National Debt? What National Debt?

If you’ve been watching the national news much lately you’ll wonder what ever happened to all the concern about the national debt and the massive budget deficits planned for the next decade.   On the up side however you will be quite an expert in addressing issues relating to repairs to the late Michael Jackson’s nose.  But I digress….

Hey, maybe we solved the debt and deficit spending problems?   Oh.  No.  We.  Didn’t.    We owe 11.5 Trillion and it’s rising faster than an inconveniently untrue  misinterpretation of a globally warmed sea level on a Florida shoreline.   Although it’s true that most economists from most sides felt a stimulus was important, and in fact it appears that has stemmed the tide of a financial death spiral, I think most would agree that as the recovery starts to take shape we need to look long and hard at how much we spend.   The *key cut* is obvious and it is the defense budget, but the legions of fake conservatives (often aka “Loyal Republicans”) who carp about a few million wasted here or there refuse to tackle the defense budget, blinded by an absolutely incomprehensible lack of understanding of basic global strategics which have shown throughout history that seeking massive military superiority has little or no justification.   From the Ming Dynasty’s Great Wall of China to the Viet Nam to Iraq,  “defense” become “offense” and results in massive spending with hugely negative ROI and often just exaggerated the unstable conditions you sought to avoid  (e.g. Afghanistan, Middle East).

Incredibly, the concern about the debt has flipped to paying an extraordinary amount of attention to fixing the problems we don’t have anymore.     Obama was explaining to a crowd yesterday all the things the government is doing now to prevent the financial troubles *we do not have anymore*.     Overvalued real estate?    That ship sailed and sunk.    We are probably near the bottom now, things seem to be picking up a bit, so lets move on.   Financial system?   It’s not in great shape but the catastrophe appears to have been averted.

Yes we need oversight but not a huge bureaucratic encumbrances many Democrats are calling for now- ironically many like Barney Frank who are squarely at fault in this crisis for the crappiest era of congressional oversight in the history of the country.    The system failed to address the risk factors properly for reasons that are slowly becoming clearer – a combination of corporate greed and incentives run amock, defective ideas about how huge economies work, terrible government mismanagement of the regulatory systems, and I think by far and MOST IMPORTANTLY people using their homes as piggy banks, raiding their paper equity from stocks and Real Estate to live at inappropriately high standards, work less, retire too early, buy boats, speculate in MORE stocks and real estate, etc, etc.

We all made this bed  and now we are sleeping in it.   YES, even those of us who did NOT mismanage our finances were involved unless they lived alone on an island and didn’t do any investing, borrowing, or buying during the bubble.

The economy has been reset at a lower, more appropriate levels given all the prevailing circumstances.   Welcome to how economies *really work* and why the risky investments of the bubble were … risky.     But those aren’t the investments people are making now that will put them at risk.    New crops of scams are brewing as we speak and more importantly the debt on our backs is weighing down the future prospects *for our children*.   The massive debt is unconscionable yet we are fretting over things that will have relatively trivial impacts compared to that debt.    The country is acting a lot like the most irresponsible among us during the bubble who simply borrowed and borrowed and spent and spent and now are so far underwater in debt they have *no prospect* of paying things back.

Here’s a site with great debt detail:

Oh, and if you want to get in your two cents and make a $.02 contribution to reduce our national debt there’s a place for that too, it is called “Dept G” in West Virginia.

The cool thing would be that if your $.02  reduced the 11,500,000,000,000.00 to 11,499,999,999,999.98   you would have changed a whole lot of numbers for a buck.     Printing costs alone would more than wash it away though, and you’d have kept the spiral going.   But that’s OK becuase that is how we roll now here in America – we spend like there is no tomorrow.   And then we spend the money that was supposed to be for tomorrow.   And when the spending gets out of hand we …. spend much, much more.

Beijing Meridian Gate, Forbidden City Entrance

Meridian Gate, Forbidden City Entrance

Originally uploaded by JoeDuck

Wikipedia History

Meridian Gate guards the Forbidden City and is directly across from Tianenmen Square in the heard of Beijing. Although the gate offers a great view of the square, I’d recommend you go on in to the Forbidden City since packs are not allowed on the gate and it’ll take you some time to check bag, tour the gate, and uncheck your bag.

Gutenberg + 550 years = Our ADDd Internet

John Naughton, writing in the Guardian, has a nice piece about the reading revolution inspired by Gutenberg and the uncertain future of our online equivalents to the books we have held dear for several centuries. 

Studies are noting how fleeting our attention has become, especially in our young folks.   In terms of “total enlightenment” I actually favor the quick skim to the in-depth read because I believe retention is better for the short bits of information as well as better for the “key concepts” that you get quickly from surfing on a topic.  

Thus if I read a carefully crafted work I’ll be moderately informed but then lose most of the information over the years, where if I jump around to 20 sources I’ll be similarly well-informed but will retain it better.

All that said, I’d agree with internet critics who suggest we may be losing our ability – to the extent it was ever there – to quietly and deeply reflect on topics.    Also I’d agree we don’t know the consequences of this shift, though from the national dialog about politics, religion, and other things I’d say we aren’t really falling back or making much progress.   We are a modestly contemplative primate, and we can’t escape that fate regardless of how we input the information.

Flickr and Library of Congress – the Founders would be pleased

Yahoo’s Flickr is teaming up with the Library of Congress to bring a lot more public photos to light, and perhaps as importantly use community comments to help categorize the pictures.    The US Government has an almost incomprehensible amount of information in various places and formats, and we need to applaud all efforts to get that data online for all to experience or use in research.

Matt at the Library’s blog says the project hopes to:  

… ensure better and better access to our collections, and how to ensure that we have the best possible information about those collections for the benefit of researchers and posterity.

Great work!     In a decade or so one can imagine that the web will be a respository for hundreds of billions of photos covering most of the earth, and tagged with data to help identify even many historical and geographic nuances that can only be understood through community input.    Will this bring world peace?  Nope, but it’ll be cool.

Big Ben, London, UK

I was browsing some pix from my 2003 trip to England and France and thought this one was cool. We only spent a *single* day in London but made the best of our 11 hours there by hopping on and off tour busses and tearing around taking hundreds of pictures. Even though we spent about a week in Paris I think I remember more from the London visit partly because Paris was relaxed and London was intense and “goal oriented”. Can’t wait to go back and take more time to relax and visit the British Museum. I think my highlight of London was Westminster Abbey, that magnificent and fantastic bastion of modern English speaking culture and history.

Big Ben, London, UK

Originally uploaded by JoeDuck.

Here’s more about England Travel 

The Mind of the Machine … is you?

I think I like Kurzweil’s optimistic AI scenarios more than this version of reality
that posits we are all computer simulations run by a more advanced intellect which itself may be a computer simulation.

This sounds fanciful, but I’d suggest that this type of philosophical speculation is a lot more pragmatic and reasonable than the Jean Paul Sartre silliness I studied in Philosophy classes back in the 1980’s.

Kurzweil’s very reasonable suggestion is that we’ll soon have conscious, very intelligent computers. He also suggests that these machines will quickly lead to a sort of cosmic explosion of intellect that would easily be capable of massive “simulations” of intelligent life. What if this already has happened? One thing that bugs me about Kurzweil’s ideas is that it seems totally unreasonable to suggest that our feeble earth / human technologies will be the first to make this jump to massive cosmic intelligence. The idea that we’d be the first to do this seems very unreasonable to me given the age of the universe. Our universe has been around for about 15 billion years and we are not all that amazing. I’d think many intelligent creatures would have come around by now. If Kurzweil is right it seems at least a few of these would have made the leap to the singularity-style intellects.

How to reconcile these things? My gut feeling is that we really are physical, evolutionarily designed, meat and potato biological beings who have a capacity to think and reflect that is a product of the massive processing power of the bunches of neocortical columns and synaptic firing that goes on in our brains. Kurzweil is right about the rise of intelligent machines – coming soon to a virtual theater near all of us – but he’s wrong about the exploding cosmic intellect. There will be limitations – probably based on physical laws of our universe relating to speed of light and other constraints – that will prevent us from becoming “too big”. This explains why we’ve (probably) had no contact with other intelligent beings – we are just too far away and unfortunately we live at the edge of our galaxy where presumably a lot fewer intelligences exist than nearer the center.

Gettysburg, PA Dobbin House

Dobbin House

Originally uploaded by JoeDuck.
Gettysburg PA.

Now this town really knows how to do tourism. Sure there are a lot of silly tours and silly shops (Battleground Fries?) but the town is clean, pretty, historically fascinating.

We had a great lunch at Dobbin House Tavern. Built in 1776. Underground Railroad slave hideaway in 1800’s. Candlelit tavern feel with waiters in period dress. Good Sandwiches and a great little history primer menu – I love those! Prices about the same as Dennys.

Our spotless $49 per night (coupon book rate) Days Inn with hot waffles for breakfast remains a trip highlight. One more night in New Jersey and I think the kids would have run away for good.

The National Historic Park has an excellent self guided auto tour (free) and had a superb introduction to the battleground and strategies of the 3 day Battle of Gettysburg on a very large map with little lights that you sit around in a small square amphitheatre. Well worth the $4 and one of the few things I remember from my last trip here about 32 years ago. They are getting rid of it to install new media and touchscreens in a fancy new visitor center next year. I almost felt guilty being a touchscreen guy because this was cheap, effective, educational, great technology.

[where: 17325]

Betsy Ross House Performance, Philadelphia

Betsy Ross House Performance

Originally uploaded by JoeDuck.

Here in Philadelphia’s historic district many of the buildings offer historical tours and insights.   Here at Betsy Ross’s actors from “Once Upon a Nation” talk about women and the Revolution.     I’ve really been impressed with the quality of some of the interpreters here who make you feel like you really are stepping back in time.

I’m glad to see this approach is becoming a popular way to teach people history. National Park Service ranger guides are usually professional but lack the clothing and often that spark of historical enthusiasm that makes the enactment interpretations so effective.