Sunday, November 18, 2018

Calgarian Calendar

Re-stitching the space-time continuum

Can we all please adopt new names for the months and days that line up in alphabetical order? Who would not benefit?

Here's my proposal:


  • 1uary 
  • 2bruary 
  • 3arch 
  • 4pril 
  • 5ay 
  • 6une 
  • 7uly 
  • 8gust 
  • 9tember 
  • 10ctober 
  • 11vember 
  • 12cember 


  • 1day 
  • 2sday 
  • 3nesday 
  • 4hursday 
  • 5riday 
  • 6turday 
  • 7nday 

The Calgarian calendar. You know you want it.

I'm now working on a standardised semantic sorting order for emoji. 💫

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

What is the optimal number of children?

The paradox of the margaritas

Should I have another child? Are three children better than two? If we have three, is it just as easy to have four? ...or should we just stop at one?

Children are like margaritas.

Your first margarita of the day, like your first child, is a good thing. It improves your outlook and only slightly impairs your ability to operate normally.

Regardless of what your plan had been before you started, after the first one, a second seems more attractive.

Your second margarita begins to interfere with the way you usually do things. Accomodations are needed. You will probably need to adjust your schedule.

As your plans are already disrupted, there is that much less reason not to have another one. Although the incremental pleasure diminishes with each subsequent margarita, they still deliver joy.

Three is probably too many. But if you have already had three, there aren't many reasons left not to have more. You are no longer the same person you were before. You won't be returning to business as usual. And you are tempted by the exhilaration of having another one.

After your fourth, things get blurry. What the hell, have as many as you can afford! Have them even if you can't afford them! Worry about it later. Things will probably work out.

What is the optimal number of children? The answer of course is personal. But you can get close to the answer by asking yourself: How many margaritas are good?

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Two Capitalism hacks to help you sleep better

Social Capitalism

marrying money is a full time job (image: harpers bazaar)

What gets you out of bed in the morning? For me, it's Capitalism. And lately, it's been keeping me up at night, too.

There's much to like about Capitalism. For one thing it's exciting, because it's gamified. Like all great games, the challenges increase progressively as participants' skills increase, along with the rewards.

Newbies can get started with Capitalism quickly, with little investment. Capitalism is well-documented with lots of free advice available in print and online. Citizens can participate as individuals or as part of a team. And the pursuit of Capitalism has pulled a large part of the world's population out of desperation and servitude.

But Capitalism is losing its mojo. Like dead-eyed real estate scions at a Reno roulette table after 3am, we're not feeling the fun anymore. We're burning out from high-pressure jobs, America is in a funk, and billionaires are feeling sorry for themselves. Something's wrong with Capitalism, but I believe we can fix it.
"Advocates of capitalism are very apt to appeal to the sacred principles of liberty, which are embodied in one maxim: The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate." ~ Bertrand Russell
Core to Capitalism's success has been its scoring system. Standings are tallied in money, letting us know in real time whether we are winning or losing. In Capitalism, money is the point, and that's the problem.

Shouldn't the point of a social-economic system be (something like) happiness1, which money, we know, does not buy?

The focus on money is a critical design flaw, creating perverse incentives that have led to levels of inequality now threatening to undermine the entire system. The edifice is starting to creak.
“When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals. We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues. We shall be able to afford to dare to assess the money-motive at its true value. The love of money as a possession — as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life — will be recognized for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease.” ~ John Maynard Keynes
Happiness, not money, should be the measure of success. What brings happiness? Human relationships2. Whereas an emphasis on money is ultimately destructive of the social-economic system, an emphasis on human relationships would be self-reinforcing, because what is a social-economic system but a network of human relationships?

I don't want to throw Capitalism out, just make a few tweaks. A couple of modest adjustments to the scoring system can shift the emphasis from money to human relationships, keeping all the freedom and frisson we love about Capitalism, but adding sustainability and happiness. I'd like to call the modified system Social Capitalism.
Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That's the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change the rules, we are going to have to change the system. ~Martin Luther King, Jr.
Here are the tweaks:
  1. abolish inheritance.
  2. make charity non tax-deductible.
When the Flames face off mid-season against the Oilers, the starting score is 0-0. In hockey, as in most sports, points are not transferred between games. When the Flames beat the Oilers 9-1, the Flames do not carry the 8 point surplus into the next game. This system maintains a level playing field (in the sense of fairness, not flatness) in order to preserve competition and reward excellence. To allow teams to carry points across games would rig the game in favour of the incumbents, leading to greater and greater inequality, until the league broke.

We should abolish inheritence on grounds of fairness and equality, because letting families accumulate wealth across generations is like letting sports teams accumulate points across games.
In Social Capitalism, when a citizen dies, all wealth reverts to the state. For the reasons just discussed, most Capitalist societies already impose heavy taxes on inheritances and other gifts of wealth. Abolishing inheritance is an extension of these policies.

Without the option of passing wealth across generations, citizens seeking a happier future for their children would do better to invest in, rather than insulate their children from, society. Legacies would take the form of publicly recognized contributions to society, not contributions to private bank accounts.

The second tweak is to make charity donations non-tax-deductible, because the welfare of needy citizens is as much Government's concern as that of any specific charity, and Government is typically better organized, informed, and open to scrutiny. Government should be the best run charity, and everyone's concern and obligation.

It's illuminating to think of Government as a charitable organisation with mandate to care for its citizens. In this light, tax-deductions for private charities are shown to be, in effect, opt-outs from government. So when Lord Beezlebotham makes a tax-deductible donation to a private charity, the deduction redirects a portion of money from the government to the private charity, say the WindyFlanks Retirement Home for Hunting Dogs.

Compared to private charities, Government has advantages in scale and scope that let it provide services with greater effectiveness and efficiency. Governments are also typically better run and more accountable. Citizens should be allowed to donate their money to any cause they feel is deserving, but there should be no opt-out from obligations to Government, society's collective charity.

Without the option of diverting money from government toward private causes via charitable tax deductions, citizens looking to make positive change would be more likely to engage in Government, and to engage with societal needs beyond their personal interests. Citizens would still be free to fund Arts Centers, Hospitals, etc, and name them after themselves, but their first obligation would be to Government, the collective charity that provided the conditions for their own success.
"Capitalism fails to realize that life is social. Communism fails to realize that life is personal. The good and just society is … a socially conscious democracy which reconciles the truths of individualism and collectivism." ~ Martin Luther King
The ideal of Social Capitalism is a society where excellence is rewarded, competition is fair, and an individual's standing is tallied in terms of contribution to society, not financial assets. These tweaks are meant to encourage people to measure their lives in terms of Social, rather than Financial capital.

  1. Happiness as an end-goal has its own problems, but it works as shorthand for profound satisfaction and peace of mind
  2. see, for example: here, and here and here

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Rising above it all


oh lord it's hard to be humble

For the offence you gave,

for the disrespect you show,

for your lack of shame or acknowledgement of guilt...

I forgive you.

I forgive you immediately, comprehensively, retrospectively, proactively, and aggressively. Before you have the chance.

I forgive you because I will not carry the burden of resentment. I will not have my thoughts tainted by bitterness. I will not be distracted from the enjoyment of my days by unrewarding disputes.

Let my unconditional forgiveness show: in the greater scheme of things, on the scale of what really matters, in terms of peace of mind and lasting happiness, I am in control, and you are insignificant.

Not for your sake, do I forgive you, but for my own.

I win!

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Private Joke

thoughts from the dentist chair

actual view from my dentist's chair

My heels shot up and fell back to the chair as if I had been electrocuted.

Dentistry has made tremendous progress in terms of patient comfort, but the experience of lying in the dentist chair is still fraught.

Lying in the dentist chair tends to concentrate one's thoughts on the present. Usually I lie in the dentist chair with my legs crossed at the ankles. I noticed, as my feet went up again, that I had uncrossed them.

I filled my lungs and slowly exhaled, through my nose because my mouth had a vacuum tube in it. The pain had been only in the instant, gone as soon as my heels hit the chair again. What is pain?

I thought of the 1978 movie Marathon Man, starting Dustin Hoffman.
A graduate history student is unwittingly caught in the middle of an international conspiracy involving stolen diamonds, an exiled Nazi war criminal, and a rogue government agent. (IMDB)
There's a scene in the movie where the Nazi torturer (Szell, played by Sir Laurence Olivier) uses dental instruments to torture the unwitting student (Babe, played by Dustin Hoffman), who has no idea why he is there.

the most relevant bits are near the 1:45 and 3:13 minute marks
Christian Szell: Is it safe?... Is it safe?

Babe: You're talking to me?

Christian Szell: Is it safe?

Babe: Is what safe?

Christian Szell: Is it safe?

Babe: I don't know what you mean. I can't tell you something's safe or not, unless I know specifically what you're talking about.

Christian Szell: Is it safe?

Babe: Tell me what the "it" refers to.

Christian Szell: Is it safe?

Babe: Yes, it's safe, it's very safe, it's so safe you wouldn't believe it.

Christian Szell: Is it safe?

Babe: No. It's not safe, it's... very dangerous, be careful.

"mmmMMMmmm" I said.

My dentist pulled the whirring tool from my mouth, "Are you OK?"

"It's safe."

"I don't understand."

"I'll tell you after."


I uncrossed my ankles, inhaled another deep slow breath through my nose, and smiled around the dental instruments sticking out of my mouth.

She never asked me to explain. I think it's better.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Monday, November 11, 2013

tandoori taco sunset


Crab, Dill Pickle, Fully Loaded Baked Potato, Mediterranean Herbs, Salt & Pepper, Soulmate Cheeses & Onion, Ranch, Honey Mustard, Sweet Onion, Cheddar And Sour Cream, Rotisserie Chicken, Spicy Jalapeno, Sour Cream And Onion, Salt & Vinegar, Cheese & Onion, Smokey Bacon, Prawn Cocktail, Pickled Onion, Beef & Onion, Marmite, Spanish Chicken Paella, Japanese Teriyaki Chicken, German Bratwurst Sausage, Italian Spaghetti Bolognese, French Garlic Baguette, American Cheeseburger, Brazilian Salsa, Scottish Haggis, Irish Stew, English Roast Beef And Yorkshire Pudding, Dutch Edam Cheese, Australian BBQ Kangaroo, South African Sweet Chutney, Argentinian Flame Grilled Steak, Welsh Rarebit, Mango Red Chill, Pizza(!), Magic Masala, Nori Seaweed, Basil, Squid, Garlic Soft Shelled Crab (Hong Kong), Soy Sauce, Salmon Teriyaki, Hot & Sour Fish Soup.

I'd be surprised to find this list of potato chip (crisp) flavours had any connection to actual ingredients. In the fast-paced world of food technology today, creating a new flavour is easy, a matter of chemistry. I imagine it's like creating a new shade of lipstick: the hard part is coming up with a name.

...maybe they also do some testing on pigs before they launch to the public.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

wholly water

God | Squad

personal best
Abstinence is a big part of why I'm not Mormon. It's hard to relate to teetotalers. My people are Irish/Australian; I can't get my head around the idea of cultures that don't drink. When do they let their their id off the leash?

I once stopped drinking for 2 years during a bout of hepatitis, so I can understand non-drinking for reasons of poor health. I also understand drinking for reasons of good health: for some of us, alcohol is part of a mental health regime that helps us thrive in the conditions of modern civilization, like iodized salt.

Mostly, I don't understand why anyone would refuse alcohol on religious grounds. The deeper issue is not alcohol, it's about trust. If someone can refuse to drink alcohol for no other reason than because the Almighty forbids it, how can I be sure they won't make other choices that seem random and arbitrary to me?

That's the thing with religious people: they follow a different set of rules. They can eat this, they can't eat that. This day that can't work, that day they have to stay up all night. If you want to get to know a religious person to the level where they don't seem just, well, random and weird, then spending time and sharing activities with them is not enough. To get to know a religious person, you also have to get to know the(ir) Almighty, an entity who usually is not bound by Logic or Reason. Almighty has not introduced his/herself to me and has not answered my calls.

Why would anyone give up their freedom to, say, drink alcohol, in favor of an apparently arbitrary set of rules delivered from on high?

Consider the swimming pool. I love to swim. But I won't stay long in an open pool during public swim on a sunny Saturday afternoon. I might try a few underwater somersaults, or see if I can swim the width underwater on a single breath, but very soon I'll get bored and out. For me, it starts to get interesting with lane ropes. Lane ropes give swimming some sense.

I used to train with a swim squad. We had a coach who set the workouts for us. A typical set might look something like this:
3 x (4 x 75):
#1: free;
#2: 25 choice stroke, 50 free;
#3: 50 choice stroke (same stroke), 25 free;
#4: 75 stroke (same stroke).

The sets often seemed arbitrary. Sometimes Coach Al would tell us to swim lengths without kicking, or only using one arm, or using a limited number of strokes or breaths. The sets were sometimes hard to remember and we would occasionally lose our place. No problem, Coach Al would bark out the next drill from the end of the pool.

I never really understood the method behind these intricate swimming sets, but Coach Al seemed to know what he was doing. All I had to do was follow Coach Al's commands. Giving him control over my workout allowed me to focus on swimming right in the moment. All other concerns washed away. I retain a strong memory of the feeling of liberation I experienced during those punishing swim squad workouts.

Giving myself over to the commands of Al made swimming meaningful and rewarding; Maybe I do understand why someone would hand over their freedom to a higher power. Ideally, every once in a while, you and your higher power should get together after practice and share a drink or three.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader