Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Mind & Spirit" -> Exposed: Christianity as an Evolutionary Advantage

Well Ben Stein is right.

I have to admit it, I was prepared not to like the Ben Stein film "Expelled." After all, I am an evolutionist. I have grave issues on intelligent design ("ID"), and if ID is a conjecture or a science. I was ready to see a vitriolic and mindless anti-evolution diatribe. Even before seeing the film, I had read anti-Expelled web sites that talked about how Ben Stein had twisted the truth. I was ready to see through this because I had been prepared.

I was surprised.

Now mind you, Ben Stein does over represent that there are scientists on both sides of the issue. To be in the ID camp, you will probably be in the 1% of those with Ph.D.s. In reality, because saying that you'd like to study ID is a bit like saying that you're into picking your own nose and saving the results, even those that might consider ID in the academic environment would never admit to it.

However, there are just enough academics that hold to ID that it allows it to be discussed. Into this fray, Ben Stein inserts himself.

Stein's thesis is very simple:

1. To say that you base your belief system on a creator is political suicide in academic environments.

2. However, in almost all other areas of life we have the right to at least debate the issues.

3. The ID proponents are not babbling idiots.

4. Therefore, there is something amiss in the system. We should be able to question the prevailing system no matter what is the question.

Now, if Stein had stopped here, he would have only created a minor uproar, but what pushed his message into the red zone is his contention that Darwinism can lead to the idea of Social Darwinism, which helps to directly foster events like the Holocaust.

It is this last point that I agree with the most, and the point that is the most highly disagreeable to those in the academic environment. I have written some of this before, but allow me to again summarize the reasons that there is religion in the world. The following statements are mostly exclusive in their ability to reflect truth.

Hypothesis 1: Religion is around because there are gods or God that created the world. These deities that may ask us to somehow follow them. We have religions because an external force caused us to have religion.

Hypothesis 2: Religion is a construct that was created by natural forces.

Anyone that does not believe in a religion as an external force must believe hypothesis 2. However, the formation of religion or evolution of religion becomes problematic. Why was it created if it was not created by an external force?

The common sense answer to the average Joe is that "when early man didn't understand something, he would be comforted by the idea that there were gods or God behind everything." If this is true, that having religion makes one feel better, then religion is a necessary advantage to those that have it. Getting rid of religion is counter productive because it removes something that gave an evolutionary advantage over those that did not have religion. The common trait of religion is what gives a people group strength.

(This point is not mine, but I steal it here. The above thought is so obvious that many atheists spend hours trying to explain away the helpful nature of religion by saying that religion must be a spandrel or a meta-meme, both of which weak hypothesis when compared to the idea that religion results in an evolutionary advantage for those that hold onto it.)

You have two sets of conflicting hypothesis:

1. This world was made by a personal creator

2. This world was made by a fortuitous series of events.

If this world was made by a series of fortuitous events, there is no reason to help others out other than yourself. In reality, in a system that is based on evolution, you simply cannot explain how you can have free will. After all, you are a constructed being that is programmed with a certain programming. Perhaps, there was some core of chance in the way that your DNA sequences were fulfilled, but at the end of the day "it'll be all about the genes."

Evolution leads to the strong devouring the weak. It leads to fatalism. It leads to lack of control. The best of the atheist's philosophers, Dan Dennet in Freedom Evolves (and yes, I have yet to read the book, but I have read summaries) tries to argue that while man is predetermined, our ability to make informed choices--even though we are wired to make those choices--means that we have free will. Classically this is call Compatibilism. This mean that human beings may be predetermined to make a choice, but the fact that the person make the choices himself means that predetermination and free will are compatible.

To step one more time into this hole: You may determine that you don't like the weight that you are at. In fact, over 90% of people that go on a diet immediately gain back the pounds in two years. This would indicate that your programming of weight over rides your will. However, even in this case, you could pay somebody to starve you until you hit the proper weight. This is freedom. You can make a choice regardless of how you are wired.

So, by jumping through a tremendous amount of mental gymnastics, we get to an illusion or a type of free will. However, from a practical standpoint, the total population will never hear this message.

For the average Joe, all they will hear is that "we evolved to this state." There is no free will. Our wiring determines how we will react. Now, wrap this back into the idea of how we treat others. I have many discussion with atheists where they say that they are more moral than all the Christians they know. I may even agree with them, but my point is that their morality is driven by a desires to show that they are good. In more of the cases where I have asked an atheist why they are good, they have no answer.

The reason should be obvious to anybody that understand their own human nature: there is no reason that you should do good. Why help the weak and deprived if it won't help you. As a matter of fact, those that can't pull their own weight should be discarded. If you remember my last post, which can be found here, I pointed out somebody that I knew that was talking about "upgrading the team." The idea is that you should be going through the team and throwing away some individual and upgrading the rest. This is a bit of the survival of the fittest right in the work environment. I clearly see this thought process of the work upgrade as coming directly from the influence of evolution. The strong will survive.

Now if we don't like this mess of a philosophy, we can construct a very simple counter set of hypothesis to the evolutionary one. These are the other set that we started this section with:

a. There is a God.
b. He made you in his image, therefore you have free will
c. It is your choice to do the right thing

If you are a good Christian supervisor, you understand the following:

*The Lord is your master
*The Lord gave you responsibility for those under your care
*You are to be a good supervisor, and plan for the success of your people

This does not mean that we pay everybody the same. This doesn't mean that if a layoff comes that you fire people at random. It doesn't mean that somebody with a bad attitude should not be fired. What is does mean is that you are responsible for your people, and there are expectations that are given by the Lord for you to be fair and right. I would argue that in my experience that those that build this type of an organization are the ones that go to the top. A well led group of B-String players will outperform a warring class of A-String players every time.

Now. let us look at beyond the work place.

In reality, the advent of Christianity has done more than anything to make our nation powerful and great. Unfortunately, the world tries and says that this nation was not founded on Christian principles. This is a ludicrous statement. I was reminded of this by a High School friend that sent me a video that can be seen here. In a very short course in this link, David Barton gives a quick lecture on the culture of America. There is a straight line from how we were founded to the worldview of the Christian.

Over the last 50 years, the United States has been trying to dissolve this bond. Only the future will tell us how much it will hurt.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

"Mind & Spirit" -> More Views On Anime And The Weakest Link


This is the phrase that is constantly added onto the end of sentences by our fictional guest today, Naruto Uzumaki. What does Datebayo mean? You might suspect that it is simply a translation of some Japanese phrase, because you know that almost all anime comes from Japan. However, it means nothing other than a key phrase that the lead character from the anime Naruto puts onto the end of his sentences. For our American audience, you might remember that the character played by Billy Bob Thornton switchblade in the movie "Switchblade" always would say "Uh, huh" after his sentences. Dattebayo is a bit like this, and it make Naruto one of the most interesting and unique characters in anime.

The twists in anime are so interesting and the span of the story arcs are so large that I do not want to spoil the anime for you. However, Naruto has a well deserved fan base because of the story. In many ways, the morals that the story tells cut right to the heart of Japanese culture, and they are the morals that make the Japenese culture so engaging.

As I have posted before, there are things that will make this anime unsuitable for smaller kids. There are multiple instances of old men that are Peeping Toms that sneak up on younger woman so they can watch them bath. The interesting thing about Japanese culture in this aspect is that they don't condone the behavior. Normally, this is considered perverted behavior and the characters will call it out as such. Also, there is alcohol that flows. In terms of actual sex, there is none. In terms of violence, there is a lot. And while not all of it is graphically shown, it can be very, very shocking. Clearly people die in this anime. If not simple death is disturbing enough, we have sororicide (killing one's sister), infanticide (the killing of a child), filicide (killing of one's child), patricide (the killing of one's father), matricide (the killing of one's mother), mariticide (the killing of one's husband) and uxoricide (the killing of one's wife) as Wikipedia would put it. If there is a "...cide" it will be found in Naruto.

However, I am not here to burry Naruto. I am here to praise it.

Why? Because all of Naruto has core values that cause the anime to be strongly redeemed.Those that are in Christ are going to recognize many of the core values of the anime are ones that we can embrace and pull close to our hearts.  These themes are ones that flow from the gospel.

These themes are as follows:

1. You only have one calling in life. To take care of those that call you family or friends. If you live your life for others, then you will find a well spring of strength inside of you.

2. Those that are cursed are not to be despised. If you hate those that are cursed, a curse will come back on you. Those that are cursed will cause your destruction.  But more than this, there are many who are cursed by things that go beyond their control, and while these people do horrible things, they are not beyond the grasp of those that can see beyond their pain.  The best thing a man can do is make their enemy a brother.

3. Life is centered around the team and the village. You should give your life for the village and the team.

This last value is one that I never see much in the USA and an attribute that I will devote the last half of this post to. 

In the anime, the story revolves around the warrior culture. Each of these characters are trained to be killers from a young age. If you have any talent, you are expected to be a soldier by the time you are 12-13. The truly exception killers are those that can lead at 10 years or younger.

However, these teams are given over to groups of three. This is the core of the warrior culture in the anime.   One of my favorite bits of animation in this series is the opening of episode #28 and following.  As the series has gone from year to year, they come up with new openings.  This particular year features a song from Asian Kung-Fu Generation, which is called Haruka Kanata. While the song is a great song, the animation is what perfectly captures the aspect of the team. Most of it is centered around images of the core three member team.

This group of three is normally lead by a leader or Sensei. The power in the culture is to have the three to operate as one. Often in this team, you will have the following:

1. The superstar
2. The leader
3. The brain
4. The strategist
5. The power

Now, depending on the group, these roles may be scattered around. In some, the superstar/leader/power may all be in one person. However, in most groups each member may take on some part of these roles. Therefore, it is only in the competion of the team does the real power happen.

While the weakest member of the team may call out that they are insecure because they know that they are the weakest, I almost never see the stronger members of the team say "hey that person is weak, let's get an upgrade to that person." Instead, the philosophy is "because I am strong, I will protect the weak."

Now, mind you, just because the weak person is weak, this does not mean that they can slack off. They must work hard. They must help the group any way that they can. They must be faithful. However, they do not have to worry that the other team members are going to leave them behind. As long as even the weakest team member is faithful, there will be a spot on the team.

Contrast the difference between this Japanese anime and the the American culture.

In the USA game show "Survivor," the constant struggle is to find the "weakest link" in the the tribe and vote them off the island. There is a constant battle of alliances an temporary agreements for people to know that they will continue to survive. However, at the end of the day, there will only be one left. It is about watching out for oneself.

Recently, I had a conversation with somebody on how they shape their team. They were saying that they were always "looking for an upgrade." In other words, they thought that the team was pulled together for them. In essence, they had control over the team, and you should be swapping out part of the team like you would be swapping out pieces of a car. If you found a better muffle on eBay, you should order the new muffler and throw out the old.

I philosophically disagree with this. The teams that we are given are not about "what can they do for us" but "how do we work together for the common good." Mind you, I believe in those that do more work should be paid more. You need to reward the superstars on your team. Those that do less should not get the same compensation as those that do more. However, people are not mufflers. Each person has something to add to the overall team. If you find that you are paying a person too much money, then you should downgrade their salary. If you find that one person is doing 150% of the work of another person, you should upgrade their salary to compensate.

Those with a bad attitude? Shoot those people on site. They pollute the entire work force, and diminish good beyond expections.

But at the end of the day, it is about the team. And team don't give up on each other.

As a parting shot, here is the opening video and lyrics.  Now, I'm never sure quite how long a video will be posted to Google video, the post does not depending on this video being around for a long time.  But if it is here, please click on it and watch it.

What you will see is a variety of images, but notice how often a series of three pops into the frame.  In almost all instances, these are the teams of three that compete for each other.

Maybe Americans can learn a bit from the Japanese.

Haruka Kanata (Far Off Distance)

Hit the gas! There's no need to finagle, oh yeah!
We'll go all through the night.
I'll complain at the end, the balance is zero, oh yeah!
We'll whittle the days away...

When you open your heart a little, and pull someone close to you,
Your feelings will surely reach them deeper, yeah...

Hurry it up! Wring it out!
Though my legs are all tangled, they will surely take me far...
Even if I steal it and manage to grasp it,
If it isn't you, then what's the point?

So I'll go further and further away!

Hit the gas! There's no need to finagle, oh yeah!
We'll go all through the night.
I'll complain at the end, the balance is zero, oh yeah!
We'll whittle the days away...

When you open your heart a little, and pull someone close to you,
Your feelings will surely reach them deeper, yeah...

Hurry it up! Wring it out!
Though my legs are all tangled, they will surely take me far...
Even if I steal it and manage to grasp it,
If it isn't you, then what's the point?

So I'll go far into the distance...

Your world will become a thing of deceit
painted all in white...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

"Mind" -> Account For Yearly Gains On Etrade

I have written before how I believe that having both stocks and working covered calls can work to your advantage. However, once you get into using these tools for making money, you might not realize two very important things:

1. It becomes a little more difficult to keep track of how much money you've made or lost.

2. You absolutely need to clean up your account at the end of the year, or you'll be paying a lot more cash than you want to to the government.

Let's talk about both of these issues.

This is because the numbers that Etrade show are based on what you paid for stock, and they are not based on how much your cash position has changed over the year.

Let's say I walked into the tax year with $10,000 that I had in my pocket. On January 2, I put this money into etrade and bought myself $10,000 worth of stock by buying 100 shares of $100 stock at XYZ corporation. Once I had the 100 shares of stock, I then turned around and sold the cover calls on the stock for an additional $1000. Since I now had $1000 in my pocket, I decided to buy ten more shares of stock of XYZ. So, I have $11,000 worth of stock.

Etrade shows a running total of what you made and what you haven't made in the market. So, after the covered calls have expired, it will show you that you have $1,000 worth of gains because I sold the covered calls. In this case, let's say that it is short term because covered calls are always this. So, Etrade would show that I made $1000 short term gain.

However, let's us say that my stock, which was worth $11,000 at $100 per share, fell to $90 per share. So, I would have $9900 worth of stock. Since I bought it for $11,000, I have lost $1100. My portfolio is down 10%! What a horrible year. I lost a bunch of money.

Or have I?

If you remember, I walked into the year with $10000. If I sold all of my stock, I would get $9900. In fact, since I buy dividend stock, I also got a dividend on all of the stock. This gave me another $300 for the year (after tax). This means that I entered the year with $10000, and I exited the year with $10200. I didn't lose $1100. I made $200.

So, you need to look at all of the data to truly understand what is happening.

The challenge with Etrade is that it doesn't say that "hey you had $10000 at the beginning of the year." Instead, it will simply give you three sections that you need to check:

1. The amount that is in your banking account (Seen on the home Account Tab)
2. The amount that is in your stock account and current position (Security Tab)
3. A running total of short/long gains in your Security tab under the sub-tab.

So, even if you didn't write down how much money you had at the beginning of the year, the overall answer is pretty easy. Here are the steps:

1. Figure out how much you are worth if you liquidated everything today. In the case above, if I liquidated everything today, I would have $9900 worth of stock.

2. Now you need to figure out how much you had at the beginning of the year. This is simply taking your liquidated value ($9900) adding the losses of $1100 because the stock went down and then subtracting the short term gains from selling your covered calls.

$9900 + $1100 - $1000 = $10000 your starting cash

Now, to get your performance during the year it is simply (ending cash)/(starting cash) = 1% loss on your portfolio before we got our money from our dividends.

So, life isn't all that bad unless you forget that Uncle Sam is coming after those short term gains. This is a major issue, and one you must not get surprised on. One part of the tax code that really boths me is the fact that Uncle Sam makes it so he can get the maximum amount of tax.

Let's say that you have a job where you are making $100,000 per year. Uncle Sam and Uncle California says that you need to pay them 35% of this money to them. So, you have take-home pay of $65,000. However, they see that you had all this money from selling covered calls in the market. According to them, you made an additional $1000 in the stock market. This is income, therefore they are going to come after it. However, this is a special type of income. It was considered "easy money" and you make a big salary of $100,000. Since this was easy money and you are making a good job, they will take roughly 40% of your $1000!

Now, lets go back to our example:

You started with $10000. If you sold the stock at the next year for $90 per share, you would get $9900. So you lost $100. This isn't all that bad, until you find out on your TurboTax that the government wants another $400! This is because they say that "you made $1000 by selling the covered calls last year." So by the time that you pay your money to the government, you find out that your 1% (or $100) loss has gone to a 5% (or $500) loss. $100 because you sold the stock and the other $400 because of the government.

However, you can try and miss most of this burden.

At the end of the tax year, let's say that you knew that the stock was down and that the government was going to tax you on all your short term gains. In this case, you have a $1000 gain coming, and on December 30th you see that the stock is at $90 and you know that the stock is going to be flat for a while.

At this point, you need to sell part of your stock to register that you have a loss. Let me explain it this way. The goverment will allow you to "offset" the gain from options if you have a loss. So, all you need to do is say "well, I need to show the government that I had a loss." You do this by selling your stock that is under water to the extent that it balances out the gain.

In our case, if the stock is $90 on December 30th, we are losing $10 per share for every stock that we sell. Therefore, if we have $1000 of gain that we want to cover, we need to sell 100 shares. The $1000 in money we made in the cover calls is offset or covered by the $1000 we lost by selling the shares.

So you walk out of the year with:

$9000 from the stock that we just sold
100 shares worth $90 per share

Total = $9900

Now, since we have neither gains or losses on this, Uncle Sam charges us absolutely nothing. So by doing this one simple act, you have saved yourself $400 or 4% of your money. This is a massive difference.

Now, this is where the tax code starts to have a massive dorking effect on the economy. This is going to be a bit complicated, but stay with me. In the above example, I was assuming that the stock price was going to be $90 exiting the year and $90 during the start of the new year. However, lets say that I had a perfect time machine. I knew that the stock price was going to be $90 on Dec 30th, but $92 on January 3rd. So, if you waited just 5 days, you could sell he stock for $2 more. Would you wait?

Well we just did the first case. In this case, we would have $9900 in money left over. But what about the case where we waited?

In this case, lets say that we held our stock until January 3rd and sold. So you would have

110 shares * $92 = $10120 worth of money. However, the government still thinks that you made $1000 last year on the options, therefore, they still are going to charge you another $400 for the money you made last year, regardless if just 3 days into the new year you sold the stock for a loss. So, your net gain?

$10,120 - $400 = $9720 or $180 worse than if you had sold for $2 less just 5 days ago!

This fact is not miss on anybody that is handling money a lot.

Always clean out your accounts at the end of the year