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Friday, August 8, 2014

Just politics

Perhaps the reason I've stayed away from this blog for so long is that I just don't follow politics the way I once did.  But, I went back to Evernote and found a few things I've saved of late that struck my fancy... I share below with a few comments:

  • Kinda of buried the lead, didn't you? - in the link a conservative realizes that his brethren have jumped the shark and writes a pitifully weak piece about it - but here's what should have been the lead:
            "In the age of Barack Obama, who would have been considered a moderate conservative a generation ago, it is easily forgotten that there was a radical left..." 

          Help me Rhonda, and then he butchers the "radical left" piece... but, he was dead freakin on about Obama being a moderate conservative.
  •  Have truer words ever been spoken?: US author Joe Bageant wrote in 2007 that "one of the slickest things the Right ever did was to label necessary social costs as entitlements. Through 30 years of repetition the Republicans have managed to associate the term with laziness in American minds."
  •  Obviously Mr. Paul doesn't want the R's nomination if he's challenging the myth of Reagan: from Rand Paul - "Some say, well that's fine, but there were good old days. We did at one time ... When we had Reagan, we were fiscal conservatives. Well, unfortunately, even that wasn't true. When Reagan was elected in 1980, the first bill they passed was called the Gramm-Latta bill of 1981, and Republicans pegged it as this great step forward. Well, Jimmy Carter's last budget was about $34 or $36 billion in debt. Well, it turns out, Reagan's first budget turned out to be $110 billion dollars in debt. And each successive year, the deficit rose throughout Reagan's two terms."

I Believe in...

Seth Godin and others talk about "the lizard brain"... (Carl Sagan called it the 'reptilian brain) and the argument is that we all have this piece of our brain interested in our survival - eating, drinking, sex.  It's where our fight or flight response comes from.

We all talk to ourselves in our head, and we assume that person that is talking is us, but that voice is most often one of two things - the lizard brain or cultural programming, i.e., people pulling our strings.

It's an interesting question to ask how susceptible we are to the lizard brain or the programming.  We've all heard that we are, or become, the 5 people we hang around with the most.  And we all clearly do this on some level.  Yet, I've known people who seem to absorb themselves into the actions, thoughts, ideas, of others more than most.  They talk like their boss, laugh like their buddies, think like their neighbors.

When I was in sales it was easier to see.  I made more sales if I could adapt to the people I was talking with, and on a weekly basis I was in contact with sales reps from companies hawking their wares, trying to convince me, similar to how I was trying to convince my customers, that they knew the path to their righteousness and salvation.  O.k., that's a stretch, my sales career consisted of selling cell phones or golf clubs, but the point, I hope, is made. Who do you listen to?  Who are your "experts" of knowledge?  How often to you step back and wonder if they have a fuckin' clue what they're talking about?

Sadly, most don't.  Thus, we see a large percentage of the population led around by people they think are 'cool', doesn't matter if they think the fox news crew are cool or the msnbc crew are cool (I've written about this countless times, but if you don't understand that that margin of difference in fox and msnbc is remarkably closer than you think, we seriously don't have much to talk about...). And this trickles down to our personal lives.  If you get all of your information from a small group, well hell... read the Wisdom of Crowds, frankly read lots of stuff that argues against everything you think you believe. Consider whether you in fact need to quit your job, buy an estate, or take a piss, just think for a moment "is this what I believe or is this what my lizard brain or my spouse/friends/co-workers have taught me to believe?"

How do we as a culture figure out, as Seth charges us to, to "quiet the lizard brain", and as I would argue, quiet the cultural programming, that directs much of our behavior, and many of the worlds problems and conflicts?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

What does it take to Succeed?

What does success look like?

For 100+ years we knew.  Success meant the accumulation of wealth and stuff.  Going forward it doesn't appear this won't be an option for most... then what?

If in 2023 (ish )only 35% of the jobs will require any type of certification/degree/diploma beyond a high school diploma.  Some have argued only 30% of the US population will thrive (based on the old model of success) while 70% will struggle to make ends-meet.

Clearly, we need to redefine the meaning of success.

What if schools were rated based on whose graduates the happiest kid? Or communities were measured not by median household income, but on health and wellness?

Well, that's insane, some would argue, kids must be rated based on test scores and there are these clear historical links with income and wellness.

But, going forward, previous incremental steps to get success won't work or matter...what degree you have will mean nothing.  Engineering.  Sociology.  History.  English.  It won't matter.  You will be damn lucky (yes lucky) if you end up one of the 30% who can make ends meet.

Lots of Dr. Oz types out there are convincing you there are magic pills in health, workforce development, economic development, education.  But, the fact is Jack never threw down some beans that led to the giants.  There are no magic pills and we're all going to have to make ends meet, one way or the other, going forward.

Thus, how do we try and make it work?  We struggle, strive, and just frankly, do our best.

Read Tim Ferriss' - 4 Hour Work Week... he talks about lifestyle design, multiple income streams, etc., as alternatives to the deferred life plan, as options.  But, they may soon be the only options for most.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Just Say No!

"Mrs. Reagan. Now we go on to the next stop: making a final commitment not to tolerate drugs by anyone, anytime, anyplace. So, won't you join us in this great, new national crusade?"
Just say No.  Many grew up with this mantra.  Drug were evil.  One hit of CRACK and you're addicted.  Those drug addicted folks steal!  They LIE!  And that evil Marijuana - "Women Cry For It, Men Die For It!"

And so, my 75 year old mother, who hasn't slept in weeks is scared to take a Tylenol or Advil to ease the pain.  Those drugs ya know, all part of some conspiracy by the pharmaceutical industry to get us all hooked. All we need is our bodies and positive thoughts.  Or prayer, as some religions believe while their children suffer. Or Love is All We Need, as the Beatles sang.

Great example of pulling strings.  Not very far at all removed from the snake handler who thinks "god loves me, so that rattler won't bite". Blasphemy to suggest that many successful folks smoke pot regularly, some smoke crack occasionally, low and behold even METH can be done without causing you to lose your life??  But, the vision of the drunkard, the vision of the wayward, and the addict is sticky isn't it?  So folks avoid taking a Tylenol, much less a doctor's prescribed percoset, to make the pain subside so they can sleep through the night.

They say Bacon is the "gateway drug" for vegetarians... I wonder what the "gateway drug" to being comfortable enough with our own self and fortitude to be willing to take a pain reliever is?

I don't fit this category, in IQ or drug-use, but the research is a bit startling isn't it?
"Researchers discovered men with high childhood IQs were up to two times more likely to use illegal drugs than their lower-scoring counterparts.  Girls with high IQs were up to three times more likely to use drugs as adults."

I don't know about intelligence, but it strikes me that there may be some relationship to feeling empowered and comfortable in our own skin to allowing oneself the benefit of modern science to alleviate pain.  But, the messaging has been hard and consistent for years and that "all drugs are evil" has resulted in more that a little collateral damage.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

What's Good For General Motors is Good for America

It turns out the quote, "What's Good For General Motors is Good for America", wasn't really a quote, or at least it was one that was taken out of context, according to wikipedia HERE.

But, I believe an argument can be made that it's message has been ingrained as truth in the American psyche for many years, and continues to this day.

Certain professions, most elected officials, economic developers, etc., are rewarded when the front page of the paper says a company is coming to town and going to hire workers.  Companies are some folks primary customers and the customer is always right. Thus, they give tax breaks, pay for worker training, get zoning changed, whatever they can do for that company.  The more jobs created the better, everyone needs a job, and companies create jobs is the logic.

As a culture we've measure our success by a similar's the "economy" doing on the nightly news, often means how are the stock prices of companies doing.  Oddly, when companies trim the labor force to save money, very often their stock prices go up.

Ultimately, the mindset we've adopted is that companies "take care" of places.  It's clearly the Reagan mantra of "trickle-down" economics.  If we take care of companies, and rich people, they will take care of us.  Places then build their strategies around catering to companies and rich people, successful places have the right mix of high-end shops, art, walkable streets, good grocery stores, and people willing to work hard to make companies money, because if companies are successful they will take care of us, their wealth will trickle down.

Our culture has embraced this mindset since at least the early 80's.  While we smile and laugh-off the infamous movie line "greed is good" as part of a bygone era, we spend most of our time watching rich people lead their lives on television, and imagining our lives if we were rich, rather than leading our own lives, much less working to improve the lives of those around us. We don't see poor people as assets, because we don't believe they can ever "trickle" down to benefit us.  As Robert Reich has pointed out -

"Regressives sincerely believe the rich will work harder if they have even more, and the poor will work harder if they have even less. I debated a conservative economist yesterday who said unemployment insurance reduced the incentive of the unemployed to look for jobs (even now when three people are out of work for every job that's available) and that the House Republican budget cuts in programs for the poor would motivate them to get out of poverty. But he was equally adamant that the wealthy would work harder if their taxes were reduced, and that even the rather small tax increase enacted in January on the very rich would reduce their motivation."
It's not just regressives, it's part of our culture.  Take care of the rich and they'll take care of us, the poor are a liability and we must encourage them to work for companies at low wages, because then the company benefits and that will trickle down to the rest of us.  It's how we end up with a Federal budget where the vast majority of our collected, pooled funds meant to benefit the country, ends back up in the hands of corporations.  How much of the defense budget ends up with defense contractors?  How many ways do we tell WalMart or GE they don't have to contribute their share in our pooled funds, and then we take the pooled funds we do have and build them new water and sewer lines, or pave their parking lots or train their workforce?  Yet, all of the fights about the federal budget are about how much less to give the people with less.  And all the blame for our problems is thrust on poor people, who have no voice or advocate, at least not voices with power.

In 1881 there was an editorial by the newspaper in Tupelo, MS that said this:
 "Every man owes a duty to the town in which he resides, to advance its prosperity and to make it the abode of kindly sentiments and brotherly and neighborly feelings."..."It's a shame for a man to use his community as a shepherd uses his sheep, merely to shear the wool. That man is a disgrace to the 19th Century whose every act is regulated by the thought, 'Can I better myself at the expense of the community to which I belong?'"
Now we admire the pawnbrokers, the loan sharks, the hucksters, slumlords, and the pickle-vendors.  We've lost any sense of community, or brotherly and neighborly feelings.  We're convinced that the wealth of these same people who ask each day if they better themselves at the expense of their community,  will trickle-down to the rest of the community. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The War on Science... continued

This piece from Juan Cole offers a chance to follow-up on my previous post (Being Gray, In a Black or White World)

The GOP's War on Science Endangering America: Climate Change, Evolution, Regulation
"The Republican Party is increasingly emerging as an anti-science party. Since American greatness was built on its science and technology (and not on the odd cult of biblical inerrancy), this development is a danger to the republic, and, indeed, to the world. The US used to be about solving problems, about a can-do spirit, not about denying concrete reality."
First, Cole is absolutely correct - the GOP, and their billionaire backers, are playing a very scary game because of their denial of reality.  But, in the last post, I made the argument that we should welcome skepticism in our own lives, admit when we don't have all the answers, be willing to say, "we just don't know".  Isn't that exactly what the GOP are doing?  Asking sometimes logical, reasonable questions about things like climate change, evolution, and regulation? They are, but not for the reason of solving serious problems and not in pursuit of answers.  Criticism and skepticism are not leadership. My inclination is that they raise these points not to move the conversation forward, but to score political points and pull strings.

There is a similar relationship on the issues of diet or supplements that I raised in the original post. Where are the issues being raised as a matter of moving the conversation forward, and where are they being raised as a point of stiffing conversation?  Are you questioning because you know what others should do, or because you hope others ask questions and learn more, because you too need to learn more and the research isn't clear?

Two more recent post that have garnered LOTS of comments at various places, are worth a read, be sure to browse the comments -

Whole Foods: America's Temple of Pseudoscience 
 When it comes to vaccines, science can run into a brick wall

And a couple of other links about spotting "bad science":
TEDx - A letter to the TEDx community
Spotting Bad Science

It seems the way this stuff works, I may just keep adding to this list - here's the latest related item traveling around the internet, again, check out the comments - note the true believers versus truth seekers (sounds cheesy, but I couldn't think of a better phrase):
High Protein Diets Make Look Good, Kill You
The Risk of High Protein Diets

VW vote... good for whom?

On facebook someone posted:
Good News for the South: Chattanooga Volkswagen plant votes against UAW | Times Free Press
Good News for the South? Good news for the workers?  Less money, less benefits, less ability to organize or to negotiate either going forward...  But, the current elected officials say it is good news because they'd "been told" that if the vote passed it would cost TN 1500 jobs for the new VW SUV line at the Chattanooga plant.

Back a few year's ago I was working on a project where we thought we had the chance to land the VW plant and in my research I noted that the Germany workers were going on strike because of the threat of raising their work week from 34 to 37 hours a week with no pay raise.  Adding insult to injury the German facility paid their workers over $60 an hour for their less than 40 hour work week.  The cheerful Chattanoogan's landed the VW plant with a guaranteed $14.50 starting salary. (Can't find the original article, but here's one from Forbes around the same time with similar stats).  Nissan and Toyota came to MS, KIA and Mercedes, VW, Saturn, all headed South... hell as Area Development mag, and many others, pointed out the Auto Industry "flew South"

For many economic development types, every time some nonunion industry lands in the South paying somewhere around $14.50 an hour they get something like a salary bump and a woody... every time some poor folk are willing to work for less money it's a good thing for him.

Most folks understand a pawn broker's MO - the worse off you do, the better for them.  Their bet is that your life will not get better, and you will not be able to "buy back" the goods left at the pawn brokers.  Then they get to sell it and make more money.  But, fewer understand the number of people betting on you to fail... Joe Bageant called them the "pickle vendors" ... and you go to church with them, you're member of local hunting clubs with them, and meet them for breakfast at the local spots,   Here's what Joe said about them:
OK. So the truly rich may not get it. But the most dangerous weasels of all, the ones at the next level down from Dicko -- those little ankle biters trying to get a bigger piece of the action -- they get it all too well. Or at least to the extent they understand that the masses need to be roughed up from time to time. Kept in their place. Now I'm not talking about the barber or three-chair beauty shop or the deli owner up the street. I am talking about the realtors, lawyers and middlemen willing to cooperate in whatever it takes to destroy land use and zoning codes, bust unions and keep wages low, rents high, the liberals down and the "cullids" out. This group of second tier conservative professionals and semi-pros are dead set on being real players someday. On their way up the ladder they will screw you blind and make you beg for your change.
America's small and medium sized towns are run entirely by their business class, those countless little sparkplugs of the American capitalist corporate machinery. They are where the institutionalized rip-off by the rich corporations finds its footing and support. Serving on every local governmental body, this mob of Kiwanis and Rotarians have connections, and collectively can get that 200 acres rezoned for Wal-Mart or a sewer line to that 2000-unit housing development at taxpayer expense. When it comes to getting things done locally for the big guys, these folks can heal the sick, raise the dead and give eyesight to the blind. They are God's gift to the big non-union companies and the chip plants looking for a fresh river to piss cadmium into -- the Rotarian, Lions, Kiwanis Club can-do boys. What makes them especially dangerous is that they are politically active, and have a cumulative effect on the national corps politique.
So, the VW vote is good for the "little ankle biters"... but, it's not good for the rest of us.  Not good, in fact, for any of us as we fall farther on the race to the bottom.  The US isn't competing against other "first world" country's for these plants, it's competing in a race to the bottom against 2nd and 3rd world companies... see, we're willing to do it cheaper!  To sell our folks for a dollar cheaper... we're low cost!

It's obviously good news for the 85 people who own as much as 50% of the world's population, and the 50 most generous philanthropist who gave 7.7 billion dollars away last year (of there more than TRILLION dollars) and as this article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy asks, is it enough that these few are worth so much?  What a good debate... but nobody in the mainstream is asking what Joe did over 10 years ago, what about the 'ankle biters' and "business class' in our towns who are selling the majority down the tube for their own extra pennies?

What a damn mess.