Texas Liberal

All People Matter

Companies Invest More In Machines Than In People—We’ve Got To Fight For Ourselves As Working People

The New York Times reports that companies are spending more on new computers and other machines than they are spending on hiring new people.

From the Times

“…Workers are getting more expensive while equipment is getting cheaper, and the combination is encouraging companies to spend on machines rather than people. “I want to have as few people touching our products as possible,” said Dan Mishek, managing director of Vista Technologies in Vadnais Heights, Minn. “Everything should be as automated as it can be. We just can’t afford to compete with countries like China on labor costs, especially when workers are getting even more expensive.” Vista, which makes plastic products for equipment manufacturers, spent $450,000 on new technology last year. During the same period, it hired just two new workers, whose combined annual salary and benefits are $160,000.”….with the rising costs of hiring, companies like Vista are finding ways to use capital to replace workers whose jobs are relatively routine. “If you’re doing something that can be written down in a programmatic, algorithmic manner, you’re going to be substituted for quickly,” said Claudia Goldin, an economist at Harvard. To add insult to injury, much of the equipment used to replace American workers is made by workers abroad, meaning that capital spending is going overseas. Of the four pieces of equipment Vista bought last year, one was made domestically…”

Could somebody please tell me where people are going to work and how they are going to get by as we move forward in this country?

Here is where we seem to be in our nation today—

* We’re cutting spending on education that would prepare young people for the job market.

* We won’t ask the most wealthy to pay more taxes.

* Employers won’t hire even at a time of record profits.

* Government is laying off thousands of workers.

* Many people who are working are unable to get a steady 40 hours a week.

* There is vehement opposition from the right to the extension of health insurance to all Americans.

* Unions are under assault. 

* Pensions are a thing of the past and people’s retirement—if they even have a 401K—is at the whims of the stock market.

* Social Security and Medicare are under constant attack.

* Poverty is rarely mentioned by leaders of either major political party.

* The unemployed don’t seem to be on the agenda at all as states cut back on unemployment benefits and the talk in Washington is about debt reduction.

It seems that the average person is being abandoned in America.

Given the direction we are headed, how are even the most hard-working people going to find steady work and good benefits?

The good news is that average people have the ability to fight back and to demand a fair return for the work they are willing to do. People are not helpless.

Here is a series of articles from The American Prospect Magazine about the problems facing middle class American and about some possible solutions.

The work of a better and more fair nation and society is up to each of us.  Every individual has the ability to attend a public meeting, attend or organize a protest, write or call an elected official, talk to friends and family, start a blog, donate money, write a letter to the editor, volunteer for candidates and causes, and even run for public office.

If you don’t take control of your future, somebody else will.

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June 10, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 7 Comments

The Fighting Temeraire—Our Idolatry Of Technology And Markets Over The Needs Of People

The painting above is called The Fighting Temeraire. It was painted in 1839 by J.W.W Turner.

Please click here to learn more about Mr. Turner.

The Fighting Temeraire is the sailing ship being pulled into port by the steam ship at the front of the picture.

Here are some facts about the ship The Fighting Temeraire.

Here are some facts about the painting.

The idea of the painting is that the age of sail is over. The steam ship is hauling in the Temeraire to be broken up at the ship yard.

While it turns out that this is a well-known painting, I’d not seen it until I recently read a book called Ship–The Epic Story Of Martime Adventure by Brian Lavery.

The story of a newer technology replacing an older technology is as old as the hills.

Progress has value.

At the same time, government has an obligation to help hard-working people who have been displaced with education relevant to finding a new job, access to health care, and unemployment benefits.

Machines are machines and people are people.

Ships go to scrap yards. People merit better.

In our modern idolatry of technology and markets, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the object of public policy is to improve the lives of human beings.

We cannot lose sight of the fact that we are here on Earth to help others.

March 19, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why I Enjoyed My Nighttime Drive From Austin To Houston

Last night, from about 10:30 PM until maybe 1:30 AM, I drove back to Houston from Austin. My wife is out-of-town visiting family and I had Thanksgiving dinner in Austin with a friend. I took Highway  290 to get to Austin and back.

I enjoyed my ride home.

Here is why I enjoyed this ride—

1. I had three hours alone to think.

2. It was mostly cloudy. I liked looking at the light of towns and cities in the distance reflected by the clouds. I’m not saying people are always best in the abstract, but it is good to have a mix of actual human contact and a more remote consideration of the human condition.

3. I was glad not to be robbed or to stumble upon a robbery-in-progress when I stopped at an all-night gas station at midnight to get something to drink.

4. I was able to contemplate the road I was driving on as agent of communication between people. The road is an extension of our natural desire to go other places and to see other people.

5. Consistent with the point above , I thought about how the road was built by people, yet how it also bended to the topography.  Terms like “natural” and “artificial” don’t really have clear meanings in many ways.

6. I liked the intermittent flashing lights on the electrical towers, radio transmission towers, and cell phone towers. Though these towers often stand isolated in remote places, they are in fact necessary to facilitate all sorts of communication between people.

7. I felt active and alert while driving and thinking, yet I felt removed from the world out in the night at a late hour. I found this to be a good state of mind.

It is helpful to have breaks from the routine of life. Such breaks can allow for reflection, for new thoughts, for the updating of long-standing ideas, and for renewed commitment to ideas that are of personal importance or that are of personal interest.

November 26, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Finding Work When Over 50 In A Changing Economy—Ice Delivery Did Not Last Forever

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Bud Korbee died recently in the Cincinnati area.

Mr. Korbee was one of the last people in Cincinnati employed in the job of delivering ice to people’s homes.

Above you see a picture of Mr. Korbee.

Here is a portion of Mr. Korbee’s obituary from the Cincinnati Enquirer—

“Bud Korbee, who was born to a butcher shop owner and homemaker in Norwood, joined his uncle’s ice delivery business while still in high school. His uncle died during Bud Korbee’s senior year, and the young man decided to keep the family business going instead of going to college. “It looked like a good business, like it would last forever,” said Harold G. “Hal” Korbee, his oldest son, a lawyer in Cincinnati for 45 years. In its best times, the little ice company employed seven workers, including family members like Hal Korbee, driving three ice trucks. They would stop, put a burlap sack on their shoulder and, using large tongs, pull off a 25- pound, 50-pound or 100-pound block of ice, which they’d carry to houses, businesses and apartments, sometimes up four or five stories.”

Mr. Korbee thought that maybe the ice delivery business “would last forever.” Imagine that.

You don’t have to be an advocate of ruthless competition and tearing the social safety net to shreds to realize that you have to be ready for what may come next in life.

The good news in this case is that Mr. Korbee did have another skill. And, in addition to this other skill, he was able to find an employer who would hire him.

From the obit—

“One of Bud Korbee’s hobbies became his next career as his ice business was dying. Bud Korbee loved gardening and kept a rose garden at home. He became a residential and commercial landscaper for Bud Jones & Sons Inc. from 1957 until he retired in 1980.”

I’m glad it worked out for Mr. Korbee.

The thing I wonder about today is will those who have lost jobs in the recession be able to find a decent job again?

While the obit does not give a birth date, based on his age Mr. Korbee must have been born in 1905 or 1906. He took the job with the gardening firm in 1957 just as he was turning 50.

Here is a recent New York Times story where people 50 and older who have lost their jobs voice concerns that they may not be able to find full time work ever again.

From this story—

“… older workers suspect their résumés often get shoved aside in favor of those from younger workers. Others discover that their job-seeking skills — as well as some technical skills sought by employers — are rusty after years of working for the same company. Many had in fact anticipated working past conventional retirement ages to gird themselves financially for longer life spans, expensive health care and reduced pension guarantees. The most recent recession has increased the need to extend working life. Home values, often a family’s most important asset, have been battered. Stock portfolios are only now starting to recover. According to a Gallup poll in April, more than a third of people not yet retired plan to work beyond age 65, compared with just 12 percent in 1995…. in the greater Seattle area, a fifth of those claiming extended unemployment benefits are 55 and older.

If average people think they won’t need help from government in the economy of the future, they are in for a rough surprise. You can talk about small government all you want, but people are going to need help.

One way people are being helped is with Health Care Reform. HCR reform means you can’t be kicked off a policy for getting sick and it eliminates  lifetime limits on polices. Already, and in the years, to come it will expand access to health insurance for millions of hard working Americans. Click here to read about how HCR will benefit working Americans.

Technology has been changing how people work for a long time. Mr. Korbee lost his job in ice delivery in the 1950’s because in-home refrigeration became accessible to almost all people.

I wonder how Mr. Korbee would have done if he lost a job today due to new technologies.  It seems that he might have had a tougher time than he did in 1957.

I know this—Reflexive bashing of government is not going help anybody get a job or get through hard times.

October 11, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sludge Flood Is Disgusting–But The Industrial World Is As Natural To Human Beings As Is A Tree

The sludge flood in Hungary is disgusting.

What you see above has taken place in the town of Ajka which  is 100 miles from Budapest.

Industrial sludge burst from an industrial sludge reservoir at an aluminum plant and inundated surrounding areas.

At least four people are dead and three are missing. The sludge substance causes burns when it touches the skin.

There is concern that the sludge will enter the Danube River and spread to other nations.

As nasty and harmful as this is, we can’t forget that technology and industry is as “natural” to  human beings as is what we commonly perceive as natural.

A factory is as natural to our existence as is a tree.

(Below–Vincent Van Gogh‘s 1887 painting Factories At Asnieres, Seen From The Quai de Clichy.)

Scientists assert that tool use by early humans began over three million years ago.

We’ve been bending the world to our needs and wants for a long time.

It adds a great deal to life when we see the things we create with our minds and our hands as extensions of the fact that we are human beings.

It has value to see both the good and the bad of what we make of the world

A nasty industrial disaster like a flood of skin-burning sludge can cause revulsion at what human beings do the world.

The reality of climate change and our refusal to address the problem in an adult manner might make you want to give up for good.

What is required, however, is that we take the time to fully understand where we fit in the world.

The sludge flood can be a spur to not just revulsion, but also to a more complete grasp of the fact that all things are connected.

Because of our unique abilities as human beings, this fact of connection joins together the man-made world and the environment of our planet.

Let’s see the whole picture so that we can understand our problems, define our goals, and make the best use of our abilities and our lives

October 7, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Snow Cone–I’m Not Always My Own Person Anymore

This picture of a snow cone on the Galveston Seawall has proved popular when I’ve e-mailed it to friends.

So I thought that it might go over well with the blog reading public.

It was as hot as could be the day this summer  I took this picture.

I had to rush to take the picture before the snow cone melted.

I don’t suppose that answers the question of why I had to take a picture of the snow cone in the first place.

Not so long ago, I did not have e-mail so that I could sent things to my friends in an instant.

Nor did I have had a camera in my phone or a blog.

Now I have these things and I’m always looking for material.

It is like—at times— I’m not my own person anymore. I’m someone in frequent pursuit of words and images meant to appeal to others.

Here are some facts and history about snow cones.

September 29, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Should I Switch To An iPhone Or A Palm Pre?

File:Ammersee 29.01.2006.jpg

Should I buy an iPhone or a new Palm Pre phone?

When leaving home I take with me, as a general matter, my very basic cell phone, a few pens, a small notebook in my back pocket and something to read.

If I go to lunch by myself on a day off from work, or when at lunch at work, I use the time to read my book or magazine and mark down anything I wish to recall in my notebook. I use my cell phone to call and check in my wife.

I don’t reject technology. I make calls on my cell. I use a Flip Camera to make videos for this blog. And, as you might guess, I use a computer to write this blog. I don’t have a laptop. I write the blog from my personal computer at home.

I gave some though to if I should switch my phone to one of these new-fangled phones. I came to the view that it would not work for me. As represented by the picture above, I’m fragmented enough.       

I don’t need to check the internet when away from home. I don’t need a phone full of applications to further distract my attentions. I don’t have time enough to read the books and magazines I already own.

Fragmentation in contrast to a more cohesive whole is not a good thing. Look at the fragmented ice in the picture. How could one walk across that ice to get from one place to another? You’d just fall into that cold water and freeze and drown.  

It’s not just the fragments in the picture that are telling—It’s the setting sun as well. If our time is so divided, how can we get something of substance accomplished before it is dark?

I might get a rebate from the so-called service provider—my cell phone company is Sprint and they provide lousy service for the most part— when I buy one of these phones, but how will I get a rebate on the hours of my life?

Excessive fragmentation is bad in our lives. It is also bad for the rain forest.

New Scientist Magazine reports that Brazil’s Atlantic Rainforst is being destroyed in large chunks that are leaving only small fragments left for trees, flowers and animals to survive.

From the article—

THE ongoing degradation of the Amazon rainforest has obscured the plight of its smaller sibling: the Atlantic forest in Brazil, which is a biodiversity hotspot. Once covering about 1.5 million square kilometres, the rainforest has been reduced to about one-tenth of its original area in the past 500 years, a new study has shown….of the remaining forest, about 80 per cent is split into fragments of less than 0.5 square kilometres. The average distance between these fragments is 1.4 kilometres, making it difficult for animals to move from one part of the forest to another.

Here are some facts about the Atlantic Forest.

Below is a painting by a Johann Moritz Rugendas of the cutting down of trees in the Atlantic Forest. This painting was completed sometime between 1820 and 1825. You see that the darker skinned people are working and the lighter skinned people are either sitting down or up on a horse.

File:Rugendas - Defrichement d une Foret.jpg

June 9, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

If We Are Having An Information Revolution, Why Are So Many People Still So Ignorant?

I’ve been wondering today that if we are having an information revolution, why are so many people still so ignorant?

I’m sure that in many parts of the world computers and the web have made a great deal of difference in terms of access to information.  

In the United States though, it is not clear that people are any more knowledgeable than they were in the time of just three major television networks and no cable, print-only newspapers, and bookstores and libraries as the only places to get books and do research.

Here is a 2007 Pew study where only 69% of the people knew the name of the Vice President.  

Information revolution?

Maybe instead it’s a revolution in fragmenting people’s attention to the point of constant distraction, and a revolution in making people unemployed with technology. 

I can’t say that I’ve yet to see people with any better grasp of information than they had in the past as a result of the so-called information revolution.

June 1, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Self-Aware Net?—That’s Terrifying

File:Robot dog.jpg

A recent issue of New Scientist magazine asks if the world wide web could ever become self-aware.

( Above–A robo-dog. Who will be master? People or machines?) 

(New Scientist has interesting content every week. While I do not subscribe, I buy the magazine on the newsstand about twice a month. Free content on the web is never free. Someone has to pay for it or it will go away.)   

Two experts of the subject say it is possible that the world wide web could become self-aware. One of these mad scientists even says that this is something we should work to encourage.

From the article— 

“In engineering terms, it is easy to see qualitative similarities between the human brain and the internet’s complex network of nodes, as they both hold, process, recall and transmit information. “The internet behaves a fair bit like a mind,” says Ben Goertzel, chair of the Artificial General Intelligence Research Institute,  Not that it will necessarily have the same kind of consciousness as humans: it is unlikely to be wondering who it is, for instance…. To Francis Heylighen, who studies consciousness and artificial intelligence at the Free University of Brussels in Belgium, consciousness is merely a system of mechanisms for making information processing more efficient by adding a level of control over which of the brain’s processes get the most resources. “Adding consciousness is more a matter of fine-tuning and increasing control… than a jump to a wholly different level,” Heylighen says…. How might this manifest itself? Heylighen speculates that it might turn the internet into a self-aware network that constantly strives to become better at what it does, reorganising itself and filling gaps in its own knowledge and abilities. If it is not already semiconscious, we could do various things to help wake it up, such as requiring the net to monitor its own knowledge gaps and do something about them. It shouldn’t be something to fear, says Goertzel: “The outlook for humanity is probably better in the case that an emergent, coherent and purposeful internet mind develops.”

Here is the link for Ben Goertzel. 

Here is the link for Francis Heylighen.

These people are out of their minds. If they want their toasters and clock radios killing them while they sleep I can’t do anything about that.  I can just tell you it is not the future I want.

Now I know I’m someone who has trouble with technology more advanced than a wind-up toy, but the idea that we might have an aware internet watching us and knowing us is crazy. I don’t have to know how to operate the cable remote to figure out that I don’t want a self-aware net following me around. 

( If the internet is already self-aware, I hope it realizes I’m being forced to write this by parasites in my brain and that I’m deeply sorry if I’ve offended the internet in any way.)

You can say the web will develop only a limited capacity for awareness or action, but how can you be sure?

A rival intelligence on Earth?

That will go really well.

May 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Twitter In Politics—The Few Become More Removed From The Many

The following  article about politicians using Twitter was in the May 4 Miami Herald— ( Above–Miami.) 

“Last week, Alec Rosen declared his candidacy for city commissioner in South Miami — via Twitter. It’s a first for Miami politics, he says. ”It allows us to communicate directly with people who find something in value in what it is you have to say — in 140 characters or less,” Rosen says. He’ll compete for the seat against Rene Guim, who also plans to tweet during his campaign. Miami Beach public information officer Nannette Rodriguez tweets, too. So does Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, under the name IRL. Following their every tweet are a host of community activists in Palmetto Bay, Coconut Grove, Doral and elsewhere with fast fingers on Blackberrys, iPhones and laptops. They’ve all mastered the art of the 140-character missive — the limitation of Twitter messages. … that it’s better to reach 500 people who want to receive your message than sending to 50,000 people who don’t care,” Rodriguez says. That quote, by the way, would be too long by 10 characters or so in tweetspeak.” ( Please click here for the full article.)

My theory about Twitter is that it takes people who would have been part of an educated and aware elite at any point regardless of the technology of the day, and makes them even more remote from day-to-day life.

This article did not change my view.  It seems that Twitter has people “in the know” sending an endless loop of  messages to each other. This very notion of insiders talking to insiders is a selling point of Twitter. At least to the extent you can say that something that’s free has a selling point.

Many people don’t have iphones, Blackberrys or laptops. Many don’t have the time to send Twitter messages or may feel they would not be able to express themselves very well on Twitter. 

The Miami Beach Public Information officer mentioned in the story says it is better to reach the few people who care rather than a larger number of people who don’t care. But how can she know who cares and who does not?  I’m certain that many people in Miami Beach care about their community and at the same time have not signed up with Twitter.

Life is fragmented enough as it is and political power is concentrated enough already. We should be looking for ways to reach out  and explain what we are doing. Instead, with Twitter we are limit ourselves to a relatively small community of people under the absurd constraint of only 140 characters per message.

May 6, 2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

So That People Can Have Jobs, I Avoid Doing Online What I Can Do With A Real Person In The Real World

To the extent it can be avoided, I never do online or on any automated system what can be done with a real person in the real world.

Working people need to help other working people keep their jobs. 

Some examples—

I don’t have direct deposit of my paycheck at work. The bank teller needs a job.

When I book a car rental, I do so over the phone and not by computer.

I take the real paper at home instead of only reading the online edition.  When I go out of town, I put delivery of the paper on hold by calling someone in the circulation department instead of doing it by computer. 

I try to buy things in stores and not online. I’m not perfect in this respect, but I do pretty good.

When I go to the racetrack with my father when visiting back home in Cincinnati, I use the ticket window staffed by a person to make a bet and not the automated ticket machine.

At the airport parking lot when it is time to pay up, I go to a booth with a person in it rather than to a  no-person exit.

When calling the cable company or the utlilty company, I hit the zero on my phone until I get a person.

I use computers in my life. I use technology in many different ways. I know many will value what they define as convenience over the the benefits of helping create work for people to do.

Some may need the savings that, sometimes, come from buying online. Though over the longer haul, when we have no work, it will be very hard to save money that we are not earning. 

I can’t do anything about what other people choose to do.

I’m simply saying that for myself, I try to use the services of human beings so that people will have jobs.

I ask you to please consider this course in your daily life to the extent  you feel you are able.

March 31, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 7 Comments