Jeremy J. Jones – Stranded in Thought

August 8, 2010

Poor Communication Opens Door for Hate

Filed under: Opinion — Jeremy @ 8:29 am

I might end up with a ton of inflammatory comments about this, but I don’t care. I have to write about this. The New York Times published an article today titled Across Nation, Mosque Projects Meet Opposition, wherein it discusses the fact that some Americans are rallying against allowing mosques to be built all across the country, not just the proposed one near Ground Zero in New York.

In that article, Mr. Mahmoud Harmoush, an imam (the lead priest of a mosque) and a guest lecturer at California State University, talks about the positive things his group does for the community. His group are living among the community and are involved in that community, having sent food to New Orleans after Katrina, participating in festivals around the area, and donating to food banks.

Now that they are trying to build a 25,000 square foot mosque on a property in Temecula, California they have owned for ten years, there is public outcry against the idea, and Mr. Harmoush notes, “We do all these activities and nobody notices. Now that we have to build our center, everybody jumps to make it an issue.”

He’s right. But I have to ask, if Muslims are doing such great things in their local communities, why don’t we know?

And furthermore, most people don’t know how much of our tax money we spend giving aid to foreign countries, including many predominantly Muslim countries. So if America does such great things around the world, why doesn’t anyone know that?

There are surely several reasons. One I can think of is the media, who would never report something positive if we paid them, because we won’t watch or read positive news, but don’t get me started on all that.

A bigger reason is, most of the time people are embarrassed to shout about the good things they do. Call it humility.

But here’s a potentially shocking fact: Muslims are no different than we are. We all feel that if we do the right thing, good things will come our way, and so we don’t run around talking about how great we are. We even frown toward those who do, as it’s considered bragging or self-involvement.

But that’s not how it works with inflammatory types. They only see what they want to see, and without strong evidence to the contrary, their flawed assumptions become powerful.

Think about this: if every time some radical Muslim leader preached to his group of followers that Americans want to see the destruction of Islam and the murder of every Muslim man, woman, and child, one of his more charismatic followers then later told the others, “Actually, I’ve found Americans to be quite wonderful. Last year, when I was living in Providence, my friends invited me to their home for Thanksgiving, and it was a really wonderful experience.”

That would diffuse the entire argument of the leader for some of them. The more jaded among the followers would still believe that we want them all dead. But it’s a start.

It’s also worthy to ask, what do you think would happen if that charismatic follower stood up during the speech of his leader and made that statement? What happened when people spoke out publicly against Hitler, Hussein, Castro, or any of the others? So no one does it, whether they disagree or not.

And the converse is true as well. If every time someone said that Muslims want to take over Congress so they can institute Shariah law someone else said, “That’s not true. They just want to have a place where they can worship in their own way, protect their children from drugs and gangs and give them a good education, and live a nice, safe life,” then the arguments of the radicals lose their power.

Of course, some people do try to make both those arguments, and they are shouted down as uninformed idiots by the radical masses on both sides.

I’ve been to many places around the world, and I have friends from, in no particular order: America, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Spain, Sweden, China, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Morocco, Jordan, Syria, and I’m sure several other countries I’m forgetting (no offense to anyone, or no “offence” for those of you with other English spellings).

One thing I know is that every single person I know, from every single place on the planet, regardless of their age, color, religion, politics, and whatever other demographic we’d like to give them, want exactly the same thing.

We all want to have a safe place to live and prosper, and we want our children to grow up safe and protected, get a good education, and be able to have a good life. We build houses differently, we eat different foods, we worship differently, but those underlying goals are the only things we really want.

So, basically, we are all the same. If you don’t believe me, start asking around, and see who really is Muslim, and ask them what they want from life. Trust me, if you start earnestly asking people, you’ll be surprised what you learn. A few years ago I asked the gas station owner at my corner where he is from. “Pakistan,” he said. An overwhelmingly Muslim country. I asked him his religion, and he said, “Christian.”

He could have been lying, but I doubt it. He is incredibly friendly toward everyone who comes into his store, and it’s far too genuine to be an act. He’s just a happy guy who lives here because he can work hard and provide for his family.

So it seems to me that the thing we all need to do is start massive campaigns to inform the whole world of our true intentions. Muslims can show the world how much they just want peace by promoting it and showing how much they care about their American communities. America can do the same by showing how much we care for and support the people of the Muslim world.

We basically need a promotional group that makes sure everyone knows about the positives the news won’t tell us about. Of course, the last thing we need that group to be is associated with any government or religious group. It needs to be a worldwide volunteer group of, say, Twitter followers who tweet about the good things they see happening among their communities.

Of course, for that to work, we’d actually need to know about our communities, and know that those people over there that just gave clothing to a clothing drive are Muslim. We need more openness and communication.

Communication equals power. In the absence of communication, hatred and ire rule.

Maybe I’ll start that Twitter group. Might be interesting.

Copyright © 2010 Jeremy J. Jones

July 12, 2010

Borders eBooks: anything but easy

Filed under: Opinion — Jeremy @ 5:53 pm

I am a huge fan of Borders. At least their bookish sections. I could really do without the coffee and other stuff they sell in their stores, but I understand why they offer all that stuff: to bring people in. I get that.

Yesterday, I traveled to my local one to buy a gift certificate for a friend, and I got a coupon from them advertising their currently running “Free eBooks” promotion.

I am not enamored with the idea of eReaders at all. I don’t like to read on an electronic screen. There’s glare, it’s too small, I can’t really be comfortable while I do it, et cetera. But I decided, since Borders was offering me five free eBooks, I would give them a try. Their advertising worked on me.

So I downloaded the Borders eBooks app (to my PC; there is no option for the BlackBerry Storm), and went to get the titles. I was pleased to find I’d already been provided with five titles: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; .

“That’s pretty cool,” I thought, and went about downloading the advertised five titles.

Here is where it became problematic and mildly irritating. First, I learned that I had to enter a $0 transaction for each book. I didn’t like that very much, but I understand that the system is set up for purchases, and probably the only way (they can think of) to provide free titles is to provide them in a no-cost transaction. “Fine,” I thought, and I went about purchasing the first, and here’s where the real trouble began that ended in my writing this post.

Despite having a preexisting account with that contains billing information, I had to enter all this information again. That was a bit annoying.

The form requires a phone number, and that phone number cannot contain any dashes. No information is given that explains that, other than that at the time of purchase, a notice is given that the phone number “appears to be invalid.” In honor of Baseball’s All-Star Game, and the passing of the legendary Bob Sheppard, I’ll use a baseball analogy; that was strike one.

After I figured that out, I checked the box that indicates I can click to save all my entered information for future orders, and shortly thereafter realized that it was not possible to purchase more than one title at a time, meaning I would have to enter five transactions. Strike two.

On attempting to purchase the next title (for no charge), I learned that the billing information was not recorded and I would have to reenter it, and do it three more times after that. Strike three.

By now I was pretty pissed. But I quickly realized I could work it all out in words, so here we are.

I’ll probably flip through some of the titles, but the fact remains that I hate reading on a computer, which is odd since I’ve been working with them for about thirty years. Nonetheless, I prefer a real book in my hands. I would never discount the market potential, and I’m sure some day I’ll come around, but right now the technology is just not my cup of tea.

And Borders’ eBook app, while a great idea, didn’t work very well at all, for me.

October 20, 2009

A Long Hiatus, and Control

Filed under: Opinion,Thoughts — Jeremy @ 8:10 am

A long time have I rested. More than two months. Of course, once shouldn’t call it resting; that’s hardly what I’ve been doing.

But I am more than ready to begin writing again. When I don’t write, it bothers me. Writing is rather therapeutic in that way. Even scribbling this little piece is helping me clear my head.

Life is an interesting ride. The ups challenge us physically just as much as the downs challenge us emotionally, and vice versa. Just when we think things can’t get any more difficult, they do, and then they get better so quickly that we wonder why, and how, and when the other shoe will drop.

The answer, of course, is to take control of one’s life. At least as much as one can have control. It has often been said that control is an illusion. However, if that illusion is carefully maintained, we fell much better as we move through life.

I’ve had the displeasure of witnessing the effects of the feeling of being out-of-control lately, and the wonder and doubt of observing the feeling of control returning. Interesting, to say the least.

My way to take control is to write. Heinlein said, “You must write.” That’s the first rule. There are others, but I am still working on that one. When I do that, I feel that I am taking control. And control is power. Power leads to success.

And success is my goal. Of course, success can be defined in many ways. Kristine Kathryn Rusch explains some of that in her latest editions of her Freelancer’s Survival Guide. Right now, I define success as being published. I have other goals and dreams, but that is the first step.

And therefore, I must write.


Copyright © 2009 Jeremy J. Jones

August 12, 2009

The shrinking world

Filed under: Opinion,Thoughts — Jeremy @ 5:23 pm

This article began more than two months ago, and was never finished; other things demanded attention, most notably our adjustment to the move from Connecticut to Rhode Island. But it was important to finish, because it illustrates a remarkable twenty-first century truth. My inspiration for this post came from the fact that I learned of the death of the renowned David Carradine as a result of a tweet from Courtney Cox Arquette, whom I followed at the time on Twitter.

On June 4, 2009, Mrs. Arquette delivered the news of Mr. Carradine’s death, and this prompted thinking about how news is delivered in today’s world. As though calling to tell one another, Twitterers announce information, often before live humans sitting to their lefts or rights can announce it.

Similarly, as mentioned in an earlier post, last month I learned of the existence of bestselling author Joseph Finder via his following me on Twitter. I’ve since become a fan of his work, and have come to greatly appreciate his monthly newsletter, “For Writers.” And I might never have found him had it not been for the Twitter community.

Most appealing is that simple snippets of news are given to me from new friends from all over the world: the U.S., Canada, Scotland, Sweden, Australia, and Germany, just to name a few of the locales of my Twitter pals. It’s really a wonderful thing, as for me it has made the world even smaller than previously found. But more importantly, through the world of news, market, writers’, and other feeds, information is available to me that might otherwise be available only via network or (worse!) cable news. Again, that’s another article, and would be quite a rant, neither of which does anyone wish to read right now.

What is fascinating is that the world gets smaller and smaller with time. Today, one can network into the publishing industry via computer, without having to travel all the way to New York or London, in real time. This was a luxury that earlier writers didn’t have. Furthermore, established authors now have the ability to speak to their entire fan base, something they could never have done thirty years ago, at least not if they expected to actually publish more work.

It’s just remarkable that we can all communicate in this way. Of course, for an aspiring writer, the key is in finding a balance between reading about writing and the publishing industry, and actually writing and submitting. So in that vein, I must write.


Copyright © 2009 Jeremy J. Jones


July 23, 2009

Learning by Discovery

Filed under: Non-Fiction,Opinion,Thoughts — Jeremy @ 3:49 pm

I had one of the most interesting experiences of my life today. I learned the name of a best-selling author, Joseph Finder. I’d never heard of him before (I’m behind the curve in the literary world, but coming up as quickly as I can). But that’s not the point.

What shocked me is how I learned of him. It wasn’t from a bookstore, or Amazon, nor did I see him on any of his television interviews in the last month.

I learned of him today because he started following me on Twitter.

I’ve had a lot of new followers this week, thanks to Lorenzo, The American Poet, of Crowned With Laurels. He listed me – and many others – in a recommendation to his followers, and we all started connecting. Things took off from there. My number of followers increased more than threefold, and most likely through one of those links, Mr. Finder found me. (I’ve yet to ask him, but I will.)

It’s fascinating how small the world is becoming via tools like Twitter. Not only was I introduced to a best-selling author, whose new book I will buy based on his pitch, but he was introduced to me.

Simply incredible. As we all get closer together, I can’t help but wonder what it all might mean.

It makes ideas swirl in my head, so I can see myself taking Finder’s advice and “just [writing] the damned book already”.

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 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 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.

March 15, 2009

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

Filed under: Opinion,Politics — Jeremy @ 6:50 am

The New York Times has reported in an article dated March 14, 2009 (AIG Planning Huge Bonuses After $170 Billion Bailout) that A.I.G. employees in its Financial Products Group, the group largely responsible for the company’s collapse, must be paid a total sum of approximately $165 million in bonuses by March 15, in accordance with legal contracts.

Edward M. Libby, the government-appointed representative at A.I.G., informed Timothy F. Geitner, U.S. Treasury Secretary, last week that the bonuses were legally required to be paid. He further advised Mr. Geitner that if the government completely removed the ability to pay bonuses, the “best and brightest” talent could not be attracted to lead the company from the brink of financial ruin.

We hear a lot of talk about these “best and brightest” executives, who have collectively destroyed the greatest economy in the history of the world with their arrogance, incompetence, and greed. I’m sure I speak for most Americans when I say I’ve had enough.

I have a better idea, Mr. Libby: let’s refrain from attracting the “best and brightest” executives in the future; they’ve shown demonstrated unreliability. Instead, why don’t we try and attract some less-wealthy, apparently “average and moderately-intelligent” executives who won’t demand bonuses in excess of $3 million per quarter per person for posting record failure numbers that couldn’t be exceeded by the most uneducated, incompetent people in the United States? One could jest that a group of trained monkeys might be able to avoid backing subprime mortgages to the tune of several hundred billion dollars because it just doesn’t sound right and they’d have a funny feeling in their bellies while making the decisions.

Rather, let’s look to the upper-middle class, where we might find some recently unemployed people who are willing to work for A.I.G. – and other companies for that matter – for less than the previous group receive in bonuses per quarter. I’d be stunned if we didn’t find some really great people this way. And we might just have the added benefit of stumbling across someone (maybe one or two) with some intelligence, common sense, and a conscience.

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