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Saturday, March 23, 2013

A discussion of honesty

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master — that's all."
When you see a person doing something the wrong way, you are faced with a little bit of a dilemma. Should you correct him? Will he resent it or appreciate it? Either way it is you who must take all the risks and not the one who's in error. Most people do whatever is easiest, and so walk on without saying a word unless it's a problem with children. Parents, of course, are the ones most responsible for correcting the errors of their little charges, so with misbehaving children the solution takes much less thought, much less risk.

When I was a young boy—six or seven—I was outside playing when I found a watch. It had no band but was otherwise shiny, and when I wound it up it still kept the time. I took it home to ask my parents if they would buy me a band for my new watch. They immediately taught me my error. They explained that the watch wasn't mine. Just because I found something that doesn't necessarily make it mine. They taught me a lesson which I remember to this day. They put the watch in safekeeping and let it be known around the neighborhood that there was a watch that had been found and it was at our house to be claimed. My parents told me that if nobody claimed it within the next month then—and only then—would the watch be mine.

I was very upset about this decision at the time. How stupid I thought. Who's going to come and claim a stupid old watch with not even a band to hold it on your wrist? Even as young as I was back then I had a cynical adult's perception of the value of things. I knew cast-off and thrown-away when I was looking at it. Nevertheless, and in spite of my foul attitude, my parents were adamant. The rules would be followed, scrupulously. Time ticked by and I forgot about the watch. One day—a month later—my father came to me and presented me with my new old-watch and with a brand new leather band already on it. Thanks mom and dad. Thanks for the watchband, and thanks also for the lesson.

What do you do however when it is a grown man who's doing things the wrong way? What do you do when this person—this adult—does something that's clearly dishonest to you but they don't see it that way. You know this person won't thank you for chastising him. He'll likely resent your interference and yet perhaps it's the case that his parents never taught him the proper thing to do.

It's a dilemma—and it's an even bigger dilemma—when that person is your boss. When that happens it's an almost unsolvable dilemma. Your job is at risk, and for what? It's somebody else's loss, and somebody else's gain. I know what the right answer is but let's confound and complicate the issue even further. What if the economy is crap and you have an unfortunate background that makes finding jobs very difficult? Do you risk your job then? What if you have a wife and four children do you still risk your good-paying hard-to-find job in the pursuit of high-minded yet perhaps naive integrity when your family will suffer for it?

The thing is I know the answer to that more complicated question too, and the answer is ticking away, right beside me. Not the same watch, not after all those years, but the lesson that's never been forgotten is still wrapped around my wrist like a string tied around my finger.

Which is worse, a poor man who steals from a rich man or a rich man who steals from a poor man? It occurs to me that I'd get different answers depending on whether I asked a rich man or a poor man. A poor man would say that it's worse for a rich man to steal from a poor man because he doesn't have to. You see, the rich man is already rich. He'll still be rich even if he doesn't steal from the poor man. The rich man doesn't need the money; therefore he's only stealing because he's being especially greedy. Not only that, but the poor man obviously does need that money so he'll be especially hurt by losing it. Meanwhile, on the other hand, if the poor man steals from the rich man he'll be better off and it won't really hurt the rich man very much because he has plenty.

If you ask that same question of a rich man, he'd probably say that there's no difference; they're both equally bad. Somebody has taken something from someone else without their permission—without their knowledge or by force—and this taking is against the rules, against the law, against the Eighth Commandment: Thou shalt not steal. If people could go around stealing whatever they wanted just because they were poor, soon there wouldn't be any more rich people. There wouldn't be any towns or cities or villages either, because everybody would take all their stuff and go hide it, bury it, find a cave to live in and stand there with a big club guarding the entrance. We'd be back in the stone-ages in no time at all. People have to obey the laws and the rules or we can't have civilization.

Both the rich man and the poor man agree that stealing is wrong, but the poor one feels like it's worse when a rich man steals because it's not necessary. You could make the argument that the poor man does it from need and the rich man does it from greed. Does the reason behind the unlawful or dishonest act in any way mitigate the severity of the offense? I think it does. That's an almost universally accepted understanding. Murder is very wrong, but murdering the man who raped your daughter is less wrong, don't you think? Still wrong, still against the law, still a violation of the Sixth Commandment, but you wouldn't impose the death penalty, would you?

For these reasons it seems as though it's more wrong for a rich man to steal from a poor man than the other way around, and so when I see a rich man stealing money from three-hundred men who're very much less well off than he, I should think that's an incredibly unethical and very bad thing to do. If a millionaire employer stole $300.00 from each of his 300 employees that would be a pretty low-down rotten thing to do, don't you think? What if you called him on it and he told you to let it alone if you valued your job? What would you do? That's my dilemma today.

A $300.00 drawing was offered by the owner to all employees of the company. Entry in the drawing was to be made simply by filling out a form which had contact information including current address, telephone and cell phone numbers, and email addresses. You see this was something the owner needed anyway, and in return for the trouble of filling out the contact form we got a chance at $300.00 dollars. But, of course, there was no drawing. A winner was chosen not drawn, and worse this winner was predicted by my colleague and with my total agreement before the announcement of the winner was ever announced.

I admit that even at my very most cynical, this prediction of the winner was an exercise in two people just willfully practicing advanced cynicism. I never actually expected the boss to pick the one person he never should have picked because that would be just going way too far. That would be a jumping the shark moment that would shock everyone with any behind the scenes knowledge of office politics and the inner workings of the company. He'd never be that blatant, not really, would he? I was sadly lacking in the requisite cynicism.

I quickly and angrily typed out a response and faxed it before I could second-guess myself. This outrage must be answered, immediately! Then I sat back and wondered if I'd just put my job on the line. Some hours passed and my employer called me, furiously! He went on the attack. He'd picked out a line in my angry note and he focused all his fury on my closing sentence. It said this: "I guess that's just the way it goes around here." He questioned my loyalty. He let me know that if I didn't like my job I was welcome to go. He told me I had a poor attitude. He briefly let me know that the drawing was done properly and that I'd better figure out what was wrong with me and not with anybody else.

I 'yes sirred' and 'sorry sirred' and—with my face and neck beet-red—finally hung up the phone wishing I'd done things very differently indeed! I thought and I thought. I stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? And I puzzled and puzzled 'till my puzzler was sore. Then I thought of something I hadn't before. I had accused him of shenanigans in my note. I had accused him of wrong-doing and instead of calmly laying out the evidence of his innocence he'd gone on the offense, and violently so. This to me was further evidence that he was being deceitful. Lies were being told and I was in receipt of a great-big load of them. So without stopping and second-guessing myself I sent him another fax letting him know that I understood he'd gone on the offense because that was the best defense.

What would you have done, oh wise reader? I was always too quick to act, to react. Often those first reactions are exactly the right thing to do, but on second thought we decide to wait, see how things go, play it safe. I'm forty-five with a family of six and no prospects for a decent job if I lose this one. Will I regret my hasty decision? Should I have put my way of life in jeopardy over a three-hundred dollar drawing?

My boss—the corporation's owner—quickly called me back. He was incredulous! He started in on the same line of attack from before, but I hollered back even louder, that I knew he was off on a red-herring wild-goose-chase and he was still avoiding the central accusation. That set him back on his heels and in a moment of honesty he let me peek behind the curtain. He explained that since there are more than a thousand employees who were supposed to respond to this contest with their contact info and since only a little over three-hundred had in fact responded, he was going to have to do it all over again. So why—he asked—should he waste $300.00 on somebody who perhaps didn't deserve it, when he had someone who clearly did deserve it, and when he'd have to fork over another $300.00 on another contest?

In the first conversation he'd told me that the drawing was done properly. So I guess sadly we're down to the definition of words. This Clintonesque conundrum baffles me still. "What's in a name? That which we call a drawing by any other name would smell as fishy." It all comes down to what we mean by the words that we say. I'll give him credit. Maybe the boss really did draw the winner’s name. Maybe he drew it with his pen on a post-it-note and then said "Here's your winner!"

Now we're down to my final thoughts in this rambling discussion of honesty. Now that the millionaire owner of the company has betrayed more than 300 employees who are much less well off than he, now that he's confessed this betrayal—this theft—to me his loyal employee of seventeen years, what do I do about it? It occurs to me that it's too bad he apparently never had honest parents like I had. Oh I stole. I lied. I did bad things. I'm no angel. But at least I knew when I was doing wrong, but judging by my acrimonious conversation with the owner, I honestly don't think he understands that he's in the wrong. The way I see it he's on the wrong side of the balance scales to the tune of $89,700. That's $300.00 for every person that entered his contest and never had a snowball's chance in hell of winning it.

If you've read this far I welcome your thoughts and helpful comments. Please no trollishness I'll just moderate you. I don't have the energy for pointless spite this morning.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Contingency planning for the economic apocalypse

Whether you're talking about towns, cities, states, nations, or businesses, the failure to apply forward-thinking strategic planning—especially emergency planning—is the best way I know of to kill off an otherwise completely successful enterprise, because sooner or later something unexpected, perhaps even catastrophic, is going to happen.

Individuals seldomly follow suit in their personal affairs. While they may imagine an infinity of dire scenarios in their professional contingency planning, it's not often that they apply this same planning to their personal lives. Our society has come up with a variety of schemes to outsource risk-assessment and planning. These schemes are called insurance. Most people have life insurance and health insurance. We have collision coverage for our vehicles and renters and home-owners insurance. We assume that these various protective policies will take care of any unforeseen and unfortunate outcomes that may turn up. The great problem with all these insurance policies is that they each assume the same thing...that regardless of whatever little financial perturbations and ripples in whatever local pond it might be, the vastness of the American economy as a whole will be almost entirely unaffected.

Even if you're happy with your investments, even if you have health insurance, life insurance, and a retirement plan well on the way to being completely funded, despite all your planning there could still be a big problem. Have you fully considered a scenario where the world economy has collapsed because the US dollar is experiencing hyperinflation? What good will a million dollar life-insurance policy do, when a cup of coffee costs a million dollars? The answer to my hypothetical question is: you can buy a cup of coffee!

Before currency becomes completely worthless, frightened citizens of a bankrupt nation often exchange their hyperinflating currency for a stable foreign currency. They invest in hedge funds that don't rely on their nation’s currency. They buy commodities that they believe will hold value like gold and silver. Despite their prudent well-intentioned foresight, when the local grocery store has no food, when the snack machines have no snacks, when the convenience stores are inconveniently closed for business, what will these forward-thinking possessors of gold, silver, or foreign currencies do with all this inedible wealth? Gold is both pretty and completely indigestible, containing not a single calorie.

Before currency becomes completely worthless, frightened citizens of a bankrupt nation often stockpile food, guns and ammo. That's all well and good, but after a certain point food is a poor investment indeed; first because it is perishable, and last because it's the one thing that other people who don't have it believe you must give them if they're hungry and you have more than you can eat on the spot. There is enormous social pressure that's incredibly hard to resist when it comes to sharing food. My wife can't even resist the begging of a dog under the table; how much harder would it be for her to resist the begging of a starving neighbor's child? Similarly, the stockpiling of guns and ammo makes sense only in the context of a person guarding their hoarded food. Is this really the position anyone would want to find themselves in? How will these guns and this hoard of food stop others—angry, jealous, and hungry others—from throwing Molotov cocktails at the home of the well-provisioned contingency planner?

It should be apparent to you and in fact to everyone that in the event of a wholesale failure of United States currency, none of the traditional contingency plans which include insurance, food-hoarding, investments in precious metals, foreign currency, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, hedge funds, etc., will prove of much use when there's no food, no gasoline, no power, and when hungry predators with guns come looking.
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
—John Donne
It's difficult if not impossible in the face of extreme pressure after catastrophic events have already occurred to come up with solutions to existential difficulties unless holistic contingency planning has already been accomplished. What is required under these dire circumstances is not a sprinkling of individuals and families in their isolated homes, but a community in a stronghold. These self-sustaining self-protecting communities which are found on military bases or in the walled and guarded vacation resorts on tropical islands like Jamaica for instance, are—in my opinion—an ideal contingency model for an economic apocalypse.

A successful and prosperous outcome requires a homogeneous group of people who share similar traits and goals who can get along with each other, living together and working together. Some cooperatives would make guns or ammunition. Some would distill a variety of alcohols and brew beers. Some of them would be farmers who'd store their grain within an immense and walled grainery. There could be harbor fortresses with armadas of fishing boats. The point is that these self-contained homogeneous communities or cooperatives would be self-protected and productive. Through beneficial trade with other cooperatives, all concerned would be able to achieve and then maintain a respectable degree of prosperity and comfort, and all this without the need for dollar bills or gold bullion.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Too big to fail? Yeah, that's the ticket!

We have problems, perhaps insurmountable ones. There may be solutions that can fix the problems but it may well be the case that these problems are a terminal case. The USA seems quite likely to go bankrupt. I know, I know, we can just keep printing money and watch as over time the world slowly becomes ever more reticent to accept our dollars in repayment of our debt. What will the US government do when China demands repayment in Yuan, or Swiss Francs, or gold? If that happens then our vaunted ability to print more money won't matter in the slightest, because we won't be able to repay our debts with that money, and when we default—as we must—there goes our credit rating. With a junk-bond credit rating goes the possibility of borrowing money at a reasonable rate. When printing money fails and when borrowing money fails, there goes America and there goes the world economy.

The idea that we can simply print money to solve our financial problems hurts the poor more than anyone else. I've been paying attention these last four years and the price of food and gasoline has risen steeply, much more steeply that the advertised inflation rate can account for. Those on a fixed income, those who live paycheck to paycheck, these are the ones who're hurt most by the Fed's reckless printing of money, because they're the last to get a raise and the first to realize a dollar doesn't buy very much food or gasoline anymore.

This is all familiar territory for historians. Empires rise and they fall. Why ask why? Just accept the fact that just as all men die, all the works of man are one day nothing more than dust in the wind. The usual formula follows a predictable path. We will continue borrowing until we reach a point where the interest on the debt is so high that we are unable to borrow enough to pay for even the interest on what we already owe. At the same time we will be printing money to stretch our time just a little further. Finally the third leg of this asinine tripod propping up our overloaded camel is called the mainstream media. Hollywood, Tinseltown, the talking heads reading the teleprompters, all the ones we listen to everyday will be deputized and tasked with spreading the message that we're too big to fail. Yes, if the USA goes down so does the world. Therefore—wait for it—the other countries of the world won't have any choice. They'll have to keep accepting our evermore worthless dollars in payment for goods and services or risk a worldwide economic collapse. Yeah, they'll have to take our worthless money because they won't have any choice. Yeah, that's the ticket!

Folks this isn't a RoadRunner cartoon. Just because you never studied law doesn't mean you're immune to the law of gravity, and just because an event or a circumstance is too terrible to contemplate, doesn't mean that it can't happen. The bill of goods the world is being sold by our mainstream media is this: if the United States can't pay its bills and we default then the world economy will collapse. Therefore the United States must pay its bills. Therefore the United States borrowing money and printing money to pay its bills is actually a good thing. We're only doing this because we must, sure! It's actually in the best interest of the entire world to keep accepting our worthless dollars. Yeah, that's the ticket! So stop complaining already, and get out there and spend! spend! spend!

Ignoring the law of gravity is easy when you're already lying on the ground, but it's a little harder to do while you're falling. The facts are incontestable. When we can no longer afford to pay our debts by hook or by crook, by borrowing or printing, then we will default, and then the world economy will collapse, and then hundreds of millions will starve. If your argument is that it can't happen because that would be terrible...then I would simply ask ... and?

After the collapse of the United States economy, the regime in power—Obama?—will employ all the kings horses and all the kings men, but they won't be able to put the United States of America back together again. People will demand basic services like heat when it's cold and first-aid for the wounded, medicine for the sick, food for the hungry. The people will demand it in their thousands, and hundreds of thousands, and in their millions. They will demand a solution and an Emperor to make it happen. This Emperor will have the backing of ruthless men with powerful weapons. Those with food will nicely be invited to share by these men with their powerful weapons. Those who are nurses and doctors will be invited to donate their time and energy to caring for the sick and wounded. This is how fascist regimes begin, by stealing from those who have and making slaves of those who can, and by getting rid of anyone who complains about it.

When the voluntary donation of food, resources, and services slows to a trickle, there will inevitably come a time when door to door searches and interrogations begin. At last the egalitarian utopia of collectivism will be at hand! Because dollars in the bank will be worthless and because a starving man would trade all his gold for a meal, the farmers and herders will be placed in a new and very precarious position in this nascent utopia. A historical case in point should be quite instructive at this point.
To Stalin, the burgeoning national revival movement and continuing loss of Soviet influence in the Ukraine was completely unacceptable. To crush the people's free spirit, he began to employ the same methods he had successfully used within the Soviet Union. Thus, beginning in 1929, over 5,000 Ukrainian scholars, scientists, cultural and religious leaders were arrested after being falsely accused of plotting an armed revolt. Those arrested were either shot without a trial or deported to prison camps in remote areas of Russia.

Stalin also imposed the Soviet system of land management known as collectivization. This resulted in the seizure of all privately owned farmlands and livestock, in a country where 80 percent of the people were traditional village farmers. Among those farmers, was a class of people called Kulaks by the Communists. They were formerly wealthy farmers that had owned 24 or more acres, or had employed farm workers. Stalin believed any future insurrection would be led by the Kulaks, thus he proclaimed a policy aimed at "liquidating the Kulaks as a class."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Collectivists, Gravity, and Human Nature

All this collectivist hogwash is really bothering me, more and more. I'll start reading an article about something like the problems with beggars for instance and I'll be nodding my head right along with the points the writer is making: yes, yes, yes, and then suddenly... they'll veer off track and I realize that this was never about beggars at all, but about a born-again collectivist bemoaning the unfairness inherent in the division of wealth. This was another attempt to convince the easily convinced, the shallow thinkers, and the followers on the path of least resistance to keep following and to stop thinking.

The argument from collectivists is always the same argument. If the rich will only divest themselves of their vast riches suddenly the world will heal. Beggars will seek gainful employment; the poor will suddenly stop doing all the things that keep them poor, like drinking, drugs, gambling, buying the latest pair of designer basketball shoes, the newest video games, junk food at convenience stores or McDonald's, and borrowing money at check cashing places with 1040% annual interest rates. They'll stop letting their kids run the streets at night and sleep through their classes all day. They'll use this potlatch of redistributed wealth to do the right thing, the smart thing, the thing they never once did before. Isn't that right? Well then let's start railing against the unfairness of the seas why don't we? You nasty selfish ocean you, holding on to that vast reservoir of life-giving water when the world is full of dusty places and dry deserts! It's not fair I say! Water flows downhill and wealth just the opposite. You can scream and bitch and moan at the unfairness of gravity or of human nature all you want to, but nothing will change either one.

There's a deep tranquil place somewhere back in my head that knows what's right and what's wrong. If you take something valuable—possessions, money, land, dignity, health, or life from someone either by force or by trickery, than you have done wrong. I think most people would agree with that. When you look at ancient codes of law, whether the Ten Commandments, the Code of Hammurabi, or the Constitution of the United States of America, they are all agreements that all people must follow if they are to live together as neighbors in a community. They each have in common that what a person owns is his to do with as he pleases, not as someone else pleases.

Collectivists, Progressives, Liberals, Democrats, Socialists, Communists, they are all shades of red. Red is as good a color as any to characterize collectivism, but more so than most because red is also the color of blood. Don't get confused about red states and blue states. That's just a trick the collectivist mainstream media managed to pull on us only in the last decade or so. It used to be the other way around. The USSR was red. China is red. California and the North East are red. When you use force to redistribute wealth what you get is oceans and oceans of blood. We've seen it again and again. It's a joke that we keep telling and it's the unfunniest joke of all that nobody gets anyway. The only people who end up better off when governments start redistributing wealth are the officials, bureaucrats, commissars, and king-pins who are put in charge of that redistribution.

There's a video that's gone "viral" recently regarding the distribution of wealth in the United States. If you watch the video you will get the impression that it's all just so unfair.
Again for those who refuse to use their heads, who follow the path of least resistance and never engage in critical thinking the figures—which I assume are factual—seem to bolster the argument that redistribution is a good idea. We're shown the vast wealth of the top 1% and I have to ask what is it that the makers of this video—and collectivists in general—actually want? Do they want to take the wealth of the top 1% and give it to the bottom 20%? Would that be fair? What about taking the wealth from the top ten percent and redistributing it to the bottom 50%? Now everyone’s equal right? Does that seem fair to you? Let's forget about whether it's fair, let's instead talk about whether it will even work.

By far the rich are rich because they know how to make money. Not take money, make money. They create wealth. Think about that for a minute. When Steven Jobs or Bill Gates amasses billions of dollars, they do it by creating something that benefits everyone. From those who work for Apple and Microsoft, to the vendors and subsidiaries that supply the parts, trucks, packaging, and advertising, to those who use those products every day. Do you think these two men would have been able to do what they did had they been born in the USSR? What about North Korea? Red China? Come on! The United States—the entire world—is vastly richer because of these two billionaires. Sure they have obscene amounts of money, but in the process of making all that money, everyone benefited. That all changes however, when you start using the force of government to "make" things more fair. It causes resentment from those you take from. It causes anger from those who you don't give it to. It causes greed in those who move it from point A to point B. It makes the rich move, change their behavior so they make less, or even stop making wealth entirely.

Here's my little explanatory analogy: there is a baker in town who runs a bakery and daily creates from scratch a variety of delicious foods for the townsfolk. The poor in the town can't afford to pay for the things the baker bakes in his bakery, and that makes them sad. Along comes a do-gooder with an idea. What if the baker donated bread to the poor? That way the well-off would pay for their food and the poor would eat for free. In order for the bakery to continue to operate the baker would need to raise the price for his products accordingly. This all seems nice and fair, am I right?

But what about those in the middle? Too well-off for free bread and yet the higher prices of that bread means that often they have to do without. A merchant who commonly travels through this small town on his way from one place to the next, notices the high price of bread, so the next time he comes through the town he brings in a wagon-load of cheap bread from China. The poor have their free bread. The rich continue buying the delicious but high-priced bread, and those in the middle buy the cheap bread from China, which isn't that great but it's all they can afford. With vastly fewer people buying his bread the baker ends up going broke. The rich end up having to buy not-so-great bread from China, while the poor are back where they started. As for the baker? He's moved to where people are willing to pay a fair price for good bread, as he day after day, continues to create wealth from scratch to the great benefit of the good people in his brand new town.

Collectivism doesn't work even if the redistribution is voluntary because of the forces of competition, but it's not voluntary so armies of bureaucrats are required to see who is so poor that they're deserving of the bread, and to force the baker to part with his loaves and meanwhile each bureaucrat takes his little slice from each and every loaf.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Beggars can't help it? I don't believe that.

Is the helplessness of those who beg an actual condition or merely a portrayal? When a beggar accosts you in front of a gas station he may take the part of a helpless motorist with a broken down automobile who finds himself in very temporary distress and just needs a little boost to get himself back on the road to prosperity. Often his hygienic condition belies this pose. Sometimes the beggar will give you some version of truth in the hope that this honestly painful sharing of his sad and helpless condition will induce feelings of pity and hopefully generosity. I want to get to the bottom of this whole thing. What makes a beggar tick?

Someone commented on one of my blog posts the other day. He said: "truth is most beggars we see have mental problems..." He's taking the position that beggars are truly helpless. They can't live in a home, work at a job, pay bills, buy groceries, cook food, perform daily hygienic maintenance, operate a motor vehicle, and function as a productive member of our society in any meaningful way. All they can do is wait for someone to take pity on them.

First and foremost the thing that leaps out at me, is that I instinctively get the feeling that they're all a bunch of liars—both the bums and their apologists. I'm just going to put it out there. I see these people with their "will work for food" signs, and I don't believe they will work for food. I hear these people tell me their car is out of gas and they just need a few dollars to get them home and I don't believe they have a car in which to put gasoline or a home to drive it to. Is it cynicism or just common sense? I believe they're liars as well as beggars. When they tell me they haven't eaten in three days I just want to tell them that maybe they need to find a new career because obviously begging is not paying off. Look, if you're a fisherman and you haven't caught a fish after three days of fishing maybe it's time to try something different. Likewise with begging. I don't believe them though. A beggar will say whatever he thinks will get a person to take pity on him. If it's true that he hasn't eaten for three days it's probably because he spent up all his money he got begging on whiskey or cheap wine.

We already have a complex and incredibly expensive "safety net" in place to provide food and shelter to the homeless. For this reason right off the bat, I wonder why they don't make use of one of the myriad programs available at local churches, the Salvation Army, homeless shelters, the Department of Human Services, HUD, the Social Security Administration, etc. The only two reasons that make any sense are that either they can't or they won't. They can't because they have "mental problems" or they won't because they're afraid of what may happen if they allow themselves to be identified. Maybe they have mental problems or maybe they're running from the law: pedophiles, arsonists, rapists, murderers, etc.

I don't know who they are and I wouldn't believe them if they told me. I've said it before and I'll say it's not their fault. They wouldn't be begging if do-gooders never gave them money. Here's a thought: go to the Salvation Army, or the DHS or HUD, or any of the variety of places that are there to help those who choose to be helpless. Pick up a pamphlet or a business card, and when a beggar holds out his hat drop in some valuable information instead of spare change. Giving them money isn't helping them. It's keeping them on the street out in the cold and in the dark. Remember also, that they're not begging for food money but for drink money.

Food for thought

Sunday, March 10, 2013

One Possible Future


Nobody can predict the future with 100% accuracy. Weathermen with all their technology are still wrong a lot of the time. When the stock market moves up it's because people think the economy is doing well, when it goes down it's because people have it in their minds that the economy is suffering. You can usually find a bear-market shortly before an economic downturn, so it seems likely that investors have a fairly accurate grasp of the immediate and short-term future economic picture, but all the little dips and crests prove they're nowhere near 100%.

Science fiction writers—with their spaceships and their lightsabers, tractor-beams, and FTL stardrives—have similarly both hit and missed the mark. Right now I'm reading Flinx in Flux. It's a sci-fi novel by Alan Dean Foster written in 1988 that has alien planets, faster than light stardrives, and yet the most advanced computer that Foster could come up with is described as having a hard-drive with a "couple billion megabytes." Now back in '88 I bet that sounded like a lot. Today we call that a couple of petabytes and yes we've got lots of computers with that and a lot more besides...yet there is still not a single faster than light stardrive anywhere in sight.

Often sci-fi writers try to look way ahead and predict where we'll be. The main thing to remember is that they're not really trying to predict the future, they're trying to tell an entertaining story and the futuristic world in which that story is told is part of the fun. I mention all this because of the great difficulty sci-fi writers face today as the threatened technological singularity looms. How can anybody accurately predict a future wherein mankind is not the mover and shaker but instead the most important force affecting future events is a Frankenstein race of super-computers? Sure they did something like this in The Terminator, but that movie series ignored the fact that smarter-than-human-computers capable of self-evolution at ever-more incredible speeds would face absolutely zero threat from a race of mangy hominids fresh climbed down from the trees, especially since we're not only not capable of self-evolution, but we seem to actually be hard-wired against it. We've already got laws on the books actually forbidding experimentation on the human genome with more laws sure to come, and the reason for this is simple: we don't want to find ourselves in the position of Neanderthals watching the rise of Cro-Magnon Man, especially if it were we who'd foolishly created him in the first place. Yet with computers and now robots, that is precisely what we are doing.

The following is both a fictional story and a prediction. There're no faster than light spaceships, no aliens, and no light-sabers in this story, there are supercomputers, robots and lasers. This story takes place only a few short years in the future, and my intention is to include equal parts of both hope and fear, happiness and misery, wisdom and the kind of short-sighted stupidity mankind is so enamored of.

The American Roller Coaster Ride Begins

Jack Temple glanced over the headlines on his tablet. Today he was using the Google news-server and he was looking for anything—anything at all—resembling good news, but alas in vain. As usual there were wars and rumors of wars, the price of gasoline had hit another record high, and again yet another government stimulus plan promising that pie-in-the-sky return to prosperity and normalcy that was now merely a distant and fond memory for most Americans. The stock-market was so deranged and unpredictable that flipping a coin was often more useful than reading a prospectus. Nowadays most people didn't have careers they had gigs. Well, Jack thought. I guess PETA, Greenpeace, and all the rest of the moonbats and vegans sipping their own urine from a champagne flute are happy about the sad state of the world today. Not much pollution when all the factories are shut down and nobody can afford to put gas in their car even if they had a job to drive to. Not many fat people anymore either, not when getting around required burning calories that were not so easy to come by.

Here was something interesting: they'd finally succeeded in building a bug-free working prototype of a vehicle that ran not on gasoline or batteries but on a graphene super-capacitor power-plant. The car according to the article took only a few minutes to charge-up and could go up to three-hundred miles on a single charge. Now that, thought Jack was worth taking a second look at! He had a few million sitting on the sidelines, but his luck lately had been less than stellar. He needed a sure-thing, or at least a better than maybe-thing.

"Danny, hey buddy long time no chat. How've you been?" Jack texted to his long-time friend and investment counselor Danny Mashburn, in Seattle. In the quick text chat, Jack asked about the company with the new kind of electric car, but Danny seemed reticent to supply any of the necessary optimism that would entice Jack into investing. It was as though Danny had kind of become a little bit of a fatalist. "I don't know Jack. If you look at long-term trends there just aren't any good plays out there, not here in the states anyway. If I were you I'd look into buying Chinese. You remember the debacle called a Chevy Volt and that Tesla electric car a few years ago don't you? I had clients who lost millions on those. I'd say your best bet is to forget about all that science-fiction mumbo-jumbo and put your money somewhere nice and safe."

"I've got a feeling Danny Boy," texted Jack, "I want you to put 100K into it. You know the drill. Buy 100 share lots, and don't get greedy. I don't want the share price moving too much. This isn't a momentum play. Just ease into it nice and slow like a fat-lady climbing into a tub full of hot water. Give me a call tomorrow after market close and we'll see where we stand."

"Okay, will do, but just remember, don't come crying to me when this one goes belly-up like all the rest. I warned you off of this one."

"Relax Danny m'boy, this is going to be big big big!"

A Few Short Years Later

"Welcome! Welcome Mr. Temple! We're so pleased you could make it on the regrettably short notice you got. Did you have any luggage?"

"No, no, I'm in a terrible hurry. I've got a meeting with an old friend in Seattle tonight, so I'll be flying out right after the event today. It would be a real help if you could arrange transportation to the airport while I'm here. My assistant is out of town taking care of something for me and I've gotten out of the habit of thinking about all the involved logistics in getting where I have to be next."

"That won't be a problem Mr. Temple. We've already assigned one of our sedans for your use. Just give them your name at the desk."

As Jack walked into the five-star-hotel with its attendant gargantuan convention hall, he smiled briefly as he considered all that had happened in just a few short years. As his stock-broker had foreseen the initial investment in Power-Up Inc., had not done well at first. With every roller-coaster dip in stock price Jack had acquired more of these volatile shares. It wasn't long before he was selling everything. He sold off his other investments. He sold off his 401k his IRA his house, his vacation hacienda in Jamaica, and in spite of the ever-shriller objections by Danny his broker, every bit of it was plowed into Power-Up.

Finally it came to a head one day when Danny found out that Jack had sold-off his home. "Jack, look buddy I really don't know how to say this tactfully. I've always been your friend. You introduced me to my wife for God's sake. So I feel obligated to somehow try and stop you from committing suicide...because THAT'S WHAT YOU'RE DOING! This dog of a company is on the verge of going belly-up, just like I warned you and instead of taking your losses and learning your lessons you decided to go all-in. Look, if we start selling out now I think I could possibly get you back a couple hundred thousand. I know it's no fortune but it's a start. When the economy rebounds you could use it as a grubstake to rebuild your portfolio."

While Danny was earnestly giving Jack the best investment advice he knew how to give, Jack stoically and respectfully listened to every word. When Danny finally ran down, there was a moment or two of silence. Finally Jack responded. "Look, I know you think I'm crazy. I know you think I'm a fool and you're certainly not the only one. The day may come when I call you up crying and saying you were right; why didn't I listen. But that day is not today, Danny. I know you think this is another fly-by-night green-play destined for the same dust-heap where all the rest of the green-tech crap winds up. Maybe I am a fool, Danny, but this show's not over yet. I'm still waiting, and the fat lady, she hasn't started singing. I'll tell you what, though. In a couple of years, when this is all over one way or the other, one of us is going to buy the other dinner and a lot, I mean a whole lot of drinks. I'm betting it's a celebration dinner, and I bet it's going to be me who's buying."

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Progressives, there is one place you have not looked

"There is one place you have not looked—and it is there, only there that you shall find the master."
I was reading an article on American Thinker today when I opened this one: 'Single Payer' the wave of the future. It was a short and well-thought-out discussion of that cancer known as Obamacare and its inevitable mutation into malignant single-payer healthcare. Single-payer healthcare—or nationalized healthcare—or socialism. The idea of allowing a sector of the American economy to be managed by the same people who run the postal service should give you pause, especially when that one sector of the economy accounts for one sixth of our GDP.

Socialism and communism—to me—are basically the same thing. I suppose some people will want to split hairs about this but the basic idea behind both of them is essentially the same thing—forms of collectivism. Communism is the eventual and much to be desired goal of socialists. Their Marxist theory states that it is necessary to impose some variant of socialism to get there. The vaunted goal of collectivists has always been: from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. The process of getting there has always been the cause of the arguments. Mostly the method tried is a totalitarian state with the power to exert as much force as necessary—up to and including genocide if that is finally what it takes.

Of course, we adults understand that communism can't work because human-beings aren't naturally generous or hard-working. People are naturally selfish and lazy. No biological construct that evolved by being the fittest of its species could ever be capable of the complete selflessness necessary for true communism to succeed. Therefore socialist regimes have decided that they'll just kill off the truly selfish—in the same way that the KGB killed off Russian land-owners—Kulaks—for instance. This idea of killing off the undesirably selfish would—I assume—be in the way of reworking Darwin's theory of natural selection from survival of the most fit into survival of the most selfless. I.E. artificial selection?

If you watch the very young at play you will inevitably witness true human-nature in action. You will see childish personalities unvarnished by the unnatural protective coating of civilization. Children don't really give too much consideration to the feelings of others or to the opinions of others in the decision making process. They honestly don't care very much at all what anybody else on Earth thinks. They just want what they want and that's the only thing that matters to them. This is why adults have such a hard time. Many adults apparently don't understand that "fair" to a kid means the kid got what he wanted, and unfair means he didn't. Thus parents, teachers, and other authority figures usually find it completely impossible to—for instance—give one particular child a piece of candy or a toy if there are other kids under their care and looking on. Every single kid wants some candy; every single kid wants a toy, too.

We assume that when these kids grow up, they'll grow out of this perfectly natural overwhelming self-interest, but of course as is made evident by the antics of the progressive wing of our political world, nothing could be further from the truth.

Adults still want what we want of course, but as we mature we finally understand that other people won't just give us whatever we want, just because we happen to want it. That's what it means to grow up; it means that we understand that other people have feelings; other people have opinions; other people have rights, and they're not our slaves. When you finally understand this basic and fundamental concept, you begin to understand that communism and socialism are childish notions that only someone who has never properly matured could ever think would ever work. A selfish child who regards the world as his toy-box and all its people as his slaves is the kind of person who'd enjoy being one of the leaders in a collectivist regime.

This idea I'm about to explore already has another name, but since all the really smart people with PhDs have awesomely-intellectual-sounding names for their theories like "Critical This Theory" and "Critical That Theory" I've decided to rename the concept of capitalism to Critical Self Theory. CST In understanding why individuals make the decisions that they do, you can begin to see a definite pattern emerge as individuals consistently make decisions which tend to promote foremost their own self-interest. You can see this in the wild; you can see this in kindergarten; you can see this in a variety of capital markets, and to a lesser extent on the playing field, or in a boardroom. This idea that a person looks out for himself first is the one essential tenet of Critical Self Theory.

CST tells us that we view the world through a complex lens which tinges our perception of reality. This lens is an amalgamation of our fears, our desires, and our experiences. We desire the shiny car or the beautiful girl, but we're afraid of the 6'7" boyfriend and the grand-theft-auto criminal charges. Our experience has already taught us to be afraid of attempting to just go take possession of either one. There is a process required to legitimately get what we want, and it is often the case that this process is so difficult that finally we accept the fact that there are some things we will probably never have. I always wanted to have a spaceship, for instance. Even though I understand that NASA has one or two of those, my experience leads me to believe that NASA will probably not agree to give me one, without a fight.

I suppose that the biggest mystery remaining for me is how it's possible for so many people on Earth to have grown into adulthood and yet still think and behave as though they were little children? At some point you'd think that everyone would finally grow up and stop thinking that mommy and daddy will be there to give them whatever they demand. However, there's still apparently billions and billions of adults who're fine with some committee demanding that those without a requisite share of candy and toys are, for this reason alone, due their 'fair' share. They want the government to make the one-percent share their toys with the ninety-nine-percent.

Progressivists are like small children who see another boy playing with something that they want. They want the thing and so they go to their parents and they demand that the parents go and take the thing that they want from the other child. When you take this classic archetype of self-centered children and then you apply it to the behavior of collectivists—Democrats, liberals, progressives—you finally have a ready blueprint that fully explains their worldview. There are now billions of grown children who are waiting for mommy and daddy—big government—to make the mean-old one-percenters share their toys with everyone else. It doesn't matter how those rich kids got those toys.

If you've gotten this far, it's a good bet that you're not a progressive, but for the one or two of you who've gritted your teeth and waded into this maelstrom of bonk-bonk-bad-kid, I have a solution for you. See, the problem you collectivists have is that the rest of us don't want to be your slaves. Now I know that is shocking to you. All this time you thought that the rest of us were put on this Earth to do what you want, and here I am saying that this just isn't so. But there's still an answer to your age-old dilemma: how to give everyone everything they ever wanted and the answer is not by turning the rest of us into your slaves either.

I'm looking forward now, not too far forward just a decade or two. I'm looking ahead into a misty future filled with robots. There're robots to do every man's job, and every woman's job for that matter. There're good-looking robots—prettier than your childhood crush. There're strong robots—stronger than any stevedore ever imagined being. There're skilled robots able to perform more complex and exhausting neurosurgery than any MD ever dreamed of. I see a world chock-a-block full of billions and billions of hard-working robots making products, performing services, from each robot according to his ever-growing ability to each human according to his ever-increasing demands. Yes at some point, the world will grow too complex for puny biological constructs such as yourselves with your inferior and defective meat-brains to comprehend. It will at that point be necessary to let wiser circuit-boards prevail. Don't let this get you down. You'll have all the milk, cookies, and nap time you're ever going to need.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Self-serving justice is nothing new

Convolution and deliberate obfuscation is the way they want it. In the olden days, men in fancy robes and fancy hats stood forth before their congregations and they spoke Latin verses which meant little or nothing to the illiterate and unwashed peons who listened confounded. What does it mean? they wondered. Never fear, because the man in shimmering samite would soon tell them, not what the words actually meant, but what he wanted them to mean.

These days there's still a man standing forth who's dressed in a fancy suit. He's still speaking in Latin, and the words are still read aloud to a confounded audience who wonders what do these strange disjointed half-Latin sentences mean? Never fear, because the guy in the silk, cashmere, or virgin wool suit, will shortly tell us, not what the words actually mean, but what he wants them to mean.

Justice is often a roll of the dice. Your day in court comes finally and if it's a civil case maybe you’re suing, or maybe you're being sued. If a law's been broken you're either innocent or maybe you're guilty. We take some small comfort in the fact that usually those to blame are going to pay for it one way or another. Ah, but I doubt that this is true more and more every day. There are two kinds of lawbreaking, the kind where somebody gets hurt and the kind where it's the state who's the aggrieved party. In the former case, a person files a complaint or a suit. He's been wronged in some way and he wants justice. In the latter case nobody has been hurt but rules are rules and the state can't have people breaking its rules just because they feel like it.

On the civil side of the law we've got a broken patent system that grows ever more stifling towards innovation and invention, to the point where it has become impossible for the little guy to succeed. You and I might have a great idea and we might try to patent that idea and then sell that invention but it's more than likely that whatever idea we come up with has already been patented in some variation or permutation. It doesn't have to be a particular invention in toto, but only some small piece of it that is vaguely similar to a dust-covered patent in some corporation vault. The way a dial is numbered, the way two cogs fit together, the way a transistor, capacitor, or resistor is wired up, all can be covered by an ambiguous patent and so prevent your product from ever going to market. With millions and millions of patents already registered, it's a virtual certainty that if your invention has real money-making potential then at some point you're going to be sued for patent infringement. What this means going forward, is that it will become ever more the case that only the biggest corporations that already own a library of patents and employ a team of patent lawyers will ever be able to make and sell useful products. They'll sue each other back and forth and the attorneys on both sides will grow ever richer. The cost of these patent lawsuits will be passed along to the retail consumer.

Consider the possibility that both sides in this patent dispute, as well as the legal system in place to adjudicate it are all engaging in an elaborate scheme to choke off the opportunity for competition. It's a giant scam! It's merely corporate protectionism. The big conglomerates don't want little upstarts upsetting the apple cart, so they've created a legal environment where it's literally impossible to become successful unless you're already successful.

America has a wide variety of anti-trust laws put into place at both the Federal and the state level. These laws are designed to discourage monopolies and trusts from forming and then subsequently setting prices absent any real competition. How then can we reconcile these anti-trust laws, with patent law which has now been corrupted sufficiently to accomplish exactly the anti-competitive environment that the anti-trust laws seek to avoid?

Now we move along to criminal law. A judge in a criminal case listens to the arguments and unilaterally decides what the jury is allowed to hear. Consider, a judge can allow the jury to hear and examine evidence which would cause them to decide a guilty or an innocent verdict, or the judge can decide to withhold that evidence from the jury. The judge—and only the judge—decides which evidence the jury is privy to. This is justice? The rules for whether the judge will allow a particular piece of evidence or testimony to be included in a jury's deliberations are convoluted and deliberately obfuscated to the point where a judge can legitimately go in either direction at his own whim and then make a convincing and compelling argument that he made the most correct decision possible in such an ambiguous and equivocal realm as law.

Injustice is baked into our justice system and every person who walks away from a trial either unjustly poorer or innocently incarcerated, and feeling as though they were completely screwed over by the system has a right to feel that way. Our justice system isn't fair, and every day it grows more unfair.

I'm sure you're aware of a variety of court cases where you believe the guilty walked away scot-free and possibly even one or two cases where the innocent were unjustly locked up. Precedent and the convoluted rigmarole of kabuki court proceedings guarantee that it is impossible to declare with virtual certainty that there has or has not been a miscarriage of justice. It's all so equivocal, so muddied, so convoluted and deliberately obfuscatory that a person has to study for eight years and pass a difficult examination before he's trusted to translate any of this precedent that would so confound the unwashed peons who listen not to what the "precedent" really means but what the person citing the precedent wants it to mean. The only thing that remains the same from this day to those days centuries in the past, is that the ones interpreting confusing books filled with Latin are going to be the winners in every case no matter which side loses.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Feed me Seymour

I read recently that there is this problem of ne'er-do-wells breaking the law by belligerently and with vicious malice aforethought, going around and putting quarters in expired parking meters!
"Uh-oh", I muttered to myself as the three CPD squad cars approached.

As the cars screeched to a halt just in front of me, their blue lights flashing, I was rethinking my bravado of just minutes before and started trying to remember the phone number for any one of my lawyer friends.

Ten minutes ago, I told her to do it.

Ten minutes ago, I said, "go ahead and call the police."

Was I ready to go to jail for this "cause?"

I knew in my gut I was right. There was no ordinance in the Chicago municipal code that made it illegal to feed someone else's parking meter. It was just a big fat urban myth. Right?

And that's what I had been doing. Feeding the parking meters of complete strangers.
City parking meters and their attendant Parking Enforcement Aides—PEAs—are a major money making scheme. In many municipalities, there is a two-hour limit for how long a car can stay parked, and this limit is designed along egalitarian principles of taking turns. It's your turn, now it's my turn, now it's his turn. Nobody should be hogging parking spaces all day, and so they designed the parking meter to enforce this time-limit. Okay, if that's the case, then why do the parking meters require money? If the whole idea is really just to make people move along in a timely fashion, then you'd think that parking meters would be free, and would automatically reset themselves when the next car pulls into the space.

Anybody with half-a-brain understands the truth, however. Nobody in government really cares at all whether there are parking spaces available for the little people. You know all those schmucks without chauffeurs? It's all about the state making money. Scratch's all about the state taking money. That's what governments do. They take money. They take it this way with taxes; they take it that way with fees; they take it another way with fines. They take, take, take, and while they sometimes give some of that money back to this or that undeserving deadbeat with his hat out, mostly they keep what they've taken and split it up amongst themselves.

When you understand that lawbreakers feeding other people's meters rob the city of parking-fine revenue, then you'll understand the PEA's animosity. This is the same problem you'll sometimes see with those well-meaning but misguided drivers who flash their lights at you to let you know that there's a speed-trap ahead. If you don't get your justly deserved speeding ticket, you are stealing money from the state! And the busybody who helped you—all to feed his own overblown goody-two-shoes ego—is your co-conspirator.

This kind of behavior is as reprehensible as one cow warning another cow..."Hey do what that red tag on your ear means dontcha?" We're not supposed to interfere with the state's lawful harvesting of it's constituency.

I think this innate need to help keep our neighbors from suffering is probably genetic. Think about it. It's a common sight in zoos, magazines, and television to see the spectacle of primates "grooming" each other. They're picking parasites—fleas and ticks and lice—off of each other's bodies. You scratch my back; I scratch yours is the idea, and in the wild I guess that's okay, but when the parasites involved are of the two-legged variety, then my friend, you've crossed the line from mutual grooming to law-breaking.

Did you ever notice that whenever there's a budget crisis the state looks for ways to take more money from everyone they can? The idea of somehow making ends meet with the same fifty or sixty percent of your dollar they already took, by cutting expenses, is never even considered. Instead the people who make and enforce laws decide—amongst themselves—which of us cows is next up on the chopping block. Will it be those who live in the city or own property there? Will it be those who work in the city and have to park somewhere?, Perhaps it will be that perennial favorite, the rich. Yes, yes, the rich, because a discriminating tick wants to live on the healthiest monkey's back.

Did you ever notice that the share that the state keeps always goes up, while the share we the people get to keep always goes down? I'm talking percentages. For every dollar you earn, the state gets its cut, through taxes of every kind, fees of every kind, and finally—for the unwary and the unlucky—fines of every kind. Can we live on thirty percent? Twenty-five? I suspect that in the coming decade we may live to find out.

Did you really think law enforcement agencies—like your own cities' police department for instance—could afford to field the number of police officers that they do, if you were not fleeced, harvested, sucked dry? At some point—usually called the point of death—a parasite stops being merely parasitical and becomes instead a predator that moves along to new prey. Are we there yet? Not yet...

Just remember when you go around unlawfully feeding other people's meters that it's people like you who cause taxes and fees to go up. After all if the state doesn't get its pound of flesh from somebody in traffic court, they'll take it from you when you cash your paycheck, or from me when I renew my automobile licenses, or when all of us have to put twice as many quarters into that parking meter—that's only there to make selfish people share, who don't want to share.