Archive for January, 2016

Innovation

One of the things that has changed in my lifetime is politics. In my early days parties dominated political activity. A second change is in the growth of economic activity. The democratic party up to the late 1920’s had little success in promoting a more liberal social agenda. However, the beginning of what is usually described as the Great Depression in the late 1920’s and the arrival of Franklin Roosevelt on the national scene in the early 30’s, connected workers with work. Innovation in production allowed Henry Ford to produce more automobiles more cheaply. This put pressure on government to improve roads and this allowed/pushed other car manufacturers to establish factories of larger size.

Innovation and invention in other areas, particularly in work reducing appliances for the home called for larger production facilities and more workers. While employers did not want to pay larger wages, they did want to sell their products.  And, this was where Franklin Roosevelt through his reshaped Democratic party came in. New government entities to direct economic activities were created: the 1933 Banking Act, the Civil Works Administration, the Social Security Administration and a host of others including giving works the right to organize. All of these acts dealt with people and their rights in the economic system. Factories grew in size, more workers were hired and Americans were able to buy more things. The influence of political parties was strong in shaping this process

Invention and innovation began to change life and work in the 1980’s in the direction of machines directed by computers. This, coupled with the transfer of production overseas led to more unemployment of people who had the work skills suited to industrialism. Now, in the teens of a new century, this change in technology has led to a reversal of who supports which political party. What, for lack of any other term I can think of, much of the upper middle class has moved from support of the republicans to the democrats and much of the working class from the democrats, who improved working class lives in the 1930s, to the republicans. This change is a reflection of how the continued development of technology is changing the role of political parties.

It may be too early to tell, but it appears that the evolving development of technology in all aspects of life will not bring a better life for millions that the Roosevelt led management of change in the 1930’s and 40’s brought. The difference seems to be that today’s political leaders do not see possibilities for a better life in our situation that Roosevelt and his allies saw in their day.

(If this blog appears disorganized, it is mostly due to trying to think through this issue)

 

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The March of Time

Recently, I accompanied my wife to see the movie Spotlight. It was about the Boston Globe’s investigation of the Roman Catholic Diocese’s coverup of what turned out to be a massive abuse of boys whose parents were church members. The actors were, for me, exceptionally good and the script tightly written. The Globe succeeded where other groups and individuals had failed in over 50 years of accusations of such unacceptable behavior involving such a massive number of priests. This was my first knowledge of this extensive activity.  This morning’s NY Times has a brief article on the same problem being dealt with in the state of Washington.

The acting drew me right into the action on the screen. I came away glad that I had learned about this situation and, at the same time,wishing I had not learned of it. It is depressing to find that any group expected to do “good” with the public is not. Another case in point is the way leaders of the former Community Chest raided its contributions for massive salaries.

Now, four days later, I am reflecting on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which I saw with my grandson. The first thing that came to mind was the cold theater which caused me to step outside the viewing room twice to warm up a little. The second thing is the solid twenty minutes of ads for coming movies. The third was the movie itself. It had two of the stars from the first two movies, most of the special equipment and all (if not more) of the violent action of its two predecessors. At the end, the good guys completely destroyed the evil empire by blowing up its planet. The absolute end showed the heroine staring at a man, who stared back, on a mountain top. I had no idea of who this man was, though that was probably my fault.

Some time ago, my wife’s basement cleaning forced me to deal with stuff I had stuck away years ago and never looked at again. Included were tapes of two British movies from the 50’s which I remembered as being hilarious. So, I got them out and, with my grandson again in attendance, settled in to watch. It didn’t take long for me wonder what made me think these two movies were worth keeping. We consigned them to the trash can.

Spotlight sucked me right into the investigative group and I came away feeling that I had been part of it. I am not sure what I feel about the last edition of Star Wars except that I pretty much knew what was going to happen next. The British movies caused me to think about changes in appreciation through life. For me, at least, recovering the past did not produce the enjoyment that I remember.

Much to my wife’s pleasure, I was moved to toss out more treasures from the past.

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Who Are We?

Today is a day like many other days at this time after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. The tree has had its decorations taken off, is down and out, the blades are back on the fan, the model airplanes are hanging in their accustomed places and the TV has been moved back to its usual spot. And yet, the morning newspapers have taken me out of the comfort zone of my pleasant life.

For months we have been deluged with information about populations leaving one part of the world to find a better life in another. For Europeans the tide has been coming from the Middle East, particularly Syria. Until recently, efforts have been made in various European countries to accommodate them, but there appears to be no end to the tide and now the effort is shifting to stopping it. Indeed, the efforts taken since World War II to create common goals through a more unified political organization is under attack. The Scots think they can do better (what ever that means) on their own outside of the association with the rest of Great Britain. There are at least two independence movements in Spain, and probably others that I don’t know about. These activities are being repeated wherever humans reside.

This takes me back to stories in today’s Washington Post. One of which is about a woman in Ireland some 5,000 years ago who had black hair and eyes which leads to speculation that she came from the Middle East. Yet 1,000 years later “her world was full of blue eyed easterners”. The short article is about how the Irish, Scots and Welsh have some common genetic makeup acquired through 1,000 years of migration after the woman under study lived.

I then returned to the rest of the paper to read about Donald Trump ranting about keeping us free of Mexicans and Moslems of any ethnic background, and farmers and ranchers in the west carrying guns and proclaiming that they were not going to be kept off of good farming and grazing land that currently is being controlled by the federal government.

What are we? These stories have their counterparts in the rest of the world. Uncontrolled migrations are as old as human occupation of the earth. We obviously don’t control much of anything, and yet we are abusing the earth and each other as if we knew and cared about what we were doing to the earth and our neighbors. What anthropology, archeology and history tell us is that we are users and abusers even in our activities which we claim are making life better for all of us.

Comparing today’s activities with what we can deduce from our study of human life through history tells us that our ideas of being in control are simply foolish. But, we have never listened.

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Truth

The 2016 presidential election is underway big time, so I should say a few words about truth while it is still (almost) possible to discuss it. Donald Trump, the leading Republican candidate, is smashing about the 11 person Republican field. One of his major points is that we should force all undocumented Mexicans, pushed on us by the Mexican government, back to Mexico. If that government doesn’t want them back, then would he take the option of sending them across the border accompanied by U. S. marines? I am sure that through all of the shifting truth from Donald, we will arrive at election day with the “right version”.

As for the other 16 Republican candidates, it is obvious that their version of truth in the current political scene isn’t attracting attention from the faithful. As for the Democratic side, Mrs. Clinton’s attempt to establish her distance from harboring foreign policy secrets by asking if a computer disc could be scrubbed with a cloth was a stretch for the truth. And, if Bernie Sanders finds answers for all of the policy areas he is not familiar with, a Presidency for him would probably involve more study than action.

Science as a search for the truth has many versions being supported for many issues. It is possible for research to go back and forth over a single issue. For example, after many years of research, whole milk is now being cited as much better for you than its many altered versions (and now, after many years, I can give up ‘reduced fat’ milk for the really good stuff).

Religion has many true versions of the truth. The thing that is generally agreed upon is that there is more ‘out there’ than we can understand (which is pretty much where we started). Economics is another conceptual field that came out offering a rather precise explanation of the world of producing and trading. This truth, however, has become broader and, at the same time, more specialized.

The search for truth in conceptual fields such as those I have raised grows out of the human brain’s efforts to discover how the world in all of its aspects works. This leads to back and forth in findings and an ever expanding knowledge of ourselves in the world. Unfortunately, it also leads to manipulation for personal gain. For those of us trying to learn more about economics, for example, we often have little to help us sort through multiple ‘truths’.

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