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After my blog post about my dad's death (below), in which I spewed hate against activists and politicians who oppose doctor-assisted suicide, people informed me that according to polls 49% of the citizens of my country disagree with me.

I have to call bullshit on the 49%.

The first time I have even spoken to someone who confessed to me an anti-doctor-assisted suicide position was this week, when a creationist reporter called me at home to ask why I preferred her dead. She and her husband are both activists against doctor-assisted suicide. (I confirmed to her that the world would be better off without her.)

I have no quarrel with anyone who has a different opinion on this or any other topic because no one should be judged by their thoughts alone. But if you are an activist against the right to die with dignity, you are an accomplice in the torture of countless senior citizens, including both of my parents. From a morality standpoint that puts you in the same category as pedophiles and terrorists. Keep in mind that even terrorists have a noble (to them) reason for their actions. (Hint: God)

I got criticism for my uncivilized writing on this topic. My uncensored words were shocking, and I realize that. But this is a topic that pits emotion against emotion. It's not strictly an economic decision. It's about how people feel. I defend my honest display of feelings because it is important information in this debate. I want the activists to know that I don't just disagree with them in some intellectual sense. They should know that I consider them as immoral as pedophiles and terrorists. And if the comments on the Internet tell us anything it is that I am not alone. That knowledge is a useful addition to the debate. People need to know that if they are accomplices in the torture of my family members or me, I don't merely disagree with their position on the topic; I wish them a painful death. No one sheds a tear when a terrorist accidentally blows himself up in his bomb-making factory.

Just to be clear, I don't favor killing people for political activism. I'm just saying I wouldn't shed a tear if an activist opposed to doctor-assisted-suicide died a painful death. I'm not proud of that position. I'm just being honest.

Note to the analogy-challenged: One shouldn't compare apples to oranges. But it's fair to say both are food. So while you might be tempted to argue the differences between an anti-doctor-assisted-suicide activist and a pedophile and a terrorist, you'd be missing the larger point that they are all examples of deeply immoral behavior. And the world would be better off without them.

Let me be the first to point out that I live in a bubble in Northern California. For example, I can't think of a single person in my extended social group who is a creationist. Clearly my experience is not representative of the country as a whole. You don't need to point that out in the comments. I get it.

My blog post from yesterday got reprinted all over the Internet, generating thousands of comments on various sites. I spent hours looking through them, and I would say 95% are clearly in favor of doctor-assisted suicide. But obviously the folks who comment on Internet message boards are not representative of the country as a whole.

I don't trust anecdotal evidence but I have a hard time believing that 49% of my country is opposed to doctor-assisted suicide. I would think you can only get that result if you ask the question in a way that leads the witness. I'm looking at you, pollsters.

If you ask citizens whether or not they believe doctors should have the legal right to kill terminally ill people, or some version of that question, of course you get a lot of resistance. I can easily imagine 49% of the public being opposed to a question that leads the witness in that way.

Now suppose you ask this way: "If you are terminally ill and expect to be in terrible pain for months, if not years, do you want the government to decide what healthcare options are available to you, or should that decision be made by some combination of you, your doctor and your loved ones?"

My best guess is that 90% of the public would oppose giving the government veto power over their personal healthcare decisions.

Many folks have legitimate concerns that doctor-assisted-suicide laws could be implemented poorly. The best safeguard would be a legal requirement that a citizen has to specifically request a doctor-assisted-suicide option in his written healthcare directive, complete with a personalized list of safeguards. For example, a rich person might request an independent panel of experts get involved, should the need arise, because he doesn't trust his next-of-kin to keep their paws off his inheritance. Others might entrust the decision-making to a doctor plus one trusted family member. And perhaps you can further specify what happens if you are in a coma, or not mentally competent, and so on. Each person can take on as much or as little risk as they like. It's called freedom. Is 49% of my country opposed to that?

 
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I hope my father dies soon.

And while I'm at it, I might want you to die a painful death too.

I'm entirely serious on both counts.

My father, age 86, is on the final approach to the long dirt nap (to use his own phrase). His mind is 98% gone, and all he has left is hours or possibly months of hideous unpleasantness in a hospital bed. I'll spare you the details, but it's as close to a living Hell as you can get.

If my dad were a cat, we would have put him to sleep long ago. And not once would we have looked back and thought too soon.

Because it's not too soon. It's far too late. His smallish estate pays about $8,000 per month to keep him in this state of perpetual suffering. Rarely has money been so poorly spent.

I'd like to proactively end his suffering and let him go out with some dignity. But my government says I can't make that decision. Neither can his doctors. So, for all practical purposes, the government is torturing my father until he dies.

I'm a patriotic guy by nature. I love my country. But the government? Well, we just broke up.

And let me say this next part as clearly as I can.

If you're a politician who has ever voted against doctor-assisted suicide, or you would vote against it in the future, I hate your fucking guts and I would like you to die a long, horrible death. I would be happy to kill you personally and watch you bleed out. I won't do that, because I fear the consequences. But I'd enjoy it, because you motherfuckers are responsible for torturing my father. Now it's personal.

I know that many of my fellow citizens have legitimate concerns about doctor-assisted suicide. One can certainly imagine greedy heirs speeding up the demise of grandma to get the inheritance. That would be a strong argument if doctor-assisted suicide wasn't already working elsewhere with little problems, or if good things in general (such as hospitals and the police) never came with their own risks.

I'm okay with any citizen who opposes doctor-assisted suicide on moral or practical grounds. But if you have acted on that thought, such as basing a vote on it, I would like you to die a slow, horrible death too. You and the government are accomplices in the torturing of my father, and there's a good chance you'll someday be accomplices in torturing me to death too.

I might feel differently in a few years, but at the moment my emotions are a bit raw. If I could push a magic button and send every politician who opposes doctor-assisted suicide into a painful death spiral that lasts for months, I'd press it. And I wouldn't feel a bit of guilt because sometimes you have to get rid of the bad guys to make the world a better place. We do it in defensive wars and the police do it daily. This would be another one of those situations.

I don't want anyone to misconstrue this post as satire or exaggeration. So I'll reiterate. If you have acted, or plan to act, in a way that keeps doctor-assisted suicide illegal, I see you as an accomplice in torturing my father, and perhaps me as well someday. I want you to die a painful death, and soon. And I'd be happy to tell you the same thing to your face.

Note to my government: I'll keep paying my taxes and doing whatever I need to do to stay out of jail, but don't ask me for anything else. We're done now.


[Update: My father passed a few hours after I wrote this.]

 
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Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy for one sort of unpleasantness or another. It is not intended to change anyone's beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.

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Help me understand the difference between a sexist and a run-of-the-mill asshole that happens to be male.

I've never met a man who believes that every man is better than every woman at any given task. And if he did hold that view, it would be an example of colossal stupidity, not opinion. Daily life is bristling with examples of women succeeding in every field. How does one not notice?

And if we're talking about prejudging the likelihood of a member of one gender or another having a particular preference or trait, that's how all humans process information. The only people who don't automatically prejudge are in comas. A normal, healthy brain prejudges everything in its environment based on limited clues and patterns. But as more information becomes available, one is able to judge more accurately. Perhaps the man you first assumed was a hobo, based on his scruffy appearance, is actually a great network engineer. The normal brain notices a pattern, makes a preliminary assumption about what it means, and looks for more information to confirm or disprove the initial snap judgment.

Have you ever met a sane person who thinks differently?

When the FBI profiler says the bomber is probably a male loner in his thirties, that isn't sexism so much as statistics. And when the DNA on the detonator indicates the bomber was female, the FBI profiler says, "Oops" and changes her opinion. Every normal, human brain processes information this same way, give or take some cognitive dissonance.

So who are the sexists?

I hear plenty of stories of workplace discrimination against women based on gender. So let's stipulate that gender discrimination is widespread. There are too many first-hand accounts to imagine it isn't real.

So who is doing the discriminating during the hiring and promotion process, and what does that look like in the year 2013?

If a man overlooks a female job candidate because of gender alone, isn't that more a case of stupidity than sexism? Clearly women are excelling at ever profession on earth, so what kind of hiring manager would fail to notice a worldwide trend so immensely obvious? Answer: a dumb one.

Dismissing a job candidate based on gender alone is ordinary incompetence. Fifty years ago I can easily imagine a smart man who happened to be a sexist because he witnessed scant few examples in which women were excelling at their careers. But in 2013 there is no such thing as a smart man who hasn't noticed that women are excelling in every field. I think it's time to label the hiring manager who bases a decision on gender incompetent, not sexist.

Then you have the category of men who are dismissive of women in general, or talk to women in a demeaning way, or objectify women, or are generally disrespectful to women. Those guys get labelled sexists too for being hostile to women. But is that the label that fits best?

In my experience, assholes are assholes all the time, not just to women. And their impact is plenty toxic to men as well. I suppose somewhere on earth there is a guy who trash-talks and objectifies women during the workday then goes to his volunteer job feeding the elderly at night, but I kind of doubt it. I've never met a man who was an asshole to women but treated everyone else with respect. Being an asshole is a fulltime job.

So I think it's time to acknowledge the impressive gains women have made over the last century against genuine sexism and recognize that the mop up operation in 2013 (at least in the United States) is more about managing the assholes and idiots in the world than it is about old-timey sexism.

For the three women who read this blog, I'll tell you a secret about how men think. If I am your boss's boss, and you tell me your direct boss is being a sexist, my skepticism alarm goes off because the label so often gets misused. But if you tell me your boss is being an asshole, complete with examples, or you say he's incompetent at his job because he ignores qualified job candidates, I start considering his replacement. Your choice of labels can make a big difference.

 
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In my new book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, I talk about using systems instead of goals. For example, losing ten pounds is a goal (that most people can't maintain), whereas learning to eat right is a system that substitutes knowledge for willpower.

Expanding on that point, let's say you have a choice between pasta and a white potato. Assume you enjoy both foods equally and you want to choose the best one for your waistline. Which do you pick?

I recently posed that question to a crowd of ninety senior managers at a huge tech company. About 88 of them chose the potato. That's the wrong answer because pasta is only half as high on the glycemic index. The two people out of ninety who knew pasta was the better choice wouldn't need to use as much willpower later in the day to stay within a good diet range. Studies have shown that if you use your willpower resisting one temptation you have less in reserve for the next. The systems approach to weight management is to gradually replace willpower with knowledge, e.g. knowing pasta is better than a potato. (The book describes more ways to replace willpower with knowledge in the diet realm.)

Here's another example. Going to the gym 3-4 times a week is a goal. And it can be a hard one to accomplish for people who don't enjoy exercise. Exercising 3-4 times a week can feel like punishment - especially if you overdo it because you're impatient to get results.  When you associate discomfort with exercise you inadvertently train yourself to stop doing it. Eventually you will find yourself "too busy" to keep up your 3-4 days of exercise. The real reason will be because it just hurts and you don't want to do it anymore. And if you do manage to stay with your goal, you use up your limited supply of willpower.

Compare the goal of exercising 3-4 times a week with a system of being active every day at a level that feels good, while continuously learning about the best methods of exercise. Before long your body will be trained, like Pavlov's dogs, to crave the psychological lift you get from being active every day. It will soon become easier to exercise than to skip it - no willpower required. And your natural inclination for challenge and variety will gently nudge you toward higher levels of daily activity while at the same time you are learning in your spare time how to exercise in the most effective way. That's a system.

By the way, it is only in the past few years that you could replace willpower with knowledge about diet and exercise and get a good result. That's because much of what science told us in those realms was wrong. When I was a kid, science told us to eat plenty of Wonder Bread. I think we have finally crossed the tipping point where following the recommendations of science will get you a good result.

One of the systems I use but didn't mention in the book is what I'm doing right now: blogging.

When I first started blogging, my future wife often asked about what my goal was. The blogging seemed to double my workload while promising a 5% higher income that didn't make any real difference in my life. It seemed a silly use of time. I tried explaining that blogging was a system, not a goal. But I never did a good job of it. I'll try again here.

Writing is a skill that requires practice. So the first part of my system involves practicing on a regular basis. I didn't know what I was practicing for, exactly, and that's what makes it a system and not a goal. I was moving from a place with low odds (being an out-of-practice writer) to a place of good odds (a well-practiced writer with higher visibility).

The second part of my blogging system is a sort of R&D for writing. I write on a variety of topics and see which ones get the best response. I also write in different "voices". I have my humorously self-deprecating voice, my angry voice, my thoughtful voice, my analytical voice, my half-crazy voice, my offensive voice, and so on. You readers do a good job of telling me what works and what doesn't.

When the Wall Street Journal took notice of my blog posts, they asked me to write some guest features. Thanks to all of my writing practice here, and my knowledge of which topics got the best response, the guest articles were highly popular. Those articles weren't big money-makers either, but it all fit within my system of public practice.

My writing for the Wall Street Journal, along with my public practice on this blog, attracted the attention of book publishers, and that attention turned into a book deal. And the book deal generated speaking requests that are embarrassingly lucrative. So the payday for blogging eventually arrived, but I didn't know in advance what path it would take. My blogging has kicked up dozens of business opportunities over the past years, so it could have taken any direction.

My problem with goals is that they are limiting. Granted, if you focus on one particular goal, your odds of achieving it are better than if you have no goal. But you also miss out on opportunities that might have been far better than your goal. Systems, however, simply move you from a game with low odds to a game with better odds. With a system you are less likely to miss one opportunity because you were too focused on another. With a system, you are always scanning for any opportunity.

There are obviously some special cases in which goals are useful. If you plan to become a doctor, for example, and you have the natural ability, then by all means focus. But for most of us, we have no idea where we'll be in five years, what opportunities will arise, or what we'll want or need by then. So our best bet is to move from a place of low odds to a place of better odds. That means living someplace that has opportunities, paying attention to your health, continuously upgrading your skills, networking, and perhaps dabbling in lots of different areas.

The systems vs. goals idea is only one through-thread of my new book, but readers and reviewers are consistently mentioning it as the thing they found most useful, saying it is both fresh and obvious at the same time. That's a rare combination.

I'm curious if any of you have systems you'd like to share?

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How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.

 

 

 
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The armchair economist in me wonders if marriage will someday be seen as a pre-Internet thing.

If you look at marriage the way an economist might, it is an exchange of services. Every marriage is different, but at its core you have two people who are choosing to provide one basket of services in return for a different basket. Historically, that meant the man provided protection and financial stability while the woman provided children, childcare, and household management. In modern times, the picture is more smeared, but in all cases the parties are getting something while providing something, including the emotional benefits.

Marriage made sense when the world was inefficient. You married a person nearby who could provide most of your important needs while hoping your lesser needs could also somehow be met. It made perfect sense in the pre-Internet age.

But today you can arrange for any of your individual needs via Internet. You can find lovers who don't want a commitment. You can find people willing to trade sex for travel experiences. You can find surrogates to have your baby, or you can adopt from another country. Then you can find a nanny who is willing to work primarily for room and board. You can find an intellectual partner, a business partner, a tennis partner, you name it. The Internet provides all.

For the first time in history it is feasible to create a virtual spouse comprised of a dozen separate relationships. And each would be optimized. Instead of dragging your spouse to the opera or a baseball game, you go with someone who loves your hobbies as much as you do.

You might assume the virtual spouse doesn't give you the "soul mate" connection you seek. You can still have a special connection with people, but you don't have to drag that person to your monster truck rallies. You can be in love with one person, enjoy activities with another, and find another who is a good listener. And the good listener might be putting up with you because you provide some other sort of benefit in return.

In other words, the Internet allows us to have a barter economy of relationships, as in I'll do this for you if you do that for me.

You might reject this line of thinking if you have a religious or romantic view of marriage. But I think economics always trumps those things in the long run.

With the current system, in which half of marriages end in divorce, you end up with tremendous economic disruption and hardship. With virtual marriages, you never have a big divorce with one person because your relationship is diversified. You could lose your massage therapist, your running partner and your "work spouse" all in one month without feeling especially sad about it.

Anticipating your objections, assume traditional marriage stays a popular option forever, but it moves from being the default arrangement to one of many options.

Do you think marriage as a societal norm will someday be seen as a pre-Internet thing?

 
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New review of my book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.
 
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A delivery truck brings a little pile of garbage to my house almost every day of the week. I gather up the daily piles of garbage and put them in a large container until it's time for a different service to take it all away.

Yes, I have a garbage delivery service and a garbage pickup service. I'm just the middleman. I would like to say that my role in all of this feels life-affirming. But it doesn't.

The garbage delivery service sometimes goes by the name United States Postal Service. The garbage itself goes by the name junk mail. I don't think there is legal way to stop the garbage deliveries. I think every home in my country is legally required to have some sort of mailbox or mail slot. I would look it up but I use all of my free time prepped the incoming garbage for the outbound leg of its trip.

The other day I had an idea for cutting out the middleman (me). What if I forward all of my incoming mail to my local garbage dump's address? That way the Post Office could deliver my garbage to its final resting place without experiencing the purgatory of my kitchen.

I think this could work.

Sometimes, hidden within the little piles of garbage that come to my house, I will spot a letter that looks important for one reason or another. That's why all of you need to join me by forwarding your mail directly to your local garbage dumps. If we all do it, people will lose hope that their letters are getting through. As a general rule, you can't experience progress until someone else loses hope. So let's speed that along, okay?

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My new book is How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life. It’s my best work.

 
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After reading the comments to my post titled "How to Build a Country," I am left wondering if the intense backlash to "central planning" represents a valid opinion or if it is more of a psychological condition.

If it is a psychological condition, it is one I've often seen. It is the inability to distinguish between an analogy - which could be a component of a valid opinion - and something that simply reminds you of something else.

For example, if you see a bed sheet blowing in the wind on a clothesline, it might remind you of a ghost, and that would be perfectly normal. But if you think the sheet might later haunt you because of its similarity to a ghost, you probably have a psychological problem.

Likewise, when my idea of planning a city from the furniture up reminds you of Stalin and Chairman Mao, you might be suffering from a condition that just feels like an opinion to you. I want to assure you that there is no danger from Stalin, Mao, or the bed sheet. You are simply reminded of them.

Keep in mind that any newer city in this day and age is centrally planned, from the road layout to the sewer systems to the water supply. And there is always some sort of planning commission approving new construction. If you are lucky enough to live in such a planned community, you'll be happy that you can easily get from one place to another and find parking. If you live in an older city, such as Washington DC or Boston, you know it's a nightmare to get from A to B.

I've lived in three planned communities. There was an apartment complex that was planned from the ground up. There was a housing development the size of a small city. Then there was a townhouse development I lived in for several years while building the house I live in now.

Do you know what was terrible about all of those "centrally planned" communities?

Nothing.

The cost of the homes was probably half of what it would have cost an individual to build from scratch, and they had all the safety and convenience features you would need. I could quibble about closet space, and the availability of guest parking, but that's exactly the sort of thing you can fix with better central planning. If there were no centrally planned government building codes, developers would screw the living daylights out of home buyers who don't even know what questions to ask.

When it comes to building a home or even a modern city, central planning is how it is already done, and it is the only sensible model. The alternative to central planning is unambiguously stupid. No intelligent human believes you get a better result by letting people do whatever they want with their homes, streets, and sewage. If you do believe that, you are once again confusing the bed sheet with a ghost. Political freedom - which we all want - is not an analogy to home building. If you give people the freedom to build whatever homes they want, you don't get something awesome like democracy; you get a shantytown nightmare.

Keep in mind that the planned city I described would have numerous different models of homes, just as current developments do. And no one would be required to move to this city. It would compete with every other open society on earth as a desirable place to live.

My post on building a city from the furniture up is about better central planning. Central planning itself is a given. There is no rational alternative. I'm only suggesting that technology would allow an amazing leap in livability if we plan correctly, and I think a company such as Google would do a better job than a government entity when it comes to planning .

And if you see a bed sheet and that reminds you of a ghost, that isn't an opinion.

 
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Why is everyone in a grumpy mood today?
 
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Suppose you wanted to build an entire country from the ground up. How would you start?

I'd start with the furniture.

When you design a home, you first figure out what furniture arrangements you like, and how the kitchen is laid out. That tells you what shape and size the rooms have to be. Next you imagine what tasks need to be accomplished in the house and you layer on the functionality. For example, you make sure there is storage in the garage, and that the laundry room is near the master bedroom. And you want the sun orientation to be a big part of the planning.

Once you have individual rooms designed, the next step is figuring out how they flow together. And from that you get a good idea what the outside of the house looks like. Once the house is done you can start doing some city planning. You'd want bike paths and dog parks and fun places for neighbors to gather. You might ban cars from the city entirely.

Now let's assume your planned city has free Internet and everyone is connected. And let's further imagine that a big player such as Apple or Google is behind the venture. Everything from your lights to your grocery shopping would be managed by smartphones. Every citizen over the age of 10 would have one.

The biggest potential of this planned city springs from universal Internet access. Once you have every citizen online, you can move all billing, voting, and government services online. And anyone could take any online class from home. There's a lot you can do when you have 100% Internet penetration.

Now that you have the perfect city design you can duplicate it until you form a nation. You might need to put this nation on barges on the ocean, or perhaps you buy some land from a country that has extra. Perhaps you pay taxes to the host country in return for military protection.

You could design your government from scratch. The Internet probably makes some new forms of government feasible, such as a direct democracy, as opposed to a republic, for issues that aren't especially complicated.

Pick any frustration from you current life and you can imagine how a planned country would make it better. Commute too long? Fixed. Cost of living too high? Fixed. Childcare too expensive and inconvenient? Fixed. Don't have time to exercise? Fixed. Too much crime in the neighborhood? Fixed. Drunk drivers? None. Healthcare? Universal and inexpensive because your doctor consultations are via Internet.

At tax time, every adult gets an email that says "This is what you earned and this is what you paid." Done. You never have to see an accountant.

It's hard to imagine a problem that couldn't be fixed or improved by a country that is planned from the furniture up and has universal Internet connectivity.

I could imagine an existing country authorizing these "start-up" cities within their own borders, as test beds. After twenty years, whatever is working in the test cities gets implemented countrywide.

Designing a country from the furniture up would have been impractical twenty years ago. To do this sort of thing right, you need high end CAD software and the ability to visualize everything from the furniture to the street layout in 3D. You need smartphones. And you need a fiber optic Internet connection to every home.

My larger point is that I think the future will include cities planned from the furniture up. And that era will see enormous economic activity. Living the old way, in legacy communities, will feel like camping compared to the cities of the future.

I would be surprised if planned cities are not being discussed somewhere within Google.

My new book is How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life. It's my best work.

 
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