Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Words of the month: bubble and loop

The oil bubble is deflating, but the response among economics, business and political leaders has been to get stuck in a logical loop.

The bubble blows

It seems that everyone needs to be reminded of the definition of bubble regularly, because they seem to deceive everyone, including educated and otherwise successful people and those who really ought to know better.

Here’s the definition according to Oxford: “a situation in which investments, sales, etc. increase rapidly and then collapse.”

How is it that the economic leaders of the world forget that definition, when it happens so often?

How did they forget the 2008 crisis, which followed banking deregulation, the bubble in housing prices and the valuation of asset-backed paper? That’s the nature of a financial bubble: people keep buying at ever higher prices because they assume the price increase will go on forever—or at least, until they can sell at a profit.

And when the bubble bursts, these people are caught, scrambling to sell at plummeting prices. They’re surprised every time. Unfortunately, it was mostly working-class and middle-class people who paid the price of the 2008 crisis. Governments bailed out international banks because they were “too big to fail,” resulting in the biggest transfer of public wealth to the upper classes in history.

Now, it’s happening again with oil. Oil prices have been increasing fairly steadily since 2001, when a barrel of crude was around US$25, to a high of $110 in April 2011. Despite short-term fluctuations that can seem dramatic, they’ve eased to the current level of around US$80. And the economists these days are predicting the price is going to keep falling.
Source: Macrotrends 
So, the bubble burst. Going from the charts, it seems to have burst back in 2011. Funny, though, because I remember paying less for a litre of gasoline then than I did last month. Although I am relieved to see the prices at the pumps falling.

Stuck in the loop

But this blog is about communications, not about economics. The communications lesson to take away here is: remember what bubble means the next time you are tempted to buy into something that’s growing fast.

The smart money people got caught again. Sure, there were economists who predicted falling oil prices a year ago or more. But the bursting of the bubble seems to have knocked their logic into a logical rut and they keep repeating the same logic:

  • High oil prices drove exploration and development of higher-cost sources like the tar sands in Canada and shale oil in the US. Now that these are producing, they’re increasing the world supply of oil. 
  • At the same time, more efficient consumption and the development of alternative sources of energy like solar and wind are reducing demand. As a result, prices are falling. 
  • Falling prices makes those new sources of oil—tar and shale—uneconomical. According to the sources I’ve read, at less than US$80 per barrel, fracking is too expensive to be worth it. Tar sands oil costs between US$50 to $90 per barrel, according to a report in the FinancialPost last year. 
  • With lower prices, companies will take fracking and tar sands production off line. Presumably, that will reduce supply and thus increase price. 
  • Falling prices for oil, like any commodity, are bad for the economy—the lower prices for oil on the world market have cause the stock markets to fall in the past month.
  • Falling prices for all fossil fuels makes alternative energy sources less attractive to energy consumers. We are about to enter a deflationary period with falling prices for all commodities, which is going to hurt the economy—in short, it’s going to be bad for the owners of oil and other companies. 
  • “The world economy depends on fossil fuel extraction and consumption,” goes the logic. With falling prices for fossil fuels comes a falling US dollar, stock markets and just about everything else.

If we try to build a new system without fossil fuels, we will be really starting over, because even today’s “renewables” are part of the fossil fuel system.3 We will have to go back to things that can be made directly from wood and other natural products without large amounts of heat, to have truly renewable resources. (Gail Tverberg, Our Finite World)

What these arguments miss, and the logical element that could knock them out of this repeating loop, is the environmental cost of oil versus other forms of power generation. The environmental and public health impacts of fracking and tar sands production have not yet been fully admitted by government nor industry, and I think even their staunchest opponents don’t know the full cost. 

Time to break out of the loop 

It seems the arguments just keep getting repeated: 

  • Fossil fuels are more efficient, more energy-dense, than wind or solar, which are unreliable.
  • Alternative energy sources would be as efficient if they got as serious development support as fossil fuels do.
    back to 
  • Supplying our energy needs from non-fossil sources would cost too much.
  • Fossil fuel costs are higher than the current price indicates. 

How about moving on by looking at all the facts. A year ago, the Economist magazine called oil "yesterday’s fuel.” 

No matter how you look at it, oil is a finite resource. And wouldn’t we all be healthier without fossil fuel exhaust in the air, water and soil? Wouldn’t we all be better off if we could talk calmly and openly about fossil fuel consumption’s contribution to climate change? 

I hate hearing the same old argument being repeated. It's like listening to your parents have the same fight again. How about this? How about we really consider an alternative to fossil fuels—something that's not poisonous, at least? And then use it as the basis for not only transportation, but our markets, like oil is now. And then move toward it steadily.

At least, talk about that instead of having the same useless argument again.

Monday, October 06, 2014

When Emily Stone asks you to join her blog hop, you don't dare say no

Actually, I'm happy to hop onto author Jennifer Chase's first-ever blog hop. She's got a new Emily Stone novel and a literally kick-ass new video to support it. 

Check it out:

Crime has a new nemesis and her name is Emily Stone. She will continue to hunt serial killers and child abductors as long as they are out there. 

This is her life. Tag along with vigilante detective Emily Stone in a first time ever “live action” novel short film.  Be sure to watch it full screen, turn up the volume, and enjoy.

Check out the Award-winning EMILY STONE THRILLER SERIES available at Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes, Smashwords, and most online and book retailers.
You can find Jennifer Chase and all of her books at:

How to lose Friends without getting upset about it

I’m still running away” by Flickr user Vincepal, used under a Creative CommonsAttribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 license.
I have noticed a shift in my Facebook news feed: there are now fewer ridiculous rants against Obama and pro-gun-rights posts, fewer Creationists going on with spurious proofs of their improvable ideas, and thankfully fewer racists with equally implausible, unsupportable ideas.

I wonder why

The only reason I can figure is that the creationists, gun advocates and racists who “friended” and followed me have since unfriended and unfollowed me. There probably is a way to see who has unfriended you, but I don’t bother with that. I’ll just go with noticing the absence of names and faces that I used to see quite regularly.

One is a Facebook Friend of a Friend who called me an “asshole” because I questioned his argument that Obama sucks. I asked for some solid examples of how Obama’s policies had made their lives worse in some concrete way.

Another right-winger dropped me after I questioned logical holes in his statements and arguments about gun rights and foreign policy. Maybe he just got tired of being shot down so many times. But even Snoopy gets back in the air after being shot down by the Red Baron.

I don’t see many creationists anymore, either. There’s one I haven’t seen after she asserted “it takes a lot more faith to believe in evolution than in creation.” I suggested she look up “faith” in a dictionary, and then open another book that’s not the bible.

(By the way, Oxford defines it as “firm belief, esp. without logical proof.”)

Okay, maybe my retort was kind of snarky, but it’s not insulting.

I miss those people—and not just because they're so easy

I think one of the purposes of Facebook was to engage in a healthy debate. Sure, it’s also a great way to catch up with old friends and far-flung family, to coordinate group activities and to share cool photographs, but I also enjoy respectful debates. I point out logical holes, question assumptions and conclusions, and have been questioned and corrected myself. I accepted corrections when I made errors, and I never sank to the level of insults. I never swore at people (okay, I used a few salty words to describe things and actions, but never the people I was arguing with).

For the most part, I did not get a lot of abuse. As I said, one person called me an “asshole” for questioning his argument about Obama. Another insulted me for arguing for higher corporate taxes and against the idea that corporations should be able to spend on political communications without limit. A number of people called me a “liberal” as if it were insulting. I told a few of them to look up the word, too, and once got insulted for explaining that the understanding of the word “liberal” in the US is different from its original political meaning, and that in Europe, neo-liberal is equivalent to neo-conservative in the US. I don’t understand why that was threatening or problematic, but it did bother some people.

But the people who were most committed to the right-wing side of many debates—guns, abortion, evolution, taxation, health care—have run away.

What are they afraid of?

I’m not going to shy away from expressing myself. I am a writer, after all. If someone disagrees with me, that’s fine. I encourage that.

Bringing poles closer

Image courtesy Dark Matters a Lot
We need to be able to discuss our differences respectfully. I don’t delude myself that I’ll ever change anyone’s deepest beliefs, but if we don’t share opposing ideas, we only increase the polarization that is already growing in the world. Extremism is growing on all sides of every debate, and we can see this with ISIS/ISIL, Christian/creationist groups, the Tea Party, resurgent communism in Russia. And that kind of extremism doesn’t make the world a better place.

So come back, right wing! Engage me. If you think I’m wrong, let me know. Just remember my rule of engagement: if you use personal insults, you lose.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Who Do We Have To _____ To Get a Little Respect Around Here?

Guest post by Lorraine Devon Wilke

The following blog post caught my eye, and I thought I had to do what I could to bring it to more readers. The author, Lorraine Devon Wilke, graciously agreed to let me re-blog it.

Read the original on her blog, After the Sucker Punch. And if you agree, please share and promote this post as much as you can.

The cheers of indie authors who’ve FINALLY found outlets for their books—whether Amazon, Smashwords, Lulu, indie bookstores; wherever—can be heard far and wide from every corner of the globe. It’s been loudly exclaimed by everyone in the know that it’s the dawn of a new day for writers everywhere. After years of dismissal and disrespect from traditional publishers and their gatekeepers across every element of the literary landscape—from query letter browbeating, ice-cold rejections, overly possessive editors, and blasé publishers with no marketing budgets—independent authors have now taken control of their destinies and ventured forth, filters, limitations and grumpy gatekeepers be damned.

Good, right?

Yes, in some ways. In others, we indies are still very much the ugly stepsisters to our more vaunted and valued legacy colleagues. Don’t think so? Just today I clicked on the website of a “recommended book blogger” (whose name I will leave out for the sake of decorum) who seemed hell-bent on insulting those self-published writers who’d had the audacity to contact him for reviews. His FAQ page not only went out of its way to discuss how unreadable he found most self-pubbed books, but his hissing condescension about “amateurish” writers incapable of even understanding the word “no” led to a sneering pronouncement that he didn’t want to read, hear about, or otherwise experience the books of said authors and, therefore, please don’t waste his time by contacting him.

Sheesh. The fumes of disdain emanating from his page practically choked me.

And he’s not the only one. Media sources abound with snitty-toned announcements that they DO NOT TAKE SUBMISSIONS FROM SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHORS (caps are theirs). Review sites that cover legacy authors free-of-charge gouge self-pubbers in the hundreds of dollars. Feature writers who ooze admiration for the latest debut novelist from the Big 5 have actually figured out how to roll their eyes on Twitter over the pathetic shenanigans of indie writers trying to get their attention.

We’re definitely the “not cool” kids on the playground and this persistent — and, in many cases, undeserved—marginalization makes launching an indie book all the more difficult. When the overriding presumption is that your book is—to put it bluntly—a piece of shit (a presumption with which I personally take umbrage), you’re not only starting from zero in the world of marketing and promotion, you’re climbing from less-than-zero.

Fair? No. But let’s face it; we kinda dug our own hole, we self-published writers. Despite the fact that the industry is changing and evolving on a daily basis, with increasing numbers of options and outlets available, and more and more authors—even some from the traditional world—opting to go the self-published route, the rickety stage set early-on was built largely by anxious amateurs eager to define themselves as “authors” before availing themselves of the various elements of true professionalism. 

There are still far too many self-pubbed books that are amateurishly written, with poorly edited copy and covers that fairly scream “I’m a self-published writer!!!” And, unfortunately, still too many authors who relegate those necessary services as negotiable rather than essential—a professional blunder akin to a restaurateur opening a bistro without a qualified chef, a decent waitstaff, or a well-designed room. The resulting customer and industry response (see above) is the sad and subsequent remnant of that miscalculation.

We are all, every one of us, tarnished to some extent by the mistakes of the early (and prevailing) corner-cutters, but those mistakes are, hopefully, being mitigated by the growing number of independent authors who do approach their work, their books, and their presentation with impeccable and unassailable standards. And that growing number (of which I count myself) deserve to NOT be automatically generalized into a category of “subpar” by media, reviewers, bloggers and the like. 

Just as many traditionally published books (to once again put it bluntly) suck, yes… so do many self-published books. Conversely, just as many traditionally published books are profound and not-to-be-missed works of literary wonder, so, too, are many self-published books.

That the aforementioned blogger and his snarky cohorts refuse to consider that is evidence of literary shortsightedness. Like geezers who discount useful technology as “newfangled” or antiquarians who bemoan penmanship while ignoring heartfelt emails, they’re missing out. On a gem. A “stunning debut.” A “keenly executed character study.” A really good book.

Their loss. But the unwillingness of the wider media to explore indie authors with the same open-mindedness—and vetting and reviewing protocols—implemented for those traditionally published, is creating a literary ghettoization. And the resulting deficit is felt not only by the writers being dismissed simply by virtue of being self-published, but by readers who have less access to those authors and their work because of that ignorance.

Just as self-published writers are obligated to evolve and demand of themselves the highest levels of professionalism, so, too, must accompanying media evolve away from their myopia and literary bigotry. If they do not, what is being wasted is far more than their time; also lost is the cultural embrace of much talent and many good books being written by courageously independent authors who deserve at least a look.

Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Twitter, Facebook, and Huffington Post. Her article archive can be found at Contently, her photos at Fine Art America; details and links to her other work @ www.lorrainedevonwilke.com. Stay current with her books at Author Central, and if you a member of Goodreads or Shelfari, be sure to stop by and connect.

To pick up your own copies of After the Sucker Punch andShe Tumbled Down,” click titles and check back for updates at her Amazon Author Page.

Monday, September 22, 2014

We are entering the Negative Zone

Annihilus, copyright Marvel Comics
Parliament has reconvened in Ottawa, and the buzz is already about the next election—which could be more than a year away.
I’m bracing myself for a year of public negativity to come. In Canada, all the parties are already in full campaign mode. And in the US, the presidential election process will get going in 2015 for the 2016 election.
I know. It’s waaaayyyyy too long.
But that’s not the worst part. Worse is the tsunami of negative messaging that comes with elections these days. Politicos in the 21 century seem to believe that it’s a lot more effective to criticize your opponent than it is to put forward your own ideas. So we can expect a lot of messages like these:
·         “All my opponent’s programs have failed.”
·         “That’s socialist!”
·         “That’s fascist!”
·         “That’s against the spirit of the constitution.”
·         “That’s contrary to our shared values.”
·         “That’s tax-and-spend.”
·         “That’s catering to the corporate elites.”
Image courtesy Canadian Press
And even worse than that is the tendency to get personal. Then, it’s not even about policies that you disagree with: it’s a worse-than-useless, distracting pseudo-debate about “character”:
·         “My opponent is a lightweight.”
·         “My opponent has been in office too long.”
·         “He/she’s a dreamer.”
·         “She/he is corrupt.”
To me, that’s not politics, it’s a middle-school screaming match.

The negativity dilemma

Most people I have spoken to, and most political commentators I have read, say they do not like negative messages. Yet, they must work, because all political parties use them. Some use them even when there’s no election campaign going on.
I find this whole process aggravating. It does not help me to decide whom to vote for. Sure, I may admire one candidate’s character, loathe another politician’s personality, but since I’ve never met them, I don’t think that’s any basis on which to judge a person.
But I’m unusual. It seems most people don’t make political decisions rationally. Well, we humans don’t make many decisions rationally. We “go with our gut,” fall in love and respond to a huge number of non-rational (not the same as irrational) impulses when making a decision.

Last week, I listened to a call-in radio program about Rob Ford stepping away from the mayoralty race in Toronto, and his brother Doug taking his place as a candidate for mayor. Callers were both in favour of and opposed to this series of events, but one caller in particular stood out for me. She said she favoured Doug Ford’s candidacy, because the actions of the two brothers showed the Fords are a “family that supports one another.” This spoke to their character, and apparently, means these are the kinds of people she wanted to be her city’s mayor.

What’s even more surprising was that this caller said she previously opposed Rob Ford, based on his policies. Her one-hundred-eighty degree turn was based on an emotional response to a candidate falling ill, dropping out of a political race and his brother taking on the role.

Image Creative Commons
It makes a romantic story: one man stricken by disease has to step away from a contest, so his brother steps into his place.

Personally, I try to make my political decisions rationally, based on the issues I believe important in the day, and which way the candidates will move on those issues.

I know. That makes me weird.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

A very proper proposal: boycott Fox News — and not just them

The only kind of fox thinking people should pay attention to.
Photo Red Fox #3 by Rylee Islit Photography. Used under Creative Commons licence.

Last week, the satirical site The Daily Currant ran a story saying conservative ranter Ann Coulter recommended that the US government purposely infect refugee children who arrive at the border with ebola.

It was a satire, sure, but it was shocking partly because it seems only a little more extreme, stupid and disgusting than the things Ann Coulter has already said. Like “…college campuses serve as sort of internment camp for useless leftists in wartime. We know where they are, this way. And, as General Patton said, 'I love it when they come out and shoot at me because then I know where they are and I can shoot the bastards.’” (Source: http://terryturtletuthpaste.tripod.com/Quotes.htm/)

Coulter never advocated (at least publicly) deliberately infecting people with Ebola, just shooting them.

The far-right crew spouting regularly on the Fox network and similar outlets has a habit of making comments and suggestions that collapse under the weight of their own stupidity, let alone a single fact.

Sean Hannity: “Here you are, you're a liberal, probably define peace as the absence of conflict. I define peace as the ability to defend yourself and blow your enemies into smithereens.” October 2009 (Source: http://politicalhumor.about.com/od/foxnews/a/Stupid-Fox-News-Quotes.htm)

Bill O’Reilly: “Asians aren’t liberals because they’re industrious and hard-working”—2013 (Source: http://www.salon.com/2013/12/26/fox_news_5_worst_moments_of_2013/)

Fox doesn't have a monopoly on stupid lies, of course. 

Rush Limbaugh: “So Miss Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.” March 1, 2012, saying that a woman who wants health insurance to cover contraception is a prostitute.

Sarah Palin: "Why are you even worried about fast food wages?"—on her own Internet TV channel.

Fox Noise—What does the Fox say?

In short, Fox News and their ilk of right-wing US commentators are not a viable source of information or analysis for anyone who likes to think to decide how to feel about the world.

They are great fodder for comedy, but that raises a problem: does commenting on them, even making fun of them, raise their profile even more? Give them credence?

The uproar that Rush Limbaugh causes every time he makes an especially horrible comment feeds his ego and his career, proving to advertisers that he can draw an audience. And encourages him to say even worse things.

Very proper foxies

“Very Proper Charlies” was a novella by Dean Ing, published in 1978 about journalists thwarting terrorism by refusing to report it. Terrorism in the 1970s seemed almost innocuous compared to today: it usually involved hijacking a plane and threatening to kill passengers one by one until their demands were met, as opposed to the mass killings of the 21st century.

In the story, journalists theorized that if the goal of terrorism is to attract media attention to a cause, then the solution would be to ignore it. The logic was “if we didn’t report it, the terrorists would have no reason to spread terror.”

Journalists around the world stopped reporting any terrorist attacks. In the story, when the terrorists realized their antics were no longer effective, they gave it up.
I don’t think this a realistic approach to solving terrorism. But it may be a useful approach to silencing the verbal bullies. Let them talk; just don’t listen. Tune out.

They’re all on various commercial media and dependent on advertising. If thinking people stop reacting, and more importantly, stop listening and watching them, their sponsors will notice, eventually, that the audience is declining and stop paying them. And finally, they’ll be silent.

So this is my proposal: to counter the hate-filled and false prophets such as those I’ve listed, but not limited to them, let’s boycott them. Thinking people everywhere, ignore the Coulters, Limbaughs and their ilk in all languages. Don’t tune in to Fox News, read the newspapers or visit the websites of those who use lies and made-up bullshit to mislead people.

This strategy may take a very long time to have an impact. It may not work at all. But it’s an experiment I’d like thinking people to try.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Inspiration from the natural world

The Canadian Shield. Trees down to the water's edge.
I've made it back from the wilderness!
A typical "Canadian sunset" picture. 

Actually, I've been back for three days now, and it wasn't that wild. While the Mattawa is significant as part of the original "river highway" of Canada, used by the fur traders as part of the route from Montreal to the Great Lakes, today it's paralleled by a highway, dammed and is home to many summer cottages.
A rapids on a small stream as it enters the Mattawa.

Still, it's an inspiring landscape, evoking thoughts not only of the early days of European exploration of North America and the founding of Canada, but also of far older civilizations (Algonquin, Ojibwa, etc.), and of the deep power of the Earth itself. 
The Stepping Stones reach about halfway across the river as it leaves Trout Lake. 

I find these pictures spark ideas for stories and essays. What about you? Can you attach a story, or at least the beginning of a story to any of these pictures? Share in the Comments section if you can.