Friday, January 20, 2012

Ten commandments in modern societies -3

"Fight only the worthy fights."

Everybody has limited time and resources, but many temptations in this world.  How to achieve your goals and harness or tame your urge? 

Referring back to the first commandment.  It is natural that no one can fight for everything he wants.  Most would prioritize and go for the biggest prize first, then the bigger, then the big, if given the same time scale.

Here is an example unique for the 21st century.  We are now flooded with information from the internet and are tempted in every minute to respond to new messages from the smartphones, facebook, twitter, etc.  There are two considerations.  One is that the initial information is often incomplete and even wrong.  What a waste if you respond with your passion and only turn out to be fooled.  The other is, even if the information is correct, is it worthwhile to engage in a fight with some real or virtual person for it?  

Now, how to rank the worthiness of a fight?  As the first approximation, worthiness W=T*E*S/(Y*C), the higher, the more meaningful.

T is your target, a person, phenomenon, or system.  We can assume the rich, famous, and powerful top the list.  At a scale of 0-100, for example, a political or economic system is 100, the President of the USA is also high, while a clerk at 711 is close to 0.  Essentially how much attention is or should be paid to the target per se.

E is the real or potential effects of the T's particular action, or its career or net worth or audience size, i.e., how much you expect your action, IF SUCCESSFUL, will affect T's subjects.  For example, Bush's decision of Iraq War has a huge E, as it was expected to affect the life, health, wealth, properties, and other attributes of whole population of the Iraq and US (the true number might be bigger or smaller).  A reporter or piece of nonsense at NYT is expected to affect many more readers than an obscure blog like this.  The E of returning a T-shirt at Wal-Mart is basically what you paid for the T-shirt, not the market value of Wal-Mart.

S is your conviction, how much you are willing to sacrifice.  Time, money, reputation, career, health, even life. 

Y means you, with the same scale as T.  Incorporating Y helps an "objective" observer to compare different Ys and Ws.

C is the cost and risk for actually challenging T, including not doing the other things you would have done with the same amount of time and energy.  Similar but not identical to S.


This formula is obviously simplistic.  Just point out a few issues here.  First is that it does not relate to a person's official duties.  A firefighter has a job of fighting fire; evasion is not an option.
 
Second is that the formula says nothing about how to fight (though reflected in S and C) and the legality.

Third is that T, E, and S are often not independent, so the formula sometimes overestimates the numerator.  A president, not a 711 clerk, can instigate a war.  Stopping a war is much harder than returning a merchandise at Amazon.com.

Fourth is that it says nothing about the prospect of succeeding.  Before one does anything he typically has an idea of how much he can achieve his goal, then he will partition his time and energy for it.  Hence, S and C are flexible, often interrelated, and related to one's selfishness or selflessness.  Although challenging the big guys on big issues has the most significant, potential outcomes, few people do it because the chance of winning is tiny, and most automatically assign a small S and big C.  Nonetheless, chance of winning could still be partially revealed by W assessing risk and reward.

A saint considers W=E on only morality not monetary values, with no regard for other factors.  For a mere mortal, it seems utterly a waste arguing on any internet discussion boards or twitter.

Note: These ten commandments summarizing largely accepted principles in the modern world are simple and may have been advocated by others before in a different shape, way, or form.  Just like Moses' Decalogue, which only stipulated common codes of conducts at the time, with religious messages. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ten commandments in modern societies -2

"Don't think we are that much better or different than our ancestors 2000 years ago."

There are two very common scenarios of which we all have experience.  In the first, older people all like to think fondly of the golden ages they were part of when talking (down) to the newer generations: son, when I was of your age, I didn't have to worry about this and that, or we played baseball like this and that, which was much better than what you are doing now.  In reality, most of it is vanity, and, even if true, irrelevant.  In the other, the younger people always view the old times and old timers as dinosaurs, at most revered in an abstract sense, but never want to live in their eras, because ours is that much better.

The societies we are living in, i.e., modern societies, are certainly very different from the ones hundreds or thousands of years ago.  In many parts of this planet people have much better access to food and shelter, are living longer and traveling faster and farther.  An average college student knows much more about the universe than Issac Newton.  Morality also evolves, so if Winston Churchill had used chemical weapons in 2012 instead of ninety years ago, he would likely have not become the PM of GB.

But are modern societies really better than the "primitive" ones?  How do we define "better"?

The null hypothesis is that there are no significant differences, as everybody is the product of his times, and we have simply substituted old and severe problems with new and severe problems.

It is easy to find aspects of our life more favorable than before, but one needs to think harder to find things that have not changed for the better, and they tend to be the most important to the human race.  Degrading environment.  Still endless fighting and the threat of wars, with much more destructive weapons.  Ruling class more skillful at manipulation to keep the powerless populace at bay.  We owe our better lives much more to scientific and technological advances than to apt governance.  

In a sense, this is entirely expected.  A few thousand years won't make much dent in our genes.  At the societal level, a horde has always been ruled or controlled by a small number of elites.  Unless one or both of these situations change, the society will see only cosmetic evolution.

No person, society, or country should view the current way of life as the best or ultimate human experience.  Because ten thousand years later humans might think the 20-21st centuries as barbaric and primitive.  And they are likely right.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ten commandments in modern societies -1

Here comes the first of ten semi-serious blogs about how to view the modern societies, their decisions, discourse, and activities.  The only thing not serious is the word "commandments", which also forces the concoction of ten statements. 

"No matter how much you love your daughter, if you make the wrong choice between war and peace, you deserve no respect as a human being."

This statement is based on the truism that the relative significance of almost everything can be quantified or estimated and compared.  There are ample examples in the daily functions of every person and society.  We can tell if a certain item or activity is good or bad, or, alternatively, better or more worth-telling than another, and consciously or subconsciously use the comparisons to make our choices hundreds of times a day.  So, if you could buy the same bread for $1 instead of $5 at the same place and time, you would pay only $1.

Three points worthy of making about this statement.

First is, why war and peace?   In essence, the wrong choice between war and peace means the war of aggression, which has produced and will produce the most destruction and the most severe suffering in human history and contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole (Nuremberg Tribunal).  Even if you are not directly involved in the fighting and suffering, as James Madison averred: Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded.  Of course, self-defense is still justified. 

Second is that the intentions should also be considered, regarding the decisions and consequences (not just about war and peace).  A careful analysis may come to a reasonable conclusion about what people thought, sometimes many years later.

Third is its universality.  Comparisons can be applied much more broadly than many people usually do.  The more one realizes this, the more knowledgeable or intelligent one is.

In light of all these, this statement is clearly the most important, hence #1, of the Ten Commandments.





Saturday, January 14, 2012

Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda: a terrible trade by the Yankees

On Jan 13, 2012, the New York Yankees traded Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.  The main players are Jesus Montero and Michael Pineda.

NYY hasn't had any success with pitcher trades for a long time.  Think: Jeff Weaver.  Reactions to the trade are mostly positive, especially "officially", by the so-called reporters and analysts.  I can't help but think many people mindlessly follow the flow, assuming that Cashman or whoever from the great NYY organization must know what he is doing.  The same people said the same thing about the Jeff and other NYY pitcher trades as well, and they have been so wrong for so many years.

As a Yankees fan since mid-1990s, it is sad to see JM gone.  We have been hearing his name for years, and when he finally arrived in late 2011, he did not disappoint, hitting .328/.406/.590 in one month.  He is clearly the most exciting hitter from the Yankees farm system since Cano, and was expected to significantly contribute to the Yankees' offense in 2012 and beyond.  While MP went 9-10, 171 IP, 3.74 ERA, 3.42 FIP, 3.53 xFIP, and 3.4 WAR in 2011, he is by no means a lock in AL East.  Besides, hitting ability is more a sure thing than pitching.  You can't predict how a young arm like MP will turn out years after years.  The trade became more perplexing as NYY also acquired Hiroki Kuroda the same day, a pitcher tested only in NL West. 

It is fine if JM was traded for a real ace, like Cliff Lee or Felix Hernandez, but MP is not.  The main knock on JM is that some people think he can't catch, and if he DH, it will block Jeter, ARod, or Tex having a rest once in while.  But the thinking has many faults and fails to see a real problem in the Yankees for the past few years and likely ahead.

Firstly, the catching problem.  Posada was never a great catcher, but he did just fine at least early in his career.  It is hard to imagine Russel Martin or others to catch so brilliantly to offset their hitting woes, unless Martin shows he can hit consistently in averages and power.  Secondly, JM blocking DH being even an issue is comical.  Jeter, ARod, or Tex needs outright rest, not DH, if they can't play the field.  When they do need a rest, nobody is significantly better a hitter than a regular JM, who can rest once in a while to clear the spot as well.  JM can also catch, although we will never know now.

The most pressing issue, which is quite apparent yet few people like to acknowledge, is that the Yankees offense is facing a decline that has proved fatal in the playoffs.

Jeter hasn't been the good old playoff hitter since 2005.  ARod is hot in one year and then ice cold for many years.  Tex and Swisher have never hit in the playoffs.  Cano is consistent but has never had the same, big, game changing hits like others did.  Gardner has potential getting on base but definitely no power.  That leaves Granderson, who is unlikely to repeat his 2011 early, regular season performance.

So the Yankees can still get into the playoffs, but they have been having big trouble there.  In 2009 they needed ARod to bail them out late multiple times and then Matsui's 6 RBI Game 6.  But in 2010 and 2011 they were shut down in many close games.  They would get on base, but the big hits just didn't come frequently enough.  The current class of players can't be counted to reverse this trend, neither can the "newer" players like Nunez and Andruw Jones. 

Teams need a standout hitter in the playoffs, like Bernie Williams and Jim Leyritz in 1996, Scott Brosius in 1998, Mike Napoli and David Freese in 2011.  Without a fresh big bat like JM, I predict that Yankees will not have any success in October, one day after this trade announcement. 

Interesting to see if the prediciton pans out in October 2012 and 5 years later.