Friday, September 6, 2019

Emergency Shelters

An armchair speculation.

There have been a fair number of emergency shelter concepts developed over the past few years. Wouldn’t it be great to offer a test run of these shelters in affected areas right now? I wonder if it could be coordinated through a nonprofit structured like the pipeline corporations, where the shelter corporations pay a subscription towards future deployment opportunities. A nonprofit structured this way could offer a coordinated proposal to governments, speeding up the approval process and allowing many concepts to be tested at once.

Take for instance Chile’s half houses that allow for future expansion and individualizations.

3D printing is allowing for construction within 24 hours.

Stackable EXO Units claim a two minute deployment each, with a four person team.

IKEA has their design out in the field right now.

I’ve put a playlist together for some of the designs out there, of varying levels of maturity.

A thought anyways.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Front line workers

I saw a rant from a real estate agent, self identifying as a front line worker, raging against those who he sees as feeding off the hard earned wages such as the likes of him.

I’m close to retirement now and I have spent most of my career in the background in administrative and middle management roles. As part of the public service, I was encouraged to excellence and the award bodies available wanted to see more award applications from front line services. Which led me to some deep thoughts about who in the public service directly touches the public? Teachers and health care providers are entrusted to our most vulnerable every day. There’s the counter agents at our registries, and various licensing and application processing agents. These are the front line workers in the public service.

As for the great bulk of the public service, they are never seen. I can count on one hand the number of personal interactions I had with the public. I worked in the records rooms in our province, keeping paper moving, making sure that needed information was findable and accessible, while making sure offices did not drown in the sheer volume of completed paperwork. I struggled to envision how my efforts supported the needs of the public. How did my work contribute to the bottom line?

Indeed, supervisors, managers, directors, all the way up to CEO’s of both private and public sector businesses rarely interact directly with their clients. Services like payroll, accounts payable, and IT work in the background supporting but never seen. All these positions are “overhead”, not contributing to the bottom line.

I use the analogy of the utility services in a building like water, power and sewage to describe a service that we rarely notice unless something fails. You don’t want to wait for failure to find out that the system needs maintenance. Replacement is always more expensive than maintenance. So even though “overhead” costs do need to be controlled, no business will be free of those costs.

An image I’ll never forget was the story of a nurse completing paperwork for half the day, in a non profit hospital overseas, as the charity had cut overhead costs to satisfy donor demands. Sure all the funds were going to nursing, but this front line worker’s effectiveness was literally cut in half. More efficient by far to employ a part time clerk to do the clerking stuff, and release the nurse to do the nursing stuff. I’d like to see some benchmarks established, by industry, what an ideal percentage of “overhead” is optimum.

I believe it is everyone’s duty to recognize their value to the corporation, and if they are in an “overhead” role right up to the CEO, to build efficiencies in to everything they do.

Sweeping budget cuts don’t accomplish efficiencies. A required service might be accidentally cut-off and it may take months or years to discover the failure. See how long your house holds up without a downspout.

There is great room in the public service to tighten its game. Some of the most valuable efficiencies however may take investment and may take years to realize the benefits. This does not play well to a government looking for flashy results. But these sorts of improvements are the right thing to do.

I have an opinion on which department has invested in a smooth and efficient application process, that behind the scenes is electronic from submission through to approval. Just eliminating the transmission time between desks is a great improvement on turnaround. How they got there took years of commitment, largely unseen and unsung. These great services do exist here in the Alberta Public Service and they deserve to be emulated.

As for that real estate agent? He’s not as front line as he thinks. Farmers, production workers and miners produce. In real estate he’s the middle man, and the clients he is facilitating a transaction will be closely scrutinizing his service fees to make sure they get value. He’s “overhead” too, and ComFree is nipping at his heels.

PS I just remembered more front line public service roles; police, fire, ambulance, and prison guards.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Flat Earth

Someone challenged me to find a church - with a website - who believes we are in a flat earth today. This came out of a discussion whether the ancient bible writers had a divine concept of the universe as we understand it today. I believe they wrote of their best understanding of the cosmos in their day which is quite different from what we know now.

Does this invalidate the value of Christianity? I don’t think so, unless an apologist tries to defend the bible as being as perfect and infallible as their god. This leads to fantastical twists of logic as troublesome bible verses are reinterpreted to fit current knowledge. This pseudoscientific god is clownish in its twists and turns, and not a being I am inclined to admire. 

Anyways, back to the original challenge. The apologist stated that there are no preachers who declare a flat earth today. Besides this being a weak claim anyways (appeal to majority) saying there are none sounds like an easy challenge. After all, there are more denominations and flavours of belief than there is clover in the field. If I find just one, the statement is invalid. 

Well, it’s three days later and I’m still looking. 

I’ve found a divinity student blogging about the flat earth. There is a now defunct church that has reinvented itself and it remains silent about earths flatness. And I found a lengthy ecumenical  statement from another denomination where they debate whether to maintain a six literal day creation cycle. 

The point is moot as the apologist in question also stated unequivocally that there are no non-trinitarian churches. That was easy to disprove. There are Bible Students, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarians, and Christadelphians to name a few. The apologist tried to discredit these examples first by their minority and then that they are heretical. This is the “No True Scotsman” argument. Of course there are non-trinitarian churches. There are a nearly endless variety of shades of belief. The original statement is false.

Just because an apologist needs a fairly uniform set of beliefs doesn’t mean reality has to match his expectation. 

So I know going forward that even if I locate a flat earth church this particular apologist already has ways to dismiss my findings. 

But wouldn’t it be fun to find one?

The divinity student:

A church holding to a six day creation: 

A thesis that gives a good background on the forces that led to this type of apologism. 

Sunday, August 18, 2019


I have been thinking this weekend how humankind has been steadily demoted by scientific discovery in my lifetime.

The biblical origin story gives us divine origin, formed in clay but God-breathed. By the time we get to the New Testament, we have souls whose true life transcends the material and can even progress through heavenly states.

For a very long time it was thought we were made up of the four humours (related to the balance of fire, earth, air and water), and ailments could be linked to an imbalance of the same.

Then came the discovery of cells, atoms, and the periodic table. All of a sudden our makeup was both more complex and more simple.

It turns out that we share our DNA with every living thing on earth, having 90% in common with the lowly mouse. We don’t have the most complex DNA or the simplest DNA on the planet. Both awards go to a plant.

We don’t have the largest brain.

We are not the only creature with the facility for language.

We are not the only creatures capable of empathy.

It turns out we weren’t the only humans walking early earth (Neanderthal, Denisovian). It may be that  we dominated these cousins not by superior intellect but by the finest difference in survival strategies.

The location of the heavens have necessarily similarly evolved, no longer associated with the observable sky. Heaven is imagined today is an invisible ethereal state unobservable by any material means.

Keep in mind that the Heaven and the Sheol spoken of in the bible was imagined as the first half of the picture above. Observations that could only have happened in my lifetime put us on the tip of a thread of a universe that is nearly unbelievably massive. 

The scale and magnitude is awe inspiring. That life exists at all is incredible. 

But as human beings, we are not nearly as special as once supposed. We are made of the same stuff as the universe. This new picture of ourselves does allow for a whole new factor of humility, which may not be a bad thing. Being fragile and not so special may move us to take better care of all life. Especially if it turns out to be a rare thing, finer and more precious than gold. 

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Populist Politics

I've been reflecting on how my emotions have rocked towards the red ever since the 2016 American Presidential election, and also how these emotions are pretty well useless in preventing similar outcomes here in Canada. I can't scream sense in to people who vote idiots in to power.

How can a stable, wealthy, democratic society descend so quickly? What were the triggers that sent me in to the red in the first place, and is there any way to politely knock sense in to my fellow Canadians?

I'm blogging this now to help me regain some equilibrium, and to document any effective strategies that can be learned from others.

An  article that helped me make some sense of what is going on was a reporter covering the Venezuelan election, that brought the populist Maduro in to power.

"[...] speeches are blunt and provocative, animated by a bumptious sense of humor and a voice that suggests someone who has spent a great deal of time rallying crowds without a microphone. As cameras rolled, he delivered an hour-long soliloquy—a mixture of folksy homilies, socialist slogans, jokes, and bluster, centered on his victory over his political opponents." New Yorker, December 2017

I can't find the article now, of course, but the reporter from that original article I read made a compelling argument that every outrageous statement by Maduro was mocked, repeated, amplified, and publicized by the media. Which ultimately served Maduro to give him the visibility he needed to launch him in to power.

The pattern is thus:
Candidate: Make unfounded, outrageous statement.
Media: Mocks and repeats.
Candidate: Make an unrelated outrageous claim.
Media: (Dropping last outrage), mocks and repeats.

The trigger that sends me in to the red is, "How can we have elected an idiot?" I want a safe, stable, secure country, and the best way to maintain that security is to elect the best we can get. The person should be a capable leader, intelligent, with demonstrable integrity and a sense of fair play. I am not so far gone to believe that such people don't exist, or that it is impossible for the best to survive the candidacy process.

Which leaves, where are the voters who will vote in an idiot, and why? May dad and I have discussed this at length, and I tend to agree with him that there are people who were forgotten during the preceding eight years, parts of the country where prosperity had passed them by, and hard working middle income earners were watching taxes rise while their prospects and the prospects for their children slipping away. You can see this in farming, mining, heavy industry, and primary manufacturing. It is this group who needed a voice, and saw an opportunity in Trump.

All the more tragic that their chosen candidate is a windbag, a limp noodle, who has backed down at every show down (Congress Budget, Chinese Tariffs, the Wall). Yet the President still speaks. How does he do it? I think one reason that Trump has not faded to obscurity is that he keeps building his Tsunami of outrageousness, where the last act is quickly overshadowed by the next. So here's my list of outrages, each one which I thought would surely disqualify Trump from leadership.

- The news conference questioning Obama's birth certificate (was it back in 2011 already)?
- Mocked a disabled reporter in 2015
- Credible evidence of multiple sexual harassment and assaults
- Colluding with the Russians to bring down his opponent
- Conflict of interest and self/family interest in appointments
- Obstructing house investigations
- Poor vetting of staff and the revolving door of staff
- Blatant racism
- Playing with nuclear weaponry
- Lies
- Continued, unfounded attacks on anyone he perceives as a threat. The projection is astounding. It is very likely wherever he has made accusations of of awful acts, he has done them.

Empires in the past have collapsed under the weight of incompetent leadership (China, Spain, Russia). I don't care how competent the courtiers are; the public knows that when the head is rotten the rest will surely follow. 

So how to go forward?

It's no use to yell at others for their choices. Anyone who is disaffected deserves to be heard and their concerns validated. I don't have to agree with their solutions, but their concerns deserve to be heard.

I don't have to agree with false conclusions (denying climate change, claiming conspiracy), but I can address the fears that are bolstering them. Socratic questioning can help engage people ensnared in fear.

How to deal with the compound outrage? I think I must decide that my outrage can go no deeper. The current President disqualified himself with his first deception. As hard as it may be, I must restrain myself from repeating, spreading, or mocking the message. 

I'll sleep better when due process runs it's course, the old king is gone, and America comes to it's senses.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

I’m done with you

I’m going to gloss over the obvious, that I’m spending far too much time on Twitter these days. I’m getting something out of the exchanges. The reward of near instant feedback is addicting.  At the same time I crave dialogue, a genuine exchange of ideas between people with different experiences. I learn and grow from these exchanges.

However, it is far too easy in the twitterverse to take sides and polarize. We have Antifa and Cons, which somehow have turned in to derogatory terms. Who wouldn’t oppose fascism? And conservatism does not equal raging radicalism of the far right.

I’m a social progressive fiscal conservative. From all appearances moderates like me are a dying breed. At least there’s not enough of us to form a government. The best I can hope for is to hold elected government to account and answer a few hard questions.

Anyways I’ve managed to annoy a couple twitterers this week. I offered a different perspective, which wasn’t opposing them, but my opinions were original.

Somehow I got pinned as the “opposition”, but then I wasn’t talking like a radical right either. I was called a “fool”, a bot, a troll, and a JFC. I had to ask what a JFC was. Don’t ask. Google it yourself.

I responded to clarify and protested that I’m no bot. I’m real.

I think I made a valid point but I’m not behaving as a good bot should so for the second time this week a poster threw his last volley and ended with, “I’m done with you” with a few more insults thrown in and a threat to block me.

I mentioned earlier the addiction of near instant exchange, and in the heat of the moment, it is highly tempting to throw in a final shot. But my lesson from over a decade on discussion boards, is if someone is done, they are done. There is no point to inflame further. So I allow my good name to be besmirched and I sit on my hands. Let the discussion die.

Gosh I hate the term “Con”. It brings to mind an ex-con or maybe a con artist. Bring back small ‘c” conservatism.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

A Great Parent Isn't Perfect

A self-described patriarch declares on twitter how a woman can be a better mother. I'm triggered. But it is not my nature to curse or slam doors. I take apart an argument to find the pith, to eventually dig out a pithy answer. It takes more than 280 characters to rip this patriarch's list apart. So here I am, blogging my displeasure at leisure.

The patriarch's list:

  • Be feminine
  • Wear dresses
  • Don't hit your kids
  • Enforce boundaries
  • Be physically active
  • Don't tease your kids
  • Cook your family's meals
  • Don't call your children names
  • Do not get drunk in front of them
  • Show up to their games *& cheer*

The patriarch came up with his random set of rules, as far as I can tell, from a mixed bag of nostalgia and "biblical" principles.

After my red rage faded from his "Wear dresses" comment, I asked myself, is there a driving desire by parents everywhere to be better? Patriarch may be speaking to latent insecurity that comes with parenting, that insecurity that if we screw up, the kid is messed for life. Sure, parenting is scary. The first time a child lashes out, one wonders if anything was done right at all. But I firmly declare that imperfect parenting can still be great.

I am happy to have survived it all and watch my children grow up in to all they hope to be, and my granddaughter as well. This bible verse has come true for me, every single day,..."Her children rise up and call her blessed;..." (Proverbs 31:28a ESV). My experience taught me that I did not have to be perfect for my children to come out just fine. I could even mess up and still have done a great job. Because my children are utterly convinced that my love for them is limitless.

What makes a great parent from my experience? Parent with the future in mind. Be clear about consequences, and follow through when rules are broken. Listen and be available. Let them know that they are strong and capable people, able to make good choices. By your actions, prove that there is absolutely nothing you wouldn't do to set them up for a successful future. Your leadership will be their view of God on earth, so love them no matter what. If you mess up, apologize. You are modelling humility.

So is patriarch's list at all biblical

The bible talks about disciplining the child, teaching, keeping the sabbath and the holidays, giving good gifts, and not exasperating the child. I'd say of these ten arbitraries, three could be called biblical (I've given them red letters).  One arbitrary is specifically unbiblical. The bible admonishes parents not to spare the rod. Not that I'm advocating corporal punishment. From experience I found out that a parent, with aforethought, can maintain decorum without resorting to the rod. But it does show that this list is arbitrary, cherry picked out of some guy's head.

Is the patriarch's list nostalgic

Most certainly this list is nostalgic. I've highlighted the arbitraries in blue that evoke an idealized past memorialized in contemporary ads from the 1950's. But let's not forget that out of that period also came a seminal work, "The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan, which pointed a sharp finger in to the side of this shaky ideal. For a great many women, the suburban stay-at-home ideal just didn't live up to the promise. This was the age that also saw a marked increase in the use of prescribed anti-depressants. Note also that these blue arbitraries are not biblical. Even the ideal wife and mother memorialized in Proverbs 31 did not cook her own meals. She had servants for that.

What's wrong with an arbitrary list?

It condenses the parent's experience to a random list of do's and don'ts, while allowing elephants to walk through. A raging narcissist for instance, could keep to these rules and still torment their children every day. It is better I find, to live by general principles and allow our native kindness, intelligence and observation to guide our choices.

And finally, what does dress or femininity have to do with parenting?

It's the yoga pant that is the uniform of choice for scores of mothers. It's flexible, hides a multitude of sins, and allows for the deep bends and dives an active mother makes every day. Does that prevent them in any way from being great parents? It's irrelevant.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Punctuation is important

This is a sideline to a twitter discussion where the importance of punctuation came up. My young pup came up with this gem:

“That’s your argument my grammar is bad alright guess I’m wrong then guess homosexuality is true because my grammar is bad?”

I’ll add the punctuation that I think the writer intended. 

“That’s your argument?  [Because] my grammar is bad alright guess I’m wrong? [By that reasoning] then guess homosexuality is true? Because my grammar is bad?”

It could just as easily be interpreted:

“That’s your argument. My grammar is bad alright. Guess I’m wrong then. Guess homosexuality is true.  Because my grammar is bad?”

If I add my own punctuation I can interpret this pup  to be as passive-aggressive or openly hostile as I imagine him to be. 

The use of trueness is misused as well. I think we can all agree these days that homosexuality exists. In that sense, homosexuality is “true”.  The crux of the argument is whether it is moral or not. 

Ambiguous grammar aside, if an apologist wants to make an argument that homosexuality is biblically immoral, then say that. 

To answer that argument:

From a biblical point of view, Lot’s disastrous relations with his Sodomite neighbours is often brought up. I might point out that these lechers were also rapists, considering random strangers or Lot’s own daughters to be fair game. Rape is an act of violence and cruelty, an obvious violation of the Golden Rule. 

As for any New Testament prohibitions remember also Peter's vision where God tempted him with all sorts of unclean foodstuffs. God reminded Peter that in the age of Grace, whatever God calls clean is now clean. 

Apply the Golden Rule. If there is love, trust, loyalty, and mutual respect, it is approved of God. 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Quiet Revolution

With a new government comes new priorities, and there will be corresponding changes to the public service. My interests come from twenty-five years of administrative service, experiencing directly the results of shifting party policy. Some changes made us smarter and sharper, others were comical. The challenge for every public worker, no matter where they work in the heirarchy, is to find meaning in their role, often lacking in power to eliminate the ridiculous.

The freshening United Conservative Party will be bustling to make their mark, and in some cases, to reverse the reforms instituted in the past four years. The public service will struggle to keep up.

I've watched with interest in the past four years as the NDP absorbed some agencies back in to public service. Of note, the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency and the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency both dissolved  back in to their parent departments in 2016. In addition, four innovative agencies were combined in to one, Alberta Innovates Corporation. With these changes and others, the number of agencies in the past four years was reduced by seven, which would result in a reduction in administrative costs.

I like seeing this sort of cost reduction by reducing complexity. It's a sort of quiet revolution that rarely makes headlines.

The new government has promised to keep a hold on spending,

"Maintain operating spending at current levels as part of a realistic plan to balance the budget by 2022/23 without compromising core services" United Conservatives - Alberta Strong and Free" p. 101, 2019

I will watch with interest if the new party will restrain themselves when tweaking the organization of the public service, if they create or disband any existing agencies, and if they trend towards efficiency and simplicity.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Sixty Days of Gratefulness

A new friend challenged me to name sixty things I am grateful for. I missed the deadline but I want my new friend that I was listening, and I do believe her that an exercise like this can change perspective. I’ll add to this blog every day for sixty days to add depth and meaning to the exercise.

Disclaimer: Dear family and friends, this list was put together in an hour of free association and should not be viewed as ranked in any way.

1. My son

Donald and I have been there for each other through thick and thin. Donald has come to terms with a serious mental health diagnosis to carve out a meaningful life. He is a faithful and devoted son and husband. Here Donald came on a walk/bike charity race the spring of 2015.

2. Attentive husband
Here we are at my daughter's wedding last summer. He is likely getting ready to say something outrageous. He never passes an opportunity to get a reaction. What outsiders might miss is that he witnesses all my moods, and, if I spiral in to the dark, he pulls me out with a pat on the back. Whatever project or scheme I have going on, it is all right with him.

3, 4 A loving daughter and a dazzling granddaughter

Here they are at my sons wedding eighteen months ago. Crystal my daughter leads with her heart and everything she does for her family is to make them stronger, confident and more able. Which pretty much sums up what my granddaughter Naomi has become. Who could fail to thrive with ladies like these in your corner?

I am writing this at the cusp of a provincial election while Notre Dame in Paris burns. Life is uncertain. I can count on the certainty of familial love.

5 Wise Father
As a man who thinks far more than he speaks, he makes his words count. I chose a picture from before wisdom, where we all start, full of spit and vinegar.

6 Three Moms
Edith took me bird watching, which taught me the lifetime skill to observe. Life is richer when I see more. Myrna fussed over me to look my best; I still hear her when I pick out my outfit in the morning. And Dawn is full of warmth and care.

7 Back Door Family

A new friend of mine introduced me to the term "back door family", those relations we gain from marriage. Every one of these folks add dimension and character to my life. Clockwise from the top frame, Jeff, Crystal, Naomi, Tim, Maria, Lizzie, Irene, (me), Katja, Christian, Martin, (me; camera hog), Claire, Tammy, and me again.

8 Democracy

Oh, the freedom to live in a country where we can hold our governments accountable. I remember keenly the exhilaration of the 2015 election results, where Albertans, nearly as one, ousted a government that had become a tad too....entitled. No matter what our political stripe, I think nearly all Albertans care to have a government that is humble and attentive. May it live up to our highest hopes.

9 Hand picked fruit

Can the aroma and flavour of hand picked fruit be beat? I swear you can smell the sunshine. It's a biochemical reaction from the ripening of fruits, benzyl acetate amongst others, but can the clinical fully explain the sensation? These are ornamental crab apples that Naomi and I picked for jelly, which made for a gruelling sticky afternoon filled with cheesecloth and hot syrups.

10 Seeds

From a tiny kernel! Glorious, struggling, striving, thriving, reaching. Just a little nurturing and I have shade and sustenance. Seeds are miracle bundles. These bean sprouts were part of a corporate competition back in 2015, spanning offices in two provinces; yet they all produced within hours of each other!

On hiatus for a few days, so I'm playing catch-up.

11. Shelter
12. Siblings
13. Community
14. Universal health care 

This takes a little explaining. Dad refuses photos these days, and has no patience with a society obsessed with recording life's minutae with the world. But I got this pic because dad was laughing at this meal. He'd had a bad kidney number come back and he was immediately rushed to the University of Alberta emergency, during a long weekend, and the Kidney specialist had been called in for an expert opinion. Dad had spent an uncomfortable night in the emergency ward. They'd taken away all his medication, including his Metformin.

For a Type 2 diabetic well habituated to routine, this breakfast is sad. Tea. Dry toast. A packet of saltines, and a packet of sugar. When dad asked if he might have something for his toast, the nurse rushed out and brought back a packet of jam. Absolutely no protein to help balance his blood sugars, and two packets of "poison" besides.

The kidney expert explained it all when he came in, and it turned out that was the last night dad was on Metformin. He's been on insulin ever since. I think dad spent about a week in the hospital getting this all sorted, and then it was home with no change other than the medication.