Sunday, April 29

Marx is playing with me...again (part 1)

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx wrote that capitalism is nothing but exploitation.

I had never thought about it in that way before. The buyer is trying to get the lowest price from the seller and the seller is trying to get the buyer to pay as much as possible. The buyer is trying to wrestle away the good or service for as little value as possible and the seller is trying to get as much money out of the buyer as he can.

In that way, I imagine he would say that we're not interacting with our fellow humans as people anymore but just as possible deals from which we could profit acting only for our self interest.

I'm not saying whether it's good or bad, but is there another way possible?

The next time I want a cd, should I walk up to the register and ask the clerk what the store would like me to pay for it? That would still be exploiting me since the store would want as much as possible, I guess. Perhaps then the clerk would ask me what I would like to pay. Then there wouldn't be any exploitation. But how would any exchanges ever happen in a timely fashion? (Just imagine checking out at a grocery store that way.)

Perhaps, acting for the benefit of society? Should I walk into the music store and pick a cd of a company that is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and buy whatever cd they're selling regardless of whether it's absolutely terrible music (which might be why they're going out of business) or if I even want it, just because they need it to be sold? I guess it'd be worth a little sacrifice here for the benefit of the record company and all their employees. I'm sure society would be better.

A little sacrifice here and a little sacrifice there. Where is the line? Do I end up completely acting out of sacrifice for someone else? For everyone else? If we are no longer acting for ourselves, but for society, then ultimately, wouldn't we be little more than each other's slaves (with a smile)? The individual wouldn't be important at all; each of us might become quite disposable. We would lose our humanity just as easily, perhaps even quicker, that way.

Communism tries to enforce its happy thoughts as reality. One of my professors and I were talking after class about this. He basically said something about people in China who make $2 per day want tv's too. I replied that value can't be conjured up out of thin air. Communism always has nice plans as how to distribute goods and money, but it can't come up with ways to make stuff better than capitalism can. In the communist tv factory, the people who work their butts off would be paid the same as the lazy folks. There isn't much of an incentive to work hard.

Karl Marx, of course, said simply that to suggest that people wouldn't work hard in a communist society would be silly. If you're working in the communist tv factory, or anywhere for that matter, what do you think about to keep yourself motivated? The needs of all the people for tv's that are now being filled. So then, as you're not working for your self-interest, you're working for other people's interest, how can you be working to fulfill your own potential (that is unless it's working for other people's needs)? Fulfilling one's potential is what communists always put as the highest achievement.

Capitalism doesn't give it to you, but it gives you the means with which to make it possible. Your life is yours, and yours alone, to use, to exploit, or not.

It seems to me that the difference between capitalism and communism is that capitalism runs on reality, and communism runs on nice ideas and dreams. Communism seems to be a system that is based on what should be, things that could have been but aren't, ideas of what can be but have no way to be measured. Any system to be used in reality can't be based on what isn't.

Added

I added a thing that shows a picture of the website to which a link links.

hover your pointer over this

What do you think? Does it stay, does it go?

Friday, April 27

Talk of the town

Madison is such a pleasant little Midwestern city. It is so pleasant, in fact, that the biggest issue facing the City Council is whether or not to fly the Tibetan flag over the city building for three days when the Dalai Lama visits next week. They unanimously said yes.

I'm sure they have the best of intentions, yet it's rather silly. First of all, this is the United States, the Stars and Stripes is always the flag flown highest on the pole, bar none. By default we can invoke the separation of church and state. The local government is going to do something in celebration of a religious leader. This could also be an attempt to take a stab in favor of freeing Tibet, but as much as I don't agree with the Chinese government, this is a pretty irrelevant protest.

They're debating this on the madison.com forums. One poster even posted a purported email to the mayor from the Chinese consulate in Chicago.

Doing this sets a bad precedent. Besides the fact that he's a religious leader, he's kind of, but not quite, a foreign leader, too. So every time an important foreigner visits, the city is going to fly his flag? What determines importance? And the article says that it was a request from someone, so can I make a request to fly a different flag over the building, too?

Perhaps this is really just a big diversion by the mayor as he sneaks his trolley set in. Regardless, I can't wait until the Pope or a leader of Israel or China stops by.

Thursday, April 26

Guernica

Today is the 70th anniversary of the bombing of the town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War by the Nazis and Italians. This article or here sums it up well. More and more the Spanish are increasingly interested in their civil war; through the present, they haven't spoken much about it as it's a dark period in their history.

The painting pictured is Picasso's interpretation of the event. It was kept in NY up until 1981 so that it couldn't fall into the hands of the Spanish dictator.

Wednesday, April 25

BS Jobs

Do you have one?

#11-Blogger

Download contents of your mind, even when there aren't any.

$$: Relatively small, but prospects for high-paying bullshit job in the future are virtually assured.

The upside: This is one of the bullshit jobs you can do immediately, with no training and no prior experience. You can also become very famous, since the established media, increasingly devoid of excitement and ideas of its own, has taken to siphoning off daily blogging activity as a much better and more interesting alternative to actual news.

The downside: You need a full, daily dose of imagination, guile, bile, and people pouring nonsense into your head that you can repeat.

Ha ha

Things are looking up

The stock market hit a new high today when it went above 13,000 for the first time. This is good news for the Bourgeois us. Just kidding. The economy is doing pretty well and has been for the recent past, though the news hasn't talked about it much. I can remember back to my childhood when they talked about how great the economy was all the time. That was in the mid-90's.

So, being the curious person I am, I looked back in history for some perspective. In December 1986, the month in which I was born, the stock market had a low of 1880.48 and a high of 1963.30. On January 20th, 1981, the day Reagan started, the stock market closed at 950. When the stock market crashed in 1929, it went from around 400 to 100.

Also in the news, as an engineer nothing titillates me more, except something about space, than hearing this:

Undersea project would link Alaska, Russia

Now die-hard supporters are renewing their push for the audacious plan -- a $65 billion highway project that would link two of the world's most inhospitable regions by burrowing under a stretch of water connecting the Pacific with the Arctic Ocean.

The proposed 68-mile tunnel would be the longest in the world. It would also be the linchpin for a 3,700-mile railroad line stretching from Yakutsk -- the capital of a gold- and mineral-rich Siberian region roughly the size of India -- through extreme northeastern Russia, in waters up to 180 feet deep and into the western coast of Alaska. Winter temperatures there routinely hit minus 94 F.

Lobbyists claimed the project is guaranteed to turn a profit after 30 years.

Eventually, 3 percent of the world's cargo could move along the route, organizers hope.

That would be amazing to be able to run trains from Alaska to Russia. It would then be possible to take a train from anywhere to anywhere else except Australia and Japan. Trains are a much better, more efficient and cleaner, transport than airplanes.

The downside is that it would cost a ton of money for the tunnel. Nevermind the 5,000 miles of frozen, empty land on either side through which new rail would have to be run to connect to anything. That is likely the biggest deterrent keeping it from being built.

Perhaps both of these are good news the Russian media can now report. In case you missed it:

from now on, they said, at least 50 percent of the reports about Russia must be "positive."

In addition, opposition leaders could not be mentioned on the air and the United States was to be portrayed as an enemy, journalists employed by the network, Russian News Service, say they were told by the new managers, who are allies of the Kremlin.

What's up with that? I thought we were friends, Russia. I thought you were supposed to be trying democracy. Perhaps there's just something about Russia. Dare I say, 'France Syndrome'?

Thursday, April 19

Hokie Hope

Tomorrow, Friday, is Hokie Hope Day. Wear orange and maroon.

Here is what UW-Madison has put on the internet about it. In addition to wearing VT's colors, in the rotunda in Bascom Hall there are banners for signing tomorrow that will be sent to VT. At 11 am, tomorrow, they are having a ceremony at the Memorial Carillon, which is the bell tower between Bascom and the Social Science building. I'd go but I have class.

The heroic actions, such as by the professor who was shot while holding the door shut so his students could jump out the windows, help to soften the blow in that average people can rise to noble actions. Yet the shootings remain a tragedy. It is unfathomable to imagine being in class one moment and a gunman bursting in and shooting the next. I doubt there hasn't been a student in the country in the past week who hasn't run through the scenario in his head. It is horrifying and utterly out of any sane person's control. No one packs his bag and heads to class thinking that today is his last day.

It seems too cliche to say that it goes to show that nothing should be taken for granted, but it is true. We live in the best country in the world and our affluence has afforded us a division from the hardships of life--and even the fragility of life, itself.

It was a hard jolt. We often lose sight of the big picture; we often get caught up in the deadlines, assignments, and duties of life but suddenly, events like this put it all back into perspective. In a few words, life is short, do your best and be happy. Be grateful for everyday and for the people you know. We are lucky and blessed to be here.

Tuesday, April 17

New Mendota Beacon


Out today is the new edition of the Mendota Beacon. Pick it up around campus. I can't believe it's issue 6 of the semester already. Only one more. If you're not on campus, a pdf is availiable here.

Monday, April 16

An absolute tragedy

What a terrible day. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

I couldn't have said it better.

Wednesday, April 11

Welcome back from spring break!


Looks more like January than April. I had a pleasant saunter through the sidewalk slush on the way to class. The seas looked rough on Lake Mendota. The other side looks rather mysterious through the fog and snow.

"The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of April turn gloomy."

Little bit 'o snow on the ole' dome.

An Earth Shattering Revelation

Quite mind-blowing, I know. Perhaps a little surprising, though, is that the traditional classifications only add up to 48%. A picture says a thousand words, so I'll save some time.

If you're wondering about me, I'm in the 'none listed' group. It's not that I don't care, rather, I'm somewhere between conservatism and libertarianism but I don't fit in either.

Out of curiosity and for a comparison, I looked up my parents' college, Virgina Tech. If I weren't a Badger, then I'd probably have been a Hokie. They said VT is substantially more conservative and that even during the Vietnam turmoil, there were no protests. As you can see, they're pretty well balanced. Also, the other groups, from the pie chart, were in roughly the same proportions.


Let's do statistics! The general population should fall into a symmetrical bell curve centered on the moderates. Here I've taken the categories and numbered them 1 to 5, with 'very lib' = 1, and 'very cons' = 5. Three is the mean of 1 to 5. For UW-Madison the mean is 2.46, with a standard deviation of .91. Virginia Tech has a mean of 3.02 and a deviation of .77. One can therefore conclude, Madison is liberal with some variation whereas Virgina Tech is virtually centered down the middle.

Tuesday, April 10

If no news is good news, then lots of news...

Let me pose to you a question, metaphorically. Which came first: the lawsuit or the lawyer?

What I'm really wondering is whether news makes the national news media, or whether they make the news. What prompted me is that for the umpteenth time, irrelevant news stories are leading the big news sources on tv and the internet.

Lately, there's been the story of who of the presidential candidates has the most money. Has Barack sneezed today? Did Hillary look at someone wrong? Will the GOP find a candidate?

Who can forget the ongoing saga of Anna Nicole? I can't voluntarily. It's been on tv and the internet every other day for the last several months.

Today, some radio personality said something racist that he shouldn't have. Do I see "Kramergate" all over again?

All of these stories are irrelevant; the election is 20 months away, they're a bunch of rich idiots that did it to themselves and got what they deserved, and it's not completely unimportant, I'm sure we're all sorry feelings got hurt, respectively. Perhaps these are national-level stories, especially the presidential race, but running them over and over again is beating the dead horse to a pulp.

One reason could be that they get so much airtime because they're simply not Iraq or war-related.

I hope that I'm not the first person to notice (other people probably have already) that since there are at least two major tv news channels, not to mention the internet, they have to constantly fill up their live 24/7 schedule with news. Since they're in constant need of news, they put up stuff that often isn't quite deserving of the national spotlight, and then repeat it, repeatedly. Maybe the presidential race wouldn't have started so soon if the news didn't need something about which to fill their time.

The likely reason why, is that the news companies are simply that--companies. They sell ad time and space for revenue. Which attracts more consumers: mystery capers and stories, which tend to be "sexy" or cold hard facts about what's going on in the world?

That puts me in quite a conundrum as one of those laissez-faire types. (This kind of goes along with my thoughts about majority rule a few posts down) What a majority of consumers want is not necessarily the best thing.

But news is a different type of product than food, or computers, or cars. On the surface, I would say that normal goods are all presented from which to be selected, but with the news, it's a one-way street, we eat what they feed us for the most part. That's where it gets fuzzy, is that more than any other product, the news is a public service.

On a side note, out of news organizations, I find I like the BBC's news the best, which I find quite ironic as they're a government organization. I like them because they've got the best worldly perspective. I wonder how many Americans have even thought about how the Bahama Islands form a completely separate country; that Cuba isn't the only country next to Florida.

Up until a few years ago, I hadn't realized that, and instead figured by default that the news was honestly dedicated to delivering all the important stuff. My parents had always said that many sources had to be consulted to get the real story. People perhaps have to realize that the news is just an industry selling something. Ever notice how all the day's news always perfectly fits in the time slot or the newspaper.

Today in the cafeteria, I heard some girls talking at a neighboring table about how people know all sorts of trivia about the stars and very little about anything in the real world. I don't want to toot my own horn, but it's a little disheartening to think that people are more concerned about entertainment news than say what's going on with Russia, China, or in other parts of the world like that crazy Iran. People seem to care more about watching which presidential candidate has more money than for what the candidates stand, which is not how to run a country.