The World is Different Now from Then

My last post here was November of 2011.  Ouch.  On February 25, 2013 my friend jan finder died of cancer.  That rather dampened my interest in writing more blog posts that would push his writing back a bit.  Time has passed and I’m feeling a need to write something longer than 140 characters again.

My little New England town had its town meeting last Monday and will have its next town election on Saturday, May 17th of 2014.  This is the spring season for lawn signs extolling the names of local candidates for school committee, selectman, town clerk, and other elected positions.  The candidates and their supporters are very vocal.  Conversations about supporting one candidate or another are mostly emotional with no factual content.  Being somebody who can be swayed with a well presented fact or two, I never cease to be amazed at how people do (or don’t in most cases) vote.

The divisiveness of the two national parties is mirrored locally.  As former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill said, “All politics is local.”  That phrase means more to me as the years go by.  All politics is emotional.  Local and emotional go together.  We care about local.  Locally “party” means less than the individual positions taken and results delivered.  Still, it’s no surprise that our local elections heat up as much as they do.  The same mudslinging and behind the scenes manipulation would appear to function on all political/human interaction levels.  

As a side note, the reason marketing holds my interest is that it involves psychology and biology.  Conveying a message and having somebody else accept it requires either an incredible instinct for human nature or a studied, systematic approach to presentation.  (I’m not working on the best, most persuasive way to present this information.  I’m just ruminating.)  I’m fascinated by the state of American politics today.  It is no different than it ever was, I suppose.  It’s about power, control, money and sex.  At least nobody has been shot or run through with a sword in the Congressional halls in recent years.

There are multiple types of intelligence if you buy into  Howard Gardner’s model in his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.  One of those types of intelligence is interpersonal.  The folks who score high in that area are considered charismatic and are often leaders.  Of course, they can also be good scam artists, but we’ll let that go for the moment.  Or not.  Again, the human appeal is emotional.  That’s what drives us.  It’s interesting to think we are electing people with interpersonal intelligence but possibly not as much intellectual ability as we might prefer.

This is on my mind because recent conversations with people I like and respect are sometimes strange.  People can hold strong negative convictions about elected officials who I have never known to be anything but kind, honest, hardworking, and competent.  How good people can come to opposite emotional convictions is fascinating.  Facts are gathered or made up or stretched, perhaps, to coincide with an emotional position.  I’ve heard people make strong claims about politicians from local up through the POTUS where there isn’t a single measurable fact to be found.  Just a feeling on somebody’s part that “these people” are (insert negative term of your choice).

In my town I’ve observed that the most powerful voting block is the parents of school age children.  They appear at town meetings where a school department article is to be voted, they vote, then they leave.  When I was younger I was less interested in being active in politics because my time was committed to my job and my family.  As the family matures, you and your significant other may feel a pull to become more politically active.  (Or not!)  You have the time to volunteer and the experience which is valuable to town committees and boards.  At different ages, our interest in, and time for, political activity changes.  So why were young people so politically active in the 60’s and 70’s?  How about because the Vietnam War focused the attention of a whole generation on survival?  We fight for what’s important to us.  I had hoped that more would come of the Occupy movement in view of the serious threat the mishandling of the American financial industry was causing worldwide.  But it was not to be.

So.  Is it age and time availability or self interest or a mix of the two that make us politically active?  Some 40 years ago more than one third of all workers in the US private sector were unionized and in 2014 less than 7% belong to a union.  History tells us that unionization generally involves broken bones, blood in the street, and the use of words like goons and scabs.  Labor is always at a physical disadvantage… until it isn’t.  Why we don’t see more unionization today I do not understand.  Leadership is not exactly encouraged in the 99% by the 1% which control the US economy.  Why are all the good people in this country allowing the financial system, healthcare, manufacturing, the environment, and heaven knows what else… to deteriorate?

I keep coming back to income inequality as a root of our differences and our problems.  Yes, people have a right to be rich.  And, as the Bible says, “The poor are always with  us.”  But there’s a matter of degree today which seems unsustainable in a healthy society.  I’ve always been a fan of Bill Joy, a tech giant from years ago.  I can’t find the quote, but he was talking to a reporter once about all the money he made from Sun Microsystems, and he pointed out that he plays hockey so now and then he buys a $15 hockey stick, but other than that he doesn’t need much.  Living in Silicon Valley has never been cheap, but I appreciated his point that money, after a certain level, isn’t buying you a better life.  The 1% in the US are living a gilded, privileged life, but they could live that same life on 10% or less of the pile of cash they can access.  So the vast wealth of this nation is really sitting idle when it could be driving a better quality of life for more people.

The world has changed dramatically in the last 50 years.  It has changed dramatically every few decades over the history of the human race, too, so my point here is about looking forward to what kind of world we want to leave to posterity.  I believe Americans should  not face a life burdened with heavy debt to pay for their education.  I believe that a certain level of healthcare is a right.  I believe people should be able to do, think, and say whatever they like as long as they don’t hurt anyone else.  I believe we can learn from Europe that dense cities surrounded by agricultural land with public transportation between cities is a good thing.  Eating up our agricultural land with suburban housing developments has been a poor decision.  And I believe that the wealthiest people in the country are more than welcome to 20 to 50 times what the poorest people have, but not 300 to 1000 times.  By freeing more people from physical and economic stress we can have a more productive, peaceful, creative and happy world.  Isn’t that what we claim this country is about?  It isn’t about giving people a guaranteed plush existence, it’s about giving people an opportunity to earn their living, making the most of their skills in service to their community.  Isn’t that what this country is about?  Or is it about “I’ve got mine,” and that’s pretty much the end of it, which I see too much of today.

Just ruminating.  Wondering how we got where we are today and whether it is possible to improve the lot of people as a whole in this world.

 

 

Guest blog: “If We Were Emperor!” by jan howard “wombat” finder

Jan Howard Finder died February 26, 2013.  He will be remembered and missed by many people around the world.  I’m proud to say jan was a friend and will leave this entry here as a reminder of his character and convictions.

This is a first for my little blog.  A friend of mine, jan howard finder, wanted to post this piece online and I volunteered to host it on my WordPress blog.  Mind you I did offer to set him up with his own WordPress blog, but here we are.  The topic is how to get the US moving again economically.  I’ll have a comment at the end, but for the moment, here’s jan:

If We Were Emperor!

by jan howard “wombat” finder

[“If We were Emperor” is the style I am using in order to frame my opinions.   I do not advocate the overthrow of the current US government or the Constitution.]

There are several things We would do in order to get the country and economy back on track:

Taxes: 

  1. Repeal the two big tax cuts instituted by President Bush, in 2001 and in 2003.
  2. Stimulus plan:  A cheque for $5,000 to everyone who has filed a 1040-based tax return in 2011.  [Assuming 150 million taxpayers, corporations NOT included, this would cost $750 Billion.] This would put the money into the hands of those who would give a boost to the economy, the consumers, by buying durable goods, paying down mortgages, etc. It would do what The President Bush said we should do, just after Sept 11, “go out and spend money”; it was said to individuals, not to corporations.
  3. Boost for Lower and Middle-classes:  Raise the personal deduction to $7,500, indexed to the Cost of Living.
  4. Cap the amount of taxable deduction for interest on home mortgages to $25,000 to $50,000 per year.  The interest cap could be indexed to the Cost of Living Index for that area.
  5. Cap other governmental agencies at current spending levels for 5 years.

Education:

  1. Grants: We would expand grants to students attending accredited institutions of higher education.
  2. Loans: Students would pay off the Federally Funded Student Loans either: (a)    by paying a percentage of  their GROSS income, 1%, 2%, or other suitable percentage. This allows graduates to accept a lower paying job of their choice rather than be forced to accept a job that will not advance their careers.  (b)   or a standard loan agreement over 10 years at the Prime Rate plus 1%, payment to start one year after graduation.
  3. Tuition Rebates: We would set up tuition rebates for students in Mathematics, Sciences, and Engineering at accredited institutions of higher education who achieve a cumulative 3.5 GPA or better by the end of their 3rd academic year.  The rebate would be up to $10,000 or $20,000 in tuition rebates for the 3rd and 4th academic years.  This tuition rebate would also apply to Graduate Students.

Energy:

  1. Energy Production: Accelerated depreciation [5 years on a plant designed to last 40 years.] on the Capital Costs of creating non-fossil fuel energy production assets, e.g., Wind turbines, Photovoltaic cells, Solar Updraft Towers, Hydrothermal plants, etc.
  2. Equipment Installation: 100% deduction, depreciated over 3 years, for equipment and installation of alternate energy producing units by individuals and businesses in the tax year of installation.

Transportation:

  1. Increase Federal gas tax: Add a10 cent a gallon increase in the Federal tax on petroleum products with the money going to maintenance and repair of existing infrastructure. NO NEW CONSTRUCTION! The Federal tax is earmarked for existing roads and bridges. We would add up to 10 cents every year for 5 years.  Each one cent [0.01] increase brings in about $1 billion dollars in revenue.  This is equivalent about 25,000 new jobs.  Each new job will bring in about 2 or 3 additional jobs into the market.  The 10 cent a gallon or equivalent increase in the Federal tax on petroleum products could result in approximately 500, 000 and 1 million new jobs.
  2. State gas tax fund: Require states to put state gasoline taxes into a separate fund, to be spent on roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure. Most state gasoline taxes go into the General Fund and never get spent on infrastructure.
  3. State funding: All states would be required to spend, not allocate, a minimum of 90% of the previous year’s road transportation budget or lose ALL Federal DoT funding the following year.
  4. The cost of the increase in the tax is about $48 a year to the motorist who drives 12,000 miles a year and gets 25 mpg.  If one drives less and or has a more fuel efficient vehicle, the cost would be less.  What is the cost of a new tire, wheel alignment, wheel balancing, shock absorber, ball joints, etc.? The US’s poor infrastructure costs motorists $67 Billion a year.  [Taken from an ad by Audi.]

Social Security:

Raise the taxable limit for Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax to $250,000.  Increase this to $500,000 24 months after the previous increase.

Currently, someone who earns $102,000 pays 6.2%.  Someone who earns $250,000 pays 6.2% on the first $102,000, and pays 0% on the remaining $148,000.  Someone who makes $500,000 pays 6.2% of the first $102,000, and 0% on the remaining $398,000.

The first change would mean:  Someone who earns $250,000 pays 6.2%.  Someone who makes $500,000 pays 6.2% of the first $250,000, and 0% on the remaining $250,000.

6.2% of that $148,000 is significant. When the limit moves to $500,000:  Someone who earns $500,000 pays 6.2%.  Someone who makes $750,000 pays 6.2% of the first $500,000, and 0% on the remaining $250,000.

If someone currently making $102,000 or less can pay 6.2% of their income to FICA, certainly someone making $250,000 or more can manage.

Health:

  1. Medicare/Medicaid: All Medicare, Medicaid, etc., payments would be frozen at current levels for 5 years.
  2. Health Insurance:  Any US citizen would be allowed to sign up for The Federal Employees Health Benefits [FEHB] plan, the plan that is available to all federal government  employees. (It’s the same one members of Congress use.)  This would be a “Public Option.”  The Federal Government would pay approximate 75% of the premium and the individual-family would pay the other 25%.  The insured would be free to choose any of the several private insurance plans in the insured’s area: Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Kaiser Permanente, or in my case for example, the Capital District Physician’s Health Plan [CDPHP].  I get to choose my doctors [I easily switched urologists recently]. 

Department of Defense

  1. A 5% across the board increase in pay and benefits for all Military Service personnel.  They don’t get anywhere near what they deserve.
  2. The DoD budget would be frozen for 5 years.  While research would be encouraged, development would be limited to proof of concept prototypes.
  3. DARPA would be encouraged to expand  its challenge programs: Set standards and let private inventors meet the challenge.  Sort of small X-Prize offer.
  4. Decrease the DoD budget, potentially 5% a year or more, for 5 years:
    1. by evaluating the necessity of building expensive equipment simply because it’s “new”, when existing equipment is more than adequate for current and near-future projections of enemy capabilities (we’re not fighting the Soviets any more);
    2. by evaluating the necessity of building more of the expensive equipment that no longer meets the operational needs against current and near-future enemies (how many aircraft carriers do we need to fight, or support fights, in small towns in the Middle East?);
    3. and by bringing our service personnel and materiel back home. The ability to mobilize quickly, to transport personnel and materiel needed for quick strike missions, no longer requires the tremendous expenditures of overseas bases.

X-Prizes:

We would set up a series of Federally funded X-Prizes in areas of  need, i.e., energy, space exploration, engineering challenges.  The money would go to the winning teams, not to the institutions for whom they may work.  X-prize funds are not paid out until the established goals are met!

[This is my opinion.  I encourage you to write your own screed.]

—————————

This is Mary again. It’s an interesting proposal. I think an open debate would probably not decrease the DoD budget, most of which goes to pensions, as I understand it. And if we want to encourage R&D, in my humble opinion we need to invest in it, not offer prizes to be awarded when the work is done, since it may never be economically possible to provide a proof of concept.  Still, lots of these things are good ideas.  Your thoughts?

While I’m on the topic, if you do a Google Images search for “jan howard finder” you will find lots of photos from Science Fiction conventions and other places which are the natural habitat for wombats. The lower case spelling is traditional for jan, although they have it wrong on Wikipedia. But then they didn’t mention jan as fan guest of honor at a Sci-Fi convention in Metz, France, either… when Robert Bloch was the guest of honor… or lots of other things, so maybe he’ll write a memoir!

Autobiographical Musing on Music

We all have a special place in our hearts for the music we listened to as young people.  Broadway Showtunes, Rock and Roll, Jazz, Gregorian Chant, and the occasional Classical piece were part of my DNA from the beginning.  Folk music, old and new, took its place while I was in high school and college.  And I’ve been pretty happy with that mix for a long time.

As a young person, my parents thought it would be good for me to learn to play the piano, more specifically my grandmother’s Steinway which had taken up residence in our living room.  So, when I was old enough, I began years of piano lessons from the good Benedictine nuns.  Piano seemed an especially great instrument to me because I could sing as I played.  And I enjoyed that.  I also enjoyed learning fast, complex pieces because, when you play like that, your fingers actually blur before your eyes and it has a sort of psychedelic effect with the music and all.  In time I moved out of my parents home and pretty much let piano playing drift away.  I tried a guitar for a bit, and again found a delightful

instrument that could be played while you sing.  I  played a steel string Goya, and I did love it, but I never considered myself a musician.  And my fingers never seemed to retain the requisite calluses for a steel string guitar.  (It looked a bit like the one above.)  Another brief attempt at keyboards involved a

KORG 01/W which I bought in 1993 along with a super little plug-in cartridge that could change the sound from a concert grand to an upright to a honky tonk, and several other very cool alternatives.  (I have always wished that Frank Zappa had stayed around long enough to play with the next generation of electronic instruments, but it was not to be.)  The KORG is still in my basement.  That didn’t “take” either. So today I play the radio.  And my iPod.

To quote Dennis Miller: “How many times am I going to have to buy the White Album?” I have lived through several music formats and find myself switching pretty much – make that completely – to digital these days.  Digital takes less storage space.  It’s hard to abandon the old vinyl or cassettes or CDs.  But vinyl singles and albums sit in the basement taking up space alongside cases of cassettes and CDs and the “massive” electronics that support them… including an imposing set of Advent speakers.  Can’t even move those things at a yard sale these days.  An MP3 player is just so much lighter and easier to manage.  (Then there’s the battery operated boom boxes without which we would be completely cut off during power failures.)  I think the family at one time had 3 Sony cassette based Walkmans (all Sport models).  Nobody’s touched them in years. They were great for skiing in their day.  Huey Lewis is the best ski music, IMHO.  You do your turns with the beat.  Yeah.  (Toto’s AFRICA will also get you moving to the beat.  Heck, R&R just does that.)

That reminds me, housekeeping note, while vinyl and CDs are fairly long lived media, cassettes need to be played or wound and unwound every now and then or they get muddy.  The IRS learned years ago that the magnetic media they stored tax information on would bleed ones and zeros into each other after maybe 10 to 25 years.  If you have something you love on tape, either convert it to digital or do the wind and unwind thing to keep the tape alive.  Or, of course, you can keep buying the White Album.  But often things we all have on tape or even vinyl aren’t available digitally, so keep your own counsel on that matter.  Once a tape is gone, it’s gone for good.  (The same is true for old family videos on 8mm film.)

Now then, hubby claims that guitars are going out of favor these days because rap music doesn’t use guitars.  That would be sad.  Music keeps evolving, so I hope something musically interesting will develop to replace rap.

Which brings me to the point of this post: something I read once  left more of an impact on me than I anticipated at the time or I would have made a note of who wrote it and where I found it.  (Sorry.)  The underlying message was that music has evolved around the increasing dominance of rhythm.  I liked the Roman High Mass, Gregorian Chant, and all manner of simple, ancient music with minimal melodies and gentle rhythmic chanting.  Secular folk music evolved melodies more complex than that of Church music, still a gentle rhythm. Then there’s so called classical music with the exploration of more complex melody and rhythm by folks like Vivaldi, Mozart, Hayden and so on. This traditional music has strict underlying rhythms to coordinate musicians and choirs.  Jazz is a melodic riff on traditional melodies but uses similar disciplined rhythms I think.  (I have a serious fondness for the orchestral version of Vaughn Williams’ The Lark Ascending.)  Showtunes have strong melodies and simple rhythms.  The goal was to have folks leave the theater singing, after all.

Eventually we come to Rock and Roll, the heart of which – according to both The Beatles and Huey Lewis – is the beat.  Melody and a strong back beat.  If music truly evolves to stronger rhythms, is it only natural then that the next step would be rap…. mostly beat and modest if any melody?  Maybe it had to progress that way.  What’s interesting to me is that African drums, and music derived from them, are wildly physical and wonderful.  Drums are all beat, and

the beat makes you move.  African drums (and Mickey Hart) make the very bones in your body vibrate.  You have to move to drum music.  It’s not optional.  But loud rap music is boring and flat.  Why is that?

PS:  I wrote the above on May 23, 2011. Very shortly thereafter my 2001 Prius blew its big battery, prompting me to evaluate spending as much as the car was worth to repair it and knowing this would have been the beginning of several expensive repairs to come. Long story short, I now have a Nissan Cube. It is a great deal of fun.  And it came with a 3 month free subscription to XM Satellite Radio.  Although this is not something I normally would have considered, I chanced upon a series of radio stations, one of which plays music from the  1950’s, followed by one playing 60’s, then 70’s, then 80’s.  There may be more in that vein, but it’s been very interesting switching between them and listening to samples from the playlists. I can hear jazzy swing influences in the 50’s and am surprised to discover it’s my favorite station.  I’ll partly explain that by admitting to a secret love for doo wop music.  60’s are a real grab bag of different influences,  the 70’s often have a hard heavy metal sound, and the 80’s get very whiny at times.  Well those are observations from flipping through XM’s playlists, so take it for the simplistic statement it is.  I listen to see where melody begins to fail and the beat takes over.  It is there.  I don’t know if I would have stated it that way had I not read that article some time back. Interesting.  I’d love to hear the opinion of somebody who knows more about music and music history than I do.

Movement for a 28th Amendment to the US Constitution

I received an email today which asked me to forward it to still another 20 people.  I thought this might be more useful.

It’s time for another Amendment to the US Constitution.  I do believe this.  And I like everything in the proposal below.  See what you think and you are more than welcome to copy and forward it to your friends and Congresscritters.  It will take a huge amount of effort to get this passed because it is not in the best economic interests of the members of Congress.  But it’s worth raising the possibility.

 

“Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people.”  –Theodore Roosevelt

 

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” –Theodore Roosevelt

 

The rest of this post is the content of that email:

“The 26th Amendment (granting the right to vote for 18 year-olds) took only 3 months and 8 days to be ratified.  Why?  Simple!  The people demanded it.  That was in 1971… before computers, before e-mail, before cell phones, etc.

“Of the 27 Amendments to the US Constitution, seven (7) took 1 year or less to become the law of the land… all because of public pressure.

“I’m asking you to forward this email to a minimum of twenty people on your address list; in turn ask each of those to do likewise.

“In three days, most people in The United States of America will have the message.  This is one idea that really should be passed around.

 

 

Congressional Reform Act of 2011


1. Term Limits.

An elected Congressperson may serve a maximum of 12 years only, defined as one of the possible options below:

A. Two 6-year Senate terms

B. Six 2-year House terms

C. One 6-year Senate term and three 2-Year House terms

2.  No Tenure / No Pension.

A Congressperson collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.

3.  Congress (past, present, and future) participates in Social Security.

All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately.  All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people.

4. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise.

Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

6. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

7. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

8. All contracts with past and present Congresspersons are void effective 1/1/11.

“The American people did not make the current contract with members of Congress.  Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves.

“Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.

“If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people then it will only take three days for most people (in the U.S. ) to receive this message.

“MUCH OF WHAT WE FACE IN TERMS OF PRIVILEGE AND SELFISHNESS IN THIS COUNTRY MIGHT BEST BE CHANGED STARTING FROM THE TOP DOWN.”

Me again.  I poked around on the web and found the organization which is working to make this happen.  Amendment to Reform Congress is on Facebook.  And their website is here. In my humble opinion it’s time we got together and agreed on some, most, or all of these changes to our representative government.  The current approach creates a divide between the governed and the government which is hurting our country.  With this Amendment can can continue to be a government OF the people, BY the people, and FOR the people.

It’s time to align the self-interest of Congress with that of the American people and not with that of lobbyists.

The Downside of Reusable Shopping Bags

I will admit to not having thought this subject through until a bit too late… but for the benefit of my friends and relatives I will write this one out for you.

Don’t let the bagger at the grocery store fill your reusable shopping bags with too much weight per bag.  OK?

Which leads me to the observation that many of these ecologically responsible, reusable bags of ours are bigger and stronger than the old paper supermarket bags and surely larger than the plastic supermarket bags.

And that means… these reusable bags can become much heavier than some of us (cough) might imagine.

So three days ago I brought five reusable shopping bags (much like the green one above) to the supermarket and wound up with a lot of very heavy stuff in each bag.  No big deal. Right?

Let’s see… I picked up these heavy bags and lifted them from where they were being filled, across my shopping cart, piled them into the cart, took the cart out to the car and lifted the bags (more than one at a time) into the trunk, drove home, and then brought the bags, my purse, and the mail into the house in two trips.  Hey, I’m strong.  Right?  Well… that’s as may be, but there’s such a thing as not lifting things correctly.  By not paying attention, I wound up pulling muscles in my lower back.  I’m starting to see light at the end of the tunnel, but I’ve been lying around the house moaning and groaning for three days now.  And expect a few more of the same.

LESSONS LEARNED: I should either (1) get smaller reusable shopping bags for the supermarket and/or (2) watch how much weight is packed into each bag, and/or (3) be careful how I lift and carry these things.  That’s all.  Just a friendly little reminder that we may not be as tough as we think we are!  Hoping you won’t make the same mistake!