Sunday, April 13, 2014

Volunteering in an Emergency: What to Expect

When disaster befalls your community (or one near you; or one you care about), helping others in distress may seem intuitively obvious to you.  However, like much else in modern society, government agencies and institutional organizations regulate, control, and manage spontaneous volunteering.  Like traffic lanes and traffic lights, or standard time zones, the processes usually work out well for everyone when participants keep to the program.  

About half of the Texas Conservation Corps members
who attended training in
"Managing Spontaneous Volunteers".
They get paid $12,000 per year to build trails
and otherwise manage public lands
and respond to disasters such as
Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey.
After a year, they get $5500 toward college.
Generally, any community has some kind of emergency response coordinator.  Large towns have several agencies that assume known roles, such as a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team). The Red Cross and Salvation Army are the two most visible private entities. They act because they have legally-recognized authority from a government agency with competent jurisdiction.  Your county sheriff or township police may have signed a “memorandum of understanding” (MOU) granting those powers in case of an emergency.  These are all necessary (and proper) because a disaster will overwhelm and deplete the usual first responders: police, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians.
Terms to know:·  
  •  VOAD – Volunteer Organizations Active in a Disaster·
  • VRC – Volunteer Resource Center
  • Affiliated Volunteers are members of recognized organizations such as the Youth Corps, the Senior Corps, Americorps. They may actually be paid in some way. They have formal training and are credentialed in their special skills, such as interviewing and intervention or machine operations, from chainsaws to Bobcat “Skid-Steers”. Their organizations assume some liability for them.
  • Spontaneous Volunteers reflect two meanings. On the deeper level, the volunteer is spontaneous, personally motivated by the news events to come to aid.  Once on the scene, the spontaneous volunteer can be counted on for enthusiasm and energy. They are free of cost to the agency that engages them.  Spontaneous volunteers bring a range of skills.  They provide additional resources that can be marshaled. 

 However, spontaneous volunteers are known to come with a wide range of problems, from lack of training to sociopathic predatory behaviors. 

“In a report published online on March 25 in advance of the print edition of Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, Lauren Sauer, M.S., surveyed 24 nongovernment volunteer organizations (NVOs) that had responded to disasters in the past and found that 19 of them — or 79 percent — had spontaneous volunteers show up to help. While a majority of those organizations said they found such volunteers useful, 42 percent reported that volunteers had been injured in the response, and there were two reported deaths among them. Organizations were allowed to respond anonymously as a way to encourage survey participation.”  (Read here.)

If the town next to yours suffers a tornado or a flood and you feel motivated to help out, your experience will go better if you know what to expect and what is expected of you.
  •  Report to the VRC, the Volunteer Resource Center.
  • Provide full identification with any validated credentials such as Adult First Aid or Commercial Vehicle Operations.
  • Be prepared to take care of yourself. Bring 72 hours of food, water, and sleeping gear.  Do not expect that the VRC will be able to bivouac you.
  •  Know what is needed. Know what you can do. Ask for a list of tasks and pick the ones that suit your skills.  You might arrive as an electrician and find yourself pumping water from homes – and that might be fine for you, if you expect that possibility.
  • Take direction.  The volunteer center has been lawfully empowered by a memorandum of understanding. If you go off on your own, you might find yourself dismissed or (ultimately) arrested and jailed; that is embarrassing all the way around for everyone.
 The best way to help out is to prepare in advance by joining a recognized voluntary relief agency.  Some faith-based organizations prepare a million sandwiches and deliver them to the Red Cross; others distribute ten thousand Visa Debit Cards.  What you do is up to you.  You will be more effective if you understand the Management of Spontaneous Volunteers. 

(This was written from some of the notes taken during an eight-hour training session in "Managing Spontaneous Volunteers" April 11, 2014, sponsored by the Texas Department of Public Safety and the One-Star Foundation.)


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Galileo's Two Sciences

Dover Books specializes in the reproduction of classic works whose copyrights have expired.  This translation by Henry Crew and Alfonso de Silvio from 1914 was based on a rendition into modern Italian by Antonio Favoro. That work was part of the National Edition of Galileo’s compiled works published in 1913. It was a happenstance of nationalism, though Galileo’s work belongs to any rational being who claims understanding and appreciation, whether terran, humon, cetacean, or whatever.

Missing from this is any mention of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  However, many times throughout Galileo does refer to experiments with falling bodies. With extreme patience, he teased out the truth.  Galileo considered balls rolling down inclined planes and pendula of different arcs with bobs of different weights. His work foreshadowed Rayleigh on aerodynamics.  Galileo had no quantitative answers for the relationships among viscosity, cross section, and velocity. That would come 250 years later – but he knew the variables…. And he knew much else.

Mean proportion
of velocity of
a falling body
The Two Sciences is one of those books that we all “know” but never read.  With over an hour on public transportation every morning and another plus a quarter or half at night, I had the time to read this.  I recommend it highly to anyone who wants to discover science for themselves, rather than taking someone else’s word for it. 

Again, in this Galileo makes no mention of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.   But he does argue at length about the fact that two bodies of different weight fall with just about the same final velocity.

The Two Sciences here are what we now call “Statics” and “Dynamics” in freshman engineering curricula.  He also discusses problems from modern engineering college textbooks in strength of materials – and he gets a few things wrong… but that does not detract… 

Galileo also offers complex geometric proofs that I had to read through. Even though algebra was over 300 years old by the time he wrote, like Isaac Newton (who was born the year that Galileo died), he proved his points with geometry.  We no longer learn it.  Yes, we have a year in high school; but even Richard Feynman had to admit defeat because he could not retrace Newton’s steps.  We are geometrically illiterate.  Still, it is obvious that Galileo was setting the foundation for his later demonstrations.  Deepest and chief among them are previews of what we call “calculus.”  Galileo showed that the instantaneous is an expression of the infinite.

Newton admitted to standing on the shoulders of giants.  Galileo depended on the “mean proportion” that was developed by the Oxofrd Calculators of the 13th century.  It is sadly very easy to posit that if Galileo had worked in the Middle Ages instead of the Reformation, his labors would have been embraced by the Church that opposed him in his own time.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Schulman’s Alongside Night Released

J. Neil Schulman’s Alongside Night is modern myth of liberation.  First published in 1979, in 1989, libertarian science fiction fans granted the novel their Prometheus Hall of Fame award.  After more than two years in production, it finally became a movie.  

(This review is based on a post intended for April 2, 2012, as I exchanged emails with Schulman about the script. He asked me to not write about the movie until it was finally released.  The March 5, 2014, issue of Liberty's Outlook from the Liberty Coin Service of Lansing, Michigan, made that announcement.) 

In the world of the present future, inflation is rampant.  The federal government has issued emergency scrip and vending machine tokens circulate as a convenience.  The pan-European currency is backed in gold; and the Europeans are unwilling to underwrite the U.S. Treasury.  Among the architects of Europe’s money is Dr. Martin Vreeland.  As the crisis deepens and the U.S. government becomes more desperate, Dr. Vreeland is among thousands targeted for round-up and perhaps execution.  Only his international status cushions him and his family, however briefly.  The Vreelands plan to escape. 

Our viewpoint character is high school senior Elliot Vreeland.  The family is separated.  Elliot is on his own in New York City with about 30 ounces in gold coins and some thin contacts with the underground economy of gypsy cab drivers and adult bookstores.  Elliot then discovers a literal underground, a free market utopia including comfortable hotels and luxury malls that sell whatever you want.  He also discovers a naked girl in a swimming pool.  Then, the federal government raids the place.

Evacuation is orderly, thanks to the firm but polite private security guards who know that the customer is always right. This scene and a couple of others were inspirational to me over the years, and still provide parameters for me when I work as a security guard. 

Later, Elliot finds his father in conference with the chief of federal security, but his mother and sister are still held hostage and must be rescued.  The Revolutionary Agoric Cadre comes to their rescue, though not without losses. 

Schulman was kind enough to share the present version of the movie script.  Written by the author of the book, the cinema adaptation is crisp and concise, a faithful translation from one medium to another.  Of course, there are updates:  Elliot has an iPod.  But very little needed to be changed because very little has improved for the federal government since 1979. 

Alongside Night is a worthy story and a craftsman's work.  Schulman was inspired when he wrote it in 1979; and his dedication has not slackened. 

The theory behind the book is more radical than Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.  Based on the works of Murray N. Rothbard, “Agorism” is attributed to Samuel Edward Konkin III.  Agorism holds that free market alternatives are so vastly superior that even building a secret city beneath an existing metropolis can be done for gold pennies on the hyper-inflated dollar.  When it was written, the theory that private security could replace the public police was unsubstantiated by evidence that we now accept.  (Generally, in the USA today, there are two private guards for every police officer; in California, three.)  In Atlas, the heroes hole up in a Colorado valley.  Here, they build and rebuild physical undergrounds which could be anywhere. At one point, Elliot quips to his new girlfriend that from what he has seen so far, they could be under the National Mall.  Actually, they resurface at Elliot’s private school in Manhattan. 

For over 30 years, Alongside Night has been an escapade for libertarians, a diamond flash to offset the sable of Atlas Shrugged.  If you have not read it – or not read it in a while – you deserve the reward.

In addition to Kevin Sorbo, the movie features Tim Russ and Garrett Wang (Star Trek: Voyager), David D. Friedman as the King of Sweden, and Dr. Ron Paul as himself. 

The newest trailer on YouTube is here.
The official trailer (2:25) on YouTube is here.

Alongside Night (movie) near-mirror site here
Or buy the Kindle Edition at Amazon.
Find Alongside Night t-shirts, coffee mug, etc., at Cafe Press.
From the Liberty Coin Service Liberty's Outlook newsletter:In the movie, Liberty Coin Service has a cameo appearance as a kiosk store in an underground free market mall, staffed by LCS Senior Numismatist Tom Coulson. Four other LCS people have bit parts in the film.The private issue Gold Liberties used in the movie (and in real life) were provided by Liberty Coin Service. Lansing television station WILX NBC 10 and Lansing radio station 1320 WILS get credits in the film for services they contributed to the production. LCS General Manager Pat Heller is an Executive Producer. Alongside Night author J. Neil Schulman wrote the screenplay, acted in the film, and served as director and producer. Schulman’s daughter, Soleil O’Neal-Schulman sings the haunting theme song, which you hear when you view the trailer.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

George Boole's Laws of Thought

Everyone who knows computing knows the Boolean operators AND, NAND, OR, XOR, and NOT.  They allow us to construct conditional statements, and programmatic branching.  Electrical engineers learn the rules of Boolean Algebra with two values OFF and ON; and with three operators,  PARALLEL, SERIES, and a simple switch for NOT.   0 and 1 are OFF and ON. The three operators  of Boolean algebra are + X and ~ corresponding to OR, AND, and NOT. They are the same as PARALLEL, SERIES, and SWITCH.  George Boole had a different view entirely.  His 1853 book, An Investigation of the Laws of Thought on Which are Founded the Mathematical Theories of Logic and Probabilities, is a treatise on epistemology.  

We learn that correct thinking by logic is a reduction by syllogism.  All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.  If A =B and B = C, then A = C. The middle or the mean term is factored out. Boole granted that syllogism is one kind of valid method. However, rather than reducing statements, Boole argued by expansion for a deeper and extended understanding of seemingly simple truths.  His algebra is deceptively similar to – but different from – the forms we learned in high school; and so the learner here must pay close attention to these laws of thought. 

If x is “red” then xx means “red red” which is nonetheless still “red.”  If the essential attribute under consideration is “red” then red red things with their redness removed do not exist: xx – x = 0. Taking from Leibniz, Boole lets 0 be non-existence and 1 be the universe.   If x is our subject, then (1-x) is everything else in the universe except x. Boole rewrites xx-x as x(1-x) = 0 to give Aristotle’s Law of Contradiction: A thing cannot both have and not have the same attribute in the same way at the same time.  Boole calls this “duality.”  Also following Leibniz, Ayn Rand delivered that as  “A or non-A.”  

In 400 pages, Boole carefully applies the essential truths he discovered. He extracts more meaning – and more exacting meanings – from common statements.  However, his insistence on closely laying every step of this long journey, couched, as it was, and, indeed, of necessity, both historical and personal, must have been, in Victorian prose, renders this important work so Germanic as to be nearly unreadable.  It is well worth the effort.

“Wealth consists of things transferable, limited in supply, and either productive of pleasure or preventive of pain.” 
w = wealth
s = limited in supply
t = transferable
p = productive of pleasure
r = preventive of pain

Boole specially defines 0/0 to mean the undefined.  He includes this to stand for the indefinite class: those things not included in the present statement but which exist nonetheless.

Given that this book is 400 pages and Ayn Rand’s Introduction to the Objectivist Epistemology is 164, Boole boldly goes beyond the orbit of concept formation.  He nonetheless is in the same material space: he identifies reality; and ties concepts to objects. Boole explores the relationships between the processes of thought and perception and the expression of them through language. 

Boole even applies his method to statements about God.  His goal is not to address God’s existence but to expand and analyze statements about God asserted by Baruch (“Benedict”) Spinoza and Samuel Clarke.  (“… considered the major figure in British philosophy between John Locke and George Berkeley.” – Wikipedia here.)  From there, he examines Aristotle’s logic and Fermat’s probabilities.   The last third of the book is about the logic of probability theory.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Central Texas Bee Rescue

Crayons made from
natural bees' wax
Forty years ago, we were warned about African bees and Brazilian bees - and about global cooling.  Now, bees are endangered.  Human culpability seems ruled out, but the fact remains that even in the natural order of things, the bees we need are in trouble. And we can help them to our own benefit.

We can find and relocate bees to nurture them for the betterment of our food crops.  Apiaries can be urban. Even Manhattan NYC has them. And the honey sells well.  We bought some from the Austin Honey Bee Protection Agency (website here) when we met a representative of the Central Texas Bee Rescue at our local food co-operative.

You can find many ways to help, to get involved, or stay uninvolved while pitching in.
"Central Texas Bee Rescue and Preserve is dedicated to saving and protecting the future of our nation's bee population. We want to become the extermination alternative. We feed, house, and continue to nurture the bees at our sanctuary. We have harvesting projects for soap, candle, and lip balm production as well as honey and bee pollen. Through our umbrella organization, the American Honey Bee Protection Agency, we work to educate the community, fight the use of pesticides in our community, and maintain the ecological health of the central Texas region." --

This is certainly not only local to Austin, Texas.  If you do nothing else, buy yourself some local honey and enjoy it.

Also on Necessary Facts
Pi in the Sky Over Austin
Awesome Austin Foods
Around Austin

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Market for Voting

What does a capitalist renaissance look like? Most self-identified "conservatives" want some kind of a return to the original Constitution. That means no income tax, and usually no direct election of senators. Whether it includes voting rights for adults under 21, women, and former slaves (or even legal slavery) is not clear. The broad course of history suggests that no restoration ever brings back the past.  

Owned by Nanking University.
Preferred stock usually comes without voting rights.
The Italian Renaissance did not return crucifixion as a mode of execution; neither did it bring back slavery - or the Latin language. In fact, a key element to the Quattrocento was the validation of vernaculars in the former Roman lands and Germania.  Even so, Latin remained a common language. Carl Friedrich Gauss published Theoria residuorum biquadraticorum, Commentatio secunda in 1832. (It was then translated into German.) However, in 1843, he offered Untersuchungen über Gegenstände der Höheren Geodäsie - Erste Abhandlung.  So, the world of 2076 or 2189 might have constitutional republics, complete with national flags, and local languages.

Owned by a woman
in her own right
60 years
she could have voted
in a political election.
I see something else on the horizon.

(This post was edited from comments made on the "Galt's Gulch" discussion board of the Atlas Shrugged movie producers.)

The 1909 novel The Secret of the League: The Story of a Social War by Ernest Bramah has been suggested as a forerunner of Atlas Shrugged.  In the final resolution, voting in national elections is given the form of voting in a joint-stock company: one share, one vote.  Shares in that story cost ₤500 (like $250,000 now, perhaps).  In a capitalist future, buying a voting share would be proof of citizenship; and it would nullify the status of "illegal alien." 

The same theory applies here: you buy in, you buy citizenship. And it applies to children. When Herbert Spencer was really a liberal in the 1830s, he advocated for voting rights for children: they work; they pay taxes; they should vote. QED. 

Moreover, shares (citizenship) could be bought and sold repeatedly. The price of a vote would rise close to elections and fall in the off season. People could change "citizenship" i.e., voting rights often, repeatedly, and for a profit (buy low, sell high). In point of fact voting for President of the USA is not cost-effective but voting in the Mayoral Primary is highly important. So, the shrewd citizen should sell their vote before the one and buy it back before the other. 

But it would not be a permanent consequence. Why is citizenship different from any other service or commodity? 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Around Austin

The Wheatsville Co-op recently opened a second location closer to us on the south side of Austin, but the main store is still convenient sometimes.  Laurel and I agreed to meet there for dinner; and arriving first, I ordered her sandwich for her.  When making reservations and placing orders, Laurel uses the name “Jane.” I usually go along with “George”; and at the Magnolia 24/8 restaurant on South Congress, we make reservations as the Jetsons.  At the Wheatsville Co-op, I place my orders under the name “Jane” also.  This time, the deli wrote “Jane Austin” on the wrapper. 

While they were making the sandwiches, I met Staci, a product rep from Hops & Grain, a local brewery.  Texas has a lot of Germans. In fact, some argue for Texas German being recognized as a dialect. (See Wikipedia, here.)  You never actually hear it on the streets; but we do have towns named New Braunfels, Fredericksburg, and Weimar, and some others. So, they brew a lot of beer, or try to.  Coming from the Great Lakes, I am just not impressed.  Eliot Ness came from Cleveland and there’s a reason why the Prohibition wars were fought in Chicago, not Dallas.  Schlitz claimed to make Milwaukee, not Houston, famous.  Texas beer lacks a dimension; and I do not know what that is; but I know that it is missing. This is a southern state. Until the revolutions of the 1960s, you could not buy beer on Sunday.  Now, you can, but not before noon.  Beers could not advertise their alcohol content. Recently, that changed, but many still keep the old labels.  For all of that, Hops & Grain of Austin has some good brews.  Staci was a good marketer.  I bought a six-pack of Alt-eration. (See also my nod to Pedernales Brewing under "Awesome Austin Foods" linked below.)

Outside at a table, eating my sandwich, and reading a book, I saw this girl come up and ask the other really old guy what those birds are.  “Grackles,” he replied. He told her way more about them than anyone needs to know. If you ask me, they are worse than pigeons, just noisy rats in feathers.  But she was interested in the natural history of grackles.  It was a moment at the co-op.

The next day, on my way to run errands, I crossed a pair of street-level railroad tracks. There, I saw a camera on a tripod. I had seen it before, but this time, I stopped.  The train cleared the crossing, and I pulled ahead and pulled over.  Right after I got out of the car, the gates came down again.  I introduced myself and Stuart told me that this train had been waiting for 45 minutes.  
He has a YouTube channel, “myrailvideos”. (See here.)  I was wearing a Taggart Transcontinental t-shirt.  He probably did not get the reference, but a train is a train; and we chatted while he recorded the rolling stock.  About 15 minutes later, I caught up with it on the Mopac.  The signs on the highway all say “Loop 1”, but everyone local calls it the Mopac.  Even so, many do not know of the Missouri-Pacific Railroad, which merged with the Union Pacific in 1980.  (Government regulations and lawsuits delayed the completion of the merger until 1997.)   Wikipedia here but also Missouri Pacific Historical Society here