Wednesday, November 27, 2013

On "Decisive Elections"

The Obamacare controversy is lingering like a pre-existing condition. I've heard politicians and professional opiners say the 2012 Presidential election "settled" this controversy, meaning the discussion is over and we just have to live with whatever they give us.

Oh really? So because a politician wins, everything on his agenda should glide through unobstructed? Every election is an across the board referendum on every plan the winning politician has?

Why even have a Congress then? Why not just hold the Presidential election and let the winner unilaterally enact laws as he sees fit? If we're supposed to interpret elections this way there is no need for checks and balances.

To those now proclaiming the 2012 election "settled" Obamacare:

Would they have said the 2004 election "settled" the controversy about the Iraq War?

If the supposedly* pro-life W. Bush had outlawed abortion, would they have shrugged and said: "Oh well, I guess America has spoken! Looks like I'm carrying this one night stand souvenir to term."

Did the gay marriage advocates call it a day after Bush's "decisive" victory raised the prospect of a constitutional amendment to fortify the blockade against gay marriage? Are they giving up the fight in states where the governor has come out against it?

Keine Möglichkeit, Josef!

We have checks and balances to prevent Presidents from governing like dictators (not that it works). A presidential election is not supposed to be a rubber stamp on whatever the President feels like doing. But of course, both sides cherry pick which measures the voters "decided on." It is only a "decisive election" when there is a controversial measure you want to see become a reality.

Declaring it a "decisive election" to silence dissent sounds like a throwback to Nixon's "When
the President does it that means it is not illegal" defense. I don't even know why people are horrified by Nixon's statement. Both sides agree with it when the law is broken by the person they voted for.

It is only going to get worse. The federal government is more involved in our lives than ever, and each election raises more "issues" about our personal lives than ever before. Because we've acquiesced to this increased federal meddling, each election is going to be more shrill and "decisive." By 2020 the Presidential oath is going to be: "I do solemnly swear that I will bring a WINNER TAKE ALL approach to the Office of the President of the United States. After each of my whims becomes law I will perform end zone dances to the best of my ability. So help me Me."
*Republicans only talk the pro-life talk because they know there are millions of gullible single issue voters who will blindly support them so long as they pretend to be pro-life. The Republicans are just as hell-bent on keeping abortion legal as the Democrats, because the phony "fight against" abortion is what keeps the checks and votes coming in. Here's a bumper sticker for ya: "There is no fool like a voting social conservative fool."

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Putting a businessperson in the White House won't give us a "CEO in Chief"

Wanna hear a joke?

Unemployment is high in America.

How high is it?

It's so high even the dishonest government measurement of unemployment clocks it above 7%. Oh, and yo' mama's so fat they count her as two unemployed people.

In a time of high unemployment and flagrant government oafishness like Obamacare, it isn't surprising to hear murmurings about how we "need a businessperson in office." He'll know how to get the economy going! Romney tried leaning on this, and for years Donald Trump had used it to generate publicity.

Businesspeople can't improve the government. Part of the reason businesspeople can achieve things is because they don't have to get votes. Businesspeople only have to provide products. They don't have to whisper sweet nothings in consumers' ears. You can be unlikable and still monumentally successful as long as people like your products. See Steve Jobs.

Politicians have to sugarcoat. They have to whisper sweet nothings. They have to appear likeable. Politicians themselves are the product. That means is they have to lie constantly. The "which candidate would you rather have a beer with" matters big time. In 2008, apart from the media's pornographic love affair with the symbolism of Barack, I think a big part of his prevailing is that every non-lesbian (and probably most lesbians) would rather drink with Barack than Hillary. Barack is probably an interesting enough guy to have a Guinness with. Hillary is lame enough to turn wine into seltzer.

Also, when a CEO promises a new iPhone, he actually has to deliver a new iPhone. He can't not provide one and then just claim he did. And he won't have a million propagandizing media subnormals working 'round the clock to convince the nation he provided this nonexistent iPhone. People will notice the lack of a new iPhone and punish him by buying his competitors' phones.

A politician can say he's going to do something like close Gitmo and then simply not do it. Almost nothing ever happens when a politician breaks a promise. People are trained to expect broken promises from politicians (or at least politicians who aren't members of "their" party). CEOs and businesspeople don't have this luxury. If anything, folks are trained to complain vociferously to businesspeople ("the customer is always right"). Therefore, businesspeople have to follow up to some extent on their promises, or else customers and activist shareholders will topple them. See JC Penney.

Once a politician is in office, he is there for at least two years. Unlike a CEO, you're stuck with him. Sometimes you're stuck with him for four or six years, so he can go right on lying for his entire reign, and there is nothing that can be done about it. A businessperson's approval rating results in immediate profits and losses, and he can be put out of business or fired from the CEO position in a matter of months, not years. Parties of all political persuasions are always complaining about voters' short attention spans. They're right. If a guy is in office six years there is plenty of time for each storm to blow over and be forgotten. In business, even a short term storm can topple someone in no time flat. If that businessperson could count on six years of tenure, chances are his sins would be forgotten the way they are for politicians.

CEOs and businesspeople almost never have the advantage of a monopoly. Government by its very definition is a monopoly. There is one DMV. There is one police force. You can only have two Senators in each state. There is no such thing as an upstart third, fourth, or fifth Senator who can suddenly appear and immediately start taking market share. There is no limit to how many different smartphone brands there can be, which is why CEOs and businesspeople must be nimble and responsive to customers if they are to survive. Government, and its mascots in the Congress and White House, is a monopoly, and it acts like one. A politician with the greatest business background still couldn't do anything to change the clumsy, unaccoutable nature of monopolies. The only thing he could do once in office is privatize everything, and forgetting for a moment that that is impossible under our current system, what politician is going to ride in and start diluting his own power by privatizing everything? The last President to use anti-government rhetoric was Reagan, and as we all know he greatly expanded the government.

By believing a businessperson is going to fix government, market-minded people are adopting the same defective mentality as the most anti-business egalitarian: assuming if we could just get the right person in there, things would be better. Wrong. The institution itself isn't fixable. Getting a different mascot to be its face won't render it fixable.

I've heard champions of the marketplace say it is the only real democracy, the only place where you truly have a voice. The reason that is so is because it is democracy without force. Government is nothing but monopoly and force. Government is democracy without the whole "having a voice" part.

My Twitter feed has a non-government monopoly on good tweets:

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Question on Sanctions

A big media topic of late has been "comprehensive immigration reform." Talking heads keep saying increased immigration means increased economic growth; more people=more potential consumers, etc.

That same media goes right along with any suggestion of sanctions and penalties for countries like Iran. OK...if more consumers means more economic growth, doesn't cutting off the potential consumers of Iran and Cuba and Burma from US output also limit economic growth?

You might retort that the average Iranian or Cuban consumer isn't particularly prosperous. The same is true of many of the immigrants who would arrive in the US via comprehensive immigration reform. It's not like the Statue of Liberty says: "Send us your posh, your one-percenters, your moneyed masses yearning to spend freely." Far from it. So if the media doesn't consider the poverty of those migrating here an impediment, the poverty of those potential consumers in Iran, Cuba, and Burma shouldn't be used as an excuse to cut them off from American markets.

Don't expect anyone on TV to raise this point. The establishment media is firmly in favor of all forms of belligerence against "rogue states," especially those containing Arabs and Persians. When it comes to Americans and the Middle East, economics takes a back seat, and practical foreign policy analysis gets thrown in the trunk.

My Twitter feed trades freely with Stalin's ghost:

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Five Signs a Band is out of Ideas

You never know when a band is going to run out of gas, but if you pay attention it is easy to spot the warning signs.

"We're returning to our influences."

No one "returns to their influences" when they're breezily penning pop gems. What "returning to our influences" means is we've hit a wall, so we're going to release an album of lazy, tuneless flops with either a blues or jazz tinge. Deferring to blues and jazz is smart, because you have built-in excuses for uninspired music. You can always say: Hey man, blues is supposed to be simple. It's all about the feeling! or Hey man, jazz isn't about three-minute pop songs. It's about improvisation (read: unstructured messes).

WE GET IT, you're dad owned a Howlin' Wolf LP and you spun it once or twice yourself. That's no excuse for playing the same three notes over and over and adopting the blue singer technique of scrunching your face like you just got tear gassed. If I wanted to experience your inspirations, I'd buy a Muddy Waters album and an eight ball from your coke dealer. At least have the decency to name the album Writer's Block Blues.

Unnecessary Gospel Choir

Like your girlfriend telling you she "needs more space," a gospel choir means the end is near.

Here's what happens: You're working on your next single. You can't seem to write a catchy chorus. What do you do instead? Employ 73 fat women to gratuitously repeat a random phrase. Who needs a bridge when you're backed by enough musical girth to sink a cruise ship?

And like blues or jazz, you can cop out by saying "Hey man, I grew up listening to gospel, so I've always dreamed of doing a song with a gospel choir." Sorry, but I don't accept childhood nostalgia as a "GET OUT OF CREATIVITY FREE" card. Have that church choir pray for your talent to return from the dead.

Cover Albums

It seems almost any band that makes it past four albums tries some version of this; either a full cover album or a cover EP. It never goes well. Cover albums are always presented as a stopgap between real albums, usually released just in time for the Christmas shopping season. No band has ever done a cover album and then gone on to do their best work. You don't autopilot your way through a bunch Dylan covers when you've got a Sergeant Pepper inside you. I have purchased just one cover album: Guns N' Roses' The Spaghetti Incident? (all cover albums should have the word incident in the title). It was bad enough to scare me away from ever buying a cover album again. I should probably thank Axl for that lesson in tough love.

Covering a song that was already a big hit without really changing it

This warning sign is so blatant elaborating on it almost seems redundant. So you've got nothing in the tank and you need a hit. Quick, cover a song that is already market tested! Notice they never cover an obscure song. No, it is always the band's biggest hit. Limp Bizkit didn't cover a deep album cut from The Who. They went straight to "Behind Blue Eyes". Covering an established radio staple is a clever move, because through sheer habit fans will toss a few clams in your direction for reminding them of a song they liked much better the first time around. It is like picking up a woman at a bar simply because you remind her of an ex she wants to get back together with. Hopefully, he doesn't look like Fred Durst.

Going Country

Today going country seems the preferred method for an emergency grab at continued relevance. Once your regular fans start to realize the well has run dry you can always reel in some new suckers with a country duet.

Makes sense. The standards for a country hit are even lower than they are for rock hits, so people probably won't even notice how lackluster your "crossover" attempt is. It is akin to going from playing for the LA Lakers to playing for the LA Sparks. And unlike trying an acting career or a hip-hop duet, there is virtually no risk to your credibility. It is impossible to parody an artform that celebrates songs called "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy".

The best part is if your country crossover is a pair of twos, the country world is so siloed from the real world your fans will never know about your embarrassing excursion into the world of ten-gallon hats and tenth-grade reading levels.

My Twitter feed still has 3/4 of a tank:

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

More on Regifting (Food)

You get a last minute invite to a party. You're wondering what to bring. You think: "Oh, I've got that great bottle of...oh wait I can't bring it. It's already opened."

You are counseled not to show up to a party with "used food," be it an already test-driven bottle of rum or a coffee cake with an AWOL corner. To me, bringing "used" items seem perfectly reasonable, and in the future I will no longer bow to this perverse convention.

Have any of you ever stayed until the end of a party? There are always multiple tables sagging under the weight of uneaten quesadillas, still virginal pies, and neglected punch that's becoming less festive by the minute. And the fridge is so packed with barely touched treats you have to seal the door with a blow-torch. Is this really necessary?

No party - not even wedding receptions - ever has as many attendees as the host expects, so the food the host prepares himself is usually more than enough. Then the few stragglers who do show up bring their fully intact desserts, entrees, and libations, and thus every party results in enough wasted cake to reverse the French Revolution. Seems to me if everyone brought partly consumed but still delicious food and beverages, there would be far less food still loitering around after the last partier has found his way to the door.

I hope you like irony, because guess what happens after the party? There is a mad dash to give everything away before it spoils. You're pawning off pies on neighbors. You're hauling miles of brownie into work. Somehow, that's not considered inappropriate. Not only is it the only form of regifting that is acceptable, it makes you the office darling for a week. Regift a few cupcakes with time-stiffened frosting and even the HR folks will wink at you.

What is it about a party that makes it unacceptable to bring something "used?" And you're only busted on this if your bring a pie, a cake, or booze. If you bring six homemade cookies, no one assumes you baked a whole tray and only shared part of it. For all they know, you could have shotgunned the other 46 on the ride over. The problem with a partly eaten cake is that it is a smoking gun. Hard not to notice the slice-shaped chasm in the middle of your Bundt. I always explain the missing piece by saying I baked it in the shape of a Pac-Man.

By the way, no one likes parties anyway. People dread them. That's why everyone shows up late. People mainly hold parties to do a headcount of their friends, and people mainly attend them to curry favor with significant others, or to do some social climbing at work. Parties are either a roll-call or an especially awkward day at the office, so why inflict more pain by forcing everyone to make a trip to the store to find something "new" to bring?

Oh, I forgot tell you: I'm holding a party tonight. That 93% full bottle of rye you have? The one you've had so long it's now able to drink in bars without a fake ID? Don't bring it to my party where it might be appreciated and put to use. No sir! I demand you let it continue stewing as you sprint to the nearest wine shop in search of the cheapest non-cheap-looking Chardonnay you can find.

My Twitter feed wants to party all the time:

Monday, November 11, 2013

In Praise of Regifting

Christmas and Hanukkah are creeping up on us. Will there be any "regifting" in your future?

If you're caught regifting, you're forever branded a pre-conversion Scrooge. You're cheap, you're a bum, you're philanthropyphobic. The next time you participate in a popularity contest in Vietnam you'll lose to Henry Kissinger.

I'm going to risk condemnation by the U.N. by announcing I support regifting. 4/5 of all gifts are totally unwelcomed (proof that no one really knows you). Everyone is always joking about having to pretend they're happy with what they received: "You shouldn't have" (no really, you shouldn't have). "Oh, it's a...juicer. We'll use a juicer, right honey?" (if upon opening your gift the recipient announces what you gave them or confirms what it is used for, you bought the wrong gift). And we all have a sweater we only wear when the sister-in-law responsible for it visits for Thanksgiving (no one is thankful for a pullover too hellish to be included in The Inferno).

Why not wrap up that unloved sweater and give it to someone else? You probably have a friend who has terrible taste in clothes. He LOVES turtlenecks that crush the larynx. What is so inappropriate about wrapping it up and giving it him? You're telling me it is better to let the unwanted gift accumulate dust in your basement? No wonder "Hoarders" has so many viewers.

Oh, but regifting means you didn't spend any money on the recipient! So what? How Christmassy is that accusation? Aren't we constantly hearing the season isn't about money (ironically the chorus usually starts around Black Friday)? If that's the case, by handing over an unwanted gift you're still capturing the sentiment of the season; bringing joy to others and thinking of someone other than yourself. If you were really selfish and money hungry you could have just as easily sold that juicer on eBay.

Everyone says the season isn't about money, but you're a pariah if you regift without parting with money. Everyone says we need to be more considerate about waste, but if you don't let bad gifts go to waste you're inconsiderate. And just when you thought every flaw in the regifting stigma had been explored: If you give away all your clothing after you've worn it for ten years, you're a hero! Those pants you'd keep wearing were it not for the Frisbee-sized hole in the crotch? Just drop them off at your local Salvation Army and suddenly that special needs lovechild you've ignored for 26 years becomes an afterthought. But if you dare give away that unused sweater someone gave you for Christmas, you'll probably have to enter the Witness Protection Program.

If we were honest about what we truly care about, we'd give each other receipts as gifts.

My Twitter feed is the regift that keeps on giving:

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

If you teach a man to teach, he will keep begging you for fish

Since the housing crisis, we have heard much about predatory lending on Wall Street. Outside of Wall Street and housing, we are accustomed to hearing grandiose "investigative" reports about predatory companies selling faulty products. Yet somehow, the cartelization of the education industry has gone undetected. Where is the Bureau of Consumer Protection when it comes to faulty degrees at inflated prices? Why aren't professors and the colleges they work for ever called predatory? They lure students into accruing an unpayable amount of debt in exchange for useless liberal arts degrees. At least the subprime folks had a McMansion to party in for a few months.

What are these victims of predatory colleges supposed to do with their liberal arts degrees? The old answer was become a liberal arts teacher. Well, the growth of online academies threatens to dramatically reduce the need for teachers, and the constant talk of upgrading America's science/math footing makes liberal arts teaching the deadest of dead ends. Where do all these Women's Studies victims think they're going to teach?

SUNY Albany offers a degree in Puerto Rican studies. How many Puerto Rican Studies teaching positions open every year? Most years, the answer is probably cero.

Let's assume you don't want to teach; you want to be a business person in Puerto Rico. Doesn't it make far more sense to major in something practical like Spanish and then minor in something business-related like finance so you have some actual skills to bring to Puerto Rico? The Caribbean needs Caribbean Studies majors like they need another visit from Columbus.

While we're on the subject of language majors, what the hell is the point of going to college to learn a language? You can pay someone $30 an hour for individual instruction in a foreign language and save yourself tens of thousands. The predators behind language degrees are morally bankrupt, and the students who hold them become literally bankrupt.

Speaking of bankrupt degrees; journalism. Instead of "studying" your way to indentured servitude, start a blog (don't worry, blogs don't have math requirements either) and make your writing your resume. Paid journalism is even more of a pauper's graveyard than it used to be. Why permanently indebt yourself for an income that probably won't even cover the cost of your broadband?

Have you heard the one about the college that offered doctorates in Human Sexuality Studies? Oh wait, it's not a joke. Listen, you don't need years of schooling and $200,000 of debt to learn about human sexuality. Spend one ladies' night at a bar, hit a couple porn sites, and watch one episode of "Divorce Court". You'll be an expert in less than 24 hours.

Where are the muckrakers when it comes to predatory teaching? Ralph Nader needs to write a book about liberal arts degrees called Unemployable at Any Wage. Morgan Spurlock needs to make a documentary where he spends 30 days trying to get a job after majoring in Mayottian History. Lady Gaga needs to raise awareness by performing in a dress made out of Fine Arts diplomas.

The reason predatory education goes unnoticed is because humans have been trained* to shut up and blindly support anything with the word education, learning, college, or teacher attached to it (not unlike the brainwashing surrounding words like troops, soldier, veteran, and military). Predatory education has never been more blatant, though I'm not surprised there isn't major outcry about it. If people had critical thinking skills they wouldn't be majoring in Women's Studies in the first place.

Subprime loans and student loans have a lot in common. If you take out a student loan to pursue most of today's majors, you are bound to become a NINJA: no income, no job, no assets.

*"Women" and "children" are among the most common words of manipulation deployed by politicians and bureaucrats. Teachers have traditionally been women, and students are almost always children, so it ain't exactly hard to link education to the sacrosanct realms of women and children. No wonder predatory education gets a pass.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Education can't create the real high-skill of the future: imagination

Ancient languages reconstructed by computer program

A new tool has been developed that can reconstruct long-dead languages.

Researchers have created software that can rebuild protolanguages - the ancient tongues from which our modern languages evolved.

Currently language reconstructions are carried out by linguists - but the process is slow and labour-intensive.

Another esteemed profession, this time linguistics, is being made less esteemed by the advance of technology. Linguists have actual skill, so it makes sense they have traditionally been esteemed. Speaking of technology, today all we hear is that America needs to "invest in education" so that our countrymen can compete in the 21st Century. But increasingly, the workforce of the 21st Century doesn't involve our humans or anyone else's. Both low-skill AND high-skill jobs are feeling the bite of automation.

The journalism job market (another prestige profession) has been hemorrhaging for years thanks to the Internet revolution. How long can the education cartels hold off a similar onslaught from online academies? Of course no one will miss the thousands of malevolently worthless college professors made obsolete by technology; the tweedbots with elbow patches on their toupee who always sound like they're in the middle of a sneeze as they spew another hollow lecture on Applied Applications.

But it won't just hit the professors who teach twaddle. The fact that online classrooms can teach so many students at once (and at such a low cost, a trend that is going to be hard for the cartels to hide as tuition inflation continues attracting attention) also lessens the need for professors of real subjects like engineering.

Education is a cure-all word that everyone uses for every situation. What many don't grasp is that just because someone is educated doesn't mean he can synthetize info. If all he can do is memorize and regurgitate info., even high-skill info., he isn't going to be as secure as you might think. That's because we have computers (and robots) who can do that. Robotic humans - no matter how many degrees they have - are likely to be eminently replaceable.

Focusing on education is all fine and dandy, but education does not equal imagination. The folks who will survive will be the ones whose real high skill is idea generation, because so far, AI hasn't perfected brainstorming robots (yet). Picasso's quote still holds true (for now). Many of today's well-educated, well-paid, high-skill, low-imagination workers could become tomorrow's secretaries (or temps). All the education in the world couldn't protect American engineers from the outsourcing revolution.

Thanks to the speedy advance of technology, it seems there is going to be less need for everyone. The anthem for computers and robots will be "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better". If there is to be any role for non-cyborg humans, it will be for those with imagination. So if you have kids, teach them to daydream.

My Twitter feed is still crafted with human hands: