19 January 2012

Petition to Sponsor the Construction of a Voting Advice Network

Well, I tried. I am 100% certain that a voting advice system will create a network of voters and advice-givers that makes money irrelevant to politics. (That idea is explained fully at CitizensAdvisory.org)

I figured, if I could get that idea in front of the White House then, in the ideal world, they might say--Hey, that's the right thing to do. Let's give you a job with the charter to make that happen!

That would be wonderful, of course. Or they might find someone else to do it. But at the very least, it might get a few people thinking. And the more people who are thinking along these lines, the better. (It doesn't matter who does it. It only matters that it gets done!)

So when I saw an opportunity to put a petition in front of the White House, I took it. It is (or was) here. Here is the text:
To make money IRRELEVANT to elections, EMPOWER INDEPENDENTS, and END the DOMINANCE of SPECIAL INTERESTS, we need to establish a national Voting Advice Network, harnessing the power of social media to give citizens voting advice (only) from organizations and analysts they TRUST--easily and conveniently.

Because citizens receive advice only after subscribing to an analyst's "feed", they never receive unsolicited communications. But they always receive ALL advice from those they trust. And because advice that doesn't matched their ballot choices is ignored, they are never spammed with recommendations they don't care about, and can't act on.

With this system, independents will be empowered with information from trusted sources, ending the era of expensive ads and "sound bite" politics.

All it needed was 25,000 signatures, and the White House would have responded. At least, the idea would have been in front of them. So I sent a message out to about 30 of my closest friends, and then posted the link on Twitter and Facebook.

I figured I might not get to 25,000 in a month (the threshold for a response). But I figured I might at least get to 5,000 (the previous threshold). At least, I expected to get the 150 signatures that would make it visible to the public. Then, who knows what might happen?

Well, apparently the need to create a login ID was too big a barrier. Or people just never told their friends. Somehow, as apparent as it is to me that the "network effect" of a voting advice system will make money irrelevant to elections, it just the very rare person that "gets it". Either they don't believe it would work, or even if it would work, they don't believe it would happen.

So in the end, I amassed all of 5 (count 'em, 5!) signatures. I'm grateful to those who signed. But it's pretty clear that the "vision thing" is an impediment. Until I have the time and energy to create the system, and people see it working, people just don't seem to understand it or be willing to believe in it.

Unfortunately, even after it is created, it will take time for it to "go viral". Like any new social networking application, the value is in the numbers. In other words, the payoff for adopting it is in direct proportion to the number of people who are already using it. Once the "tipping point" is reached, it becomes self sustaining, of course. But that is a process that takes time, and the clock only starts when the app is available!

16 January 2012

"Proper" writing, and the use of "you"

I just posted this at LinkedIn. It's worth sharing here, particularly for the perspective on what "proper" really means.

My comment started in response to this post:
> A properly written technical manual should be impersonal.
> Use active voice to tell the reader what to do

About the Use of "You"

I agree with the second part. It's usually the preferred way, and perfect for steps. But when you (!) write something conceptual rather than procedural--especially if it is conditional--then you (!) have a hard time avoiding it. (Here I'm writing conceptual material to explain the writing process, not a directive that tells you (!) specifically what to do. You (!) can't use active voice here, and using "the writer" in no way adds clarity.)

But perhaps the best response was posted by Lasse Haggman:
If you sit next to a person to help them, do you really say: "The user clicks the Options button"? Or do you say, "Click the Options button"?
That succinct reply says it all, because the goal of technical writing, ultimately, is to help someone.

However, in rebuttal, John Yannis provided the phrasing of my comments below, eliminating the use of "you" altogether--it may just be clearer, because it's shorter. (Do you agree?) And it is clearly not as "familar". (Is that a good thing?)
I agree with the second part. It's usually the preferred way, and perfect for steps. But in writing something conceptual, rather than procedural--especially if it is conditional--it is difficult to avoid it. [Here I'm writing conceptual material about the writing process, not a directive that says specifically what to do....]
About what is "Proper"

Sorry, but I object to the term "properly". Many a grammar rule has been upheld as "proper" without real justification. I'm willing to buy the premise that a technical manual should be impersonal, but I'm afraid I'll need a good reason before I do.

After all, cravats and spats were once "proper" attire for business. Ties are no longer even required, and usually avoided. So it's clear that "proper" can be construed as a euphemism for "current fashion", rather than a synonym for "there is a good reason". So saying it is "proper" is not a valid justification, by itself.

There is one argument that always wins, however, regardless of trends. That is an argument in favor of clear and concise communications. If you can show me how being "impersonal" furthers that goal, then I will be persuaded.

However, I am afraid that the prospects are bleak. You see, I read way too much Victorian English in my formative years, and wrote in a similar style for much of my life. (A habit that English teachers seemed to love, alas.)

To me, it made sense. After all, why say something only once if you can come up with 50 different ways to say it? Surely one of them will connect with the reader! And why express a thought in 20 words if you can shower it with 100? Surely the more important the concept, the more words it deserves!

Needless to say, my early writing was atrocious, because what was proper in the Victorian era does not translate well to an environment in which people want to find out what they need to know to get on with what they were doing, and get back to doing it as quickly as possible.

In other words, what was "proper" in one setting was not "proper" in another. So the important question is not "What is proper?" but rather, "What goal are we trying to achieve and how can we best achieve it?".

05 December 2011

Republican Chicanery Refutable by Voting Advice Network

A friend just sent me a pointer to this great post about Frank Lutz--the person behind much of the Republican's linguistic mischief, such as calling a pollution de-regulation bill the "Clean Air Act". 

I knew about the devious practices, but didn't know that Frank Luntz was behind most of it. I was particularly struck by this:
"independents … are Frank’s real aim. These are the people who don’t have the time or inclination to double-check some bit of pleasant-sounding Clean Air Act deceit or demonizing stretch of free-word-association, such as using ‘Iraq,’ 9/11′, and ‘Saddam Hussein’ all in the same breath…"
Yup. That's why a voting advice network is a necessity. All it takes is one analyst who can see through it, connected to a few popularizers who are connected to thousands, each of whom is connected to hundreds more. In short order, the insight goes out to millions.

The result is a game-changing speed-of-travel and reach of information. Right now, the effect of an analyst's insight tapers off rapidly. It might reach a few thousand, but then it tends to dissipate in the wind. So by the time something like the "Clean Air Act" comes up for a vote, only a percentage of the populace remembers (or ever knew) what it really is.

But with the voting advice network, such insights propagate rapidly, and are retained—an independent won't miss hearing it, and won't have to worry about remembering it.

Come election time, the analysts insight is recorded as a "yea or nay" recommendation. There are links to the reasons, should the independent care to follow them. (In case their are opposing recommendations.) But when all of an independent's trusted advisors make the same recommendation, there's really no need to check. It's a simple matter of voting. (And if 4 out of 5 advisors make the same recommendation, then the 5th is somewhat suspect....)

Put simply: A voting advice network is the remedy for Frank Luntz.

01 December 2011

Government Collapse, Aristocracy of Wealth, Voting Advice Network

This is a letter I sent to a friend of mine, who is having trouble with a mobile home park, and who is finding that other small park owners have been beset with suddenly-imposed, draconian regulations. She wondered if government were "falling apart". I explained how things have come to that point...


On the government side of things, the meltdown is by Republican design. Their plan has been executed masterfully, so that an aristocracy of wealth is forming, unimpeded by government.

That plan began in the 80's:

  • Pour massive funding into state elections (Why? Because state governments set district boundaries.)

  • At the end of the decade, gerrymander every possible district. (Something that has been going on for ages, but for the first time, a coordinated national effort was made to do it by one party.)
  • Starve the government of cash. (With the seats gained, roll back every possible tax.)
At the point that happens (or happened), the Republican cause is effectively won. Either every possible service is cut back to the point of extinction, or government simply fails for lack of cash.

As for the government, since we couldn't possible de-staff and de-fund the programs people need, the ones that oversee corporate businesses were de-staffed and de-funded, instead:

  • The FDA became a rubber stamp for the food industry, depending on data supplied by the industry rather than doing their own studies.

  • The SEC became missing in action, being able to hire only from the bottom 10% of each graduating class, and not many of those.

  • The IRS, finding out that it was too costly to audit the rich (because they fought back with highly-paid tax lawyers and accountants who outgunned the IRS, the same way corporations outgunned the SEC), began doing 90% of their audits on people making less than $50k/year --and finding that in 50% of those cases, they owed the taxpayer a refund. (Result: Even less cash for government, but a higher "close" rate that let government workers keep their jobs.)
I suspect that the same kind of thing has happened in Sacramento and other state governments. Finding it impossible to govern large corporate developments effectively, they've turned their attention to smaller developments that don't have the resources to fight back.

As it happens, I know how to solve the problem. I have simply been too selfishly focused on my own survival to implement the solution.

If I can find development talent who will donate their time or find funding to get the time myself or hire that talent, then I will be able to implement the only possible remedy for the problems that beset our country and our economy:

      A voting advice network that will make lobbyists
      IRRELEVANT to the political process, by making
      money irrelevant to elections.

(Contact me for more info, or see preliminary writeups at http://CitizensAdvisory.org)

BTW: The system would enable true CORPORATE governance, as well--something we haven't had for 50 years.

And with money no longer dominating the equation, we would have a chance to reverse the trend towards a rapidly growing "aristocracy of wealth" that is turning into a repeat of Rome.

No one minds an "aristocracy" with a flexible membrane--one where people join and leave based on their own performance (also called a "meritocracy"). But with the repeal of the estate tax, we are set to create a hereditary aristocracy that will present a very rigid membrane to future generations.

08 June 2010

Reviewable, Runnable Specifications Ensure Software Quality

Designing Programs with RSpec and Cucumber gives a good introduction to what is arguably the most important part of the agile development process, when it comes to quality. It does a good job of explaining that the real goal is not to “test” your code after you write it, but rather to create a “runnable specification” before you write it.

Read more at Artima.com >>

19 May 2010

Meditating in the Cafeteria

When I first started training in Jung SuWon, Great Grandmaster (and Dr.) Kim told us that one day, we would meditate anywhere, any time--even in the middle of a noisy crowd. I found that hard to believe, because anything other than total silence totally broke my concentration! But here I was, meditating in a busy cafeteria!

16 May 2010

As It is In Heaven (5 Stars)

I just watched a Swedish film called As It Is in Heaven. It comes closer than anything I have ever seen to capturing the kind of personal growth and transformation I witnessed, and experienced, in my martial arts training--but it does so in the context of a choral group.

28 April 2010

What's Wrong with American Corporations?

American corporations are not regulated by the market, by the government, or by themselves. They are so far out of control, in fact, that they have a bigger impact on government than government has on them. There is no chance whatever to create a healthy population or a healthy society until they are reined in.

If you've read What's Wrong with Partially Hydrogenated Oils? and What's Wrong with American Foods?, you know that the American food supply is laced with substances that are damaging to your health. But those substances, by and large, are not present in the food supplies of Europe and Asia--either because the corporations there are too ethical to include them, or governments are smart enough to make them illegal, or both.

Meanwhile, the FDA has no mandate to safeguard your long-term health. The FDA is only concerned with cases of acute food poisoning--not chronic, long-term damage.

For more, read Poisoning for Profit: What's Wrong with American Corporations?

21 April 2010

A Short Citizen's Guide to Reforming Wall Street

Great ideas. But...

The street is spending $500 million to lobby against it, and the Supreme Court has determined that corporations can spend all they want to influence elections--which gives those lobbyists even more power.

How can corporations with more money than the government ever be controlled by a government they effectively own?

I submit that job number one is to make money irrelevant to elections, by using social media to make information transmission so efficient that undecided/uninformed voters get all the information they need, within moments. That is the only way to put an end to the influence of misleading advertisements and sound-bite politics.

Example: The "Right to Vote" measure in California is obviously funded by electrical companies, to prevent a government takeover the next time they attempt to scam the state for billions, as they did in the last energy crisis. Their ads run 30 times a day, and the election is months away.

That issue, and the vastly more important need to regulate the commercial institutions, are symptoms of the same disease--a government in which money dominates, rather than ideas. The game can be changed, and it must be.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

28 March 2010

Capitalism: A Love Story -- Synopsis and Review

Capitalism: A Love Story is a must-see video. It's an eye opener that reaches a far more radical conclusion than I expected. Somehow, Michael Moore manages to keep a sense of humor throughout it all, so the video winds up being entertaining, rather than depressing (no small trick). It's full of things you probably knew, but contains quite a few surprises as well.