Jeremy J. Jones – Stranded in Thought

May 26, 2009

Antitrust Me: We’ll Be O.K.

Filed under: Opinion,Politics — Jeremy @ 9:09 pm

We occasionally hear much talk about U.S. antitrust law in our media, but only when a frenzy is afoot. The most recent big news was the pursuit of Microsoft by the U.S. government for violating said antitrust law, by forcing out smaller competitors and racing to market to obsolete products and retain its monopoly.

Antitrust law is very complicated, and I have not researched it in any great detail. But I do know its intent; antitrust law is designed to protect both consumers and business from unfair business practices by: trusts, groups of companies conspiring together to control access to products or to control prices and effect a monopoly (also called cartels); and single companies who use their power to force out smaller competitors – we could argue which meet this definition for a long time.

What I’ve found interesting for a long time is that while Microsoft might have violated these laws, the U.S. airline industry has been doing so daily since its deregulation in 1978. Here are a few examples:

  • The companies work together to set prices to the market; when one raises price, all the others do the same within minutes, and vice-versa.
  • Each of these companies has absolutely horrible customer service, though some are far worse than others. The general attitude of the airlines is: “Go to hell. We’re too big to care what you think.”
  • Each company is filled with unions that slow down work processes, drive up costs, and create more errors than they fix, and yet, none of the companies seems to mind this.

What is most stunning about these and countless other examples is that the U.S. government doesn’t seem to care. This group of companies was the first that was “too big to fail” in 2002, when billions of dollars were doled out to companies in order that they might stave off bankruptcy. And several of those who took bailout money have since filed bankruptcy anyway. Brilliant.

The notable exception to the acceptance of bailout funds was Southwest Airlines, which escapes this essay without a target on its back; it could be better, but that company is leaps and bounds above the others.

Despite all of this, no one in Washington ever says a thing about the airline industry, most likely because politicians fly on private jets at taxpayers’ expense, but that’s another discussion. So consumers are at the mercy of an industry that raises prices on a whim, but lowers them with molasses-like slowness; has anyone seen a removal of the fuel surcharges added last year in response to gasoline prices, even though fuel prices are now approximately half what they were then? No. And all are quiet about it.

Regarding the poor service one experiences when flying, I’d like to make an exception. I’m sure there are more, but we only remember the bad usually. But this one stands out; Chesley Sullenberger and his crew on board US Airways flight 1549, which was successfully put down in the Hudson River in New York, saving the crew and all passengers, and all citizens on the ground. These people have the right attitude, dedication, and strength. It’s too bad they’re not the ones running the company; it might just get fixed.

On the other hand, we have the pilots of Colgan Air Flight 3407, which crashed on approach into Buffalo on February 12, 2009, killing 50 people, including both pilots. In May, results of the NTSB investigation were released, and it turns out that these two pilots had absolutely no business being in that plane, on that approach, at that time of year. Neither pilot had ever flown in icy weather. They also had remarkably little flight time between them. But that’s not all. They actually were discussing their fear of the ice, having never flown in it, rather than checking their flight instruments, up to the moment of the crash. These pilots were ill-equipped for the situation into which they were placed. They could have denied the route, but that would likely have cost them their jobs. I blame not the pilots; based on the evidence, I’d say they did their best, and that it unfortunately and tragically was not good enough.

Rather, I blame the airline for having placed those pilots in such a situation in the first place. Many would assert that it is greed or search of profit that killed those 50 people. That’s true, but not in the way most people might think. You see, there is a little statistic that airlines keep that could be called “on-time delivery.” This is a measure of how accurately to flight schedules passengers actually get delivered. To my knowledge, there is a bit of tolerance, but it is quite limited. Pilots are pressured to be on time: not too early, and definitely not too late. If pilots have a bad track record with on-time delivery, they get cut by the airline, and have a hard time finding other work. So pilots, especially in the biggest economic downturn most of us have ever seen, will fly even when they are not comfortable to keep their jobs. Hence, those two pilots had that plane in the air, even though they were scared to death of the ice. That is the real tragedy in this case. 50 people are dead because two pilots were more afraid of being reprimanded for being late than crashing the plane. Terrible.

On the lighter side of this topic, let’s have a look at how airlines measure themselves, and promote themselves to us. They like to tout that they have 99.5% on-time delivery, and numbers like that. That sounds really good, until you think about it, and realize it is a ridiculous figure. The average big airline, like American Airlines, operates between 300 and 500 flights per day. This means, on the small side, that to be 99.5% on time, only 298.5 flights need be on time. The other 1.5 flights can be early, or late, or very, very late, and it doesn’t reflect in the figure. Also, I suspect that canceled flights aren’t taken into consideration, because once canceled, they are no longer scheduled to land anywhere and therefore cannot be late. So all these details point us to one reality of airline travel, as far as the airlines are concerned; it is better to have one plane five hours late than ten planes five minutes late.

Why is that? Because assuming our 300-flight example, ten late planes would mean an on-time delivery of 96.7%. That’s a huge difference. However, in the first case, one five-hour late flight, we have a couple of hundred hugely inconvenienced people. That’s certainly better than 2,000 slightly late people.

I’ve wondered for a long time now, why have one plane forty-five minutes late when we can have nine planes five minutes late? Rather than making 200 passengers wait for forty-five minutes, resulting in many missing their connections, we could stagger things. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Mechanical problems, and we have to wait for another plane? No. We take the next plane of comparable size to leave, and those passengers take that one. Bump every plane up by one, and we eventually catch up, and everybody is maybe five or ten minutes late. Ah, but that would wreck on-time delivery.
  • Flight crew delayed? That one is my favorite. Get another flight crew. There are about a dozen around at any given time. Move the flight crews to different flights to get everyone where they need to go. But oh, I forgot; the pilot’s union won’t stand for that. “We don’t care if you’re going to miss your connection in Chicago, Mr. Customer. We’re going to Miami for the weekend.”

At the risk of coming off a bit harsh (I do that sometimes), maybe the airline industry should stop holding its hands out to Washington and instead use them both to pull its collective head out of where it’s stuck.

These companies are the worst kind of monopoly. They seem to think that consumers exist to serve them, rather than the other way around. It’s the reason that smaller carriers like Southwest have been slowly becoming huge by changing the game. Oh, and actually listening to the customers.

A novel idea.

May 25, 2009

The Zero With A Thousand Options

Filed under: Miscellaneous,Thoughts — Jeremy @ 9:23 pm

I recently heard a fellow student say that for her, art is religion in a way. She went on to provide information about Joseph Cambell’s “The Hero With A Thousand Faces” and how an artist can get lost in his or her craft. Furthermore, she talked about “transition,” as it related to a person’s isolation from his or her original society. (This was an Anthropology class.)

I am currently in a self-imposed transition. I joined the U.S. Navy after high school, served six years, and separated honorably. I’ve since worked three jobs, and ten years after leaving the Navy decided to go to school to study fiction and become a writer, which was what I wanted to be at twelve years old. I have finished my A.S. in Liberal Arts, and the graduation ceremony is in a week.

For personal reasons, earlier this spring my wife and I decided to relocate from Southington, Connecticut to Cranston, Rhode Island, to be closer to her family. I informed my boss three weeks ago that I would be moving, but that I didn’t want to quit my job. He agreed to keep me, and we ironed out some details. He then spoke to the company president, who agreed to retain me. That was two weeks ago.

This past week, I learned that the company had “changed its mind.” On the contrary, I think they knew all along that they would fire me and they merely lied to me. But that’s another essay. The point is that unless I can find another job, at the end of July I will be unemployed.

In the fall I will be at Rhode Island College as an English major. That’s very exciting and nerve wracking at the same time.

My friend said that she feels that she feels “art coming from some source other than [herself].” I know what she means. My best stories come to me when I really lose myself in a scene or a character. If I am thinking too much, the writing becomes academic at best. But when I am in the head of the character, which requires that I understand the character intimately, the appropriate words just flow out of me, and then I read it back, often stunned.

Having gone back to study the humanities, after having spent about ten years in technical math and engineering study, and then about seven in sales and marketing, my mind has opened to new things. As a writer, I’ve become a student of the universe; as a result, I’ve seen amazing things that I would have otherwise ignored. Ironically, the information I’ve learned in the humanities are those things I spent my early-teen years pondering, outside atop the hill under the Douglas firs at my father’s house in Oregon, gazing down upon the Willamette River Valley three thousand miles from here. Unfortunately, I wasn’t ready to study them in high school, and I spent more than twenty years lost and drifting. I’ve now found myself, and I know where I am going. That is the greatest religion anyone can get, and any way we achieve it, it is the power that drives us forward.

Find your religion. You will be happier for it.

May 24, 2009

Apocalypse When?

Filed under: Miscellaneous,Opinion,Thoughts — Jeremy @ 12:10 am

Apocalypse is an interesting concept. Religious societies have predicted an apocalypse for thousands of years, and each has evidently been wrong thus far.

The current apocalypse coming to a head has been ostensibly predicted by several independent religions around the world: December 21, 2012. Apparently, this date is to be the climax of all the increased interpersonal tension and natural disaster increases we’ve seen in the past ten years or so. At best, it is supposed that this date will effect a huge change in how humans conduct themselves. At worst, cockroaches will be ruling the world, as they’re apparently the only thing that will survive a nuclear holocaust, as the old joke says.

From my knowledge of The Revelation from the Bible’s New Testament, one could easily make a religion-based case for that date as an apocalypse. Near the end time, we are supposed to see increased: storms, disease, famine, seismic activity, war, and so on. It’s hard to argue that we don’t live in such a time. It’s also said that this period of “end times” will follow a period of relative peacefulness, which the 1990s certainly were by comparison to this decade and the 1980s. So, it can be easy to believe that the world is coming to an end, or at least to a monumental shift.

But I think that predicting this event in such a way can actually serve to paralyze people by fear. My philosophy is to live my life every day, because I can never know in advance when I will reach the end of it, whether it be December 21, 2012, or January 15, 2061, or some other day (I should save that last date; that would be interesting). Otherwise, I will reach the end of my life saying “I wish I’d done this,” or “Man, I should have done that.”

When my relationship with my wife was new, I told her one Tuesday, “I think I’m going to take flying lessons.” She had known me about three months and had heard her share of men talking like that throughout her life. She was therefore thoroughly shocked and impressed when I had my first lesson that Saturday.

She told me, smiling, “Wow! When you say you’re going to do something, you do it!”

And I replied: “Well, yeah. Why say you’re going to do something if you’re not going to do it?”

I have always lived by that mantra. I certainly delay things for financial reasons, but the things I want never come off of my list. Ever. I will do them all, someday. It is in that way that I satisfy myself. That is my religion. Sure, I occasionally change my mind, but most things I decide never leave my focus.

I think of it as a very simple creed. “I do what I say I’m going to do.” Many of us would do well to follow that creed. First, it would make us more reliable to others, but second, and more importantly, it makes one feel more responsible and proud. There is nothing like accomplishing what you set out to do. It is very empowering.

Earnest Hemingway once wrote, “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”

That’s sound advice. But simplifying it can actually make it more restrictive. Always do what you said you’d do. That’s sometimes hard to measure up to. However, I know one surefire way to fail at anything, and that is to assume failure is inevitable. This all but guarantees it, as we stop trying once we’re sure we’ll fail. Into the mouth of Yoda, everyone’s favorite 900 year-old Jedi Master, George Lucas put the words, “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Very powerful. I remember that when I am setting my mind to do something particularly challenging for me.

And that brings me back to the subject at hand. Maybe the world will end on December 21, 2012, maybe I will die between now and then, and maybe I’ll live to be 100 years old. But what I know is that it will remain important to “do,” until that moment comes. Otherwise, regardless of when my end arrives, I’ll have died perhaps decades earlier, from waiting for my death.

I’d not wish that fate on anyone.

May 17, 2009

Vancouver! This Is It!: May 18th In My Memory

Filed under: History,Thoughts — Jeremy @ 5:50 pm

For twenty-nine years, May 18 has held a certain distinction for me. On that date in 1980, I was in the second grade at Clear Lake Elementary School on Wheatland Road in what is now Keizer, Oregon. Sadly, the school has since changed locations and buildings, so I must admit a little part of me died in 2005 when I drove by the old location with my wife for the first time to find it closed. Thankfully, it was still there, so I could show it to her. Progress had claimed another victim, but that is not the point of this story.

Most people remember that on May 18, 1980, a natural disaster ranking with Hurricane Katrina and the San Francisco and Northridge earthquakes in terms of financial damage happened in southern Washington. On that day, at 8:32 A.M., a 5.1 earthquake shook loose the bulging north face of Mt. St. Helens, causing it to slide downward into Spirit Lake and the mountain to erupt, spewing some 540 million tons of ash into the atmosphere1. That’s 1,080,000,000,000 pounds. 1 trillion, 80 billion pounds of ash. Incredible. This event caused unimaginable damage to the surrounding area, and 57 unfortunate people were killed as a result of the catastrophe.

But what most people probably don’t know is that there is a great man buried under the debris of the north face of Mt. St. Helens. His name was Harry R. Truman (“No relation [to the President],” he said). He was 83 years old.

Harry became something of a national celebrity from March, 1980 until his death on the 18th of May. He lived in a cabin on Spirit Lake, directly under the north face of the mountain, which was exhibiting a bulge the likes of which vulcanologists had never before seen or studied. As a result, there was considerable fervor over his living in the cabin, and refusing to leave. As the media began to promote this case in earnest, children all over the country began to take an interest in Harry, many writing letters to him.

However, the letters that piqued his interest most were those written by Scott Torgeson’s third and fourth grade class at Clear Lake Elementary. The letters written by these children, begging him to leave the mountain, asking him why he wouldn’t, and providing him advice for how to protect the animals in an eruption, prompted Harry to visit the school. He arranged a helicopter via National Geographic magazine, which was reporting on the mountain’s activity, and came to the school to meet and speak with the children. I’ll never forget that day. It was Wednesday, May 14, 1980.

The school took the opportunity to bring all the students out. (Accounts place the number of students at either 104 or 110 students2,3; that seems about right, but I can’t recall, having been seven years old at the time.) The parents came to see Harry and to watch the children interact with him. It was an amazing day.

We all went outside to greet him, banners held high, and he came down in a helicopter, accompanied by a pilot, a National Geographic reporter, and if I’m not mistaken, a photographer from the magazine. We cheered his arrival, waving and jumping, as the copter landed and Harry walked out to greet us.

If I recall correctly, he was given a chair. Though, he might have been offered one and instead said “I don’t need no damned chair,” or something like that. Harry talked like that, even when we children were present. In any case, Harry said a few simple words, “Hello, children,” and the like, and then took questions from us; that was the real reason he’d come.

One question sticks out in my mind from all those years ago, and it was: “What would you do if you looked out your window and you saw lava coming down the mountain at you?” I don’t remember who asked it, but it was one of the kids.

Harry’s response was exceptionally candid: “I’d run like hell.” We laughed, but it was exactly the right statement; I’m sure that’s what any person would do under such circumstances.

After a few more simple questions and comically truthful answers, the conversation changed. One of the children asked Harry why he didn’t just leave the mountain, to make sure it didn’t kill him.

This seemed to be what Harry was waiting for, because he dramatically changed his tone and explained. I don’t have the exact words of Harry in my memory, but his message remains with me; I’ve brought it forward with me every day since. He told us he’d lived a long and mostly happy life, he’d built the cabin himself, he’d lived up there some twenty years, and he’d buried his wife right outside the cabin, and visited her every day. He told us he loved his wife and missed her every day, and that if he had to be buried, he wanted to be buried with her.

Then he told us someday we’d understand. Now I do. It was one of those rare occasions when an adult told me I’d understand someday, and I actually remember understanding. Then Harry told us goodbye, and we told him the same. He and his crew got into their helicopter and flew back to Spirit Lake. Four days later, the mountain erupted, and Harry joined his wife. We were the last people to see him alive, excepting those with him in the helicopter.

Below, I’ve added a link to a short YouTube video by spikedeadman showing the collapse of the northern face of Mt. St. Helens that would have killed Harry, and the beginning of the subsequent eruption. If you’ve never seen it, or if it’s been a while, take a look. It will leave you speechless.

I’m not sure if Harry was the first person I’d met who died, but he is definitely the first person whose death I remember. I knew Harry, so to speak, for only about an hour and thirty minutes or so. But he has had a tremendous impact on my life; I think often about that man, and his philosophy. He had his priorities figured out, and he explained them very clearly to a bunch of grade school children, as if he were speaking to adults. As a result, his message still resonates with me, and I suspect most everyone else who was there, twenty-nine years later.

Every May the 18th, I think about Mt. St. Helens and specifically Harry R. Truman. Every year. I feel a strange bond with that man, even though we never actually spoke. It’s amazing what an impact on one’s life twenty or thirty letters from third and fourth graders can have. (Along those lines, please make sure your children write. It can make a huge difference in their lives.)

Due to such a simple act of compassion on the part of children, kindness on the part of an old man resulted in one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given. I wasn’t in Scott Torgeson’s class at the time, but I feel privileged to have been at Clear Lake on that day.

My world is better for your having been here, Harry. Run like hell.

References

  1. Tilling, Robert I., Topinka, Lyn and Swanson, Donald A. (1990). Eruptions of Mount St. Helens: Past, Present, and Future. U.S. Geological Survey. Accessed May 17, 2009.
  2. Findley, Rowe. St. Helens: Mountain With A Death Wish – In the Path of Destruction. National Geographic, January, 1981. Accessed May 17, 2009.
  3. The Daily News. Mt. St. Helens – 25 Years Later. Lee Publications Inc. Accessed May 17, 2009.

May 9, 2009

What Are We Saying?: The F.C.C. Gains More Power Over Our Airwaves

Filed under: Opinion,Politics — Jeremy @ 6:03 pm

The Supreme Court recently upheld the F.C.C.’s determination that a one-time, fleeting use of an expletive on live television could be punished under the indecency statute, as reported by the New York Times: Supreme Court Upholds F.C.C.’s Shift.

This sets a dangerous precedent, and should be reviewed immediately.

It’s important for people to understand the role of the F.C.C. Its task is to ensure that no broadcaster violates the “Crimes and Criminal Procedures” statue of the United States Code, Section 1464, Title 18. This document states: “whoever utters any obscene, indecent, or profane language by means of radio communication shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.”

But the meaning of the words “obscene, indecent, or profane” have been left open to interpretation, presumably to allow the meanings to change with time. However, this leaves them open to interpretation based on personal, rather than popular, opinion.

The F.C.C. has five commissioners. They are appointed by the President of the United States, confirmed by the U.S. Senate, and they serve five-year terms. The President appoints a chairperson from one of the five, who provides the moral compass for the Commission. Based on the five-year term limitation, any president who serves two terms will have the opportunity to nominate commissioners to all five spots. However, only three of the commissioners may be from any one political party.

But what this means is that like the Supreme Court, the President has the ability to place commissioners sympathetic to his party’s dogma in place in the F.C.C., and can even name one the chairperson. In fact, the only requirement to be a commissioner is to be nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. One need have no experience in the broadcasting world, and it’s preferable if one doesn’t to prevent favoritism or lenient treatment of broadcasters.

As a result of these rules, the F.C.C. can make any determinations it wishes regarding what we are and are not allowed to see or hear in our broadcasts. The only way to stop them is to take the case to circuit courts, which has happened several times, and to the Supreme Court if necessary, which has happened twice.

The most famous Supreme Court case involving the F.C.C. and indecency was the broadcast of the late George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words” routine. A New York radio station broadcast the sketch in its entirety, and was fined by the F.C.C. after a complaint by a listener. (Incidentally, the F.C.C. can fine no one if a citizen files no complaint; they have no teeth if society allows things to pass.) They took their case all the way to the Supreme Court, which upheld that broadcast of those words was “indecent.”

I should define those three words, in terms of the government, as well as the rules regarding their broadcast while I’m at it. All these definitions come from the F.C.C. website.

Obscene material is defined as “material of a pornographic nature.” This material can never be broadcast. Ever.

Indecent material is defined as that which “depicts or describes sexual or excretory organs or activities in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards.” This one requires some significant discussion. First, one must wonder why we cannot broadcast material that “depicts or describes sexual or excretory organs,” when we are constantly bombarded with advertisements for products helping with erectile and vaginal dysfunction, constipation, difficulty urinating, and incontinence. I fail to see why a discussion about sexual intercourse in a drama or comedy is any less appropriate than an advertisement calling for a man to visit a doctor if he has an erection lasting more than four hours.

Profane language is the use of words considered offensive enough to be a “nuisance” to society. That is exceptionally vague and open to interpretation.

Now, it might be interesting to learn that there is a defined “safe harbor” period, during which a broadcaster may broadcast up to indecent material with no penalty upon complaint. That is currently defined as from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., local time. This is the reason why we can see reruns of “Sex and the City” at 11 p.m. where they don’t edit the words “asshole” or “Goddammit.”

One other interesting piece of information is that none of this applies to the Internet, cable television, or satellite radio; these media may broadcast what they wish. The Internet is somewhat of a gray area, but the F.C.C. considers subscription fees for cable and satellite broadcasts, as well as the known more risque programming on these outlets, as a sort of acceptance that material might be offensive or inappropriate for children.

But lately, some performers have been dropping F-bombs at the Golden Globes or Video Music Awards, one time only, and people have been offended and have complained. The F.C.C. has levied huge fines to the broadcasters, and the Supreme Court upheld that this was legal. This means that Fox could be liable if a football player drops an “F” too close to a field mic, or if Ward Burton uses an epithet to decry his and his team’s performance on race day (one which I personally loved; say it like it is, Ward!).

I think it odd that we have a definition of indencent language as that which is “patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards,” that simply does not reflect all contemporary communities. I don’t know very many people who have never dropped an “F” in conversation, and it’s not because I’m a heathen. It’s because there is but a minority of American population that does not occasionally use these words.

If you want to know the origins of the F.C.C., start with Sir Charles Sedley, in 1663 England, who was the first person ever fined for acts of indecency (that is a great story; either look it up or ask me). Then flash forward to the late-nineteenth century in New York and one Mr. Anthony Comstock, the father of modern American restrictions on language. This man waged war on obscene language in books, primarily pornographic books, resulting in his working on a pro bono basis for the U.S. Postal Service, where he headed a team which confiscated and burned books considered offensive. He set the precedents for religious groups, who set out to protect children through our broadcasting. Though the F.C.C. and its antecedent, the Federal Radio Commission, were created for the purpose of regulating broadcast frequencies, a statute was slipped in when no one was looking to make sure our children hear no dirty words. It’s a good thing too; they’re so well protected today as a result.

Lastly, I think it is sad that I live in a world where our broadcasters are required to limit what they can broadcast, in clear violation with the intent of the First Amendment, based on the desires of religious groups who seem to think the word “fuck” is offensive but have no problem with “nigger” or “wetback” or “squaw.” It’s just backward that in most families, we scold people for using so-called curse words, but turn around and tell racially-charged jokes continually. That greatly disappoints me, and should disappoint you too. You know who you are.

But the latest Supreme Court decision on indecency is good news for the religious groups. Now they don’t have to worry so much for a while; all of us who think opposite from their rhetoric have been dealt a painful blow, and it might take us many years to recover.

I’d Like Some More, Please

Filed under: Opinion,Politics — Jeremy @ 7:41 am

Another $75 billion for the banks is needed. Brilliant. Let’s give them $150 billion for good measure.

There are roughly 300 million citizens in America. $75 billion divided evenly among them is $250 per person.

But wait. Since the banking crisis began, the U.S. government has given out over $2 trillion to needy companies, many of them banks. So again, let’s do the math: $2 trillion (by the way, that’s 2 million times 1 million) divided by 300 million comes out to $6,666.67 per American.

Since we’ve “injected” this $2 trillion into “the banking system,” basically nothing has happened. I suppose the number of jobs lost is slowing, but there were still another half-million new unemployed people in April, so I don’t see what this amazing expenditure has provided us but a greater tax burden.

Suppose that instead we had given $6,500 to every American citizen? (Notice I used the word “citizen”; that’s another article for another day.) It’s theoretically possible that Americans would have been too afraid to spend any money, and instead would have shoved it under their mattresses; if that had happened, we’d be no worse off since that’s essentially what banks have done. But more likely, people would have spent like they’ve never spent before. $6,500 is a huge amount of money to most Americans, and people would have used that money to buy cars, pay down debt (including their mortgages), go on vacation if so inclined, and so on. This would put something like, let’s say, half that $2 trillion directly into the economy.

Of course, that could cause severe inflation, so it could be a dangerous move. But the amount of money that would have been directly given to businesses, small and large, and by extension banks in the form of cashflow would have been far greater than it is right now, so we might have been better off risking the inflation; besides, all us middle-class people know very well that prices aren’t going through the roof on things (check the price of lettuce, or milk, or flour lately?).

I think our political leaders suffer from the same misconception that most Americans do (so at least they seem to represent us in this way): the stock market and economy are controlled and fueled by banks. That is false. The stock market and economy are fueled by consumers. That is a free-market economy. If these things are controlled by banks, we are going down a very dark path.

It’s basic economics, but most of it don’t understand. If we buy less as an economy, prices go down and vice-versa. It’s important to note that the “economy” is now global. It’s not enough for America alone to change things these days; we have China, India, and Europe that influence things greatly as well. But if everyone understood principles and applied them, we could resolve this crisis.

Let’s take gasoline for example. Last year, it increased until the American national average was more than $4.00 per gallon. Then something amazing happened. People worldwide started using less gasoline, and the price of a barrel of oil dropped from about $150 to below $60, and gasoline dropped back below $2.00 for the first time in years. We can talk about speculators and their effect on crude oil prices if you want, but I believe we are responsible for price fluctuations rather than some group of greedy people somewhere who are trying to ruin us.

So, with gasoline below $2.00, what happened? The world, with its typically short memory, has gone back to the old times. We’re using more gasoline, and the prices have been steadily climbing for weeks. This will continue until people get wise to the way capitalism works again, and the prices will fall. Hopefully, we don’t end up in a depression from it.

But that’s the way a free-market economy works. We buy more stuff, and prices are raised so increased revenues can be used to make more, because the supply has increased. This also has the counter effect of decreasing the growth of demand, so companies can continue to meet that demand. When we buy less stuff, prices go down to encourage demand, and therefore, companies have to decrease cost; the easiest way to do that is with mass layoffs. If we spend more money, jobs are created and kept.

I realize there are an awful lot of newly-unemployed people out there; my wife is one of them. I’m not talking to them. I’m instead speaking to those of us who have as of yet been unaffected by the recession in this way. We should be finding ways that make sense for us to put our capital into the system and thereby create jobs. Of course, this would have been much easier if we’d all received $6,500 per person in each family.

Let’s not forget that it is the People who control the American and the world economy. This means all people: American, European, Asian, Australian, and African.  We are all in this vehicle together, and we’re letting a blindfolded idiot drive the car. It’s time we dropped that guy off at the next bus stop and took the wheel ourselves.

May 3, 2009

Summer Activities

Filed under: Fiction,Miscellaneous,Poetry — Jeremy @ 5:34 pm

I had a new (better) idea, so I must amend my summer plans.

My goal is to write a new poem each day, and a new short fiction scene in a world I will create. The goal will be to amass a substantial body of poetry work and to finish a large fictional story arc by the end of the summer.

That should be a fun journey, and maybe I can get some people on the hook with that story as well.

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