My parents rock.

Here below is an excerpt from a recent news publication:

“Miss Porter’s School, a college preparatory school for girls established in 1843 and located in Farmington, Connecticut, is about to become the new home for a large work of art by famed sculptor Andrew DeVries: Calliope (1¼ life-size torso; see photo).
Harold and Julie de Wolff commissioned Calliope in 1998 for their home in Portugal. Some time ago, they decided to return to the United States and began downsizing for their retirement years. They have generously arranged to donate Calliope to Miss Porter’s School to honor her family members who were graduates of the school (the first was in 1875, Julie graduated from there in 1953).”

Graduates of Miss Porter’s have gone on to prove the inescapable truth that well-educated women in leadership roles are just as capable and accomplished as their male counterparts (and, in many cases, better). I pray that, by the time my daughter grows up, the only differences between the sexes will be those worthy of mutual celebration.

The beauty of this work is unquestionable. So is the fact that the absence of a head and arms, while reminiscent of many antiquities damaged over the course of time, also elicits in me a strong desire to know more about the face, head and mind that is not seen; to learn of what those invisible hands may be capable. The strong chin that is visible suggests a proud and visionary woman, and my imagination will imbue her with far more worthy grace and strength than bronze may ever capture. This is not a static work of objectification, but a question posed in metal. I look forward to the challenge and invitation it presents to the generations of women (and men) who will pass it by.

Read more about Miss Porter’s School history

here

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Read more about the muse, Calliope,

here

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Today was election day in Burbank, California. I walked in to my Polling Station, and was – as usual – crushed in the sweaty masses of nobody who had bothered to come vote. According to the volunteers manning the station, only 15% of residents were registered voters, and less than half had so far turned up (with less than 2 hours before the polls closed). Assuming the final tally might be an ambitious 10% voter turnout, that means my lone vote in a city of just over 100,000 represents 1,000 statistical ballots. When you consider that my wife and two neighboring families do me the honor of trusting my research at each election, and generally vote as I recommend, this means that my voting behavior accounts for a representative voting bloc of 6,000. I should be thrilled at the power I wield, but instead find myself dismayed – once again – at how lethargic and uninvolved Americans are in the process of influencing the communities in which they live.

Elections in the United States of America are like an Annual KKK Minority Recruitment Drive: sparsely attended. Yet most voters do not stay away out of fear or strong disagreement with the values of the candidates. I would understand the current pitiful voter turnout statistics a little more if they were a reflection of citizens driven by a fervent compulsion not to vote. I don’t believe, however, that laziness can be defined as a “fervent compulsion”. A nation with ample time to build Pinterest boards, post photos of food on Twitter, spend hours watching reality TV, and lurk randomly about the Facebook universe has no excuse for not taking the 10-30 minutes it takes to vote (unless, admittedly, you live somewhere like Florida).

I honestly have no data-driven knowledge as to why the USA posts such shameful voter turnout figures: at the Federal, State, and Municipal level. I leave it to others to hypothesize on that matter. If I had my druthers, I would follow Australia’s example, and make voting an obligation of citizenry. It’s a small price to pay, to ensure that our elected officials and proposed programs are elevated or obliterated by a truly representative bloc of the citizens they affect.

In the meantime, I continue to vote…for two reasons. First, I see it as my right and obligation. If I want to participate in this program called citizenship, I must be engaged in the process that governs and guides it. Second, I don’t ever want to be one of those people who complains about “the System”, only to be reminded that I abdicated my right to complain, each time I opted to stay home and watch the latest episode of [insert one of many possible examples of mind-numbing TV drivel], instead of taking the short walk or bicycle ride to my local polling booth.

Everything I’ve voted for in the past six Burbank elections has come to be. That’s how powerful I am with my thousands and thousands of virtual votes. So why do I feel so utterly powerless, as our political system continues to demonstrate a lack of maturity, leadership, gravitas, and vision for which I never voted? When our elected officials represent only 10% of us, they are rarely going to feel empowered to demonstrate the type of leadership we need. No matter what measures, programs, resolutions, or politicians I select, when I enter the polling booth, if I remain in the minority, these issues and figures will do just as the majority of their constituents…in this case, little to nothing.

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Remember when grandparents and great-grandparents said that they only had an 8th grade education? Well, this is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina, Kansas, USA . It was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, and reprinted by the Salina Journal.

8th Grade Final Exam: Salina, KS – 1895

Grammar (Time, one hour)

1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph
4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of 'lie, ''play,' and 'run.'
5. Define case; illustrate each case.
6. What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
7 - 10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time,1 hour 15 minutes)

1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. Deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. Wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts/bushel, deducting 1,050 lbs. For tare?
4. District No 33 has a valuation of $35,000.. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find the cost of 6,720 lbs. Coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft.. Long at $20 per metre?
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance of which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt

U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)

1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865.

Orthography (Time, one hour)

1. What is meant by the following: alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals
4. Give four substitutes for caret 'u.' (HUH?)
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final 'e.' Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: bi, dis-mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sup.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

Geography (Time, one hour)

1. What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas ?
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
4. Describe the mountains of North America
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia, Odessa, Denver, Manitoba, Hecla, Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fernandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S.
7. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each.
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give the inclination of the earth.

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Notice that the exam took FIVE HOURS to complete. Gives the saying ‘he only had an 8th grade education’ a whole new meaning, doesn’t it? What it also has done, is spur many netizens to vociferously proclaim the decline of our educational system, by comparison.

Do you believe today’s educational standards are poor, by comparison? Have you considered that there is no requirement for English Literature in the above test? Where are the algebra and geometry? World History? US Government? Foreign Languages? The 1895 8th grade test looks immensely daunting, until one considers that much is not covered. Add to this the fact that none of us would likely pass our contemporary High School tests, without the usual cramming we did “back in the day”, and the criticism of today’s standards in education, based on this test, begin to lose their impact.

There’s no denying that many of our children are not learning as well nor as much as they ought. I believe, however, that instead of pointing the accusatory finger at all that the “system” is apparently failing to accomplish, we would do well to question what we as parents are failing to do, in order to actively engage in the responsibility of enriching the mental, cultural, social, and psychological state of the next generation…

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With the recent news that Motorola won a sales and  import ban against Microsoft in Germany (effectively removing Microsoft Xbox and Windows 7 products from that market), and is poised to repeat the ban here in the US, the circle is complete.

Rewind

Video and Audio Compression technologies have been developed by a host of companies over the past decades, and the result is a somewhat murky product development pipeline requiring patent licensing and cross licensing deals, the likes of which would make an LA freeway interchange look like a lonely unpaved road through the dustbowl. Add to this the fact that IP&L (Intellectual Property & Licensing) is the cash cow of many technology giants, and the prevailing practice is to develop patents for everything that can be thus recorded, in the hopes that there may exist licensing revenues somewhere in the future. These are the given circumstances for the present dance featuring Microsoft and Motorola Mobility (now under Google’s wing).

Battle Lines

As is often the case, much sabre-rattling has been going on, and clashes in court have ensued. Each side hoped that, when the dust settled, they would emerge with the upper hand. Nobody expected to outright win, but that’s not what IP conflicts are about, when the licensing giants are engaged in battle. It always looks terribly bloody and violent, and enormous (to us) sums of money are dispensed via legal teams. However, these sums are paltry, when compared to the licensing sums at stake. What’s a million or two, when one stands to gain tens and even hundreds of millions?

However, in this particular case, both sides gained and both sides lost, and now it falls to the lawyers and IP negotiators to assess where the bargaining chips have fallen, before progressing with the next stage of battle: the truce.

All In A Day’s Work

Motorola made a valiant effort to push Microsoft back on to its heels, successfully getting the tech giant kinda-sorta booted out of Deutschland (of course, it’s never quite so cut and dried). The company, recently acquired by Google, further strengthened their position when the ITC threatened Microsoft with major market restrictions and penalties in the US.

In the meantime, Microsoft successfully attacked Motorola’s flank, when the ITC ruled in its favor, on another licensing issue (another related article here).

Now that both camps hold trophies, they could either choose to continue attacking one another, if they believed more trophies were in the offing, or they could begin the next phase of a process all too familiar to large tech companies today: negotiation of a cross-licensing truce.

Instead of negotiating from the outset in good faith, companies today have discovered that negotiation under duress, even if that duress is mutual, tends to deliver greater savings. I’m not sure I believe it anymore, but the trend is to sue until the pot is sweet enough to settle.

As far as the Microsoft/Motorola Mobility clash is concerned, this could be a good time to trade trophies, and settle on a cross-licensing agreement that would allow both companies to get on with the business of selling their products to consumers (albeit at a slightly increased price point, necessary to cover their legal costs). However, now that Google has just purchased Motorola Mobility, the search-and-everything-else giant may opt to bloody its bitter rival a little more, and Motorola Mobility product sales may become collateral damage in the even larger battle between Redmond and Mountain View.

It would all be rather silly, were it not for the millions of dollars, hundreds of jobs, and possible legal precedents at stake…

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How many of you were aware that China and the US almost went to war recently (according to Chinese mainland media and other sources)? Did you know that China had rebuffed Obama’s request for Secretary Gates to come visit his military counterparts in China (to discuss North Korea situation), refusing to allow the US to meet with military leaders in Beijing; that the US parked several fleets around the nation as a show of indignant force; and that people in China were being prepared by their leaders to rise up and fight “the evil Americans”? I have friends in China who had their bags packed, ready to flee. Yet we heard precious little about this over here.

We are also hearing precious little about China’s enormous investment in the African continent, helping almost every nation therein build up their infrastructure, and investing heavily in natural resources. Just as many see the US as having helped to rebuild Europe in the post-war years, China is building a reputation through the African nations as the benevolent partner…

How are US corporations and administrations responding to the inescapable growth of this Asian culture? We cannot seek to slow down or arrest the development of this economic and cultural force. Attempts to crush evolutionary movement tend to hurt the instigator (see RIAA attempts to stop digital file downloads, as a smaller scale example).

China is bigger than most people seem to consciously calculate, and their business and social culture is very different to the aggressive, fast-moving instant gratification, individualistic culture manifest in US business and society. Are we SO arrogant to think WE can change THEM?..

I wonder how long it will take us to learn how to interface truly effectively with Chinese leaders (government and business), and whether that learning curve will prove simply too long to save us from painful decline as a leading global influencer of policy…when our Secretary of Defense is told to go fly a kite by a foreign nation, you know that more than icebergs are shifting

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The following were real questions asked on a major international tourism web site, with answers recorded by the site managers (but never posted, for reasons of customer courtesy!). The country in brackets indicates the origin of the question:

Q: I have never seen it warm on Canadian TV, so how do the plants grow? ( England )
A. We import all plants fully grown and then just sit around and watch them die.

Q: Will I be able to see Polar Bears in the street? ( USA )
A: Depends on how much you’ve been drinking.

Q: I want to walk from Vancouver to Toronto – can I follow the Railroad tracks? ( Sweden )
A: Sure, it’s only Four thousand miles, take lots of water.

Q: Is it safe to run around in the bushes in Canada ? ( Sweden )
A: So it’s true what they say about Swedes.

Q: Are there any ATM’s (cash machines) in Canada ? Can you send me a list of them in Toronto , Vancouver , Edmonton and Halifax ? ( England )
A: No, but you’d better bring a few extra furs for trading purposes.

Q: Can you give me some information about hippo racing in Canada ? ( USA )
A: A-fri-ca is the big triangle shaped continent south of Europe Ca-na-da is that big country to your North….oh forget it. Sure, the hippo racing is every Tuesday night in Calgary. Come naked.

Q: Which direction is North in Canada ? ( USA )
A: Face south and then turn 180 degrees Contact us when you get here and we’ll send the rest of the directions.

Q: Can I bring cutlery into Canada ? ( England )
A: Why? Just use your fingers like we do.

Q: Can you send me the Vienna Boys’ Choir schedule? ( USA )
A: Aus-t ri-a is that quaint little country bordering Ger-man-y, which is…oh forget it. Sure, the Vienna Boys Choir plays every Tuesday night in Vancouver and in Calgary , straight after the hippo races. Come naked.

Q: Do you have perfume in Canada ? ( Germany )
A: No, WE don’t stink.

Q: I have developed a new product that is the fountain of youth. Where can I sell it in Canada ? ( USA )
A: Anywhere significant numbers of Americans gather.

Q: Can you tell me the regions in British Columbia where the female population is smaller than the male population? ( Italy )
A: Yes, gay nightclubs.

Q: Do you celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada ? ( USA )
A: Only at Thanksgiving.

Q: Are there supermarkets in Toronto and is milk available all year round? ( Germany )
A: No, we are a peaceful civilization of Vegan hunter/gathers. Milk is illegal.

Q: I have a question about a famous animal in Canada , but I forget its name. It’s a kind of big horse with horns. ( USA )
A: It’s called a Moose. They are tall and very violent, eating the brains of anyone walking close to them.. You can scare them off by spraying yourself with human urine before you go out walking.

Q: Will I be able to speak English most places I go? ( USA )
A: Yes, but you will have to learn it first.

Our resident political opinionator, Jeremy McGuire offers the following book review:

In the middle of a recession there are invariably questions about how we got into it and what we can do to get out of it.  Politically, it quickly devolves into a conflict between the market driven laissez faire economists and the interventionist Keynesian ones.  Television and radio infotainers yammer on, using their own peculiar jargon that leaves the rest of us – who are not economists – as much in the dark as we were before.

I wanted to know more, so I picked up Liaquat Ahamed’s detailed history of how the world stumbled into the Great Depression, “Lords of Finance.”  Ahamed is a twenty-year veteran of investment banking and some paragraphs have to be read over a few times, but generally it’s written for the layman.  It comes in at 508 pages, without notes, but it reads like a well-crafted novel.

The main characters – the “Lords” themselves – are Montague Norman of the Bank of England, Hjalmar Schacht of the Reischsbank in Germany, Benjamin Strong of  the N.Y. Federal Reserve Bank, and Emile Moreau of the Banque de France. all of whom were well intentioned but ultimately flawed men who were not immune from the kind of gross miscalculations and unwarranted fears that led to the financial disaster of the Great Depression.  While a great deal of information may be gleaned from their stories that is applicable to the present one must be cautious: 2010 is not 1929.

Some of the miscalculations early twentieth century central bankers made were over the conduct and financing of World War I.  No one in financial circles believed the war would outlast the various governments’ ability to pay for it. They were all on the Gold Standard, you see, and the financial resources of each country were tied to their reserves of gold.  It was hard to imagine Germany, France and Britain would be so foolish as to burden their countries with massive debt just to keep a war going.

These top-hatted and stiff-collared expert prognosticators, mired as they were in centuries-old financial traditions based on the availability of precious metals, completely overlooked the proclivity of wars (particularly wars between monarchies, empires and single-party republics) to be self-sustaining and self-fulfilling.  If wartime governments run out of money, they borrow it, mostly from foreign banks incurring massive debt.  If they don’t have enough currency, they print it, all to keep the war going toward ultimate victory, at which time all debts will be easily repaid.  Or so they thought.

The incipient catastrophes that resulted from financing the First World War in so unsustainable a fashion were exacerbated by the enmeshment of world financial interests.  In the introduction, Ahmed explains, “Because financial institutions were so interconnected, borrowing large amounts of money from one another even in the nineteenth century, difficulties in one area would transmit themselves throughout the entire system.”

Ahamed stops way short, however, of ascribing this financial entanglement to any conspiracy of central banking institutions.  In retrospect it may read like a Dan Brown novel, but conspiracies require agreement, and the central bankers in the 1920’s could agree on almost nothing.  Scrambling to force some post-war order on the economies of their respective countries, they formed alliances, made enemies, forced concessions, engaged in blackmail and all manner of intrigues eventually stumbling into Great Depression through incompetence, a too rigid loyalty to ideological principles, and misguided policy.

The biggest blunder on the road to the Great Depression was the New York Fed’s decision to lower interest rates.  It may have helped Germany’s cash-flow, but it caused massive speculation on Wall Street, as investors borrowed more and more money to purchase stocks, further inflating the bubble that burst on October 29, 1929 – “Black Tuesday.”

Ahamed writes, “Their goal is a strong economy and stable prices. This is, however, the very environment that breeds the sort of over-optimism and speculation that eventually ends up destabilizing the economy.  In the United States during the second half of the 1920s, the destabilizing force was to be the stock market.” (p.280)

We are put in mind of the economic situation in America before the current recession: Overspeculation, easy credit, artificially inflated prices, and a protracted military campaign resulting in massive “bad debt,”* much of which is held by foreign banks, principally China.

In the Depression, as well as today, the main conflict on the road to recovery was,

“Between those who believed that governments could be trusted with discretionary power to manage the economy and those who insisted that government was fallible and therefore had to be circumscribed with strict rules.” (p.230)

Traditionalists said Government should keep its hands off the economy and allow the “invisible hand” of the market to determine its course as proposed by eighteenth century economist Adam Smith.  Others, principally twentieth century economist Maynard Keynes, said the government must have control over the economy to keep market pressure from destabilizing it.

The real issue for the [Federal Reserve] governors was that many of the banks closing their doors…had sustained such large losses on their loans that they were … insolvent, [the governors] made it a principle to let them go under.  They failed to recognize that by doing so they were undermining public confidence in banks as a repository of savings and were causing the U.S. credit system to freeze up.” (p. 391)

What government aid did come was too late.  By that time, Ahamed writes, “Banks, shaken by the previous two years, instead of lending out the money, used the capital so injected to build up their own reserves.”

Ahamed seems to say that when a crisis looms, the injection of funds to shore up failing banks should come sooner rather than later and in sufficient quantity to capitalize the banks and allow them to begin lending.  When Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” goes arthritic, Maynard Keynes is there to take over the heavy lifting.

Amid the chorus of our own contemporary “know-nothings” who spout partisan absurdities about the government not getting involved in economic policy, or how deficit spending to get the economy out of crises is tantamount to cultural Armegeddon, Ahamed’s analysis is a voice of reason. “The Great Depression was caused by a failure of intellectual will, a lack of understanding about how the economy operated.  No one struggled harder … than Maynard Keynes.  He believed that … economists are the “trustees, not of civilization but of the possibility of civilization.” (p. 504)

That’s something even an artist like me can understand.

(*Bad debt is, according to Robert Kiyosaki, debt that does not put money in your pocket).

Jeremy Mcguire is an author/illustrator, humorist and social commentator. His weekly articles appear in a variety of publications, and are archived on the blog, Baloney & Blarney.

Following hot on the heels of the recent Massachusetts special election, well-known Chicago author and political humorist Jeremy McGuire has contributed the following:

Open Letter to Both my Liberal and Conservative Friends.

Chill.

To my Conservative friends, You may be feeling right plucky over Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts special election to fill Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat. Don’t. In the long run, it changes nothing. The conservative function is and always has been one of restraint, of keeping the status quo, of caution. You are what Joseph Campbell calls “the holdfasts.” That said, you must understand that you have chosen to be on the wrong side of history most of the time. You will not win. I know this because you never have. It is not your destiny. There are few progressive social leaps that we as a species have made that were not initially opposed by conservatives, but embraced and defended by them within one or two generations. The arc of history leans toward change, toward progress, toward tolerance, and understanding, decidedly away from the status quo.

It was the influential clergyman and educator Endicott Peabody who said “Things in life will not always run smoothly. Sometimes we will be rising toward the heights – then all will seem to reverse itself and start downward. The great fact to remember is that the trend of civilization itself is forever upward, that a line drawn through the middle of the peaks and the valleys of the centuries always has an upward trend.”

The most obvious examples of your being left behind by history are the abolition of slavery, votes for women, and the dissolution of Jim Crow and the passage of the Civil Rights act of 1964.

What was acceptable, and even embraced a little more than a hundred years ago, colonialism and wars of conquest, are now no longer acceptable. Oh, and there was this little thing called the War for American Independence from England. Yep. Conservatives opposed that one, too. They were called Tories then. Yet now conservatives celebrate Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Franklin as if they were kindred spirits, when in actuality, they would have had them hanged. (Note: All of these gentlemen considered themselves Liberals. Maddening, ain’t it?)

Now, I’m not being critical, those are just the facts, a pattern that is readily discernible to anyone who can step back far enough from the immediate issues and events to see it.
Oh, you may gain ascendancy for short periods, and by that I mean 20 or thirty years, particularly if the people are persuaded that there is much to be afraid of, but it is never lasting. Fear is so fleeting that it cannot sustain your power. Do not allow those ephemeral victories to lull you into a sense of entitlement. You saw what that got you in the last election, right?

So, let’s just accept the fact that you have chosen a role in politics that will never be ultimately victorious. Look around at the social issues that are most prominent now. I mean universal health care, full civil rights for all gays, equality of pay and the like. You won’t win those either. The world moves forward; it does not stay still nor does it move backward. Frustrating? You betcha. But there it is.

So, should you just fold your tent and go hide in the woods somewhere? Absolutely not! Remember, your position is the “hold-back” one. What are you holding back? Why, the Liberals, of course.

Okay, my Liberal friends, now it’s your turn.

Do not gloat. Were it not for the Conservatives, you would run hell-bent-for-leather toward the edge of any number of cliffs, secure in the belief that you could fly! We have seen time and again the good-hearted but wrong-headed policies that have had unintended consequences.
Step back and consider what the term liberal means. Webster says it means “tolerant, open-minded and generous.” That’s as good a definition as I can find. That means you must be tolerant of opposing opinions. You have not often been so. I speak, of course of the late “Political Correctness” which was the very opposite of what a liberal stands for.

In the Seventies, many radical groups began calling themselves liberals. They were not, but true Liberals did not call them on it and so the terms “radical” and “liberal” got confused, by everybody, not just the right.

The most egregious example is the matter of the state’s attitude toward religion. We do not and never have wanted the state to mandate any one religion and so we erect an “impenetrable wall” between the state and religion. However, that was never meant to imply intolerance toward all religion, which in its finest moments enlightens and ennobles us, transporting us from the mundane and profane world into the realms of the sublime (I said in its finest moments!).

The first part of the First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” What does that mean? It means I have the right to pray and display religious items wherever I want. Anywhere. Any time. The Government can’t say squat. Get real. Nowhere does it say that religious expression can be or should be banned. It states exactly the opposite. A Supreme Court ruling that prohibited schools from mandating the prayer of one religion over all others was intended to foster tolerance but has had the exact opposite effect.

If you are indeed liberal, you should not object to nativity scenes on public land; public land belongs to all of the public, even the religious.

However, Conservatives, don’t start preening! Those who wish to express their freedom of religion on public land should note that Wiccans have an equal right to put up display celebrating the Winter Solstice! Are you ready for that?

Okay, that’s an extreme example of unintended consequences. There are others. In any case, you Liberals should be grateful for the Conservatives. If it is true that they have pretty consistently grown to embrace programs they initially opposed, it is also true that without their opposition, you would accomplish very little of any import. Creativity requires obstacles to get over, under, around and through. Without those obstacles, your ideas would never be shaped, sharpened and honed. Conservatives force you to prove your points and in so doing help you make your points.

Lets face it. Both Liberals and Conservatives have been in the past rather intolerant and disrespectful of each others positions. That cannot last. It is an untenable stance and the Republic suffers from it. Both Liberals and Conservatives need to embrace their root principles and expel those who use those terms to practice intolerance, bullheadedness, and downright hatred. Hatefulness, intolerance and disrespect have never accomplished anything except reinforcing those negative qualities to no purpose. A destructive cycle. Don’t allow extremists to assume the names of Conservative or Liberal.

To my Conservative and Liberal friends: Get rid of your nut-jobs.

Jeremy Mcguire is an author/illustrator, humorist and social commentator.

Indiana-based strategic consultant David Virag sent me the following commentary today, partly in response to my recent posting on the Nature of Innovation. Virag is well-placed to speak on issues relating to technology and innovation, with more than 20 years of experience in consumer electronics and high tech managing business and technology strategies.

With the current mortgage crisis and high unemployment rates, there is a general feeling of uneasiness among most people regarding the U.S. economy and future prospects.  Current efforts by the Federal government to kick-start the economy with subsidies and low-interest rates have yet to take hold.   With the unemployment rate sticking at 10%, many economists are predicting a jobless recovery.  However, without a strong labor force, it’s unclear how much recovery can ever take place.  An AP analysis published this week found very little job creation from public road construction programs.   Perhaps a jobless recovery is one where the economy merely stabilizes.

Government policy notwithstanding, one thing that does have the ability to recharge the economy is good old-fashioned innovation.  The US has been a global leader in innovation over the past century.   This innovation is one of the critical elements that propelled our standard of living to be the highest in the world.   Looking back through the past 50 years or so, the U.S. has been at the forefront of virtually every major technological change in the world.  We played key roles in the research and development, manufacturing, and sales of radio, television, automobiles, airplanes, computers, cellular phones, and the Internet.  Each of these technologies changed the way people live and businesses work and with it millions of jobs were created.   If one looks at just the last century, mankind has literally progressed from driving a horse and buggy to walking on the moon.  Only 95 years ago, we celebrated the first coast-to-coast telephone line.

Just as in the study of the stock market, past performance does not guarantee future results.  As technology has changed so has the global landscape.  Some of the very inventions created in the U.S. now enable global competition.   The Internet allows for nearly instantaneous access to data and information from anywhere around the world.  Low-cost computers and networks give everyone access to what was equivalent to a super computer only a decade or two ago.   Transportation allows for manufacturing of goods at the lowest cost location.  The U.S. university system is still the best in the world.  The best foreign students come to school in the United States; however, it is now easier (and perhaps more profitable) to return home and put new found skills to use in competition.

Statistics from the U.S. Patent office illuminate these trends.   In 1963, a total of just over 45,000 patents were granted to U.S. and non-U.S. inventors.  By 2008 this number jumped to over 157,000 patents, a change of nearly 250%.  The decade of the ‘90s represented a 56% increase over the 1980’s demonstrating the innovation linked to the emergence of computers, cell phones, and the internet.  The first 9 years of the new millennium provided over 1.45 million patents granted, or a 31% increase over the 1990’s.

While the past 9 years have been bountiful, it is worth highlighting a couple of things.  First, the number of grants to U.S. inventors peaked in 2006 with declines in both 2007 and 2008.   While two data points don’t make a trend and declines have prevailed in the past, it is highlighted by the second trend of note, the rise in patents issued to foreign inventors.  In fact, 2008 represents the first year in which a majority of the patents granted at the U.S. Patent Office were granted to foreign inventors (50.8%).   By comparison, patents granted of U.S. origin represented 81% of the total patents granted in 1963.  Since 2000, 51.7% of the patents granted are to U.S. inventors.  For the decade from 1970-79 this number was 66.7%.   The U.S. Patent Office determines origin by the residence of the first named inventor.

Globalization is here.  Competition is good.  Through innovation, competition, and collaboration, the surest way to return to prosperity is through invention.  We need the next Microsoft and Intel, the Qualcomm of the 21st century.  We need not just evolutionary thinking but a revolutionary mindset.  Tough times can make for outside the box thinking.  When that next leap in innovation does come, odds are it will be more of a global effort than in the past.

David E. Virag has extensive expertise in developing new technologies and applications, business valuation, leadership, and strategy.  He holds an MBA from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, and is currently a Principal consultant with New Era Strategies.  To learn more about David, please go to www.techonomicstoday.com

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