RJ's Corner

I Just Wish I Knew What I Am Supposed To Do..

2016-01-30_11-26-38.pngI just heard the words in the title of this post in the movie “Matrix Reloaded”. I hear some of you probably saying “you watch that type of stuff???”.  I realize the Matrix movies have a bad rap from the conservative community because it is waaaay out there but to me its symbolism is awesome and I do like SciFi movies.

Getting back to the topic, some versions of religions including  quite a few Christian sects believe that God controls everything in the minutest detail, including every breath we take and every thought we have.  I guess that idea is comforting to some but not me. Maybe they are perfectly happy to think of themselves as puppets whose strings are pulled by a deity beyond their understanding. But I think that stand is just laziness on their part. They just don’t want to be responsible for how their lives turn out. They would rather put that in God’s lap.

If the statement “I just wish I knew what I am supposed to do” pushed us into a mode of deep reflection that would be something else. I think one of the things seriously missing in our American culture is determination in finding our path in life. Often times we don’t ask the serious questions until it is almost too late.   I believe that God puts in each of us a passion and reason for existing on this earth.  He leaves it is up to us and those who mentor us uncover what that passion might be and then to do everything necessary to make it happen.

2016-01-30_11-27-01.png I personally think, at least on some levels, my life has been an example of how not to do things. I went to school in a small rural community in the 1950s and 60s where guidance counselors and mentors were for the most part non-existent.  Most of my teachers were fresh out of college and only doing a couple of years at our little school before they went on the the bigger cities for more money. Many, due to the lack of life experiences, were just not able to help me with my life questions. Since my father was a single parent and a very stoic man I got little guidance from him. I was pretty much left on my own with the question of “what am I supposed to do?” and that question is really beyond most kid’s abilities without some wise guidance.  It would be years before I was able to answer the question and by then I didn’t have the courage to change life tracts so dramatically.

Fortunately kids today can at least investigate many different possibilities of life via the Internet and other readily available sources.  That type of info is WAY beyond anything that was available to my generation.

I hope that teachers today, at least many of them, try to help their students address this question early enough in life. We should all discover what God put us on the earth to do…

 

 

Guns need food. Starve them.

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Ammunition degrades because the gunpower inside of it does not last forever in the compressed state that it lives….

For most people, the decline in accuracy is mitigated somewhat by the fact that they never use their firearms for self-defense purposes. But it really can be a problem in the long-run. And that’s why ammo manufacturers are even more profitable than gun manufacturers.

Because ammunition is gun food, if we can starve the guns a bit, or change the way ammunition sales are regulated and controlled, perhaps we can change the way guns are used.

SOURCE: Guns need food. Starve them..

If you have read anything here you know that I am not a gun fan. I do believe that the second amendment was necessary 250 years ago because local militias were the standard for our country so we needed to make sure that people could supply their own guns.  The only militias around today are like those nuts in Oregon who want to shut down government, not protect it. The second amendment has simply outlived its time, kind of like saying a person of color is only 2/5 of a citizen. Neither apply in today’s society if they ever did in the past.

I personally know how addictive smoking is. It took me years to finally get up the courage to quit. I think guns are pretty much the same thing. The the power of guns are addictive; when you own a gun you hold the power to easily take away a life, especially the “bad” guys (but who are the bad guys varies depending on your attitude). Our addiction to guns is fed to us at a very early age. Well over half the video games sold today involve using guns. There are so many show on TV that show taking a life is just an ordinary thing.

I didn’t realize that bullets got old and needed to be regularly replaced.  The idea of bullets are the food for guns is a creative way to attack our obsession for these weapons of destruction. I like the idea of restricting ammunition purchases  as cited in the article but I would attack the problem from a different angle.

Let’s treat bullets the same as we do cigarettes:

  • We start with the premise that you have a right to own a gun but do you really need one?
  • We show very graphic pictures of the results of guns in our society.  Show how many more people getting killed by their own guns than killing people who might attack them. Show gory pictures of kids killing themselves or other kids accidentally with guns in the house.
  • We tax the hell out of bullets. Gradually increase the cost of bullets to compensate the damage they do. Make them so expensive that you must give up something you consider valuable in order to afford them.
  • Keep hitting on it so that eventually it will soak in that guns just aren’t worth the deadly cost of owning them.

I know it took years to go from almost half of us smoking to now where less than 17% of us do but it has eventually happened. Only the most excessively addicted still smoke.

I know it will be impossible to take away guns in any near term but we can, like cigarettes, eventually make people realize just how damaging  and costly they are to our society….

Guns don’t kill people, bullets do….

Shared Equity vs Pure Capitalism…

But, first, let’s look at an unusual way of running a business, by having your employees own the company. One popular craft brewery has made a name for itself in part by going that route, with strong results so far….

One of things that we think is a big societal issue is this widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. And we realized that we had an opportunity to support people owning something that was increasing in value. Shared equity has been an incredibly powerful engine for us….

The better I do, the better we do, and I personally take that to every day of my job, and it really does inspire us all to go above and beyond in a way that I haven’t experienced at other employers….

Source: Brewery workers pour their hearts into business when given a stake

Shared equity vs pure capitalism is a very thought provoking idea to me. Especially in the circumstances where we find that today’s capitalism returns are overwhelmingly skewed to the top 1% of our citizens. It is just not being shared by the people who are actually creating the wealth as it once was.  Will shared equity become the new capitalism in the future?  I can only hope so; it would indeed solve many of the social issues of our times.

In my day “the three legged stool” was the symbol for a successful enterprise. The three legs were Owner/Employees/Customers. Each had equal weight in corporate prosperity. If something is beneficial to all three then it was quickly implemented.  Over the years the Customer leg has been shortened. If something can be made for a penny less and the product will still last at least through its warranty period it is cost reduced. Product longevity and quality is missing from far to many capitalist institutions.

The Employee leg of the stool has been ruthlessly amputated. As profits rise they are never shared by those who generate them. In fact brutal downsizing has become the mantra. The median income for U.S. families has actually decreased significantly while profits sour.

The only leg getting attention now is the Owner or stockholder. He is the king of capitalism as shown by the massive increase in wealth of the ultra-rich in our society. It seems the only way to straighten out the three legs is to make the employees the owners. With shared equity another thing that diminishes is the constant need to grow profits. The new owners will usually be satisfied with a constant income and not be obsessed with more and more. It is obvious that many business fail because they tried to grow too fast.

Our industrial society started out as a cottage  industry. Small businesses were built based on local needs. Maybe it is time to start heading back in that direction. If you ask me “Too Big To Fail” is a formula for the implosion of capitalism. How to make shared equity once again happen is the question of the day.  The first answer is probably to force  politicians to join Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in realizing that shared equity appears to be our only viable future.

 

Death of the American middle class??

2015-12-30_11-02-50.pngBut maybe the “death of the middle class” conclusion isn’t obvious at all. And perhaps there is more to the Donald Trump phenomenon. Yes, the modern left instinctively sees such studies as further confirmation that inequality is the nation’s premier economic challenge. Much of the media agrees. The rich are gobbling up more and more of the economy’s bounty, leaving less for everyone else. Case closed.

The Pew results are more complex and nuanced than that, however. One reason the middle class — say, three-person households making between $42,000 to $126,000 annually — share is declining is that the upper class is expanding. Back in 1971, 14 percent of households were upper class, and 61 percent were middle class. Today it’s 21 percent upper, 50 percent middle….

Now, none of this is to downplay the particular economic strain on lower-income Americans, especially those without a college degree. There is evidence that real wages for male workers without college degrees have been stagnant or falling for decades. And those are Trump’s biggest supporters. But the billionaire is competitive even among the better educated. When growth goes away or even recedes a bit, bad things happen to the American psyche.  Now combine that with fears college is becoming more necessary and more unaffordable in a time of expanding automation. The emergence of Trump or some populist like him seems inevitable.

SOURCE:  The American middle class is doing better than you think.

This is a very interesting Pew study that kind of confirms what I have thought all along. That is that there are still plenty of households who have more than enough discretionary spending to keep the economy going. If there wasn’t then who are the targets for all the extravagance shown by most cable TV shows.

If you are to believe what you see on TV then all of us should be striving or at least dreaming of backyards filled with fire pits, outside dining and living areas and covered with expensive slate. If there is no discretionary spending left then who are all these people? After all a billionaire only needs so many fire pits.

I have to admit that when I was making close to a six figure income I didn’t consider myself well off. Maybe that was because of my continuing penny pinching from my poorer years. I just couldn’t see constantly spending more and more.  When I retired in 2000 we bought a 1928 farmhouse that had gone through a couple of badly done rehabs. We spent about 70% of the original purchase price in renovations. Since that time our only expenses have been repairs. We are satisfied with the way things are and don’t have much desire for all the latest “improvement” so many say we must have.

Getting back to the original thoughts here, yes the middle class is definitely shrinking but still, as shown above, it accounts for half of all American families. Only about 20% of us really worry if we can put food on the nightly table but that is 20% too many. Then there is that 1% whose power has grown exponentially and have more money than they could ever spend but still savagely seek more and more.  And they are getting it thanks to decreases in taxes beyond sanity…

Were We Wrong??

From the title it is hard to determine where this post is going. We can be wrong about almost anything in this life and there seems to always be someone around to alert us of that fact. If we get something set in our minds that just isn’t true then we are the worst kind of wrong. But… that is not where this post is going. :)

2015-12-27_12-48-23.pngFinally, here is the full question,  were we wrong to separate from mother England, especially through  violence?

Looking back with hindsight it is always easy to judge the past by today’s criteria.  I will try not to do that but will use the wisdom of what came next to speculate how we might be different if we had not collectively made the decision we did.

It seems that the primary reason for our revolt against the mother country was money.  We simply didn’t like being taxed, especially since we had no say in where those taxes would come from. Of course the other primary reason was probably the arrogance of a king and the nobles who depended on him for their lifestyles.  They saw America as a source for income and not much else. When that income started dwindling they just raised taxes even more.

Was this reason enough to go to war over? Like most wars our revolution was an ongoing thing. One thing led to another. The Boston massacre might have started it but then a tit for tat scrimmages escalated it.  Initially there was little thought of becoming an independent nation. We simply wanted to keep more of our income to ourselves instead of shipping it off to people we knew little about.

Even when the war became official with our “Declaration of Independence” barely half of us agreed with that document. Raising an army to go against the toughest in the world was by no means a sure thing.  But soon the you kill us and we will kill you mentality took over.

In the overall scheme of the world we are still a relatively new country. Less than three hundred years of existence where many are ten times that old.  Most countries have little or no idea about how they came about because they seem to have been always there.

What would have happened if we had not rebelled? A likely scenario would be Canada. Yes, they are independent of their mother country but did so by peaceful means about a hundred years later than us.

On my visits to our northern neighbors I have realized a basic difference between us and them. They, for the most part are much less belligerent than we are. They spend on the military about the same percentage as the rest of the world whereas we spend almost a hundred times more.  Is part of this aggressiveness on our part associated with our founding? Is our obsession with guns and the NRA part of it too?

Canada, who for the most part have the same lineage as us took a very different track to world affairs. Would we be more like them if we had not rushed to war in 1776?  That is an idea certainly interesting to ponder…

 

The Root Cause of Much of Today’s Terrorism

2015-12-13_08-59-12.pngIn fact, friends invariably called the 28-year-old Farook a “very nice person,” while his landlord even described him as a “very gentle person.” He enjoyed working on old cars and shooting hoops. For her part, the 29-year-old Malik was seen as “a good girl” and a good student who aspired to be a pharmacist. Before dressing in austere Islamic clothing, she was even viewed as a “modern girl.”…

By all accounts, that switch was piety. They simply got closer to their religion, immersing themselves in Islamic scripture…

We saw the same transformation in the Tsarnaev brothers of Boston, who were considered “nice” and “normal,” even partiers — until their mother made them stick their noses in their holy books and get religion. Within a matter of just a couple of years of becoming more fervent in their Muslim faith, these “typical American boys” were making shrapnel bombs and blowing off limbs of innocent bystanders at the Boston Marathon to “punish” fellow Americans for supporting wars in Muslim lands…

A similar change came over the Chattanooga jihadist, Mohammad Abdulazeez, who was described as “very friendly” — until he became intensely observant in his faith and saw it as his religious duty to fatally gun down five soldiers in Tennessee earlier this year.

Moreover, two brothers suspected in last month’s Paris terror attacks were born-again Muslims as well. Reportedly, they really began to change around six months prior to the attacks, when they stopped drinking and started studying and praying.

This phenomenon is well documented in virtually every FBI case of homegrown American terrorism: the more religious, the more radical.  “They think they’re doing something good for Allah,” al Qaeda informant Morten Storm, a former Muslim, said. “They really believe that.”

Islam is not a “religion of peace,” and won’t be until most of its followers — the Taliban, the Ayatollah, ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood, the mullahs of Saudi Arabia — reject tenets like jihad. To suggest otherwise is naive. Virtually everyone is hacking at the branches of this growing menace, and almost no one is striking at its root.

SOURCE: They’re ‘so nice,’ until they get religion and want to kill us | New York Post.

This is a very truncated report from this long article. If you are interested in this topic please read the entire article. I want to make it very clear that I am not against all Muslims anymore than I am against all Christians because of the KKK. But in all the recent cases of terrorism in the world the root is associated with that religion.

For those of us who have spent time studying the history of religions know that these times are not unique. Religion has been the cause for many of the world’s conflicts. The Crusades were probably the biggest example of religions going to war against each other but then there is also things like the Spanish Inquisition.

There can be no resolution for this latest round of religious wars until the Muslim religious leaders around the world reject portions of their religious documents that call for death to unbelievers.  But that is a very difficult thing to do. It is the same as asking the Christian biblical literalists to disavow portions of their religious document where God told his followers to kill everyone…

Until a religious anti-violence stand is taken there will always be those who “really believe” they are doing God’s work in killing others….

Its Called The Government..

A healthy society needs to provide people with health care coverage, retirement income, unemployment insurance, and paid time off, among other things. For a long time now, America has relied on employers to pony up many of these benefits on their own. But there’s increasing pressure throughout the economy to break that link, and allow more flexibility into the contracts and relationships between employers and employees.
So a group of minds …  think we need some sort of alternative: a structure, separate from any individual employer, that can provide workers with all those benefits, and allow them to carry them uninterrupted from job to job. The Washington Post reported that this group has put together a statement of principles.
But here’s the thing: Our society already has an institution that fulfills all these requirements. One that can provide workers benefits from retirement income to health coverage to paid leave, that can muster the resources to do so, and that can do all this completely independent from all employers.
It’s called the government….

But having the government take over the burden of many of these benefits would clearly offer employers more freedom, so it seems fair to restrict their freedom somewhat in this other area. Flexibility isn’t the only goal, and entrepreneurs don’t have some God-given right to try out any business model they want.

No one’s wringing their hands over the business model flexibility that America squashed by outlawing child labor, after all.

Source: Why America’s sharing economy needs a massive expansion of the welfare state

The premise of helping business by taking most of the responsibilities of caring for their workers away from them just makes pragmatic sense to me. Even our constitution says it is the governments job to “provide for the general welfare” of its citizens. So, what it the problem? I think basically it is because there is a significant portion of our population that just don’t care about the general welfare of our citizens. Especially the ones they don’t know.  To them it is all about their selfishness, some might call it greed, for more and more and of course that can only come by taking away from others.

Believe it or not the rest of the world knows things that we are yet to learn. If only we would take their examples and implement them our country would be much better off.  But instead we take this macho stand that if it is not invented here then it is not worth any effort to accomplish.  The “not invented here” syndrome is very dominant in this country.

Yes we are the leaders in this world in so many things but that doesn’t mean that others can never have better ideas than us. Once we get over that idea we can’t learn from the rest of the world and be better than we are…

Perhaps They Never Will..

GOP_Leadership

I have to put out a quick post here following Pope Francis’ speech before our congress. To me it was very inspiring but obviously there were those there that simply refused to listen to anything he said. Instead they sat stoically on their hands while those around them frequently stood and applauded.

This reminded me of the last words in the final verse of one of my favorite songs which is entitled “Vincent” by Don McClean. It goes like this…

They would not listen,

They are not listening still

Perhaps they never will

I just cannot believe that the current GOP leadership really represent all those who claim allegiance to that party.  Are all those millions who make up the GOP base so close minded that they will not even consider listening to anything that might threaten their current views?  I certain hope not.  The Bible calls that “hardened hearts”.  Perhaps its time to look elsewhere for your leaders?

Putting a Face On It….

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It is heartwarming to see that the tragic picture above has spurred so many of the European nations into further action. Many, especially Germany, have opened their borders to thousands fleeing war and famine in Syria and neighboring places. One image seems to have ignited a fire of response. Thank the Lord.

As I have learned “Putting a face on a problem” is the first step in spurring action to solve it. I have long been an advocate for the homeless and financially challenged but until I spent 11 years volunteering in a local soup kitchen/ homeless shelter it was not brought home to me the seriousness and tragedy of those who are homeless or financially challenged. Putting a face on it by serving all those who came for daily meals made it very real to me.  I am glad to see the picture above ignited support for those like this dead infant just trying to find some safe place to live.

It seems that our news media have loosened their standards significantly in the last couple of decades. It used to be that they “reported” the news instead of making it as they do today.  Until Fox News came along they very conscientiously tried to remain neutral in how they reported events. But one principle that still remains is that they don’t show graphic pictures of tragic events especially those involving children.

I wonder if we saw the aftermath of the Newton tragedy in graphic pictures if that would have spurred us into actions to keep guns out of the hands of unstable people. Unfortunately there are way too many troubled people even, or maybe especially, among the gun advocates themselves.  I think we are tragically the only nation on earth that has more guns than citizens. Would seeing all those bloody bullet ridden bodies of the kids at Newton Elementary have changed our attitudes towards guns?  I realize that there will always be a certain percentage of our citizens who will fight for their guns no matter the consequences .  It doesn’t matter to them; they must have total and easy access to any weapons they choose.  But how about the rest of us, the vast majority who are ready to attack this problem, when will we finally be spurred into action?  We need to see more pictures like the one above to make that happen.  Until you put a face on a problem it just doesn’t seem real to many of us.  Lets show some of the graphic consequences of this love affair with weapons of destruction.

Question Everything…

Humanity & Artificial Intelligence…

I am with this post starting a series of posts about robotic machines and humanity. This is a pretty serious topic of which I have some knowledge of at least the beginning of this paradigm shift. This post is what Amazon says about the book entitled Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots. In this series I will be talking on both sides of the topic and also giving you a little bio of my life in its formative years.

2015-09-05_11-50-49As robots are increasingly integrated into modern society—on the battlefield and the road, in business, education, and health—Pulitzer-Prize-winning New York Times science writer John Markoff searches for an answer to one of the most important questions of our age: will these machines help us, or will they replace us?

In the past decade alone, Google introduced us to driverless cars, Apple debuted a personal assistant that we keep in our pockets, and an Internet of Things connected the smaller tasks of everyday life to the farthest reaches of the internet. There is little doubt that robots are now an integral part of society, and cheap sensors and powerful computers will ensure that, in the coming years, these robots will soon act on their own. This new era offers the promise of immense computing power, but it also reframes a question first raised more than half a century ago, at the birth of the intelligent machine: Will we control these systems, or will they control us?

In Machines of Loving Grace, New York Times reporter John Markoff, the first reporter to cover the World Wide Web, offers a sweeping history of the complicated and evolving relationship between humans and computers. Over the recent years, the pace of technological change has accelerated dramatically, reintroducing this difficult ethical quandary with newer and far weightier consequences. As Markoff chronicles the history of automation, from the birth of the artificial intelligence and intelligence augmentation communities in the 1950s, to the modern day brain trusts at Google and Apple in Silicon Valley, and on to the expanding tech corridor between Boston and New York, he traces the different ways developers have addressed this fundamental problem and urges them to carefully consider the consequences of their work.

We are on the verge of a technological revolution, Markoff argues, and robots will profoundly transform the way our lives are organized. Developers must now draw a bright line between what is human and what is machine, or risk upsetting the delicate balance between them.

Source: Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots, John Markoff – Amazon.com

Next time I will be going back to my college years to when I worked summers in a local machine shop doing jobs that I am sure have now been replaced by robots. I will also tackle some of the philosophical questions about the trend of robots in the workplace….

Question Everything….

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