Monday, May 7, 2012

Items for the Day

1. Why so aloof?

So, what have I been up to lately to occupy my time? In short: consulting various online information bases, e.g., wikipedia, reddit, rateyourmusic, acclaimedmusic, Scaruffi, Amazon, Oxford philosophy podcasts, Arts & Letters Daily, Greenwald, Sullivan, etc., really studying up on the world of Western classical music (next: rock, jazz and popular music), following lots of links, and vigorously applying the motto just below this blog's headline. (C'mon, whatever else you think of Rand, she's really right-on with this one.) How many of your "leading philosophers" out there today can lay claim to be doing all that? :-) (Next up: publishing the results of all this research ASARP.)

2. Mahler = the first supermusic?

That's the question that arose in my mind recently, since I absorbed his music more deeply and observed how it really seems to take music to the next level. That only prompted further curiosity about the rest of the world of classical music I had yet to "get," including especially Bach, Wagner, Bruckner, Schoenberg, and Shostakovich, or music I had been downgrading for not being robustly Romantic enough, e.g., Mozart. This also leads me further to question what I may have missed about the world of rock, jazz, and popular music. At the present time I have yet to find music that exceeds Mahler's in power and beauty, and there hardly seems any music since that matches it. From my experience the closest that comes to it in rock music, I believe, is work like Radiohead's 1997 album OK Computer (emerging over time, as younger generations age, as the most acclaimed album of the rock era). I don't think it meets or exceeds Mahler, however, and my hope is that one day the younger music fans out there will see this, too (along with having a general education in philosophy / critical thinking).

3. Politics and the 2012 election

Unless either of the two major presidential candidates has the balls to address $46 trillion dollar fiscal elephant in the room that are the Medicare and Social Security trust funds, I may find it hard to get at all excited about this year's race. (We already know they won't touch things like long-term climate change and potential resource-depletion, issues a science-literate polity would be concerned about, with a ten-foot pole.) I've seen estimates go as high as $70 trillion.

[EDIT: Okay, so for those of you reading this in 3012, what does $46 trillion mean? Well, in 2012, the national debt is somewhere around $15 trillion, nearly the size of the U.S. economy (GDP). This figure is actually the "gross federal debt" figure which includes some $5 trillion or so which is owed by one part of government to another, namely, the money in the Social Security and Medicare "trust funds." The $15 trillion figure is what gets cited a lot in the media. It is widely considered a staggering sum perhaps never to be paid back, though we have a number of commentators telling to take into account the load of debt relative to GDP and put this in historical context. Alright then: At the end of World War II, the USA had a national debt of around 125% of GDP. What that dollar figure was in 1946 I have an admittedly vague idea, but it is somewhere around $100 billion. $100 billion in today's dollars would be less than one percent of GDP. That was money all owed to "the public," being that Social Security was in its infancy and Medicare had yet to be formed. Further, the USA at the end of World War II was in such a position relative to the rest of the world that the 25-year postwar boom was pretty much inevitable, and since that time real median living standards have only crept up slowly and are now almost stagnating, with an increasingly uneducated and undercapitalized populace, particularly relative to world standards. On top of that, now consider this: the $46 trillion dollar figure is a present value figure, that is, the estimated obligations to come due to these "trust funds" in the future comes to around 3 times our present GDP. Present value means the time-discounted value of a sum divided into equal payments over a period of time. We actually have to discount by two factors: the time discount (the rate of interest) and the inflation discount. In the case of the United States government, the assumed time period involved approaches "the infinite horizon," and over that same period the present value of expected accumulated future GDP comes out to somewhere around $1 quadrillion dollars. In other words, as things are on there present course, we are basically on the hook for about 4.6% of our nation's entire productive future to cover coming Social Security and Medicare obligations. This is in comparison to the approximately 1.5% of our nation's entire productive future committed to paying off the national debt. In non-discounted terms, this comes out to the hundreds of trillions, or perhaps more, some decades down the line - an amount that seems staggering to us now the way that $100 billion doesn't seem like so much to us now, the way it did in 1946. Anyway, bottom line: if we're going to be crippled by debt nearly equaling our current GDP, then what about the looming obligations presently valued at around 3 times our current GDP? Think what might happen if 1946 USA were on the hook for obligations coming due totaling around $400 billion in then-present value with an annual GDP of $80 billion? And without the ignorant and decadent citizenry that is the norm today?]

Anyway, in a well-educated educated citizenry, this $46 trillion would not go almost entirely ignored while nearly everyone can tell you who Ryan Seacrest is (but few could tell you who Immanuel Kant is, much less who Rawls, Nozick, or Chomsky are). And were it to be addressed more than nominally, you'd have one side, driven along by the Occupy Wall Streeters, blaming capitalism (not enough taxes) and another side blaming government (too many promises in face of domestic and global economic reality). I can see where the capitalism-blamers are coming from, and still think they've got some head in sand about some economic fundamentals, stuff that the likes of Krugman, Mankiw, Cowan or Caplan wouldn't buy into. As for who is to blame, it really all comes down to how ignorant and decadent the American public have gotten over the years; the consequent vices comes out in both private and public sectors. As to whether the GOP has dodged its political bullet by nominating Romney (the only GOP candidate besides John Huntsman minimally qualified to mount a serious challenge to President Obama), that certainly remains to be seen. The crazy is strong in the party (the birfer stuff still won't go away, for one thing, and its approach to science is now certifiably pathological), and never forget 2008: a "reasonable" candidate was nominated, and we still got a flaky, fundamentalist ignoramus proposed - with an actual straight face, mind you - as ready to have control of the red button. Now that's crazy. In fact, seeing what the party base might still have up its sleeve in the train-wreck department may be the only motivation for watching the whole electoral charade.

4. Is it just me... or was the internet just a lot smarter back in the days of Usenet? Try as one might, I don't think one could find the true equivalent to alt.philosophy in today's internet. (Anyone who remembers those days and uses reddit much for discussion knows that reddit's format simply doesn't cut it compared the Usenet's newsgroups.) Which begs the question: What happened?!