Friday, September 24, 2010

An idiot at the Atlantic monthly

Michael Kinsley at TheAtlantic magazine, writes about the Baby Boomer generation and how they can make their mark in history. He pooh-poohs Joe Klein, writing in Time a year ago, for suggesting that legalizing marijuana would be a suitable mark.

So what do you give the country that has everything? You give it cash. The biggest peril Americans now face isn’t Islamo-fascism. It’s our own inability to live within our means. It would be nice to give our country the wisdom and self-discipline to stop running up the credit card. And we should try. But it’s unlikely that we can remake the national character (including our own) in 19 years. What we can do is offer a lecture and a fresh start. We should pass on to the next generation an America that’s free from debt.

What an idiotic thing to propose.

One would think that the need is for responsible money handling, which would have long-lasting impacts. Gifts, especially of cash, have the opposite effect.

Kinsley returns to the era of WWII and the Greatest Generation, and glosses over the massive use of mass media and deliberate government propaganda to manipulate a nation. This introduction to mass marketing became, after WWII, today's merchandising and marketing advertisement, and a consumerist culture who's bubble is bursting now with the current round of deflation. It is the lack of morals in advertising to create a perception of need in the target audience that most marks the legacy of the Greatest Generation that hinders today's world. Marketing designed to benefit makers of consumer products and consumer debt have little regard to endangering, as a nation, the discipline or values of the Baby Boomers.

The mark of the 1960's Boomers was the drop-out Hippie, in an age affluent enough that much of a generation could stop contributing to their own support and turn to drugs (crime) and indolence, without dying out completely. The Hippie movement ended as members were reabsorbed into a working - at the individual level - society. The mark of the Greatest Generation of the 1960s was a man on the moon, and Russian imperialism held at bay.

Bring home candy for the kids when you go to the grocery store. The next time you return home, what do the kids do? Right. Not greet you, but demand "their" candy. Kinsley's proposal to cash out the Boomers will merely give the next generation a free pass to continue living as if affluence were a virtue and a certainty - and guarantee the overspending continues but without an example of how to stop (which is to stop spending).

Death taxes or voluntary donations of estates result in money withdrawn from the economy, denied to heirs that might have been otherwise been ready to continue ongoing businesses and enterprises - like farmland. Snatching estates for government use rewards government spending (vote buying), while ruining lives for the people living on the ongoing business of living, related to that estate.

Lack of discipline is the problem, and gifts are not the answer.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Tea Party, Communications, and Politics - and the Constitution

When the US was young, general communications were limited almost to gossip, hearsay, and the occasional traveler. Much of the course of the Revolution, and later the Civil War, were laid out with control of information, both among allies and used against opponents.

The telegraph, distributing information to media channels like newspaper and town meetings, began a change. Newspapers carried national politics and news within days of happening. Politicians began receiving letters and telegrams and other communications from a vastly wider cross section of their constituents - and the constituents started getting better insight into what their representatives were doing.

Since the 1960s TV and Radio increased the immediacy and intimacy of broadcast media, challenging the traditional newspapers for accuracy and respect. More people got involved, more special interest groups formed and applied pressure to Congress, the President, courts, and states. Easier communications redefined the role of the representative from acting on his own beliefs, to responding to imminent feedback from his district, often assumed to be the expression of the special interest groups and paid lobbyists.

Now the Internet starts to change the political landscape again. Peggy Noonan writes persuasively for the Wall Street Journal that there are two central reasons for the current prominence of the Tea Party: The clock and the Yardstick. The clock is counting up the cost of delaying drastic remedies to the current crisis of big government having overspent the nation. The yardstick is a measure of how far to the liberal, big government end of the stick so-called Republicans are playing to the liberal goals. The Tea Party is focused on dragging things back to the middle of that yardstick, and quickly.

Chris Anderson of the TED conferences waxed eloquent about Crowd Accelerated Innovation. His components for CAI are content, light, and desire. I might describe the Tea Party movement as substantive issues (content), exposure of deceit and offering plain, responsible remedies, and a real passion to accomplish the needed changes in time to reduce the impact of what has been going on for decades.

I think Chris' Crowd Accelerated Innovation explains how the Tea Party came to be so influential in such a relatively short time, how so many people got involved, how the course of the effort has steadied onto the biggest single factor that most of those interested can get behind - overspending by today's government. Other issues have less consensus, but fail to diminish the force of the movement. This also explains a popular movement without the traditional charismatic leader, though a few have tried to don that mantle. But claiming leadership of a minority to create status and power is an old-boy trick, and this new model of quick and reliable, viral communication exposes and disposes of chicanery, as quickly as it exposed the SEIU shills stuffing the early "town hall" meetings.

Where Peggy Noonan explains the impact of the Tea Party, and in part why the Republican Party establishment is afraid of, and unable to draw power and funds from, the Tea Party, it is Chris Anderson's Crowd Accelerated Innovation that explains why the Tea Party works so well.

The Democratic and Republican party leaderships are still founded on the days of controllable and restricted media of the mid-20th Century, as modified by the cheap energy era - and easy money - that blossomed so grandly for American from the 1950s through the early 2000s.

What brings the Tea Party to the fore now? The United States is called a "capitalist" nation. I had to look that up. Capitalism is a form of government that supports and encourages capitalists. That is, the wealthy, but especially those investing and managing capital investments for industry, commerce, and other kinds of production. Capitalists invest to create profits - jobs, goods, etc. And Capitalism encourages that. Because of the chances for abuse in an unregulated climate, there are a few necessary controls - monopolies and unfair business practices are punished, deceit and fraud are punished. But now we have a President that hates capitalism. In his haste to dismantle the economic basis of what used to be a wealthy nation, a nation that used to rebuild countries in the shape we are in today, he has made the US a second world power, inviting other nations to assert their own dominance in the world. And he continues to punish capitalists - the very people and organizations needed to restore any semblance of a sustainable economy.

Three other important issues highlight the crisis that the Tea Party addresses. Global Warming has been made an international bogey man. Whether or not the climate is changing or will change, the political impact has been felt. Whether or not the political infighting that has tainted any possibility of getting a definitive answer about causes and effects from the science community is moot at this point. The UN and certain factions in the Obama administration are using the argument to continue disrupting the US economy, punish the capitalists that frankly made the US the power it became for World War II, and would be required if any great national effort in the future were to succeed.

The next great issue is biting now. Sources differ, whether the peak oil production fell below world demand, on a day-by-day basis, in 2005 - or will in the next couple of years. Peak Oil means that the demand for oil is and will be forever, greater than the ability to produce oil. Yes, there are reserves of oil to last centuries. But it can no longer be produced at a rate to satisfy world demand today. The result is expected to be a gradual ratcheting up, with spikes of increased cost of energy alternating with relative easing of cost - as various economies retract under the strain, reducing demand. But each cycle will ratchet ever higher. The reasons are clear - existing fields are getting closer to empty, and the cost per barrel is increasing at the same time the amount produced per well is declining. One report shows Saudia Arabia needed $18 per barrel in 2000 to break even. That break even point was $68 per barrel in 2009. New finds are more difficult to get to, regulations and costs make getting that oil to market more expensive, and some of us see a profound change coming in how we look at energy. The promise of alternate energy is about as scientifically and economically compromised as the science behind global warming. Wind power generators are dependent on the wind blowing. Alternative sources have to be online and available when the wind stops, or maintenance needs to be done. The cost of wind energy is currently highly subsidized - it couldn't pay for itself on today's market without soaking up bunches of tax dollars. There are other options - wave and tide motors, geothermal and deep sea cold taps, variations on hydroelectric generators - but Washington keeps spending tax money on labor unions and banks that make a profit off the national debt. Reduce taxes, make business regulations relevant to the "land of the free" and the capitalists might be able to make something work.

To my own delight, the Tea Party is focused on the traditional US Constitution and Bill of Rights to restore responsibility in government, as the means to achieve responsible economic reform. Makes sense to me.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

TED - on Crowd Accelerated Inspiration

Chris Anderson curates the TED conference, which highlights important ideas.

Chris himself speaks on Crowd Accelerated Inspiration. Chris considers the three contributing factors - content, light or exposure (visibility or transparency, in today's PC dialect), and desire. He highlights the 6 year old dance whiz and other examples.

His point is that video has the potential to accelerate changes for the better. Better exposure means crowds can define what is "better". Desire to improve means that the crowd's measures of "better" can be used to target new efforts, and light on what is considered the best sets an ever-higher goal.

The USDA organized a series of county fairs some century ago or so, so that at harvest time farmers and ranchers could gather and compare produce and crops, and see what yields the best crop, costs the least, what controls erosion, what equipment works and what doesn't. Most of these state and county fairs still continue, though at most of them, the money from attendees has become the point, and little enough focus remains on what chicken breeds grow faster or lay eggs longer.

I think this is a excellent example of what Chris forsees for online video.

But I think Chris makes one glaring, overweening and unfair assumption. Chris sees the development of the best teachers and the best ideas, and disseminating them to everyone, is the same thing as immensely improving learning.

It isn't so.

Learning is about what information we master. What Chris' video-polishing will accomplish is to burnish and correct data. That is not the same thing as selecting, organizing, presenting those best ideas and videos in such a manner that any particular individual actually learns the material.

The successes in Chris' spotlight varied from the six year old dancer, to the urban gardening revolution in an slum. Let me suggest that the six year old dancer won't be impressed - or pay attention to - the burlap bag gardening or the slum conditions. And the videographer from the slum won't be studying dance moves from anyone.

No, merely improving the facts we wish to teach or to learn, won't necessarily make a big improvement in learning.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I don't care who you are [. .]

[. .] that's not funny. shares a video cartoon, an animated projection of Margaret Gallagher approaching Peter at the Pearly Gates to Heaven.

Now, Heaven, Saint Peter, and marriage are all religious concepts and teachings, and none are universal. Death itself, is mostly universal, and secular as well as a matter of faith. Other than that, this piece is satire aimed at one specific point of fundamentalist Christian dogma - "defense of marriage".

I thought some of the most potent arguments got left out. The famed biblical "Wedding of Canaan" specifies that there is a wedding - a religious rite - and a groom and a bride. One would have to overlook the rest of the bible to assume that no other wives or brides might be present in that groom's household, and that none would join later. Because the bible clearly states that that marriage - a rite of the Jewish faith adopted by Christian churches - had a bride and a groom.

[Robert Frezza's "McLendon's Syndrome" immortalizes another aspect of that Biblical story, "reminded of the Wedding at Canaan. They served jug wine until someone important showed up."]

The critical fallacies I see in the argument about whether "marriage" is about one man and one woman joining in "holy" matrimony - is projecting the religious rite onto secular governance. In secular - non-religious - context, a marriage creates a legal entity that then exists aside from the adults that make it up. Any intimation or explicit formula for genders and roles of participants is essentially religious, or at most secular whim. Laws of the land ought not to embody on religious interpretation (as the early Mormons in their bloody trail of persecution and violent clashes with other Christians from New England to Utah). Whim should be changed immediately when it is recognized to be wrong or inconvenient.

The right answer is for the state and nation to repeal legislation regarding marriage, or as a minimum, revise all statues to recognize all marriage ceremonies performed by any recognized religious organization. The issue isn't just gender mix - there are families living today in a multiple-adult household, in a just and disciplined fashion, creating loving and supportive homes for themselves, their children, and acting as assets of their communities. The Muslim entering America with several wives - are we to rewrite all our marriage laws to accommodate whatever arrangements exist between such adults, to allow or forbid?

Then there is the criminal side. People want laws against sodomy and "unnatural" sex applied to others - but have stopped prosecuting or reporting for criminal prosecution acts of adultery, fornication, and for the most part, statutory rape. Abandonment of family is seen as grounds for divorce - seldom is anyone leaving their avowed responsibility actually arrested and prosecuted for *gasp* foreswearing them selves. You know - like perjury? When in court you swear to tell the truth, then get caught in a lie? You swear to take this adult to you to have and to hold (a witnessed oath, recorded in a cognizant court) - at least, until you change your mind? In such a society where "the family" is often twisted by lack of discipline and lack of respect - and outright violence, substance abuse - and communities are apathetic or blocked by court rulings from intervening - how is anyone served (except perhaps by publicity-seeking church activists?) attacking a household of disciplined, respectful, loving adults doing their best to raise their children?

Don't criticize the mote in someone else's eye, indeed, until you remove the splinter from your own.

Some activists in San Francisco, a few decades back, agitated to forbid lesbian couples from raising children - because the children couldn't thrive in such an environment. The school board commissioned a couple of studies, and found that on average the children in lesbian homes did better in school, were better adjusted and happier, than the average "couple" parented home could accomplish.

Hate is a four-letter word. The long and bloody history of the Christian Church has proven that hate is still a vicious, double-edged weapon.

A family should be defined as adults agreeing to form a household with the intention of nurturing each other and raising and nurturing progeny. If the point of coming together is *not* to raise children, then calling a couple or group a family doesn't make it one - whatever the gender mix.

At least that is the way I see it. Your view?