The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Art & Entertainment ... Personal Reflections ... Spirituality ...

Every now and then it’s good for me to go back to the question as to whether to believe in God or not. I recently revisited the question, and I still come down on the side of belief (if not by a landslide). Around the same time, I noticed an interesting article in the current Atlantic Magazine about comedian Bill Maher and his atheist beliefs (or anti-beliefs, as atheism is belief in non-belief). Mr. Maher has made a film documentary about religion (called “Religulous”), and the believers he talks with provide enough comic material as to render Mr. Maher’s jokes unnecessary. Since much of the faithful has not rethought their belief since childhood, they often don’t do very well with Maher’s signature question, i.e. “what is the difference between believing in God and Santa Claus”.

I won’t claim that my beliefs are ready for a Maher interview, but I just had some interesting thoughts regarding the more troubling challenges to belief; i.e., the problem of pain, the prevalence of randomness in the quantum world and in the process of evolution, the “trial-and-error” aspect of evolution and possibly of the reality behind the Big Bang, and the incredible hugeness of the Universe compared with the tiny specs in it where sentient life might exist. In sum, it hardly looks like there is an intelligent designer behind all this, despite Aquinas and his various rationales. It looks like something mostly accidental.

But then again – perhaps it depends on how you look at it. Pain, death, randomness, inefficiency and wastefulness; what would be the point of all that? Well – these things certainly would set a benchmark as to what God and the ultimate principal of being, goodness and awareness are NOT. What if we are somehow in a process of becoming more and more like God? If so, the stakes would be huge, the lessons involved enormous. And they could not be learned without pain, huge and mindless pain, terribly dark and crushing pain. Perhaps we have to be pushed to not-being, in order to fully appreciate being. We certainly do take our existence for granted too often. Perhaps God-ness is the ultimate awareness and appreciation of being. Most of us are hardly ready for that.

If we assume that we will always be human, even if there is life after death – which is what most religions teach – then the atheists will have a good argument. I.e., consider those ideas of heaven as a huge country club where we will be continually pampered and never bored, with God up in the head office running the place. Maher could certainly take that apart on SNL or the Comedy Channel. But if we, in our messy lives, are somehow in training to become part of God – if that’s what the stakes are – and if there is an after-life process whereby we consolidate and contextualize all of the pains and defeats and disappointments from our earthly life; then perhaps the God argument makes more sense. Perhaps one could then answer Maher’s “Santa Claus” question by saying that old St. Nick leaves temporary delights that soon break or are eventually stored in the attic and forgotten; but God is the Santa Claus of eternal being, a being that can be attained only by giving up all of the imperfect ways of being that we know, an ultimate being that is something like sex without end. Only so much more. Amen.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:58 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Art & Entertainment ... Personal Reflections ... Politics ...

I’m starting to lose interest in the Presidential election campaign. There doesn’t seem to be anything significant left to say about it. The only interesting thing will be the post-election analysis, the break-out of how the voting public actually responds to Obama and McCain. The polls are all over the place; the vote might be really tight, keeping everyone in suspense long into the night. Or by 9PM, it might be clear that Obama is taking the country by a landslide. I’m anxious to find out. There’s nothing more that I need to know about these guys.

As to what I think the outcome should be, I agree with Robert Robb of the Arizona Republic: “this is an election Republicans deserve to lose but Democrats don’t deserve to win”. However, someone is going to win, so right now I just want to get it over with and adapt to whatever happens (most likely a big change in the Senate, House, and White House; one that may be relatively short-lived).

I disagree with Joe the Plumber and John McCain regarding additional taxes on the rich. (Easy for me, since I ain’t rich). But I am also an economic realist; increased progressive taxes will slow down entrepreneurship, drive capital to other countries, and cut back the American economy’s growth rate. BUT, if the increased tax revenues are invested in infrastructure, scientific research and education, the growth slowdown can be largely reversed. So, I hope that Obama and Reid and Pelosi don’t give the store away in Democratic political plums like grants to ACORN, new regulatory agencies, and working-class tax credits (other than the college education credit, which indeed helps long-run economic growth). Unfortunately, they probably will.

TOP TEN LONELINESS: I don’t keep up with hit music anymore; I generally have no idea what songs are getting the most play on the airwaves, or on YouTube, or at the cash register (or illegal download sites). But I did recently hear one of the current “top ten”, a nice little tune by Nickelback called “Gotta Be Somebody”. As in “there’s gotta be somebody out there for me”. I was surprised that Nickelback, a throughly modern, post-grunge rock band, would put out something sentimental like that. When I think about Nickelback I usually think about “Just a Couple Animals”, a paean to raging teenage sex drive. “Gotta Be Somebody” is a surprising redirection of Chad Kroeger’s raw voice into something emotional but also romantic and innocent, something like Bono might do (e.g., “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”). The lyrics are simple but fairly nice, even mildly poetic. I now have it in my collection.

(There’s also a high-profile tune out by Beyonce called “If I Were a Boy”. I’m gonna take a pass on that one.)

“Gotta Be Somebody” touches a chord of loneliness and longing for many people, old and young. Well, mostly young; but an old guy like me is not immune either. The tune is mildly encouraging and optimistic; one line goes “you can’t give up when you’re looking for a diamond in the rough”. And it lets you know how great you will feel once you finally do find the true love of your life.

Well, at this point in my life, “finding the right person” no longer seems to be an inalienable right (or even a distinct possibility). Some people actually find their “soul mates” and stay together for decades. Their lives are better for finding each other. Many people, though, settle for “pretty close”. As a long-lost friend of mine once said about dating and romance, “it’s an off-the-rack world”. If you wait for perfection, you might die waiting. Some people do hold out for perfection; most never find it. The world is not always a fair place.

I compare the search for a soulmate in this life with my lost sock drawer. Socks are meant to be paired, but sometimes one gets lost in the wash. When that happens, I put the remaining sock in a corner of the drawer. Perhaps the other one will show up; or maybe a future lost sock will provide a good match, and the two outcasts can get out into the world once more. But mostly these socks sit and wait for a partner that will never arrive. They all have the same problem, but they can’t provide each other with a solution. Because they just don’t go together. Everyone who complains about being lonely is usually surrounded by many others with the same complaint, others who could theoretically answer their longings and end their loneliness. But 99% of the time, it just doesn’t work. Just like a blue nylon sock and a gray cotton sock, which don’t go together. They need their soulmates; and they most likely won’t find them.

But that’s life. Nonetheless, it’s nice that an emotionally naive song can still make it in this cynical world of so little faith. Dreams die hard, don’t they. But in dying hard, perhaps they live on.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:48 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, October 20, 2008
Personal Reflections ... Photo ...

It doesn’t take much to make an eleven year old boy happy. A water tunnel beneath a suburban neighborhood will do just fine. We didn’t have any such tunnels in my neighborhood, but my cousin Mike had one not too far from his house. Mike told me about it and I immediately wanted to explore it. But my mother was somewhat protective. So my Uncle Joe (Mike’s father, my mother’s brother) volunteered to take me, Mike and my brother for a walk through the subterranean wonders of Varmint Brook one weekend (name changed so that I won’t be accused of suggesting unsafe activities for local youth). Uncle Joe was just that kind of guy.

Well, Uncle Joe made good on his word. I recall having a great time walking along the tilted concrete floodway with a flashlight guiding us through the dank underworld. The tunnel went on for about a mile, from whence Varmint Brook proceeded through an uncovered causeway for another mile. Then there was another tunnel, and finally the Brook found its way into a river. Mike told me that the second tunnel was pretty messy. But the first tunnel was relatively walkable, and provided all the adventure that an eleven-year old boy needed for a Sunday afternoon.

Obviously, the exploration of such tunnels is strictly prohibited in today’s world. And obviously, some kids still do it. I recently visited the entrance of good old Varmint Brook, so here’s what it looks like today. I certainly wouldn’t encourage any kids to do what we once did, unless you’ve got a really good uncle or father willing to go along. Unfortunately, such really good, down-to-earth uncles and fathers are getting quite rare in this day and age. And that’s a real loss.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:19 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Friday, October 17, 2008
Politics ...

There are Democrats, Independents, and even some Republicans out there who perceive and regret that John McCain is no longer the John McCain they once loved. I’ve seen this contention supported and debunked by various pundits over the past month or so. I mostly agree with the “support” viewpoint. Back before the 2004 election, McCain really was his own man, ready to sass the GOP leadership at will when it seemed right for the nation. Even in early 2006, McCain was able to make a keynote address at an ACORN conference on immigration reform. But he decided he wanted to run for President in 2008, and increasingly made his amends with the Republican Party, including the religious conservative faction (which he previously had little use for).

And so, in the current presidential campaign, we’ve pretty much received standard GOP policy from McCain, with an occasional touch of light criticism in an attempt to maintain his previous “maverick” reputation. These criticisms have been rather lame. McCain has bought into tax cuts that he once criticized, into free market health policies that he knows won’t be enough, into energy policies that he once dismissed as retrogressive, etc. He’s talked a lot about bravery and patriotism, but has once more witnessed that you need to sell your soul to the big money interests in order to run for President. And as to Sarah Palin – that was an extreme sell-out by McCain to the GOP conservatives in an attempt to disguise himself a change agent.

There are those who say that Barack Obama is innocent of this, that his reliance on internet-based fundraising freed him from selling out to the unions, trial lawyers and other traditional Democratic sources of funding. I disagree; I think that Obama is just as bad as McCain, if not worse, so far as integrity goes. But that’s not the point I want to make here. Instead, I want to ponder a future scenario for the selection of a President, one suggested by both Senator Obama’s internet-based campaign and Senator McCain’s “true-maverick” days.

I myself think it would be a good thing for America to elect a third-party President, someone independent of the GOP and the Democratic Parties. That would be the only way to achieve true bi-partisan government, as both Obama and McCain once promised (and both have long since abandoned in the heat of the political fight). Unfortunately, third party candidates have never gotten much traction. Ross Perot got some people interested in 1996, but he isn’t a politician at heart. We still need a skilled politician to be President; but a skilled politician not wedded to GOP or Democratic interests.

I could see someone like McCain – the old McCain – announcing his intent to run, but at the same time breaking from the party that got him or her as far as they came. Next, they set up an Internet fundraising and organizing base just like Obama did in 2006 and 2007. I believe that Obama’s highly successful use of the Internet in casting himself as a serious Presidential candidate could be adopted outside of a political party context. With enough money, I could see a third-party candidate setting up a strong “ground organization” throughout the nation, even without the usual support of local mayors and aldermen and party bosses.

But certain things would have to come together; this hypothetical candidate would need to have Obama’s level of charisma, McCain’s reputation as an independent (the old McCain, that is), McCain’s experience in the political arena, and Obama’s sophistication in fundraising and organizing. And one more thing, perhaps the key thing: the campaign would need a sugar-daddy, someone (or some group) who would put some real money up front to get the whole thing rolling. Once they got an organization going with a strong web site, the campaign could probably sustain itself on small donations, as per the Obama scenario. But to get off the ground and be taken seriously by the public, it would take a lot of up-front money that only someone like Perot or Bloomberg could provide.

Well, I hope that someday the stars will all be in the right place for something like this. If nothing else, the narratives of the 2008 presidential campaign provide strong suggestions on how it could happen. I hope that I live to see it!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:00 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Brain / Mind ... Philosophy ...

Every so many years I start thinking anew about Robert Pirsig, the author of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. I’ve written about him and his ideas before on this blog; I even mentioned the short letter that I received from Mr. Pirsig in response to my own letter to him. “Zen and the Art” was a big phenomenon in the late 70’s. I finally read it in ’82, and I was really moved by it. It seemed to me and to millions of others like a life-changing book, the kind of book you’re lucky to come across every 20 years or so. (Caveat: Pirsig might well have Asperger’s Syndrome, and I probably have a lite version of it myself. As such, “Zen and the Art” is an Aspie-tinted view of the world, which may help explain why I found it so moving.)

But Pirsig turned out to be a “one-hit wonder”. He wrote another book, Lila, which has mostly been forgotten; and mercifully so. Pirsig tried to contain the power that he somehow mustered in “Zen and the Art” within a body of written philosophy, his “Method of Quality” or MOQ; but he couldn’t do it. There are still a lot of people on the web discussing MOQ, even though the academic philosophical institutions never accepted it. I tried to get interested in MOQ and in the discussion community gathered around it, but I couldn’t maintain my enthusiasm. And yet, the experience of “Zen and the Art” still haunts me from time to time, and I’m in one of those haunted phases right now. A little, anyway; the echos fade as the years go by.

Anyway, over the past few years I’ve become highly interested in “philosophy of mind” and its various issues, especially the connection between human consciousness, i.e. our experiences and feelings, and the physical workings of the brain. How does the equivalent of a slab of meat with a lot of tiny electrical connections within it create a subjective world of love, hate, greed, nobility, faith, despair, hope, beauty, joy, etc.? One of the key concepts in mental philosophy is “qualia”, the conceptual “unit” of mental experience. I, along with a lot of true philosophers, have been pondering the question of what qualia might be (if it really is anything at all). In one of my recent ponderings, I recalled how Pirsig was so mesmerized by the concept of “quality”. Quality, qualia . . . could there be a connection? Was Pirsig saying something profound about the nature of our minds, about the mystery of the mind-brain relationship?

Actually, he wasn’t. In fact, it may be the other way around. The whole mind-brain problem might be saying something about the mystery of Pirsig and his religious devotion to a metaphysical concept that he calls “quality”. Pirsig’s “MOQ” is very interesting and provides a lot of interesting insights and alternate ways of considering various and sundry issues. But in the end it isn’t really a consistent philosophy. It’s an odd assemblage of notions that have attracted Robert Pirsig’s interest over the past 80 some-odd years of his life. MOQ can probably tell us something about almost anything; e.g. what is the rationale for the making of laws, when does human life begin, what is free will, should the rich assume a greater share of the tax burden, etc. But it really can’t get to the true nature of any of those issues. In a way, it’s an attempt to do what Martin Heidegger did with the concept of “being”, i.e. Dasein. Heidegger wrote a very broad philosophy around the idea of “being”, and is recognized as one of the major philosophers of the 20th Century. Pirsig obviously wanted to go that route.

I think that “being” is ultimately the key to human consciousness, the “om” of the universe. It is THE THING which adds an existential dimension to our sense perceptions and makes us “feel alive”. Heidegger ultimately went off the rails in his attempt to “bottle” the concept of “being”. That’s apparent by his support for national socialism in Germany, well after its dark intentions regarding the Jewish population became apparent in the mid 1930s. Pirsig’s MOQ is much more innocent, much less political, but ultimately no more powerful than Heideggerism. But like Heidegger, Pirsig was trying to capture the consciousness butterfly; and fell off the ledge in doing so. He finally did capture something, but it wasn’t the shocking power that he named “quality”. Just as Heidegger, in his books and articles, and in the life that he lived finally captured something much less pure than whatever first inspired him to chase the concept of “being”.

Not that I’m doing any better than either of them in capturing that which gives our lives its pizzazz or quality or “being” or vividness or whatever you want to call it. It may well be a hopeless quest; but it is fun. So, fool that I am, I won’t stop trying. I may not write a memorable book, and hopefully I won’t support a repugnant cause. But if nothing else, the quest for . . . . whatever you want to call it . . . makes life more interesting!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:57 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Friday, October 10, 2008
Current Affairs ... Politics ... Public Policy ...

Like millions of other Americans, I lost a lot of money in the stock market this past week (actually we’ve been losing $$$ over the past 12 months). Luckily, I don’t need the money right now; all of my stock investments are for retirement, and I don’t plan on drawing any of it for at least 10 years. But it still gives me the creeps seeing so many of my nesteggs getting scrambled.

Oh well, let’s try to see the bright side of it all. The American economy was dancing on thin ice for too long. Too many people were getting rich by believing in too many stupid things (e.g., that cheap and plentiful credit and rising real estate prices were here to stay). Finally it all gave way. America will come back from this crash, and will hopefully learn some lessons from it. Hopefully by the time I start my retirement — assuming that I actually get to have a retirement (gotta think positively) — the American economy will be on firm ground, operating with proper capitalization ratios, making reasonable assumptions, being aware of risk in all its implications. Hopefully our economy will become more of a Warren Buffet economy, a “back to fundamentals” economy.

And another good thing — even though I’m worth many, many thousand dollars less right now than I was last week at this time — at least the week closed on a good note. I usually do my food shopping on Friday nights (yea, that’s how exciting my life is these days), and I received a $3 coupon last week for buying some vitamins. Well, even though I don’t have a store discount card (because I don’t like the idea of letting a corporation track my food purchasing habits; I consider that a very private matter), the lady at the register tonight punched in the “store courtesy card” for me, and my coupon was doubled. So I got $6 off my supermarket bill. Jackpot!!!

But seriously, the world certainly is changing; America will soon have a president with some African blood in him. Furthermore both the President and both houses of Congress will be strongly aligned with the Democratic Party; it’s been awhile since we’ve had that. Also, we will soon be in a significant economic recession, and a lot of Americans will be hurting. All but the rich are going to feel it in some way; actually, if Obama keeps his word, they’re going to soon be pinched with more taxes. Government regulation will make a comeback, and labor unions will probably have it a bit easier (although with raging international competition, they will never get back to their glory days of the mid-1960s). In a nutshell, the “Reagan Revolution” is finally coming to an end. The days of fast economic growth with benefits going disproportionately to the rich, and the poor slipping further and further behind, are numbered.

Maybe. The Reagan Revolution went on for over two decades (covering most of my adult life) because a lot of people, including the middle class and the better-off portions of the working class, actually liked it. People enjoy buying things, and that’s what the past generation was all about. Our choices of products and stores and ways to buy things grew and grew (who could have even imagined blackberries and Amazon.com on the night in 1980 when Reagan was elected). Marx was obviously wrong; shopping is the opiate of the masses.

And in the future, if some handsome, well-spoken Republican comes along promising a return to the days of home equity loans and big cars, a whole lot of people will get misty eyed remembering the 90’s and 00’s. The Obama Revolution might well have less time than most of the other “new eras”. Let’s hope that soon-to-be-President Obama uses his time to full advantage, administering as much healing to America as possible before the political circle takes its inevitable turn. A lot of historical responsibility will fall on the shoulders of a young man with such limited political experience (bright though Obama is). I wish him much success in repairing America’s broken economic foundations, in revitalizing America’s education system, in revamping America’s physical infrastructure, in correcting the glaring defects in the medical insurance and Social Security systems, in putting American science back on the cutting edge, in repairing America’s traditional international alliances and building new ones . . . and on and on. So much to do, and most likely, so little time.

And let me offer a brief elegy for Senator John McCain. McCain has much to answer for because of his role in dragging the 2008 Presidential campaign into the muddiest of political mud. And Sarah Palin, oh my. But at bottom, I still think that McCain is a good and honorable man. And before he passes from the headlines and disappears into the deep recesses of university library shelves where men like Wendel Willkie and Adali Stevenson and William Jennings Bryan and Horace Greeley reside, let me remind you that McCain did make an important point, however clumsily. (Had he only found a way to make this point more effectively, I can’t help but wonder if he might have had a chance, despite the terrible legacy his party is now burdened with).

The better political writings of ancient Greece and Rome assert that a government can only work if it has the “buy in” of the people that it governs. And that “buy in” involves elements of sacrifice and self-denial. You can’t have a virtuous government without a virtuous populace. Take one small area of government, one that I have some professional familiarity with — i.e., the criminal justice system. Even the best of police and prosecutors and judges and jails cannot maintain law and order if the populace does not respect and “internalize” the criminal codes in its day-to-day behavior. Law enforcement relies upon 95% voluntary compliance by the public in order to be effective (admittedly, 95 percent is not an exact figure determined by rigorous scientific study; but you get my drift). So does most every other aspect of government, including — and especially — the determination and collection of taxes.

McCain seemed to be saying, however clumsily, that America’s big problem right now is that public virtue isn’t doing very well, and that it somehow needs to be restored. To his credit, he hardly claims this to be a Republican versus Democrat issue. Certainly, years of Republican exhortation that personal greed is good and that all bureaucracy and taxes are bad has chipped away at the sense of “civitas” in our society, just as much as Democratic cynicism about the military did during the Vietnam war days (and also the Democratic willingness to look the other way from badly performing government institutions like welfare).

McCain seemed to be saying that being an American comes with just as many obligations as it does rights and opportunities and pleasures. Everyone needs to give up something, be it money, time, talent, comfort, and even some personal liberty, in order to support the “body public”. And maybe that collective “something” has to be a lot more than it currently is (perhaps one reason why so many foreigners struggle to get into America from Mexico and everywhere else is because the relative COST of being an American is currently very small relative to the ECONOMIC BENEFIT).

But McCain would also say that the government ultimately cannot FORCE virtue by trying to enforce virtuous behavior (and thus his rationale for cutting or at least not raising taxes; and by the same token, Democratic resistance against a military draft, or even a universal national service requirement for young adults). Although some taxes and some force are needed (e.g., in the criminal justice system), ultimately it’s a matter of people’s hearts. It’s a matter of truly buying-into your nation and being willing to give up some things for it.

Barack Obama is going to expand the realm of government over the next four years, and I agree that such action is necessary. But for this to really work, Senator McCain’s point about voluntary citizen virtue and unforced patriotism is also essential. I hope that Obama is willing to pick up the torch that has fallen with McCain (partly because McCain did such a poor job of carrying it — although carry it he did). Obama has become a public sensation; his day in the sun will be short, but I hope that he will use it to remind the public of the need for civic responsibility (and yes, that does include future leaders of investment firms not taking obscene salaries and perks for running their companies and the overall financial system into the ground). Without it, the big government that Obama will help to restore will eventually succumb to some future “revolutionaries”.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:16 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Politics ...

In one month’s time, America is most likely going to elect a liberal Democrat from a northern state as President; it will be the first time that’s been done in nearly half a century. The economic prosperity that made GOP conservatives so popular over this era is finally slipping away, and the swing voters who really don’t like liberal Democrats are finally ready to swallow some bitter medicine. They’re probably correct in their hunch that it’s time to bring big government back for a while, as to slow down and hopefully stabilize an overheated economy that lost control (self-disorganized, went over the boundary between sustainable equilibrium and chaos). We’re definitely at a point that will stand out in the history books.

I’ve been reading and pondering some of the punditry that’s being cranked out with such gusto this season. There’s a flood of it in the papers, on the blogs, on the radio and on TV these days; and most of it is pretty lame. But every so many days, some analyst says something cogent and useful about the American political system and its relation to our society and our economy. I think it was Peggy Noonan who observed the differences in tone between the more average and forgettable speeches at the GOP and Democratic conventions back in August and early September. The Democrats like to tell stories about struggling Americans, American families down on their luck, people who have fallen thru the cracks and need a hand to get back up. The obvious implication is that such a hand must be provided by government. The Republicans like to speak about people who have taken initiative and are living the American dream, or are darn near to it. They mostly want the government to get off their backs and leave them alone. I.e., cut out all the taxes and regulations and paperwork that takes their time away from making things and selling things and enjoying the fruits of their initiative and determination.

One of the conservative commentators noted that many Democrats aren’t far from being “poverty pimps”. They seek out examples of people in need, because such people give their own lives reason and economic usefulness. These are usually well-educated people with sensitive personalities, who just aren’t up to trading stock or inventing things or running their own businesses. They want to work for government or foundations or educational institutions; that’s pretty much the resume of Barack Obama. (And myself, actually.) So they focus upon the “glass half empty” part of America; they read books and magazines and newspapers that fulfill their hopeful contention that the country needs them to organize communities and write regulations and bring public-interest lawsuits and oversee grants that benefit “at-risk youth”.

The Republicans obviously see a different America; and in most election cycles over the past half-century, their view of America turned out to better fit the mood of the populace. Most struggling working class families don’t want government promises of protection; their plan is to get rich and buy their own protection. When the economy seems trustworthy, as it had for so many people for so many years, the average Jane and Joe accept the GOP blather about lowering taxes and shrinking government and maximizing opportunity for those with determination and entrepreneurial spirit.

But the economy is no longer trustworthy. It took more than falling home values and $4 gasoline and increasing unemployment and two wars that were dragging on too long; we had that 3 or 4 months ago, and McCain was still competitive. Only when the real scary stuff started happening, i.e. bank runs and bankruptcies and no more credit available, did America finally turn away from the Republican line. Ironically, if Obama does a good job and has the American economy stabilized and growing again by 2012, he may well set the stage for his own defeat in the next election. Of course, if we go into another Great Depression, perhaps the country will suspend the term limits and Obama will be the next FDR.

Even if Obama manages to stop the bleeding and stabilizes the economy, there’s still a much more fundamental problem, one that I doubt that the Democrats will tend to. (The Republicans haven’t tended to it either). And that’s the transition of our economy over the past three decades from a science, engineering and manufacturing base to a financial, legal and consumption base. Too many of our brightest young people today are encouraged to go to law school or study finance in an MBA curriculum, versus learning chemistry or computer science in a tech university. Everyone else now works in ‘service jobs’ assisting the consumer, instead of manufacturing jobs actually producing something. The potential rewards, both in terms of money and glory, are better for those who would run hedge funds and invent new forms of derivative debt instruments.

America still has a strong science and technology base, but that base is increasingly marginalized, shoved off into a corner to come up with better cell phone gizmos. It’s the lawyers and finance people who pull the levers in our nation, and what have they given us? A country of crumbling roadways and bridges, a country that can’t nearly produce enough energy to power itself, a country that cannot make so many of the things that it needs today, and a country that is falling behind in inventing what it will need in the future (it was Honda and Toyota, not GM and Ford, that perfected the hybrid vehicle). And recently, a country where loans can’t be had and debts can’t be paid.

Our country needs to get back to basics, to get its youth focused once again on learning how to make better things — real things — and not better ways to create financial illusions and spin nonsensical ideas (through industry lobbying, press releases, political sound bites, luring advertisements for consumer goods, etc.). Barack Obama came out of nowhere to fulfill the dream that a lot of good people have about America electing it’s first racial-minority President. Unfortunately, Senator Obama is ultimately another lawyer and spin-ster, and not a real-world techno-geek. He wouldn’t know a vanadium alloy from a voltmeter (neither would most other politicos). It’s getting late, but I still hope to live to see someone from the “techie” side find their way to the top. I.e., someone who could get elected JUST BECAUSE he or she talks like a techie, thinks like a techie, AND IS a techie. (Yea, I know that Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer and a nuclear engineer; but he sold-out his techie side during his political ascent, and never went back to it after his fall.)

Well, I can dream, can’t I ?

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:48 am       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
 
 
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