jueves, 19 de julio de 2007

Choosing Religion

An interesting article in the Wall Street Journal entitled, In Europe God is (not) dead explains how after decades of secularization, religion in Europe has slowed its slide toward what had seemed inevitable oblivion. Because of this, scholars and theologians in Europe are debating a hot question: Why? The reason may be because centuries-old churches, long favored by the state, are loosing their monopoly grip and Europe's highly regulated market for religion is opening up to leaner, more-aggressive religious "firms." Which, they say, is providing a supply-side stimulus to faith. This article proves to me how the concept of what religion is, is becoming more and more skewed. The idea that wherever churches are a little more energetic and competitive, you've got more people going to church, shows how people are looking for the church that best applies to their views rather than trying to find out what God’s views are, and apply themselves to those.

Continuing in the article, America, where church and state stand apart, has more than 50% of the population worshiping at least once a month. In Europe, where the state has often supported -- but also controlled -- the church with money and favors, the rate in many countries is 20% or less. Historically, in 1776 around 17% of Americans belonged to churches. That is about the same as the current proportion of the population in Belgium, France, Germany and the U.K. that worships at least once a month, according to 2004's European Union-funded European Social Survey. In the U.S., the American Revolution ended ecclesiastical hegemony in the 11 colonies that had an established church and unleashed a raucous tide of religious competition. As Methodists, Baptists, Shakers and other churches proliferated, church-going rose, reaching around 50% in the early part of the 20th century. Now, upstarts are now plugging new spiritual services across Europe, from U.S.-influenced evangelical churches to Christian sect that uses a hallucinogenic herbal brew as a stand-in for sacramental wine.

This shows that spirituality can be sold as people choose the denomination that is most compatible with their view of life, and then select the particular institution that they feel best embodies that view. But this is not how God works.

Many are unwilling to regard religious teachings as commandments, about which we have no choice, rather than suggestions, about which we are the ultimate judge. Religion consumers shop in the market until they find what they like. But you cannot approach the gospel as you would a buffet or smorgasbord, choosing here a little and there a little. You must sit down to the whole feast and live the Lord’s loving commandments in their fullness. Cecil B. DeMille stated, after exhaustive research for the epic motion picture The Ten Commandments: “We cannot break the Ten Commandments. We can only break ourselves against them.” These are the laws of God. Violate them and we suffer lasting consequences. Obey them and we reap everlasting joy.

This is not an easy concept for many to embrace as the “guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center” (1 Ne. 16:2). It is not politically correct and is gives no excuses. It is absolute truth weather you want to believe it or not. Like the scriptures say, the word of God is “quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of both joints and marrow” (Doctrine and Convenants 6:2). When you are living a lifestyle that is against what God teaches it is difficult to change so people opt to try and “serve two masters” by living according to what they want to do and still trying to live the God wants them to, but it doesn’t work, “for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24).

sábado, 14 de julio de 2007

Deciding on the War

The war in Iraq is already lost and the president is doing a terrible job according to approval ratings, which are at an all-time low. This seems to be the general consensus of Americans, but how do they come to this conclusion? Are people making educated decisions when it comes to the war and the president or is everyone really confused about the whole thing? I conclude that most people are more confused and riding on the anti bandwagon than anything else. I come to this conclusion by looking at the flawed way that people make decisions in that they are dooped into advertising style branding and falling for the trends of what is most popular. This is happening due to the overwhelming amount of information that creates a paradox of choice.
Opinions are more often bought as a lifestyle than made up in one’s own mind. We make choices based on experience but when it comes to choosing to like or dislike the president and the war we have little personal experience. So we not only use our own past experiences, but also the experiences and expertise of others. While gathering information, we need to know that the information is reliable, and we need to have enough time to get through all the info that is available. Information about current events and news now comes through more sources than ever before which make it neither reliable, nor does it give us enough time to go through it all. TV shows and channels provide information to be gathered but many times news is masquerading as entertainment, and is concerned less about the facts and more about high ratings. Also information is gathered through newspapers, magazines, opinions through music and movies, and now the expanse of the internet. Unfortunately, providing useful decision making information is not the point in all these kinds of news/information sources. Since there are so many options and different opinions, it makes it difficult for marketers to differentiate their products from similar ones. Instead of changing their product, they change the branding of the product to make customers think that its different, which is a lot easier. So now products are sold by associating the product with a glamorous life style. Many people fall for the branding done by advertisers and media companies and are buying into certain opinions because of the lifestyle associated with them instead of reading the facts and coming to their own conclusions.
People also accept what is most frequent and popular instead of accepting the facts. Lets say you may go to the source and read the data/news yourself to come to your own conclusion but then you hear of some vivid story from a friend that is rare but much more attention grabbing than the data you have studied yourself. It’s likely that you will give more weight to this extremely vivid information based on personal, detailed, face-to-face accounts than the information you gathered on your own. In one study, researchers asked respondents to estimate the number of deaths per year that occur as a result of various diseases, car accidents, natural disasters, homicides, etc.-forty different types in all. The results showed that the people surveyed thought that the deaths caused by accidents were equal to the amount of deaths caused from dieses, when in fact disease causes 16 times more deaths. Death from homicide was thought to be as frequent as death from stroke, when in fact eleven times more people die from strokes than by homicide. In conclusion, vivid deaths were overestimated and more mundane causes of deaths were underestimated. Continuing in this study, the researchers looked at two newspapers published on opposite sides of the U.S., and they counted the number of stories involving various causes of death. The frequency of newspaper coverage and the respondents estimates of frequency of death were almost perfectly correlated. People mistook the pervasiveness of stories about homicides and accidents as a sign of frequency of the events profiled. The same thing is happening with the coverage of Iraq. It doesn’t take long to see how every other article online is about President Bush’s and the Iraq war’s low approval rating. I think it is because of the regularity of negative aspects of Bush and the War that they have such low approval ratings.
So how come people are so susceptible to accepting trendy opinions and over-played news stories? I think it is because the amount of information is piling up and people are becoming overloaded and no one has the time to go through it all on their own.
Much of human progress has involved reducing the time and energy we spend for each of us to get the necessities of life. We moved from hunting and gathering to subsistence agriculture to when not every individual had to spend all his time everyday on filling his stomach. One could specialize in a certain skill and then trade it for other products. Manufactures made life easier still by selling food and clothing at the same general store. The variety was small but the time spent procuring them as small as well.
The same goes for finding information to make an educated decisions on issues like the war in Iraq. In the past, all information was taken from newspapers or from a few channels on TV. The variety of news was small but the time spent procuring it was small as well. But now thanks to the internet and democratization of information, this is the end of spoon fed orthodoxy and infallible institutions. We now have the tools to question authority. In theory, a society that asks questions and has the power to answer them is healthier than one that simply accepts what it is told from a narrow range of expert and institutions. But with too many sources of information, we become overloaded and opt to take the easiest source of news as the reliable one. If professional affiliation is no longer a proxy for authority, we need to develop our own gauges of quality. But the problem is, with so many choices, choice no longer liberates, but deliberates creating a paradox of choice.
In the past few decades that process of simplifying and bundling economic offerings in the general store, and bundling the news in the limited amount of channels, has been reversed. Increasingly the trend is moving us back to time-consuming foraging behavior once again, as each of us are forced to sift for ourselves through more and more options in almost every aspect of life including making up our minds on the situation in Iraq.
As the number of choices we face continue to escalate and the amount of information we need escalates with it, we may find ourselves increasingly relying on secondhand information. And as communication increases and becomes more global, each of us, no matter where we are, may end up relying on the same secondhand information. News sources like CNN tell everyone in the country the same story, which makes it less likely that an individual’s biased understanding of the evidence will be corrected by friends and neighbors. When you hear the same story everywhere you look and listen, you assume it to be true. And the more people believe that it’s true, the more likely they will repeat it, and thus the more likely you are to hear it. This is how inaccurate information can create a bandwagon effect leading to a broad but mistaken consensus.
Is everyone mistaken? Maybe, maybe not. But make sure its your opinion and not someone else's that your caliming to be your own.

viernes, 13 de julio de 2007

In defense of peer-to-peer file sharing.

I say “illegal” music downloads help music more than it hurts it. It helps bands like librarys help publishers, it the helps radio, and it helps bands on tour.
These music sharing networks are a lot like librarys as explained by Stephen J. Dubner in his Freakonomics blog. Libraries help train young people to be readers; when those readers are older, they buy books. Downloading helps people apprecieate music and when they get older they buy music. Libraries expose readers to works by authors they wouldn’t have otherwise read; readers may then buy other works by the same author, or even the same book to have in their collection. Downloading songs helps young people develop a taste in music. It expands their horizons and gets them to purchase more for their collection. Libraries help foster a general culture of reading; without it, there would be less discussion, criticism, and coverage of books in general, which would result in fewer book sales. Downloading also leads to more discussion and coverage of lesser known bands.
A recent trend is using pirated music to help radios develop playlists as explained in this Wall Street Journal Article. The theory is that the songs attracting the most downloads online will also win the most listeners on the radio, helping stations sell more advertising. In turn, the service may even help the record labels, because radio airplay is still the biggest factor influencing record sales.
It makes sense for bands to give away their music to make more money on tour as explained here by Chris Anderson. The one thing that you can't digitize and distribute with full fidelity is a live show. That's scarcity economics. No wonder the average price for a ticket was $61 last year, up 8%. In an era when digital products are commodities, there's a premium on experience. No surprise that bands are increasingly giving away their recorded music as marketing for their concerts, which offer something no MP3 can match. Live performance is the fastest growing part of the music industry, up 16% in 2006 to a record $3.6 billion in North America.
For example, starting on June 25th and for 20 days, the band The Format will be giving away their entire 2006 full length, Dog Problems to all comers. The disc will be made available on the band's official website without restrictions. The band explained, “Owning our own publishing and master has allowed us the freedom to experiment,. We’d be doomed if we sat around and waited for things like radio play to come around. We’re just not that band. We understand the reality; kids aren’t buying music. We’re going to see if we can’t pick up 20,000 new sets of ears by offering the album for free. We’re betting that the money lost on those record sales will come back when people come see us live this summer. This will be a chance to share the album with your friends who haven't bought it or fileshared it.”They say file sharing has likely contributed to the continuing decline in the music business. U.S. music sales were down 7% last year after a 3% drop the year before. But I think that is because people have more options of where to get their music from other than the record store. People’s taste in music is becoming more diverse and less mainstream.