AI

Mariner doesn’t know how to say this but . . . Donald’s base is wiser than most of the US citizenry. The base understands the future and is trying its best to thwart it – in the nation’s behalf as well.

Every world citizen should view the latest FRONTLINE presentation on Artificial Intelligence (AI). It won’t be idle entertainment and it takes a couple of hours. But the reader’s existence in the future is revealed.

Click https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/in-the-age-of-ai/ . Pay attention, think, stay awake – it isn’t a sit-com.

Ancient Mariner

The link between evolvement, anthropology, romance and politics

“Mariner has alluded in the past to the difference between Chimpanzees and Bonobos (essentially the same as Chimpanzees). Chimpanzees have some aggressive genes because during their evolutionary era food and space were an issue in northern Africa but the Bonobos lived in southern Africa during an era of plentiful food and space. Bonobos chill; Chimpanzees find reasons to be contentious.” (Post – Of Mice, Men and Power Aug 29 2018)

Also, bonobos live in a matriarchal society whereas chimpanzees live in a patriarchal society. In both groups, males are free to mate any female in estrus unless intercepted by a dominate male. Also in both groups, females are known to have an occasional rendezvous on the side – an evolutionary compulsion to sustain a strong genome. Unpleasantly, the males of human ancestors, the chimps, every once in a while will go on a rampage waging war with other breeds of monkeys brutally killing and eating them.

Making a left turn here, could populism be related to a chimpanzee rampage? The ethics are the same: take no prisoners. Presumably the behavior both in chimps and in humans is provoked by a situation that suggests something has to be done. Organized military action doesn’t seem to fit; war is planned and organized and seeks a worthy goal. Populism, however, seems to fit like a glove.

This correlation explains the disregard Donald’s base has for his behavior. When advocates are asked why they tolerate his many shortcomings, they simply say, “He’s doing what we want him to do” – take no prisoners and drain the swamp not of ne’er do wells but of establishmentarians, a different breed of monkey for sure.

Making another turn away from anthropology and considering the sociological phenomenon called populism, one may ask a number of questions:

What is populism?

History tends to remember populism as an angry crowd of dissenters who finally revolt, similar to the chimp rampage. Populism is more than an angry crowd; it is a symptom within a culture that reflects disarray and instability. Members of the culture begin to feel insecure and attempt to protect themselves from uncontrolled or unknown circumstances. Insecurity affects the entire culture. For example, political parties become combative rather than collaborative; religion loses inclusivity and replaces it with exclusivity; neighborhoods become reclusive and class conscious; hoarding of money and possessions is more important; individuals seek like-minded others and tend to form large cliques; ethos is replaced with transactional values.

In the realm of culture and politics, this behavior is known as identity politics. It continues to grow in hostility as the culture becomes less supportive.

What causes populism?

Anxiety. Not necessarily the surface, immediately felt anxiety but rather the deep, often unarticulated awareness that things aren’t well. Speaking to the US populist movement, the fact that salaries have dragged behind inflation for four decades threatens family solvency; many labor class workers can no longer afford what most would call a normal, satisfying life. This threat to family solvency has created a sense of crisis.

A notable benchmark was when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) passed in 1993 and significant numbers of factory jobs began to move to Mexico and Canada. Since then, automation and international corporatism have added to the job/salary decline. Other factors that will cause populism: “We went to school, worked hard, followed the rules and now we’re unemployed.” Or, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

Another motive is that public support, access to medical and other services have become more difficult to deal with, and the social structure in general has shifted (for example the middle class is splitting in two with the lower half drifting into poverty). And another is corruption. Finally, a dysfunctional government, state or federal, leaves a feeling in individuals of being left out and unimportant. In the United States at the moment all these causes are in play.

How can we stop populism?

The causes of the current populist movement have been building for some time. This time it is not a matter of disgruntlement or a single segment of society; a good analogy would be a major hurricane. Repairing each one of the causes listed in the last few paragraphs will take years of restructuring. The solutions are not simply reparation through better salaries, ethical control over corporations and voting in a new government. Things are so bad today that fixes must be included that prevent further damage.

Some repairs are more urgent than others:

The macroeconomic model must be remodeled completely; the US has become a plutocracy – the rich run the government.

The social safety net must be reset to support massive job loss as artificial intelligence becomes implemented.

Taxes, benefits, health, and other institutional services must be supported strongly to assure functionality in the immediate future.

Society in an automated age will be strange to most citizens; extreme swings in wealth and opportunity as well swings in poverty and deprivation will occur. Effort to constrain these swings is necessary using taxes and guaranteed income.

Democratic processes must be restored to fair and meaningful representation for a population that has outgrown the image of an evenly dispersed population perceived in 1787.

In short, populism will be with US citizens for a long time.

Finally, the bogey man: climate change.

US readers should be glad they live in a democratic nation. There are eight western nations with populist uprisings; the authoritarian nations aren’t having it as well as the democratic ones.

Ancient Mariner

 

It’s a Fifty State Election, er, Six State Election

Don’t listen to the gossip on CNN, MSNBC, CBS, etc., nor listen to the scary fake news on Fox and Sinclair-owned stations. Don’t even listen to the cleanest news broadcast NEWSY. Don’t listen because none of these news stations report the reality of state by state polls.
It isn’t a national election. It’s fifty states voting their parochial politics, that is, red states, purple states and blue states. These polls don’t vary much because they are indigenous to state politics, not national politics.
The truth of the matter is the state polls suggest Donald may win again. Eerily, the statistics of favorability are identical to the 2016 election. The presidency may be determined again by the Electoral College where it took only six states to ignore their state-wide popular vote and flip the balance to Donald: Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The vote in just a few purple states, which state-by-state polls suggest hasn’t changed much, will determine the next president.
In similar fashion, state polls indicate that only a few switches from republican to democrat are likely in the Senate. Even if democrats secure a majority, it is likely they will not secure 60 Senate seats. Hence, all the progressive plans of the democratic House will die in the Senate.
Every vote is important, of course, but gerrymandering and regional divides between large populations and rural populations will disregard the nonsense that news media puts out every day.
2020 will be another close election.
The impeachment process is highly saturated with politics rather than focusing on the destruction of the Constitution. Donald has used the power of the presidency to dismember the democratic and Constitutional structure of the US – not only by way of administrative confusion but in his promotion of Russian and Saudi interests – as well as his own pocket. Over the next twenty-five years global power will be redistributed around the world. Every day that Donald is in office weakens US opportunities to participate in that redistribution.
On a similar international slant, the immigration issue, stirred by Donald into a big mess, has distracted futurists from realizing that the US must be aggressive in becoming a political force in Central and South America. Russia already is active on the African continent and China is focusing on everything except perhaps a few European nations. China has targeted Mexico and South American nations adjacent to the Pacific Ocean.
In other words, the US must invest in and “save” its southern neighbors in the Western Hemisphere instead of issuing inhumane and divisive policies based on racism. Frankly, such an investment may be a less expensive way to resolve immigration issues and may be more effective than Donald’s wall.
Ancient Mariner

Turtles are lucky

Mariner tosses a few statistics:

-What cost $1 in 1980 costs $3.12 in 2019.
-The average salary in 1980 was $12,513; in 2019 the average is $41,951.

Given these two statistics, everything seems copacetic. $1 in wages in 1980 equals $3.35 in 2019. Yet today there seems to be economic unrest among the citizens. What these statistics belie is the fact that, adjusted for inflation, salaries are flat while the cost of living has increased dramatically.

One element is housing. The average inflation rate per year from 1980 to 2019 was 2.94%. Housing inflation per year rose by 3.09%. A house that cost $100,000 in 1980 costs $327,118 in 2019. Salaries however did not rise in accordance with housing inflation. Rents increased as rapidly; double and even triple occupancy is a common experience. The chart below covers the years from 1997 to 2013. It is a good pictorial to show the relationship – which continues to this day.

The number of students in kindergarten through the 12th grade who are homeless has increased by 70 percent over the last decade according to new federal data that also suggests it shows no signs of slowing.

Homeless in College: Students sleep in cars and on couches when they have nowhere else to go.

A survey of nearly 86,000 students taken last fall by The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice found that homelessness affected 18% of respondents attending two-year colleges, and 14% of those attending four-year institutions. The number who said they had experienced housing insecurity, such as difficulty paying rent, was much higher, at 60%, among those attending two-year schools, and at 48% for those enrolled in four-year institutions.

Unsheltered homelessness—spending the night in places not meant for sleeping, such as vehicles, parks, streets, or abandoned buildings—rose for the third consecutive year. From 2017 to 2018, there was a 2 percent increase in people living in unsheltered locations. There was a moderate increase in unsheltered homelessness among families with children and a large increase in unsheltered homelessness among adults ages 25 and older. Not counted in these statistics is the large number of young adults forced to live in their parents’ home.

The issue is that, given inflation, salaries have not kept up with housing inflation and new construction is static; young adults, whether in college or not, cannot meet the demands of inflated housing costs. Further, affording a home is disappearing for increasing numbers of the middle class. And if that imbalance is not enough, more than 13 million Americans could become climate refugees as sea-level rise comes to pass.

Housing is in a state of crisis. Not just the traditional lack of housing for the poor but a national shortage of affordable places to live because income has not kept up. This is truly critical for cities where there are jobs: the salaries are insufficient to find a place to live near jobs not by a few dollars but by thousands.

Mariner suggests this may be the major political issue for the next decade. It is complex, economically imbalanced and has devastating effects on citizens who otherwise would be living normal, home-centered lives. Given its higher inflation rate, housing has become an important investment. Multiple family housing is fought tooth and nail by the NIMBYs (Not in my backyard). Zoning and lock-down property standards issued by HOAs (Home Owner Associations) make it difficult to solve suburban issues.

As to the turtles, they inherit a permanent home for life.

Ancient Mariner

Interesting Notes about Wall Street and Your Street

In the October 5 issue of Economics Magazine, an article claims that the role of automation and now Artificial Intelligence (AI) has taken over Wall Street. Note the following excerpts:

  • Funds run by computers that follow rules set by humans account for 35% of America’s stock market, 60% of institutional equity assets and 60% of trading activity. New AI programs also are writing their own investing rules, in ways their human masters only partly understand.
  • A final concern is corporate governance. For decades company boards have been voted in and out of office by fund managers on behalf of their clients. What if these shares are run by agnostic computers or worse have narrow objectives such as paying high dividends at any cost?
  • Hey Siri, can you invest my life savings?

In the eighteenth century, one showed superiority by wearing machine made, unfitted, uncomfortable shoes made in Europe instead of the commoner’s choice of a locally made, measured and fitted, comfortable shoe from solid, inexpensive materials which were easily reparable. While this seems incredulous, this practice dominates all retail today. Given the turn in international economics, ‘made in America’ AKA ‘Made by me’ as a personal experience doesn’t mean much anymore. Try to find a shoe repair store today. Try to have a shoe repair store make the reader a pair of personally fitted shoes. Alas, past his time, mariner remembers a local shoemaker who made shoes.

Mariner is old enough to remember the old days when Mothers, Aunts, Grandmothers and even Great Grandmothers made, knitted, repurposed, patched and otherwise sustained the family wardrobe. That was before inexpensive replacements could be bought from some Asian country or replaced by cheap but irreparable rayon and other -ons. Similar observations are visible in other disciplines: appliances for task-based jobs, automobiles instead of public transportation, accepting uncertain information from TV and YouTube instead of reading fact-checked and vetted newspapers and books – not to mention the greedy, life-controlling munchkins hiding in the smartphone.

Before the non-romantics rise up about preferring to not darn socks and make clothes, shoes, chop wood or make pasta from scratch or canning apples or other day-to-day self-rewarding activities, mariner understands the role and benefit of progress. He doesn’t want to darn socks either. But. But. How does an individual sustain personal value and satisfaction? How does an individual feel personal competency and life achievement within one’s daily life? How does an individual sustain an ethic centered on one’s psyche?

The most common metaphor from mariner’s posts is, “How does an individual feel about achieving intimacy and bonding with a spouse offered up by a corporation?” A whole segment of life experience and the exercise of emotional discipline are traded for spouse shopping with a spouse-salesman. Are trade-ins next? Mariner’s mind leaps to the phrase, “She’ll make a good first wife”, or “He’ll make a good first investment.” What happened to investing one’s libido and aptitude? As a realistic metaphor, many retirees develop hobbies that reflect personal achievement – perhaps for the first time in their lives. Mariner knew a judge from Baltimore who retired and learned to weld and repair trucks. Many folks actually drop a career to pick one that provides personal value, e.g., charity work, community leadership and the arts.

Individually, mariner understands the desire to improve the time/work/result ratio. What comes to mind, however, is how eager humans are to trade for the easy life by surrendering personal accomplishment at the existential level.

With AI, there is a new relationship: just as humans defer to corporate perceptions about life, humans don’t set the rules for computers anymore either. It may be that the only color available for clothes will be unbleached fiber – whatever color that is – because AI says it’s the cheapest solution for corporate profit.

As to Wall Street, J.G. Wentworth may become the largest lender in the nation if Siri won’t allow a withdrawal from the savings account to pay for a vacation in Acapulco.

Another down home decision that’s disappearing: personally meaningful, moralistic voting.[1]

Ancient Mariner

 

[1] In case the reader doesn’t notice commercials, J.G Wentworth will buy an individual’s structured accounts, e.g., insurance policies, so one can say, “It’s my money! I want it now.” Of course, one takes a financial hit when the smoke clears.

Planet One

Neil deGrasse Tyson classified a unified world where everyone was content with society and all its iterations as “Planet One”. There would be no desire for war or one-upmanship of any kind; as Elvis said, there will be peace in the valley. Utopian visions are comforting, even occasionally sustaining a purpose for one’s life.

One should not scoff at utopias and discard them as fantasy although a reality check quickly discounts that a utopian state will ever occur. Utopian visions are useful for identifying current issues that prevent a utopian experience. At a general level, how would religion perform in order to promote a utopian concept? Politics? Neighborhoods? Businesses?

At the individual level, could ambition exist? Pride? Judgment? What about any comparative rationale? Dare one have any kind of prejudice? In a favorable environment, moss exists in a utopian state although the need to reproduce in some fashion still exists, implying that things aren’t as utopian for moss as one would think.

A new vision of utopia has emerged because of the advancement in electronic technology. Is it possible to achieve a utopian state with a comprehensive support system provided by electronics? This may not be achievable for humans because they would have to turn over moral issues and definitions of utopia to the computers. Mariner has seen The Matrix and is not confident that this kind of utopia would exist for humans – although it may exist for the electronics.

So why does the idea of utopia hang around? It hangs around for the same reason as aspirin; thinking about a moment when one’s problems disappear, life is beautiful and the birds are singing, and that maybe, just maybe, things will feel better – just like taking aspirin.

Instead of envisioning utopia, reverse engineer utopia back to the present and ask, “By any definition, what is preventing utopia?” An example follows that is a large issue and certainly stands in the way of utopia.

The idea that racism is an endemic conflagration full of politics and skin color has begun to step into a broader plain that makes the point that racism is a weakness in the power structure of nations. A nation cannot exercise its full potential because racial prejudice eliminates the potential that may be had if all races were included. Taking this perspective, Donald and the white supremacists clearly would diminish the potential of the nation by eliminating the nonwhite population.

Simply by shifting one’s mindset from exclusionary awareness to a mindset of personal concern that one’s personal wellbeing is constrained suggests an entirely different set of resolutions promoting national potential, therefore assuring an individual will have improved finances and security.

The race issue is becoming more than a learned prejudice. The “Z” generation (born after 2007) is a white minority. For the first time since the Census Bureau has released annual statistics, they show an absolute decline in the nation’s white non-Hispanic population. Note the word ‘decline’; the drop has nothing to do with immigration. White citizens are producing children at the rate of 1.78 per woman. Not enough to sustain population.[1]

As long as the word ‘race’ is required to discuss black population, racism will not disappear according to Ibram X Kendi in his new book, “How to be an Antiracist.” A good example of not identifying race is the new awareness by corporate America; they already feel the fact that nonwhites don’t produce enough GDP and in many subtle ways are trying to integrate nonwhites into the economy. Mariner has noticed that television commercials with increasing frequency use mixed couples and mixed marriages.

Mariner is envious of the wonderful skin tone of Halle Berry. It’s too late for him; maybe his great, great grandchildren will be lucky.

Ancient Mariner

[1] For additional, dependable statistics and dialogue, see William H. Frey’s latest book, “Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics are Remaking America,”

How Herding Cats has Changed

This is the last in a series focused on herding cats (AKA managing democracy). As the last one hundred years have passed, socialization has dwindled. The district concept of local government was a natural fit to a society that required a high degree of comingling to maintain an awareness of local activity, business interests, and the latest tidbits of political and educational interest.

Today, in stark contrast, comingling is a disappearing behavior. Mariner’s metaphor is that society has moved from baking cakes from scratch to using box mixes. Similarly, comingling among peers takes lots of time and effort that isn’t easily available anymore; the pace of society has pushed into the background what was once a natural balance between citizens and political districts. Local and Congressional representatives had no choice but to comingle as much as possible to maintain their popularity and relevance.

Technology has changed this, of course. Everything from Interstates to television to business expansion to the Internet and computer-telephones enables a solitary individual to be in a state of continuous processing without input from real humans. Conversely, the solitary individual has no influence on other humans.

Just as box mixes made baking cakes a less involved process, so too has the election process, sans comingling, become a matter of who can muster the most money to campaign on television and, surreptitiously, use the organizational influence of their political party rather than acquiring influence among constituents. To push the metaphor, using a box mix means one can make only one kind of cake regardless of the occasion. Today, the box mix doesn’t taste so good.

As unnatural as it feels, as inconvenient as it seems, as awkward as it may be to comingle, it may be time to rediscover the joy of making cakes from scratch.

There are many TV series about house renovation. The same holds for what the voter must do to the house of government. A side effect of streamlining any process is that it concentrates function in a smaller space needing fewer people. Some functions that need to be re-democratized:

Gerrymandering
Proportional representation
Term limits
Open access to money from any source
Voter suppression
Access to voting days, times, methods
Lack of referendum in federal and state governments

There are many other issues. One that is troublesome is the lack of voting by citizens. In parts of India, voters dip a finger in ink and don’t have to worry about participation which is high. In the US, voting may have to be forcibly required through cash or denial of governmental benefits. Americans are a tough, basically capitalistic bunch. Mandating an individual’s behavior seems so, well, socialist.

Day in and day out, herding cats seems a bother. Yet, because of indifference, US democracy has become a plutocracy. The rich call the shots and take all the profits.

Get off the smartphone, turn off the TV and talk to some human beings about restoring democracy.

Ancient Mariner

 

How to Herd Cats

In lieu of civics not being taught in public school systems, and in light of the immeasurable importance of a presidential election at this point of social and political change, mariner will remind readers of the ease and indeed the right for them to communicate their opinions to their elected representatives – state as well as federal.

Expressing one’s opinion to a representative is as simple as using a telephone, email and text or more deliberately, a face-to-face at a town hall event or visiting the representative’s office. And always there is a handwritten or typed letter, seemingly old fashioned but surprisingly influential. Do not be intimidated; these folks are sensitive to a voter’s influence on their job security – a voter is a member of the Board of Directors.

Aside from the vote a citizen has, communication directly with their representative is a very important activity. It is how a citizen manages their democratic government.

A voter can communicate indirectly with their representatives by attending legislative hearings, attending political party meetings, and in Iowa, at least, attend the caucuses. See to it that one’s name is on the mailing list of all direct representatives and the mailing list of one’s preferred local party committee. Always vote at every chance for everything from dog catcher to school board to primaries and elections. Even vote for the judges.

Be aware of and participate in current petitions, referendums and activities by related unions, education, housing, seminars and social presentations of cultural or political issues.

All this sounds like a second job. It is. Certainly one’s own career and life experience comes first but herding political cats is as important as going to the grocery store. Make time!!

A warning: social media and television news are as convoluted as walking through an endless swamp of alligators. It is very, very important for a voter to have a personal compass that reads motive. These sources, every one, have ulterior motives. The activity isn’t herding cats, its hunting cougars.

As to donating money, contain it to causes as much as possible. Donating to one’s specific jurisdictional campaigns is okay but put one’s money where it will do the most to promote the voter’s opinions – typically large organizations promoting the voter’s perspective.

Every citizen must realize that they are as much a part of a democratic government as any elected official. There are four branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial – all who work for the fourth: the citizen.

Ancient Mariner

 

Herding Cats

That’s what it is like for voters trying to manage the activities of government. Three examples follow that on an ordinary day would not be part of the news and would not be a conscious issue of any importance.

Here’s one from left field (terrible pun for sure):

[USA Today] California college athletes looking to make some money from their hard work may be allowed. California’s State Assembly overwhelmingly passed a bill that will allow college athletes to make money off their name, image and likeness. The bill will head to Gov. Gavin Newsom, and, if signed, would take effect Jan. 1, 2023. The new measure will be in conflict with the NCAA’s amateurism rules that restrict compensation for athletes.

 Mariner has always wondered why everyone in college sports makes tons of money except the actual athletes and cheerleaders who do the work aren’t allowed income. A sign of the times, perhaps.

Another one coming out of the woods:

[NPR] The U.S. military court and prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have cost more than $6 billion to operate since opening nearly 18 years ago and still churn through more than $380 million a year despite housing only 40 prisoners today.

“It’s a horrible waste of money. It’s a catastrophic waste of money,” said Michel Paradis, a Guantánamo defense attorney for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the bombing of the USS Cole naval warship. “No matter if you want to see all of these guys shot in the street or whether or not you think Guantánamo itself is an aberration that should have closed yesterday — whatever your goal is, the military commissions have failed to achieve that goal.”

 Voters trying to manage their representatives – budget, policy, ideals – have more than they can handle. It reminds mariner of the tale of the woman who had so many children she didn’t know what to do.

The high prices paid to overseas specialists are de rigueur. Mariner was a consultant to a foreign nation for a while. He received high pay, paid taxes, first class travel, free housing and 100% living expenses. In more peaceful times, US workers could sign up for jobs in Saudi Arabia at three times the salary tax free for the same job in the US. This happens because within the foreign nation urgently needed expertise is not available; further, the commute is extraordinary and forex is arbitrary.

Technically, although Guantánamo is located on the island of Cuba, it is an American military base. Over time, specialist support like lawyers, computer technicians and specialists in government security and foreign relations, evidently have been allowed to charge their own nation exorbitant fees not because the specialization is unavailable as in other nations, but because the lax administration of Guantánamo became a wall bank for military contractors.

It is time to close Guantánamo – a duckbilled platypus under any rule of law. Tell your representatives.

Tidal waves aren’t made just of water:

[538.com] . . . Technically, in the context of legal and political systems, climate refugees don’t exist. There’s no space for them in international law and no special plans for how to treat them in the United States when they arrive. Here and around the world, fleeing climate change means running to bureaucracies as inhospitable to your survival as the places you left behind.

 Warnings about massive, worldwide human displacement due to climate change have been heard from the scientific community for more than a decade. Governments have not made note of this with any vigor; processes don’t exist to handle this special kind of refugee – not only procedurally but in the volumes that will occur. Of many buried issues, this one definitely will affect every voter – another cat to herd but a critical one. Remind your representatives to get on it.

Ancient Mariner