Monday, September 26, 2016

The Yahoo Email Hack & Self-Driving Cars

What do these have in common?

They both depend on computer electronics.  Ergo: if yahoo can be hacked (as any other computer program system), so can a self-driving computerized automobile.

Hence, I am wary of this rush toward buying into self-driving vehicles.

It seems to me that it should give a person great pause when considering the idea of handing over the control of one’s vehicle to a computer.

Driving involves too many unforeseeable scenarios, has too many unpredictable variables, and is therefore too fluid a thing for allowing a computer to take over the driver’s seat of a car.  (Note, there is already an officially recorded death as a result of putting too much faith in a self-driving vehicle.  And the car was a Tesla, a highly respectable company when it comes to newly-developing vehicle technology.)

“Can’t stop progress,” you say.  Quite right!  I understand, point taken.

But what is progress?  Is all technology good, just because it is technological?

Looking back at the last hundred and fifty years or so of our history—let’s say from the mid 1850’s to the beginning of this present century—considering all our mechanical and technological development, has it ALL been good for us?  I believe that an honest answer would be NO; it has not always been good for us. 

Is it possible that we place too much faith in science and place too much trust in technological development?

I must quickly defend myself: I am NOT anti-science nor am I against technological development as such.  Believe me.  (Here I imitate Donald Trump’s phrasing after he makes an assertion about himself: Believe me!)

Nevertheless, as one who respects and embraces scientific knowledge and advancement, I DO question our apparent blind faith in science and technology.  I think that we are all too eager and ready to buy into just about any and every technological development that comes down the pike—with an “apply now and ask questions later” approach to incorporating the latest gadget and thingamajig into our lives.

We need to take a hard look at what we have done and continue to do to Mother Nature: air and water pollution, global warming, the threatening and actual extinction of various animal species, and so-on—all as a result of our placing too much blind faith in our technological development.  It’s as if we believe that science and the advancement of technology is the supreme answer to everything we do on this planet, EVERYTHING!

It is not.

We should slow down a bit and ask some serious questions.  As a starter, we should not only be questioning how modern technology is being used, we should also be asking how our modern technological gadgets are being made: for example, what limited geological resources are being dug up and exploited in order to make our beloved gadgets?  That’s a good and fair question to ask, don’t you think?

And, exactly how might the exploitation of these particular resources possibly be causing long term damage to the earth’s ability to sustain life?  Is that not also a fair question to ask?  And shouldn’t such questions be answered BEFORE we invest in and delight in our various inventions?

But money drives everything.  And, science and technology is first and foremost about big business!  And, big business has little patience for cautionary, slow moving advancement when it comes to its investments.

Business investors care little as to whether or not new technological innovations are good for humanity in the long term.  They only care about the immediate affect on the bottom line.  Does it bring in dividends?  Is it a cash cow?  As to long term negative effects on humanity and the environment—they’ll let future scientists worry about that!  And so it goes.

And so, I make the following observations.
  1. To our detriment, we all too often fail to consider the long term negative effects of our latest and greatest technological innovations.
  2. It seems that the more dependent we become on our modern technology, the actual less free we really are.
  3. Our growing dependencies on modern technological gadgets seem to have actually made us more vulnerable to unpredictable catastrophes, not less so.
  4. Modern innovations and gadgets seem to rely heavily on unrenewable limited global resources, which is foreboding for future societies.
  5. Though we are well aware of the positive effects of modern technology upon human interpersonal relationships, we remain quite ignorant with respect to its negative effects upon us.  For example, we are barely ready to admit that various aspects of modern technology can be addictive, let alone have an understanding as to why this may be so.
Thus, we should ask: Are we in the driver’s seat, with regard to modern technological gadgetry and advancement, or is it driving us?

As for me, I want to remain in the driver’s seat.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Presidential Campaign and Nonsense Medical Records

Doesn’t it strike you as a bit trivial, even silly?

As a voter, I really don’t care much about what a doctor may say about the present health condition of either candidate.

Their willingness to run and endure the demands of a presidential campaign, is itself evidence that they must be in fairly good health.  It is quite obvious that running for the highest office in the nation requires a lot of stamina, calls for much energy, and is quite demanding of one’s body, mind, and spirit.  So whoever runs for president knows that good health is a necessity.

I do have to wonder: When is Hilary going to learn to simply be upfront and straightforward about these kinds of things?

Yet, I understand why Hilary avoided candid transparency about having pneumonia in the first place.  She knew that Trump would trump it up.  Still, it was a sorry decision on her part for exactly that reason.  Had she been upfront about having pneumonia from the get go, and had Trump pounced on this fact, using it as a political weapon against her, it might have served to demonstrate Trump’s smallness and pettiness, pouncing on such a trivial even silly little matter.

Who doesn’t get sick?  Who hasn’t had “walking pneumonia”?  Who doesn’t need rest after dealing with long hours of stretched out working days and long traveling/working nights, especially as is required in a presidential campaign?

Thus, the whole thing was made more of, than it should have been.

It is the result of campaigns being more about vilifying and demonizing one’s opponent than about issues, platforms, and visional substance.

I trust that both Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump are in good health.  I see with my own eyes that they are both healthy enough to endure a presidential campaign and beyond.

I therefore don’t want to hear talk about either Hilary’s or Donald’s health records.  It’s not news.  It tells me nothing I can’t already see for myself, nor does it expose anything I feel that I need to know.

And so, for me, the state of their health is a non-issue.  If they’re healthy enough to run for president, they’re healthy enough to BE president; its as simple as that.  Getting ill or contracting sicknesses along the way, is just that.  It is not horrifying breaking news.  They’re human like the rest of us and so they’ll get sick just like anybody else.  It’s only normal.
It’s as simple as that.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Stretching Out the Clinton Email Scandal for All Its Worth

Are you a professional?  Might you be a doctor, lawyer, psychologist, professor, or…?  If so, you are well aware of professional requirements regarding confidentiality when talking to clients and or other colleagues with or about clients.

You are also aware of the fluidity of social and professional conversations at times.  You might, for example, professionally discuss a client’s condition with a colleague of yours while at a dinner party; having a professional/confidential discussion in a nonprofessional/casual social setting.  Yet, because of that social event and professional connection, you gain insight and go back to your office professionally better equipped to deal with your client.  Talking about your client with a colleague during a dinner party, is that wrong, bad, or unethical?   NO.

Reverse that.  You are in your professional setting, at the office, in the lab, or in the conference room of the institution for whom you work, and you have a casual/social conversation with a colleague or friend/acquaintance with whom you engage in pleasant personal social chatter.  Is that wrong, unethical, a bad thing to do, because you’re “at work”?  I don’t think so.

Lines of communication between two parties, especially professionals, are often fluid and sometimes blur the sharp lines between professional/confidential and personal/confidential.  Life is that way.  Relationships are like that.  Few things are cut and dry, this or that, black or white, in normal everyday interaction—it’s the messiness of life’s drama playing itself out in our everyday lives.

Hence, regarding Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, as is always the case, the two extreme reactive positions to the email scandal are exactly that—extreme and reactive!

On the one hand, Hillary haters will never let it go.  They paint the worst possible picture, saying things like she was not only foolish, but dangerous and criminal in her actions regarding the use of a private email server and the deleting of her emails, and so-on and so-forth.  Hillary supporters, on the other hand, see nothing wrong with what she did, saying that it’s par for the course; she’s totally innocent.

As usual, the reality is somewhere in between.  She wasn’t necessarily criminal-acting in her behavior nor was she necessarily dangerously damaging to national security; but neither was she being smart; it was indeed a foolish and unwise decision on her part.  All humans do stupid things from time to time and make poor choices while performing their professional duties at times—not necessarily due to evil and corrupt motives.  And that’s perhaps the real perspective that should be given to this scandal.

But, of course, Hilary detractors won’t accept such a normal, boring but balanced perspective like that.  They want blood.  So, what should have been a minor story has become a story that continues to feed into itself—more emails released bringing more details for review, resulting in more story generating headlines to sell the news.  And yet, there’s no real substantial new news in any of it.  It’s a whirlwind of busy talk couched in a hurricane of accusations in an attempt at character assassination. 

It’s ridiculous, laughable, and sad that this kind of thing has become our American political process.  Apparently we can’t seem to put things in a balanced perspective.  We seem to continually buy into hyperbole and believe the extremes.

And so, it is said: “Hilary should be put in jail!”  Really?!  If we were to scrutinize every politician in Washington the way Hilary Clinton has been scrutinized, I’m sure that 95% or more of our politicians should be put in jail—if measured by the same standard.

My point is this: We voters have created an extremely polarized political arena that ignores reality checks and it’s the main reason why we also have a congress that gets little to nothing of significance done anymore.  All we are allowed to hear or talk about are the extremes: So, now it’s all about Trump lovers/ Hilary haters versus Hilary adorers and Trump thrashers.  And, depending on which side you’re on, one may very well be Satan’s evil agent, while the other may be God’s greatest gift on earth.

When it comes to American politics, we leave reality behind and enter the Twilight Zone.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Taxes, Ireland, Apple, and Corporate Welfare

Apple’s tax bill to Ireland came to almost zero.

So, we get a glimpse of what corporate welfare looks like.

The European Union (EU) has accused Ireland of making a deal with Apple that resulted in Apple paying next to nothing in taxes.  Apparently normal tax rules were not applied to Apple.  Thus, the EU is accusing Ireland of entering into an illegal agreement with Apple, giving the corporation illegal State aid.

Whether Apple/Ireland wins or loses their case, as to its legality or illegality, is open to question.  But the fact is this: Apple paid nearly zero taxes to Ireland in certain years!

This is why it gets to me when here in the US our Congressional or State representatives block or cut State and/or Federal Aid to the poor and/or other social benefitting programs, touting umpteen financial, ethical, moral, and political reasons as to why the government should NOT subsidize social welfare, while at the same time quite easily and most readily earmark government tax breaks and other economic incentives to powerful corporations, which effectively provides huge amounts of corporate-welfare money to very wealthy companies.

They defend these economic incentives to wealthy corporations saying that the companies will bring in new jobs, sparking economic growth.  And the truth is that they seldom ever fulfill such grandiose promises.  However, the one promise that these companies do keep is to fund the re-election campaign for the representative who gave them the tax break.

To believe or say that the only right and proper way to grow an economy is by giving wealthy corporations huge tax breaks while denying funding for social welfare programs (such as educational advancement and nutritional programs for underprivileged kids, health care programs, various rehab programs, not to mention funding for municipal infrastructural needs), and then to say that such denial is in the best interest of economic recovery, is pure nonsense.  It is a skewed myopic perspective motivated by the self-interest of the powerful wealthy that is detrimental to the commonwealth community as a whole.

Yet this is done over and over again, with self-ingratiating justification and no apologies.  Another example would be the corporate welfare monies that the oil fracking companies in Pennsylvania received from the previous administration, by way of direct and indirect tax-relief incentives and other economic advantages provided.

Hence, whether the Ireland/Apple tax-break deal was legit or illegit, legal or illegal, is not the real issue.  The real issue is that in general rich, wealthy, and powerful companies like Apple continue to get away with paying little or no taxes at all, failing to pay their fair share of taxes to their communities, such that the overwhelming tax burden more pointedly falls squarely on the shoulders of the already overtaxed and financially weakening middle class—so that the rich get richer, the poorer get poorer and the gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow!

And THAT is a problem that needs to be addressed head on—politically, economically, socially, locally, and globally.