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kurt_cagle

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Member since: 2002
Number of posts: 493

Journal Archives

Best Buy Fading Fast

I have, in general, had some of the worst retail shopping experiences ever at a Best Buy. Two hours to get a replacement phone because the person selling it couldn't figure out how to work the sales software, phone sent back for repair and losing the memory card, appliances that lasted two months before dying, generally impossible to get help when you want it but getting pestered when you're obviously just browsing, computers that had obviously been returned and repackaged, missing critical pieces. In general, this is a sign that the managers don't care - they aren't paying their employees enough, aren't training them, and are accepting massive turnover simply as the cost of doing business on the cheap. I miss FutureShop.

On the other hand, I also don't necessarily see the electronics oriented stores lasting much longer anyway. Targets, Costcos, Fred Meyers, etc. are all moving into the same space, the Internet is making it easier to order directly (and usually at better prices and reasonable shipping), and the market's changing fast enough that stock obsolescence becomes a major issue. Of course that trend, taken to its logical conclusion, will be that nobody has a job, which is a bigger part of the picture than any idiocy on the part of Best Buy, but, yeah, BB's days are numbered.

Personally I would agree here

save that I think the currency is wrong, and that it is only meaningful to make such valuations after a person has died.

A firefighter who saves lives contributes far more to society than a commodities trader who enriches himself. A teacher who teaches the next generation of writers, scientists, artists or engineers is immensely valuable. A parish priest who counsels troubled teens and helps turn around lives is in his own way more valuable than a pope who serves to enrich the church. The scientist who discovers new laws of physics, the artist who challenges us to challenge our assumptions, the musician who creates and performs even when the crowds are not there, these people bring real value into our world.

On the flip side, there are people who are not worth the air they breathe. Some are lazy, selfish, deliberately ignorant, cruel for cruelty's sake. Others are greedy, taking advantage of others so regularly that they only see others as "marks". Some seek power in order to dominate others, enrich themselves or their patrons or see others suffer. Others profit directly from the suffering of others.

Most people who measure their worth in dollars have difficulty in understanding this, because devotion to duty, self-sacrifice, compassion, kindness, creativity and invention deriving from curiosity can seldom be measured in terms of dollars. They assume that because something is priceless, it is worthless. Nothing can be farther from the truth.

Senility

I've wondered that about McCain for a while now. He struck me during his run in 2008 as not being as sharp or focused as I remember him in the past, and he has become increasingly extremist after having been at least a pragmatic conservative for most of his career. Lately most reports show him as being irritable and occasionally confused, and I have to wonder if the presser he did during the briefing may have been a memory slip of fairly epic proportions. He is 76 years old, and seems older to me. I don't watch him that closely, but would be curious about whether other people have seen evidence of senile dementia.

Psychopathy = Sadism + Narcissism

The psychopathic personality enjoys inflicting pain and dominating others, and typically has a very highly focused sense of "me". They are extroverts who are able to mimic social expressions and body language well, are pathological liars, and generally see others either as competitors or prey. Everything is about them. I think there is a very real difference between psychopathic personalities and Aspergers - Aspergers generally do have a very weak sense of "me", they tend to be intuitive and empathic (watch Aspergers and High Spectrum Autistics with animals) but they have trouble interpreting human facial or body language. Both can be very focused, but the Asperger is focused more on external phenomenon and curiosity (the Ooooh Shiny!) while the psychopath is focused on themselves and their own self-promotion. Both can be methodical, but the psychopath often is also a pathological liar (even to themselves), whereas most people on the Autism spectrum have difficulty lying or deception of any sort. I can see an engineer as a killer, but they would kill out of curiosity. A psychopath would do so seeking attention, and plays games with others to achieve dominance.

I believe that Romney was a Narcissist, and there are hints that he had the capability of being a sadist, though I don't think that was a dominant part of his personality. He was just too self-absorbed to be capable of sparing any attention to others. I still think we dodged a very real bullet with him, however.

A Culture of Corporate Dependency

The mindset of corporations is to leave no profitable niche untapped, and to create dependencies where none existed before. In the aftermath of World War II, there was a labor shortage as pent up demand caused unemployment to reach its lowest point in history. The jobs involved were generally labor intensive, and many companies employed doctors on staff to handle the frequent injuries such labor entailed. However, doctors are expensive, and they too were in high demand, so many companies began to offer a stipend to cover doctor visits as doctors either went into private practice or started working for the mega-hospitals that also emerged after WWII.

As health care costs began to rise, it made sense to pool funds, since in general disease and injury costs were comparatively rare on an individual basis - the number of people who were sick or injured at any given time was sufficiently low that companies investing into the pool would only tap it when injury did occur, which meant that over time, you ended up developing a tidy profit. What's more, the people being covered were generally men and (a few) women in their prime of life - mid twenties to early sixties, were reasonably affluent, and were usually in good health.

Such pools naturally attracted speculative investors, who realized that if they had control over these buckets of money, they could invest it in other areas. So they bought out the company pools and established themselves as insurance companies, and then began expanding that pool to cover higher and higher risk people via higher deductibles, as well as investing outside of the health care domain entirely.

That's when things began to go south. More than a few insurance companies wracked up losses in other areas through bad bets, and they rose rates to compensate. Health care providers invested in new technology, which had to be amortized, and the pharmaceutical industry, seeing an increasingly captive market, expanded their own R&D while at the same time taking larger amounts off the top for administrative purposes, as did the insurance companies themselves. In the 1970s there was an attempt to reform the industry with Health Maintenance Organizations, but these eventually went from a gateway to being a facilitator of the health care complex. Demographics caused problems as well, as their core pool aged and placed higher and higher demands upon the system. In essence, the health insurance industry ended up building on a Ponzi scheme that sustained itself for about fifty years, but is reaching a point where the number of new investors into the scheme cannot cover the accumulated debt and bad investments of all previous investors.

Today, the system is collapsing, and like so much else that the private enterprise system has created, it has left the mess to be picked up by the taxpayers. Yet the insurance companies don't want to lose the pots of money they have - they simply want the government to pick up those people that are a net loss for them. Since many of those same insurance companies are now partially or totally owned subsidiaries of the giant investment banks, those banks are also vehemently opposed to reform. The pharmaceutical and medical supply companies are generally opposed, since much of the cost of drugs and the like are in effect hidden by what the insurance company does cover, as are costly procedures performed by the hospitals.

I'm not sure where things will end up. My suspicion is that in the end, ObamaCare will end up as the two tier system it is today - individuals will either buy directly into the government pool or into a private insurance pool. Employers will get out of the insurance business altogether.

Fascism in Action and Generational Politics

Walker in Wisconsin
The unelected regional managers in Michigan
Voter ID actions nationally
Citizens United and the Koch Brothers

Yes, the Tea Party as it is constituted now is openly fascist, but no one within that party would ever own the label, despite the fact that a fascist government is essentially an dictatorial oligarchy.

However, for a number of reasons, multiparty coalition governments do not generally last very long in the United States - there's some weird calculus that emerges when the president is not necessarily the head of the majority in a bicameral government that tends to reduce multiparty systems into two party systems within a generation.

Given that, if you want to take a look into the future, consider generational politics. The Tea Party is primarily 55+, with many of its members well into their mid-60s - they are primarily Southern Boomers and non-coastal Western Boomers, many of whom were the children of union workers who benefited dramatically from the growth of the South. By 2020 - two election cycles away, the youngest will be retiring, and politically, economically and socially, they will be fading quickly. Consider that Mitt Romney was at the very leading edge of the Boomer generation, which means the likelihood of another Boomer becoming President is dropping dramatically.

Obama is a GenXer or very late Boomer (there's a lot of question as to whether the Baby Boom ended in 1961 or 1964) and in many respects he's very typical of that generation - pragmatic rather than ideological, technologically savvy, a mindset more typical of an engineer than a politician. This is the generation that BUILT the World Wide Web. His appointees in the first administration were generally older - Democratic Boomers (most of whom were in the second part of the Baby Boom generation, from about 1952-1961), but I suspect that many of the key appointments he will be making in his second term will be GenXers, such as Susan Rice (born in 1964).

Of course, this also points out the fault lines within the Democratic Party. 2nd Stage Boomers tend to be more centrist, more focused on the status quo, and in general more business friendly, though not so much as Republicans. GenXers tend to be more focused on distributed systems, open architectures, business and government transparency, and decentralization. They are more analytical, and more critical of their own party from a pragmatic rather than an ideological standpoint. Rachel Maddow or Ezra Klein are both good examples of GenXers in that regard - Rachel is devastating as an analyst because she's appealing not to what's "right" but what's logical. As the Democrats enter into what looks to be a generation long ascendancy, the tensions between these two will continue to rise. This may also be the case if a new "Lincoln Party" emerges (as I predict) that will attempt to re-establish a moderate Republican base, one that may in fact actually appeal more to the GenXers, especially if one of the key messages is decentralization of authority. It might also attract the Libertarians. I think we may see the emergence of such a Lincoln Party by 2016, but I don't think that it will cause a schism in the Democratic Ranks until 2020, even as the old GOP brand fades into history much like the Whigs or the Dixiecrats. Ironically, I think that by 2020 or 2024, the Democratic Party will in fact be considerably more conservative by today's standards than the Lincoln party, which would be the reconstituted moderate Republicans.

Unless there's a balance

Create a red state from a blue one(s) leaning purple, with a distinct red population - say the Eastern half of Oregon and Washington. This was in essence what happened with Hawaii and Alaska. Hawaii was really only considered with the much more Republican Alaska in the mix. Do that and the only thing that happens is that the number of House members goes up by 12 members (6 for both Puerto Rico and 6 for State X), and you have 104 Senators. In general, states have usually come in as pairs for precisely this reason.

It would, but ...

Texas is still oil rich, albeit not as much as in the past, and there would be significant questions concerning any oil wells more than 20 miles off the coast. It would also be a business magnet at first, assuming massive liberalization of govt regulations and taxes. However, over time they'd experience a brain drain of qualified labor, and the needs of setting up a new self-sustaining government would ultimately end up driving a move towards "nationalization" of resources for tax purposes. They'd also find themselves seriously struggling with pollution issues, and the first time a hurricane hits Galveston or Houston, the costs involved could be stratospheric.

Seems simplistic

I'm not sure I fully concur here - I am more inclined to believe that a lot of what had been "firmware" before - essentially encoded directly into brain structures specifically and thus relatively slow to change - is now "software", where the brain is more flexible, like a general purpose computer. GP computers are not necessarily as optimized for certain tasks as specialized computers are, but they can do a far broader range of activities.

I also get worried when any article on biology talks about "magically correct any mutation" - future genomics has the very real possibility to completely screw up the human brain in the name of trying to improve it.

You know, I think following this through to its end MIGHT prove enlightening

Benghazi has been weird from the beginning, from the moment that a bunch of CIA operatives showed up unexpectedly at the Libya airport after the attack, and it has been getting weirder ever since. And the connection with the Republicans is beginning to definitely stink on this.

This may be a good time for Obama to start thinking about housecleaning a lot of the mid-to-senior level appointees from the Bush administration, and maybe finding a good candidate for Director, CIA that doesn't have ties to the Republican party.
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