Monday, August 27, 2012

August 2012: Elections upon Us

I am new to Facebook.  I am still learning the subtleties of the popular social network.  Why I was so late in coming to Facebook will be the topic for another blog entry.  A Facebook message did however provide the topic for this letter.
I received a message from a dear old friend.  It was simple and pointed, "Mark, honestly, you support Mitt the twit."  Wow... the conventions have not even happened yet.  I have not actually decided who I was going to vote for and I am already taking grief.
This is exactly the kind of banter and criticism that inspired me to write STFU! in January of 2011.  My poor friend is probably still wondering why my response was so hostile to her little “Mitt the Twit” jab.  An apology is probably in order.
I do not mind discussions.  I think debates are healthy.  It just really ticks me off when an opening salutation, or should I say salvo, is a something akin to “you are a moron for supporting…” fill in the blank. 
To me there is not much debate in the election thus far.  People are not weighing the candidates and whatever platform they are actually committing to.  Most people that say anything about the election have already taken the standard of one candidate and consider the other the personification of evil.  I have an open and meaningful discussion with just three people who are also undecided.  It felt good to discussion the state of the country and the merits of each candidate without any hyperbole and personal attacks.  It was civilized and good even if we did not agree.
The Facebook message was prompted because I actually follow Mitt Romney.  Honestly, I do not remember inviting him or being invited by him.  Nevertheless, his postings now appear in my news feed or wall or whatever it is called.  It should be noted that I also follow Barack Obama on twitter.  Neither of the candidates impress me and neither of social networking is having any impact on what I think about them.  If anything the social networking of both candidates makes me think less of them.  Furthermore, neither of the political parties impress me.  One exception to this is that I do like our congressman Robert Dold.   I have met and talked to him.  I appreciate his candor and opinions.  He happens to be a Republican. 
Yes, I did just write that.  Yes, I follow Barak Obama on Twitter.  I hope people do not take me to task for this. More people in my circle of friends and acquaintances will come after me on this than the few barbs I have gotten for following Romney on Facebook.   By taking me to task, I mean they are aghast, offended, and take it personally (maybe even anti-personally).  They are always bringing up things like socialism, Obama-care, his citizenship, my intelligence or lack thereof, bail-outs, jobs, taxes, aliens (I am assuming the earthly variety).
Why do people comment on who I voted for, which candidate I am following on Twitter, and which candidate I friended on Facebook?  People that comment favor one candidate over the other axiomatically and emphatically.  They are either liberal and support Obama or they are conservative and support Romney.  I am still pondering and trying to decide who to actually vote for and folks are already starting to chastise me based solely on whom they assume I am voting for
Does my not agreeing with them weaken their position that much?
I tend to ask myself the question from the George W. Bush versus Bill Clinton election:  Am I better off now than I was four years ago?  Asking this question made me vote for Barack Obama in the last election.  It may well make me vote against him this time around.  I am not sure if this is a good strategy or rational decision making methodology. 
Nevertheless it is a methodology.  I am not simply following my demographic as many I know do and as many assume that I do.
 I see a lot of anti-Obama sentiment.  The people that I know that are against Obama are very intense in their feelings.  They believe his policies are socialist and are ruining the country as witnessed in Soviet area style illustration.  They are vehemently against his healthcare initiative.  Most of them that read this paragraph will undoubtedly feel the need to sermonize further with even greater fervor.  The furor and fervor will probably be in my general direction.  I suppose I can make it easy for them by just having them reading the last sentence three paragraphs up in their own tone of righteous indignation.  The only thing I really must insist upon is that they please make it brief.
If saying nothing in the previous paragraph makes anti-Obama folks agitated, wait until they read the two points here.  First, Obama took over in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.  He and his team did what they had to avert having just a Great Recession instead of a depression that might have dwarfed the 1929 one.  Obama's socialist policies saved General Motors, one of the great icons of American capitalism.  Second, he is offering healthcare to a growing proportion of our people inadequate healthcare or no healthcare at all.  How many of these people are voting for Romney or voting against Obama?  Is he destined to be the Jimmy Carter of our era... albeit without an entertaining brother?
Am I talking myself into voting for Obama again? I am not really sure.  I keep asking if I am better off now than I was four years ago.  The answer is a clear NO.  Whose fault is that?  Obama's or mine?  Gee... I do not like the answer to that question either. 
This means that I not only do not hate Obama, but I give him credit where credit is due.  (Did you just feel the blood pressure of the anti-Obama crowd just go up?)  He is due some credit and the respect of the office he holds.  I really believe that we need to give the respect of the president we collectively elected even if individually we did not vote for him.  Is he the right man to lead our country to where we need to be in five or ten years?  Almost no one even asks this question in a meaningful open minded way.  Is Romney that man?
With Romney picking Paul Ryan as his running mate, the anti-Romney venom has been raised a few notches.  Ryan is being portrayed as a right wing nut case.  He seemed to make a choice that really solidifies the polarization I am writing about here.  Choosing Paul Ryan confirms to his opposition that Romney is just a rich guy who wants to help other rich people keep their money and keep down the rest of the folk. 
Romney understands business.  He is a very successful and smart business man that has moved into public service.  Why?  If Mitt Romney was only interested in money, in wealth, he would have stayed on the corporate side of things and grown his fortunes faster.  Why then is he viewed as a fat cat?  Did he enter politics to get richer?  Probably not.  Is he doing it for power?  I imagine anyone running for President of the United States is probably doing it in some part for power.  I have to believe he wants to influence the future of this country.  He believes that his business experience and acumen may be what this country needs to implement policies that will generate new jobs.
We need to create an environment where entrepreneurs like Romney can take the risk and ply their energies to create new businesses in this country.  It seems Romney is more likely to be able to do this than Obama.
What else do I like about Romney?  What else might actually tick off all in supporters of Obama?  I am impressed that as a Republican that he actually got elected governor of Massachusetts.  That is an amazing feat.  Whether either extreme likes it or not, he championed an Obama-care like health care system in Massachusetts.  That is impressive and the kind of centrist thinking that I like.
He picked Ryan to placate the extreme views of his party.  This impresses me less but it is the kind of chess move that is often necessary in politics.  I do like that it is the first presidential ticket without a protestant.  Romney is Mormon and Ryan is a Catholic.  While this is notable, historically, the country has changed so much in my lifetime that it is really a big ho-hummer at this point.
I did get a chuckle out of the comparison of Mitt and Paul to Herman and Eddie that popped up on the internet seconds after Ryan was chosen as Romney’s running mate.
 What I really do not like is people giving me grief for any this.  I am a moron if I vote for Romney.  I am a lunatic if I vote for Obama. Really?  Give me a break for not jumping to a polarized position others want me to have.  Excuse me for seriously considering my minimal right to choose who to vote for.
I have had some great discussions with people that are not emotional about one candidate or the other.  We actually want to know what the other thinks. What is it about Obama and Romney that we like?  What is about them that we do not like?  And in both cases, why?  Neither is as good as their supporters believe and neither is as bad as their detractors think.  This might make me wishy-washy.  Maybe it makes me thoughtful.  It matters not.  I will make a decision and vote on Election Day. 
My maternal grandfather Levon was a simple and humble man.  He was born in the 1890s in Shabin-karahisar in what was then the Ottoman Empire and today is Turkey.  He survived the deportations and genocide.  With his cousin, they made their way to the United States and settled in Detroit getting jobs in the foundry at Ford Motor Company.  He could speak a little English but I am not sure how much he could read.   I know he could sign his name in English but probably could not write much more.  He would read the Armenian Daily newspaper.  I can still hear him whispering the words as he read. 
I remember well into his senility, I believe during the 1968 presidential election, I had collected bumper stickers and buttons from both candidates.  He was watching me show these to my mother and grandmother.  He knew these were election items and he surprised all of us by blurting out, "Dewey Dewey go to hell, Truman Truman ring da bell" and he laughed.  I assumed that the UAW taught him and other workers that slogan.  To me, too many people are simply chanting a 2012 version of this old UAW slogan. 
OK, I am not so naïve to believe that this election is so unique.  Nixon polarized people as did Clinton.  People either adored or hated these men as candidates and then as presidents.  People that were anti-Nixon or anti-Clinton could not fathom how anyone could be so naïve or ignorant enough to vote for them.  There is a general dynamic in the very nature of elections that is polarizing.  The Johnson – Goldwater election was particularly venomous.  I suppose my polarization is taking is coming from a different angle.  I am just tired of the hyperbole and dramatic rhetoric.
I had exchanged emails just this week with my very smart cousin David.  I truly believe he is smart though I have to admit that part of this belief has is based on the fact that we often agree on things.  He like me is a fiscal conservative and a social moderate.  His last email was to inquire if I had finished my monthly letter.  I wrote and told him it was in the works.  I also communicated the topic of the letter.  He immediately wrote back and provided the perfect closing for this letter:

I've actually decided to disengage to a dramatic extent from the whole political scene (but specifically the presidential race) due to all the lies and obfuscation emanating from each side.  At first I was frustrated, then angry and now sick to my stomach.  ENOUGH!

Thanks David, this sums it quite nicely for me!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Premonition or Chance?

For some reason lately, I have been thinking about the great Japanese engineer and quality improvement expert Genichi Taguchi.  I have been thinking about him a lot more than usual.  I have met the man a few times back in the 1980s when he was a significant and influential advisor to the auto industry.  I have been thinking about his work and especially a measure that he touted, the signal-to-noise ratio, which is the ratio of the mean to the standard deviation.   Taguchi used the signal-to-noise ratio to allow designed of experiments to evaluate multiple response variables as one. 
Rest easy, this piece is not a feeble attempt to explain the signal-to-noise ratio to those of you that don't give a whit about it.
In thinking about the Taguchi, I wondered if he was still with us.  I thought he had passed on several years ago.  So, I did what I do these days when the slightest notion or query about any old thing pops into my head... I googled his name.  I was surprised to learn that he passed away on June 2nd of this year.  He was 88 years old.  I was at some of his first lectures at Ford Motor Company.  I was selected by my section supervisor to attend these lectures for two reasons.  First, I was a math major.  Second, he had to send someone and I was the only person who showed any interest.  Honestly, I did not understand very much in those first lectures do to a combination of Dr. Taguchi's very thick accent and the, at that time, very confusing nature of the subject. 
I will still write about the signal-to-noise ratio.  I will post it on my business blog:  The reason I am blogging about this here is that this thinking about the great man only to find that he had recently passed away made me think of the subconscious, of serendipity, of being psychic, and of having premonitions.  I am not saying that I possess any of these traits or skills.  I am not even suggesting that I was somehow channeling the passing of Dr. Taguchi two and a half months after he actually passed on.  I am not sure I believe in any of these things.  By the same token, the compliment of that last sentence is that I might believe in these things.  I do believe there is a non-zero probability that premonitions or whatever you want to call them happen.  Just don't ask me for what that probability is.
Part of not being firmly on one side or the other is that there no definitive data one way or another.  Another part is that I am a statistician. Statisticians tend to see things in more shade of gray than normal, regular, folk.  We may view life in more shades of gray than even Ruta Sepetys.  This whole question of being psychic and having premonitions is definitely gray.  I know people who will read this and write me that premonitions and other psychic phenomena are very real.  I would be much more inclined to believe them if they ESPed me.  Certainly, there are others who will discount me for even suggesting any of this might actually be real. 
What is a premonition?  We all have them.  The most common is that we are thinking of an old friend or acquaintance and they call that day or the next.  It is serendipitous enough that our first words are something akin to "oh my God, I was just thinking about you, honest."  How often does this happen?  If you know three hundred people that you are in touch with at least once every year or so and you think about them at least twice that much, what is the probability that you think of them the same day that they call?  What is the probability distribution for this happening in general?  What level of probability would constitute something extraordinary is happening?  I am sure there are people who have actually estimated such things.  I might actually do some research or even attempt some calculations for a second installment on this topic. 
For me, if there is such a thing, it would be about people communicating with each other subconsciously in such a subtle way that it would be easy to assume it was just chance.  If we could really sense things or the actions of others, it might be possible to sense things that we could use for our personal advantage.  If this is remotely true, than those with that gift are a very closed mouthed group.  Thinking about an old friend and then having them call is one thing, being able to sense that Warren Buffet is about to make a huge investment is entirely different.  Maybe you have to know and be connected with the other person for this to actually work. 
I do not think these premonitions happen to me any more than they do for anyone else.  But that is more hunch than fact.  How would one go about even measuring this.  I could write down every time I think of someone and than note if they called.  This would work, but I am pretty certain I would not even last a day at this exercise.  I would get bored quickly with such a tedious task.
To close this, let's conduct a little experiment shall we.  I am thinking of one of you that might possible read this.  If we are indeed channeling or whatever we might call it, I will expect a communication from you via that mode I am thinking about on the day that I am thinking about.  If that happens, I will not be surprised and say "Oh my, you won't believe this, I was just thinking about you."

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Talented Vampire Reality Shows

Lately, this month and last, I have written about what I have watched on TV:  My July 2012 Letter, The Stupider the Betterer, and The Black Spot.  Continuing on with that theme, in reverse, allow me to expound on what I do not watch.  There are three things I do not watch.  I do not watch reality shows.  I do not watch the modern versions of talent shows.  Lastly, I totally do not watch nor do I understand the popularity of anything having to do with vampires. 
I did try to watch a reality show a few times.  Frankly, I found it boring.  I could not watch the petty and idiotic comings and goings of another family simply because they are celebrities.  I generally pay attention to what I see about me and therefore get large doses of reality from my own family, friends, and random people I see in public places.  I would rather sit in a mall and watch people come and go.  I would rather sit in a Starbucks, like I am now, sipping coffee, typing this drivel, and listening to other peoples' conversations in the background.   Real life is fascinating enough.  These interactions are not anymore intriguing just because the principals’ last names happen to be Kardashian or Osborne.  I will lump in all of those bachelor, bachelorette, you're fired, and survival shows into this category:  boring.
The last talent show I watched with any regularity and interest was The Gong Show.  That was back in the late 1970s.  I loved that show because the talent was so awful it was entertaining.  That show definitely met one of my criteria for must see television:  the stupider the betterer.  The Gong Show was definitely stupider and therefore, to me, infinitely betterer.  I loved it except the every once in a while when they actually had someone with talent as a contestant.  I never understood how and why they got people to agree to be on the show.  I loved it when the judges and the host, Chuck Berris, were so flabbergasted by contestants horrible performance that they were laughing so hard that they couldn't speak.  I know that Dancing with the Stars and American Idol are immensely popular.  They may not be as popular today, but in their heyday, people were talking about them all the time and were passionate about who should have won.  I tried to get into them as my daughter and wife would sometimes watch them.  I even tried to watch these shows with them.  I simply could not get into them and consequently left the room in search of another TV where I could control the remote.  I tried but just could not get engaged in these shows.  
As for vampires, I am completely baffled here.  I could see a surge in popularity for a brief period as is the recent flurry of penguin movies.  Vampires, in books, movies, and television series, seems to have a run of several decades.  Why?  I do not know?  People keep buying in and watching.  That is the bottom line.
Certainly, there is a fascination with the undead.  We all want to live forever and being vampire is way to do that.  There are a few trade-offs like the pasty complexion and the inability tolerate even a speck of sunlight.  (I am sorry for being old school here but whatever justification today's movies and TV shows use to allow vampires to walk around in broad daylight is...  well... nonsense.  I am not buying into any of that.)  Besides eternal life, vampires have a sexy or erotic component to them.  Sucking blood is very close to passionately kissing another's neck.  The reaction of the victim is basically to swoon.  I get this.  I realized this back in the days when I watched Bela Lugosi movies on one of those shows with the tacky host.  In my case I believe it was Dr. Graves Ghastly in Detroit.  
Frankenstein comes and goes.  There have been a series of Alien movies.  Even though I cannot get enough of Mothra, this creature has never caught on with the general public.  Sony Pictures tried to resurrect Godzilla and had a story line that opened the door for sequels.  It just did not connect.  Vampires?  This is a genre with unbelievable staying power.  Vampires adapt with the times.  There are serious vampire dramas and hilarious comedies and parodies.  Vampires can be sophisticated or ultra-cool to being vicious predators.  Theoretically, vampires should take over the world.  They, taking away the sunlight thing and stakes through the heart, can live forever given an ample supply of blood.  Everyone they bite turns into a vampire.  Actually, they should rapidly convert the entire population to vampires and then die out because they consumed all the living blood supply.
Hey Hollywood, this is an idea for yet another vampire saga.  Consider doing a parody of a reality show involving a group of vampires and how they will survive given that the number of humans, and hence, the food supply is disappearing.  We could call it Soylent Red:  The Vampire Saga. 
Not surprisingly the producers and network executives get plenty of viewers and ratings for the genres expressed in this posting.  The fact that I do not watch them is not relevant.  They simply do not need me and will continue to produce and market shows in these categories until the market wanes.  Thankfully, I get hundreds of channels and have plenty of on-demand choices.  That is my television reality.  I do believe football season is upon us... yeah baby, that's what I'm talking about.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Black Spot

The Black Spot
It was a long day.  It is still not over.  It is 11:43 pm and I have a whole to-do list of items remaining.  I will, however, just finish this bit of writing and go to bed. Depending on what I am writing and my mood, I will either sit in my office and write or, when the topic is lighter, sit in front of the TV and multi-task.  I had no idea what to write about so I sat in front of the TV and surfed that channels as any good man would do when his mind is a blank.
When I got to Turner Classic Movies, they were just beginning the 1934 Jackie Cooper and Wallace Beery classic: Treasure Island.  It is early on in the movie, my favorite part where the captain, Billy Bones, is given the black spot by Pew who says "there that's done, that's done."  I have always been fascinated by the black spot and how it brought Billy Bones "the captain" to his demise without Pew, Black Dog, and the other bad sorts even laying a finger on him.  I have seen this movie like hundreds of times and it was not until tonight, just now, that I realized that Lionel Barrymore played Billy Bones.  It was a shame that he only was in the first few minutes of the movie.  This explains why I have been so fascinated with that character and, because of his reaction to it, the black spot.  
Barrrymore as Billy Bones
When I was at Ford Motor, I met my good friend RK Jones.  We became great friends and talked about all kinds of things.  Somehow, this movie came up, most likely because one of us mentioned seeing it over the weekend and the other said “so did I.”  Naturally, we discussed it.  I am pretty sure I asked “what is with the black spot?”  Naturally, we discussed that but we really didn’t know what was really with the black spot.  Basically being adult boys at heart,  RK and I used to pass the black spot to each other now and again.  He did the best coming up to me and putting a crumpled piece of paper in my hand and saying “there that’s done” in a voice better than old Pew himself.
The internet informs me that the black spot is a literary device invented by Robert Louis Stevenson.  Stevensonian pirates used this to inform one of their own that they were judged guilty for some such transaction.  The accompanying penalty was usually death.  The black spot was just a black spot, an ink splot, on small piece of white paper.  It was thrust into the hand of the poor soul who had been judged and sentenced.  I was a little disappointed to find out that real pirates did not use this method of... communication.
It is after midnight and I am still at this.   Long John Silver has entered the picture and has gotten all his henchmen signed on as the crew of the Hispaniola.  They are ready to set sail for the adventures of their lives.
When I was younger, I thought Robert Louis Stevenson was probably the greatest writer ever.  Between this tale and Kidnapped, I was amazed and intrigued by the entertaining and engaging intricacies of the plot.  The wonders of the internet led me  to where I learned that Stevenson was a Scotsman born in Edinburgh in 1850 and died in Samoa in 1894 at the young age of 44.  I had somehow assumed that he lived a century or two earlier.  He wrote thirty-nine books mostly novels along with poems, travelogues, and plays.  I had assumed that I only knew Treasure Island and Kidnapped but he also wrote Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
In the writing of this little bit, the ship has reached the island where Flint's treasure is buried.  The pirates have shown their hand and taken the ship.  I will watch the rest in my dreams.  Good night.