The Unsinkable brian cork™

Brian Patrick Cork is living the Authentic Life

jeffersonian expectations against Realities. Or, the predicted triumph of the few over the fewer

December1

It’s been a rather long, tumultuous, and educational experiential journey refamiliarizing myself with the PC (as opposed to Apples), Windows – by way of the Android Operating System – and technology in the form of upheaval; the kind that requires and creates change. “Experiential” is an interesting word for the purposes of this post. The word derives it’s meaning from a learning process at the feet of old philosophers, yet it’s also apropos to a dedicated process of learning something new by, essentially, immersion. And, here we are…

Along the way, I find myself constantly reminded that we’ve become terribly reliant upon the internet for information with it being the uncertain arbiter of truth.

So… It’s become my view that the Internet, or any technology can not, will not, and should not act as a proxy to achieve the dreams and social goals we lack the courage to propose, debate, and legislate.

Thusly, I stand firm the Jeffersonian and Heterodox.

And, not often enough, we’ve discussed what being Jeffersonian means, on this Blog. However, today I’ll add some thought around what it does not mean. There will most certainly be the shaking of fists – and, furiously, that. Possibly the gnashing of teeth. Heated words, to be sure. The portent of change, inevitable.

NOTE: Don’t be overly concerned if you are reading this and come to a bound conclusion that you’ve waded, possibly unsuspecting, into my thinking mid-stream. We must all begin somewhere, and it’s how we finish, and that likely, counts for the most.

In any event, I’ll offer this abstract to maneuver you along:

It is often claimed that Internet technology will revolutionize society by privileging the small and benefiting the individual. We term the utopian tendency to hail a new communication technology as an inherently positive, decentralizing, and democratic force. In a manner of speaking this might be referred to as an example of the: “the Jeffersonian syndrome (named in honor of my hero so often appropriated to identify the decentralized, democratic outcome – the predicted triumph of the many over the few).”

It’s not just me, mind you. Others started it…

“Life in cyberspace seems to be shaping up exactly like Thomas Jefferson would have wanted: founded on the primacy of individual liberty and a commitment to pluralism, diversity, and community” (Kapor, 1993).

And,

“…the social liberalism of New Left and the economic liberalism of New Right have converged into an ambiguous dream of a hi-tech ‘Jeffersonian democracy’. Interpreted generously, this retro-futurism could be a vision of a cybernetic frontier where hi-tech artisans discover their individual self-fulfillment in either the electronic agora or the electronic marketplace” (Barbrook & Cameron, 1998).

Huh? “agora”?

Social critics dislike paucity. For example, society (that collective you), they (the social critics) complain, suffers when there are too few firms in a market, too few political choices, or too little communication. Small numbers of firms coordinate actions to stifle entry and innovation, largely at the expense of consumers. Concentration at the most extreme results in rapacious monopolies that produce inferior products at high prices. Likewise, a small number of political parties limit voter choice, stifle policy change, and produce voter apathy and special interest politics. Society would clearly be better served, so the critics argue, by greater political choice and the accompanying increased voter participation. Too little communication is also bad for society, as limited communication precludes understanding, diversity, and community.

Weep not for the minority, although, it is that collective “they” that hold most of the power, and the wealth, under many definitions, that is part of it.

Social critics often place their hopes in technology to erode the dominance of the few and foster diversity. Many view the internet as a liberating technology. Indeed, they embrace the internet as subversive, a technology that will pry power away from the few – tyrants, censors, robber barons and phone monopolies (let’s not forget Obama, Obamacrats, and that insidious media) and return it to the people. The internet, so the critics claim, will usher in a new era of perfect market competition, more direct democracy, and greater community-building (cf. Dyson, 1997). Ultimately, it will undermine the dominant few in many segments of society, and usher in a more democratic and heterogeneous political and economic system.  A system that will produce infinite consumer choice in the marketplace, deliver true democracy in the political realm, and provide unlimited and enhanced communication in the cultural realm.

This view leads to fallacious expectations about the impact of technology. And, these misguided expectations are cyclic and predictable. Corollary to this might be  a brief historical discussion of earlier communication technologies. Jeffersonian claims about the Internet are rebutted by the three propositions:

1.  New technologies do not operate in isolation from existing organizations and systems;

2.  Valuable information is never cheap; and,

3.  The economics of information markets imply concentrated structures.

And, so… The Internets non-Jeffersonian impact on economic, political, and community structures is discussed using three cases:

1.  The online market for books;

2.  The claims made about direct democracy; and,

3.  And, political parties, and the hopes for computer- mediated communities.

It’s not that I wish to promote an opposite, dystopian perspective, nor do I consider the Internet impotent in terms of societal change.

Instead, I wish to call attention to the Jeffersonian-esque view of technology as a very predictable mis-perception that is a waste of our energies.

First, as a society we must, in reasoned deliberation, conclude that we are in need of one or more of the goals we have discussed here; be it less concentrated markets, greater economic efficiency, more direct democracy, a more decentralized political system, or more participatory and emancipatory communities.

Second, after a rational analysis of our goal and the changes needed in the social, political, and economic domains to approach it (addressing also the question of if and how “the” internet has the potential to aid us in these ends).

Third, and perhaps finally, we need to advance that goal through policy.

The hype surrounding technology is also predictably old: the introduction of the PC ushered in the “PC revolution” quite simply because many analysts expected the technology to usher in just that – a revolution (a revolution of what and how the revolution was to happen was never quite specified). The hype and bluster of the internet and in particular electronic markets is thus just yet another round of new technologies and anticipated revolutions.

Think in terms of what the catapult meant to war nine hundred years ago.

These technologies have had, and may yet have, a broad range of important and far-reaching implications. The question on the table is whether these technologies will deliver on the promised Jeffersonian expectations of decentralization and democratization, or whether this revolution will yet again fail to materialize. As I’ll struggle, here, in my own inarticulate manner, to have made clear, the weight of history leads us to doubt, the present conditions in electronic commerce lead us to doubt, the claims made about direct democracy lead us to doubt, and the idolatry of the computer-mediated community lead us to doubt.

This makes me perhaps not fearful, but certainly watchful of the idyllic, sophomoric generation that sees computers and the internet as the “easy button”.

While this post has approached these domains largely using an economic perspective, I’ll grimly suspect that judicious analysis from other perspectives would also cast the Jeffersonian expectation in an unflattering light. But, stay focused on me. But, as my own Mother expounded: Question everything, and accept nothing until the truth of the day is best known.

Where the drive of the heterodox crosses paths with the passion and intellectual nuance of the Jeffersonian, you’ll find that truth in the light of the seeking heart.

Peace be to my Brothers and Sisters.

Brian Patrick Cork

China and the evolution revolution – the vital difference between a trend and a fad

July30

You’ll have no choice but to relish this example of evolution, of a kind.

And, I see a global revolution, of it’s own kind advancing like a glassy-fronted wave. And, it could very well “break” (that’s a good thing from a surfers view) right here on the shores of our own country (that’s the United States, by way of reminder).

Here is the background:

The word out of Shanghai is that factory workers demanding better wages and working conditions are hastening the eventual end of an era of cheap costs that helped make southern coastal China the world’s factory floor.

My people on the ground there are advising me that a series of strikes over the past two months have been a rude wake-up call for the many foreign companies that depend on China’s low costs to compete overseas, from makers of Christmas trees to manufacturers of gadgets like the iPad.

Where once low-tech factories and scant wages were welcomed in a China eager to escape isolation and poverty, workers are now demanding a bigger share of the profits.

So… It’s revolution intersecting evolution, then.

The government, meanwhile, is pushing foreign companies to make investments in areas it believes will create greater wealth for China, like high technology.

Many companies are striving to stay profitable by shifting factories to cheaper areas farther inland or to other developing countries, and, not just a few, are even resuming production in the West.

They have little choice. Many of today’s Chinese factory workers have both a taste of western influence, and now higher ambitions than their parents, who generally saved their earnings from assembling toys and television sets for retirement in their rural hometowns. This change-oriented generation are also choosier about wages and working conditions. “The conflicts are challenging the current set-up of low-wage, low-tech manufacturing, and may catalyze the transformation of China’s industrial sector,” said Yu Hai, a sociology professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University.

Even with recent increases, wages for Chinese workers are still a fraction of those for Americans (even their distant Indian brothers). However, studies clearly indicate that China’s overall cost advantage is shrinking. That’s a trend and not a fad.

It might turn out that outsourcing, in general, was the fad.

Labor costs have been climbing about fifteen percent (15%) a year since a 2008 labor contract law that made workers more aware of their rights. It should be noted that tax preferences for foreign companies ended in 2007. Land, water, energy and shipping costs are unquestionably on the rise.

In its most recent survey, issued in February, restructuring firm Alix Partners found that, overall, China was more expensive than Mexico, India, Vietnam, Russia and Romania. We’re investigating the Philippines (but, then so are most law enforcement agencies, eh).

Makers of toys and trinkets, Christmas trees and cheap shoes already have folded by the thousands or moved away, some to Vietnam, Indonesia or Cambodia. But those countries lack the huge work force, infrastructure and markets China can offer, and most face the same labor issues as China.

Here is an opportunity, if not form of prediction:

So, ironically the evolution of our own economy may be setting the stage and create opportunities for companies around the globe to bring manufacturing and related services back to the United States. We have massive infrastructure and trained people throughout the midwest ready, willing and able to take-on the assembly line for a chance at a dignified living. Now we need our own government to step-up and incentivize companies to create another industrial revolution.

Peace be to my Brothers and Sisters.

Brian Patrick Cork

kids can't be Sinners

March21

As “they” say: “you’re only as happy as your most unhappy kid”.

My little Emma Jo is learning how to use email. She has her own .me (Apple) account, and is rather focused and demanding when it comes to protocol. For example, I will likely receive a call on my cellular telephone this afternoon from a potentially irate Emma Jo minutes after she launches a communique:

“Daddy, I sent you an email how come you didnot send me one?”

However, this will certainly present itself with an opportunity and an invitation out for ice cream at Bruesters, some hand-holding and possibly roller skating. So, mine is the advantage, to be sure.

As many of you know, Haley Anne is embroiled in a revolution, of sorts, at her Middle school. She was also recently named as a captain on her soccer team. Additional strain on her emerging thirteen year old psyche includes a titanic effort to improve her grades (especially math and social studies) in order to qualify for a new cellular telephone (the current model apparently is not feature rich enough). All this while her heart is breaking over the broken relationship with her erstwhile best friend:

“Daddy I didn’t think she could be so mean!”

[…just wait my love. There is so much grand adventure, promise and heartbreak ahead. And, I want to be there, just off of your shoulder, every step of the way.]

Every earthly father must see the visage of an angel in the face(s) of our beloved (oh, unyielding cherish!) daughters. They can never represent anything but the best that life can promise – all the while inspiring unseemly fear in our hearts around events uncertain. I must trust that my role in Haley Anne and Emma Jo’s lives will offer it’s lasting impressions. And, I can trust their judgment (Haley Anne’s, anyway with Emma Jo only seven). I have only the requirement that holds me true to my own course – and ever vigilant reminder to reflect and represent and lead, some how, by example.

Stay tuned.

I love being a Dad.

Peace be to my Brothers and Sisters.

Brian Patrick Cork

it's Revolution at Hopewell Middle School – Part I

March17

Readers of this Blog; and, you are legion, know I’ll not shy away from a good cause. Reasonable examples of this include: Berkeley’s Contribution To Terrorism and Texting and Driving to Death. My heart is on my sleeve daily, and what’s on my mind is, more often than not, in these posts.

Education, my daughters, and adventure are always likely topics.

Nonetheless… Who would have thought; although I should have known…

…my own daughter is a revolutionary.

The winds of change are blowing stiffly through the halls of Hopewell Middle School.

We Home Schooled Haley Anne for almost three years. And, in that period of time, many of my own Jeffersonian ideals clearly rubbed-off on her. Fairness, representation, truth and light to name just a few standards, if you will.

Haley Anne and her sister Emma Jo “mainstreamed” themselves this year. By any definition, they are well-adjusted and poised young ladies. Willfulness is part of all that. But, that’s okay by me because they are full of ideals, and the vigor to realize them.

And, now Haley is clearly influencing her friends.

So… For me, this story begins, possibly in the middle of significant events that began with Joanne calling and letting me know that the schools Principal had Haley Anne’s cellular telephone and was requesting a meeting as quickly as possible.

“Haley’s not home yet. I don’t have any details”, I was grimly informed.

But, soon we learned…

(well, we already knew that) Haley Anne’s (then) Home Room teacher looks to be in her late thirties. However, by way too many accounts, she acts like another thirteen year old. She ignores most of the kids while she sits in front of her classroom computer, with a favored student, and shops Holister online (just so we are clear, I’d rather our kids not be exposed to that for now). The other students are lucky if she gives them enough attention in the form of grading other classes home work for her.

Haley Anne took the position that any amount of time spent in this teachers classroom was wasted. “She doesn’t teach us anything”. And, she was offended by the teachers unprofessional actions that included using words like “deusche” to describe other teachers, and “gay” relative to unfortunate students that raised her ire. She would go so far as to belittle students for not wearing trendy clothes.

Haley Anne had been signaling Joanne and myself that she was not happy with the teacher. And, unfortunately we failed to take her seriously. Even when Haley Anne reminded me that I would not allow her to shop at Holister because of the poor image it portrayed young men and women, and this teacher was shopping on that very site in front of the class, and making remarks out loud.

So, Haley Anne took matters into her own hands. She discreetly (and, the cow teacher would not have noticed anyway) began taking video footage with her cellular telephone. She approached the schools principal with this evidence, but was ignored. So, she instinctively began talking about the problem, openly in the halls of Hopewell (oh, the irony of that institution’s name!). At some point, and during a particularly heated berating of another student, the teacher realized she was being filmed (by Haley Anne and another student). She demanded that Haley Anne turn over the cellular device.

Naturally, being a Cork, Haley Anne stood her ground (she’s also a formidable Defender on her soccer team, and thus, accustomed to stopping foes cold in their tracks). As reflected by many a coward the teacher had little stomach for the righteous. And, I can, with a smile, picture in my minds-eye, Haley Ann’e beautiful brown eyes arched in cold and indignant fury.

Thomas Jefferson would be proud, of this I’m certain, reader.

We did meet with the school’s principal and the woman they call a teacher (with a straight face, no less). All she could muster was an pouty, self-indulgent, and indignant claim that (her own) “…feelings had been hurt”. She did deny that she shopped Holister. That was until I advised her a simple technology and forensics audit could put the question to rest. At that point she sat back in her chair and chose to go quiet while the Principal promised to see what accommodations could be made for Haley Anne.

The teacher in question is now openly hostile and Haley Anne is being censured. For example, she was pulled from a transitional class (homework) where she was surrounded by friends with whom she could go to lunch and dropped in the midst of a group of bullies who openly threatened her. She stood her ground, certainly. But, more on that later.

There is now more to this unfortunate story. And, it will be reported, here. Of that you can rest assured. Please don’t forget to hold me accountable for truth and light in this matter. This is about me being both a father and a Prudent and Optimistic Gentleman.

NOTE:  Regarding scienter… The Principal, as the authority, now understands there is an issue in his ranks. He has no choice but to resolve it, or be damned by it.

I’ll be sending that Principal a copy of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead – and, you know there will be a quiz, in one form or another.

Peace be to my Brothers and sisters.

Brian Patrick Cork

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What’s All This About?

"What am I looking at?", you might wonder.

Lots of stuff.

Meanwhile, here, I discuss events, people and things in our world - and, my (hardly simplistic, albeit inarticulate) views around them.

You'll also learn things about, well, things, like people you need to know about, and information about companies you can't find anywhere else.

So, while I harangue the public in my not so gentle way, you will discover that I am fascinated by all things arcane, curious about those whom appear religious, love music, dabble in politics, loathe the media, value education, still think I am an athlete, and might offer a recipe.

All the while, striving mightily, and daily, to remain a prudent and optimistic gentleman - and, authentic.

brian cork by John Campbell





photos by John Campbell

 

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