Monday, September 7, 2009
Many of you will still be alive in 50 years. It's interesting to think about what life will be like in 50 years technologically and otherwise. Predictions are risky, especially when they're about the future, but I believe we can make some pretty good guesses. To predict a predictable future, you need to look at the past. What was technological life like 50 years ago? 50 years ago was 1959. The world of 1959 is pretty much the same world we live in today technologically speaking. This is a vaguely horrifying fact which is little appreciated. In 1959, we had computers, international telephony, advanced programming languages like Lisp, which remains the most advanced programming language, routine commercial jet flight, atomic power, internal combustion engines about the same as modern ones, supersonic fighter planes, television and the transistor.
I'd go so far as to say that the main technological innovation since 1959 has been space flighta technology we've mostly abandoned, and it's daughter technologymicroelectronics. Computer networks came a year or two after 1959 and didn't change very much, other than how we waste time in the office, and whom advertisers pay.
Other than that, man's power over nature remains much the same. Most of the "advances" we have had since then are refinements and democratization of technologies. Nowadays, even the little people have access to computers and jet flight, and 1800s-style technology like telegraphy can be used to download pornography into their homes. Certainly more people are involved in "technological" jobs, and certainly computers have increased our abilities to process information, but ultimately very little has changed.
Now, if we're sitting in unfashionable 1959 and doing this same comparison, things are a good deal different.
The rate of change between 1959 and 1909 is nothing short of spectacular. In that 50 years, humanity invented jet aircraft, supersonic flight, fuel-injected internal-combustion engines, the atomic bomb, the hydrogen bomb, space flight, gas warfare, nuclear power, the tank, antibiotics, the polio vaccine, radio; and these are just a few items off the top of my head. You might try to assert that this was a particularly good era for technological progress, but the era between 1859 and 1909 was a similar explosion in creativity and progress, as was the 50 years before that, at the dawn of the Industrial revolution. You can read all about it in Charles Murray's Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950, though I warn you, if you're in a creative or technical profession Murray's widely ignored book is even more depressing than this essay. Murray didn't restrict his attentions to technological progress: across the entire panoply of human endeavor (art, science, literature, philosophy, Mathematics) the indications are grim. You may disagree with the statistical technique he used (I don't), but you can't escape the conclusionthings are slowing down.
Certainly, people can be forgiven for thinking we live in a time of great progress, since semiconductor lithography has improved over the years, giving us faster and more portable computers. But can we really do anything with computers now that we couldn't have done 30 or even 50 years ago? I don't think life is much different because of ubiquitous computers. Possibly more efficient and convenient, but not radically different, much like things got after the invention of computers in the '40s. Now we just waste time in the office in different ways.
Remember the kind of "artificial intelligence" which was supposed to give us artificial brains we could talk to by now? The only parts of which work look suspiciously like signal processing ideas from, well, the 1950s. The rest of it appears to have degenerated into a sort of secular religion for nerds.
Looking forward, I can't think of a single technology in the works today which will revolutionize life in the 21st century. In the 1930s, there were dozens of obvious ones; you could read about them in magazines and science fiction. Now ... I don't know ... biotech. Maybe. Making insulin in toilet water is a neat trick, but all that really does is allow fat people to eat more sugar without slaughtering horses and pigs. I suppose some of the genetically engineered crops are impressive, though the birds-and-bunnies people tell me they are a bad idea. Some wise acre is likely to pipe up and sing the glories of "Nanotech," a "subject" which was "invented" in K. Eric Drexler's Ph.D. thesis in 1989. In the 20 years since he penned his fanciful little story, we have yet to see a single example of the wondrous miniature perpetual motion machines Drexler has been promising us "real soon now." I wonder what his timeline for delivery of this "technology" will be?
Presumably some time well after his retirement. I'll go out on a limb: since we don't even have computers that can program themselves in any useful fashion, the probability of anyone inventing self replicating miniature robots to give us magical powers (or any kind of powers) by 2059 is approximately zero. The very idea that we're banking on a glorious future ... powered by magical robotic germs seems to me a titanic failure in human imagination. Once upon a time, we dreamed about giant stately space dirigibles to bring us to strange new worlds. Drexler dreams about inventing mechanical bacteria.
Need more evidence? Let's look at aerospace. The SR-71 was designed in 1959. It took about two years to get the thing deployed, and it remains a faster jet than the F-22, which cost a lot more and took a lot longer to developefirst design was in 1986, first deployment in 1997. Sure, these aircraft aren't made to do the same thing, but there is little apparent progress here: both represent the best we've got of respective eras.
This is despite the fact that the SR-71 was mostly designed with a paper and slide rule, and the F-22 with the most modern CAD design technology. Perhaps you consider this a bad comparison? OK, let's consider the lowly passenger jet. The 747, a revolutionary passenger jet, was a concept in 1966. It was flying in 1968. The 787, which is not a revolutionary passenger jet, but one designed to be merely cheaper to operate, has been "in development" since 2004. It's now 2009, and still no 787s.
Big Oil sends employees to spoil congressional Town Halls with their assault rifles and their "grassroots" concerns about climate change.
Big Milk seizes the dairy industry (seriously). Last week NPR's John Burnett reported on two huge corporations which, ala Walmart, cow -- pun intended -- small independent farmers into selling their milk so cheaply, many are forced out of business. Bush Administration investigations against the two colossi evaporated.
Big Pharma, Big Oil, Big Milk. All special interest patrons of America's Big Money bordello. What are good progressives to do? Either we get lobotomies (not that recession-lashed activists can afford them) or we fix the way the country finances politics.
It was thrilling last month when 65 Congressional Reps refused to crumple on the public health insurance option. But as I wrote in my last post, to salvage representative democracy, voters must reclaim our electoral power.
We deserve a country where politicians value all constituents as highly as their largest donors, where people without fortunes -- or access to them -- get an equal shot at running for office. And there is progress.
Voter Owned Elections and Open and Ethical Elections Codes are two Clean Money/Elections systems succeeding throughout US states and cities. Competitors get enough public - clean -- money to challenge even lavishly-financed opponents, in exchange for strictly limiting the cash they accept from private sources.
No more having to spend 30 percent of their time begging corporations and wealthy donors for contributions and then voting the interests of these backers. Candidates are free to learn what's important to voters, and once elected, to serve everyone they represent.
After years of disgust with electoral politics, I began working in 2000 to bring Clean and Fair Elections (California Clean Money Campaign [CCMC]) here. How else can we end the ubiquity of the political quid pro quo?
The CA legislature stunned supporters last year by passing the California Fair Elections Act (CFEA). It designates one contest -- the campaign for Secretary of State -- as our clean money pilot project.
Why Secretary of State? Partly because this officeholder manages all federal and state elections within California. If any job needs to be free from even the palest trace of manipulation, this is it. Remember George W's victory linchpins, Secretaries of State Kathryn Harris, Florida, 2000, and Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio, 2004?
Also, the Secretary of State regulates the activities of lobbyists. Conflict of interest over-easy, anyone?
Obama gave away the store on this crucial issue. It's time to take it back
By Joe Conason
Achieving humane and affordable healthcare in America was never going to be easy, even with an audacious new president and large majorities in both houses of Congress. Compromise between the Democratic Party's diverse representatives -- let alone with the tiny handful of Republicans who actually care about the need for reform -- was always inevitable. And when the moment for compromise arrived, the result was certain to disappoint many of the president's most ardent voters, who cherished his campaign's promises of change. But the mundane grind of making legislation need not have been quite as painful as it is today, when progressives feel betrayed, and Democrats feel deflated.
The essence of President Obama's problem can be found in an anonymous quote, attributed to a White House official, that appeared on the front page of the New York Times last Wednesday. "It's so important to get a deal," confided the unnamed aide, that the president "will do almost anything it takes to get one." Such desperate confessions of politics as usual, which have appeared in dozens of such remarks in the press over the past several months, not only serve the president poorly but damage the fresh brand that he brought to Washington after his triumphant election last year. They are the residue of an ill-conceived strategy that has left Obama politically vulnerable, attenuated his connection with loyal progressives, and blurred his most important message.
That message was Obama himself, of course -- meaning what he represented and what he meant to accomplish. From the outset of the 2008 campaign, the rationale for his long-shot candidacy was that he stood firmly for a set of principles in policy and governance and against political business as usual, as well as a style of politics that emphasized citizen activism. He would drive the corporate lobbyists away from Capitol Hill, the White House and the federal agencies. He would insist on transparency and integrity in conducting the people's business. Above all, he would pursue the public interest forthrightly rather than inch forward triangularly and incrementally.
Perhaps none of these happy promises was likely to be fulfilled, and perhaps that was something Obama and his campaign aides always understood. But as the new White House came to terms with the realities of Washington, they seem to have thrown off their original images and ideals insouciantly -- as if unburdening themselves of unfashionable baggage that embarrassed them in the big city.
Nowhere has this fundamental mistake been more visible than in the effort to reform healthcare. From more than six decades of struggle over the question of universal coverage and cost control, the Obama team must have known that they would face enormous opposition. They should also have known, from the ugly mood of the Republican campaign during the final weeks of the election and the partisan history of the past 15 years, that chances for bipartisan agreement were minimal. And they ought to have realized that the energy of the progressive movement, expressed in their own campaign, could become their most formidable weapon in that battle.
That was the insight attributed to FDR in a famous anecdote. When progressive leaders approached him with a wish list of reform programs and liberal legislation, he nodded. "I agree with you, I want to do it. Now make me do it." Although Roosevelt biographers consider that story apocryphal, it expresses a truth of political history that remained salient from the labor organizing of the Depression through the civil rights, antiwar, feminist and environmental movements. For a president who wants reform and change, citizen agitation is an important instrument of power, not an obstacle to deal making.
More than 40 percent of healthy volunteers, who had never been bothered by heartburn, acid regurgitation or dyspepsia, developed such symptoms in the weeks after cessation of PPIs.The use of PPIs for acid-related symptoms and disorders is extensive and rapidly escalating. Rebound acid hypersecretion, defined as an increase in gastric acid secretion above pre-treatment levels following antisecretory therapy, has been observed within two weeks after withdrawal of treatment and can lead to acid-related symptoms and possibly PPI dependency.
|Dr. Mercola's Comments:|
If you have heartburn, acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcer disease or any acid-related condition, chances are very high that you've been offered a prescription for a proton pump inhibitor (PPI)
PPIs like Prilosec, Nexium and Prevacid are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the world, and their use for treating acid-related symptoms is increasing rapidly.
But these drugs are not only vastly overused they're very dangerous as well.
To start, they actually CAUSE the very type of symptoms that they're intended to prevent if you stop taking them.
In the study above, more than 40 percent of healthy volunteers experienced heartburn, acid regurgitation and dyspepsia (pain and fullness in your abdomen) in the weeks after stopping the drugs. These were symptoms they did NOT have before!
It appears the drugs lead to "rebound acid hypersecretion," which is an increase in gastric acid secretion above pre-treatment levels within two weeks of stopping the drugs.
Essentially, because these drugs slam the brakes on the acid-producing pumps in your stomach, when you stop taking them that built-up acid can be unleashed with a vengeance.
For war journalist Scott Anderson, the most confounding part of his recent assignment for GQ magazine to explore the root of terrorist acts in Russia a decade ago wasn't the suggestion of treachery and subterfuge he found.
"It was quite mysterious to me," Anderson says. "All of a sudden, it became clear that they were going to run the article but they were going to try to bury it under a rock as much as they possibly could."
Anderson, 50, is an accomplished reporter and novelist who has written previously for Harper's Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, and Vanity Fair.
His investigative piece, published in the September American edition of GQ, challenges the official line on a series of bombings that killed hundreds of people in 1999 in Russia. It profiles a former KGB agent who spoke in great detail and on the record, at no small risk to himself. But instead of trumpeting his reporting, GQ's corporate owners went to extraordinary lengths to try to ensure no Russians will ever see it.
A Management Memo
Conde Nast owns Vanity Fair and GQ as well as other publications, including Russian versions of GQ, Glamour, Tatler and Vogue. On July 23, Jerry S. Birenz, one of the company's top lawyers, sent an e-mail memo to more than a dozen corporate executives and GQ editors.
"Conde Nast management has decided that the September issue of U.S. GQ magazine containing Scott Anderson's article 'Vladimir Putin's Dark Rise to Power' should not be distributed in Russia," Birenz wrote.
He ordered that the article could not be posted to the magazine's Web site. No copies of the American edition of the magazine could be sent to Russia or shown in any country to Russian government officials, journalists or advertisers. Additionally, the piece could not be published in other Conde Nast magazines abroad, nor publicized in any way.
It wasn't just that there was no reference to Anderson's piece on the cover of this month's GQ, which featured a picture of Michael Jackson, a reference to tennis star Andy Roddick's wife and a ranking of obnoxious colleges and top drinking cities. At this writing, I cannot find any reference to Anderson's piece on the Internet.
The idea that information can be sequestered at a time when people can communicate instantly across oceans and continents may seem quaint. But in this instance, Conde Nast sought, against technology, logic and the thrust of its own article, to show deference in the presence of power.
Lawyers, executives and editors at Conde Nast and GQ did not respond to repeated requests for comment this week, and a spokesman ultimately declined on their behalf. But NPR has spoken to several people knowledgeable about the handling of Anderson's piece. No issues have been raised to date about the article's accuracy.
By Sue Shellenbarger
I've always known my kids use digital communications gear a lot. But my cellphone bill last month really grabbed my attention.
My son had racked up nearly 2,000 incoming text messages, and had sent nearly as many. That means he was having more than 60 two-way communications via text message every day. Of course, he was out of school for the summer and communicating more with friends from a distance. Nevertheless, I had to wonder how he found time to hold down a summer job and complete a college course in between all that typing with his thumb.
I was even more surprised to learn that my son is normal. Teenagers with cellphones each send and receive 2,272 text messages a month on average, Nielsen Mobile says.
Some experts lament that all that keyboard jabber is making our kids stupid unable to read nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, gestures, posture and other silent signals of mood and attitude. Unlike phones, text messaging doesn't even allow transmission of tone of voice or pauses, says Mark Bauerlein, author of a book called "The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future."
States are cracking down on drivers who text, and rightly so. My son doesn't text while driving, and we have discussed the dangers. (This graphic public service announcement, which has recently gone viral on YouTube, highlights just how dangerous texting while driving can be.)
Beyond that, though, I'm not sure I see as much harm as critics of this trend. I've posted before on how I initially tried to curb my kids' texting. But over time, I have seen my son suffer no apparent ill effects (except a sore thumb now and then), and he reaps a big benefit, of easy, continuing contact with many friends. Also, the time he spends texting replaces the hours teens used to spend on the phone; both my kids dislike talking on the phone, and say they really don't need to do so to stay in touch with friends and family.
Does texting make kids stupid? I don't think so. It may make them annoying, when they try to text and talk to you at the same time. And it may make them distracted, when buzzing text messages interrupt efforts to noodle out a calculus problem or finish reading for school.
But I don't see texting harming teens' ability to communicate. My son is as attuned to nonverbal cues as any older members of our family. If anything, I have found him more engaged and easier to communicate with from afar, because he is constantly available via text message and responds with a faithfulness and speed that any mother would find reassuring.
While Republicans are busy gnashing their teeth over President Obama's imminent indoctrination of the nation's schoolchildren, there's an education story bubbling up in Texas that could have considerably more far-reaching consequences.
The GOP-controlled State Board of Education is working on a new set of statewide textbook standards for, among other subjects, U.S. History Studies Since Reconstruction. And it turns out what the board decides may end up having implications far beyond the Lone Star State.
Approved textbooks, the standards say, must teach the Texan student to "identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and individuals, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly, and the Moral Majority." No analogous liberal figures or groups are required, prompting protests from some legislators and committee members. (Read an excerpt here.)
The standards on Nixon: "describe Richard M. Nixon's role in the normalization of relations with China and the policy of detente."
On Reagan: "describe Ronald Reagan's role in restoring national confidence, such as Reaganomics and Peace with Strength." (That's it.)
The Cold War section is rendered as "U.S. responses to Soviet aggression after World War II ... "
The state board of education, made up of 10 Republicans and five Democrats, has to vote on the standards twice in the coming months before they would go into effect.
Comments in the margin of the draft explain the proposed changes. And a persistent, tendentious conservative voice comes through throughout. Next to the section listing key names and groups from the civil rights movement and 60s activism, including Martin Luther King, Betty Friedan, and the American Indian Movement, it's noted that a committee member demanded parity ... for late 20th century conservative groups:
MV[Multiple Views]: One person: inclusion of 7 names and organizations disproportionate compared to only 3 in conservative section.
Next to a noncontroversial seeming item requiring students to "describe how McCarthyism, the arms race, and the space race increased Cold War tensions" is the note:
"MV[Multiple Views]: One member thinks that if McCarthyism is noted, then the Venona papers need to be explained that exonerates him."
A bullet point on "women and minority employment" as an economic effect of World II caused "one member" to gripe "there is too much emphasis on multiculturalism."
And "one member" deemed a section on "effective leadership" a perfect place to bring to students' attention Charlton Heston's celebrated (among right-wingers) culture war speech.
Here's what makes this a national story: what happens in Texas doesn't stay in Texas, says Diane Ravitch, professor of education at NYU.
That's because Texas is one of the two states with the largest student enrollments, along with California. "The publishers vie to get their books adopted for them, and the changes that are inserted to please Texas and California are then part of the textbooks made available to every other state," says Ravitch, who wrote a book about the politics of textbooks.
Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute explains it as a simple economic calculation by the big textbook publishers. "Publishers are generally reticent to run two different versions of a textbook," he says. "You can imagine the headache the expense the logistics, the storage, all of it."
Newspapers are dead, we're told. Dinosaurs in a twittering world.
Well, try telling that to The New York Times. The Brontosaurus of American journalism, the largest newspaper in all the land, is not only alive – it intends to thrive!
Never mind that the paper's ad revenues have plummeted, that it has put some of its prime assets up for sale, and that its cash-flow situation is so dire that it sold a big chunk of itself this year to a Mexican billionaire known for shady dealings. Times are tough, even for the Times, but the company's innovative, forward-looking corporate leaders have come up with a business plan that they say will return the financial luster to gem of journalism. To make ends meet, the Times is going into wine.
Wine? You might presume that the executives have taken to guzzling wine in an effort to give the paper's future a rosy look – but, come on, these are serious business people. They have announced a new, revenue-enhancing venture called The New York Times Wine Club. For about $180 a month, the club will ship wine to your door.
At first blush, journalism and wine might seem an odd pairing. But the Times is already in the home-delivery business, so.... The head of "strategic planning" explains that a wine club is a way for the paper to "delve further into our audience and bring them products and services that basically enhance the bond with The New York Times." Whatever the hell that means.
Well, maybe it'll take odd jobs to keep the presses running. Actually, I think they're onto something with that home-delivery theme. Why not add The New York Times Maid Service to the mix? This would make the Times a company that could do it all for you in one stop – deliver your paper, clean your house, and leave a nice bottle of wine for you. See, there is a future in journalism!
Common sense would suggest that during this whole "death of print" era, newspapers would desperately cling to their young, idealistic and Internet-savvy employees who are willing to work for low entry-level wages.
According to a survey of newspaper editors, "workers between 18 and 35 years old represented the largest age group affected by [newspaper] layoffs, buyouts and attrition."
Reports the AP:
By MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Business Writer
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Cost-cutting newspapers are losing many of their youngest reporters, editors and photographers at the same time publishers are trying to break some of their old habits and learn new tricks on the Internet.
The findings emerged in a recent survey conducted by the Associated Press Managing Editors, an industry group. The report suggests the massive staff cuts at newspapers across the United States will make it even more difficult for the industry to adapt and remain relevant in the age of digital media.
Most of the 95 editors responding to the August survey said their newsroom staffs had shrunk by more than 10 percent during the past year. And workers between 18 and 35 years old represented the largest age group affected by the layoffs, buyouts and attrition, the survey found.
Retaining younger workers may be more important than ever as the Internet reshapes the way stories and photographs are assembled and presented. While many older journalists are adapting, the adjustment presumably isn't as difficult for younger workers who have grown up with the Internet and may have honed their digital skills in college. Having the viewpoints of younger workers also helps newspapers identify trends and issues affecting younger generations.
Source: CBFE Economics
The New York Times published a pretty creepy article on Saturday (September 5th). The article focuses on Wall Street's new plan to make money. What's so bad about Wall Street making money?
Well, their new plan is to buy life insurance plans from elderly and sick people for cash. The example that the New York Times gives is someone selling a million dollar policy for a $400,000 payout, but the payout amount would all depend on the seller's life expectancy. These "life settlements" would then be bundled together to form bonds that can be sold to investors. The investors would start paying for the person's policy from then on. When the person dies, the investors collect on the policy. Apparently, the faster the person dies, the more money the investors make. However, regardless of whether you die sooner or later, Wall Street firms will profit off of fees collected from creating the bonds and facilitating transactions. You could say that Wall Street is planning to "securitize" people's lives (or deaths, as it may be) into a kind of CDO. And we all know how great that whole CDO adventure played out for Wall Street, right? What could be dangerous about creating a similar class of financial products with sick people's life expectancy as the focus?
Apparently, these type of "life settlement" investments aren't new for banks. They already exist in a lot of portfolios. What's new is the plan to securitize these "life settlements" and market them as a big-time asset class of their own. Keep in mind, this isn't something banks are just talking about potentially doing. The Times states that Credit Suisse is "building a financial assembly line to buy large numbers of life insurance policies, package and resell them — just as Wall Street firms did with subprime securities." Estimates are putting the market for this class of investment product at $500 Billion, according to the article. I don't doubt it one bit. Considering how many people are losing their jobs or facing pay cuts and how high medical bills are these days, does anyone really doubt that there are a whole lot of elderly and sick people out there who would be eager to sell their life insurance policies for an immediate cash payout? Especially if they foresee a future inability to pay their premiums?
So what's the upside? Right now a lot of people just let their life insurance policies lapse. If they're lucky they'll still get a small payout but its usually not much compared to the premiums they've paid up to that point. Under this "life settlement" proposal, policy sellers get a bigger payout and eventually investors get their payout too. So insurance companies end up paying out on their policies more often than they do now. But, insurance companies could end up just raising rates and premiums to make up for the difference, which could end up leaving the average policyholder worse off. Wall Street profits. Insurance companies profit. The consumer pays up.
Still, its hard to really get that angry over a proposal like this. As I pointed out, these type of "life settlements" are already held in a lot of investment bank portfolios. And, who am I to say what kind of financial relationships elderly and sick people should or shouldn't engage in?
But there are so many disturbing ramifications that come out of this proposal that I can't help but be worried. The article mentions that investors lost out on these type of investments in the '80s when people with AIDS ended up living longer thanks to new medications. It also mentions that risk managers are planning on diversifying these bonds based on illness type. If one bond happens to represent too many people who all have one type of illness, then that bond could prove to be unprofitable if a cure for that illness is ever discovered. Am I the only one who finds it disturbing that it'll now be in the interest of some Wall Street investors for sick and old to people to die faster and for certain medications or medical procedures to be suppressed or kept inaccessible to the public if they're too successful at actually making people live longer? I mean, don't some of these major banks also have large stakes in pharmaceutical and healthcare companies? Couldn't that present a very serious and disturbing conflict of interest? The article doesn't address these questions.
Then there's this:
Goldman Sachs has developed a tradable index of life settlements, enabling investors to bet on whether people will live longer than expected or die sooner than planned. The index is similar to tradable stock market indices that allow investors to bet on the overall direction of the market without buying stocks.
So, not only will investors be making money when some people die but some investors will also be making money by simply placing bets on life expectancy in a kind of virtual market. Great. Thank God we bailed out these banks, otherwise they wouldn't have been able to come up with these great investment products that will surely work to make America more economically competitive with the rest of the globe.