Musings from George

What path would you rather be on?
January 12, 2016, 9:50 am
Filed under: Politics, Random walk

At a large software company nearby, the Net Promoter Score (subtract the number of people with a negative view from the number with a very positive view) is used to measure the relative happiness of users for any given application or service. High net promoter score = successful product — predictable usage and renewals. Low score, expect churn.

In politics, this is consolidated in the simple question “Is the United States on the right path?” According to Time magazine, the last time a majority of the American population felt good about our path was shortly after 9/11, when we began bombing Afghanistan and were united in our outrage against a foreign enemy. Now, with low unemployment, relatively high stock market values, low energy prices and a growing economy … people are unhappy and critical. One is left to wonder, what path would you rather be on if not this one? Where would you prefer to live?

The United States remains the world’s most powerful economy, and the world’s most powerful military. The US continues to defend free speech, to enable true human rights, and remains the center of innovation for the world. Many focus on politics and the election; the beauty of the US is that we will survive both, regardless of the buffoons currently tearing each other apart in the primaries. The US has handed power back and forth between parties that hated each other for years, and that is part of the power of our divided government and the established role of the three branches of government.
Are we on the right path? The easiest measurement is immigration — many of the best, brightest, and hardest working in the world want to come to the US. THAT is the real indication that has always highlighted how great the US is, and it confirms that we are indeed on the right path. When a Russian scientist, an Israeli entrepreneur, a Canadian software developer and a young kid in Honduras all want to move to the US … we are doing something right.
It is not about Obama, and it is not about the Donald — it is about a country that is based on personal freedom, with an established legal system, that defends personal property and respects the rights of individuals. The US is ascendant for all the right reasons, and we should all recognize how lucky we were to be born here at this time.
The US is on the best path. Be glad to be a citizen of the US in this time and age. Leave if you can’t.

New World Order
September 18, 2015, 11:15 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The Russians are sending their best military weapons to Syria, on a new base that they are building. They support Assad, who clearly does not have the support of his country and is supported by terrorists. His military is dropping crude bombs on civilian populations — enough to REQUIRE humanitarian intervention.

Yet we do nothing. We have the most powerful military on the planet, without question. We could disable Syrian air defenses (as we disabled Iraq’s) and we could shoot up Russia’s most recent weapons — tanks, airplanes, and artillery. Let’s do it.

Should we do something? The shock and awe part of 1991 was real — we can kick anyone’s ass in the short term. We do NOT need to risk lives at Benghazi or Mogadishu, but we should consider when a concerted Air Force attack can level an opponent. As they could in Syria.

Sadly, our presidential candidates are not having that conversation. They are debating the size, cost, and composition of a wall with Mexico … our largest trading partner and key friend in rationalizing manufacturing expenses. I do not understand why we would alienate such a close friend when there are real problems to address. Reagan gave citizenship to 3 million; we accepted far more when Ireland was in trouble. Why does anyone have a problem accepting sixty-nine thousand kids who made it across the border?

More soon. George

Fear, law, and civil obedience
October 17, 2014, 4:45 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Today I had to question something that I had believed for a long time — that I would have done great things in the military. I am a pretty good leader, and I think I am a good person, and I have always felt that I would happily die to defend my family, my friends, or my country. But the more I learn about the men and women who actually do serve, I realize that I am not very good at blindly taking orders and I sometimes lack the discipline to do things as completely as I should. I know how to paint a house, and have painted literally dozens in my lifetime (college summers) … but I just paid someone else to paint my house. I know how to garden pretty well, but … the garden needs some work, and I just can’t seem to squeeze that into my very wide open schedule. So it is hard to imagine taking orders from someone simply because of rank, and that is a key underpinning to order in the armed forces. So I guess we are all better off that I chose to work designing missile guidance systems instead of actually carrying a rifle.

A friend mentioned The Book of Questions, which he had raised before. I went to Amazon and read a few pages for free (that is a great offering!), and one of the questions is basically “what’s the worst thing you have ever done that you rationalized for x, y, or z reason”. That led me to walk back through the less happy times in my life, which is not something I am prone to do (aside: what do men and three-legged dogs have in common? both are always running forward, not looking back). Rather than confessing to breaking the law here in print, I just encourage you to do the same exercise and to consider what would have happened if you had been caught.

There have been demonstrations in the news, from Hong Kong to St Louis to Ferguson. Cornel West flew out to get arrested, and the Chinese government is finally clearing the streets of Hong Kong. An article in Time quotes Rand Paul as questioning why no one is out in the streets chanting “War, War, What is it good for?” given the fact that we are dropping bombs in Iraq and Syria and training a new group of “friendly” soldiers in the Middle East. It does seem that we have just settled into accepting that the world is a dangerous place, and our soldiers will always be in danger somewhere (perhaps even fighting the “war” on Ebola). The draft gave us an opposition to the Vietnam War, and the Depression fed an isolationist majority back before Pearl Harbor. What would it take to get the average US citizen to care enough to express an opinion about the Islamic State? We focus on building walls and sealing borders and being suspicious of people who travel from Africa, but we don’t question the $750M in explosives that we have dropped in the past six weeks. Should we care? What would civil disobedience look like now?

More soon. The Giants are in the World Series, and we are about to observe a moment of silence for the 25th anniversary of the World Series earthquake in 1989 at 5:04pm.

October 17, 2014, 1:42 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Comcast … why isn’t there a better alternative? I have spent 27 minutes on the phone with customer support, and have gotten absolutely no help.

SaaS is similar — a customer cannot reboot a box or help themselves. Customers are at the whim or fancy of the proviiders.

Two separate people tell me that they can’t help me because they are not in the right department … and they transfer me to the X1 department, which just rings and rings … this is the definition of internet hell. I wish someone would introduce a reliable service that actually delivered what they sold.

Yet another Comcast rant (YACR)
October 9, 2014, 8:52 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

So, it’s just after dinner and everyone is settling down into the activities that help them sleep. I go to check email, but .. no internet service. I pick up the phone to call Comcast — the number is 1-800-581-3734, they go to great lengths to hide that number from their customers — and I learn that our phone service is out.

So, that vaunted triple play … is really three outs, no runs or hits. I can’t call 911. I can’t check the status of my order online. I can’t do ANYTHING.

So, I call. Fortunately (?) I have AT&T phone service, so I am able to call Comcast support. Of course you find a dizzying IVR (interactive voice response) tree there, designed to prevent you from actually speaking with anyone. I finally do reach someone (wilma) who wants to help. After answering ten questions, she informs me that she only does TV, not internet or phone. So much for the triple play. She transfers me to someone (Gary) who can supposedly help me with the broken internet service.

It takes a while for Gary to answer, and I get a recorded message telling me that service is out in my neighborhood. This *is* the service that I pay for to get 911 response.

After a long conversation with Gary, who feels bad for me, I ask him what he can do for me with billing. He says he is empowered to give me one day’s credit, and admits it is not much (around $5). I ask him if the irony is lost on him that I am calling on AT&T to reach customer service, since the phone service he provides is down … the irony is not lost on him, but he works for Comcast. The best he can do is a $5 credit. I feel sorry for Gary, who has no power and works for a crappy internet service provider .. so rather than being mean, I just say “yes, I know it sucks to try to sell an inferior product…”

We hate AT&T equally, and when Comcast works it is great. But honestly … no phone service? The technology to provide backup phone service is available, proven years ago — so this just counts as incompetence.

/rant off

I hate communications service providers who oversell and underdeliver. When there is a wireless carrier that is NOT dependent on cables and wires, I’m going there full stop without concerns.

For now, Comcast sucks and I’m expecting them to miss their eleven minute window to call me back with a status update. Gary confirmed that they have already missed their first ETA, and didn’t sound confident that they would reach any new one.

My wife and I have coined our own new acronym — POP-y, (pronounced “poppy”) for prickly-old-people. We are short on patience with bad drivers, annoyed by bad customer service, angry about ISP outages … life is just one long inconvenience when you get old. If you are POPY, raise a fist and curse at the darkness — it won’t get any better without you!


When things get medieval, where do you hide?
September 2, 2014, 8:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

I read with horror about the atrocities being committed in Iraq and Syria today, yet is is important to recognize that this type of terror is being visited upon countries (and tribes) in Africa and on religious groups in Asia regularly. Heads on spikes recall a terribly bloody past, but child soldiers and rape as a tool of war are little better.
So, what should the US (and the “civilized world”) do? We can’t be the world’s policemen, as we have tried that and it doesn’t work. We can’t just ignore human rights abuses and slaughter, but we have done so for years. Srebenica, Rwanda — scars on our collective memory. Yet already I have forgotten the sect that was persecuted on the mountaintop by ISIS, and already I am weary of the bickering in Washington DC on whether we can drop bombs without an authorization of war.
Therefore, yet another modest proposal. Why can’t we allow (make legal) a volunteer army, along the lines of the French Foreign Legion, that can go to war against enemies of the state. Give them some guidelines and some rules (they should not be pirates, the enemies should be recognized as enemies), and let 10,000 volunteers shuffle off to Iraq and Syria with the best weapons they can afford. Let them demonstrate their prowess on the battlefield, let them wage war against the enemies that we cannot (or choose not to) fight.
There are downsides, of course. Blackwater made no friends in Iraq, and rogue soldiers make bad nation builders. But if we just want to put people on the ground who want to fight to the death against “evil”, it seems like a reasonable proposal.

Bullying, sports, and middle school
March 26, 2014, 6:45 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

Age brings perspective, and occasionally some degree of understanding. In high school we read The Lord of the Flies by William Goldman, which was named by TIME Magazine (remember when we read magazines?) as one of the hundred best English novels of the last century. I recognized some of our middle school behaviors, where bullying cascaded down through the classes, and where the newly re-formed social structures (mixing kids from three different elementary schools) gave everyone reasons and excuses for bad behavior. New cliques punished “outsiders”, eighth-grade boys who had been bullied extracted their revenge from a new crop of seventh-graders, and the onslaught of hormones generated the first real competition for prized goods (between girls and for girls). I have to admit that just about everyone was involved to a varying degree as social groups dissolved and reformed. Between food fights, fist fights, and Kill the Guy with the Ball there were many opportunities to hurt someone with words or with blows.

High school sports have their own particular form of bullying, a lesser version of the hazing that occurs in the military. Nominally it results from the cascading of duties (who has to put the goals in, or pull the lane lines) but realistically it includes physical and mental abuse. The spectacular cases that make the news headlines (a drum major in the south, a football player in the midwest) are not hard to understand — just a much more vicious extension of the rabbit punches or bruises that we used to give and get.

College brings a new degree of autonomy much closer to the Lord of the Flies than our relatively safe high school. A student can finally get access to all the alcohol they want without fear of parental retribution. No one is going to note, nor intervene, when things are going terribly awry. The inmates are truly running the prison (or dormitory, or fraternity). This is really where testosterone drives a constant fight between the sexes, and where ignorance enables bad behavior. 

So why do people become bullies, or stop being bullies? I have encountered bullies in the workplace who clearly wanted revenge for years of abuse — they were finally in a position of power, and enjoyed making people dance to their chosen tune. I have encountered misanthropes, who just enjoy watching others suffer. There isn’t a sense of balancing a score card as much as enjoying power and being on the other side. This is the police officer who rapes and murders; the boss who intimidates and terrifies; the bureaucrat who could help, but won’t. The psychological damage that they experienced as a child (for being fat, for not being athletic, for being “inappropriately” feminine or masculine) returns as a desire to hurt people. Any person, all people.

Do we grow up? Yes. I have been to high school reunions, where the bullies and the bullied are all happily successful and can look past their childhood. I can say that the kids we hazed in high school have grown into wonderful human beings who could break my neck, but instead shake my hand. I can say that in the working world we don’t have to put up with the dysfunctional tyrants, and can choose who we work with (okay, within reason — those in the military or the government have been dealt a tougher hand).

A high-ranking military official was recently given a light sentence for a long-running affair with a subordinate. These are the border-line cases of bullying where I really think rules should apply, and that abuse from a position of power needs to be considered a terrible crossing of the line. The Catholic church has likewise spent too many decades hiding abusers rather than punishing and isolating them, and the new change at the top is welcome news to everyone who has ever known a victim of sexual abuse (I’m going to guess more than half of us know someone well who has been abused). So let’s all commit to calling out the bullies, to standing up for the bullied, and for prosecuting those in power who take advantage of their position to hurt people … in any way, shape, or form.



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