Sunday, March 26, 2017

Vaccines, Reducing the Population by Reducing the Mortality Rate, and Bill Gates

Vaccines are neither pure good nor pure evil.

Neither is money.

I was reading, maybe on Snopes or whatever that is, about comments on vaccines that Bill Gates made that were misinterpreted or something.

(It's recent news, January of this year or so. You can find it now with a simple web search on "bill gates vaccines", so I'll leave you to the vicissitudes of the Web if you want to read the sources.)

Bill Gates said something to the effect that he is trying to focus on indirect methods of reducing population, and that reducing the mortality rate by increasing the use of vaccines was part of his indirect efforts.

Some clown didn't read all of what Gates said, and claimed that Gates was admitting that vaccines kill people.

But Gates was really talking about the principle that has been found recently, that the birth rate in "advanced" societies falls far enough to well offset the lengthened lifespans.

(Japan, for instance, is looking at negative population growth without immigration, which is part of why it is becoming easier to immigrate now. Wish they'd let me keep dual citizenship so I could vote where I live without putting myself completely at the mercy of a USA immigrations "service" gone insane, should I ever go back.)

This is way oversimplifying what Gates said, but his argument goes something like this --
{paraphrase}... parents who are no longer worried about their children dying before they are old enough no longer get in a panic and have a dozen kids.{paraphrase.}
(Old enough for what? That doesn't seem to be clear.)

Okay. He's smart enough to see one of the less-obvious socio-statistical relationships, although his description misses what I think is the salient point:
{real-principle} Young kids who think that they can have sex with impunity quit worrying about babies and start trying to have sex with impunity. {real-principle.}
That's what drives the population down -- whether they use contraceptives and prophylactics, or whether the spread of STDs sterilizes almost everyone who doesn't die.

Having babies safely requires more planning ahead than using contraceptives.

The idea that having and raising children is no longer dangerous (which is not true), so they can always do the responsible thing after they've had their fun is just one part of the evil package.

And so one or more of his charities funds vaccines for poor people.

Are we going to set aside these facts about vaccines --
  1. that no vaccine is perfect, 
  2. that some vaccines are way too dangerous to be even offered generally, 
  3. and that parents should almost always be given the choice for their young children,
  4. because it's the parents who have to deal with the worst of the consequences if their child happens to be one of those for whom the vaccine goes wrong?
Vaccines for poor people probably does more good than bad, overall.

But the wannabees who look at Bill Gates as their example decide that
Bill Gates says vaccines are good.
and therefore
vaccines == absolute good!
and start trying to force, whether by legislation or by word-of-mouth flash propaganda campaigns on slashdot and reddit, everyone in the world to get all the latest-greatest vaccines.

Let me provide an example of something I personally have experience with.

My children's junior high school, about four years ago, strongly recommended that all the young women in the school get the cervical cancer vaccine (or whatever they called it).

But my daughter is not having random sex. Maybe she's doing things her parents don't know about, but she is not having sex with random partners on a daily or even weekly basis.

And the odds of negative side-effects for that vaccine are relatively high.

That means that, for her, the odds are better if she simply abstains from both pre-marital sex and the vaccine. Way better if she simply abstains from pre-marital sex.

She chose not to get the vaccine, after listening to both the school and her parents.

Now, some of her friends are already seeing the negative health effects of having taken the vaccine.

Vaccines are not a panacea.

So, Gates still is not necessarily helping the world (overall) with his vaccine campaigns.

If Bill Gates is really going to repent of getting his billions by scamming us, he is going to have to quit trying to "fix" the world's problems.

That is to say, if he wants to fix the evil he has done, he has to give up the idea that he knows how to fix other people's problems. He is not as smart as he thinks he is.

No one, when we start telling other people what they should do, is nearly as smart as we want to think we are.

(That's why, by the way, Mormon missionaries are instructed to stick to the basics of faith and repentance, and to encourage individuals get the specifics directly from God, through exercising their own consciences.

We can tell you that you need to repent, just because you aren't dead yet. Yeah, we aren't dead yet, either, so we need to repent, too.

Just what you need to do to repent is between you and God. Prayer is good, once you can tell the difference between the sneaky voice in your head telling you to take unfair advantage of your neighbor and the quiet voice in your heart telling you to help your neighbor without asking for gain.

All we want is to encourage everyone to get serious about trying to be better people today than we were yesterday.)

Gates can, in fact, do great things with his immorally gotten gains, on certain conditions.

He could, for instance, set up a no-strings-attached 20 million dollar permanent fund for Theo deRaadt and his friends to run the openbsd project from. And hope the sudden influx of money doesn't ruin the project.

Or he could go to crowdfunding places like kickstarter and fund random projects. And, again, hope that he doesn't end up funding projects that shouldn't be funded for some reason not visible in their proposals.

Hey, he could give me three million Japanese yen (roughly USD 30 thousand) to finish one of my novels. And a hundred million Japanese yen (roughly USD 1 million) to start re-inventing the computer/information industry from zero.

And, if he did, should he hope it's just enough money to keep me permanently spinning my wheels here in my own little world where I won't be bothering anyone?

Or should he hope that it will be just enough money to get my first novel published and selling, and just enough that I can set up a website from which to sell digital copies of the novel, with new free-and-open source software of my own creation, and to start building the next big thing in social media?

He's in a dilemma. He has more money than one person can safely burn off.
  • If he puts strings on the money he gives away, he changes the world for the worse by those strings. 
  • If he just gives the money away unconditionally, the mere excess of resources will allow many people to do things they shouldn't.
  • If he just hoards the money, society is dragged down by the lack of what he hoards.
If he really wants to save the world, he has to learn the difference between right and wrong, and he owns the USD 8×1010 wall that prevents him from seeing right and wrong well enough to safely get rid of that wall.

And the first thing he has to see is that it is impossible to make the other guy to the right thing.

And that is why I don't want Gates' billions, and why I would be hard pressed to accept it if he even offered me a few tens of thousands USD.

Now, if he, or you, would just read my novel -- current draft here and first draft here -- and tell me in the comments why you think I should or should not keep writing it, that would sure help me now. Yeah, I need a new job or something, but there are things I need more than just money.

There are things that we all need more than money. And if money gets in the way, we should put the questions of money behind us.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Top Money Grubbers and the Economy

My wife was reading the list of top money-grubbers.

I was struck by a thought and looked up the list.

Forbes has an interest quote for the day --
It is hard enough out there. Get all the help you can. Getting help really is just a part of that lifelong search for wisdom.
(Phil Knight, speech to 2014 graduating class of the Stanford Graduate School of Business.)
I like these from his speech better:
Two "nines" working together will beat two "tens" working for their own careers, every time. Ability and desire almost always trump money and power.
and these two:
And dare to take chances, lest you leave your talent buried in the ground.

And where there is no struggle, there can be no art.
And he quotes Frank Shallenberger at the end of his speech:
The only time you must not fail, is the last time you try.
Forbes took me on an interesting detour. So I went to wikipedia, instead: The World's Billionaires. Instead of Forbes' rah-rah, I get the information I was looking for. And one interesting quote, from Oxfam via Anna Ratcliff and Gerry Mullany:
According to a 2017 Oxfam report, the top eight billionaires own as much combined wealth as "half the human race".
Bill Gates has a net worth of USD 86 billion.

That's more dollars than you can count in 32 bits of unsigned integer. It takes at least 37 bits, which pushes you up to the next larger size integer.

(Good thing our desktop computers now have 64 bit CPUs. ;-/

... Uhm, in case you missed it, that was dripping with sarcasm, at multiple levels.)

Seventeen years ago, somebody put pressure on the US federal courts to scuttle the anti-monopoly case against Microsoft. It ended in a very light handslap.

The primary source of Bill Gates' obscene fortune is, yes, Microsoft.

Nothing has changed their virtual monopoly on the desktop, and it's getting harder to get a decent tablet without Microsoft and Intel's illegitimate offspring on it.

If the US government had not turned a blind eye to Microsoft from the late 1980s, we would not be saddled with the atrocity that is Microsoft Office. We would have wonderful options like Wordperfect and more locally produced office software.

Locally produced is a key word here. Microsoft knows Microsoft's business practices and maybe some of their larger clients' main offices. Statistically speaking, they do not know your business practices from your neighbor's children's lemonade stand's business practices.

Why does it surprise you that Microsoft Office makes some things really easy and the rest nigh impossible?

And the US government had a chance to split Microsoft up around 2000. That is, they were prevented, for a short time, from turning a blind eye. But people got paid off and here we are.

Repeat this story for the Lehman Brothers, for General Motors, for how many companies that are "too big to fail"?

Ten men -- yes, men -- "own" more wealth than 3 3/4 billion people.

According to the accountants, ten men have more say about what is valuable and what isn't than the world's entire poorest half.

According to the numbers, ten men nominally control more economic activity than 3.75 billion people.

BTW, Forbes says they don't count royalty and dictators.

Seriously? What's the difference? Ten men effectively rule the world.

Of course, the reality is that royalty and dictators do not control their subjects. They only try.

Likewise wealthy people. They don't really control things. Heaven help us if they did. But they like to pretend they do.

And they do represent a negative influence, a source of friction on the wheels of industry and society.

Think about this. Microsoft has 85 billion in revenue. That's ten dollars for every person on the planet. Whether we want Microsoft's stuff or not, we are each, statistically, paying Microsoft ten dollars a year.

That's why we call it the "Microsoft tax".

And that's ten dollars we are not paying to Microsoft's competitors.

Every other rich person in that list is the same. The money they are getting is money that the rest of us can't use in our daily business. At least, we can't use it without paying them rent on it -- loan interest, royalties, etc.

If you think of it, giving banks the ability to make loans on money they don't actually have is basically giving them a privilege of nobility -- the right to charge interest on money that wasn't really theirs in the first place.

Anytime you find people with income in the range of exceeding ten times the average, you can be sure they are using means that are not really fair to gain their income.

More than hundred times cannot naturally occur. It is prima facie evidence of unethical, immoral, and illegal activity to receive that much income.

Anytime you find someone amassing assets equivalent in value to over a hundred times the average individual's lifetime income, again, that indicates that something unethical, immoral, and/or illegal is occurring.

Holding too many assets may not be a crime against any particular individual, but it is a crime against all of us. It is assets that become unavailable to other people, most of whom would be quite happy to do something productive with it if they had it.

There is a natural principle here. If people who have gained excessive riches fail to willingly return some reasonable portion to the community and to relinquish their artificial control, it becomes the community's right to take it back by force of law.

If the community fails to take it back, those whose labor and patience have been the source of such gain will eventually grow tired of being so ill-treated. This is the primary reason for an excessive crime rate, including so-called crimes of terror.

If you want to know where the political momentum of the current wave of terror comes from, look at that list of billionaires. There they are.

Setting up "charitable foundations" which primarily serve to reinforce a monopoly position is not giving back.

If, in fact, there are any strings attached, the artificial control has not been relinquished, and the result remains the same. Those whose labor built the empire will want the freedom that is their due.

Management is labor? Get me a hundred managers and show me how fast they can, by managing, build a new road or a new building or a new piece of software, show me they can build anything but more systems of management. Then we can talk about management being labor in the sense of it being somehow worth significantly more than the labor which is being managed.

It is not unreasonable, nor is it unfair, for a country to strip a company of their patents, copyrights, and even trademarks if they insist on maintaining their monopoly position.

Nor is it unreasonable, immoral, unfair, or in any way wrong for a state to seize the assets of individuals who insist on maintaining a wealth in excess of a hundred times the average person's lifetime income.

It is, rather, a crime against its own citizenry for a community to fail to reign in excessive wealth.

Competition and profit are reasonable, fair, and healthy to a point, and the limit can be fairly high.

One hundred times is unreasonable, but may still be tolerable in an otherwise healthy society.

More than a thousand times is not only completely unreasonable, but intolerable.

If the community is not economically healthy, ten times is unreasonable, and a hundred times may be intolerable.

If you are a billionaire, what should you do?

Retire from your business. Turn it completely over to others and cease to accept any salary or other profit from it. Get out of the way.

Once you are out of the way, fund startups. Repay the loans of defaulting companies, perhaps. You may find it useful to give advice, but don't put strings on what you give back. Relinquish control.

If your lifestyle and standard of living won't permit you to do so, take a vow of poverty. Learn, or re-learn how to live simply.

Let others have a chance to work.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Building House to House

Several years back, my daughter took the orals part of an English test at a university called St. Thomas, here in Amagasaki. I went with her, and I heard rumors that the school was being shut down. I couldn't believe it. Nice campus, large, modern classroom towers. Well, some of the smaller buildings showed a little evidence of needing care.

Toward the end of 2015, the last student enrolled took a graduate degree and the school shut down.

(I should log in to Wikipedia and add the information about the school shutting down to the school's English page, I suppose, but it will take a bit of time to do it right -- get my sources together and annotate everything. Sufficient information is on the Japanese page for those who need it.)

I am not an investigative journalist, and I have too many other responsibilities to suddenly become one. So I am not going to detail my impressions of the school closure. I'll just note that it seems a very odd thing to just shutter a school as large as Eichi/St. Thomas was.

And it leaves the city with a monetary sinkhole, tearing down some of the less long-term viable buildings and converting to other uses buildings that are just too structurally sound to waste. (That has been in the news lately.)

And it reduces available options to student who are college-bound.

Working on my resume, as I must every year around this time, I found myself reading the Wikipedia page of one of my almae matres (;-), Odessa College. And I found this rather disconcerting paragraph:

In 2011, Odessa College, along with Frank Phillips College in Borger, Ranger College in Ranger, and Brazosport College in Lake Jackson were proposed for closure by the State of Texas. The Texas Association of Community Colleges rallied successfully to keep the four instiututions open. In a letter to Texas House Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio and Jim Pitts of Waxahachie in Ellis County, then the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, TAAC leaders referred to state budget restrictions at the time:
Community colleges are fully aware of the state's budget crisis, and we understand that we will have to bear our share of the budget pain. We pledge to work with you to reach a fair and equitable solution ... the decision to close these four colleges is unfair and inequitable in that it appears to be arbitrary and ill-advised. We stand in support of our sister colleges, and we look forward to a productive debate ...[6]
[6]"Letter to the Honorable Joe Straus" (PDF). January 24, 2011. Retrieved September 15, 2015.
Well, I'm glad the other community colleges in Texas rallied around us, there, and that the state legislature suffered an attack of reason.

What on earth were they thinking of?

It would be easy to recall the political infighting about bringing in a branch of the University of Texas (University of Texas of the Permian Basin), and assume that the University of Texas had gone predatory.

Let me unpack that. UTPB is a good school, and contributes to Permian Basin economy and society. But when it was proposed, there were real and reasonable concerns that the city could not support both schools.

(Midland was all too happy to suggest that UTPB be built in Midland County, instead. I think a lot of the ordinary citizens of both cities would have been quite happy to have had the campus built on the border between Midland County and Ector County, near Midland Air Field, and make it a joint venture.

But it is a joint venture, anyway. You have to understand West Texas to understand how territorialism is fundamental to West Texan rivalry-style cooperation. Maybe it's not ideal. There's lots of room for improvement. But it works. Midland gets their share, too (the Bush family? :-/). It's never fair at any one time, but it seems to balance out. Usually.)

UTPB was originally supposed to be upper-level only, to avoid taking students away from Odessa College. The plan was that Freshman and sophomore classes would be taken at OC, and students would have a two-year Associate's degree that they could use to get a job. Students who wanted to continue could then enroll at UTPB at their leisure.

Students who wanted to focus purely on academics could go to Texas Tech (Lubbock) or one of the other UT schools (Austin, for instance), or one of the many Christian schools in Texas. Or not in Texas, if they really wanted to.

(There is this attitude in West Texas about distance. A three hour drive from Odessa to Lubbock just to go to a different mall than usual doesn't raise eyebrows. Odessa and Midland are next-door neighbors. San Angeles, Lubbock, San Antonio, they're just down the street a ways, not furatall. Abilene, Dallas, and El Paso, yeah, they're a small piece of driving. Just six hours. Go in the morning, be back in time for bed, if you want. Shoot, even my second alma mater, BYU, was just a long twenty hour drive.)

This lack of concern about a break between the sophomore and junior years is part of the attitude in West Texas that school comes after work. I share that attitude. I think most students would benefit from at least a two-year break from school between high school and college. At minimum.

I'm showing my West Texas roots and rambling. Back to the subject.

In the 1990s, it seems to have been decided that competition for students would no longer be a problem. So UTPB was allowed to begin accepting incoming Freshmen.

In truth, it hasn't really been a problem. That is, UTPB had a record enrollment last year, over 6,000 students. And OC has about 5,000 traditional students and about 11,000 non-traditional students. OC runs several extension centers for students who need to live and study outside of Odessa, including a branch campus in Pecos. From my point of view, there's nothing to fight about.

Where was I?

St. Thomas quit taking new students in 2010.

The proposal to close schools competing with the UT System was floated in 2011.

There were other issues discussed in both cases.

But there were a lot of attempts to consolidate education systems (ergo, by closings schools) around 2010.

It's not surprising. Education is part of the market. Every industry wants to consolidate.

Misery loves company when it looks like it's time to change.

Upper-level management that has gotten used to their perqs and have become hide-bound seem to prefer seeking solace in the illusion of control that scarcity economics presents.

There is a scripture in the Bible, Isaiah 8: 12 --
Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid.

This proclivity towards empire building has existed in human nature for a long time, and it generally leads people away from freedom, from God, from all that can be right in the world.

Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!

In mine ears said the Lord of hosts, Of a truth many houses shall be desolate, even great and fair, without inhabitant.
That's Isaiah 5: 8, 9.

I suppose I'm repeating myself, but big is bad. Small can be good, can be so much better.

Three must have been a better way than to shutter Eichi/St. Thomas University in Amagasaki.