Friday, September 25, 2009

Soap box weaving and bobbing on the waves of the sea of my frustration

I grew up before the Internet. My entire adolescence was devoid of Internet access. That's not to say there were no computers, but getting 'online' was a rarity and was limited to local BBS's. So I knew my bullies face to face. They were often big, dumb and mean. As a geek/nerd in that time, you learn how to face them, without stooping to their level or avoiding them all together (not really so easy). So what happened?

Now with the Internet there are bullies every where. Forums and chat rooms are filled with them. The thing is, they aren't the big dummies any more. They are reasonably smart people that should know better but they either don't care or never learned.

These online bullies, often known as 'trolls', pick on and laugh at the 'noobs', the less Internet savvy. Go to any forum, blog, social site, and you'll see it. I visit frequently for interesting news. From time to time I read the comments associated with the stories and the amount of trolling and ignorance is astounding. There is rarely respect for thought out discussion. More frequently than not, comments are emotional and based on misinformation.

What happened to intellectual discourse? Did it ever really exist in the general public? Is the lack or respect on the Internet a reflection of the lack of respect outside in the real world?

I wonder if the ease in which someone can post an anonymous comment gives the author the feeling that it's OK to let their thoughts go without consideration for others? Let's face it, most things posted on the Internet would never be spoken aloud in a face to face conversation.

It could be argued that it allows us to be more honest with our feelings. Perhaps, but if that's the case there are a lot of assholes and douche bags out there.

And really, if you cannot say it in person, but you can online, then it's simply another kind of passive aggressiveness. I should know I am passive aggressive myself. Does that mean human society is becoming more passive aggressive? I doubt it. I'm sure the Internet is just allowing everyone to see the true nature of some people.

The interesting thing is that passive aggressive behavior is often linked to being bullied, in one way or another. It's a defense mechanism. Direct confrontation is one sided. With a physical bully, they are bigger or have some power over you. Since direct is not available an indirect solution is found. Indirect doesn't mean bad, but it can lead to indirect attacks that are really no better than the bully's direct attack. I think that is what we are seeing online. The evolution of the bullied becoming the bullies.

Geek is cool now. That nerd sitting next to you might be the next Michael Dell, Biz Stone, or even Bill Gates. People are attracted to power. But these geeks and nerds are still often less confident in social situations and the big physical bullies are plenty confident. This struggle of powers is creating sides, sides that have been in battle for years but now with the Internet the geeks have a powerful new weapon. The problem is that this weapon has made them no better than the bullies they hate.

Originally I thought to blame all of this on the families that do not spend enough time with their kids. Parents that are so focused on their jobs that their kids suffer for it. While I do think this contributes, they are not completely to blame. Our society as a whole as shifted away from respect, so people are feeling that it's OK to not be respectful, even those who are old enough to have been taught respect.

We cannot discipline our kids, for fear of being accused of child abuse. Teachers are no longer allowed to have failing students. Everyone must be the same. We've gotten so politically correct that real life rules are pushed aside for lame PC rules. You can't lets kids fail, so everyone else has to dumb down for that one dumb kid in class. Sure no one wants to be that dumb kid, but everyone knows were are not all the same. We act like everyone should be able to be a rocket scientist. While I agree that everyone should have the equal opportunity to be a rocket scientist, not everyone has what it takes and that is OK.

Instead schools are judged on on standardized tests and truly gifted children are forced to be bored in classes so that a few less intelligent kids will be able to move forward. I remember kids being held back a grade for failing or having to go to special education classes. These were the kids who became the bullies because they had to make up for their lack of educational achievement with physical prowess. Now that the school says all kids are the same, the smart ones are turning into the bullies because they need to stand out. They need to say, "Hey, I AM smarter than you. When you are online I'm going to call you a noob and not help you because this is MY domain."

It's funny, that we fight so hard to stay away from a socialized economy and socialized healthcare. All I hear from the extreme political right is about how the US is becoming a socialist country, but I never hear anything about our education system which is trying to homogenize our youth. Trying to make them fit into cookie cutter molds. They fight it but don't know why, they just know it's wrong. Is anyone helping these kids focus their energy constructively? It used to be the teachers, but they are over worked, under paid and forced to teach kids how to take standardized tests.

So in the end these trolls and online bullies, who are smart enough to know better, are having to come to terms with who they are and how they use their knowledge on their own. If they are lucky they'll find a positive role model. If not it may take them years to mature into productive members of a society that has forgotten how to respect one another.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Quick Health Care Reform Thought

So why is that if you do not have health insurance the rates are higher than when you do have insurance? That right there is not fair or reasonable.

Rates are too high as it is, but the cost of health care should not matter if you have insurance or not.

I've heard, but cannot confirm, that the reason is that most who do not have insurance will likely default on the costs associated with their health care, especially expensive procedures, so they raise the prices so they can write off more, decreasing their taxes. If this is the case, that should be illegal. As far as I'm concerned that's tax evasion and fraud.

The same goes for the drug companies. There is no reason at all that a drug that costs $200 with insurance should cost $2000 without. All that says is, 'screw you poor people. We are trying to squeeze as much profit from this drug as possible before the FDA makes us recall it because we rushed it out the door or before the exclusive patent dies and generic drug makers can start making it.'

I'm not against a public health insurance plan, but fix the price dependency and a public option may become less needed. Though I'm sure those corporations would find some other way to reclaim that lost profit.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Non-Profit Business Idea

Every time I drive around Lincoln I see some great old houses that are run down and think, how great would it be to fix those up. Flipping houses was profitable for those who knew what they were doing before the real estate bubble and economy, as a whole, popped.

Flipping isn't what I have in mind though. It's more along the lines of Extreme Make Over Home Edition. There are many homes owned or rented by those making minimum wage or less. Now with an unemployment rate at just over 9% there are probably those who were once middle-class hurting.

The problem is that when money is tight there are other priorities than your home, until they become critical. Those are the people I want to help.

Who would be helped would be decided based on requests. A needy family would submit for assistance. Friends or family would also be able to submit for others. An inspector would be sent out to evaluate the specific problem or problems and rate them on a point system. The inspector would also note any other problems that needed to be addressed and rate them accordingly.

The inspections would be evaluated and tackled on a highest need first basis. This would also be highly dependent on resources. Lets face it, there are many needy families and homes out there and one organization, especially just getting started, would not be able to help everyone.

The organization would be highly dependent on volunteers, not only for money, but for time and resources. Asking for labor and experience not only from contractors but skilled DIYers would be a large part of the success of the organization. There would be room for non-skilled laborers as well, but from my, admittedly small, experience with Habitat for Humanity, those individuals are not always needed.

I should note that I have nothing but respect for Habitat for Humanity, but I don't want to build new homes. I'm against urban sprawl and the current trend of cookie cutter homes. There are so many great old neighborhoods with beautiful old homes that just need some work to become great once again.

In addition to the remodeling aspect of the organization there would likely need to be a store-front/warehouse. Asking for labor and even financial donations is great but not everyone is able to give those, so for those who cannot give in that way, perhaps they can give extra materials from their own remodel or even buy needed items, just as others do when they buy extra groceries for donation to the local food bank. Many times during a remodel or even in new construction there are left over or salvageable materials. These could be used in the organizations remodel projects or sold in the store-front. In the past I purchased a window for a basement in just such a store. There were a lot of great usable goods there.

So why wouldn't the organization just use any materials donated to it? Well there are two reasons I can think of and they speak of how I think any of these remodels should be done. First, some donated materials, such as windows, may be old and inefficient. Some people would be interested in them for preserving historic homes, but that's not the goal here. The second reason is simple, time. An organization that is living heavily on the labor of volunteers has to be efficient. Recycling is great and I would want to do so as much as reasonable, but there are going to be times when getting new will save money by saving time.

I think any remodel done should be done correctly from the start. That means doing any and all work to code. That also means doing it with the right materials. As I mentioned, recycling has it's place, but using the right materials will make sure the work done will last for many years instead of a couple years or even months. I don't want to have to revisit a home that has been fixed, not only is that bad public relations, it's just bad. If we can't do it right we shouldn't do it.

That leads me to my main area of uncertainty. What do we do when a house is beyond repair or the repair costs would be so high that it doesn't make sense to fix it. We can't just leave those people high and dry, but as I said before, I don't want to be in the new house construction business. Would tearing down and rebuilding be cost effective? Would it be better to buy another fixer upper for that family, and fix that one for them? Would there be enough financial donations to maintain either of those solutions? From my experience with food banks, it's not so much labor that they are short on but rather food and money. Having to completely rebuild or buy another home for a family would be very costly and could make it difficult to help the others who might just need a new roof or new stove. Those are choices I don't relish.

Perhaps a partnership with other non-profit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army, or even local churches is the solution.

I'm certain I would do this locally. Not only because of my love for my town and state, but because there is no way I could help all the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of needy people. That is part of the reason I'm posting this 'business plan' on my blog. I don't care if someone else takes this idea and runs with it. In fact I'd be delighted if they did!