Digitized Literature and the Changes that May Come

I made these comments in response to a blog post on More Red Ink, entitled, "More on the Death of Science Fiction."  The blog article is located at:

Anyway, I felt my response was worth posting on my blog.

Personally, I think that the death of certain types of science fiction writing, ie. dime novels, pulp fiction magazines, is mainly due to changes in culture and technology.  I think another shift is occurring now as literature becomes digitized.  Will future readers, who grew up with a Kindle in one hand and a notepad in the other, be content with perusing through pages upon pages of text?  Perhaps they will demand that e-stories become more interactive, with numerous, imbedded videos (perhaps even interactive videos that allow the viewer to control some aspect of their denouement).



Do Fringe Groups Benefit Society?

I penned this reflection a few months back as part of a requisite for one of my graduate classes.  However, I think the comments are relevant to (pertinent for)  a wider audience.  Keeping to my promise to strive for "authenticity," I did not redact it for content, though I did edit it for grammar, sentence structure, etc.  With that said, I have decided to alter some parts of this entry to protect the privacy of the individual mentioned in the text --Anthony

Ms. A is obviously passionate in her critiques of *** companies, especially as it regards their relationships with ***, universities, and other components of the *** industry.  I feel that many of her hypotheses, especially regarding *** control over the dissemination of *** information, are fairly accurate.  Nonetheless, Ms. A’s perspective, in my opinion, is quite provincial; she does not (or will not) recognize the many benefits that accrue to Americans from these relationships.  I have no doubt that some of her solutions to these problems would be worse than the current status-quo.  

Regardless of the merits of her beliefs, Ms. A has an unquestioned right to express them and to solicit funds to further her causes.  Ms. A is one of tens of thousands (or perhaps hundreds of thousands) of Americans, on both the right and the left, who actively espouse radical positions.  These individuals, and the organizations they run, have been a fixture in the U.S. for centuries.  Most experts would likely contend that they benefit discourse on key subjects by forcing Americans to countenance a more cosmopolitan view of these issues, be it pharmacy-doctor interactions or some other topic, than they would otherwise do.  Further, extremists have been successful in bringing attention to otherwise overlooked societal problems.  For instance, would the U.S. have banned DDT if environmentalists, such as Rachel Carson, had not brought the issue to the fore?  

However, I question whether the benefits that accrue from these fringe/radical groups outweigh the negatives in today’s socio-political environment.  For one thing, the damage that these individuals do when they manage to push their ideas, unadulterated, onto Americans has to be weighed against the good that they do.  As a somewhat dated example, radical evangelicals in some localities in the South, from the 1830s to the early 1900s, were successful in passing (state/local) ordinances against Catholics, Jews, and other religious groups.   More importantly, society only benefits from hosting radical elements when its leadership is composed of moderates who are adept at creating and implementing legislation, which incorporates good ideas from numerous stakeholders on both sides of the aisle.  I think (or so I have been told) that the Nixon and Ford era Congresses fit this model.  Today, state and federal legislatures seem to contain few moderates; the legislation that is passed is often a poorly concocted amalgamation that is heavily skewed by radical views (from one side or the other).  In this environment, radical groups from Green Peace to the Tea Party are doing a better job at precluding real dialogue on issues than they are at facilitating richer, more vibrant discussions among Americans.


If I Were President: Some Ideas to Reduce the Deficit (in the U.S.)

I think it is important to come right out and say that I don't have a background in tax law, in politics, or in economics.  Nonetheless, like all Americans (or most of them anyway), I do have ideas and opinions concerning the U.S. deficit.  I also sometimes wonder what it would be like to be the President of the U.S.  Conflating the two memes...

If I were President of the U.S. and wanted to find ways to work with Congress to reduce the budget deficit as a percentage of GDP, I would:

a) Move to sell any unused or under-utilized public buildings within two years.  This action would generate capital in two ways.  First, the government would obtain money up front from the buyers of these properties.  Second, it would no longer have to pay monthly fees to maintain these properties.  Of course, some issues would arise during this process and would need to be resolved, including the fact that some buildings will be hard to sell, will not secure a fair bid, have historical value, etc.; however, this is the case with regards to any federal scheme to raise additional revenue or to cut expenses.

Perhaps the President (or some of his advisers) has already undertaken this project, or maybe he has considered it and decided not to pursue it.  I'm sure that he has authorized the sell of some of the buildings; however, I doubt he has considered letting the public bid on all unused properties (and tried to complete the task in such a short time frame).  Either way, it is worth discussing in my opinion. I think the notion will score points with the public (at least the ones not directly impacted by any selling) and would also garner support from Republicans. 

One drawback: I don't know how much money it will raise.

b) Increase fees at National Parks and at other federally sponsored tourist attractions.  That move might not win the public's acclaim, but it would be a feasible one.  I am not sure if fee increases need to be approved by Congress.  If so, Republicans (and Democrats) might be able to agree to hike rates at some/all of the nation's federally run parks, museums, etc.

As with the prior suggestion, I do not know how much money the federal government would bring in via these fee hikes; it might not add much to the coffers, especially if it decreases the census rates (admission numbers) at the federal facilities.

c) Perhaps it would be feasible to review federal agencies to see if they can run more efficiently, can create money-saving synergies (ie. reduce redundant services between agencies), or in other ways reduce their expenses.  Additionally, as President, I would at least broach the subject of privatizing some government services if feasible and appropriate.   If one does not already exist, I would also think about either creating a federal agency to routinely audit the performance of its fellow government organizations or hiring private firms to perform these audits. 

The potential downsides to this type of move are legion and include public dissatisfaction, unintended, deleterious impacts on federal employee morale and performance, push back from groups who will be disadvantaged by the new rules, etc.  At the same time, I would not be able to complete this project quickly.  Rather, it would take months or years to finish this task.  If nothing else, I would ensure that I obtained input from all relevant stakeholders before making any decisions; that process would take a long time to complete.

One benefit of this money saving project--I would probably be able to secure bi-partisan support for at least some of the changes (assuming that I need Congress' approval at all).

d)  I would also suggest that the government reform the tax code as it concerns businesses in order to encourage large, multinational firms to repatriate money in the U.S. and to hire additional workers.  I realize that the President and many members of Congress, as well as a host of pundits,  have discussed this issue; however, they have not yet presented any proposals for achieving this task.  With that in mind, I would quietly consult experts in the relevant fields to help me and my staff construct a framework for tax reform.  I would then submit this blueprint to Congress. 

The tax laws are extremely complex and the issues related to reforming them even more Byzantine.  We would have to identify the stakeholders involved, the impacts (both direct and indirect) of any changes, etc.  At the same time, such a move on my part would not only provide me with leverage in any debate, it would also be publicly popular (or at least it might be publicly popular).

The one thing I would stress is that the proposed changes to tax law should be guided by empirical methods and not by ideology.  Additionally, I and my staff would make it a point to become cognizant of the key, potential consequences of any proposed tax changes, as we would ultimately be responsible for any benefits/harms that arose from the tax reforms.

e) I would ask Congress to increase funding for the IRS by a significant amount in its next budget.  I realize that this topic was brought up unsuccessfully during the last budget debate.  However, I think I might be able to convince at least some Republicans to support this measure if I can demonstrate that the funding hike meets neo-conservative (or neo-liberal) objectives, ie. to ensure a free market for the exchange of goods or something like that.

These are my thoughts on the issue.  They are neither innovative nor erudite; nonetheless, they might provide something of value to readers.



Taxes, the Market, and a Living Wage

I penned this reflection a few months back as part of a requisite for one of my graduate classes.  However, I think the comments are relevant to (pertinent for)  a wider audience.  Keeping to my promise to strive for "authenticity," I did not redact it for content, though I did edit it for grammar, sentence structure, etc.--Anthony

     I think that everyone living in a prosperous society, like the United States, has a right to a living wage, which will allow them to buy necessities (food, shelter) as well as provide them with some money to enjoy small luxuries (a movie, a night out).  People need to be able to obtain the necessities in order to live and to stave off the physical pain that comes from being hungry, cold, or sick.  Individuals who do not possess money for even small luxuries lack dignity, as they are constantly reminded of their penury vis-à-vis their neighbors.  Their shame is enhanced by their helplessness; they cannot bask in the feelings of power that come from being able to purchase small (or large) frivolities.  No resident of a first-world country, such as the U.S., should have to suffer in this way.
     If we assume that all people in the U.S. have a right to a living wage, we still have to determine who has the responsibility to provide these individuals with the money.  In the United States, citizens (and sometimes non-citizens) can obtain money both via their work, from local, state, and federal agencies, and from private, non-profit organizations.  I think it falls on companies to pay their employees living wages; firms should take this action even if the government or non-profits are willing to shoulder some of the burden of providing for their workers.  The reason for this belief is simple; people derive much of their (feelings of) self-worth from garnering paychecks.  A person who receives the same amount of money via a dole is not going to obtain the self-satisfaction that comes with working for a living.  This feeling is integral to one’s dignity.
     While companies may have an ethical obligation to pay a living wage, as the articles demonstrate, many of these firms do not even pay subsistence salaries, let alone a living wage.  Americans have attempted to ameliorate this issue by refusing to buy from corporations that run “slave shops.”  Governments have tried to rectify this problem by instituting minimum wage laws and by ensuring that workers are able to unionize if they so choose.  Despite these efforts, tens of millions of Americans still do not earn a living wage.  Many companies, who are not guided by ethical principles, find it disadvantageous to pay their employees this salary.  Is there another way to incentivize these firms to change their behaviors?
     None of the authors that I read for class mention using tax incentives to encourage companies to pay a living wage to all workers; however, it might work.  Both Democrats and Republicans would probably support a law which reduced taxes for companies that paid their lowest wage workers more than a subsistence wage.  Republicans would like the fact that the scheme did not create new, overt regulations while Democrats would be enticed by the plan’s focus on improving the lives of indigent Americans.  Local governments already have something similar in place; they will reduce or eliminate property taxes if a company promises to hire a fixed number of people at a defined salary or hourly rate.
     Of course, in order for this type of idea to work, the federal government would need to amend its guidelines for determining the poverty level.  However, that discussion will have to wait until another time. 


My Thoughts on American Debt, the European Financial Crisis, and the Global Financial System

It was an interesting week on Wall Street to say the least, as the Stock Market gyrated wildly in response to things like the S&P downgrade of the U.S. (and some U.S. entities like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac), the debt issues in Europe, rumors of problems in both the American and European banking sectors, and a purported slow down of the U.S. economy.  If you turned your dial to any of the news channels this week, you would have been inundated by a parade of pundits and experts who posited their opinions on these topics.  I am not one of these experts and cannot provide in depth analyses about any of these "crises."  However, I, like most Americans and many Europeans and Asians, will be impacted by these events in some way in the near to medium future.  At the same time, I will soon be tasked with trying to decide which politicians are best adept at handling these economic/financial issues.  Therefore, I think it might be valuable to me (and perhaps to readers) to posit some takeaways from what I have seen play out this week.  These are probably some of the same thoughts that are going through the minds of "average men and women" in the U.S. and in other parts of the world.

What would happen to the U.S. economy if China suddenly decided not to buy any more of our debt?  Although none of the articles or T.V. reports brought up this question, I think it is a valid one.  China buys a significant amount of U.S. debt and is one of our largest creditors.  For the time being (from what I can gather), it has to undertake this strategy in order to keep the yuan from rising too much vis-a-vis the dollar.  If it were to suddenly stop buying U.S. bonds, the yuan would shoot to the sky (versus the dollar), which would severely impact its export trade.  While that may true, one would assume that China's economy won't always be tied to exports.  Also, China may one day decide to use its creditor status as a leverage to obtain a important concession from the U.S. (say over Taiwan).  Of course, the U.S. may eventually be able to decrease its need to issue more debt, thereby making this topic moot...The situation is worth watching and pondering.

Does anyone, or even any group of people, possess a strong understanding of the financial "crises" which are making headlines?  From what I can gather, the answer to this question is no.  Even if someone could comprehend the overall structure of the global financial structure and discern the interconnections between the various players (which include financial institutions, hedge funds, other investors, large corporations, countries and their treasuries, and a host of other entities), he/she would find it impossible to trace the flow of money across institutions and between countries.  Many of these financial transactions likely do not appear on anyone's radar.  This state of affairs is worrisome. If economists and other experts have a limited understanding of the current financial issues in Europe and in the U.S., they will be hard pressed to identify potential black swan events.  They may also underestimate the severity of some of the current problems.  That leaves the U.S. and other countries open to another "2008" type of shock. 

Is it becoming more difficult for economists and other experts to understand the economies of the developed countries?  From a non-expert's view, it appears that the techniques economists use to help them understand economic issues and denote trends do not work as well now as they did in the past.  Assuming my observation is valid (no guarantees on that one), perhaps it is due to the fact that economies in the developed world are shifting from a manufacturing bases to ones which rely on service/financial/technology.  It may be more difficult to map changes in services, in money flows, and in technological trends than it is to trace the paths of goods and services.



About My Blog-My First Post

I have created this blog for several reasons.  On the vain or self-interested side, I have begun this project with an eye towards self-motivation.  I want to try to capture a bit of "myself" on virtual paper in an effort to leave something of myself behind when I pass away.  I hope to leave a record of these musings, along with other (of my) textual artifacts, to a college or post them to a website which will be maintained in perpetuity by a trust fund.  I have also decided to undertake this venture because I feel that I sometimes have something important to say.  I do not harbor any illusions as to the grandeur or novelty of my thoughts; few if any people in this world are able to posit new ideas or find innovative ways to review old ones.  I think the phrase, "been there done that" adequately sums up not only my musings but the vast majority of blog posts, articles, and other public commentary.  With that said, I hope that my posts will provide readers with a slightly different perspective on subjects of interest to them.  If nothing else, my blog will touch on a variegated mix of different topics.

In my experience, people, including me, rarely get the chance to express their true feelings on issues or topics they care about.  Rather, they carefully redact their written statements or meticulously craft their public comments to conform to their goals, their audience, and the situation.  It is vitally necessary for us to obfuscate our true thoughts, feelings, and beliefs on most occasions, either out of respect for the rights and dignity of others or for self-interested reasons.  While this tactic might be socially or personally beneficial, it severely limits the amount of "authentic" discourse that occurs in the U.S. (or for that matter in any country).

Ideally, this blog will help to meet my readership's needs for authentic text.  As such, I will try to posit my true feelings on issues.  Unless otherwise noted, I will edit these statements for grammar but not for any other reason.  The downside to that decision is that these blog posts will not be stylistic masterpieces.  The upside is that they should provide a window into my soul.  If nothing else, they will be honest renderings.