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The End of an Error

March 10, 2018 Leave a comment

About 4 years ago my wife decided she would leave teaching (mainly because the school she taught at was managed by a bunch of incompetents, and the roll had reduced so much that some of the teachers were made redundant) and open a business of her own, in this case a cafe. Now, anyone who has been involved in owning or managing a cafe at this point is probably already thinking “bad idea”, and in many ways they would be right.

Why? Because it seems to be almost impossible to make any money from that kind of business, plus for the privilege of making little, if any money, the owner/manager has to work 12 hours a day – starting at 5 in the morning – 6 days a week.

But that’s not the worst of it either, because maybe an even more overwhelmingly soul-sapping aspect of owning a small business is the excess of mindless bureaucracy involved which results in very little of any value.

Of course, Inland Revenue is probably the worst offender, closely followed by other organisations like the local City Council. Then there are a collection of lesser parasites like insurance agents, body corporates, various health and safety organisations, lawyers, business experts, and advertisers.

I have a “real” job but also helped with running the cafe, especially with administration and accounting. Yes, you read that right: I helped with the tasks I most despise. While I felt as if most of them were a waste of time, at least I did gain a few skills in that area – but skills I hope I never have to use again!

On the other hand I did learn some more interesting stuff too. For example, at one point I was doing some baking and managed to make some pretty decent batches of scones and muffins. I never quite perfected making consistently good coffee though – that is a lot harder than you might think!

But getting back to the admin tasks. I had some major issues with those, so let me list a few of them here.

First, tax. Now I know that the two most onerous tax activities – GST and PAYE – are not actually costing me anything because I am just collecting tax for the government by adding an extra amount to prices and wages, but I do object to the amount of effort involved in doing that work. If the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) want to collect tax on sales of goods and services and on wages why don’t they do the work and collect the money themselves?

If I took the amount of time people spend on tax gathering activities (on behalf of the IRD) and multiplied by the number of businesses in New Zealand, it must come to a truly horrendous amount of time. How does IRD get away with this travesty of bureaucratic time wasting? Because they can. They can make whatever rules they like – whether they are fair or not – and impose them on whoever they want.

Note that I am not against tax, in fact far from it. It’s not paying the tax that worries me, it is the amount of time a person like myself, who is talented in many areas, wastes on doing IRD’s work for them.

And other government agencies are maybe even worse. We had to collect a payment from one employee, who had been incorrectly paid a benefit, and process the payment for the department involved. If we didn’t do this – even though it was nothing to do with us and had happened before we even employed the person – we would be fined. Again, this is an arbitrary and unfair law which was created simply because it could be.

Then there are the other forms of bureaucracy. The local council’s hygiene regulations are particularly silly. My wife took that very seriously and she maintained high standards, but I know that the inspection is more to do with paperwork being filled in correctly rather than any real measures designed to optimise food safety. I know other cafe owners who had terrible standards but kept the paper work up to date and achieved the top rating as a result.

My advice is to ignore the hygiene rating you see displayed at food premises, because that is just a measure of how well the person does documentation. Instead, have a look around any place you visit and search for signs of neglect.

It might seem to many people that running a small business is a truly worthwhile undertaking. Small businesses employee a lot of people and contribute significantly to the economy. And the government spends a lot of time talking about how important small businesses are, and how they want to encourage people to start one.

But they sure have a strange way of showing their enthusiasm. If they really wanted people to start a small business, why can’t the government and other authorities make the whole process a lot easier?

I’m sure that people running a cafe would rather make use of their talents in areas like baking, cooking, and hospitality instead of wasting hours every week on meaningless paper work. And I’m sure a struggling business where the owner is effectively making less than the minimum wage while working 70 hours a week would appreciate not having to pay provisional taxes on money which hasn’t even been earned yet.

I am contemplating becoming self-employed myself in the near future, but the advantages of being free of the stupidity of ignorant and dogmatic management decisions are at least partly negated by the dread I have of processing GST and other time-wasting accounting.

People might say that spending that time on tax calculations is just part of their “civic duty” as a citizen, but is it really? Would it not be better for the country if people spent their time doing what they’re good at? Why is accounting considered something everyone has to do, or pay an exorbitant fee to some accountant to do for them.

So yes, the end of our cafe means the end of processing payrolls, GST returns, tax payments, employer returns, hygiene certificates, building safety checks, and various other nonsense I can’t even bear to contemplate right now. It’s like the end of an era… or should that be end of an error?

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West is Best

February 24, 2018 Leave a comment

Warning: This post makes the controversial claim that Western civilisation is superior to all others. If you are a “snowflake” and are likely to be “offended” by controversial opinions of this sort, you might not want to read this post.

I am often seen as a defender of Western civilisation against alternatives, such as Islamic or indigenous cultures, but I’m not trying to say that everything about the Western World is perfect, and everything about the alternatives is wrong. Far from it, in fact.

Actually, my real aim is to reject the simplistic (and yes, yet again, I will say it: politically correct) notions that everything about traditional and other alternative cultures is so wonderful and better than what we have created for ourselves in the West.

I have a large collection of maps (over 100 – I really like maps) showing various aspects of different parts of the world, and while looking at them I noticed similar patterns indicating the superiority of Western nations. So here’s a description of some of these maps…

Look at a map of the world showing life expectancy. In the top category is most of Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Israel, and Jordan. The US isn’t in the top category, but is in the second top, just a few years behind. So clearly the best life expectancy is found in the Western World, plus a few others.

But what about the worst? Well, that would be most of Africa, where some countries (for example, Angola) have a life expectancy of less than half the top category! Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia are also fairly bad, with a life expectancy 20 to 30 years less than the top category.

So if a long life is important the western world (plus a few others) is clearly superior. But what do other indicators show?

What about happiness? In the top category is all of North America, Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Switzerland, and Brazil. All of Africa is unhappy or very unhappy, and so is most of Asia.

Next, let’s look at freedom. Well, it’s the usual suspects: Canada, most of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the USA, most of South America, India, Mongolia, Japan, and a few countries in Africa (including South Africa). But most of Africa and most of Asia are not free.

Now let’s look at peace. The most peaceful countries are Canada, New Zealand, Chile, Scandinavia, Japan, Germany, and a few other central European countries. The rest of Europe, Argentina, and a few other countries in various locations are the next most peaceful. The US is somewhere near the middle. Most of Africa and Asia (including Russia) are near the bottom.

So let’s look at corruption. The least corrupt countries are New Zealand, Canada, Scandinavia, Germany, and the UK. The USA, Australia, and Japan are also fairly high. Africa is right at the bottom, followed by Asia and South America. The least corrupt country, New Zealand, scores about 90, while the most corrupt, Somalia, scores less than 10.

Finally, let’s look at intelligence. Do I even need to tell you? I don’t, but here are the countries in the top categories: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the USA, and Russia are in a high category, but China and Japan are even higher. Needless to say, most of Africa is very low. In fact, in some countries the average IQ is less than 65, making the average person technically mildly mentally retarded.

There are a few issues with what I have presented above.

First, I know I mixed up countries and regions. For example, I know Scandinavia isn’t a country, but the countries in that region tend to cluster together so using that label was just convenient.

Second, have I just cherry picked attributes which fit my hypothesis? Well I don’t think so, because I looked at many others too, and I just couldn’t get anything which didn’t make the West look good. One possible exception is air pollution deaths where the data was difficult to see a real pattern in, but at least this is one where I was relieved to see Africa do relatively well!

Third, are the measurements done by Western countries, and would some innate bias just make them look good as a result? There might be some element of this happening, but it is unlikely that the same result would occur for every measure I looked at. Also, I found multiple maps from multiple sources for most measures and they generally agreed fairly closely.

Fourth, what exactly are Western countries? Have I labelled countries that way based on positive results rather than the other way around? Well, no. What is a western country is not always well defined, but people know them when they see them. They usually have all or most of these characters: democratic governments; capitalist economies, usually with significant socialist aspects; traditionally Christian but often tending towards atheism now; still dominated by the culture of a European power which controlled them in the past; usually speak English, apart from Europe. One definition at Wikipedia shows Canada, Australia, New Zealand, most of Europe, and the USA. Sound familiar?

Fifth, it seems that the evidence is irrefutable, but the reasons are more interesting. For example, some people might say the non-Western countries are repressed by the West and prevented from reaching their full potential. Or they might say they are improving, but are just a bit behind the West, and they just need a chance. Or maybe this is all just part of the global conspiracy by old white men designed to maintain their position of power. I’m not planning on discussing the reasons here, but I find all of these constitute improbable conspiracies.

Sixth, many of the attributes I selected are difficult to measure and might involve some self-assessment, subjective opinion, or varying interpretation based on political and philosophical preferences. For example, how can freedom or happiness be measured in a culturally independent way? Maybe they can’t, but I maintain the overall picture is so overwhelmingly clear that any variations caused by imprecise measurements aren’t that important.

So it seems to me that the conclusion is inescapable: the Western World is the best, and New Zealand (where I live) along with Canada, Australia, and Scandinavia look like the best of the best! Anyone who disagrees is welcome to try living in Russia, or Somalia, or Afghanistan. Judging by the maps they would be booking a return flight pretty quickly. Make sure it is on a western aircraft (Airbus or Boeing), OK?

No More -isms

February 10, 2018 Leave a comment

I am often challenged about why I reject various beliefs, such as liberalism, theism, libertarianism, or feminism. My thoughts on this are, that if you identify with a particular doctrine with is described with a word ending in -ism then you are probably being needlessly dogmatic. But then I remembered that I often identify with two (and maybe more) of those myself: atheism and skepticism.

So why would I ridicule one person’s belief (like the belief in libertarianism or feminism) while I give myself a free pass to pursue beliefs of my own? Well, maybe I’m just a hypocrite – that’s certainly possible – but I would like to use a slightly more generous interpretation of the situation and say that my beliefs are more a lack of a commitment to a particular idea than a close allegiance to one.

So atheism isn’t really a dogma of any kind, in fact it’s the antithesis of that, because it specifically precludes acceptance of any dogmatic, religious belief. I do agree that skepticism is in a slightly more debatable category. It could be seen as a belief system in some ways – in fact one meaning of the word refers to a specific philosophical system. But that’s not the meaning I’m using here. In this context skepticism refers to the preference for treating new truth claims with a level of suspicion until good, objective evidence for them is demonstrated.

So I think I can defend my -isms fairly well, but what objection to I have to the others? Well, the main one is that they are just unnecessary. Not only do they provide no positive benefit, but undue adherence to them is potentially dangerous. People who take their beliefs too seriously might follow the belief’s dictates instead of looking at the facts of specific incidents in the real world.

For example, there might be a need to decide whether a new industry – let’s choose self-driving cars as an example – should be regulated to ensure safety standards. A libertarian (that is, someone who follows libertarianism) might be tempted to say that more regulation is always bad and that the market should decide.

But not only do we see numerous examples of market failures (in fact the phrase “market failure” has become a common one in these sorts of discussions) but it can be shown through pure logic that markets often don’t work.

That’s not to say that markets don’t work quite well in some situations, but they certainly cannot be relied on in every possible place they might be used. But a true follower of libertarianism will think they do work everywhere, or at least will think they work in a far wider range of situations than a careful examination of the facts would support.

So there’s really no need for libertarianism at all, because anyone looking at the facts and at the outcomes required in a particular situation could just use common sense, and logic, and examination of the consequences in the real world to see whether a market or a regulation is a better choice.

So let’s look at another -ism now, let’s really jump out of the frying pan and into the fire and look at feminism. Is feminism necessary? Well, as you could probably guess from the general tone of this post, I don’t think so.

I know many people claim feminism is just wanting equality for women, but of course that is often not true, just like libertarianism isn’t usually simply about the fair and appropriate use of markets. Feminism in many cases goes far beyond that and demands special privileges for women, equality where it already exists, and is generally biased towards a female-centric worldview.

I’m not saying that there have been no good outcomes from feminism, but I am saying that the usual realisation of it can easily produce many bad outcomes too. There are many situations where females are now enjoying benefits because the bias is now in the opposite direction to what many feminists imagine. For example girls seem to be getting more benefit from our education system, women enrol in universities at a greater rate than men, women live longer lives, and they get less punishment under the law, etc. Hell, maybe I should be a masculinist!

And the issues where feminism might be useful – such as equal pay, equal participation in society, etc – don’t require feminism, they just require fairness. And most people have an inherent sense of fairness. I want women to have equal rights, but I am certainly not a feminist!

I see the down-side of -isms all the time. I see people react to an event which is actually quite nuanced in simple-minded, thoughtless ways, simply because of a knee-jerk reaction they have caused by their favourite -ism.

Note that I have picked on that particular suffix because it is catchy, but other worldviews which end in a different suffix, like Christianity, should also be included in my argument for completeness.

I know they are not doing this deliberately – and that’s what makes the whole phenomenon even more scary and dangerous – but the sort of thought that is going on is like this: there’s an event I want to comment on; I am a (insert your favourite -ism here) so I should think this; I will write some tedious, biased crap on the appropriate discussion forum.

And when a more nuanced person, like myself (well OK, sometimes I take a hard line to make a particular point, but I do make an effort to see both sides of most stories) comes along and points out any deficiencies in these arguments there is rarely a reasoned rebuttal to those points, because the person makes that comment just because that’s the way things are always portrayed according to their -ism.

If I suggest we need a new regulation to decrease greenhouse gas emissions to reduce climate change the libertarians will usually disagree, saying government regulation never works and we need less government involvement, not more. But they could admit that the market is the cause of climate change, not the solution, while still maintaining that markets are a useful tool in society overall. But if you follow libertarianism you really cannot say that.

And if I dare to suggest that females are already doing well in our education system and they really don’t need any further assistance, then the feminists will attack me with allegations of sexism and mansplaining. If they just admitted that there are situations where women are given an unfair advantage as well as other situations where the opposite is true, then they would be easier to take more seriously. But if you follow feminism almost everything looks like an attack on women and sensible discussion is difficult.

So I say abandon your -isms. That doesn’t mean to switch to another, even worse, belief system which just doesn’t happen to end in -ism, of course. So those who libertarianism shouldn’t switch to anarchy, and if you currently follow feminism, please don’t become a feminazi!

Random Comments 9

January 23, 2018 Leave a comment

Here in New Zealand the summer break is a quiet time for controversial news stories so I thought it might be time to bring back one of my posts where I briefly comment on a number of items of lesser immediate importance. Therefore I present random comments 9…

Item 1: Jacinda is Pregnant!

The questions about our new prime minister, Jacinda Ardern’s, family plans seem more relevant than ever now that she has announced her pregnancy. When the question about this possibility was originally asked many people thought it seemed totally inappropriate, yet it really wasn’t.

I think the assumption was that the question was asked so that she could be condemned in some way if her wish to have children conflicted with her duties as prime minister, but the exact opposite has happened, because there has been almost universally positive reaction.

And I think this is a good thing. Our culture puts far too much emphasis on work, and if the PM can show that our family and personal lives are also important then that must be a good thing. And it’s nothing to do really with anti-woman sentiment, or misogyny, or glass ceilings, it’s just about a better deal for everyone.

Maybe this discussion will be an opportunity to de-emphasise work in our lives, reduce the number of hours everyone works, and to make taking time off for non-work related activities more acceptable.

Item 2: Kim Dotcom Strikes Again!

Kim Dotcom says he will initiate a lawsuit against the New Zealand government for its illegal (and in my opinion grossly immoral) attack on him six years ago. At that time his mansion was attacked by armed police in helicopters, his assets were seized, and his business was destroyed. All because of political pressure by big business in the US influencing the government there, then pressure from the FBI who demanded the NZ police raid his home.

Few people would claim that Dotcom is the most innocent citizen on the planet, but I hope that even fewer would say a violent (and no doubt expensive) raid of that type, and the continued persecution afterwards, was justified given his relatively minor alleged transgressions.

On this one I take Dotcom’s side. The reaction of police (and their political masters) was grossly out of proportion with what was necessary, if anything. While you could say that Dotcom represents the rich and powerful, I would say he more represents a reaction to those with far too much power and wealth. I give him credit for standing up to the corporate elite.

Item 3: The Wealth Gap Again

A recent report revealed more obscene facts about the richest members of society in New Zealand, and how much of the wealth they control in contrast to how little the rest of us do. There’s nothing surprising about this, of course, because it is a topic I have ranted about on several occasions in the past. Also, the gap isn’t as great here as it is in some other countries – but it’s still inexcusable.

An interviewer (I think it was the annoying Guyon Espiner, surely one of the worst on RNZ) asked what harm it did to have some people with so much wealth. How does that disadvantage the rest? Well, money is a placeholder for resources and power, and those two commodities are in limited supply. The more one person has, the less is available for the rest of us. So even if we ignore the obvious moral philosophical point about gross inequities in wealth there is also a practical point here. Effectively the super rich are stealing resources and power from everyone else.

Item 4: Confidence and Lack Of

The latest business confidence survey indicates a reduction in confidence, yet the general feeling is that the new government is doing a good job, although it is admittedly very early in their term. The consensus seems to be that business confidence is a rather meaningless measure of the overall economic situation and it seems to be mainly ignored.

Some commentators think that the National Party is unlikely to regain power with their current leadership. It might be that a more progressive (despite the inclusion of NZ First) coalition, lead by Labour, could run the country for the next 2 or 3 election cycles. These sorts of predictions are extremely difficult so I will reserve judgement on that.

So there it is, a few items of just moderate interest from a relatively boring period. I guess I’ll just have to hope that something more controversial happens soon. Or maybe I should comment on American politics instead!

The Least Bad

September 22, 2017 Leave a comment

It’s general election time again here in New Zealand, and although we don’t have much of the incredibly tedious, sanctimonious claptrap of some other countries, such as the US, it is still starting to get a bit annoying, especially the tendency for using “alternative facts” by the right.

But I do have to say that in other ways it is quite an intriguing contest, because the polling seems to indicate a lot of uncertainty over the preferred major party in the next government, whether the minor parties are worth voting for, and who would make the best prime minister.

I tend to look on the democratic process as a sort of interesting sociological event which can be observed a bit like an anthropologist would watch some primitive rite carried out by a stone age tribe from the depths of the rainforests of New Guinea. In other words, it’s hard to take it too seriously, and even if you could it’s best not to if you want to retain your sanity!

In fact, everyone I have talked to so far is extremely cynical about the political system we currently have. This attitude is reflected in real statistics too. A poll conducted a few months ago indicated a great deal of disenchantment with politics in general (this was before we got the new Labour leader whose promotion might have improved people’s view of politicians a bit).

Here’s a few of the findings from that poll…

The majority of people polled think the economic and political systems are rigged against them. Also, women and those earning less are even more likely to consider the system broken.

Less than half (45%) disagree with the phrase “the country is in decline”, 25% agree with it, and 30% are neutral.

Over half those polled (56%) say traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like them. And 64% think the economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful. But just 50 per cent of people want a strong leader willing to break the rules.

So it seems to me that most people see the current system as defective at best and a complete failure at worst, but they clearly aren’t sure what to do about it based on the figure of only half wanting a strong new leader capable of pushing through change.

And that is fair enough, because past experience with change does not exactly inspire confidence. The last time we had a strong leader determined to push through major change here in New Zealand was 1984. Yes, that ominous year was when a neo-liberal inspired Labour government pushed through massive changes which are only being corrected now, almost 35 years later.

And Donald Trump could be seen as a strong leader determined to force change on the current system, but most people are concerned about his actions (to say the least). I don’t partake in the mindless bashing of Trump that many others do, but there is a lot to be concerned about there.

Having a strong leader is not always a good thing, because strength is only beneficial when it is connected with knowledge, honesty, and fairness, which Trump is sometimes lacking. In fact the worst thing possible is a strong leader with bad ideas!

So it almost seems hopeless. People don’t like the system as it is, but they are (quite rightly) afraid of change too. Maybe we are trapped in a no-win situation.

But that’s not to suggest that participation in the political system is pointless. Not all of the options are equally bad, even if none of them are absolutely good. Voters need to be realistic and remember that voting for the least bad party is better than not voting and effectively giving an advantage to a party you might support less than others.

So we should just be realistic and realise that, unless we are a member of the rich and powerful elite, we cannot really win in any meaningful way, we should just choose based on how we lose the least.

It’s rather unfortunate that our current systems don’t give us the freedoms and other benefits they promise. But the sooner people realise what the true situation is the sooner they can make meaningful choices about how to make it better. And don’t take it too seriously!

Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at this you lose…

Shades of Grey

September 6, 2017 Leave a comment

When I decided to title this blog post “Shades of Grey” I first Googled the phrase to make sure I had the meaning correct. Of course, about 99% of the hits were about the movie “50 Shades of Grey” which I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised about given the power of pop culture. But, of course, I’m using it in the traditional way: to mean that many things cannot be simply seen as good or bad, or black or white, because there are always shades of grey.

So after the disappointment of discovering that I am not discussing the movie the natural question the reader might ask is: exactly what am I on about this time?

Just that too many people like to categorise every person, every organisation, every belief system as either good or bad, when they really should be assigning a shade of grey instead. So instead of calling a political movement (for example) evil, they should say something like mostly bad but with a few good characteristics too. I really believe there is nothing in this world that is wholly evil or entirely good.

But there is a corollary to this idea which is perhaps even more important. That is that two things which might seem to occupy the “darker” end of the spectrum cannot be classified as equally bad. To use the colour metaphor: they’re not both black, one might be really dark grey and the other mid-grey.

At this point I should be more specific. The one I want to use, because I have been guilty of falling into this trap myself, is to equate two sides in a conflict as being equally bad because they both have done bad things.

For example, I have heard some people say that the US was as bad as Iraq under Saddam Hussein, because of the many deaths from US air strikes in the Iraq War. Or similarly, that the US is as bad as the Taliban because they both have been guilty of causing the death of civilians in Afghanistan. Or to take it even further, that the Allies were as bad as the Nazis in World War II because of some of the more controversial actions like the bombing of Dresden.

Many people might look at these examples and scoff, saying that they see no equivalence there. That is good, but I would make two points. First, many people (especially those on the politically correct left) do see an equivalence; and second, these particular examples might not have suited your concept of morally equivalent actions but almost everyone will have something which does.

Just to make the shades of grey concept totally clear, I am not saying that the Allies were totally blameless in World War II. Many people have said that various actions (the bombing of Dresden being the most well known) might have been classified as war crimes. But while those actions were certainly far from sparkling white, they were far ahead of some Nazi’s conduct, such as the Holocaust, which were surely amongst the blackest of modern times.

An interesting contributing factor to this debate is the motivation for action. When the US is involved in a conflict it isn’t there to force people to adopt a religion, or to take over territory, or to even acquire resources. I will concede that there is an element of economic benefit in some cases, and in others getting involved in a conflict would be uncharitably seen as a political distraction, but these are lesser evils than the motivation of ISIS or most other opposing groups.

So saying that the US is as bad as ISIS because sometimes US drone strikes kill innocent civilians just like ISIS suicide bombers do, is missing the point. If the US could perform strikes against military targets with no collateral damage I think most people would say they would do that. But ISIS makes a deliberate effort to kill civilians as part of its military strategy.

Sure, either way innocent people are dead, but I don’t think it’s fair to say the two actions are equivalent. Killing innocent people accidentally from a drone strike is bad, but killing them deliberately using suicide bombers is worse according to any reasonable moral code.

If you have got this far and are still saying “well, duh” because everything I have said so far is obvious then that’s good, but I can tell you I meet a lot of people who would not accept any of the above.

Here’s a few more examples of people, or groups, or actions which tend to be seen by some groups as obviously black and white (good and bad) or as equally bad when there is one which is genuinely worse than the other…

The Israeli security forces versus groups such as Hamas in the Palestinian conflict. In this case the Israelis are far from innocent but at least there tactics are more moral than those used by the opposing forces.

Donald Trump versus Barack Obama. I cannot justify Trump’s aversion to dealing with facts, but I also find the constant demonisation of him to be tiresome. I’m sure there are some things he has done that the PC left would approve of. Maybe closing down the TPP would be a good example.

Poor people who commit welfare benefit fraud versus rich individuals and corporations who engage in tax evasion and avoidance. I don’t give either side a free pass although I think it is more morally justifiable to commit fraud to feed your family than it is to avoid paying a fair amount of tax just so that rich shareholders and directors can get even richer.

It’s just too easy to assign a good or bad, pass or fail, black or white to everything, usually based on existing political preferences, or in-group habits, rather than a genuine analysis of what is really happening. I think from now on people should assign a score instead. This will encourage a more nuanced view of the situation being evaluated.

So Allies versus Nazis: 90:10, George Bush versus Saddam Hussein 60:40. the US versus ISIS 80:20, etc. Those numbers are just first guesses and I could be persuaded to change them by a good argument. But the point is that it’s a lot easier to adjust some numbers than to change from a good versus bad situation.

So yes, it’s all about shades of grey, and there are at least 50 of them.

Captain’s Log

August 28, 2017 Leave a comment

Captain’s Log, Mission Day 30476.32

At 0.30 today we deactivated the star drive and approached the planet.

As our astronomers had already discovered, it is a rocky world orbiting a yellow dwarf sun. Compared to our own world it is just slightly smaller and hotter, and its sun is remarkably similar to ours, so it might almost seem like home to us.

The mysterious presence of molecular oxygen in the atmosphere has been confirmed by our observations but we are still too far away to discover what it source is. Whether it turns out to be some complex inorganic chemical reaction or the side effect of life we cannot yet tell.

I don’t need to tell you what a discovery it would be if this planet does have life, because in all the thousands of planets we have visited, all have been barren. Maybe we are the only ones, or maybe we have just been unlucky in our search so far. After all, there are hundreds of billions of planets in this galaxy alone and the few thousand we have visited is just a tiny start in exploring them. But I will end my speculation here because tomorrow we might know.

Day 30477.27

The detail visible on the planet’s surface is increasing rapidly as we approach. This final stage of space travel is frustrating, of course, because inside a solar system we cannot use the star drive and must revert to conventional propulsion systems.

The feature which dominates the planet’s surface is a huge impact crater which we calculate was formed relatively recently. If there was life on this planet it would likely have been virtually wiped out by this disaster.

A spectrographic analysis will be complete later today, and that should reveal the presence of the molecules of life if they exist here. We should soon know the answer to the question we came here for.

Day 30477.34

The spectrography is complete and we are almost 100% certain there is life on the planet. A molecule which is very similar to one used by plant life on our own planet has been detected in great quantities. It seems that all of the oceans (which cover over 60% of the planet’s surface) and a lot of the land contain some sort of organism which can convert sunlight to energy and release oxygen in the process. This explains the excess oxygen in the atmosphere.

Day 30478.72

We have put the ship into orbit around the mysterious planet and our detailed observations are now revealing something which has produced a lot of disagreement among our scientists. There are apparently symmetric structures over many parts of the planet which seem artificial. They are covered with many years of dust and debris from the impact but some of our more radical researchers think they are the remains of great structures built by an intelligent species which one lived here.

We are almost ready to send a party down to investigate these in more detail. This is potentially the greatest discovery of all time. Initially we coud barely hope to find any life here but now we are serious about the possibility of finding intelligent life.

Day 30479.37

The unthinkable has happened. Our landing party has confirmed that the structures are artificial. There seems to be no other explanation except they were built by an intelligence with technology approaching our own in sophistication. We now need to establish whether they survived the asteroid impact.

Day 30479.82

Most of the land surface of the planet has been devastated, but some life in the oceans has survived. We have discovered a massive variety of different species there, a few of which have some level of intelligence, but there is no sign of technology.

Day 30480.21

The exploration of the alien structures (it seems obvious they were cities where large numbers – perhaps millions – of the aliens lived) continues, and we have made a very significant discovery which might allow us to explore the history of the planet. We have found various objects which seem to be storage devices. Our best technicians will work on these and if we can read them we might be able to translate whatever information they contain.

Day 30480.69

The storage devices appear to contain electronic circuits based on silicon technology. We should be able to adapt some of our own computers to read them because they are similar to a technology we have used recently before moving to photonic storage.

Day 30481.11

We have cracked the storage devices! They contain data stored in an 8 bit code which maps to an alphabet. It seems that the symbols in this alphabet form groups which correspond to words in a language. The language is very obscure and is likely something which has changed and become more complex over a long time period. We will continue to work on decoding it.

Day 30482.48

The language decoding is progressing rapidly and we now know a lot about the society that existed there. A lot of what I am going to say here will seem shocking, but our best language experts and anthropologists agree it is what they material we have discovered reveals, and fits in with the physical evidence we see on almost the entire surface of the planet.

The intelligent inhabitants of the planet were called “humans” and the planet was called “Earth”. There were millions of different species on the planet before the impact but 90% of them, including all of the land species, were wiped out.

We cannot find any signs that any of the humans survived, but they did have the technology available to live almost indefinitely in the oceans so some might survive there. They also had space technology sufficient to travel around the solar system, but did not have the capability for interstellar travel.

The humans had a society which had many admirable characteristics. The planet was divided into hundreds of areas called “countries” which had slightly different types of inhabitants, different leadership, economic systems, etc. Most of the countries had a system to choose a leader where the population voted and the most successful person became leader for a period of time. Unfortunately this system became corrupted and the leaders were rarely very competent.

Most shockingly there was constant competition between these countries and this often extended to organised combat between different factions, often resulting in numerous deaths. Reasons for these “wars” included competition over resources, land ownership, and even differences in opinion over philosophy, including (most bizarrely) an amazingly common system known as “religion” where the humans became believers in various supernatural entities. Why they maintained these bizarre beliefs and how one myth was chosen over another requires further study.

You can see at this point that humans exhibited a strange combination of quite advanced science and technology and surprisingly primitive beliefs. It would not be uncommon, for example, for a believer in a supernatural entity who espoused pacifism to use an advanced combat machine of some sort to kill thousands of his opponents who believed in a slightly different deity. Clearly our anthropologists have a lot of work to do in this area.

But finally in this initial report on the history of humans I must discuss the most obvious question, and the one which is both hardest to understand and the most tragic to contemplate. That is, if the humans had the technology available, why did they not divert the asteroid, avoid the impact in some other way, or even move some of their people to another planet?

The initial evidence seems to indicate that they were too distracted with other things, especially their economic system. A lot of resource and effort was applied to things which make no sense, such as persuading people to buy unhealthy drinks which had no benefit at all, or paying participants in entertainment events which no intelligent person could take seriously. Yet all this time completely inadequate effort was put into protecting the planet from obvious threats.

When the asteroid was first seen it was already too late. A small investment in monitoring the sky for asteroids and in the technology required to divert them would have saved the planet. Yet they seemed to believe that other things were more important.

As captain, I shouldn’t really offer a value judgement on what happened here on Earth, but it is so disappointing to find a spark of intelligence, so rare in this universe, has now gone, completely unnecessarily. And I have to say that, given the way they acted, maybe it was for the best.