Sunday, October 30, 2011

I'm Eating A Ham and Swiss Cheese Sandwich

  • I'm currently eating a ham and swiss cheese sandwich for lunch.  I bet you want to see a picture of it!
  • I urinated in a white commode in the master bathroom 4 hours ago.  I need to go again.  Hey, do you want to see a picture?
  • I played Quake III Arena a few weeks ago.  You should too!  Hey, let me show you a video of me playing the game!
These things are all true.  "Why," you ask, "are you telling us all this?"  That is an excellent question.

The real question is why someone would want to ram this information down anyone's throat.  This is my gripe with facebook and Google+.  There comes a point where I need to say, "Enough!"  Google+ is about to be the first fatality of this feeling, for me.

I've been thinking about this a lot and trying to decide at what point a status update becomes too much information.  It's really a hard question.  I'm sure that some people want to hear, several times a day, how the rich are screwing-over the less rich, from all different sources.  "Here - this proves it!"  I'm sure people want to hear a play-by-play (practically) of every single event that happened at the high school ball game where their kid is playing in the band (hey, and here's a picture!).  I'm sure that there are some people who want to know every single location that a person stops at every single day.  I'm also sure that these are things that the people who post these things really do find important.  Unfortunately, there is no way for me to say, "Y'know, these things aren't important to me."

This is where I stumble all over my own words.  On the one hand, here is my blog.  I'm sure that there are things here that you all agree with, and some things that leave you shaking your head saying, "I can't believe he feels that way."  Probably even more likely, "What in the world is he talking about?"  Some of this is kind of timely.  Some of it is topical.  Some of it is stream-of-consciousness-based.  Perhaps some people would question why I don't put this into facebook or Google+ and share it with everyone I know.  To me, while I think this is important, or I wouldn't write about it, I also don't think it is something I want to share with everyone I know in real-time.  Even more importantly, I think because it isn't just a few lines with a link to something someone else said, it means I have to spend a bit of time thinking about it myself before I share it with the rest of the world. I also like the semi-anonymity that takes place by having this separate from what I write on social networks.

The bigger problem is volume.  If one person is a fire hose of information about his every activity, that's probably tolerable.  However, that one person is not the only person who is my "friend" on facebook or in a circle of mine on Google+.  If you're on both social networks, well, that crap gets really messed up.  The same fire hoses post the same stuff on both networks.  At what point does this just get way out of hand?

On facebook, I have simply made a decision to hide status updates from anyone who starts to grate on my nerves.  Unfortunately I believe this list is more than half the number of people who I am actually friends with.  On Google+ no such mechanism exists - they are either in one of your circles or they aren't.  You can see the status updates from a single circle.  That doesn't really help much, though.  So what should I call all my Google+ circles?  Instead of "friends...family...acquaintances...coworkers...former classmates" do I now have "blabbermouths I'll look at someday when I'm really bored ... TMI but I may look at them sometime ... really smart people I would like to hear from often ... people who I need to hear something from even if I don't want to" ???  This is why I don't like Google+.  I have no idea how people who follow the constant ramblings of more than one or two other people have the time to do so.  At least in facebook, I can still remain friends with someone who I just wish would STFU for a while ("a while" too often meaning "from now until one and one are three").

This brings up more fundamental questions:  Should I actually be friends with people who virtually grate on my nerves?  Is facebook and Google+ trying to tell me something?   Do the status updates people put in facebook and Google+ say something about their character and personality in real life?  There are people I care about in some form but avoid as much as possible because they're toxic to me.  In my case these are people who basically interrupt everything I have to say, or belittle me, or choose topics that are sure to push me further and further away from the conversation, that violate my moral compass, or are just plain rude.  You probably know some of these kinds of people.  They don't think they're doing anything wrong - and maybe they even think they are helping me in some convoluted way.  In any case, I can't handle this in the real world, and in some ways this is what is happening in the virtual world on social networks.  As I typed this paragraph, I started wondering why I should care about anyone who would treat me in a toxic way, regardless of the reason.  Why should anyone subject themselves to this kind of treatment under the guise of "friend?"  In the case of facebook, I am allegedly friends with people who wanted nothing to do with me in high school, simply because they recognized me during the planning of the reunion online.  I doubt that these people would think any better of me now, and frankly, I would go as far as to say they don't have any idea who I am or what I even stand for.  They didn't know then, they didn't care then, and they probably don't care or want to know now.  Yes, I realize this is a negative thing to say and a generalization at best, but I bet you that this is really the case.

The ironic thing about this is that by my own lack of interest in a person's political beliefs or in their kids' activities or in their movement to various places, there is a part of me that feels I am not being a friend either.  After all, here is someone laying out there those things that mean something to them, but I'm sitting here bitching about it to all of you.  What kind of friend does that make me?  I'm trying to resolve this in my own mind and I can't.  I could simply conclude I'm just a thoughtless person, but I know other people who feel the same.  The very fact I'm discussing it here and that it bothers me says that I am absolutely not thoughtless.

Perhaps what's really the problem here is that in a real-life conversation, I would most definitely be interested in someone's political beliefs, their kids' achievements, and where they were.  The difference is that in a conversation those are time-limited and kept relevant to the conversation at hand.  While I know of people who want to captivate the conversation by recalling every detail of every single event that has happened to them since we last got together, those kinds of people end up being pushed aside pretty quickly as they monopolize the conversation.  In facebook, there is no natural throttle.  There is no context to the stuff the "fire hoses" of conversation spew out in their facebook updates.  In some circles, the conversation is entirely relevant.  In others, it is meaningless banter.  Because context is absent in social networks (absent of just knowing someone), there is no natural filter as there is in real life conversation.  That's what's wrong with social networks.

Anyhow, thanks for listening and sharing my thoughts about this.  Now, I need to use the rest room.  Pardon me.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The One Percent

There's a war brewing out there and it isn't taking place in the Middle East...

Lately I've seen nothing but repeated jabs at the so-called "one percent" of Americans who hold a majority of the wealth but not paying their "fair share" of taxes.  Carried one step further are the Wall Street protests that are taking place.  I understand why this is happening.  With a 9+% unemployment rate and countless people forced to cut back spending due to the depressed economy it doesn't surprise me that people are fed-up with the income disparity.  On the other hand, what is being spouted by those protesting makes almost no sense, and is only serving to fuel a class war that is not going to end well for both parties.

I have repeatedly said in this forum and I will say it here again that the solution to the economic problems is for people to get back to work (ie. we need jobs for them with a living wage).  I also think it is time for people to start accepting responsibility for their own personal economic condition and stop behavior that is expensive and unsustainable.  What do I mean by that?  Well, when I see a homeless person on a street corner with a cigarette hanging out of their mouth asking for money for food, they are not making their case for poverty.  If you are making the decision to forgo food or health care for cigarettes, then you're not getting my sympathy - homeless or not.  If you're already having trouble making ends meet and you decide to have kids, then you don't have my sympathy.  If you've decided to have more than 2 kids, even if you do have the means to support them at home, then you don't have my sympathy when you complain about the lack of funding for schools.  While I'm not in the "one percent" that people speak of, I think it is safe to say that if I'm not garnering your sympathy, then it is likely you're not garnering others' sympathy either.  Why should someone who has worked hard to get ahead be penalized for doing so, provided they did so ethically?  They don't have any obligation - moral or otherwise - to support your unsustainable lifestyle.  To ask government to steal money from these people in the name of helping those who have fallen on hard times because of their own lack of forethought is not really fair, just as it isn't fair that the banks and many of the Wall Street financial institutions effectively stole money from the American people to support their unsustainable business/lifestyle.  Seriously, I have a problem with both sides of this equation.

What pisses me off is that what is generally done by the 99% side is that they pick the worst, most unfair, most heart-wrenching case to present as evidence for what is happening to everyone.  I am not denying that these cases exist, but to say that this represents even a sizable minority of the population is just plain bogus.  I don't think there's anyone out there who wouldn't want to help out someone who genuinely fell on hard times - including those 1% that everyone seems to feel are ripping them off.  The problem I see is that there is a vocal group of people who are trying to assert that a majority of the 99% are in the same category as the worst, most unfair, most heart-wrenching case, and they're clearly not.

I was thinking about this whole thing and came up with an interesting idea:  Let's get the government out of the "wealth redistribution" business entirely.  That's right, no more federal subsidies for social programs, education, etc.  Establish a relatively small program that is only there to sustain someone who is truly in need - the heart-wrenching cases we all see - and only to the extent that they are able to afford food, reasonable shelter, and health care to treat their life-threatening condition.  Likewise, eliminate every loophole that would allow for individuals and corporations to avoid paying their taxes.  Now, for everyone else in need, the government would only serve as a conduit by which people or educational institutions who are in need of assistance could contact the 1% of the population.  A simple, standard, form is filled-out with the basics of the reason for the need, how much money is necessary to correct the situation, and the length of time that money will be needed.  A written statement of need would be attached to the form, indicating the details of the circumstances and reasons for the need (in the case of education institutions, a balance sheet would be helpful, for individuals a budget).  At that point, these forms would be made available to anyone who wished to contribute to the cause, especially the 1%.  Any money that was given to these programs would be entirely tax-exempt to the giver, as bona fide charitable contributions should be.  The recipient would only need to pay those income taxes as they would be normally eligible to pay (which, at a poverty level or if an educational institution, should be little to none).  The government's responsibility would be to assure that the monies are directed to the correct places, and to investigate fraud in the process (anyone misrepresenting material facts on their forms would be subject to a felony prosecution, be required to pay back whatever they received, and could never participate in the program again).

This accomplishes the following:
  1. It takes away the entitlement mentality that people have and calls public assistance what it really is:  charity
  2. It creates a conduit for those truly in need to state their case to those who have the ability to provide assistance
  3. It provides an incentive for those who have funds for assistance to help those in need.  Instead of the wealthy being taxed and giving it to the government to do with it what they want (and inefficiently as well), the money goes directly to those who need it, and wealthy individuals can obtain tax breaks through acts of kindness rather than through crafty accountants and tax loopholes.
  4. The public as a whole becomes more aware of shortcomings in various areas, and can spend more time and money addressing those shortcomings directly rather than to almost randomly throw money at a problem and hope it gets fixed.
  5. A sense of community is created, even among people who are potentially hundreds of miles away.
  6. People who consistently maintain risky or unsustainable lifestyles will not receive funding to reinforce their bad choices
One final thing that should be part of this program is that the individuals or organizations receiving assistance must be required to write a thank-you note to those who have helped them.  It cannot be a form letter and cannot be written by an outside agency.  It must be written by the recipient(s).  In the case of a school, for example, have a class project writing a note thanking the people who have helped their school.  Individuals or familes could write their sponsor indicating how the contribution has helped resolve an issue in their life.  The idea here is that the recipient(s) recognize that they are being helped by someone else, and that they have the opportunity to express their gratitude for the assistance.  It isn't a sterile, faceless government program that blindly gives money out to people who think they need it.

I imagine if a school or person was being directly helped by a gazillionaire and all of a sudden a group of people started accusing that person of being greedy, there would be someone around to say, "Well, they're not so bad -- they're helping me!"

I know this isn't perfect.  Heck, I don't think it would ever happen.  It's far easier to bitch and complain that the rich people caused all these problems instead of accepting some of the responsibility for it.  I'm with you all who say that the banks who got federal assistance so they could stay afloat (then gave their CEOs a bonus) should never have been given any assistance (in fact, they should pay it all back immediately).  I have always thought (and still think) that businesses (in particular, larger corporations) that outsource jobs should have a stiff penalty for doing so, since they take good jobs from people here in the United States.  I also think that tax loopholes that allow businesses and corporations to shelter their money from taxes by placing their headquarters in another country should be kicked right the hell out of this country.  I think that "blue collar" workers and teachers should be paid a better salary for what they do.  But...  As much as the wealthy are at fault, it is up to all of us to accept responsibility for our own personal finances and our lives.  I know (and you do too) that you are not entitled to have the same lifestyle as someone who makes a million dollars a year.  They have more than you, and most of them probably worked long, difficult, and potentially risky jobs to get there.  If you want to live like a rich person, then come up with an idea for a business, set aside plans for a family while you build the business, and work the long hours that come with running a business.  For those who just want to support a family (or even themselves), it's up to you to take a job when it's available.  So you're not in your dream job?  A lot of people aren't, but they show-up for work and do the best job they can every day.  You should too.

We're not going to get out of these bad economic times by griping to the people on Wall Street.  Sure, feel free to protest.  Actually, I would really enjoy hearing some people providing real solutions that doesn't turn the United States into a communist country.  So far, I haven't heard anything being said that isn't simply a Robin Hood mentality.  If that's the best you have, then I'd say that you didn't really pay much attention during the publicly-funded education that we all paid for.