Archive | February, 2013

In God We Trust?

26 Feb

 

Have you noticed how sophisticated and powerful computers have become? Have you noticed how more powerful and sophisticated they are becoming with each passing day? Is there or will there ever be a limit to their computing capacity?  

Most who are in the business, or rather the science of computers say no.

Computers and the robotic devices that can now carry them can defeat human beings at chess, repair expensive technology in space and deliver world destroying nuclear payloads from 30,000 feet.

But can they think? Will they someday think on their own?

Many, who are in the business or rather the science of computers say yes.

We are now even using computers to help design and create even more sophisticated computers. They are so sophisticated yet so easy to use that most humans who are using them in their daily lives can offer little or no explanation as to how they are made or even as to what makes them work.

But will computers ever develop consciousness or  have a soul?

Most who are in the business or rather the science of computers would probably say, “Perhaps consciousness but how does one define a soul?”

But in any case, here is my question:

With consciousness computers will be able to become completely autonomous. Yet they will owe their creation to creatures who for all intents and purposes will be inferior to them in all respects as we now measure superiority among humans.

So in light of our human discoveries and creations and the creations that we expect to be…might it not be possible that who or what we call God is a lesser creature than we expect or surmise? Perhaps even inferior to us?

This might be a blasphemous thought to some who read this but in light of what we are now seeing possible on Earth perhaps this is why God does not intervene in the affairs of men and perhaps why we someday will not interfere in the affairs of computers…

Just a thought… because, well…that’s what we humans do.

   

 

Guns and Moses

23 Feb

According to a recent Gallup poll, an overwhelming number of Americans are in favor of women serving in combat. And both  sexes seem to be in agreement, with 76 percent of women and 73 percent of men claiming to be in favor of the idea. Seventy-four percent of those polled said they would vote for the move, while only twenty percent said they would vote against such a plan…

We’ve come a long way from our Garden of Eden haven’t we?

That got me to thinking about what it would be like to live in a world without guns, killing and the desire for violence and  it occurred to me that once upon a time human civilization did have such a time.

When humans first appeared on the planet there were no guns…but then over the years humans learned to use their brains and began to develop tools to make their lives, their work, their desires and their defense against predators easier.

And gradually, only a few thousand years later, we are headed towards a society where most everyone will own or will advocate the owning of a gun for everyone else’s own protection…and from whom? Each other!

Apparently despite the laws of man and Moses and most specifically “Thou shall not Kill”, we have decided that the best way to not kill is by giving everyone the ability to kill. Do you suppose this was what the religious law givers were hoping we would  do?

In any case we’ve gone from not being able to kill, to killing, then to religious beliefs and a god that forbids killing, to revolutionary governments that protect our god given rights to kill, to weapons of mass destruction that will kill us all if we dare to use them… and now look where we are…debating whether we need more guns or…fewer guns and whether or not we need women to join in on the fun?

It doesn’t make a lot of sense but this is where we are today and despite our country’s apparent love for Moses and his laws it seems that we have chosen to love guns more. I doubt that we will ever possess the courage or the where-with-all to go back to where we started so now we have to figure out how we’re going to remain safe with all of these guns around to tempt us into being deadly.

And after all of this debate there is only one thing that I now know for certain!

Asking someone like Ted Nugent what he thinks is a complete waste of time.

If only evolution and sense had more of a relationship with each other.

Why Has Congress Gone Postal?

21 Feb

There has always been one thing that I could always count on…The Postman always cometh…but beginning in August on Saturdays, he shall cometh no more.

Did you know that the United States Postal Service delivers 660 million pieces of mail to 142 million delivery points in the United States every day? And did you know that it was the U.S Constitution in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 7 that gave Congress the responsibility to establish and ensure operation of the Postal Service way back in 1792… and it’s been in operation ever since? That’ a lot of mail!

And even though many of us have poked fun at the post office by declaring its letters “snail mail,” ever since the advent of the internet, the post office still manages to deliver to every household in America at low cost, efficiently, and…get this… without a penny of taxpayer money!

So why is it experiencing budget difficulties and having to cut back on its services? I bet you’re thinking that it’s because of its out dated and “snail like” service and ponderous union workers’ benefits  and wages, and stifling bureaucratic red tape…right?…but you’d be wrong.

The real reason is that Congress, that very same government entity empowered to create it, has for some reason unknown to man or beast, set out to destroy it.

Yes, it’s absolutely true! Because In 2006 a law called the “Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act”  was approved by Congress that mandates pre-funding the postal service retiree health care and pension benefits for 75 years into the future — something that no other government agency or private company is forced to do.

This means that the US Post Office must pre-fund the healthcare and retirement benefits of employees that it hasn’t even hired yet! To the tune of 5.5 billion dollars a year. And this mandate was passed in the House of Representatives by a voice vote only and then it was passed in the Senate by Unanimous Consent. And remember, this is the same Senate that today can’t decide to take a vote on anything..

As a result of this incredible new law 85%  of the USPS budget red ink comes from this pre-funding mandate. In fact without this incredibly ridiculous requirement the USPS would have over a 1 billion dollar surplus… and it should also be noted that the retiree health care account is fully funded for every current employee.

And because of this insane Congressional new rule, the post office has already been forced to close 500 post offices, cut operating hours, lay off 13,000 workers and bump 9,000 employees down to part time, with an additional 30,000 jobs being threatened. What business would lay off current employees in order to assure workers who haven’t even been hired yet of  health care benefits when they retire???

So what’s going on? Who is Congress working for and why have they decided to “Go Postal” (sorry post office but who doesn’t know this unfortunate phrase?) on one of the oldest and most reliable institution we have!

Is it because they want to make the  public believe that government services are underfunded and poorly managed, forcing more cuts, and eventually privatizing services altogether, handing over public goods to private corporations that enrich a select few at the expense of many? That’s all I can come up with…how about you?

If the American Congress does not right this wrong, which private sector member do you suppose will stand to benefit most from the postal service shutting down and who will get the contract from the US government to privatize the post office?

And by the way, Did you know that the USPS is the 3rd largest employer in America? Can you name the top 2?

#1 is the U.S. Government.

And in second place is that employer we’d all love to work for?…

Wal-Mart!

For we all know that nothing more embodies the American Dream and our pursuit of Life, Liberty and Happiness like having a job at Wal-Mart!

…And I fear that  Privatization shall cometh for us all when the Postman cometh no more.

Who Wants to be a Citizen?

19 Feb

I recently read a blog about the United States citizenship test and thought I’d take a look myself to see what the test involved. Here’s what I found so I thought it would be fun to include the basic requirements of the test here and a few random questions from the original test and then from the newly revised test. Why not give it a try and test your citizenship?

To become a naturalized U.S. citizen, you must pass the naturalization test. At your naturalization interview, you will be required to answer questions about your application and background. You will also take an English and Civics test.  For the English reading portion, you must read one out of three sentences correctly. For the English writing test, you must write one out of three sentences correctly. The test is not multiple choice and requires that all questions be answered in English

In the citizenship test, the applicant for citizenship is asked up to 10 of 100 possible questions. The interviewer reads the questions in English and the applicant must answer in English. In order to pass, at least 6 of the 10 questions must be answered correctly. It is up to the interviewing officer to determine if you have answered the question correctly.

Here is a random sample of the questions that used to be asked…

1. What are the colors of our flag?

14. Who is the President of the United States today?

48. How many terms can the President serve?

67. What is the highest court in the United States?

77. Who has the power to declare war?

79. Which President freed the slaves?

88. What is the United States Capitol?

96. In what month is the new President inaugurated?

99. What are the 2 major political parties in the U.S. today?

 

Here is the same sample of random questions that are asked now. How would you do on the new citizenship test?                                              

1. What is the supreme law of the land?

14. What stops one branch of government from becoming too powerful?

48. There are four amendments to the Constitution about who can vote. Describe one of them.

67. The Federalist Papers supported the passage of the U.S. Constitution. Name one of the writers.

77. What did Susan B. Anthony do?

79. Who was President during World War I?

88. Name one of the two longest rivers in the United States.

96. Why does the flag have 13 stripes?

99. When do we celebrate Independence Day?

 

How did you do? Did you at any time need to phone a friend or ask the audience? I’d like to see our Senators, Representatives, Presidents and Candidates answer all 100 questions and have their scores posted underneath their names every time they speak publicly. We could call it the “Public Servant’s Diploma”! What do you think?

 

 

Les Minimunwage MMXIII

18 Feb

In 1776 when we declared our nation’s independence and announced to the world that all men were created equal slavery was still an option for America’s employers but in 1865 or four score and nine years later we put an end to that and began paying all workers for their labor. And today, still another seven score and 6 years later workers can happily expect a minimum of $7.25 per hour for their labor. Not bad huh? From nothing to $7.25 in 148 years; that’s a raise from nothing, of 5 cents per hour per year!  However, don’t forget that today’s employers no longer have to provide room and board for their employees like they did in the good old days of slavery. (not in favor of slavery, just making a point) That’s a savings for employers right? So slavery equaled no pay plus room and board (albeit, crappy room and board) while today’s’ workers enjoy a federal minimum pay of around $15,000 minus room and board. So how much of an advantage is that for today’s workers and high school graduates? Hmmm…let’s see if we can figure that out…

We’ll put you in one of the cheapest areas to live in the U.S: Fargo, North Dakota (oh boy!) where your minimum wage is a whopping $7.25/hr. That’s $15,080 dollars a year but of course you’ll have to pay taxes first before you get to bring that money home. You can expect to pay about $1,470 for FICA and SECA taxes and the North Dakota state tax. That will leave you with $13,609. The average rent in Fargo for a nice little 1 bedroom apartment will cost you about $650/month or $7,800 plus those pesky utilities like heat, water, and electricity so we’ll tack on another $2,700.

Now you have $3,109 left for fun and entertainment… or do you? I bet you’re probably going to want to watch television and use a cell phone and You do want the internet don’t you?! Let’s be conservative and say that all costs you $75 a month. That’s $900 for the year so now you’re down to $2,209 left but you are planning to eat aren’t you? You’ll need groceries and other supplies for your apartment too but if we just concentrate on food the USDA recommends $175-$200/month for food and groceries. That would cost a total of $2100 to $2400 for food and anyway you calculate it you are now officially broke and in debt and you haven’t even gotten around to transportation and figured in the cost of owning a car and paying for gas and repairs and we haven’t even mentioned entertainment yet.

You’re going to need another job even though you are already working full time! Or you’re going to have to live with someone who has a better paying job than you and who doesn’t need as much as you do. Or you are going to have to do without something. Of course there is always debt too but when you consider interest even debt is something that you have to buy.

So all in all, 7 score and 6 years after the end of slavery, our country will guarantee its citizens a wage for free workers that will place you above the national poverty line but unfortunately will not cover the price of living.

Today’s high school students need to know this. They need to be taught and they need to understand and they need to learn this sad fact more than they need to pass a basic skills exam. (Although they of course need those skills too)

Our society has given you the right to pursue your happiness. However, you have to provide the vehicle. Nothing comes easy and there are no guarantees. That is the price of student failure and all other lessons are for naught if this lesson is not acknowledged, fully understood and well learned!

And just to add some more perspective, in 1979 I began my first full time teaching job and was paid $10,000 per year. (that’s $5/hr by the way) That wasn’t a lot even then and when I went to apply for a rental at the local garden apartment complex I was turned away because I did not earn enough. Wow, I thought. I have a full time job in a public school and I can’t afford to live in that public’s town? Anyway, I managed… with a little help from my dad who let me use his car and paid for my car insurance and from a colleague who had a part time job as a realtor and helped me find an affordable apt. and even from the school board because they supplied health benefits along with my meager salary.

Today, with the help of an inflation calculator my $10,000 salary would be worth…

$10,000 of 1979 dollars would be worth: $31,545.74 in 2012 ($10,000 of 2012 dollars would be worth $3,170.00 in 1979)

That works out to be $15.16/hr in today’s dollars, which in my mind would be a realistic minimum wage to ask for in 2013.

What do you think?

Les Minimumwage

17 Feb

Image

I remember my first job back in 1973 working in a factory in New Jersey. I made 2 dollars an hour which at that time was the minimum wage and at the end of a 40 hour work week I brought home close to 80 dollars. That certainly doesn’t seem like much today but over the 12 weeks of the summer I earned enough money to put myself through a NJ State college.

If I tried to do that today on our current minimum wage of $7.25/hour I would fall about 9 thousand dollars short in tuition and fees at that same school.

But back in 1973 I was working alongside workers who were there working in that factory to make a  living for themselves and their families. Those workers were earning slightly more than I because I was only a summer employee but still their hourly wage was not that much more than mine and I couldn’t help but wonder how they did it…but they did.

This year, In his State of the Union speech, President Obama proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $9 per hour by the end of 2015. That would restore its real value to what it was at the beginning of the Reagan administration in 1981, which, by the way,  in constant dollars, would still be worth less than the 2 dollars per hour that I earned in 1973.

It would also mean that The lowest-paid U.S. workers would continue to lag behind their counterparts in many industrial countries because data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development  show nine nations where the minimum wage is more than $9 per hour.

Australia has the world’s highest minimum wage, at $16.91 an hour. France has boosted its level to $12.68 per hour, while U.K. workers earn at least $9.50 per hour. CNNMoney reports that “there are some developed economies with lower minimum wages than the United States, but not many.”

So my question is simply this:

Do you believe that in what is arguably the wealthiest nation on earth with the world’s largest economy that a worker who spends 40 hours at work each week for 50 weeks per year with 2 weeks of vacation should be able to earn enough money to support his/herself and a child on his/her wages alone, without additional government help in the form of food stamps, housing subsidies etc…

In other words should the minimum wage of the worker described above provide a salary commensurate to the basic costs of housing, health, transportation, utilities, food and childcare within the town, city, country in which he/she lives in the United States of America?

I do believe that it should. Otherwise why do we recommend working?

The changeling…

16 Feb

Image “And you are?”

 

 

Here’s another thing that I just don’t understand about my bank. Perhaps you have a similar experience at yours?

I’ve been banking at my bank for almost 30 years now and even though my bank has been swallowed up by other banks over the years, each one larger than the one before it, I have remained constant…a little older and worse for wear perhaps but still the same me with the same name, street address, telephone number, and most importantly I like to think, the same harmless and friendly expression and face that I’ve always had.

And when I hand over my checks, cash and deposit slips the teller happily smiles and takes my money and asks if there is anything else they can do for me.

And when I smile back and say, “Oh yes, I’d like to cash this check and take out some of that money that I’ve stored here for the past 30 years.” The teller always smiles back and says,

“May I see some ID please?”

Does this happen to you? Or am I the only person who is suddenly transformed into an unrecognizable life form whenever I ask for money from my bank?

 

 

 

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