Saturday, June 25, 2016

Bartender, apologies for everyone

When people ask me about this blog, I tell them it's intended to piss off two kinds of people-- Republicans and Democrats.  Lately, I've been thinking that's too narrow. It's really intended to piss off two kinds of people -- men and women.

Last week's attempt to piss off women may have backfired (How to insult women). All of the comments and messages I received were from women and all were positive. Allowing for the possibility that I didn't hear from those were offended (a non-respondent bias in statistical terms), I would like to apologize for implying that women should differentiate between a few joking references to their gender and the rape culture that seems to permeate college campuses. (I was pleased that 30% of readers clicked to watch the included video.)

While I'm in an apologetic mood, I would also like to apologize to gun rights advocates for suggesting that we amend the Constitution following the Sandy Hook shooting (The US Constitution was designed to be amended) and for providing a legal brief to undermine the claim that individual gun rights are supported by the Second Amendment (The Right to Bear Arms: anAmerican Evolution).

Sorry to all of you who are “Feelin’ the Bern” for my assertion that, were Sen. Sanders proposals adopted, the US economy would be flushed down the toilet and for further suggesting that those who don't know that are either “ignorant or stupid”. (Let’s Understand Just What Socialism Means to Us) By the way, if you're disappointed Bernie won't be in the White House next year, you could always move to Venezuela. I suggest you pack a lunch.

To those who think we should build a wall along the Mexican border, I apologize for suggesting the opposite (Open the Border! Wait, It's Already Open!)

To all you Pro-lifers, I am sorry for exposing the unconstitutional and unaccountable practices of lawmakers and police who deprive women not only of their reproductive rights but also their freedom (Orphan Black, Margaret Atwood and a Woman’s Right to Choose).  And, while I am on the subject, I should also apologize for calling out Republicans for the hypocrisy of advocating that government stay out of our lives while supporting the agenda of the Religious Right (Strange Bedfellows: Conservatives and the Religious Right).

So long as I am talking to you, I should also apologize for suggesting that the subject of gay marriage is not about your religion.  It's about love.  (It's Not Religion... It's Not Politics... It's Personal)

To all you liberal New Yorkers, I would like to say I'm sorry for dissing our governor whose policies that purport to promote business are actually driving businesses to leave the state (The Hunger Games: not everyone is a winner). His ban on fracking doesn't help (Fracking, New YorkTaxes and Twitter).
To you climate change deniers, I offer my apology for saying that you haven't a leg to stand on (Kurt Vonnegut, Enrico Fermi and Climate Change).

To Europeans, who are whistling in the dark when it comes to dealing with Russian aggression, I apologize for comparing you to Chamberlain, the great appeaser (What’s Russia Really Up To?).

To those of you who think America is in decline, I apologize for espousing the view that America should be celebrated for its freedoms, including its model of economic freedom (The American Dream is Alive and Well).  What has failed us is the Blue State model of high taxes and overregulation.  Oops!  Sorry again!

While I am on the subject, I suppose I should apologize for the sacrilege of my claim that raising the minimum wage and expanding 60’s era anti-poverty programs are a waste of effort (Obama, SNAP and Conservative Americans).  Sacrilegious though it may be, I still struggle to understand how the programs that have led to more poverty in the 20th Century will do any better in the 21st.   Sorry.
And I am sorry for pointing out to labor union liberals that your model hasn't worked since the 1950's and it won’t work now (The Disunion of ‘dis Union).  Ditto to those married to our outlandishly expensive and closed-minded university system (When Will the University Bubble Burst?).

If you're among those who think that capitalism is evil, I am sorry for asserting that the only economic system that can generate the money needed to address society’s ills is free market capitalism (Time Travel and Our Social Welfare). Further, I should apologize for suggesting you have the luxury of complaining about our system because the system has improved your lives (otherwise you’d be too busy working to have the time to complain).

Now, if you detect a note of sarcasm in all these words of contrition, you're right on.

However, there is one group to which I offer my most sincere apology -- the 73,138 of you who have taken the time to visit my website, read, click and comment. 

Why am I apologizing to you?

Because...        I...         Am...    Done!


Saturday, June 11, 2016

How to insult women

Boy, she did you a favor

I grew up on Long Island where insults are stock and trade.  Find a weakness and exploit it.  That was the ethic.  Whatever your ethnic group, ancestry, religion or skin tone might be, you should expect it to be attacked.  If you couldn’t handle it, you were unworthy.

Although I try to reel it in, the tendency still shows up when I let my authentic self out of its pen.  My sense of humor can be biting. 

Men in nearly all cultures thrive on insults.  Some years ago, I signed a new client in my office.  Spotting a picture of my beautiful wife and me on the credenza, he said, “Boy, she did you a favor!”  It was a perfect ‘guy comment’ – both a compliment and an insult at the same time. 

My family is mostly male.  I grew up with two brothers, fathered two sons (one of whom is married to a man) and just became a grandfather to – you guessed it – another boy.  So, the Calia Y-chromosome of my paternal grandfather will carry on for at least another generation. 

What comes of all this masculinity?  Lots of insults, all meant in fun.  It’s how we bond. 

The entry of significant numbers of women into the professional ranks of the workforce beginning in the 1970’s changed the dynamic.  Court rulings have imposed a degree of risk on employers who must reign in a “hostile work environment” or face the consequences. 

I would personally argue that hostility comes in many forms and, while language is certainly part of the puzzle, it is not the final determinant.  Everything must be looked at in the context of a relationship. 

The coach assigned to help me launch a Vistage peer group pulled no punches.  She hit me right between the eyes with every comment and criticism.  She correctly perceived it was just what I needed.  Upon our success in launching the group, I sent her a certificate that granted her the title “No Bulls--t Broad”.  She was delighted at the joke and displayed the certificate prominently in her cubicle. 
Leaders of the pack

Absent our relationship, referring to a woman as a broad would be disparaging, at least since the Rat Pack passed into the annals of history. 

Still, I wonder where and how we should draw a line?  I mean if it’s okay to read ‘chick lit’ or take a date to a ‘chick flick’, why isn’t it okay to call a woman a chick?  And, is the blurry line between jocular fun and the damaging rhetoric of today’s pop culture contributing to a much larger problem?

This past week, the light sentence received by a white student-athlete at Stanford University for a rape he committed has caused a national outrage.  Refusing to be silent, the rape victim has written an open letter expressing her feelings.  It’s a powerful document that will resonate with everyone who enjoys a healthy relationship with a member of the opposite sex – father/daughter, brother/sister, husband/wife.

Its power has been enhanced by a video in which actress Cynthia Nixon leads off a group of prominent New York women reading the letter aloud.

Here it is.  Prepared to be stunned.

I once served on the board of a Florida non-profit, Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse (AVDA).  The greatest challenge we faced was the silence of the victims.  So, the courage of the Stanford victim’s letter and the importance of its attention from the media and prominent people are not lost on me. 

Jesse Wallin (Stanford class of ‘08) founded an organization called Men Against Abuse Now (MAAN) in 2007.  Its web page begins with a prescription for “What Men Can Do…” reflecting that “words are powerful” and that “We live in a society in which words are often used to put women down, where calling a girl or woman a “bitch,” “freak,” “whore,” “baby,” or “dog” is common.”

All of this has me wondering about my own behavior.  Was I treating my female colleague as an equal when I gave her a compliment that was also an insult?  After all, that’s how I would have treated a male colleague.  Or, was my language contributing to a national problem? 

There’s a larger question for society, of course.  Will the Stanford rape case coalesce the efforts of organizations like AVDA and MAAN around a cultural shift that will make such events less likely?

I would like to think so.  But I’ve been wrong before.  I incorrectly predicted that the Newtown shooting would change our attitude about guns.

What do you think?

Sunday, May 29, 2016

My 100-year-old self, a pig’s heart and my grandson

My 100th Birthday celebration will take place about mid-century.  You’re all invited. It won’t be easy to reach that age.  My Dad passed away a few years shy of his 90th.  But, I figure 100 is within reach with the help of a handful of highly skilled people and a lot of technology.

There’s a history of heart disease in my family.  So, I might have a new heart by then – one grown using my stem cells inside a pig or perhaps printed in a 3D printer. 

I may need the help of a home health aid, a robot that first analyzes what pharmaceuticals I need each day by means of a transdermal scan.  It will mix my drug cocktail of the day and administer it through a patch.  

My medication will keep my energy up and an artificial limb may keep me physically able.  I won’t be old and frail – just old.  And, that’s a good thing because my financial planner projected I would have been gone long before my 95th birthday.  So, I’ll have to work. 

My commute will be comfortable.  A self-driving electric car dispatched directly to my home will pick me up.  Its batteries will be constantly recharged by a system embedded in our highways.  This service will be provided by one of the big three integrated transportation service companies – GM, Uber and Delta (nee Delta Airlines).  I won’t own a car and won’t care which of these companies takes me to work.  I’ll likely choose the one with the best rewards program.

Of course, all this assumes I can keep my skills up to date.  Lots of jobs will be gone by then.  Those wanting to work will have to be either smarter or cheaper than machines enabled by embedded sensors and big data analytics. 

Highly skilled labor will still be much in demand, of course.  If you’re the doctor who can implant my new heart or install my bionic leg, your financial rewards will be great.  Same goes for those who can create the algorithms that will keep modern society functioning.  And, the AI revolution will create lots of new jobs for the post-Millennial generation trained in robot repair, higher math or data analytics -- just not enough to replace the ones that will be lost.

Many Millennials will be unable to find work, as they will have been well educated for 20th Century jobs.  Taxpayer dollars providing free college educations will have been wasted. 

No worries though.  The government will guarantee a level of income sufficient to maintain a middle-class lifestyle.  The industrial revolution that spawns this new economy will produce vastly more national income.  So, we’ll be able to afford a new, huge safety net. 

My grandson, Jake, will be gainfully employed having graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy (Class of ’48) and will be on his first tour piloting UAV’s in outer space.  This new network of satellite-based drones will act as a deterrent, capable of launching hypersonic rockets to take out the power grids of any country on earth, disabling their capability to make war or function as a modern society.  The operation of drones still flying within earth’s atmosphere to take out single human targets, like terrorists, will have been turned over to artificially intelligent fire control systems that will analyze data and evolve assassination algorithms consistent with the agreements reached by the industrialized world in the new Geneva Conventions. 

So, if I have to work, how will I earn a good income in this new economy?  Well, I was educated in the 20th Century before the digital revolution.  So, I will still have skills that will be valued and can’t be replaced by artificial intelligence.  I know how to motivate, negotiate, persuade and coordinate. 

Try to get your robot to do that.


Monday, May 16, 2016

The Libertarian Case for the Universal Basic Income

When I first heard of the Universal Basic Income (UBI), I thought, “Oh no, not another entitlement.”  But, the context within which I heard it got me thinking.

In a post last year (Advice to Give Your Kid in theAge of AI), I cited a 2013 Oxford University Study projecting that 47% of US workers would lose their jobs to automation over the next 20 years.

Many have already lost their jobs to industrial automation.  Stationary robots producing perfect welds in an auto plant are now commonplace.  The jobs lost to that phase of automation are a fait accompli.  The next phase of job losses will come from self-driving vehicles, algorithms and the Internet of Things (See From Turing to Musk to Industry 4.0).

If the technologists predicting this future world of work are correct, a world of luxury awaits.  Vast amounts of mundane work will be eliminated.  We’ll see a dramatic increase in our national wealth as businesses become more productive.  Our social welfare will improve as goods and services are produced more cheaply.

However, the elimination of mundane work means the elimination of income for a great mass of both skilled and unskilled workers.

And so, the concept of the Universal Basic Income was born.  The idea is that everyone would receive a check from the government every month.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Everyone – rich or poor, working or not, able or disabled – would receive a check from the government every month!

Some proponents have suggested an amount equal to about 60% of median household income or about $30,000 per year.

This is an idea that liberals can get behind, right?

However, a conservative case can be made as well.  I contend that the seminal thinking of conservative economists would support it.  The idea of a “safety net” was proposed by Freidrich Hayek in his most read work, The Road to Serfdom.  And, it was Milton Freidman who first floated the idea of a negative income tax.

Let’s pan out and widen the view a bit. 

The UBI would replace all other social welfare programs – HUD housing, SNAP (aka food stamps) – as well as the need for other lightening rod government rules, such as the minimum wage.

Vast government bureaucracies would be shut down.  After all, if there are no rules associated with who gets a monthly check, there is no need to fill out forms or for the bureaucrats who review applications. 

What about concerns that people will just stop working?

Would you?  Would you live on $30K per year if you could find meaningful work?  Wouldn’t you want a job anyway?

There is another benefit to the UBI.  Current programs intended to help the poor aren’t working.  A working paper produced by the National Bureau of Economic Research concludes, in part, “the safety net is doing less to provide protection for the most disadvantaged. In the post-welfare reform world, TANF did not respond in the Great Recession and extreme poverty is more cyclical than in prior recessions.”  And, 89% of those working for minimum wage are earning a second or third income for the household in which they live.

In other words, those initiatives are not working for the impoverished people they are supposed to help. 

Getting Congress to pass the UBI would be difficult, to say the least.  And, it must go hand in hand with other reforms.  The tax code would have to be overhauled – egad! 

However, if we could keep it simple… if we could remain true to the concept… if we could focus on the benefits, it just might work for everyone.

There are only two kinds of people who could screw it up… Republicans and Democrats.