culture Archive

I Am A Salesman

Posted August 25, 2014 By Steve

Note: The author of this piece is unknown, although presumably is American. I myself am not a salesman, although I appreciate what they do more than most people do, in part for the reasons this author outlines.

salesman
I am proud to be a salesman, because more than any other man, I and millions of others like me, built America.

The man who builds a better mouse trap — or a better anything — would starve to death if he waited for people to beat a pathway to his door. Regardless of how good or how needed the product or service might be, it has to be sold.

Eli Whitney was laughed at when he showed his cotton gin. Edison had to install his electric light free of charge in an office building before anyone would even look at it. The first sewing machine was smashed to pieces by a Boston mob. People scoffed at the idea of railroads. They thought that traveling even thirty miles an hour would stop the circulation of the blood! McCormick strived for 14 years to get people to use his reaper. Westinghouse was considered a fool for stating he could stop a train with wind. Morse had to plead before 10 Congresses before they would even look at his telegraph.

The public didn’t go around demanding these things; they had to be sold!!

They needed thousands of salesmen, trailblazers and pioneers – people who could persuade with the same effectiveness as the inventor could invent. Salesmen took these inventions, sold the public on what these products could do, taught customers how to use them, and then taught businessmen how to make a profit from them.

As a salesman, I’ve done more to make America what it is today than any other person you know. I was just as vital in your great-great-grandfather’s day as I am in yours, and I will be just as vital in your great-great-grandson’s day. I have educated more people, created more jobs, taken more drudgery from the laborer’s work, given more profits to businessmen, and have given more people a fuller and richer life than anyone in history. I’ve dragged prices down, pushed quality up, and made it possible for you to enjoy the comforts and luxuries of automobiles, radios, electric refrigerators, televisions, and air conditioned homes and buildings. I’ve healed the sick, given security to the aged, and put thousands of young men and women through college. I’ve made it possible for inventors to invent, for factories to hum, and for ships to sail the seven seas.

How much money you find in your pay envelope next week, and whether in the future you will enjoy the luxuries of prefabricated homes, stratospheric flying of airplanes, and new world of jet propulsion and atomic power, depends on me. The loaf of bread you bought today was on a baker’s shelf because I made sure that a farmer’s wheat got to a mill, that the mill made wheat into flour, and that the flour was delivered to your baker.

Without me, the wheels of industry would come to a grinding halt. And with that, jobs, marriages, politics and freedom of thought would be a thing of the past. I AM A SALESMAN and I’m proud and grateful that as such, I serve my family, my fellow man and my country.

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Racism in American Higher Education

Posted July 11, 2014 By Steve


Consider the following quote:

With white birth rates falling, a major demographic shift is coming. Are colleges ready for a more diverse pool of prospective college students? This special issue looks at efforts under way at several colleges to serve underrepresented and underprepared students, who are more likely to need additional support to graduate. Meeting their needs may help some colleges preserve enrollment levels even if it means the occasional “hand-holding” is necessary to achieve success.

Who do you think described an expected increase of students of color in this way? Was it some Secretary of Education from a state with a Republican administration? Was it some ultraconservative commentator on one of those rightwing web sites that pretends to be news? Was it an argument used by segregationists in decades past?

No, it was the Chronicle of Higher Education, selling a special publication called Diversity in Academe Spring 2014. It might sound like it belongs more in 1964, or 1864 for that matter, but unfortunately this is supposed to be the state of the art of thinking in higher education administration.

I’ve worked in higher education for over ten years. In that time I’ve worked closely with many students who were the first in their families to attend university, many of whom needed somewhere to go for extra advice. But this lack of sophistication didn’t come from their skin color. I met many students of color who were perfectly comfortable in a higher education environment, and white students who didn’t really understand what was going on and needed a bit more support. In my observation, this was a function of the level of affluence from which these students came, not how much melanin was in their skin.

Now, I’m not unmindful that if grouped together that students of color are more likely than white students to have come from a working class background. But if you really want to help someone, you look at the whole person as an individual, you don’t just start with what color they are as a lazy and inaccurate substitute for finding out who they really are and what their strengths and weaknesses might be. Ethnicity might be part of the individual experience, and some people take it very seriously, but this is dwarfed by the variation that comes from being an individual and it shouldn’t define people. For the Chronicle of Higher Education to offer advice that uses race as a starting point isn’t just doing students a disservice, it’s nothing less than the soft bigotry of lower expectations writ large.

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Crazy Baldhead

Posted September 20, 2013 By Steve

This one is for Marcia Bright, Alula Raphael, and Scratchie Lloyd.

One Love Hippie Bus Seattle
Don’t chase this crazy baldhead
Out of town

Me nah want your cabin
Me nah want your corn
Me nah want no slave
Me have respect, not scorn

Let’s build hospital, not penitentiary
Let’s use schools to make us free, not fools
Let’s have one love as our religion
Let’s leave God to one’s decision

There is always some conman
Coming with some con plan
But these words are not a bribe:
Let’s help each other stay alive.

Don’t chase this crazy baldhead
Out of town

Me, I not running

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Two Wrongs Making… Something

Posted September 2, 2013 By Steve

“There’s a Sucker Born Every 60,000 Milliseconds” — Robert X. Cringely

The scam truck
Do you ever get those strange spam email messages promoting some little company of which you’ve never heard before, saying that its stock price is about to go up and you should buy it?

These are called “pump and dump” scams. Basically, the scammers buy the stock when its low, spam people so that a few dumb people will buy a lot of it, and when that drives up the price then the scammers sell at a profit. So with that in mind, check out this one I got today:

How do you feel about enriching yourself by means of war? It`s right time to get this done! As soon as the US takes military action against Syria, oil prices will rise as well as MONARCHY RESOURCES INC. (M_ONK) share price! Begin earning dollars on September 02nd, purchase M_ONK shares!

Okay, scams are bad. I’m clear on that. Still, I can’t help but appreciate that the people who will lose money on this are the same ones who, by definition, have no ethical quandary about enriching themselves by means of war. Those who live by the sword cry by the sword, and all that.

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The NRA’s Response To Newtown Misses The Mark

Posted December 21, 2012 By Steve

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” — Benjamin Franklin

Police at riot
I have to admit to being disappointed. After Newtown, when those who run the NRA had no public statement, I was unsure of the reason. Was it that they believed that it would be politically disadvantageous for them to say anything for a while? Did they believe that it would be in their interest to wait to get a better sense of any change in public opinion in the wake of the massacre? Did they (unlike gun control advocates) actually have sufficient decorum to wait until after all of the funerals to politicize the tragedy?

But now we’ve learned that the real reason was none of these things. Instead, their response was delayed so long because, apparently, they have been working around the clock to come up with the most stupid and short-sighted possible response to the shootings. Put simply, for them to suggest that it’s actually necessary or wise to have an armed policeman in every school in America is so ridiculous if I hadn’t read it on their own web site I wouldn’t have believed they could say something that obtuse.

Now I understand the basic idea behind their proposal, that places where good guys don’t have guns, only bad guys will have them. And with that much I can agree. But as I see it, there are three really glaring flaws in any plan to station armed police in every public school in America.

First, it accepts at face value the hysterical notion that children are in unreasonable danger when they go to school. Events like Newtown and Columbine are horrific, but they’re also incredibly rare. I have four kids in public schools in the U.S., and I am no more concerned that they’ll be killed at school than I am if they go to the mall, or a museum, or any other public place. I realize that there is always a chance that something terrible could happen, and I don’t mean to minimize the sorrow of parents who have lost children to violence. But there is no way to keep kids completely safe, and there comes a point when one has already taken all reasonable precautions.

Second, this is the sort of proposal that addresses the symptom of the disease rather than the root cause. By the time someone gets to the point where they’re shooting innocent kids in a school, to blame the gun is like blaming a pencil because the one holding it never learned how to spell properly. American culture doesn’t take mental illness seriously enough, in particular when it focuses on liberally dispensing psychotropic drugs that destabilize people as often as help them. Americans’ lazy relationship with news media isn’t helpful either, because the sort of attention these incidents get serves only to glorify those who commit these atrocities.

Finally, the NRA’s plan shows that their leaders may care about private gun ownership, but have no concern for what it will take to slow the continuing decline of American freedom. The key to having kids grow up thinking of themselves as the heirs to a free society is not to have them spend the majority of their waking hours in the company of armed police. The history of liberty’s decline is the history of the use of crises as an excuse to increase government control over people’s lives, so the suggestion that we acclimate future generations to the constant presence of armed government officials is one that might be better expected from an organization that promotes tyranny than liberty.

It’s important to remember that no matter what its detractors say, the NRA doesn’t speak for all gun owners nor for those like me who don’t own a gun but believe the government has no legitimate role to play in an individual’s right to choose whether or not to do so. With this poorly considered proposal, that’s certainly the case. There’s no way to ensure perfect safety for kids, and armed cops in schools is no exception. But even on an individual basis we can renew our commitment to valuing life, accentuate positivity in ourselves, and promote an environment of concern for one another. Passing on those sorts of cultural changes on to future generations, not gun control or armed cops in schools, is the best way to respond to this tragedy.

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On Being Anti-Science

Posted November 2, 2012 By Steve

“A thing is not proved just because no one has ever questioned it. What has never been gone into impartially has never been properly gone into. Hence skepticism is the first step toward truth. It must be applied generally, because it is the touchstone.” — Denis Diderot

McMaster Institute: 3 out of 3 Scientists Agree - Using Three Fingers Improves Your Life_0267
Recently in an email conversation among about a dozen ideologically diverse people, I made a throwaway comment that in some ways, many of those researching climate change actually strike me as anti-science. I got called on it by one of the participants, a scientist himself, and in response I wrote the following.

I should clarify what I mean about why those who talk about climate change are anti-science, since that’s a strong word. It’s not because I think they’re necessarily wrong — it’s not difficult to wrap one’s brain around the idea that human activity can affect the environment; it clearly can.

Science is a process through which we learn about the world about us by impartial research and a fearless willingness to follow data wherever it leads. But my observation, admittedly as a layman, is that most of those involved in climate change are completely disinclined to hear from naysayers. The worst example of this is how naysayers are habitually shouted down as being “denialists”, a word specifically designed to equate them with Holocaust deniers. Even if the naysayers are wrong and are utter fools, this cynical approach to skeptics is completely anti-scientific, a black mark on the respectability of anyone who considers himself a scientist.

This ties in with what I think may be the greatest requirement for true science, that it calls for humble skepticism — what Diderot rightfully referred to as the the first step toward truth. The history of scientific progress is a history of different theories leaping ahead and falling back, with progress being the overall result, yes, but not without many mistakes being made in the process. We are blind men in a maze, and while the scientific method gives us a powerful tool to feel our way toward the exit, it doesn’t guarantee we won’t go down wrong paths in the process.

While I’m not a scientist by training, I’ve spent ten years working for various universities, and from this have developed a a healthy disregard for experts’ self-evaluations of their own intellectual indispensability. For example, many climatologists seem breathlessly eager to make sweeping public policy suggestions, as though they had complete understanding not only of climate issues but also such issues as public health, economic development, demography, and political philosophy. They do not, and by pushing political agendas they earn a critical eye toward the actual climatological research that is supposed to be why we should respect them in the first place.

Obviously, this last criticism also applies to most of those who are skeptical that climate change is occurring. My point here is not to defend them, for as I said I find it plausible that climate change is a real phenomenon. But the way that mainstream climatologists have supported their consensus being politicized makes that harder for laymen like me to accept, not easier.

Note: I’m actually pretty interested in responses from people, especially well reasoned disagreements. Since this is an issue that pushes a lot of people’s buttons, though, I should add that welcomeness doesn’t extend to responses from anyone who is simply angey that I’m toeing one line or the other.

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Shall We Play A Game?

Posted May 10, 2012 By Steve

“Last night I stayed up late playing poker with Tarot cards. I got a full house and four people died.” — Steven Wright

Poker
One of the problems with usually being busy is that it means that I don’t have enough time for games. At various times in my life I’ve been more interested in games than others. For example, I’ve had friends who were into games of chance. I joined two friends for a night at a casino once, and while my luck wasn’t very good it was worth it as the price of admission into a different world. Nowadays that sort of thing is all over the Internet too, of course. The U.S. government and its various state subsidiaries would rather Americans didn’t gamble online, but of course millions do anyway. Fortunately there are are great sites for online gaming in Europe and other places that are willing to offer people the fun that they actually want.

I really liked stand up video games when I was a kid, way back when not only were there still arcades, but all the games inside were playable for a quarter. I didn’t really get into video gaming at home, I liked some of those games, especially the Civilization series, and a few others like it. In fact Civilization is one of the few things I sort of miss having been on Linux for so long. There are people who get the Windows versions of the game running just fine on Linux using WINE, and I’ve thought about it, but not only would it take a while to get all of that configured, once I’d succeeded I know myself well enough to realize I’d spend way too many hours getting all my roads converted to railroads, or trying to take key cities from the evil Babylonians next door. Better to avoid temptation!

When I was a kid, and intermittently ever since, I’ve found the time for role playing games. I’ve played Dungeons and Dragons ever since its first edition, and as an old hand at it I come down firmly in favor of Pathfinder as opposed to Hasbro’s disastrous fourth edition. My friends at the time and I played a number of lesser known ones as well, Paranoia, Shadowrun, and my all time favorite, Space: 1889, which offered a Victorian science fiction setting where the invention of ether flyers allowed the British Empire and its rivals to vie for influence throughout the swamps of Venus and beside the canals of Mars.

Getting back to playing cards, this one is actually pretty special to me, because the boys and I literally have our own game. Called BattleCards, it’s sort of like those collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh in terms of strategy and game mechanics, but it uses a normal deck of cards instead of custom cards that you have to keep buying and buying and buying to remain a competitive player. I more or less designed it over a long period of time, and the boys have helped me playtest it. Anyone who like those sorts of games really ought to check it out.

Also in the low tech area are board games, and the two that see the most action in my house are Risk and its grown up alternative, Axis & Allies. After all, if you’re going to play a board game, the fate of the world may as well be at stake! And then there’s Scrabble, which Adella got me into long ago, and while it may not seem to offer similar stakes to global domination, it’s still taken very seriously in my house. After all, if you’re playing me at Scrabble, it’s your word against mine, and really, what could be more intriguing?

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Please Join Me In Helping Hawa Akther Jui

Posted December 16, 2011 By Steve

Adversity
This is not a conventional blog post for me, and those who are disturbed by accounts of severe domestic violence may find it unsettling.

Most people who pursue a degree through eLearning end up having to overcome some sort of adversity to get to graduation. But for most of us that means trying to balance work, family, and study. Sure, that’s a challenge, but it’s nothing compared to the story of Hawa Akther Jui. She’s a young woman in Bangladesh who, like many, decided that she wanted to take advantage of higher education. But her husband, who was working abroad, disapproved of her ambition. She defied him, continuing with her education anyway. On his return to Bangladesh he blindfolded her, gagged her, restrained her right arm, and cut off all of the fingers on her right hand.

He has been arrested for this horrible crime and is likely to be punished severely. Ms. Akther has said she has no desire to have anything more to do with him. But this is not his story, it’s hers.

It’s said that who you are isn’t determined by what happens to you, but instead by how you respond to what happens to you. And Ms. Akther’s response to this is that she is more determined than ever to complete her education. Her right hand cannot be repaired — her husband and one of his relatives ensured this by discarding her fingers so that by the time her family could recover them it was too late for them to be reattached. But she has been been relearning how to write, saying, “I have now started practising writing with my left hand. I want to see how far I can go. I never imagined that my fingers would be chopped off like this because of my studies.”

I’ve never met Hawa Akther Jui, nor even heard of her before I read the BBC article and other articles about what happened to her. But I feel drawn to try to help her, if possible. I expect that she has medical, educational, and living expenses, and I am willing to contribute $100 to help defray them. If you’re reading this, and you would like to help also, please contact me by email to steve@hiresteve.com. I have the contact information for the Bangladesh-based BBC reporter who interviewed her, and would send her the money through him. In the event that Ms. Akther does not need or want any money raised, I would instead donate it to the Asian University for Women, also located in Bangladesh.

No one should have to face this sort of thing, particularly not as a consequence for trying to improve one’s lot in life. If you would like to help, even just to send a little, please get in touch. I’ll be sure to post updates so that everyone who helps finds out what happens.

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The Great Depression, Obsolescence, And You

Posted July 11, 2011 By Steve

“Around ’75 when the recession hit, club owners started going to disco because it was cheaper for them to just buy a sound system than it was to hire a band.” — Tommy Shaw

Artist Captures Recession Times...
I’m a radical libertarian and my Mom is a sort of old school liberal, so as you can imagine political conversations around the dinner table can end up being pretty exciting. It also means we occasionally email each other opinion pieces from whatever newspapers we read, usually that support our point of view but sometimes just that we think are generally interesting. For example, today she sent me a link to an opinion piece by Robert S. McElvaine about the Great Depression. He’s a history professor at Millsaps College who’s written a book on the subject, and his central idea seems to be government didn’t spend enough in the 1930′s.

The title of McElvaine’s piece is “Want to avoid another Depression? Try understanding the first one.” Given his prescription, however, I couldn’t help but think that perhaps he should follow his own advice. One of the problems with understanding the Depression is that too many on the left think that the U.S. had an entirely free market economy in 1929. That’s not the case — there were a number of big changes made in the 1910′s (institution of an income tax, start of the Federal Reserve System, etc.) that led to the bubble of the ’20s and the resulting downfall. And most of what federal decision makers did in the ’30s was ineffective or counterproductive, e.g., confiscate gold, raise tariff rates, or attempt Keynesianism.

Of course, this isn’t 1930, and what bedeviled them is not the same as what plagues us. I don’t have the stats to back this up, but I suspect as technology keeps accelerating, the market for unskilled and semi-skilled labor will just get softer and softer, no matter how much GDP rises or how well those who already own stuff may do.

For example, one of Google’s projects is to automate driving — institute a system where vehicles can safely drive themselves long distances without a human involved. They’re actually getting pretty close to succeeding at this, they’re doing test runs in Nevada and that sort of thing. So what? Well, driverless vehicles it will be good for some businesses, but at the cost of putting every long haul trucker and bus driver out of a job.

I think if one takes a twenty year view that this sort of thing is a big concern. Right now we have millions of people who simply aren’t good enough at anything other people actually need to make enough money to support themselves. I’m not blaming them, or calling them lazy, I’m just calling it like I see it. What happens when that number reaches 30% of the population? Even if you’re morally copacetic with saying “screw you” to unemployable people, if you try that with one third of your population it won’t end well for you. (Ask wealthy Venezuelans, because they did this and the result was a decade and counting of Hugo Chavez.)

So assuming my gloomy scenario is at all likely, is there anything to do about it? I’m not sure. I do know that stopping the advance of technology isn’t very practical, and wouldn’t be desirable if it were. Perhaps the best thing to do would be to make sure that entrepreneurship is integrated in every school curriculum one into which one can possible fit it. If employment as we’ve known it will only get more and more difficult to find, but there’s still affluence in the overall society, that’s a recipe for people to get into the mindset that there are ways they can take control of their own futures.

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How Not To Approach Campus Violence

Posted March 16, 2011 By Steve

“If you think the problem is bad now, just wait until we’ve solved it.” — Arthur Kasspe

20050610-atomic-ray-guns
Recently I read a commentary in UniversityWorldNews from John Woods, who opposes efforts by some U.S. state legislators to allow people to carry guns on college and university campuses. It seems he lost a loved one in the Virginia Tech massacre a few years ago, and the issue has been haunting him ever since.

What many people seem to overlook when it comes to these sorts of proposals is that there’s a difference between banning something and actually making it go away. No one who has it in them to walk around murdering other people will be dissuaded simply because one more aspect of their plan is illegal. Simply put, campus gun bans do not disarm potential shooters, they only disarm potential victims, leaving them helpless to defend themselves.

This is not a hypothetical argument. Virginia Tech was not the only university in Virginia where a shooting occurred in the last decade. There was also one at Appalachian School of Law. The difference was that in this other incident the shooter was quickly subdued by other students, who were armed. This is why the Virginia Tech incident is rightly termed a massacre, and the Appalachian School of Law incident is relatively unknown.

Mr. Woods is not the only one who wants a world free of violence. We all do. But unfortunately, we don’t live in that world, and that being the case we should make decisions based on reason, and not emotion. Gun bans fail that test.

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