Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Drones: The Latest Technological Surge

I've been perusing the internet quite a bit lately on social media sites like Reddit and Digg and I am finding a lot of articles on drones. Most of us think of the military drones that fly over Afghanistan or Iraq either collecting intelligence or zeroing in bombs on potential enemies. The one pictured above is from the United Kingdom.

These types of drones have been very effective in the war on terrorism and in monitoring strategic areas throughout the world. I am sure that many soldiers' lives have been saved with the development of this technology. Countless civilian lives have been saved as well because the cameras mounted on these drones are able to see close up who is on the ground or if any innocent civilians are potentially inside of target buildings.

In the Hands of the Layperson

It seems that the general public is quickly embracing drone technology. Over the past summer in California a firefighting plane had to abort a fire retardant dump because someone was flying a drone in its airspace. The owner was just shooting curious footage, however, his interference had a huge impact in the tough battle of containing forest fires. The questions of airspace violations and privacy rights begin to surface with this incident. The questions also arise of whether the average American should be able to fly these drones wherever they deem fit.

Farmers have begun seeing the wonderful benefits of drone technology. There are a couple models currently in production that are able to fly over crop fields and monitor water levels in plants, reveal where higher concentrations of pests occur, and provide very area-specific information of which areas of land are more fertile than others. This allows a farmer to pinpoint exactly what is needed to produce the highest yields and where this focus needs to be centered.

This YouTube video kind of gives you an idea of the early stages of drone technology that has already been fast developing outside of the U.S. and is now being adopted here on our soil. These types of drones can be highly beneficial because they promote the highest yields of food production possible and can reinforce good safety standards previously unable to be achieved through timeless conventional methods.

Breaking the Law

In general, the use of drones are having a positive impact in environments where they are responsibly used. But, just like any other technology, there is always someone who wants to use something for ill gains. This, of course, drives controversy and opens up new doors. Breaking the law using a drone isn't exactly something we have ever heard about, however, local police forces are tapping into this new technology. Here is a video that begins to give you an idea of what to expect in the near future:

It would certainly make sense for police departments to invest in drones because it has a wide variety of benefits. The use of expensive helicopters flown by one or two people would no longer be necessary and it would save a lot of money. If a suspect can be constantly followed and monitored then this increases the safety of officers. And the obvious benefit, as well, is that the lawbreaker will not escape as easily as he or she might while running from a police helicopter.

Some Things to Think About

Although I am completely supportive of any technologies that will help police officers do their jobs more effectively and safely, there are some issues to consider which I believe will arise from the use of drones.

Simply as a starting point, officers have already been using K9 dogs for many years and they have been very effective in fighting crime. Many illegal drug busts have been attributed to the keen senses of these dogs and they have been fierce protectors of their owners. Deep relationships have developed between officers and their dogs so much so that K9 dogs are fully recognized as police officers themselves. It is deemed first-degree murder to kill one of these dogs and any fallen comrades receive full funeral honors.

Just as K9 dogs have been a strong asset to crime prevention, so too will the use of drones. A computerized robot controlled by an officer with an Ipad-type device will be able to "sniff" out potential suspects or follow confirmed criminals with ease. The portable "eye in the sky" will prove invaluable in the success rates of law enforcement. The questions I would propose for your contemplation are:

  • How much authority could a drone achieve?
  • In time, would they not be given the exact same rights to function as police officers just as K9 dogs already do?
  • It is not too much of a stretch to think that these drones will someday soon be mounted with either guns or some sort of debilitating weapon to stop potential suspects or criminals?
  • And, in light of the events in Ferguson, Missouri and other places like Dayton, Ohio, how will police force be reexamined when it is performed by a drone instead of a pistol in the hands of law officers?

I believe each of these questions bring up legitimate points for discussion and debate. We will have to address these issues as citizens sitting on a jury in your local governments. Technology can be great, however, everything has a price and boundaries do need to be set.

A Brazen Look Into a Scary Future

I want to finish up this article with a glance into a very real future. I think by now most people have already seen the movie Minority Report starring Tom Cruise. I'd like you to watch this video clip as either a reminder of what this movie portrays as future law enforcement, or, if you've never seen the movie...well, check this out and see what you think!

I invite your comments in the box below, as I am always looking for different points of view. Thank you for your feedback, I value it dearly.

Monday, August 18, 2014

#Ferguson Crisis: What's Really Going On Here?

The events that have unfolded over the past week, which is less than 10 miles from my house have, of course, been very disturbing. Residents all over the metro area have been worried whether or not they live in a safe neighborhood.

I think many people who have always thought themselves protected are really reconsidering this assumption. Gun purchases have soared and businesses have been very proactive in closing down even if there has only been a hint of potential violence.

This uprising was initially started with Officer Darren Wilson responding to a theft and assault 911 call and has escalated into so much more than the shooting death of Michael Brown. I do offer my deepest heartfelt condolences to the Brown family. I cannot imagine the grief of losing one of my sons to such a tragedy.

What I do hope is that his death was not in vain and that we all can learn something about ourselves and the issues that are continually shaping the communities in which we live.

The Many Faces of Injustice

Burned buildings like this Taco Bell represent the oppression felt by certain communities throughout the city. Here the incident was the L.A. riots of 1992 where the injustice on Rodney King unleashed a billion dollars of property damage and resulted in 53 deaths.
All of this stemmed from the police officers getting a slap on the hand and then released. It only takes a spark to set off the flames of rioting and looting in the name of justice. But was there any justice served by committing these acts? Not really.

Here in Ferguson we have the same rationale behind the QT burning and all of the looting of businesses that have absolutely nothing to do with the incident. Throw in the fact that nearly everyone committing the crimes and inciting violence either don't even live in Ferguson, are registered criminals, or are just a bunch of young men looking for any reason to thug up the town like mobsters.

There are so many stories being told about this incident that no one really knows the truth. The fault seems to lie on both sides. The local police are sending mixed messages by allowing looting to go on right before their eyes and doing nothing about it. This then becomes a clear message that the looters are winning this war. And it is a war.

There are ground zero accounts of police shooting gas grenades into peace gatherings simply to incite violence. There are those who swear that some of the incidents are staged to create an even worse environment than what is being created. They are setting traps and the young men are falling into them.

At the same time the a couple of bad cops don't make the entire force the enemy. I am certain that to some degree law enforcement has and continues to help these communities. Working for any police department is insanely difficult work and I do not envy their jobs. In fact, I pray for them.

The Tragedy of Injustice

A well known fact is that shootings within communities by members of the communities happen everyday and death has become an accepted way of life. I have worked alongside many coworkers who have shared their story of a loved one killed either maliciously or with a stray bullet. Tears stream down their face as they stumble to get the words out. It breaks my heart every time I hear about one of these incidents. And I've heard a lot of them.

Should justice be sought? Damn right. But there is a smart way to go about finding answers. It is not through a blending of traditional Malcolm X style leadership. It is through emulating and embracing the messages of Martin Luther King Jr.

My greatest fear is that Officer Wilson will be given a slap on the wrist and released. If this happens, the L.A riots will rise from the ashes and burn again somewhere here in St. Louis.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Storage Wars: The Evolution of Excess

When A&E premiered the first airing of Storage Wars in December 2010, I'll bet the producers thought they would have a smash hit. And they do. The show is now in its fifth season with plans for a sixth, hosting some of the old faces and a few new ones. Do you like the show and, if so, who is your favorite buyer?

Cast of Real Characters

The oldest member of the show, and my favorite, is Barry Weiss, known as "The Collector". He is portrayed as perhaps having the least amount of money to work with, but he's willing to take chances. He searches for that one oddity that will at least break him even. Brandi and Jarrod bring their unusual relationship to the show as "The Young Guns". They always seem like they're on the verge of ending their partnership with continuous disagreements and Jarrod's signature cross-armed stance.

The characters who have made a real impact on the show are Darrell Sheets and Dave Hester. Darrell, "The Gambler", recently brought his son Brandon into the picture and their family is now notorious for two things. Darrel is responsible for the biggest payoff in the show's history. A locker that he purchased for $3,600 ended up containing several Peter Gutierrez paintings Darrell sold for $300,000. Also, inside another purchased locker, the body of a woman was found wrapped in plastic. The previous male owner had killed his wife and subsequently disposed of her body. Wow....

Dave Hester, "The Mogul", made himself into the man you love to hate. With his annoying "Yuuup" and his big white trucks splayed with his name in big letters, he always made a scene. And if all of that flash of ego didn't rub you raw, then his crew of 3 or 4 guys spilling out of the trucks like worker ants should have finished you off. His story, though, ends in the courtroom. Dave has accused the show's production company, Original, of staging fake lockers and providing money for bidders. He was fired from the show and his court battle rages on today.

The crew of Storage Wars represents what can happen in a world of excess. The evolution of consumerism has driven our society to be filled with metal buildings housing a bunch of valuables that have lost their value to its owner. True, there is money to be made through these auctions, since another person's trash is another's treasure. However, I believe that many Americans who own these units have lost sight of some of the core values of life. Not intentionally, though. They just need to be reminded of an old aphorism that dates back nearly 100 years and introduced to the evolution of a new way of thinking.

Stepping Back in Time

The odds that someone reading this article will remember the Great Depression is rather slim, although I am hopeful that the babies from the 20's and 30's are still able to share their stories. With this in mind, there is a lot of information out there about this tough era and what it took to survive. Judy Busk has written an essay for a website called New Deal Network where she recalls the impact the Depression had on her family.
          "Gifts were carefully opened, hands delicately loosening the tape so the wrap could be neatly removed and folded to be used again. A ball of string graced our kitchen cupboard; it was made up of hundreds of shorter pieces tied together...Cotton and wool socks were stretched over a worn out light bulb and darned to prolong their use....Printed chicken feed sacks became skirts, flour sacks became underwear."

It was during this era that the phrase, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without", became a household mantra. Although this saying was popularized during World War II, it does have its origins dating back to 1933. Commodities were extremely scarce and so anything at all that was owned by a family had to be stretched to its fullest use and beyond. Judy recounts the story of her mother getting an orange in her Christmas stocking and feeling that it was a deeply treasured gift. In fact, many Christmases didn't have gifts at all. A white-frosted cake would have been the only celebratory piece. It is so neat to read and realize that people appreciated everything, even the smallest of things, that these days we can take for granted. Over time we have lost sight of the lessons of this era and have become slowly blinded into becoming the consumers we are today.

The Rise of Consumerism

After the resolution of World War II, the American economy began its gradual turn around into the wealthy society that it is today. During the 1950's and 60's the concept of "keeping up with the Joneses" became the new trend of American life. It has served as a foundation for the surge of consumerism in this country. Americans are no longer considered to be citizens, but rather, consumers. Purchasing power is what drives our overall economy, however, in the never-ending pursuit of material things, our lives have become cluttered. We buy bigger houses so we can put more stuff in them. Many garages, which were created to house vehicles, now serve as storage units attached to homes. In some surprising ways we too have become the hoarders you can see on popular television. Except in our case, what we are doing is perfectly acceptable by the status quo because the more you own, the wealthier you are. Many times this "wealth" has to be stored somewhere else. There just isn't any more room. It is from this demand that the evolution of the storage units has risen and now permeates our landscape.

The Storage Solution

The history of self storage units has a rather interesting past. According to Ezine articles, the founder of the Self Storage Association, Buz Victor, discovered on a trip to China "that people had been keeping their personal belongings in clay pots for over 6,000 years". The concept took hold much later in Britain, but it really was Buz's entrepreneurial idea that snowballed the idea back in the states. The first facility was established in Odessa, Texas in the 1960's by Russ Williams. He was an avid fisherman and needed somewhere to keep his boats and equipment. He went and purchased several apartments and garages to suit his purpose and because he felt other folks could make use of this type of storage. The units basically sold themselves.

The idea of storage units is a good one with good intentions. It is practically impossible for some people to keep large boats, trailers, RVs, and so forth on their own properties. Our soldiers in the military, too, need somewhere to keep their belongings while off serving our country. In a culture of excess, however, this idea has blossomed into a near epidemic. Rather than get rid of our stuff, we choose to store them out of sight, which eventually means out of mind. Folks are either forgetting to pay the rental bill or realize they simply cannot afford the fees. And this is how the Storage Wars concept has turned into a multi-million dollar industry.

Some Facts in a Nutshell

  • There are more than 48,500 storage units nationwide.
  • The self storage industry in the United States generated more than $24 billion in annual revenues (2013 - estimate). The industry has been the fastest growing segment of the commercial real estate over the last 40 years and has been considered by Wall Street analysts to be "recession resistant" based on its performance since the economic recession of September, 2008.
  • The industry pays more than $3.2 billion each year in local and state property taxes.
  • There is 78 square miles of available storage space nationwide, which would provide every  household in this nation access to 21 square feet. 
  • Storage units have become so popular that many are managed by third-party companies. 

So What Can We Learn?

I think fifteen years into the 21st century most Americans understand that we are a nation of excess. The Internet has given all of us the opportunity to view websites, blogs, and publications that in many ways have exhausted this subject and the many concepts tied into personal finance. At this point you have either decided to change or keep things going they way they always have existed. The real wealth of family and basic necessities is becoming more apparent as we develop into a tightly-knit global community. I see an environment of giving freely to others on Twitter as a way of developing relationships. It is refreshing to be a part of a community that seems to be, for the most part, interested in my well-being and providing help and guidance with minimal strings. These things represent the real value of life, not junk piled up in a storage unit.

Ultimately, the idea of living intentionally is perhaps the best way of breaking free from the bonds of consumerism. This concept was first introduced to me by my wife, and at first I was a little resistant to the idea. Tsh Oxenreider has published two books on simplifying your life and living intentionally. In her first book she really hits the nail on the head with her ideas that purging your house of "stuff" is actually a very liberating experience. I, like many folks, have issues with letting go of things. However, as our family has let go of many things we thought we wanted, we realize that those things were just taking up space unnecessarily. We were spending too much valuable time cleaning up all of the "stuff" that we truly have been able to do without. Let it go already.

Bringing back the Great Depression and World War II aphorism of "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without" is a cycle we most certainly need to repeat in America today. In doing so we are able to return back to the roots of filling that inner void - peace with ourselves, our community, and God.

Works Cited


http:// ezinearticles.com/?The-History-of-Self-Storage&id=1590718




Saturday, May 17, 2014

Affluenza: Luxuries Become Necessities in Our Obsession for Entertainment

2012 Dodge Caliber Original MSRP $18,000
I recently was introduced to an article in the Washington Post written by Carol Morello and Scott Clement entitled "'Happy Days' No More: Middle-Class Families Squeezed as Expenses Soar, Wages Stall." It is an interesting write-up about a family of five whose household earns $90,000 a year, however, they are struggling to make ends meet. This really surprised me because my family of six earns half of that salary, but we're surviving just fine. There are the ups and downs of financial stresses that come with budgeting for any family, however, struggling on $90,000 seems unfathomable. So I decided to break the article into parts and address each issue not only in the context of the Johnsons' daily life, but also in the context of my family life and those families in my community. My goal is to take a realistic (and many times painful) look at exactly what is going on in America's middle-class families in regards to the meaning of necessity and our obsession to be entertained.

America the Theatrical

Americans must be entertained - it has become a God-given right to be upheld at all costs. Most homes have now become independent personal media centers customed designed with laptops, HD flat screen TVs, real life gaming systems, iPads, iphones, iPods, and I don't know what will be next. Every aspect of our lives has become tainted with this ideology and in many ways we are dumbing down our society because knowledge is in many ways defined either by your skills with technology or how many questions you can answer on trivia night. Furthermore, our customized worlds give us a false understanding of reality and creates a dysfunctional view of the world. People are defining their relationships through their technology (if you don't have what I own, you're not good enough) and they are quickly losing their ability to function socially because many are choosing to completely absorb themselves into their media-created "reality".

The middle class are the hardest hit when it comes to living up to society's expectations and actually being able to do so in regards to material possessions. The lower classes aspire to have the pricey entertainment, however, if it is not achieved, it isn't such a big deal. Remember, you are poor and those who surround you will totally understand. Folks making $50,000+ a year don't get the privilege of forgiveness and sympathetic acceptance by friends and neighbors. The pressure of keeping an image of affluence can force families to make decisions they really cannot afford. And if you could care less what others think, then perhaps your own drive to have the greatest and latest technology and things will still lead to poor decision-making. This is one of the biggest reasons why Americans have been racking up huge credit card debt for decades- they continually choose to live outside their means. And, for many, this is the only way of life they know how to live.

The Johnsons' Story

Scott and Robin are classic examples of upper middle-class living. They own their home, he is an IT engineer, she is an aspiring accountant, and they are raising three children on $90,000 a year. They live outside the Washington area which has a good enough school district that their children do not have to attend private school. They both have struggled in this economy with their jobs because, honestly, there is no job security any more. The ups and downs have forced them to make some lifestyle changes and, according to the Washington Post article, this family deeply suffers from their struggles. The article builds upon this pathos with Scott stating, "'I don't know how the working class, anyone below the middle class, how they can survive.'" They claim to live paycheck to paycheck and now, with the purchase of a new vehicle, they cannot even pay their electric bill. Their daughters, who are by now high school age, are looking at college options. "Robin's advice to her daughters: Study hard enough to get scholarships, because we can't help." For the Johnsons', the solution to their dilemma is simple: "'If we had an extra $60,000 a year, we'd have some breathing room. I'd like to have some extra things. Not just look at them and drool.'" This "drooling" that so many Americans get caught up in is the primary cause of our affluenza problem. We now have justified our actions to satisfy this "drooling" by altering our perceptions of what defines a luxury or what constitutes a necessity.

Maslow's Hierarchy on Needs

In 1943 Abraham Maslow introduced the world to a concept which defined how humans fulfilled their overall needs. He created a model in the shape of a pyramid with the most basic needs (food, shelter, water, air) on the bottom and running up to the top where the self-actualization needs (personal growth, self-fulfillment, personal potential) exist. In a standard representation of any human, the needs are met first on the bottom and then build their way up the pyramid. Really only 1 in 100 people achieve the top level stage, like Ben Franklin did.

With affluenza, the pyramid tends to be upside down. The needs which would normally be at the bottom somehow lose significance and the stress is placed on the upper levels. As an example, the Johnsons own 3 flat screen TVs, 3 iPads, a laptop, at least 3 personal computers, 4 cell phones, and they recently purchased a vehicle that cost between $12,000 and $18,000. They claim that because of all of their expenses that now they cannot pay the electric bill. A bit topsy turvy?

By obtaining material possessions that you cannot afford (usually just to impress) at the expense of the electric bill places their needs on the esteem level over the safety level. Sure, Scott and Robin need their technology to maintain the biological and safety levels, however, all of the other items are luxuries which they could do without. The problem lies in the fact that middle class families truly believe all of this stuff is a necessity. Is it really? It is within this kind of perception that the definitions of necessity and luxury collide and create financial despair. It's easy to blame the economy, inflation, and rising costs. But perhaps it simply comes down to money management. Not the way Mr. Obama defines it. More like Suzy Orman.

A Look at the Figures

I thought it would be a good idea to run a comparison of the actual figures it takes to run the Johnsons' household versus my own. But first, to give you a little context of how my family lives.... We embrace the couponing and money saving concepts of Crystal Paine (Money Saving Mom) and others like her. We also apply many of Dave Ramsey's guidance principles (Gazelle Budgeting) on money management. Basically, we try to live within our means and make good money decisions. My wife does a wonderful job of managing our income using a budget plan. We rarely eat at any kind of restaurant, choose not to have cable (instead the kids watch Netflix or DVDs from the library), use what we do have to its fullest extent, and keep one another from jumping onto the trend wagon. We could care less about keeping up with the Joneses and are very happy to be blessed with the richness of our marriage, family, community, and activities we do together to make memories. We believe that the reason so many families struggle in this country is simply because of a lack of knowledge on how to manage the money you do earn and what in reality is a necessity. Yes, times are tough. No doubt about that. But when your priorities are skewed, life becomes impossible.

St. Louis, Missouri and Culpeper, Virginia are somewhat similar in their cost of living according to (http://www.areavibes.com/cost-of-living-calculator/culpeper,+va-vs-st.+louis,+mo/). Overall it is 14.2% cheaper to live here than in the Johnsons' neighborhood. However, by looking at the expense breakdown, we find some surprising results. In Culpeper the housing expenses far exceed the costs in St. Louis - a whopping 44%. The Johnsons, however, were able to refinance their home which now brought their mortgage down to the same amount my family pays here. All of the other cost categories are either about the same as St. Louis or lower. True, home insurance and electric bills are higher in Culpeper, but again, they live in an area where their children attend public schools. Schools in St. Louis are terrible and so our family has the huge burden of monthly private school costs. (By the way, we're still raising 4 of our 6 kids, 3 go to private school). Yet, we survive just fine on half of the Johnson's earnings. So, if we were to adopt the Johnson's financial solution, we could continue to live the way we do, and then have another $100,000 left over each year to invest or whatever we wanted. Intetesting contrast, isn't it?

Concluding Thoughts

From reading the Washington Post article, I do believe the Johnsons are good people who honestly think they are struggling, and in many ways they are. No one is perfect and I know my family falls into the financial traps occasionally. It's not easy to live within your means when the status quo screams at you to join in the fun and mocks you when you don't. Money management skills are not taught in our elementary and secondary schools. When people think about a course on this subject they envision someone on a stage with a microphone hanging from his/her ear preaching to them like an evangelist. Our country is solely driven by the dollar and most companies do not want you to properly handle your money because that means less for them. Entertainment has become a number one priority. I might even suggest that it has replaced the role of God in many families' lives. But then again, money is a god or idol too, right?

The tough part to chew on is the fact that Americans have altered their perceptions of what is a necessity and what is a luxury. In my own community I see lots of examples of this behavior. One person goes to the local pantry in order to provide food for the family. That same family is sitting on the couch watching a TV that is plugged into a cable service costing $160 a month and complaining there isn't any food to eat. Another person has had the electric shut off in the apartment for two months, but still grocery shops at Whole Foods Market (currently I work in the culinary industry and we call that store "Whole Paycheck").

The newest trend I'm seeing are the families who make 6-digit salaries but claim they struggle just as much as a family that makes $20,000. They eat fast food 2-3 times a day, nearly every day. They go on shopping sprees every weekend to purchase anything from shoes to the latest phone, TV, or gaming system. They take expensive vacations regularly because these are the only times the family can connect, never mind whether or not they can afford it. Some of these families have moved back in with their parents just to maintain their lifestyles. And then when it comes to true medical or tuition expenses, they scream poverty. These folks truly believe they are struggling just like the rest of us because their concepts of necessity and luxury are deeply skewed. Managing the blessings that you do have is the key to a happy life. Don't let the status quo tell you otherwise.

What do you think?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Author Platform Summit

My wife recently came across this free online event through Crystal Paine's Moneysavingmom website and passed it on to me since she knows I am an aspiring blogger and writer. I agreed that it would be a good idea. It is a cost-free tool available to anyone who signs up. I thought as well that perhaps it might be useful to someone in my very limited readership. So, to pay it forward, I will be a part of the group and I encourage you to join in as well!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

American Evolution: Technology Replacing Humans

I recently read an article by a local newspaper columnist who brought to my attention a very obvious issue I really hadn't given any thought. He made me think of how realistic it could be, in the immediate future, that many of us workers will be replaced by technology. Although technology is a wonderful thing (when it works, of course), it does have its down sides. As an example, our kids today are usually completely absorbed into either social media or the wonderfully realistic computer games. Their generation will be the guinea pigs, unfortunately, for what the long term effects of technology has on the brain and in social development. I think that we are already beginning to see those effects with the hyper increase of ADHD and employees being able to do their jobs effectively, but not being able to maintain their jobs because they cannot get along with co-workers. But that's another story....

The columnist had recently been given a story from Bloomberg News that stated "technology will eliminate approximately 40 percent of our jobs". That is quite a staggering number and so I decided to do a little research to see what I could find out and make some observations.

Job Loss Qualifications

It would seem that any job which can be defined as routine is eligible to be replaced by robots, computers or some sort of software that can do a better job and be far more cheaper than human labor. What jobs qualify as routine? Here is a very brief list and the estimated number of people working in each field:
       Bank workers (we already have online banking and check scanning)               1,000,000
       Secretaries                                                                                                        1,100,000
       Real Estate Agents/Brokers                                                                                 600,000
       Truck Drivers                                                                                                    5,700,000
       Travel Agents                                                                                                        82,000
       Cashiers                                                                                                           3,300,000
       Librarians (note: you must have entry level master's degree)*                            148,400
       Meter readers                                                                                                        40,000
       Taxi Drivers/Chauffeurs                                                                                         36,200

       *"North Carolina State University this month introduced a high-tech library where robots - 'bookBots - retrieve books when students request them, instead of humans. The library's 1.5 million books are no longer displayed on shelves; they're kept in 18,000 metal bins that require one-ninth the space."

As you can see over 12 million people could be without a job in the next decade or two, and this list does not come anywhere near showing the total jobs affected. "The AP found that almost all the jobs disappearing are in industries that pay middle-class wages, ranging from $38,000 to $68,000. [These are] [j]obs that form the backbone of the middle class in countries in Europe, North America and Asia."

"In the United States, half of the 7.5 million jobs lost during the Great Recession [were] paid middle-class wages..." This is an interesting statistic when we consider that it was the unethical business practices of the wealthier factions in this country who were responsible for our plunge into a recession. I would also assert that the recession felt by the middle class became a depression for the lower classes. Food pantries and shelters began seeing more and more new faces as families were losing their ability to sustain themselves. Many folks began implementing ideas that were used during the 1930's - such as using something until it is absolutely worn out. Thrift shops and supermarket stores like Aldi's as well have seen record numbers of shoppers over the past several years.

Fortunately for the poorer class, there really is no worry about being replaced by technology since their jobs are low-paying by nature and it would most likely cost more money to implement robots to function as janitors, housemaids or food service workers. Or perhaps, in time, they too might be replaced as robots become more affordable. Who knows?

Benefits of Technology

Now I don't want to just portray the gloom and doom scenario as the only outcome of technological advancement. It is certainly not this way. There are many wonderful aspects of having a wireless world.
Information exchanged is now at unprecedented levels. Literally any piece of knowledge can be retrieved or sent to anywhere in the world. Those of us who write blogs can share our minds and experiences with people in Malaysia, France, Russia, Gibraltar...the list goes on and on.
The medical field is making huge advances with information gathering done with scanners which look very similar to those used in department stores. If you close your eyes and hear the beep, you might be able to envision yourself as a domestic product being purchased. :) By doing away with the bed charts, a medical professional can access the most current patient information anywhere in the world. In the operating room there is new robotic equipment like the Da Vinci which can help a doctor perform a very low-invasive hysterectomy with great precision and with better eyes than humans possess. Even Hans Wiemann has upgraded to using robots for hair implementation for individuals suffering from hair loss.

In the realm of education, this country needs every possible means of improving the quality of our programs. We have been falling behind other countries very quickly and for quite some time. Technology is now being brought into the preschool classroom in an attempt to better educate and prepare our children for our very competitive world. Smart boards have been implemented in the middle schools and I was a bit shocked when my 10-year-old daughter told me that she not only knows how to put together a Power Point presentation, but she is very comfortable in making them because it is now common curriculum.

Growth Creates Obstacles

As amazing as technology can be there are always subversive members of our society or perhaps in the world who make themselves into bad apples. On Tuesday this week The New York Times published an article written by Nicole Perlroth which reveals a sort of "New Age" of hacking through third party systems.
     "Unable to breach the computer network at a big oil company, hackers infected with malware the online menu of a Chinese restaurant that was popular with employees. When the workers browsed the menu, they inadvertently downloaded the code that gave the attackers a foothold in the business's vast computer network."

Locally, "[h]ackers in the recent Target payment card breach gained access to the retailer's records through its heating and cooling system." How crazy it is that attackers can access vital computer systems through very simple channels without anyone even noticing? A hacker's Gold Rush, I'm sure.

After reading this article I began to think about how dependent Americans have become on their technology. Most information used or exchanged is not saved in hard copy form. Banking and financial information is quickly becoming totally digital as we attempt to streamline our lives and eliminate cluttering paperwork. Book stores are going out of business at an alarming rate because of Kindles and other media sources. Even books themselves are being eradicated and converted into a digital framework that can be "shelved" on a much smaller scale.

Just a Thought...

Thinking back on a terrible moment in our history, we can reflect on the events of 9/11 and the impact that it had on America and the world. Vulnerability is a very sensitive issue and the attack on the World Trade Towers left us in this state of being. I am concerned that our new dependence on technology could leave us being even more vulnerable than on that September day. If terrorists could implement some sort of third party system and breach our main computer systems, they could essentially shut this country down. Could it be as simple as a restaurant menu, a purchase on Amazon, or a communication on Twitter? We experienced a large financial disruption with the attack 13 years ago, so just think about how much damage could be done if an extremist group was able to gain access to all of our banking systems, corporate networks, and other crucial frameworks that have become the backbone for daily function in America. Remember, our soldiers found several computers linked to a network in the cave where Bin Laden was found. Those who wish to do us harm are very privy to our technological dependencies. In a world where robots and software are replacing humans for the causes of efficiency and cost savings, so too exists the possibility that we can be crushed far worse than the attacks in 2001. Americans have always endured though, so we can figure it out.

Works Cited


McClellan, Bill. "Economy on Autopilot Raises Scary Questions." St, Louis Post-Dispatch. Wednesday      March 26, 2014. Page A13.

Perlroth, Nicole. "Hackers Luring in Vents and Soda Machines." The New York Times. Tuesday, April 8,     2014. Front page.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Affluenza Series, Part 2: The Eroding Middle Class

"The Peasant's Revolt, also called Wat Tyler's Rebellion, was a major uprising across large parts of England in 1381. The revolt had various causes, including the economic and political tensions generated by the Black Death in the 1340's, the high taxes resulting from the conflict with France during the Hundred Years War, and instability within the local leadership of London." (wikipedia) During this age in English history there were many such uprisings which were fueled not only by taxation, inflation, and declining incomes of the poor, but also because of the increasing gap between the wealthy nobility and the much poorer peasants. These protests by the poor did increase their living conditions to some degree, however, the economic gap still remained. It is here within the contexts of the Medieval revolts that the desire for upward mobility through social class began to take root. It is also here, in 14th century England, that the story of the eroding middle class begins.

A Better Life

"The American dream has long been held as a fundamental tenet of American life. So most of us would be surprised to find out that the idea behind the dream isn't actually American." -Edward Cahill, Ph.D., associate professor of English, Fordham University

Colonization of America in the 18th century did much to break down class boundaries and open up wealth to everyone. Back in England, citizens were caught up in "the striving for wealth acquisition and status transformation" which remained the prevalent social focus for many of the English since the 14th century. Now there was a huge opportunity to shatter this economic system by crossing the ocean and inspiring the new settlers to build a new life from scratch. After decades of struggle and hard work, it became very apparent that anyone could indeed establish a better life, all you had to do was pursue it.

It wasn't until the 19th century that the concept of the "American Dream" began to fully manifest itself in the minds of many Americans and begin to manifest itself as a reality within their lives. Leading figures "such as Benjamin Franklin, [a] soap maker's son turned American luminary and one of the nation's founding fathers...wrote extensively on the topic of wealth acquisition in his autobiography." (Cahill) His secret to financial success - save your money.

Clashing Values

Ben Franklin was wholeheartedly committed to public service and his attitude toward wealth was directly related to virtue. He believed that upward mobility involved focusing on getting yourself stable, and then once you've accomplished that, then focus on helping other people. Acquiring wealth was not some self-serving greed or "see how much money and stuff you can obtain" type of philosophy as it is today. In Franklin's day it was a blessing to have wealth and the duty of the upper class to pay it forward to less fortunate members of society. Sounds a lot like something Jesus did when he walked this earth.

"Unfortunately our culture has become obsessed with affluence. We now believe that it's our God-given right to live affluent lives." (Cahill) And so the American Dream has become obscured into an ideal that is meant only for some people, not everyone. Our deep narcissism drives us to achieve affluence at any cost, even trampling over people to get to the top. This is a direct side effect of affluenza and would have Franklin turning in his grave to know that the less fortunate have been cast aside.

Around the turn of the 21st century, with the advancement of technology and its availability to the public, "the culture of wealth acquisition began to alter the structure of American society. On the one hand you had a lot more people becoming fabulously wealthy - the number of millionaires grew exponentially. At the same time, the wealth gap between the rich and the poor grew exponentially, too....The rich were getting larger in number as the poor were getting larger in number." (Cahill) The American Dream now has many different meanings based on an individual person or family- from harvesting millions while working in a hedge fund to simply owning your own home or even just having a job. The deterioration or the huge amassing of wealth is driving a wedge between the upper and lower classes. The chart below shows this growing disparity of incomes.

 Affluenza's Greed

So what exactly is causing the middle class to slowly disappear? We know that the boon of the housing market revealed just how many millions of Americans were not living within their means. This revelation is essentially the core symptom of affluenza - using any resource available, whether yours or someone else's, to obtain wealth and social status at any cost and not worrying about the consequences. And, for many, the final cost was home foreclosure - the stripping of the American Dream.

Credit cards are crushing Americans at an alarming rate, so much so that it is assumed and accepted that everyone will accumulate this type of debt. I think it is safe to say that most Americans have more debt than savings because we have become a society of instant gratification. This lifestyle, riddled with massive spending, runs completely contrary to Ben Franklin's philosophy of save, save, save and is a strong contributor to the eroding middle class.

Yearly incomes for the middle class have declined around $3,000 - $5,000 since the turn of the century. Now Americans in this class have less money to work with but the cost of living still increasing. This increase can be seen with food and fuel costs nearly tripling since the turn of the century. To put it succinctly, there are more and more factors continuously arising that are stripping away the ability of middle class Americans to achieve and maintain the American Dream.

Government Intervention

"Most of our elected officials, whether Democrat or Republican, have been bought and paid for through campaign donations from corporate lobbyists and other special interest groups. We've reached a stage where lobbyists no longer merely influence legislation but write the actual language of what becomes law." - Lou Dobbs, War on the Middle Class

Legislation proposed by our "representatives" continues to punch holes in our eroding class system. During the Bush administration there were tax laws passed which eliminated the Estate Tax and implemented some tax breaks that only the wealthy 1% of our country could take advantage of. This kind of legislation benefits our corporations and millionaires by allowing them to keep more of the millions they possess. Legislators also followed suit during this administration by voting pay raises for themselves while the average income of the lower and middle classes consistently fell.

Another type of legislation aimed at eroding the middle class is the Affordable Care Act. This legislation, under the guise of "universal healthcare for every American", has really only affected the lower class society and those seeking to achieve the middle class American Dream. No one in the government sector, the upper class, any corporate manager or leader - essentially anyone making more than $70,000 a year is not adversely affected by the ACA because they get to keep the insurance they already possess and maintain the hours they've always worked. It is only the poor and middle class are suffering from this backwards legislation.

The welfare system and immigrants have always been blamed for the downfall of the middle class. It has been asserted that a large percentage of their income goes toward sustaining the lives of people who, for whatever reason, cannot get their lives straightened out enough to maintain a job. Is this really a factor for the struggling middle class or could it just be propaganda pushed by our corporate and political leaders? All hell didn't break loose when millionaires were given huge tax breaks. However, when a family comes upon hard times in a tough economy and needs a little bit of help to make it through day to day life, they are viewed as worthless bums soaking up money that they didn't earn. The system established by FDR in 1935 to help the poorer people of this country is now viewed as an evil that should be eradicated. And, through the lowering of government standards, it is being slowly phased out. Thousands who were eligible for benefits as little as two years ago cannot receive them today. WWBFD? What would Ben Franklin do?

What could possibly have motivated the healthcare industry, including insurance companies, to contribute over $17 million to Obama's campaign through PACs and superPACs? Hmm...I wonder. Or, couldn't it be more obvious that there is illicit money to be made when lawyers and their firms contributed nearly $47 million to the President's campaign knowing that there is a predicted $56 billion in medical malpractice lawsuits? Who can prove otherwise that the ACA wasn't actually written by health insurance companies themselves and the corporations who support them?

The direction this country is moving in regards to wealth and social status is alarming. The philosophies of Ben Franklin are still practiced by philanthropists who, God bless their souls, are still around. But paying forward the things we all are blessed with is a value of the past and the art of philanthropy is withering on the vine. In the 21st century we only look out for ourselves and what is in our best interests. Is it too much of a stretch of the imagination to see that this country could lose over 600 years of progress by returning to the nobility/peasant social classes that existed during Richard II's reign in England? Is it already too late to reverse the damage? Can the middle class be saved?

Sources Cited

Klimaski, Joanna. "English Scholar Uncovers Real Story Behind the American Dream." (Edward Cahill).       Inside Fordham. October 15, 2012. [Retrieved electronically on March 3, 2014]



Saturday, February 22, 2014

Obamacare: The Disastrous Concluding Thoughts of a Legacy

It is now nearing the end of February and the dust is beginning to settle after the storm named Obamacare has swept through my family. I have spent a lot of time perusing newspaper articles, reading blogs, and just simply trying to keep up with the rhetoric many of the politicians behind this legislation have been spewing out to the public. It seems that after a negative issue arises from this agenda, the Obama "think tanks" try to design an explanation to view it in a positive light. As a result, it appears that the success of The Affordable Care Act is solely based on individual subjective experiences. The problem is that we all do not have good things to say about Obamacare. In fact, there are some very terrible side effects of this legislation which are significantly impacting lives. It has opened up some doors that should have been left closed, and closed other doors that should have been left open.. Who really is benefiting from this sweeping change of law?

The concept of making health insurance affordable for everyone is certainly an issue which needs to be addressed. Can we use Obamacare as a draft template to hash out a fully functional system? Perhaps we can. But the problem is the extreme partisan divide that is pushing us into becoming a fallen society. Remember the statement made by Abraham Lincoln, "A house divided against itself cannot stand"? One of the largest side effects of Obamacare is the fact that there are actually hundreds of thousands of people who will not have insurance, a consequence of its own legislation. Here in Missouri, and my wife and I are part of this group, over 400,000 people are falling into what has been coined "the gray area". We do not qualify for government subsidies because of our income and Medicaid will not be expanded. As of today Governor Jay Nixon "has accepted the Medicaid Expansion provision of the Affordable Care Act, but yet is still battling republican legislature to finalize the Expansion." They are stating that they will not pass this legislation for "fiscal and philosophical reasons". (http://medicaidexpansion.com/medicaid-expansion-missouri/) From my point of view this whole ordeal has just been a pissing contest for the republicans to get their way. And Missourians are suffering as a result. In my case I guess we get some saving grace - "You are not required to pay a penalty for not having health insurance because of your income and because the state of MO declined to expand MO HealthNet to cover individuals in your situation." (quote from Health Insurance Marketplace application December 21, 2013)

One of the biggest concerns that I have seen developing from this legislation is the promotion of unethical business practices by corporations, small businesses, and individuals. Coming from personal experience, I have noticed that general managers and small business owners are purposely cutting labor hours wherever they can in an effort to make sure certain employees do not meet the yearly 1,560 hours required by the Affordable Care Act. Why pay for an employee's insurance benefits when a corporation or business owner can simply cut enough labor hours each week and let the government foot the bill? I would suspect that there are bonuses behind these types of moves for managers because not having to pay out for an employee's insurance will save revenues and thus trickle down as an incentive. Small business owners benefit in the same way. Could we say that this legislation is undermining all the hard work Clinton did for small businesses during his presidency? Would one not agree that using this kind of tactic is an unethical way of subverting a basic necessity, that being healthcare, from an American worker just to increase profit or to fatten a salary? Could the term "thrown under the bus" apply here?

It has been a hot point topic with many writers on the reasoning the Obama administration has been using to justify workers not needing to work full time hours. This issue has become so controversial because it is a ridiculously absurd utopia that has been linked to Marxism and socialism. Nancy Pelosi made a statement which I'm sure by now everyone has heard. "Think of an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance." (Krauthammer) The administration takes it even further by stating that people need to spend more time with their families and so working less hours is a Godsend. Never mind the huge debts hanging over your head. Or the cost of living growing at an exponential rate. Oh, and let's forget about those Americans who are working many hours so that a percentage of people can choose to work less in order to pursue some blissful lifestyle on the back of some else's labor. Perhaps your home life sucks. Or you're an average American who allows your wealth to define who you are in the context of society. Maybe you really do love your job and want to work full time. Or perhaps you simply do not want the government taking away your Constitutional right to govern your own life. This list could go on and on....

Suddenly, a lot of the negative attitudes and anger that people can have toward the welfare system is now going to be aimed at the Affordable Care Act. It is the beliefs, attitudes, and values of Americans that shape the framework of this country, not tyrannical legislation. These types of legislation are passed to exercise control over the population, much like many of the government control practices we see at work in countries like Russia. Our fundamental right (and in a twisted way, government mandate) to have a basic need of health insurance was stripped from my wife and I as it has been done to hundreds of thousands of citizens. Why should we be left helpless and vulnerable because of the stroke of a politician's pen?

Works Cited


Krauthammer, Charles. "Obamacare's War on Jobs". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. February 14, 2014.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Affluenza Series, Part 1: Keeping Up With the Joneses

Although I really do not like to use Wikipedia as a reference source, I do think the definition they have listed there is said rather well. "'Keeping up with the Joneses' is an idiom in many parts of the English-speaking world referring to the comparison to one's neighbor as a benchmark for social caste or the accumulation of material goods. To fail to 'keep up with the Joneses' is perceived as demonstrating socio-economic or cultural inferiority." Cartoonist Arthur R. "Pop" Momand created a comic strip, which debuted in 1913, with the same name. I wonder if "Pop" would be surprised that his concept is still flourishing over 100 years later. In the 21st century, though, his concept has evolved into an illness which John de Graaf calls "affluenza". This condition has grown into an aggressive addiction and a subsequent disease that is treatable. It carries symptoms just like influenza and it definitely has horrible side effects, much like you might hear during a pharmaceutical commercial. I would assert further that the side effects can be worse than the disease.

All of us are looking to fill and fulfill something within ourselves where we can be truly happy at all times and in all ways. I think it is simply an innate desire placed within us by God to compel us to seek Him. In the development of our youth we are impressed with what our parents teach us, what we learn in school, the growth of our social lives, and the influence of outside sources like televison, radio, or the internet. All of these factors come together to shape us into the humans we are today.

Your values are the guidelines that set the standards for how will you will live your life. The Bible teaches us to treat other people the way we want to be treated. This is a strong message that my wife and I try hard to impress upon our children and it can be very challenging at times because they do forget this rule and act out of their own self interests. Herein lies one of the biggest issues with affluenza. Our society teaches us that material gain is everything and that it should be achieved at any cost. If you need to use people to achieve your end, do so. If you need to resort to dishonest ways, take them. If you need to "borrow" money to purchase that item to ensure that you appear wealthy to your "peers", buy it. Affluenza has a strange way of making you forget about the welfare of your fellow human being and yourself, for that matter, and keeps you focused strictly on the present moment. There really is no long-term plausible vision associated with "keeping up with the Joneses".                                   

Affluenza has exponentially mutated into an epidemic with the rapid growth of technology. In our quest to experience huge economic growth and change, we have begun to sacrifice the really important things in life. Edward Luttwak, a former Reagan administration official now with the Center for International and Strategic Studies, sums this up with his concept of "Turbo-Capitalism". "The contradiction between wanting rapid economic growth and dynamic economic change and at the same time wanting family values, community values, and stability is a contradiction so huge that it can only last because of an aggressive refusal to think about it." (Affluenza, 49-50)  Simply take a look around you when you are in public, at work, on the playground with your children, and even driving down the road. 

People are so absorbed in their phones, ipads, tablets or whatever their technology of choice that many times we are oblivious to our surroundings and the fact that there are living, breathing people we could communicate with face to face. However, we would prefer to tag them on Facebook and then snap a smiling "selfie" followed up with a fictitious "status" to try and convince your 1600 "friends" that your having an awesome time and "aren't you just jelly, lol?" 

There used to be a time when everyone sat around the dinner table, the family would gather in one room to talk or read together. The result was a strong connection to what was going on with each member's life coinciding with a strong nurturing of family values. Now a typical home might have dad in his study on the computer, the kids zoned out shooting Arab rebels on "Call of Duty", and mom with her faced pressed into her Kindle Fire, reading about a reality she wishes was her own. Are we really better off this way? Will there ever come a time when we will snap out of our material haze?

I will be continuing this series by revealing many of the symptoms of affluenza and then providing shocking details of their side effects. I hope in some way that I may be able to do my part to open the eyes of the American consumer to see how horribly damaging this epidemic has become in the 21st century.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Affluenza, n. a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.

John de Graaf first developed this concept in 1996 when he produced a documentary on PBS with the aid of ViVia Boe, a fellow producer. They had recorded most of the material, but still hadn't created a cohesive concept to tie together the ideas they had compiled on this subject. In a passing article, John found it, affluenza. It became the "single word that not only would make a catchy (pun intended) TV title, but suggested a disease resulting from overconsumption." (Affluenza, preface) The term fits perfectly.

The concept of affluenza has been one which has been developing in society since the 1960's. Prior to 1960, Americans were generally content with their lifestyles, the unity of family and community, and the open pursuit of their faith and its ethical foundations within individual citizens and the groups they affiliated themselves with on a daily basis. However, the uncontrollable passion of "keeping up with the Joneses" began to set itself as the coveted norm amongst nearly everyone in America.

Over the past 50 years, the mass production of goods and services has fueled the dogged pursuit of the "American Dream".  Now everyone can own the trendiest vehicle or wear the most popular clothing  -contingent, of course, on the fact that you have enough money to do so. Well, no problem. Beginning in the 1980's, credit has been stretched out and given to pretty much anyone who asks. Herein lies the fundamental problem to the affluenza illness - living outside of one's means.

Reading through John's book has revealed a huge amount of material for consideration. I have decided, since this issue is of great interest to me, to begin writing a series of blogs about Mr. de Graaf's concept and the myriad of ideas affiliated with affluenza. It may well be a lengthy series, but I promise to bring some very interesting and many times alarming concepts to light. The American people need to snap out of their material daze. It is destroying them and their families. It is eating them alive very much like a cancer. And yes, it has all the traits of influenza. I leave you for now with this thought:

     "[Affluenza is] rooted in the idea that every generation will be materially wealthier than its predecessor, and that somehow, each of us can pursue that single-minded end without damaging the countless other things we hold dear." (Affluenza, pg. 3)