Archives For Off The Top

Random things that fly off the top of my mind

Community Cars….

November 20, 2014 — Leave a comment

2014-07-24_08-21-56Self-driving cars would also create all kinds of positive possibilities in urban design. Tech-enabled transportation companies such as Uber and Lyft believe they can undermine the idea that every household should own a car or two. While the drivers for these companies are all human now, automated cars would be even easier to share because they could spend all their time on the roads. This could be the future—after all, Google GOOG is a major investor on Uber.

Cars that aren’t beholden to a single driver would mean cities wouldn’t have to use up so much valuable land on parking lots. A fleet of robotic drivers could use narrower lanes, shrinking the proportion of city’s surface area taken up by roads.

SOURCE: Why self-driving cars will mean more traffic – Yahoo Autos.

Will all cars become like NYC taxis? That is an enticing thought to me. I, like most teenage boys I suppose, was in love with cars. My first new car after college was a 1970 Mustang muscle car.  I spent hours each month making sure it was clean and had a fresh coat of wax. The car was my identity as far as I was concerned.

But like the bible says, when I was a child I did childish things but when I became an adult I put childish things aside at least for the most part. Now in my old age I think of cars mainly as just a way to get from point A to B. A car is just not that important to me anymore. So, when I read this article it got my attention. Why not share cars with everyone. That is an idea that needs a LOT of work for some, especially those California folks who simply adore their cars to the point of absurdity.

 

Just Who Are You???

November 19, 2014 — Leave a comment

2014-07-24_08-38-02How many of us are guilty of buying a certain brand of jeans or sneakers because we liked the way they made someone else look? We don’t just want to look like that person, we want to embody a bit of their identity by wearing the same costume.

Brands are everywhere, and sometimes, as Swarthmore psychologist Barry Schwartz told us in “The Paradox of Choice,” deciding between them can be so overwhelming as to discourage making a purchase at all. But often, we know what we want: the consumption choices we make are guided by how we want to see ourselves in the world. What we wear, sip and drive all play a major part in the identity performance we all participate in every day….

SOURCE: How brands make the man, and the woman – literally | Making Sen$e | PBS NewsHour.

Of Course one of the best in this category is Harley Davidson.

2014-07-24_08-46-42The stage Harley-Davidson has set for us is one in which we escape the daily grind. Riding a Harley helps us reconnect with the myth of the American West, a time when the frontier lay untamed and when heroic, solitary explorers braved all manner of dangers.

“To all the freedom loving riders who celebrate the spirit of Harley Davidson every time they start their bike – we salute you,” Harley Davidson proclaims.

Who knew that marketing could basically change the face of America? It seems that so many people eagerly put down their hard-earned dollars for things they could get for much less when the label is on the inside instead of the outside. Who knew that so many of us would pay to be a walking billboard for a particular manufacturer?

I myself am not a clothes hound. I am still wearing some things that I bought twenty years ago. They continue to feel good so why throw them away for something newer? But I do admit that I have an urge to go out and get a Harley and hit the road. As the ad to the left ends. “Screw it. Let’s Ride”. But then again reality sets in and I realize that my rebel days, or at least those involving a motorcycle, are pretty much over. I now do my rebellion with a fountain pen as Bob Dylan’s song mentioned.

But let’s get back to marketing. Wanting something that you don’t really need is a very American thing. Our capitalist system almost demands that you spend more than you make so of course there are people out there that are going to “help” you decide what to buy.  It is ironic that so many of us insist that were are unique, that God only made one of us but then we end up letting others tell us how to dress, what to drive,  how to decorate our homes, and worst of all how to vote.  We let others tell us how to be unique? Isn’t that kind of ridiculous? If you want to be unique then maybe you should be doing the opposite of what they tell you.  It works for me.   :)

 

 

WarningAre we depriving our children of the ability to take risks in the future. Many of the things I did as a child would never happen today. Things like walking five blocks to school without an adult. Or discovering the mushroom plant four blocks from our house. Yeah maybe I fell out of a tree I was climbing there and fell on an iron picket fence doing some pretty serious damage but… I explored the neighborhood at the young age of 10 years old. About the only rule was that I had to be home for supper.

Are we over protecting our kids today? Are we doing them actual harm by trying to protect them from the “big bad world”?

Are we as adults just too fearful of the world ourselves to allow our children to see it in a different way?  We now seem to be totally absorbed with the idea of child abductions but in reality they are actually less prevalent now than they were in the 1970s and even the 1950s when I was growing up.

There are benefits to taking risks by thinking outside the box. It is one of the things that in the past has made us uniquely American. We were risk takers.  Are we stifling the next generation of out-of-the-box dreamers with our fears?

A Dreamer Or A Fighter…..

November 12, 2014 — 5 Comments

2014-10-29_08-38-29I still vividly remember the election season of 2008. It was the year that I for the first time in a long time held out hope for a change in our political system. George Bush’s reign over the country was finally ending but the wars he put us in were still going full bore and still greatly affect us even today. He left the new guy with a total mess in our financial system. The worst mess in fifty years. I had confidence that this new-on-the-scene young guy could give us back our social conscience that George stripped away from us. I contributed frequently to his campaign and was totally overjoyed when he won the presidency even carrying my State of Indiana!!

I knew the GOP opposition to anything that seems progressive would come full force against this new president but I dreamed that he like FDR and several other democratic presidents before him would stand his ground and eventually win some hard-fought gains for our country and especially for those on the economic margins. I dreamed things would be better ahead of us as a country…

Things started out pretty well when this new administration went full bore to give us a universal healthcare system that much of the rest of the world had already realized. Of course there was drastic opposition to this plan as there is for anything of a progressive nature from the expected quarters. But I dreamed that our new leader would fight the fight… and eventually win…

Looking back, of course that is always easier than looking forward, I have come to realize that this first time president of color who reeked of dreams and hope was just not up to the challenge of the fights necessary to accomplish them. His fighter to dreamer ratio was just not up the job ahead.  In today’s world it takes a gargantuan fight to accomplish anything worth doing. A fight he, looking back, seemed incapable of doing. Yeah, he did get a very watered down version of universal healthcare that no one really likes, some because it went too far and for some because it didn’t go nearly far enough. I am part of the later group.

I have learned my lesson. In the coming presidential seasons I am looking for the fighter not the dreamer.  While dreamers are absolutely necessary they are just not the political leaders we need right now.  We need someone with a strong backbone and the tools necessary to push or maybe even ram change down the oppositions throat. We need a fighter who has a base level of dreamer within her/him and can back it up with some strong actions. The problem seems to be that those qualities are totally lacking in so many currently in the inner circles of politics.

This election cycle I am looking for a fighter not a dreamer to lead our country forward …..

2014-10-30_08-51-50America needs more Mark Zuckerbergs, not fewer. How to create them? There is no magic formula, but Henrekson and Sanandaji find the rate of billionaire entrepreneurs correlates positively with nations that have lower taxes, more venture capital investment, and less regulation. High capital gains taxes seem particularly harmful.

Worrying about those things would be a good start for Washington. While inequality hasn’t made it harder to get on the success ladder, it does make it more costly to stay stuck at the bottom. A more entrepreneurial U.S. economy generating more high-paying jobs will ensure more people are making that climb to the top rungs.

SOURCE:  Why America needs more billionaires – The Week.

I certainly agree with the title of this article. America needs more billionaires but it is how they accumulate those billions that matter and especially what they do with them later. Those who invent the “better mousetrap” create jobs and wealth beyond themselves are of great value to our country. Let’s look at a century ago when Henry Ford invented the assembly line. He made billions in today’s dollars but he also gave his workers wages much greater than the current standards. Everyone benefited from his new methods. Yeah, I admit that assembly line work is stifling but it was about the only good paying jobs available during those times.

Today there are thousands of Henry Fords around who have made the latest things. Guys like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs are to be celebrated for their entrepreneurial lives. But for every Jobs there are probably dozens who are getting richer by paying slave wages to their workers. In other words they are getting rich on the backs of those they employ. I believe that this condition is as bad or maybe even worse than it was a century ago before a stubborn progressive Republican president took on the robber barons of his time.

Who will take on today’s robber barons? Walmart is an essential part of many small communities including mine. I make frequent trips there every week as they are about the only place to shop now. They are widely known to pay minimum wage for most of their workers while their corporate profits continue to rise and their owners who for the most part inherited their stocks get vulgarly wealthy.

It used to be that corporations were based on a three-legged stool. The three legs were  customers, owners, employees. As long as these three entities were balanced a corporation was considered healthy. But now days the employee leg has been cut off almost up to the seat level. The stability of the stool is no longer viable.

America needs more billionaires that’s for sure….

2014-11-06_09-28-42This is going to be an extremely soul-searching post for me. It has been a week since the GOP route in the mid-term elections and I have been thinking about my philosophical and political leanings. Two things seem now apparent to me that were not so just a few short months ago.

The first epiphany  is that I am not so much a Democrat as I am anti-Republican. There is just too much weight amongst the current Republican party in favor of the elite and so little for the average guy and almost nothing for the guy down on his luck. In my mind too many who currently represent the party believe in the mantra “I’ve got mine so screw you”. They seem to think that if you can’t do what they did then it is your own fault. Too many, like Mr. Ryan of Wisconsin, just have no empathy for others..

The Republican brand is quite simply tainted too much for me. I call myself a social progressive and a fiscal conservative. If only the Republican party would stick to their strengths of being a watchdog of the purse and get away from trying to enforce, or you could say mandate, various versions of 19th century morals on the rest of us. By the same token if only the Democratic party would get over the idea that throwing money at any situation will solve it.

The second epiphany is that I have come to understand that “I can’t do it for them”. That is I can’t help people who won’t help themselves. The majority of those who bothered to get out and vote recently were old and white like me. The young, the disenfranchised, the guy working one or maybe minimum wage job stayed home. He/she didn’t see it worth their time to make an effort to vote for the change makers.

I am probably a typical “bleeding heart liberal” in that most of the change I would like to see in this country would not affect me very much:

I want to see everyone have healthcare while I currently have very good coverage via Medicare and an affordable supplemental policy.

I want to see everyone who works full-time be paid a living wage while I am fortunate enough to have Social Security, a good pension from thirty years with the same company, and a savings account beyond most my age.

I want to see a strong safety net under those who might fall on hard times. I want to see that their families don’t get severely punished for something they had no control over while I, at least in my adult life, have never needed a safety net.

I just overflow with empathy for others where it seems most in this country are more into the survival of the fittest mode. Maybe empathy is a condition I need to overcome, I don’t know. I’m sure that many that I advocate for think they are helpless in changing things. They just can’t seem to realize that in the end their vote  has as much weight as the billionaires who they presently allow to control the money.

Maybe it is time for me to get off my empathy horse and not worry about all this stuff so much. I simply don’t know the answer to that right now. I imagine I have about one more decade on this earth. Maybe I should spend it differently than I have been up till now?

But I’m just a simple guy so what do I know….

 

2014-10-29_08-29-05Without the South, the country could very well be renamed the Democratic States of America.

Secession would have numerous policy implications. The deficit would likely shrink, since despite the South’s fondness for anti-government rhetoric and ideology, the region benefits substantially more from federal programs than it pays into the federal treasury. Serious gun control legislation might actually make it through Congress. ObamaCare would probably work better (the South has led the way in refusing to expand Medicaid), but it might also be possible to pass the kind of sweeping reform of the health-care system (single payer) that proved impossible for Obama.

In sum, the U.S. without the South would look an awful lot more like Canada and Europe than it currently does — while the newly independent Confederate States of America would likely look like, well, nowhere else in the civilized world. Rates of poverty, already among the highest in the nation, would probably leap higher still. Guns would be ubiquitous. Without a meddlesome Supreme Court to uphold reproductive rights, women in the New Confederacy might find it impossible to obtain abortions. Something similar would probably hold for gay rights (not just with regard to marriage, but even including sexual activity itself) and, of course, for African American voting rights. (Ten out of 11 states in the South have passed voting restrictions in the past four years. Imagine what would happen without what remains of the Voting Rights Act and the oversight of federal courts?)

So what do you say? Is it finally time for us Northerners to encourage the South to go its own way?

SOURCE:Imagine: The Democratic States of America – The Week.

I too have often wondered what the U.S. would look like if the southern States were to actually do what they often threaten to do and that is to secede from the U.S. The above words are an interesting take on that possibility. Yeah Obamacare would most likely work better as indicated by the map above. The vast majority of people without  health coverage are from those infamous States. The description above almost sound like utopia to me. So many of our current problems would disappear if you believe what the author says.

I must admit that I too have an ingrown prejudice against the South. I still blame them for our bloodiest war in history. I still blame them for their adamant opposition to civil rights of all our citizens. They just seem to be on the wrong end of history’s lessons so often.

The Democratic State of America sounds good to me but when you look at the maps my State of Indiana is more like the southern States then those above the Mason-Dixon line.  The Republican have a veto proof majority in our State government so they have pushed through some pretty radical legislation of late. And of course Indiana was a hotbed for the KKK about a century ago.  Would Indiana become the “new South” if the South jumps out of the union?

Silliness I guess but this kind of thinking keeps the brain cells active…. :)

2014-10-11_08-51-14Americans have a thing for starting over. We love the idea of breaking from the past, beginning from scratch, getting a new life, setting out on a fresh path.

No wonder, then, that some of us seem to be taken with the idea of solving our political problems by calling a constitutional convention to craft a new founding document — one that is less… well, it sort of depends on what you find intolerable about the present system.

Conservatives spend their days dreaming of a balanced budget amendment, term limits for Supreme Court justices, and special protections for the free enterprise system.

Libertarians worry about ever-expanding executive power.

Liberals agonize over the influence of wealthy special interests on all branches of government.

Centrists fret about generalized governmental dysfunction and the danger that it will lead to the kind of breakdown that we’ve seen in presidential democracies throughout the developing world.

I have sympathy for a number of these complaints, especially the ones highlighted by the liberals and centrists. But that doesn’t mean calling a constitutional convention is a good idea. On the contrary, it’s an atrocious idea — and one that would be likely to make our very real problems far worse.

SOURCE:  The myopic folly of demanding a new constitutional convention – The Week.

I thoroughly agree with the folks over at “The Week” that a constitutional convention in the U.S. is a bad idea right now. With all the partisan groups running around the country with their heated rhetoric and not listening to anything anyone else says this is especially a bad time to be fiddling with our foundation documents.  I’m not sure that there is really ever a good time to do it but for now it is best to stay away from the foundations.

But it would be nice to get some people in charge who don’t have a battleship full of baggage! All those guys in Washington seem to have a personal agenda of one sort or another that often trumps the people’s will. All this “right to bear arms” stuff is totally illogical if we take all the words of that amendment seriously. The amendment was to protect militias not guns.  All the gay marriage antagonizers must come to realize that the government is not in the religion business. They simply create legal documents that bind us together. If you want to tag homosexual unions as immoral that is fine but that is not the government’s business.

Until we can manage to at least get along with each other at some of the most basic levels we need to step back from anything that has any long-term consequences. I’m not personally sure that we will ever come to any level of agreement about anything now but at least we can hold out some hope that our children or grandchildren will be able to manage that feat. As long as we don’t pollute their thinking too much maybe they will see a common cause when they take the reigns of power. I don’t know but at least I am hoping that to be the case.

But what do I know….

The Two-Sided Coin….

October 26, 2014

I am again going to talk about the two-sided coin of Christianity. The last time I mentioned it was to relate the idea of faith and works.  That is practicing what we preach or accepting Jesus as the Lord of our daily lives as well as our savior. This time the two-sided coin concept will take on a different topic.

When Jesus told us the law of God and all the past prophets boiled down to only two things: to love God and to love each other, he gave us another linked duality for our existence on this earth.

The first side of the coin is to love God — To love God also means to love and take care of everything that He gave us.  The earth, at least for us humans is a very important part of the gift. We are to be good stewards of this planet and that currently means reducing our carbon footprints.

Another important part that God gave us is the laws of nature. In Jesus’ day very little was understood about these laws but over the last two millennia we have learned much. It starts with what are now considered simple things such as gravity up to the latest revelation of DNA. All of our scientific advances happen because God allows it.

And finally we are to take care of the essence of our very being. To me that means that we must constantly be trying to discern between for the basic truths that God has engrained in us verses those things that we have taught ourselves. We must very careful not to do things in the name of God that didn’t really come from God.

The second side of the Christian coin is his command to love one another –  He told us very clearly that we are to love one another and that means all of us not just fellow believers, not just Americans but all of humanity. I upset some when I tell them that my love of country comes pretty far down the list of my priorities. First I love my God, second is humanity, third is family, fourth is trying to do what Jesus commanded of me, and finally I love my country. And I do love my country. I wouldn’t wish to have been born anywhere else.

For me humanity comes before country. If something hurts other but help us in America then I am likely opposed to it. Our senseless wars in the Middle East are an example. We have as collateral damage killed thousands of innocent people in our thrust to get rid of the “bad guys”. Many times that very act simple creates more “bad guys” than it destroys.

Christianity is a two-sided coin and we must pay attention to both sides. It is simply not good enough to just say you are for something you must put some action into your words. That is what we seriously seem to miss in our present times.  It is easy to sit back and complain but hard to actually get down in the trenches and act….

 

2014-10-11_08-11-13There’s another benefit to having this outlook. The developmental psychologist Carol Dweck has shown that having a growth mindset — where you think your outcomes come through effort rather than innate talent — leads to success for kids and grownups alike.

Thinking about your thinking dispositions — rather than how innately smart you are — helps cultivate that attitude.

SOURCE:  Harvard Says The Best Thinkers Have These 7 ‘Thinking Dispositions’ – Yahoo Finance.

Sometimes I am leery of what Harvard puts out as truth. After all don’t many of our high level political leaders have Harvard degrees? I suspect that the majority of the CEOs that almost caused the 2008 meltdown were also Harvard alumni. But this list does make sense to me and it seems to be very much opposite to typical Wall Street thinking.

I am going to give you a redacted version of the seven reasons given in the article the original version just had too many words in it that clouded the list itself. To me it almost turns the list into “Blah, blah, blah”. In order to keep things straight I wanted to separate my redacted list from the original quote above. So here goes…

1. Be broad and adventurous: Be open-minded, to explore alternative views; an alertness to narrow thinking; the ability to generate multiple options.

2. Sustained intellectual curiosity: The tendency to wonder, probe, find problems, a zest for inquiry; an alertness for anomalies; the ability to observe closely and formulate questions.

3. Clarify and seek understanding: A desire to understand clearly, to seek connections and explanations.

4. Be planful and strategic: The drive to set goals, to make and execute plans, to envision outcomes; alertness to lack of direction; the ability to formulate goals and plans.

5. Be intellectually careful: The urge for precision, organization, thoroughness; an alertness to possible error or inaccuracy; the ability to process information precisely.

6. To seek and evaluate reasons: The tendency to question the given, to demand justification; an alertness to the need for evidence; the ability to weigh and assess reasons.

7. Be Reflective: The tendency to be aware of and monitor the flow of one’s own thinking; alertness to complex thinking situations; the ability to exercise control of mental processes and to be reflective.

Maybe it is vanity rising up here but I kind of think that I have most of these qualities. :)  I definitely didn’t go to Harvard; I could never have afforded to pay for even a semester there let alone the time it takes to get a degree. My State college Purdue was fine with me.

I like to the think that some of my strongest qualities are that I am open-minded and can see narrow thinking from a mile away. As I have mentioned many times here the first thing that often pops into my mind is “why?”. I have a zest, maybe an infliction, for inquiry. That is what primarily drives this blog. So, as it turns out I can see I have 1,2 and 6 down pat and the other four to lesser degrees.

How about you? Where do you stand on this list?