Since we are coming up on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. I thought this would be an appropriate way to commemorate an event, that no matter how terrible, was one of the defining moments of the 20th century.
Thomas Frank - Pity the Billionaire:
First some true confessions. I’ve been doing a lot of reading over the past couple months. A brief illness had put me off my game for a while and somehow a good read keeps the mind vital without taxing it as much as a steady diet of writing. (In other words, I have been lazy for the past few weeks - but only for medicinal purposes.) During that time I worked my way through Thomas Frank’s “Pity the Billionaire”.
Frank has some very cogent arguments about how the far-right operates and how reality has morphed into an almost alternate universe from the rest of us. Its a place where grass is blue and the sky is green. In that topsy-turvy upside-down world one of the most glaring ironies is the resurgence of Ayn Rand. After all - corporate corruption and regulatory complacency had almost brought the entire world economy to its knees. That should have been enough to consign copies of Atlas Shrugged to the paper shredders for the next half century. But no…quite the contrary.
Ayn Rand For Dummies:
Rand contends that the true heros are the billionaires. The talented and few. They are the masters of the universe. They are our betters. They make ships like the Titanic possible. But they are also the victims. They are victims of our ingratitude. Our inability to appreciate how they have made our lives better makes them so. They employ the people who built the ship and lifted them from them from homelessness and an early grave to mere poverty. The people should be grateful to the likes of these billionaires. They are the producers. So they made a few mistakes and almost pushed us in to a second Great Depression that would have made the 1930’s seem like a cake walk - no biggie. After all, they are the JOB CREATORS! And now the job creators are on strike, refusing to hire because we, the ungrateful public have made their lives so “uncertain”.
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I have a confession to make. It is official - I just made more money this year trading a single stock than I made either teaching or selling homes or doing any of the other things that I have been trained to “do” or “produce.” Given the fact that I am a card-carrying “progressive” this is a sad state of affairs indeed - particularly since the sum I made trading Apple stock on dips and peaks was hardly impressive. For “playing the game - I do not apologize. In times like this we have to do what works..and like I said - since I didn’t have much money to trade with in the first place - no markets were shaken to the core by my actions.
My financial worries aside - this leads to a bigger issue that has far more serious implications for the American economy and Main Street America.
Thomas Friedman has been offering career advice for far too long. This week he was at it again with “The Start-Up of You” in The New York Times. Thankfully, our youth do not seem to have been listening….and woe be to those that actually would because they would find themselves choosing between corrugated cardboard and a plastic bag for their digs.
For years Friedman was crowing about S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) career paths. He loudly bemoaned the loss of American students in these fields while he beat the drums for loosening H1-B visa rules for foreign nationals so they could further crowd out the few American Nationals that had clung to their jobs. Friedman never connected the dots between the flood of foreign scientists and the massive glut of Ph.D.’s in America. He never paid attention the gutting of salaries - the natural result of a glut because he didn’t dig a little deeper for the facts. I doubt the man ever stepped foot inside an actual lab.
Spencer Johnson’s “Who Moved My Cheese” “might” be a great read for those in the business sector. But for those involved in careers that involve advanced degrees in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (the STEM careers) the solutions offered are quite simply “non-solutions.”
“Who Moved My Cheese?”
For those who don’t know the story - its about four beings that live in a maze together. Two of the beings are mice ( Sniff and Scurry) and two are very small humans the size of mice (Hem and Haw)
Foursquare is an example of clever exploitation - not true innovation..
Foursquare - an application for mobile phones or other mobile devices including GPS - is a social networking site for people on the go. = Users can “check-in” at venues using text messaging or the web. The check-in gives the user points and badges. As a Realtor® I am familiar with Foursquare but have chosen to confine myself primarily to Twitter for my mobile local presence.
Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai founded the company two years ago - Foursquare is now considered to be worth $250,000,000. The two founders were interviewed by Fareed Zakaria on his CNN special - “Restoring the Dream.” As such, Mr. Zakaria was siting Foursquare as a symbol of hope for American “exceptionalism.”
Now, I have no desire to diminish the achievements of Dennis Crowley or Naveen Slevadurai. Creating something that captures the imagination of the masses so quickly is no small feat. It is indeed an example of how someone with an idea can do well as a start-up in the US and still achieve great success. However, in terms of American ” “exceptionalism” it falls well short in one crucial area.
Ever since Obama’s State of the Union address in January, we have been hearing more and more about American “exceptionalism” and about so-called “STEM” careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Engaging young minds in these all too critical areas of study is supposed to be the key to Americas future - paving a way to our supremacy in the 21st century and beyond.
Spin vs Reality:
We are becoming a county of middle men. Paper-pushers, deal brokers, middle men - whatever you want to call it - that’s what we are becoming. When the M.B.A. trumps the Ph.D. in terms of monetary value to the extent that it does - we are headed in one direction only.
STEM careers can’t take root in a society where middle men rule the day - and the profits.
Although the general “buzz” about the Barack Obama’s second State of the Union address was considered a major success in terms of public support - one thing conservatives complained about was the lack of praise for American “exceptionalism.”
Being exceptional is something you have to keep doing every day…
So even in the midst of their calls to undo the very programs such as public funding for R&D and infrastructure that earned us that title during the post-war years, republicans still like to tout America as number one. The sad fact is that we have lapsed - as all great societies eventually have - into complacency and have assumed that “exceptionalism” is a birth right not something that requires maintenance and looking over your shoulder to see who is coming up from behind. I find this surprising given that so many of these neoconservatives and tea baggers fancy themselves business types. The first thing I learned when I went into business was that you had know what the “other guy” was doing.