Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Age of Discontent

I wonder what the old folks thought about in, say, 1932, or maybe in 1939 . . . when the world seemed as though it was collapsing around them. In one case, the bankers and stock brokers of the world, in pursuit of ever greater profits, caused the financial world to collapse, ruining millions of people—rich and poor alike. 1932 must have seemed a dismal time indeed. I know it was for my folks and grandfolks. And then, before anything like a recovery was at hand, came the prospect of WW II. Yeah, it must have been great to be approaching 80 during that period.

So, now, it’s 2014, and as I approach my 41st 39th birthday (me and Jack Benny), the world seems almost as dismal. Muslim crazy folks throughout the Middle East and Africa are intent on killing as many people as they can, just because they can.
And then there’s the world of finance. We seem to have recovered, sort of, from the George Bush-inspired economic collapse, but it’s been an expensive recovery. The nation had to foot the bill to keep the financial world afloat—they really seem like dim bulbs in the world of finance, incapable of learning from past mistakes. The lure of gigantic payouts continues to dazzle them, despite the risks to the global economic system. They seem not to care actually, so long as we stand ready to bail them out when they screw up, that is. I guess they lost a lot of dough during the Shrub era, and they have been trying to make it up ever since.
And then there’s the political mess. Not sure when it happened, but our political parties began acting un-American, if not downright anti-American, right after our Prez was elected. The GOP apparently decided that its name should really be the Grand Oligarchical Party, so they all signed on to the effort to defeat our Prez and “the other guys”—Dems don’t you know.  And defeat isn’t just another term for disagree with—no, the GOP seems to want the complete destruction of the Democratic system of government, beginning with the Democratic Party.  They really want an Oligarchy, recreating the United States as a DINO—Democracy in Name Only.  And of course, their official cheerleaders, the Faux News Network become ever more absurd daily. Employing the best form of reductio ad absurdum, Fox has now declared that there is an “unholy war on Easter” or maybe just on religion generally, attributed of course to Liberals, Atheists, democrats—all their sworn enemies.  Ahh, Mr. Murdoch you take absurdity to new heights of . . . absurdity.
So, I find myself becoming increasingly uneasy as I approach that exalted age—uneasy because I hate the idea that we as a human race, have become so destructive that we seem no longer capable of rational thought.  And that makes me sad, because of the kind of world we are bequeathing to our grandchildren.
And I wish I could look ahead, as one might have done in 1939, to a world that would one day be freer of demagogues and hatred and murderous rage, and unparalleled greed than it is now. But it’s hard, really hard to see such a world.  All I see is a world in which people in this country seem to actively hate one another, just because we all possess different views about many subjects.  Makes me wonder whether in this climate we could ever have invented the Peace Corps, or Americorps. Wouldn’t the GOP label them as un-American and part of the Dems’ class warfare?  Wonder what ever became of the concept of noblesse oblige?
Hello, World . . . anyone home there??

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Corruption is a Two Way Street

I am always saddened when I read about our political system being corrupted. But I am downright annoyed by the frequent portrayals of such corruption. It is almost always a discussion of how a political figure is corrupt, mainly because he or she (but it’s almost always a HE) accepted money in some quid pro quo arrangement to facilitate some business deal.  Two things:

1.       First, mainly the reports portray corruption in terms of downright bribes—you give me $100,000 and I will assure that you get your . . . whatever.

2.       Second, the portrayals almost always give us mainly a picture of the corruptee—the pol, as distinct from the corrupter—the bidness person.
I think the time has come to begin correcting that image. Again, two things:
1.       When we discuss corruption, perhaps the least destructive form is the bribe, a specific quid pro quo arrangement in which a bidness person offers a financial payment to an official who agrees in exchange to take some action benefiting the bidness person. Damaging, yes. But even more profoundly corrupting is the system by which wealthy folks, or maybe wealthy corporate “persons” (those fake people dreamed up by Tony and the Supremes) donate very large sums of money to campaigns or to parties in exchange for smiles from the politicians, who will later rule in their favor at every opportunity—Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers, come to mind here.

2.       And note that we need to always discuss corruption as a two-way street. We have government being corrupted and bidness doing the corrupting.  So, it is not, as portrayed by the GOP that we have a system of government strangling the poor honest business people of the world. Rather, we have a system in which very rich dishonest bidness persons locate dishonest government persons and connect to produce a government system in which only the wealthy win.
We really need to revisit this entire subject. Government regulation, for example, exists for what purpose? Well, all regulations exist to rein in the worst instincts of otherwise unfettered commercial folks. Perhaps the most prominent form of regulation that bidness persons hate (see the Cocks) is the sets of rules aimed at preserving the environment, which includes the air we breathe and the water we drink. Left to themselves, folks like the Koch’s will destroy the land, water and air if it is needed to make them more money. They simply do not care. So, we have to rein them in. Similarly, although we no longer seem to care about monopolies, we used to think that competition is good and that too large is bad, because it reduces competition. Look at banks and you will know we no longer care. My view is, if it’s too big to fail, it’s too big to exist.  That would include banks, auto makers, Internet service providers, or health care systems.  As we head towards a world in which we will have one shop (Wal-Mart) one bank (your guess) one ISP (again, your guess) I think we need folks representing us in the government who are willing to challenge the notion that bigger is better. It never is.
I should note that the last statement would produce a counter from the right that, “well government is too big, so maybe we should break it up.”  I would counter that there is no notion of competition in the realm of government.  Government is as big or as small as we the people wish to make it. It may well be the case that we need to revisit the concept of government structure as it continues to grow. Perhaps we need new forms or new structures to more effectively and efficiently manage our public affairs. It may be,  for example, that we should examine the concept of regional structures, akin to the old Appalachian Regional Commission. We definitely need to re-examine the manner in which our federal Congressional representatives oversee the work of government. My overall impression is that much of government oversight, as played out in Congress is simply a bad political joke. They pretend to oversee and we pretend that they have done their job if the Faux News Network, or Wolf Blitzer provides enough coverage on TV.  Mainly, Congress isn’t in the problem-solving game. They are told about a problem by someone who is paying attention, they hold a hearing, and then they throw money at the problem.  Hearings are held to determine that the problem is alive and well and they should continue throwing money at it.
So, yes, we do need to examine the structure of government and how we employ government to solve problems. Perhaps our most grievous fault in applying government to solve problems is in the area of war and peace. We love to throw a war at folks with whom we disagree. But rarely is war a reasonable solution. Mainly, it just pisses off the folks with whom we become involved, often our ‘friends” and our “enemies”—sometimes you can’t tell one from the other without a program—see Pakistan.
But this all leads me back to one of my earlier blogs—one on the need to maintain balance. What kind of balance? Well, two kinds. First, we need political balance between republicans and democrats.  Single party control always eventually leads to tyranny (Supremes take note). Second, we need serious balance between government and commerce. We need a healthy commercial sector because that produces economic health. But we need a healthy government because that government can protect us from our own worst instincts.
What I said then was in the form of an open letter to our incoming President Obama. It read in part:
1.                In economic matters, extremes do not work. Under Bush, we shifted dangerously in the direction of a fascist state—that is, a state in which private owners of businesses dictate government policies. The inevitable result is Enron, et al, as well as the collapsed financial system. We have been drifting in that direction for quite some time now, even under Clinton. Everyone has been so concerned with government regulation that they failed to notice that unregulated business is as dangerous as unchecked government. One gives you fascism; the other socialism. Private business interests must always be checked to assure that the public is protected. So too must government overseers. Balance in everything is the answer. But balance requires mental agility. The public has little patience—they want the world to operate on autopilot. They need to be convinced that a world in which competing interests are balanced is both an efficient world, and a world that is worthy.
2.                We need to pay for what we need. The Republican Party has been, almost as a matter of policy, fiscally irresponsible. They practice “charge and spend” politics. We will now have to pay for their profligacy. The public—the thinking public—needs to understand that we cannot continue on the course they charted and followed. Mainly the rest of the world will not allow us to continue on this course. They will simply stop buying our debt and then it will end, badly. Taxes are the way we pay for our policies.  Taxes are neither good nor bad, in the abstract. They represent the price of operating our country, or, perhaps, the glue of a civilized society.
3.                We must pursue policies that are aimed at preserving the Earth. We need to conserve. We need to pursue alternative energy policies. We need to use economic forces to create a demand for energy-efficiency and energy independence. Under Bush and Cheney, we have pursued policies promoting wasteful energy consumption, mainly because he and his advisers represent the extractive industries. We need to tax wasteful energy consumption, so as to encourage wiser use of Earth’s limited resources.
4.            We must pursue a policy of economic independence for all our citizens. During my career, I worked for seven organizations over a 45 year career. For 20 of those years, I worked for several large and small companies that contributed nothing beyond Social Security for my retirement. Bush and his republican allies have attempted on numerous occasions to threaten that reserve. If indeed we wish to get rid of Social Security, we do not need to “privatize” it. We need to pass legislation that forces every economic entity in the country to pay into a portable retirement system. TIAA-CREF comes to mind—the system used by most universities and non-profits. If the private sector would begin to live up to its responsibilities by a mandatory contribution system, we would not need Social Security. Take the system used by universities and non-profits and replicate it throughout the whole of the private sector. Do not allow companies to wriggle out by use of part-time workers. If they employ part-time workers, they still pay full retirement benefits. Otherwise, leave Social security alone.
5.                Republicans, continue in their zeal to scuttle public education. We need to begin working with the states to repair the currently deplorable state of public education. In our area of North Carolina, they seem comfortable with a dropout rate of 35%.  Think of that. We can do better. Indeed, we are losing ground to the rest of the world, and we are at risk of becoming a country of stupid people. Charter schools, especially for-profit charter schools, and worse, fake private schools that are on-line, are not an answer.
6.              We must examine carefully the structure of government. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security was an absurd idea—a solution in search of a problem. Think of it. The CIA and the FBI wouldn’t communicate and were demonstrably inept, so we forced the Coast Guard, FEMA, and the rest to become one entity. An idea only a truly stupid person could embrace.  Structure is not the answer when the problem is an absence of thoughtful consideration of available evidence. 
There were a few other points that need not be repeated here. What we continue to need is watchful citizens—citizens who are willing to question both private commercial interests and public government interests. Corruption is a problem that will always be with us, so long as we have serious economic imbalances and so long as we have citizens who are basically dishonest—remember both the corrupters and the corruptees are dishonest.  Both need to be exposed and punished. It is why, by the way, that we continue to need whistle-blowers.  Say what you will of the Assange-Manning-Snowden groups, but they have informed us of some very unpleasant things about ourselves. Transparency is key here, and we definitely do not have transparent systems in either the public or private realms (thanks again Supremes).
We all need to stand up and be counted. And that means we need to vote, regardless of the efforts by the GOP to prevent folks from voting.  If you don’t vote, you will get the government you deserve.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Open Letter to Vlad


Letter to Vlad
So, Vlad, baby, what the hell are you thinking/? This is the early part of the 21st century and you’re thinking it’s still 1950?  Look Vlad, we’re in a new era now. I realize that the Muslims of the Arab world still act as though they’re living in 1250, but I thought maybe you were a modern man.
Look, just because John McCain resides mentally somewhere in 1970, looking for a way to win the Vietnam War, does not mean that you need to still try to figure out a way to avert the collapse of the Soviet Empire.  It’s gone baby. But look, on the bright side, you still have mighty Russia, and potentially it’s bigger and bolder than ever. You just need to cool it on the war machine.
I know, I know, who are we to be preaching to you about avoiding military options. But, do you really want to emulate us? Remember your Afghan adventure? Worse than the Brits. And ten years later, we’re still stuck in the mud huts of Afghanistan and the sands of Iraq.  So, you want to emulate George W. Bush, dumbest President in the history of the US of A?
How, about just rolling back the tanks and leaving the folks in the Ukraine to fend for themselves. Offer them some bread, cheese and vodka instead of tank shells.
And look, Vlad, it’s not as though you’re without friends in high places. Remember, all  those big Russian rockets that carry a lot of our stuff into space to power our GPS and other space thingies?  Well, we still need them, cuz we’re too stupid to devote any of our financial resources to the space program. We’ve been too busy making sure our richest people don’t have to pay any taxes to notice that everything is falling apart around us. So, sit down and have a heart to heart with some of our GOPers. You know, Orange Man Boehner, and the VC warrior McCain. Just talk to them Vlad. Maybe offer them a ride into space.
But quit this Crimea crap, Vlad. I mean what’s next . . . another Charge of the Light Brigade??
Cool it man, and join the 21st century.
Tata Vlad.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Democracy Reviled

This year may be portentous for America. For months now, the Koch brothers, and others of their ilk (Karl Rove, for example) have been taking advantage of the Supreme’s Citizens United ruling to pollute the airwaves with misleading claims and pseudo-facts aimed at dismembering the democratic party in general, and Obama in particular.  Using the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare as it has come to be known) as their main wedge issue, the extreme monied set has been waging war on democracy and the American people.

We have, it would seem, a kind of Perfect Storm going on, one which may well overwhelm our democratic system altogether.  What would replace that system, if our enemies of democracy succeed is a bit ambiguous at the moment. It would seem that the GOP now seeks a system in which, while remaining nominally a democracy, the United States government would become a true plutocracy, with nominal leaders in seats of power, from the president on down, but wherein those “people of power” would in fact be answerable mainly, if not solely, to the richest 1%.
Their purpose in seeking such power seems to be something like this:
1.       The government should never interfere with the operations of private sector business, ergo, the regulatory powers of government would be largely undone;

2.       The government should refrain from taxing the incomes of the very wealthy, so tax rates at the highest levels would be minimized;

3.       Systems that now operate as governmental systems, e.g., Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, et al, would be transferred to privately operated systems of care involving voucher-like approaches, giving the plutocracy an easy approach to restraining or reducing the costs of those systems.

4.       Public systems of education, i.e., the public school systems, would gradually be phased out in favor of privately operated charter and/or religious school systems;

5.       All voting districts would be rearranged (gerrymandered) so as to favor the continuance of GOP control;

6.       Obamacare would be dismantled altogether, and the system would revert back to what existed in years gone by, i.e., the uninsured would obtain its health care by relying “on the kindness of strangers”;

7.       The military is at least somewhat ambiguous. The GOP leadership seems to love launching our military at anything that moves, but they are also singularly reluctant to devote any of their money (or flesh) to these causes, so it is a bit up in the air how they might shape and use our magnificent military machines;

8.       Lastly, perhaps, they would, of course, fill any vacant Supreme Court slots, and several are coming open, with hard right justices who will do their bidding (although the Supremes are a bit unreliable in that regard).

9.       Oh, and all members of the GOP would continue to speak as one, with all remarks scripted carefully by Mr. Murdoch’s screen writers. No deviant views would be permitted of course.

I have doubtless missed some of their more interesting ideas for replacing our current system of government with their own approach, but what the hell, I’m just one old guy.
One can predict some consequences of such a plutocratic approach to our government. One imagines, for example, that our cities would become something like Chinese cities—covered in a shroud of pollution; our waters may become soiled to a point of unusability; our middle class may quickly disappear, as the United States becomes a two-class society, the very rich and a class of serfs. Unemployment would doubtless increase, as we continue to move jobs overseas and as we destroy the public education system, thereby reducing the workforce quality. Perhaps most of the poor serfs could become migrant labor and household staff to the very rich.
I imagine over time, companies would become larger and larger, as the concept of monopoly disappears as a negative term. Maybe we will all enjoy “Wal-Mart—The Store for all your needs”. And the Faux News Network, owned and operated by Mr. Murdoch from his hideaway in the Cayman Islands, would become our only TV carrier and station. Newspapers will probably become extinct, and we will get all of our news from Mr. Murdoch.  Won’t that be fun??
So, I think I’ll just go find a little corner somewhere and suck my thumb for a couple of years, while the boys reshape our formerly great country.
Ta ta . . .

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Best years of Our Lives


The Best years of Our Lives
A friend commented that, since his retirement, he has been living the best years of his life. Like me, he is now pushing 80. It’s hard to call him retired, since he writes books, lectures, still teaches and writes about ethics. He also writes a bit of poetry when he is so moved.
And now, he is planning to write a book about what he views as the best years of his (and everyone’s) life. He says:
“The realisation has taken some time to sink into me – that your retirement years are the best years of your life. Better than any of the 65 years or more that preceded them. The reason? You are at last free! Free to do anything that you want to do. If you want to take a university degree you can. .Or even a second degree, in an entirely different field, you can do that too. If you want to change the world, help feed the poor, make your country (or even the world)  a better place to live in, you can make that your goal. You can write letters to the editor, articles for magazines, join voluntary organisations, or even start your own campaign. My future years have come from my past years – from the stories of my life. Yours will too.”
So, he caused me to consider whether his assertion is accurate from my perspective. First, though, it does seem clear to me that “the best years of life” can only be defined by individuals. Retirement might be those years, but surely not for everyone. One example, my father-in-law. He worked hard his entire life, having been forced to stop his education at the 8th grade so he could go to work (that would have been during the early depression years).  But then, just as he was poised to retire, he began having mini-strokes. Finally, being already somewhat incapacitated, he had a large stroke that put him in a nursing home, where they cared for him in his final year or so, but during which he could not speak and was largely unaware of his daily visits by his wife.  So for him, I doubt that retirement was the best period of his life. Other examples could be cited, but I would assert that the best years is an individualistic concept.
So, what about me? I have been sort of retired since 2000, when I turned 65. I say, sort of because, when I announced my pending retirement, my two main clients said, “Hmmm, no, I don’t think so. We expect you to continue working with us for a while longer. So, I did, at least until 2007, when I just said, “OK, I am now fully retired”. Even between 2000 and 2007, I really only worked part time.
But let me examine my life a bit to see where retirement stacks up.
1.       Period 1: Let’s say, birth to 13. That defines my life in Brooklyn and Manhattan from birth until we left the City for Rockland County, after the War (remember WW II??). That period was a mixture of fun and kind of sorry times. My father was in and out, and not of much use as a father or husband. So, my mom had to keep the family alive.  It was also the period of WW II, which was interesting and ghastly at the same time.

2.       Period 2: Pre-high school. Oddly, while no longer even pretending to have a father, we lived a nice life. No personal clashes and a pretty nice, if Spartan life style. We had little money, but  we laughed a lot—at least I did. So, maybe a contender.

3.       Period 3: High School—I know, it’s only four years, but still, it defines an interesting period. All fun and games. My only responsibility was to attend school and get reasonable grades.  Not bad, I would say.

4.       Period 4: College—Another four-year period, but this one was enlivened by my marriage.  A pretty satisfying life period, I would say.

5.       Period 5: The Working Years—So, this period defines my working career, my family creation and sustenance. It is a period so full of life that it is difficult to summarize. Creating children, all of whom became wonderful, loving, responsible adults, who in turn created their own successful families. It includes a long and continuing loving relationship with my wife.  And it includes a career in which I worked for large and small for-profits, large and small non-profits, the government, and myself. Someone once asked me, “so you couldn’t hold down a job?” Well, yes, but stuff kept popping up in front of me to tantalize, and I have a notoriously short attention span.

6.       And the “working years” includes so much that was fun, and culturally fascinating that it would be difficult to set it aside. We lived during that period in California, both Southern and Northern, including a happy stint living in downtown San Francisco. It includes living four years in India, fascinating indeed. It includes a brief stay in Boston, and then a long period, over 30 years, in the Washington, DC area.  And that period was largely the 1970s, 80s and 90s. The 1970s was bursting and full of life—an ongoing, despicable war, lots of protests, lots of parties, and lots of stuff involving kids maturing.  All of that hectic activity slowed down during the 1980s and 1990s. By 1984, our youngest child entered college, so we were officially “empty-nesters”.

7.       Now, the empty-nest period perhaps deserves a look by itself, since it involves a kind of freedom from kid-responsibilities.  The children are now adult, or fast becoming so, and they begin acquiring their own lifestyle, separate and distinct from yours as parents.  We traveled a bit more, acquiring a taste for a little town in Canada, called Niagara on the Lake. A sweet little place, full of life, gardens, theatre, and fine dining and resting spots.

8.       Period 6: And finally, we come to our retirement years. As I said, earlier, I retired twice—once in 2000, and again in 2007. Carol, on the other hand, retired from paid work, as a librarian, in 2000, and then began work as an unpaid staff person, volunteering at schools, and at a social service organization.  Fourteen years later, she continues working. Well, a special focus of her retired work has been on producing quilts for sick kids at the Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital. A nice bit of socially useful work, while remaining “retired” (i.e., unpaid).  I largely stopped doing anything socially useful, unlike my wife.  During my retirement years, I have written a bit, although refraining my writing for publication, unlike my friend. Mostly, I wrote stuff like a memoir, for my kids and grandkids.  I devised and continue to write into several blogs—one my “cranky old man” blog (www.artfulnotes.blogspot.com) another for my pseudo-art, called Observed Art (www.observedart.blogspot.com).  Finally, I began creating what I call my “farm foodies” blog (www.farmfoodies.blogspot.com) where I engage local farmers and other folks who cook fine food. I get them to divulge some recipes for how they fix the food they produce. It’s fun and not terribly demanding. I also pretend to artistry, by creating what is called digital art for our local art walks. It’s fun, although not very economical—I spend way more than I take in.  Still, it occupies the mind.

9.       Another of my retirement “activities” has been travel. Many folks talk about wanting to retire so they can travel. Then they retire and never travel. We have indeed traveled. We had already traveled more than most folks up to our retirement. For example, I had already visited 49 of our 50 states.  But we zoomed off to Australia to see friends, took a 9,000 mile road trip throughout the US of A, and made numerous trips to Canada, (to our favorite little town) and to northern climes to visit with family and friends.

10.   Now, it may well be true that retirement has been good to us. The time demands of work went away, as well as the responsibility for caring for kids and/or grandkids. Mostly that has fallen to our kids. Several issues have begun clawing their way into life, however.  First, folks we know and care about began dying off. Parents of course, but also siblings, and close friends.  Each time someone pops off a little signal sounds in my brain—you’re getting old, and your time is getting closer.  Then there’s the little thing of money. We were doing ok for a while, but two bank and hedge-fund induced stock market hysteria—crashes as they are known—produced a big hit on our retirement portfolio. So, we wound up with a bit less available money than we had hoped. That induces its own anxiety.

11.   Finally, is our own health. It had been really quite good. Then, seemingly quickly and without much warning, health problems began popping into our consciousness.  Joints begin to crumble; breathing problems have appeared for Carol. The ever present heart issues, and, for me, continued and now increasing eye issues, because of glaucoma have begun weighing in.  Health problems appeared surely when we were younger, but when you are younger, such problems can often be ignored.  When you are old, ignorance is no longer bliss.

12.   It’s interesting that the definitions—young, middle aged, old, are bandied about when we are younger then “old” but at some point, “old” begins to have real meaning.  Because, “old” brings with it a close association with death.  And death has different meanings for folks.  For the truly religious—the “believers”-- death seems to be akin to a welcome friend. Organized religion seems to focus on death as being the ultimate great trip—sort of a permanent vacation.  I have written about this issue in my ramblings on organized religion (the world’s greatest Ponzi scheme). If death is so damned desirable, I keep wondering, why don’t the true believers just off themselves?  When someone dies, folks say, “He is in a better place now.” And I keep wanting to say, “he’s not in a better place you idiots. He isn’t anywhere any longer.  He simply no longer exists—he has entered what I call the”night for which there is no morning”.

13.   But I digress. This is only to say that the retirement years change over time. Given that nothing remains unchanging, these retirement years present rather unique changes in one’s lifestyle.

14.   So, what to say about this large question?  Perhaps I would assert that “the best years of your life” could be the years in which you find yourself.  But “best” implies several things:

a.       Health: if your health is good, life is good.

b.      Money: if you have enough money, life is good.

c.       Personal relationships: if your family remains intact, your marriage healthy, your loved ones healthy, life tends to be good.

15.   If it turns out that, at one stage of life, you are so busy doing “A” (earning a living) that you can’t do “B” (write, travel, paint . . .) then one should re-examine lifestyle choices so that the tradeoffs are at least reasonable.
It may be that the question itself is either unanswerable, or simply a way of discussing the possibility that retirement need not be a total downer.  And that assertion would be true for many folks, not for all as noted.  Retirement does not mean that you must step off the planet. Indeed, many sweet years can be ahead of you.  But those years are not unending, so it is important that you take advantage of whatever opportunities avail themselves.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

App Half-Life


App Half-Life . . .
Ok, “Half-Life" as in:
Half-life (t½) is the amount of time required for a quantity to fall to half its value as measured at the beginning of the time period. While the term "half-life" can be used to describe any quantity which follows an exponential decay, it is most often used within the context of nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry—that is, the time required, probabilistically, for half of the unstable, radioactive atoms in a sample to undergo radioactive decay.

Not “Half-Life” as in the Half-Life App on Android.—although you can get a Half-Life calculator for your Smartphone, should you wish to calculate the half-life of a radioactive isotope.
But I digress. I am wondering about the half-life of computer-Smartphone, or just Internet applications generally.  I have been noting that Facebook has been largely deserted by our grandkids (that is today’s teenagers). Apparently, when the old folks began adopting Facebook as a preferred social media channel, the kids all said, “whoa, I’m out’a here.” It’s now  akin to an old folks home.  And that started me thinking about application half-lives.  I am wondering first, how we might describe the half-life of an app. First, perhaps, why do we have things like free apps, e.g., Facebook.  Well, Mark Zuckerberg allows you to become a member of Facebook without charge, because he then gets to throw advertisements at you and to track your every move –he’s sort of your friendly neighborhood commercial NSA guy. He probably knows more about you than does NSA, and that's worth megabucks.  So, given that he has hundreds of millions of users now being tracked by his Facebook servers, why would Zuckerberg pay $19 billion for What’sApp? In case you have been living in a cave,
WhatsApp Messenger is a proprietary, cross-platform instant messaging subscription service for Smartphone’s. In addition to text messaging, users can send each other images, video, and audio media messages as well as their location using integrated mapping features.”
Well my guess is that Zuckerberg understands that Facebook is already past it’s half-life and is on the way down (not out, but down . . . old apps never actually die, they just languish on old folks’ computers).  So, soon I imagine, today’s teenagers will talk about Facebook as we might about the Commodore.
And then I started paying attention to E-Mail. I receive maybe 60-70 E-Mails a day.  But, of that number, I receive maybe one from a real person, a friend or family member.  The rest are either news, or commercial enterprises trying to sell me something.  I get e-mails from The Emirates, who want me to travel there. I get several a day from V-Tech, Radio Shack, Sears,  BH Photo, LD Products, Group-on. . . but you get the message. I also get newsy stuff several times daily from the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Manchester Guardian, the BBC, the Canadian service (CBC) the Australian service (ABC) and a half dozen other news outlets.  But from people?? Oh my, No.
Now, the other thing I notice is that I get periodic e-mails from the Nigerian scam folks, in its many incarnations, or I get notices from our ISP that they detected and deleted from our inbox a virus-laden e-mail.  So, the risks of being on the Internet are increasing daily. So, that makes me wonder about the half life of E-Mail (at least the open road kind of E-Mail). I know that many businesses and health entities use E-Mail as in-house communications channels and those might be different.
I am wondering when ordinary folks, the ones being targeted by our commercial NSA-like entities, will tire of E-Mail, and then tire of the Internet itself because of the risks and the annoyance factor of commercials.  So, does the “open-Internet” itself have a half life fast closing on itself and degrading as we speak?
What then—go back to writing letters?  I wondered about Smart-Phones, which have replaced conventional desktop computers for our teen friends. They largely don’t use desktop communications, preferring to texting, tweeting, et al, on their Smartphones. But Smartphone’s are just little computers connected to the Internet, so they are as likely as PCs to be overloaded with commerce as the PC applications, and our teen friends may begin moving to other safer high grounds (where old folks fear to tread). Not sure where that might be, but look to your teens for news of the new forms (I understand that teens have discovered that two tin cans, connected by a string performs well as a communications device. Think of that. What will they think of next??
And on another of our exoplanets, it is said that the Mexican police, aided by our American crime fighters, have captured El Chapo, the king of drugs. They plan to incarcerate him, at least until he can buy and renovate their prison system and then move it to the  Cayman Islands. But, with this news, I began to wonder about our global banks, you know, the ones that have been handling his cash transactions and managing his off-shore banks. What ever will they do now that they are losing their biggest customer? Bank bonuses may well be on the way down. Poor babies.

 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Armageddon


In his latest book, The Revenge of Gaia, James Lovelock, a prominent British climate scientist, predicts that by 2020 extreme weather will be the norm, causing global devastation; that by 2040 much of Europe will be Saharan; and parts of London will be underwater.
Worse, he argues that global warming has passed the tipping point, and catastrophe is unstoppable. Relative to many of the proposed approaches, he argues, "It's just too late for it," he says. "Perhaps if we'd gone along routes like that in 1967, it might have helped. But we don't have time. . . . he fears we won't invent the necessary technologies in time, and expects "about 80%" of the world's population to be wiped out by 2100. Prophets have been foretelling Armageddon since time began, he says. "But this is the real thing."

To read the article in The Guardian, see http://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2008/mar/01/scienceofclimatechange.climatechange?CMP=EMCNEWEML6619I2

It’s fascinating to think ahead to 2100 and begin to grasp what he is saying. Think: by 2100, everyone now alive will, arguably be dead.  But, more to the point, he asserts that only 20% of the people born between now and 2100 will still be alive—the world will lose 80% of its total population.  This, all because the climate deniers (aka the 1% and the large global polluters—see Koch Brothers) have been denying that such a thing as climate change is occurring. And, they have been spending untold millions to sway the world’s decision-makers so as to avoid anything like real action.  Lovelock asserts that, had the world’s global powers begun taking action during the 1960s, when they knew that such effects were occurring, we could have avoided the disaster he now predicts is inevitable. So, thanks to the polluters of the world, and all the 1%ers who have backed them.

Some recent articles have stated that people like the rich republicans who try to block anything and everything that Obama wants to do are striving for a Downton Abbey life, i.e., they are the lords of the manor and everyone else would be servants. But really, in this case, they are much worse than that. Here we are talking about the destruction of most the world’s population, now and into the foreseeable future. Apparently, we will run out of arable land and our food supply will shrink to a point that it will no longer support the population. And he is not even worried about the likelihood of wars.  Remember, that the stupid people of the Earth are mostly heavily armed and willing to destroy neighbors just because they can. So, should food become scarce, guess what will happen?

This argument is so devastating that it seems almost unthinkable. But, we have been procrastinating for so long that I assume his argument has to ring true at some stage. And the republican flat earth society continues to deny that climate change is real.  Maybe when they’re all dead, they will believe.

Ah well, onto other topics.

And speaking of stupid people, it seems on another exoplanet, the nation’s big banks are refusing to do business with the supply side of the legal marijuana business in Colorado and Washington. Mainly, I gather because the Feds still think marijuana sales should not be legal.  But really, banks are afraid of doing business with legal entities carrying on legal business because of the fear of running afoul of the law? Really? Aren’t these the same banks that seem to have no problem laundering drug money for Mexican drug gangs and setting up offshore accounts for them. Or selling fraudulent real estate transactions, or carrying on fraudulent hedge fund operations. These banks??? Well, the mind boggles.