Flavor Pairings: Why Grow Herbs For Cooking, Cocktails, And Culinary Crafts

September 10, 2016

I remember my first herb class on growing herbs for culinary and creative crafts. I left that annual herb sale with young fragrant plants, with just enough knowledge to be dangerous wielding a trowel, and a perpetual enthusiasm that all contributed to help me form my first edible garden oasis.After a trip to Home Depot, I was armed with shiny silver tools, bags of potting soil to house my foliage friends, fertilizer to make them grow, and the inner drive to begin digging my way to becoming a green thumb farmer girl!Now, 20 years later, it’s hard to imagine my kitchen without a bunch of basil on the counter, herbs drying on racks, and jars of dried oregano and chocolate mint within easy reach at each meal. From summer’s juicy ripe berries, peaches, and tomatoes to fall’s vibrant harvest of squash, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes, onto holiday turkey and ham feasts, and into hearty winter stews and casseroles, herbs enhance every season’s fare!

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I’m still thrilled to witness the miracle of propagation each time with every plant. I shelter them in stormy weather, talk to them while watering, trim their leaves, and weed their beds. In return, I’m rewarded with savory, spicy, and fruity aromas, a relaxing hobby, a healthy method of adding flavor to food and cocktails that lasts all year long, and great natural photography backgrounds!Do you have herbs and are looking for ideas on how to use them? Do you see those little plastic packets of greenery hanging in the grocery store but have no clue what to do with them? Maybe you want to expand your culinary horizons and explore your green thumb capabilities? Many people are lured into using fresh herbs through the culinary route.This is the first in a series of articles on growing herbs for cooking, cocktails, and culinary crafts. Plus tips on pairing all kinds of flavors, from custom infused oils and balsamic vinegars to herbs, spirits, sweet and savory dishes. When you marry the right foods together into a succulent harmonious balance, the results are amazing and herbs contribute such character to your cuisine.This isn’t about becoming a food snob or being tethered to rules, except for this one; seasoning is vital in cooking and herbs go hand in hand with that philosophy. I’ll offer general guidelines along with novel combinations I’ve discovered but there’s no one taste fits all. It’s thrilling to develop original recipes and tweak the traditional dishes we savor. Play with new ingredients. It’s great fun to use homegrown edibles but if you don’t want to grow plants yourself, buy a few freshly packaged herbs from the store and practice cooking with them.Be daring with oil and vinegar selections. There’s a wonderful store called Savor The Olive in Virginia Beach that is a tasting room full of unique fused and infused oils and light and dark balsamic vinegars. If you have one of those in your area as well as wine tastings, take advantage of going for a visit. Experiment, so that your sense of taste gets stronger and more acute and it will tell you how much to use.

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Herbs add to the enjoyment of cooking and help you personalize what you’ve prepared. Being a chef is an art. Each person has a unique touch and flavor palate. The kitchen is your studio, the plate your blank canvas. Let instinct and imagination guide you. Herbs are one of the tools in your aromatic arsenal that enable you to present a mouthwatering masterpiece.Hope you’ll join me on a tasting tour of my fertile little deck farm as we pinch and smell the herbs, swirl and taste the wine, envision what main course will be the star of the plate, and tempt your taste buds with food that’s appealing to the eye and tongue.

The Transformation Of Political Science And The Rise In Crime Rates

October 20, 2016

The current field of political sciences is dominated by a multitude of ideas that have never in its history featured so prominently in this discipline. The general belief that it has lost its focus once and for all is from time to time counteracted by different opinions. One of those is that the world has come full circle, that mankind has experimented out all possibilities in terms of ideological thinking and that the liberal democracy as we know it has come out of the process as the prize winner both politically and economically. Some define this as the end of history. It also goes by the name of ultra modernism. Globalisation fits in perfectly and all reflects the increasing complexity that we are finding our world to involve us in and which, in order to come to terms with the bigger magnitude of the whole, we are describing in essentially vague terms.The idea that history might have died a death was first launched in the 1980s by Francis Fukayama who wrote a now famous essay entitled ‘The End of History’, in The National Interest on the subject. The idea has persisted during the subsequent historic reality-altering events leading to our understanding of the world in terms of security and globalization, even though the liberal ground is under siege from left and right wing ideologies, parts of which are finding their way into the democratic liberal discourse.However inappropriate it essentially is to define the new ‘winning ideology’ — the policical science discourse is rife with arguments in favor of departing from old fashioned foundationalism and swapping this for a-systemic ideas gathered from all other disciplines– we are at this time almost as happy with any theory that offers a firm grip on reality as the third world would be with a cure for poverty. Much though the world is changing and much though this fast change is reflected in the sciences, the a-systemic ideas making up the political sciences might not necessarily reflect what’s going on in society one hundred percent adequately.Issues like crime and other ‘anti social behavior’ are significantly underexposed in areas of political scientific studies, say researchers. Our highly developed society and increased sophistication in all the disciplines that results in political sciences being a highly esteemed area for study, delivering no doubt high caliber students to society, does not necessarily guarantee a tangible decline in crime rates. We are missing out something big time. Is this the whiplash of a-systemic thinking we all intuitively fear?If you may believe studies undertaken by political scientists, in future, we won’t have a lot of room for corruption and evil wrongdoers in our society. Leaf through an average new book on political science and find hardly a line, let alone a chapter, dedicated to the evil side of human nature. What makes us all think that synchronising everything automatically leads to a better world and therefore a less violence prone society? In the same breath, you might ask, what is the new Left, the new Right, the Libertarian and the other political mainstream thinking on issues such as the Third World? For all our great knowledge and speedy technology-supported understanding of what is going on, we are still not much better at remedying the main problems the world is faced with.

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Criminology is part of the exercise of deconstructing the past, deconstructing other disciplines and constructing new ideas from a mixture of all of them which keeps social scientists busy these days. Yet it’s not enough apparently to translate into better thinking on the way safety and society can be organised.Whether a certain approach to crime really is to blame for its rise is debatable. What is certain is that modern societies have become safer and more comfortable in many areas but that crime has risen in equal proportion. “When it comes to crime, or more broadly stated ‘antisocial’ behaviour, society has actually become less safe. Crime constitutes an insecurity risk which is difficult to control. Many citizens and organizations will at some stage fall victim – usually completely unexpected -to behaviour which can harm them, physically or financially”, according to a recent research report by the Foresight Institute of the Netherlands, a semi official consultancy. It is one of the few studies in this field.The increasingly Old World definition of the nation state was primarily driven by the desire to resist this sort of danger, the researchers say. They continue that the way we deal with crime has evolved too. It is at this point that state organization is likely to really begin to crumble. A prime, if not the prime raison d’etre for governments is keeping a population relatively safe and free from crime. The more governments are perceived to be failing in providing the desired high level of societal safety, the less justification there is for governments and their imposing taxes on a country’s population.Changes in the way crime is perceived include treatment of the issue in more scientific disciplines than ever. Yet some, including Fukayama, argue that the social sciences lack a distinct central view on human nature, which stems back from the post Kant era. The only reason that I feel you can raise the human nature argument again is that over the last 30 years in the life sciences there has been a lot of empirical work that has made the concept respectable to scientists. Yet social scientists and certainly people in cultural studies have yet to get that message, says Fukayama. They are very resistant to the notion of human nature.The issue is grappled with mostly by people who try to integrate crime studies into a whole range of disciplines. “Crime has lost its exclusiveness, the approach to crime and crime prevention is no longer exclusively the responsibility of the police and the judicial authorities”, say the Foresight institution researchers. This coincided with a tangible change in society too. In the early 1980s, there was a sea change in the approach to crime and crime prevention. Inspired by understandable self-interest, individual citizens, organizations in the community and local authorities started to feel that they bore a responsibility for crime prevention. Nevertheless, the results are not particularly overwhelming and the researchers at Foresight say that for the situation by the year 2010, some areas of research are still vastly underrepresented.One real life example of high profile people sharing this concern is the situation on the Guernsey islands off the coast of the UK. You’d say this small island offers a perfect case to study the governability of a country with a limited population, to try and test the limits of a system to the full. Politicians might well be aware of this. At least, they appear to have a clear idea and are aware of the unique nature of their society and of the effects of the rules they invent. The measurability of crime renders the subject a good target for analysis, sophisticated ideas of governance and societal structures. The self consciousness leads to frequent interesting debates by politicians on this island. Recently, a senior politician attributed the perceived rise in crime and anti-social behavior the effect of “woolly liberal” thinking. He said the increased emphasis on human rights in particular is to blame for the rise in crime.The politician said that his government’s human rights act had led to offenders becoming “untouchable” by the authorities. Warning of the dangers of liberal thinking, he pointed out that there’s no common sense in Guernsey’s human rights laws which others believe ensure rights and responsibilities of citizens are balanced out rather evenly. He said the woolly thinking underlying the human rights ideas on the island led to alcoholism among the younger population for one.This is one of the issues where the argument that improved technology in the hands of police and law enforcers is going to do the trick, won’t do completely. Developments in modern technology and improved understanding of changes in social control are central to ideas about stamping out crime. The foresight researchers recommend that there should be a radical reorganisation of how financial resources are made available to this effect, if crime prevention is to bear any fruit.Research efforts need to be stepped up dramatically if modern society is to develop adequate knowledge in any form or shape. They believe that the demand for scientific knowledge by the institutions, municipalities, government departments and private sector agencies might seem to be a professionalization of the area, but that in fact it does often not mean anything, especially not in the long run.Fundamental scientific research into issues which are already playing a part at this time needs to be stepped up, the institute believes, in order to keep up with the criminal sector. They predict that by 2010, crime will have changed radically as a result of technological and economic developments and changes in social control and cohesion. There is a great need for fundamental research, for interdisciplinary knowledge and knowledge about long-term, ongoing issues such as criminal careers, say the researchers. In the next ten years there will also be a need for more theoretical research focusing on normative and empirical issues.

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The wildly diverging ideas about human beings in the social sciences is exacerbated with a dramatically lowered emphasis on any blatant negative aspects of society in postmodern political science due to the death of positivist thinking. You could argue that this is at the heart of the problem of surging crime despite increased wealth of societies.The political sciences appear most promising in their capacity for addressing the anomalies. It is the best discipline to do so, because it does not plan at neutrality. And, what’s more, the political scientist´s loyalties and engagements will not necessarily be predictable and stable over time. If it doesn’t yield immediate tangible results, it at least is a start. And it makes for less dry reading of the articles and books describing what’s perceived as the state of play in these sciences. You’d imagine that anyone coming up with a theory involving the axiom that history has ended, would be prone to fantasy.And that’s somewhat true; academic attention for total fantastic ideas as a means to understand or create is on the rise. It’s much under attack from critics who say this is a foolish activity, especially when keeping in mind the idea that when you walk the streets of your town you can be subjected to a criminal attack at any given moment. Sceptics will imply that much of the storytelling anyway misses out large parts of reality, especially the less attractive features. Which is, however, not to say that blind spots are not being reduced.But somehow, the rationale itself is changing for the criticism of the ways modern science works. The criticism for instance on the way politicians work, who seem keener to know about the cultural trends, popular culture, the media and power than in the labyrinthine workings of party and parliamentary democracy is that they are not sticking to their own field. Yet the new approaches favored in the political sciences leave more leeway for alternative ways that allow for a greater number of methods to assess reality than many predecessors ever dreamt of.In stead of a total abandonment of all serious work, modern political science presents us with a mixture of both regurgitated theories of old time philosophers and original, rather broad based ideas. And in new, often surprising, ways.Sceptical post modernists will contend that as there is no correct method for political research and researching the political, that it might be wise to adopt an anti-rules method, while the affirmatives may adopt something that can be termed ‘anything goes’. But perhaps several methodologies are best blended together to come to a robust approach to researching a problem. Much hinges too on one’s perspective on history.

Worksite Wellness Coordinators – 3 Measures of Your Program’s Effectiveness and Success (Critical!)

August 29, 2016

The fact that less than 50% of the worksite wellness programs today conduct any type of program analysis or evaluation is a huge problematic issue. You can better manage and improve what you measure. And you do want to better manage and improve your program as needed, right?Essentially, there are three broad areas within your wellness program that you can evaluate. They are: program structure, how the program is being delivered and the program’s expected outcomes.Program StructureResearch has found that effective, successful worksite wellness programs are well-designed and comprehensive in their approach. Therefore, an assessment of a program’s structure focuses on whether key structural components are in place. To assess your program, you need to ask yourself the following questions:1. How committed is your organization’s leadership to the program?2. Are your programming and interventions based on the needs identified by your comprehensive, organization-wide needs assessment?3. Are your programming and interventions aligned to the demographic and health status characteristics of your target audience?4. Are the topics covered relevant to your target audience?

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5. Are your programming and interventions evidence-based?6. Do coherence, consistency, and integration exist between the various components of your program?7. If you use incentives, does the value equal or exceed the requirements needed to obtain the incentives?8. Are your incentives appropriately designed for their intended purpose?9. Does your program have sufficient resources allocated and is the staffing adequate?10. Are the necessary organizational factors important to success integrated into the program design?11. Is the program seen as being a permanent, integrated feature of employee benefits?12. Is the program aligned with the culture of your organization?13. Is there an evaluation infrastructure in place for tracking program impact and outcomes?Program DeliveryEvaluating your program’s delivery is typically called a process type of evaluation. A process evaluation typically examines how well your program is being implemented, if implementation is going according to plan and how the operation and delivery systems are working out. Program delivery evaluations also examine if feedback is routinely being provided that will allow for any necessary or needed changes to occur.Questions to ask relevant to process evaluation include:1. Are the programs reaching and engaging your desired target audience?2. How many participate?3. Are participants completing the interventions?4. Are participants advancing in their readiness to change behaviors?5. Are participants becoming more engaged in improving their health?6. How satisfied are participants with the program?7. Are the programming and interventions relevant to their needs?8. Is the program being delivered in a similar way across all locations or workplaces?9. Are communications and branding strategies getting the attention of the target audience?10. Do the programming and interventions yield sustained participation over time?OutcomesEssentially, measuring outcomes is determining if your program is achieving its desired purpose, goals and objectives within a given timeframe. Typically, evaluation of outcomes is the primary concern of the employer and program staff or vendors. Are their expectations being met?

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The expected outcomes may differ from organization to organization, but typically fall into one or more of three categories: improvements in the health, safety and well-being of program participants, cost savings (generally viewed as being health related cost savings), enhanced individual and business performance metrics and an overall healthier organization.Speaking of outcomes evaluations, it is important to note that conducting a rigorous and credible ROI analysis is time-consuming, expensive, and requires a high level of expertise in statistical analysis, health services research, econometrics, and benefit plan design. An ideal measure of ROI would be to measure costs and savings associated with each program component separately.Measuring the value a worksite wellness program delivers is a much better and more easily doable strategy for most employers. Monetary value is just one type of value measure. This broader value view allows the worksite wellness program to be seen in light of the full value it can bring to the employer and the improvement of the target audience’s health and wellbeing.

Outdoor Activities For the Family

August 23, 2016

Spending time outdoors enjoying family activities with your children is one of the best ways to pass a day. There are fun family outdoor activities that you can take part in year round. Doing things with your children in this way offers unique opportunities to communicate and reconnect while also having fun.Planning fun family outdoor activities takes a little preparation. It’s best to talk with your family and find out which activities they would enjoy, then plan outings accordingly. Medical conditions have to be a consideration also. A child with allergies probably won’t enjoy a walk in the woods as much as the rest of the family. You have to take everything into account so the whole family enjoys the activity.

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There are quite a few outdoor activities to choose from. Here are some you might want to consider:o Boating: If you do have a family member with allergies, you might consider boating as an outdoor family activity. With boating you don’t have tree and flower allergens to deal with.o Hiking: Going for a hike is a great outdoor activity for the whole family. You can take traditional hikes in the woods of your local state parks, go to military parks and use the hike as an educational tool, or even go to botanical gardens and caves for day hikes. Hiking is an activity that you can partake in most any time of the year if your state doesn’t have bad winters. Just make sure you and your children have the appropriate clothing and gear.o Swimming: A day spent swimming at the lake is probably the ultimate fun family outdoor activity. Children love splashing around in the water, and going to the lake is usually a fairly inexpensive activity which is good for your wallet.o Fishing: Get the kids and the fishing gear together and head out to catch the big one. Fishing is a sport that everyone can enjoy. They even have pink fishing poles for little girls these days to make them more interested in the activity. Fishing offers great opportunities for reconnecting for the whole family. Sitting on the creek bank, or in the boat, waiting for the fish to bite, is the perfect time to ask about each other’s day.

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o Skiing: During the winter months the family can go skiing together. Everyone can start out on the bunny slopes together while they learn the ropes. Being on top of the mountain and looking out at the vast horizon and beauty surrounding you is one of the best feelings in the world.Those are just a few ideas to get you started. There are numerous outdoor activities that families can enjoy. Being together is the most important thing. Spending time doing fun family outdoor activities will improve relationships, develop bonds that last a lifetime, and keep everyone active. Make outdoor family activities a part of your life.

Information on Online Games

October 16, 2016

There are many places that offer free online games for a person to fill their spare time with. There is a countless number of people who participate in online games each day, and many of those people would admit to how addictive these games can be. If you have found yourself with spare time to fill but are unsure how to utilize this time, why not check out one of the different types of free online games available on the internet.You can find games online to entertain anyone in many different age groups. There are several games available for young children, teenagers, and adults. Many of the games you would find online are targeted for a specific age group. The ones that are geared towards younger children are often times educational and interactive. On the other hand, the ones created for adult entertainment are usually constructed in such a way that the only thing they provide to their users is a way to beat boredom. So what are the many different types of games available on the internet today?

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One of the most popular online game genres is the multi-player RPGs. These allow a massive amount of players to be in the game at the same time. The unique thing about these games is that everyone is playing their own personal game while being able to interact with the rest of the gamers who are online at that same moment. These games generally revolve around a fantasy world in which people have created characters. While playing the game you are supposed to remain in character at all times and submerse yourself into the idea of this fantasy Kingdom. Many of these games require a membership at some point to be able to progress further in the game. However, there are some available that are completely free to use.Another popular way to fill your spare time is to play one of the millions of flash games available on the internet. You can find a game about almost anything, and these games are usually easy to beat but very addicting when playing. The type of flash game you might find online would include shooting, racing, puzzle, and other silly stress relieving games.Children can enjoy one of many different education games available to them virtually. Almost any cartoon on television has a game that goes along with it online. The best thing about many of these games is that children are learning valuable moral or scholastic lessons without even realizing it. To them, it does not feel like a chore to play these games and in return, they are subconsciously soaking up the information that is being fed to them throughout the game.

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There are millions of free online games available to play. Finding them is extremely easy and in many cases, there is not much required of your computer to play them. There are many different types of online games, that was not even touched upon in this article. It would be impossible to count the amount of free online games available to a person today. The next time you find yourself with some time to kill why not check out one of the millions of games available online.

Numerology’s Life Cycles; defining the patterns of your Life

October 24, 2016

Numerology divides your life into three major stages or cycles. Each of these cycles has a general trend or pattern for that part of your life. Want to know what your life patterns are?Calculating your Life CyclesThe timing of your Life Cycles is tied to your Life Path. Your first Life Cycle runs from birth to your first Turning Point; which is calculated by subtracting your Life Path from 36 (four times nine). Your Second Life Cycle starts at that point and ends 27 years later (3 times 9) when your last Turning point falls. Your third cycle runs from the end of your second life cycle for the rest of your life.Each Life Cycle value is calculated based on your date of Birth. Your first life cycle value is your birth month, reduced by fadic addition; your second cycle value by reducing your day of birth; and your third cycle value by reducing your birth year.For example, actor Johnny Depp was born on June 9th, 1963; so his Life cycles are calculated as follows:Life Path = (06 + 09 + 1963) = (1978) = (1 + 9 + 7 + 8) = (25) = (2 + 5) = (7)Life Cycles:(First Life cycle ends) = (36 – 7) = age 29

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(Second Life Cycle ends) = (29 + 27) = age 56(First Life Cycle – birth to 29) = (Month) = (6)(Second Life Cycle – 29 to 56) = (Day) = (9)(Third Life Cycle – 56 and up) = (Year) = (1963) = (1 + 9 + 6 + 3) = (19) = (10) = (1)The various Life Cycle values and their meanings are shown below:Life Cycle (1)This cycle will call for you to be independent and stand on your own two feet. You will receive many new opportunities during these years. You will have to be decisive, self-reliant, and attend to your own needs. Leadership in some task will fall to you during these years, even if you don’t want it.Life Cycle (2)This cycle will hold many opportunities to work with other people, either in teams, or as part of a large group. You will make many friendships and will be sensitive to other people’s opinions in these years. You will crave companionship and may receive public recognition of some kind.Life Cycle (3)This cycle will be pleasant and will allow your creative work to prosper. It is likely that you’ll waste many opportunities in order to enjoy yourself. Your social life will be the dominate factor in your life. You will often be restless and bored in these years. You also will appear to be very lucky to other people.Life Cycle (4)This cycle will demand a good deal of hard work from you. Mundane matters will need your attention. You will often feel restricted or regimented during these years. You will receive opportunities to lay a strong foundation for success at both your work and home life. You will have to guard against becoming depressed and getting in a rut.Life Cycle (5)This cycle will be full of changes of all kinds. Your interests, your career, your circumstances will all tend to change quickly and drastically. Surprising, often unlooked for, adventures will come upon you, challenging your adaptability. Your communication skills will be very important during these years.Life Cycle (6)This cycle will focus most of your attention upon your domestic life. There will be a constant effort to achieve ‘balance’ in your life during these years. You will often be asked for advice and given many opportunities to be creative. You will be forced to take on many responsibilities.

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Life Cycle (7)There will be a great deal of soul-searching and self-analysis during this cycle. You will crave solitude for your thoughts and will tend to be confused in crowded or noisy environments. You may achieve a great deal of personal growth. Worldly wealth will come to you at its own pace. Opportunities will occur suddenly in these years.Life Cycle (8)This cycle will bring you slow and steady progress in your personal goals, if the needed work is done. You will sow what you reap during these years. Good or bad, you will get your just deserts. You will need to fight against a tendency to be overly ambitions. Goals will be set and tasks will be performed all in good time.Life Cycle (9)This cycle will bring you endless possibilities. These years will be highly emotional for you. You may find it difficult to start new projects. Frequently, sudden or unusual endings of things will occur. The practical side of life will need more of your attention during these years. This cycle will be a good time for creativity, especially in artistic endeavors.

Bioware is an Example to Other Game Companies

September 27, 2016

Bioware is a rare breed in the gaming industry today. Even being owned by EA has not taken away their ability to craft grand tales and immerse the player in a universe so vast it takes 40+ hours and multiple play through’s to uncover all the content.I believe that Bioware serves as an example to other gaming companies about how to develop great games. If you look at Bioware’s line-up throughout the years they have a number of outstanding gaming properties. Some like KOTR (Knights of the Old Republic) and Mass Effect are considered two of the best RPG’s of all time.

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Even though there are complaints about DragonAge because of the graphics and or game play, it still has gotten fan approval and strong reviews. It’s because Bioware tells a story like no one else on the gaming industry today. They make you care about the characters, and they let you play out the story as good or bad, or anywhere in between. Their games always give you a reason for multiple play through’s, and there is always new stuff to uncover.Bioware does not spend time on bad games or producing mediocre entertainment. They listen to the gaming community, and they take the time to produce quality. Their PC games come with a tool kit so the community can change or enhance the game, which means their PC games a lot of re-playability.

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Other companies need to play games like Mass Effect 1 & 2 so they can understand what a quality game is about. As gamers we want to play games that are most importantly fun. Bioware understands this and that is why their games rate so highly over the years.Thanks Bioware, you set a strong example to follow.

The 7 Pillars of Branding

September 13, 2016

Although the question of branding has always been essential part of marketing and has been approached with multi-dimension models, sometimes these studies have been made without systematic approach or with full of redundancy or ad-hoc views. Unlike marketing which has the widely-known and usable, practical 7P-model, branding still misses such a sort of basic structure which makes the skeleton of all branding story.Here I am making an outline of such a simplified model to help people in successfully designing brands and also to better understanding the already existing ones. I collected 7 layers of the branding with 7 different tasks to be completed in everyday actions. I hope this can be useful for the readers, too.Right before entering this syllabus, we need to define what brand and branding is: in our view brand is a vision that is related to a specific company, product or any specific entity which lives in people and materializes to them. Branding is the art of deliberate control over the whole process.First pillar: Publicly knownA brand always defines a smaller or bigger group of people who are somehow aware of the product or the service in question. This is the prerequisite or trivial condition of all brands: if you are the only one who knows a specific service or uses a specific product and no information is publicized, the service or product is unable to evolve into a brand. This is the primary task of all marketing efforts, making our specific product or service (along with its whole branding costume) widely known on the addressed market: the majority of the marketing budget is used for this purpose. At this point we normally pay attention to the details of the publicity of all brands: target segment(s), its content, geographic, demography, media, communication methods, timing etc.Task 1: design and make your publicityHowever, the fame of a product or service is not exclusively based on the publicity gained (mostly depending on the money available for promoting the brand) via frontal, push-type of promotion. Money spent on communications is a very important factor to reach the second stage of publicity: the people involved in the communications flow will probably share the information with each other and start a – sometimes very simple and few words – discussion about the product or service heard. The act of sharing the information with each other happens or has happened with all known brands. Suggestions, opinions made in public are very important in articulating brand and thus creating or strengthening/weakening brands. This is why the importance of Facebook in contemporary marketing cannot be overestimated enough, or, with similar effect, the customer service/problem handling has always been focal point of customer satisfaction and branding, too.The publicity of branding therefore incorporates all means of sharing the information related to a specific brand or service. There are two basic type of publicities: there is of course the strictly controlled information sharing method (typically: marketing communications) and we also have to face a second publicity, the huge uncontrolled means of communication. When we are thinking on designing a new brand or just examining an existing one, we have to enlist all the ways how the specific brand gains publicity and sort them by relevance with regards to the public coverage and effect, making special attention to the uncontrolled ways of publicity.The success of controlling publicity is a key to profit from branding, however, public control will never mean information monopoly over the media and over the outcome: even situations when a company has theoretically 100% control over the situation (e.g. customer care desk at the office or shop), it is always a challenge to control what is exactly happening there, what is going to be told or heard. Thus, from micro to macro level the publicity always carries a huge uncertainty factor with regards to reach, direct effect and future implications.Second pillar: Associative and narrative – stories aroundThe discussions initiated and information shared publicly about a brand (or a branded product or service) would show up the next major characteristic of brands, that is, the power of the coupling or association related to the branded products or services. In other words, branding means that we create stories around a brand. Brand identity or personality, brand vision, brand promise are the official stories reflecting the narrative of a generic brand on different levels. Marketing creative planning is exactly doing the same around a specific product of a brand (e.g. ‘The environment friendly Toyota Prius’ as a story), while general brand stories (I mean the Toyota brand in the example) or associations are on higher level only. We therefore have to consider several layers of brand stories or narratives when examining them. It is very useful when these stories are consistent and formed professionally and are not contradicting to each other.

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Brands are incorporating many stories and ideas not just from individual products and services determined by the company but stories and ideas also coming from the public. Unfortunately – as we mentioned above – we cannot control the majority of the perceptions of our brand. Individual opinions, perceived qualities, good or bad experiences are building the narrative universe, or more simply, the stories of a brand.Task 2: define and drive brand storiesNotwithstanding the above, we can drive these brand stories and narrow them to the desired ones on at least two-three different areas. The mission statement of a company/organization is the very source of official brand stories and determines the branding direction via its written values and operational reasons. Secondly, the slogan or the tagline of a brand (like LG’s Life’s Good) is meant to embody the driving narrative story and works like a magnet: collects all the associations around a brand. The third layer of story comes along with specific products or services: repeating the slogans, taglines while inserting the logo of the brand on individual products/services makes the specific product or service painted with the general brand’s associations and qualities. The individual story of a product or service is like a topping on the branding cake. Pure brand campaigns on the other hand are always aiming outlining and fixing the desired main stories and narratives of qualities in the customers.Controlling publicity cannot be done without controlling the stories attached to a specific brand and seems the major task of all branding and communications managers. Here, we have to highlight a related issue which behaves like the blind spot of the branding: rebranding. Rebranding campaigns are to change the very basic story of a brand. This is the reason why these campaigns fail many times and real rebranding is a very seldom event.Third pillar: Concrete and multiplicative formIn real life we always give tangible forms to brands because we want to make profit from our money spent. Brand without concrete product/service to buy (or without a related person when we talk about personal brands) is useless or just a promise (like the newly planned Jolla mobile OS with only a demo video). The embodiment of a Brand is an essential part of its very nature.Normally we use the power of a general Brand Name for many individual products. An already existing brand hands over its potentials (its stories of qualities, usage, value etc.) to specific, individual products and even when we see a new product of an already known brand we are already having a presupposition or sense of certain expectations towards the brand new product. A VW car is perceived for many as a reliable one; however, it may happen that a much lower quality is introduced in a new model than what the brand had fulfilled at its predecessors.Task 3: make several appearances to utilize brand powerMost times we may say that a brand is transferred into several products and therefore it is multiplicative. It is very seldom that an earned reputation of a brand represented in only one product or service. For example the perfume 4711 seems to be transferred only into one product for a long time, but the brand’s product portfolio today consists of more than one item: after shave or even shower gel is also produced. Start-ups typically own only one product and normally the first product is the one that determines and forms the brand later on. Initially, the brand is typically built upon on only one product or service and this is why it is very sensitive when entering a market with a new company and a new product: it also determines the future brand and products the company assessed with.Personal brands, seen superficially, are not multiplicative: a person who has double face (see politicians) and therefore not able to form a consistent and concrete personal brand, are subject to lose their reputation and their face rapidly. This is because brands can have only one concrete (credible) story, without major contradictions. The multiplicative nature of personal brands should be investigated from another perspective. In case we regard a person’s appearances in public as concretizations and multiplications of his/her brand, we are closer to the truth and we understand better why celebrities and politicians are so keen on public appearances.Fourth pillar: Unique propositionThe history of branding is stemming from the wish of making a producer’s goods identifiable. This is not just to ensure the identity of goods but also to prevent from copying and forgery. The brands around us are still carrying these old attributes: the logo of the company/brand is expressing the uniqueness of a brand (supported by law as trade marks) and helps us to identify a specific brand in the universe of brands and signs.Sometimes it is very hard to make distinction based on the products/services alone: Pepsi and its rivals put in a neutral glass next to each other are unidentifiable, so the use of branding techniques is crucial for gaining profit for both companies. Just like in the cola case, the technological industry also heavily relies on the branding when selling its products or services: PCs, laptops, smart phones or internet accesses are very similar to each other. Or, a tax advisory service consultant firm is facing real challenges to provide specific brand vision.Task 4: find and use the means of brand differentiationsThe unique proposition of the brands has to be built up and shown for the public: the individual logos of brands on devices for example help the company to make distinction from their competitors and help the customers to identify different market players in order to make a personal choice of preference. Most times companies heavily rely on the unique brand distinguishers, like stories about their unique market segment, tailor-made products, additional services they provide etc. Sometimes, when stories among a group of competitors are very similar or compatible (like the Big Four Auditors) and even their service is similar, a common story may evolve around them focusing on more the similarity and indirectly expressing the exclusivity of the group members.Fifth pillar: ValueWhen we identify a brand on its telltale signs (e.g. design) or logo we do not think on what we see first (the product itself) but rather we focus on the brand value represented by the specific product or service. We may say (even without seeing the product) that if you are having Martin Logan stereo speakers that is very cool, but if you are having Philips that is not so awesome. Different brands represent different values: there are low-end and high-end brands with many in between. Start-up companies have to position their brand value on the axis predetermined by the existing market players. Making decision on positioning the companies’ services or products on the lower or higher end of this axis has nothing to do with ethical values: a low-end, cheap car helps many disabled or poor people without doubt. Rather, making the choice of brand values determine the market we are about to target. And this target market decision affects our business outlooks directly. When Toyota launched it Lexus series and decided to focus on the higher end cars they probably considered the higher profit option.The value of a brand is also expressed in a more measurable way. In general ledgers brands are valued as a part of the company’s goodwill and are very sensitive for new product introductions and for amortization, too. From financial point of view brands regarded as assets that have been created due to investment and are also subject to lose or increase their values.Task 5: define and carry brand valuesThe value of a brand emanates into individual products of a company and the value of the sold products affects the value of the brands. More surprisingly, the value of a brand may transfer over the buyer persona influencing the perceived value of a person in a certain group of people (see Apple fan-effect) while the network-effect of the public also modifies the brand value (exclusivity, limited models are also able to increase brand value).The relative price of a product or the whole branded portfolio both has very special connection with the brand value: the higher the price positioned the harder to imagine low brand value. This is because the narrative of the price (see Second pillar) influences the brand value. Other narratives of a brand (how durable it is, for instance, or which celebrities are using this brand) heavily effect the brand value, too. Similarly, the extent of public spread (see First pillar – how much the brand is known, how much spent on advertising) also effects the brand value.Brand value is determined by several other factors even not listed here. It is partly the result of deliberate actions of the company (market positioning of the brand and its products) but also exposed to external factors (like time) and public opinion.( LG’s rebranding from the low-end Goldstar brand to the higher positioned LG showed that value propositions of a brand require efforts in both areas. Grundig made the opposite U-turn when sold to Chinese company.)

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Sixth pillar: personal relationAll the pillars encountered previously are summoning on personal level because the nature and the definition of branding 100% relates to human feelings and perceptions. Most cases we can translate this personal effect and feelings to perceived brand values and the position of a brand in the customers’ head. People know or do not know, like or dislike brands, become haters or fans of brands, recommend or just accept certain brands.Task 6: turn personal relation to actionAs a result, this personal disposition of a brand clearly ends up in the relation to the act of buying. We, marketing professionals should not deny the aboriginal intention of our branding efforts to influence buying decisions on personal level. We are not just simply influencing people in business for the sake of general human aims: we do not want world peace; we do want to have our specific products and services sold. We want to convince John or Clair Smith as individual customers to select our service or product. This is the action we – or more generally: the investors – expect from any investments (including brand campaigns) made.Fortunately we not all live in the business sector, not all follow business aims (i.e. sales) in our lives. Surprisingly, non-profit organizations are not so much different from business ventures from this point of view. Non-profits also want to have a specific action to be reached: an action that is maybe appearing directly (like giving donation for starving people) but can be mental action or change to be targeted (for instance diversity campaigns).The personal relation to a branded entity can be outlined in a matrix where on the first axis we can define the readiness or probability of buying action (or in a non-profit: readiness for action) and on the second axis we may highlight the level of brand’s emotional acceptance.The personal relation to a specific brand with regards to the ultimate sales reason can be mapped as shown, but we should not forget that personal emotions and relations to brands are much wider than presented above: some people feel that their beloved brand is expressing also their way of life, involving several other actions well beyond a simple shopping; or just feeling neutral about a brand while the person is not going to be represented in any commercial situation (like myself with any hunting brands, although I know some of them).We should therefore identify very precisely the personal relations to our brand of our existing and potential customers and we should make focused actions to harvest the branding efforts we have previously made.Seventh pillar: Exposure to timeWe have already mentioned before the amortization as an important factor in brand values. The simple reason of amortization is that the brands (via materialized products/services) and the customers live in time.The general life exposure to time factor represented in concrete shapes with regards to brand itself and to its specific products/services. (Amortization is only the result of that process.) Brand perception very much effected by the products/services in timeline (e.g. how much up-to-date the product is reflects the brand’s state-of-the-art nature) and on the other hand the brand itself (without looking at individual products) also has an individual character which has its own life-cycle (how old a brand is, what type of products they represent).Task 7: Consider time: plan and replan over timeBrands do not last for ever and are changing over time, even without deliberate actions. Amortization expresses the time-factor in economic terms but all the pillars mentioned before has a time layer. The repeated actions of marketing campaigns, the product developments or changes in market environments change the face of the brand even if it is not perceived by the company. The sad story of Nokia is a perfect example of how this specific brand was effected by the time factor in all possible way, from the publicity of its phones (a complete new generation has skipped Nokia phones), through the changes in the narratives attached to the brand, with the refreshed need to be unique again to the sharp decline of the brand value.

Video Game Tester Jobs Can Jump Start You on Almost Any Game Development Path

September 23, 2016

Video game QA testing may be low on the game development totem pole, just above “personal projects” you’d never think about including in your resume. But used correctly, both can carry you a long way towards becoming a game programmer, story line creator, or graphics designer.It’s all about broader experience inventory and growth through progress.It would seem fairly obvious. Look at anyone in college working towards a career in a high paying field like medicine, and what do you see them doing? That’s right, working at any job in a hospital, clinic, or private practice environment (a relevant environment) which they can find. They know even a role only loosely related to the one they aspire towards in their chosen field serves as a stepping stone towards more relevant positions once the opportunity becomes available.As is the case in medicine, software development is a industry made up of many narrow roles. If you’re only focused on “qualifying for your desired role”, you may end up short changing yourself in two ways. First, by not recognizing applicable experience you’ve already obtained through non-professional work and personal hobbies. Second, by overlooking potential resume building opportunities while limiting yourself only to the ones not available to you.Let’s look at the first problem: “not recognizing applicable experience you’ve already obtained”.I don’t see this problem a lot in sales and marketing, regardless if it’s computer entertainment sales, advertisement sales, or used car sales. In fact, newer “greener” aspiring sales reps often need to learn a page from aspiring software developers about “Never put anything in your portfolio that someone wouldn’t pay you for”. Where the aspiring gaming professional falls short is recognizing what actually counts as valuable to those they present their resumes and portfolios to. They’ll often include what they consider “real job experience”, such as “Manager at Macy’s”, or “Audits and Accounting at Wells Fargo” (neither of which has anything to do with game or software development); but avoid including things like “my dorm mate and I wrote “Squares vs Circles” (an iPhone app) for fun while we were in college, it got 500,000 downloads within a month of release” (so what you are saying is, you wrote, developed, tested, and published popular and successful software on your own for fun?)It’s as if those aspiring to game development roles almost seem to have an “inferiority complex” when it comes to the kinds of experiences relevant to the gaming field. While considering any work they think of as “from a real company” with “a real paycheck attached” automatically more important. The thing is: the person looking over your resume doesn’t care about any of that. They’re not your dad who thinks you should get a “real job”, or your mom who worries about you’re “spending too much time on the internet”, they are people looking for someone with experience that has to do with games. Don’t discount experience because it was “just a personal project”. If you want to be hired in the area of game development you need to show how you have already performed successfully in game development. Whether or not you got paid, and regardless whether or not it resembles what you or your peers think of as “a real company”, “real work”, or “real professional”. What matters is that it was developing a game, and you completed the project as defined – or better. That’s what people want to hear about.

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Now take a look at the second problem: “overlooking potential resume building opportunities while limiting yourself only to the ones not available to you”.This one is a little trickier, because it requires a balancing act. You see, another important thing to remember is “Build your portfolio around a single focus”. I’m not going into detail about that here, as it mostly goes beyond the scope of this article. But, it needs to be mentioned as it’s the other end of the spectrum in so far as: on one level, you don’t want to overlook potential resume building opportunities, but at the same time, you don’t want to build a portfolio of non-relevant experience and garbage either.The best way to look at it is, if you have an opportunity to work in a position which is highly relevant to your desired role in gaming – say for example story line creator – by all means favor that work over work that’s less closely related. But when such positions are scarce or highly competitive, don’t overlook opportunity to work in any game development role – even if it falls outside the scope of the game development area you ultimately aspire towards.The reality is, jobs in game development are places where many come – but few may enter. There simply aren’t enough positions to fill in any one role for everyone who applies at the door. And even experience outside the role you aspire towards can help you as it gives you familiarity, exposure to a variety of technology, and broader experience with the roles of others you might have to later work with.The lowly and relatively low paying Video Game Tester Jobs.Compared to other gaming industry roles, video game QA tester is the lowest paying. According to The Game Developers 12th Annual Salary Survey (conducted in 2013), freelance and temporary assignment video game QA testers, with less than 3 years’ experience, earn an average of $22,000/yr., roughly equivalent to $10/hr. – assuming a 40 hour work week. This is because of the much lower amount of education needed to enter video game QA testing.However, consider those “working towards a career in a high paying field like medicine”, who I described at the beginning of this article; the ones taking “any job in a hospital, clinic, or private practice environment (a relevant environment)”. They’re doing this for a few good reasons. It helps to offset college costs, gives them a chance to gain experience and familiarization within a related work environment, and the jobs they take are often the “lower paying roles” due to lower entry-level education requirements – which equates to ease of entry. High turn-over rates as people in these positions attain the qualifications to move on to their desired careers, make these jobs readily available. And those who later move on to higher positions will have previous industry relevant experience to add to their resumes if needed. If needed being the key. If they don’t need it, or feel it would distract from experience more relevant to a particular job, they can always make less mention of it or leave it out entirely.Which bring us to the real question – why are those seeking software development careers so averse to including video game tester jobs along the way? Think back about the “inferiority complex” among “those aspiring to game development roles” which I spoke of earlier. And the corresponding “superiority complex” among those becoming “material” for higher paying, more respected roles such as graphics designer or programmer. When people think of, for example, becoming an environmental art designer, they often think of highly sophisticated technical skills, and expensive but well-worth-it college degrees – leading to well-earned and well-respected salaries. When people think of a QA tester job, they often think of someone who was lucky enough to get paid to play games.Video game quality assurance testing is seen by many as almost a kind of “red-headed-step-child”. Some treat it the same way one might treat a cheap book promising the secret to unbelievable income sold on a poorly done website alongside thin porn, payday loans, and mesothelioma related attorney services.The reality is – a video game tester job can provide the same things to the soon to be 3D character model designer that a clerical position with a small clinic provides to the soon to be medical technician, nurse, or doctor. Video game tester jobs are readily available, industry related, work with which you can offset other costs while in school or training for your desired role, gain experience and familiarity with the software development process, and which comes with relatively low entry requirements.Video game QA positions require only that you have a high aptitude for basic skills applicable to any job, such as attention to detail, ability to follow instructions, diligence, and being able to write reports. Yet they provide game industry experience, familiarity, and exposure to a wider variety of related technologies. Also, while QA testing may be “low paying” compared to other development roles, it’s actually on par with many part-time jobs that aren’t even career connected which people typically take while working towards their desired career path.

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The key is, don’t look at QA tester work as a job you “don’t take seriously”, consider it instead as a useful tool in a strategic plan. Consider those too good to be true offers you see promising “$4,000 a month playing games” for some small monthly fee. These offers are usually made by assignment aggregators. Assignment aggregators are companies in the business of offering a central location for freelance video game QA testers to find temporary video game QA assignments. Whether the promises of easy money come true or not, you could use those to get work (resume experience) handed to you even though you have not yet attained any work history or qualifications, in addition to some extra income. What you really want is for the assignments to serve as documented work history in QA Testing to support obtaining a regular entry-level position with a gaming company. You want to be able to say “I’ve completed projects in the gaming field”… as opposed to the other applicant who hasn’t.From here it depends on the options available to you, and your desired career path. If you’ve already chosen a career path in another game development role, then I’d recommend NOT moving all the way from freelance to full-time QA testing – as you want to focus your efforts on obtaining a job closer to your desired role. Until you do, you may wish to simply remain a freelance tester. Despite the lower hourly pay, this will give you the greatest flexibility and control over your time. Should you decide to become a regular part-time tester with a gaming company, the pay could actually outstrip many other non-career connected part-time jobs.If you’re still deciding when it comes to what role you want to have in game development, you may want to consider that QA testing does become more lucrative with experience – all-be-it not as quickly as in other development roles. It rises to just under $40,000/year as a full-time job with 3 years’ experience, and “maxes out” around $70,000/yr. Not as much as the $85,000/yr. you could be making as a programmer, but still fairly decent compared to other professional roles.Video game QA testing may be the lowest paid type of work in game development. However, those aspiring for such roles as game programmer, story line creator, or graphics designer would be wise to look beyond just work related to their desired role in game development.

Politics And Politicians

August 20, 2016

I hate politics and politicians! What have they done for you lately?We need balance – not extremes. Our government is supposed to represent its citizens and “provide for the common good” – not focus on special interest groups that try to influence legislation and regulations that support their unique agenda. Libertarians have a lot of good points – such as smaller government – but not their extreme view of gun and drug “freedoms”. Progressives also have some good points – such as social “protections” – but not the extreme views on abortion and gay “rights.” Politicians often pay attention to irrelevant issues. Like when we are at war (2 or 3!) and have debt that our kids and grandkids will never be able to pay off, and 10% unemployment, etc., etc. What do they focus on? Trivial stuff – like when Congress considered banning shopping bags that are purchased to save plastic and paper bags – that were found to have some lead in them. Did anyone ever ask Congress to do something about the lead in the solder in your copper water pipes?But we have a kind of system of government that, in the long term, seems to work. Some things are bad and some are good – about the “greatest democracy in the world.” Winston Churchill once said “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” The U.S. is considered by many to have an ideal model of democracy, but it is imperfect and democracy itself has its own inherent problems and limitations. Some things are necessary – like Defense, Environment, Health and Safety, Civil Rights, etc. – which we need to do right at the national level because they can’t be done effectively at the individual or state level. The U.S. federal government’s organization and processes are archaic and inefficient – but sometimes it seems to work – for example, the “Stimulus Package/Bill” in 2009 actually did help the country recover from a serious recession (despite some its shortcomings and problems). Others don’t seem to work well or belong at the national level – like the unbelievably complex, convoluted and inequitable tax code (more on that separately).There are lots of examples of stupid, unproductive, and irrelevant political actions. Here are just a few of my favorites:• Earmarks – those projects for specific congressional districts or states that are funded by tacking them onto unrelated congressional bills in exchange for votes – so called “pork barrel.” So, if you look at a major funding bill – that may be essential, such as the Defense Department budget – you will find hundreds of earmarks attached to it to fund a lot of strange, arcane, and sometimes useless projects (like the famous “bridge to nowhere” or local airports with almost no passengers, etc.). These projects may bring some federal money back to their districts, but they are in many, if not most cases, funding pet projects of political contributors. The individual requests in many cases are relatively small (at least by Washington standards) – perhaps a few $ million – but there are thousands of them every year. Collectively they can amount to hundreds of billions of dollars. And without a line item veto by Congress or the President, these projects get funded automatically when the major bill passes. How’s that for representative government spending your money?

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• Political Priorities – The Congress and the President are often involved in the absurdities and travesties of what they view as political priorities – at our expense. For example, pursuing a constitutional amendment against gay marriage while passing a law exempting gun manufacturers and dealers from all potential liabilities – including illegal sales to criminals! That’s just screwed up!! Who thinks up this stuff – and who do they think they are representing?• Gerrymandering – Our elected Congress works very hard to get re-elected – on our dime. From Wikipedia: “Gerrymandering is a practice of political corruption that attempts to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating geographic boundaries to create partisan, incumbent-protected, and neutral districts.” With the manipulation of election districts, it is possible for minority parties to win a majority of districts in an election – or neutralize a strong district of a majority party. This is a process that is facilitated by the mandated re-assessment of congressional representation after every 10 year census – and it can neutralize your vote! There are no uniform electoral districts. Your representatives design the election districts to protect incumbents. For example:o “In 2004, not one of California’s 173 state legislative and federal congressional seats changed party-hands.”
o “No House member from Tennessee ever lost a bid for re-election during 1980-2005.”Other developed countries have established processes for “defining constituency boundaries” by objective third-party organizations. But politics in the U.S. is not that progressive – so much for “one person, one vote.”• Subsidies – Our government, which we pay for, thanks to our politicians, provides substantial subsidies to some very profitable industries – at our expense. Here are a couple of examples:Agriculture – Agriculture is obviously very important to an economy, so what is wrong with federal programs to support it? First, a few facts (from The Cato Institute): “The U.S. Department of Agriculture distributes between $10 billion and $30 billion in cash subsidies to farmers and owners of farmland each year… More than 800,000 farmers and landowners receive subsidies, but the payments are heavily tilted toward the largest producers… Although policymakers love to discuss the plight of the small farmer, the bulk of federal farm subsidies goes to the largest farms. For example, the largest 10 percent of recipients have received 72 percent of all subsidy payments in recent years. Numerous large corporations and even some wealthy celebrities receive farm subsidies because they are the owners of farmland… In 2008, Congress overrode a presidential veto to enact farm legislation that extended existing supports and created new subsidy programs… The 2008 farm bill added a new sugar-to-ethanol program under which the government buys excess imported sugar that might put downward pressure on inflated domestic sugar prices. The program defends domestic sugar growers’ 85 percent of the U.S. sugar market, and it provides for the government to sell excess sugar, at a loss if need be, to ethanol producers… Since 2000 the USDA has paid $1.3 billion in farm subsidies to people who own land that is no longer used for farming.” Agricultural subsidies in the U.S. comprise 11% of farm production.So, why are subsidies to farmers bad? Simply, because they don’t achieve the intended results. Most of the money goes to large, profitable farms and corporations. They can upset the natural balance between supply and demand – by facilitating over-production – which can unrealistically affect the prices of food commodities and farm land. “Perhaps the biggest scandal with regard to farm subsidies is that congressional agriculture committees are loaded with members who are active farmers and farmland owners. Those members have a direct financial stake whenever Congress votes to increase subsidies, which is an obvious conflict of interest.”Other countries have experimented with eliminating agricultural subsidies – with some success. New Zealand is one example. “New Zealand’s farmers have cut costs, diversified their land use, sought nonfarm income, and developed niche markets such as kiwifruit… New Zealand farm productivity, profitability, and output have soared since the reforms.”Oil – The largest, most profitable industry in the U.S. – and worldwide – receives federal subsidies! Why?? Technically they are tax breaks, but only because of the way our Congress writes the rules and defines the terms. The subsidies/tax breaks to the U.S. oil industry amounts to about $4 billion each year. This includes a “depletion allowance” that treats oil reserves as capital equipment – in addition to very favorable terms for writing off exploration costs. But the major oil companies have been making more than 10 times that in profits each year. Do they really need incentives to explore for oil – when the world market price for oil has been in the neighborhood of 3-5 times the cost of production for decades? And what is the attitude of our politicians? – “we’re only talking about four billion dollars.”!!• Social Security – One of my pet peeves has been the most sacred of all federal government programs. For over 70 years, Social Security has been “an insurance program for everyone”. But up until 1984, government employees, including Members of Congress, did not pay into the Social Security program – when all of us “citizens” were required to by law. The Social Security program, which has been going broke for decades, was good enough for “the people”, but not for the government employees and politicians who are supposed to be serving them. So now it is an example of how a political abuse can be fixed. However, the benefits for federal employees are still very attractive – and not typical of industry jobs. In addition to now participating in Social Security, federal employees have a defined benefit pension plan (which no longer exists in most of industry today) as well as a “Thrift Savings Plan” – the equivalent of a 401K plan – with up to a 5% match. Members of Congress are eligible for full pension at age 62 after only five years of service – and they are eligible at age 50 if they’ve served 20 years. So our “public servants” have more rewarding benefits than most taxpayers receive.

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And there is more – much more!!So, how can the “greatest country in the world” be so screwed up (at least at times)? I blame it on the politicians and the uninformed/uninterested electorate. Other countries must just be worse. Part of the problem is that the public is often not well informed – or just doesn’t care. How do you communicate important political issues so that the general public really understands – the complete facts and truth? Most news and views are at too high a level (e.g., small “sound bites” – or talk show opinions) so that they leave either a limited or wrong impression. For example, issues like abortion and stem cell research are highly controversial and emotional and don’t really get covered objectively.Is there a solution? It would be nice if we could focus on real/important issues and attract intelligent, sincere people into politics. What kinds of people want to run for political office? – ego-centrics, power hungry, self promotional – are these the type of people we want to represent us?? Why would you trust a politician with your life and welfare? But that is what we have – at least in many cases. And what are the financial implications? How can really good political leaders afford to be politicians? Even with the elevated salaries and benefits for politicians (at least at the Congressional level), the cost of the life style in Washington, DC is far too expensive to be covered by federal payments. So, they must either be independently wealthy – or seek an opportunity to capitalize on their political position – either during or after their term in office. What would make a constituent think that their representative is working in their best interest?
I don’t have a solution. That’s why I hate politics and politicians.All Rights Reserved © 2011 Henry P. Mitchell