Monday, June 27, 2011

Sometimes It Is Just Semantics

     Even after observing the passing scene for over 80 years, I am still amazed at the emotions that are aroused by some words. In his 1933 work, Science and Sanity, Alfred Korzybski coined the phrases, “The word is not the thing” and “The map is not the territory,” indicating that knowing the name of an item does not mean that you know everything about the item itself. He recommended that new entities be observed on the silent level – a time for observing the reality without preconceptions. But it seems that many people fail to appreciate the wisdom of keeping these bits of advice in mind.
     I live in a church-sponsored retirement community, which is in the process of constructing new facilities: a chapel, theater, gift shop, a small meeting room and a large community meeting room.
     As explained at a recent residents' meeting, the administration discussed various names for the meeting rooms. For the smaller room, the choices boiled down to “bistro” or “pub.”
     One definition of bistro is “A small, modest European-style restaurant.” Since neither food nor anything else is going to be sold in this room, that name was rejected.
     Although some pubs are taverns, an alternative definition of pub is “A public room or house,” so the smaller room became a pub.
     While a majority of residents accepted the explanation, a few reacted as if it had been decided to call the room “the den of iniquity.” Although the naming of facilities is beyond the purview of the residents, it was even suggested that we put the name to a vote. However, most of the residents seemed to think the subject was not even worth talking about, so eventually the discussion moved on to other matters.
     The room in question is a nice little place to hold small group meetings or receptions (maximum capacity 29), play cards, or just sit and talk with friends. It has a few tables and chairs, counter, refrigerator, sink and even a dishwasher; in short, it's just a small gathering place.
     So I got to wondering why the word “pub” would raise such a violent reaction. I realize it may have a connotation of tavern, which is a place where alcoholic beverages are sold, but this innocent little room is far from being a tavern.
     Granted that some of our residents are conservative Christians, I still didn't quite understand it. Christ changed water into wine, not grape juice. One would think if he really was against it, he would have changed it into Koolaid or vinegar. So I dug a bit deeper.
     The God of the Israelites had many proscriptions against wine – apparently he was a teetotaler. But while in the New Testament there are many passages against drunkenness, it has very little to say against wine itself.
     I found the answer at 75 Bible References On Drinking Alcohol:
“ ...verses to show God approves of wine are speaking about unfermented juice. Verses that expose the evils of wine are speaking about intoxicating wine.”
     You must realize that the Times article appeared over one hundred years ago, so most of the jokes appearing therein are so out-of-date that modern readers wouldn’t even understand them. For example, one has to do with women’s suffrage, and was probably very funny at the time, but today it falls flat with a loud thud! So to spare my readers, I shall attempt to find jokes that are more up-to-date than 100+ years of age.
     Introduction – There Are Only Seven Jokes.

     “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Where Have All The Jobs Gone?

     Some time ago I mentioned Ross Perot's “giant sucking sound” of jobs leaving the country in the wake of NAFTA (See February 16, 2011). As I stated, “If that sound is a whisper, today's sound of American jobs heading all over the globe is a space shuttle liftoff.” As of today that sucking sound has grown even louder.
     According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the US unemployment rate for May was unchanged from the April figure: 9.1%. Private sector employment increased by 83,000; this is really a net loss because 125,000 new jobs are needed each month just to keep up with the increase in the number of individuals entering the labor force.
     Also in May the number of long-term unemployed increased by 361,000. That number now stands at 6.2 million.
     It is important to note that the BLS's definition of unemployment includes only job seekers who have looked for work at some time during the past four weeks. It does not include those who have been out of work for so long that they have given up looking, nor does it include anyone who is working part time but really wants a full time job. Economists estimate that if these people were included in the definition, the rate would be in the neighborhood of 16%.
     A recent poll by the Business Roundtable Survey showed that 51 percent of CEOs polled expect to increase hiring in the near future. In addition, more than 60 percent plan to buy more items such as computers, software and machinery. And this brings me to the subject of today's posting.
     According to a New York Times article on June 9, 2011, “Workers are getting more expensive while equipment is getting cheaper, and the combination is encouraging companies to spend on machines rather than people.” The article goes on to tell of a company that has invested $450,000 in new technology during the past year, while in the same period it has hired only two new workers.
     During the recently ended industrial era, when an employer purchased a new piece of equipment, he usually needed a new employee to operate it. But not any more. Now when a company invests in new equipment, software or other technology (often made in China or other off-shore location), it usually replaces human workers.
     Now I am not against technology – far from it – but it seems obvious to me that the practice of giving huge tax breaks to stimulate the purchase of equipment to replace workers is counter-productive to job creation.
     But to be fair, I must admit that American workers today are priced out of the world-wide job market. An employer would have to be insane to pay $20 per hour when he can get an unlimited supply of workers for $10 per day in China.
     During the industrial era, the mantra for success in business was “location, location, location.” Today location, particularly of manufacturing facilities, is immaterial in light of our vast communications and transportation networks.
     The current conservative mantra is “lower taxes, lower taxes, lower taxes.” During forty years as an accountant, not once did I hear of any business that laid off or hired an employee because of the tax consequences. The rationale behind such decisions has always been customer service.
     So the mantra in today's post-industrial era is what it should have been all along: “customers, customers, customers.” And they can be found wherever the jobs are, whether it's in the USA, China, Peru or anywhere else in the world.
     So what do we hear coming out of Washington? The national budget, the debt ceiling, and getting rid of President Obama and “Obamacare.”
    What should we hear? Because the s-word is a no-no these days, I will offer a few concrete suggestions aimed at getting money into customers' pockets:
  • Make it easier for people with mortgage problems to renegotiate their loans.
  • Exempt a portion of wages from payroll taxes.
  • Create employment by repairing and upgrading highways, railways, electrical grids and other public sector facilities.
  • Create business tax incentives for investment in people instead of equipment to eliminate employees.
     Of course the conservatives will howl that the liberals are back to their old budget-busting ways, so here are a few suggestions as to how to pay for these items:
  • Discontinue our “adventures” in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and anywhere else which is not a threat to the US.
  • According to Wikipedia, the US is trying to police the world by deploying troops to 150 different countries. Bring them home from every location which is not essential for national defense.
  • Give the Pentagon enough resources to maintain an adequate national defense instead of what the generals ask for, or what some Congressman thinks they should have.
  • Eliminate foreign aid to unfriendly nations, e.g. Pakistan and Afghanistan.
     Today Perot's “giant sucking sound” could also apply to the sound of resources rushing from the pockets of the have-not-so-much to those of the already-super-rich.
     Without a serious reality check on the part of the government, the training for tomorrow's jobs will be simple: Memorize the following: “Would you like fries with that?”
     The Freudian system has been analyzed countless times since it was first created, so in this book I am going to zero in on the Times system; not only is it more easily understood, it is more fun.
     Introduction – There Are Only Seven Jokes.

“There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” and are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Festival of the Rose

     Sunday I attended the paying of the rent by Zion Lutheran Church in Manheim, Pennsylvania. Paying rent doesn't sound like such a big deal – one writes a check and hands it to the landlord – but in this case it was a payment that started 239 years ago.
     In 1762 (Baron) Henry William Stiegel and two partners purchased a tract of land on which Stiegel laid out the town of Manheim. In 1772 Stiegel, a devout Lutheran, deeded a tract of land to the church for “for five shillings and in the month of June yearly hereafter the rent of One Red Rose if the same shall be lawfully demanded.” According to tradition, Stiegel received the annual rent only two times, and apparently did not lawfully demand it thereafter.
     In 1892 the present church was built, and except for two years during WWII, the annual payment of the red rose has been paid to a descendant of Stiegel ever since.
     The 2011 payment was made to Wallace Stiegel of Windemere, Florida, an eighth generation descendant of the Baron. Mr. Stiegel's daughter and granddaughter were also in attendance, thus guaranteeing that “landlords” will be available for quite a few more years.
     One would think it might be difficult to find descendants of the Baron, but in 1977 the Reverend Raymond Foellner completed a genealogy of the lineal heirs. In past years some have come from as far away as Colorado, and they seem as interested in keeping the tradition alive as the members of the church.
     The ceremony itself was quite impressive – the church's attorney presented the rose to the heir, both signed the receipt book, and Mr. Stiegel made a short “thank you” speech. The church was beautifully decorated with, what else? red roses.
     Hopefully this beautiful ceremony will be repeated annually for another 239 years or so.
     In my opinion a more practical and intelligible system is to be found in an article published by a “Humor Expert” in the New York Times on May 2, 1909. Entitled “New Jokes? There Are No New Jokes, There Is Only One Joke,” it goes on to say that all jokes are a distortion, and lists seven categories of distortion; as in the Freudian system, every joke will fit into one of the categories. I believe that repetition, whether of seven techniques or seven distortions, changed the original concept into “seven jokes” a la the children's game of Whisper Down the Lane.
     Introduction – There Are Only Seven Jokes.

“There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” and are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

It's The Jobs, Stupid

     The Labor Department's hiring report for May came out in Saturday's newspapers, and it wasn't pretty. Just 54,000 jobs were created – far less than the expected 150,000. Although the private sector added 83,000 workers – the lowest monthly total in the past year - they were offset by the loss of 28,000 jobs in local governments – firefighters, police, teachers and clerks. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that up to 300,000 new jobs a month are required to significantly affect the unemployment rate.
     Meanwhile, back in Washington, the figures elicited what can best be described as a collective “ho-hum,” as Congress decided to dance around the subject of raising the debt ceiling. Without such action, the nation will soon begin defaulting on its debts, with a corresponding increase in interest rates. Through April, interest on the national debt for fiscal year 2011 is on track to surpass 2010's total of $4.13B. That's 413 followed by nine zeros! Imagine, if you can, the effect of a rate increase!
     But I digress. Congress is not dillydallying about an increase in the ceiling so much as on tying such an increase to a balanced budget requirement.
     And how does one create such a budget? According to the Republicans, it is done by giving tax cuts to the rich and paying for them by some or all of the following:
Emasculate the National Labor Relations Board.
Kill the funding for Obamacare.
Eliminate all taxpayer funded payments for abortions.
Eliminate all funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and National Public Radio.
Hamstring the Environmental Protection Agency.
     Even if I thought some of these “suggestions” have merit – which I don't – I believe they are subjects that should be discussed during the preparation of the budget – not the raising of the debt ceiling.
     In the meantime, any meaningful discussion about job creation has been pushed to the back burner. The focus has shifted from economic pragmatism to ideological purity. The budget is due for completion in September – jobs are needed now!
     Where are legislators who can prioritize and enact what is good for the country? Where is Henry Clay when you need him?
     Today I will begin posting excerpts from my latest book, “There Are Only Seven Jokes.” Enjoy.
     The statement “There are only seven jokes - all the rest are variations,” has been around for a long time, but no one ever seems to know what the original seven were. The concept of exactly seven (not six or eight) original jokes has usually been attributed to Sigmund Freud, whose 1905 book Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious defined seven joke techniques: Absurdity, Allusion, Analogy, Exaggeration, Faulty reasoning, Play on words and Reproach. In order to classify a particular joke in Freud's system, it is first necessary to understand his definition of Analogy, Exaggeration, etc.
     Introduction – There Are Only Seven Jokes.

“There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” and are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.