04 August 2010

Measure B

Quincy needs a new hospital, and we overwhelmingly voted to build one two years ago. Then some folks got a higher-than-expected tax bill and said, "No, wait, you mean we have to pay this much to build a hospital!? You mean the cost estimates were actually estimates, not a maximum!? You fooled me with your slick ad campaign; you lied."

So instead of enlisting to help find a better approach, as community leaders have done in the past when confronted with difficult situations, they decided to 'just say no' and to divide the community against itself with a so-called 'Cap the Tax' ballot measure. No solutions were brought forward, only an arbitrary, nice affordable-sounding, small rate cap; and with that they got enough signatures to force a vote. They said they were sure that it was enough to improve/maintain the hospital. Never mind that the rate cap in the ballot measure is smaller than most estimates done previously or since, and ignores the fact that bond buyers want security not risk.

Hindsight unquestionably shows that after the original vote, the hospital board and management interpreted the poll results as an overwhelming mandate to proceed without the bother of further involvement from the public. They did not involve or even communicate with the general community in planning and evaluating alternatives before proceeding. Even after the tax bills were sent, they did not come forward with a clear accounting of the alternatives explored and the reasons supporting the approach taken. Later, after the ballot initiative was underway, when a better potential lending source was identified that had not been available originally, they appeared to assume a defensive stance rather than one open to community input and discussion. However, that is water under the bridge.

Capping the tax sounds appealing, especially to those struggling in these tough financial times. Uncertainty is after all, uncertain; certainty is more comfortable, more certain. Furthermore, everyone agrees that lower taxes are better than higher taxes. The proponents however want to have their cake and eat it too; they want a better hospital but don't want to pay for it. They are riding the prevalent anti-government anti-any-tax sentiments. Sadly they don't seem to realize that in this situation, they [we] are the government. They seem determined to shoot themselves in the foot, cut off their noses to spite their faces, or somehow punish the community at large to vent their anger and distrust. They say that they want to start the process over, but unlike some computer applications, there is no Undo-button in the real world. The low-cost loan [stimulus] money identified will not be available a couple years from now, and the current lower-than-usual construction costs will not remain when the economy revives.

Unfortunately, if passed, the 'Cap the Tax' measure would make it impossible to build the needed hospital, and it would eliminate any hope to qualify for the low-cost (or any other) funds. The monies from construction bonds cannot be used for remodeling or repair or any other purposes. The existing hospital cannot accommodate modern medical equipment and procedures, and is operating under a waiver of current building standards. As a result, new doctors cannot be recruited. Without a new hospital on the horizon, local health care will rapidly spiral downward until there is essentially none. Every emergency will become an 80-mile $15,000 helicopter ride. Babies won't be born here, except by accident. Those who would have moved here to retire will not. New business will not want to locate here, and those that are here will find their benefit costs climbing too high to survive. More young families will leave because, besides no jobs, there will be no doctors. Unless we decide that the roads and bridges that we currently have are good enough and will no longer need repairs or replacement, tourists will probably still come, but heaven help them if they need medical care.

The alternative is to invest in the future:

Save our Hospital.
Vote NO on measure B.

18 June 2010


Here we go again: The Kyrgyz are killing the Uzbeks. (and/or vice versa this time or next)
Get over it, grow up, use your brain, open your eyes, talk; you are the same. You are all descended from the same set of nomads, invaders, traders, missionaries, colonialists, etc. One group does not have feathers and fingers and the other fins and fangs; you are literally brothers.

You are not the first and sadly probably not the last: Hutu - Tutsi, Serb - Croat, Israeli - Palestinian, ...; all brothers, all identical.

The other day in the UK, the Bloody Sunday Inquiry report findings were presented to Parliament by the Prime Minister. In my opinion it was an extraordinary speech. (Admittedly it may be somewhat less extraordinary in the UK Parliament than a similar one would be in the US Congress, but I digress.) Besides the fact that it was clear, succinct, unequivocal, and uninterrupted, I thought that one of the more interesting aspects was the perspective. I was an adult on Jan 30, 1972, but most who may read this were not. David Cameron was five, Bono was eleven (the U2 was a spy-plane); to them this happened on the ragged edge of history. Perspective shows clearly how stupid it was.

Watch the video.

Overall these conflicts are not not right against wrong, only wrong and wrong. They are about mine vs. yours, not about ours and ours. My version of god, not yours. Whatever. Intellectually we know that anything that is not win-win is in fact lose-lose. It is not a zero-sum game. We get so blinded by prejudice, ignorance, pride, hate, faith or history that we cannot see how our victory could be our loss. Nothing is really black-and-white. Be careful what you wish for. Imagine walking in your opponent's shoes. And always make it a rule never to say always or never!

I hope that the message is not lost in the din of other news. Doing wrong in the name of right is never right, it is always wrong.

11 May 2010

Intellectual Property

These two videos caught my eye recently. I decided to (re)post them here so that so I don't loose track of them. In one way or another they both relate to "products, process, and quality" and the unintended consequences that can result when the "process nazis" gain control of what and how things are done permitting logic to trump reason.

Ironically in the first one the Wright brothers are used as a positive example; yet, although the second one is only about software patents, the fact is that many (including myself) believe that the Wright brothers' vigorous enforcement of their aviation patents severely slowed and in fact damaged the development of aircraft technology in much the same way.

25 March 2010

Spinning [or Why vs. How]

Jacob, now 4, wrote me an email asking "Why does the world spin?" Then he went on to suggest his own answer, "I think maybe the world spins because that's how the sun turns out the lights so we can go to bed and the universe can make a new day for Earth." Wow, such a good answer! I can't top that; even though the spinning turns out the light rather than the Sun, he has the correct idea. But, ...

There is a problem embedded in what I will call "big WHY" questions, and Jacob's question is in some ways one of those big WHY questions. Some would respond with words like "God made it that way", or some other platitude that provides no practical or usable information. It is exactly these WHY questions that science carefully avoids. The problem is that science can only answer questions such as:

  • "How did the world start to spin?"
  • "How does the world's spinning affect things?"
  • "How does the world keep spinning?"
  • "How ... etc. ?" You get the idea.

Science and scientists can figure out HOW stuff works and HOW it is made and HOW it changes over time, and HOW it does this, and HOW it does that, and HOW, and HOW, and HOW ... Science isn't so good at WHY. Not so good at:

  • "WHY is there stuff at all?"
  • "WHY does stuff follow these exact rules?"
  • "WHY are we here to observe all this?"

Sure, science can answer "why" questions, but they are "little why" questions. Like "Why does it make a splash when I drop a rock in the pond?" If you think about it for a minute, you will realize that this is really a "how" question in disguise. Our language often makes it convenient to ask "why" when we really mean "how" -- "How does the rock cause the water to splash when I drop it in; and how is it that the rock drops when I let go; and how ..."

Those big WHY questions are the questions that religion "answers". Some [most, all, maybe every] big "R" religion has had a problem with science at one time or other. Their problem is that sometimes the WHYs that they have "answered" don't line up well with the HOWs that science discovers. And since they believed and had faith in their "answer", the truth is hard to swallow. It turns out that they had answered a "how" question with an explanation that seemed OK at the time, but was shown to be wrong when tested. They could believe it without proof, but when contradicted by reality they can only deny reality - argue that the facts are in fact not the facts, or explain that there is [must be] a higher law at work that we human mortals cannot [ever] understand.

Don't get me wrong, we need beliefs. There is a lot we don't understand, and even though we may not understand everything around us, we still have to get by from minute to minute; so we have to make assumptions about stuff. And we have to take it "on faith" that what we are doing will work out OK. BUT when we learn that our best guess was wrong, the smart ones will adjust quickly to the new old reality, and move on all the wiser - ready for the next "revelation".

So, "Why does the world spin?" As Jacob said, its spinning is how we have night and day.

The way it began spinning (i.e., how) is for the same reason that all the planets do, and on a grander scale the same way that all the planets go around the Sun in the same direction, and the way that the whole Milky Way galaxy spins too.

We and everything on Earth, and the Earth itself and the Sun and the Solar System are all made of the same stuff - stardust. When you take stardust and it gets all mixed up into the cosmic soup, after a while instead of going every which way, it settles down and begins to slowly spin all in the same direction. And the spinning makes it flatten out. Then after another long time, gravity pulls the dust closer and closer together into bigger and bigger lumps. Since the dust was spinning, the lumps spin too; and as the dust lumps get pulled tighter and tighter together by gravity they gather up more dust faster and they spin faster until they have gathered in all the nearby dust and they have become a big spinning ball - like the Earth or the Sun.

You can do this experiment to see how it starts:
(Mom should try this on her own first to perfect her lab technique.)
Sprinkle some pepper into a bowl of water and then stir it quickly in random mixed-up directions every which way. After a little while the water molecules will bump into each other enough times so that the motion will average out into a slow rotation one way or the other. The pepper will let you see the water's rotation. Try it several times stirring the water differently each time.

Of course this does not answer WHY. Jacob did not answer WHY either - smart boy. He answered a little "why" - a how. Every time we answer HOW, we push back the boundaries of WHY and we learn more, and we find evermore questions that beg to be answered. Why? I don't know; but I can explain how.

If everything we know is inside a big balloon, and everything we don't yet know is the air outside the balloon, then the rubber skin of the balloon represents all the questions we have and are trying to answer. Now every time we figure out an answer to one of our questions it is like putting another puff of air inside the balloon. This makes the rubber skin of the balloon stretch bigger; but the skin is all the questions we have, so every question we answer gives us more new questions that we didn't have before.

This is really why the world spins.