Tuesday, July 19, 2011

9 Things That May Disappear In Our Lifetime.......

Something to think about.

Whether these changes are good or bad depends in part on how we adapt to them. But, ready or not, here they come.

1. The Post Office. Get ready to imagine a world without the post office. They are so deeply in financial trouble that there is probably no way to sustain it long term. e-mail, Fed Ex, and UPS have just about wiped out the minimum revenue needed to keep the post office alive. Most of your mail every day is junk mail and bills.

2. The Check. Britain is already laying the groundwork to do away with checks by 2018. It costs the financial system billions of dollars a year to process checks.. Plastic cards and online transactions will lead to the eventual demise of the check. This plays right into the death of the post office. If you never paid your bills by mail and never received them by mail, the post office would absolutely go out of business.

3. The Newspaper. The younger generation simply doesn't read the newspaper. They certainly don't subscribe to a daily delivered print edition. That may go the way of the milkman and the laundry man. As for reading the paper online, get ready to pay for it. The rise in mobile Internet devices and e-readers has caused all the newspaper and magazine publishers to form an alliance. They have met with Apple, Amazon, and the major cell phone companies to develop a model for paid subscription services.

4. The Book. You say you will never give up the physical book that you hold in your hand and turn the literal pages. I said the same thing about downloading music fromiTunes. I wanted my hard copy CD. But I quickly changed my mind when I discovered that I could get albums for half the price without ever leaving home to get the latest music. The same thing will happen with books. You can browse a bookstore online and even read a preview chapter before you buy. And the price is less than half that of a real book. And think of the convenience! Once you start flicking your fingers on the screen instead of the book, you find that you are lost in the story, can't wait to see what happens next, and you forget that you're holding a gadget instead of a book.

5. The Land Line Telephone. Unless you have a large family and make a lot of local calls, you don't need it anymore. Most people keep it simply because they've always had it. But you are paying double charges for that extra service. All the cell phone companies will let you call customers using the same cell provider for no charge against your minutes.
6. Music. This is one of the saddest parts of the change story. The music industry is dying a slow death. Not just because of illegal downloading. It's the lack of innovative new music being given a chance to get to the people who would like to hear it. Greed and corruption is the problem. The record labels and the radio conglomerates are simply self-destructing. Over 40% of the music purchased today is "catalog items," meaning traditional music that the public is familiar with. Older established artists. This is also true on the live concert circuit. To explore this fascinating and disturbing topic further, check out the book, "Appetite for Self-Destruction" by Steve Knopper, and the video documentary, "Before the Music Dies."

7. Television. Revenues to the networks are down dramatically. Not just because of the economy. People are watching TV and movies streamed from their computers. And they're playing games and doing lots of other things that take up the time that used to be spent watching TV. Prime time shows have degenerated down to lower than the lowest common denominator. Cable rates are skyrocketing and commercials run about every 4 minutes and 30 seconds. I say good riddance to most of it. It's time for the cable companies to be put out of our misery. Let the people choose what they want to watch online and through Netflix.

8. "Things" That You Own. Many of the very possessions that we used to own are still in our lives, but we may not actually own them in the future. They may simply reside in "the cloud." Today your computer has a hard drive and you store your pictures, music, movies, and documents. Your software is on a CD or DVD, and you can always re-install it if need be. But all of that is changing. Apple, Microsoft, and Google are all finishing up their latest "cloud services." That means that when you turn on a computer, the Internet will be built into the operating system. So, Windows, Google, and the Mac OS will be tied straight into the Internet. If you click an icon, it will open something in the Internet cloud. If you save something, it will be saved to the cloud. And you may pay a monthly subscription fee to the cloud provider. In this virtual world, you can access your music or your books, or your whatever from any laptop or handheld device. That's the good news. But, will you actually own any of this "stuff" or will it all be able to disappear at any moment in a big "Poof?"  Will most of the things in our lives be disposable and whimsical?  It makes you want to run to the closet and pull out that photo album, grab a book from the shelf, or open up a CD case and pull out the insert.

9. Privacy. If there ever was a concept that we can look back on nostalgically, it would be privacy. That's gone. It's been gone for a long time anyway. There are cameras on the street, in most of the buildings, and even built into your computer and cell phone. But you can be sure that 24/7, "They" know who you are and where you are, right down to the GPS coordinates, and the Google Street View. If you buy something, your habit is put into a zillion profiles, and your ads will change to reflect those habits. And "They" will try to get you to buy something else. Again and again.

All we will have that can't be changed are Memories.
Original source unknown.  Received from Tony Barilla 7/18/2011

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Persecution of Christianity

   One of the striking things about some varieties of Christian discourse in the United States is recurrent claims of persecution.  This was evident recently when the state of New York legalized gay marriage.  In a country where something like 90% of the population asserts a belief in God and the overwhelming majority of those believers embrace some form of Christianity, this is a striking claim.  On the basis of these facts, claims that Christians are a persecuted sect seem utterly nonsensical.  Nonetheless the belief in the besieged status of Christianity appears well entrenched.

What lies behind these claims?  The real key to understanding claims of persecution is understanding the tremendous prestige that the status of being persecuted has in Christianity.  After all, the very founder of the religion was subjected to a very real persecution, including torture and a gruesome death.  The early history of the church is filled with martyrs whose deaths were bizarre and painful enough to satisfy the the most deviant serial killer.  Thus to be persecuted for your beliefs is an essential validation of those beliefs.

When this world view is united with a literalist interpretation of the Bible, any departure from biblically ordained practice becomes persecution.  In as much as God demands certain behaviors departures from them is an affront to Christian belief.  Such affronts are persecution.  If you doubt this, see Kathryn Lopez take on the legalization of gay marriage in the National Review where she compares the state of New York to North Korea in its oppression.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Obama Will Triumph

 I don't subscribe to all of this, but it does provide a useful perspective

Obama Will Triumph -- So Will America
By Frank Schaeffer

Frank Schaeffer is a New York Times best selling author.

Before he'd served even one year President Obama lost the support of the easily distracted left and engendered the white hot rage of the hate-filled right. But some of us, from all walks of life and ideological backgrounds -- including this white, straight, 57-year- old, former religious right wing agitator, now progressive writer and (given my background as the son of a famous evangelical leader) this unlikely Obama supporter -- are sticking with our President. Why?-- because he is succeeding.

We faithful Obama supporters still trust our initial impression of him as a great, good and uniquely qualified man to lead us.

Obama's steady supporters will be proved right. Obama's critics will be remembered as easily panicked and prematurely discouraged at best and shriveled hate mongers at worst.

The Context of the Obama Presidency

Not since the days of the rise of fascism in Europe, the Second World War and the Depression has any president faced more adversity. Not since the Civil War has any president led a more bitterly divided country. Not since the introduction of racial integration has any president faced a more consistently short-sighted and willfully ignorant opposition - from both the right and left.

As the President's poll numbers have fallen so has his support from some on the left that were hailing him as a Messiah not long ago; all those lefty websites and commentators that were falling all over themselves on behalf of our first black president during the 2008 election.

The left's lack of faith has become a self-fulfilling "prophecy"-- snipe at the President and then watch the poll numbers fall and then pretend you didn't have anything to do with it!

Here is what Obama faced when he took office-- none of which was his fault:

# An ideologically divided country to the point that America was really two countries

# Two wars; one that was mishandled from the start, the other that was unnecessary and immoral

# The worst economic crisis since the depression

# America 's standing in the world at the lowest point in history

# A country that had been misled into accepting the use of torture of prisoners of war

# A health care system in free fall

# An educational system in free fall

# A global environmental crisis of history-altering proportions (about which the Bush administration and the Republicans had done nothing)

# An impasse between culture warriors from the right and left

# A huge financial deficit inherited from the terminally irresponsible Bush administration.

And those were only some of the problems sitting on the President's desk!

"Help" from the Right?

What did the Republicans and the religious right, libertarians and half-baked conspiracy theorists -- that is what the Republicans were reduced to by the time Obama took office -- do to "help" our new president (and our country) succeed? They claimed that he wasn't a real American, didn't have an American birth certificate, wasn't born here, was secretly a Muslim, was white-hating "racist", was secretly a communist, was actually the Anti-Christ, (!) and was a reincarnation of Hitler and wanted "death panels" to kill the elderly!

They not-so-subtly called for his assassination through the not-so-subtle use of vile signs held at their rallies and even a bumper sticker quoting Psalm 109:8. They organized "tea parties" to sound off against imagined insults and all government in general and gathered to howl at the moon. They were led by insurance industry lobbyists and deranged (but well financed) "commentators" from Glenn Beck to Rush Limbaugh.

The utterly discredited Roman Catholic bishops teamed up with the utterly discredited evangelical leaders to denounce a president who was trying to actually do something about the poor, the environment, to diminish the number of abortions through compassionate programs to help women and to care for the sick! And in Congress the Republican leadership only knew one word: "No!"

In other words the reactionary white, rube, uneducated, crazy American far right, combined with the educated but obtuse neoconservative war mongers, religious right shills for big business, libertarian Fed Reserve-hating gold bug, gun-loving crazies, child-molesting acquiescent "bishops", frontier loons, and evangelical gay-hating flakes found one thing to briefly unite them: their desire to stop an uppity black man from succeeding at all costs!

"Help" from the Left?

What did the left do to help their newly elected president? Some of them excoriated the President because they disagreed with the bad choices he was being forced to make regarding a war in Afghanistan that he'd inherited from the worst president in modern history!

Others stood up and bravely proclaimed that the President's economic policies had "failed" before the President even instituted them! Others said that since all gay rights battles had not been fully won within virtually minutes of the President taking office, they'd been "betrayed"! (Never mind that Obama's vocal support to the gay community is stronger than any other president's has been. Never mind that he signed a new hate crimes law!)

Those that had stood in transfixed legions weeping with beatific emotion on election night turned into an angry mob saying how "disappointed" they were that they'd not all immediately been translated to heaven the moment Obama stepped into the White House! Where was the "change"? Contrary to their expectations they were still mere mortals!

And the legion of young new supporters was too busy texting to pay attention for longer than a nanosecond. "Governing"?! What the hell does that word, uh, like mean?"

The President's critics left and right all had one thing in common: impatience laced with little-to-no sense of history (let alone reality) thrown in for good measure. Then of course there were the white, snide know-it-all commentators/talking heads who just couldn't imagine that maybe, just maybe they weren't as smart as
they thought they were and certainly not as smart as their president. He hadn't consulted them, had he? So he must be wrong!

The Obama critics' ideological ideas defined their idea of reality rather than reality defining their ideas-say, about what is possible in one year in office after the hand that the President had been dealt by fate, or to be exact by the American idiot nation that voted Bush into office. twice!

Meanwhile back in the reality-based community - in just 12 short months -- President Obama:

#Continued to draw down the misbegotten war in Iraq (But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Thoughtfully and decisively picked the best of several bad choices regarding the war in Afghanistan
(But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Gave a major precedent-setting speech supporting gay rights (But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Restored America 's image around the globe (But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Banned torture of American prisoners (But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Stopped the free fall of the American economy (But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Put the USA squarely back in the bilateral international community (But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Put the USA squarely into the middle of the international effort to halt global warming (But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Stood up for educational reform (But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Won a Nobel peace prize (But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Moved the trial of terrorists back into the American judicial system of checks and balances (But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Did what had to be done to start the slow, torturous and almost impossible process of health care reform that 7 presidents had failed to even begin (But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Responded to hatred from the right and left with measured good humor and patience (But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Stopped the free fall of job losses (But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Showed immense personal courage in the face of an armed and dangerous far right opposition that included the sort of disgusting people that show up at public meetings carrying loaded weapons and carrying Timothy McVeigh-inspired signs about the "blood of tyrants" needing to "water the tree of liberty". (But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Showed that he could not only make the tough military choices but explain and defend them brilliantly (But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

Other than those "disappointing" accomplishments -- IN ONE YEAR -- President Obama "failed"! Other than that he didn't "live up to expectations"!

Who actually has failed...

...are the Americans that can't see the beginning of a miracle of national rebirth right under their jaded noses. Who failed are the smart ass ideologues of the left and right who began rooting for this President to fail so that they could be proved right in their dire and morbid predictions. Who failed are the movers and shakers behind our obscenely dumb news cycles that have turned "news" into just more stupid entertainment for an entertainment-besotted
infantile country.

Here's the good news: President Obama is succeeding without the help of his lefty "supporters" or hate-filled Republican detractors!

The Future Looks Good

After Obama has served two full terms, (and he will), after his wisdom in moving deliberately and cautiously with great subtlety on all fronts -- with a canny and calculating eye to the possible succeeds, (it will), after the economy is booming and new industries are burgeoning, (they will be), after the doomsayers are all proved not just wrong but silly: let the record show that not all Americans were panicked into thinking the sky was falling.

Just because we didn't get everything we wanted in the first short and fraught year Obama was in office not all of us gave up. Some of us stayed the course. And we will be proved right.

PS. if you agree that Obama is shaping up to be a great president, please pass this on and hang in there! Pass it on anyway to ensure that his "report card" gets the attention it deserves.

Friday, October 15, 2010

George Orwell as a social theorist

George Orwell (pen name for Eric Blair 1903-1950) is recognized as one of the great English language prose stylists of the first half of the 20th Century.  His work incorporated linguistic precision with a passion for social justice.  He was equally passionate as an opponent of Stalinism and its pretensions to represent a socialist alternative to capitalism.  This passion was displayed in his two novels, Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1949) which savaged Stalinist Russia for the emergence of the new class of commissars and the repression and rewriting of history, respectively.  These books were among the largest selling of the 20th Century.  No one has (or likely ever will) matched Orwell's contempt for the abuse and distortion of language that the Stalinist regime was guilty of.

However, I want to emphasize a different aspect of Orwell's work in 1984, in particular.  When I first read the novel in the late 1960s, I was impressed by the geopolitical analysis it contains.   For those who have never read the book (Highly recommended) in 1984 the world is divided into three power blocks, Oceana, Eurasia, and Eastasia.  These are respectively, the Western Hemisphere (plus Great Britain as Airstrip One and some of the then British Commonwealth), roughly the Soviet Union (plus the satellites and Western Europe), and what is now the Peoples Republic of China.  In the novel, these powers were continually at war with each other (the better to justify their continuing repression of their peoples) in shifting alliances.  However, the warfare did not usually impact any of their main territories.  Instead, the fighting occurred in Africa, the Near East, and South Asia.  This is actually a brilliant description of the mid-Cold War geopolitical situation (although South America was definitely in play.)  Remember though, this was written twenty years before the actual situation on the ground developed.

Did Orwell offer other prescient insights?  I believe so, the great villain of the Party in the novel is Emmanuel Goldstein (a rather transparent stand-in for Trotsky.)  His book, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchic Collectivism, explains the structure of the party as a new class.  This new class will be "...a boot stamping on a human face—forever."  Oligarchic collectivism does not discriminate on the basis of race, or other irrelevant criteria.  The Party as new class has a privileged, and much higher consumption level than the Proles who constitute the rest of society.

Now my leap forward, doesn't this sound a bit like the social system that has evolved in the US recently?  We have an oligarchy that can depend on government bailouts whenever its economic interests are threatened.  The rest of of us, not so much.  In fact, our living standards are under constant downward pressure.  We have a condition of permanent and unwinnable warfare.  And if we don't approach the levels of repression shown in 1984, there is certainly disquieting movement in that direction.

Please: Somebody reassure me that we are not on the road to Oligarchical Collectivism.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Death Throes of the Grand Old Party.

Gentlebeings we are watching the death throes of a great political party.  Among my other youthful peccadillos was being a Young Republican.  The great sin of the modern Republican party is allowing the tin-foil hat brigade of unbalanced conspiracy theorists (Birthers, Tenthers,etc) not just to take over, but the dominate policy discussions.

The Republican party has three ideas 1) Cut taxes 2) Scare white people, 3) Repeal the New Deal/Social Democratic settlement.  1) is nearly universally popular, so much so that it has become a talismanic formula for Republican politicians.  2) is very much in evidence in the southern United States. However, as a strategy is demographically suicidal.  Look at how they have alienated the Hispanic vote to appeal to the Nativist sentiments. 3) is the third rail of American politics, but they are too obsessed to understand.

All in all very sad.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Karl Marx's grave

On a recent trip to England, I made pilgrimage to Karl Marx's grave.  Two things struck me as incredibly ironic about the gravesite.  The first is that Marx is buried in Highgate Cemetery.  Highgate Village is a very posh, to use the British term, area in the London Metropolitan district.  The great and good have been buried there for about a century and a half.  In fact, they provide a guide to all of the famous graves there.  Of course, for the man whose epitaph shouts, Workers of all land unite, to be buried in such upper class surroundings in ironic.

The second irony, is as you can see, there are flowers and notes strewn about Marx grave.  I used the term pilgrimage above in a very loose sense.  However, his grave is literally a pilgrimage site.  For someone who was a militant atheist to be accorded such posthumous devotion is odd.

A final irony, this is the grave directly across the pathway from Marx:

 Herbert Spencer was about as distant from Marx philosophically as it is possible to imagine.  Death truly is the only equal opportunity institution.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Efficient Krugman Hypothesis, Part II

 Last Sunday Brad Delong commented on his blog,

" Yet another demonstration of the fact that sometime in 2000 we entered a strange world in which Paul Krugman is always right. If we are going to live in such a world, I really, really wish that he had a sunnier and more optimistic disposition. It would make things much better...
 I've written previously on this phenomena.  In the discussion that followed there was much discussion of time-warps and other science fiction inspired explanations for the Efficient Krugman Hypothesis.
In the comments (late to the game) I wrote:

Occam's razor requires me to suggest that no time warp or other supernatural mechanism is needed to explain the Efficient Krugman Hypothesis. (I.e. Paul is always right.) He is always right for four distinct and simple reasons:
1) He is flat incredibly intelligent. (See Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics 2008.)
2) He is unbelievably well informed. (I continue to read Paul's and Brad's blogs because I regularly learn something that I did not know previously.)
3) He is truly disinterested (He has absolutely no axe to grind, no interests to either represent or pander to.)
4) He is amazingly brave, in the manner that only a tenured full professor at an elite school can be. 

This is the reason why second rate (OK I'm being generous to myself, third rate) academic leftists go into the battle against economic ignorance and misinformation chanting, "There is no economist but Krugman, and Delong is his prophet."

The real time warp victims were the "fresh water economists" for whom elegance in theoretical formulations became more important than empirical relevance. I really did think that economics represents more than mathematical masturbation. Silly me.