Television versus Real Life

Science Magazine – The scenes were apocalyptic. On 20 July, a flash flood in Zhengzhou, a city of 10 million on the Yellow River in China, caused a low-lying, kilometer-long section of the city’s Metro Line 5 tunnel to fill with water, trapping more than 500 riders in a subway train. In real time, passengers posted terrifying videos and photos on social media sites, showing people standing in chest-deep water that was still rising. Rescuers, hampered by extensive street-level flooding, arrived 4 hours later, but 14 people did not make it out alive.
So many things are happening in the last year or two: century floods and droughts, fires and dying coral, disappearing Pacific islands, melting glaciers and seafront catastrophes. Is something happening we don’t know about?
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Mariner is experiencing a personal renaissance, small r for sure but it ends a killing ennui, depression and isolation that started with the campaign of Donald and continues with the help of commercialized news broadcasts. What launched the renaissance was living without family for two weeks while cutting the cord on DISH and suffering empty space and time throughout the day.
Mariner has new found energy and interest in things to be accomplished. He calls it his ‘homesteader’ phase, last experienced on his farm where there was much to do in many areas of equipment maintenance and building construction, a lot to pursue agriculturally, home maintenance and still holding down a fulltime job.
The culprit: television. Having given up on the news, stopped watching lame late shows and meaningless comedy from sitcoms to SNL, the TV was forcing dissatisfaction on mariner. Not even movies were of interest. The short of it is that one’s life is all around them – not on television or smartphone or even on the Internet. Have we forgotten so quickly what we did with our hands, our family, our hobbies and sustaining our local social network and environment? Does the reader lament not being able to shop in a real store?
So when were you going to fix that screen door? When were you going to remodel that spare room? When were you going to make some cash with your hobby? When will you upgrade your rec room with ping pong, cornhole or billiards?
Remember – sociologists have identified ‘aspiration’ as the key word for the middle class. To what do you aspire by suppertime? (retired, especially)

ASPIRE [uh-spahyuhr ] to long, aim, or seek ambitiously; be eagerly desirous, especially for something great or of high value (usually followed by to, after, or an infinitive): to aspire after literary immortality; to aspire to be a doctor.

Archaic: to rise up; soar; mount; tower.


Ancient Mariner

Money and Mind

 

Here’s a note from Protocol, a tech newsletter:

“Three hundred and thirty-one billion dollars. That’s how much revenue the five biggest companies in tech — Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft and Facebook — brought in over the last three months. Here’s some Very Sophisticated Analysis: That’s a lot of money.”

The total GDP for the United States in 2020 was $19,278,194.2 million or simplified 19 trillion and change. Doing the math, the big tech companies made 6.8 percent of all the money made in the US economy in a year. We’re familiar with the impact of a pandemic. This is a techdemic.

In a capitalist system, profit must make more profit even if it has to consume other profit sources to sustain growth; the street term is ‘grow or die’. The tech companies have had enough influence to avoid their greatest enemy – antitrust. Each tech company, and we can include huge entertainment corporations like Disney, must continue to buy up control of larger and larger and more diverse businesses not only to avoid competition but to sustain larger profits.

Mariner doesn’t know anyone who can fix this. Just thought you should know.

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On the mind front, Netflix has a series called ‘The Mind Explained’. It is an informal approach to how memory, dreams and other mind phenomena work. If one follows the episode about memory, one comes away realizing that the mind is designed to help make our best decisions under the circumstances and does not retain unbiased or even truthful histories of our lives. The mind simply decides ‘this is who I am and given this existential situation, this is what I’ll do.’ Our mind certainly is no computer but certainly more complex.

Ancient Mariner

 

Wasteland

As some readers may know, mariner is playing bachelor for a couple of weeks. The sudden absence of a life partner is surprisingly distracting for a few days. It took three days for mariner to set up routines, refocus thoughts and chores and establish a bit of energy about it all.

After a few days, desperation sets in with no one to interact with and a horrible, horrible void called television. Internet news was rehashing Covid yet again and provided little that was genuinely new.

Last evening, sitting silent in a silent living room and waiting for bedtime, mariner discovered a show on Smithsonian channel about six Obama speeches.

The atmosphere, the intelligence, the legitimacy of actions was so vividly different than it is today that it was akin to rapture. Not to give Obama what is not due but the reality of his Presidency, the reason, the humanness, the national unity was breathtaking. Mariner felt as if he had taken a soothing drug.

Check out the show: The Obama Years; the Power of words. It’s just like taking an aspirin for a headache or an antacid for the stomach. The rest of the evening was more pleasant – there is joy in the world, just not right now. But it did exist!

Drawn back to reality, these are dangerous times for democracy. Do not be slack in your support of democracy, you may lose it.

Ancient Mariner

Friendship

AXIOS published an article this morning that talked about the fact that each of us has fewer friends today than we had in 1990. If one is a baby boomer it would seem so as friends and relatives slowly pass away; apparently there is more to it.

Friendship is a strong influence in our happiness. The term BFF is not a flamboyant term but speaks to residual accountability for support and growth. Among the AXIOS comments is one that says, “Context: This trend is nothing new, of course. Robert Putnam’s bestselling “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community,” was published in 2000 — 21 years ago.”

See: https://www.americansurveycenter.org/research/the-state-of-american-friendship-change-challenges-and-loss/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosam&stream=top

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All of a sudden mariner is again flooded with phony political polls that actually are fund raisers. Mariner doesn’t respond to these ‘national’ fund raising organizations because he believes they shouldn’t exist in the first place. Fund raising should be limited to the district covered by the election. A lot of graft and plutocracy would disappear. Sorry, shouldn’t lament over and over. Damned electorate.

Ancient Mariner

Intellectualism versus totalitarianism

If the reader is thirsting for pure 100 percent intellectualism, read Harper’s Magazine. The journal always has looked to the abstract reasoning behind society, writing about the contribution of those who already concentrate on the ideas of reality rather than reality itself. Featured online and in the print copy this month is an article by Rebecca Panovka about author Hannah Arendt. Hannah Arendt (1906 – 1975) was an outspoken critic of the trappings of totalitarianism.

Hannah’s most noted work, a book about Nazi totalitarianism, ‘The Horrors of Totalitarianism’, has been brought back into the popular mainstream because of its close similarity to Trumpist authoritarianism. Instead of a crooked government as Trump accuses, in Germany it was the crooked Jews but the effect was the same – to dismember social unity and fragment political influence. This fragmentation allows a small minority to control the direction of society’s ethos.

Further, The Guardian is a British newspaper that also published an article about Hannah Arendt. Apparently Donald’s brand of authoritarianism is similar to Adolf Hitler’s style for dismembering the collective authority of society.

Both publications speak to the incompetence of government and the unsubstantiated reasoning of populist movements when confronted by an elaborate, organized and well-advertised myth that has no foundation in fact. The myth blames the wrong source for the hardships of the people, allowing rebellion against legitimate, if inept, political processes.

The articles imply that there are only two processes to deconstruct growing totalitarianism: war or counter movements aimed at unity – neither of which can guarantee wholesomeness.

Yes, yes. It is up to the electorate and we know how that will turn out in 2022.

Ancient Mariner

Progress for Civilization

Here’s an interesting side note: Bill Gates is the largest farm owner in the United States. Ol’ farmer Bill.

Gates and his wife have acquired more than 269,000 acres of farm in the United States in the past 10 years. Those purchases, made with the help of the Washington-based firm Cascade Investment and a number of shell companies, include farmland in nearly 20 states that cultivate vegetables such as carrots, soybeans, and potatoes (some of which end up in McDonald’s French fries). These details come after the agriculture outlet The Land Report reported in January that the tech billionaire and his wife were the country’s top private farmland owners in the country. An NBC News analysis also identified Gates as the largest farmland owner in the US.

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The launch of Jeff Bezos is a new scale in bad taste – not to mention that Richard Branson looked any better. It is a sign that massive, really massive resources that are needed in the real world are not applied correctly. Mariner’s opinion is that capitalism must, must pursue greater profits or fail – but those profits are stolen from the lifeblood of a society whose resources have run out.

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It appears there will be no more reprieves for the nation’s roughly 8 million households behind on their rent and mortgage payments. According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, more than 4 million of those households face the likelihood of eviction in the next two months. Add this fact to the fact that housing for anyone is hard to find; add the impact on the twenty-somethings looking for anything they can afford and add the fact that plain and simple, there aren’t enough physical, actual homes to go around.

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Oh well, there’s a scant chance that some bridges and highways may be repaired. Mariner thinks he will run over to Misty’s and get a milkshake.

Ancient Mariner

How to have a balanced economy

֎ AXIOS distributed a concise and clear statement about why world population rates are dropping. It is a quality statement about a topic that doesn’t get much news coverage but can be a significant interpretation of social response to unsympathetic governments. It is typical that economic health is measured by GDP, inflation, and stock markets but the Axios article suggests that it is the condition of the population that determines the efficiency of a given economic philosophy. Some excerpts:

Why world population is slowing – Population growth is continuing to slow in the U.S. and China . . . Why it matters: Population growth spurs economic growth because it can increase innovation, workers and goods produced and consumed . . . What’s happening: U.S. immigration, life expectancy and fertility are all trending down.

We focus way too much on percent growth like quarterly GDP. We should think about what people want. What level of immigration people want. What age would people like to die.

Americans still want multiple children, but they’re worried about child care costs, their own student debt and a pause in their careers . . .

China has relaxed restrictions on the number of children families can now have. But the new policy seeks more to bolster the workforce than to promote population: The Chinese Communist Party is also raising the country’s retirement age, curtailing a key source of child care . . .

The bottom line: If countries want population growth to pick up, leaders must first fix underlying causes of the slowdown, including cost of child care and fear of immigration.

֎ From his lofty spot in the esoteric atmosphere, Guru suggests that the problems confronting nations in the 21st century will not subside until it is understood that political theories work best only in tailored economic situations. Guru said:

COMMUNISM works best in primitive conditions where authority is based on contributing to the wellbeing of other citizens and the economy is sustained solely by local labor and predictability. If one watches any of the homesteading shows on television they are watching classic communist behavior. Dictatorships that call themselves communist nations are misleading. Even the term ‘nation’ is stretching the concept. The reader may remember the commune movement in the US during the 60’s and 70’s but it failed because the surrounding economy was too sophisticated.

CAPITALISM works best when authority is based on assuring the freedom of all citizens to compete for available resources – but this works well only in economic conditions where there are plenty of resources to go around. The US was created at a time when an entire continent of unused resources was available and the expansion of worldwide economic resources was exploding as new places were discovered around the world. Capitalism was the perfect economy to scarf up resources at a geometric rate making the US the richest nation in the world. Alas, these resources have been depleted; in the 21st century there no longer are enough resources to go around for everyone. The population is too large to have everyone freely compete for resources.

SOCIALISM works best when authority assures equality among the citizens and the economy is stable and predictable. The Native Americans sustained a socialist economy for thousands of years because the resources, especially on the plains and seacoasts, were stable and predictable – until the capitalist authority killed all the buffalo, beavers, doves and destroyed important estuaries.

AUTHORITARIANISM works best when authority enforces social order in an economy that is inadequate or out of balance with the existing authoritative role. Once authoritarianism is in place it is difficult to remove; authoritarianism has no scruples other than power – just like Lord Acton said in 1887.

There are many other variations on the four basic economic philosophies. Corporatism is a style of capitalism; plutocracy is a form of capitalism; militarism is a variation of authoritarianism; Sheikdoms, China’s communist party and monarchies all are variations of authoritarianism. Tribalism, populism, classism, insurrection and other social movements can become significant and derail unbalanced economies – often allowing authoritarianism to emerge.

To use an allegory, consider the tight wire walker. The walker is authority, the wire is population and the long balance pole is economy. If the wire and the pole aren’t in sync, the situation becomes unstable.

Ancient Mariner

Another Road Metaphor

The authoritarian revolt of the belligerent right still deserves our attention and requires some serious effort to contain the movement. Whether the electorate understands that movement’s threat to the constitutional government known as the United States of America will be shown in the results of the 2022 election. Aggressive authoritarian behavior is a failed consequence of many different economic and cultural changes.

While we keep one eye on the fires started in the last century we must keep the other eye on the road to the future. Another form of authoritarianism is corporatism. If we don’t manage the road properly, the division between the few wealthy and the many poor will become wider and more adverse, perhaps even superseding the role of government – which many claim is already happening. Many of the business regulations and institutions that were created in the last century are virtually irrelevant in this new world of computers and instant communication. The entire perspective about antitrust must be reconstructed. Further, one nation can no longer control an international corporation. It will require a new set of international laws.

Riding the road into the future already is heavy laden with issues. One issue that should be left on the curb is racism. Many millennials and most Zs don’t have this issue. Older folk should just be done with racism and move on – there’s not enough energy for all the issues let alone worrying about skin color.

This is made more complex by domestic police departments which have been trained in abusive racism for generations. Decommissioning a militarized police force will be difficult. It must be done or a significant portion of our society will be stunted as we ride the road into the future.

Just as old or older than everything else is the concept of taxation. Mariner’s old saw about the plains indians whose hunters shared their hunting success with the tribe doesn’t exist in American capitalism. As a consequence the billionaires who hunt money sit on untold trillions of dollars that, from a societal point of view, simply gather dust. Taxation – especially in times when labor jobs are disappearing – should redistribute a significant amount of the hoarded wealth to help pave the road into the future.

So, let’s hop on our hover boards and get moving down the road. Uncross your eyes; it was a bad metaphor.

Ancient Mariner

A New Sport for These Times

Does the reader remember the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)? Twelve nations, primarily along the Pacific Ocean, negotiated a trade agreement. The nations were:

United States • Singapore • Brunei • New Zealand • Chile • Australia • Peru • Vietnam • Malaysia • Mexico • Canada • Japan

The TPP was based on a unique concept that each member nation was assured a commensurate share of income based on the Gross Domestic Product of the partnership. Earlier trade, tax and tariff arrangements were modified to accommodate this unique idea of international partnership instead of international balance of trade.

There were progressive economic concepts in the agreement but there were many loopholes that benefited corporate interests above national interests.[1] While the language touted liberal issues like environment, labor rights and humanist politics, there were just as many backdoor caveats that would permit corporate participants to ignore the ‘nice’ language. A good description of the new trade relationship was that nations were investors in the partnership, not traders.

For the United States, this was all for naught when Congress dragged its feet and Donald officially withdrew in 2017. Nevertheless, the new partnership was signed by the remaining eleven nations in 2018 and became the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

A characteristic of these agreements is that while there are direct economic benefits for being part of a team instead of constantly manipulating trade and tariff, it is more difficult to shift national politics or apply sanctions to other members of the partnership. Unlike today’s supply and demand free-for-all, being part of a supply partnership introduces permanence to international economics – meaning that whichever partnership has the most important partners, the more likely that partnership will dominate the global economy.

Another aspect is that a partnership needs one partner that is large enough to sustain the overall economy for all the nations in the agreement. There are only three nations that can fill this role: China, the United States and possibly India. The economic ballast needed for a successful partnership requires one partner that has global dominance in GDP, population and land mass. Corporations already know this and have constructed supply chains that depend on one massive corporation to sustain the chain. Amazon, Walmart and Google are examples.

Now that the reader has suffered through the rules for the sport for these times, the sport is which of the three anchor nations (China, US and India) can build partnerships with the most nations, the best nations and the nations with the best natural resources in the shortest amount of time? The winner will dominate the global economy for a long time.

The game already is in play:

China understands the concept; in 2013 China started its Belt and Road project using infrastructure as an international connection between 70 nations and intends to dominate politically and militarily as well as economically. The US along with the G7 nations belatedly introduced its own Belt and Road plan; Joe Biden hopes the plan, known as the Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative, will provide a transparent infrastructure partnership to help narrow the $40 trillion needed by developing nations by 2035.

Ancient Mariner

 

[1] To keep this post from becoming a book, if the reader has further interest just type TPP in your search engine – much has been written pro and con.

Watching the social tide

Mariner has mentioned a time or two that, as we all are well aware, these are changing times, perhaps greater than any war that bookends changes in power or any historical unrest that transforms a social age, perhaps any technological transition since the first wheat was cast on open ground 11,000 years ago.

As we sit in the trenches with the storm of change exploding above us, around us and within us, it is hard to see the horizon; it is hard to know if the storm is passing; it is impossible to feel secure or happy in the maelstrom.

But the storm is moving. The seas are changing. Even as largely dysfunctional U.S. governments struggle with the traditions of the last century versus the unknown icons that are emerging in this century, still there are signs of change. The tide indeed is turning.

A visible measure is the transition of global economic theory already moving from nationally based trade and tariff to internationally aligned supply chains, notable corporate examples are large data firms like Amazon, Apple and Google and, unadvertised, military relationships; last century’s wars of occupation are failing as several technologies render borders irrelevant.

The relationship of jobs to wages is changing. The advances in data technology and automation just since the start of this century have disrupted the centuries old tradition of work for pay. As recently as the last presidential election, one candidate advocated a government-supplied stipend that was not associated with jobs. While upgrades in infrastructure, responses to global warming and new work derived from supply chain development will sustain ‘work for pay’, it is inevitable that working class jobs will diminish due to automation and computer intelligence; for example, 1.7 million long haul truck drivers will not be needed in a decade or two. This struggle between the giant philosophies of capitalism and socialism will not transition quickly but the tide will force continuous reexamination of the relationship.

On the same day that this post is written, the news reports cover a large condominium that has collapsed in Miami Beach, Florida. Miami Beach sits on a barrier island, one of many along the East Coast known as the Outer Banks. The geologic history of base sediments in this region is limestone and unconsolidated shelly sand. Given that Miami Beach has installed state-of-the-art pumps in its drainage system since 2014, that sea water has contaminated potable ground water and that every associated industry predicts that the city will be 1 1/2 feet under the ocean surface in 60 years, the condominium collapse is a sign of changing tides courtesy of global warming. Global warming could displace as many as 3.9 million US citizens by the end of the century; fourteen US cities could disappear.[1]

In just the last fifteen years medical science has made life-changing advances. The most significant are CRISPR, which enables genetic modification to individuals to repair or prevent virtually any disorder or tendency, and, courtesy of the response to Covid, the ability to create organic protein. Also notable is the ability to produce a molecule called NAD+ which extends cell life and slows the degradation of aging.

One change within the trench itself is an impact on socialization. Everything from dating websites to smartphones to Zoom education to online shopping to church services online and more have one thing in common: decreasing socialization. The future impact of decreasing socialization is unclear but some studies have begun tracking the effect on society in general. The nuclear family has been around long enough to know that slow cultural change can alter life significantly. What about decreased socialization in addition to nuclear families? The shelter-in from the pandemic perhaps may be basic training for future lifestyles.

Ancient mariner

 

[1] See: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/global-warming-flooding_n_3799019