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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Automation, employment, and UBI: how do they interact?


     In the early 1800s, groups of English craftspeople banded together (in a loosely organized fashion) into groups called Luddites. They were primarily home workers who did piecemeal weaving and other hand work which was in the process of being displaced by automation. In this case, it was a matter of large mills being set up with machinery that allowed much more work to be done with many fewer people. Their existing livelihoods were threatened and they rebelled -- destroying equipment and damaging factories until they were brought under control by continuously increasing violence on the part of the shop owners and government. This was the foundation of displacement by automation -- local retraining and dispersement of labor.

     In the world today, a first phase of economic displacement has occurred because of unequal labor laws across the world. Some areas pay low wages in comparison to where the products are sold (sometimes the wages are not that bad in comparison to other wages local to the workers). Some bypass, or do not have, environmental laws or labor laws which prevent the more severe abuse of workers in the region and/or move the burden of cleaning the environment to the general society. In this first phase, the manufacturing base is still trying to do more with less; in this first phase, it is done by moving the work to places where they can make use of people who are valued less.

     In the original Luddite period, automation came in and workers had to be retrained but the work and the labor remained local. Overall employment was (eventually) retained by retraining and by increasing the product market (increased consumerism and the rise of the "middle class"). In the first phase, production was moved to other locales to take advantage of the discrepancies of laws, working conditions, and attitudes toward general workers.

     We are now entering the second phase.  In this second phase, the cost of automation starts becoming less expensive, and more efficient, for the business owners than even that of outsourced labor and sub-component manufacture. In this second phase, it is still possible to have retraining but even with increased general education and increased consumerism it is not possible to fully compensate for the need of fewer workers per manufactured widget.

     As the tip-over occurs, the global amount of unemployment will steadily rise. There are, of course, various options. Some philosophical/economic groups feel there is no obligation by society to care about the poor -- so those without employment are free to starve or scrape by in any way they can (except by attacking the privileged, of course). Other groups recognize this economic trend and have started to set up a stabilizing economic foundation so that, as automation continues to shift and replace the existing workforce, people have the ability to live at a sustenance (ability to house, feed, and educate themselves) level.

     This concept of an economic foundation is called Universal Basic Income (UBI). It replaces various per-situation social supports (in the U.S., projects such as "welfare", "food stamps", "subsidized housing", and so forth) and allows for everyone to start off at a basic level no matter their circumstances. As they are able, and have opportunity, they add on top of this economic foundation to allow for "better" scales of living -- more space, fashionable clothes, less common foods, etc. The foundation exists for them to survive.

     As is true for the various per-situation social supports, there are questions of need versus misuse. One of the concepts behind UBI is that, since everyone is entitled to the benefit, there is no actual potential of misuse. It does require a reorientation of attitudes of social responsibility. It has the very significant advantage of being a simple concept -- although the actual implementation would require a huge shakeup of our economic structures.

     It also requires answering basic questions that are difficult and controversial. Is the ability to survive a basic human right? There is no overall consensus on this question. Should the right to have an unlimited number of children be universal or is this an extra right that must be earned beyond the foundational level of sustenance? What are the minimal needs for survival? Food, shelter, heat (where needed), and minimal clothing can probably be agreed upon but what about items such as Internet access, cell phones? Is education a universal right? To what level might it be provided by the general society?

     There are many other questions that must be resolved about UBI -- assuming that society decides that this is part of our overall social responsibility. There are social "experiments" in the process of being attempted right now and they should provide some ability to understand how various shifts change the economic interactions in society and the problems that surface.

Friday, June 30, 2017

I am not getting older, I am acquiring a new layer


     I have the privilege of turning 60 years of age this year. It is indeed a privilege but I cannot truly claim that I feel like I have been growing older -- it's just that more and more of the people around me are growing younger each year. While there are indeed parts of this body that are not running as well as they used to, there are a (too) few parts that run better than ever. I am, indeed, the same person that I used to be but, like a tree with its tree rings, I keep accumulating layers.

     Perhaps an analogy to a Matryoshka nesting doll might be more appropriate. Someone from the outside notices only the outside layer but I have access to all of the layers down to the first one that became self-aware. (That seems to vary from person to person -- some even claiming to recall their birth.)

     That doesn't mean that all of the layers are intact or equally accessible. As is true for most people, there are periods of my life that didn't go so well -- or had outside events happening that prevented (or accelerated) growth during that time. In this situation, perhaps tree rings are a better analogy; growth rings get wider or narrower depending on existing conditions for the year. Perhaps, like the view of light in physics, the layers can be seen differently depending on what is being observed.

     This view is not symmetrical -- people on the "outside" first see the outside layer of the nesting doll. And, frankly, people are not very good at observing those layers. Due to wonderful inheritances from my parents and grandparents, I got my first white hair at age 11 and was largely bald by age 30. A teenager gave me my first senior discount at age 38. (I didn't ask for it but who was I to embarrass them by refusing it?) It works in my favor now, however, as people start saying how young I look for my age .

     I say that people first see the outside layer -- but once people start getting to know others those layers start peeling away. I have an advantage, of course, because I already know what is underneath my own layers. Younger people may have more difficulty finding my layer that is parallel to theirs. One has to be a bit careful in "behaving one's age" if, for that day, you actually feel that 21-year-old within you trying to peek back out.

     One of the exercises of advancing age is to keep de-nesting the layers of the doll. If a situation calls for the attitudes of a 21-year-old then do so (tempered by the (hoped-for) wisdom and experience of your later layers). It is important to not let the layers get stuck together because there is so much that was learned and times when the attitudes and approaches of each age are the most appropriate.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Comparison shopping: When no choice seems to be a good one.


     I am a consumer. I admit it. I also try to make conscious choices -- picking products from companies that are less harsh to the earth, that work constructively with their employees rather than against them, and so forth. These are characteristics of the companies that are important to me that lead me to consider products in the first place.

     But, beyond that, I want to pick the product that seems to be the "best" to me. In order to do that, I need to understand what qualities I want, or feel that I need. Once I understand that, I check reviews and product comparisons to see what products best match to my desires. It is a logical process but it can drive people around me totally nuts if this is not the way they approach purchasing items. (The way they approach evaluations also drives me nuts -- it is an equal opportunity situation 😄 )

     In what is referred to as a "free market" situation, it is possible to make decisions solely upon the perceived qualities of a product. Qualities can include appearance, durability, price, features, societal responsibility, and so forth. Note that the perception is what counts. If a societal section decides that orange is the most beautiful color for eyeglasses then that is it. If a tall person is looking for a car then the head and leg room of the driver's seat area will be of great importance and value. If a short person is looking then they will consider a completely different selection of cars based upon their own needs -- probably for seat adjustment and ease of access to hand and foot controls. Each person has different needs and, thus, different sets of qualities.

     Some qualities should be more objective. A new tire with a lifetime of 50,000 miles should be considered to have better wear than another tire that has a lifetime of 20,000 miles. Of course, there may be other qualities that are more important than lifetime -- such as the ability to handle wet roads in Seattle (which may be of no interest in the Sahara).

     But what happens when you have only two choices of tires -- one that has a lifetime of 20,000 miles and one that has a lifetime of 15,000? All other qualities equal, people choose the tires that last 20,000 and the manufacturer of the 15,000 mile tire goes back to their labs and tries to develop a tire that lasts 25,000 miles. This is called constructive competition. The end result of such competition is the development of better products and lower prices for consumers. This is the ideal situation for the consumer.

     What happens when there is only ONE (1) supplier of tires for a region? They sell 20,000 mile tires for a while and then they decide to start selling the 20,000 mile tires for a higher price and selling a 15,000 mile tire for the same price as they used to get for the 20,000 mile tire. This is called a monopoly situation and is not a good one for the consumer or the quality of products. Monopolies can either be established by "natural" restriction of access to resources (all of the widgets are found only in areas controlled by a company) or by economic leverage (all of the competitors are under-priced until they go out of business or are purchased by the larger company). Laws can be created to control this situation to improve the situation for the consumer and for the improving qualities of the product -- but sometimes no laws are created and the monopoly continues to exist and degrade quality and inflate prices.

     By definition, there cannot be a monopoly with more than one company in active competition. But there can be private agreements between two or more companies that allow both, or all, to expand their profits at the expense of the consumers and which produce no constructive competition. This group of two or more companies can be called a "cartel". Although no single company within the group is a monopoly, they are able to control access to resources and to the consumers so that other companies that are not part of the cartel cannot compete. Laws can be devised to restrict this but they are much more difficult to monitor and enforce -- and, once again, it is possible that no law will be created.

     Finally, it is also to the advantage of each company to restrict comparisons. This can be done by restriction of the movement of information (control of media access, for example). It can also be done by creating "brand loyalty" -- such that the consumers directly identify with the product of the company rather than the qualities of the product. With sufficient brand loyalty, a company has a base of consumers for which it needs to provide neither quality nor value.

     So, on to the title of the blog. What happens when no choice seems to be a good one? In a free market situation new companies will arise if adequate constructive competition does not take place among existing companies. Old companies die away if they cannot maintain satisfaction of their consumer base. This can only happen in a truly free market and a truly free market can only exist with regulation and supervision. Otherwise, monopolies, cartels, and other restrictions penalize the consumers and the quality of the products in favor of the profits of the companies.

     I used tires as an example of a product. In reality, anything that people choose (or do NOT choose) is a product. This may include political candidates, or services (education, for example), or resources (water, for example), as well as manufactured products. Within any product marketing situation the free market allows consumers the best options. Giving the illusion of a free market while actually controlling the choices of the consumer favors the producers. It is a continual struggle as the needs of each are weighed against each other.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Elections: Why does Money Matter?


     In the United States, we have just finished a major election cycle but elections never actually end. There are "special elections" which are held to fill positions that are vacated -- whether from causes of illness or death or that of being shifted to another position, either elected or appointed. There are local elections and state elections and special issue elections. And, there is the continuous preparation for the next election cycle.

     During any of these, unless you are remarkably successful at making yourself invisible, you will be approached by one campaign or another (sometimes both sides, or multiple candidates) to make a donation. And, if you do make a donation, you may feel assured that you will be approached again ... and again ... and again. In the age of electronic distribution of information, this may well often take the form of social media postings and/or electronic mail. Always a crisis. If the polls are "up" then this is a time to solidify the lead. If the polls are "down" then it is desperate for more money to combat the positions of the other candidates or supporters or opposers of issues.

     Money, money, money. Why in the world does it matter? It certainly should NOT matter -- an election should not go to the highest bidder within a democracy. Yet, except in a relatively small portion of elections, the person/issue that spends the most money is likely to win. Why should this be so?

     To delve into that answer, we first need to remember that what we call a "democracy" is almost always actually a "representative democracy". In other words, we do not vote on bills, or articles of government (we sometimes do get to vote on issues or referendum) -- we vote for people whom we trust to represent us. These people are supposed to have similar views and opinions to the majority of the voters who elected them.

     This is not easy. Even in the 1800 United States Census, there were counted as being 5,308,483 people (including slaves) in the United States. With 106 Representatives, that means that each Representative, on average, was to present the points of view of 50,080 individual people. (Of course, not all of those 5,308,483 people could vote -- but they were still supposed to be represented.) There were sixteen states, so there were 32 Senators -- giving a ratio of an average of 165,890 people represented by each Senator.

     So, we see that, even in 1800, there were too many people per representative for the people to know them well. (This is also true about the Electors who were appointed or elected to represent the people at the Electoral College -- another potential blog.) So, how to know? (Note also that, at present, each Representative represents approximately 740,000 people and each Senator an average of 3.2 million people -- so the ratio has not improved over time.)

     There are two basic needs for someone to be considered appropriate to represent people. The first is clear, although not necessarily obvious, and that is that her, or his, name must be known and recognized for which to vote. The second is that there must be a perceived agreement of values and judgement such that this person would be whom we would choose.

     On the first area, the requirements of the present are similar to that of 1800. Their names are known because they are talked about. George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson were probably "household names" due to participation in the various needs of the drive for Independence. Later Presidents (and the opposing candidates) were not necessarily known from the American Revolution but they were known for various events (wars, other political matters, etc.) that appeared in newspapers, or the neighbors talking about someone who knew someone who knew them. The media spread their names and the neighbors spread the opinions and discussions.

     Within the present day, the media has become much more important -- including what is referred to as the social media. Unfortunately (in my opinion), full and frank discussion with neighbors is much less likely. These are methods of spreading the name.

     They are also methods for providing information about the candidates. Not necessarily truthful information but information. There are two general methods of getting information -- "push" and "pull". When people are being "push"ed information, they are receiving information from others who are interested in you receiving it. On the other hand, if you are "pull"ing information, you are in control of what information you want to receive and also you are in control of the sources. While it is completely possible that information that is "pull"ed from an information source is not accurate or truthful, there is control by the recipient both in the type of information and the various sources of information (and there should be multiple sources).

     OK. Now, what about money? Isn't that the core of this blog? Information is spread by the media. The media chooses to spread information because they think that people are inherently interested or because they are paid to do so. The first is called "free publicity" and every candidate attempts to get it (some are vastly more successful than others). Some, however, must be paid for -- bumper stickers, yard signs, lapel pins, and so forth. In addition, they may have either live (people -- sometimes paid and sometimes volunteer) or automated ('bot) banks of telephone lines to call people to pass the information they want to send. There are also events to which the candidates may travel to pass their words along "directly" to people. Note these are all "push" types of data transfer. And "push" rules the day in the case of elections. Sometimes, the amount of information becomes a bombardment with so many (often contradictory) items of information coming that the receiver just stops listening.

     What about "pull" information? Well, most candidates have campaign offices and campaign websites (presently -- none existed in 1800) and this lists the official positions of the candidates. However, like the "push" information, this is information that the candidates want you to have (truthful, not truthful, or in-between and misleading). In order to get information that the candidates do NOT want you to have, it is necessary to go on other websites and check other sources of information. When a claim is made, check that claim from multiple other sites. Check the government records for recorded votes on issues. Don't be particularly surprised if you find that the candidate's position on various issues differs from the way they vote.

     Is it surprising that most of the information spread by the candidate is of the "push" variety (only a limited amount of "pull" information publicly accessible to interested people)? Unfortunately, it should not be -- candidates want you to absorb (and believe) information that they want you to have. The only way that you can increase your chances of getting accurate information is to "pull" the information from many different sources. This takes time. This takes energy. And, most importantly, this takes an open mind -- which is often very difficult to maintain after all of the bombardments of the "push" information.

     So, in summary, most of the money goes for "push" information. The exact expenses include administrative, equipment, events, media, payroll, strategy & research, technology, travel, and others. The emphasis on "push" information means that they want you to base your decisions on the information that they give to you (including the information that their opposing candidates produce on them). It is not good to rely solely on "push" information but it is the reason that money makes such a huge difference -- the majority of people who vote rely mostly on this "push" information and money allows this to reach as many people as possible and as often as possible.

     If most people did their own research, then money needs would be limited to name recognition, "pull" sites for information, and a small amount of "push" money to allow people to see/hear/touch the candidate to make that closer feel. But "push" information rules -- and so does money.
   

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Puritan effect: Why are U.S. jails so full?


     In the United States, our incarceration rate is number one among the larger countries (The Seychelles have a slightly higher rate but with many fewer people). So, why does the U.S. have so many people in prison? Are U.S citizens just natural crooks?

     And should we care? Well, the greater the number of people there are in jail, the fewer there are paying taxes and participating in constructive contributions to society. In addition, a person in jail costs the community/state/federal government from $70,000/year to $200,000/year. Personally, I would much prefer to use that kind of money on improving education, infrastructure, child care, and other public benefits. Remember that, even though there is no such thing as a "free lunch", we SHOULD be able to determine how our tax money is used.

     The reality is that the incarceration rate varies for all countries depending on various factors -- some of which fluctuate because of political and economic events. In the U.S., we had a very low rate of imprisonment in the 1930s and 1940s -- possibly because the U.S. economy could not support that many people in the prisons so it was primarily the violent offenders that remained there. In the 1960s, the U.S. had a "world average" of imprisonment and it has continued to rise until, today, it is about the highest in the world with around 700 people in prison for every 100,000 citizens. In contrast, Cuba has about 500, Russia has about 450, Costa Rica has about 350, and the United Kingdom has about 150.

     People are basically the same all around the world. Some are jerks. Some are criminals. Some are saints. Some are lazy. Some are hard-working. Some are poor. Some are rich. Some are smart. Some are not smart. And so forth. External aspects don't make much difference -- skin color, gender, religion, nationality, et cetera. There are some cultural influences on how important studying may be or how much physical activity is praised and rewarded but, at heart, everyone is in the same human pool.

     So, why does the U.S. presently have such a high prison rate? A large part of it has been the slide of income inequality as (true in every country) there are a higher percentage of poor people in prisons than there are of rich people (once again, NOT because poor people are more likely to be criminals). Keep in mind that a "crime" means that a law has been determined to have been broken. Thus, something may be a "crime" in one country, or by certain people, or at a certain time -- and NOT a "crime" in a different country, or when done by different people, or at a different time.

     But, specifically, there are a number of factors (not firmly listed in order -- but perhaps in order of most easily changed):


  • For-profit Prisons. This makes absolutely no sense within a capitalistic society. Capitalism operates (loosely) on Supply and Demand as well as profit margins. In order to increase profits per inmate, a prison will work to reduce expenditures which is likely to increase the chance of the criminal coming back. Also, it is to their interest to INCREASE the number of criminals and they do this by heavily lobbying for increased sentences for a greater number of newly created "crimes". A profitable prison means a greater and greater number of criminals every year.

  • The Pilgrim Effect and Vice Crimes. The Pilgrims were a small group of settlers within the United States -- very small in number in proportion to all of the other immigrants (all in the U.S. are immigrants -- even First Nation). But their effect on the national psyche is enormous. Or, at least, that is the way I refer to it.

    The Pilgrims felt that they should control how every individual behaved and thought on a daily and minute-to-minute basis. Politicians in the U.S. make use of this desire to control others by creating laws (and, when laws are created, so are crimes and criminals) that are aimed at the thoughts and behaviors of citizens THAT DO NOT AFFECT OTHERS. These are also called "vice" laws. There are lots of them -- and a huge difference between the U.S. and other countries in longer governed countries. Laws about drugs (including alcohol), gambling, sexual behavior, and so forth.

    One problem with these laws is they do NOT work. The "vices" continue to happen. Secondly, they do succeed in increasing the profits of those who are involved with these activities -- causing additional corruption and organized, highly profitable, criminal businesses both within and without the U.S. The U.S. attempted "Prohibition" of alcohol with the 18th Amendment. After giving the Mafia, and other organized crime, a huge boost in the U.S with attendant increases in murder and other violent crimes, the 21st Amendment reversed it but much of the damage to the country remained.

    A side-effect of "vice" laws and increasing their profit margins is that people who feel the need or desire for these substances/behaviors have a greater need for money to participate. This causes a multiplying effect when robberies, assaults, and other property crimes are done to be able to afford the law-enhanced prices.

  • Income Inequality. There are a higher percentage of poor people in prison than there are of rich people. Some of this is similar to the predicament of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman in the recent movie version) in Les Miserables -- turning to crime to feed their families when they are desperate. By definition, the rich are almost never desperate except in non-economic situations.

    Secondly, most of the laws are written BY the rich and FOR the rich. In the federal government, most members are millionaires and it is unlikely to be coincidental that the longest sentences and greatest number of "crimes" are created for actions more likely to be done by the poor and the lightest sentences and fewest "crimes" are created for actions more likely to be done by the rich. The income discrepancy lessens as one moves down to state and local levels but still exists and makes a huge difference.

  • Recidivism and Employment. When "Antman" gets out of prison for a non-violent, capital property crime he gets (with his high-tech degree) a service job from which he is fired once they find out he was convicted of a "felony". While this may be a bit out-of-place (high-tech people are less likely to be discriminated against) the general attitude, and situation, is NOT. It is as if a "felon" is given a lifetime sentence as they are forever actively prevented from being a positive economic or societal force. They may literally have "no choice" but to get sent back to being taken care of in jail.

    In addition to permanent economic retribution, ex-prisoners (especially from the for-profit prisons) may not have improved their ability to get a job (assuming anyone will let them have one) and be sent back to the same economic and societal environment that left them feeling that "crime" was their best option.

  • Racism. J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI from 1935 to 1972, was a fervent racist and implemented dual-prong attacks to help keep blacks, in particular, from achieving greater opportunities. He instigated additional drug sales into poorer neighborhoods while, at the same time, blackmailing and pressuring Congress into passing laws making use of those same drugs to be a crime. What didn't use to be a crime -- now was. And what didn't use to be a problem in those neighborhoods -- now was.

    Prior to the various Civil Rights laws and, once again, since the Supreme Court decided (on June 25, 2013) to remove the ability to enforce many of those Civil Rights laws, many laws were put into place where they applied ONLY to people of certain definitions -- usually of certain skin colors or of more recent non-Anglo heritage.

  • Unequal Enforcement. Related to income inequality in that there are different laws defined to be more likely oriented towards the rich as to the poor. However, even within the same category of laws, certain groups are favored over other groups. These groups include "whites", the rich, males, and other majority (or formerly majority)-oriented groups.

    A poor person may get 10 years of prison for a $10,000 theft. Meanwhile, a rich person may get 6 months probation for stealing $10 million from a group of people. The punishments are actually reverse proportionate. Discrepancies get even greater when corporate crime is committed, with no one actually getting punished at all (and only a mild discomfort when any fines are passed along to the employees and stockholders). This is a broken Justice System.

    Note that, in the United States, there is the notion of a "jury of our peers". This should mean that poor people should be judged by poor people and rich people judged by rich people -- but doesn't always quite mean that. However, poor people are more likely to be harsh with other poor people. I believe it is an attitude of "I had to struggle so hard to survive without having to commit crimes, how dare you take an easier route".

  • Alternate Punishments. Of course, one method of reducing the number of people in prison is to have alternate punishments. It is possible to have periods of public work labor. It is possible to have a separate "withholding" of parts of a paycheck(s) to pay back damages or theft losses.

    The idea of alternate punishments is to address the damage(s) caused by the "crime" while retaining the ability for people to continue to contribute to society. This is normally only possible for non-violent crime. In some countries, prison is avoided by increasing the frequency of the death penalty -- which I don't recommend because it is so difficult (impossible) to correct mistakes (which do happen on a regular basis).

     In summation, the U.S. could quickly reduce the number of people in prison. Eliminate for-profit prisons. Eliminate laws that are about "crimes" that only affect the individual -- the "vice" crimes. AND make it retroactive such that all who have been convicted under such laws are released and their records eliminated. Make it a requirement to have a reason-produced court order to obtain criminal records of job applicants.
     Other aspects of imprisonment imply a direct change to culture and society that may end up taking many years -- but still are worthy of effort for change.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Language: Translations of Thought


     I have always loved language. So far, in decreasing order of proficiency, I have studied English, French, Russian, German, Spanish, Farsi, Mandarin, and Italian (currently working within Mandarin). But don't expect me to be able to immediately respond in anything but English (and, perhaps, French) as I have never been in the situation of actively using languages other than English on a daily basis so, over my 60 years of language learning, there are some parts that will need an archaeologist to unearth. That doesn't stop my love of languages or my desire to understand.

     It is sometimes still a puzzle for me to move between what language indicates and what it means but I still love it. I cannot stand euphemisms, however, because I feel like they steal from the language. They are, in my opinion, the "anti-language" whose purpose is to create confusion and make communication more difficult. I will tackle them in another blog, as they deserve their own piece.

     A lot of people like to categorize -- and I confess to being part of that group (in case you have never been able to tell from my blogs). Languages can fall into two general groups -- "natural" and "created" languages. Natural languages develop from the first grunt up into a sequence of complex sounds and structures that are unique in relation to the world. Created languages are devised by communicating individuals for specific purposes, with specific goals and (usually but not always) specific audiences.

     Natural languages do not appear only within the human world. I have recently read an article about the creation of a bottlenose dolphin dictionary. Jane Goodall, within her works with chimpanzees, has used modified sign language (a composite of natural and created language forms) to communicate with the groups of chimpanzees -- but the chimpanzees do start with their own language directly suited to the needs of their environment. To the best of my knowledge, created language remains within the world of tool-manipulating sapients but not necessarily just humans.

     Created languages include those to communicate with machines and those used for specific purposes. For example, Semaphores are coded forms used with sight and hearing to allow simple translations of existing meaning into a form that can be transported over a distance. Within the world of computers, there is machine language which is composed of "instruction sets" which are directly acted upon by the components of the processor. These are built upon by assembly language which is a more readable -- but directly substitutable -- form of machine language. And upon this lies the "high level" computer languages which translate into reproducible larger sets and structures of assembly/machine language.

     Within high level computer languages, the designers have the opportunity to use the language as "shorthand" for things they want to be able to accomplish with fewer commands. SNOBOL is oriented towards manipulating "strings" -- such as sentences or word patterns. FORTRAN was developed primarily for executing mathematical FORmula TRANslation. 'C' is sometimes called the most low level high level language there is because it allows the greatest direct equivalencies to assembly language (even allowing direct insertion of assembly language within a program) without directly using the structures of the processor.

     Other created languages have been formed for social reasons. Esperanto was designed to be a universal human language. There is now an active Klingon language (prior to discovery of physical Klingons) based on the ingenuity of enthusiastic fandom. Pidgin, or "trade" languages, have been created as a merging of the dominant language of the traders and the local language of the people with whom they want to trade.

     Natural languages arise first out of the physical environment. If you live in the Arctic region, then snow and ice are important aspects and need, and deserve, different words variant on the type, use, method of creation, and other characteristics of the frozen water. On the other hand, if you live in the middle of a desert, words for frozen water may not appear very soon but words for types of heat, sand, and moving terrain would be more useful. Vocabulary from life in the high mountains would be different from that of the lowland tropical forests. Your language must first reflect the world around you.

     Beyond the physical environment comes the social, cultural, political, and religious world. In the Russian world and environs, where a central authority has been in control for more than a thousand years, the language reflects a directive authority towards the larger population. People do not do things -- things happen to people. German acts as a "push down" language where many concepts, items, identifiers, and actions may be present and kept as part of the overall context until the sentence has been completed -- at which time all of the parts of the sentence interact. In the early forms of some languages such as Japanese, there are two languages co-existent based on what can be done, and thought, within different social classes.

     An acquaintance pointed out how well suited the ideographs of Asian language are for empires and acquisitions -- the written language acting as a common foundation under many different verbal variants. In addition, the written Chinese language puts together thought concepts into more complex ideas that then take different forms within context. This is very different from written language which reflects the phonetic (sounds) aspect of a spoken language. In the one case, if you can read you can speak. In the other case, if you can read and write you can move concepts from one group to the other without any commonality of the spoken language.

     The recent movie "Arrival", based on the short story, by Ted Chiang, "The Story of Your Life". In this story/film the language is independent of time and, in turn, allows the mind that understands it to be free of the constraints of linear time. Although this may appear to be beyond likelihood of reality, it is true that language gives structure, and constraints, to thought while thoughts are difficult to express without a means to express ideas held in common between two, or more, people.

     Language is a reflection of the history, culture, and story of a people and there is loss when the languages are lost. Translations can be approximate but not exact. But, like with the ideograph, it is possible to create a meta-language that is a concept-based set of structures to allow better translation from one language to another -- which is one approach that current Artificial Intelligence (AI) programs take. No matter what is done, languages open many doors.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Income: the class structure of democracy


     There are a number of topics that tend to make people uncomfortable to discuss. Among these is the reality that there is a class structure within democracies. Some of the original voluntary immigrants to the U.S. were seeking the mobility of opportunity without requiring to be born within the right hereditary class of their society. Democracy is one of the "great equalizers" with one person -- one vote. Unfortunately, it isn't quite that straight-forward -- I'll tackle that within a future blog. But, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, income forms distinct classes within democratic society.

     It is generally recognized that there are three broad categories of income. These are Upper income, Middle income, and Lower income. Sometimes the word "class" enters into descriptions of "upper class" and "middle class" -- it is rarely used with lower income. I would propose that these three categories can be summarized as Survival, Stability, and Search for Purpose. Each of the three primary categories can be broken into three sections: bottom, central, and top. These are categorized by emotions of fear, complacency, and hope; there is fear of dropping from one category to the next lower, a complacency of "deserving" to be in a category, and hope of rising to the next category.

     People have the greatest knowledge of the income sections that they have directly experienced. They can also "glimpse" into sections that are adjacent to those within which they have lived. It is indeed very difficult for people to "walk in another person's shoes" without having lived that life and, thus, there is great difficulty for people to truly understand the lives of those two sections away from what they have experienced (which is an excellent thing to recognize when voting).

     For example, someone who has lived their life within the central upper income section doesn't know, and cannot directly understand, the lives of those in the middle or lower income categories. In a different fashion, someone who has lived at a bottom lower income level can only fantasize about being in the middle or upper income categories. Very occasionally (and less and less frequently), those fantasies become dreams and those dreams become reality. But they always remember (sometimes with fear and sometimes with compassion) where "they came from".

     There is also a comfort level that is felt within the economic section in which one grows up. Consider the "Beverly Hillbillies" U.S. TV show where they become rich but still want to live the way they did. This is a story that is often told about many people who have become rich (performing stars, sports celebrities, etc.). Of course, it goes the other way also -- where people who have lost their wealth can never be content or comfortable at a lower income level. This has an inadvertent side-effect on those who win at lotteries -- they are neither comfortable with, nor are able to properly use or invest, their additional moneys and often end up losing it all.

     During the Great Depression, there were photos taken, and articles written, about wealthy people who committed suicide after having "lost all they had". The reality was that they had usually lost 70 to 90% of what they had -- plummeting them down three or four income sections. The amount they had left would have been considered adequate, or even attractive, to someone in the middle income category but, to them, it was a fate that could not be contemplated.

     My mother was born in 1930 and my father in 1933. They were fortunate that they were born into farming families -- away from the center of the effects of the Dust Bowl. They had food and didn't lose their housing. However, my father was three years old when he lost his own father due to pneumonia and so his early life was also a matter of surviving through the Great Depression. This experience provided a foundation to their life and, indirectly, provided a foundation to mine.

     My father completed ninth grade in high school when he left home. My mother finished tenth grade. Both were hard workers and did well in school but the needs of the family meant that continuing school was not the most immediate priority. As I was growing up, we vacillated between "top lower income" and "bottom middle income" income classes. As I did complete high school and college, I would probably be considered to now be in the "top middle income" region. So, I have either lived, or been able to "glimpse", six income sections. It is a core part of my self-image and relation to my economic life. Each week I am grateful for having a job, somewhat fearful of potential loss (to which I react by saving), and continuing to recognize the daily situation of those in the income sections below my current one.

     My children have only known central middle income and top middle income -- about which I am occasionally sad because they have no direct knowledge, or understanding, of people who have lived within the lower income sections. They do have plans to help join a summer work program to help within a bottom lower income community this year -- perhaps they will gain some insight at that time. The Peace Corps, and similar programs, require people to live at an income level close to that of the communities within which they serve -- perhaps that should be a requirement for all people who wish to run for public office.

     Each of these sections can be categorized by particular behaviors and challenges. However, this particular blog is becoming a bit on the long side. If you are interested in more detail, please tell me so.