Bury Bad News.

Political press officers have been using the technique of “burying bad news” for decades. It’s a powerful technique, you wait until something powerful and newsworthy happens and you release your bad news at the same time in a less powerful way. Most of the time your bad news will then get a lot less coverage.

The time journalists can spend on any single story continually get shorter, as the demand to fill airwaves and column inches increase. There are a lot less journalists each year, being paid a lot less and being asked to do a lot more. The result is exactly what we see, large volumes of lower quality content.

It is much easier to interview a “man on the street” or an “expert in her field” on their opinion on an event or the views of another pundit, than it is to deeply investigate a story.

In today’s climate, every single contentious comment from a politician is jumped upon with gusto. A moronic tweet at 3am can fill hours of TV and radio and many column inches on websites.

I subscribe to the New York Times, get a copy seven days a week, and this gives my access to their online content as well. Why do I subscribe? Well to be honest for two main reasons; One, my wife loves to do the crossword every day on the subway and two, I have a dog and so need a regular supply of paper. Oh, I read the paper online every day, but it’s one of many news sources I go to try and get a perspective of the world. Sure, the New York Times does seem to be one of the better news sources, and they clearly do continue in the tradition of in-depth journalism, but with thousands of news sources available everyone feels the need to check numerous ones to get a fuller perspective.

I’ve given up on TV as a news source. Fox news and MSNBC spend all their time discussing what they think, and not reporting news. CNN is too careful to show that they are not biased and so present all sides if each inane argument without ever making a journalistic assessment. The BBC world news still seems quite good though (but I may have a built-in bias there)

The Huffington post, the drudge report et al clearly have a bias, but their bias is around trying to attract a specific demographic and punch them in the face with as much advertising as they can, they clealy see news content as a means to an end, and not an end unto itself.

There are a bunch of sites that started as aggregators of content as a method of generating ad based revenue, and have since started to try and become valid news sources. But this is hard to do and their failures are becoming legendary (e.g. buzzfeed)

What these competing ad-funded news sources have in common, is that they will pounce of anything that brings in an audience. And contentious quotes are always going to be newsworthy.

Burying bad news has never been easier.

Politicians pass a law that will increase the national debt by billions. Oh, look over there, the president elect just insulted a transgender woman and is tweeting about it.

Voting rights are taken away from people who have the same name as other people in prison. Oh, look over here, a pundit just said we should nuke japan.

It takes a lot of effort to fully investigate and report on a story, and the organizations that are doing this good work must wait days, weeks or months to get all their facts in place, write the story and get comments from all relevant parties. But a pundit can spout an opinion and have it communicated in seconds.

We must slow down the process of news, to the speed of integrity and completeness. We can’t allow critical news to die just because someone let a nip slip or tweeted something stupid.

We need to hold everyone accountable, and this needs high integrity journalists working for long periods of time on each story.

Choose your news source(s) based on their integrity and their tenacity, and not their ability to reaffirm your pre-existing position. A great news source will look at every attempt to bury bad news, see it for what it is and look for what exactly they are trying to bury. When someone shows you a bright shiny new thing for no reason, ask why.

Yes I started getting the New York Times daily for spousal fun and canine sanitary reasons, but I’ve come to really enjoy it as an excellent news source, one of the best I’ve found anywhere in the world.

 

(6)

Healthcare – A Root Cause Analysis

 

Ten years ago, I knew a woman who died of breast cancer, simply because she couldn’t get health insurance in time to save her life.

I know people who in the past could not get permanent employment simply because of a pre-existing condition (that had already been treated and they were again healthy) could have placed too high a burden on their prospective employers healthcare insurance plan.

Along came a government plan that tried to stop these situations from happening. Millions of people could get healthcare, and the government system was called the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and was quickly given the derogatory (or respectful) name of Obamacare.

Obamacare was an attempt to bridge the gap between the needs of healthcare product providers and the simple need of the USA population of not dying from stuff that the rest of the western world were protected from. It was a flawed first pass at the issue, but rather than fixing it, the opposition used it as a way of trying to destroy the first black president. Calls for making Obama a one-time president as the primary objective of the opposition became a rally cry, and hundreds of attempts were made to repeal the ACA. No attempt was made to improve it, and so the USA population limped along with a flawed, but slightly improved but very expensive healthcare system. Millions more people would receive healthcare, but the costs were crazy, and were underwritten by tax increases (which no one really likes).

Through all of this, the simple fact that the cost of healthcare in the USA is dramatically more expensive than any other western country was not addressed.

The laws in the USA favor health insurance companies and drug and device manufactures. Unlike any other contract entered, healthcare contracts in the US are legal when signed under stress or duress. It’s common for patients entering a hospital to have to sign blanket contracts that demand they will pay all charges that the healthcare provider decides to point their way, and if the insurance companies decide not to pay any part of it, the patient is directly responsible for it. Even the smallest medical procedure can lead to many thousands of dollars in unexpected charges, that the patient has to negotiate on a one to one basis with the legal behemoths employed by the healthcare industry.

The ACA did not do anything to change the closed-market, uncompetitive nature of healthcare.

It is illegal for a USA resident to purchase drugs from overseas. Even though these drugs may well be the same at the ones available in the USA, even in the same packaging from the same vendors, but just available at a significantly lower price.

It is against the law for the US government to negotiate lower prices on drugs or medical devices, by buying in volume.

Doctors in the USA must pay for very expensive indemnification insurance, because there is no control on what types of law suits anyone can file for medical malpractice, even though it is widely recognized that medicine is generally high risk. Costs which must be passed on to the consumer.

Medical professionals in the USA must spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to become registered professionals, and with a for-profit education system and for-profit student loans, they must spend decades paying it back. Costs which must be passed on to the consumer.

Healthcare in the USA is not just big business; it is the biggest of businesses. Generating billions of profits from trillions of revenues every year.

The “pay for influence” USA political system allows, and encourages the whole healthcare industry to spend a very small fraction of their revenue to buy influence at every level, ensuring that the preferential legal framework they have currently, continues.

The fix to the USA healthcare system is quite simple to see, but incredibly difficult to achieve. The costs must be taken out of the healthcare system. Government subsidies in the forms of tax breaks, and payments to consumers and healthcare companies must be reduced and so must the actual charged costs of healthcare. This means healthcare businesses will need to make a lot less money. This means changes to many parts of the law to cap costs, reduce the legal exposure for doctors and hospitals, change the education system, reduce the cost of drug and device development, and place strict cost goals on all purchased products that ensure that pricing is globally competitive. These things will take money out of the pockets of businesses that have been used to getting it, and will not happen without a fight. But while politicians can be effectively paid to take a position, it is virtually impossible.

Healthcare must be a human right. When you are sick you are not able to negotiate. It must be the most basic right of a civilized society. Healthcare must be part of a civilized society, it is social, and the word socialism has been usurped to mean evil and anti-American. Obviously social is not anti-American, unless you believe that the military is anti-American, along with fire departments, the police, power and water services are anti-American (and some people do believe this of course).

This is not a partisan issue; every party currently agrees. Unfortunately, they agree that it’s great that healthcare companies pay politicians huge amounts of money to stand with them and maintain the current model.

Who knows, maybe having a crazed orange thin-skinned self-centered egotist is exactly what is needed to destroy this status quo. Clearly having a Kenyan Muslim didn’t do it…… (you have to love (and laugh at) the propaganda of politics sometimes.

(4)

Dealing with the Hidden Complexity of IoT Home Automation

The dream of automating a range of home systems is very close. Today you can turn every light switch, light bulb, fan, window blind, door lock, garage opener or air conditioner into an internet connected appliance, with the ability to turn on or off from your cellphone. And you can turn any wall socket into a remotely controlled on/off or dimmable device allowing any kitchen appliance to be controlled in the same way. There are ways of controlling your audio and TV devices from your phone as well, so it seems reasonable to assume that home automation is here. And yet, these devices and systems are still quite clunky unless you go to an expert company such as Crestron (who are today the rolls Royce of home automation both in terms of quality and price).

The challenge is that all the available home automation devices come from different companies, and so use slightly different methods of control. This means that without a lot of experience the average installer will create a complex system that is hard to control.

Convergence is on the way, with the likes of google, amazon, apple etc. starting to provide platforms for consistent control. But these systems are still for early adopters who are willing to live with significant limitations.

Controlling your light switches from your cellphone or by speaking specific terms sounds fun, but wait until your parents come to visit and can’t turn off the lights at night, you will quickly realize the limitations of the current technology.

Some companies do provide switches that look like classic wall switches and allow for more advanced workflow to be used. For example, a switch can be used to turn on a series of lights at specific levels of brightness, while double clicking the same switch could perform a different task. You may even choose to place light switches in different locations that turn on the same lights to different levels of brightness, so for example the switch your TV watching chair turns on the lights to TV watching levels and the one by main room door, turns on the light as bright as they will go. This would mean to the “uneducated” user the lights will work as expected, but to the “educated” user you can setup lights to work subtly as you prefer.

Not all home automation vendors offer all of the levels of subtlety I’m describing, but some do.

There are (of course) a lot more levels of complexity associated with home automation, even within the products of a single vendor, you may find that not all devices work the same way, and quite a lot of research is needed to choose exactly which components to use.

To provide a simple example of what I’m talking about, consider that most home automation light switches require three wires, a live, a neutral and an earth. If your house was built before the 1980’s it’s quite likely that your wall switches don’t have neutral wire, and this would mean that you are either are facing a major electricians bill for rewiring or you will need to specifically chose a home automation vendor that has light switches that work without a neutral. These devices to exist (for example Insteon have these as an option), but depending on your light fixture these switches may not work with certain kinds of light bulbs, or may not fully support dimming. There are ways around all these problems, but it takes a lot of investigation to work everything out, and if you don’t know what you don’t know, then you won’t find it out until you have an issue.

Home automation using modern IoT devices can provide a level of luxury that you will love, but it is still not simple and low cost. It can be low cost and complex or it can be high cost and simple. Alexa, Siri and Google have started to offer some interesting directions for future automation, but as of today they are in their infancy.

I haven’t even broached the subject of security yet, but suffice it to say that there are significant security issues with any device that is continually listening to every word spoken and is sending it across the internet to be processed looking for spoken commands. There are also issues with having every device in a house containing a processor and connected to the internet. Everything must be continually secured, and this takes experts working hard to keep ahead of hackers.

The world has changed around us, and IoT now means that millions (or even billions) of previously simple devices are now internet connected and can provide information and can allow remote control.  What damage can someone do my remotely controlling a light switch? Who knows; But if every light switch and every light bulb contains a microprocessor connected to the internet, that is a lot of processing power that if combined could be formidable. Already we have seen distributed denial of service attacks (DDOS) using a massive array of distributed home automation devices. And I can think of dozens more potential ways that IoT devices can be used for bad. Security will continue to be critical.

My advice – don’t enter home automation lightly, either use an expert or plan on becoming an expert.

 

 

 

 

(23)

Home Automation for the other 99%

Those with enough money have for years had the option of creating levels of home automation to impress their visitors. Everything from automated window blinds and lights to massive display screens supplemented with hidden surround sound audio systems have been the mark of those with massive egos supported by enough free cash to pay experts to wire every inch of their show houses. These impressive implementations have been supported by custom control systems and can easily run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. For those living in multiple multi-million dollar houses around the world, this is a drop in the ocean.

But technology has moved on and it’s now practical for the average home owner or renter to build their own home automation system, tailored for their specific needs.

  • Multi-room cable systems connected to a single digital video recorder are now available from numerous cable companies or from the likes of TiVo.
  • Multi-room audio systems from companies like sonos or Bose, are simple to implement, and now that abode-spanning high speed Wi-Fi is common don’t require custom wiring systems.
  • Do-it-yourself stores and online outlets now offer a wide range of replacement light switch, power socket options as well as plug in control modules and even light bulbs that have integrated automation, making previously complex systems really easy.
  • Fan controllers, Automation IR repeaters and even automated window-blind motors are now available for prices not much more than their non-automated versions.
  • Room Thermostats, fire alarms and even water sensors are now all available internet connected.

So the components of full home automation are now available to the do-it-yourselfer, but is that enough?

No, it is not enough. The real power of a home automation system is to be able to interconnect all the sensors, actuators and controllers together. And that is where the millionaires their installation companies still are a step ahead.

It’s all very well to be able to replace light switches with ones that can be controlled from a remote control or your phone, but it is quite another to be able to press a single button, have the window blinds close, the lights dim, the TV turn on to your fav channel, the rooms temperature be set to 70 degrees and the sound system turn on, all when you relax in your chair.

But that is starting to become possible. Today all the consumer level automation devices come with their own method of control, and little integration, but this is changing. Companies such as Apple, Google and Amazon are starting to create integration between all the disparate devices.

There are still gaps, but it’s getting closer.

Today for a few hundred dollars you can buy all the components to pull most of your AV equipment together into a single controllable system. And for a few hundred more dollars you can interconnect your lights, light switches, fans, thermostats, fire and water sensors, A/C and heating units and window blinds together.

But connecting your AV systems and your environmental systems together are a bit more complex. It can be done in some ways using Amazon Alexa, Hey Google or Apple’s Siri, but this is still just a taste or what the millionaires can do.

The world is changing, and home automation is quickly going to become useful for the average home.

The challenge is that today’s DIY home automation choices are very poorly described. The googles/apple/amazons of the world want you to believe their latest knickknack is the way to go and want to amaze you with voice recognition systems. But these are only a small part of the solution. There are some incredibly powerful home automation offerings available, but you need to be willing to invest a lot of time to find out about them.

Here’s the best of what I’ve found over the last few years.

  1. For your TV and music the best system for total integration comes from Bose. The Bose lifestyle home theatre systems create a hub that allows all your sources (DVR, DVD, Roku, Apple TV’s etc) to be connected and a single HDMI cable to go to your TV. Then every device can be controlled from a SIMPLE single remote control that uses RF and not I.R. meaning that it can be entirely hidden from view. The Bose method of controlling devices from their single remote is the best I’ve seen from anyone. In my experience, it works perfectly and doesn’t require touch screens or complex programming. Bose pre-program their system for all the common devices you are likely to have, and it just works. Yes, Bose is expensive, and for the price there may be better sounding systems (depending on your tastes) but their systems sound great, and work simply, reliably and consistently. I’ve been using them for the last 10 years, and they just work, and despite what Bose will tell you, even their most basic lifestyle system from a couple of generations of tech back is just as good as the lastest one on sale today, there are some real bargains available if you hunt around on amazon or ebay.
  2. For lighting I use Insteon, not the most common vendor out there, but their range of devices includes everything you need to control lights, fans, blinds and AC/heat units, they are cost effective and also provide a range of remotes that mean you don’t have to use your phone to turn on the lights (but you can if you like). It works well, and the whole environment can be configured using a simple app on your phone or tablet to create any kind of macro you need, so a single switch can be made to do multiple things.

The future for home automation is clearly integration, and all the main vendors are starting to be supported by centralized control platforms from the amazon/google/apples of the world so quickly you will be able to setup systems that work and don’t annoy those who visit.

There are still gaps in what is available, but today you can automate big chunks of your home in ways almost identical to the ways millionaires have been doing for the past ten years, at a tiny fraction of the cost, and for the DIY-er in all of us, this is exciting.


 

(31)

When gambling can be the best option

Imagine a roulette wheel with a million numbers on it. Spin the wheel and if you get double zero you will die of a terminal disease. Sounds like a stupid game doesn’t it, why would you play?

Now imagine that instead of betting on one number coming up, you bet on every number, and everyone bets on every number. The wheel is spun and someone’s version of double zero pops up.

Luckily for that person all the bets placed on every number went into a pot to pay for the treatment of those who are unwell, so now the unlucky soul will either be saved or at least be treated.

Everyone plays the game because in this way everyone is covered.

Now imagine that the wheel has 300,000,000 slots, one for every citizen in the USA, and imagine there are lots of people’s numbers that will come up every day. So long as there is enough cash in the pot, those who get sick can get covered.

But if some people choose not to play the game for whatever reasons, then the pot gets smaller, and it can become too small to pay for those who are sick.

And imagine if the croupier starts to charge a fee to allow you to place a bet, a really big fee. Suddenly it gets a lot harder to take care of everyone.

Some people decide to stop playing roulette and instead create a series of smaller games of craps, with very few people playing each game. Each game really doesn’t have enough cash to deal with those who lose. But more games means more croupiers, which is great if you happen to be a croupier. And each game can decide who can play, keeping those most likely to lose out of their games, or place really high limits on how much they can win.

As a casino, this is not a place worth going to play. As a healthcare system, it looks like a scam.

Well that’s what we have.

(5)

The real lesson to take away from the US Presidential Election and the UK Brexit Vote.

I’ve worked in the marketing “industry” for several decades, and have been on the “buy-side” all that time. To those not in the industry that means I buy marketing services (creative and media) from companies who sell it. Those companies use very similar techniques as are used in politics to advise on the right message and mix of media, and I’ve found that the accuracy of those “techniques” has always been biased towards the exact services that those “sell-side” marketers are pushing.

During the election cycle we saw every single media outlet doing whatever they could to keep their revenue streams happy. On TV and radio this means keeping consumers watching/listening across ad-breaks, while in print and online it was to maximize their viewership by offering views that would be attractive to as wide an audience as possible.

So every issue was represented from both sides, every fact was questioned without facts and every bullshit idea was presented as equal to any fact. There was absolutely no interest in what any candidate actually was going to do, what was important was presenting every position as equal, allowing every party to just talk and talk.

Stolen information from emails, and candidly recorded audio was presented without any interest in its integrity and was presented as being as valid as formally recorded statements, creating a level of uncertainty around every piece of knowledge, facts and non-facts were melded, and it became hard to distinguish rumor from fact, so hard that most people gave up even trying to, “her lies” and “his misogyny, bigotry and bluster” was seen as equal, which I suspect in the cold hard light of history will be seen to not be so.

And then to support all of this, highly nuanced surveys and polls were continually captured and presented. I say highly nuanced, because polls and surveys always end up speaking to a small group of people who actually are willing to spend the time to answer questions. And when you pay someone to run a survey they quickly learn who they can rely on, and will go to the same people again and again, despite the clear data issue this generated, because that’s how they get paid.

The goal is to create content in support of revenue. Cheap content, presented as valuable beyond it’s true value. Low cost product generating high profit revenue is the dream of any business, including the media.

Polls, surveys, snippets of information then discussed by talking heads and bloggers, who then become the news source for more talking heads to discuss (just look at Foxnews, MSNBC, CNN, NBC, BBC News, Huffington post etc). The actual validity of the core data quickly gets lost in the process of generating “content”

In business the sell-side marketers are always pushing “facts” in support of the “buy-side” marketers case to spend more money. “buy-side” marketers are always under pressure to justify their budgets, and once they start to rely on the “sell-side facts” they are hooked into an addictive cycle that requires them to just double down on their committed plan, spending more and more.

This is exactly what the media do in every election cycle. The biggest measure of a campaign is seen as how much are they spending on ad’s. When in fact these adverts have almost no impact on the election, and yet every campaign buys into the bullshit. Every talking head, newspaper and blogger is writing about who has a bigger war chest, and who is spending more in this month’s cycle of ad’s. Every Ad is presented as a powerful new tool to swing the result, a tool that never produced the promised results, EVER!

The pain that businesses feel when they cannot see a direct relationship between their marketing investment and their business performance is EXACTLY the same as the pain that the electorate feel when the polls prove to be entirely devoid of reality.

The people who are marching up and down outside Trump buildings, should maybe think about marching up and down outside the “free presses” offices.

(28)

Who Is Better at Making Mountains Out Of Molehills (Or Molehills Out Of Mountains)?

Politics is obviously a very dirty sport, the idea seems to be that the one covered in the biggest pile of crap loses. And so politicians of every affiliation do whatever they can to dig up and throw as much shit as they can, hoping some of it sticks.

Sometimes they dig up stuff that is factual, and sometimes they just make stuff up, with little or no basis in reality. And sometimes the stories are relevant to the role they are aiming to fill and other times it’s irrelevant and just personal or humorous.

The hope is that with so much shit being thrown around, it will be possible to make the other person look unelectable. Truth, relevance and the issues at hand actually get lost.

If you like your candidate you want to believe everything they are saying, and if you hate the other candidate(s) you want to disbelieve everything they are saying.

The roll of an independent press is supposed to be to weigh the merits of all this, check the facts and present a simpler and cleaner view of the positions taken. But that ideal has disappeared in a cloud of money. Today’s press is poor, and will do anything to increase their revenue. The simplest way to get people to read/watch/listen is to use every technique possible to keep their audience long enough to increase the ad revenue. They do this my replacing journalists with opinion editorial. The stories today are nearly all interviews with pundits talking about their views on the latest view of another pundit.

There are some notable exceptions to this normal, but in world of millions of news sources, the few that actually investigate just seem slower and are often overwhelmed by opinion. And when they try and compete by moving faster they risk giving away their advantage of credibility.

A candidate (or their team) will say something directly (or indirectly) about their opponent, and all the pundits will report it, and then talk about it. They don’t go and check it, just “report” that it was said, and then ask as many people as they can find about their opinion. These people will be a mix, it’s possible one or two may actually have facts, but it’s impossible to spot facts in a fog of disparate opinions.

According to Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump is an entitled, misogynist, racist, fraudster and a bigot with fascist tendencies. And according to Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton is terminally ill, a liar and a murderer and should be in prison or hanged for treason.

If you support Hillary Clinton, you will be able to point to hundreds of comments that “The Donald” has said, that support your position about him, and if you are a Donald Trump supporter you can point to many articles written by publications and pundits you like that support his position. Neither group is likely to change their position, irrespective of any further stories about your opponent.

There are (in theory) a small group of people who have not made up their minds, and it is these people that can be swayed. I’m not sure if these people actually exist or are postulated by the poor media as a way of ensuring maximum spend takes place until the very last moment in the election cycle.

And while all this goes on there are issues that need to be solved, and each candidate has positions on each of these issues. Many of these positions are not going to be enacted whoever wins, due to the layers of checks and controls, money and influence designed to stop significant change. But each of these is terribly important.

I’ve read the proposals from each of the candidates (and filtered out what I believe to be hyperbole), and I have an opinion on which one makes most sense, and I will be voting based on that. Like most people I have a visceral dislike for one candidate and find the other candidate capable and acceptable and even likable.

I hope my candidate wins, and I will be unhappy if the other one wins. But whoever wins and whoever loses, the world will keep turning and I will live with and support the result. That’s the responsibility I have, in living in a democracy.

They say in a democracy you don’t get the government you need; you get the government you deserve.

 

(13)

Anti-Science Is Incredibly Dangerous

The GOP nominee for president has been talking about the burden of regulations on business, and screamed about the four thousand plus drugs that are currently undergoing the regulatory mandated clinical trial process. He has a simplistic view that if these drugs were sped through a simpler process this would in some way save lives. How does he know?

How does he know that these drugs are going to do what is hoped? How can he know that a new cancer drug won’t actually have some dramatic unexpected effect that could make the situation worse? How does he know that fixing one symptom won’t create other deadly symptoms for the patient, or worse for other people?

Does he understand the historical record of drugs that created unexpected (unintended) consequences, some of which were horrific?

Does he understand the historical record of drugs that had absolutely no effect, but were marketed as cures for everything, causing people to die earlier or less comfortably than they otherwise would have?

The answer (of course) is that he doesn’t know these things, but does know that people desperate for new drugs to help terminal or painful conditions may vote for a candidate who creates fear of regulations.

He also knows that drug companies looking to reduce their costs of development (and their costs of indemnification) would in some cases love to see the time required to meet regulations reduced.

Reducing costs is a good idea, but not by removing scientific rigor.

There are no simple answers to complex questions, history has shown that people who promote simple one dimensional answers are always dangerously wrong.

The science being done today in the fields of medicine and food creation are incredible. The knowledge that scientists have curated on how the mechanisms of life work has opened up entirely new avenues of research that is leading to incredibly complex solutions to previously untreatable conditions. But there is always a “but”. How do we know for sure that one change, or a series of changes that a treatment makes won’t create a situation that will be dangerous in other ways. The answer is we need to be very careful. Being careful means agreeing on a rigorous scientific process to confirm the validity of an idea through careful peer reviewable testing that always errs on the side of doubt. That is exactly what todays regulations aim to do.

The regulatory bodies in existence are always looking to improve their processes, but improving the rigor, efficiency or effectiveness of a scientific process, does not mean reducing regulations.

The scientific process may seem frustrating, but a non-scientific process is not just dangerous it’s would also be vastly less effective.

(1)

Jumping The Chasm Between Creating Empires and Creating Equality.

History has shown that it is incredibly difficult to move from empire creation to creating a society that is fair for everyone. I am at a loss to find an example of any major society that has made the leap in a way that is seen as acceptable from everyone’s perspective.

The Greeks, Romans, Dutch, Scandinavian, French, English, Portuguese and Spanish all had well documented empires that were built using a mixture of genocide, slavery, brutality, and a clearly defined delineation of those in charge and those who were to be dominated. Slavery, servitude, and extreme poverty for those who were dominated and wealth, education and all the luxuries for those in charge.

And then at some point, in every case there was a recognition of the unfairness of these systems and efforts were undertaken to create every increasing (if slowly implemented) levels of equality, and with this equality came an end to many aspects of their empires. These are still amazingly advanced societies, but with the rules changing, their goals changed, and the lives of everyone involved changed.

Empires at their founding take blood and gold to turn what existed before into something new. But in every case there is a point reached where the advancement of society demands that the underclasses become more educated (to take on more advanced work) and with this comes the knowledge and power of how to negotiate greater levels of equality. But it is very hard for the rich to continue to become richer at the same rate when the previously free labor now requires a lot more of the wealth themselves. For some period of time there is always another even lower level of worker to bring into the endeavor, but at some point you run out of poor groups, and the wealth of society has to start to be spread out further.

Are we seeing the same thing today in the USA?

Are we at that same inflection point, where to provide increasing equality, we need to recognize that the power delivered to a few by inequity needs to be replaced with a desire for a better future for all?

There is still a very real level of inequity between those who come from families that have garnered the benefits of many generations of material wealth, cultural wealth and the interactive effect of many generations of education versus those whose parents and grandparents could barely read, write, did not have a consistent cultural background and had no material assets to pass down the generations.

If you listen to the two main political parties in the US, you would think that the choice is simple and clear, but I don’t think it is in any way obvious which pathway will lead to a better place. Obviously I (like most people) dream of a post sexist, post racial world, where it truly doesn’t matter what someone’s biology, skin tone or life choices are, it just matters what they do. But humanity is probably generations away from that ideal.

Today we have institutions that capitalize on the segregation implicitly created generations ago, and in doing so we continue them. Culturally nurtured mannerisms, fashions, accents and beliefs systems separate groups of people often into neighborhoods and this leads to the furthering of any negative stereotype. Racism is a ridiculous (but very human) way of treating anyone, and often the efforts to deal with negative racism create a “one step forward, two steps back” level of change, where those who benefit from negative racism have the power to use the short term detrimental impact (on them) of positive racism to double down on any negative stereotype. Examples such as Jim Crow after the repeal of slavery, and targeted drug laws after the implementation of the civil rights act had just these types of effect.

Making a fundamental change across society to resolve racism (or any other “ism”) takes an immense intellectual leap supported by immense and rapid investment. And this has to happen at exactly the same point when costs rise (due to everyone wanting and getting a fairer share). This is an almost impossible leap for any society to make and history has shown it to be incredibly hard to do.

But there has never been a United States of America before, and it is very possible that the USA can be the first empire (yes a federation of states with THIS must natural resource and THIS much power is an empire) to achieve this.

So much of the USA’s power and wealth is actually wrapped up in so few people, that it wouldn’t take that many of them to agree on putting society above themselves for real change to be possible.

What other country can name billionaires who actively want to help this change? Capitalism may well be the very best method of creating the very best society that is possible.

There are (of course) some who would look at the past and think that a class system derived from race and sex should be continued, but I believe the majority want a capitalist based system where race and sex are irrelevant, and where every citizen can learn to live a comfortable, long and healthy life in exchange for their work and support of society.  When I read the US constitution (actually I keep a copy in the bathroom), I see these ideas promoted quite aggressively.

I believe the choice the USA will make on November 8th 2016 will be very instructive in seeing if the USA will be the one empire ever to aim for a post-racist/sexist future or (like many before us) will give up the dream and go backwards.

Whatever decision is made in this election won’t set our course irrevocably, but it will be very instructive as to our democratic desire.

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Dealing with Terrorism

 

There is a well-known (and over used) UK saying that was (I believe) first used in the Second World War. A time when Great Britain stood alone against the might of a conquering army consuming the continent of Europe. It was quite uncertain what the future would hold, and yet the saying was:

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Today the world continues to be threatened by angry psychopaths, some of which use terror to try and warp the world. A free world is much easier to attack, than it is to identify and capture or kill those who attack. Quite simply the best answer to terrorism is to carry on living our lives as if they didn’t exist, and use the darker side of special forces and covert techniques to destroy the terrorist factions.

The moment we respond to their cowardly and murderous intentions with fear, we give up something critical to freedom, and frankly we get nothing in return. A very small number of crazy loons with a death wish and a belief in some warped version of a fictional world in which killing, raping, slavery, bigotry and overall cruelty are normalized can only move forward if their mad world view is given form by being accepted by the vast majority.

We cannot ignore acts of terror, but the correct response is to band together as civilized countries and using the rule of law and the weight of technologically superior intelligence and surgical might to identify and destroy the perpetrators. This is not the political arena, but the covert world of offence is the best defense.

Politicians who try and scare the population into giving up their freedom and civilized democratic rights are cowards or worse traitors to the rule of law.

Religion is not an identifier of terrorists, because quite simply anyone can choose to adopt or deny any religious beliefs as they see fit.

Buildings will get blown up, people will die and be maimed, it is terrible and must be stopped. But stopping it does not mean tanks on the streets or soldiers in schools, it means using intelligence, technology and stealth to identify and destroy those who would do harm.

 

KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON

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