27 January 2011

Royal Weddings - Like Giving Alcohol to Toddlers

On her wedding day, a bride is royalty. On that day, we make no pretense that everyone is equal. We don't revel in the uniform of jeans and t shirts and casual conversations. Instead, it's a day with a royal procession, fawning over the princess, and a dress that transforms her from commoner to royalty.

We make a great show about everyone being equal in the West but what we really want is our shot at becoming royalty, at being the person who is beautiful, rich, and powerful enough that they're lauded simply for being friendly to the commoners. We don't so much want an egalitarian society as one in which we all have an equal shot at being treated better than everyone else.

And for that reason alone, a wedding is a hoot. Everyone wants a day to be treated like royalty.

So what happens when royalty have a wedding? It's like giving alcohol to toddlers who were already walking unsteadily and speaking incoherently. When royals have weddings ... well, you get a spectacle that generates more news than anything short of war or natural disaster. 

This year William and Kate are getting married. If you can, buy stock in tabloids. At least for now. And try to wrap your mind around the idea of what it means for royalty to be treated like royalty. 

25 January 2011

Tipping Point: The Corporation Eclipses the Nation-State

In this era of globalization, quality of life is increasingly a function of corporate, not government, policy.

52 of the 100 largest organizations in the world are corporations. Over half. [fn1]

This is even more remarkable given that corporations did not exist 150 years ago. [fn 2]

Just one of the many things suggested by this is that if the media wants to remain relevant, they may want to consider playing reporters within and for these corporations in the same way that they've learned to do within and for governments. It is within the corporation that our futures are being defined. It is time for communities to act like it.

[fn 1] Jointly ranking companies by sales and countries by government spending.
[fn 2] More precisely, the modern, joint-stock, limited liability corporation did not exist. Lest you think that a legal technicality, in 1800 there was not a single organization that employed 500 or more employees, whereas today about half of all workers are employed by such organizations.

Competition: The Consolation Prize That Offers so Little Consolation

Obama's going to win the future by out-innovating, out-educating, out-building rest of world. His new theme is competitiveness.  Apparently he's found Dubya's old prescription med, the one that causes leaders to spout nonsense so familiar that hardly anyone notices that it is nonsense.

Competition is at odds with creativity. Competition reinforces rather than changes the status quo. If you are happy with the status quo, it's a good idea to work harder within the current system to do even better. If the system isn't giving you what you want, though, it might be time to step back to reconsider what system you want to create, what system you want to be a part of.

Obama says that he won't accept 2nd place. Well, we're only 10th by measures of happiness, 11th by measures of per person GDP, and 33rd by educational rankings. It seems to me that Obama should gladly accept a rise to 2nd place.

Obama has yet to do the hard work of defining what comes next, what world he's trying to create. Or, rather, the theme of being most competitive suggests that he hasn't. Obama has a chance to transcend platitudes this evening. If his focus is on competitiveness, that simply won't happen.

23 January 2011

Genetically Unimpressed with Authority

It's not that I don't respect people in authority. I just don't respect them any more than any other people. It turns out that my disdain for authority may be genetic.

My great grandparents ran a bed and breakfast up in the Redwoods between the Oregon border and Eureka, California. It was partly a business (the real business was the dairy) and partly a service since there weren't really hotels in that part of California in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They let out their bedrooms and served meals to the occasional visitors to the area. The beds were offered on a first-come, first-serve basis and when those were full, additional guests were sent out to the barn to sleep.

The governor of California, Governor Gillett, was hunting in the area on one busy night. My great grandparents treated him as they would any other guest; given the house was full, they sent him to sleep in the barn.

One nice post script to this is that Gillett was apparently appointed by Republican Party heads because they knew he'd favor the railroads over the local communities and Gillett was not a particularly popular governor.

It seems like a shame that this tradition never caught on. How fun would it be to periodically send politicians out to the barn?

13 January 2011

The Deep Roots of America's Gun Culture

Along the 2,000 miles of border between San Diego and Corpus Christi, there are about 6,700 gun dealers. All on the American side, of course: guns are illegal in bullet-ridden Mexico.

Perhaps the reason that Americans love their guns has its roots deep in the collective history of Western Civilization.

The conservative impulse is always a desire for what once was, a pull towards some idealized past. This is not to say that it is at odds with progress: Renaissance thinkers sought to return to what they saw as the glorious past of the Greeks and Romans. They were not deliberately trying to create something new but were, instead, trying to revive the classical world that had died centuries before.

Conservatives try to retain what is – or even return to what they imagine once was. Religious conservatives feel a pull towards a past in which the church could define society. Social conservatives want to return to an imagined past in which social mores were more clear, were simpler, when mores were more moral.

Without understanding what came before the nation-state, one can’t really understand the love of guns in this country. It seems to have its roots in feudal Europe, a pull towards an idealized world that came before the rule of the state.

Few realize that feudal Europe was a world in which disputes were settled by, well, feuds. There was no recognized central government and if two families or regions or people had a difference, they settled it through negotiation, trickery, or force.

Although clergy were prohibited from carrying arms, everyone else was expected to be armed and prepared to defend himself. Rights were not guaranteed but had to be fought for and “war” regularly broke out between families, groups, and even individuals. Although this seems to us like anarchy, these feuds were one characteristic of feudalism.

Medieval society was closer to anarchy than anything we know of as a modern nation-state. Force was used to settle issues and anyone could wage war against anyone else. Feuds were common in this age of feudalism. If this seems primitive, American readers might do well to remember what happened to the chief author of the Federalist Papers, which did so much to define the United States. Even for him, law did not offer an honorable resolution to disagreement: Hamilton, the first American Treasury Secretary, was killed in a duel because Aaron Burr thought that Hamilton’s criticism ruined his candidacy. The bill of rights that included a right to bear arms drew from this earlier time of feuds when the individual distrusted government’s monopoly on power. Even this constitutional genius had more regard for honor than law; culture changes slowly and involves more than just reason. Although they didn’t use pistols, many a medieval man died as did Hamilton, although for them there would have been, for them, no alternative of resorting to law rather than a personal duel or feud.

Conservatives today have a love of guns because theirs is still an uneasy trust in the machinations of justice as administered by the state.

Now for us normal people, the thought of justice administered by force rather than law or reason seems unreasonable. And perhaps many conservatives would articulate the same thing. But in some deeper recess of their coerced social evolution, they still pull back from the idea of ceding power to faceless bureaucrats. The right to bear arms becomes sacred because it represents at a real and visceral level the last bastion of resistance against the monopoly on power that the state uses as the basis for everything else it imposes upon its citizens – from laws, regulations, and taxes. 

07 January 2011

December Tweeting

Rush Limbaugh? Ha! Let's tackle him

Retro product idea: a rotary dial cell phone. (Or is there already a smart phone app for that?)

# of stars now 300 sextillion, 3X previous estimates. On a related note, mathematicians have tripled the estimated value of infinity.

NASA discovers that life in CA is ... different. Who would have guessed? 

Everything is systems. Context is just the system bigger than the system on which you're focused.

Wonder how we'd explain to Martians that no issue's more vital to r future than the question of whether to raise taxes another 3% on just 2% of the pop.

Time to start thinking about new year's resolutions. One I'm contemplating is liberal use of the word "uber."

The escalator hand rail in O'Hare has become a billboard. Turns out that the final frontier in space is advertising space. Absurd.

"We're waiting for pilots," they announced. "I don't have a license but I've always wanted to fly one," I tell the crew. Sadly, they thought I was joking

How about negative entropy pool? After the initial break, the goal is to get the balls back into the formation of the original triangle.

LA County now fines Jaywalkers $191. This fine is discounted 50%, tho, if at the time of arrest you can demonstrate a decent moonwalk.

Congress is extending tax cuts & benefits. They talk of deficit reduction w/ double-digit unemployment but it turns out they aren't idiots.

Philadelphia Phillies ranks up there with San Diego Sandies or Los Angeles Losers for imaginative team names.

Assange arrested in Europe. I wonder if we'll ever see the diplomatic cables requesting his arrest. Probably all done with phone calls.

Well, at least Republicans are clear about the one thing on which they won't compromise: tax cuts for the top 2%.

Shouldn't an elevator be called something else when it is going down?

Jeter goes 2 for 2 Tuesday. $51 million contract from Yankees. Cool million in extra take home over next 2 years from Obama & Republicans.

Imagine ....
[Lennon anniversary]

Language defines the meaning we give to sounds; culture defines the meaning we give to behaviors.

Is the allure of Cinderella for women really about the prince or the thought of someone making great effort to deliver the perfect shoe?

Jung's Lost Manuscript: TV, the collective semiconscious.

wikileaks. Good: citizens know what govt does but their own lives are private. Bad: govt knows what citizens do but its actions are private.

Republicans’ economic philosophy: the 1 reason everyone is not rich is that tax rates are so high they leave us no incentive to be rich

Given the anxious look on his face, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to hear him ask, "Where is your codependent reader section?"

Love begins with approval, continues with acceptance.

Do you suppose that if Americans suddenly had technology to extend life to centuries there would be a push for euthanasia legislation?

Reliarmed? the mix of relief and alarm when you discover you've narrowly averted a disaster that you didn't know about until it had passed.

Every 24 hrs, life expectancy rises 5 hrs. If rate of improvement tracks productivity increases, by 2100 it'll rise 24 hrs every 24 hrs.

There's no need for gratuitously complicatifying things.

Could not figure out why we were just sitting on the tarmac unable to take off. Then I realized that I'd left my cell phone on.

Uniform idea: designed to look blurry and out of focus so that defenders continually question the direction and location of players.

Wonder if we'll develop something even better than North Korea's spring-loaded marching step once we've repealed don't ask / don't tell.

Sadly, to save on royalties, the Salvation Army bought the rights to the "Jingle Bells" songwriter's lesser known tune: "Jangle Bells."

Wonder how computer repair will evolve. Cars are still expensive to repair but need it less often. Clothes are cheap enough to just replace.

Michael Jackson just came out with a new album. You can text him an interview request via Ouija board.

No one ever points out that while we've kept the mass in Christmas, it has morphed from religious ceremony to actual ... well, mass. I suspect that the average weight gain during Christmas is about 5 pounds.

Is it just me, or does Julian Assange look look like a Tolkien character?

 MS gov Haley Barbour doesn't remember segregation as "being that bad." Didn't Rockefeller say that abt the depression?

If Santa were from the South Pole instead of the North do you suppose homes would be filled with the smells of frying instead of baking?

You are what you tweet.

I don't care who you are, the thought of living 500+ years has got to hold your attention for 20 minutes. 

The teen center had a small auditorium with an awkward stage.

Something about his cooking made her briefly wonder whether cuisine and queasy didn't have a shared etymology

Really looking forward to ESPN's special holiday board game coverage.

Probably best not to think about how Santa treats his elves and suppliers as he works to drive down costs to zero.

Some restaurant is going to start offering "even primer rib" and "primest rib." And once that happens, who'll settle for mere "prime rib?"

Before you agree to push back the ocean, study the tide tables. Life is simpler when you work with the forces rather than against them ... plus it is kind of fun to take credit for the inevitable.

I wonder if Santa Claus and the Buddha go to the same gym.

Heard Bobby Dylan tell a joke today. "My friend Derek is an atheist. His favorite Christmas movie is 'Coincidence on 34th Street.'"

Oh boy. I now have less than a week in which to get serious about my 2010 new year's resolution

I have just 2 questions of walking or jogging partners. 1. Can you keep up on the way out? 2. Can you carry me on the way back?

2011 and still no personal robots or flying cars. Technical difficulties? OK. But what's the holdup on the ubiquitous, unisex coveralls that used to be in every sci fi movie?

The things you learn in checkout. Apparently, Eva Longoria is not attractive enough to find someone to mate with. 

Odd, really, that a country founded by men in wigs took centuries to repeal "don't ask / don't tell."

I think that next I'd like to be an unlicensed aristocrat.

If the amygdala is the part of the brain that socializes, is facebook the internet's amygdala? 

Could have sworn that just yesterday we were living in San Diego. Today, instead, I could just swear. Rain? Cold? Again?

Saw a bi-plane yesterday. I guess they call it that because its performance is the same regardless of its orientation.

One of amazing things about the internet is that it takes all the effort out of multitasking. You don't even have to get out of your chair to be distracted

Mankind has all kinds.

It's probably too late to get the tshirts printed up to sell for this year ... "Make love, not resolutions. Happy New Year!"

03 January 2011

Waiter! About My Order! Wealth Distribution in the US

Here is a fascinating piece on wealth distribution by UC Santa Cruz professor G. William Domhoff.

To put this in perspective, imagine comments on yelp from reviewers who had dined at a restaurant where the waiter served one guy 42 hamburgers, the next 19 guys a total of 50 burgers and then made the last 80 people share just 7 burgers. My guess is that patrons would be less than impressed with the service (or might suspect that they were on candid camera). And yet we accept an economic system that distributes wealth just that poorly.

Here are some of the more amazing facts about wealth and income in the US.

The bottom 40% of households have only 0.3% of the wealth. That's not 3/10th. That's 3/1,000th.

The median white household has about $43,600 in net worth (not counting house value). For black and Hispanic households, median wealth is $500 and $400. That's right. Total net worth less than the typical monthly rent.

The top 10% of American households hold 70% of the wealth. Only Switzerland, a country that did not let women vote until 1970, has more inequality. In Germany and Finland, the top 10% have less than 50% (44% and 42%, respectively).

Income for the top 1% of Americans between 1982 and 2006 rose from 12.8% to 21.3% of all income, income mostly shifted from the bottom 80%.

The ratio of CEO pay to average factory worker pay peaked at about 500 to 1 in 2000 in the US. By contrast, in Europe, the ratio is 25 to 1.

In 2004, the top 1/10th of one percent made more than the lowest paid 120 million Americans.

“The reason socialism never took hold in America is because the poor don’t see themselves as exploited proletariat so much as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”
-          John Steinbeck

The Least Confessed - Most Often Pursued - Resolution

“The purpose of life is to fart around. Don’t let anyone tell you different.”
-          Kurt Vonnegut

I like the idea of new year's resolutions. I love the idea of using any excuse for a fresh start, for renewing or creating a new goal or way of being. I'm not a cynic about goals or resolutions, but I do find it curious that what appears to be most valued is least mentioned.

Left to our own devices, we will play. We will stare at monitors, out windows, and at wallpaper. We will engage ourselves in such meaningless tasks that should someone ask us, "What'd you do?" the only honest response would be, "Haven't a clue."

And yet no one says, "This year, I resolve to give myself, guilt free, hours each week to dabble, putz, and fool around," in spite of the fact that our actions would seem to suggest that this is something we value.

If it is guilt that keeps you from admitting to your love for idle time, it seems to me that there are at least a couple of socially redeeming justifications for such behavior - justifications beyond the simple enough justification of "it makes me happy."

Idling gives you more energy to sprint when you need to. I find that the more time I spend trying to be productive, the less productive I can be. If you are trying to be productive 26.2 miles a day, you'll go at a much slower pace than if you are trying to be productive for 100 yards. Some tasks are more performance than productive; you have to be "on" for 15 minutes or an hour. If idling into that surge of adrenalin and engagement makes you more powerful in that moment, idling might be the smartest thing you can do.

Plus, this is a complicated and confusing world which requires us to learn and change, something that play makes easier. Covey used to make the distinction between efficient ("he was fast up that ladder") and effective ("oops - his ladder was leaning against the wrong wall!"). The person who has his head down the whole time, working to be productive, has less opportunity to explore other possibilities, to contemplate other ways to be. Children play all the time and no adult learns as much or changes as much as a child. Play - or fiddling about - gives a child a safe space to experiment with other personalities, goals, and roles. Play is personal experimentation and facilitates development.

Perhaps this is the year to stop pretending that you don't like to pretend, to play, to daydream, and to fart around. Perhaps this year it is worth leaving your self some elbow room to develop, muse, and unfold in unexpected directions.