Saturday, February 16, 2019

Life Is Not Fair...and The Earth Is Not Flat


“If you want more of something, subsidize it; if you want less of something, tax it” - Ronald Reagan

In the aftermath of Amazon’s decision to pull the plug on their plans to locate HQ2 in Long Island City, NY; we find ourselves once again debating the pros and cons of government subsidies to business and industry. Progressives are getting the blame (or the credit, depending on your opinion of such deals) for opposing, threatening and finally convincing Amazon that the best business decision would be to just walk away.

Frankly, in my opinion the Long Island City decision never made sense for Amazon from the get go. Subsidies notwithstanding, because Amazon was going to get all sorts of concessions and financial incentives no matter where they ended up; my gut tells me that the Long Island City choice was not all that popular with Amazon’s senior leadership, but was a Bezos big splash move. The devil is always in the details and when one of those devils turned out to be major opposition from “The Left”, it gave Amazon an easy out. I expect they were toasting each other in Seattle and heaving great sighs of relief over the bullet they just dodged. Trying to pull something like this off in the NYC metro area was a really bad idea. What were they thinking?

But, all that said, it still leaves the question around these huge subsidies local and state governments dole out to lure businesses. In the Amazon case, it really was go big or go home and this was a big deal. Most of the “subsidies” were contingent upon job creation. But there was a substantial amount of upfront money going to Amazon. The Left, occupying the moral high ground, demanded that these funds be used to make immediate improvements and upgrades to subway systems and community services for the benefit of those who live there now. Not for rich people who didn’t need it and would, in all likelihood, ultimately end up driving the poor and oppressed out of the area all together with their high paying jobs and the inevitable gentrification of surrounding neighborhoods.

The business community along with most of the mainstream politicians (both Democrats and Republicans), looked at the big picture and the long-term economic impact. Frankly, it is a no brainer. This was a great deal for NYC and would be a great deal for any place. Is it going to cause disruption? Yes. Will there be winners and losers? Yes. Will those who have money to invest or skills and talents that are in high demand mostly win? Yes. Will those who have little money or limited skills and talent mostly lose? Maybe.

And this brings us to the cultural battle that is raging in this country. One side wants not only equal opportunity, but equal outcomes. And if one group is doing better than another group, it is just not fair. Someone is being oppressed. Someone else has an unfair advantage or privilege. The “have-nots” are such, not by their choice or by chance, but because there was a “thumb on the scales” in favor of the “haves”. This injustice must be corrected.

The other side says it’s not about groups, but about individuals. While all are created equal, all are not equal when it comes to ability, ambition and energy. People are different. And life is not fair. Some people start out with more advantages than others. The playing field is not level. The earth is not flat. Get over it and get on with your life. No one owes you anything, but most people will help you if you are willing to help yourself.

If we want more jobs and more wealth for more people, and ultimately more tax revenue, then maybe, sometimes, it makes sense to subsidize a business. But if all you do is tax it, you will get less and less over the long run.

Thus, David slew Goliath on the banks of the East River in the year Two Thousand and Nineteen. And the rich and privileged fled, leaving the land to the oppressed who served the god of social justice and equitable redistribution of wealth to which they were entitled. Can I get an Amen?


Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Madness of Being (Part 3)



“If you're capable of despising your own behavior, you might just love yourself.”
― Criss Jami


So what does one do with this information? First, and most importantly, be honest with oneself. Especially when it comes to those traits and characteristics that put one on the extreme ends of the distribution. These are the danger zones, where one thing leads to another and not in a good way.

The danger zones for me on the “High” end are Openness, Industriousness, Assertiveness and Volatility. On the “Low” end there are Orderliness, Enthusiasm and Agreeableness. When you combine these extremes the behavioral outcomes can be very good or very bad. It’s the bad ones that hurt and haunt you forever.

The key for me has been learning to identify when I am headed for a “bad one”. Where am I likely to cross the line from being appropriately assertive to being over-bearing? If my volatility kicks in what sort of damage is likely to result? I have to be careful. Back off, take a deep breath and ask myself is this really worth it?

When does my creativity and intellectual curiosity combine with my low level of orderliness and get me off track? And since I’m very industrious, I can end up working very hard and very inefficiently on stuff I don’t need to be working on just because I find the work that needs to be done too mundane and boring. Life is mostly boring, mundane stuff. One best learn to deal with it and, for the most part, I have. But it doesn’t come naturally.

And when I am tired or very busy, my low level of agreeableness can really take over. I am not inclined to say please and thank you….just DO IT or get the hell out of my way. Mix in some assertiveness and volatility and you better damn well stay in the wagon Mr. Chicken. That chicken still haunts me.

Then there is the low level of enthusiasm. I prefer my own company, tend to be pessimistic and don’t much get excited about the things other people get excited about. Stir in low agreeableness and you do not end up with Mr. Rogers. It can also lead toward depression. I have to constantly guard against pessimism, negativity and depression. Knowing how one is wired helps a lot.

You see, I know that there are devils on my shoulder. My portion of original sin, passed down from the beginning and in my genes. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly evident in my parents and grandparents; now part of me…twisted by experience and life and choices, mine as well as those of others.

It’s this realization that brought me back to Christianity. As I see it, it’s the only pathway to salvation for someone like me. Life has humbled me. I don’t judge others because I know how easy and natural it is for me to say and do terrible things. I’m not OK and you’re not OK. None of us are. But, perhaps the more we know about ourselves, and with a little help from above; we might just start moving in the right direction.


For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
- 1 Corinthians 13:12


Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Madness of Being (Part 2)


There is no such thing as an average person. They really are guidelines for people to grapple with the unknown, and we can always surprise expectations.- Daniel Tammet

The Big 5 assessment I took is available for a small fee at www.understandingmyself.com. As noted in Part 1, this assessment goes a bit deeper into each of the Big 5 traits. And what it told me was that I am pretty much who I thought I was, only more so. Which isn’t necessarily a good thing. So here we go.

Openness to Experience

I expected to be above average on this one. But according to the assessment I am very high on this trait, 92 percentile. That means I am more “Open “ to new ideas and experiences than 92% of the population. The Openness trait is measured on two dimensions, Intellect and Creative Openness, and I am high on both of them. Intellect in this sense does not mean IQ, it reflects interest in abstract ideas. That would be me. That I also ranked so high on the Creative aspect of Openness was a surprise. I love books and music, but have never been particularly taken with art or the classics.

The most disturbing part of this high openness rating is that it tends to be more common in liberals than conservatives. I am liberal on some things, but overall fairly conservative. There must be some other stuff going on inside my head that counterbalances this disturbing left-wing openness trait I seem to possess.

Conscientiousness

The overall score here was a surprise and I was glad there were two dimensions to the trait. I scored only moderate on Conscientiousness, in the 45% percentile. That means 55% of people are more conscientious than me. That was a shock. I always considered myself above average, in fact, way above average when it comes to being conscientious.

But, this assessment measures conscientiousness in two ways: Orderliness and Industriousness. Turns out that I am way low on orderliness, 16th percentile; but high on Industriousness 77%. On those terms, it makes sense. I am a mess with a filing system that is mostly piles of paper and random folders on my computer. I spend a good deal of time looking for things. My closet is a mess and I only clean the garage once a year. I don’t mind chaos and working hard to keep things orderly just seems like a waste of time. (Exactly what an high Openness person would think). But I make up for it by being Industrious. According to the assessment, we “value work highly and typically want to be doing something useful…frequently figuring out how to accomplish more in less time, with fewer resources…having focus” (Just not when it comes to orderliness apparently, at least not in my case.)

Extraversion

Another somewhat surprising total score, but with almost polar opposite scores on the two dimensions of Extraversion. Overall I am in the 57th percentile, meaning I am more extraverted than 57% of the population. At first I thought maybe EXTRAversion was totally different than EXTROversion…but it’s the same thing. Psychology still uses EXTRA while the general population has migrated to EXTRO. I typically score more on the Introverted side. Not to the extreme but definitely not an extravert or extrovert, whichever you prefer.

But when I considered the dimensional scores, it made more sense. This assessment looks at Enthusiasm and Assertiveness as the key dimensions of Extraversion. I am extremely LOW when it comes to enthusiasm. 6 low. That means 94 percent of people are more enthusiastic than me. But when the assessment described what this means, it makes perfect sense. Those of us on the low end of enthusiasm are “very hard to get to know”, “prefer solitude and find it difficult to enjoy themselves around other people”, “private people”, “loners”. Sounds like an introvert.
But on the other dimension of Extraversion, Assertiveness, I am extremely high, in the 95th percentile. We “take charge”, put our “own opinions forward uncommonly strongly, and tend to dominate and control social situations.” We are “people of action”.

Combine this with my Industriousness and things get done. But I am apparently a person of extremes..either kicking ass and taking names or sitting alone by myself reading a book. That actually sounds about right.

Agreeableness

I knew this one would be a problem. I am way, way low on Agreeableness…13th percentile. This trait is measured on two dimension, Compassion and Politeness. I’m actually a little better on Compassion, 36th percentile, but really low on Politeness, 4th percentile. The assessment comments how that “People with low levels of agreeableness are seen by others as competitive, colder, tougher and less empathic. They are less likely to look for the best in others, and are not particularly tolerant. People find them straightforward, even blunt.” Guilty as charged.

An interesting side note in terms of political leanings and agreeableness. Liberals tend to score high on compassion and low of politeness. Conservatives are just the opposite. Since I’m low on both, I’m guessing that makes me either an Independent or a Libertarian. I’m picking Independent.

Neuroticism

I wasn’t real sure what this meant, but I was hoping my score wasn’t bad. It was, or at least moderately bad. I’m in the 69th percentile of Neuroticism. That means I am more Neurotic than 69% of the population. That would be cause for concern.

The assessment measures Neuroticism on two dimensions, Withdrawal and Volatility. Withdrawal is really about “anticipatory anxiety” and is associated with brain activity that regulates passive avoidance. Worry, doubts and certain phobias can are associated with Withdrawal. Fortunately, I am only slightly above average on this dimension. And this component of Neuroticism isn’t the big problem for me.

Volatility is the challenge. I am in the 77th percentile. That means I tend toward moodiness and being more easily irritated and frustrated. I am more likely to lash out verbally or even physically. (Remember in Part 1, the chicken and the wagon story?)

Next time, we’ll wrap this up with Part 3…and answer the big question…So What?


Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Madness of Being (Part 1)


“But I don’t want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can’t help that," said the Cat: "we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad."
"How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn’t have come here.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland


When I was just a small boy, around 3 years old, I “accidentally” killed a chicken. True story. I wanted one of our chickens, a young banty rooster, to ride in my little red wagon. But this chicken kept jumping out of the wagon. I got mad and frustrated… and choked the chicken…to death. I know, “choking the chicken” is a euphemism for another activity that has nothing at all to do with chickens. But this was really choking the chicken and the chicken did not recover. I have only vague memories of the event and they may only be there because family members got a kick out of telling the story as I grew older. But I really do see myself there trying to revive that chicken and knowing that I had done something wrong. I felt worse for the chicken than I did for myself. That may have been my only saving grace.

Mother was horrified and just knew that she had a budding young serial killer on her hands. But, that turned out not to be the case. By the grace of God and adult supervision, most notably from my grandparents, I did not end up on death row. I wasn’t even one of those mean, crazy kids that tortures animals and scares the crap out of other kids. My chicken choke was a turning point and I cleaned up my act. But at my core in many ways, I was and remain that impatient, easily angered, violent trigger small boy who choked that poor little chicken to death.

Over the years, I’ve taken a number of the personality assessments including the DISC, the Predictive Index and the Myers-Briggs. They all show pretty much the same profile. I am driven, competitive, impatient, hate routine and tend to be restless and easily bored. I am balanced between extroversion and introversion, somewhat of a risk taker but committed to following the rules and procedures. I am not the easiest person to work with or live with. On the Myers Briggs I am an INTJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging). From what I have read, that personality type is somewhat rare and difficult to get to know. I’m not sure an INTJ would write about their personality, so maybe I’m not really an INTJ. I’m right on the cusp of being an “ENTJ”, the "E" meaning extrovert. So maybe that explains it. I must be having an ENTJ moment as I write this.

I recently took what I think is the most accurate personality assessment I’ve ever taken. It’s a version of the Big 5 (OCEAN) that goes one more step and evaluates each of the Big 5: Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism; by two additional characteristics that are unique to each of the Big 5 traits. The overall results of my assessment didn’t really surprise me. But the degree to which I tended toward the extreme on certain traits and characteristics, tells me that I still have work to do.

Next time I’ll share the details of my Big 5 results, the good, the bad and the ugly…and the steps I’ve taken to make the bad and the ugly not quite so bad and ugly.


Saturday, January 19, 2019

Elephants In The Road



Transport Topics reports the following:

FMCSA Says Rate of Truck-Occupant Deaths and Fatal Crashes Continues to Climb

The percentage of all fatal crashes involving at least one large truck also rose to 12.4% in 2017 from 11.2% in 2016 and 11.1% in 2015.
Overall, the number of fatalities in large truck and/or bus crashes increased to 5,005 in 2017 from 4,629 in 2016, Van Steenburg said. The actual number of large truck and bus fatal crashes rose to 4,455 in 2017 from 4,116 the prior year.
The top five driver-related factors for large trucks and buses in fatal crashes were speeding, distractions such as cell phones, failure to yield right of way, impairment (fatigue) and careless driving.

So if we address speeding, cell phone usage, observing right of ways, get more rest and not being so careless; we could be well on our way to reducing the frequency of fatal crashes involving large trucks and buses. But what about the Elephants?

There are problems and there are symptoms of problems. Symptoms tend to be more visible and easily measured. It’s like the old joke:
Patient goes to the doctor, lifts his arm and says, “It hurts when I do this”.
The Doctor replies, “Stop doing that…” And we could probably add, "Here’s a prescription for the pain...come back in 30 days."

That’s sort where I see us when it comes to highway safety for the trucking industry. We can stop doing certain things, penalize bad behaviors and more closely monitor drivers and equipment. But, we haven’t addressed the biggest problems…the Elephants in the Road. If we really want to make it safer to travel the nation’s highways we should focus on getting the Elephants off the road. Just like the “Elephant in the room”, that obvious issue no one wants to talk about. When it comes to safety we tend to take a detour around the two biggest Elephants…driver quality and highway infrastructure.

We have way too many big trucks on the road being driven by folks who shouldn’t be driving big trucks on the road, at least not most of the roads. Maybe some place where there’s not much traffic, the road is flat and dry and the sun is shining. But not most places. But when you have a shortage of labor for tough jobs that don’t pay enough to attract and retain those individuals who can actually do the job and may even like doing the job; you end up with people who don’t do it very well. When those people end up working in a restaurant you get bad food or bad service and you don’t go back. Eventually the restaurant closes its doors. Worst case their food makes some one sick, maybe even sick to death. When those people work on an assembly line or in a highly controlled environment where there are multiple layers of quality control, their shoddy work adds costs and delays and ultimately just becomes part of the process…the cost of doing business. When such people drive trucks, some of them cause fatal accidents. And fatal accidents become part of the process…the cost of doing business.

The other big Elephant is highway infrastructure. We’re "only" 20-30 years behind on having our highway system where it needs to be to accommodate the volume of traffic. So we have highways that are just not safe for trucks and cars. And in the scramble to fix them we tend to do a really poor job of designing work zones with safety as a priority. As a result the number of fatal crashes in work zones continues to climb as we have more work zones and more cars and trucks trying to negotiate their way through them. And for truck drivers the delays and frustration associated with congested highways, bad roads and work zones has consequences. So even when they finally make their way to a decent highway, they try to make up for lost time or just relax a little too much and end up having fatal accidents in places where the road conditions are just fine.

You want to improve big truck highway safety? Better drivers, better roads…and no Elephants.




Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Thinking In The Dark


I live over 70 miles from the DFW International Airport. There are multiple ways to get from there to here and depending on the time of day, traffic, road construction and my attitude; I’ve taken most all of them at one time or the other. On occasion, when I’ve been deep in thought or listening to sports talk radio or talking on the phone; I’ve found myself on a route I didn’t plan on taking. Sometimes I didn’t even realize I was on that route until I came upon a major interchange. Not exactly safe driving protocol, but it is what it is and I confess that I was not paying attention to anything other than the traffic and whatever was occupying my thoughts.

The same thing happens sometimes to me on the internet, especially with You Tube. One thing leads to another and, before you know it, you find yourself watching and listening to people who are somehow part of something called the Intellectual Dark Web. I stumbled across Jordan Peterson when looking at debates on religion. And Jordan Peterson led me to Dave Rubin. Rubin to Ben Shapiro and Eric Weinstein. Eventually I stumbled across Joe Rogan and Douglas Murray. I also found people I already knew, such as Sam Harris, out there on the same channels.

And then I discovered that I was caught up in The Intellectual Dark Web. The Intellectual Dark Web (IDW) is a relatively new term that was coined by Eric Weinstein. It has been used to describe a loosely defined group of intellectuals, academics and political commentators who espouse controversial ideas and beliefs surrounding subjects related to free speech, identity politics and biology. Critics on the left have accused it of being ultra-conservative, alt-right, homophobic, racist, sexist, fascist, and just about anything else they can think of that might discredit what’s being said there. Unfortunately, there are some extremists being linked to the IDW. However, the fact of the matter is that those I’ve noted above tend to be center right or center left. Most hold both progressive and conservative positions depending on the issue. I suppose that’s why I am paying attention to what they have to say as I tend to be much the same way.

Those who have been identified as part of the IDW are also attracting millions (literally millions) of viewers and supporters. It’s become “a thing” and as always happens, becoming “a thing” is not always “a good thing”. Becoming a thing attracts the lunatic fringe and controversial characters like Milo Yiannopoulos and Alex Jones. Becoming “a thing” puts you under the microscope. Eventually something you say will be edited or taken out of context and used to prove that you are indeed homophobic, racist, sexist, fascist, alt-right or just another tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorist.

I truly hope this doesn’t happen to people like Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro. What they have to say is worth listening to and considering. In a world where political correctness and feelings are more important than truth and values, we need these other voices. Now if we would just call it something other than the Intellectual Dark Web.

"Whatever differences we have, tolerating others' opinions is a prerequisite to a functioning and free society." - Dave Rubin


Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A Year of Mud and Squealing


I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals. –Winston Churchill

Once again it’s time to grade my predictions for 2018 and look ahead to 2019. On the Chinese calendar, 2018 was the year of the Dog. 2019 is the year of the Pig. I was born in a Rabbit year and that means I should get along quite well with Dogs and Pigs. 2018 was a good year for this Rabbit, so I’m optimistic about 2019. I mean if you can’t trust the Chinese, who can you trust?

The 2018 Prediction Results and the Grades

1.I went with Alabama again to win the Natty.

Grade: A. It was close, but ‘Bama did it.

2. I predicted that GDP growth tails off in the second half of the year. A shortage of workers and the mid-term election cycle put a damper on the economy.

Grade: A-. I got the call right and the labor shortage as well as the mid-term elections contributed. But, the Trump tariffs, the on-going chaos in his administration and the Fed’s rate increases are probably doing more to slow down the economy than anything else.

3. I thought The Post would win Best Picture

Grade: F. The Shape of Water won it. I could write an entire blog about what I actually think of this movie.

4. I thought oil prices would just bump along at current levels, maybe down a bit.

Grade: C. For most of the year I was right, but oil prices are down more than just a bit.

5. Said that China would handle N. Korea.

Grade: B-. The jury is still out on N. Korea, but my sense is that China has played a role in toning things down there. We’ll see.

6. Figured that the Democrats would win big in the mid-terms.

Grade: B+. I think the Dems won big. But I really expected it to be even more lop-sided. So relative to my expectations, I can’t give myself an A on this one.

7. Thought we would finally pass an infrastructure spending bill.

Grade: F. Well, I should have known we can’t get anything done in Washington. Ridiculous.

8. Predicted that The Mueller Investigation goes nowhere, but keeps on going.

Grade: C+. This one is tough to judge. But, more has happened here than I expected. Clearly, several of The Donald’s inner circle were up to some shenanigans. How far this will reach remains to be seen.

9. Guessed there would be big news on the UFO question.

Grade: F. There’s always news about UFOs, but not the biggie I predicted.

10. Said that The Dodgers would meet the Astros again in the World Series. Dodgers win. (And, of course, picked New England to win the Super Bowl.)

Grade: C-. The Patriots got to the Super Bowl and the Dodgers got to the Series. So I’m not taking an F on this one.

************************************************************

Now for the 2019 Predictions:

_1. Alabama wins another National Title.

_2. The economy continues to slowdown, but we don’t go into a recession until 2020. The tariff wars cool off which helps stabilize the economy for now.

_3. Oil prices remain relatively low.

_4. The Democrats will spend most of their time investigating Trump and Trump’s associates, but they won’t pursue impeachment. They will talk about it a lot, but it’s not a battle they can win. (Unless of course Trump does something really crazy…which is always a possibility.)

_5. Trump gets to fill another Supreme Court seat. Get your popcorn ready.

_6. LA Rams beat the LA Chargers in the Super Bowl. Super Bowl television ratings are in the toilet.

_7. Red Sox and Dodgers meet again in the World Series. This time the Dodgers win.

_8. I think we will get an infrastructure bill and immigration reform passed this year. Both parties realize that they have to get something done with the 2020 election coming up. I know it’s hard to imagine anything getting done in Washington, but it might just happen this year. Whatever gets passed it won’t be great, but maybe a step or two in the right direction.

_9. Russia will continue to push the boundaries in the effort to expand its influence in the Middle East. They will take advantage of the lack of leadership in the West.

_10. The Best Movie award will go to another movie I have not watched, nor will I ever. (Unless it goes to Crazy Rich Asians…really good movie, two thumbs up)