6/05/2018

Who Democrats Need to Be

"I am not a member of any organized party — I am a Democrat." Will Rogers

I’ve used that quote to define my own politics for most of 50 years. While it’s true that most of the history of the Democratic Party is full of disorder and general stupidity, it wasn’t all like that. The Democratic Party that gave the country FDR and Henry Wallace was a lot more unified and a lot less concerned with bullshit. In 1933, Roosevelt desperately needed his Iowan farmer-intellectual Secretary of Agriculture New Deal star to bring order and discipline to the country’s collapsed and desperate agricultural economy. In 1940, Roosevelt dumped John Garner after the conservative VP opposed the attempt to stack the Supreme Court and ran against Roosevelt for the Democratic nomination. Roosevelt picked Wallace for the job and the Roosevelt/Wallace ticked won 449 Electoral College votes and won the election by 4,000,000 votes. Wallace was a practical Progressive who ran as a real Democrat along with Roosevelt’s more traditional ruling elite Democrat. The party hasn’t seen that many actual Democrats since.

That, however, is the solution to the party’s current schizophrenic lack of personality. The problem with what’s left of the Democrats is “the left.” If you read the stupid crap the DNC lists on its “mission statement,” you’d think the party’s purpose is to get anyone willing wear a DNC badge elected to any office they can afford to run for: “The DLCC's mission is to build and maintain winning, state-of-the-art campaign committees through a continuing partnership with legislative leaders, professional staff, and supporters.”

What the hell is that bullshit? The purpose of a political party is NOT to get elected, but to accomplish something useful for the country. Doing stupid, selfish, greedy, useless crap is why people elect Republicans. Democrats need to quit trying to appeal to every CEO, bankster, moderately liberal Hollywood actor or rock star, or, most importantly, any aspect of the usual crazy-assed left wing of the party. Let the progressives, LBGT’s, anarchists, BLM’s, socialists, communists, and whatever else has been swept up by the disorganized party of mostly losing candidates. If any of those groups can find a home or make one for themselves, they’ll be lucky to attract the usual 1% of the alternative vote; just like the Libertarians, Socialist, Communist, Progressive, Green, Independence, and the other responsibility-avoidance distractions.

Democrats, on the other hand, need to appeal to one group and only one group, the 91-99% of the American voter pool; working class Americans. Fuck their special interests, but everything that should matter to the 127 million working adults in this country should matter to the Democratic Party. Subtracting the 1-9% of that group who represent the faux-working bunch of executives, that leaves 126 million voters whose votes should be the exclusive property of a functioning Democratic Party.

The problem the voters have is figuring out who the actual Democrats are. Nobody, right or left, wants to vote for a Republican wearing a DNC badge. Harry Truman said, "Given the choice between a Republican and someone who acts like a Republican, people will vote for the real Republican all the time." I suspect that is true for real Democrats, too.

6/03/2018

How Do You Resolve This?

Almost all of my life, Republican presidents have made incredible messes that they left for Democrats to clean up. The worst were Nixon, Reagan, Bush I & II, and, now, Trump. Nixon took a failing war and doubled-down on it along with making the USA a debtor nation for the first time in the country’s history. Nixon left the country divided, distrustful, more racist and more unjust than it was before he took office, and broke. Reagan was a knee-jerk reaction to a dose of reality President Carter administered to the nation and he set the country back at least two generations on so many levels it would take a book (The book I recommend is The Man Who Sold the World: Ronald Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America by William Kleinknecht.) to detail all of his betrayals, corruption, and incompetence. Reagan tossed so many trillions into the military-industrial toilet that he made the national debt an international affair in 1983. Bush I just continued the stupid policies of his predecessor, including the amazing cast of nitwits who surrounded Reagan. There was a reason Clinton’s “it’s about the economy, stupid” resonated so soundly. Unfortunately, stupid has been breeding like rats since 1992 and they can’t even spell “economy” let alone comprehend any aspect of economics.

The only saving grace regarding that trio of idiots and traitors was that my generation was not responsible for their existence and power. Bush II changed all of that. He was the worst of my generation. Every step of his life was a train wreak: personally, ethically, and intellectually. He brought Reagan’s pack of vicious idiots back to Washington, bumbled the Katrina response, fumbled the country into two endless, multi-trillion dollar wars, and deregulated the banksters until they crashed the world’s economy. Now Trump, another of the worst from my generation, is dragging the country closer to fascism every day. He has made the country a laughing stock, which could be a good thing, and alerted our allies to how divided, incompetent, and alienated the American public has become. Trump is a waving flag telling the world, “Americans are fools, we are arrogant and incompetent, we are self-absorbed, and we are unstable and dangerous.”

In 2016, I ran for local political office; for city council. There were several excellent people running for those offices (and a couple of not-so-excellent faux-conservative wannabes), including two young Red Wing citizens with big ideas about how to move Red Wing into the 21st Century. At the national level, the election seemed surreal, with neither candidate attracting much positive attention. Our US Representative race was between a nitwit hate radio Republican, Jason Lewis, and a Democrat, a woman, who had a long history of public service and competence. While Minnesota voted for Clinton, the outstate idiots in the state went Republican for practically every office. My country and hometown voted for Trump and Jason Lewis. To that point, I had no idea where I had moved, or who my neighbors were.

I lost my election, but because I spent the last two months of the campaign being far more involved in my wife’s cancer treatment than the election results I had almost no emotional connection to that “loss.” As the years have moved us further into Trump’s world of fools and traitors, I am even less attached to or interested in what happens in Red Wing and Goodhue County or even Minnesota. That is not natural for me. I have been politically active and interested since the 1960’s. Some part of me still wants to care, if just out of habit, but I mostly don’t. For the 18 years we lived in Little Canada, Ramsey County, Minnesota were considered our house and home to be the same entity. In fact, my wife and I are very fond of our house, but we’re ambiguous about our Red Wing, Goodhue County, Minnesota home. We are constantly considering flipping the place and heading west toward civilization; if we could identify an actual civilization in this declining empire.

One of my fellow failed 2016 candidates packed up his family, his businesses, and himself and left town a year after the election. He might not publically admit that the reason he left was that he felt his Red Wing neighbors were dangerously ignorant and vicious people, but that is essentially what he admitted to me. If I were in his position, I would do the same thing. If I had young children, I would not want them anywhere near neo-Nazi Trump voters. Our old home country and city overwhelmingly voted for Democrat candidates, including Clinton. We felt like we had jumped away from the table and into the stove. The majority of our old neighbors saw through Trump and Lewis as easily as though those two con artists were fine crystal. Our new neighbors fell for the con and carefully took aim and shot off their own feet and the feet of their children.

A candidate is supposed to represent all of the people in his district and the country. Republicans don’t believe this and, like Jason Lewis, they only speak to and for “their kind,” but Democrats and any elected official of good conscience have always given voice to the concept of trying to work for everyone; even if they failed or were disingenuous. To this point in my life, that would have been my intention also, but no more. Now, after Trump and Lewis, I am clinging to the barest capacity to care what happens to Trump voters. Because of that, I don’t have the slightest inclination to submit myself to either a political campaign or the misery of weekly city council meetings if I were to “win” an election in this community. This is the time in my life where I could apply what’s left of my energy and talents to working for my country and community. I just wish I had one of those that I believed in enough to make that effort seem worthwhile.

5/31/2018

What’s Real and What Wishes It Were Real

When my kids were approaching college age, we had a talk that neither appreciated.  By then, I’d spent almost 20 years on the path to my BA; 18 of those years attempting to get a EE BS and the last two settling for a Technical Writing BA with as many as possible EE classes crammed in as cross-discipline courses. I was 43 when I finally earned my BA and had been in southern California “long enough” (almost 10 years). I had to satisfy myself with a EETAS, but after a 20 year career as an “engineer” I hoped that would be good enough and it turned out to be so. My talk with the kids was about what I would be willing to help fund and what I would not. I mostly took the Jewish parent approach, “I’ll pay for any college classes you take as long as they are directed toward an engineering, medical, mathematics, or science degree. Anything thing else is a hobby and you’re on your own.” If I were a real Jewish parent I would have substituted a law degree for science, but I’m not.

Today, there is a lot of pissing and moaning from the Xgen and Millennial crowd about their oppressive student debt and I only have moderate sympathy for that, since far too many of those “degrees” were of the “studying my own navel” variety. Shriek away if it makes you feel better, but I do not believe there is a valid argument for liberal arts, arts, business, and most of what passes for vocational training costing anything near engineering, medical, mathematics, or science degrees. In fact, I think paying instructors equivalent salaries outside of those three very general fields anything near the same money just encourages foolishness. To anyone who has studied many of the “soft” fields, it’s pretty obvious that many of the most expert of “experts” in economics, literature, history, education, art, journalism, cultural anthropology, paleontology, etc are either college dropouts who are driven to learn faster than colleges are prepared to teach or hobbyists with engineering, medical, mathematics, or science degrees dabbling in the softer and easier fields. So, the downside to obtaining an engineering, medical, mathematics, or science degree is only the difficulty and effort required, which is what “higher education” is supposed to be all about.

With that in mind, a rational society trying to encourage the creation (in our case) of an educated citizenry or (in the case of actual 1st world nations) trying to maintain that educated citizenry that democracy is so dependent upon would concentrate on ensuring that anyone making the effort to obtain an education in engineering, medical, mathematics, or science would leave school with minimal debt; once that standard is obtained, we could have a conversation about the value of less necessary skills and specialties.

Academia, being the mindlessly corrupt and lazy territory of human inactivity that it is, would relentlessly try to dumb down the curriculum of engineering, medical, mathematics, and science programs to allow lazier and less competent “students” to filter into those fields and, therefore, water-down the value to the level of the fluffier academic fields. Which will be just one more thing that will have to be carefully monitored, administered, regulated, and critically considered; as it always should be. Everything heads toward entropy, including all human activities, and the harder, more complicated, more critical the human activity the more quickly it degenerates into uselessness.

5/15/2018

Letter to Jason Lewis

Representative Jason Lewis

418 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: 202-225-2271

As a lifelong student, even past retirement, I am skeptical about the claims you are making for vocational school training. In 1970, I attended about a semester-and-a-half of vocational school electronics training. You could claim that kick-started my career as an electrical engineer, but you’d be missing most of the big picture if you did. The “education” I was receiving in tech school was primarily focused on teaching me how to repair tube-type television sets. The part-time job I had at the same time was repairing solid state industrial agriculture electronics. The vocation “education” was about five years behind the state of the industry and if I had stayed in that program for the full two years I would have graduated into an industry and economy that would have considered me obsolete before I started my career.

One of the many problems with vocational schools is attracting instructors with current industry skills. The best most seem to be able to do is to attract mediocre instructors with even more mediocre skills. The more rural the school, the less talent it is likely to be able to attract and retain. That is only partially an issue of money, since anyone cutting short a successful career to become an “industrial arts” teacher is not only taking himself out of the state-of-the-art but if you compound that sacrifice with teaching in a rural area the instructor is, literally, giving up on being in any way current. The only people willing to make those kinds of sacrifices are those who are not able to compete in the first place, so teaching a vocational education program is the best they can hope for. It doesn’t matter how much short-term money you can wave in their faces, any sentient American knows this country does not value education in the long run. The talent needed to make a real training program work won’t be fooled by a few moments of attention paid to vocational education.

More importantly, vocation education programs are mostly incapable of providing enough of an education to start a lifetime technical career. The only key to staying employed for an extended period in technology is a commitment to lifetime learning. Vocation training is notorious for being gap-filling training, not actual education. Personally, I think the real problem is that in order to fill far too many seats in traditional colleges with far too untalented students, universities have lowered their standards to attract the largest population of customers; not “students,” because that standard would be too high. The fact that every college student, regardless of major, is not required to take and pass college-level science and mathematics classes as part of a “liberal education” is the real problem. MA’s and PhD’s are passed out like prizes in Cracker Jacks boxes to people who do not meet the most basic modern requirements for “educated.” If you want to fix higher education, bring back the 1960’s requirements for a college degree.

Thomas Day

5/05/2018

What Part of Death is Complicated?

When I was teaching, every semester a few hours to a week or more after the course’s final exam, a few "students" would call or email me messages with a variety of excuses asking when they could "make up " their missed or failed exam. Since the final often accounted for 30-45% of the total grade, sleeping in that day was expensive. For more than half of my life, I’ve been convinced that “a lack of preparation on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.” From the beginning of my teaching career, my syllabus clearly stated that final exams would only be administered on the day the exam was scheduled; a date and time clearly identified the day class began. With that as a background, my only response to those messages was, "What part of 'final' do you not understand?"

A concept that we regularly tried to reinforce in our classes was that there are “get fired moments” that can be career-stoppers. In a highly competitive business, like recording music, there is always someone right outside the door waiting to take your job. It really is a business where “there is no try, only do.”

Lately, some of my religious friends and relatives have been prying at my atheism asking, "What do you think happens after death?"

There could be a lot to unpack in that question, but for someone who does not believe in magic of any form the question has a pretty straight-forward answer. Remembering the final exam moments, this question does feel like déjà vu. It is all I can do not to rudely respond with, "What part of death do you not understand?" Because that is the rational answer, obviously. Death is the ultimate final exam.

One response to my hopefully scientific take on life and death was “it’s easier for me to believe in a divine creator than the idea that everything came from a Big Bang that was created from nothing.” Most Americans have a terrible grasp on mathematics and science, so it is pretty easy to understand how the most sophisticated and complicated field in science, astrophysics, is incomprehensible. However, many of the people who cling to religion for their information about how the world works, have almost no clue about even the most basic and well-accepted proven science. While they claim they don’t believe in the science behind astrophysics, they offer no excuses for not understanding most of the technology that is all around them: computers, television and radio, internal combustion, the internet, medicine and biology, and practically any complicated thing that has been invented or discovered in the last 100 years. If it were up to them or their religion, none of those things would exist today or tomorrow. It’s a wonder, to me, why anyone cares about the philosophy, religions, or the opinions of people who have provided so little contribution to progress of any sort.

The disinterest they express in understanding how even life works should be a disqualifying admission in any serious conversation about the complexities of the universe. Why, if you know so little about how life works, would you assume expertise on something as poorly-understood as death? For the most part, science knows a lot about life on earth and even a good bit about how life might exist on other planets with totally different atmospheres. Science knows more than most of us would like to know about the moments after a heart stops beating, too. However, science doesn’t make any claims about life-after-death; that remains in the territory of the con artists often known as “ministers,” “priests,” and the rest of the hucksters selling real estate in another dimension.

In a talk broadcast on MPR, Thomas Friedman recently said, “Mother Nature is just chemistry, biology, and physics. She will do whatever chemistry, biology, and physics tells her to do. She always bats last and she always bats 1.000. You do not mess with Mother Nature. (I really recommend that you listen to Friedman’s talk on this link) and nothing more or less. Nothing about spirituality has anything to do with “chemistry, biology, and physics.” Religion and the afterlife are just weird ideas made up by sheepherders and primitive people who didn’t have “chemistry, biology, and physics” to use as tools to understand the world we live in. Of course, many American citizens are also without those tools; along with mathematics, economics, philosophy, psychology, computer science, engineering, and every other aspect of advanced, modern human knowledge. Because they are clinging to ancient religions, most of which they have barely studied, and their parents and offspring are handicapped by their devotion to dead religions and imaginary gods.

An optimistic person would imagine that the stresses from global warming, a radically changing world economics, economic and social inequality, and international competition would force a “first world country” like the USA to pull itself together and get into the game before it is too late. I have spent too much time in rural America. The thing to learn from being around marginally educated, timid conservative small town citizens and politicians, and racially isolated and deluded white nationalists is that change terrifies them and they imagine they have some control over a naturally occurring, rapidly accelerating, and unstoppable change in every aspect of human life. They hope to pray away the change. If that doesn’t work, they plan on living forever in a magical afterlife where all of the problems are solved by a god.

I’m 70. I don’t expect to see any sort of useful solutions in my lifetime. On some levels, I don’t care. I wish for solutions that will allow my kids and grandkids to live long and good lives, but I won’t be here to know how that works out. Since, as far as I’m concerned, life everywhere will end when I die it’s hard to me to get really concerned about what happens after I’m dead. Believe it or not, I’m not afraid of death at all. I expect it’s possible that the few seconds after my heart stops my brain will go into overdrive and it might even be painful, terrifying, and sad. But 2-20 seconds late, it will all be over and I’ll be dead. That will be the first final exam in my life that I will have failed.

4/30/2018

Life in These United States, Then and Now

Educational Danger Signs

I just discovered that a friend who I’d worked with for ten years back in the eighties has a BS in Physics. From what I knew of his life and professional story, I’d always assumed he was a college dropout. There were lots of reasonable reasons that I’d made that assumption, but it was still surprising to find that not only did my friend attend and complete his undergraduate work, but he did it in the most difficult field in higher education.

This isn’t the first time this has happened to me. During my career, I worked with more than a few terrific engineers and researchers who said absolutely nothing about their academic life at the beginning of their careers. That might not seem unusual, unless you consider the fact that I was a part-time college student going nights and weekends for two decades and a full-time electrical engineer until I finally completed my own undergrad work when I was 43 years old. Many of my co-workers knew I was struggling my way through school and I had lots of conversations with quite a variety of people about why I was doing that and got even more advice on how to make college less painful. I had a fair list of professors and college instructors who were also personal friends and who also helped me figure out the devious path to a degree in a system that brags a lot about being “non-traditional student friendly,” but puts as little effort into that as possible.

The other end of that academic non-disclosure phenomena is the inspiration for this rant, though. During my brief stint as a college educator, I was suddenly surrounded by a wide variety of “academics”: from professionals who were winding up their careers as instructors to academics who had spent their whole lives pursuing academic credentials or leveraging those credentials into an academic career to recent college graduates with no life or professional experience. It didn’t take long to discover that the more useless and pointless an academic career had been, the more proud of that wasted time an instructor would be. I sat in course development meetings, listening to pitches for totally useless and frivolous courses from clearly awful instructors desperately trying to justify their existence in the institution, amazed at how corrupt academia could be.

An acquaintance in his mid-70s regularly feels the need to remind me that he has a PhD in one of the many trivial liberal arts self-study fields. He uses that “credential” to justify a host of marginally informed positions on everything from economics (he can’t balance his own checkbook) to science, mathematics, and engineer (with no background in any of those fields) to arguing the validity of his own field of study since the foundations of that field have been wreaked and reconstructed since he received his education fifty years ago. Literally, nothing he was told was true and incontrovertible has turned out to be fact and the thrust and direction from his former field of self-declared expertise has taken a 180o turn from when he was an active academic. None of that has any effect on his grip on his academic credentials as a weapon against all debate on every subject.

I wish this were the only time I’d run into this strange academic dychotemy. At a once-vocational school turned-academic failure where I once worked, the really obscure and mostly-unemployable academics (art history, cultural and linguistic anthropology, musicology and ethnomusicology, English and speech, and so on) became the political powerhouse in the organization and, in record time, drove the school to bankruptcy. I was blessed to get to watch the last five years of this American farce and tragedy from the distance of retirement, which took a lot of the sting out of seeing something good and productive turn to crap. However, I did get stuck attending a couple years of meetings with that crowd in the driver’s seat and it was both painful and enlightening. Their entire professional and personal lives revolved around their academic “accomplishments,” since no one had ever once paid them money for actual work or measurable productivity. Young and old alike, since their outside-of-academia “experience” was the same, these characters were convinced that their academic career was equivalent to actual work and should be regarded with the same respect as the music instructors who had actually produced products and services someone willingly bought.

I’m glad I had the opportunity to observe this weirdness up close and I’m gladder that my actual career preceeding that experience provided me with enough resources to be able to say “that’s enough of that” before it seriously pissed me off.

4/27/2018

Human Evolution?

When I was a kid, I read a LOT of science fiction. Since most decent literature was banned from my hometown library and the schools, the only thoughtful input I had was “Analog Science Fact and Fiction,” “Worlds of Tomorrow,” “Super Science Fiction,” “New Worlds,” and a few other magazines that led me to science fiction authors like Azimov, Bradbury, Clark, Heinlein, Sturgeon, Lem, and a collection of people who expanded my mind and universe. One story, among hundreds I barely remember today, that stuck with me like a bible or a philosophical text is Cyril Kornbluth’s “The Marching Morons”: probably the most accurately predictive piece of speculative fiction along with 1984. I’ve written about this brilliant novella and the derivative-but-stupid movie before, “Who Cares about Idiocracy,” and I’ve referred to The Marching Morons more often than I’ve probably written about Barak Obama or even the living evidence that we are in the twilight of humanity’s idiotic existence, Donald Jerkoff Drumpf.

The difference between Marching Morons and Idiocracy is as dramatic as the genetic space between Obama and Trump. The Marching Morons is funny, accurate, and brilliantly predictive. Idiocracy is . . . idiotic. The problem isn’t that intelligent human beings are not breeding and are vanishing; the problem is that idiots are breeding like well-fed rats and rapidly outnumbering the brilliant but slower-growing and much smaller species. Because of that, the species is rapidly splitting into mental haves and have-nots. For the moment, the rarer, smarter, more productive minority are supporting the growning horde of nitwits, but that never lasts.

The information humans have accumulated is now doubling every 12 months and that pace is constantly accelorating, but the majority of homosapients are not participating in that information revolution in any way. In fact, it’s likely that they might be getting dumber at an amazing rate. Not only is the dumbing-down happening in primative cultures like the Mideast, Russia and eastern Europe, the jungles of South America and Africa, the slums of Indonesia and India/Pakistan, and the undeveloped portions of the world, but in first world industrialized countries like Germany, France, Scandinavia, and Asia and declining empires like the USA and Great Britian. It’s not just that these humans are not keeping up with change, they are slowly regressing as stupid people breed and interbreed with stupid people. There is evolution on one hand and de-evolution in mass on the other.

knowledge-doubling-curveAt some point in homosapien’s past, the species must have peaked. There was likely a point where the majority of humanity was pretty much at the same mental level and where change and technology began to seperate the average from the superior. At that point, what author Yuval Noah Harari calls “homo deus” began to seperate from the herd. Sometime around the beginning of the industrial revolution, the acceloration of knowledge kicked into gear and WWII really amped it up several notches. The Cold War and space race kept the pressure on and pressure and diminishing resources are what force evolution.

knowledge-doubling-curve2The graph in the previous paragraph illustrates the shape of knowledge growth over the last 120 years, but what might really point out to you why this is generating so much stress is a graph of just the last 20 years (at left). An interesting feature of exponential curves is that when you drill down into any point of the curve, the rise is still startlingly exponential but you can see either the important moments where dramatic change occurred and/or the technology leaps that allowed/forced those changes. This list of milestones tacked on to the technical capabilities of our combined world cultures ought to be intimidating. If it isn’t, you don’t understand what happened.

overpopulationWhile the cream of our species is analyzing the make-up and state of the universe, the folks swirling the evolutionary toilet bowl are still clinging to the delusion that the earth is flat and god-given resources are infinite. If you keep in mind the incredible accomplishments of a grossly under-funded NASA in the last 20 years and paste that next to the fact that “homo uno” (or is that “homo oh no!”) is still debating among itself whether NASA managed to get a man on the moon almost 50 years ago, it should be obvious that cream is being seperated from the genetic milk by something resembling a nuclear materials centrifuge.

EarthOvershoot_mobileThe evolutionary drivers are progress, resources, curiosity, survival, money, and power; the usual suspects. I have always believed that as resources diminish, evolution speeds up. We are at a point on this planet where our resources are being chewed up infinitely faster than they are being created and renewed. Americans deluded themselves into believing that Peak Oil was a farce during the Bush years and accelorated that resource’s depletion to the point where nutty extraction activities like hydraulic fracking seemed like a good idea. That temporarily drove US oil prices down at the expense of billions of gallons of unpolluted underground and above ground water resources. Humans survived for thousands of years without oil, but without water we’re finished in a few weeks.

As best I can tell, no generation has seriously worried about the survival or welfare of the following generations. As much as humans jabber about homosapien’s capacity for planning for the future, that anticipated “future” appears to be about a year away, at the most, for most of our species. For most of our existence, that was probably enough planning since practically any sort of disaster was likely to wipe out everyone we know. Noah’s flood is a terrific example of a local event blown up into an imaginary extinction of everyone on the planet and a reboot of all other animal species. Anyone with the slightest grip on reality would interpret that biblical story as the kind of thing primative people would imagine if they had never travelled further than the next hill past their valley. A small percentage of humans know, today, how far away the next mountain range is and, more importantly, how far away the next livable planet is likely to be. They aren’t going to wait for the rest of us to struggle our way into getting a grip on the last century’s technology. Sooner or later, they will move on leaving “homo uno” behind to pick over the scraps and fight among ourselves until the dreary end.

4/17/2018

The Rat’s Book Club

Preface

I started this list in MID-April, 2018, the best and worst of times in my life and in my country. I decided to publish it before it was finished because . . . it’s my damn blog and I can do whatever the hell I want here. But, mostly, because I promised a friend that I would recommend some books for him and I wanted to get it out quickly for his purposes. However, if this list intrigues you I would recommend bookmarking this page and returning to it occasionally. I am absolutely going to be continually updating it until my laptop drops out of my cold, dead hands.

The List

In my life, there have been books that were integral to my career, books that informed me, books that inspired me, books that I wish I’d have read 40 years ago, books that entertained me, and books that saved/changed me. In a given week, I typically read 3-8 books; mostly for entertainment. But the book recommendations I’m leaving here are the ones that informed me, inspired me, those that I wish had existed when I really needed them, and those that saved/changed:

Books that informed me:

  • Everything technical by Don Lancaster, most of which are obsolete today. However, the book that probably kept me afloat and motivated the longest was The Incredible Secret Money Machine II, which is in its second edition (1978, re-issued for the 5th time in 2010) and is now available for free as an eBook here. At the core, ISMM It is a “business book” for artists, inventors, and the best of what are called “entrepreneurs.” The technology is mostly obsolete, but the business and personal advice is timeless. It’s hard to believe this book was first issued in 1978. I feel like I’ve had a copy for my entire life. The first Lancaster ISMM idea to take-away, don’t buy these books, get them from your local library and save the cash for necessities.
  • Several books by David Halberstam, who started me on my path to whatever political and social philosophy I have, but The Reckoning was a manufacturing history education: the parallel histories of Ford and Nissan from the turn of the last century to the mid-1980’s as told by one of America’s greatest non-fiction authors. I was lucky enough to stumble on this book when I was training engineers in Phil Crosby’s “Quality Is Free” program. The combination was instrumental to my life outlook and my love of manufacturing.
  • John Muir’s How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot belongs in both the “informed” and the “inspired” category. In its 19th edition, this 1969 book first saved me from my first serious car purchase (a 1967 VW convertible) turning into an economic catastrophe for my family. Then, it turned me on to a lifetime of mechanical repairs, inquiry, and lots of fun.
  • Soul of A New Machine by Tracy Kidder. This 1981 book was written when a “small computer” was about the size of a large executive desk, so the technology described is pretty ancient. However, the book is about management, leadership, and teamwork; all timeless subjects. Anything I ever attempted as a manager, teacher, parent, and co-worker was tempered by the things I learned from Soul. I have tried to read everything Tracy Kidder has written since and there are no lemons in his publication history.
  • Intuitive Operational Amplifiers: From Basics to Useful-Applications and Intuitive Analog Electronics by Thomas Fredrickson. This book drug me, kicking and whining like a little bitch, into the thought process that allowed me to become a circuit designer. I still own these two books, but Fredrickson’s other books about CMOS electronics and digital computers were also instrumental in keeping me employed for an excessive interval. Many of the viewpoints Fredrickson described are still part of how I think, teach, and work.
  • The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy by Alan Cooper. Have you ever wondered why software is so user-hostile and counter-intuitive? Have you ever experienced the sort of arrogance that only nerds and geeks display, where they imagine themselves to be superior because they’ve figured out one tiny strand of the computer world and feel compelled to flaunt that as if they were a high school bully? I stumbled on to this book about a decade ago and it explains everything I’ve ever hated about software. Re-reading it today explains everything about how the nerds and the internet provided Trump and the Russians a platform with which to wreak the 2016 election. On average, computer geeks are not complete people. They do not know how to work in teams, they put themselves and their power over the needs and good of everyone else, and they are close enough to being psychopathic as possible without getting locked up. Inmates explains why and how to fix it, but we probably won’t because part of the problem is that humans are emotional suckers.

Books that inspired me:

  • Further Up the Organization by Robert Townsend, 1984. I was incredibly lucky to have stumbled on Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits, the first version (1970) of Townsend’s management philosophy, just before I was put into my first management position. The updated version, Further Up, came along just when I began to be involved in managing a large manufacturing department and I kept my copy nearby for almost daily reference.
  • Another David Halberstam book, The Amateurs: The Story of Four Young Men and Their Quest for an Olympic Gold Medal. This book was part of four chapters in my life. When I first read it, in 1985, I was working for a hyper-competitive audio company, living in southern California, and beginning my drive for a college degree as a night student. The drive the California skullers used to win their place on the team and, then, an Olympic medal was inspirational and motivating. Almost a decade later, my youngest daughter was in a life-changing car crash. She had read this book when she was younger, but she read it again during her recovery and it helped to drive her to an incredible total recovery from her terrible injuries. “Nobody beats us,” was her therapy mantra. A few years after that, my father suffered a collection of illnesses and lost most of his sight. He listened to the Amateurs book-on-tape (read by Christopher Reeves) and it helped him carry on with his new limitations. Finally, in 1999 I went to a David Halberstam book signing and lecture. Afterwards, I brought him my hardback copy of The Amateurs to sign and told him what it had meant to my family. He told me it was also his wife’s favorite book and we had a wonderful conversation about writing, history, and our families.

Books I wish existed when I was young enough to do something with the information:

  • So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport. This is the book that started this list. Brad, this one is for you. If nothing else connects with you, the “Career Capital” concept ought to, "The traits that define great work are rare and valuable. Supply and demand says that if you want [this work] you need rare and valuable skills to offer in return. Think of these rare and valuable skills you can offer as your career capital. The craftsman mindset, with its relentless focus on becoming ‘so good they can’t ignore you,’ is a strategy well suited for acquiring career capital." This concept, alone, would have changed so much of my life that I try not to think about it too much.
  • Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality by Paul Tieger, 1992.  Don’t get me wrong, Do What You Are helped immensely in helping me decide what to do after I’d left California, my family, and my career in 1992. But if I’d have had that information in 1965, I would have taken a totally different life path and had a more productive career.
  • Dr. Barbara Oakley’s A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science. I also wish I’d have had this book when my two daughters were in high school and, later, for their college careers. It would have changed all our lives, dramatically for the better.
  • Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity by Charles Duhigg. For me, the exploration of teams and teamwork was the core to the book, although I’m sure I took other things away from it. There are many counterintuitive things to learn about teams.
  • Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. Focus is the key to any sort of significant achievement. The key to focus is paring away useless or unproductive activities, leaving the essential task clearly in sight. I just discovered this book a few months ago and am still wrestling with the early stages. At 70, there may no longer be an essential task I care enough to take on, but getting rid of the inessential stuff is more than satisfying.

Books that saved/changed me:

  • The top of this list will always be Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Many claim to have read it, few have accomplished that feat. Everything from my “with a will to work hard and a library card” mindset to my willingness to study and understand new technology, to my belief in “quality as a lifestyle” was implanted by Robert Pirsig, who died last year leaving the world a better place than he found it. I have given/loaned at least a dozen copies of ZATAOMM and not a one has ever come back to me. Now, I have an eBook edition and it goes almost everywhere I travel. There are sections of this book that I have flagged for those moments when I need a reminder of the fact that “good is a noun,” not an adverb. Or, as Zen Buddhist practitioners would say, Quality is not something you believe in, Quality is something you experience. To me, all of that insight came from reading Zen and the Art.
  • David Halberstam’s Vietnam reporting in the New York Times was syndicated in the Hutchinson News, a paper my father delivered for a while. Those articles formed my opinion of the Vietnam War and of the US war machine and kept me level-headed during my 1966 draft process. You can get a feel for that reporting with The Making of a Quagmire: America and Vietnam During the Kennedy Era. Halberstam's relentless pursuit of truth turned into his The Best and the Brightest masterpiece about the people who drug the country into the Vietnam War and their gross overestimation of themselves and their brilliance. I could go on with David Halberstam book recommendations for a long time; everything he wrote was amazing.
  • At one time, when I was about 20, I went into a frenzy of reading “everything Bertrand Russell.” I still refer to the things I learned in his books and from his life and hold him as the highest ideal of a human being. Russell’s 1957 “Why I Am Not A Christian” was probably a turning point for me, as an individual. I read this essay in a collection of Russell’s essays, all of which were enlightening in the forceful way that word was originally intended. This essay is full of statements that highlight the religious fallacies, “If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument.” Or “Nobody really worries much about what is going to happen millions of years hence. Even if they think they are worrying much about that, they are really deceiving themselves. They are worried about something much more mundane, or it may merely be a bad digestion; but nobody is really seriously rendered unhappy by the thought of something that is going to happen to this world millions of years hence. Therefore, although it is of course a gloomy view to suppose that life will die out—at least I suppose we may say so, although sometimes when I contemplate the things that people do with their lives I think it is almost a consolation—it is not such as to render life miserable. It merely makes you turn your attention to other things.” Russell rendered the idea of religion and gods to be so pointless that serious consideration of those ideas just withered into childishness. And religion still is, in my mind, nothing more than childish timid foolishness thanks to Mr. Russell.
  • The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck. I’m understating the fact when I say I am incredibly uncomfortable talking/writing about my life’s battle with depression. While nothing has alieved the feeling that I don’t deserve any part of the life I’ve had, The Road Less Traveled helped make it survivable at a time when I had less interest in my next breath than you can imagine; unless you’ve been on the same trip. I have given away several copies of TRLT and no longer own a hard copy. Life is survivable when the broken into categories of disipline, love, religion/philosophy, and grace and accepting the fact that life is difficult; if you can accept that as fact, it’s easier to tolerate the hard bits. Not a lot easier, but anything is better than the nothing gained otherwise. The worst thing about depression and any mental illness is that you, the patient, are completely responsible for your treatment. The possibility of outside help is inversely proportional to the intensity of the illness. The Road Less Traveled is a fairly useful guidebook to self-help and that is about as good as mental healthcare gets. 

4/16/2018

A Dumb Idea Compounded

In 1789, the “founders” of this country considered several options, including democracy, and decided on a distant cousin; a republic. A republic is "(1) a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law (2) : a political unit (such as a nation) having such a form of government." In theory, there shouldn’t be a significant difference between a republic and a democracy, if you can believe the “body of citizens” represents the majority of citizens. In the beginning of the United States, that wasn’t even close to being true. In fact, the only “body of citizens” included where white men who owned property. Over time, there has been a lot of yak about “one man/woman, one vote,” but it’s all bullshit. All throughout the country’s history, a good bit of our country’s activity has been about keeping some group or groups from voting to protect (you guessed it) white men who own property.

Tonight, I attended a Goodhue County board of supervisors meeting and saw how little democratic representation we have even at the county level. Unless you are one of the hyper-rich white men who own property, you might as well be dead and expect one of your representatives to bring you back to life. As a dispossessed member of the 99%, you do not have a voice in this “republic.” In this particular meeting, the overwhelming majority of voters filling the room where there to try and prevent the council from changing the county’s regulations regarding responsibility for monitoring the nusianse value of an enclosed pig factory. Regardless, the board voted five to three to approve the reduction in county responsibility. Meaning, local government has one more employee (the “feedlot inspector”) who has a job but no responsibility. The feedlot owner, however, got a county pass to pump unlimited water, pollute above and below ground, and no responsibility to the community in any way.

The county board and staff’s password was continually “as long as they are obeying the rules” they are not doing anything wrong. Of course, it should have been mentioned that the industry has been writing the rules (just like this local piece of . . . legislation) for at least 40 years. But the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has been doing a lousy job since Pawlenty and the Republicans started their version of Reagan’s War on the Future. At the meeting, we heard residents of Dodge County implore the commissioners, provide them with mountains of data, and even appeal to their humanity and patriotism to no effect. What passed for their minds were made up and this misrepresentative form or government proved itself to be corrupt and incompetent, again.

Apparently, the only semi-functional state government in this country is the referendum system; like:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • South Dakota
  • Utah

You’ll notice Minnesota is not among that group. Minnesota doesn’t even have the lame “veto only” referendum option. Politicians and bureaucrats have way too much power practically everywhere, but if citizens do not have the power to override those vested interests, we get the kind of crap I witnessed at the Goodhue County commissioners meeting last night.

4/12/2018

Say "Wow!"

I don't often read a piece from the right or the left that does much more than depress me even more. In an odd way, Tom Engelhardt's piece today, "Tomgram: Engelhardt, America Last?" did the opposite. "So much of this has, of course, already been buried in the sands of history, but that’s no reason for it to be forgotten. Almost 17 years after 9/11, the parts of the planet that 'the greatest force, etc., etc.' was loosed upon remain in remarkable upheaval and disarray, while failed states and terror groups multiply, producing more displaced people and refugees than at any time since the end of World War II. Another great power, China, is rising, and an economically less than great Russia continues to hang in there militarily and strategically by force of Putinian chutzpah. Not surprisingly, American decline has become a topic of the moment."

The essay does an clear and insightful job of analyzing how far the country has fallen since 2001 and how many challengers have arose since we decided to stomp off on an "empire building" fit of hubris that put the wisdom and benevolence of the United States into such doubt that even our long-time allies began to make alliances that would eventually challenge American supremacy to the point that even the dumbest people in this country desperately went searching for someone who could convince them that America could ever be "great again."

Here is what we should have learned from our insane response to the 9/11 attacks, "Lesson one: It should have been too obvious to say, but wasn’t: Earth can’t be conquered by a single power, no matter how strong. Try to do so and you’ll end up taking yourself down in some fashion."

The United States is being "taken down" internally and externally and the lesson every failed empire has learned from doubling-down on military firepower is that a powerful military is never all it is cracked up to be. In fact, building a powerful military is always a precursor to a nation cracking up. "Lesson two: In the twenty-first century, military power, even that of the 'finest fighting force in the history of the world' (another presidential descriptor of these years), isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It doesn’t matter how many hundreds of billions of dollars you put into building up and maintaining that military yearly or how many trillions of dollars you sink into its wars and the mayhem they produce."

Engelhardt lists three other lessons the world should learn from watching the US disintegrate into a chaotic relic and he anticipates at least four more lessons we will learn on our way down the chute. It's worth reading if you are inclined to want to learn from history. Otherwise, you can be a typical American and keep your head buried in the sands of superstition and nationalism, you can chant the variations on "four legs are better than two" ("lock her up," "make America great again," "America first," "drain the swamp," etc.) until your unemployment and/or Social Security checks stop coming because the nation is bankrupt and dissolving. History is usually examined by the survivors, not the perpetrators. So, it's likely that everyone but the remnants of the citizens of the United States of America will be doing the analysis in the near future.

4/01/2018

The Face of Racism

face_of_fascismPick any one of these guys, they all appear to be the same privileged, spoiled, hate filled racist assholes. Have you wondered who they are, where did they come from, and how they ended up being such despicable semi-human beings? Some of these faces have become well-known, at least in their hometowns, thanks to the internet. The rest of us are left wondering if these people are our neighbors and that is the question we should be asking. Charlottesville, Virginia, to many of us, is the kind of place where we’d expect racism, fascism, and ignorance. It’s the South, isn’t it? To people who know the place, it’s more subtle than that.

face_of_fascismFor example, the Trump-spawn asshole front-and-center of this now-famous picture is a University of Nevada scumbag named Peter Cvjetanovic, who is now whining “I’m not a racist,” in spite of overwhelming evidence. Even when this guy speaks in self-defense and with some preparation time, he comes off no differently than his now-famous picture, “As a white nationalist, I care for all people. We all deserve a future for our children and for our culture. White nationalists aren’t all hateful; we just want to preserve what we have.” I assume he means his white privilege is the “what we have” he wants to preserve. Equally unsurprising, the University of Nevada is sticking by their Nazi student and employee. University of Nevada, Reno President Marc Johnson said, “There have been numerous inquiries about Peter Cvjetanovic, a student at our University who participated in the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. Based on discussion and investigation with law enforcement, our attorneys and our Office of Student Conduct, there is no constitutional or legal reason to expel him from our University or to terminate his employment.” Moral values are, clearly, not part of the student code of conduct in Nevada, since that would typically give the university plenty of leeway for firing a neo-Nazi if they cared about that sort of thing.

cole whiteA little more surprising is the story of Cole White, who lost his job at Top Dog, a Berkeley, California “libertarian hot dog restaurant.” Top Dog, a downtown Berkeley restaurant, posted a sign on its door saying, “Effective Saturday 12th August, Cole White no longer works at Top Dog. The actions of those in Charlottesville are not supported by Top Dog. We believe in individual freedom and voluntary association for everyone.” Supposedly, White “voluntarily resigned” his weenie job with his weenie employer who went the extra mile to let the world know they did not fire their neo-Nazi employee. The last thing libertarians want is for anyone to think they have ethics. Just ask Paul Ryan how Ayn Rand would feel about that. I have to wonder what kind of idiot would buy a hot dog from someone who doesn’t believe the state has the right to ensure the safety of food?

Mostly, the faces from Charlottesville are unsurprising. They are the the bad guy in every Karate Kid movie. They are the spoiled, upper-middle class kids whose parents foot every bill and enable every moment of their miserable, useless lives. Unfortunately, I think calling out every neo-Nazi, every homicidal militia Klan’er, every future abusive middle-manager or cop in that crowd is going to be a thankless task. The country has been breeding for this class of creep for 250 years.

By the way, both of you know you are going to be bald by 40, right? Enjoy that pre-skinhead look while you can.

3/30/2018

Mangling the American Dream

I am never more out of sync with my country than when it comes to consumerism. For all of the reasons Republicans say people like me are “un-American,” I hate all of the holiday seasons; especially Xmas. It’s not just the superstition and faux-good-will that smears itself across this smarmy holiday from work (for a rare non-retail few) and common sense, it’s the constant guilt-manipulating whining about “gifts” and expectations. If I could pick any time of the year to be struck down by lightning, it would be anytime between Halloween and Easter. Hell, I’d step between practically anyone and a bullet to get out of that time of the year (Trump and his spawn excluded).

One morning a few weeks ago, I was making potato pancakes for our breakfast and decided to drag out my rarely-used food processor to shred the potatoes and onions. As I was assembling the pieces of this vintage machine into something that would turn potatoes into bits of vegetable confetti, I was reminded of where this kitchen implement came from. Sometime around 2005, I decided I wanted to make one more attempt at adding a lot of vegetables to my diet and I figured buying a food processor to make that job a little less irritating might be motivational. As usual, I didn’t want to pay much for this speculative diet-motivational tool. So, I went on Craig’s List, created a “search alert” and let CL do what it does best. A couple of days later, I got a hit on a processor in my price range in the Payne-Phalen area of St. Paul. I called the seller and set up a time for me to check out the appliance a few hours before I needed to be in St. Paul for a recording session later that evening.

The sellers turned out to be a fairly recent-immigrant Asian couple who were doing the American Dream thing: buying all new everything as fast as they could toss their credit cards at anyone with stuff to sell. They had a new Honda Accord in the driveway, a living room full of nice leather-bound furniture and a television bigger than my living room wall, and a recently redecorated kitchen with lots of brand new appliances. I suspect the processor they were selling me was a hand-me-down. When they greated me at the door, they checked out my classy 1998 Ford Escort station wagon and my usual high-style outfit: a tee-shirt and jeans and sandals and a Denver Nuggets jacket. I don’t think I impressed them at all. We talked a bit while I tested the food processor and stuffed it and its parts back into the original packing box they had provided. They wanted to show me their new Cuisinart food processor, but I needed to keep moving so that I wouldn’t be late for my gig.

That morning, I considered the fact that I have never been much of a fan or even a participant in the American Dream; as commonly accepted by most Americans. I have owned exactly one new car—a  1973 Mazda RX3 station wagon—in my life and would just as soon never get financially beat up that badly again. I bought two new motorcycles, both early in 1974, and got my financial ass handed to me on those vehicles. Since then, I’ve owned a collection of beaters and utilitarian used vehicles and have driven a few of them into the ground. I’ve been accused of being willing to buy used food if I could figure out how to safely digest it. During my working career, I allocated so few minutes to meals that I probably wouldn’t have tasted the difference most of the time.

I don’t care about keeping up with the Jones’s, I just don’t want to get screwed. For most large purchases, being the first buyer is accepting the fact that you will likely be the one who takes the biggest financial hit for getting it when it is new. New cars lose 25-50% of their purchase value the day they roll off of the lot. Most motorcycles are no different. I bought a relatively new construction home in Parker, Colorado: I paid $71,000 for it in 1992, the original owners paid $110,000 for the house in 1984. (Thank you, Mr. Reagan.) I bought a like-new carbon fiber guitar a couple of years ago for $750. The original owner paid $1100 for it and a friend bought a lower cost version of the same instrument at the same time I found my used one; he paid $1300 plus tax. I bought a collection of power tools from a local retired guy for $100. On the way out his door with my new tools all loaded in the pickup, he mentioned that he’d paid about $2000 for those same tools when they were new. I bought a like-new $1400 digital oscilloscope a few weeks ago for $200 and the original owner threw in a couple hundred dollars worth of test probes to seal the deal. All of this equipment was barely used when I bought them. And on and on I could go. You too, I hope.

The real American dream used to be to hand off a world and a country that was better than the one we inherited. Americans used to take pride in trying to give their children a leg-up into the world they would possess when their parents were either old and feeble or gone. Today, many Americans appear to be proud of doing exactly the opposite. The two generations currently in power, Boomers and X-gens, seem to be doing everything they can to use up all of the world’s natural resources before their children realize how greedy they are being. We’re cobbling together dysfunctional national and state governments, solely purposed to make the rich richer and everybody else poor and enslaved. At least half of us are pretending that humans are not primarily responsible for the rapid climate change the world is displaying.

Americans and Arabs are doubling-down on their death-cult superstitions, pretending that prayers and wishes and a collection of gods so confusing that even the Greeks would be confused by who-is-who-in-the-sky. In the US, we’ve decided social and economic justice, education, democracy, and national security all take a backseat to making the rich richer and more powerful. That is NOT the American Dream. If anything, it is the Russian ogliarchy’s dream and they seem to be driving the car at the moment. I’d call that an American Nightmare.

3/28/2018

My Favorite Poem

I sing of Olaf glad and big


i sing of Olaf glad and big
whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
a conscientious object-or

his wellbelovéd colonel(trig
westpointer most succinctly bred)
took erring Olaf soon in hand;
but--though an host of overjoyed
noncoms(first knocking on the head
him)do through icy waters roll
that helplessness which others stroke
with brushes recently employed
anent this muddy toiletbowl,
while kindred intellects evoke
allegiance per blunt instruments--
Olaf(being to all intents
a corpse and wanting any rag
upon what God unto him gave)
responds,without getting annoyed
"I will not kiss your fucking flag"

straightway the silver bird looked grave
(departing hurriedly to shave)

but--though all kinds of officers
(a yearning nation's blueeyed pride)
their passive prey did kick and curse
until for wear their clarion
voices and boots were much the worse,
and egged the firstclassprivates on
his rectum wickedly to tease
by means of skilfully applied
bayonets roasted hot with heat--
Olaf(upon what were once knees)
does almost ceaselessly repeat
"there is some shit I will not eat"

our president,being of which
assertions duly notified
threw the yellowsonofabitch
into a dungeon,where he died

Christ(of His mercy infinite)
i pray to see;and Olaf,too

preponderatingly because
unless statistics lie he was
more brave than me:more blond than you.

E. E. Cummings

3/13/2018

The Best Obituary Ever?


This is pretty much the obituary I want, except I want to use a baby picture or something idiotic like this: 



3/08/2018

Because Jesus?

clip_image001A neighbor, a reasonably well-educated (even if it didn’t take) federal-government-employed (VA Department) woman, recently explained her Trump vote by telling me, “I believe in Jesus.” The sad fact is that I haven’t given “Christians” much credibility since I was nine or ten because they seem to suffer the delusion that they can do any damn thing they want and still slither into the Big Rock Candy Mountain by claiming “I believe in Jesus.”

While I don’t believe in Jesus or any other supernatural being, I’ve read a fair bit of the Bible. That means I’ve been astonished and irritated by the Old Testament’s endorsement violence, corruption, sexism, racism, and general insanity and confused by the wildly conflicting messages of the New Testament and the mythical Jesus character. You can definitely justify Donald John Trump with both books, but it’s harder to stand behind both Trump and Jesus.

Trump’s arrogance and self-promotion and selfishness are a tough sell if Christianity is your stand. ". . . whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Trump, on the other hand, believes that we’re all here to serve his whims. As Donald said, "I've regretted not serving in many ways. So many of the greatest people I know have served." Mostly, I suspect he things “greatness” comes from serving Donald Trump. Even when Don’s rich friends need a little assistance, it’s beyond his capacity.

This isn’t a new position for Donald, it is his lifestyle.

The mythical Jesus said, "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." Donald squeals like a stuck pig when someone does to him as he does to others, but he has no problem sticking it to everyone from his business associates to his family and “friends.”

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted." You’d have to be Billy Graham-level delusional not to recognize the fact that Trump’s only form of communication is exalting himself. That is the core characteristic of a narcissist; Donald’s primary personality trait.

"If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven." I don’t really need to explain this to you, do I? If you are one of the millions of evangelicals who hope that wishing, hoping, praying, and braying will make them rich, I suppose this whole concept just flew over your head. Jesus supposedly tried to make it even more clear when he said, "And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." Evangelicals stretch credulity all the way to “you really don’t believe any of this shit, do you?” when they argue that the eye of a needle is the mythical entrance into the city of Jerusalem. But like Trump, religion is all about money for them.

As for Trump’s historic bullying and name-calling, Jesus had something to say about that, “You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’ But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell” Of course, Christians have been insulting their neighbors for centuries, so this bit of advice is clearly not important. Even though Jesus said it?

Donald-Trump-Jonathan-ErnstAll those photo-ops Trump takes with evangelicals pushes Jesus’ advice a ways, too. “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you” The pre-Republican Trump once told Howard Stern, “I’m a smart guy. I’m an atheist,” but now, Donny is all about getting the blessing of the temple’s money collectors. I think we have found a perfect definition of “hypocrites.”

It seems to me that hiding behind Jesus isn’t much of a defense for voting for Trump. The only honest answer is just to admit you are a racist, regressive, entitled white person who hopes that Trump can stop time. It won’t work, but at least you’d be honest . . . for a change.

3/07/2018

Measuring Progress

These sad and sorry days, it’s hard to remember how far some areas of civilization have come. It’s also easy to see how far we have to go, of course.

Roads to ruinAt the recommendation of a very smart and well-travelled man, I recently read Roads to Ruin: the Shocking History of Social Reform a 1966 book by E.S. Turner about the long, slow path to correcting some incredibly obvious abuses and vicious behavior; mostly be the British 1%’ers of their time. Of course, American history is well-decorated with similar atrocities, but . . . damn! the Brits were oblivious to some incredibly awful behavior. Some of the more shocking chapter titles (and subjects) are “Spring Guns Set Here,” “Little Boys for Small Flues,” “A Treatment for Treason,” “Plimsol Rules the Waves,” and “A Flourish of Strumpets.” The associated subjects were:

  • “Spring Guns” are traps set by the elite landowners to kill or maim anyone who might wander onto their property. Everything from trip-wired guns to pits lined with sharp stakes which often as not “caught” employees, neighboring farmers and their pets, and people out enjoying a breath of fresh air.
  • Those “Little Boys” were as young as 4 to 6 and they were used as chimney sweeps and their short miserable lives were some of the worst examples of human slavery in our miserable history. Often by 10, they were used up and discarded with less thought than a farmer might get rid of an injured plow horse.
  • The “treatment for treason” was pretty much the process William Wallace enjoyed in Braveheart: “. . . that the offender be dragged to the gallows; that he be hanged by the neck and then cut down alive; that his entrails be taken out and burned while he is yet alive; that his head be cut off; that his body be divided into four parts and that his head and quarters be at the King’s disposal.” I imagine Trump would be drooling at the opportunity to swap this punishment for “lock her up.”
  • Plimsol was a British legislator who thought that sailors and officers deserved some assurance that the assholes who owned the ships they sailed cared, at least a little, if those ships were sea-worthy and likely to arrive at their destinations. A side issue in this chapter was about the fact that British sailors were more slaves than employees. They could be jailed for refusing to sail on a decrepit, unsafe ship. Worse, they could be marhed on to that ship and forced to sea where there almost always drowned.
  • Obviously, “Strumpets” were hookers of the day; from call girls to street walkers.

One of the many interesting insights Roads to Ruin provides is that the way to the public’s heart is not through logical, ethical discussion, but through some sort of bullshit and insignificant (in context to the injustices) “morals” approach. In the Preface, Turner writes, “Notoriously, in the Victorian Age, a reformer stood a better chance of success if he could present his reform in such a way as to show that the victims of injustice were in moral danger: and even today this is by no means the weakest card to play. What shocked the middle classes who read the reports on conditions in the mines, a little more than a century ago, was not so much the system under which children crawled on all fours dragging sleds behind them, or in which me ruptured themselves lifting loads on to their daughters’ backs; it was the revelation that lightly clad young women working in proximity to naked men at the coalface made no strenuous efforts to save their honour when molested, which was fairly often.”

Something to keep in mind. Injustice is inconsequential compared to unmarried sex in a coal mine. I try, but humans are such disgustingly vicious animals, it’s hard to me to not hope that planet-killing asterioid gets here pretty damn soon.

3/04/2018

What I Don’t Get

A friend has repeatedly told me I need to “blacken up,” since my appreciation for Black Panther is, apparently, insufficient. Of course, he would also say my appreciation for lots of things is equally insufficient; religion, for example. In particularly, the relief or comfort religion provides to this country’s abused and neglected black population. I might imagine that I have plenty of sympathy and solidarity with my black, Hispanic, and other minority friends, but I’d probably be wrong. I’m white, educated, middle class, and live in Middle America where all of my privilege and entitlements are entrenched.

For what it’s worth, I haven’t always been those things. When I escaped my parents’ fundamentalist home, I went from middle class to desperately poor. Poor enough that I lived for part of a summer on the Arkansas River a few miles west of Dodge City in a log lean-to I’d built with my own hands, an axe, and a log saw I “borrowed” from a friend’s father. At the time, I wasn’t broke but I might as well been. My father was the primary owner of my “college savings” and he refused to let me spend it on anything else. To the point that the only way I could do anything with that money was to sign up for what turned out to be just another Texas for-profit “education’ scam. He promptly wrote a check with my money for 3,000 1967 dollars ($22,263.50 in 2018 money) to a “school” that was practically Trumpian it was so bogus. Another $500 of my money ($3,710.58 today) went to a flophouse the school called its “dormitory” and I was on my way from my river hideout to Dallas, Texas and real poverty. In no time, the school collapsed under its own incompetence and most of my school mates joined a class-action lawsuit they eventually won, which resulted in the school going bankrupt and evading responsibility for all but a small percentage of the money it had stolen from its victims. My father, on the other hand, sent the school the last of my savings when they asked for full payment for my “education,” another $4,000 ($29,684.67 in 2018 money). The end result was that I ended up moving to a one-room converted 1900’s garage in a scummy part of Old East Dallas. The place cost me $40/month (about $300 today), which was exactly 1/3 of my monthly income, 1/4 of my gross went to state and federal taxes, the rest went for food and transportation. I ate a lot of chicken, fatty pork, and peanut butter. My wife, Robbye, moved in with me a few months later. From there, I moved from one lousy apartment to another lousier house to more apartments until I saved enough money to get the hell out of Dallas. While we lived in Dallas, I was part of the anti-Vietnam War movement, identified as a “hippy” in a state that truly hated hippies, and was so far into the alternative culture that the majority of my own generation in Dallas would have been happy to see me dead or in jail. The next generation occasionally took actual potshots at me and my friends at every opportunity.

For the next ten years, we lived from paycheck to paycheck while I went to school nights, took engineering correspondence courses, and began a family. I’ve been poor enough that I often took those jobs Bush and Trump say “Americans don’t want.” I didn’t want them, either, but I needed to feed my family and beggars can’t be choosers. I didn’t make it into the middle class until I was just short of 50. I didn’t have squat for retirement savings until a few years later. So, while I may look, today, like a poster boy for my so-called entitled generation, you have no idea who you are talking to if you believe that. To get to here from there, I have had to pretend to be someone I am not for the majority of my adult life.

Back to Black Panther.

What left me cold in the movie was the bowing and scraping over Wakanda’s royalty. The whole idea of a king leaves me cold. Yes, I have little-to-no respect for the UK, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, etc. At the head of each of those countries lies a waste of air. The ease at which Wakanda’s Princess Shuri mastered “science” was one more false premise in the usual nonsensical Marvel world. The “happy folk” littered around the edges of Wakanda’s capitol city tending goats, walking beside their animals, weaving baskets, and other examples of the usual giant economic inequality demonstrated in monarchies didn’t impress me, either. Sorry. Whatever excuse you have for some people wearing rags and going barefoot while the royalty wear super-armored and weaponized suits isn’t going to do much for me; other than piss me off.

I feel the same way about black promoters of religion. Christianity has done NOTHING for black Americans; except take their money in huge quantities. Supposedly, there is “comfort” provided by the promise of a Big Rock Candy Mountain afterlife, but we all know that is just a shell game designed to distract suckers from what’s happening right now. And there are even uglier aspects of black Christianity that don’t have to be faced while the sales pitch is in full demonstration: racism, homophobia, income inequality, and the rest of the crap religion is designed to distract us from addressing and fixing.

You know religion isn’t helping when writers argume it’s a good thing that “Black People Aren't Inherently More Homophobic Than Anyone Else.” I’d be impressed if all minorities bound together to oppose their common enemy, but I’d be a drunken fool to expect anything like that from the deeply flawed human animal.

My Black Panther movie was probably V for Ventetta. The identifying moment for me came with the impossible event that the British military decided not to slaughter the general population as thousands of unarmed and Guy Fawkes masked Londoners march on Parliament. Every bit as impossibly idealistic as anything in Black Panther, I know. So sue me.

2/28/2018

Facebook Isn’t Democracy

Let’s face it, Facebook is one of the many fake news sources the Russians exploited to wreak the 2016 election. You have to be a special kind of sucker by now to imagine that Trump voters weren’t played on social media, through the right wing “press,” and among themselves. They were conned. I’ve always said one of the beauties of being a pseudo-conservative is “never having to say you are sorry,” or admit you were wrong, foolish, or corrupt. There is, literally, no risk in getting absolutely everything wrong, as long as you are coming from the right wing.

The last time I cancelled my Facebook account was in early 2012 when Eduardo Saverin, one of Facebook’s four founders, renounced his American citizenship to avoid taxes. (He claimed it was for other reasons, but he managed to save himself income taxes on at least $3.5B in 2012.)  I realized my use of Facebook was tying into the company’s privacy invasion policies and I was beginning to see way too many advertisments linked between my Google searches and Amazon purchases and Facebook. I cancelled my Facebook account and didn’t look back for about two years. There is no reason why I would ever want to help make someone like Saverin rich(er).

Three things happened that brought me back: 1) I retired and Facebook seemed like a good way to stay in touch with my MSCM students and work friends and 2) we moved to Red Wing and the chances that I’d be seeing many of those friends in person was slim-to-far-less-than-I-expected and 3) moving to Red Wing allowed me to sever my business with Comcast and the 1990’s quality service we recevied from that awful company, but my free websites died with that move. My only reason for rejoining Facebook was to promote my three blogs/websites: wirebenderaudio.blogspot.com/, theratseyeblog.blogspot.com/,  and geezerwithagrudge.blogspot.com/. I hadn’t intended to get tangled up in politics, hyping my home and musical woodworking projects, and reading everyone else’s stuff. But I did.

My routine began to be predictable: up in the morning, cobble some breakfast, read the on-line news, read the local paper, check my email, check Facebook, and, eventually, try to do some writing before Elvy got up and started her day. That isn’t the routine I want. I’m 70 and I don’t have many more years to do something productive with my time. My ideal routine would be: get up, fire up some coffee, take a shower, do a 30 minute yoga routine, eat breakfast while I look at the news, write for an hour or so, then do the low value stuff. That’s the routine I want and there isn’t anything about Facebook that adds value to my day.

I would absolutely like to stay in contact with all of the people I connected to on Facebook. I read my email at least twice in a normal day. Better yet, drop in and spend a day drinking my beer and whiskey. My FB policy was “never ‘friend’ anyone you don’t think of as a friend.” I’m leaving Facebook because I am disgusted at this company’s participation in the wreaking of our fragile and barely-breathing democracy. And because I’d rather live in the real world than the virtual one.