Monday, May 27, 2013

Privacy Statements

"I Agree"

I agree to every privacy statement that pops up on sites I want to view. I have yet to read one and I'll bet the farm that I am not alone here.

Malcolm Burnley, writes in the June, 2013 issue of The Atlantic,  that the average length of privacy statements is 2,514 words and if you read every privacy statement that pops up in a year it 'would take you 10 full days'.

Now comes along a start-up called Disconnect. You can read about it from the previous link but here are some features that Mr. Burnley high lights in his article, "You've Been Warned". Disconnect kind of reads the Privacy Statement for you.

Green indicates that a Web site either does not allow third-party tracking or notifies you if you are being tracked. Orange means you might be unknowingly observed (for example: Amazon vs.Kayak).

Green indicates that a Web site uses your data only in ways you actively consent to or would expect given the service the site provides. Orangemeans your data might be shared or used in ways that should give you pause (Google vs. The New York Times).

The number on the green icon indicates how many months a site will retain your data. The infinity sign on the orange icon means that your data may outlive you (Twitter vs. Facebook).

This graphic taken from Malcolm Burnley's article in The Atlantic (June, 2013)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

God, Morality And The American Dream

Put your big boy pants on because I'm going into the weeds.

No, not really. Philosophical discussions have no end and that is the only definitive philosophical statement one can make with philosophical certainty.

I am looking at some seemingly disparate sources: A. O. Smiths New York Times review of Gatsby, Pain & Gain, Spring Breakers and The Bling Ring; Henry Kissinger and a Sherwood Anderson short story from "Winesburg, Ohio".

A.O. Smith addresses the movies mentioned above as a progression of America's entitlement culture. Not the perceived entitlement some people attribute to only the poor, but to all of us. It began with the mythical American Dream of freedom for purposes of not just worship, but acquiring things. At first it may have been land. Today it's 'a headlong embrace of materialism' without a stable moral perspective. Smith also calls it 'commodity fetishism'. I have attended Lakewood Church here in Houston on several occasions and Joel Osteen skillfully melds a moral perspective into material success. Nuances connecting God, Morality and The American Dream can be overlooked by some and lend rationale to others who strive harder for the latter.

Robert D. Ryan, authors an article entitled, 'The Statesman, In Defense Of Henry Kissinger', (The Atlantic, May, 2013). In his defense of Kissinger's foreign policies, Ryan reminds us of the times in which they took place. 'Other, luckier political leaders might later discover opportunities … where before there were none.' Thus, ' Ensuring a nation's survival sometimes leaves tragically little room for private morality. Discovering the inapplicability of Judeo-Christian morality in certain circumstances involving affairs of state can be searing. The rare individuals who have recognized the necessity of violating such morality, acted accordingly, and taken responsibility for their actions are among the most necessary leaders for their countries, even as they have caused great unease among generations of well-meaning intellectuals who, free of the burden of real-world bureaucratic responsibility, make choices in the abstract and treat morality as an inflexible absolute.'

Sherwood Anderson published Winesburg, Ohio 1919, there were still Civil War veterans alive and active in their communities. I note this to show how far back Anderson's following observation goes and its relevance to contemporary discussions going on today:

"The beginning of the most materialistic age in the history of the world, when wars would be fought without patriotism, when men would forget God and only pay attention to moral standards, when the will to power would replace the will to serve and beauty would be well-nigh forgotten in the terrible headlong rush of mankind toward the acquiring of possessions, …"

See? It's what I am addressing today, May 18, 2013. Anderson seems to separate God from moral standards and I am not certain this can be done without a beginning point be it God, Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Confucius, Emerson, etc.

Here is another observation regarding the media. Sound familiar? Remember this was written in 1919.

"In the last fifty years a vast change has taken place in the lives of our people. A revolution has in fact taken place. The coming of industrialism, attended by all the roar and rattle of affairs, the shrill cries of millions of new voices that have come among us from over seas, the going and coming of trains, the growth of cities, the building of the interurban car lines that weave in and out of towns and past farmhouses, and now in these later days the coming of the automobiles has worked a tremendous change in the lives and in the habits of thought of our people of Mid-America. Books, badly imagined and written though they may be in the hurry of our times, are in every household, magazines circulate by the millions of copies, newspapers are everywhere. In our day a farmer standing by the stove in the store in his village has his mind filled to overflowing with the words of other men, The newspapers and the magazines have pumped him full. Much of the old brutal ignorance that had in it also a kind of beautiful childlike innocence is gone forever. The farmer by the stove is brother to the men of the cities, and if you listen you will find him talking as glibly and as senselessly as the best city man of us all."

T. S. Elliot describes the still point of the turning world in his poem the Four Quartets. It is undefinable, it is where everything occurs yet nothing changes.

"At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.


Monday, May 13, 2013

The Conversation

Doctors are experts on the dying process. Their education doesn't take years. I suspect they learn more about the dying process in less time than it takes to learn the basics of their profession. So why do they put off The Conversation and knowingly perform unnecessary and unwanted treatment? Most of which occurs at the end of life.

Jonathan Rauch in his May, 2013 article for The Atlantic, "How Not To Die", provides several interconnected reasons. In American medical training we instill in our prospective physicians a 'war on death'. Rauch says, "Unwanted treatment is a particularly confounding problem because it is not a product of malevolence but a by-product of two strengths of American medical culture: The system's determination to save lives, and its technological virtuosity." Doctors who come here from India have marveled at the technological resources available to them but at the same time see serious shortcomings in patient/doctor interaction. Where medical training is not as technologically available patient/doctor communication is very important for hands on diagnosis and treatment. Encompassing this communication may entail The Conversation. U. S. trained doctors know about The Conversation and also know when their patients are dying, but they are not good at telling the patient and his family or don't even use it as part of their practice. When it is used it should be, explained '… patiently and in plain English, his condition and his treatment options, to learn what his goals were for the time he had left, and to establish how much and what kind of treatment he really desired.'

Albert Mulley, addresses the war on death as applied to those knowingly dying, "Sometimes you block the near exits, and all you've got left is a far exit, which is not a dignified and comfortable death."

Rauchs article features a doctor Angelo Volandes and his efforts to bring The Conversation into the patient /doctor treatment protocol. It has made a small, very small penetration. I have left out a significant  portion of this article so if you want to know more go here.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Running On Empty? … No Not Ever.

Most of us are familiar with the Peak Oil concept. I am going to over-simplfly it here because it's not what I want to elaborate on.

Essentially, peak oil is a bell curve:

A guy named M. King Hubbert, predicted in 1956 that all the 'easy' oil will soon be used up and as exploration and production becomes more and more difficult, the industry will peak and then decline. 

In an article by Charles C. Mann* (May, 2013 The Atlantic) we learn of another school of thought emanating from of all places the U.S. Geological Survey. Vincent McKelvey was a geologist for this government agency and he agreed with the first half of the Hubbert hypothesis, that the easy oil would eventually disappear. But, by McKelvey's reckoning, we would never run out of fossil fuel. McKelvey and his acolytes believed that:

"Even as companies drain off the easy oil, innovation keeps pushing down the cost of getting the rest. From this vantage, the race between declining oil and advancing technology determines the size of a reserve-not the number of hydrocarbon molecules in the ground. 
This perspective has a corollary: natural resources cannot be used up. If one deposit gets too expensive to drill, social scientists (most of them economists) say, people will either find cheaper deposits or shift to a different energy source altogether, Because the costliest stuff is left in the ground, there will always be petroleum to mine later."

With in the above quote I have 'bolded' cost and expensive. These are the driving forces of the oil industry. Not the availability of the resource nor the effort to extract and refine it. 

Fracking is not new, it has been used as a means to get at oil since the 1940's. What is new is innovations that enhance its effectiveness and efficiencies. It makes the effort worth the cost. I do not dismiss the environmental impact on ground water and subsidence. My point is to support the McKelvey Corollary. In this vein we should probably discuss the energy return on energy invested  (EROEI). Simply put, how much energy is needed to produce energy? This is a very important cost and determines whether certain fossil fuels and alternative energy sources are marketable. For example:

OPEC oil is 12 to 18
     12 to 18 barrels of oil are produced for every barrel of oil used to produce it
Tar Sand
     4 to 7 barrels
Natural Gas Fracking
     6 times better than OPEC oil
    16 times better than Tar Sand

Charles Mann starts off his article with new sources of fossil fuels. We tend to overlook other sources in this category. Mann discusses something called methane hydrate. Japan seems committed to this resource and you can read more about it here

We all know about alternative non-fossil energy sources and their EROEI is not as efficient, but I believe innovation will work here also and eventually although they may cost a bit more, retail buyers will see the greater good and opt for renewables as the prices continue to decrease.


*Arthur of 1491.