Inadvertent Algorithmic Cruelty

By now you’ve probably heard of, if not read, Eric Meyer’s blog Inadvertent Algorithmic Cruelty. He says it better than I could.

It does raise the issue of letting our lives be so controlled by automatic programs.

While I’m not joining Stephen Hawking in warning that artificial intelligence threatens mankind, he too has a good point.

Or the word completers resident in so many social media software.

We have met the enemy, and they are, if not us, at least our creation.

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Movie Review: Unbroken (Four Stars)

Movie Review: Unbroken

Four Stars out of Five

Impressive story; well told. Essentially a true story, of Louis Zamperini a young Olympic athlete who survived a crash landing, many days adrift in the Pacific only to be captured by Japanese and forced through a series of POW camps in Japan. Doesn’t shy too far from the faith aspects of the story.

Told with great skill and not a little violence. Some beautiful cinematography.

Worth seeing.

The Japanese won’t be seeing Unbroken because Universal Pictures isn’t releasing it there. Why are we so worried about North Korea, when our ally and supposed open society, Japan, still doesn’t admit to atrocities done in their prisoner-of-war camps?

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (five stars)

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

five stars out of five

There’s a reason people like Doerr win multiple literary awards. Not only do they meticulously research and plot their novels, but they get far enough inside the heads of their characters, even minor characters, that we readers are inside their heads, too.

Superficially this book is about several teens before and during World War Two. I hope teens will read this book and connect with the characters. I hope people in general will read this book and discover how people become monsters. But this book is about Continue reading

We’ve Gone Quiet

Not so many years ago I followed two teens through a mall. They were both talking on cell phones. It took me a few minutes to recognize, they were talking to each other. The world was noisier then: people talking aloud to thin air (using ear sets to connect to the phone in their pocket), music in malls and restaurants so loud we shouted to be heard, and the chatter of people actually talking to one another.

This morning, I sat in the waiting room of a car dealership, while a new battery was installed in my car. Four of us scattered around the room. It was quiet. The huge wall-mounted TV was off, even though it’s controller was convenient. The four customers read a book (me), worked on a laptop, typed into a smart phone and read a magazine. Yes, three of the four were at least fifty years old. But it was eerie to be in such a public place and it be so quiet. At a recent function five twenty-somethings sat in a row, each enthralled with whatever he or she was doing on his or her smart phone.

Is this a trend?

Socialism in One State Doesn’t Pan Out

Some folks think Obamacare didn’t go far enough. They praised Vermont’s intention to introduce a single-payer health care system as the way to go. Unfortunately (for them), Vermont finally did the math and realized they couldn’t afford it.

In what he called the “biggest disappointment of his life so far” Governor Peter Shumlin announced Vermont was abandoning their planned single-payer health care. Despite a $45 million Federal grant and the active support of HHS, the Treasury and the White House, Vermont couldn’t make the numbers work. (Perhaps because of MIT’s Jonathan Gruber‘s help. Remember him? The one who thinks you’re so dumb?) But Shumlin was smart enough to wait until after the election to admit it.

With a pay roll tax of 11.5% and a worker contribution of up to 9.5% of earning, the burden would have sunk the state’s economy. Yes, you read that correctly: 20% of wages just for universal health care. Can you imagine being taxed 20% of your total wages on top of Vermont’s already high sales and personal and corporate income taxes?

By demonstrating that single payer makes health care both more expensive and less efficient, Vermont has done us a service. They’ve shown other states (and the nation) what not to do.

What will learn from their experience?

Book Review: A Time to Die by Nadine Brandes (Four Stars)

Book Review: A Time to Die by Nadine Brandes

Four Stars out of Five

Image a world where people knew when they would die. Imagine a world where people were required to carry a clock showing how many years, days, hours and seconds remained in their lives. Imagine being seventeen years old and having only one more year to live. And knowing it.

Unfortunately our protagonist is a lazy, stubborn, impulsive teen—yeah, like a lot of us at that age. (Maybe any age.) And she’s a Christian, at least nominally so. No hint of her knowing what that means, let alone living differently, at first. (Kind of like a lot of us again.) Not a very sympathetic character, but she makes up for it by doing stupid things and suffering the consequences—even though she still doesn’t learn. No, she doesn’t get a break. Yes, it gets irritating. Probably a pretty normal life.

And she lives over a century into our future when things have changed—a lot.

Not bad writing. Brandes manages to bring this story to a satisfactory close, while dangling lots of hooks for the next. Better than many far more famous authors.

Considering this was Brandes’ freshman effort, I gave her extra credit.

Not quite as good as Firebird, but another hit for Enclave Publishing.

Playing the Oil Card, Part Two

The Saudis are certainly under no obligation to help Americans get rich off their new oil output … and vice versa.

Individual governments can try to defend their people from the worst of energy—as well as other commodity—fluctuations, but in the long term the market tends to respond to supply and demand, not wishful thinking.

High and low prices affect the decisions of oil explorers and producers (not to mention consumers) in different ways.

In the 240 years since Adam Smith penned Wealth of Nations; individuals, industries and nations have tried to stack the deck in their own favor. It usually doesn’t work, and often fails spectacularly.

Right to not be Offended?

A license plate was proposed commemorating Palmito Ranch, the last battle of the Civil War, May 13, 1865. But someone’s offended. Texas law disallows any plate which offends “any member of the public.” Yes, any. So, the new “right” of the 21st century seems to be the right to not be offended. (see George Will column)

In 2011, the Supreme Court held:“The Constitution does not permit the government to decide which types of otherwise protected speech are sufficiently offensive to require protection for the unwilling listener or viewer. Rather … the burden normally falls upon the viewer to avoid further bombardment of (his) sensibilities simply by averting (his) eyes.”

Not good enough, says NewThink. A growing number of people, organizations and government entities seem busy creating a new “right.” What’s so wrong with not being offended? How do you define it? When the government tries to preempt offense you open an Orwellian can of worms.

Do we have a right to go through without being offended? How do we do that in a pluralistic society? What if the cause that moves your heart offends me?

What happened to free speech?

Book Review: Kidnapped by the Taliban by Dilip Joseph, MD, with James Lund (Five Stars)

Book Review: Kidnapped by the Taliban: a Story of Terror, Hope and Rescue by SEAL Team Six by Dilip Joseph, MD, with James Lund

Five Stars out of Five

“Nothing focuses your thoughts quite like the expectation that you will be killed in the next few hours or even moments.”

In 2012 an American doctor of Indian descent, working with Morning Star Development, and two Afghan nationals were abducted by Taliban in a remote valley of eastern Afghanistan, when returning to Kabul from a clinic and development site. This book details that abduction and his subsequent rescue by elite American special forces personnel. It’s a thrilling story.

More significant, however, is how Dr. Joseph came to be in the valley and how he reacted and interacted with his captors and liberators. And his finding connection and reason for hope in a situation with would reduce most of us to quivering fear. This is a story of faith, hope and love in action.

The prose is simple and direct as is the story. Definite movie potential, except Hollywood won’t understand many of the characters, especially not Dr. Joseph.

You’ve got to read this book.

(Full disclosure: For ten years Treva and I have supported the work of Morning Star Development in a adjacent valley of eastern Afghanistan to provide an clinic and safe drinking water to the Afghan people. We hope and pray that they, and all people, will eventually be allowed to live in peace in their own land.)

Movie Review: Hobbit 3 (Three Stars)

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (AKA Hobbit 3)

Three Stars out of Five

This movie hewed closer to Tolkien than the other two Hobbit movies. I did like it. Three stars is a good rating.

For folks concerned about the length of the battle scene, I direct them to the title of the movie. Don’t go if you’re not ready to see dozens of different ways to slay orcs and humans, and elves and dwarfs. (But no non-sentient creatures were injured, I’m sure. Well, you know, except orcs.)

Some of the added characters had big roles in this movie (especially Legolas, who is not identified by name in The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien), but the identified characters followed the story arc of the book, except of course for Fili’s love connection with an elf (also extra-Hobbit). As in the book, Gandalf did next to nothing, and little old Bilbo Baggins saved the day.

Plenty of tie-ins to the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) movies which follow the Hobbit chronologically.

The technology is better, but the story telling was not quite at a level with the LOTR movies, perhaps because Peter Jackson et al. had less to work with.