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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Can Government Spending Stimulate the Economy?

I think this is the trillion dollar question. Unquestionably in the past government spending has helped stimulate the economy. So the answer is yes. But wait...this question is more complicated than that. Perhaps a better question is...Can Government spending always stimulate the economy?

I think it's fair to say that the "economy" is an almost infinitely complex witches' brew of a million different discrete ingredients. These separate ingredients together create a potion that is greater or more powerful that the sum of its parts. There is one ingredient however that is the most powerful of all, and that is belief. When there is little belief or faith in the economy investing slows. When there is no faith in the economy people don't spend their money. When every bet is a guaranteed loser, people just don't bet...Unless they're worth billions, like Warren Buffet for instance.

When you get to the level of extreme wealth that someone like Warren Buffet has, rational explanations just go out the window. Here is someone who says he wants to pay more taxes. We all heard him say it. Is that rational? Either he's fallen victim to age induced dementia, or he's playing a deeper game. He's too smart a businessman to toss away five billion on a longshot. I just don't buy that explanation.

Warren Buffet invested in a failing bank and perhaps we're supposed to believe that, since he's always been fairly successful as an investor, this huge investment proves that this bank will make a big comeback. Maybe, we're even supposed to believe that all the banks and the economy itself are about to make a miraculous recovery... I call shenanigans! Where's the SEC on this? It doesn't make sense and I suspect some shady behind the scenes double dealing. Bank of America is a publicly traded stock and therefore must follow strict rules of disclosure. One thing is certain, Warren is privy to inside information and he's using that information—which the public doesn't know—to make investment decisions which could garner him profits that he would otherwise be unable to garner. Yes, I said it. Something really smells about this deal.

I've always said that investing isn't fair. Yes, we have the SEC, but where was the SEC when the Dow Jones dropped 512 points the day before Standard & Poor's downgraded America's credit rating? Martha Stewart was one of the few people who has ever been prosecuted for insider trading, and I gather she was targeted because of who she isn't rather than who she is.

There's some kind of underground rumor mill that the run-of-the-mill American Public is not privy to. I don't know how it works but I know it exists because first the market reacts, and then after the market reacts, the news is finally broadcast. It's always been shenanigans and more shenanigans. You can look at case after case after case of stocks dropping just prior to bad news, or rising prior to good. How does this happen?

Wait, I've gotten off-topic. So, the government spends money to stimulate the economy. Everyone disagrees on how this money should be spent but they all agree it should be spent somehow. We've run up trillions more debt and devalued our currency and what have we gotten? Nothing. It's not working because there is no belief that the economy is going to improve. Across the world countries are failing, banks are failing, economies are failing. Who's going to invest in something that's obviously failing?

If I'm an investor and it appears as though the only one spending money is Uncle Sam, and Uncle Sam is fifteen trillion in debt and still spending like there's no tomorrow, I have to wonder whether there will be a tomorrow. Is this government spending sustainable? Absolutely not. What's going on here? It's like Uncle Sam is a terminal cancer patient completing a few more items on some asinine bucket list.

There is no belief. There is no confidence that anything is going to get better, ever. People are waiting on the sidelines buying gold or anything they think can hold value in these incredibly uncertain times. We are all very uncertain, aren't we? Why would anyone invest billions in such an uncertain time as this? Hey Warren, what have you been told that the rest of us haven't?

Hello SEC, are you there?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

We are Too Dependant on Technology Medicine and Debt

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
—William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
A thousand referents circle endlessly in my head. I'm reading the Stand by Stephen King. I'm also reading The Law of Nines by Terry Goodkind. Finally, I'm reading After America Get Ready For Armageddon by Mark Steyn. These three books together are a perfect storm of end of the world fiction combined with end of the world fact.

Terry Goodkind, in The Law of Nines, has an excellent exposition of what would happen if for some reason our technology suddenly failed. If phones stopped working, if cars wouldn't start, if cash registers wouldn't ring up purchases and even if they did debit cards wouldn't work, if planes fell out of the sky, if life prolonging medical appliances of every stripe failed, what would we do? What would we do in the deafening silence of no radio, no television, no internet? I can make a few guesses: riots outside of grocery stores for a start, followed by looting on a scale never before imagined. Fires would start. Fires always start in large-scale riots, because in every crowd there's a pyromaniac looking for his big chance to burn the world. In a world suddenly stripped of working fire-engines or even a way to contact the fire department, burning the world is guaranteed.

Cities would be deathtraps and hundreds of millions would die. Not right away, of course. I'm not talking about a short-term blackout where guys with radios and radio stations with emergency generators would keep the city informed of developments to getting the electricity back on. Don't mistake me. If loss of almost every benefit of technology occurred and it lasted for an indeterminable time, perhaps until every piece of damaged technology was replaced or repaired with new undamaged circuit boards, the loss of life would be unimaginable.

Not many people understand how fragile our society has become. It is a house of cards built upon the sand, and it cannot hold. An EMT pulse is one method of completely destroying every technological artifact within its range. This EMP pulse could be delivered deliberately by a nuclear airburst, or it could arrive as the likely result of a supersized solar storm.

Electromagnetic pulses (EMP) are oversized outbursts of atmospheric electricity. Whether powered by geomagnetic storms or by nuclear blasts, their resultant intense magnetic fields can induce ground currents strong enough to burn out power lines and electrical equipment across state lines.

Fear is evident. With the sun's 11-year solar cycle ramping up for its stormy maximum in 2012, and nuclear concerns swirling about Iran and North Korea, a drumbeat of reports and blue-ribbon panels center on electromagnetic pulse scenarios.

In The Stand, we have an instruction manual for managing the end of the world. Page after page after page of horrifyingly detailed instructions for deceiving the citizens of the world about the string of disaster and destruction they are scarcely aware is happening all around them. Here's why The Stand is such a plausible story: Every year we hear about some new flu, whether swine or avian, or SARS, or perhaps something yet unknown. Every year the world is being conditioned by these overblown stories. Every year it's the next big superflu, and every year it turns out to be just another plain old flu. The boy keeps crying wolf over and over and eventually we just ignore these sensational stories that don't fit our world view that we are invincible.

A plague of Smallpox would kill billions. This disease killed billions in the past and ironically it is Smallpox that was the weapon of choice carried by European colonists as they took America from the natives who'd lived there. We no longer even vaccinate against this disease that is thought by many to be for all practical purposes, extinct. We don't have the knowledge to treat those who have it anymore, nor the natural defenses within our own bodies to fight against it. It doesn't have to be Smallpox though. A regular mutation of the common flu can sometimes have incredibly deadly consequences:
The 1918 flu pandemic (the Spanish Flu) was an influenza pandemic. It was an unusually severe and deadly pandemic that spread across the world. Historical and epidemiological data are inadequate to identify the geographic origin. Most victims were healthy young adults, in contrast to most influenza outbreaks which predominantly affect juvenile, elderly, or weakened patients. The pandemic lasted from June 1918 to December 1920, spreading even to the Arctic and remote Pacific islands. Between 50 and 100 million died, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.

Tissue samples from frozen victims were used to reproduce the virus for study. This research concluded, among other things, that the virus kills through a cytokine storm (overreaction of the body's immune system), which perhaps explains its unusually severe nature and the concentrated age profile of its victims. The strong immune system reactions of young adults ravaged the body, whereas those of the weaker immune systems of children and middle-aged adults resulted in fewer deaths.

A baited banker thus desponds,
From his own hand foresees his fall,
They have his soul, who have his bonds;
'Tis like the writing on the wall.
—Jonathan Swift
The book: After America Get Ready for Armageddon identifies our next world threat, and it's not fanatical Muslims by the way. China holds more than two trillion dollars of our national debt, mostly in treasury bonds.
The Eisenhower Administration saw British occupation of the Suez Canal Zone as antagonizing other Middle East governments and undermining broader American interests in the Middle East. It therefore demanded that the British withdraw. Knowing that British finances were weak, it threatened to sell its holdings of British government securities. It indicated that it would not allow the British to prop up their exchange rate with a loan from the International Monetary Fund. Fearful of a currency collapse and sharply higher interest rates, the British had no choice but to agree.
Now China holds the same leverage over America that we held over England. Keep in mind though that America and England share a common heritage, a common language, a common system of jurisprudence. England is our sibling and while siblings may squabble from time to time, they will quickly join together whenever one or the other is threatened, yet we were willing to threaten to destroy the British economy merely to advance a minor geopolitical objective.

Contrast this circumstance with China. The terrible threat that China holds over us cannot be overstated. China is alien to us in every sense of the word, sharing a different culture, a different language, even a completely different alphabet. They are communists with so little respect for life that the world watched as a Chinese tank rolled over a Chinese protester like he was nothing but a squishy dirt clod. They have a one child per couple law and this has had the unintended consequence of creating a nation with a billion excess men and very few women. War is the traditional result when a nation has excess men.
China has engaged in widespread intellectual property theft, as well as industrial espionage against America. It has also waged a cyberwar against America with multiple hacks of America's military and commercial computer systems. It has blinded U.S. satellites with lasers and it has assisted Teheran with its nuclear program and actively cooperated in a growing worldwide nuclear black market.
If you think China is our friend or even friendly, then you haven't been paying attention. They are coming and it's only a matter of time. I suspect that the buildup to any invasion of American territory would be commenced by a concerted cyberattack that will cripple our cybernetwork and this will be followed by selling off two trillion in T-Bills causing a run on the bank. These acts of war will cause massive economic damage to our already faltering economy.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Push Back or Become a Puppet.

One day riding on the school bus, a boy sat down next to me and let his knees sprawl apart. His leg was touching mine. Uncomfortable about this, I moved my leg further in towards the window. Can you guess what he did then? He spread his knees apart even further. Now what I remember most about this was that at first it was unconscious behavior on my part. I didn’t think to myself: he’s pressing his leg against mine so I must move my leg. No, it happened that I moved my leg without considering it at all. Then it happened again. And again. At some point I became aware of the fact that both my knees were pressed together against the wall of the bus. I had literally been backed against a wall without even realizing it.

Yes, boys and girls there is a moral to this story. Realizing what had happened to me, I began pushing back. Whenever the other boy's leg gave me the slightest room I took back my inch. And I did it again. And again. At some point we’d reached a halfway point and I never pushed past it. Why not push past? Why not take the entire seat like my neighbor had tried to do? Because I’m not an asshole like this kid was.

This brings me to the moral of my story. As you go along in your adult life, you are going to run into the kind of person who wants to push you against a wall. They’re going to try and push more work onto you and off of themselves. They’re going to make deals that have no cost to themselves but cause great difficulty and time lost to you, while you are performing some absurd exercise for the ostensible benefit of “the client.” The reality of this elusive benefit to “the client,” is that it is often nothing more than make-work. It is yet another checkmark on someone’s “Let’s Push Them Against The Wall” checklist.

Now, some of you may accuse me of being cynical. Well, perhaps I am. I really sometimes wish I were one of those popular smiling friendly types, like the ones who sell cars for instance. I could go around working on points for style with my customers, like the sudden look in the eye and the easy smile. And if a client wanted something silly and pointless that I would never ever agree to do myself, I would just smile and nod, okay! “Of course sir, the customer is always right.” That would be my motto. After that, I would just hand-off the insane directive to the peons and the serfs sitting in their squalid little accounting cubicles, typing their little serf hearts out. And if for some reason they became angry and claimed that the request of the client was asinine, pointless, and certifiably insane, well then, I would merely point out that it was what the customer wanted.

No logical argument of sanity or common-sense would sway me from my argument that if, for instance the customer wanted his invoice hand-illustrated like the ancient Catholic monks once did when hand copying pages from the Bible, then accounting would get it done, with crayons or paints or stencils or whatever they’ve got, by cracky. Or perhaps if the customer wanted his receipt before he’d even decided what to order. Well, by damn, he’d get it! The serfs in accounting would just have to get out their Ouija Boards or their Tarot Cards or their Astrological Charts or whatever it is that they have down there in their little calculator and computer cluttered holes, and by damn get me what the customer had asked for. Sometimes I wish I were that kind of person, but like I said, I’m not an asshole.

You can choose to be a nice guy. You can choose to be agreeable. You can be a leaf blown around by the whisper of a breeze if that’s what you really want to be. But remember, that if once you start down the dark and easy path of appeasement and expediency, forever will it dominate your destiny. It’s hard to get yourself turned around once you’re against the wall. Some people spend their days on the job, working through a laundry list of asinine and pointless tasks that make no sense to anyone. Other people—mean and spiteful people—pushed them up against this wall of futility with nonsense phrases like “It’s what the customer wants.” Some people never push back because they know that after all the arguing is done, they’ll still have to do it anyway. Well, so what? Make them pay a little bit for pushing their inconsequential exercises in futility onto you. If you make it difficult enough for assholes to have their way, maybe they’ll think twice before eagerly nodding yes to the foolish request of the client. Expediency may save you a little time in the short run, but it makes you nothing more than a puppet in the long run. So, if you have a speck of self-respect, push back!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Bureaucracy is the Root of all Evil

Which came first, the millions of bankruptcies or the millions who borrowed a mountain of unsupportable debt? It's easy to make the snap judgment that bankruptcy naturally follows too much debt. That's not really the whole truth though. Think about this: if the consequences of accumulating massive debt were not ameliorated by the relatively painless option of bankruptcy, then the numbers of individuals and companies who accumulate massive debt would be much smaller. To put it another way, current U.S. bankruptcy law exacerbates profligate borrowing. Countries around the world teeter on the edge of bankruptcy because they borrowed too much. Now, they're asking the countries of the world to step in and save them from the natural consequences. States like California and Illinois borrowed billions and are likely to ask Uncle Sam to step in and save them from the consequences of their own foolish profligacy. All of this extravagant borrowing began with the notion that if all else failed there would still be the option of bankruptcy.

Which came first, the rash of single parent homes or child support? It's easy to jump to the conclusion that child support naturally follows the break-up of a man and a woman. However, there is something more to consider. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Women initiate divorce twice as often as men. Among couples with a college education, women are almost ten times more likely to file for divorce than men are. Why do women break-up with men so much more frequently then the reverse? A good crime scene investigation always starts by looking for a motive:
According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), nearly 75 percent of all child custody awards are made to the mother. Only about 10 percent of child custody awards are made to fathers. The rest of the child custody awards involve some sort of joint custody arrangement.
Ah, yes, the profit motive...The sequence of events is: child support law, child, and then divorce. This chain of events that began with a well-intentioned law ends by letting women eat their cake and then have it too. Why should a woman work at saving a marriage, why should she cling to her man when even if she leaves him her bills will still be paid?

Which came first, poverty or the forty million people receiving some form of government assistance? Ask any liberal that question and you'd get a sneering look with some obnoxious question concerning your sanity or your I.Q., but when generation after generation after generation continues to live in poverty while all-along receiving government assistance, the cause and effect of this relationship should definitely be re-examined.

Seemingly every social ill has a beginning that starts with well-intentioned government intervention and ends with terrible unintended consequences. The drug war, our public educational system, the IRS, the EPA, the NLRB are all examples of this. I could go on and on and on, but I think this point has been driven home: Bureaucracy is the root of all evil.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

What Causes Flash Mobs? Two Theories:

I pray that everyone is now starting to pay attention. I hope that you've been paying attention; because if you haven't, you could be caught flat-footed and clueless when a flashmob converges where you happen to be standing. From Philly to London these flashmobs are violent, greedy, young, and black. Innocent bystanders are beaten, sometimes to death. Property is stolen and then the attackers disperse. As always people ask why. Why do they do these terrible things. Well, we all know why don't we? They do it because they enjoy beating the crap out of "whitey." They do it because they're racist bigots. They do it because they're greedy selfish parasites who've never been of use to anyone in their entire lives.

But, much like an annoying English Lit professor's theories about some boring and difficult to read classic, we are subjected to various alternative theories about some story behind the story. The story behind the story is often an imaginary creation, a fanciful fairytale concocted by a gullible reader who's unable to believe the fact that this great peice of literature is really just boring and poorly written. In the after-the-fact interpretation, the student listening to the wise professor is supposed to suspend their disbelief at this idiocy and accept it, memorize it, then parrot it back for the grade. The story behind this story of racial thuggery is meant to reconcile the serious case of cognitive dissonance so many liberals suffer from. Liberals demand that we accept that white people are racist oppressors, and that black people are their victims. Yet, these flashmobs are an incontrovertibly opposing argument that the reverse is in fact the case.

Rev. Kevin R. Johnson, Ed.D., senior pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church has a story behind a story. You see kids, these racist thugs are not beating the crap out of us "crackers" because they're racists. They're not looting because they're greedy no no, it's an "outcry!" It's a conspicuous protest demanding the perfect world where blacks are to be given everything they ask for and where they never have to study, learn, struggle, or work like the rest of us.
What's really behind the "flash mobs" in Philadelphia? I'll be the first to admit that we cannot and should not tolerate violence in our beloved Philadelphia. But I also believe there is more to this story. It is easy to label, but very difficult to solve.

Observing the unrest of his day, Malcolm X said, "We are today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter."

From the streets of Philadelphia, to the streets of London, to Cairo's Tahrir Square, Hama in Syria, and Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia, there is a revolution erupting that is being led by the children of the digital age. Their outcry ranges from concern for political clout to governance, jobs, education, economic freedom, and simply being acknowledged as a valued human beings.
I have a story behind the story too. My story begins in 1975 with the passage of a new national child support program. Since that day, the federal government has gone to great lengths to identify dead-beat dads who've avoided paying their child support, tracking them down and either imprisoning them, or forcing them to pay via payroll deductions.
In earlier years the majority of children needed financial assistance because their fathers had died; by the 1970s, the majority needed aid because their parents were separated, divorced, or never married. The Child Support Enforcement and Paternity Establishment Program (CSE), enacted in 1975, was a response by Congress to reduce public expenditures on welfare by obtaining support from noncustodial parents on an ongoing basis
Just as welfare is a perfect example of good intentions causing terrible consequences, so is our current morass of child support law. Reverend Johnson says that black flashmobs are an outcry from people who want to be valued as "human beings." That's great, but in 1975 we passed a law that turned children into a commodity. It turned men into wage slaves struggling to pay backbreaking child-support to a gold-digging breeder who in all likelihood has several other wage-slaves toiling on her behalf.

What are the consequences of a few moments of unthinking pleasure? Eighteen years on the hook. And this is one fish that can never get away because of Uncle Sam. Why should a woman stay with one man when there's so much more money to be made from three or four or even five men. And the beauty of it is that guys can't go bankrupt on this debt. They can't run from it. A child is a commodity, a guaranteed monthly check for an unscrupulous bloodsucking parasite who intended to screw this guy in every sense of the word.

I don't know how it feels to grow up in a single-parent household, valued for my father's child support check by a mother who should be ashamed but doesn't possess the humanity necessary to feel shame. I don't know how I'd have turned out but it's possible I'd have been a despicable bastard who never learned what it means to work for a living. Maybe I'd have been in some mob setting buildings on fire, beating people up and stealing everything that wasn't nailed down.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Hacker Armageddon

Security software is inadequate, and will always be inadequate. No programmer, no matter how intelligent, can predict all the possible attack vectors that an ingenious hacker is able to employ. This is the reason why we're seeing an almost exponential increase in the number of security breaches across the globe. This won't be getting better any time soon. If you place sensitive data, i.e. credit card numbers, user names, and passwords on any internet based portal, you can expect that data to be compromised and disseminated to the highest bidder. You can also expect botnet membership to grow exponentially as idiots click agree over and over and over.

It's going to get much worse. Nothing mentioned here is news. We all deal with spam, trojans, and viruses, while running a host of anti-virus programs in an attempt to contain a burgeoning tidal wave of malicious attacks. Worms, viruses, phishing attempts embedded in e-mails, instant messages, and now apps are just a few of the hassles we endure every day of the week. The best outcome we can hope for if all goes as we plan, is that while all that antivirus and anti-spam software will slow our computer down drastically, at least it won't be worse.

But it will be worse. Hackers have infiltrated websites across the world without breaking a sweat and with virtual impunity. Any website owner who operates a website and happens to draw the notice of the hacking community can expect to be hacked and it doesn't look like there's very much anybody can do about it. The response to this must be widespread it must be immediate and it must be complete. The remedy that averted the Y2K calamity is at least a starting point in addressing this impending disaster. Doing the same old thing is doomed to failure and the consequences of failure are more drastic than most can even imagine.

If you were an adult in the year 2000, you may remember the Y2K scare. This was a dreaded event where a software bug in older computer systems around the world made computer systems unable to correctly process the system date, interpreting the year 2000 as the year 1900. I was not only an adult in 2000, I was one of those programmers in one of those back-offices frantically updating the program-code in module after module, testing, re-testing and finally installing the updated programs on all the various systems in our operational area.

Probably the most incredible lesson I remember from that time is how [fear] truly is the great motivator. I vividly remember how daily I received an incredible torrent of worried letters and anxious emails from each of our various clients requesting detailed reporting of our company's Y2K initiatives, that is to say our plan and procedure for handling the Y2K crisis, to include not only our ability to get our own house in order but also questioning the status of each of our vendors as well. Most people, if they remember the Y2K crisis at all, remember it as yet another doomsday non-event where Henny-Penny predicted a falling sky that never fell. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was this fear of impending doom that fueled that torrent of anxious status requests. It was those status requests that alerted every vendor and every client who had any presence of any kind in the information industry that a huge problem was waiting just over the horizon of the year 2000. Computer professionals around the world all got busy. We waded through thousands and thousands of lines of code and the end result...nothing. The end of the world didn't happen. Airplanes didn't fall from the sky. Everyone got their social security check, etc... We couldn't have had a happier ending than that. The calamity was averted through foresight and proper preparation.

Well, this is me, once again, ringing the warning bell just as hard as I can ring it! For years hackers only exploited the PC. It was easy because in the beginning Windows was poorly designed and had extensive security flaws. Hackers shared their hacking exploits and bragged about the sites they had either taken down or had infiltrated. Soon however, the bigger players entered the game. Professional hackers backed by organized crime weren't in it for bragging rights or some silly game of counting coup; they were after wealth in the form of passwords and credit card info.

Now, it's not just your computer or your phone. Today the crisis is truly life and death. It is vastly more serious than the Y2K crisis was. The threat of hacker Armageddon is real and it just got about as bad as I can imagine. STUXNEX raised the bar enormously. The same ingenious thinking that sabotaged the Iranian nuclear weapons program has now been pointed at devices no one ever imagined would be attacked, and systems no one thought could ever be hacked. Here's a quick list I put together with only few minutes of investigation:
  1. Hacking Pacemakers
  2. Hacking engines, machines and turbines in tens of thousands of industrial facilities.
  3. Operation Shady Rat
  4. Hacking gas pumps
  5. Hacking U.S. Military's Cyber Command

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The New America

What kind of America will arise from the wreckage of the old one? Our inevitable bankruptcy hangs over us, much as that sword dangling by a thread hung over the head of Damocles as he sat upon a throne that was not his own. We live in a country that is no longer our own. It has been divided up and auctioned off by our leaders who claim to be public servants. America has been sold to investors around the world as Treasury bills, notes, bonds, Treasury inflation-protected securities (TIPS), and savings bonds. The deal isn't done yet, though. We may have pawned our title but the pawnbroker and his repo man have to wait for America to miss a payment before they can take possession.

Today, many of you are breathing a sigh of relief. The nation will not default. Obama signed a debt extension into law. Hurrah, we're going to borrow more money! Absolutely stunning. We're just going to take out a little payday loan to make our next title payment. The writing is on the wall; do we really need a modern day Daniel to interpret it for us?

The consequences of our inevitable bankruptcy will usher in a new era of centralized bureaucratic tyranny that promises to make the fascism of every fascist state which came before us seem like utopia by comparison. The USSR tightly gripped the reins of power for more than seventy years using non-stop systematic propaganda from the state controlled media which manipulated the emotions of its populace using themes of patriotism jealousy and fear. Hitler and his Nazi government used the same themes of patriotism jealousy and fear to hypnotize the citizens of Germany into giving up every human right. Soviets and Nazis didn't even have Hollywood at their disposal. Just imagine what they could have done if they'd had the powerful tools of thought control that our own leaders have?

There is an unholy synergy that exists between these three emotional themes: patriotism, jealousy and fear. A citizen who is jealous because he's not as wealthy as his neighbor can be manipulated by an unscrupulous demagogue to be angry at and finally come to hate that neighbor. The naive citizen will be convinced through unceasing demagogic rhetoric and deceitful symbolism that his hatred is caused by any of a laundry list of irrelevant reasons, such as race, religion, political affiliation, or economic station.

Fear can be wielded as a scourge to whip the populace into submission. For "the common good" the populace must submit to police state searches and seizures. These small step-by-step losses of freedom will all be necessary to help combat terrorism, government authorities will explain. Reasonable requests to submit to the demands of authority will become ever-more unreasonable requests by ever-more demanding authority. The unwavering eye of the police state will be cataloguing our every move like the evil lidless eye of Sauron staring down from the hellish fires of Mount Doom. Cameras will be recording at every traffic light, every sports stadium, and every shopping center. Computers will also be recording. Big Brother will have his eye on every webpage, every screen shot, and every word written, read, or listened to.

The final element in this sorcerous tincture of virulent poison is patriotism. Patriotism in itself: love of country, willingness to give wealth, time, even life for your country is a noble virtue. That's not what our future leaders will mean by patriotism however. These tyrants will freely use the word 'patriotism,' but if pressed to define it, they would define patriotism as willing submission to slavery, and the fanatical desire to see every other citizen enslaved as well, whether these others are willing or not. Here is a list of further well-intentioned steps down the road towards fascism:
  • where we voluntarily submit to unreasonable searches and seizures
  • where we carefully consider every word we say lest it be offensive in some tangential way to someone else's worldview
  • where cameras record everything we do
  • where police don't need search warrants
  • where any person can be stopped and ordered to show their papers
  • where the national media offers non-stop propaganda affirming the powers of the government to do most anything in this country.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Teacher Accountability

As many as five thousand people, teachers, school administrators, friends and parent activists came to the nation's capital on Saturday, July 30, 2011 to complain bitterly about the No Child Left Behind act which was enacted in 2002. None of them think it's fair that teachers and schools are held accountable when students fail standardized tests. You'd blame the doctor if all his patients died. You'd blame the cook if his patrons all got food poisoning. You'd blame the engineer if his bridge collapsed carrying hundreds of motorists to a watery death. You'd blame the tax preparer if your taxes were completely wrong. So being held accountable is expected in practically every profession. Here's what Matt Damon, a successful Hollywood actor has to say:
I had incredible teachers. As I look at my life today, the things I value most about myself―my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity―all come from how I was parented and taught.

And none of these qualities that I’ve just mentioned―none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, that have brought me so much joy, that have brought me so much professional success―none of these qualities that make me who I am ... can be tested.

I don’t know where I would be today if my teachers’ job security was based on how I performed on some standardized test. If their very survival as teachers was based not on whether I actually fell in love with the process of learning but rather if I could fill in the right bubble on a test. If they had to spend most of their time desperately drilling us and less time encouraging creativity and original ideas; less time knowing who we were, seeing our strengths and helping us realize our talents.
I can't stand it. My desire to scream in frustration and outrage―much like the late Sam Kinison, with scathing sarcasm and vitriolic scorn―at this drooling idiot is almost uncontrollable. The irony that teachers don't like testing is almost too laughable for words.

I'll paraphrase Matt Damon's argument. Standardized testing is unfair, because it doesn't test creativity. Teachers should not be held accountable when their students fail standardized tests. Politicians at the behest of their constituency may be pushing teachers to do their job, but don't worry about that because all the actors in Hollywood support the teacher's desire to not be held accountable.

You might suppose that if it were Michael Jordan speaking, he would argue that standardized tests were unfair because they don't test athletic ability. The simple fact is that very few people are professional athletes and even fewer are successful Hollywood actors.

Matt Damon is right when he says that standardized testing doesn't test creativity. It tests linguistic and mathematical achievement. Those two abilities are the primary skills necessary in virtually every available white-collar job in the marketplace. So, to all you teachers out there, if Suzy can draw, hey that's great. If Mikey can ball, that’s good to know, but if they can't read, write, add, subtract, multiply, and divide at a bare minimum quickly and competently, then it's because their teachers have betrayed the trust that their parents have placed in them. They should be held accountable for that.