Saturday, January 16, 2010

THE DOMINO THEORY

We were told, when the United States took over the debacle that the French had made of Southeast Asia, that we had to fight in Vietnam (and it turned out, in Laos and Cambodia) because if we did not defeat the dreaded "communism" in Vietnam (and it turned out, in Laos and Cambodia) the entirety of the rest of Southeast Asia would fall to the dreaded "communism" like so many dominos.

So we fought and sacrificed the lives of over 58,000 Americans and many times that number of Vietnamese (and it turns out, Laotians and Cambodians) and in the end, the dreaded "communists" won.

And did the prophesy of the "dominos" falling come true?  Not even close to true.  Now we look at China (the alleged sponsor of the dreaded "communists") and Vietnam (and it turns out Laos and Cambodia) and everywhere we look we see "capitalism" not "communism."  Look on the inside of your running shoes, t-shirts, MP3 players etc. and you will see the list of our former enemies.  Turns out, the "commies" actually were just "commies" because they didn't have any money.  Once they had money, being a "commie" didn't seem like it was anything worth fighting about.

Now listen to the words of our government as it justifies the newest war in Afghanistan and compare those words to the words of justification for Vietnam (and it turns out, Laos and Cambodia) as it tells us: "If we don't fight them in Afghanistan (and it turns out in Pakistan), the entirety of the world will fall to their ideology like so many dominos."

If the words ring the same, ask yourself: "How stupid are we all to believe this yet again? How many lives on all sides will be lost following the chimera of preventing the fall of the dominos?"

The lesson of Vietnam (and it turns out Laos and Cambodia) and the lesson we will undoubtedly learn from Afghanistan (and it turns out, Pakistan), is that throwing a bunch of money at the ideology is the surest way to peace and harmony.  Instead of war, all we have to do is invest. 

But the real lesson, which we have also not yet learned, is to simply let things evolve rather than trying to make everyone believe as we believe.  This is true in personal situations as well as in the geo-political world.

Sooner or later, allowing things to be and find their own level leads to homogenization and to, let me think, oh! yeah! to..... Domino's(R). 

And if everyone is enjoying the same delivery pizza, what's there to fight about?

That's what I believe.

Copyright © 2010 Ivan Hoffman. All Rights Reserved.

Ivan Hoffman
http://www.ivanhoffman.com/

Thursday, January 7, 2010

BUT WAIT...THERE'S MORE

I am a free market capitalist. Make no mistake about it. You just have to read a variety of articles on my "Ivan Hoffman Attorney at Law" web site (click on "Articles About The Philosophy of Law and Business") to know that. I believe that innovation and the motivation to succeed are the cornerstones of change and progress. Government never did anything but follow.

But free market capitalism, like democracy itself, requires intelligence to operate effectively. Stupidity leaves the playing field of capitalism to the intelligent alone.

And in the words of P.T. Barnum, "there's a sucker born every minute."

Let me then speak of the long form advertising called the "infomercial." These art forms, for they truly are art forms, seem to all be copy cat versions of each other and once someone makes a slight change, others follow. For a while there, every pitchman had to be English. Then we had the era of the screamer.

The earliest of such "infomercials" developed the "but wait...there's more" approach. After offering the product for some "incredible" (their words, not mine) price, the advertiser came back with a "hook" and made the price even less by throwing in some other inducement.


The latest version of this "but wait...there's more" approach is that, if you order "right now!" (never mind that the informercial runs constantly thus diluting the "right now!" message), we'll give you a second product "Absolutely Free!!!!" All the consumer has to do is pay "processing and handling."  By the way, if you observe carefully, you will note that few products now require the consumer to pay "shipping and handling." Perhaps because if it is called "shipping" there has to be some relationship to actual costs. Now it is called "processing and handling." What "processing and handling" apparently means is that when you order the product you have to pay extra to actually have them send it to you.  And if my speculation is correct, there needs be no correlation between the fees added for this "Absolutely Free!!!!" bonus and any actual costs such as shipping.

As but an example: if the product cost $19.95, the processing and handling (almost never posted on the screen) may be around $7.95 so you get the other product "absolutely free" if you just pay separate processing and handling. So what you are getting is 2 products for nearly $36.00 instead of one for $28.00. So simple arithmetic tells you that the products are costing you $16.00 each.  I realize this may seem insultingly stupid to have to explain this but these pitches are apparently hugely successful.  The rule of thumb in the infomercial business is that if you see the spot running, the product is selling.


Now to some of you, this may seem a small thing but given that it is television, the power of the message cannot be underestimated. And if you believe it is a small thing or nothing at all, then I believe you have missed the significance completely. As we say in the law business, if you don't believe there is a problem, then you don't understand the issue.

Well, do the sponsors think we're stupid? No, I don't believe they do. I believe instead that they know we are stupid.

And how do we know that we are stupid? Just look at the world we have created...nuclear bombs proliferate, we're polluting ourselves to death and we elect the most ignorant people to the highest offices.  And because we do all that and more because we are stupid, there isn't enough money left to cure our stupidity with education, better parenting etc.

This is capitalism, if not at its worst, at its not very best.   I am ashamed of us.

That's what I believe.

Copyright © 2010 Ivan Hoffman. All Rights Reserved.

Ivan Hoffman
http://www.ivanhoffman.com/


Saturday, August 23, 2008

CIVILITY

I realize that it is hard to imagine an attorney, which is my profession, caring about civility. Indeed, some may believe that using the terms "civility" and "attorney" in the same sentence is grammatically, if not legally, impermissible.

But I am both an attorney and a person who, even within the 4 corners of my profession, cares about civility.

And for whatever the reasons-- the "me first" of the 1980's, the loss of idealism starting with the assassination of John Kennedy in 1963, the other assassinations of 1968, 9-11--whatever the reasons, we seem collectively to have lost a sense of civility.

And we can only have a collective loss if we have a loss at the individual level since the collective is only all of us added up together. It's not like there is a world, you know-- out there, without involving us individually.

In a sense, it is our collective failure to return one another’s telephone calls or emails that is, at the roots, the cause of this loss of civility.. We all seem to be on the verge of exploding, though most of us vent our anger in socially acceptable ways. We choose to act more subtly but equally effectively. But the insecurities and fears and frustrations inside each of us are boiling just below our peaceful fa├žades. Given the slightest reason, we take out these frustrations on others in ways society has come to accept as normal.

People who do not like themselves and their own images turn that dislike outside themselves and onto others. We treat others in the way we feel we have been treated in our lives, whether or not those feelings are true. If we feel we are unworthy, we treat others as though they are unworthy.

When, for example, we get upset with the telephone company in the person of a clerk, or the bank in the person of the teller, rather than recognizing the source of our frustration and empathizing with our collective plight, we vent this frustration on that other person, and they do the same. Their need to maintain their job is more important than the underlying moral principles. That belief makes them defend the "system" that is equally oppressive to all of us. And our response to their conduct makes us behave similarly. Each of us is trying to out "Oh! Yeah!?" the other.

When we treat each other discourteously by, for example, not returning telephone calls or emails, we are passing along our own ill feelings. What we are in reality saying to one another is, "I am angry at the world. I am not in control of the world. I cannot do anything about much of this lack of control, so I will take it out on you by attempting to exercise control over you." This sort of conduct leads to increased frustration in the recipient of your conduct and that recipient inevitably passes that frustration along to someone else, who does the same. And, like the childhood game of "Telephone," what starts out at 9:00AM as one thing, by 5:00PM becomes you yelling at others on the freeway going home.

We deny to others that which we have denied to ourselves. If we are not free, we fear giving others the right to be free. Instead, we must regard ourselves as the source of all power and weakness, and not divorce ourselves from the consequences of our conduct by relegating our actions to the machinations of some "system," the mythical "them." The world is a consequence of what each of us is. How the world behaves is an aggregation of how each of us behaves. We are the universe and it is us.

We like to think of ourselves as separated from this process. But it is well to remember the words of the 18th century English poet, William Blake, who wrote:

Cruelty has a Human Heart,
And Jealousy a Human Face;
Terror the Human Form Divine,
And Secrecy the Human Dress.

For it seems to me that if we do not respect the rights of others it may be because we do not respect ourselves. If we cannot act toward someone else with civility, we reflect our own lack of civility. It takes the secure individual, the person who knows who they are and what they are about to give rights to another. When we deny others their rights it seems a certain reflection on our own lack of self-worth. It is as though there were some finite amount of civility in the world and if we provide it to someone else, we may find ourselves lacking in the same. This is one of the ways in which the idea of scarcity makes itself apparent in “real life.” If there’s not enough of anything to go around, then by all means get all you can and ignore the rights of the other. If we see the world as scarce, this all makes sense.

And perhaps all the loss we experienced collectively during the past 40 or so years have made us see the world in this fashion.

That's what I believe.

Copyright © 2008 Ivan Hoffman. All Rights Reserved.

Ivan Hoffman http://www.ivanhoffman.com/

Thursday, August 7, 2008

COMMISSION

What if our legislators and others in power with the right to control public spending were all paid on commission?

And what if that commission were based on a standard that was determined to be in the best interests of the public as a whole instead of the best interests of a small group of powerful people and companies?

It seems to me that the self-interest that now motivates these legislators and others to vote what is in their best interest resulting in taking pac and other special interest monies would, nearly overnight, be a self-interest that would actually benefit society.

This is how it can work. We gather opinions from all the top economists, sociologists, idealists, visionaries, teachers and the like to determine what are society's overarching important needs that can be defined in economic terms. As but a few examples only: reducing unemployment not by fractions of a decimal but by real and meaningful work (remember the wonderful projects created by the New Deal and the Works Progress Administration in the 1930's?) and then calculating the amount of money the federal and state goverments would save in unemployment insurance and related costs.

Or reducing the outrageous budget deficit that prevents expenditures on things like education, health care and other important projects that actually benefit real people.

Or calculating the savings to various levels of goverment by reducing the high school drop out rate.

Just a few examples.

Then we determine that all those who have control over government expenditures will share in an aggregate commission based upon achieiving these standards, these goals. Given that the pot is likely to be very large, the individual commissions would likely to correspondingly large, far exceeding the salaries these officials now get.

As radical, ideal, as this may sound, it is actually only a performance-based compensation. I am an intellectual property attorney and make these kinds of deals regularly. Record deals, publishing deals, producing deals etc. where royalties are paid based on success etc.

When the legislators and others realize that they can make a substantial amount of money by voting for the general good, more money than they could make by voting for special interests, you can imagine how quickly that re-directed self-interest would result in achieving these goals.

And that these legislators and others are making substantial sums is not a problem since it means that the rest of us, collectively known as "society," are actually benefiting even more. So when a recording artist, author etc. makes a lot of money based on a royalty deal, the label, the publisher is making even more. There's enough to go around.

That's what I believe.


Copyright © 2008 Ivan Hoffman. All Rights Reserved.

Ivan Hoffman http://www.ivanhoffman.com/

Thursday, July 31, 2008

UNEMPLOYMENT

What kind of an economy is it when the stock market rallies when more people are unemployed?

This is how it goes:

1. The unemployment rates as published by the United States government are woefully too low, intentionally made so for political reasons. These rates do not include underemployed and people who have given up seeking work. Significantly, there is no measure currently available to determine who lives in fear of losing their job and brings that fear home each day to pollute their families, their sleep, their lives.

2. None of that matters to Wall Street since, in the parameters of stock market investing, higher unemployments means that the Federal Reserve is not likely to raise interest rates since to do so would likely lead to further business contraction (not being able to borrow or having to borrow at higher rates) and thus lead to further unemployment.

3. So as a result, the higher the number of people without work, without meaningful work, living in fear of losing their jobs, the higher goes the stock market (all other things being equal). What is good news for Wall Street can be traumatic, life changing and disastrous for those who are unemployed.

4. In the ideal world, the real value of any investment would consider human values.

That's what I believe.

Copyright © 2008 Ivan Hoffman. All Rights Reserved.

Ivan Hoffman http://www.ivanhoffman.com/

Friday, July 25, 2008

MY VISION

I have this vision, a vision which has developed over the years, of what I want life to be, and the struggle in which I am engaged is in trying to make that vision become a reality. It brings a fair amount of frustration, as you can imagine. In my own evolution, I am burdened with the need for achieving that which I have set out to achieve, and nothing short of that achievement will allow me peace. Getting there, with all of its ups and downs and backsliding, is not only part of the process, it is the process.

And this need for purity spills over into my world view, because the great issues facing us might be simply resolved and yet the solutions are more illusive than they appear. To compromise is the norm, and yet it does not appear that compromise has brought anything but misery and unhappiness for large numbers of us. Indeed, the lack of desire for purity and perfection has seemingly increased with the passage of time. As more of us are willing to let the large things slide, the more they do, and as a result the issues seem bigger and less solvable, leading in turn to a greater willingness to compromise yet again.

When I speak of this a vision that I have, I am told that I am idealistic, unrealistic, that these things can never come to pass. I find it difficult to understand how we have arrived at this condition where what passes for realism is the acquiescence of each of us to the degradation of the quality of our lives. Since when did the concession to the pollution of our air and water become realistic? Is it realistic to allow unemployment, homelessness, ignorance, war and hunger? If realism means that what is must always be, then these tortured definitions are, I suspect, examples of realism.

When I suggest, however, that the status quo need not remain so forever, that there are concrete and yes, realistic, things we can each of us do to effectuate change in the process, I am met with resistance.

When I say that what is realistic is not fateful and absolute adherence to the current state of affairs, but rather a recognition of the problems we face and a willingness to accept the challenge of change, I am scoffed at in some circles. What passes for realism in the majority of cases seems to be fatalistic coping, and the implication that our futures are merely a slavish copy of our past.

If we cannot envision the ideal, then how can we do anything except accept what is?

I know that I am a purist. I know that my vision is not shared by others. I know, however, that I am either blessed or cursed with the need to pursue my vision despite all of its frustrations.

And yet, because I am a pragmatic purist, I am also aware that the pearl in the oyster is only created by the intrusion of sand.

That's what I believe.

Copyright © 2008 Ivan Hoffman. All Rights Reserved.

Ivan Hoffman
http://www.ivanhoffman.com

Sunday, July 20, 2008

WASTING OUR VOTES

If you are satisfied with the status quo, do not read this post. If you believe that more of the same is what you want, do not read this post.

If you believe in something new, read on.

Some may believe that casting a vote for an alternative candidate is wasting a vote.

What is a vote, anyway? It is one way, not the only way, but one way we can each of us make our own personal statement. If that vote is to represent our personal view, then we must forget the seeming impracticality of the vote and say, with all of our heart, “This is what I believe in!”

Our vote reflects our deepest concerns, our deepest beliefs, and our deepest conscience. To vote for a candidate because he or she has a better chance of winning or seems the lesser of two evils, when that candidate represents little, if anything, for which we stand, is truly offensive to that deepest conscience. As long as we tell future candidates that we are willing to accept mediocrity, hypocrisy, and outright deceit, the more we cast our precious voice for them simply because they are running on a major ticket, the more we defer our integrity and our morality, the less chance we will ever have to effectuate change through the political process.

If we vote in this manner, do we not feel like we need a shower after emerging from the ballot box?

And what has this myth, this notion of not “wasting” our votes, given us over the recent past? What has this idea produced by way of fundamental change?

Has it eliminated war?

Has it improved our economics and made life better for the vast majority of us?

Has it reduced the price of gasoline?

Has it lessened the pollution of our air, water, and ecosystems?

Has it created a vibrant and growing job base?

Has it created a moral society?

Indeed, in terms of even fifty years, a mere millisecond in the history of time, what real changes have been wrought because we were willing to sacrifice our personal beliefs to vote for candidate “A,” who did not represent who we were or what we felt but who had a better chance of winning?

We have to confront the myth that we are “wasting” our vote and open our minds to new ideas. Until we are willing to advance the cause of those who actually stand for all of the issues which we believe are necessary, we shall be forever relegated to justifying the deed of our compromise in the name of some illusory and, in truth, false benefit.

It seems that we have forgotten, in the name of pragmatism, that we have an obligation to ourselves to make morality part of the decision-making process. If indeed we do not respect ourselves enough to be truthful to our own integrity, then how can we, in all honesty, expect respect from those who would lead us? By going along with leaders who promise one thing in order to get elected, and as soon as the ballots are counted immediately do the exact opposite, we reflect our collective lack of self-worth.

We fail to demand integrity from these leaders, even as we rue their lack of the same.

That's what I believe.

Copyright © 2008 Ivan Hoffman. All Rights Reserved.

Ivan Hoffman http://www.ivanhoffman.com/