02 January 2009

2008 - R World in Review (2 of 3)

And because the Bush administration seems to never make a policy decision without first thinking about whether it'll make life easier for late night comedians, they've put Nelson Mandela on the terrorist watch list.

It might be fascinating to define a learning institution with a completely different name, like "Preparatory Institute for Great Happiness and Empowerment," or "Organization for Mind Altering Perceptions," or "A Place of Self Actualization and Occasional Humiliation."

“You should not talk about the president that way,” Maddie rebuked her older brother.
“’Former frat boy?’ What? Did I get that wrong? He’s actually still in a fraternity? Because that would explain so much,” Bernard said, spinning one half of his bagel while patiently chewing. “You think that his entire presidency has just been a series of drunken dares? A hazing ritual gotten out of control?”

It might be that all policy failure is simply a failure of empathy.

Fragment of a discussion between gods who’ve lost their believers.
“Money is not a problem for me,” said Soma, the Indian god of alcoholic beverage and supreme truth.
“How do you get money?” asked Ek-Chuah, the former Mayan god of business and chocolate.
“I borrow heavily from novelists,” said Soma. “I mean, it’s only fair. They borrow heavily from us.”
Zeus hollered, “Damn Joseph Campbell. He would not loan me a dime.”

Bernard stared at the wall. “So this is why women hate men?
“Because we love you?” Maddie said. “Yes.”

Recently, the Wrigley's Chewing Gum company sold for about $23 billion. There is no truth to the rumor that founder Bill Wrigley said, when seeing his first customers approach, "They have the change we have been waiting for."

In the old media, people chose between various options, magazines like the Nation or the New Republic, for example. In the new media, people create their own options, writing blogs or creating websites.

In the old democracy, people chose between various options, candidates like George H. Bush and Michael Dukakis, for example. In the new democracy, people will collaborate to create their own policies and institutions.

By 1900, an abundance of capital had laid the foundation for a new economy: an information economy led by advances in knowledge and knowledge workers.

By 2000, an abundance of knowledge and knowledge workers had laid the foundation for an entrepreneurial economy.

Marxists are still gaining adherents in universities and neocons are still finding supporters for invasions in the Middle East (Iran instead of Iraq this time). Not because the empirical evidence has suggested that these are wise moves but, instead, because of a kind of imaginary nostalgia, reminiscing about what might have been.

Product idea:
Sell "hybrid" metal decals for people to stick onto their cars. Even though this wouldn't change their actual mpg or carbon footprint, it nonetheless would do a great deal to impress the neighbors.

This is the catch-22 of parenting. If parents do their job right, they'll give their child autonomy. And, true autonomy will mean that the child will make choices the parent would not.

“Well, it is the least that Hollywood can do for people,” Maddie said, looking up at Bernard reprovingly. “Someone needs to offer resolution.”

“What do you mean?”

“People can go their whole life, Bernard, and never once get things resolved. Look at you and your love life, Bernard. You’re in your 70s and you still haven’t gotten that figured out.” She sipped her coffee and then continued as Bernard looked on in disbelief. “Life just sits there in a swirl of uncertainty, as if there is a perpetual ‘to be determined’ sign hanging over everything. The least that those folks in Hollywood can do is to distort life into some kind of plot line for us.”

Maybe parents and schools could tell children: “Warning: contents of this society have been known to create feelings of anomie and alienation, provoke wars, homicides, and suicides, and pollute the habitat you need for survival. Most of what we tell you should be questioned and improved on. This is, really, just the best we’ve been able to do up until now and it could be that improvement will actually overturn much of what we now accept and advocate.”

At least in the blogosphere, we really are moving towards a world in which "adult" content is as likely to refer to conversations and topics that would bore a child as it is to the words and images that the FCC could once shield us from. It is a world in which each person gets to be his own censor. It is a world in which George Carlin's early humor now makes little sense.

And maybe that’s a measure of a social reformer’s impact: if they’ve made their outrage meaningless to the next generation, their work is done. Thank you George and farewell.

Listen to NPR and you’re more likely to hear news about Palestine than what is going on in the corporate headquarters of your area’s largest employer. If the news offers a context for daily life, this suggests that the news is moving towards irrelevance.

Now that the parties have chosen their candidates, we’ve entered the dreaded deification stage of the election. The right has to continually defend an old conservative who likes to pretend he is a maverick; the left has to defend a young liberal who likes to pretend he's led something before. These are real people and yet their supporters see fit to elevate their candidates, gather in circles around them, and then chant like primitive natives before the god of volcanoes.

On a trip to Kobe
If you live in Japan there is about a 99% chance that your race is Japanese. Even with odds that high, it still turns out that I’m not.

The reason that the Japanese are asked not to use their cell phones on the train is because in such close quarters the signals interfere with pace makers – occasionally causing an incident, triggering arrhythmia or even an attack. Changes in technology and culture do not take us beyond this simple truth: communication affects the heart.

R World will be closed in observance of the 4th of July. We on the editorial board have no clue what that means but nonetheless feel obliged to inform you.

This might be my favorite headline of the week: "Obama, McCain try to pin economic woes on each other"

No wonder people eventually lose interest in elections. This is like two rivals to become tribal chieftain blaming each other for the latest hurricane or drought. To paraphrase Jeremy Bentham, "this is nonsense on stilts."

Deconstruction proved unsatisfying to most because it pointed out two things: context is key and context is arbitrary.

If a candidate is going to win this thing, they'll likely aim for at least 50.1% of the vote. This means that among their supporters will be some certifiable nut jobs. The candidate needs to embrace even those who say ridiculous things.

Or, they could take it one step further and, like George W., they could actually be the spokesperson and representative for the gaffe-prone among us.

Maddie let out a sigh of exasperation. “I can’t believe this. Why does everything have to be sexual?”
“What?” Bernard looked up from his menu, obviously confused.
“Look at this Bernie. They have orgasmic fruit.”
Bernard paused. “Maddie, Maddie,” he shook his head. “That’s organic fruit.”
“Oh,” Maddie said, her outrage quickly fading. “Well in that case, I’ll just have the poached eggs.”

It is time to eliminate the penny. This would help to lower the prices of commodities (well, at least copper) and would free up cashiers across the nation to engage in more valuable efforts. It is hard to think of a single act that would do more to improve today's economy (but of course that could just be because it is a Saturday and I'm not really trying.)

Politics - the art of getting elected - depends on making pronouncements so vague that more than half of the population can agree with you.

Policy - the art of making things happen - depends on making pronouncements so clear that more than half of the population knows what to do.

If you begin to talk policy too soon, it is unlikely that you'll get elected.

If you keep talking politics for too long, it is unlikely that you'll get anything done.

I think that I may have to side with Bush on this one. It does not make sense to rescue the mortgage industry with legislation that will cost American taxpayers twice. To the extent that the new housing bill actually props up house prices, it'll cost Americans by driving up housing costs along with the price of fuel and food and education. And given that this bill will cost billions, taxpayers will be charged to prop up these prices. Bush was right to threaten to veto the House Housing Bill.

If legislators actually cared about housing, they’d address homelessness. Instead, this seems like another instance of crony capitalism masquerading as pro-business policy. No industry has benefited more from the "privatize profits and share losses with taxpayers" philosophy of crony-capitalism than the financial industry.

Tom Petty with the bankers – getting their approval to finance a song in a parallel world

Banker 1: That's it? That's the song idea?
Tom: Yeah.
Banker 2: That makes no sense! Could you explain it again?
Tom: We play some music and periodically say, "Hey!"
Banker 3: That is not a song. People like stories in their songs, like that George Strait guy sings.
Tom: Well, we don't just say, "Hey!" Sometimes we'll say, "Don't come around here no more."
Banker 1: Well that's not even grammatically correct.
Banker 2: Exactly!
Banker 1: Why can't you write lyrics more like a Robert Frost poem?
Banker 3: Or George Strait?
Tom: I just write what I write.
Banker 1: Well, I'm sorry but I just don't see how we can give you money for a song like that.

In California, trans fats are now illegal and (medical) marijuana is not. I'm sure this is not the only way in which our state is different from Alabama but right now it seems like one of the more obvious.

At the point at which children become adults, they have to make a transition. Instead of focusing on filling in what is missing, they now have to build on what is present. Rather than turn a grade of C into a B, they have to turn an A into a unique contribution, something that defies easy categorization.

If collaboration and cooperation no longer requires an institutional overlay, or construct, entrepreneurship becomes an act of catalyzing behaviors and activities rather than focusing on creating the context or container for such activities. It is not about institutions – it is about action.

It does suggest that the very notion of, or need for, institution is set to transform along with the definition of entrepreneur.

I find the term Hegelian ecology oddly alluring and think that it describes this dynamic of evolution - whether social or natural. It seems to almost guarantee dynamic tension, a dance of progress. It is a reminder that the thing in itself is perhaps never quite so within itself.

About spam filters that even applied to R World for a time:
In past centuries, censorship was enacted by church or state officials with a particular agenda, mindfully protecting us from offensive information. Today, censorship has become automatic, enacted by simple algorithms that mindlessly protect us from offensive information. It used to be bureaucrats who followed rules; now it is just rules following rules, algorithms that decide what gets through and what stays out of consciousness.

In this sense, religions are really more advanced, more evolved, than are more modern institutions like corporations and schools. Religion is a place where one can freely choose how and when to use the institution, a stark contrast to the corporation that prescribes exactly how and when the institution will use the individual. It is hard, if not impossible, for the modern student or employee to define and customize how he'll learn or work. Oddly, it is within these traditionally oppressive institutions that the modern person is most free to define how he'll worship.

I wonder how long it will be before the modern institutions become as advanced and evolved as this ancient one of religion.

Bernard on kissing:
The woman is everything. Technique is vastly over-rated. A new pair of lips is not the point. A kiss at its best is an expression so thick with meaning, appreciation so keen that it can never be expressed in a mere handshake or simple hug. A kiss is inevitable once you feel a particular way towards her. The mouth,” Bernard’s eyes clouded over as he stared at his drink, “the mouth is the place from which we breathe, taste the world, and express ourselves. If you’ve fallen in love with a woman, how could you not want to melt into her at that very spot, this small opening into her being? How could you not want to kiss her?

There are a variety of considerations when choosing a VP running mate. Like the Bush men, you could choose a VP who so frightens people that you effectively have a guarantee against impeachment.

Mass is aptly named because we’re talking about an intensely personal spiritual experience that we’re trying to extend from a few mystics to the masses. This is both futile and necessary. It is how civilization proceeds: the work or creation of a genius becomes the tool of a common person. Newton and Leibniz invent calculus in one century and a few centuries later, it is a required subject for children in the early throes of relational passions, young adults distracted by newly libidinous impulse.

Derivatives of You Tube include:
Me-Tube - videos of people trying desperately to keep up with trends and celebrities.

The Mayans were incredibly advanced - roughly on par with ancient Greeks and Romans in many areas. Their knowledge of astronomy allowed them to make a calendar that only needed to be adjusted every 52 years (instead of every 4, like our own). They were advanced in math and science, performed brain surgery and eye surgery and yet their civilization collapsed. I'm pretty sure it was because they never mastered air conditioning. It was hot in the jungle.

A good soldier is like a good gun. He doesn't ask questions about where he is pointed, he just moves in that direction. A leader, by contrast, is all about asking questions - ensuring that the gun is pointed in the right direction and extremely hesitant to ever pull the trigger. McCain has done more to prove he’s still a good soldier than a good leader.

It’s time to update the cabinet for the 21st century.

1. Secretary of Happiness
It’s time to take happiness seriously. After all, what good is progress in any other domain if it doesn’t make us happier?

4. Secretary of Simplification
In charge of producing sound bites for policy, reducing clutter in closets and garages, and eliminating unnecessary meetings within communities and organizations.

6. Dude for the Radicalization of All Things Boring
Could also be a sub-dude or, rather, under-Secretary to the Secretary of Happiness. Measure of success would be the extent to which even teenagers have to admit that it is pretty cool to live here. This might be an appropriate position for a former X-Games star.

10. Minister of Complexity
Position designed to set up creative tension with the secretary of simplification, also responsible for urban development, financial markets, forests and other ecosystems, romance, and extended families (essentially, everything hopelessly complex) replacing secretaries of interior, housing and urban development, and treasury and the lords of chaos.

12. Secretary of Blogging
Or, alternatively, we could call this SOB president of cyber-world, duties to include developing and making available more sophisticated filters for spam, ensuring high scores for on-line games like World of Warcraft, and finding some way to soften the blow for reporting down days for one’s portfolio. Oh, and of course, the SOB would work with us to raise the probability of bloggers creating provocative and influential content.

We now live in a world where the fastest man is named Bolt. It’s as if the folks at Marvel or DC Comics have taken over from Newton and Einstein, tired of simply defining blockbuster movies they are now defining our reality.

Choosing Biden as a running mate couldn’t have been easy for Obama who, in order to balance the ticket, had to find an older white guy active in politics.

A commitment to become a happy adult probably doesn't involve solving all the problems of childhood. Sometimes progress means letting go.

I just like the fact that McCain is offering such a stark contrast to the same-sex ticket of Obama - Biden, giving us voters the choice of a heterosexual couple.

I agree! The presidency should be between a man and a woman. And I’m all for a constitutional amendment that keeps same-sex presidencies out of the White House!

So, in one of a series of aperiodic postings of business ideas, how about a Rent-a-Paparazzi service? You go out for the evening and feign disgust with the horde of (okay, depending on what option you choose, two to six) photographers who hound you, following you as you try to enjoy a pleasant evening dining out, dancing, or even just grocery shopping with your new infant.

It would certainly impress a first date.

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