Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Perfect Pill

When I was a boy I used to dream about inventing the “Perfect Pill.”  It was something I could take and then be perfect in everything I tried.  If I wanted to play guitar and be a rock star, just take the perfect musician pill.  When I was running cross-country I imagined taking my perfect runner pill and sailing through the state meet.  Time for exams?  Take a pill!  Of course, the pill would never have been more useful than when I was a shy teenager attempting to date.  Boy I sure could have used a perfect pill then, rather than subjecting so many to my ineptitude.
For me this was an escapist fantasy.  I came to understand there is no magic pill that will make the world and me perfect.  But as I watch the news or read about celebrity addictions, pro-athlete suspensions, social breakdown, and more; I am beginning to believe there are so many others who’ve not yet come to the same understanding… There is no Perfect Pill. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

It is Tough to be Consistent

So in the news today are articles about Apple’s new iPhone being built by Chinese workers earning the equivalent of $1.50 an hour.  Apple products seem to be popular with young environmentalists, socially conscious members of the entertainment industry, and others like me who appreciate the stability of their operating systems, but they are more expensive than the various vendors running Microsoft’s Windows.  Apple and others in the computer industry have taken pretty active positions on social issues so I wonder how much the Apple electronic devices will cost if they are held to the socially responsible position of paying all their workers a living wage, which is more than minimum wage and probably orders of magnitude more than the $1.50 they are paying workers now.
Now I can understand an old guy like me liking Apple and willing to buy them at their current cost, but how can all the socially conscious young people support this company?  As an aside, it was kind of funny seeing all the #occupysomeplace people with their apple computers last year.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Caught Between Realities

The way the news is spun to fit the audience is interesting.  The way economists tailor opinions to fit their social belief is also interesting.  But whether we like to admit it, or not, there are some inescapable hard facts that even the most ardent social engineers cannot just wish away.
The first is unless you are allowed to print your own money, at some point all your bills will come due and you cannot escape your creditor.  There will come a time you will no longer be able to borrow money to pay your bills.  Creditors will be forced to stop lending you money, and/or they will seek judicial help to recover their investments.  If a city, over the long term, is paying more of its tax dollars out than it has coming in - it will fail.  Maybe not at first, not right away, but eventually it will happen.  It really doesn’t matter if you think this fair or not, it is a straight forward cause-effect relationship. 
As the infrastructure decays, and funds are diverted to meet the social demands the cities seem to enter into a kind of death spiral.  Businesses move out, jobs move away, and the poor need more help, drawing more money from the government, increasing the need to borrow.  It is true some cities have escaped this, through sound investment, good corporate management, or changing tax structures to encourage investment or growth.  All these choices counter the balance of income versus outgo.  But where a city chooses to increase its social engineering to put more people on a public dole, allow infrastructure to decay and pay rich contracts to connected people, bankruptcy seems an inevitable consequence.
Those who support the social engineering and the redistribution of wealth can find a number of villains to hold up and deflect the discussion, but at the end of the day it is all comes down to simple math.  If a city must pay its bills, like any family is expected to, then at some point the interest payments will exceed its ability to pay.   At some point they will default.  Mayors and City Councils can choose to ignore this reality, and for a number of terms they will get away with it, but the result is unavoidable. When this happens it is not the politicians that are hurt, it is the very citizens who placed their trust in those politicians.  Those human beings who thought their politicians were looking out for their best interests will all the sudden find their pensions gone, their security gone, and their lives thrown out of kilter.
Our politicians and voters seem incapable of learning this simple economic principle that $ in must be equal to or greater than $ out, or at some point the weight of the debt will crush everything else. 
I know we will continue to live in that delusional place between the reality of economic stability and the alternate reality of free money.  At the end of the day it will be the millennials and younger who will pay the price, for we have chosen to pursue the easy path and are passing on an unsustainable vision.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Lessons from the Past

We are, by our nature, a nation with an incredibly short attention span.  Perhaps it is one of the qualities that has made us great, leading us to become such a powerful nation in a relatively short time, or maybe it was just because we were rich in the materials necessary for the industrial revolution and unencumbered by a bureaucratic government?  Either way, we tend not to dwell on the past unless we are dragged, kicking and screaming, into some retro-experience.

So, are there any lessons we can learn from our history that would be worth thinking about in today’s fast paced, totally connected, totally hip world society?  I think there might be one or two.

First, we are a nation that was originally made up of people who fled their homelands to escape religious persecution, poverty, and a hopelessly immobile social structure.  When our ancestors got here they displaced the native population to establish, as quickly as possible, a society where they controlled the religious persecution, poverty and social structure.  We are rich in our heritage with examples of oppression of minorities.  It really doesn’t matter if they were Native Indians, Irish, Polish, Italian, or African, if the majority could dominate them -- they did, until they were assimilated into the fabric of our nation. 

Slavery was imported into the colonies by the English to support the agrarian systems necessary to grow tobacco and later cotton.  It was formally ended after a Civil War, with the passage of the 13th amendment.

“Section 1.
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
Yet today, some 148 years later, we have still not been able to fully assimilate, as equals, those descendants of slaves into our culture.  The funny thing is we seem to be moving from their exclusion by the majority to their rejection of the majority.   There is an ever‑louder set of voices in broadcast media and society that justify their own racial bias through the condemnation of the people they disagree with as racist.  So I think the lesson here is if we continue forward on our current path, where society splinters more and more into their own groups, rejecting a common framework, we will at some point have to question the legitimacy of the nation.

Next, revolution is not necessarily a bad thing, if you have someone or group of someone’s with the vision to lead the citizens towards a new nation.  Each July we celebrate with parades, fireworks, concerts and other means, the fact our colonial forefathers placed their trust in a few courageous men to determine a path forward in response to the oppressive rule of the King.  These men, at great personal risk, wrestled with the choice to declare our independence.  Not all saw this as a wise move, and after a number of attempts to explain our concerns to the King were met with increased British force, our representatives made the only choice truly left to them.

The question for today is, do we have leaders with vision who can move this nation forward?  Not over the objections of the minority, but with the conscientious effort of bringing all to agreement.  If we do, I am not sure I see them in either the Executive or Legislative branches of our Capital, and I certainly don’t see them in the various personal agenda pushing commentators.  Yet each election, when we have it within our power to create a revolution and overturn the House and 1/3 of the Senate we sacrifice that right and reelect the incumbent.  It must be that every one thinks everyone, except his or her representatives, are worthless because we complain loudly about how bad Congress is.  Perhaps it is time for a revolution of ideas and change, but in today’s un-civil world is that possible? 

Finally, although we are a nation founded on the belief that religious tolerance was absolutely essential to our national survival, there is a great difference between religious tolerance and today’s intolerance of religion.  While I don’t necessarily believe that God always protects this nation, neither do I prescribe to a belief that if homosexuality is allowed God will condemn us.  But I do find the growing number who would take any acknowledgement of a higher power out of the national discussion troublesome.  There is a cultural dynamic here that does not bode well for us.  If a majority of us believe we can do whatever we want, with no moral consequence, I believe we will eventually slide into a pure anarchy where respect for the rights of others is maintained, if it can be maintained, only by the force of oppressive government.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

It's Me, It Must be Me.

I am a disinterested bystander, with no direct connection to the events in Sanford, Florida, so I paid only casual attention while this media circus unfolded.  I scanned the news from ABCNNBCBS and FOX, I followed a blog called Legal Insurrection and pretty much maintained a low emotional tie to the verdict, believing our judicial system would reach whatever verdict was most appropriate, based on the law.
Obviously I am not typical of most people.  Perhaps, as pointed out by a liberal acquaintance, I am a “duped individual with no sense of reality.”  If, contrary to what I see in postings on Facebook and in the media, I believe it is wrong to assume a person is guilty until the state proves beyond a reasonable doubt their guilt then I guess I am duped with no sense of reality.
Maybe the justice system is broken, we often set free people the media has condemned in the court of public opinion, where evidence is replaced by whatever is broadcast and judgement is based on emotion, and send to jail those the media pays little attention to.  For example, who among us remembers the outrage over the not guilty verdict in the State of California v. O. J. Simpson, or the not guilty verdict in the State of Florida v. Casey Anthony?  So how does this play against the wrongful conviction rates where the state law enforcement and prosecutors zealously pursue and convict innocent men and women?  The Nation had an interesting article a year ago about a new database to track the number of convictions overturned as new DNA evidence becomes available.   By the way, there had been over 800 convictions overturned since 1989, when DNA verification was first allowed.  Wrongful Conviction Blog places the estimate of bad verdicts at 5,000 to 10,000 a year.  This is a very small percentage of the total convictions in that same timeframe so it would suggest two things.  First our current system is pretty accurate when everyone plays by the rules, and second there are probably still a significant number of people behind bars that should not be.
I, like our founders, believe it is better a guilty individual be set free than an innocent be placed behind bars.  I am open to someone showing me a new judicial system that comes with better accuracy on always getting it right, since our current system is so old and subject to all the human abuse we can heap on it, but until then I will take our trial by peer system over its precursors like trial by submersion, or trial by combat, trial by fire, or trial by dictator/king.
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