Dr. Forbush Thinks

Look at the world through the eyes of Dr. Forbush. He leads you through politics, religion and science asking questions and attempting to answer them....

My Photo
Location: California, United States

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Total Control

Twenty-five years ago I was sitting in a political science class listening to the professor explain how the extreme right and the extreme left end up in the same place - Totalitarianism. At the time I was taken by surprise. How could the extremists goals of two completely opposite ideas result in the exact same result?

From time to time that same circular diagram that that professor drew on the black board pops into my head. The diagram continues to remind me that moderation may be the best action with the most reasonable results. But, the diagram also has its subtleties. For example, are government interventions always bad? How much government intervention is too much? Can one side of the political aisle claim to be the party of less government? Isn’t it true that extreme conservatives will eventually demand the government to take control - like the Fascists of World War II?

Unless one is a true libertarian, which is a very small portion of the American electorate, Americans actually want our government to take some control. The argument isn’t really about more government and less government as the Reagan Conservatives claim. The argument is about which things the government should have a hand in. Religious conservatives want the government to control the culture. Fiscal conservatives want the government to control the working class. Environmentalists want the government to control those who feel they have a right to rape the heartland. Whoever believes in the law wants laws enforced by the government.

So, if most people want the government to intervene in some way, the question should become “What do we want our government to do?”

When we finally stop arguing over the false dichotomy of whether we want more or less government we need to begin to construct an honest idea of what we want a functional government to do. Then we can begin to move in a direction toward a solution that the majority can agree to.

Liberals and Conservatives already have many positions on many issues, and these positions suggest what the total function of government might be. The majority of Americans will agree that government needs to create laws the majority can agree to except to live by. But, what should the purpose of these laws actually be? Should laws be created to restrict the general population, because the general population can not be trusted. Or, should laws be created to restrict those who have power, because those with power can not be trusted? Or, should laws be created to empower the weak because they are at a disadvantage? Should laws be created to protect the weak? Should laws be created to protect property so that the wealthy will not be able to lose their property, even if they are careless with it? Should the government encourage or discourage risk and investment? In the simplified view, should the government control, encourage, discourage or ignore what we do as citizens in order to protect us?

I think that it is interesting to study the two paths in which extremists on the left and on the right eventually come to the conclusion that totalitarianism is the solution. Totalitarianism is type of government that controls all aspects of our lives.

Extremists on the political right are Fascists. Even though many conservatives of today claim that they want less government, they certainly do not want to do away with laws and law enforcement. If these conservatives truly believed in the idea of more freedom and less government they would be happy to be placed in the middle of some failed state like Somalia. In Somalia people are at the will of he War Lords that maintain control by force without law. In reality laws do exist, because the War Lords create their own personal laws to suite themselves. The power of force - be it military, monetary or religious is placed over those forced to obey. Many conservatives view the world based on an extension of this view. Leaders are strong and powerful and they enforce their will by creating rules enforced by power. Since this is the nature of the world the only problem with it is the way in which the rules and laws are created and enforced. If the laws could be created and enforced more fairly everyone could live in peace. Conservatives can see that the main problem is that many different leaders created many different rules and laws. If there were a way in which one universal system of rules could be created then our problems could be solved. Religious conservatives already understand that the problem is solved, because God has given us the universal guide to law. Not all conservatives agree to this. In fact fiscal conservatives believe that business should be free of law and workers should be made to conform to society’s needs. Fascists take the conservative idea of laws to an extreme where every possible law is created in order to make society run a smooth as possible. Whenever a problem is encountered, then a new law is created to fix the problem. If people don’t comply with the rule or law, then the penalty is increased until society conforms and becomes efficient. The government ends up taking control of every aspect of life.

On the other hand the left begins with the idea that workers should be able to live a reasonable life with very little constraint. Workers should be able to have the jobs that they chose to do and be paid a reasonable amount for the work that they do. Immediately we realize that there is a problem here. How can workers demand to be paid for doing a job that society does not need or want? If every person decided to run his or her own company we end up with all chiefs and no Indians to use a politically incorrect metaphor. One way to fix the problem is to demand that people are allowed to do this work and be paid to do it by law. Extremists on the left quickly find that the utopia must be created and fueled by the government. And, the people quickly find that they are forced to do work that the government needs to be done and they are paid what the government decides to pay. The leaders will continually explain that this totalitarian government is only temporary until people realize that what the government is forcing them to do is what they wanted all the time anyway. However, the future never comes and the government wouldn’t know what to do if it did come anyway. The goal ends up becoming creating rules and laws until society conforms and becomes efficient. Which means that the government ends up taking control of every aspect of our life.

So, in America we praise freedom and liberty as a check on either type of extremist. Freedom of speech allows us to question the extremists before they build up enough momentum to make all of the rules and laws that end up controlling our lives. Under the Republican controlled congress and the Bush administration our liberties and freedom were beginning to be stripped away. This is the first step in the direction of either extremist movement. Fortunately the election of 2006 was able to wrest away the congress from the extremists. Similarly, if the left were to begin to make laws restricting our freedoms and liberties another election would give some check to the right. And, once again we would see that the checks and balances of American democracy really does work.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Thursday, February 14, 2008


I have written before that in general conservatives operate on fear while liberals operate out of necessity.

Let me briefly review this idea. In general conservatives are the successful wealthy business people who fear losing what they have - money. Or, conservatives are the morally upright religious zealots who fear that society could go down the toilet at any moment. These two groups represent the majority of conservatives. Progressives however, feel that the world has already caved in all around them. Progress is anything that can help them dig out of this mess. Progressives are willing to try almost anything to fix the problems in society, while conservatives fear that anything new will lead to the downfall of everything they have come to love.

Since the people who are happy with the way things currently are is usually a smaller number than those who believe that they are up to their necks in shit conservatives needed to craft a way to convince those in need to vote to change things to the way they have been. The idea that change back to the “old ways” was a progressive change was championed by the Reagan revolution. Fear and progressive change have been the guiding principles of American politics for a long time.

Well, it actually turns out that the majority of people actually reside somewhere in the middle. These moderates fear change that is too rapid, but they want some change to help them out of the doldrums. For these people “fear” and “change” are words that can move them to support a candidate. Reagan used “change” to move these people to his side. George W Bush used “fear” to keep them there in 2004.

The truth of the matter is that we should worry a bit about change. But, we should also recognize that change can happen for the better.

It is easy for people to become fearful of terrorism. Obviously seeing 3000 people killed in one day in an orchestrated terrorist effort is scary. I don’t need to say this, but we all know that death is a bad thing. But, death does not only come from terrorist attacks. Death comes in many preventable ways. And, progress happens when we can reduce unnecessary death no matter where it comes from.

But, how can we know which efforts to defeat unnecessary death should be taken on, and which efforts should not? We have limited resources and we can only do so much. This is known as risk. We can calculate risk by what we observe. For example, we can count the number of people killed by terrorist attacks and divide by the number of years that we examine. We can quickly see that even before the security measures taken on by the government we have had relatively few people die in terrorist attacks per year. We can compare this to automobile accidents and we quickly realize that driving our cars is much riskier than going back to our old level of security before 9/11/2001.

But, fear rules and conservatives are controlled by their fear. Our conservative government has told us to be afraid and to do whatever we can no matter what the cost in order to protect ourselves from terrorism. We have spent billions of dollars in Iraq fighting a war out of the fear that terrorist will attack us again. We have spent billions of dollars trying to prevent terrorist attacks that rarely happen. We could calculate how many lives have been saved by counting the number of deaths due to terrorism occurring in the seven years leading up to 9/11 and compare that to the number of lives lost in the prevention of terrorism since 9/11. We can include the amount of money spent and we will quickly come to the realization that we have lost more lives and spent more money based on irrational fear than before 9/11. The risk of terrorism was small and it is still small. We have lost more lives. It is almost as if we are paying terrorists to kill our soldiers. If we used a balance sheet that would be the conclusion.

But, the sad and frustrating part of this wasted effort is that the money could have gone to save lives instead. One example is our health care system. It turns out that roughly 18,000 people die each year because of lack of health care. That is equivalent to six 9/11s per year. Many of these people could have been saved if they had the health care that a civilized country like the United States has available to every citizen. With preventative care and regular checkups many lives could be saved or enhanced. The billions of dollars that we are wasting in Iraq to bring that country up to the twenty-first century could have been used to bring our poor and needy up to this century instead.

The foes of open borders continue to complain that immigrants too easily have access to services provided by our country. However, we freely give this same aid to Iraqis in an effort to appease them so that they will not join the insurgents. This may be working, but if we weren’t their in the first place it wouldn’t have even been an issue. And, if we had assessed to risks in a proper way we would never have gone into Iraq anyway.

Fear can be tempered by considering the risk involved. Fear of driving to and from work is almost zero for most commuters. The risk of this drive is far greater than to probability of being attacked by a terrorist. Roads could be made safer, but fear has persuaded the hand of government to spend more money on the terrorist “threat” and less on our roads.

The biggest problem that we face is not terrorism, or roads, or even health care. The biggest problem that we face is the education of our children. It turns out that we could make very good decisions based on the calculation of risk. However, our education system has cheated so many people in our society from having a useful education that politicians, if they actually can think, are able to persuade the public to fear risks that are as tiny as the threat of another terrorist attack. If we don’t educate our society to think, we will surely become a society where the wealthy and well-to-do minority will be able to control the rest of us through our ignorance. The erosion of our education system will ensure that any progress that we have made over the last 50-some years will erode as well.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Monday, February 11, 2008

Witch Trials

Many years ago the Catholic Church began to worry about evil. At the time the Catholic Church reasoned that Satan was an angel created by God. Satan had originally been called Lucifer, and he was a favorite of God’s many angels. One interesting thing was that the Catholic Church never questioned the idea that God might actually play favorites and actually have a favorite angel. The story tells us that Lucifer turned his back on God because of his personal pride and fought a war against the angels that chose to stick with God. In the end Lucifer was banished from Heaven.

Well, Lucifer was not happy being banished from Heaven so he decided that he would tempt God’s latest creation - man. Tempting man in the form of Eve was literally “child’s play.” And, God was upset with Lucifer’s triumph in the mortal realm. So, God told Lucifer that he could no longer influence man directly. This was somehow meant to reassure us that we didn’t need to fear Lucifer around every corner tempting us.

The Catholic Church, however, had a problem. They observed the fact that there was certainly evil in the world. And, they knew that Satan had been banned from directly tempting man, from this story. So, how was Lucifer tempting evil in this world? They finally realized that man was being tempted by witches. Witches were human beings that could get around God’s ban on Lucifer’s dealing in the mortal realm. Witches certainly must be tempting man as a proxy for Satan. And, the obvious conclusion is to put the witches to death and secure a world free from evil.

Suddenly this story seems very familiar to me. If it doesn’t sound familiar to you then I’ll offer a little more.

The Catholic Church became so worried about how the witches were operating in the mortal realm that they set out to round up the witches. They looked for people that appeared suspicious. They might be people that didn’t act like a “normal” person. They arrested those who were suspicious and took them to a detention center.

Obviously a witch was evil by the very definition. And an evil one would certainly attempt to cover up their affairs by lying. And therefore anyone who would deny that they were a witch would certainly fall into the category of what a typical witch might do. However, with a massive amount of pain a witch might finally be forced to admit that they were a witch in a moment of weakness. And once an inquisitor would have a confession they could put the witch to death and purify the world. Such a noble goal - Don’t you think?

The premise here is pretty straightforward. Good will triumph over evil! Those hunting witch were certainly good. And, witch by definition are those who spread evil and therefore must be evil. How could any problem arise out of such a black and white situation? Good purifies the world by eliminating evil.

There are a couple of things that the Catholic Church never considered. The first and most terrifying thought is that we are all evil. We have all committed evil and we are all capable of committing more evil. In fact, the very nature of the idea that killing off evil people would purify the world is an evil idea. Murder is an evil act in itself, and any one who believes that they are worthy to carry out the act is suffering from the addition evil of pride. Pride of course was the same evil that brought down Lucifer himself.

The thought that purifying the world of evil is worth the lives of the innocents that might be caught up in this action is an additional evil that plagues the very proposal. But, pride overwhelms the people who have this idea repeatedly throughout history. Genocide is another fruit of this horrible mindset. People who are different are accused of being evil and torture is used to prove the validity of the claim. If a small amount of pain won’t bring the confession, then more pain will surely provide it. The cycle can only be stopped if the pride in knowing the truth can be broken. And, the truth is that this rarely happens. The Holocaust of six million Jews, The Spanish Inquisition, Rwanda and even the torture of suspected 9/11 terrorists are all examples of pride gone wrong. And today, February 11, 2008 our government announced that there will be still more witch trials. Pride has no limit - especially in this administration.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Monday, February 04, 2008

Super Tuesday

Tomorrow I get to vote. I actually get to vote in an election that actually may effect the outcome of the American political process.

Twenty-some years ago I was in college when Harold Washington won the Democrat mayoral primary to become mayor of Chicago. Well, at least that’s what I was told as many exuberant Chicagoans ran through the dorms announcing that the first African-American had become mayor of Chicago.

I began to think about this recently as we are on the brink of such a similar historic event. I lived in a Cleveland, Ohio suburb when people like Dennis Kucinich and Carl Stokes were mayors of that town. At the time Harold Washington’s coronation as King of Chicago didn’t seem like such a big deal to me, an outsider to the windy city. When I finally read the news and discovered that his winning of the primary was only the first step - he had to win the general election I continued to be confused about this thing they called Chicago politics.

Politics is a funny thing. People think that they understand the way politics works until it doesn’t work like that any more. Hillary Clinton was able to pull off a surprising victory over Barack Obama in the New Hampshire primary by simply shedding a tear. On the other hand four years ago Howard Dean won the New Hampshire primary and lost that nomination on the same night with his historic scream of exuberance. Confidence is a good thing but overconfidence soon becomes arrogance. And excitement soon becomes perceived as lunacy.

Perception influences more votes than any other aspect of a candidate. Perception is a powerful tool that can be used to lead a nation. In a perfect world there is a correlation between perception and reality. However, we don’t live in a perfect world. George W Bush and Karl Rove taught us that, if we didn’t know it before.

Harold Washington was an inspiration to many people who admired the struggle against adversity to achieve political power. However, Harold Washington also died of a heart attack that was most likely induced by the cocaine that was found in his bloodstream at the time of his death. People can be both an inspiration and a poor role model. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington advocated freedom and liberty while they were both slave owners. Being perfect is a very high ideal.

When we look for our next leader, and as I said I must cast my vote tomorrow, we can only know what we perceive a candidate to be. We are always short of the total picture of any candidate. The Chicagoans that voted for Harold Washington never knew that he had a cocaine habit. Instead, the perception that elected Mayor Washington was the perception that he understood the voters and he would fix the problems that the voters needed to be fixed. Because he was an African-American it was assumed that he had lived a life that a typical African American had lived, whether that was true or not. And, some people who where not African American feared that anyone who had experienced these inequalities in society was bound to take advantage of the power of the office of mayor to take retribution. Obviously this is a sad state of affairs when one group believes that there was a group of people that had been mistreated and a representative of that group might use power to seek retribution. Both the knowledge of mistreatment and the assumption of retribution are sad commentaries on our society.

Slowly our society is learning that people don’t necessarily take retribution when they win power. And, we are also learning that people we once thought that we could trust not to abuse political power surprising do abuse their power, like the current administration. How can we protect ourselves from people that would abuse their power? After all, this is the aspect that most of us fear the most about our government. We look for hints when we see these politicians up close and in person. We suspect politicians when they manipulate the facts on the campaign trail, because this type of manipulation makes us wonder what else they might manipulate.

So, I have determined that I will cast my vote for Barack Obama tomorrow. When I see Hillary shedding a tear the day before a vote and miraculously winning the New Hampshire primary it seems a bit too manipulative. When I see her do the same thing this weekend right before the big Super Tuesday primary it seems just a bit too unlikely to not be planned. But, this is not the sole incidence of Hillary’s continued perception of manipulation. I saw her take the easy way out when she voted to attack Iraq back in 2003. I saw her craft her presentation in such a way that she carefully doesn’t commit to anything in an effort not to lose any potential voters. She mirrors the same manipulative behaviour that I have despised in the Bush administration from the beginning. She may be on the left side of the political aisle, but she seems to be on the same side of the obfuscation partition. I really don’t want to have another deceptive presidency. I don’t think that any of us do.

Of course it really is hard to know if Barack is just better at hiding his manipulation. After all, many people still believe that George W Bush is as honest as the day is long. Currently that number of people might be down to 17% of the population. But, 17% of 300 million is still a lot of people - 51 million. And 51 million people can still influence a lot of power in this country, especially if there are dollars attached to those people. So, regardless of whether Barack is able to manipulate me as a voter I am willing to cast my vote his way and hope. I hope that we will finally have a president that believes what he says and will bring America together to create a more perfect union and move us forward.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Friday, February 01, 2008

The Yearly Trip to the Desert

When I made the transition from the University world to the Industrial world I was introduced to the concept of the “trade show.” The idea with a trade show is to gather the key players in your industry or area and sell each other your products. In academia there is a similar concept called the conference. An academic conference does the same thing as a trade show in that it gathers all the key players into one location. However, the academic conference is based on the premise that everyone is sharing their ideas. The truth of the matter here is that at an academic conference everyone is “selling” their ideas.

Human nature works the same in both the academic and industrial worlds. People like what they are used to using. They would like to continue to do what they are used to doing with the exception that they might like to do it a little faster and a little more efficiently. Most people are not willing to jump on the band wagon of any new technology without proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that the new way is worth the trouble of changing.

When I joined EDC we had a monopoly on the equipment that we made. The premise of sticking with what you know worked very well for our company. When the occasional player tried to break into the market we could easily introduce something into our product to compete with any potential advantage that might challenge us. Customers tended to stick with what they already knew - namely our product.

With the success of our company we made several attempts to expand our business. In order to expand we needed to create a new product using a new technology. In doing so we normally ran into the problem of coming up against established products and trying to overcome that inertia from the other side. In one case we came up with several improvements on the existing technology in the semiconductor industry. However, breaking into the semiconductor industry proved to be extremely difficult and we fell back on plan B, sell the technology to someone already established in the semiconductor industry.

The point of all this introduction is meant to establish the need for trade shows and conferences. When you get together with people in the field conversations begin and mature. Walking the trade show educates and informs. Trade shows bring customers to venders, but it also brings people and ideas together.

As we developed our biotech equipment we needed a way to get our product out into the public. To us it seemed liked people would just “need” our equipment once they saw what it could do. How could anyone prefer the “old” technology when we had this “new” technology that was so much better? The answer of course was that the old technology worked adequately for most applications being done at the time and the potential customers weren’t so sure about the new technology. Most people were unprepared to look a couple of years down the road to the new applications, mainly because they hadn’t been thought of yet.

Our job was to show potential customers how wonderful our product is. This had to be done with the standard tests that our customers use to verify that their current equipment works. In other words, in order to break into an existing market we needed to make our equipment do the same job that the current equipment was doing. People weren’t prepared to redesign everything and put our equipment into the new setup. And, the best place to learn what the current customers think about “new” equipment is a trade show.

In the biotech industry trade shows and conferences are merged into one thing. There are talks and presentations as well as booths for people in “the industry.” This means that you need to make your point academically as well as economically. A new technology needs to pass “peer review.” In other words, your product will only be accepted if the majority of the people in the community agree that the technology is worthy. And so, even though scientists don’t like to admit it - social relationships play a role in the industry.

Well, EDC BioSystems first presented our technology at this trade show about five years ago. And, over those five years we have presented our argument to the community every year since. And, slowly the community has warmed to acoustic dispensing and EDC BioSystems as a company. Hence, every year in this decade I have made that trip to the desert, either for learning about the industry or for presenting our equipment. And, always to build those important business relationships.

This year the conference/trade show was held on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. I flew in Sunday and left Tuesday afternoon. There are certain rituals that have been established over the years of attending trade shows. One of those rituals is the “business dinner.” Other rituals are “walking the show,” “working the booth,” “scoping the competition,” “meeting and greeting old friends,” “reading the posters,” and “finding the golden nugget.”

These rituals have gradually evolved by trial and error. The rituals need not be performed in any specific order, although they all do need to be done during the show. Some are performed throughout the duration of the show, while others are done once and abandoned. Each of these rituals have social interactions involved and the rituals foster social relationships.

With all of these rituals to follow there is hardly any time to do anything on your own. Well, there is one personal ritual that I have begun in recent years. I get up early and go for a run. I did this for the first time three years ago. Of course whenever one is in a strange city it isn’t that easy to know the best places to run. So, on my first trip I just took off running down the street at 5:30 in the morning. This first run wasn’t an ideal run, mainly because I ran out into the desert before the sun had risen. It was dark and I had no idea where I should go. I had looked at a map before hand, and it seemed that I had a good trail to follow, but there weren’t any sidewalks and it was bloody dark. Well, on subsequent runs I found better and better places to run. And, I gradually began my run a bit later so that I could run as the sun came up over the desert. This is how these rituals evolve.

This year I did the same thing. I woke up and began my run at 7:00 AM. I thought that I might try something a little different. On the last day of the show last year I found out that there were trails on the mountains that surround Palm Springs. These steep rock piles that surround Palm Springs shoot up about 3000 feet into the sky and influence the desert climate that has people returning year after year. These naked rock piles have very little vegetation because of the lack of rainfall and consistent 100+ degrees weather most of the year. In the winter the weather is much more hospitable. At 6:30 AM I took off toward the mountain to the west of the city. The base of the mountain was about a mile from my hotel, but I had no idea where the paths began. I thought that I might just run along the foot of the mountain and discover where the path might begin.

As I ran the mile toward the base of the mountain I saw a fellow runner heading in the same direction. Then I saw a couple of runners running in the opposite direction. I sensed that I might be going the right way. As followed the runner ahead of me I saw him scramble up to a road that ran along the base of the mountain but at about 10 or 15 feet up the side of the mountain. I followed him up to the road, and then up further to a sandy path that seamed to climb further up the side of the mountain. I followed him as he ran up the side of the mountain. Running up hill requires a bit more effort than running on flat ground, but if one slows down one, then one can still find a good pace based on effort. Of course the guy that I began to follow was faster than I was, so he was soon out of sight somewhere ahead of me on the path.

I continued to follow the path up the mountain. I traveled at a good pace, breathing heavy on the steepest sections of the path. As I climbed I saw a beautiful city stretched out before me. As I climbed I saw that the trail was actually marked with little spots of white paint on rocks. After about 25 minutes I emerged at the top of this small mountain. It was the first foothill, with taller ones directly behind it. I estimated that I had climbed about 1500 feet and to my surprise there were six very sturdy picnic tables placed at the top of this climb. Just as I emerged I saw the runner that I had followed up the mountain. For the first time I noticed that he was about ten years older than I am. He complimented me on being in “good” shape. He said that he was Swiss, so of course he was used to doing this. Then he took off running back down the mountain.

Been there, done that! I circled the picnic tables and then I also took off running back down the mountain, and back to my hotel. The total round trip was about 55 minutes - a good workout for the day.

The next day I decided to do the same run, but I thought that I might explore the top of the mountain a bit before a returned down again. I also decided to leave a few minutes earlier in order to catch the sunrise over the city as I climbed the mountain. And, I discovered a loop that ran around the mountaintop. And, on the way down I ran into the same guy I had followed up the mountain the day before. I had realized that he was also in town to go to the same trade show. Finally as I was running down the mountain I passed another runner who asked me if I knew how to find another path that lead to the south end of Palm Springs. That was the first that I had heard of it. But I guess next year I will look for it as this running ritual continues to evolve.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit