Wednesday, February 21, 2024

#52 / Scams



SCAM #1 - THE (POSSIBLE) WORLD CRUISE SCAM 

Kara and Joe Youssef (pictured above) uprooted their lives to embark on a 3-year-cruise around the world. The wonderful around-the-world voyage for which they signed up with Miray Cruises was cancelled at the last moment, after a couple of earlier, last-minute extensions and delays. The $80,000 deposit that the Youssefs paid for their reservations has not been refunded. The Youssefs had sold their two apartments and liquidated all their life savings to pay for the cruise, and they are now facing homelessness. Others who signed up for the cruise are in a similar position. They paid; the cruise didn't happen, and now they're stuck without their money, and with their lives substantially disrupted.

Paywall policies permitting, you can read all about what happened to the Youssefs in a brief article by Ceylan Yeginsu, who covers the "cruise ship" beat for The New York Times. Yeginsu's first article didn't come down hard with an assertion that what happened to the Youssefs, and others, was a genuine scam. Her follow-up article is lending credence to the idea that the advertised cruise was a "scam," right from the start. The more time that goes by, the more it seems that this was not a case of the company just running into unanticipated trouble. It is less and less looking like things wll work out for the Youssefs, and for others who signed up for "the cruise that never happened." 

When I read about the possible cruise ship scam, outlined above, my mind immediately leaped to two indubitably real scams - recent scams - with which I am personally familiar. 

SCAM #2 - THE NEW JOB SCAM

The granddaughter of one of my friends teaches art in a Santa Cruz County public school. Of course, school teachers aren't really paid enough for them to survive in Santa Cruz, so my friend's granddaughter is always on the lookout for other potential jobs that might be better compensated. She found one, online - a potential new job - as an art director for a high-tech company. She would be expected to assist with website design and other art-related duties.

That sounded good, and my friend's granddaughter went through a number of online interviews, submitted evidence of her artistic talents, supplied a resume, etc. Good news, she was hired! All of this occurred online, of course, but no "red flags" appeared. In fact, the company representative with whom she was negotiating (online) said that she would be expected to work remotely, and that she would need new and upgraded computer equipment. The company hiring her was going to pay her to purchase the equipment she would need for the work, and to allow her to set up an adequate "home office." A check in the amount of several thousand dollars was sent to her, and she was told to deposit it to her account, and then to purchase what was needed for her new home office. 

Everything sounded great! However, shortly after receiving the check (and having made a mobile deposit into her account) she heard from the person with whom she had been dealing. He was extremely apologetic, but he confessed that he had sent her about $1,000 too much. She was asked to return +/- $1,000 of the significantly greater amount she had been sent - sending back the "overpayment" by Venmo.

Instead of immediately doing that, as she had been requested to do, my friend's granddaughter went in person to the very reputable bank upon which the check to her had been drawn, just to make sure that the check sent to her was actually good. It was lucky she checked; it wasn't! 

End result: No new job. On the upside, though, my friend's granddaughter didn't actually lose $1,000 of her own money, either.

SCAM #3- THE NON-EXISTANT GATES INTERNSHIP SCAM

Something similar occurred to a UCSC computer science student. He learned of a competition for a working internship with the "Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation." If the student were interested, he would need to submit a resume, respond to questions, etc. His local contact would be an actual "professor" at UCSC, overseeing the internship competition. The name of that "professor?" 

I won't keep you in suspense: "Gary Patton." 

A fake Gary Patton oversaw negotiations with the student. Emails sent to the student appeared to be from "Professor Patton," but the email account being used was not an email I ever knew about (I am, of course, a "real" Gary Patton). I was completely oblivious to the scam being carried out in my name. How my name was selected (since I have no connection, whatsoever, with the computer science department at UCSC), is not clear. 

As in the "New Job" scam - Scam #2 - there was a pretty long and extensive set of online email exchanges, but the student who had applied for the internship was ultimately informed by email (by "Professor Patton") that he had been selected. He would need some additional computer equipment, and the "Gates Foundation" would, of course, pay for that equipment. In fact, the Foundation sent him a check for deposit to his personal bank account. He did receive that and deposited it. He was then directed to arrange for the equipment purchase through a vendor designated by the "Gates Foundation." The specifics were transmitted to him by "Professor Patton." The student was directed to Venmo the designated vendor the sum of $2,350 (the same amount he had been granted in the check that he deposited to his account).

Did the student do that? Yes, he did! 

I found out about this scam when the student began emailing me at my real UCSC email address, asking whether I had actually authored the earlier emails to him. He provided copies of the email exchanges, showing the fictititious email account that was used. I am hoping that law enforcement authorities (and specifically the Santa Cruz County District Attorney's Office) will try to track down who owned that fictitious email account, and bring the scammers to justice (and with any luck recovering the money that the student has lost). Just in case you missed it, the check he deposited was a fake, and he never actually got any new money in his bank account. The money he sent by Venmo, though, was "real" money (his money), and he lost it.

CONCLUSION

The "online" world is not the "real" world. I have been saying that in various blog postings for quite some time. Don't be fooled. If you are going to sign up for a new job, or pursue a fellowship or internship opportunity - or even search for the love of your life - do it in the REAL WORLD. 

Not online!

PS: To avoid being the victim of an online scam, don't send real money back to someone who asks you for a return of money that you have not yet validated is actual, real money. That's what made those "New Job" and "Internship" scams work so well. The intended victims got what appeared to be a very "real" deposit to their account, but the bank's rules are that deposits shown in your account, after deposit, are not funds you can access until after the deposit has "cleared," and that usually takes several days. 

Heads up, folks! And let's try to live our lives in the "real" world. 

Not online!


Tuesday, February 20, 2024

#51 / Well, What If?



The image above comes from Mira Jacob, and is part of an Op-Art "Opinion" piece that takes up a full page in the December 31, 2023, edition of The New York Times: "Things I Thought Made Sense Just Don't Anymore."

Subscribers to The Times, I believe, should be able to see the whole thing. Non-subscribers are probably going to have to be content with what I am providing here. 

This particular frame, anyway, is the best one in the series - at least in my opinion, but all the frames are good. 

"What if?"

What if - indeed - we were suddenly able actually to appreciate that our "futures are intertwined," that we are, in fact, "in this together"?





 
Image Credits:
(2) - https://youtu.be/R4GLAKEjU4w?si=kzpAacE0yb_JRbkE 

Monday, February 19, 2024

#50 / Where Are You?




Pictured above is Apple's version of a new "mixed-reality" headset. Want one? We are told that they're in the stores, and that you can order one online. It will only cost you something like $3,500. 

Already, many, many people who are walking around our streets (or driving cars), or who are sitting inside their homes, or who are playing immersive video games that grab the attention of so many young people, are not really where they are. 

To get on one's cellphone, to go "online," or to enter the "Metaverse," for whatever purpose, is to leave behind the physical world into which we were born. That physical world, by the way, is a "shared" world. The world we inhabit inside our phones, or that we find on our laptop or desktop computer screens - or that we can access with one of these "headsets" - is not the "real" world, and it is not a world that we share with others. 

"Shared" is a key word, I think. 

Headsets like this new model from Apple (Meta/Facebook has been selling these for some time) cut us off from our physical location, and from other people, even more directly than cellphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers do. I think that's an issue of concern - an important issue of concern.

Apple bills its new headset as providing users a "mixed reality." I learned from a story in The New York Times, that Apple is also trying to get users, and potential users, and ultimately "buyers," to employ the term, "spatial computing." Apple thinks "nomenclature" is important. No "Metaverse" for Apple. That's a "formerly Facebook" description. 

The "real" world, the physical world in which our bodies are located, is by its very nature a "shared" world. That is the world in which my frequent claim is true: "We are all in this together." That claim is not actually true inside "cyberspace," where we are separated from other people, except as our apparently shared experience may be mediated (or, actually, "simulated") by the giant corporations who "create" cyberspace on their servers, and then charge us, in various ways, an entry fee to get there. 

In a lot of ways, I am less worried about so-called "artificial intelligence" than I am about the effective displacement of so many of us from our "shared" world. We choose to leave that shared world as we gaze into screens, or as we now affix headsets to obscure what our physical eyes might tell us, and we begin to "live" through the more vivid, more "informational" encounters we find in a cyberspace controlled by the corporations. 

Where are you? Where are you, right now?

I would like to persuade you that you ought to be right where you physically are, and that your experiences of the world should be experiences of things and people you both can and do touch with your physical body, not with your ever more easily beguiled and distracted mind!

Sunday, February 18, 2024

#49 / An Email Reply (Dream Big)




I recently got an email from an activist working on land use and water issues in the Central Valley. After I sent my reply off, I thought I might just put it here, so anyone who reads my blog can see my thoughts. 

So great to hear from you! And I am also glad that the Berkowitz piece, and its last paragraph, seems worthwhile. I do think it is! 
I must say that I was surprised to find you confessing to a battle against “sloth,” since that is definitely not my picture of you. But… whether the “sloth” designation has any real relevance to your life or not, I am happy that you made it to the bank in time, to solve that problem with your credit card before this upcoming three-day weekend!! 
My "confidence,” which you mentioned in your email to me, is at least partly based, I believe, on the very strong conviction I have that we are capable of doing what we tell ourselves we can do. Because I believe that - REALLY believe that - I am extremely reluctant to enumerate all the reasons that bad might prevail and all the good fail. 
In a very real way (as I learned from my father) failure is a self-selected choice. If you haven’t read my blog posting about that - about that world-changing revelation I had, as I accompanied my father into the crawl space below the floors in our house in Palo Alto - that story is where you will find the origin of my certainty that failure is something we ourselves produce. Click this link, and look for the section titled, “Possibility” Is My Category - Thanks To My Dad." 
If you believe, “theoretically,” that anything is possible with respect to all the arrangements we make in our human world (and, of course, I do believe that), then you undermine your own belief by rehearsing all the reasons that failure is a lot more likely than not. Yet, most of us do that all the time. Some of my blog postings about “doom,” including a recent one, try to address the issue. 
There is, probably, a very good reason that we tend to “give up” on possibility, since it is our lot to die (Memento Mori, as I keep telling myself), and dying does seem quite a bit like “failure,” doesn’t it? What do I say to that? Well, I just thought, as I was tapping out this message, that Bob Dylan has a song that is a kind of sermon on this subject. If you don’t know it, try this link. It may be important to take seriously his message, that “Death Is Not The End.” 
I do think that there is another reason, though, that I have “confidence” when I think about what prevails in our “political world.” I was extremely privileged to be personally involved in changes in our local community that fundamentally transformed what seemed inevitable into something quite the opposite: (1) We saved farmland for farming, and preserved open space for wildlife, and protected our natural world, managing new growth and guiding it into areas already committed to urban development; (2) We started a process of investing in successful community-based social service programs that has continued to this day; and (3) amazingly enough, our little county (the smallest county, by size, in the State of California) kicked off what turned into a successful nationwide effort to stop new offshore oil drilling. That effort resulted not only in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, but also put a moratorium on new offshore oil development everywhere around our nations’s coasts where offshore drilling operations were not already in place. 
I saw that happen. I even got to help. Our community did it! These things were, objectively, thought to be “impossible.” 
Can we do more, now? And we have to do more, of course - a lot more!
My answer is, "Yes." My father’s message still resonates within me, as it has throughout my life to date: “If you don’t have a dream, Gary, you can’t have a dream come true.”

Substitute your own name, where mine is shown above. Dream big!


 
Image Credit:
Kevin Painchaud, Lookout Santa Cruz
 

Saturday, February 17, 2024

#48 / A "Good Enough" Life




Sophie McBain, who lives in New York but who writes for The Guardian, a British publication, is suggesting that our pursuit of a "Better Life" is perhaps leading us into error. McBain's column, which appeared in The Guardian on January 1, 2024, was a meditation on the practice of structuring each New Year around one or more "New Year's Resolutions," which we believe will make things better, if we can only accomplish in fact what we so earnestly resolve. 

McBain's column bears the title, "Is being ‘good enough’ better than perfection?"

I think McBain is on to something. When considered from an "environmentalist" perspective (certainly one of my favorite go-to "worldviews"), human beings seem often to reject the idea of conforming our activities to the limitations of the "World of Nature," and feel much better when we are constructing our own, "Human World." One of my recurring themes is the fallacy in thinking that we can, somehow, create a world of our own that is not, in the end, completely dependent on the "World of Nature" into which we have been most mysteriously born. Any regular reader of these blog postings will immediately think, "Oh, yeah, now we're going to hear about global warming."

In fact, "Global Warming" is being caused by our human refusal to live within the limits of the natural world. We could obtain our energy from the "flow" of the energy that pours down upon us from the sun. Instead of living within the limits of that "flow," however, we want, instead, to dig up those "fossil" fuels that represent tens of millions of years of past "flow," so we can do things that we want to do, and go beyond what the "World of Nature" provides. Like (just an example) building a new city on Mars, since we have "fucked up" (that's a technical term) all of our cities here on Earth. 

Well.... McBain's point (and I think it's a good point) is that even within our "Human World," the world that we create, we are not ever satisfied. We keep looking for "better," or even for "perfection." 

How about just accepting, and loving, the blessings that exist?

We're already getting into that "New Year." It isn't really isn't all that "new" by now. Still, let's all think about whether McBain might be right. If she's right, that might change how we comport ourselves during the remainder of 2024!


Friday, February 16, 2024

#47 / Check My Hat: It's "Aspirational"

 



I realize that "MAGA" is the abbreviated and shortened form of a Donald Trump campaign slogan - "Make America Great Again." Thus, I also realize that anyone who suggests that it doesn't make much sense to attack this political slogan is in danger of being considered a supporter of our former president, and/or someone who is perfectly "OK" with everything our former president stands for, or does - or has done, for that matter. 

I am no supporter of Donald J. Trump. Just the opposite. I am no "MAGA" supporter, either, in the sense that I have anything good to say about our former president. 

But... as for the sentiments expressed by the slogan itself - that we should be trying to "Make America Great Again" - I am of a different mind. Who wouldn't want America to be "great"? Great again if you have fond feelings for the past history of the United States, or great in the future, if you are somewhat in doubt of how "great" America has actually been in the past. 

Those who know anything about the history of slavery in the United States, and about continuing racial and other forms of discrimination, and about economic inequality, and about government corruption and incompetence, and anyone who has examined how the United States has conducted itself in the world, are very much armed and able properly to argue about how "great" America has been. Our nation has not always done "great" things. On the other hand, my sense is that most Americans, and most people in the world, for that matter, would actually concede that the United States has done some truly great things. And if we have done it before, then let's do some more of those things, right? Whatever great things we have done in the past, let's do some more things like that! 

That is definitely my personal feeling, and I would argue that if attempts are made to classify those who like that "MAGA" slogan as persons who should be put into a "basket of deplorables," those who advance such an assertion, directly or inferentially, are making a significant mistake. 

Our job (those who don't like the Trump program, past, present, or future) ought to be seeking to claim that "MAGA" slogan as our own, and then say just what it will take to "Make America Great Again." Trying to achieve that "Make America Great Again" result is exactly what our politics should be all about. Politicians, and political commentators, and pundits, and others who deplore the "Make America Great Again" formula are charging like a bull at the red cape being waved by Donald J. Trump. Watch out!

I thought about putting this blog posting online after reading a letter to the Wall Street Journal that ran in the February 8, 2024, edition of the paper (see below). I don't think Madeline Bizette, who comes from Port Orange, Florida, is "deplorable." Like Madeline, I, too, want to "Make America Great Again," and while Madeline and I might not agree about this, I think that voting down our former president's attempt to return to the presidency is certainly Step #1. That's the way I see it! 

Let's not make it harder to achieve Step #1 by saying that we are against the whole idea of "Making America Great Again."

I am not against that. In fact, I think that is exactly what we have to do!




Thursday, February 15, 2024

#46 / A Psychological Need For Meaning




Roger Berkowitz usually has something meaningful to say. Berkowitz is the Founder and Academic Director of The Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College. I have signed up to get his weekly email bulletins, which arrive at my inbox on Sundays. You can do the same, if you'd like to. Click the link I have just provided.

At the end of this blog posting I am reproducing the entirety of the Berkowitz bulletin from Sunday, January 7th. That bulletin is Berkowitz' effort, at least in part, to understand the origins of the popular support enjoyed by our former president, Donald Trump. Berkowitz does so by comparing Trump to Hitler. I will copy, immediately below, the lines I found most explanatory. I hope you will read the entirety of what Berkowitz has to say. 

The attraction of Hitler’s personality, Orwell argues, is based in a profound sense of insufferable grievance. It is often unclear, he writes, precisely what Hitler’s grievance is, but the vibrant attraction Hitler held on his followers emerged from his self-presentation as a victim, someone suffering deeply from an unjust world. If the world is against you, what Hitler offered is a solidarity in justified anger and a plan to remedy that injustice.
oooOOOooo

Orwell on the Falsity of Hedonism

01-06-2024
Roger Berkowitz


In conversations with students and even a fishing guide over the past few months, I’ve encountered a simplistic version of the thesis that it is “all about the money.” Some of my students see the world through a socialist lens. The rich and powerful care only about money. My fishing guide is a Trump supporter and evangelical. He also sees the establishment as corrupt and beholden to the mighty dollar: Biden is as much a criminal as Trump. All elections are rigged. It's all about the powerful taking power and money for themselves. My students and my guide couldn’t be more different. And yet, they share the reductionist view that money and corruption are the root of evil.

It is undeniable that money is important and corrupting. In our world, money can bring security, comfort, and power. Money also drives politics, as expressed by the famous Bill Clinton mantra, “It's the economy stupid.” But it is a mistake to think that money is the only desire that makes the world go ‘round. While people want money and power, they also crave meaning. Religion gives people a sense of spiritual purpose. Political movements from environmentalism to anti-abortionism offer the hope that our lives are not purposeless and not just about working and surviving. Nationalism offers the pseudo-mystical belief that we are not alone, that we are part of a collective that has importance beyond our mortal individual lives. 

More so than economics, a politics of meaning and identity is driving our current politicization and polarization. And this is not new. I recently came across George Orwell’s 1940 review of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Orwell begins by noting the powerful attraction that Hitler holds for Germans but also for people around the world. One core source of that attraction is “the rigidity of his mind, the way in which his world-view doesn’t develop. It is the fixed vision of a monomaniac and not likely to be much affected by the temporary manoeuvres of power politics.” A rigid mind may not seem so attractive, but it has the great advantage of consistency, of denying the complexity and unpredictability of the world that causes so much stress and discomfort. 

The attraction of Hitler’s personality, Orwell argues, is based in a profound sense of insufferable grievance. It is often unclear, he writes, precisely what Hitler’s grievance is, but the vibrant attraction Hitler held on his followers emerged from his self-presentation as a victim, someone suffering deeply from an unjust world. If the world is against you, what Hitler offered is a solidarity in justified anger and a plan to remedy that injustice. 

If the Jews are behind a world conspiracy that advantages them and their elite friends, expelling and killing the Jews makes simplistic sense. That is the reason it is always important to remember that Nazism stands for National Socialism. It is a socialist philosophy, but not one based on the proletariat. Rather, it is grounded on the solidarity of race. But it has its origins in victimhood. Along these lines, Orwell writes of Hitler:

He is the martyr, the victim, Prometheus chained to the rock, the self-sacrificing hero who fights single-handed against impossible odds. If he were killing a mouse he would know how to make it seem like a dragon. One feels, as with Napoleon, that he is fighting against destiny, that he can’t win, and yet that he somehow deserves to. The attraction of such a pose is of course enormous; half the films that one sees turn upon some such theme.
The central theme of Orwell’s review–and the one most relevant to our world today—is his insight that Hitler’s persuasiveness rises out of his understanding that we humans don’t simply want comfort, security, and ease. Hitler “grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life.” The technocratic fallacy is that if we economists and social scientists offer the people comfort, economic prosperity, and material goods, they will be happy to be led and governed. And there is some truth in this technocratic manta. It is the basis of “Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all ‘progressive’ thought,[which] has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security and avoidance of pain.”

But Hitler saw through this progressive fantasy. For Orwell, Hitler understood that “In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won’t do. Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don't only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades.”

Why is it that as the economy in the US and around the world is growing, victimhood and anger are rising as well? Orwell tells us that the real source of today’s polarization and political movements is not economics, but a psychological need for meaning. He writes of the 1930s:

However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life. The same is probably true of Stalin’s militarised version of Socialism. All three of the great dictators have enhanced their power by imposing intolerable burdens on their peoples. Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people ‘I offer you a good time,’ Hitler has said to them ‘I offer you struggle, danger and death,’ and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet. Perhaps later on they will get sick of it and change their minds, as at the end of the last war. After a few years of slaughter and starvation ‘Greatest happiness of the greatest number’ is a good slogan, but at this moment ‘Better an end with horror than a horror without end’ is a winner. Now that we are fighting against the man who coined it, we ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.”

We need to understand that what drives the current political radicalism on both the left and the right is a desire to find meaning. Those who would “burn the system to the ground” may be nihilists, they may believe that there are no higher values. But their willingness to suffer for destruction is rooted in a sense that only by cleansing away the evils of the system can a new and more just and more meaningful world rise again. To compete with rising ideologies of nationalism, imperialism and anti-imperialism, social justice, and more, those who would stand for a politics of rational persuasion must appeal not simply to technical knowledge. 

What is needed is a passionate nationalism built around plurality and a dignified rationalism inspired by the meaning of humanity as the unique species who can think and act in a way that takes seriously the different opinions of others. We need to inspire people to take pride in their capacity to understand and engage with others very much unlike themselves (emphasis added).

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

#45/ A Valentine's Day Suggestion

 

While I am not teaching classes at UCSC this Quarter, I have taught a lot of classes there. I have never, however, had an opportunity to teach students at an Elementary School level. Thus, I have never had the occasion to suggest to my students that they should celebrate the day by way of an in-class Valentine's Day Art Project. 

Since I am inclined to think that Valentine's Day should not be just one more "Hallmark Holiday," basicly intended to benefit the companies that manufacture greeting cards, I would like to suggest that those wishing to celebrate the day might best do that, and recognize the holiday, with a handmade tribute. 

Click the link for instructions on how to craft a simple Valentine's Day Art Project For Elementary School. And consider undertaking such an art project for ALL of your Valentine's Day needs!

Below, I am providing a Valentine directed to any person who might be reading this blog posting. Let me send love and affection to those who are willing to read what I'm writing, and to think about what I'm saying!


Tuesday, February 13, 2024

#44 / Some "Talk" About Climate Doom




I almost always read David Marchese's "Talk" column in the Sunday edition of The New York Times Magazine. A while back, Marchese discussed climate change with Hannah Ritchie (pictured above), who had some good news to deliver (at least, she says it's good news): 

Hannah, in your most honest, unguarded moments, how optimistic are you that humanity will rise to the challenge of climate change? We won’t reach 1.5 degrees, that’s gone. But I am optimistic we can get very close to two degrees. But the question is, Can we keep temperatures to two degrees and at the same time create resilience, lift people out of poverty, adapt such that we limit those damages as much as possible? On that, I’m fairly optimistic.

If you can access Ritchie's discussion with Marchese (and no promises that clicking that link will get you there, given The Times' paywall protections), I do recommend you do that, and read what Ritchie has to say. Ritchie's point is that predictions of "doom," are simply not reliable indications of reality. As I explained once, in a lengthy Father's Day disquisition, I have had a personal, and completely convincing, demonstration that it is possible (probably even likely) that a prediction of failure will be transformed, despite the verifiable realities, into the actual fact of failure. 

In other words, we can "save the world." But not if we tell ourselves we can't. 

Accepting "Climate Doom" as a fact, as an inevitability, is contraindicated!


Monday, February 12, 2024

#43 / Don't Call It An "Investment"




It is easy to get me going on cryptocurrency. I published my most recent statement about "crypto" on February 7th, in a blog posting titled, "One More Time." For a more extensive listing of my anti-cryptocurrency writings, you might want to check out my blog posting that provides the following advice: "Don't Bite."

Two articles from The Wall Street Journal have impelled me to write about cryptocurrency yet again. Yep!  "One more time" (again). 

If you would like to take a look at what set me off on today's blog posting, you can check out an article from the Saturday-Sunday, December 23-24, 2023 edition of The Wall Street Journal. Even more recently, click the following link for an article from the February 5, 2024, edition, "Financial Giants Race to Lure Investors into Cryptocurrencies." 

A "Wall Street" adage, reported on in that December 23-24 article I just linked, definitely got my attention. Here it is: 

Buy The Rumor. Sell The News.

This means (as I trust anyone reading this will understand) that the "value" in cryptocurrency is in the "rumor" that the price will go up. Putting your money in cryptocurrency, in other words, is 100% pure speculation. When the "news" arrives, and it shortly becomes clear that what has been hyped does not live up to that hype, the price will fall. 

This is, exactly, what Hilary Allen said, as quoted in that "One More Time" blog posting. Allen is a law professor at American University's Washington College of Law, and an expert on financial regulation. Allen's exact words were: "There is no intrinsic value to any of this.... The only hope is to have more money sloshing around, and more people willing to buy into it to create demand..... (emphasis added)."

There are a lot of "Sports Betting Apps" now available. For instance: How much will the Warriors lose by (or win by)? Let's make a bet on that. If we guess right, we make a bundle. If we guess wrong, we lose. With cryptocurrency, it's just the same. 

Since I have had friends and relatives who think of cryptocurrency as an "investment," and since major financial institutions are now advancing this theory, too, as reported in the February 5th article I linked, I keep sending out my warnings. Losing one's life savings, by speculating - and particularly when you don't actually realize that this is what you're doing - is not a happy way to live one's life. 

So... don't call cryptocurrency an "investment." And..... Don't Bite!


 

Sunday, February 11, 2024

#42 / You Either Got Faith... Or You Got Unbelief...




... There ain't no neutral ground.

I have always liked Bob Dylan's song, "Precious Angel." You can listen to him sing it by clicking the YouTube link, above. If you want to hear the "official" version, the version included on Dylan's Slow Train Coming album, then this link is the one to use.

That video recording I have linked at the top of this blog posting will let you hear Dylan sing the song at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco on November 16, 1979. I heard Dylan at the Warfield in person (in fact, I actually saw him walking around on the sidewalk, before the show). He played the Warfield on lots of dates in 1979 and 1980. Maybe I was in the audience, in person, when this recording was made. I don't actually know. I don't think I have any calendar evidence that would remind me of the specific date when I saw Bob Dylan at the Warfield. 


My so-called friends 
Have fallen under a spell.
They look me squarely in the eye 
And they say, well, “All is well."
Can they imagine the darkness 
That will fall from on high 
When men will beg God to kill them 
And they won’t be able to die?
 Bob Dylan, "Precious Angel"


The idea, here, is that we need to acknowledge how desperate is our situation. This is an idea that surfaces, repeatedly, as I write out these one-per-day blog postings. There is another assertion in Dylan's song, though, and that second assertion is also worth pondering. When Dylan says that "you either got faith, or you got unbelief," and that there "ain't no neutral ground," he is alerting us, I think, to how truly seriously we ought to be considering where we are and what we are doing - or not doing! 

Having to make some binary choice - "faith" or "unbelief," as Dylan puts it in his song - is not really the way we like to do it. "Smudge and fudge" is how we generally conduct ourselves. That's a lot more comfortable!

We can - and sometimes do - admit the serious nature of that "faith or unbelief" understanding of our human existence, and our position in this world. The temptation, though, is to make a little sidestep. We may think we can save ourselves from some difficult choices if we will just "Let The Mystery Be." 

That "letting the mystery be" approach is certainly better than a lot of assertions designed to divide and distinguish, since we have learned - we are still learning - that those asserted "divisions," differences," and "distinctions" can easily lead us to consequences that are horrific - more horrible, in fact, than we can actually stand, so we just try to turn our eyes away from the intolerable sight of what happens when humans assert that they know what is good, and what is evil, and who should live and who should die. Israel and Gaza provide our most compelling current example.


Now that I am eighty-plus years old - and this is the first year I can say that - I have an increasing appreciation for that "memento mori" advisory that has been sharpening up my sensibilities over the last several years. Even as my physical eyesight seems to get a little bit "fuzzier" each time I go in for my annual eye check, my understanding of what it means to be alive is increasingly clear. 

When we start really appreciating where we are, and we accept that - and let's be clear, the purpose of that "memento mori" advisory is to bring us to just such a place - we can then ask ourselves, and, in fact, we are forced to ask ourselves: How "consequential," really, is our life? 

"Faith" says our life is consequential. What we believe and what we do makes all the difference. 

"Unbelief" says the opposite. 

There is no room in the middle! There ain't no neutral ground!


 
Image Credits:
(1) - https://youtu.be/tH0Yn0-iBZ4?si=42lar_ndNF7sA0o_ 

Saturday, February 10, 2024

#41 / Income Inequality? Meet Artificial Intelligence!


One of my friends has become, I sense, somewhat beguiled by Artificial Intelligence, which is often called AI. My friend certainly knows that I count income inequality as a major challenge to our politics, but I wasn't aware that he was also thinking about this issue. 

And maybe he isn't. I am tempted to say, "define 'thinking.'"

Not so long ago, rather out of the blue, I got an email from my friend that included what he called an "income inequality solution outline." This listing, which I am presenting below, was produced, at least in large part, by a publicly accessible AI. Here's what my friend sent me: 
 
ChatGPT 
Addressing both asset and income inequality in the United States requires a comprehensive approach that involves a combination of economic, social, and policy measures. Here is an outline of potential remedies for both asset and income inequality:

I. Economic Policies:
A. Progressive Taxation:
1. Increase tax rates on high-income individuals. 
2. Implement a wealth tax to address accumulated wealth disparities.
B. Minimum Wage Adjustments:
1. Raise the federal minimum wage to a living wage. 
2. Index the minimum wage to inflation for sustained impact.
C. Universal Basic Income (UBI):
1. Explore and pilot UBI programs to provide a financial safety net.
II. Education and Job Training:
A. Equal Access to Education:
1. Invest in quality education in underserved communities.  
2. Address funding disparities between schools.
B. Affordable Higher Education:
1. Increase access to affordable higher education.  
2. Expand vocational and technical training programs.
C. Job Training Programs:
1. Develop and promote job training programs for in-demand industries.  
2. Collaborate with businesses to create apprenticeship opportunities.
III. Criminal Justice Reform:
A. Ending Mass Incarceration:
1. Implement sentencing reforms to reduce disparities.
2. Invest in rehabilitation and reentry programs.
B. Police Reform:
1. Support community policing initiatives. 
2. Increase transparency and accountability in law enforcement.
IV. Healthcare Access:
A. Universal Healthcare:
1. Work towards a comprehensive and accessible healthcare system. 
2.Address healthcare disparities affecting marginalized communities.
B. Mental Health Services:
1. Increase funding for mental health services. 
2. Promote awareness and reduce stigma around mental health.
V. Housing Equity:
A.  Affordable Housing Initiatives:
1. Implement policies to increase affordable housing options. 
2. Address discriminatory practices in housing markets.
B. Community Investment:
1. Invest in community development projects to revitalize disadvantaged neighborhoods. 
2. Support initiatives that prevent gentrification and displacement.
VI. Social Safety Nets:
A. Strengthening Social Programs:
1. Expand and strengthen social safety net programs.  
2. Evaluate and update programs to meet the evolving needs of society.
B. Childcare Support:
1. Increase access to affordable childcare services.

 2. Implement policies that support work-life balance.

VII. Corporate Responsibility:
A. Diversity and Inclusion Policies:
1. Encourage companies to adopt and enforce diversity and inclusion policies.  
2. Provide incentives for companies with equitable hiring practices.
B. Living Wage Commitments:
1. Encourage companies to pay employees a living wage. 
2. Recognize and reward companies with fair labor practices.
VIII. Community Empowerment:

A. Community Engagement Programs: 

1. Support community-driven initiatives for economic empowerment. 

2. Foster collaboration between local government and community organizations.

B. Entrepreneurship Opportunities:
1. Facilitate access to capital for minority-owned businesses. 
2. Promote entrepreneurship programs in underserved communities.
IX. Policy and Advocacy:
A. Voting Rights Protection:
1. Strengthen voting rights protections to ensure equal political representation. 
2. Combat voter suppression efforts.
B. Advocacy for Policy Changes:
1. Encourage grassroots movements and advocacy for policy changes. 
2. Mobilize public support for equitable policies.
X. Monitoring and Evaluation:
A. Data Collection and Analysis:
1. Improve data collection to monitor progress in addressing inequality.  
2. Regularly evaluate the impact of policies and adjust as needed.
This comprehensive approach aims to tackle the multifaceted nature of racial and income inequality by addressing economic disparities, educational opportunities, criminal justice reform, healthcare access, housing equity, social safety nets, corporate responsibility, community empowerment, and policy advocacy. It requires a coordinated effort from government, businesses, communities, and individuals to create lasting change.

oooOOOooo

Now, I have very little to complain about, in terms of the listing just presented. It cerainly outlines a lot of important actions to take to address income inequality. That list, according to my friend, was presented to him within seconds after he asked the question, "How do we eliminate income inequality?" 

It took just seconds for AI to compile that list, which draws from probably thousands of articles on the subject. 

As I read through my friend's outline, however, I couldn't help but remember a quote that I think puts in context what AI can provide: 

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it."

If that is the point - changing the world - then let me suggest that this is not a task that can be addressed in "seconds," or "minutes," or "hours," or even "days." We can't delegate that task to AI. AI does not, really, help us solve our problem!

Changing the world is a task to which we must be prepared to devote our own intelligence, and our own work. Real change requires a lifetime of work - a lifetime of action. "Thinking" about the subject is certainly good. Creating a detailed outline can be helpful. But actually dealing with the problem reauires organized action in the "real world." No AI is going to provide that to us! We have to do that for ourselves!