Truth, Justice, and the American way. TRUTH: Helping to correct people's misconceptions about history, science, and the state of the world. JUSTICE: Meant in the biblical sense. Fair treatment of other people, rational laws, and assisting the disadvantaged. THE AMERICAN WAY: A classless society where everybody has an opportunity to meet their potential and for economic advancement, regardless of race, ancestry, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

What is the Millennial generation? (USA only)

The press has taken to calling the current crop of teenagers and young adults (Gen XI) the Millennial generation. MTV has the audacity to dub the generation starting with those born in the year 2000 as the "Founders" generation. These names do not describe these people and are a break with the traditional counting of generations (I assume due to poor education of news editors). Generations are designated by the average age of women when their first child is born (excluding women who don't have children).

MTV wants to name the generation starting with the year 2000 the "Founders". The Founders were Gen 1 (those born from 1737 to 1755), not Gen XI or Gen Y as MTV would have it. Gen X means the tenth generation. X is the Roman numeral for 10, it does not not mean unknown.

Gen XI (1985-2007) was the first generation to grow up with the internet, mobile phones, violent video games, microwave ovens, and a lack of parental attention. The press calls this the Millennial generation, but the year 2001 has nothing particular to do with this generation. I think the press feels a strong need to distinguish this generation because the children of this generation behave so much differently than the previous generation. A more appropriate description is the Abandoned generation, because in most families, all adults had to work (the median income had dropped by over 25% relative to inflation). As a result of the lack of parental attention, many of these children did no learn cultural traditions, including etiquette and the ability to distinguish between famous people and honest people. Getting more hits on Twitter or another web outlet is more important to millions of these people than writing an insightful article or composing a moving song. This generation has a lowered birth rate and later births because more people are putting off children until after college or until they have advanced in their career.

Other Generations

Gen I (born 1737 through 1755) Was when most of the signers of the US Declaration of Independence and the signers of the US Constitution were born. In retrospect, we refer to this generation as the Founders, because they founded the country and the people in this generation greatly extended the US territories and began settlement of the extended territories. The other generations are numbered relative to this generation.

Gen XIII (1900-1919) was called the Oughts. World War I, the rise of Russian Bolshevism and the Great Depression dominated the childhood and young adulthood of most of these children. This was the first generation to grow up with movies (films) and to experience the introduction of "talkies" (films with sound). This generation followed the depression of the 1870's (caused by the US government paying off loans which funded the Civil War), and the optimism of the 1890's. The news during this time was more pessimistic (mostly due to  increasing tensions in Europe leading to the beginning of WW I).

Gen IIX (1920-1945) is the Post War (WW I) generation. They grew up in the depression and WWII. People put off having children during WWI, WWII, and during the depression, so this is an extended generation. This is the generation that battled for equal rights.

Gen IX (1945-1955) was the Baby Boom/Baby Bust generation (1945-1955 was the boom, 1956-1965 was the bust). This is the post-WWII generation, the generation most affected (in their formative years) by "The Assassination Decade" (the 1960's), the Vietnam war, and the introduction of government betrayal by Nixon. These people learned defiance and created "the sexual revolution" (1961-1985, ending with public acknowledgement of Aids in the general population).

Gen X (1965-1985) The current adults. This generation grew up with television as the primary entertainment and baby sitter. Old enough to remember Nixon, but not MLK. These people are mostly confused by modern politics, confusing attractiveness with leadership. Most members of this generation incorrectly think the civil rights movement is completed. For the first time since the Great Depression, average people born in Gen X earn less than their parents, relative to inflation.

Gen XI was moved above the line.

Gen XII (2008-2031 approximate) is the Lone generation. In addition to a lack of parental supervision, this generation grew up with pocket computers containing Twitter, Facebook, video games, and other personal relationship blockers (such as earbuds). This is the first generation with reduced college enrolments since 1962. Most parents of children in this generation have lost hope that their children will be more "successful" that they are (this pessimism had not been seen since WW II). The median income in 2015 was less than half of the median income in 1975, relative to inflation. During this period, the US has to increase immigration in order to maintain population and the economy (which currently depends on population growth for stability).

Gen XIII (2032-2055 approximate) will probably be best described as the Diversity generation. Toward the end of this period, for the first time since the 18th century, the majority of US citizens and legal residents will not be Caucasians (light skinned people of European ancestry). Most children born in the US during this generation will be non-Caucsians, "mixed race", or  the children of immigrants.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Some Issues I Am Passionate About

A survey by my congressman started me thinking about these issues, why they are misunderstood, and to try to find solutions.

Concentration of Wealth is Dangerous

1) To restore the US economy for the long term, the US has to restore a more fair distribution of wealth (similar to the 1970's). History tells us that concentration of wealth among a few people eventually leads to revolution. As wealth concentrates, first people protest; then the protests become more violent and become riots (the US is entering this stage); then people attack the wealthy, just because they are wealthy; finally this leads to a revolution (the French Revolution is an example of this progression, but there are many examples).

a. One way improve the distribution of wealth is to prevent people from becoming wealthy, just because their parents were wealthy (inter-generational inheritance). So the first step is to restore the inheritance and gift taxes (almost eliminated by President Reagan) and close the trust loophole (the largest inheritance tax loophole).

b. The inheritance and gift taxes must be over 50% to avoid run-away wealth concentration (it is simple mathematics).

c. An inheritance tax rate of 75% with no tax on spousal inheritance and a large exemption should be implemented. The exemption should be equal to the 75th percentile of annual income (75% of families earn less than that amount each year). The spousal inheritance exclusion prevents making widows or widowers homeless because of inheritance tax. The large exemption is a simple way to provide a sliding scale tax (we don't want to tax the bequests of the poor).

c. To close the trust loophole, any trusts (other than spousal trusts) should be taxed upon payout at the same rate as if the entire amount had been inherited as cash.

National Healthcare Would Improve Our Overall Health

2) A comprehensive national healthcare system would save billions of dollars and provide better care to most people than the current US jigsaw puzzle. This program can be funded by removing the Social Security Premium cap (the limit on how much people pay into the Social Security Fund). Comprehensive health care means no deductibles, no premiums, medical coverage, preventive care (including birth control, STD prevention, health education, and so on), mental health coverage, prescription coverage, dental care, eye care, and eye glasses (with a limited amount paid for frames). Cosmetic surgery would not be covered, but reconstructive surgery would be covered. This definition of comprehensive care is developed from studies of health care experience in North America and Europe.

a. Payment of health care providers should be negotiated to approximate the total payments allowed by current PPO-10 policies, after adjusting for the facility, equipment, and insurance costs paid by the health care system, not the doctor. The payments to health professionals should be annually adjusted for inflation based on spending at the 75th percentile of annual income.

b. Education loans should be paid by the government for all government employees. Ten percent of the total loan amount should be paid for every year of government employment.

c. The wholesale cost of a prescription should be limited to the lowest wholesale price charged any national health care system + 50% (to correct for currency exchange).

d. The lack of national health care has been discouraging foreign companies from building facilities in the US, reducing US employment.

e. Abortion should be covered, especially when the pregnancy is the result of a crime. If abortion is not covered, then the living expenses for the mother must be provided during the pregnancy and recovery. This is normally, 6 months of paid leave.

f. Almost 80% of US residents are in favor of national healthcare (at least after it is explained to them). Even most doctors and hospitals are in favor of national healthcare. It is the health insurance companies who have bribed enough members of congress to block a "Single payer healthcare system" or national healthcare.

Realistic National Economics

3) As anybody who has consulted a qualified economist knows, as spending increases, the entire economy improves more than twice as fast. The wealthiest people tend to spend less than half of their income. Those earning the median income or below are spending all of their money. Because inflation is causing a loss of income, people are borrowing on credit cards to make ends meet. Total US credit card debt now exceeds the US government debt. Economists say the middle class is the engine that powers the economy, so we must concentrate on the middle class.

a. The median income has decreased to less than half of 1975 levels, relative to inflation.
This has moved most of the middle class close to the poverty line. To avoid living in poverty, all adults in a family are forced to work. This results in people delaying having children, having fewer children, and not being able to care for the children after school.

b. Raising wages would improve the economy immensely, especially raising the minimum wage,
because those on minimum wage spend all that they earn. Many in "middle class jobs" are actually living in poverty. Raising the minimum wage will also raise the salary for "middle class jobs". Raising the minimum wage will pay back double in improvements in the economy.

c. In times of economic downturn, government spending pays back triple in economic improvement, even if the government has to borrow the money. Government investment in infrastructure improvements also continue to pay returns over time.

d. Austerity programs in times of economic downturn are counter-productive, as has been shown by macro-economic analysis of the EU (European Union). However, this is the solution chosen by many countries and one of the parties in the US congress.

e. The US economy started to falter in 2006 when housing prices began to drop. This triggered the 2008 banking debacle (corporations gambling with money instead of prudent investment).

f. Because congress has been trying to cut government spending (Austerity Programs), the US still has not recovered from the downturn that started in 2006.

g. The US government has been basing many decisions on "Trickle-down economics" since 1983. Trickle-down economics has always been contrary to economic theory. It was clear by 1988 that Trickle-down economics was a failure, but one of the major US parties still bases their platform on Trickle-down economics. Trickle-down economics failed, because it assumes almost all of the income for the wealthiest people will be either spent or invested in US companies. This assumption was wrong. Things have gotten worse as international investment has increased.

Preventive Healthcare for Children

4) Child preventive health care should be mandatory, except when it is explicitly prohibited by the guardian(s) religion. Except for the religious exception, refusing to provide preventive care for children is child abuse.

Biggest Presidential Mistakes

5) The biggest mistakes made by presidents since 1980 have been:

a. Drastic reduction in gift and inheritance taxes and other taxes on the wealthy. This has caused a dramatic redistribution of wealth from the middle class to the wealthy. This disproportionate wealth is nearing the insurrection point - the point where people begin violent riots and attack the wealthy for being wealthy.

b. "Free trade" treaties with countries that do not observe human rights, environmental protection, and fair wages. Election campaign donations by large corporate interests have caused the US government to make decisions that harm US workers. Import taxes should be raised to reduce the cost differences and bring the jobs back to the US. It is important to make sure that digital products are properly valued so that import taxes can be assessed.

c. Ignoring common sense when it comes to economics. The rich do not drive the economy, the middle class drives the economy.

d. Allowing run-away corporate mergers is hurting consumers. The largest corporation in a sector should not be allowed to merge or to branch out into related fields. A merger that creates the largest corporation in the sector should only be allowed if it is in the public interest and the corporation is required (and monitored) to avoid monopoly-related behavior. Any corporation with more than 49% of the business in a sector should be required to divest enough to reduce its business in the sector to less than the second largest corporation in the sector. Divestment will not harm the public, because divestment is like a stock split.

e. Deregulation or privatization of publicly owned or insured organizations. Allowing Banks to merge with Investment Firms (AKA Gambling corporations that buy derivatives or junk bonds) is the best example of deregulation costing hundreds of Billions of dollars. Privatization of correctional facilities increases costs while reducing the level of security and care.

f. The law currently states "A corporation's primary responsibility is to its stockholders". This has caused corporations to concentrate on stock prices and quarterly profits, while ignoring the big picture. This should be revised to "A corporation's primary responsibility is the long term health of the corporation and the nation, to preserve the stockholders' interests".

Retirement Funds

6) Worker salaries and retirement funds are a fiduciary responsibility of employers (meaning that the employers act as a trusted agent to assure that the funds are properly handled). Employers should never borrow from retirement funds and retirement funds should always be diversified (instead of invested in the employer's stock). Retirement funds and similar funds should not be commingled (mixed) with other funds (technically a felony). Corporate bankruptcy should not affect retirement benefits.

Social Security Funds Have Been Mishandled

7) Congress has been reducing Social Security payments relative to inflation as a way to reduce the federal budget (but these funds are supposed to be separate). Social Security recipients have been promised that payments would be annually adjusted to make up for inflation. To restore payments to the promised level, inflation should recalculated based on purchases of people at the poverty line, beginning at a basis year, such as 1966 (the favorite basis year of economists). To avoid budget problems for the government, the payment corrections should be phased in (over 5 years?).

a. The Social Security Savings Fund should not be commingled (mixed) with the general fund (this would be a crime for anybody except the government). Social Security, Medicare, and so on should be funded separately from the federal budget. The federal budget is funded by taxes, but Social Security is an insurance policy.

b. The Social Security Savings Fund should be invested in US Treasury Bills (loaned to the government). Any funds that have been placed in the general fund should be repaid in Treasury Bills. This would repair the commingling that has made accurate accounting of the Social Security Savings Fund impossible.

C. The baby bust (years with low numbers of births) that initiated the creation of the Social Security Savings Fund (under President Reagan) did not cause the expected reduction in the number of US workers. Immigrants made up the difference. So no changes have to be made to "Rescue" Social Security.

The US Needs Immigrants

8) Natural born citizens of the US are not having enough children to maintain our population and economy. Immigration is important for the health of the US as a nation.

a. To recruit more professionals, the US should eliminate the limit on the number of work visas.

b. Currently the US government imposes a limit on the number of visas issued to people in each nation. Restricting the number of visas by nationality causes an inequality for specific ethnic groups. This violates the 14th amendment (as interpreted by the courts) and should be eliminated. Eliminating restrictions by nationality also fixes several other problems.

c. Removing the limit on migrant worker visas would help reduce the number of undocumented immigrants.

d. The requirement that people can only apply for a US visa from their home country has been a nightmare, because many of these people are not safe in their home countries or cannot afford to return. This has led to an increase in undocumented immigrants, rather than the reduction that was expected from the overhaul of immigration law. The US should eliminate this requirement.

e. People have been arguing that immigrants take jobs away from citizens at least since the 1880’s. The argument is based on a simplified view of the job market. Immigrants have never reduced the number of jobs available for citizens. New immigrants and existing citizens tend to look for different jobs. In addition, spending by immigrants helps to increase the overall number of jobs.

f. As a country whose population is almost all immigrants and descendants of immigrants, the US government should make immigration as easy as possible for those who qualify (do not have a communicable disease, do not have a felony record, and can show that they have either a trade or some other means of support, such as a working family member).

Most of What You Have Been Told About the Middle East Is Lies

9) There is no single Middle East Conflict. People try to simplify things by making the issue Israel versus the "Palestinians", but that is far from the truth. In fact, the problems between Israel and the "Palestinians" were caused by neighboring countries.

a. Israel did not threaten people and cause them to leave. The "Palestinian Refugees" were not refugees, because a refugee is seeking refuge from a life or limb threat. In reality, as part of an attempt to destroy Israel, the Arab League (including Iraq, Syria, and Egypt) distributed propaganda that scared many of the non-Jewish residents into leaving. But, the Arab League made no arrangements to care for the people they chased out of Israel. The UN helped by creating temporary camps in Jordan to house and feed these people, but they left administration of the camps to the Arab League (which had created the problem in the first place). The Arab League radicalized the people in the camps and taught them that "the Jews in Israel must be pushed into the sea".

b. Trans-Jordan (usually abbreviated as Jordan) was designated as the "Palestinian homeland" by Britain in 1922. Radicalization of the people in the camps caused violence against each other and Jordanians. Jordan closed the camps and kicked the people out of the country.

c. One cannot currently carve a "Sovereign Palestinian nation" out of Israel. Because of the radicalization, the "Palestinians" will not agree to peace with Israel. Any nation would require a peace treaty before allowing a separatist group to form their own nation. Until the "Palestinians" are willing to accept a peaceful resolution, they are preventing negotiation for independence. As time has passed, the land available to form a "Palestinian nation" has decreased.

d. When Israel was formed in 1948, all residents became citizens.

e. The Israeli constitution states that Israel is the Jewish homeland and Jews can become citizens on the day they enter Israel - because Israel is the sanctuary for Jewish refugees from around the world. Non-Jews must undergo a naturalization process similar to those applying for US citizenship. This inequality has caused political problems for Israel when dealing with Europe and the US.

f. Many people living in the West Bank or Gaza Strip have committed felonies in Israel, so they can never become Israeli citizens. They are allowed work visas, but they are relegated to the jobs nobody else wants.

Islamic Terrorists Violate the Rules of Islam

10) The word Islam translates as "the people of peace" (Is Salam). The word Jihad refers to the responsibility of Islamic people to convert pagans to Islam (at pain of death). Any group that declares a Jihad against Muslims, Christians, or Jews is not true to Islam, because according to Mohamed, all of these faiths believe in the same God.

a. A splinter group of Alquadar (pronounced Alkyda in the US) formed what the US called ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). When ISIS became powerful enough, they declared a Caliphate (religious leadership of all Muslims) and the name changed to IS (Europe) or ISSL (US). But this is a conflict between Muslims. Those who claim to be ISSL and commit terrorist acts are working on behalf of Alquadar, not the Islamic State.

b. ISSL is trying to restore the Islamic Empire that existed in the middle ages and they are therefore a threat to all of the Islamic countries.

c. Alquadar and Hamas are significant threats to the US, Europe, Southern Asia, and Northern Africa.

All Nations Must Arrest Terrorists

11) If terrorists attack the US, the US government considers both the organization that trained or directed the terrorists and the country that hosted the terrorists responsible. Sovereign nations are responsible for the actions of obviously violent people living inside their borders. Failure by the host country to assist in the capture of terrorists is an act of war.

a. According to the FBI, US domestic extremists are a greater threat to the US than Islamic terrorism. The problem is separating those who intend to commit violence from those who just hold extreme views. Fortunately, domestic extremists who intend to commit violence are usually not quiet about it.

Monday, October 12, 2015

We Can Predict the Next Deep Recession and it Will be Violent

World history has taught us that as the poor and middle class are better able to communicate if the disparity in income between rich and poor is growing, it results in civil unrest and sometimes violence. If wealth redistribution does not occur, eventually the government is overthrown and wealth redistribution occurs. The United States came close to widespread, deadly violence in the 1930's, but President Roosevelt convinced congress and corporate leaders to spend money to improve the living conditions of the poor.

The economic losses that caused the Great Depression were not much worse than the 2008 recession (even adjusting for inflation). The difference this time was that social programs were in place to help reduce homelessnes and hunger. But the US has still not recovered from the 2008 recession.

The US has still not recovered from the housing market crash of 2006, the stock market crash of 2008, and the recession of 2008. After adjusting for inflation, stock prices have not reached the highs of 2000. Because the US Military interventions in Southern Asia, Asia Minor, and North Africa have all be funded by borrowing, we can expect a serious (probably "double dip") recession between 2023 and 2028. A minor crash in real estate prices can also be expected during this period.

The median income per wage earner in the US has dropped by almost 60% since 1975 (adjusting for inflation). This has caused a drop in the number of families in the middle class, most adults think that all of the adults in a family have to work to keep the family solvent (eat, pay rent/mortgage, replace worn out houshold goods, pay for healthcare, and pay bills). This has resulted in a generation of children, most of whom have spen almost all of their non-school time without adult supervision. These children have less exposure to moral teachings and are more likely to join gangs and cults.

Even after inflation, the total wealth in the US is higher than 40 years ago, but household income is down by around 1/3. The extra wealth is almost all owned by the upper class. Over half of families in the US have no savings or retirement savings. Unsecured debt (mostly credit cards) in the US recently exceeded the US government debt.

If the rate of US concentration of wealth continues, a double dip recession can be expected to result in "viral" rioting. A viral riot is violence starting in one neighborhood triggering violence elsewhere, because of pent-up rage. When Congress added restrictions to bankruptcy, they increased the probability of a viral riot.

Why the national minimim wage should be over $15

US society owes every resident "Life, liberty, and property" and "Equal protection under the law." This includes medical care, unemployment insurance, retirement insurance, and other requirements of a healthy life. These were usually provided by churches and volunteers, but the availability was uneven. Then in the 1960's many who could provide this assistance started to believe that "Greed is good." In the 1980's this became part of the tax code and if government had not stepped in, we would be stepping over the corpses of the poor in downtown streets.

After accounting for inflation, the average lower and middle income wage in the US is less than 1/2 of the average wage in 1975. In 1974, the minimum wage was $3.10/hour - after inflation (excluding luxury items and services), that would be well over $20/hour today.

When I discuss living on a minimum wage, I mean a very modest lifestyle. Food for a healthy diet (which has more than doubled in price in the past 6 years) without EBT (AKA food stamps), shelter, medical co-payments (assuming the government pays the premiums), a monthly bus pass for each person, telephone, furniture replacement every 10 years, a separate bed for each child, and annual replacement of one set of clothes per person, sheets, blankets, and towels. If the items are purchased through a thrift store, they have to be replaced twice as often. Children's clothes have to be replaced twice as often. $50/year for toys and games for each child. This means no money to purchase of a computer, car, restaurant/take out food, internet access. It means brown-bag lunches.

Apartment rentals average $650/month nationwide, but one bedroom apartments in poor metropolitan neighborhoods average around $1500/month. The urban poor don't move to rural regions, because there are few jobs for them that pay enough to afford to live there (rent is approximately proportional to wages).

Apartment rental rates for one tenant apartments with a kitchenette and bathroom average over $1000/month in poor metropolitan neighborhoods. Health insurance co-payments, a bus pass, one set each year of new clothes, blankets, pillows, sheets, and towels, and food bring this to over $2000 per month. Taxes (including Social Security premiums and Medicare premiums) are approximately 25%, bringing the monthly costs for a single working person (living separately) to $2500, or $14.42/hour. In the common scenario of a single working parent with 2 children in a one bedroom apartment, rent is 50% higher and other costs are more than doubled for an estimated $3500 + taxes (which includes no money for child care). There are a huge number of famililies sharing homes that are designed for a single family.

In rural areas, housing costs are much lower, but a single parent raising two children (with no child care or government support) still needs over $2500/month to eat and pay all of the bills.

It is government programs that pay the difference between minimum wage and the cost of a very modest lifestyle. Essentially the government is is giving employers the money to allow them to keep wages low. Employers should be paying a minimum wage that allows a single worker with two children to survive on a full-time job.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Trump Presents a Picture of What NOT to Do

Donald Trump is getting a lot of press, and that might get him a lot of votes early in the primary election voting. But he is representing
  • The top 1%, those who most US citizens assume are criminals or con-men.
    • Older white protestant men.
  • Strong anti-immigration policy in a country where most people's great-grandparents weren't born in the US.
Trump is alienating more than half of our population:
  • Women
  • Catholics and Jews
  • Latin American immigrants
  • Those with a college education
  • Those who would be middle class in a healthy economy
The US used to have a "Know Nothing" party. Apparently, Trump wants to bring it back. He wants to hide the real issues facing this country. Trump isn't even a good business leader - he has had several businesses go bankrupt and has gone through personal bankruptcy.

The advantage of Trump as the Republican presidential nominee is that the difference between Trump and a Democratic nominee would be clear. The voters have had a "they are all the same" view of politicians since Bill Clinton was elected.

Some real issues

  • Do-Nothing Congress: the US congress has ignored the real issues for over 4 years. 
  • Highest per capita prison population in the world.
    • The "War on Drugs" is killing and damaging more people than drugs ever did.
    • Racial tensions are at their highest since the 1970's.
    • People don't trust the police and in most cities the police departments have earned it. Police officers are allowed to lie to people. Police departments "Thin Blue Line" encourages police officers to lie to their own departments.
    • Poverty, a lack of after school supervision, and distrust of police puts our children on a criminal track as early as the age of 10.
  • Most inefficient health care system in the world. We spend more per capita, but our health and longevity are not up to the standards of several European countries.
    • Centralized health care (either government-run health care or single payer health care) improves people's health. Deductibles and co-payments are often high enough to discourage use of health care.
    • People are living longer and are healthy longer. However, the time of senescence (the time between when serious health problems occur and death) is growing very fast. This senescence gap is mostly due to a lack of preventive medicine.
    • Obesity is affecting more people and starting at an earlier age.
  • Crumbling infrastructure.
    • Roads rarely have cracks or pot-holes. When flaws form, the repairs should be designed to last much longer than current repairs.
    • Highways used to be designed assuming that many vehicles would travel between 70mph and 80mph. Highway construction standards have dropped, but the speed and weight of vehicles has increased.
    • Bridges on major highways have to be upgraded regularly. Many bridges in the us haven't been upgraded in over 50 years.
    • Water mains are rarely upgraded or replaced with more modern materials - until they break. Water mains have to be replaced.
  • Worker wages have dropped by over 50% since 1975 (relative to inflation).
    • Most "new jobs" since early 2008 are low paying. The number of new jobs is not close to those lost over this period (the government statistics count new jobs, but not lost jobs).
    • Average large corporation profit levels are at their highest since 1929.
    • The reduction of import tariffs has greatly improved corporate profits and foreign economies at the expense of US jobs and wages.
    • While worker wages have dropped, investor returns have increased.
    • Executive salaries have increased over 100-fold.
  • Children do not get the attention they need to grow-up as intelligent, successful, honourable citizens.
    • The reduction of wages reduces the number of adults who are home after school.
    • Children average a total of less than 20 minutes per week of individual parental interaction.
    • Most junior high school (or middle school) students have already been exposed to hard-core pornography, but have not had adequate education in real anatomy and sex. This is leading to increased violence against minors, increased sexual inequality, increased teen and unplanned pregnancy, and a resurgence of several STDs.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Rebuttal to Newsweek article about GMOs

The cover story in the May 29, 2015 issue of Newsweek makes the point that genetically modified plants are necessary to feed the increasing population of the world. This part of the story is correct, but the article should have supported genetic hybridization (GHO) and not GMOs. There is no question that commercial GMO crops are introducing toxins into human food and that the toxins collect and become poisonous in the people who eat the food.

However, there is a difference between Dragons Teeth (cross genus DNA manipulation) and moving genes from one variety in a species to another (genetic hybridization). Dragons Teeth is an old farming term for plants that do not reproduce normally, because they are genetically faulty. Natural plant seeds have "Hybrid hardiness", but current commercial GMOs are monospecies and pests are adapting to that species.

The CRISPR technology discussed in the article could be a boon to agriculture. It produces different varieties of the same species and does not introduce toxins.

So far, most genetically modified seeds produce poisonous plants. Almost all of the non-organic corn produced in the US now produces the BT toxin, derived from bacteria. This toxin is actually in the corn kernels we eat, and is toxic to humans as well as bacteria. This should be identified by a USDA Black Box Warning (as with tobacco).
The other common modification is Roundup resistance. This allows farmers to spray their crops and eliminate  weeds which can rob the crop of water and sunshine. However, spraying Roundup onto the entire plant (instead of around the plant) increases the amount of Roundup in the food and increases toxity. New weeds are becoming common that are Roundup resistant, so Monsanto (who manufactures both Roundup and the seeds) is developing seeds that are resistant to both Roundup and another herbicide that Monsanto produces. The safe level of Roundup is still under debate, but the combination of herbicides is much more toxic.

 The sad part of Roundup resistant crops is that it is only necessary because farmers are still planting crops in wasteful furrow plowed fields. Using furrow plowed fields wastes a lot of water, causes the loss of topsoil, and moves the crops further apart than necessary (thus wasting farmland). The soil should flat with a slight slope and the ground should be virtually covered. If the ground is covered, the weeds do not have enough sunlight to grow. The space between the main crop plants should be carpeted with a ground-cover plant. Using clover, alfalfa, or other limited height plants helps grow a more plentiful crop and provides fodder that can be sold to ranchers.

The article makes a passing mention of the fact that farmers are not allowed to plant seeds produced from current GMO seeds. Monsanto and other companies have sued farmers whose plants were contaminated with pollen from GMO plants, even though the farmers had not signed any contract with the company and were trying to grow organic crops. This has caused a virtual monopoly in Corn seed. It should be the other way around. Those providing the GMO seeds and those planting those seeds should be responsible for elimination of the contamination of other farmers' crops.

The reason that individual farmers (rather than agribusinesses) reject GMOs is that they lack hybrid hardiness, the farmers are required to pay for new seed every growing season, and they have good historic reasons to mistrust the chemical companies which produce GMO seed.

Dealing with Droughts

California and 15 other states need more than water conservation to meet long-term water needs. Our state and local governments must make real changes to avoid severe problems. Drought years are natural throughout the US, but in the past few years, changes in Arctic ice make droughts more likely. For decades the US has been using well water beyond nature's capacity to replenish the aquifers (ground water). The increase in population and food exports just makes this worse.

States currently in multi-year droughts would require multi-year heavy rains to refill the reservoirs. All of the states West of the Rockies (except Hawaii) are currently in a drought. In California, where there have been 4 drought years in a row, the probability of a drought year next year is over 75%.

Severe water rationing may become necessary. This could include restricting tap water to certain hours of the day (like the rolling electrical blackouts a few years ago), reducing the pressure in water mains, elimination of all potable water for landscaping, and closing of businesses that do not recycle their water.

In California, severe water rationing has already hit agriculture. Farmers are not allowed to use water from rivers and reservoirs, so farmers are pumping from local wells. Some of the irrigation water sinks back into the aquifer, so it will be available for wells in the future. However, another drought year would empty many of the wells and severely reduce the US production of vegetables and cotton.

A proposal

 Starting immediately, all penalties for over-use of water should be used to increase the amount of water available.
To solve this long term problem, one needs a plan with a time-line and objectives. This proposal was submitted to the California State Resources Board and California governor several months ago.

Summer 2015, all processed sewage should be recycled. Water not used locally should be pumped to agricultural areas or used to recharge aquifers (pumped through plants and gravel into ground water). The cost is low, requiring that gravel-bottomed ponds (with recharge wells) be placed in overflow basins, and pumps and pipes to get the water there. Using the gravel, ponds, and plants ("Bio-filters") helps to purify the water before it enters the aquifer.

Spring 2016, excess recycled water should be made available for agricultural use. Possibly by pumping recycled water from cities for aquifer recharging in the Sacramento area. Most of this water would be pumped up-stream, so a large pipeline and pumps should be installed. Because most of this pipe would be installed next to the state's aqueducts, there would be no additional land costs and an emergency waiver of environmental impact reports would probably be approved. Water could be made available for environmental improvements to Owens Lake and the San Francisco Delta.

By the 2016-2017 rain season, the state's waste water processing plants should be expanded to handle the water from storm drains (rivers and washes). San Francisco and some other cities already do this. Untreated water from storm drains is a health hazard. This water could be added to the recycled water.

A long term improvement that might require a bond measure and federal funding is desalination of salt water (ocean water and agricultural runoff). Within 30 years, California should acquire 50% of its fresh water needs by desalination. A target of 10% by 2025 is reasonable.

Friday, April 24, 2015

How to design a good User Interface

Just like when improving a relationship, there are general rules to follow for good User Experience (UX) design. These have not changed since I started teaching them in the 1980's. They are roughly in order of importance. A lot of the following can be found in Ben Shneiderman's books (search an on-line bookstore for "designing the user interface" and related books).

1) The customer is always right. (Many of the comments contradict this, but reality supports it.) When a user input does not match what any of the expected inputs, then the User Interface (UI) should make reasonable suggestions and provide an Introduction and Detailed help (usually as a moderated wiki). If the program was not prepared for a user response, it is the developer's fault, not the user's fault. Search engine spelling suggestions are one step toward this.
1a) Provide prompt about how to get started/continue if the user makes no input for a fairly long time (such as 60 seconds). Never assume that the user has abandoned the product.

2) The UX must always remain friendly. It is not the user's fault that a step was skipped (such as saving a file in the example in the main article) or that an extra step was added. The file saving example should have been worded more like "Would you like to save this file (name) now?".

3) Make it hard to cause a catastrophe. Deleted files and partial edits should be stored for later in a background (invisible to normal users) version control system (with self cleaning when there is a lack of space).

4) Show results as the user enters changes or commands. Provide for almost infinite ability go back (undo). Only request confirmation of a change when the change cannot be undone.

5) Treat users as individuals. Provide for multiple user experience levels (at least, beginner, experienced, and advanced). Experience levels include experience with the technology, experience with the application area, and experience with the product.
5a) When a user first uses any product, begin with reasonable defaults and assume that the user needs prompts to get started. Each prompt should have a "skip this next time" option.
5b) All commands should be available via an easy to use menu system (Microsoft still hasn't gotten this right). This is required for both new users and those who have disabilities. When a keyboard is available, always make pointing available from the keyboard.
5c) As the user becomes more experienced, suggestion prompts could automatically be suppressed.
5d) Provide keyboard shortcuts, movement triggered commands, and advanced menus (Advanced commands and Options) for more advanced users.

6) Minimize modality. Very few commands (like reset this device to factory settings and delete all user data) are "system modal": it does not make sense to do anything else until the user replies to this prompt. Only commands that cannot be backed-out should have a modal confirmation prompt. The rest of the time, users should be able to ignore the prompts and just keep working.

7) Use direct entry whenever possible. The spread sheet and the fill-able form are the most successful software interface styles.

8) Use breadcrumbs. Use a small part of the screen to provide a way to move between active tasks. Remember that the top level active task is selecting a task (the home screen). An analogue of this is (unless the user requests it) never blank the screen completely or turn off the device, just because the user hasn't made an entry.

9) Separate UI testing from UX testing. Test the user interface by both scripted and random inputs from an automatic testing system. Test the user experience by observing (and getting feedback from) users of various experience levels.

About Me

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Canoga Park, California, United States
Software Engineer with Ph.D. in Computer Science. I have a deep background in the sciences and in computer-human interaction. I was a college professor for 11 years, followed by over a decade of work in industry.