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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A QUOTE FOR OUR TIMES

"Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters."
-Edmund Burke

Friday, March 29, 2013

HOW FOLKS GET THEIR NEWS

"Why do you lay these troubles on an already troubled mind?"
Grima Wormtongue

Newspaper circulation and ratings of news shows continue a downward plunge, with very few exceptions.  This is met with glee by conservatives, and a bit of puzzlement as well; why won't these news organizations change their behavior?  Why do they seem to be even more slanted than before, why do they go out of their way to avoid covering huge pulitzer prize-caliber stories?  And why, with less and less actual audience to these news organizations seem to continue to have so much influence?
There's a study that was done by Marcus Prior at Princeton University (pdf file) which helps make sense of all this.  He compared the audiences of various news shows (cable and network) with the general voting population and discovered something pretty basic: so few people watch these things that they cannot be the source or even a major contributing factor in public understanding of issues.
Sure, the hardcore news junkie and fanatic will watch these shows and study them, but the general public just doesn't.  Fox News, for example, is the highest-rated news channel in the country, and on each average night, bout 0.7% of the population of the country watches it.  That's several million people so it seems like a lot, but compared to 315 million, it just doesn't add up.  Adding up all the cable news channels combined still isn't a very big number:
The share of Americans who watch cable news at a rate of 10 minutes or more per day is probably no larger than 10-15 percent of the voting age population and rises modestly when an exciting election approaches.
Now, when polled, people will give the news channel they tend to go to when they want to see news, but that doesn't mean they actually watch it much.  Folks who are polled want to sound informed and capable, so they'll say something just to avoid sounding like a cretin, even if its not really true.  Like people who claim to be churchgoers, but only go to church twice a year (Easter and Christmas) or weddings, that doesn't make them a news audience, it makes them someone who technically sometimes views a news channel.
Now Prior argues that the present polarization of views in America thus cannot be traced to cable news - Fox News Channel or otherwise - because there simply are not enough people consuming that news to shift an entire culture.  If one of your four buddies watches the news a lot, he's not the one making the culture change.
Prior points out that when there were only 3 TV channels with news on them, pretty much everyone watched the same evening news and drew their own conclusions.  There was literally nothing else to watch for a couple hours a night on every channel, and people loved them some TV, so they watched.  Now, very few people watch any news and get their ideas from other sources.  Moderates have been pushed in either direction by this, Prior argues.
So where do people get their news?  Not from news sources, but from popular culture and other sources which restate pieces of news.  The expansion of possible entertainment options pulled people away from the network TV channels and away from the news.  Now instead of being locked into network nightly news from 5-7 PM, you could watch a baseball game on ESPN, reruns of Sanford & Son on WTBS, a ballet on Arts & Entertainment, or a show about a drug-addled family of misfits on E!, the alternatives were available by the score.
That's not to say people stopped getting news and opinions, though. They get their information from ESPN and HBO and comedy shows, from entertainment and sources totally unrelated to news.  Snide comments from reality show stars, wisecracks from sitcom characters and late night comedians, youtube clips of Bill Maher and Rush Limbaugh, and Facebook posts about something they saw on ESPN.  When the characters on your favorite drama talk about the horrors of global warming (recent NCIS episode) or mock the Tea Party, or praise gun control, "Obamacare," or Secretary of State Clinton, that tends to influence your views on the issue.  Endless jokes about evil child-molesting priests have shaped a culture whose kneejerk reaction to anything Roman Catholic is a crack about molestation.  Constant hammering that Fox News is some hillbilly batch of right wing extremists or a mouthpiece for the Republican Party shape people's perceptions.
And this isn't done in the form of information or facts, its always done in the form of snide or joking sarcasm and opinion.  Nobody lays out the data and argues a persuasive case, they sneer and mock.  Nobody actually argues why Fox News is evil, they presume it and make jokes about it.
Which is where the old news sources come in.  These shows are written by people, the sports casters and announcers are done by people who have to learn their information somewhere.  And the old news is reaching out to the folks who inform them.  That 20% that watches cable news consists of the really motivated news junkie, the politically driven.
So when you see news sources being even more outrageously partisan and tilted than they ever were, and wonder why on earth they don't stop doing that to maybe win back readers they're alienating, you miss the point.  They're doing so because that's where their audience is.  The New York Times has several times in the past admitted that they are liberal and biased, and do so because their readers prefer it and agree with them.  In fact, they get lambasted by their audience for moderating even slightly from that position.
So they craft a certain narrative about events, people, and reality.  One perspective on events is reported on, while competing or varying stories get minimized, spun, or ignored.  To this day, almost nothing whatsoever has been published by the New York Times on scandals like the Fast & Furious story.  What has been reported has been essentially a White House press release.  By omitting some stories and pushing others, these news organizations can shape understanding and opinions on issues and people.
For example I know a guy online who is absolutely certain that President Obama is the most hated and abused president in human history, that no president has ever been treated so meanly and been so attacked.  He has no doubt about this at all, and further is unassailable in that position.  Just 5 years ago President Bush was in office, with movies and plays being written and performed accusing him of the most evil deeds imaginable and fantasizing about killing him.  President Bush faced unrelenting hatred and attack from the entertainment community, popular culture, academia, and politicians.  No horror was too awful to believe he was involved in, no hatred too extreme to be piled on him.
Today, President Obama is mocked and derided by right-leaning voters, sometimes with shocking venom and absurd fantasy.  But the difference is extreme: both the voters and the media, popular culture, academia, politicians etc were busy doing so against President Bush.  Against Obama?  Not even remotely close. Nobody has done a play about murdering President Obama to rave reviews.  Nobody has put out an indy film about killing the president that is shown at the Sundance Film Festival.  All you get are angry cranks on facebook and twitter.  There's no comparison.
But this guy is totally sure.  Why?  Because he is a hard leftist and doesn't get the news that challenges his assumptions.  He didn't get the stories about the plays and movies fantasizing about murdering Bush.  He only got the stories supporting the hatred and contempt.  He didn't see the unbelievable rage and hatred displayed in protests by foaming extremists.  He didn't get the speeches and comments by loony politicians.  What he does get are pictures of every misspelled Tea Party rally sign, every crank who claims Fox News is a certain way, every facebook post that insists Obama is the most put upon man on earth.  So he has no basis for understanding, that's all he knows, and further all he trusts.
People who challenge this are extremists, radicals, on the fringe, they have an agenda, they cannot be trusted.  If a Republican does something he likes, well they have a secret evil agenda behind it and should be stopped anyway.
And that's how the system works.  The news chooses what to report ("the deciders") and what not to, carefully crafts what is exposed, and puts it out.  The few people who actually pay attention to this then pass what they learned on to the public through various media, using not argument and persuasion but attack and sarcasm.  Michael Savage doesn't try to convince anyone of anything, he just yells and gnashes his teeth.  Jon Stewart puts on a false display of rhetoric on occasion, but its always just sophistry and sight gags.  These people are about shaping opinion, not persuasion.
So the fact that these news organizations are all but dead on the vine doesn't matter a bit in terms of their ability to manipulate events and politics.  In fact, they're more powerful than ever in this, because they are the Wormtongue of modern culture, whispering into the ears of the pundits and opinion makers, slipping their ideas into every possible setting and avenue, just to get people to think a certain way without even realizing it.
Its not so much collusion or design, there's no secret panel meeting in robes by torchlight under the Hollywood sign.  It more or less fell into place, not by craft but by coincidence; most people behind popular culture and entertainment lean left, so they trust their political allies.  Yes, there's been a concerted effort over the decades to build a coalition of people in various places who agree politically, but this just happened organically as the effort continued.  Nobody saw it coming, but they all found a way to make it work for them.
MSNBC and CNN don't really persuade anyone of anything, they tend to only confirm what their viewers already think, but those viewers then reach out and persuade others not through argument and fact but subtle peer pressure, mockery, and unexpected imposition.
*UPDATE: A perfect recent example of how this works.  A recent episode of the show Elementary featured a big snowstorm, and Sherlock Holmes quipped about how storms are getting strong and more powerful over recent years.  This is absolutely false, the opposite is actually true.
However, the writer of Elementary wanted Sherlock to say something smart and informed about the weather, so he put this into the mouth of the actor.  People who don't know anything about weather, climate, or even science hear it - from the mouth of an alleged expert on all things, no less - and believe it to be true.  After all, Sherlock Holmes....
Why did the writer do this?  Because he's been reassured by all the "correct" sources that not only is global warming causing horrific weather, but that anyone who doubts this is a knuckle dragging, sister-marrying, Fox news watching imbecile teabagger; never to be heeded.  And so it goes.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A MATTER OF COMPENSATION

"The answer to Freud’s famous question 'What does Woman want?' is 'Everything they can lay their lovely little hands on.'”

One of the things a wise employee examines when they consider a job is the entire package of benefits and pay it offers.  If one job offers $50,000 a year and no benefits while another offers $45,000 a year but full medical and dental insurance plus paid vacation leave and retirement, the latter is the far better job in terms of payment despite its lower dollar salary.
That's why CEOs get such gargantuan pay at mega corporations, because they're being paid in stock options and incredible benefits as well as their salary, and that's all calculated when a story is written about them.  You have to figure in the company jet and penthouse, not just the money.
When I wrote my bit on women, pregnancy, and pay, it generated a lot more interest than I expected.  American Digest, Ace of Spades, even a commenter on Reason linked to the story and its earned quite a few visits, and comments, which I appreciate.  But one commenter brought up a very good point I had not considered in my post:
The point of the articles isn't how many weeks of parental leave a particular state gives fathers vs mothers. The point is that some employees have the potential to cost employers more via increased benefits, reduced productivity, etc and the employers has every right to consider that during hiring.

What should matter to logical people is total compensation, not just salary. Let's say you have several workers who all have the same average productivity. It is perfectly fair for Worker A to get a higher salary, while Worker B gets better insurance, Worker C gets more time off, etc. If one worker wants better insurance, time off, flex schedule, and other benefits then she has no right to complain that she gets paid less than another employee who does not take those extra benefits.
In other words, you have to look at the whole compensation package to compare earnings.  If women get paid x dollars per hour plus maternity leave (paid in some states), and men get paid x dollars per hour, that means men are being underpaid because their benefits are inferior.  By this calculus, women ought to be paid less, because their superior benefits make up for the slightly lower pay per hour or salary.  In other words, when you argue women should be paid the same as men, you're arguing they ought to be better compensated than men.
In fact, when you factor in child care and other costs (insurance, for instance) women typically, but not always, tend to get more benefits than men.  Obviously some men will be more costly or have kids they require insurance and child care for, so that's variable, but I think the point is clear.
So when you compare women and men in pay, and you want equality and fairness regardless of economic factors, even then women should be paid less.  In the name of fairness and equality.  Assuming that's what you're really after.

Friday, March 22, 2013

THE WORLD IS FAIR

"Expositions are the timekeepers of progress. They record the world's advancement. They stimulate the energy, enterprise, and intellect of the people; and quicken human genius. They go into the home. They broaden and brighten the daily life of the people. They open mighty storehouses of information to the student." -President McKinley

The last World's Fair was held in Yeosu, South Korea, in 2012.  They aren't called "world's fair" any more, they're just called Expo, as in exposition.  The next one is due to be held in 2015 in Italy, but the last one to be called a "worlds fair" was in the 60s, when the name changed to Expo.  I believe but cannot find confirmation that the Montreal Expo of 1967 was the first one by that name (and where their now-defunct baseball team got its name).
The first was held in 1851, in London of course, as that was effectively the capitol of the world at the time.  Called "Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations," it was the brain child of Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.  Notable figures such as Charles Darwin, Samuel Colt, Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson were in attendance.
Among the various exhibitions there was the unveiling of Colt's Navy pistol, the first real functioning single action cartridge pistol; a prototype to the fax machine by Frederick Bakewell, a Jacquard Loom, and various kitchen appliances.  In essence it was a display of the wonders of the world and new technologies.  The main exhibition was held in a new structured deemed the "Crystal palace" which was essentially a gigantic greenhouse, but it was destroyed by fire in 1936.
As the world's fairs became a regular event, one of the biggest and most noteworthy that ever took place was in 1939 in New York City.  This is one of the most iconic of the world's fairs, one which many people associate with the event.  This was the fair with the perisphere and trylon (big orb and tall pyramid).  It was promoted heavily for years before it took place, and tried to focus on new technologies, science, and what the future would likely hold.
Like many of these fairs in the past, it was a place of wonder and innovation.  Converting an ash dump in Queens to a fairgrounds and exhibition center, the plan was to help New York and its citizens through the depression by attracting world dollars.  The fair was set to open on the 150th anniversary of the inauguration of George Washington, who was sworn into office in New York City. 
The New York World's Fair opened on a hot April 30th (most of the 1930s were unusually warm, like the 1990s were), and President Roosevelt was on hand as part of the ceremonies.  His speech was broadcast over the radio, of course, but also was televised, and shown on W2XBS, which inagurated regular television broadcast at the event (this would later be WNBC).  Albert Einstein was on hand to give a talk on cosmic rays.  Among the displays and technology present were these:
  • Bell Laboratories showed off the Voder, which through buttons, levers, and dials was able to simulate the human voice talking.  It took months of training to learn to use, but was able to speak in the hands of a skilled operator.
  • Nylon made its first appearance.
  • Fluorescent lights were first seen.
  • Televisions were scattered through the exhibition.
  • Color Photography was first shown at the fair.
  • The Viewmaster made its debut there as well.
  • An automated dishwasher was on display.
  • Ralph Vaughn Williams wrote a special piece for the event called "Five Variants on Dives and Lazarus" and performed it at the Carnegie Hall.
  • Pennsylvania Railroad displayed their new diesel and electric locomotive, which was set on rollers and ran continuously for 2 years at 60mph, according to a dynamometer attached to the display.
  • The electric typewriter was first shown at the fair.
  • An electric calculator using punch cards was displayed.
  • Chrysler had a 3D movie of one of their cars being assembled in a theater - complete with new air conditioning.
  • Borden had a display with 150 cows and a "rotolactor" milking machine which also cleaned the cows.  Modern milking machines are based on this device.
  • The Continental Baking exhibit was shaped like a big wrapped loaf of bread, brightly decorated with colored balloons - which Wonder Bread then swiped and has used ever since for their packaging.
  • Behind the big bread was a wheat field which was harvested and used to bake bread in the fair.
  • New subway lines were built including new stations - now still in use - for the fair.
One of the most astounding displays at the fair was from the General Motors Company, where an entire miniature country, with 50,000 miniature cars driving in it, were on display.  A ride took you through the entire setup, with details on what was being shown.  It was the brainchild of Norman Bel Geddes, and it was called the "futurama" exhibit.  There were mountains and lakes and forests and a city.  More than five hundred thousand individually designed buildings, a million trees of thirteen different species were built over an acre of territory with all the cars in motion around the track.
Futurama was an attempt to show how cars would shape the future of transportation and economy, and how the cities would deal with this increased traffic.  In 1939 cars were still sharing the roads with horse drawn vehicles and horses.  Although gaining rapidly in popularity, there were not the large numbers of automobiles we now take for granted.  Geddes said:
“Futurama is a large-scale model representing almost every type of terrain in America and illustrating how a motorway system may be laid down over the entire country – across mountains, over rivers and lakes, through cities and past towns – never deviating from a direct course and always adhering to the four basic principles of highway design: safety, comfort, speed and economy.”
Geddes built highways and showed how the city would cope with this increase, such as divided highways, traffic controls, set speeds, and pedestrian access.  Also predicted were automated highways where the cars drove themselves, rooftop access for flying vehicles, and automated robotic farms.  Almost everything he predicted was either fulfilled or seems to be in the near future.
It was a place of wonders with art, food, entertainment, technology, and more.  The place showcased the near future, and was something I would have dearly loved to attend.  And we just don't see anything like that any more.
Oh sure, I hear you say "but we have G3 and technological exhibits every day!  Why I have a computer in the palm of my hand!"  And its true, we have a never-ending stream of new entertainment and gadgets coming out of various labs and exhibitions.  But consider: none of them are particularly new concepts; computers have been around for nearly a century (or longer, depending on how you define them).  Television screens were created in the early 20th century.  The microchip was invented in 1959.  Liquid Crystal Displays were invented in 1962.  Touch screens were first created in 1966.
All the newest innovations are either new combinations or smaller versions of existing tech, or faster, fancier versions of what came before.  Sure, the video games of today have graphics that look like the cutscenes of 5 years ago.  But they're still just video games.  They're prettier, but they aren't any different.
Imagine going to a show where an entirely new light source that is dominant today was first shown, when many people still lit their home with a gas lantern?  Imagine seeing highways and traffic systems shown when you still rode a horse.  Imagine seeing television for the first time when you were just getting used to that new wireless.
We simply don't see that kind of thing any more.  And while I can't say for sure, I suspect at least part of it is due to us hitting a wall of innovation.  We're getting to the limits of what our technology and understanding of science can get us.  Its not that we can't create new ways to use what we know, but nobody is going to discover how electricity acts or invent the cathode ray tube these days.
Further our culture has moved from "can do" and a desire to see if we can't fix things and make them better to a "gimme" culture which whines at difficulty and demands being cared for by an all-powerful government.  In the place of a people who saw challenges as an adventure and a chance to roll up our sleeves and overcome, we have a people who see a challenge as a violation of their civil rights and throw a tantrum until the government creates a new program to throw money at it.
Then there's the market pressures.  People aren't interested in something that makes their work better, they want things that make their fun better.  Focused on pleasure and entertainment, people pour money into things that make them feel sexy and have fun.  Health innovations are focused on "sexual enhancement" and looking hot instead of being healthy.  So there's no money or demand for anything like nylon or a better dishwasher any more.
And finally, regulation, lawsuits, and economic pressures combine to make innovation not just expensive, but even prohibitive.  Its not just that it costs a lot to try to develop something new, but unless it is politically correct and approved by the powers that be (AIDS research, for example), its actually a struggle to even get the work done.  Animal protesters destroy your lab, lawsuits try to stop you from your work and punish you for completing it, and regulations choke off your options.
Between these forces, innovation is limited when its even possible and you just don't see it any longer.  Maybe its unfair to compare the two.  The 1939 world's fair was an astounding combination of events and times.  But the truth is, those times are over and I don't see them returning for a long, long time.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

SELF MADE MEN AND THE PARTICIPATION TROPHY ERA

"As a youth, Rockefeller reportedly said that his two great ambitions were to make $100,000 and to live 100 years."

I had an idea a while back to write about all the great men in the past who failed utterly but kept going and finally found astounding success.  Self-made men who kept going despite things not working out, such as Milton Hershey, who failed over and over again trying to start his own candy business. 
Each time Hershey tried out a reasonable, promising new business, it fell apart, such as the pushcart selling candy he and his friend started when he was 19.  But staying up all night making candy and pushing the cart around all day was wrecking his health and he had to give it up.  It got so bad his family refused to loan him any more money to follow his dreams.
Milton Hershey of course is the guy behind Hershey's chocolate bar and a massive candy empire.  Eventually it worked out.
Henry Ford failed over and over in his youth.  He started out an engineer working for Thomas Edison, and built his own car company at the age of 23 in Detroit, Michigan.  The Quadricycle debuted in 1896, built from salvaged scrap.  It was too small and not ready for large scale production and was a failure.
Undaunted, Ford pushed on, fascinated by the possibilities of the gasoline engine.  He designed a better car, one that could be produced more easily and was larger but still compact, easy to drive, and easy maintain he quickly found investors, thanks partly because of Ford's energy and enthusiasm.  However it took too long to get the business functional and by 1901 the Detroit Automobile Company collapsed and Ford was broke and without a business again.
One of his backers still believed in Ford's genius and design ability, so the Henry Ford Auto Company was formed, and having learned from his failure, Ford designed a more specific car rather than trying to appeal to too many drivers.  However, continual interference from investors who knew nothing about design doomed that company, too.
His next effort was backed by a Scotsman who was a visionary as well, and with this money Henry Ford created his auto manufacturing plant which could put out 15 cars a day - Henry Ford didn't invent the assembly line, others had done it in the past, but he perfected it and applied it to the automobile.  And this one worked.  Ford became the premier car company in America and to this day still is highly regarded.
Then there are the many other examples, from John D Rockefeller to Andrew Carnegy, to Howard Hughes, Sam Walton, Bill Gates, and on who started with almost or actually nothing and became immensely rich, often through repeated failure.  I figured it would be inspiring, hopeful, and show the way capitalism and America works - or, worked.
But the thing is, these days when you talk about hard work, tough times, and perseverance that leads to success, people don't respond positively.  They respond with resentment and anger.  Mitt Romney's nomination at the 2012 RNC was all about this theme and it fell flat.  Rush Limbaugh recently spoke about this on his show:
The Republican National Convention? My gosh, from the standpoint of timely and timeless American tradition, it was terrific. One story after another of how up-from-nothing success occurred. Hard work. You know, people smirk now when you tell 'em that kind of a story. "Yeah, I worked hard." You can see it, too. You can. You can watch people react to a politician on TV or anybody who talks about, "Yeah, I came from nothing. I worked really hard. My parents raised me right.

"I remember doing two or three jobs to pay my way through school," and people smirk at it now. What's happened is the Democrats/the left have successfully convinced people that they are the party of freedom, that they are the party of liberation, that they free people from constraints or bondage or what have you. For the longest time I noted, and I always laughed at it -- and, as usual, I should have taken it more seriously than I did, I remember when Bill Clinton was inaugurated.

You know, in the celebrations that takes place a week before the inauguration, all these liberals showed up and they had parties in Washington on the Mall. Every day people like Aretha Franklin would get up and sing songs about, "We shall overcome! We have overcome!" like they just got out of jail, like they were just freed from tyranny. I sat there and laughed, and said, "What kind of locoweeds are these people?"
Yet this is what too many people in America think: they are set free from labor and effort and personal risk by the government.  That the federal government will shield them from having to try hard, to strive and sacrifice and work, and that big brother will protect them from hardship.
It sucks to not have enough to pay your bills.  It eats away at your guts if you have any dignity or honor at all if you have to go in debt.  Its no fun not having enough money to do the things you want or even think you should.
Yet almost everyone on earth lives that way, almost every human being that has ever existed has lived day to day, striving to make it through to the next paycheck, or its equivalent.  Its only very recently with the concepts of the free market and democracy begun in England and given true form in America that people had the chance to get past that and make more of themselves.
But to do so means you have to face risk, failure, and difficulty.  It means hard work, luck, and connections.  It means being in the right place at the right time with the right idea.  It means sacrifice, long hours, and doing without things you want to get things you need or dream of.  It means putting the future in front of the present, and striving until you can make that future happen.
Sometimes - maybe often - it doesn't work.  Sometimes you never make it no matter how hard you try, sometimes people are too weak or sick or limited to become rich and comfortable.  Few people have what it takes (luck, connections, timing, personal ability, health, etc) to really make it.  So we are the ones who work for the guys who do
Sometimes you fail, a lot, but make it eventually anyway. Ask Milton Hershey, pushing a heavy cart around all day then going to work at cooking candy all night.  It almost always means starting low and poor.  Ask John D. Rockefeller working 12 hour days as a bookkeeper at Hewitt&Tuttle for 50 cents a day.  Ask Andrew Carnegie working for $1.20 a week at the age of 14 in a factory.
That's not for everyone, but that doesn't mean there's some evil afoot.  Nobody is crushing you because you can't make a billion dollars, it takes a very special person and set of circumstances to pull that off.  If everyone made a billion dollars it wouldn't be worth much.  If everyone had the same money, it would be average pay, not an exceptional amount, and you'd be no better off than a guy working an average job.
The basic economic fact is that you have to start somewhere and work your way up, unless you're given everything to begin with.  If you're 16 and starting your job, you don't get the executive suite and the company jet.  You get the mailroom and are glad of it.  You work up through the company by demonstrating your ability and your drive, or you don't get noticed and move to another job where you will.  That's how its supposed to work, and its good that it works that way, because it teaches the virtue of getting paid for your work and earning your place rather than being given it.  That's a lesson all those men listed above learned, and it served them well.
Instead, today we have congressmen demanding $22 an hour minimum wage, that every job pay "living wages," that businesses are greedy for not paying every single worker enough to have their own home and support a family.  We have people angry that they aren't given health insurance at their job, then enraged that they have to pay anything toward the costs of that insurance.
I've written over and over on this theme, but its true: people sense something is terribly wrong, particularly with America.  But their aim is totally off, so they are shooting at their own foot instead of the target.  They blame businesses, capitalism, and the free market rather than cronyism, vast government overreach, wasteful spending, and a culture of getting everything without doing the work to get it.
When you're raised to think you are a special gleaming diamond, a unique wonderful snowflake that gets a graduation ceremony for going from the 5th to 6th grade, and a prize for simply playing in a game instead of winning, the idea of having to work hard to accomplish something is alien.  Its outside your entire world's reference, you have nothing to compare it to.
Raised in a bubble of protection to keep them from skinning a knee, told they are golden star dust from birth, and praised for doing only what they ought, young people grow into middle aged people without a clue how life works or what it takes to make it.
So you have people on the streets angry that they're expected to pay back a loan, angry that they have to pay for a house, angry that they can't live on that McDonald's fry cook job, and calling for the government to fix it all.
That's the drive behind reelecting President Obama; they saw Romney's worldview in the RNC and were horrified.  They saw President Obama as the guy who'd give them stuff, and Romney as the guy who'd run things and expect them to do it for themselves.  All those rich people can pay for it, they have plenty to spare, after all.  Who cares if the numbers don't add up, truth is relative and math is fascist.  We shall overcome.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

VIVE LA DIFFERENCE

"In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act."
-George Orwell

Recently on Facebook I found myself being hated by several women who previously were at least friendly online.  They are wives and gamers who I knew online and we got along well.  I try to always treat women with respect, especially online where they tend to be treated as at best second class players or meat to be devoured by horny gamer boys.
However, when the topic of unequal pay came up, I made the mistake of pointing out to two pregnant women that because women can get pregnant they are less valuable to an employer than men who cannot.  I'm sure a combination of hormones, frustration, stress, and general vulnerability played into their response but now they hate me.
To me the statement I made is non controversial, it is quite straight forward and if unfair or at least frustrating, not unreasonable.  The problem is that people don't quite seem to realize what businesses exist for.  They are not there to make you feel good, be fair to you, or be nice.  They are in existence to make money.  A business is how the business owner makes his living, just like your job.  You don't go to work to be fair to your boss and be nice to the company, you go there to get paid.  You can be nice and fair in the process, but that's not the purpose or the goal.
Think about this objectively and it will make sense to you.  Say you have a company, and you have two prospective workers.
  • Worker A might, and is likely to, take on a condition wherein they will miss 6-12 months of work or more, and by law the employer must not only retain them as an employee, but pay them for the time they are gone (in many states).
  • Worker B cannot suffer from this condition.
Now, assuming you are prohibited by law from simply never hiring Worker A, what will your response be?  Worker A is not only going to represent a reduction in productivity, but probably will require you to hire a replacement while they're gone dealing with this condition.
Bottom line: Worker A is going to miss a bunch of work, and thus have less experience and seniority than Worker B.  And, in fact, it is absolute fact that working mothers tend to miss a lot of work even when they come back rushing to deal with emergencies and events involving their child.  Working fathers do sometimes too, now, which leads employers to tend to avoid hiring people with young kids for certain jobs.
That means for the business, you're worth less pay than someone not in that position.  You're giving the company less, costing them more, and hence are worth less in terms of pay.
From a business' perspective, the conclusion is quite obvious.  But women seem to have a problem with the deal because it is tilted against them.  All of us want things going our way and are frustrated and unhappy when things go against us, that's just normal for humans on this earth.  So I do sympathize with women being less than pleased with the reality.
Yet there seems to be another layer lately, one that has been tacked on by feminism which argues that women should have the upper hand and best deal in everything, and in the name of equality get the good parts of all things and none of the bad.  For example, women don't want to be equal to men in lifespan or likelihood of heart disease.
So when I brought this up, the embittered women declared that I thought women as a gender were "worth less as human beings" because of their body parts.  This would come as a shock to the women in my family, not to mention the many I've dealt with and known in my life.
Yet the entire concept that less pay means less overall worth as a human is just ridiculous and even idiotic.  Is a teacher worth less as a human being than a celebrity because they get paid less?  Is a starting worker at a business worth less as a human being than a 10 year vet at the job?  Is a rookie baseball player getting minimum salary worth less than a superstar with a 5 year multi-million dollar contract?
Obviously pay has absolutely nothing to do with value as a human it simply reflects the economic value to a business that the worker represents.  That girl working the fry machine at McDonald's is not as valuable to the business as the manager, she gets paid less.  The pay also represents the business' perspective on that worker's commitment to the job.  Fry girl is likely to just not show up one day because she got sick of working there.  The manager will give 2 weeks notice.
What's amazing to me is that anyone, anywhere, would be so shocked and outraged with such an obvious business principle that they would not simply disagree or debate this topic, but would instantly and totally reverse their perspective on me and go from amiable esteem to contemptuous hatred.
It just is shocking to me that someone's worldview could be so totally damaged and their comprehension of economics and business so twisted by a leftist concept of life that they would react so violently and irrationally to such a plain fact of life.
But, I suppose, I shouldn't really be surprised.  I guess in the modern world I should be amazed it doesn't happen more often.  Because for being so progressive and modern, leftists are some of the most bitter, frustrated, angry, and unhappy folks on the planet.  And they seem to want to share it with everyone.
*UPDATE also see my piece on compensation, inspired by a comment below.

Monday, March 11, 2013

WHERE BILL GETS IT WRONG

"No, people are not getting better. People are getting more scared."

Bill Whittle has been posting for a long time on the internet, starting with his own blog EjectEjectEject! A former air force pilot, Whittle has a gift for expressing complex thoughts in easy to understand bites, and he is skilled at bringing diverse and seemingly unrelated events together.  Whittle does videos for PJ Media these days and they're usually pretty good.
One of Whittle's latest videos was a talk at the Orange County GOP, and he talks about the future of the party and conservatism in America.  You can watch it at American Digest if you want.  I suggest watching the 38 fast minutes and enjoy what Bill Whittle has to say.
Whittle brings up a lot of good points, and his answers on immigration and abortion as "virtual president" were pretty solid, similar to what I'd say in the office.  He paints a bright future where the nation turns to the right because they generally respond more conservatively on issues when asked and because he thinks a fundamental shift in history is taking place.
Whittle breaks down all human history into 3 movements:
  1. The Agrarian Age, starting with the first agricultural cultures and extending to...
  2. The Industrial Age, starting with the industrial revolution in the 19th century
  3. The Internet Age, starting very recently
His argument is that agrarian concepts framed the founding fathers' philosophies and the ideals of personal responsibility, suspicion of government, and the limited powers in the constitution.  Then with the industrial revolution, people became more grouped, urban, and dependent on others for their life and needs so they started to believe more in a powerful government.
Now, Whittle argues that we've reached a new age, and its up to the GOP to take advantage of this shift to seize the future.  He argues, accurately, that if most people are asked about how much they like the government involved in their lives, how much they want to be left alone, and how much spending they'd like see cut, they sound awfully conservative.  Its true - in fact, recent polls have shown people self-identify as conservative far more than liberal, 2:1 or more in some polls.
The problem is, despite their rhetoric, most people are practical leftists.  They want everyone else's spending cut, they want the government out of their lives, but in everyone else's life.  They want no nanny state telling them to stop their favorite vices, but they want it to tell everyone to stop other vices.
The fact is, Americans are no longer the rugged individualists, the liberty-loving folks who suspect government and dislike being told what to do.  Americans embrace being given goodies, being protected by big brother, and being dependent.  Americans view government, not themselves, as the source of their future, livelihood, food, self defense, and family.  There are exceptions, of course, but the bulk have fallen into this pattern.
Bill Whittle believes that the fact that he can order steel - right now - from his cell phone means everything in the economy and production has changed.  But it hasn't. The only thing that's changed is the way we move information around.  You still have to have a factory to make anything with that steel, and that factory needs a lot of workers nearby.  Those workers need an infrastructure of food, housing, supplies, and ready stores nearby as well.  And as that list of people builds up, you end up in a city.
The internet doesn't make people more independent and responsible.  It doesn't make people less dependent on the government.  It doesn't make people less urban; the reverse is true. 
The internet makes people less independent and responsible, by making them dependent on electronics and gadgets.  If you work a field, its all up to you and God to make the crops grow.  If you work on a computer, you depend on thousands, even millions of others to maintain that system so you can keep taking advantage of it.  The electricity you use, the device you connect to, the internet you access, all of that require a lot of people - urban people - to sustain.

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Wednesday, March 06, 2013

LET'S TALK ABOUT SEX

I did it all for the nookie (c'mon)
The nookie (c'mon)
So you can take that cookie
And stick it up your, yeah!!
-Limp Bizkit, Nookie"

Life is largely frustrating, painful, and empty.  There are moments of joy and happiness, sometimes long ones, but overall it is very depressing to consider.  I wonder sometimes if old people aren't so bent down and weak not because of their bodies but because of the weight of cares crushing them over time.  Think I'm just being downbeat?  No, I'm not particularly depressed; just consider.
VANITY
A long time ago a guy who wrote under the pen name Koheleth wrote all about life.  He was an ancient king who had riches, power, wisdom, and many women.  He wrote about everything he'd done and experienced, all the things he'd lived through and came to one conclusion: it was all empty.  Sure, for a time it was fun, but in the end it was ashes.
He had lots of women, but after a brief moment of joy came the betrayals, the broken hearts, the disappointments.  In the end beauty comes to ugliness, weakness dooms physical joys, and after all is said and done, what came of it all?  When you're 98 years old and dying in bed, what difference did it make if you bedded 1000 models or were celibate, in the end?  You're still dying and miserable.
He had riches like few others, whatever he wanted, he could easily obtain.  And none of it satisfied, ultimately.  He enjoyed fully every good thing in life, and found none of it really mattered.  One pleasure might give a brief joy, but it never was good enough again.
Koheleth was a king, but he knew that one day all that he'd achieved, all that he'd built, all the laws and roads and peacetime and all the good things he had done for his kingdom were empty.  What would his heir do, would he be a fool or wise?  Would he take good care or squander it all?  And despite his best efforts, he was loathed by many of his people simply for being king. In the end, he would be dead anyway, so what difference did fame or success mean, ultimately?
Popularity fades, and what was once beloved becomes despised.  Wisdom is meaningless, because the fool and the idiot end up the same way as the wise and the intelligent: in a tomb.  A big family leads to fights and bitterness and jealousy and in the end, again, you die and what difference did it all make?
THE PREACHER
This king wrote all this in the book of Ecclesiastes, and while it seems incredibly grim, he has one point to make: none of this ultimately matters, all that matters is God.  All worth and meaning comes from the transcendent.  If life has any meaning at all, it comes from something outside us, something to look forward to, something greater to reach for and hope for.
Yet modern man has abandoned all transcendent truth.  There is no God, no future, no hope.  All that old faith stuff is okay for old people but we've evolved past that crutch and now we don't have any more religion.  All that is, all that ever was and ever will be is this life, this earth, what we can see and sense and measure.
So Koheleth's prescription for meaning is gone.  All is vanity, as he says, period.  There is nothing else.  And I think people are very aware of that emptiness in their lives, as I have written about before.  That yawning gulf in their lives that all the distractions and pleasures they throw at simply won't fill up.  We all sit next to our open grave and try to look away from it as much as possible.
Only for brief moments can we ignore and forget that emptiness, and those moments are clung to like a drowning man grasps a life preserver.  Increasingly, that's all modern man in the west does, desperately scrape toward those moments and tries to string as many of them together as possible to avoid that awareness.
SEXUAL FIXATION
And that's why every single aspect of modern life for the west is about sex and infatuation. Modern culture in the west is fixated on these topics to a degree and ferocity unmatched since Rome, and for the same reasons.
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