Welcome to 2017

Last year was good for me and family. I maintained high utilization rates throughout (to point of fatigue). Kids graduated from ES and MS, and continued to MS and HS respectively. Spousal unit started a new venture that has engaged her enthusiastically.

Our investments performed well. This year we aim for more of the same, and staying the course.

And, of course, Happy New Year!

Favorite Music in 2015

I know that year end wrap-ups typically appear at the end of the year. I decided to wait until the year came to a complete close to discuss the music released in 2015 that I enjoyed the most.

Other Lives: Rituals

The third full-length studio release from this Stillwater, OK indie / alternative rock band is my first. All songs are good and the listening experience is consistent. The music is smooth enough for background listening, but sufficiently rich and layered for dedicated time spent with it before bed or on the couch.

The Milk: Favourite Worry

The Milk Favourite Worry

Found on Bandcamp, their debut release was chosen by BBC Music was one of the 6 recommended albums of the year. I wholeheartedly agree. This Wickford, UK band is categorized under rhythm & blues, but I also hear influences from soul, funk, and reggae. Criticism: the B side of the album slows down a little bit.

Favorite tracks: No Interruptions, Don’t Give Up The Night

Of Monsters & Men: Beneath the Skin

Of Monsters and Men: Beneath the Skin

This indie folk-pop band from Iceland doesn’t need much said about them. With a sophomore release every bit as good as their debut My Head is an Animal, Of Monsters & Men has earned itself a cameo appearance on Season 6 of A Game of Thrones. Every song is good enough for closing credits on TV or film (Silhouette earned that on The Hunger Games: Catching Fire).

Favorite track: Wolves Without Teeth

Florence + the Machine: How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

If I have any criticism of their third studio release, it is only that falls marginally short of their sophomore release, Ceremonials. Nevertheless, it is a solid effort that ended the year at the top of my play count.

Favorite track: Queen of Peace

Chvrches: Every Open Eye

Chvrches: Every Open Eye

Their second studio release is a bit more polished than their highly-acclaimed debut release, The Bones of What You Believe. It has been criticized as more pop and less attitude. It is a natural maturation and more than enough to keep Chvrches at the top of the synthpop world.

Favorite tracks: Leave a Trace, High Enough to Carry You Over


#2 Gloria Ann Taylor: Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing

Release late in 2015, Love is a Hurtin’ Thing is a collection of Taylor’s singles and EP’s from the 70’s. The 2015 release is collection of songs with influences from soul, psychedelic, rhythm & blues, and disco that is so delicious, it has to be heard to be believed. I think it is the psychedelic influence that pulls me in totally. Full preview is available at the above link on Bandcamp. The only criticism of this release is the low audio quality of the source recordings.

Favorite tracks: All of the above

#1 Beauty Pill: Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are

Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are

Beauty Pill went into hiatus after lead singer, Chad Clark, fell ill to a rare viral infection that required open heart surgery. His experiences are front and center in these recordings. Starting with the opening line of the lead track, Drapetomania: “I want more life, fucker, than you.”

Part art, part experiment, part live recording, the “studio” release is infused with energy, loops, catchy tunes, and brilliant lyrics that will turn your head — literally. Despite the near-miss that sets the stage for these recordings, the tone is never somber. In contrast, it is upbeat and fun in an almost sadistic way.

It is hard to explain. Just get it and experience it.

Favorite tracks: Afrikaner Barista, For Pretend

Honorable Mentions

The Decemberists release of “What a Terrible World, What a Wonderful World” fell short of their award winning album, “The King is Dead”, but does contain a couple notable tracks.

Similarly, I didn’t find myself enjoying Josh Ritter’s 2015 release of “Sermon on the Rocks” as much as his 2013 release of “The Beast in Its Tracks” or the 2010 release of “So Runs the World Away”.

The reviews of the new New Order release were favorable, but I didn’t spend any time with it. Perhaps in 2016.

Productivity Growth

Growth of economic productivity underlies improvements in well-being of the economy’s participants. This occurs because the price of goods and services decline in real terms, even as incomes rise.

Thus if you want to know how the participants of an economy are faring over the long term, the most important number to look at is productivity. GDP growth alone can be misleading because growth may come simply from increases in the working age population.

This chart from JP Morgan’s 4Q 2015 Guide to the Markets, showing that US productivity growth in the last decade is the lowest in the post-war period,  is the most concerning in the entire document.

Microsoft_PowerPoint_-_MI-GTM_4Q15_pptx_-_j_p_-morgan-guide-to-the-markets-u_s_-4q2015What is not yet clear is whether this is an anomaly or a trend. What is also not clear are the causes:

  • Declines in productivity improving investments?
  • Demographic changes?
  • Declines in quality or adaptability of worker skills?
  • Shifts from manufacturing to services?
  • Failure of investments in Information Technology?
  • Failure of capital markets to correctly allocate capital?

Or is this simply a bookkeeping or measurement problem? Are we simply unable to measure some forms of value creation, such as from open source software or “free” services such as Facebook or Twitter?

Science and Politics

Science is knowledge. Knowledge is power. And power is inherently political.

I am currently reading Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America, by Shawn Lawrence Otto, which has been on my bookshelf for a couple years. I should have read it two years ago. Otto doesn’t fail to deliver dozens of quotable moments. Nor does he pull any punches.

In the years following Sagan’s drubbing by the very National Academy whose president had called for increased science outreach, the public’s one-shining perception of science continued to erode. By 1999, less than half of all Americans–just 47 percent–said that scientific advances were one of the country’s most important achievements. By 2009 that number had fallen to only 27 percent.

Sagan’s rejection became a poignant and symbolic example of how scientists had lost a sense of the value of their relationship to the society around the, a relationship that was critical to their future and the future of the country–but that was slipping through their fingers even as they voted against him…

Science has delivered more than half of US economic growth since the end of WWII, and has contributed to solving important global challenges, including global health and feeding the world. Moreover, today science plays a central role in solving the world’s most important challenges, including global climate change and destruction of the oceans (acidification and overfishing). Meanwhile, US Congress as scientifically deficient as ever in history.

Tempting as it is to blame this horrendous situation on religious leaders, lawyers, economists, politicians, and corporate executives, scientists have to direct some of the blame at themselves.

11-Year-Old Boy Played in His Yard. CPS Took Him, Felony Charge for Parents. – Hit & Run : Reason.com

Another state to cross off my list. Let’s be clear about some facts. My eleven year old daughter does all these things by herself:

  • Walks to school (daily with group, but sometimes alone)
  • Walks to the park to meet friends
  • Shops at the local stores
  • Takes the train to the mall (mostly with friends the same age)
  • Walks to the swimming pool
  • Walks to cram school
  • Walks to Aikido class

Yes, eleven year old children can do these things — in Japan most kids do. Parents here aren’t negligent. We don’t hate our children. We are raising them to be independent, responsible adults.

An interview with two parents who lost their kids… over nothing.

Source: 11-Year-Old Boy Played in His Yard. CPS Took Him, Felony Charge for Parents. – Hit & Run : Reason.com

Bloomberg: Failed Senate Votes Mean Wind-Down for NSA Phone Taps

Best news I have heard in a while. Section 215 of the Patriot Act has been ineffective against terrorism and used primarily for traditional law enforcement. Oversight is insufficient and prone to abuse.

Congress needs to debate appropriate mechanisms and not rubber stamp the renewal of a bill drafted hastily after the nation’s largest domestic attack.

From Bloomberg, 2015/05/23 8:53:44
-1x-1.jpg Activists protest the surveillance of U.S. citizens by the NSA outside the Justice Department Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The U.S. government is shutting down its surveillance program that collects the telephone records of millions of citizens after the Senate recessed early Saturday morning without renewing its authorization.

To read the entire article, go to http://bloom.bg/1F2zOpD

How a private-sector transformation could revive Japan | McKinsey & Company

With its working-age population shrinking, Japan will need to focus on productivity as never before. A major private-sector initiative to accelerate productivity growth could create a “fourth arrow” of economic reform. A McKinsey Global Institute article.

Source: How a private-sector transformation could revive Japan | McKinsey & Company

South Dakota Residency for Citizens Living Abroad

For US citizens living abroad, participating in domestic business and society can be challenging. One of the most challenging aspects can be obtaining a driver’s license in a state where you no longer reside. All states require demonstration of residency, and nearly all states mail your new or renewed driver’s license to your address on file.

The State of South Dakota caters to a subset of the US population who “travel full time” by relaxing several requirements. People who travel full time are only required to maintain a Personal Mail Box (PMB)1 service in South Dakota, and only need to provide a receipt from a local hotel, motel, or camping ground when applying for a license.2 The Driver Exam Station creates and hands over the license immediately.

For myself the process was relatively fast and smooth. I arrived approximately 8:15am and was handed a number and application form. I had to wait only 15 minutes for my number to be called, and the process of reviewing documents, taking the photo and digitized signature, and printing the card required only about 20 minutes. The following documents were required:

  1. Residency Affidavit
  2. Driver’s license application form
  3. Passport for proof of US citizenship3
  4. Social security card for proof of taxpayer status3
  5. One letter or postage addressed to the PMB4

Because I held a valid license from another state, the Driver Exam Station did not require either the written or driving portions of the exam.

Moreover, voter registration was relatively painless. People who travel full time using a PMB service must appear in person at the county auditor’s office. There was no line at the voter registration section and the application form required about five minutes.5 The person who verified the application only needed to check my South Dakota identification.

Less than a week later my registration has still not appeared in the online registration database. I have not yet attempted South Dakota’s absentee voting process, but I suspect it will be inferior to Oregon’s absentee ballot that I used in the last election.

  1. My PMB is Your Best Address, but there are several alternatives. 
  2. The receipt must contain the address of the PMB service. 
  3. Alternative documents are accepted. See the South Dakota Department of Public Safety website
  4. A copy of the PMB contract is would also be accepted in lieu of a letter. 
  5. The residence address is that of the hotel I stayed the prior night. The form contains a separate section for mailing address, in which I used my PMB address. 

Living Our Values

Living our values means understanding. It means we have to think about our values and understand what are their effects.

It means analyzing why we hold them.

It means deciding how to apply those values to our lives. It means eliminating old habits and creating new ones.

It means eliminating the distractions and focusing on what is most important and consistent with those values.

It means doing, changing. Not talking, not pretending.

It means destroying and creating. It is creativity. It means where you end up may be nothing like you imagined at the start.

Fighting for our values means forcing others to live our values within the cross-hairs of our loaded guns. Whether they like it or not.

When discussing values, most people get busy loading and aiming.