Friday, January 18, 2013

Guns, Fear, Tragedy, and Misdirection

So much debate and discussion has arisen out of the horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary. Everyone is appalled at what an individual could do to defenseless children and needless to say, we wish that it could have been prevented.

While listening to or reading various media reports, many observations were made. Both sides are passionate but almost everything sounds like it has some sort of spin on it. The discussion is being steered down understandable but often misguided trains of thought. We need to sort this out thoughtfully and logically.

One of the most common aspects of this discussion is fear: Fear of having to worry about murder and crime in general, fear of being stripped of the right to defend oneself, and fear of just having to worry about the presence of guns in general.

While listening to a radio broadcast (Democracy Now, I believe) that was discussing the issue of guns, the discussion kept coming to points about gun violence and the need to do something in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. They discussed how New York's governor was implementing tough gun control in his state, limiting clips to 7 rounds and banning assault rifles, etc. They talked of how the NRA was spreading the fear that the government was going to"take all their guns" and how it was unfounded. The day before (on perhaps that same radio program) a caller spoke of cautionary tales being spread about how Hitler (and I believe they were saying "socialists" in general) had a policy of taking guns too. That caller was implying that it was a laughably silly claim because Hitler had simply banned pistols and gave licences to rifles for varying periods of time. He then went on to say that the caveat there was that if you joined the party, many of those restrictions went away so in reality, socialism gave guns out like candy. Now I can't personally verify this recount of history but it was apparent that the caller and host were in agreement about the silliness of worrying about gun control and how that in any case, it should take a back seat to protecting our children and citizens in general. Multiple remarks were made with negative connotation about how gun lobbyists were stirring fear up to keep filling gun maker's pockets and keep their high salaries. Language like that, especially when piled on and repeated is a red flag. Isn't referring to "rampant" mass shootings frequently also fear-mongering? Isn't placing so much emphasis on protecting our children from gun violence in particular also appealing to fears?

It is absolutely true that guns are dangerous and it is absolutely true that they can be used for harm. It is also absolutely true that guns themselves are impartial and perhaps most importantly are not the most likely thing lives will be threatened with. Vehicular accidents, disease, terrorism, and even depression all pose threats. One primary reason Sandy Hook means so much to us now is that it was an extremely rare occurrence in that the perpetrator targeted defenseless kids much younger than his peers and took them so quickly. But prior to that incident, usually when you hear of innocent kids being killed it is by desperate, estranged, or mentally ill parents. They were drowned, strangled, drugged, burned, or stabbed. When we think of all the horrible things that can happen to children or us in general, there are so many more likely things that would take our lives. I say all this not to be morose but to state plainly how guns are not nearly the sole face of violence and posed danger. It is entirely natural to feel the sting of the instrument that has been tied to several recent events but it is naive to hear "protect the children" and decide to remove and option for doing just that.

That being said, guns are dangerous and deserve to be handled with the utmost care. Most are of course designed to harm either in hunting or personal defense and as such it needs to be taken quite seriously. People need to take great personal care to ensure that they know when they are appropriate to use and how to keep those that may not fully understand the risks and responsibilities away from them. There need to be common-sense safeguards that we are diligent in enacting and maintaining.

Our nation's independence was won by armed militia and as such there is a deep tradition of self-protection and having the option to fight back against governmental oppression. There are arguments about how hand-held weapons are irrelevant against governments today given all the technology and massive firepower but clearly this too is a naive statement. For starters, even with massive advantages in weaponry, it is not politically advantageous. As we can see in Syria, using overwhelming force against internal opposition is highly frowned upon. Regular battle in smaller scale of course rages on. There is a reason there's only been nuclear deployment in one war in history. It's a very last resort and typically it isn't something you'd self-inflict. Likewise, rolling Abram tanks down residential streets or using a bunker buster on someone's basement is likely not something a government would want to have attention drawn to. There are huge issues of legitimacy that could unravel entire structures of diplomacy. Everything is held in balance with guarded trust.

While it is understandable that people would like to protect their freedoms and some small fragment of anonymity or privacy, it is also fair to want to screen those who would purchase weapons for registered mental health flags. There should also be a transparent non-partisan review process in place to combat abuse that would unfairly flag individuals or conversely and dangerously clear others.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that, just like with the banning and regulation of guns, gun ownership isn't a magic bullet for safety and governmental accountability. We are being polarized when the solution is in the middle, holding predominant peace in the tension. The key is in having the option and availability to be weapon-free but also the option to bear arms. It should be a personal choice. There is danger in both knowing everyone is armed and in knowing no-one is armed. Not knowing prevents assured planning but that concept is often reviled nearly as much as the heinous acts of violence. We want to know, we want to plan, we want to think we have it all figured out. That is the downfall.

As older generations pass on, we've grown up in a largely stable global environment. There have been threats of war and wars that have raged on but our western societies have largely remained intact. We are familiarized with freedom and flowing information and the idea that we are evolved civilizations who are now in some stage of the progression to utopia. The danger is in having too much confidence in our perceptions and capabilities. More and more I see attempts to revise and re-write histories and yet it seems that we ignore the common thread of humanity which is of course fallibility. It never ceases to amaze me how we can barely understand each other now and yet we make bold assessments of how well we understand people long gone.

It can be said that both of the two dominant sides of this gun control debate are both misguided and fearful. That said, I'm sure that many in both camps have noble intent. They both want to protect loved ones, the method is what differs. Greatly limiting firearms through law restricts freedom, owning extremely dangerous weapons affects the feeling of safety and comfort for those not in possession of them. There are clearly widespread effects to both sides and that's why there must be balance that is perpetually held in check from sliding too far in either direction.

I recently solicited thoughts and comments from friends in Australia who currently have pretty tight regulation on firearms. They had a massacre in Port Arthur back in 1996 that prompted their change in national gun laws. Most were quite happy with their overall feeling of safety since the stricter regulations and had no major qualms. Some weren't as comfortable, though for varying reasons. One issue that came to light was the subjective and potentially nonsensical cut-off points for the regulations (caliber, barrel length, action) that opened the door for bureaucratic encroachment on matters it might not fully grasp. Another pointed to the need for specifying the discussion on "guns" to fully automatic assault weapons and the like (of which, that commenter stated there was obviously no need). It is worth noting that many were still enthusiastic about using guns in sport and hunting but the general sentiment was one that didn't understand the American need for guns as protection. There was (of course) also some questioning of both side's statistics relating to what did/didn't/doesn't happen before and after the restrictions were introduced, thereby emulating the debate of the efficacy of restrictions that we have here in America. Australia is a pretty laid-back country in general and so the prevailing attitudes reflected in my informal polling are likely pretty indicative of the sentiment of the majority opinion. Of course the issue of arms is one that has many facets both in national attitude and political positioning so what's right for one nation may or may not be right for another.

Most of these recent incidents are committed by young alienated men and their psychology is almost always at the forefront. The "lone wolf" is by far the more common class of perpetrator. Experts say that they are also one of the the most difficult classes to track and preemptively intervene with. Massive media coverage of these events is even likely to inspire other copycats who want to emulate or surpass the tolls of events they hear of. So what can be done? How can we prevent barely traceable individuals from committing horrific acts and is it really containable within gun regulation? Would we be like the little dutch boy and simply fix one problem while causing another in an attempt to stop a relentless and mobile threat?

There are of course root causes for the evil that rears it's head from time to time and I'm convinced that as much as this discussion is about safety and defense, it's also all a red herring. Guns ultimately aren't an infallible protector and not having them around doesn't make us safe. What is at stake is the freedom to choose what you do.

There is a distinct difference between a healthy and knee-jerk reaction. The first learns from past mistakes, inspects the whole structure and makes comprehensive improvements addressing the root of the problem. The latter throws on specific patches without or before inspecting the core structure. The root of the problem of violent acts is selfishness and evil. Mental health issues are an inroads for evil to travel but mental health is an inexact science. Thankfully there is some discussion about how to care for those that do suffer from mental illness but it has been given a back seat to gun control when the opposite would probably be more helpful. The bottom line there is that people need to be accountable and responsible to each other. Whether it be shielding a troubled child from view or consequence or just not safeguarding weapons carefully enough, there have been failures on both sides.

I believe that we all want to live without fear but the best way to that point is to have an infallible object of trust. Self, government, and guns are not infallible. We will always have something to fear on this planet (or beyond) if we allow ourselves to be too closely tied to it. I just feel more safe with freedom because it leaves options open; restriction leads to exploitation with time.

While writing this, a news conference was being broadcast with the president speaking on the this very topic. President Obama sounds sincere in his speeches and desire to protect our children but this desire to push significant legislation through so quickly does not seem wise. The issue is not as straightforward as it sounds because protecting our children looks different to different people. His comments seem to assert that we can protect children by addressing guns. Our nation was founded on the concept of allowing people freedom to pursue life and liberty differently within the construct of the union. Unilateral pushes that erode some of the traditional obstacles to power grabs have to be looked at closely and carefully. If the legislation simply mandates the issues be decided state to state that is better but of course that also means citizens need to take a renewed interest in their local politics.

So the debate rages on. What will happen will happen and time will tell which fears are founded or not.  If history is any indication, we will inevitably make many of the same mistakes we've made before and eventually correct them until the next generations forget again, thinking they're impervious. This issue highlights the incredibly subjective nature of our perception of safety and why it makes sense to me that we have different states and nations. People should have the freedom to choose and global consolidation of policy is a slippery slope we probably don't have the full perspective to grasp.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Logical Fallacies - Appeal to Antiquity

I bumped into a post on facebook that led to a 115+ comment thread recently. During the discussion I was accused of committing a textbook example of tradition fallacy, also known as the appeal to antiquity. On the linked website listed above, it is defined as this:

"An appeal to antiquity is the opposite of an appeal to novelty. Appeals to antiquity assume that older ideas are better, that the fact that an idea has been around for a while implies that it is true. This, of course, is not the case; old ideas can be bad ideas, and new ideas can be good ideas. We therefore can’t learn anything about the truth of an idea just by considering how old it is."

I agree that age alone cannot judge veracity. With that being said, it cannot be entirely discounted as it is still an item of corroboratory evidence. I say this because if an idea survives thousands of years, there is clearly support for it. One must ask why it is supported and if it has been challenged seriously with directly opposing evidence. There are plenty of ideas that come and go out of public awareness so the ones that stick around are notable. This is because they tell us something about human psychology and speaks to the needs and perceptions of that slice of humanity in history. Therefore I disagree with the conclusion this quoted definition asserts because it states "We therefore can't learn anything..."

Going back to the reason this all came up, the trigger for the accusation of employing a logical fallacy was this:
"I understand that it is not conclusive empirical proof to quote a source in order to prove it. In the case of what we're discussing though, it is not the claims of authorship so much as the claims of legitimate historical account. We have thousands of years of a people group believing the source and it's continued propagation which again doesn't empirically prove but does at least deserve a benefit of the the doubt."

I can see where the reader could draw some associations between an appeal to antiquity and my assertion but I was not actually claiming proof due to age. I was asserting that the feat of surviving and thriving over thousands of years is not a small one. I was also asserting that the idea simply deserves more honest consideration. Granted I believe that proof can be found and will be found if it hasn't actually already, but I think it was clear I was not attempting to give longevity the entire burden of proof. Logically, there are quite a number of circumstances and actions necessary to preserve something over a single year let alone a thousand. 

In any case, the term "logical fallacy" seems to be a frequently touted one in debates in which a person's reasoning process is simply disagreed with. Fallacy is a strong word that has all sorts of negative connotations. I'd almost go so far as to say that the term "logical fallacy" is engineered specifically to add malice to a discrediting statement. Really there is either logic or the lack of it. The "fallacious" addition is really only the user's preference tag and in itself may not actually be logical regardless of the nomenclature used.

So there you have it. Call me crazy but I feel like I'm being reasonable!

place in the world

The USA has an internal problem that is having many external effects. It regards our identity and place in the world. We are no longer that little underdog nation that rose up from under oppression, we have become the primary superpower, at least in name. It is not by accident and we certainly don't seem to be shy about it. We like the notion that we're the biggest and baddest, and we want to continue that trend.
The problem is that those notions aren't helping.

Being on top always has the disadvantage of being a target everyone else is focusing on. Expectations rise, scrutiny magnifies, and when you hold power you attract those who desire it greatly. Those people tend not to be the most admirable in intention or practice. The United States have been in this position for years and as such has been experiencing the effects of what I've just described. The question is what to do about it.

When I first had the idea to post about this and started this post it was during a time when I was seeing a lot of the reaction from 9/11/2001. Bumper stickers touting the power of pride were abundant, war to rout the suspected instigators of the attacks was in swing and we were going to get our retribution. Now we've taken out both Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden and are nearly 10 years out from those attacks that kicked the war on terror into full gear. Still, we are in an economic stagnation and face a largely uncertain future with no clear path out. What happened? It seems that the power of pride just (predictably) turned a nation on it's side. The pride of economic product salesmen made decisions about what was or wasn't risky investment wound up profiting them alone while leaving millions more (around the globe no less) in dire straits. The wars that had good intention but poor planning have left our pride and honor in limbo as we balance the monetary and human life costs over the ability to deliver on intention and promises to peoples that have a decidedly love/hate relationship with our presence both in their homeland and in the world.

Despite it all, Americans as a people (aside from the government and it's policies) have recognizably good intentions as we pour out charitable contributions to disasters and humanitarian crises year after year both from personal donations and institutional programs. Our cultural and entertainment products still hold large sway (for better or worse) globally and ultimately the ideals our nation professes to espouse are recognized as preferable. The main issues that arise tend to come from breaching sovereignty of other areas of the globe and of course this is where it gets tricky. There were enormous wars that came out of countries expanding across their borders with hunger for more control over more. We came in to stop those countries and wound up policing the world at large. Stopping those who sought to overpower and control others was what endeared us at one point and I would argue that the same principle is at work against us now in global opinion. It's not actually just the USA although we get the focus because we're at the top, the EU is also a major player. The Western superpowers at the moment draw ire because many countries see us as creeping in with economic structures and controls which leads to political control. Essentially they see us as an invading  force that is simply (primarily) using financial might instead of military influence.

In countries with struggling economic, political, and social situations (sometimes caused by the creep of modern economy onto older, simpler lifestyles and economies) they are particularly wary and sensitive to our system's encroachments. In other major powers there seems to be a fair amount of suspicion as they deal with their own pride and ambition.  Our perception isn't helped when we wind up using military might in areas that have debatable value for the ideals we profess to hold.  It seems that at this point the main issue is what can be seen as the disconnect between stated ideals and action. Of course this is all a very complex situation and different people will have varying stated and actual reasoning for their opinions. What is clear to me is that whatever we do, it should be reflecting our strengths in a respectful and humble manner. We should concentrate on being an example to the rest of the world both in our respect of others and our rhetoric. We should support those who wish to retain their culture and boundaries as well as lend a helping hand in keeping with those boundaries. Our nation wasn't founded on world domination, it was on personal freedoms and creating a safe haven for exercising those freedoms. As good as those ideals are, it can't be forced without sacrificing credibility and credibility is something we can't afford to lose any more than it has been already.

This is a great country and I think we do a lot right, lets shed the parts that aren't helpful and continue striving towards productive goals like our humanitarian efforts at home and abroad. Lets bring back good honest blue collar work with pay that facilitates a decent lifestyle. Let's take down barriers to crops and products that are in place due to specific lobbies and unfair judgement calls. Let's let people make poor decisions and learn from them. Let's continue to clamp down on predatory practices and undue favoritism. We are a nation that is about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Let's act like it, prideful only of the humility in which we implement whatever power we've been blessed with.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Deficits, the Debt Crisis, and the Obsession with Dirt Cheap

 "...a USA Today/Gallup Poll released Monday found that two-thirds of Americans believe both Republicans and Democrats in Congress are putting their own political interests ahead of the country's best interest."

I also find it unsettling that the RNC is 17 million in debt while trying to tout itself as fiscally conservative. I don't want more taxes, but clearly something has been mismanaged if we've been deficit spending for the past 30 years or more. We can't just close our eyes, hold our ears, and start shouting "no new taxes!" forever. Now I can see how Republican party can be very aware of the deficit issue given it's own personal and current experience with it. It's fresh on their minds and they want to do something about it. Fine. We do need to do something about it. It's just completely mind-boggling that raising some taxes isn't on the table. I don't think we should have gotten so comfortable with spending more than we bring in that it's normally no big issue to raise the nation's credit limit. With that said, that's where we are.

This is a big issue across our society though. People are outraged that a dirt cheap video streaming service (Netflix) is charging $6 more a month for unlimited streaming and DVDs by mail, we find ourselves stunned that somehow 99 cent burgers and tacos go up 30 cents even though inflation probably should have dictated that rise 10 years ago. and we're just now figuring out that the massive shift to online shopping from brick and mortar stores is hurting local tax revenues in many places. We've gotten accustomed to dirt cheap without appreciating how that affects us. Yes other countries have cheaper products and services, but let's not forget something very, very important; People.

Yes, people. People that need to make a living. People that live next door to you or in the next town. Your family nearby out on the West Coast or North East. People. The cost of living moderately well in this country is drastically higher that other nations because we have a very high standard of living, or at least we did. That means we've got more money but it also goes around more quickly. The thing is that some have been skimming more off the top than others in the current of currency. Costs have been shuffled and shifted, we've been suckered in with the concept of "saving money" in the very process of spending it, and we've gotten a false sense of financial stability. Because these practices are so ingrained and we keep shoveling the burden to the next guy down the societal ladder we don't see anything wrong with something that is fundamentally unsound.

So yes, we've been spending more than we've been taking in as a nation (and for many, personally). Whether we agreed to all the spending or not, we're (mostly) all citizens and therefore liable. Given how upside-down we are financially I'd say it's entirely reasonable to both cut spending and raise some taxes. Why is that so hard to agree to?

People are scared of getting a larger than due burden. Small businesses are (probably rightfully) scared of being treated like mid to large business. Big business, trying to cater to investors are worried about getting hit in revenue and having less than consistently high or predictable returns that would hit its stock price, and individuals who are already stretched just don't want any more of a burden than they're already got.

But we've got to do something. Clearly there are many who aren't hurting anywhere nearly as badly as a good half of the population. The fact that we wind up going to the trouble to file taxes every year and get money back that we overpaid is a nice little bonus but for crying out loud, if we're so much in debt and that money is already out of sight, maybe we should just start contributing that "bonus" back to the national debt to start a long dig out of a deep hole. Lets try and get back to being a nation of producers as well as consumers. Let's try and even things out a bit, shedding the tragically narrow-minded idea that we should be a predominantly white-collar country and making sure that there is good work for people who like to work with their hands.

Politics have gotten ridiculous and I'm not entirely sure if it's the actual politics, the way it's presented to us in the media, or perhaps the more likely combination of both. There is a clash of culture to be sure, but there always has been to some degree. What we seem to be forgetting is that we're all created equal and that this nation is supposed to first and foremost be a land of opportunity. Options get limited when you're in debt. We need to take decisive steps to climb out it and unilaterally take on the burden we've saddled ourselves with. If there were parties that were more responsible or more profitable from the spending than others, in ways that weren't widely beneficial, they may very well need to help pick up more of the burden. One thing is clear to me though. Flatly refusing tax hikes in the face of decreased revenue is like the old story about the raccoon with his hand stuck in a trap because his fist is clamped around a shiny object he refuses to drop. Dropping the issue doesn't mean it can't be revisited later with better tools and a greater chance of overall benefit.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Seriously? The ridiculous taxation system of the USA.

As a new small business owner, I've been getting a crash course in a number of areas, the most annoying and complex of which is in the tax structure.

There's the business structure, registering for a DBA or some other option, getting a tax identification number, then applying for a separate sales and use tax permit. Add to that, apparently we're all supposed to be keeping track of online purchases that weren't taxed on purchase and then report those purchases and pay them to the state even if it was from an out of state retailer. The state tax is set but each city or county might have a different rate and if you happen to do business with someone somewhere else, you need to keep track of that, file and pay the respective jurisdictions. I'm a one man show. It's getting ridiculous.

I get it that governments need money but surely there must be a better way to do it. Are there not scales of company size that could simplify things for the little guy? Is a general sales tax just too difficult to implement? Is it really necessary to create an equal burden of reporting for small business or sole proprietorships? This is a classic example of bureaucracy running ahead on law and policy while not enforcing, leaving many oblivious to the law until someone decides they're going to prosecute. The false sense of security many have leads to ambivalence about issues they don't even know affects them, then it gets heaped on. Did you know that even if you're not a business, you need to keep records of untaxed purchases and pay Texas the tax on those goods? It may not be enforced but it is law and as such it puts tons of generally law-abiding citizens on the wrong end of the law without their realization. That is bull and it needs to be remedied.

It makes sense that brick and mortar stores want a more equal playing field with out-of-state retailers, but why is the burden of tracking and reporting shifted to the consumer? When is the last time you bought a book for $20 and thought to yourself, "I need to record this transaction, calculate 8.25% and make sure I save that up to pay come tax season?" Yeah, I didn't think so.

So what can be done about it? The common response is to write your government representatives. I'm not so sure any of them care. I've written various reps from both parties about another issue and gotten cookie-cutter responses. Now I get their spam in my inbox to boot. For all the talk in politics of helping out businesses or those in need of help, it sure seems like not much actually gets done in the legislation.

There are people who are as fed up with the current tax system as I'm getting but it just isn't getting fixed. Add it to the pile of national debt, social security, health care, immigration, etc.

This is more of a vent than anything, I wish I had a good idea that both simplified the whole tax structure and allowed some amount of independence for states and cities. Unfortunately I don't, but we need to be thinking. This getting seriously ridiculous.

One of the things that led me to believe we are supposed to pay taxes on online purchases made from out of state vendors is this blurb in instruction sheet 01-922.pdf

Item 3. Enter the total amount of taxable purchases that you made for your own use. Taxable purchases include items that were purchased, leased or rented for personal or business use on which sales or use tax was not paid. This includes purchases from in- or out-of-state sellers, exempt items taken out of inventory for use, items given away and items purchased for an exempt use but actually used in a taxable manner. Taxable purchases do not include inventory items being held exclusively for resale. Report whole dollars only. Enter “0” if you have no taxable purchases to report.

There's another place I saw corroborating that assertion in a FAQ located here.
To the question "What "purchases" are subject to use tax?", the answer was as follows with my emphasis in bold:

You used property purchased from an out-of-state retailer. In general, if you purchase a taxable item from an out-of-state retailer without paying Texas tax and use the property in Texas the purchase is subject to use tax and must be reported. If you paid Texas use tax to such a retailer, you are not required to report the tax. That retailer must provide you with a receipt showing, among other things, the amount of use tax collected. You should retain a copy of the receipt showing you paid Texas tax.

So apparently it's more of a use tax than a sales tax but it's still a tax. I'm not sure what law backs this up but they sure seem to be trying to make a point and have an avenue to get their money.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Osama Bin Laden - 10 years later

Well that wasn't the way I expected this Sunday evening to wind up.

I first saw a post on facebook, then another, and then the television was turned on and all the networks were talking about what the president was about to announce. The tendency of news organizations to tell us the news before it is formally announced is starting to annoy me but that's not important right now.

Osama Bin Laden, the purported mastermind of the attacks on our nation on 9/11/2001, has been killed.

After 10 years and in the midst of 2 wars that he helped legitimize, this man has been met with justice. A friend of mine named Brandon quoted a proverb that is very wise in response to this news.

"Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles. Proverbs 24:17"

Bin Laden's death, while a symbolic exaction of justice, is still a death. The reason we may be glad is that we feel he deserved death for the horrible acts he instigated and continued to encourage. But the fact that a person would be consumed with hate and malice is a saddening thing, and it would have been far better for everyone had he chosen a peace method of airing his grievances. This man was a son, a father, a husband, a human being. We tend to demonize historic figures who've done terrible things and effectively dehumanize them because no real human could act with so much evil. Except it's not true.

Even just recently I was listening to a radio program where a writer promoting a book of his experiences representing death row criminals. During the interview he spoke of how one of the things that struck him about his clients was that most didn't appear to be inhuman monsters and that in fact he was struck by how ordinary they seemed. Yet these men had committed horrible acts.

I mention all that to illustrate that as horrible as the acts that have been committed against us are, our enemies are still our brothers. I think the reason the Proverb admonishes gloating over a fallen enemy is that the whole situation is sad. The act of offense was horrible, and the fact it led to more destruction is horrible. How much better would it have been if the resources used to destroy buildings and lives a world away had been used to feed the hungry and poor in a place that still needs it. How much better would it have been if our countries had not been incited to war, killing many more on both sides? The whole situation is a damned shame.

We are glad that Bin Laden cannot incite or plot any more than he has, but it should not be because he is now dead. It would be a matter of rejoicing if he had realized the error in his ways and renounced terrorism, turning his organizations efforts from destruction to building. That would have been a result to celebrate.

It's hard to tell if this will actually dishearten Bin Laden's followers or if they are, as one mid-east reporter said, largely apathetic to this once prominent figure. It has been 10 years of pursuit by the most powerful national allies in the world. 10 years is a lot of time to escape the tremendous pressure. I'm sure it wasn't easy. Our enemy may not see this as any particularly meaningful defeat. With that said, in Bin Laden's killing we have an amount of resolution to a painful part of our country's history. It is a testament to our nation's determination and no doubt much sacrifice by our service men and women. It was a solemn task and whether it is received well or not, the message that we do relentlessly seek justice for crimes committed is clear. Our president offered a well written and well spoken speech to announce this historic event and even though we have political differences, I am proud of the way he chose to handle this.

If only this meant the war was over...

Saturday, April 30, 2011


With news that the NFL owners were able to pop the lockout back in place within 24hrs, I'm left wondering how much the people (fans), the players, the vendors, and other support staff are willing to take.

I'm not a die hard fan, but I enjoy the game and understand it is a business. I don't know if the players are in the right, or the owners are because frankly I don't care enough to get into the details necessary to adequately make an informed decision. What I will say is that this situation is ridiculous. Some players probably get paid way too much. Some owners probably get paid way too much. I still think it's insane that any professional team gets cities to subsidize new stadiums that they have no control over. Sure there are jobs and tax revenue but it's a privately owned franchise and any stadium that isn't about to collapse will bring those same things in. It should be the owners and sponsors that raise funds, not public tax dollars. But I digress.

It is already amazing how much control the NFL has over it's media, it's employees, sports networks, and of course us. I cannot believe that a scrupulous court would allow an "emergency" stay of the decision to end the lockout to the owners. Clearly anything that keeps the gears of this behemoth of gridiron stopped has far more impact on the little guy than Jerry Jones. Heads need to be pulled from the rear that supports them. Especially in a time of economic hardship, I can't see why the minds in one of the biggest businesses in the country can't work something out to let people get back to work to prepare for the (hopefully) upcoming season. There is no good excuse.

Of course we can always just focus attention on the college game that, while exciting and entertaining, has turned institutions of learning into glorified sports clubs with lodging and a learning annex. That's a whole other issue and while I could go on about how in all practicality college ball players are either already professional athletes or exploited pawns, that's not my focus at the moment. Right now I'm just amazed people are standing for this circus of power plays that has the potential to benefit a very few while hurting so very many.

This circumstance raises questions about how, in a society of dependent consumers, we can actually give the voice of reason some time to speak and grab the attention of those that think of most of us as troublesome ants on their hill. On one hand, you could say boycott the NFL. That would have a lot of negative effects on the support infrastructure and players who aren't greedy prima donnas. My initial reaction was, if the GMs, coaches, players, and everyone else want to just get to business, why don't they just agree as a whole, aside from the owners, to just do that in defiance? I'm sure it is much more difficult in reality but part of me hopes it happens. There have been rival leagues to the NFL before, maybe now is the time to strike for them. Surely at least serious indications of that might get people back to the table in a settlement right?

It is just disgusting to see this sort of thing happen and with any luck, it will shift the national past time yet again. Soccer is football anyways, it should be an easy transition...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Freelash - Reaping the rewards of our addiction to "free"

Reading both news articles and blogs about the trouble our current generations are having finding work prompted thought about the whys and hows of how we got to this place as a nation, even as a multi-national culture. No doubt you've heard about how so many youth with degrees are still having to live at home with their parents and take work that is in no way connected to their furthered education. We were crippled by the housing market and Wall Street taking a dive, to a lesser extent we were injured by the dot com bubble burst.

All this leads me to question how those industries got so much power and why other industries aren't filling the voids. I can't help but think it relates to the fact that, aside from food, a majority of what we consume has transitioned to new mediums we are accustomed to paying little or nothing for. I'm not saying most people got their iPods or PCs for free but more and more, we're expecting and getting a lot of stuff cheaply. This applies not just to digital product but also many household items. Much of these products are being sold at a level that is less than is healthy for most businesses. Part of the reason bigger businesses can sell things more cheaply is of course volume but they also rely on being able to consolidate positions and resources. This is efficient but not friendly to the millions of people who would otherwise have work to do. We're slowly choking ourselves to death.

I grew up with the rise of the digital age, I was one of the kids that marveled at all the cool stuff that you could do and create with computers. I was one of those kids that took advantage of the murky waters of digital music, movies, and software before the lines were clearly defined. Do you remember when every website out there was offering free mouse pads, email addresses, pens, and just about any other gimmick out there? Free information floating out there on the internet was touted as the opening to a new era of progress and jobs would be there to.... somehow. All that free certainly has accelerated progress in technology and has revolutionized many aspects of the infrastructure of our daily lives. The question now is at what cost that has occurred.

Music and movies are one immediate example of areas that have both been helped and hurt. One one hand you have unprecedented distribution opportunities. On the other, consumers are getting drowned in choice and we now burn through media at a rate never before seen. New becomes old incredibly fast and artists and producers get left in the dust or buried in the pile of new content that is continually being heaped on by everyone else trying to stay on top. Prices for that content are also falling which further hurts sustainability for any one artist, unless they get really really big of course. It can be argued that this ultimately leads to better quality for the consumer which in theory is potentially true. The problem with this is that the "consumer is king" model of business, while effective in drumming up business, is not responsible. What about the producers? What happens when the consumer's insatiable appetite eventually whittles down the producers to the bare bones and still demands more? What happens when we forget our civic responsibilities and stop caring about our neighbors being able to make a living doing what they do?

These are important questions and ones that have been largely ignored. We've been ignoring the tough questions and, like with the financial meltdown, we've just powered through with the motto of showing growth, even as we destroy the roots that would have sustained it. We're killing traditional media outlets like newspapers, magazines, and local news that have been identifiable, able to be held accountable, and been a pillar of how we've been able to develop this nation of information and progress. Granted, media organizations have also been hurting themselves but part of that is due to the mistake of putting the consumer on so high a pedestal. I'm not saying they should put producers, owners, or government on that pedestal either. There needs to be a commitment to truth, community, and sustainability first and foremost.

The "freelash" referred to in the title is how I'm choosing to describe the effects of our blind belief in using free to rope people in and/or just use advertisement revenue to sustain a business. Eventually it will backfire for consumers and the backlash is already showing up in the number of positions that are being eliminated to keep up with other bigger and leaner businesses. There is no such thing as free in business, someone will pay and it might actually be you after all. It's not just about the addiction to free though, it's also about things being cheap. Eventually it's not going to matter if something is cheap or not though because that quest will eventually leave many without a job and without money and it doesn't matter how cheap something is if you're flat broke.

Some things lend themselves to actually being able to offer things free to the consumer. Take mobile phones for example. The subscription fees and content revenue can definitely make up the loss on giving away the actual equipment. The manufacturers still get paid for their part, and consumers are essentially just hit with a payment plan as opposed to a single large charge. That's a pretty good win-win situation.

Online ad revenue for websites are still a bit shaky but can work for bloggers and a number of other content sites. The threat of clicking on ads leading to malware is still a hindrance to advertisements online being as effective as they could be but it still works to a decent degree. Still, most payouts to the content sites are very small.

For many smaller businesses "free to the consumer" just isn't sustainable.

All this translates into less consumers having a job and less consumers having the income to spend on anything other than necessities while a select few gain more and more market share to the point of monopoly or duopoly. What about competition though? Upstarts can rise and take over right? Yes. But in practice, you're just replacing one powerhouse with another and usually one will eventually fail. An ever-increasing population will need more and more occupation. Our drive for total efficiency inevitably constricts the number of available jobs. That drive for total efficiency is locked in because of our drive for cheap or free. It's a nasty engine that needs an overhaul if we intend to keep it functional.

There are solutions of course, but some that keep on the current course would lead to a less diverse job market for the vast majority of the population. This nation was built largely on people striving for the bettering of themselves and society. I fear that the loss of paying jobs in creative fields and other meaningful challenging work will stifle us and ultimately lead to the collapse of ideals and possibly worse.

The golden rule solves a lot or the problems we've gotten ourselves into. Paying a fair price for goods and services so we can enjoy them and also help sustain our neighbors and countrymen seems like the way to go. Let's see if we can't figure out how to beat the unhealthy parts of our addiction and keep moving forward.