion by drawing the parallel with the meat infection. The Emperor does not question his own judgment at his inability to discern that he was fooled, he fires his current fashion advisor and promptly hires a new fashion advisor who studied at the same school. The Emperor does not wonder why no one in his immediate circle pointed out this flaw, the Emperor does not wonder why the entire public who watched him in the parade make any comments... No, the Emperor keeps the entire structure intact and fires the tailor (probably beheads him, it is an older story based upon feudal realities; but you get the point). Once the tailor is fired, he promptly hires someone of the same mindset.

Can anyone really blame the tailor/fashion consultant? The Emperor DEMANDS a new fashion, NEEDS to be prestigious! A threat is uttered, a reward is offered. Someone proposes a daring new fashion of invisible clothing.... doesn't matter if it makes sense, the pressure is on to produce something, anything and the tailor has done his duty to the Emperor. The Emperor accepts his invisible clothing and carries on. Then, when the bleep hits the proverbial fan (the listeriosis infection or the child pointing out that the Emperor is naked), the Emperor blames the ones who followed instructions, hires another "yes-man" and never learns his lesson.

The managers and the decision-makers are currently scrambling and looking over their bureaucratic instructions and causing undue stress upon their employees who have followed the bureaucratic rules without question. They are trying to find who, if any, disregarded any rules. Any perceived incompetence gets a severe reprimand.... but none of the high level managers or decision makers really get into the crux of the matter, they just invent a new bureaucratic rule to avoid this particular incident: which was that the blades in the internal part of the machinery were infected and that the current cleaning methods did not reach so deep.... therefore a more thorough cleaning procedure will be implemented. People had to die before they discovered this.

So the employee who was actually following blindly the instructions of their superiors are hunted down to see if they really were following instructions blindly. When they can't find fault with the people, they add new rules and insist that the employees continue following the newest rules blindly. Hence, the cosmetic change. The employees who may have questioned the rationality of some of the rules are still ostracized and the employees who followed all instructions without question now have the extra stress of a new rule to follow which they probably won't understand.... remember, understanding rules are not necessary to implement them so employees are hired under those conditions and encouraged to think in those conditions.

Imagine you are fighting a forest fire. The fire is spreading and you want the fire to die down on its own because it is too big to fight normally with water. The winds are blowing from east to west. Your manager tells you to build a trench of 100 meters wide but the length follows the east to west direction. You wonder aloud how this will stop the fire from spreading west?

Manager A-->"Do as you are told, I'm the boss and you are the employee." Conclusion, the manager has no clue why he's doing it and does not want to appear incompetent so he does something: he produces.... and in this society, you get rewarded for that kind of thinking.

Manager B-->"The manual says that when there is a fire like this, we must dig a trench to block the fire and the example given says to dig lengthwise east to west." Conclusion, the manager is not understanding why the manual says what it says and the manual is silent about wind directions. This manager just has to say that he followed instructions as written and this manager will get a promotion.... in this society, you get rewarded for following instructions without understanding why. Later, they will add wind directions into the manual to prevent mistakes.

Manager C-->"Come now, we don't want to be lazy, now do we? We can do it! Lets all work hard to dig this trench, and no negative attitudes, ok friend?" Conclusion, see Manager A, except the difference is that he is "motivating" continued foolish and irrelevant production.... and as usual, this will also result in a promotion.

Manager D-->"You're right, I had a small lapse in judgment, we will do north to south lengthwise so that when the fire reaches the trench it will not be able to continue westward because of the wind.... I don't care what my superiors think, we will do what works." Conclusion, this manager will make alot of enemies along the way and will probably get set up on some foolish bureaucratic faux-pas and get demoted to a position of irrelevance..... (of course he will be seen as an immediate hero having made the right decision to stop the fire but after a year or so..... when there is no forest fire, he will be discarded..... maybe this manager will be remembered when a new emergency hits and be re-invited, but....)

The problem is that we are not given the time to think: it is all reflexes and knee jerk reactions. We have the technology to allow us time to think. We have access to knowledge to allow us to make proper decisions. But we prefer to act as if our lives are in constant danger because greedy fools want to outproduce other greedy fools.... and the products are not even decent quality anymore. And how do these greedy fools solve their accidents? They blame their underlings who have followed their instructions to produce without thinking, to react to stimuli instead of encouraging a step back to think out a situation.

Why do we give medals to greedy fools? Why do we tolerate greedy fools to dictate society's policies? Are we citizens in a democracy or consumers in a store half the time and subjects to greedy fools (who wear crowns we gave them) the other half of the time?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Customer: ignorant victim of theft or con?

Yesterday's blog mentioned how the Industrialist was more loyal to his investors than anyone else. The Industrialist may start being nice to his customers but greed and the growing demand of increasing profits (remember, the Industrialist not only promises a profit, he promises that this year's profit will be higher than last year's-->this increases the value of the company stock making the Investor ecstatic), forces the Industrialist to cheat and steal from his own customers.

We are told that prices increase because of inflation. Ok, lets look at an interesting case:

Years ago, long distance charges were at about $1 per minute. The excuse? Extra funds needed for research and maintaining existing telecommunication lines. Competition is allowed to enter the long distance race.... suddenly, we have long distance charges at about 10 cents per minute but you are only allowed to have this special rate if you pay a special permission of $5 a month. What happened to the extra research costs? Are we also not in the process of replacing existing telecommunication lines with fiber-optics? The competition charges 8 cents per minute without any special permission fees. Once again, the main company, the leader of the pack.... you know, the same one who has lost a decent percentage of its customers over to the competition.... well they now seem able to charge the customer 7 cents per minute and they get rid of the special permission charge.... To add insult to injury, the loyal customers who pay the special rate of $5 per month so that they can benefit the 10 cents per minute are never told about the new rates, so they continue paying the $5 per month and 10 cents per minute. The new rate is only offered to attract new customers away from the competition. I guess inflation, research and development and other expenses have not increased the prices for this industry.

That's not theft? Stealing from the customer? Yesterday's blog showed theft against the workers. How about another example:

Many years ago, banks offered you a cheap toaster to convince you to get a bank account at their branch. Boy, did they treat you like royalty! They bent over backwards to attract your interest and they put everything aside when you walked in the door! They knew you by your first name! Today, you have to wait in line to see someone, then you are invited to make an appointment, a law had to be enacted to prevent banks from denying anyone because they started to deny their services to the poor. Once you show up and get your bank account, you must pay a minimum of 2 cheap toasters a year just to have your bank account open. If you enter your home branch, you are politely invited to use a machine to do your transactions.

Well you must hand it to the banks, they have managed to increase their rates of profit consistently! But have the customers suffered? What about the competition? Well lucky for someone, all the banks have a similar practice so they can all get away with their prices!

Basic management textbooks explain how prices are set: lets say a refrigerator costs $10 to manufacture. They test different prices and see how many people decide to buy them at whatever given price.

If the price is $100 then 7 will buy the product. Total $700
If the price is $200 then 6 will buy the product. Total $1200
If the price is $300 then 5 will buy the product. Total $1500
If the price is $400 then 4 will buy the product. Total $1600
If the price is $500 then 3 will buy the product. Total $1500
If the price is $600 then 2 will buy the product. Total $1200
If the price is $700 then 1 will buy the product. Total $700

So they choose their price based upon the highest money that they will get, in the above example, it will be at $400. As for the remaining 3 who won't buy it, who cares!!! Now note, they could sell it much lower, but they choose not to. The total cost to make $40, the sale $1600, for a difference of $1560. With this money they spend on packaging, advertising (to convince you to buy their product), transportation and leave enough for a profit.

Now if someone decided to make a high quality refrigerator which would cost $70 to manufacture. One that lasts 25 years (lets assume the above regular refrigerator has a 3 year lifespan before things break down). If the manufacturer decides to sell at the same price of $400, he will have much less than his competitor to advertise the superior quality.

So the cheap, wins out. The cheap gets his message out to more people. The cheap doesn't care what the price is and that some poor guy won't be able to afford his product. The cheap will try to find ways to cut cost if he can because if he starts out using the "cheap".... why would he stop there? The one who tried to get a decent product out will inevitably lose the attrition war.

Marketing textbooks will explain to you that about 90% of the price is all based upon marketing (which includes packaging, transportation and advertising). About 3% would be the actual production cost. So we see that the initial price setting is more based on what they can get away with as opposed to the stories they feed us about production costs and other nonsense.

Would it be fair to say that our entire economic system rewards the intelligent thief? The celebrated Industrialist steals from his workers first, then steals from his customers next. Because he has gotten away with it for so long, the Industrialist is now starting to steal from his investors..... Enron anyone? How can we sustain such a system of thievery? Why do we tolerate it?

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Industrialist is loyal to whom?

Well here we have it, the Industrialist starts up a new business. His first order of business is to find the investors. Here he convinces them that for every dollar invested, the return on their investment will be higher than anything the banks can offer. Lets say for the argument that the Industrialist promises a return of 5 cents per dollar on the first year of operation and will be able to increase the return by an extra 5 cents each year. Charts and statistics and market studies and consumer models all show how the product or service or "doodad" will be very popular and will make all the investors rich if they invest right now.

What this means is that the investor invests $100 and his investment will be worth $105 after a year, aproximately $115 on the 2nd year (remember he has already accumulated $5 and he has accumulated an extra $10).... the calculations are much more complex but I am using an extremely simplistic model to show the basic function. The 3rd year the investment of $100 would now be worth $130. Investments are always better than the banks but unlike the banks they are more like gambling. The investment could end up = $0 because the Industrialist miscalculated the future and lost out on whatever opportunity. The Investor has to be shrewd and take a risk and judge the Industrialist's capabilities to deliver. The Industrialist must have a great track record and show past successes for really big investment requests.

Now with the money received, the next task for the Industrialist is to acquire customers as he builds the factories. The Industrialist promises to the potential customer that he can provide X amount of product at Y cost. The Industrialist wants to undercut the competition and have the contract signed. If more customers are found than can be initially handled, the Industrialist can get more investors to invest because there is a guaranteed customer base.

The investments are in, the customer is ready to exchange his cash for product X upon delivery. The next step is to find employees. Now the Industrialist has already made promises to the Investor and more promises to the Customer, he must now convince the Employee to provide the work so that the Industrialist's promise are kept. If the promises are kept, the employee keeps his job, its as simple as that. So, if the promise was 100 units for $1000 each for the Customer and the Investor is awaiting his 5% return with an increase of 5% per year.... well the Industrialist must juggle and convince the workers that they must work harder, longer to keep up. So the salary and benefits for the Employee will be as low as possible to satisfy the Investor first and Customer second. Quality of the product will be sacrificed to keep the Investor happy, costs will be cut down to guarantee that the Investment returns are guaranteed. Eventually, the Customer will be frustrated by the product and look elsewhere to another company that does the exact same thing.

If the situation becomes untenable, well the Industrialist just takes his corporation to bankruptcy and the investors still get some kind of return, customers find a new company to provide the product and the employees end up screwed. The Industrialist then proceeds on a new project with a track record showing that he succeeded wonderfully in his endeavour.

We allow them to get away with this because we are all told that we must work hard and that the Industrialist is the hero that provides us with work. We must respect our hero and consider ourselves lucky if we work for this hero. If we criticize the hero, we are accused of being lazy or some stigma gets attached to us. Meanwhile, the hero manipulates us for his own personal ends which makes us poorer in the end and the hero richer.... and we reward him whenever he finds new ways to impoverish us.

Of course in this metaphor, the customer is not treated with much respect either, as they are the next ones to suffer with low quality junk, worsening customer service and rising prices for the junk.

Lets pretend I am an Industrialist. I convinced someone to pass me enough money to buy a $2 bucket. I convinced a mother that I can get her some water for $1 per trip and she needs 5 trips a day. Then I get you to go fetch me the water for a nickel a trip. If you are hard working enough, I may give you a bonus of a dime after a day's work if you can do the trips in 4 hours. If you can do that, I will get an extra customer and have you work the entire day and I won't need to get a new bucket. Would you accept my deal? Then why do you work as an employee in any company? Look into it. Yes my examples are very simplistic and the economy is much more complex than that.... but you'll see that my examples are not as far fetched as that.

Would you agree that perhaps the Industrialist is stealing from you and taking advantage of your ignorance? Consider Steinbeck's novel "The Pearl", the pearl farmer finds a huge pearl that is probably worth a million dollars. The farmer used to get $10 dollars per pearl and imagines that he can get $1000 for this huge pearl, the buyer offers $500 and they negotiate.... (it has been a while since I read the story so the details are probably wrong.... but you get the general idea of the premise of the story). The buyer thrives upon the ignorance of the farmer, just like the Industrialist thrives on the ignorance of the Employee.

Investigate for yourself, you will see.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

From one foolish extreme to the other!

Ok lets start with a fictional crime: Individual A has just been caught stealing a loaf of bread in a grocery store. How would a society deal with this crime? We can look at a right wing extreme method and then look at a left wing extreme method. Afterwards, I will propose a plausible better solution. Unfortunately, the right-winger and the left-winger will prefer to head towards their favorite extreme than to concede that their opponent may have some intelligent points.

Right-wing extreme: Individual A is brought immediately to a public location. Individual A's crime is announced publicly: the theft of the loaf of bread in a grocery store. Once the crime is announced, individual A is asked if he apologizes for the crime. An apology will result in an immediate gunshot to the head.... anything else results in stuffing his mouth so that he can no longer speak and then individual A is hanged. Society can sleep comfortably knowing that the criminal is immediately dispatched without the nonsense of a trial. The crime's punishment is immediate with no capability of appeal, the apology allows you a quicker and painless death.

Left-wing extreme: Individual A is detained and brought to a rehabilitation center where he is served a sumptuous feast. After the elaborate dinner is served, a team of psychologists and social workers interview/massage and generally treat individual A as royalty to understand why he did this unfortunate action. Individual A is offered free college training in a job of individual A's choice. We discover that individual A's parents and teachers never motivated him well enough to be nice, so they are also treated in this rehabilitation center. All the responsible ones are shamed while individual A is showered with gifts to compensate for the bad influences he has received which forced him to steal a loaf of bread.

Meanwhile, the grocery store implements a new ID system that only allows people who are registered in the system to enter the store. The grocery store can exclude anyone they wish, and we all know that only criminals will be excluded. The entire society must now register with the grocery store and answer extremely personal questions to get their ID registration. The society's consumption is now recorded and anyone who buys more bread than others may be sanctioned and penalized for excessive consumption while poor people still exist. Individual A is now allowed to return to the grocery store with a registration that signals a chime to allow the clerks to escort this individual wherever he goes in the store. Individual A is no longer being rehabilitated so no more sumptuous feasts. Individual A decided to take photography classes as part of his free college education but has discovered that there is no need for his talents.

These above two extremes are obvious foolishness, but guess what? The normal right-winger is convinced that the normal left-wingers are trying to get the left-wing extreme and see every left-wing maneuvering as getting closer to this foolishness. On the opposite side, the normal left-winger is convinced that the normal right-winger are trying to get the right-wing extreme and they see that every right-wing maneuvering is getting closer to that particular foolishness.

The better solution for individual A: arrest him immediately. Considering that it is food that was stolen, find out the extenuating circumstances, and verify. Solve the extenuating circumstances.... lets say that the family is starving and individual A was attempting to get some food home.... the grocery store donates the food for immediate use. Individual A must now work at the grocery store to make ammends for a period determined by the grocery store owner. Considering that it is a loaf, probably a week's worth at a reduced salary. There must be a punishment, then a job must be found for the individual if the grocery store can not keep him as an employee. An advertising campaign issued to anyone else in similar situations to come to such and such office for employment. AND THERE BETTER BE EMPLOYMENT AVAILABLE WITH DECENT WAGES. Thieves are not only the ones who steal bread from store shelves but also steal from society's working class.

Now before the left-winger says that this is fair and decent and before the right-winger rolls his eyes and thinks that I am being too soft.... if this same individual A was stealing the loaf of bread for kicks or for some initiation rite or to deliberately get a job at the grocery store as a means to get into the store.... or that his family is starving because individual A wasted all his money on foolish spending leaving nothing for food.... a MUCH HARSHER PENALTY IS TO BE DELIVERED. Which may include as harsh as a good whipping.

See, I believe each case is unique and as such should be dealt with uniquely. Two principles to guide this: the first, be very harsh to indicate that bad behavior is not to be tolerated. Second, extenuating circumstances can always exist and you are allowed to give the benefit of the doubt and find a punishment that will serve as a lesson yet give the individual a chance at redeeming himself.

Society can not rehabilitate anyone. Anyone can redeem himself and improve if he or she makes the determination to do so, if that miracle happens, society must help in the efforts. If society is mocked by a phony attempt, you do what they did with the boy who cried wolf: you allow the wolf to come and do not intervene.

Why can society not rehabilitate someone? Because a lone human being is much more intelligent and devious than a human-invented system or procedure. Society's rehabilitation presumes that the adult should be treated as an infant. If the adult is lazy, he will enjoy the illusion of being an infant and play along until he is alone again and then repeat his criminal behavior to eventually come back to his playground. If the adult is active, he will play with the system and use the right jargon and attempt to fool the gatekeepers so that they release him to be alone.... then he will repeat his criminal behavior but much more subtly to prevent being sent back to the amusing yet time-wasting rehabilitation center.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Here we go again with Gun Control

Well it has happened again. Some school in Finland and some school in Western Canada has had some kind of gunman walk in and either threaten or actually use a firearm against the students. Before the smell of the gunpowder dissipated and before the interrogation of one of the gunmen was even started, the Gun Control advocates yelled their cries of doom.

Without getting into the details of who the gunmen were or why they would do such a thing or how they managed to go undetected in our society for so long and other IRRELEVANT questions which are supposed to prevent future tragedies like this; I would like to know from these Gun Control advocates, just how do they expect someone who is willing to disregard a law like "You shall not murder" to actually respect a gun control legislation?

I don't recall hearing about students grabbing some musket and going to their local school to threaten or shoot anyone in any history books. I don't recall seeing any mention in any historical newspapers of the early 20th century of kids who grabbed one of their daddy's military weapon from the war and deciding to do what we have had since the late 20th century. Laws were much more relaxed, we did not assume that everyone was some ticking time bomb waiting to happen so we did not legislate in that fashion. Nor did we have such weird psychotic episodes on a regular basis.

Perhaps we should look at that and see what has changed in our society between yesterday and today. Now there is where you will find the reasons of why this has happened, why it will continue to happen and how we can really stop it. Making some law that only the respectable citizen will follow is only tying up the hands of the proper upstanding citizen. The ones wanting to do this law are very naive and seem to think that a band-aid solution will stop the artery from bleeding out. You put a band-aid on a small cut. A gashed artery needs something different and we never seem to want to deal with the artery that has been gashed.

Planes go in buildings and we create a terror watch list that has included sons of senators who happen to be unlucky enough to have a similar name to a suspect. An opera critic is placed on this list because 20 years ago he commented how the opera building should blow up because the show is so terrible. We discover that if the traditional police procedures had been followed as they were supposed to, the planes would not have gone into any buildings..... yet we made a law to restrict more freedoms for the law-abiding citizen.

Some maniac stabs someone in a bus, making this the second incident of its kind in Canada in matter of months. I hear someone say to the media :"Why haven't they done anything to protect us?" Did this lady actually think that the bus company should now strip search every passenger and verify each baggage going on the bus? Assume that they do this, then what? Each honest citizen will submit to such procedures and the maniac will find some ingenious way to circumvent it.... back to square one. Problem unsolved, illusion of "everything is great" maintained.

All three of the above problems can be solved simply. Solutions have already been posited but ignored. Generations ago prophetically warned of these things if we went down the road that we actually took.... Did we take notice of these warnings then? We scoffed at them.... now the warnings come true and we have forgotten what was stated by the quacks. We continue down some road that was chosen by a charlatan we thought to be wise and wonder where the smell of the sulfur is coming from. Instead of turning back and taking another road, we create gasmasks and force everyone to wear one to hide the growing stench.... Wait, who's that guy up ahead dressed up in the red suit with a pitchfork? Is he welcoming us with a mocking smile?

Try this as solution: it is not the police officer's job to discipline your child, it is not the teacher's job to discipline your child; it is the parent's job to discipline the child. The undisciplined child grows up to become an undisciplined adult and he has kids, then grandkids..... inevitably-> Poof! The bubble we have created for ourselves of how we wish reality to work explodes in our faces and instead of admitting that we lied to ourselves, we proudly create a new lie to cover the old yet exposed lie.

Another gunman in our school? Quick! Bring out the gun control law and wave it in his face so that his gun can magically transform itself into handcuffs that attach him to a rehabilitating center where he can discuss how his dad beat him out of cruelty. A chef is travelling to another city on a bus and brings with him some of his cutlery because he will demonstrate his latest dish? Quick, he must be guilty of some crime because he has large cutting knives with him.... lets refuse him passage on the bus and waste more of the police's time in questioning him instead of allowing them the time to catch real culprits. We have national enemies? Quick, lets assume that our fellow citizens are all in on the plot.... just that they don't quite know it themselves, meanwhile the real enemy carries on with whatever it is that they are trying to achieve.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Who needs funding?

About a hundred and fifty years ago, we were told that technology was a good thing. The why we needed to be convinced is not important to this blog today. The argument that was used to convince us is important. We were told that the technological innovations would allow us to get the same production output for a lot less work. We were promised that by the year 2000 we would only need to work 10 to 20 hours a week and that we would have plenty of leisure.

Today if we compare what capacity can be produced today with those of just a hundred years ago, we would come to the conclusion that we could get away with working about 10 hours a month. Ironically, the opposite has happened; experts who have studied our work habits conclude we actually work harder today than in all past generations (I assume they include the slavery periods but I am not a historian so I do not know if they do include that in their calculations.... ). The work stress argument has already been mentioned by medical experts, social scientists and humanities professionals so I will not repeat them here in today's blog. Suffice it to say, that we can get away with working a lot less than we currently do. A LOT LESS.

This perversion of logic is about the same as the fact that we have more than double the amount needed to feed everyone alive on this planet, yet at least 50% are still struggling to feed themselves. We only need to work a tiny amount to maintain a happy lifestyle yet we struggle to get a lot of money that we can never enjoy because we no longer have the time to enjoy our money.

Since we have the technology to produce a well-fed and happy population, we should allow artists, scientists and athletes to thrive in our society. No more struggling for these people. They should not need to beg for money from corporate sponsors or from government grants. We do have an ample amount of time available for this: technological innovation has allowed it. So why do we still have the artist jumping hoops to get crumbs? Why does the scientist have to answer to corporate demands that his science leads to marketable results? (If we frown when we hear how the military is using scientists to upgrade military capabilities, should we not frown even more when corporations use scientists to upgrade their profit?) And lastly, why should the athlete beg for money to train and compete?

The saying goes that the one who pays the piper chooses the tune. The one with the money does not know art, does not know science, does not know sport. Why should that person dictate how to draw, what to research and when to compete? Historically, the ones who had the most money had achieved it through deceit and theft. Without pointing any fingers to any specific individual, have we evolved out of that habit? The richest Roman of his time had achieved his wealth by being a firefighter. Whenever there was a fire somewhere in Rome, he would show up and purchase the burning building from the owner at a fraction of its worth and then he would use his employees to put the fire out. Society would want such a man to dictate tomorrow's science? Society would want such a coward to tell us which paintings to view? (the artist will not paint something that offends his patron... so the patron does dictate the contents) Society would want such a thief to sponsor a sporting event?

Our society has the resources to feed everyone well. Our society has the technology so that we only need to work a fraction of the time needed for a comfortable lifestyle. Why are we robbing ourselves of scientific discoveries waiting to happen? Why are we robbing ourselves of innovative art which we can enjoy? Why are we robbing ourselves of practicing some sport and competing in fun with friends around the world as well as watching those who surpass us in abilities?

There are some of us who are driven to be scientific discoverers, some of us who are driven to express ourselves artistically, some of us who are driven to compete as an athlete.... why not allow these people to pursue these activities without obstacle? Why do they need to prove to anyone what they want to do? We have the funding available as a society, so we need to implement it. But like the overabundance of food is burned instead of feeding the hungry; we shall do this with the funding as well and burn it up in nonsensical pursuits, while unrecognized Beethovens, Einsteins and Gretskys will continue working in some Third world nation's farm or some Industrialized nation's McDonalds in a slave-wage environment to further some blind rich thief's pursuit for even yet more profit at society's expense.

Friday, September 19, 2008

News Media? Why not Government Auditor?

Some recognize the news media machine as another branch of the government because they can comment and criticize certain policies and influence the running of government. This may all seem nice and great on paper but how many times have you seen a government official being asked a tough question where the politician actually answers directly? You know what I mean: the reporter asks how the politician's plan will prevent job loss in sector A, the politician starts explaining that the plan is a great plan for the economy in sector B..... then the reporter moves on to the next question--> the result is that the question was not answered and the politician presented a polished prop to distract the public from the real issues. Another situation is when you see the politician walking down the hallway and several reporters are asking questions and the politician smiles, waves and continues on his walk without giving any answer.

Now I agree that many questions fielded by many reporters can be downright silly. I don't mean the kinds of questions like: "If you were a vegetable, which vegetable do you think you would be?".... these questions may seem silly on the surface but if you want to know a politician in a more personal sense to understand what kind of individual he or she may be.... well the vegetable question can be quite clever and revealing with a mixture of light-heartedness in the mix. No, the foolish question would be more along the lines of: "How many concessions are you willing to make during the negotiations with country X on the issue Y?" This would be along the lines of a foolish question.... and if you don't understand why, stay out of news gathering business until you can understand.

What I would like to see though is that the intelligent questions are answered in a quick fashion. The fun and clever question like the vegetable one can wait during more pleasant occasions. For the serious intelligent ones, they should not be dodged. After all, the current government is there at our request, they are in a manner of speaking our employees, they answer to us. Would the McDonald employee be allowed to ignore his boss when there is an intelligent question being asked about his performance? So why should the politician ignore his boss: the population? The news reporter should have the same access as a government auditor and do a little bit of auditing on whatever department suits his fancy. This means, the reporter can enter the board room of the political machinery while they discuss how to proceed on issue A or B, they can enter the politician's office and take notes. Naturally, the reporter should have this access as well in each of the previously mentioned branches of politics including the bureaucratic sphere.

Extreme? Only if you believe that the population is not educated enough to understand the issues. But I am presenting an extreme, because I would rather have us edge towards that direction to a better middle ground because I see how we are moving towards the opposite extreme, one where the reporter is irrelevant and only a puppet to the government. Where the government's public declarations replace the news investigator.

Notice where the budgets are being cut in the news gathering industries, notice the laziness of many journalists who won't verify the public affairs department's claims on any issue, notice the apathy of the people as they watch and accept politicians who refuse to answer a question except through sophistry and rhetoric.

Conclusion to this week is along the lines that if we wish to see a government divided in multiple branches so that power is not concentrated upon any one branch, we must find ways to strengthen the branches in their independance to each other while at the same time becoming more compliant to its democratic citizenry who feed it. What is going on in a very slow fashion is that the different branches are cross-polinating with each other and are getting ready to bite the hand that feeds them: us. Personally, I won't mind either scenario if I get a nice position within the government structure; but if we want to improve our democratic institutions, we must wake up.

Are you awake?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Can Bureaucracy be improved?

As I mentioned in a previous blog, the bureaucracy in and around government (public service), could be considered another branch of government. In yet an even earlier blog, I mentioned the flaws of bureaucratic thinking stifling human judgment by an over-reliance upon regulations instead of using the rules as a guideline to determine the right course of action. There are some who believe that the primary purpose of any bureaucracy is to sustain itself and this is irrelevant to what the bureaucracy is mandated to do. For example, a department of social welfare which is mandated to help the non-working poor by providing a bit of cash for survival and some tools to help the non-working poor find some employment will have its mandate at odds with the self-sustaining aspects of the bureaucracy. If there is a decision that would be made to guarantee that the working poor would successfully find employment and no longer need the services of this bureaucracy, then this decision would take a back seat and another decision would be found to continue the same level of funding from the government purse or attempt to provoke an increase in funding.

Remember, this decision made by the career bureaucrat would solve a major societal problem and as a result cut his department by 50%. Who would make that kind of solution available to a politician in charge who will not be there in a few years? This bureaucrat would have spent 20 years in this department and is close with his colleagues who will continue on when the bureaucrat retires. The loyalty to the department is high, so a decision to sabotage the future of that department is not likely to be made or even offered to the politician in theoretical rulership.

Another flaw of the bureaucracy is the unnecessary secrecy or confidentiality on its procedures. For whatever reason, the bureaucrat keeps the mystique alive by not answering the client with the proper help that is needed unless the client uses the special jargon and procedures to get the help needed. The bureaucrat will not volunteer this information, because it is against the regulations to influence a client. The client will not know how to navigate this web of mystery unless he was a former bureaucrat, or has a personal relationship with another bureaucrat who has counselled the client as to what to ask for and when.

One of the first things that any bureaucracy will do is to have the new employee sign a non-disclosure form to keep everything confidential and to only allow the department of public affairs to reveal anything to the public through the media. Naturally, we have such public communications present a positive spin on any developments. So the public is never informed of the options available to them, the minister in charge who has just recently taken over the leadership of this bureaucracy does not know the internal structures and relies upon the opinion of the long-term public servant who may or may not have an agenda contrary to the public good.

When the man was tasered in a Vancouver airport by the RCMP and the man died afterwards, what do you suppose the minister in charge was told about the incident? About the same as what the public was told, the man was incoherent and violent and did not comply with the instructions given by the officers at the scene. We, the public believed the statement (why would we doubt them?), then the video taken by a witness was broadcast around the world, and we saw a completely different event than what was previously stated. This would be an example of a bureaucracy protecting its own interests above all else. Do not assume that other bureaucracies are immune to this kind of practice and that this situation with the RCMP was an exception to the day to day operations. This is an incident that caused the death of an individual and lucky for us that a video testimony was there to prevent the usual confidentiality of the bureaucracy.

Possible solution for bureaucrats to have more loyalty upon their mandate than to self-perpetuate the actual bureaucracy. Reward innovation, if the team of bureaucrats come up with a plan, and as a result of that plan it makes their department obsolete, reward them with lifetime salary benefits as if they had continued working there. Remember the department no longer exists so we save money on future recruiting and training and on equipment. The bureaucrat has the option to get into a new career or schooling or even retirement without loss of his reward.

Possible solution for the confidentiality problem, the culture of silence: again reward a legitimate whistle-blower. If there is a practice which is contrary to ethics and is deserving of public awareness for potential discussion. Encourage the bureaucrat to file a report about it to his manager while keeping a copy for himself. Then the bureaucrat allows a reasonable amount of time to correct the situation. If the situation is not corrected, then the bureaucrat has the duty to inform the public of this illicit or unethical practice. The whistleblower who does find a problem and a solution should be promoted or rewarded in some other way. Again, intelligence, judgment and innovation must be rewarded and not stifled (as it is in the current bureaucratic culture).

Bureaucracies seem to reward seniority or experience. Perhaps we should include innovation and judgment in the equation. You may find a brilliant innovator promoted before a 20 year experienced bureaucrat who only repeats the same technique blindly. Would this be so bad? Bureaucracy is the grease making the government machine working. It is in everyone's interest to have better scrutiny on this "grease" and reward this "grease" if it performs above its normal function.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

How to choose judges

The judicial system in Canada is supposed to be quite independent from the other branches of politics. Unfortunately, the judges that are selected for the highest courts of the land owe their promotion to the executive branch of the government. It is true that the selection process is more complex than what I am suggesting but I am oversimplifying to show its flaw. If I can show plausible corrupt abuses can happen in the oversimplified system, it is easy to assume that with human intelligence, one can abuse a more complex selection process. If you do not believe this, look at history in any era as to how corrupt people successfully abused their system. To get back to my simplified example of the selection process, we see that the Prime minister chooses the Supreme Court Judges and therefore he will select whomever is most convenient to his agenda.

If the courts are to be independent, how do we avoid the influence of the other branches of government? Should the judges be elected like any other office? The problem with this is that for the judge to be impartial and follow the dictates of wisdom and the principles of the existing laws, he must not have to answer to the whims of a political party who has placed him there, nor to the whims of a society who may occasionally ignore the knowledge and the wisdom that the law provides. Would a society vote for physicians? What happens if the physician is given power to regulate our health and prevents us from eating at fast food restaurants? Perhaps a majority would decide to vote for a physician who would be more compliant to our vices? Choosing a judge should be decided in a more neutral manner.

Some possibilities include, allowing the head of the opposition to make the selection of the judges. After all, the judge must be a counterweight to the other branches so why not have the official opposition choose the judges. Perhaps having a vote within the judicial profession based upon the peers who have seen the candidate in action, this would place every potential judge on the ballot so that there is no official campaigning to try to convince others through flatteries. Another method of selection would be to have the Provincial Premiers (equivalent to State Governors) vote for the next Federal Judge selected from the Provincial Judges while the Municipal Mayors vote for Provincial Judges selected from the Municipal Judges and Municipal Judges are voted by legal professionals if they have the proper criteria. A combination of the above would probably be the best. For obvious reasons, a more elaborate method is not the purpose of this blog, only the offerings of possibilities to allow alternatives. Complexities can always be fine-tuned in other formats. The blog is more exploratory than detailed.

My favorite methodology would be to find ways to combine the above by dividing a certain amount to be selected by method A, a certain amount selected by method B and use a lottery system to select the remainder. To explain: we want a total of 12 Supreme Court Judges, we use method A (selection by Opposition Leader) to cover 4 posts. We use method B (selection by Provincial Premiers) to cover another 4 posts. We use a lottery method (call it fate?) to select the 4 remaining posts. At this point we can have the current Judges vote amongst themselves for a 13th member (to break ties if you have 6 vs 6).

If we want an independent Judicial Branch, we must not allow the influence of any other government branches to muddy the waters. The selection must be more based upon performance on the job (meritocracy) than charisma or political beliefs. There should also be some basis of allowing plausible opponents within one of the branches to have a say in the selection process because the goal is to have counter-balance and challenge the existing government from going too far (in Canada, this would be Provincial Premiers or the Leader of the Opposition or a combination of both). Last but not least, we want a certain randomness to determine the selection to avoid the human corruption entering the equation (but we do not want to rely too much upon randomness).

Again, I must stress that this is only a roughly drawn skeleton, there is a lot of fine-tuning to be done on the skeleton, not to mention the fact we must add cartilege, muscles, organs, tissue and the rest before it is a proper body. I just think that the current system should not be allowed to continue without scrutiny and major corrections made.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Canadian Political Blend

The Canadian Federal elections can confuse people. The theory is that people vote for their local representative and as such the representative will bring to the legislative (the lawmaking institution) their local voice in any issue proposed. The practice is that the representative is a member of his party first and foremost and a member of this legislative body second. To further complicate matters, Canada has a two house system like the U.S. where a law is proposed and discussed in one house before going to the second house for more scrutiny. The complication is that the entire second house is unelected and a new member is chosen when there is a vacancy by the ruling political party.

The general voter has no say who is going to be leader of any political party, the voter has no say who they wish to have as minister of this or minister of that. In other words, the voter has no say whatsoever in the executive branch. And because the representative that they are voting for is part of a political party, they have no say as to the legislature either. The voted member of parliament must obey his affiliated party. Some decide to vote for non-affiliated members but under the current rules of the building where the laws are made, the non-affiliated members have little to no say as to when they can propose any law. The ones who decide who and when any member is to speak are the party whips who get together and negotiate time amongst themselves, with obvious priorities given to themselves first. The higher the party members are within the assembly, the more voice to dictate who will speak when to propose any law. If you are non-affiliated, you must negotiate with one or more of the parties to negotiate some time on your behalf.

So if you decide to represent your community and be voting on propositions and perhaps propose something as well, you are better off being part of a political party. But as soon as you join any political party, you must abide by the party rules.... so if the party decides to vote yes, you are under pressure to vote yes as well, with negative consequences should you go against them... depending on the priority of the vote. If you want more prestige so that you are invited to be part of law-making committees, then you satisfy the requirement of your political party. If you continue to work under the political party's guidance, then you may receive a posting in the executive, maybe even be minister itself. So you must constantly juggle between the demands of the population you are representing and the law-making assembly that you are now a part of.

The voters do not quite understand this because the theory of how the system works and the actual practice of it are not in sync. So as a result, some will vote for their favorite representative to speak on their behalf, some will vote for the party that they believe in and some will vote for the leader of the party. The end result is that the system becomes misunderstood when things go differently than expected because the voter expects the theoretical to work as they were taught in school.

What would be needed would be to have a vote for the representatives for the law-making institution. Once this was decided, the population would then vote for who they would want as Prime minister, who they would want as minister of this, minister of that. If the Prime minister wishes to introduce a new ministry, then people could again vote for who they want as the minister. This would make both branches accountable.

To explain better: you choose within your community the best representative for your community; who must be, first and foremost, loyal to his home community. When the entire nation has had its say, we find that political party #A has 200 representatives, party #B has 100 representatives and party #C has 50. So we then vote who in party #A will be the Prime minister, who in party #A will be minister of this, etc.... then we vote out of party #B, who will be the leader of the opposition, who will be the critic of ministry x, and on and on. This places the executive and the legislative under direct scrutiny of the population and guarantees that the representative will be more loyal to his home community than to his home party.

Naturally, if we continue having a second house (the senate), to discuss our laws, then they should also be voted members instead of chosen/appointed. I would not want the Senate to owe allegiance to the ones who appointed them there. I do believe that the Conservatives also want the Senate to be elected (will have to check in on their platform.... they may be the only ones?).

On another blog I may talk about how I would prefer to see 3 houses instead of 2 or 1, but that is too technical for now. Suffice it to say, my criticism is more based upon what we get out of an election and how we could modify it better. How we vote is another topic and should we modify any of the branches of government is yet another topic.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Branches of Government

Since we are in electoral panic this month, I decided to look at the Canadian system and offer some critiques of the way things are. I want to to briefly mention each of the well known branches of government and mention 2 others that are sometimes included in the political tree. I suppose I will also offer a very brief contrast with the American system (as in the U.S. system for any Latin American readers who object to the use of "American" when describing the U.S. country). Division of powers is the underlying reasoning as to why we seperate the exercise of ruling a society into different branches. Right or wrong, it comes from the fear of having one human in control of too much: "Absolute power corrupts absolutely", as if a mere human controlling a society of humans is considered absolute power when you consider the vastness of our tiny universe in a potential multiverse (according to some quantum physicists), but no matter, it is the reason we have to divide the political tree into several branches.

Branch #1, the most well known, is the executive. This is the day to day operations of running a country, the decision makers are here. See it like a CEO of a corporation, often hired to deal with the existing rules and applying them for each new situation that arises. The U.S. has this seperated and calls its office the Presidency.

Branch #2, the least well known, is the legislative. This is where the thinking up of rules happen, this is where rules themselves are created. See it like the Board of Directors, who take a more longterm vision to bring the corporation into a brighter future. In the corporate field, they usually decide who the CEO would be. In the U.S., they are the Senators and the Congress members. They discuss if they should modify existing laws, create new ones or eliminate old ones.

Canada blends branch 1 and 2 together. The Prime Minister has the responsibilities of running the day to day operations and is also head of the political party who discusses new laws. The theory is that it is better to have the ones creating the laws to implement them better. A majority in the law creation area guarantees a smooth running of government. A minority in the law creation area guarantees a constant negotiation with other political parties before implementations of laws can be made. The current Canadian elections are to change the current situation of minority rulership which slows down implementation of improving society and convince the voters to have a majority rulership. The Conservatives are the current minority leaders and they hope that their success at running a minority government will convince voters that they can handle the job of majority government. Historically, they have had the longest minority government in Canada (I think), and they have also been the ones to call an election (which is usually determined by others who outvote collectively the minority party in charge). This seems to show that they are capable to receive the trust of the voters to become the next majority law-makers in Canada.

Branch #3, the neutral party, is the judicial. This is the judge, the one who figures out what the rules actually means when there is a dispute of the citizenry who attempts to follow the rules and is somehow unfairly treated by the government. In a corporate setting, it would be the ombudsman who settles between an employee and management or between a customer and the company. The judicial does not create rules, they look at the existing rules and see if they have been misapplied. They try to interpret the spirit of the law against those who may abuse the letter of the law. Canada does not vote for judges, they are selected by the governing party. The judges are not supposed to answer to any political party, even though they are initially chosen by the head of a political party. The situation is more complex than what is described here and for brevity some of my descriptions may be too simplistically naive but I hope to preserve the essence of what the system attempts (whether the practice follows the theory is another blog's discussion which I may address in the future).

Branch #4, unofficial, could be seen as the bureaucracy. This is the hidden grease in the machinery. The bureaucrat exists in all three levels of government. The bureaucrat is never elected and will still be there when the elected official is replaced by someone else. The bureaucrat is technically under the orders of the elected official, but since the elected official is untrained in the bureaucracy that he is overseeing, he must be educated by the bureaucrat as to how things really work. If people complain that it doesn't matter who is in charge things always stay the same, then they probably have felt the negative aspects of the bureaucracy. Who is in charge of a particular Canadian ministry? The Minister himself who has just got the position or the bureaucratic advisor who has been at the same post for the past 20 years and has been promoted up the ranks of that ministry? The signature of the latest order is the Minister's but how many times have you seen the real work done by underlings and that the boss gets the credit and the signature? The bureaucracy is hidden from public scrutiny and outlasts all governments. Can a truly democratic country allow this hidden branch to continue without scrutiny?

Branch #5, unofficial, could be seen as the news media. They are supposed to offer a critical report of the above branches of government. How can we know that they are doing their jobs properly when they are controlled by bosses who have political interests who are sometimes with the current government? The journalist has to satisfy his editor, and the editor will not hire the person who has shown his political colors to be against the editor himself. Have you noticed that sometimes when a journalist asks a really tough sounding question, the elected official dances around the topic and offers no answer at all.... the journalist lets him get away with it? Can democracy be served if the journalist and the politician play act a non-existing rivalry with each other? Can democracy be served if the journalist can not access the same documents accessible to the politician or to the bureaucrat? Can democracy be served when the journalist who is there to demand answers about a politician's behavior is gently pushed aside by the politician's security detail as the politician walks down the hall to his office ignoring the questions?

I wish to focus on each branch in the following posts with a critical eye. We are so often told the positive elements but perhaps we should look at their flaws as well. The above post was more of a contrast and quick glance.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Canadian Elections

Well apparently we are in election panic. Since today, I have not thought about something useful for society, I may as well join in the fun of the election stampede. Looking over some blogs written by others about the listeriosis issue, I saw how some are turning the deaths of these victims as a political issue and blaming the current government in charge. Think about it for 3 seconds.... our country is like a ship at sea and we have traditions that have been implemented for cleaning and repairing the engine while out at sea. Over the generations, we have gone from cleaning and repairing the engine on a daily basis to cleaning and repairing on a weekly basis. Why? Well because we can put the cleaners/repairers to better use and we play the odds that the engine will not need to be cleaned or repaired daily. The typical capitalist mindset: do more with less: you know what I mean, give half the daily food required to the Olympic athlete so that he can outperform last year's results.

This metaphorical ship goes out and changes captains on a monthly basis, we call this elections. The engine goes kaboom and we want to blame the current captain? Foolishness! It doesn't matter who would have been at the helm of this ship, since the underlying tradition was not changed. The captain still follows the traditions set out by the culture of the ship, otherwise he wouldn't be captain. I blame the culture of moving without thinking, the "lets not take the time to do the job correct but lets get the job done fast, irrelevant of the quality" way. Blaming the current government for listeriosis is playing childish games of "my daddy wouldn't allow his car to get wet while it rained if he drove outside!" (variation of "my daddy is bigger than your daddy").

This election stampede is enough to get any thinker angry. We keep hearing foolishness coming out of the mouths of those who wish to be elected.... I guess its the nature of the beast to use rhetoric and sound like you are speaking truthfully by playing with the emotional assumptions of people.

Case#1-->Harper takes accurate quotes from Dion and pokes fun at them. Dion says he is misquoted but never explains his thoughts, he never corrects the quotes. He just tries to deny his own message. Dion takes a misspelled word in one of Harper's messages and gleefully points out that we should not trust someone who is bad at spelling. Harper apologizes for bad grammar and admits his fault, Dion claims to accept the apology, but still insists on pointing out the admitted gaffe.

Case#2-->A one issue party claims that other leaders are afraid to have a televised debate with her which is why they refuse to have her in the debate.... no one ever bothers to think for 3 seconds to see how the system really works as to why a one issue party may be vetoed (right or wrong reasons is not the point, rather what the actual reason may be, is the point).... If anything, this one issue party will only take away votes from other like-minded parties.... to the benefit of the Conservatives.

Case#3-->Duceppe is treating Harper like he is a Dion. Dion had used the baseball bat against Quebec complaints: "If you dare talk about seperation, we will use this bat against you." Harper, on the other hand was conciliatory: "How do we work together as Canadians to solve your complaints?". Duceppe can no longer talk credibly about Canada being a bully against Quebec, yet he still tries. Duceppe is now trying the strategy of "because we are different, we must refuse to work on a consensus with others" (which will not work well). Before the strategy was: "we are different and they don't want to have any type of consensus with us", this worked because Dion so beautifully reminded everyone of his "baseball bat".

Case#4-->NDP using fear tactics to try to link Harper with soft-core fascism?!

From the perspective of someone just watching the news as an outsider, ignoring the often foolish advice given by the experts, I would say that the Conservatives will win with a very small majority. The Liberals will lose seats. The Bloc will lose seats. The NDP will gain seats and may even surpass the Liberals. The Green will have about 3 seats but not for the leader.

Well that's my perspective from the first week of election's stampede.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What statistics can't do

Last night on the national news for Canada (yeah you guessed it, I'm Canadian.... so Canadian issues will probably be explored more than others.... I will still try to make it more universal in issues covered despite local examples.... hope I succeed). Anyway, back to my subject: the news explained that the latest statistics showed Canada working harder than most industrialized nations and yet had declined some more in productivity. According to the news report, Canada has been declining in productivity since the 1990s. Well, I am not a fan of statistics because we have turned this useful tool called statistics and transformed it into an oracle to replace the one at Delphi, but when the oracle says something I have already noticed and mentioned, I point it out to others.... not because I want to give it any more credibility than it already has but because for many people, the oracle is the only thing they will listen to.

Now the statistics don't explain why the figures are the way they are, and that is its biggest weakness, but they do take a basic snapshot of life and from there we can see certain things we may not have been able to see with the naked eye. We say that a photograph does not lie, and as such if statistics is a type of photograph then we can presume that the statistics do not lie. As any photographer will tell you though, one can manipulate the lighting of the area, one can decide a more favorable angle of the subject to be photographed, one can decide to zoom in and focus on an unpleasant section and other techniques or filters can be used which can then manipulate emotionally the viewer of the photograph. Statistics is not all that different, there are ways to arrange the figures to manipulate the reader emotionally to accept some view or other. So we should always be cautious with any image we see and not assume that it is truth, but only an illusion of the truth to better understand what is actually there, like a map is not the location, but only its representative--> its an illusion of the real area; a facsimile.

These figures do not give the reason why our workforce is declining in productivity, just like if you photograph a man walking towards the left of the image, you do not know why he is going in that direction nor do you know why. Well if we can understand statistics in the same way as a photo, we can proceed to use it as what it is: a useful tool, not THE ONLY TOOL available. My blogs of last week offers an interpretation of why we are declining in productivity, but some of us are still like ostriches and have our heads buried in the sand and will not wish to do anything unless the oracle we call statistics tells them what is going on. So I mention these statistics in case some of my readers are ostriches and don't believe what is in front of everyone else's eyes. But I do mention the statistics with the warning: they are like photos, they are not reality.

I once attended a seminar that claimed it was going to explain why people voted the way they did during the last federal elections. I was curious to see if their reasons were similar to my own (not that I am going to mention them in this particular blog). I was severely disapointed, because they spent the entire time producing statistics from 3 different research groups as to what happened. How many women voted this way or that, how the age groups differed in their votes, how the economic lifestyles voted compared to those richer or poorer. If I really wanted to know such things, I just had to pick up a local newspaper who had reported the cold lifeless statistics. No one there could offer any reasons as to why the people voted in such unprecedented ways, the experts were all dumbfounded and claimed that they could not see this coming. Excuse me? Could not see this coming? Maybe had they spent less time studying previous photographs (statistics) and spoke to the subjects of the photographs (hanging out with people) they would not have been so surprised... Of course, an amount of thinking is also necessary.

Imagine that you have a horse race, and you see horse #4 win the race; a group of experts tell you that they will present a seminar to explain why horse #4 has won the race. You show up, because you spent some time with all the horses and you spoke with the trainers and you saw their diet and you calculated that horse #4 would probably win based upon contemplation and life experiences; so you want to see how close your assumptions are compared to the experts who are supposed to know things. The entire time is spent with the experts showing photographs of horse #4 passing through the finish line, a close-up photograph of the horse's right foot as he passes the finish line, a wide angled shot of the horse near the middle of the race showing the wet track.... then when you think that they will now start explaining the why, another group of experts show more photographs taken by other photographers who had a different vantage point. In the end when you ask directly, the why of the winning, each expert shrugs his shoulders and offers possibilities based upon some of the photographs: "Perhaps the wet track for horse #4 made it easier for him to run?" Well that's the most you will ever get from statistics: just numbers.

If you use these numbers to make decisions for society and you use nothing else, then don't be surprised when disaster strikes. If you can glance at the numbers to remind you of the map of the wilderness you happen to be in and carry forward to the destination you already know you need to go (without the map), then you are using statistics properly, like one tool out of many in the toolbox of life.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Aspirin for you

A person feels a headache and he pops an aspirin in his mouth and he can continue doing his work without the inconvenience of the pain. We medicate ourselves so frequently that we forget the whole point of the medicine, as in why we take this medication in the first place. TV ads encourage us to medicate ourselves so that we continue being productive; after all, that's what life is about, right? If you have any sickness, worry not, your productivity will not be affected if you use the proper medication.

What's wrong with being medicated, you may ask? Well, for medicine like aspirin, it is not a cure, but a reliever of symptoms. You have to ask yourself this question, what brought on this headache? If you take the aspirin, you still have the problem in your head, you have just hidden the feeling of it. Maybe your body is telling you to relax a bit and not be stressed out, but instead of listening to your body, you hide the pain with an illusion and you carry on as if nothing went wrong. This may cause unfortunate damage to the individual in short or long term health. We just don't know enough about our bodies to understand all the possibilities. Perhaps it makes it harder to sleep or makes your immune system weaker and you get other illnesses or maybe your personality just gets out of whack. Theories are plenty and if you ask 3 medical experts, you will get 4 answers, all of them contradictory to each other and all supposedly true, so we just have to know that there are still mysteries that are still with us.

So what if 1 person gets the headache, it only matters to that individual, right? Well without getting into societal health care costs in the long term and health care economics, lets look at the common cold. You get a cold, your job requires you to be present because they do not offer to pay as many sick days as you need, so you take a medication that eliminates the worse elements of the symptoms so that you can still function. I personally believe that this is ideal for rest and relaxation at the house as you do small easy chores like cooking for yourself a nice bowl of chicken soup. Unfortunately, the work force would rather have you spend the last remaining energy you have to continue working for them. The symptoms can be mostly covered, so you can still produce a bit.

Remember, society does not encourage proper thinking (as my previous posts declared), the manager looks at numbers in the short term and says that if you are healthy you provide 100%, if you are sick you provide 50% and if you are absent you provide 0%. Well 50% is better than 0% so the manager insists that you show up. The manager does not realize that being sick at work will spread the sickness to everyone else, will make recuperation that much longer and he will lose out in long term production.

The ideal would be this, if you are sick, you stay home and recuperate and you take as much time as you need to get healthy again, while being paid your full salary by your employer. If you get a headache, you take a nap or rest properly, you drop what you are doing and get back to it when rested, healed or whatever. We are human beings with strengths and weaknesses, we must accept and respect that. Would there be a loss of production? Consider that in the above scenario where we encourage employees to keep working when sick, the sick employee provides 5 days at 50% before he is cured (a total of 250%), and infects everyone else to work at 50% each. My suggestion makes the employee sick for 3 days, with 2 days of work at 100% (a total of 200%). Yes, my suggestion loses a 50% in the 5 day period compared to working for the 5 days; but my suggestion also makes the other employees healthy because the sickness was not spread to the others, hence more productivity for the company by having one stay at home to heal.

Context 2: a fast food employee is sick, he does not have access to any sickdays because there is no social benefits for him in that industry. This employee has to pay his rent and his groceries, so he must show up for work and try to ignore his symptoms--> well he infects a good percentage of his customers as well as his fellow employees. Before some bureaucrat tells me that the regulations make him wash his hands before food preperation, so the risk is reduced by x amount because statistics say so. I ask the following: do the regulations tell you not to wipe your nose or face while preparing the food in front of a hot stove making you sweaty? Do the regulations explain that if you are the employee sent to clean the tables and you push in chairs with your infected hands that the next person to sit there is not to touch the same spot you infected? (see the listeriosis posts in the first week of September 2008 to see how these rules really worked... including last Monday's post on the knee-jerk reaction to solve a new listeriosis case)

What is disapointing is that instead of taking my consideration to heart, some bureaucrat will just create a rule making us wear rubber gloves when we enter any work environment lest we contaminate someone. If you are a bad driver, you will cause accidents. If you are forced to wear a seatbelt and continue being a bad driver, you will continue to cause accidents. The rule will not prevent the accident nor make you a better driver.

If you are sick, please allow yourself the time to rest. If you are a society that really looks to the longterm health and productivity of its collective, please enable the tools for the responsible individuals to continue contributing wholeheartedly. Otherwise, you the individual will not get healthier, and you the society will not grow.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Rules, master or servant?

Following rules, laws and regulations are inherently beneficial for the individual and its society. The problem is when we forget that the institutional rules were created by us to serve our interests not created to be our masters. Let me give you an illustration about society in general. Imagine that we are in an unknown wilderness area. We are given a map and a compass and instructed on how to use them. We use the map and compass (the rules) to navigate through the wilds and avoid such pitfalls like cliffs, quicksand and other possible dangers. Once we know the wilderness, we don't need the map or the compass anymore, we travel from point A to point B bypassing the obstacles and staying safe. The rules can then be said to be in the proper use of our judgment.

Unfortunately, we, in our society, prefer to rely upon the maps and compasses. We do not dare do anything without consulting the map or the compass. We are no longer humans, but slaves to the map and compass. We write books on how to interpret the maps better, how to read the compass better..... and we end up walking in circles. When you walk down some road, do you calculate each of your steps? Do you concentrate upon which foot to move next to move forward? Or do you just walk, without thinking about it? So why do we pass foolish amounts of time on reading the map to get from point A to point B if we already know how to get there without the map?

To add insult to injury, some of us rely on specific guidebooks to tell us how many paces to walk in which direction, when to change directions and on and on. This I can understand for a new traveller, who may have lost his human guide and has a damaged map or broken compass. But our society seems to be insisting that we can not do anything worthwhile in society unless we show everyone that we have our guidebook and that we are following its instructions without question. (This is when someone like me asks how we can justify a specific pace if we all have different strides and the guidebook assumes that the reader has the same pace as the author).... (to which the answer is given to stop asking foolish questions and to follow instructions). If you ask anyone if they know how to get from point A to point B, they repeat the instructions found in the guidebook (even if they've been there before, I guess their memories are all used up for remembering instructions, they no longer know how to get there, only how to follow the instructions).... And society thinks you are smart if you have learned how to use a map and compass.

If our society is indeed encouraging us to be enslaved by the rules as I described above, how can we ever hope to have any rational democratic discussion? How can we assume we are living in a democratic society? "Well instruction book A says we live in a democracy", says the unthinking slave. Take away the guidebook, take away the compass and map and you have in front of you a lost individual with no sense of direction, much like a child. Can this child give anyone directions? Would you follow this child's direction?

We need to recognize our worth as humans, in areas where we should be confident, we enslave ourselves and shake in our boots in fear (like the foolish submission to the rules). At the same time, in areas where we should be humble and know our proper place in the universe, we act as if we can control the universe (but that part is another discussion). This deliberate act to force the rules and instructions upon us, is based upon the assumption that we are all children in the bodies of adults. Are we? Are we really? I would rather have society punish someone like a child when the adult has shown that he can not follow the rules than have society force an adult to follow rules like a child because it assumes that the adult can not do anything properly without this enforcement.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Knee-jerk Reactions

Now that we have had the listeriosis accident with the meat and that we have had shock and surprise that such things can still happen in the 21st century, there is now a new development in the news. Listeriosis was found in some of the locally produced cheeses in the province of Quebec (that's in Canada and a "province" is like a "state" in the U.S.). Now we come to the opposite extreme of do nothing with existing protocols, which is based upon a lack of judgment and a refusal to think about an issue; and we decide to throw out all the cheeses found, in case they may have been contaminated.

Both situations indicate move before thinking, a shoot before asking questions type of scenario. The unfortunate knee-jerk reaction. We get the listeriosis because we want to move too quickly and get the product out there before the competitor (see previous blogs for the rationale of that argument); then when a product is discovered to be infected with listeriosis, we throw everything out with no verification because we want to move too quickly to reassure non-thinkers that the situation is under control. Lets throw the baby out with the dirty bathwater, no thinking required: bathwater dirty-->throw out contents of bath!

There was a limited number of cheese brands that fell in the category of the infection and the government inspectors decided to include all the cheese and destroy it all in one shot. Store owners were prepared to destroy the identified infected cheeses but tried to talk sense in the government inspectors to at least test the other unrelated products before throwing them out. Were the other cheeses infected? Who knows? But the decision assumed that they were all infected and needed to be destroyed. Again, a loss of valuable resources for the same reason: move quicker than what your brain can react to.

The actions of allowing listeriosis products to go onto the marketplace and the actions of destroying ALL products that were found in the same store as a FEW contaminated products are opposite extremes. Both ridiculous extremes, both show a lack of judgment and both based upon not wanting to think things out first.

If we drive down a highway and see a deer on the road, the better reaction is to slow down and bypass the deer. Some would prefer to ignore the deer and plough on through with the deadly consequences as we have seen with the meat infection. Others would prefer to get off the road altogether and drive through the wilderness because if the deer is on the road it aint in the wilderness. If people can't drive properly and either ignore the deer or decide to go on treks through the wilderness (both damaging the car beyond repair), why do we still allow them access to the controls? Give the controls of the car to someone who has better judgment, yes?

One last thing, if the driver slows down to consult a bureaucratic manual to make a decision about the deer then it shows that he is under training and this better be a car-simulator (we may not have the luxury to consult the regulation for every new situation that comes up, this person may be better suited to be in the co-pilot's seat until he can ignore the regulations and use his proper judgment to make snap decisions which will then be included in the updated regulations for the next trainee).

Friday, September 5, 2008

Stop and Think

The listeriosis infection and the inability to stop it in time from killing a dozen people should make us all pause and contemplate. We could have avoided this accident easily but since we are more concerned with perceptions than actual realities, we will always suffer such nonsense. Consider this, no matter where you work, you will find that what is advertised to the public at large and what actually goes on behind closed doors is always different. How many times have you said to yourself or to co-workers at your job that if the public at large knew what was really going on at your work they would be in an uproar. Then when something happens in some other industry than your own, you act surprised at the level of incompetence there. If there are foolish things in your work environment, do not be surprised to find out that other industries have their foolishness and that they were unlucky to have it blow up in their faces.

Listeriosis is but one symptom in one specific industry, what about the tazer death in the airport with the security team walking in and killing a frustrated tourist who had not had anything to eat for over 8 hours in a completely alien environment? What was the public told after this death before the video evidence was available to the public? What about Enron and its sudden financial downfall? There are many situations like this that happen and I believe that these happen because there is little respect for someone to stop, think and implement.

We are on a metaphorical boat that is taking on water through a hole. We will eventually sink if we do nothing. The hole is small and will get bigger if the boat acquires more water. The amount that comes in is 1.1 gallons. We have a bucket that can get rid of 1 gallon at a time. So we struggle with great speed and for every 1.1 gallons that comes onto the boat, we throw 1 gallon back into the sea. We don't seem to notice that more and more water is getting in and we keep working fast and hard. Much like the frog who avoids boiling water but will stay in a pot of water as it slowly reaches the boiling point, we don't see that the boat is getting more and more water which slowly enlarges the existing hole. My proposal would seem absurd and counter-intuitive and many would just discount my following suggestion as laziness.... but my proposal would be to stop using the bucket for a few moments and think of a way to plug in the hole. I agree that while we think, the boat will have acquired a few hundred gallons, but once we have the solution, we stop the flow completely and then we get rid of the existing water with the bucket, or think a bit more and find an easier way to get rid of this water. The boat can probably take about 10 thousand gallons before it sinks so we have a bit of luxury of time to find a solution.

I propose we work smarter, not harder. Society's thinkers are often ignored and mocked. We discourage true thinking in society, we encourage memorization of techniques, we discourage questions. Had I been a worker in the meat plant, I would have asked "Shouldn't we test to see if the food was poisoned because the workstation was infected, the food may also have been infected?" This would have been answered with condescension that the procedures exist to avoid such things and that as a non-decision-maker I should not ask questions but follow the existing procedures. How many of us have had similar experiences in our personal workplace? I sincerely hope your workplace is not the next accident where the rest of us will shake our heads and mock the "other guy" and his incompetencies. Last year was Enron, last week was the tazer death, today its listeriosis.... what industry will have its foolishness blow up in its face next?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Incompetence or too busy?

The latest news on the listeriosis situation: after having been warned in the media about the meat recall and how everyone should avoid any meat that was processed in a specific plant, which is easily identifiable with the code "97B", we still find corner stores with the banned product on their shelves. Ignorance is the excuse given, they just didn't know that these particular products were part of the ban because they were not told.

Granted, we may not necessarily take everything the news has to say as absolute truth, but for at least two weeks we have had the code "97B" as the one thing to look for on any meat product, including the beef jerky type products found on the countertops of local convenience stores. Did the owner think that somehow these products were not considered meat? Its easy to say that incompetence is the culprit, but let us apply the theories of the September 1 and 2 posts onto this situation.

The convenience store clerk is overworked, so he is rushing to serve customers, stocking shelves, preventing shoplifting and cleaning. The owner is not much better off because since he has reduced his staff to stay competitive, he must pick up what the staff can not cover on their own while doing his usual managerial duties. Do you really think this manager has any time to stop and ponder if product x is part of the recall? Our society has not encouraged us to stop and contemplate; for some unknown reason, contemplation and thinking are seen as laziness so we rush out like fools and get surprised that we missed something crucial. If the clerk or the owner had had the time to think and relax, one of them would have noticed some of their meat products.... and then casually look at the label and notice that the "97B" code was clearly marked on the packaging--> and with that information, the proper phone call would have been made to ask if this specific item was included in the recall (because whatever list existed may not have been completely filled). Why take chances?

The convenience store owner relies on the bureaucracy of his supplier to give him the proper information at the right time. So why would the owner need to think or to verify anything? Whatever list is produced must be accurate and if the list is missing any crucial information, then it is that department's problem not the store owner. "Not my department, not my responsibility, so I don't have to think"; this mantra avoids personal responsibility and if you add this to the overworked status of the owner and the employee: we can see why some products were still found in the corner stores.

So there is an incompetence involved here, but it is based upon the culture of trying to do too much with next to no resources. Not only should we recuperate the lost workforce through downsizing but we should over-employ people (I think the Japanese have this philosophy in their workforce). The extra time that each employee gains would reduce unhealthy stress and allow extra training or extra education. Encouraging the use of spare time at work for self-improvement can only help a democratic citizenry. And if ever there comes a product recall for whatever reason, the staff has the time to "think" and catch the potential oversight of a product not on the list when it should be there.

My logic is to have an abundance of resources to do a limited output properly. Just think of the possibilities: "Windows" would actually work and not crash your computer on a daily basis, you would not have to wait in line for 15 minutes just to order a coffee, and the best yet: you would actually talk to a human being on the phone when trying to reach a government bureaucrat on issue "y" and "x". Gone are the 1950's when you had 5 gas station attendants to serve one car, we are in the days where 1 gas station attendant has to serve 5 cars simultaneously. I would prefer to get closer to the "what" we had before. And you?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Too Sanitized?

One possibility that we must consider with the listeriosis bacteria, which was found in several meat products, is the human capacity to withstand bacteria. Apparently listeriosis can infect meat on more occasions than we, the public, imagine. The news reports did note that the more common victims are the elderly and the very young children with lower immune systems. Is it possible this bacteria could have been inconsequential to the human immune system and that we have just created problem #3? (look at my previous 2 blogs for reasons 1 and 2)

Problem #3 would be our constant desire to sanitize everything to the point of ridiculousness. We use anti-bacterial soap, we wash everything more frequently than other cultures and as soon as we have the slightest sniffle, we pop some type of antibiotic. Our immune system relies upon the world in being very clean and relies upon the boost to fight off any infection. Teach a child to rely on crutches when he has two normal legs and he will not have the proper strength to walk on his own power. Our immune system may have similar strengths and weaknesses. If our immune system is weak through "laziness", then we can succumb to diseases, viruses and bacteria much easier.

Does it not seem interesting that each generation of our society seems to develop more allergies to various normal items? Now I don't want to look at how pollution can be the culprit and I don't want to look at how some diseases seem to evolve into better versions of themselves; both do have their part in the equation. I just think that the focus should be to compare our society of hyper cleanliness with other societies that put less stress on the cleaning scale and see if A) they get less allergies and B) if they withstand things like listeriosis better than us. Our current listeriosis scare may have been less dangerous to us as a society if we had been less "clean-freaks".

I agree that cleanliness has avoided many diseases, and this is something to keep in our daily practice. Physicians will obviously keep cleaning their hands to avoid the spread of germs from one patient to another, and hospitals can probably end up being cleaner places. I am more focused upon the exagerated cleanliness, using regular soap instead of the anti-bacterial ones. Allowing a child to play with local pets or playing out in the field instead of cocooning the child to avoid all possible germs or allergies. If you are sick, take the time to rest and recuperate instead of panicking and believing you have the worse possible disease and then be prescribed an antibiotic like it was candy.

Being clean is great, but lets keep it in perspective; never taking a bath is foolish, but taking a bath every 3 hours is just as foolish. If our society is closer to the second extreme in this metaphorical taking of baths, it may have contributed to the unfortunate deaths. If that is the case, we should rectify this. Else, we will succumb to things that we shouldn't have to.