Saturday, December 31, 2011

Quitting drinking for January

I don't have anything against drinking, I'm just getting sick of it. Plus its starting to feel like a crutch, if I'm bored and don't have plans one night I'll meet up with friends for drinks. I usually have a good time but I do it because its easy - I'm not really thinking about what I want to be doing. Mostly I want to make sure I'm living my own life with my own expectations and not someone else's. In all likelihood come February I will start drinking again but I'm hoping to gain some perspective on life as a result of quitting. Plus I'll save a lot of money that I'd otherwise spend at bars.

As I'm telling friends about this plan I've encountered a lot of different reactions - and as a result gained interesting perspectives on a lot of people. I've heard everything from "no way you can last!" and "why the hell would you do that?" to "I support your decision" and "I'll join you."

In future months I plan on making similarly radical life changes, either doing something I don't normally do or abstaining from something I normally do. In a way I'm doing 12 mini new years resolutions - should be a good year.

Next on my reading list

Interesting article in Forbes about a new book: What Capitalism can learn from the NFL

Martin compares the idea of maximizing shareholder value as trying to cover the point spread in the NFL rather than trying to win the game. Targeting the real market instead of the expectations market could do capitalism a lot of good. Too often management has the incentive to maximize short term profits at the expense of long term growth. What's worse is that this pressure often comes from the shareholders themselves. I just hope the book is as good as this article.

Funny or sad?

People complaining about what they didn't get for Christmas:

Complaining about not getting an iPad... seriously? Some people don't know how good they have it.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The unseen and the unseeable

In the spirit of the season, the most reprinted editorial of all time, "Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus"

The line which struck me the most, "Nobody can conceive or imagine all wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world." That sums up my attitude toward religion, I view theists and atheists as similar in a lot of ways. How can anyone be so sure of their views? Even with something as universally true as mathematics, there are more unanswered questions than there are answered questions. Beyond that there are unanswerable questions (e.g. axioms). I prefer to take the Buddhist approach, arguing about unanswerable questions is a trap and the basis for dogmas. Although not having an answer makes life's path a little less clear I can't think of another way I could live.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hot snow falls up?

I've been doing a lot of flying recently and I'm still amazed every time the plane successfully lifts off. Then all of a sudden this giant metal tube is flying through the air at 500 miles per hour. Pretty ridiculous. So I decided to do some research, maybe if I understand how this actually works I'd be more comfortable with it:

All I learned is that the people who design and build airplanes are way smarter than me. I suppose I can take comfort in that fact. But by that argument, Einstein believed in God does that mean I should too?

How freedom became tyranny

Interesting article in the Guardian applying the ideas of Isaiah Berlin's Two Concepts of Liberty to modern times. Berlin writes that there are two freedoms, positive freedom and negative freedom, "if the liberty of myself or my class or nation depends on the misery of a number of other human beings, the system which promotes this is unjust and immoral." In short freedom is not always good, the current generation of republicans view freedom as the solution to everything. However rather than further deregulation of finance I'd prefer to be free from exploitation and fraud.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Operation Perfect Hedge

Based on this article from Bloomberg it sounds like the FBI is using similar tactics to prosecute insider trading at hedge funds as they used for organized crimes and gangs. I hope somebody makes an HBO show along the lines of "the white collar wire." True most of these millionaire hedge fund managers aren't shooting people and selling drugs but the cost of their actions still totals hundreds of millions of dollars. The public does't get as upset because if you defraud millions of people for a few dollars each it's not as startling as defrauding an individual for a few million. That's what makes these crimes so difficult to prosecute the victims are spread out all of the world and its practically impossible to recompense them. To some extent this is the cost of investing, you're going to lose some money to fraud. As long as authorities keep these costs low investors will have faith in the system, if the insiders are allowed to run amok everyday investors will head for the hills.

Fox news makes a good point

Most of the time I view fox news as "news based entertainment" rather than actual journalism. But there was an article today (via google news) that caught my attention. Scientists in the Netherlands created a new strain of the bird flu virus that is more virulent and potentially capable of killing millions if it falls into the right hands. The author suggests that developing a virus like this is not very difficult if you have a basic lab and know how to do it. Compared to the costs of developing a nuclear weapon a virus like this certainly gets you more bang for the buck. This brings up a few questions. First, why was this research performed and should it have been allowed in the first place? Just because science can do something doesn't mean it should. Next, should these results be published? Regardless of whether the research should have been allowed or not, the information for how to do this is a matter of national security. We don't exactly publish specs for ICBMs. And finally, what can we do about this? As information becomes more widespread the people who want to do harm have more means to do so. This problem is the hardest to deal with. Do we become a police state? That seems to be way things are heading. Where do we draw the line? What price is too high to pay for freedom?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Reflections on Las Vegas

Now that I'm vacation again I have time to reflect on the last one. Vegas is an interesting place, part of it feels really fake - New York, Paris, Venice copied and mashed into a few square miles. On every block there are people dressed as Elvis,  Jersey Shore types, nerdy poker sharks, strippers and hordes of bachelorette parties in tiaras. But despite all this there is something very genuine about Vegas. It blends fantasy and reality so that you can be whatever you want to be and do whatever you want to do. Its liberating in a lot of ways and gives me a certain carefree feeling of confidence that's difficult to find in everyday life. It makes me talk to people I'd never talk to normally. It shuts down the analytically side of my mind and focus on what I want. So despite the massive hangover my trip was very meditative in a sense.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Anti-war = Pro-terrorism

Back in 2002 the FBI used terrorism to justify spying on people attending an anti-war rally in Pittsburgh. Later on the Inspector General called it "an ill-conceived project on a slow day." So apparently the government can label anything terrorism and use that as justification to violate the Constitution... I hope I don't end up in jail for the rest of my life without trial because its a slow day at the FBI.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Defense Authorization Bill Part 2

What do warrants, due process, trials by jury and inalienable rights have in common? They're soooo 1789 and apparently the Senate thinks they need to go.

I don't doubt that the Senators who voted for this bill have good intentions, they want to make it easier for our military to protect our country from a widespread enemy. But our current Congress has proven repeatedly that they are incredibly short-sighted. Do they really think we'll never have a government that might try to abuse this power? Jon Corzine (former Senator) might soon be going to jail for a billion dollar fraud at MF Global. Rod Blagojevich (former Governor) will hopefully be going to jail soon for trying to sell Obama's Senate seat. And since most presidents are former Senators or Governors I don't want to give these guys such unchecked power. My only hope now is that the Supreme Court strikes this down and makes it clear to everyone in Congress - unless you amend the constitution the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments still apply to all Americans.