Monday, November 28, 2011


Faith is totally bizarre. Faith means believing in something without having any evidence to support your belief, but its definition is not really what makes it bizarre. Faith is kind of the opposite of the philosophy called science. In science you believe only what you can prove. If you can't prove it, you doubt it and instead of calling it a 'law' you call it a 'theory'. You can disprove competing theories all you like but until that special theory is proven, you know your belief in it is not absolute and understand that it shouldn't be. As far as things go, laws are best, but theories are fine too, that is until a better one comes along in which case the old theory is dropped like a hot potato.

And then there is faith. If you find evidence to support your belief it ceases being a matter of faith. Faith is by necessity vague and uncertain, though those that have it often give it more substance than any scientific law. Technically speaking, this isn't rational, but faith isn't even remotely related to rationality.

Then there is this odd duality of faith.

If you blindly put faith in your fellow man, they call you naïve.

If you blindly put faith in God, a force that none of us has ever seen, heard or felt, they call you spiritual (or pious, devout or religious -- take your pick).

The sheer illogicality of these two attributions, and the enormity of the gap between them, is what I consider bizarre. How can this be?

The absence of concrete evidence of the existence of God (or gods if you prefer) means that there is also no evidence that this 'omnipotent force' has ever let anyone down. On the other hand, I'm going to suggest that every single one of us has been let down by their fellow man at least one significant time in our lives. That's all it takes. Even if you are a positive person and believe that given the choice of right and wrong people will overwhelmingly choose right, you still recognize the danger of placing faith in the generalized other. That is more negative than the universal perception of divine powers. And there lies the source of the naïve and spiritual labels. (Actually, faith in man is sufficiently derided that you'd raise fewer eyebrows by putting faith in your pet dog.)

Even with that explanation I still find it bizarre. I suppose that makes sense as I am an extremely rational person. Faith runs counter to just about everything I understand or hold dear -- it just isn't in me. That more than anything else is probably why I find it so bizarre.

Debt, Destructive Debt

Initial reports are in and this weekend's Black Friday / Thanksgiving spending is up almost 10% over last year's holiday. On the surface this sounds like great news! Perhaps the economy is improving and a recession can be avoided.

Not so fast.

I'm ready to predict that at least 50% of that spending was made by people who are already in debt that they can't handle. Further, another 25% of the spending pushed families that had manageable debt or no debt at all into debt. In other words, virtually none of this consumption was advisable.

Why is debt-spending bad, especially in tough economic times? There are lots of reasons. Carrying a debt erodes or eliminates the ability of an economic unit (person, family or state) to handle crises. By casually increasing debt these people have placed themselves dangerously close to ruin (or bankruptcy). It will only take one piece of bad news to break the proverbial camel's back. A lost job. Heck, even a reduction in hours can spell disaster. A health crises could do it. Debt itself contributes to health problems! Debt means stress, stress leads to disease.

What happens when an economic unit reaches or crosses the breaking point? The typical response it to declare bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is like a financial nuclear bomb strike to the economy. Sure, bankruptcy helps put the ruined economic unit in a position to recover, but every single person or agency that was owed money is forced to take a loss. The hit each takes depends on the size of the economic unit that failed. Those incurred loses can be large enough to lead to them becoming bankrupt themselves.

And therein lies the danger of bankruptcy: it is contagious. Bankruptcies resemble dominoes in that one falling can lead to hundreds (or even millions) of others falling. Bankruptcies are like nuclear reactions, they can achieve 'critical mass' where they become common enough to cause the system to produce an endless chain of bankruptcies. If that ever happened the economy wouldn't just flounder, it would fail outright. With nearly every government in the world (except China's) also carrying significant debt the ability of government to stimulate or rescue the economy is almost nil. The demand on the Welfare System would bankrupt governments. A country to go from being a G7 or G20 nation to resembling a third world nation in short order.

This all becomes possible because individuals cannot or will not behave responsibly. Further, those that choose to behave irresponsibly will not even take ownership of their own behaviour, they will place the blame on others. A refusal to say 'no' to luxuries we can't afford, an unquenchable desire to fulfill 'wants' rather than merely our 'needs' will be our undoing.

What about the banks and other credit-offering agencies? We are addicted to debt and they are our pushers. It's not just an analogy, it's the reality! If there is a record of your existence (like an e-mail address) and they can attach an address to that record they will send you junk mail inviting you to obtain a credit card. Lure them in with small tastes of their drug of choice -- credit. There are family pets with their own credit cards! How were the banks supposed to know that 'Roscoe' was a Dachshund or a Siamese?

Once you have a credit card they will continuously 'reward' you with additional credit. It would be bad enough if they only did this for people who pay off their monthly balances without fail but that isn't enough for them. Giving more credit to someone who has their addiction under control is a blind hope that they will eventually lose control. Banks keep upping the ante for people who constantly carry a balance! What are they thinking!? They're thinking "You've got a bad habit and we can make more money on interest payments by encouraging you to increase your debt load." If you liked smoking weed, try some of this heroin, it's so much better! They are gladly handing a depressed person more and more rope and crossing their fingers that you won't go ahead and hang yourself with it right away. If you do it too quickly, they lose money. However, the vast majority of us take a while before we bite down on the debt cyanide pill which allows the bank to make enough money in the process to justify the loss they must take at the end. We don't go quietly into the dark night, we struggle to make payments as best we can, funneling money to the banks as fast as we can earn it.

I knew that this was coming when the first 'Money Mart'-type payday advance stores opened. They are blatantly charging usury to let you have access to your own money a few days ahead of schedule and stupidly, we are willing lambs led to the slaughter. (It's bad enough that banks service charge us near to death to access our own money without payday advance leeches!) The marketing strategy of sellers is to whip us into a frenzy of consumption. They convince us that we 'need' things that we won't even use once we have them. Buyers remorse is rampant, but good luck returning things. So, in the banks we have drug (credit/debt) pushers on every corner and in the sellers we have unrelenting peer pressure to abuse drugs, i.e. spend without any consideration of our means. So, now we have an entire society addicted to obtaining credit and using every last damned bit of it.

All the while, the government has sat back and 'let the market' decide how things would proceed. Just a small amount of regulation on interest rates for lenders would have curbed this economically destructive industry. A little regulation on what kinds of marketing is and isn't allowed might have helped us retain a modicum of self-control in spending. Instead, we have neither. Marketers can say virtually anything about their products, even blatant lies. The more outrageous the claim, the less likely that a court will find that the marketing crossed the line! Courts have decided that the public should already understand that the claims made for products aren't true so don't need to be protected from the lies. They should expect the lies and act accordingly. Even catering to addictive behaviour in children isn't off limit! Child marketing attacks self-esteem and the brain's pleasure centre, so no wonder kids are the ultimate consumers and want everything. Numerous toys, especially virtual toys/pets, and social networks engage in psychological practices that are so influential that they are known to be manipulative at best, and 'brain washing' at worst, especially for unsophisticated minds -- like those of children. Parents complaints fall on deaf ears. The companies voices (i.e. money) are too loud for parents to be able to sway politicians.

Actually, governments are making things worse. Instead of attacking the real problem hurting the economy they encourage the public to spend. Spending is the traditional way out of a recession. However, historically all the instances of spending out of a recession have entailed families dipping into savings to spend and governments running deficits after having run surpluses. Now, we have families already in debt being encouraged to spend, and the government is limited in how much it can help stimulate the economy through job creation incentives, tax cuts and other services like retraining and welfare because it too is choking on debt! We can't spend our way out of this one.

Europe is having the same problem and is trying the opposite solution, and that is also failing. Greece and Portugal are both experiencing massive unemployment and rapidly shrinking economies. No amount of austerity can combat that kind of financial disaster, in fact, it feeds the problem of shrinking economies and increasing unemployment.

So, if you can't spend your way out and you can't save your way out, what can you do? You can address the real issue affecting economies around the globe. Stop encouraging the rapid concentration of greater and greater amounts of money in fewer and fewer hands. The greater the portion of a nation's wealth that sits in the top 20%/10%/1% personal financial empires the greater the drag on the economy. In that sense, governments are right, spending IS the way out of recessions, but so much surplus money is sitting unspent in the hands of the world's billionaires that the economies are running on fumes! The bigger the fortune, the higher the relative amount of idle money, so is it any wonder that the global economy is dying? With every financial/economic hiccough the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and the middle class gets squeezed farther and farther down the standard of living scale.

The last global financial crisis in 2008 was caused by greed in the banking/financial system. Those companies and their owners (other than the ones that failed) have gotten bigger and wealthier as a result of the crisis. The next crisis is on the doorstep and guess who is driving it...the bloated banks and financial institutions and their obscenely wealthy owners are siphoning money from the middle class and poor at a record-breaking pace and we're letting them. Not only are we letting them, we're choosing to help them fleece us! Credit is a great thing to have when you have no debt. It allows you to weather emergencies. Carrying debt, especially at the all-time high levels carried today, is the single greatest financial emergency on the planet and we're generally ignorant of the fact that our behaviour is not only breaking our backs, but the entire economy's back. And the banks? Well, they're laughing all the way to the bank, of course.

Soon enough, the world will be openly run by corporations. With lobby groups being what they are, corporations pretty much already are, but from the shadows. What governments that remain will be figureheads, puppets. They will rubber stamp the decisions made in the boardrooms powerless to do anything else. Even the greatest nations will be poorer than and beholden to corporations. The United States of Microsoft. Exxon Arabia. The Siemens Economic Union.

There's still time to prevent this dystopic nightmare from happening. but not much. The Occupy Movement is right, and there is a real urgency to it. Economies will grind to a halt as greater and greater proportions of the world's wealth get siphoned into private vaults, where it does nothing. Uncle Scrooge McDuck is happily swimming in his money while the common duck is getting accustomed to malnutrition and hunger. As the money concentrates further, the economy shrinks further still, the number of jobs drops, and thus the cost of labour takes a dive. With so much competition for every available position there will be desperation and people will offer to work for less and less. Unions will be utterly powerless. With so many unemployed and dead broke, demand for just about everything (except food) will bottom out further reducing the size of the work force. The minimum wage will be eradicated. Eventually, all the wealth will be in the hands of 20%/10%/1% of the population with the remaining 80%/90%/99% homeless or on the fast track to ruin. The ultra-wealthy won't be any more motivated to be charitable then than they are now. They'll give whatever they can to reduce their tax burden and not a penny more. Of course by then, they may not even be taxed -- only the poor will be taxed. We'd be back to the feudal system, with people being dragged off to the dungeon for not being able to pay the Lord's taxes. It never mattered if there was a drought and the crops failed leaving the farmer with nothing for himself let alone for the greedy and petty Lord.

Sure, the banks are driving this phenomenon, but there's enough blame to go around. The governments are greasing the gears of the system enabling it to reach record levels. We are just as culpable as we are willingly rushing into the arms of ruin in order to enrich the already wealthy. Just a tiny bit of intelligence, forethought, reasoning and restraint would have prevented this from happening in the first place. If we used a reasonable portion of our brains' potential we would recognize that we are being used and abused by a money-mad system and might even find the strength of will to do something about it! Instead, we dance like puppets on strings throwing our ever-shrinking share of the world's wealth into the hands of those that have more than they can count, or spend, in a lifetime and we're doing it faster and faster all the time! We're in a hurry to realize the plutocratic vision of dying with all the toys and leaving us with none.

Wake up people! Force your government into enacting policy that is sustainable. What they are doing now sure isn't! And Mr. and Mrs. Billionaire, you should wake up too! If you think your lives are going to be comfy and cozy once the majority of the population has nothing -- and therefore nothing to lose -- you're sadly mistaken. Besides, if you're in the lower tier of the ultra-wealthy you'll eventually get sucked into the economic black hole as your more wealthy 'cousins' begin to prey on you once there is nothing left to take from the poor and middle class! And last, but perhaps not least, Mr. & Mrs. Billionaire, if there is an afterlife and you think you're pittance of charity will get you into Heaven, that it somehow absolves you of the sin of grand larceny taken to the ultimate degree -- your fleecing the world of its wealth for your own personal fortune -- you are sadly mistaken. You'll spend eternity trying to get used to the smell of brimstone and the pain of unending torture. I guarantee it. You have to decide whether it is worth it. Clearly, you've already decided. You have chosen...poorly.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Dented Tin Can -- The Misunderstanding & Abuse Of Aesthetics

Sometimes, human behaviour is incredibly illogical and approaches being inexplicable. Consider the following allegory in a grocery store.

You are there to buy a single can of soup. There are only two cans left on the shelf -- one is dented and one looks pristine. It isn't relevant, but if it helps you understand you can assume that the can is dented because you just dropped it on the floor. With which can do you walk out of the store?

99% of people will take the pristine looking can, even if they themselves were responsible for denting the other can. The other 1% will take the dented can because they feel guilty for having dented it.

Why do we take the dent-free can? Does the dent affect the taste or nutritional value of the soup inside? If both cans had been perfect we might have the presence of mind to check the "Best Before" date on the them to take the fresher of the two. The fact that one in dented makes us forget that this piece of information is even available, let alone worth knowing. The only thing that matters is the overriding fact that one of the cans is visually defective. We won't particularly care if we end up the less fresh of the two cans because how it looks is so important to us. Some might not even care if the pristine can had actually gone past its date because we are so certain we got the 'better' can.

There isn't even the tiniest shred of logical thinking in how a typical human would handle that scenario. Why are we so obsessed with appearance?

In the case of food it may be one of man's few remaining instincts from the time when everything we ate we hunted or gathered ourselves. If one fruit looks less 'healthy' than another fruit of the same kind then the choice is obvious. Sure, the 'imperfection' might only be a fresh bruise which won't affect the taste, texture and nutritional value of the fruit or at least not very much. However, it might be a sign of spoiling -- bruises do become more susceptible to spoiling than unblemished parts of fruits. Similarly, if a meat has an unusual or unexpected colour or smell that could spell disaster if eaten. But none of this is relevant to food stored in a tin can. (Yes, if the can is so badly dented that the seal itself is damaged then it does present a concern, but this phenomenon kicks in with even the most superficial dents.)

In other aspects of life, like socialization, we are equally obsessed with appearance. We become completely convinced of a one-to-one relationship between beauty and inherent value. Most people go to the grave still believing that beautiful women have hearts of gold and ugly women are a cruel (w/b)itches. The most handsome politicians often turn out to have the most ugly, corrupt and hateful hearts and souls, but we keep electing them over the plain-looking but earnest and intelligent candidates, whom we can't bring ourselves to trust.

When we aren't obsessed with sheer beauty we fall back on another completely useless attribute for determining quality -- familiarity. Somehow, we are so convinced at our own righteousness that we think anyone that seems to be like us must be awesome too! It doesn't matter if we are more (supremely godly and moral "The Simpsons" character) 'Ned Flanders' or (executed serial killer) Ted Bundy; whether we have minor skeletons in the closet or bodies packed six deep under the floorboards, we see ourselves as pretty amazing people, just the kind we'd want to know! I figure this is how 'simple folk' like George W. Bush get elected over vastly more qualified people who don't have his benefit of coming across as a familiar, nonthreatening 'every-man'. Ideology helps of course, but there needs to be more than just ideology to amass 'majorities'.

Can we place the blame with the Brothers Grimm? Aesop? Probably not. I'm fairly certain that the phenomenon is as old as humanity itself. You would think that religions would do something to combat this illusion, but they don't. Modern religions are more strongly influenced by men with no claim to divinity than to any divine figure, so are ill-equipped to guide us beyond the pitfall of placing predictor powers on 'pretty'.

For example, modern Christianity owes more to the hundreds of thousands of priests, ministers, monks, saints and popes of the past 2000 years than to the words, teachings or actions of The Father, The Son or The Holy Spirit. 2 millennia of interpretation and reinterpretation during synods, councils, consortia and pilgrimages using contemporary morals and ethics have made an indelible mark. Translation, re-translation, interpretation and reinterpretation of ancient language has had a significant effect on it as well. Even what is considered canon and what is considered apocryphal is the decision of mere men decades to centuries after the authors of the works had passed on. What is and isn't considered 'inspired' was determined by best guesses and isn't even universally uniform. Sure, they are probably very educated guesses, but nonetheless, they are guesses made by mortal and fallible men. Even the formation of Christianity into something completely distinct from Judaism was the decision of just men. (At no point in his life did Jesus preach for the creation of new religion. His teachings were for his people, whom he considered lost, to return to their old ways, the way of God. Unlike previous teachings, he did not limit his teachings to any specific demographic group but preached to any who would listen. With the rapid acceleration of interest in conversion to Jewish Christianity by pagans 'compromises' had to be made to promote and accommodate them, such as disavowing the need for circumcision, and thus the first steps to an independent religion were taken.) People of deep faith will tell you that these were not, in fact, guesses but instead were decisions made by men who were God-inspired and therefore the decisions are guaranteed to be correct. Of course, there can never be even the vaguest kind of proof of this statement of belief. They believe because they want to believe. This choice to believe or not believe is itself a decision made by mere mortal and fallible men, therefore all current beliefs have been tainted at least once along the line by the potential for gross deviation from the intent of God's Word.

Modern Islam is even more heavily influenced by the hundreds of thousands of fallible men that have followed Muhammad than is Christianity by its 'experts'. This is perhaps more true today than at any point in the history of Islam. An objective analysis of some of the teachings in Madrasahs around the world would find so many filled with hate-inspired rhetoric that it becomes next to impossible to believe that one of the definitions of the word 'Islam' is 'peace'.

So, here we are, in the present day. Human culture is enormous. Human knowledge is so vast that it is impossible for any one person to master even a small portion of it. And in spite of all of these accomplishments we are still tripped up by the most fundamental, basic and obvious of truths, that an object's appearance is of extremely limited value (and in some cases no value at all) in determining anything beyond its appearance! So, why are we still hung up on appearance in virtually all aspects of life? And is it more universally abused anywhere more than in dating/courting? Western divorce rates are near 50%. The more times you've already been married, the higher that rate goes, so it's no wonder there are the Liz Taylors, Zsa Zsa Gabors and Lana Turners of the world marrying eight or more times and yet often dying alone. (Of the 3, only Zsa Zsa may pass while still married -- she's now 94 and has been married to the same man for 25 years!)

Even when relationships last they are often rife with cheating and/or abuse of various kinds. We're getting it wrong far more often than we're getting it right, but will we change? Yeah, right. Some chalk it up to learning experiences or personal growth. I say that is the position of an apologist. Experience and growth do not necessitate the kinds of callousness and cruelty so common in relationships.

Ask anyone with any political or religious clout and they'll tell you that marriage is as healthy as it has ever been. In my opinion, that is an historical indictment of marriage! Ask someone right of centre and they will tell you that marriage has been irrevocably harmed by immoral depictions of sex (and/or abuse) in the media and by same-sex marriage, or homosexuality in general. These are people profoundly in denial. Human relationships have been in trouble for as long as there have been human relationships.

More often than not we get into them for the wrong reasons and the ones we value most are often the ones are most harmful to us. Political alliances, sociopolitical acceptance/viability, family arrangements, financial security/wealth, great sex, physical attractiveness, size (in all its various meanings), increased status, social climbing, access to different/'better' social networks...could there be any more pointless and doomed reasons for relationships?

What happened to love, friendship, emotional support, respect, compatibility of personalities and partnership?

Physical attraction is great for 'catching someone's eye' in the first place, but it's got to be replaced (or ideally, augmented) by something more meaningful. Great sex is a really nice perk. Sex doesn't get great or stay great unless there's something behind it. For most people it's something that has to be continually worked on, which is a truism for relationships in general.

As far as size goes, the rule appears to be bigger is better for anything and everything, with the possible exception of noses. It is true that some men like exceptionally tiny women, though the reasons are generally not good. Even the smallest women seem to go nuts for the most enormous men. A two-foot height difference is perceived as no issue at all. These women often say that being in these men's arms makes them feel safe. The feeling of safety is just that, a feeling. An illusion. Given that the vast majority of violent crime is committed by the ones we know and love all that extra size really means is how much more effective he'll be at beating the crap out of her when he sets his mind to it. Who is protecting her from him? (Compare and contrast to the opposite situation when she is even so much as a half-an inch taller than he! No one will give that couple even odds at lasting as long as 5 days, or are puzzled or even vexed by the question "what do they in each other?"!)

All the other reasons cited above are forms of use. Either the relationship is a pretense for one person to use the other for advantages outside the relationship or for third parties to use both members of the couple for their own needs. There have been 44 Presidents of the United States. Guess how many have been unmarried. One. If you have political aspirations you MUST marry! It is so vitally important for politicians to be married that they, who have more to gain or lose from their public image than just about anybody else, will marry any one and sort out such trivialities as compatibility after the wedding, or better yet, after the election. And this is how so many morally bankrupt politicians find women -- whose only relationship concerns are status, wealth and power -- ready to stand by them after their legal and/or marital transgressions are exposed. That support can translate into weathering the storm and achieving re-election, or in the worst case scenario, works to her financial advantage during the divorce proceedings after he fails to be re-elected.

So, when will we learn? A tiny minority already have. Some of them actually achieve true happiness! Others don't 'fit' into (or capitulate to) the accepted (failed) politics of courting and are therefore eternally single. That's a real shame because they are the real 'keepers'. Unfortunately, our biases for stupid and horrible predictors of relationship success keep us from so much as noticing these diamonds in the rough. Not only do we suffer for overlooking them, they suffer from being overlooked time and again. Being continually overlooked does not preclude falling in love and being rejected. Try to maintain self-esteem when your very culture trains its members to not appreciate you.

And the rest of us, those who have been failing at love, when will we learn? I'm torn over which is the best, most honest or accurate answer, so I'll let you decide.

1) Never, AKA when Hell freezes over. Why? You have to admit that there is a problem in order to be able to fix it.

2) When we pass into the next life, assuming you believe in such things.

Granted, neither is particularly optimistic, but we've had the entirety of human existence to get it right and we haven't yet, so what cause is there for optimism?

Whatever group you've fallen into historically, I wish you the best of luck in finding the perfect relationship that may have been eluding you. Or, if you prefer, I'll wish you the best of luck that the relationship you are currently in becomes more perfect. Anything that helps love, kindness and acceptance win over the alternatives.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Path To True Wisdom

This is going to sound incredibly corny but I'm going to quote Weird Al Yankovic for the philosophy that will lead you to wisdom. Maybe you won't become an enlightened spiritual leader of billions but you will become an informed responsible member of society and a example for all humanity.

Everything you know is wrong,
Black is white, up is down and short is long,
And everything you thought was just so important doesn't matter.
Everything you know is wrong,
Just forget the words and sing along,
All you need to understand is everything you know is wrong.

Because of the method of delivery it sounds much sillier than it actually is. In fact, it isn't silly at all, it is the ultimate wisdom! Nothing, not even knowledge is absolute. Much of it is misinformation, or worse, disinformation! Even the most widely accepted facts may be based on pure fiction or downright lies. Even science is subject to new theories that model the truth better than the old, accepted knowledge. So, since any specific piece of knowledge may be completely false, and even the strongest pieces of knowledge may be proven wrong at some point in the future it only makes sense to accept that everything you know is, at least to some degree, wrong.

This is how young children learn. They have an inherent understanding that there is far more that they don't know then there is that they do know. This makes the knowledge that they currently hold highly subject to change or reinterpretation. This is how all furry four-legged animals start off being labeled as "doggy", then later get broken off into "doggy" and "kitty", and eventually come to have separate categories for hundreds of different animals from mice to elephants.

Somewhere along the line, we lose this propensity to reinterpret what we know. We 'grow up' and become preoccupied with 'being right' rather than 'getting it right'. By the time we are teenagers we place the feeling of independence above even safety and thus tend to want to reject anything that disagrees with our current view of the world. The fact that we have been exposed to virtually nothing by this point in our lives and the fact that our brains aren't even capable of handling many more complex ideas don't hinder our blatant manifestations of pride and disrespect.

It is during this brief period of transition where our knowledge is still somewhat mutable, but is becoming more and more resistant that we begin to 'create' terribly ignorant 'knowledge'. This is the process that teaches us to separate "person" into multiple categories like "black" and "white" or "Christian" and "Muslim", when the differences are far less significant than the similarities. It also pushes us to make patently false associations like coupling "poor" (or "fat") with "lazy", "rich" (or "religious") with "righteous", or "pretty" with "good" (and thus "ugly" with "evil").

If you keep in mind the fact that everything you know is wrong every time you are presented with information you will have done what most people never do -- conquer ignorance. A great many advances in science have been delayed by scientists being bogged down by what they were taught instead of exploring interesting independent ideas, philosophies or ways of thinking they had that are not consistent with their teachings. If the people noted for great accomplishments in history acted like the vast majority of humanity, the ones that don't appear in the history books, we would still be in the stone age. We would still think the sun and stars revolve around the Earth. We would think that the world is flat, and that it is possible to sail off the edge of the Earth. We would never has learned Einstein's Theory of Relativity and thus all nuclear power and nuclear medicine wouldn't exist. Virtually all societies would be ruled by autocrats, be they tribal elders, hereditary kings or vicious warlords.

You will avoid the pitfall of ignoring both empirical evidence and the truth sitting right in front of your nose just to protect the false and worthless comfort of 'being right'. Every single piece of human experience is influenced heavily by every experience that happened earlier. You'll have defeated the all-powerful preconceived notion. You will become immune to propaganda, and with a little luck, immune to hate. Continuous learning is one of the greatest virtues known to man. Learning, the ultimate utilization of God's greatest gift to man -- his brain -- is the best way to glorify God. When we allow what we think we know to make us resistant to knowledge we have turned from God and begun to do the Devil's work. If you accept this truth than it becomes fairly obvious that most of the world's religions have fallen from grace and have long since begun to do the Devil's work.

The worst that can happen if you are willing to consider a new truth is that you will discover it too to be wrong, in which case you can just continue on with what you originally believed. "No harm, no foul" meets "nothing ventured, nothing gained". At best, we can cast doubt on what we believed and become more open to greater, more universal truths. Maybe, by the time we pass from this world we might actually know something worthwhile, or better yet, have contributed something while we were still here.

It is most unfortunate that the people who most flatly refuse this philosophy tend to seek and somehow be given leadership positions. This is tantamount to the blind leading the blind. Actually, it is more like the profoundly blind leading the barely-able-to-see 'legally' blind. But, we only have ourselves to blame for their rise to power. By and large, we put them in those positions, which begs the question, "does that make us more blind than they are?" Even when men force their way into leadership so they may foist their personal choice of blindness upon others we can still blame ourselves for having let them. There are always ways to stop this from happening though they do tend to involve great personal risk, so naturally we make every excuse possible to avoid doing it, and then blame others for having let it happen.

This particular kind of blindness is called "ideology" and it is the worst kind of knowledge. It is particularly bound to the belief that what you currently know is the only and absolute truth and what you value is critically important while nothing else is even remotely important. And thus economy rules over ecology (or biology if you prefer). It's best to ignore Climate Change (AKA Global Warming) because it is inconvenient and doing anything at all about it would be disruptive to the economy. To that I say, "That is entirely theoretical -- it might be true that embracing new technology and new lifestyles may end up enhancing the economy. After all, if you haven't noticed, what we're doing right now isn't exactly doing so well!" Also, to that I ask, "how much money do you make after you are dead?"

Ideology is frequently based on no facts whatsoever and is therefore virtually immune to influence from actual truth or even direct evidence to the contrary. Ideology is more about emotion than fact. It is more about personal identity than fact. The world is becoming increasingly ruled by, and even obsessed with, ideology. The only way to combat this is to enter every situation with the basic understanding that everything you know is wrong!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Ford Declares War On Working Class

Actually, he did that a long time ago. That was pretty much one of his campaign promises, but veiled in other words. He vowed to end "The War On the Car." Why was it necessary to champion the car at all? Did they need a champion? Were they the most put upon commuters? Not even close! Commutes using public transportation are always longer than commutes by car! If travel by cars wasn't faster there wouldn't be so many people insisting on using them! Nor would there be much need for taxi cabs and look at how many of them we have! In any case, in the absence of a "War On The Car" Ford needed something to attack. His choice has been to wage "The War On the TTC."

Twenty-something years ago, the TTC was the pride of the city. It was considered among the best in North America, if not THE best, and was World-Class! Now, it stinks and council has voted to make it even worse. Service levels and capacity limits will be rolled back near to 2004 levels. Ridership has grown every year since then, so in fact the TTC will be more taxed/stressed than it has ever been!

Why? Because it is expensive. Actually, all things considered (including costs at all levels of government), it's not that expensive and it's cheaper than the alternatives. The only reason it is relatively more expensive than a city mobilized entirely by private cars is that the Province and City have completely failed to monetize the use of cars! Actually, the city had monetized the use of cars! It had a $60 user fee in place. True to form, and by that I mean to do the worst thing possible for the health and function of the city, the first thing that Ford did was eliminate this fee. We can't have private citizens paying for the privilege of using public roads! Free car use and ownership is a divine right! If the City or Province (or both) instituted the proper monetizing of roads and cars then public transportation would be completely paid for! If anything, a ubiquitous mass/public transportation system is the divine right!

I knew this was coming, but the sheer scope has caught me completely off guard. Exactly ONE line that I take has escaped the cuts: the 127 Davenport is not going to see wait times increase due to a reduction in service. It's already fairly scarce. Every other bus line that I have been known to take regularly has been cut. For me that means: 10-Van Horne (which has already seen a significant portion of its schedule merged with the 169-Huntingwood route), 24-Victoria Park, 25-Don Mills, 34-Eglinton East, 39-Finch East, 54-Lawrence East, 63-Ossington, 85-Sheppard East, 139-Finch Don Mills & 190-Scarborough Centre Rocket. These are just 10 of 62 routes that have been cut.

If you live in Scarborough (or the Eastern half of North York), you got some extra Ford-love -- all but one of the major East-West routes East of Yonge Street have been cut. That means all of the following are cut: 53-Steeles East, 39-Finch East (as well as the 139-Finch Don Mills & 199-Finch Rocket), 85-Sheppard East (and the 190 Scarborough Centre Rocket), 54-Lawrence East and 34-Eglinton East. The only one not to get cut? 95-York Mills (which also serves Scarborough along Ellesmere Ave.) I have no idea why it was spared. (I suppose the 42-Cummer bus has also been spared, but Cummer/McNicoll isn't a major thoroughfare.)

Don't think that you've escaped the Scarborough cuts if you travel North-South or travel entirely within Scarborough! Also cut are: 9-Bellamy, 16-McCowan, 17-Birchmount, 21A-Brimley, 24-Victoria Park, 57-Midland, 67-Pharmacy, 68-Warden, 69-Warden South, 102-Markham Road, 116-Morningside, 129-McCowan North, 131-Nugget, 133-Neilson & 134-Progress. Now that I think of it, all but 2 of the North-South thoroughfares East of Yonge Street have been cut! (North York's 11-Bayview & 25-Don Mills are also hit; spared are 51-Leslie (already terrible) and 43-Kennedy.) Many of these routes were already near capacity! Even citing all these routes only manages to mention 25 of the cuts. There's 150% as many that I haven't mentioned!

My best guess is that Scarborough, North York and to an extent Etobicoke residents will suffer most. York, East York and Toronto are affected relatively less. In other words, the shortest commutes, the ones within the heart of the city, get by relatively unscathed and the already longer, more arduous and time-consuming routes have been slammed. Another implementation of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

The only thing that doesn't seem to have been cut are the subways! Apparently, Mr. Ford and his council think that 100% of Torontonians live on a subway line or drive everywhere they go. This is so far from the truth that they need a serious reality check! The vast majority of people need to take some form of public transportation to reach a station! For example, I almost never travel to or through any stations.

I actually wish that everyone owned a car. That way, we could arrange a day when we ALL drive to work. Upward of 2 million cars on the road at once. That's likely the only way to show Mr. Ford that by ending the mythical "War On the Car" he has actually declared war on the car... and every other form of transportation! (Has anyone else noticed that Mr. Ford likes to cut anything and everything that he himself has no use for? NIMBY at it's absolute worst!)

Here's a piece of advice to Mr. Ford. Try using the things you so cavalierly mark for cuts or elimination. Understand them before you bring the ax down on them. In particular, take the TTC. That way you won't be breaking the law every single day when you speak on your cell phone while driving. Your contempt for the law is very disturbing.

Reductions in public transit mean three things.

1) People that have significant commutes will now have to leave that much earlier. TTC-users already had commutes much longer than people who take the car. (This is true both on average and at the extremes. People who use Provincial Highways to commute to Toronto from exurbs do not count for three reasons. First, they are using Provincial Highways, not City of Toronto roads. Second, at least a major portion of their commute happens outside the confines of the City of Toronto. Third, they don't pay Toronto property taxes!)

Getting up earlier means people will be getting less sleep and creates more stress. Less sleep and more stress mean more sick time which hurts commerce. Less sleep and more stress also mean more real health problems, so it hits the Province of Ontario's health care system hard. Ford doesn't care. That's not his budget. To him they are separate matters. If he can find a way to pass the buck, he will, even if it means destroying the fabric of society. Sorry, Mr. Ford, to citizens, everything is interconnected and nothing can be looked at in a vacuum. Nothing in the real world can be.

2) People will switch to cars. This hurts the TTC budget as ridership will drop along with the levels of service. That means it hurts the City of Toronto's budget as they will end up having to make up the amount lost in fares. Further, congestion will get considerably worse as 1 bus translates into dozens of cars, or even hundreds! Parking will get considerably more scarce, resulting in widespread parking violations, further congesting streets. Increases in congestion and parking issues increase stress levels. Remember what increased stress levels do...

3) People that cannot or will not enact the solutions cited in #1 & #2 above will consistently be late getting to wherever they are going. This hurts business. This causes people incredible stress. Which, again, means more sick time and health care costs. This will cost people their jobs, which further hurts the economy. But, why should Rob Ford care? The City budget is financed by property taxes, not income! Let them all lose their jobs! As long as taxes don't go up at any level of government!

Politicians were quick to point out that the service cuts on Eglinton and Sheppard Avenues will be serviced long term by Ford's "impossible dream", privately-funded Sheppard subway extension and the Provincially planned LRT on Eglinton. The reason that any mention of this is completely asinine (for politicians seeking shelter from the fallout of their own decisions) is that there is the mere matter of a MINIMUM EIGHT YEAR GAP before either of these things become reality! (And one of them probably won't happen at all for lack of private funding.) This helps exactly ZERO people deal with the cuts that are coming NOW, and are therefore completely irrelevant!

So, Mr. Ford, by shifting the municipal planning focus from mass transit to the car you have effectively doomed ALL commuters, whether in cars or other vehicles, to increases in stress, congestion, travel time and pollution. Good show! Four negatives in one fell swoop of policy! That's like the tailor in the Grimm fairy tale "Seven In One Blow". Everyone thought the tailor so brave for having killed 7 in one blow! Little did they know that the seven he killed were just flies! Like the tailor, Ford is seen as a champion by many, but all he has done is kill flies. That won't stop him from boasting. (FWIW, the tailor goes on to kill giants and wild beasts using only his wit, becoming the hero he believed himself to be. Ford lacks the wit on which to fall back, but nonetheless believes himself the very model of heroism. Zero is more like it.)

Here's the real problem with service cuts. The effects that they tell you about are theoretical and not particularly rooted in day-to-day reality. The increase in traffic resulting from this war on public transportation will all too often keep buses from keeping to their official schedules. Buses will be even busier and wait times longer than the TTC is telling us. All it takes is a little bit of congestion, a little inclement weather, a minor fender-bender, a sick or injured rider, an unruly-to-dangerous passenger or a disabled bus to cause the entire route to break down. This happens much more often than you'd believe! Oh, and expect more fender benders as traffic congestion increases!

There are two other problems with the service cuts. The increase in riders per vehicle will mean that additional buses will need to be summoned to handle unexpected fluctuations in ridership more often. Rider stress will be at an all time high. Similarly, the drivers will be tested to their absolute limits. You think that the recent happenings in Ottawa were unacceptable? Just wait until you get a hold of the new TTC! Eventually, the buses start skipping stops because they can't take on any new passengers. If no one is getting off, the bus isn't stopping. This serves two purposes. The faster that bus can get through it's route, the sooner it can come back for another pass. (This tends not to have any real effect at all. The buses end up just sitting at their terminals in an effort to keep to the all mighty schedule rather than work to reduce any backlog of riders.) Second, stopping just creates an opportunity for an angry public to take it out on drivers, endangering drivers and further slowing the bus. The drivers aren't responsible for the policy or the schedule, that makes them every bit the victims that the riders are. So, if you happen to be waiting for a bus that comes every 9 minutes, you may be treated to a full bus that cannot take on passengers... every 9 minutes! There's no telling when you'll actually be able to get on and commence your journey! This isn't extremely common, except for when the weather is foul, in which case it becomes incredibly common! All those car drivers, walkers and cyclists that don't want to brave the weather get added to the daily ridership creating an impossible situation. If you get on at a terminal, you're probably OK because the vehicle completely empties at your stop. If not, good luck. You'll need it!

Further, the buses that are summoned to handle the fluctuations have to come from somewhere. Typically, they come from the affected route itself. What they do is declare a bus headed in the direction opposite to the main flow of traffic as a "short turn" bus. In other words, it turns around ASAP to add its capacity to the stressed direction. That means the people that happen to travel in the direction opposite to the main flow are forced off the bus and made to wait for the next bus. Every single time this happens the displaced riders bitch and moan, get a transfer and brave the weather, forced to accept an extra leg of their journey where they get absolutely nowhere. If they are lucky, the next driver won't get uppity about the fact that you are trying to use an inappropriate transfer at a non-transfer point. Also if they are lucky, they have a cell phone and can call ahead to warn of their impending tardiness. If they aren't lucky enough to own/afford a cell phone, they are screwed. Good luck borrowing one from one of your fellow riders! Actually, unless you want to experience a threat of bodily harm, I don't recommend even trying! With service cuts, this will happen even more often than it does now! If you have hockey gear, wear it for your TTC trips, you might need the protection from your fellow disgruntled rider! Since we're talking about it, why do the people travelling with the crowds get priority over the people moving against traffic? Was their TTC token worth more? Did they pay two fares? Is their getting to work on time more important?

Second, at least once a day on some route somewhere (and usually more often), a driver takes an unauthorized break. I'm not talking about when the driver puts the bus into park and wanders into a Tim Horton's. If they need to use the bathroom to drive safely, then let them use a bathroom now. If they need to ingest massive amounts of coffee in order to be alert while driving then they'd best get some coffee! (Ideally, people with difficulty concentrating on driving aren't working as professional drivers!)

I'm talking about when a bus scheduled to arrive simply doesn't. It's not just late, it fails to appear entirely. It might be that it was forced to turn around to deal with crowds traveling in the other direction, but not necessarily and certainly not at the times it tends to happen. The next bus you see is the next scheduled bus, which can be an additional 15-20 minutes later. If you've already been waiting 10-20 minutes that's unacceptable. How do I know that drivers/buses are taking a 'time out'? I board a particular bus relatively close to its terminal point. I can see the 4-digit identification numbers of the buses that head towards that turn around. When a bus finally arrives from the terminal after one or even two have failed to appear, at least one bus has passed in the opposite direction. Sometimes, the ID of the bus that finally arrives doesn't match that of any of the buses that headed toward the terminal. That means it was just sitting at the terminal instead of operating on the schedule it was supposed to.

When you point out the fact that you have waited for 1 or more buses that failed to appear the driver never seems to know anything about an interruption on the route. Had there been a breakdown, or a "short-turn" situation, they would have known. So, either one of their co-workers went AWOL, or they themselves were AWOL and now their playing dumb. The fact that the bus (or buses) that were headed toward the terminal aren't smack dab on the heels of the bus that finally showed up likely means that those drivers are taking their turn at having unscheduled, paid breaks.

This only seems to happen later in the evening, or at worst near the end of the afternoon rush. That means you can't just pick up the phone and report the event to the TTC complaints department. You have to wait until morning to do it. The TTC and its employees are banking on the fact that you will cool off or forget and not report it. But don't expect anything to happen even when you do. The TTC won't acknowledge that this occurs, nor do they seem interested in disciplining drivers. (Since 'officially' no interruption in service happened there is no reason for anyone to be disciplined!) The only justification I can come up with is that the drivers are so stressed out that they need to take an unscheduled break rather than be exposed to the public where they may 'snap'. However, if this were the case it would happen relatively uniformly across the system, and it doesn't. Only certain routes seem to be plagued by this problem, and at times where the number of potential passengers won't completely overwhelm a bus if 1 or 2 happen to go missing. That tells me it has nothing to do with stress, and everything to do with laziness and entitlement.

As of today, under ideal conditions it already takes me an hour or more to get just about anywhere! The only exception is when my destination can be reached by taking a single vehicle/bus, i.e. no transfers. The more transfers you have, the more time you spend going nowhere while waiting for your ride. This accounts for less than 5% of the city. The other 95% of the city takes me at least an hour to reach. For example, it can take me 90-120 minutes for me to visit my sister! By going out of my way to use the subway I can usually keep that closer to the lower number. Again, these are under ideal conditions. No rain, no snow, no construction, no car accidents. Add any of those and the travel time balloons. With the new cuts, who knows how long it will take! I fully expect to wait longer for buses and fully expect that they will be too full to take on passengers far more often than they are now. With the number of people travelling with strollers and personal shopping carts the buses fill up pretty fast. That and the fact that riders are notoriously bad at moving back, deeper into the vehicle makes actual capacity far less than theoretical capacity.

It was Rob Ford who declared war on public transportation, but it will be the TTC employees and ridership that are left to fare for themselves on the front lines. There will be casualties. Ford probably won't notice any change at all...until it starts to affect the length of his commute. Knowing Ford, he'll probably blame the increase in congestion on cyclists.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

MLB's new CBA: Nothing To Cheer About in Toronto

Local pundits are lauding Major League Baseball's new CBA. I don't know what they're reading, I don't see much to cheer about. I certainly don't see what Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos sees in it that could be considered positive.

Getting most of the headlines is the expansion of the playoffs from 8 to 10 teams. Currently, the 8 teams that make the payoffs do so on relatively even footing. If/when the playoffs are expanded to 10 teams, 6 teams will get preferred status and 4 will be also-rans. The 6 division winners will essentially get a "bye" into the second round of the playoffs. Another way of looking at it is that the 4 non-divisional winners that qualify for the 'playoffs' are actually quaoifying for a 'play-in'! This play-in will take the form of a winner-take-all single game. As far as I'm concerned they might as well forget the game and flip a coin.

In fact, MLB isn't expanding the playoffs, they are effectively reducing the playoffs to 6 teams with 4 additional teams getting to play in an extremely gimmicky one-off for the privilege to join the 6 'real' playoff teams. Anything can happen in a single game. Anything. A satellite could crash into the pitchers mound killing one team's ace effectively deciding the game for the other team.

OK, that's not very likely. Here are some things that are incredibly likely. Umpires can blow a call that is obvious to everyone but the umpires. Instant replay (more about that later) won't be able to help because it isn't allowed. Bud Selig's favorite thing about Baseball is the "human element" also known as the propensity for umpires to insinuate themselves into the result of a game by blowing a call. I don't think they do it on purpose, but they do it nonetheless. Their fallibility can decide a game just as sure as a player's outstanding athleticism can. A player can be called away from the game by the birth of a child. A player may feel it completely necessary to miss the game to observe a major religious holiday. A player could wake up with a crick in their neck that only lasts one day. Any of these things could be overcome easily over the course of a longer series but in a single game they become virtually insurmountable tragedies.

For the 2 teams that manage to persevere, or get lucky, and advance to the real playoffs, they are at a huge disadvantage. They were most likely forced to play their best pitcher as their entire season depended on the result of that one game. Now, their best pitcher is unavailable for the opening of their next series, giving an advantage to the team that got to rest their entire roster. (If they didn't use their best pitcher they were taking a huge gamble by risking their one shot of getting to the playoffs against a better chance of succeeding in the playoffs, should they actually get there. In this case, the huge disadvantage doesn't disappear, it manifests a game earlier!) So, that is yet a second advantage to the 6 division winners and a second handicap to the 4 teams that qualify as non-division winners.

This is much worse than it sounds. The 1987 Minnesota Twins made the playoffs by winning the AL West with a mediocre record of 85-77 (4 games better than a .500 81-81 season). The 2006 St. Louis Cardinals lowered the bar even further by winning the NL Central with only 83 wins! What is amazing is that both went on to win the World Series. Anything can happen in the playoffs when teams are given an even footing! You can argue among yourselves as to whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. In both cases, more than one team missed the playoffs with better records by virtue of the fact that they were unfortunate enough to be in a stronger division. These 2 teams shouldn't even have been given the honour of making the playoffs! But, because they won their pathetically weak divisions they got the same ticket to ride that the other playoff teams got.

So, now that we're going to have a two-tier playoff system, we're going to be giving teams like the '86 Twins and '06 Cardinals an extra leg up on teams that finish with vastly better records! What is so magical or significant about winning arbitrary divisions, anyway? Thanks to Selig's second favorite thing about Baseball, the unbalanced schedule (more about this later), those other teams with better records achieved those better records by playing significantly harder schedules! So, they are better than the division winners by difficulty of schedule AND overall record, but they will be rewarded with the ignominy of having to win a play-in just to take their rightful place in the playoffs, playoffs sullied by these relatively terrible teams! Hey, I have an idea! Let's just decide the World Series by drawing lots! Long straw wins! It's actually more fair, but it has nothing to do with baseball talent or acumen. Neither does the proposed system.

Presumably, this decision is based on the fact that a number of Wild Card teams have won the World Series and this offends Selig's delicate sensibilities. Again I ask, what is so magical about winning arbitrary divisions? How does it merit a greater right to playoff success than finishing with a better record against tougher opposition? The Wild Cards winning the World Series has been GOOD for Baseball. Without it, the competitive balance that Selig says is fine -- it isn't -- would be that much worse! Selig apparently is completely clueless about nearly everything.

The next most talked about section of the new CBA is that the Houston Astros will be moving to the American League West. I have already stated elsewhere that this is a terrible idea! Not only is a terrible idea, but Bud Selig actually paid $65 million to make it happen! That is probably the worst money spent in human history! Rather than rehash the entire argument again, I'll summarize.

Selig must recognize that Baseball has some problems and I guess he wants to do something about it. His solution is to create symmetry. Both leagues will have 15 teams. All 6 divisions will have 5 teams. What awesome symmetry! is entirely meaningless! If Selig wanted to balance something he should have started and ended with balancing teams' schedules! What are the consequences of this pointless change?

  1. More interleague play.  This is bad.
  2. Fewer meaningful interleague rivalries. This is bad.
  3. A new Houston-Texas rivalry.  This is good, but it comes at the expense of doubling the number of times that Houston plays on the West coast, which is monumentally bad for both Houston's competitiveness (jet lag) and television ratings (money).
  4. More games with the Yankees and Red Sox.  Everybody wants this except the teams forced to be in the same division as these two Goliaths.  It might increase Houston's revenue by a couple of percentage points, but the increase will be less than the losses incurred by the West coast road trips and their associated loss of television ratings.
  5. The illusion of parity.  All illusions are bad.  Why is it an illusion?  Doesn't having 6 teams in one division make it harder to win and having 4 teams in a division make it easier?  Not in and of itself!  It depends on who is in the division! Also, look at the empirical evidence.  Since Milwaukee moved to the NL Central to make it a 6-team division, every team but the Pittsburgh Pirates have made the playoffs.  The Pirates are always among baseball's lowest spenders, so this is no surprise.  They almost always allow their stars to leave when they reach free agency, or preempt their leaving by trading them before they get their chance to leave. Competitive balance in the NL Central is far better than in the AL East!  It is even slightly better than the NL East.  Both only have 5 teams.  Also, the relative ease of making the playoffs in the AL West is not significantly better than in any of the other divisions just because they only have four teams.  Symmetry only results in parity when all the constituent elements (teams) are equal.  They aren't.  Haven't been for decades.  A big fat illusion.  The only teams that will experience any change at all in terms of playoff chances are: the Rangers, Angels, Athletics and Mariners will have a slightly harder time making the playoffs; the Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs, Reds and Brewers will have a slightly easier time making the playoffs.
Balancing the divisions structure is pointless.  Here's a medical analogy.  Baseball has a treatable case of throat cancer.  (It's probably from all the smokeless tobacco.)  Don't worry, Dr. Selig is going to operate!  After surgery, Baseball has a brand new facelift.  A very interesting strategy, using a facelift to treat internal cancer.  Things look very pretty on the surface, but the cancer is still there.  Perhaps an internist and not a plastic surgeon should have addressed the problem?   If the cancer continues to be ignored it will eventually kill the patient.  In this case, surgically excising the cancer requires the balancing of the schedule, not the structure.  Alternately, the structure can be thrown out entirely, getting rid of divisions and letting the best teams with the best records make the playoffs, period.  Selig will never do either.  The perceived evil of added travel expenses and the perceived benefit of 'better' rivalries supports his inaction.  Deeper analysis proves that these surface issues are relatively minor compared to the negatives of the current system.

As far as paying $65 million to the new Houston owner to make this happen, all I can say is that this must be a symptom of insanity.  I wouldn't pay 65 cents to the new Houston owner to move the team.  Actually, I wouldn't TAKE $65 million FROM the new Houston owner to move the team!  It will cost MLB far more in the long run.

If having 15 teams per league was so beautiful and important, why did Selig move HIS Milwaukee Brewers to the National League to create that asymmetry in the first place?  Instead, he could have moved Kansas City to the AL West and had Milwaukee stay in the AL Central.  How does this compare to having Houston in the AL West?  They're in the same time zone.  Actually, they're a lot closer than that implies.  Houston is less than 1 degree of longitude farther West than Kansas City.  (Time zones are 15 degrees wide.)  That is trivial!  It works out to about 50 miles.  Kansas City had spent its entire history in the AL West until Selig's creation of the AL Central, and would have been fine remaining there.

No, there were other, ulterior motives for moving the Brewers to the NL Central and there are ulterior motives for moving Houston to the AL West.  The only thing in common with these 2 changes is that they both benefit Milwaukee.  Selig has a history of providing windfalls to his home town and home team.  Here's an example that involves Houston.  For Hurricane Ike, Selig mandated that the Astros play 2 home games against the Chicago Cubs in Milwaukee despite the proximity to the visiting Cubs.  The home ballparks for the much-closer-to-Houston Texas Rangers and Atlanta Braves were both available to host the games but were passed over in favour of a special treat for the people of Milwaukee.  It wasn't bad enough that the Astros were distracted by the severe and dangerous weather that was threatening their homes and their families.  No, they had to play in Chicago's backyard.  The displaced Astros were subsequently victimized by a no-hitter by Carlos Zambrano (the 1st ever at a supposedly 'neutral' site) and recorded just 1 hit in the following game.  In the midst of the playoff race, this decision and its impact deeply affected the playoff race and team seeding with 8 NL teams holding winning records at that moment.  Selig's Milwaukee Brewers benefited from these events by qualifying for the playoffs as the Wild Card team.  Surprise!

What other wolves-in-sheep's-clothing are in this bundle of joy called the CBA?

MLB is moving into the 20th Century by instituting blood tests for HGH.  MLB becomes the 1st of the "Big 4" North American team sport leagues to address HGH.    MLB says it waited until reliable testing could be found.  The World Anti-Doping Agency has been testing athletes since the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.  No one has been caught yet!  Before you break out the champagne, consider the specifics of the testing.  Testing will be mandatory in Spring Training.There will be 'random' testing during the off-season.  Testing will only take place during the season if there is deemed to be 'reasonable cause'.  This is a great step forward, but it is also largely meaningless.  Here's why:
  1. The best available methods are still extremely poor.
  2. HGH exits the bloodstream within hours of having been injected under normal circumstances.  The chances of 'catching' an athlete in the midst of an HGH coping cycle are very slim.  If an athlete has any notice at all they can make efforts to flush their system before the test, making the window of opportunity for a successful test even smaller.  I'll believe that the 'random' testing is truly random and without advance notice when they catch a high profile player and not a moment sooner.
  3. Athletes that 'fear' the test will change their training methods to work around testing.
  4. 'Reasonable cause' is wide open to interpretation.  You can also bet that the MLBPA will do everything in its power to appeal/block any attempts by MLB to test during the season on these grounds.  Again, if the athlete has any advance notice at all, they can make efforts to flush their system. The MLBPA will do whatever it can to protect its players from the looming spectre of 50-game suspensions, 100-game suspensions and lifetime bans.
MLB is planing a study to determine whether random testing during the regular season is warranted.  They don't need to waste money on any study.  It is warranted!  

So, by and large, this is much ado about nothing.

In the title of this blog entry I implied that the new CBA is bad specifically for Toronto.  It is, in many ways.  Toronto is a somewhat unique market.  It has elements of a small market and elements of a huge market.  The current GM and President (Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston) have instituted various methods to try and be competitive in the toughest division in professional sports without throwing vast amounts of money out the window.  Toronto may have the potential to be nearly as big a market as New York or Boston but that reality hasn't arrived just yet, and won't any time soon.  Here are some of the things that Anthopoulos has done in recent years that he won't be able to do anymore.

  1. Traded for catcher Miguel Olivo and then refused his contract option.  This resulted in Toronto receiving a compensatory draft pick when Olivo was signed by another team as a free agent.  This is no longer allowed.
  2. Trade Aaron Hill and John McDonald to Arizona for Kelly Johnson in what could be a win-win-win deal.  Hill was having a terrible season and was projected to be neither a Type-A nor Type-B free agent at season's end.  That meant that holding Hill could mean losing him to free agency and receive no compensation whatsoever.  Johnson was projected to be one of the last/lowest Type-A free agents.  Should Toronto decide not to seriously pursue Johnson for next year and subsequently lose him to free agency, they would receive TWO compensatory draft picks.  Not going to happen anymore.

    Both item #1 and item #2 are being eliminated in one fell swoop of the pen.  From now on, you can't receive compensation for any player that wasn't on your roster for a full year.  No more creative thinking for GMs.  Thinking outside of the box will get you smacked!  Anthopoulos' greatest asset was thinking outside of the box.
  3. There will no longer even be Type-A or Type-B free agents.  Now, to qualify for any compensation, you have to offer your free agent player a 1-year qualifying offer within 5 days of the end of the World Series.  Further, this offer must at least match the average of the top 125 salaries.  Anything less and they get to walk Scot-free.  If you fulfill this requirement and lose your free agent you will receive a single sandwich picks between the 1st and 2nd round of the Amateur Draft.  No longer can you receive a second pick from the signing team.  Thus, the cost of retating your own free agents is going up.  Way up.  This favours the richest teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies.  It puts more emphasis on spending megabucks on free agents and de-emphasizes amateur signings.  It gets worse.  It definitely hurts Toronto.
  4. If you sign someone else's free agent, you lose either a 1st or 2nd round pick in the Amateur Draft.  I can't figure out what happens to these picks.  They don't go to the team that lost their free agent as they have in the past for Type-A free agents.  I can only guess that the picks simply evaporate, disappearing.  This hurts the rich teams, but only somewhat.  These teams already tend to be successful so their picks tend to come very late in their rounds, minimizing the value of the lost 'asset'.  In the event that a weak team tries to buy its way out of the basement, the top 10 picks are protected from this mechanism.  Further, since it no longer goes to the victimized team, generally a poor/low-spending team, it hurts the little guy.  The only real winner here?  The players.  Another rule change that hurts Toronto.
  5. The non-tender deadline is moved up to December 2nd.  This gives GMs less time to decide what to do with their borderline assets.  This hurts the poor more than the rich.  Fully determining the pool of free agents before the Winter Meetings is a nice benefit for GMs, but again, it favours the big spenders.  This isn't Toronto.
  6. The way the Amateur Draft is handled is changing.  Teams will be allotted a pool of funds for signing their amateur picks.  This pool will range from $4.5 million to $11 million depending on position.  Presumably, the larger pools go to the weakest teams, but that isn't clear yet.  Teams are limited to this pool of funds for signing all their picks in the 1st 10 rounds.  This includes all sandwich picks!  Further, any amateur signing bonus greater than $10,000 counts against the pool even if the player is picked later than the 10th round.  Teams can exceed this pool allotment b yup to 5% with relative impunity.  The punishment is just a fine.  If they exceed the allotment by more than 5% they start losing draft picks in subsequent drafts!  In other words, exceeding your allotment by more than 5% and you are gambling that your picks this year will be more valuable than your early round picks in the next or next two drafts.  This is a massive gamble!
    This is great for teams that don't value the amateur draft or have stringent policies against paying amateurs significant signing bonuses.  Since Anthopoulos became Toronto's GM the amateur draft has been where he has been the biggest spender! This is a serious blow to Toronto!
    What is more insidious is how this will change the behaviour of potential draftees.  Amateurs that are just looking for a big payday will be forced to at least strongly consider signing with the have-nots.  Those are the teams that will have the money to spend.  Players will have to weigh the benefit of signing with a winner or a cash cow.  By that, I mean that the amateurs and their agents can clearly inform franchises that they will be seeking huge money, sending a signal to teams with limited pools to look elsewhere for talent.  Or, they can waive their 'right' to a big payday and sign on the cheap with a winning franchise.  In any case, players will always have the right to refuse signing and go back into the draft in subsequent years.  Currently, players don't really have to decide much as the winning teams are  generally the biggest spenders in the draft, too.
    There's more.  Players being drafted out of high school will have increased incentive to refuse paltry signing bonuses in favor of scholarships from colleges and universities.  This happens now if and only if the player thinks he came be drafted higher and command a higher signing bonus when he is next eligible for the draft (2 years).  With signing bonuses being severely curtailed, high schoolers may actually see more financial benefit from receiving a (mostly) free education even if they don't end up commanding a better signing bonus in the future.  Most players don't make the big leagues and have to worry about life after baseball.  This will steer them away from the minor leagues and into schools.  Overall, this is good for ALL GMs.  Signing players out of high school is inherently riskier than signing college players.  Until now, this is one of the ways that teams sought philosophical advantage.  Some teams, like the Blue Jays, would sign a fair number of "high ceiling" high school players.  Other teams, like the 'Moneyballers' in Oakland, focus on lower risk and cheaper college players.  Going forward, there will be more and more players opting for school before baseball, removing the option from GMs like Anthopoulos and eliminating one form of competitive advantage for franchises.
    We're not done yet.  Amateurs have four reasons to 'choose' a prospective team.  The size of their potential signing bonus offer, the likelihood of success on the field, the potential for off-field income and  the 'destination' status of the home city.  Imposing these changes limits the attractiveness of the 1st reason, signing bonuses.  This places additional emphasis on the other 3 reasons.  All three favour big markets.  The big markets are the big spenders and for the most part they buy their success on the field.  The bigger the market, the greater the potential for off-field income. Finally, the perception of the reputation and history of a franchise is strongly influenced by the size of the market.  It also somewhat favours financially mid- & low-tier but storied franchises like St. Louis and Cincinnati in the NL and Detroit, Baltimore, Oakland or Cleveland in the AL.  Expansion teams need not apply.  This hurts Toronto, the only team with the dubious (in the mind of often unworldly amateurs) distinction of being outside of the United States, perceived as a small market with poor potential for off-field income or on-field success.  Those World Series wins were a lifetime ago.  Half of the players eligible for the 2012 amateur draft hadn't even been born when the Jays last had succcess!
    But that's not all.  The very best athletes have more than one option on their plates.  They are multi-sport athletes.  Colleges and universities have a limited number of full and partial scholarships to offer ballplayers.  Less than half of any college's baseball team typically earns a scholarship.  There is only so much love to go around.  By and large, college football teams are able to offer full scholarships to their entire rosters!  So by limiting MLB franchises' ability to sign amateur athletes at 'what the market will bear' MLB is going to be sending potential superstars into other sports.  The overall talent pool for baseball will shrink!  This is terrible for everyone!  Thanks, Uncle Bud!  You win in your battle with union and in the process cut off your own nose.  Being noseless suits you!
    No matter how you slice it, the changes in the Amateur Draft hurt Toronto enormously, and possibly more than any other team!
  7. The way international free agents are signed is changing, too.  Like the Amateur Draft, teams will receive a pool of money to spend, but it will be equal for all teams.  Teams that have no interest in the international free agent market can trade their pool or portions of it to other teams for other assets.  Again, this may hurt Toronto more than any other team.  GM Anthopoulos has seriously beefed up the scouting department since he arrived and much of that is focused on the international market.  Toronto has made significant international free agent signings every year since he became GM.  Their future ability to do this is going to be radically limited by the imposition of a budget.
  8. Toronto may gain some benefit from this next change, but likely only for another year or two.  They qualify only barely for this benefit and any improvement in revenue will likely eliminate them from receiving the benefit.  What is it?  Between the 1st round of the draft and the sandwich picks there will be "competitive balance lottery" picks.  6 picks will be up for grabs for the 10 teams with the lowest revenue.  The 4 that miss out in this lottery will be eligible for 6 more 'lottery' picks after the 2nd round, but they will have to compete with the rest of the 'revenue-sharing payees' to get them.  These picks may be traded -- they are the only picks that can be traded!  For the time being, Toronto may benefit as I believe they are among the lowest 10 in revenue.  I could be wrong.  Please note that this is based entirely on revenue, not profitability.  Increasing the payroll and increasing the net operating loss does nothing to qualify for this tiny benefit.  If, as is generally expected, Toronto starts to see some additional success on the field, revenues will go up and they will lose access to this benefit (assuming they have access now).
  9. The rules for qualifying for salary arbitration are changing, too.  Instead of the players with 2-full years of service plus the top 17% of 1-year-plus players qualifying it will now be the 2-year players and the top 22% of the 1-year-plus players qualifying.  More players qualifying for arbitration earlier is great for the players, bad for the franchises and worst for the low-budget or frugal teams like Toronto.
That's an awful lot of reasons why things have just gotten a lot darker for baseball fans in Toronto.  Sure, there's that extra play-in spot (in each league), but good luck with that!  Knowing the luck of Toronto sports franchises in the next 100 years the Blue Jays won't qualify for Wild Card spot #2, and even if they do they will then lose the 1-game play-in. More likely, they will qualify for Wild Card spots #1 (which so far has been a full-fledged ticket into the playoffs) and lose the 1-game play-in to the inferior 2nd Wild Card team.  That's just the way it is in Toronto sports history.  (OK, I suppose there's a remote chance they might win a 1-game play-in, but if they do, their absolute best player will suffer an injury during the game ending all hope of success in the real playoffs.)

Is there anything actually positive in the CBA?

Well, for one, there's no strike or lockout.  That would have been the death knell for the league.

The top amateur prospects, both domestic and international will be subject to drug testing.  This might tease out a few frauds, but catching cheaters in 1-shot testing is next to impossible.

They'll be phasing out the super-fragile and extremely dangerous maple bats, but players currently using them may continue to do so.  It could take 20 years to entirely eliminate them.  Why MLB doesn't invest in Ash tree farms around the world so there will be a sufficient supply of quality wood I'll never know!

There are two real, purely positive pieces of news in the CBA (for everyone, not just the players).

First, instant replay is being expanded.  Fair/foul and trapped/caught are added to the list of reviewable plays.  We're making progress, but we'e not quite there yet.  Getting it right should be the most important thing officials do.  I still say that the fans place zero value on Bud Selig's favorite thing in baseball, "the human element", i.e.the chance of umpires bungling calls.  If you ask a typical fan how much money he's willing to spend for the human element you'll probably hear the answer "nothing".  If more than 0 cents of every ticket goes to paying for the human element it is too much.  It's obvious why he likes the human element.  Human psychology predicts that the vast majority of mistakes will favour the home team, the star player and/or the 'popular' team.  (Popular doesn't necessarily mean better.)  All of these things are good for marketing and bad for fans.  If it's bad for fans it's bad for baseball.  Time and again, Selig has shown that what is bad for baseball is good in his book!  And that's why the owners love him and why he'll probably die before relinquishing the role of Commissioner.

Second, the use of smokeless tobacco is being restricted.  Well, sort of.  Players can still use chaw, but they can't carry it in their uniforms and can't chew during an interview.  I imagine that they will still be seen spitting tobacco juice onto the dugout floor every time the camera happens to look in that direction.  I also figure that they will still take their at-bats with their cheeks overly full of poison.  Part of the mythology of chaw is that the cheek bulge helps batters see the ball better.  R-i-g-h-t... If that's all it is then chewing gum would be just as helpful and far less lethal.  Still, it's a start.

Overall, Selig seems to have decided that he needed to 'win' something in the battle against the union.  What baseball really needs is a salary cap, but that would be hard to get, and would probably lead to another work stoppage.  Why they didn't force the issue when they had the chance during the last work stoppage is a good question.  Now it is a holy grail that may never be attained.  Instead, he went for little victories in the form of cost-cutting affecting amateurs.  They have no rights, so that is easy!  Unfortunately it does virtually nothing for the over all competitive balance in baseball.  It merely pits the focus squarely on fee agency which suits the union just fine!  Player salaries will go up as teams find it harder to win big in the draft.  Qualifying offers will go up, another big win for the players.  How exactly did Selig 'win' in this CBA?  In any case, that's the story he's going to be telling and, by and large, he decides what spin gets placed on everything because the media lets him.

I had really high hopes for this CBA and mostly I feel I've been let down by the process and the participants.  It's been like this for 15-20 years and there's little chance of improvement.  Why exactly do I still care?  Oh yeah, I love the game.  I wish I still felt the same way about MLB.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A New Low For Ford

Today the Mayoralty of Rob Ford will hit a new low. If you've been following Toronto politics for the past year (and then some) then you know how incredible an achievement this is -- the bar had already been set astonishingly low! More specifically, it will take place tomorrow at 12:01 AM.

Toronto will follow the dismal leadership displayed in Vancouver, New York and Oakland in dismantling the local Occupy Movement in St. James Park. Occupiers in Vancouver peaceably left their territory after a court ordered them to vacate. New York and Oakland instead saw violence as police forced the issue. The members of Occupy Toronto have indicated that they won't leave voluntarily so a confrontation is looming. The Occupiers have stated that they will utilize passive resistance methods including linking arms and lying down rather than cooperating with any attempt to forcibly remove them.

Is it remotely surprising that the Occupy Movement is being dismantled worldwide? Of course not! The generation of people responsible for the protests in the 1960s are now the wealthy people being protested. It was OK for them to protest against the powers that be then, but now that they are on the other side of the equation they are exerting their political muscle to quash peaceful protest today.

Decades ago economists and social critics cited the 80-20 rule, where 80% of wealth was owner by 20% of the population and vice versa. Today, the number is closer to 88% being held by the top 20%. In the past 3 decades the average pre-tax earnings of the 'least' 90% of American citizens actually dropped by $900. When you factor in inflation, wealth and earning power has actually dropped much, much more. The top 10%, on the other hand, saw their average pre-tax earnings grow by an amazing $700,000! If allowed to continue soon enough we will reach the 99-1 rule, where 1% of the population has 99% of the wealth and 99% of the population has to fight tooth and nail for their share of the final 1%. There won't be enough to go around. We are headed for Armageddon and it has nothing to do with religion or even with any god...unless of course you worship money.

Perhaps the most distasteful of all the economic statistics regarding the dangerously increasing concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands is that the Global Economic Crisis actually accelerated the problem! This is completely understandable even without complex statistics and mathematics. Consider what happened during the crisis. The typical citizen saw their home taken away due to foreclosure, leaving them with debts and no collateral assets. Jobs were lost and unemployment rose. Jobs increasingly converted from full-time jobs with benefits to lower paying part-time jobs without benefits.

At the same time, the people responsible for the crisis literally laughed all the way to the bank! The financial institutions that mismanaged money and paved the way for their own insolvency were bailed out by the government. That means tax money taken from the poorer 90% went to support institutions largely owned by the richest 10%. So, instead of taking losses for mismanagement and malfeasance the public took a bath instead. Isn't that a tenet of capitalism and evolution for that matter? (What is capitalism if not financial evolution? Survival of the financially fittest.) Shouldn't the dinosaurs have been allowed to die off? Making matters worse is the answer to the question, "What did these companies do with all that money?" For the most part, we don't know! When the government handed it out in haste they neglected to put in place adequate measures to track its disbursement and subsequent use!

What do we know for certain? The CEOs, senior Executives and Boards of Directors that were most responsible for the workings and policies of these institutions received huge bonuses on top of the salaries that they hadn't earned! Their argument was that their talent was necessary to recover from the crisis and had they given them even a penny less they would have left to go to other corporations leaving them rudderless during a crisis. When the 'talent' was steering the ship directly into an iceberg and they threaten to go I say "let them!" The lowest mail-boy couldn't have done any worse! If these companies had chosen to relieve the greedy and foolish responsible for the crisis of their duties it would have cost even more! Their contracts almost always include massive "golden parachutes" that trigger even if they are terminated for cause! So getting rid of the dead-weight would have cost a fortune AND left the companies leaderless.

In the case of the Credit Rating Agencies like Standard and Poor's, who more than any other person or group are responsible for the financial meltdown had their bottom lines completely untouched by the crisis. (Why are they responsible? The are the ones that rated the securities based on distressed mortgages as AAA must-buys right to the bitter end. If they had given these securities a rating appropriate for the level of risk that they represented then the entire disaster would never have happened. But, what do you expect when the people that pay you to do your job are the ones issuing those securities? That's right, the financial houses that issue the securities pay Standard & Poor's and other CRAs to rate their securities. Given who is paying their bills, is it any surprise that CRAs rated garbage as top-notch investments? What if they had been honest? They'd lose their funding and disappear, allowing another, less honest company to do what they were ethically unwilling to do. Scruples are an extremely expensive thing to have these days.

The only way to fix the problem is regulation. America and most other democracies are allergic to regulation and the allergy is getting worse all the time. Somehow, the powers that be, also known as "the 1%" in Occupier terms, have managed to convince the other 99% that capitalizm is a benevolent entity that will look after everybody. In practice nothing could be further from the truth. Even in theory this isn't true! People misquote the father of modern economics, Adam Smith, as having stated in his landmark work "The Wealth of Nations" that "the Invisible Hand" will look after the less advantaged. Nowhere in the entire book is this stated even once. The only mention of "the Invisible Hand" is in terms of guiding businesses and investors. What I mean by that is that should a need arise, i.e. a market, the Invisible Hand will guide investors and businesses to direct their money and efforts to meeting that need. If they are the first, only and/or best at meeting that need they will be financial success stories. Similarly, if a market starts to dry up, the Invisible Hand will guide investors and businesses out of that market into more profitable ventures. Nothing about charity, nothing about social consciousness, nothing of the! It's a big fat lie.

But this big fat lie has taken root in our society and is widely accepted as 'fact'. The vast majority of people that believe it have never even heard of Adam Smith or "The Wealth of Nations", but they consider themselves experts when it comes to understanding capitalism. Ignorance is rampant. Who fosters this misinformation? The 1%, who largely HAVE read "The Wealth of Nations" and known damned well that it says nothing about capitalism being fair or equitable or having mechanisms to help the desperately poor. It behooves them to delude the public into thinking that the system looks out for them. And we trust them, because we lack the knowledge and sophistication to disbelieve and because it is easiest to just eat what we are being fed indiscriminately. Politicians are split on this matter. Some are educated and are part of the conspiracy and others are ignorant and therefore can't help. The few that know the truth are seldom elected and even less often re-elected as the hype- and propaganda-machines operated by the 1% work to purge them from positions of leadership.

The other major secret of capitalism and economies is that the concentration of wealth kills economies. The wealthy can't spend what they earn. It just isn't possible. Most of what they earn just sits and doesn't contribute (directly) to the economy. Indirectly, some of it gets invested in business ventures, or private bonds, government bonds, T-Bills, or a dozen other kinds of investment. Investment in and of itself does nothing for the health of an economy. You can fund a billion new businesses if you really wanted to, but they would nearly all fail. As things are most businesses fail! In other words, much invested money is thrown out the window as far as the economy is concerned. Yes, in the very short term there are jobs created which may lower unemployment which DOES grow the economy. But this is a short term change.

What happens to this 'wasted' investment? Much of it is erased in the form of bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is terrible for the economy. For every dollar of debt that is wiped out by bankruptcy there is a dollar of revenue/profit on someone else's financial books that gets wiped out. When businesses go bankrupt invariably private citizens are forced into bankruptcy, further shrinking the economy. When the banks foreclosed en masse on America, thousands of families went bankrupt erasing huge amounts of money from the economy. At the same time, investors like Donald Trump grew their empires obscenely.

(They bought thousands of properties at seriously depressed (i.e. fire sale) prices. Eventually, the market value of those properties will return to their 'true' value and their be sold for incredible profits. Why do they do it? Because they can? Why can they do it? Because we let them. Exploiting distress is the dark secret of wealth. Even playing the market is exploitation of distress. For every tycoon that sees their stock holdings go up, there is some schmo that sees the value of their modest holdings evaporate. On very rare occasion, the process works in reverse.)

But what is the net effect on the economy? The hit taken by the loss of homes, jobs and nest eggs is much larger than the gains made by tycoons. The economy shrinks.

At the same time that the ultra-wealthy have money doing nothing for the economy, the poor have needs that go unmet. If some of the wasted/idle money of the ultra-rich found it's way into the hands of the poor and even the middle class, it would be spent immediately! They would buy not just more, but also better quality items to replace inferior goods that don't completely meet their needs. This spending would directly grow the economy. The increased demand would force companies to expand their production or ability to provide services which would increase employment. Thus it is completely intuitive, and completely true, that the economy grows when the financial base is broader.

Looking at the economy from the supply side is pointless. Companies are not obliged to turn profits into jobs or to expand or anything else that might be beneficial to a society. They are perfectly within their rights to funnel that money into the hands of their owners, and many do! Giving corporations free money, which is exactly what governments are doing by reducing their moral and ethical social obligations by reducing taxes, guarantees nothing with respect to new jobs or growing the economy. The only guaranteed way to grow the economy is to grow demand/consumption. The only way to do this is to spread the wealth.

All Western governments of the past 40-50 years have been facilitating the flow of money from the middle class and poor to the rich. In the case of Left Wing governments it may have been in a naive and misguided belief that it would stimulate the economy. In the case of Right Wing governments it was a conscious and deliberate attempt to funnel money into the hands of the wealthy, their primary ideological imperative, and had nothing to do with growing the economy, though that is their official public political story. And we've been buying it like it was a 90%-off warehouse sale.

Related lies include the fact that taxes are inherently evil and uniformly crush economies by placing 'artificial', unnecessary and dangerous constraints on business. By the same logic, laws are 'artificial', unnecessary and dangerous constraints on human behaviour. Does anyone on the planet actually believe that? Does anyone actually believe that people would play nice together if there were no such thing as laws or punishment for crimes to coax them into playing fair? Even with laws there are those who think these rules don't apply to them!

What applies to laws applies to taxation and regulation. Businesses are self-interested and completely focused on profits. Nothing else matters. If businesses were allowed to, they would do things that were self-destructive in the quest for greater profits. For example, if businesses could operate without any labour costs they would! What a geat way to maximize profits! The fact that 99% of the population would have no income as a result of this free-labour operation falls on deaf ears. What difference would that make? Well, you'd have no one to buy your product/service because 99% of the population would have no money at all! It's really tough to make a profit without any demand for your product/service!

Taxes and regulations help shape a society into something of which it is worth being a part. For example, if there were no taxes there would be almost no roads. Those that did exist would run directly from the driveways of the most wealthy to their places of employment and a very small number of other favourite haunts, like their children's school, their church etc. There might be a road to their local airport. No other roads would exist because they would provide no benefit to the only people that can afford to have them constructed, the ultra wealthy. All other transportation would have to use corduroy roads, cobblestones or worse! Trucking would almost completely cease. Railways and airports would be the only forms of mass transportation. If you happened to live, work, learn or worship near this money monger you'd have the benefit of using their roads. But don't count on it being free! Those same people who are dead against their roads having tolls would apply tolls to 'their' private roads -- you better believe it! And if you can't afford their price, it's off to the mud roads for you! Did you think they got rich by giving stuff away?

Similarly, there would be no armies, navies, air forces, etc., only private militias. If a foreign power decided to bring war to domestic soil, you would have absolutely nothing to protect you. What private militias that did exist would be primarily focused on police-like actions, namely protecting property from trespassing, theft, vandalism, etc., not from stopping military actions. Good luck mobilizing those separate militias as a united defense against an enemy...there aren't enough roads for that to happen. Why will militias be law-focused rather than war-focused? War machines are brutally expensive and generally just sit around doing nothing. Protecting against the extremely unlikely event of foreign attacks does not do well in a cost-benefit analysis, so it most likely won't get done by any of the ruling class. If anything, they will all trust that one of the others will do it and they will receive the benefits of someone else's investment. So even with tax- and government-free anarchy the rich won't have their theoretical utopia.

Wait a second, why does there have to be no government just because there's no tax? Without taxes to fund them, what can a government do? Nothing. Nothing can be done without money. There's no point in having a puppet or figurehead government if they have no budget. Don't expect the rich to create a government. They don't need one. All the laws they need can be enforced by their militias. And the only power they recognize is that of money and raw capitalism. Government would be irrelevant.

Wouldn't the poor rise up? They'd try. They'd fail. Where would they get weapons? Ammunition? No one would see it to them. The only way they could get it is to steal it and they'd be seriously out-manned and outgunned when trying to do that, too. Smuggling? The rich would control the borders. Nothing they didn't want to come in would get in. Anything that might threaten their absolute power wouldn't get in, or it would be confiscated and be added to their arsenal. The dreadfully poor and completely powerless would once again be medieval serfs at the mercy of their masters, or worse. If the master has no use for them they would be reduced to savagery in whatever wilds remained, or they will be slaughtered outright -- why let them live as potential raiders and defilers of property when you can so easily be done with them?

The closest thing in "The Wealth of Nations" to social policy is the theory that "man has to work." In order for health, sanity, and self-esteem man must work -- because he is 'wired' that way. This is so steeped in Christian religious philosophy it isn't funny. This also happens to run completely contrary to the prevailing belief that the poor are poor because they 'want to be'! By that, the belief means that the poor aren't willing to do what it takes to better themselves. They are lazy. Sure they are...and so are fat people. (If you don't know, that, too, is a complete myth!) So, what we have here is a completely hypocritical elite that controls knowledge, information and culture to perpetuate the status quo since it benefits them exclusively. This has always been an accurate description of humanity.

The most accurate definition for capitalism is, "The economic system whereby greater and greater wealth is legally concentrated into fewer and fewer hands." That is capitalism at its core. Everything else it does is incidental. That core could be considered evil by people of good conscience.

Like virtually everything else in life, it is a matter of 'too much of a good thing'. Here's an analogy. We all need iron to survive but too much of it is toxic. We need to control our consumption of iron through the regulation of our diet and judicious use of supplements if we want to ensure the health of our bodies. Capitalism is like iron. We need to regulate and supplement it to ensure the health of our bodies (the economy).

Toronto's Mayor Ford isn't just rich, he's of the inherited rich. It's largely daddy's money. Sure, he runs daddy's company now, but he started with it all. His upbringing is deeply entrenched in the myth of capitalism and he probably believes all the lies he's been taught. So it is entirely expected that he will act in a heavy-handed manner to quash any effort to bring the attention of the 99% to the truth that is just waiting for their acknowledgement! His most loyal followers fall into the same categories as politicians -- some are in on it and want the message quashed (the well-moneyed Right-Wing voter) and others are completely ignorant and see the Occupy Movement as 'dangerous anarchists', just as the 1% wants them to think (the citizens of Etobicoke and others seduced by his "gravy train" mythology). Either way, his beliefs and his base both urge him to shut down the free, peaceful and legal protests by whatever legal wrangling necessary, or by force if it comes to that, and it probably will. Society would be in serious trouble if the truth became widely known!

Actually, that's nonsense! Only the stranglehold of the ultra-rich on all trappings of power would change. Taxes would go up, regulation would flourish, forcing businesses and industries into practices that approach being even remotely ethical, moral and environmental. Wealth concentration would slow down. I'm not sure there is anything that can be done to stop the concentration of wealth, or even possibly reverse it. We may have moved beyond the ability to stop it. But just slowing it down is a worthwhile goal! As we speak it is accelerating!

My final words are these. We in the West have looked at the Arab Springs with a combination of hope, disgust and pessimism. Just as we hope that changes in Egypt and Libya will create more egalitarian, possibly secular, democratic societies, we look on at the senseless violence and obsessive and illegal wielding of, or clinging to, power in Yemen and Syria with disgust and disdain. In all cases we wonder if the President-for-life, one-party systems will simply become Islamist States like so many other Muslim nations before them. Things aren't looking particularly good on that front, but that's not the point.

The point is what pathetic hypocrites we are! The Occupy Movement is our Arab Spring! They are EXACTLY the same! The oppressed are gathering to bring attention to their plight and are hoping that people are paying attention. We aren't! We look on at the activity in the Middle East with mild curiosity and interest but ignore what is happening right under our own noses.

Here are some truisms...

Familiarity breeds apathy.

Success breeds complacency.

Laziness breeds inaction.

Ignorance breeds contempt.

Fear breeds distrust.

Change is hard.

We have it pretty good compared to the Third World, and even though things are getting steadily worse for the vast majority of us, it is easier to bury our heads in the sand and hope it starts getting better than to engage and actually do something about it. We naively hope that someone else will solve our problems and then when someone actually tries, we deride them -- a form of self-inflation, leveling and bullying -- or worse, we completely ignore them. Either way, we doom ourselves to what we fear most. So long as things are even remotely comfortable in our lives we avoid action as it entails conflict, which we hate. Eventually, the window of opportunity will close and it will be too late to help ourselves -- we'll require outside intervention to improve our lives as was the case in Libya (or Afghanistan, or to a lesser degree, Iraq). As is the case in most of Africa, only there we aren't intervening and things are desperately bad. Can you say "genocide?"

In the Middle East, it is true that there is familiarity, laziness, ignorance and fear, but not so much success, and they have something that largely we don't have -- desperation. They are trying to get things done and they at least seem to be succeeding. They have met some resistance. That is unavoidable. There will always be slugs resistant to all forms of change including any form of improvement, including and possibly especially, self-improvement. There will also be people that are currently exploiting the situation to great success and fear that they will suffer if things change (either through loss of opportunity or through punishment for their crimes against their fellow citizens). But their fate is largely in their own hands. We have left our fate in the hands of those least interested in our well-being. To them, we are a means to an end (wealth and power), tools to be discarded once our function is complete (i.e. we're broke and can't make them richer anymore). We need to shake off complacency, reign in our contempt, conquer our apathy and inactivity and overcome our distrust if we ever hope to effect change and thrive as our parents and grandparents did. Opening our minds to the implications of messages that we are seldom allowed to hear would be an amazingly good start!

What are you doing about it?