11/01/2019

Is It Socialism or Is It the Russians?

Trump and other small minds often like to point to Russia and China as examples of countries that “tried” communism and socialism and proved it to be an impossibly corruptible system. Russia, for example, has “tried” several forms of government; from kings to capitalism. Regardless of the political system Russia has tried, the end result has been a total clusterfuck. If you were being generous, you might pretend that Russia has a difficult climate which makes creating an organized society complicated to impossible. That would require ignoring all of the countries with similar or more harsh climates who have fashioned just, economically sound societies with a high quality of life. The only rational way to look at Russia’s failure to create anything resembling a decent quality of life is to acknowledge that Russians are, on average, dumb as bricks. 

Their current experiment with capitalism is a case-in-point. Without even a brief nod to economic equality and an attempt to approximate a middle class, Russia’s oligarchs quickly moved from being corrupt and rich government officials to being corrupt and rich “capitalists.” The Russian public and what passes for a working class accepted it and even applauded it. Russia’s huge military class can be told to march into a burning pit, dragging their spouses and children with them, without complaint. The Russian people, overwhelmingly, are the most gullible, passive, and corruptible collection of semi-humans on the planet. That is true to the point that if you are a white supremist and you have a spot of Russian blood in your veins, you are a walking, talking joke. 

Even fairly useful pieces of data like the unemployment rate are messed up in Russia. While the advertised unemployment rate is currently 4.9%, the facts are that Russian companies generally don’t fire employees, they just pay them less during down times. A LOT less. The alternatives are unemployment compensation of $24 to $124 a month, which is small but so is the Russian minimum wage of $175/month. As the Russian labor spokesman says, "The official unemployment benefits are mostly symbolic. . ." Russians generally don’t bother to register for benefits that barely exist, so their unemployment statistics are barely meaningful.
Russians are good at breaking things, though. While there is no evidence that Russian programmers could write a successful computer program regardless of how lucrative that could be, they are fairly competent hackers and computer thieves. Of course, their success is assisted by Putin’s little handmaiden, Trump, and the drain-swamping collection of idiots, racists, and traitors Trump and the Trumpanzees who do pretty much anything the Russian and US oligarchs tell them to do. Trump has opened up the US for Russian interference so blatantly that so-called “conservatives” weren’t even upset when the FBI’s cybersecurity brain-trust resigned rather than go along with Trump’s collusion. So far, it appears to be impossible for Trump and gang to do anything that will put off his loyal fans. He wasn’t joking or exaggerating when he said he could kill someone and those idiots would stick with him. 

All that said, nothing about the failure of socialism and/or communism in Russia reflects badly on either economic system. Russians can’t do anything well, let alone manage a social system that relies on competence, social justice, economic equality, and democratic principles to offset the natural human tendencies toward entropy and corruption. If you want to honestly look at functional socialist nations, you need to be making comparisons with Finland, Iceland, France, Germany, Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands. Picking the dumbest, most corrupt and mismanaged failed states to compare against ourselves might be gratifying, but that is not information if you are looking for actual data about which economic system supports and provides the best quality of life, democratic values, social and economic equality, and is most sustainable.

7/22/2019

The Cost of Being Honest

Since I was a kid, probably around nine years old, I have known with absolute certainty that there is no afterlife, there are no gods, and that life is more pain than peace and more sorrow than joy. That dog-eat-dog, survival-of-the-fittest that conservatives claim to love so much in economics and social justice is the law of the universe. I know that. Even more to the point, I know that almost every person who pretends to be a true believer of every “faith” invented by human beings knows the same thing. Some of you pretend to believe in your gods because you’re terrified of reality, many pretend to believe because they make money from all of the song and dance that comes with superstition and hoodoo, the rest know that convincing people to tow the line on make-up rituals and superstitions is the cornerstone to creating a servile public that won’t bite back when the elites take their usual over-large “share” of the shrinking pies. The remaining few who actually believe in gods and the Big Rock Candy Mountain are simply crazy. There are, for sure, millions of crazy people, but there are billions of the other sorts.

 Pretending to believe is the easy course to take and the most common path, especially for kids. Getting into that habit early makes faking it easier, even semi-natural, as an adult. One of the things kids learn early is that adults do not like to be called on their bullshit. They dislike it so much that they will abuse, abandon, and disfigure their children in an attempt to squash the natural impulse to ask “why.” Nothing about that response is, of course, convincing, but for most humans ending the questioning is good enough. You don’t have to really believe in the bullshit, you just have to pretend to believe and learn enough of the rituals to avoid attention.


All of that comes with a price tag. The price paid by conservative societies like ours, the Muslim countries, and much of Eastern Europe comes due when any sort of stress gets applied to the social or economic system. Outside challenges to the lies and pretense can cause total meltdown and the end result is often what Arab countries have demonstrated for the past 400 years: total stagnation and cultural decay in the service of maintaining the status quo of the lies and the people who profit from them. 

When “In God We Trust” becomes the national motto, reality has to take a distant back seat in the bus to keep truth quiet.

My father and I got into pissing matches over my resistance to joining the Protestant cult; from when I was an adolescent until right up into the last years of his life. Until recently, I thought he was just trying to make me conform for selfish conservative reasons. I am just now suspecting that  he was trying to teach me how to conform to minimize the difficulties I would experience in a life of being an outsider. Religion, especially cultish and dangerous evangelicals, are a growing portion of “the uneducated” that Trump loves so much. A lot of the western world is losing its religion, especially Germany, the UK, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and the rest of the Nordic crowd. I suspect I would be more comfortable there, if I could speak any language other than Midwestern-butchered-English. Too late now.

An upside of Trump is that he has totally discredited any moral claim evangelicals may ever make. It’s pretty obvious that their love affair with a philandering con-artist is 1,000% about the money and 0% about “Christian values;” unless, money is the Christian value. As weird as Americans are about Islam, "While more than nine in 10 Americans would vote for a presidential candidate who is black, a woman, Catholic, Hispanic, or Jewish, significantly normaler percentages would vote for one who is an atheist (54%) or Muslim (58%)." No problem, I suspect most atheists who want to run for office just do what Trump has always done: lie. The rest of us would just as soon not waste our time working for superstitious nitwits. a

7/17/2019

Why Aren’t You An Activist?

July 17, 2014

I’m writing this in 2014, after reading Doug Fine’s excellent book, Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution.  Many of my friends are pot smokers and some of my family use cannabis for medicine and I have nothing against the weed. I have, in my past, smoked (and inhaled, you giant douchebag Willy Clinton), eaten, and ingested marijuana and I know the stuff is a more powerful and effective “medicine” than a good percentage of the crap doctors and druggists peddle legally. I have given money to California's grower co-ops’ defense funds and to a few pro-legalization candidates. All that said, I don’t have a dog in this hunt.

I don’t really care if marijuana becomes easily available. If it does, it won’t matter to me. I probably will still look at pot as the route to being a lazy stoner. Not that I have a problem with lazy stoners. Many of my friends are exactly that. The fact is, nobody is easier to manipulate, arrest, scare, intimidate, or move from one place to another than stoners. That’s why the phony War on Drugs is so popular with cops. It’s easy, safe, and usually uncomplicated “work.” It’s also why there is overwhelming evidence that the country can afford to downsize its police force at least as much as the military. When it comes to “fighting crime,” cops are mostly issuing parking tickets. Criminals scare the crap out of the typical cop.

All of that brings up the problem in decriminalizing most drugs; the drug “criminals” are too helpless and lazy to do the work. The people doing the work, mostly, have good intent and the people opposing them are motivated by greed, corruption, and cowardice. The current police state incarceration system, the grossly profit-driven enforcement system, and the monopoly the drug companies have on healthcare profits are the greed portion of the opposition. Corruption starts at the local levels and works it way to the top of our government, corporations, and other institutions that have a stranglehold on profits and power due to the phony “War on Drugs (and poor people).” The cowardice is obvious to anyone who has met or read about the people involved in the marijuana legalization movement. From the growers to the distributors to the users of all sorts (recreational, medicinal, psychological, etc) these people are as harmless as butterflies in comparison to real criminals. Any cop who has the arrogance to pretend to be protecting and serving the public in a marijuana bust while ignoring real criminals from street hoodlums to Wall Street bankers is deluded, dangerous, and corrupt.

The majority of US citizens know this is true. An overwhelming percentage of US citizens expect marijuana legalization (75% to 15%) in the next decade. How they expect these large profitable, corrupt, and powerful opposition forces to be overcome is unclear. With a public that is overwhelmingly apathetic, uneducated, uninvolved, and timidly conservative, the instrument of change is likely to be explosive. "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” John Kennedy

5/20/2019

Disproving Divinity

5/15/2019

I woke up this morning to a dream where someone was asking my why I didn’t believe in their particular god or in human divinity or heaven and hell or any of the usual culprits of human religions. My dream answer was, “For the same reason that I don’t believe in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, the Greek gods, magic, Star Bores Force/Farce, or even invading aliens from Mars. It’s silly.” Seriously? Doesn't the whole idea of a La La Land "upstairs" for the good, if incredibly simple-minded and often viciously violent, people who populate all of the world's religions and hell "downstairs" for the non-believers (the people who create the tools we use and the technologies that keep us alive (scientists)) seem like some kind of ridiculous story for gullible children?

Oddly, that wasn’t any more popular a response in my dream than it is in real life. It is, however, exactly how I feel about all things supernatural. Nothing I have ever experienced has convinced me that humans are anything more than an incredibly successful species—like dinosaurs, trilobites, and giant mammals—that will overpopulate its environment, crash against a wall of resources or experience a huge die-off from an environmental disaster, and either disappear or become even dumber and insignificant (like humans were 100,000 years ago). We’re just a well-dressed (some of us, anyway) animal with basic instincts and drives. We're not all idiots, but for all we know there were some brilliant dinosaurs who warned the other dinosaurs that building some kind of shelter from asteroid hits and weather-independent sustainable food source might be a good idea?

An alternative nightmare I've had is that there is a heaven and it is filled with the kind of tripe that passes for believers on earth today. Billions of idiots, all surrounding some giant bearded white man, singing with the kind of awful verve that only arrogant and musically untalented religious people exhibit. A one-stop hell for some and perverse and foolish heaven for others. I see a lot of that sort in rural Minnesota and have been surrounded by them for most of my Midwestern life. When I learned that 54% of my neighbors voted for Trump and 56% for Jason Lewis in 2016, I realized that this place is more than half-stupid. That is not a comforting thought. Stupid people are easily inspired to do stupid things: like buy Trump steaks, enroll in Trump University, buy stock in Trump Hotels and Casinos, and vote for the nation's Biggest Loser when he tells them "I'm gonna make you so rich." When those stupid promises turn to shit, stupid people are always looking for someone else to blame. "Burn the witches!" Imagine eternity filled with billions of that kind of moron. If I'm going to pray for anything, it will be for oblivion after death. I don't need any more stupid. Life on earth, in the middle of in these United States, has given me all of the exposure to stupid I need.

I’m in the early pages of Charles Mann’s The Wizard and the Prophet. So far, it is a fascinating look at the two main perspectives on how humans might survive into the future: environmentalists and technologists. But the early pages are also about how shallow that whole argument is, because humans like all successful species are more likely to self-destruct following Gause’s “S-shaped curve” of population growth and collapse than to fumble into a Star Trek utopian future. No matter what happens to us and the rest of the mammals, birds, and reptiles currently living on this sphere, fungi and bacteri will carry on when we are gone until the sun goes nova.

In general, conservatives, and in specific, Republicans and evangelicals are the gods of unintended consequences. From a biological debate position, Alabama's state government is providing a demonstration to disprove any claim humans might have as a divine or special species with their mindless opposition to abortion and birth control. A biologist would argue, "To avoid destroying itself, the human race would have to do something deeply unnatural, something no other species has ever done or could ever do: constrain its own growth." In banning abortions and fighting birth control, conservatives are behaving like fire ants, zebra mussels, tree snakes in Guam, rabbits in Australia, Burmese pythons in Florida, and bacteria in a Petri dish by breeding until the environment can no longer support the expanding species and causing massive population collapse the old fashioned and natural way. How can you not love that kind of irony? In pretending that their argument has some divine purpose and guidance, these fundamentalists are actually demonstrating how incapable humans are of acting in any extraordinary way to prevent species extinction. In other words, proving that humans are not smart enough to "constrain its own growth."

I, for one, think that is pretty entertaining.

As long as humans, on average and in the majority, insist on behaving like simple animals, I will continue to believe that religions are just silly; at best. At worst, religions are a key part of basic animal instincts that will destroy the species. Being a believer in the idea that many of the things we laugh about would only evoke terrible sorrow otherwise, I’m sticking with laughing at the idea that humans are something special in nature or the universe.I mean how can you not look at illustrations of hell and not be amazed at how gullible, primitive, and ridiculous religious humans can be?

4/16/2019

They Are Hurting? Who?

In one of the many conversations I’ve had with a local friend, I presented the proposition that Trump supporters, and most of his voters, were motivated by racism. In fact, many are primarily motivated by racism.

He responded with, “I don’t believe that. They are hurting and they voted for someone who promised to give back what they’d lost.”

Of course, what they imagine they lost was racial entitlement.

I have thought a lot about the phrase “they are hurting” since that conversation. I hear that phrase from liberal and wingnut commentators often, too. Living among the white working class my whole life, I’ve seen plenty of their hurting. When they pretend to be Christians and to care about the “unborn,” they are intentionally hurting women’s rights and liberty; even when it is women doing the hurting. When they “support the troups,” they are intentionally hurting the world by providing fortune and bodies and minds to the terrorism of whoever our “enemy of the moment” may be for the profit of the military/industrial complex and the 1% who profit from that industry. When they deny the overwhelming evidence and common sense scientific conclusion that human carbon output is the primary cause of rapid and destructive climate change they are hurting future generations of humans and the entire planet. When they pretend that athletes taking a knee in protest of police murders, racial targeting, and societal racism they are hurting everyone who doesn’t look like them. When they agree that building a Great Wall to stop immigrants from fleeing the political and environmental consequences of American exploitation of South and Central America they are hurting people who have no alternatives. So, it’s true that they are “hurting,” but who they are hurting is the real question.

I don’t believe that everyone who voted for Trump is a racist. As Lincoln once said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time.” I figure that “some” is about 5-10% of the population. You can also “fool most of the people some of the time” and that might add another 10-20% to Trump’s voters. The people who go to Trump rallies and who cheer for his racist crap and his mindless corruption, however, are not in Lincoln’s benevolent estimation. They love Trump because he says exactly what they think and believe. That doesn’t let the other 20-30% off of the hook, though. They are hurting exactly the same people who are the targets of Trump’s fascist policies. Ignorance and stupidity do not excuse fascism, racism, sexism, and homophobia. When you claim you are “hurting,” you need to at least admit that the hurt is something you are inflicting, not something that causes you suffering.

3/18/2019

The United States Is A Ponzi Scheme

Ponzi Scheme: a usually-illegal operation in which participants pay to join and profit mainly from payments made by subsequent participants. 

Humans have evolved to believe in one fallacy over all of the others: “If it seems too good to be true, it must be the truest thing of all.” As a species, once we humans have achieved some level of comfort we appear to become convinced that we have done something to deserve that comfort for the rest of our lives. That’s not just a problem in the USA, but everywhere there are people with “1st world problems.” Here in the USA we have taken that quality to extremes. 

Republicans harp at “entitlements” without bothering to look up the word to see what it actually means. They, of course, object to the working class entitlements like Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, welfare, and anything that isn’t an immediate transfer of funds into the paws of our 1% and, even, the Russian 1%. They do not object to the corporate welfare and idle rich entitlements. Obviously, if you are rich you deserve to be so. God said so; Jesus, not so much. I, however, object to all entitlements that are unfunded. 

Take Social Security, for example. Washington D.C.’s Urban Institute, a non-partisan research institute found that “a two-earner couple receiving an average wage — $44,600 per spouse in 2012 dollars — and turning 65 in 2010 would have paid $722,000 into Social Security and Medicare and can be expected to take out $966,000 in benefits. So, this couple will be paid about one-third more in benefits than they paid in taxes.” That’s not an “unrealistic return on investment” over a half-century of work and interest accruement. 

My parents’ generation, the so-called “Greatest Generation,” really kicked Social Security in the teeth by voting themselves solvent after a lifetime of insane military spending and general economic foolishness. The Urban Institute found, “If a similar couple had retired in 1980, they would have gotten back almost three times what they put in. And if they had retired in 1960, they would have gotten back more than eight times what they paid in. The bigger discrepancies common decades ago can be traced in part to the fact that some of these individuals’ working lives came before Social Security taxes were collected beginning in 1937.” The reason we’re expecting Social Security to become insolvent any minute now is because the Greatest and Silent Generations paid themselves overtime salaries on part-time work. Of course, the other reason is that Republican Presidents since Nixon have raided the so-called Social Security “lock box” for every military boondoggle imaginable and if they couldn’t outright steal that money, they simply spent money that didn’t exist and attached the bills to the Social Security IOUs. Trump is doing that with his wall boondoggle. Best case, “Come 2034, so say the system’s trustees in their 2015 report, the trust fund will be exhausted and, absent a law change, they will be able to disburse only 75% of promised benefits.” Worst case, the whole US economic house of cards will collapse on itself and Social Security insolvency will be the least of our concerns. It has happened, often, in the country’s speckled history and is more likely to happen again than not. 

The two biggest money-sinks outside of actual earned, useful, and necessary “entitlements” are our grossly racist and unjust prison system and the military. People are making money out of the slave labor harvested in the prison system, but those people aren’t “the people.” The more than 2 million people in US prisons are generating a profit, but not for the public or government forced to live with the world’s most incarcerated public on the planet. The corporations harvesting slave labor, charging exorbitant prices for “services,” and providing labor to the for-profit and government administered prisons are one of the largest lobbies in a nation of monster lobbies. Just the prison phone services make $1.2 billion per year and they doing such a terrible job that PharmaBro Martin Shkreli is still running his old drug company from prison and Tweeting as if he were an actual human being not doing time for felonies far worse than many people doing far more time than this “white collar criminal.” The collection of corporate-welfare queens in the prison system run from commissary companies racking up $1.6 billion to the $3 billion for-profit bail system to the privately-held for-profit prisons that are not adequately monitored and whose income isn’t even known because they don’t have to disclose that information to the people, taxpayers, who are paying the tab. 

The War on Drugs is another corporate-welfare entitlement that involves local, state, and federal “law enforcement,” the for-profit prison system, a collection of para-military sub-contractors, drug enforcement equipment and weapons providers, and a variety of con artists who make buckets of money convincing the public that prohibition will actually work “this time.” As long as there are billions of dollars to be made selling illegal drugs, someone is going to be getting that money. The solution is to cut the legs out from under that profit motive by legalizing drugs, emphasizing education and providing safe and economical use for the small percentage of addicted users, and whatever is left to be described as “illegal” penalize at the source. 

Finally, the biggest cause of the nation’s insolvency is the vast and uncontrolled war spending. Like the drug business, war materials are a source of easy money with practically no quality requirements or practical purpose. The military-industrial complex has had exactly the kind of ride as the dope peddlers: low cost and outrageous profit margins. Worse, the Pentagon has no interest in making the slightest effort at controlling costs or making sure the public gets something for its money. The country has flushed somewhere between $5T and $15T down the post-9/11 war rabbit hole. The Pentagon, through incompetence, corruption, and laziness “misplaced” more than a few trillion dollars (total amount unknown); somewhere between $3 and $9T. Our current national debt is about $22T and the country hasn’t made a serious attempt at repaying any of that debt since Nixon started cutting taxes in 1971, but we really kicked the debt into overtime during Reagan’s fiscally irresponsible regime. Reagan paid lip service to shoring up the Social Security fund with his 1983 “reform act” (never believe any Republican tax modification is a “reform”), but he followed that up with massive deficit spending and liberal use of federal funds for a variety of money-wasting military projects. 

Obviously, the insane pensions paid out to military lifers—especially the officer classes—are just more of the same sorts of boondoggles taxpayers should not be tolerating. A grade-10 general makes $19,762.50 per month and will receive as much as 100% of that salary after 40 years of “service.” Considering the miserable job the military has done both protecting the country and being responsible with taxpayers’ money, I think they ought to be indentured servants after a few decades of leeching off of the public tit. When we say “thank you for your service” to these characters, we should be rubbing our sore assholes and walking bow-legged at the same time. Likewise, the variety of “injuries” ex-military people use to justify disability claims is amazing. Having taught at a college that actively recruited veterans with “disability college funding,” I’ve seen some pretty comical characters burning taxpayer money while avoiding working for a living. Worse, I’ve heard some of the strangest claims from veterans of my generation and, based on that, I can only hope Trump does succeed in privatizing the VA so that it can quickly bankrupt and be abolished. 

If we—meaning my generation the “Boomers”—don’t help solve these problems, our kids will solve them at our expense. Between the X-Gens and the Millennials, we are finally outvoted, demographically if not practically. In 2019, Millennials will outnumber Boomers. They could elect representatives whose only platform is balancing the budget by any means possible, including putting Social Security on pause until it is solvent. I cannot think of a good argument against that, in fact. My generation has been financially irresponsible . . . forever, since early adulthood. Today, half of the country’s bankruptcies are over-50. “Seniors are going into retirement still carrying debt, including mortgages, credit card debt and student loan debt. They are depleting their savings and retirement accounts just to make ends meet.” 

One of my many complaints about news reporting leading up to the Great Recession was all of babble about “more people than ever own homes,” when what they should have said was “more people than ever are in debt for home purchases”; two distinctly different things. Almost everyone I know in my generation has some to a lot of house debt and one of the most basic rules I know of is “you can’t retire until you own your own home.” “Own” your own home, not live in a property that is owned by a bank. If you not only don’t own your home, but you don’t own your car, recreational vehicles and/or boats, haven’t paid off your credit cards or, even, college debt, you not only are not ready to retire you have also demonstrated an inability to manage money like an adult. Our kids should take that information for what it is and stop listening to Boomers as if they were full-developed, educated adults. As the third generation of Ponzi Scheme suckers Boomers are not totally to blame for the economic mess the country is in, but we are likely to be the ones to take the fall for it. Based on the evidence, we won’t deserve much sympathy.

3/04/2019

Gratitude, Don’t Leave Home without It

Twenty-five years ago, our youngest daughter suffered dozens of critical injuries in a car crash. Luckily, she was quickly rescued and treated by some of Denver’s most dedicated and talented police, firefighters, EMTs, and doctors. After she had been released by the hospital, Denver General, and was on the road to recovery, I began an effort to thank the people involved in her rescue and recovery. My motivation was not as self-inspired as I wish. When we were waiting for our daughter to regain consciousness in Denver General’s brand new ICU, I noticed a picture of a young man on crutches stuck to a post in the middle of the sparkling, hyper-busy, multi-million dollar ICU. It was an unprofessional photo in a cheap 8x10 plastic frame with a small note from the parents of the young man, thanking the medical personnel for their dedication and for their son’s life. After reading that note and seeing how special it was to the people who worked in one of the country’s busiest and most sophisticated hospitals, I started bringing in pastries every morning while our daughter was in the ICU. For several years afterwards, I sent the Denver General ICU a picture of our daughter with an update on the life they had given her and a box of artery-clogging pastries from one of our favorite Denver shops.

That got me into a cycle of trying to identify everyone involved in my daughter’s rescue so that she and I could thank them. What I learned from that was that of the three million people living in the Denver area and however many thousands of people rescued by first responders, almost nobody felt particularly grateful when they or a loved one was rescued, kept alive, brought back to life, and/or returned to good health from near death or terrible injury. The chief of the fire department that cracked open my daughter’s demolished pickup, extracted her from the wreckage, and delivered her to the helicopter the moment it arrived at the scene (14 minutes after the crash) had been with the Denver fire department for 40 years. During his career, the only time a citizen had contacted him about any of the thousands of rescues he’d been involved in was a lawyer delivering a lawsuit summons.

The same goes for the citizens who take on the responsibility of running our cities, counties, states, and the federal government. At the lowest level, it’s a thankless job that sets up the office holders for disrespect and abuse without much return on the time and energy investment. At the highest level, as we saw in the 2016 election, the more service and committment a candidate has given to the community and the country the worse that candidate is treated by both the media and the voters. There is a price for creating a society where greed, ignorance, and narcissim are valued characteristics: that price is best described by “we get the government we deserve.”

A recent editorial in my local newspaper, “Thank Our Elected Officials,” was a timely and decent reminder that we can disagree with our elected officials while still respecting them and appreciating their service. There is no such thing as a successful non-participatory democracy and Americans better either step-up to the responsibilities of maintaining that form of government or we’ll have to relearn that, as disorderly and inefficient as democracy is, it is far better than the alternatives.

2/18/2019

When Does Marketing Trump Products?

As usual, I stepped into a discussion about the “importance” of marketing when I should have just ignored it all and let people believe the whackadoodle crap they want to believe, uninterrupted by reality. As usual, the marketing dweebs out-jabbered me and I’m happy to let them wander off into the woods as they usually do. At this point in my life, it no longer matters to me what happens to anyone’s business and I’m less inclined to be interested in anyone’s mission than at any other time in my life.

However, I get to have the last word (if I want to) on my own blog and here it comes.

The question from marketing is always, “How do people hear about the product you are selling if not marketing?" The answer is simple and complicated. The simple part is that word-of-mouth spreads far faster and more effectively than any advertising campaign. The complicated part is that word-of-mouth spreads bad news far faster and more effectively than any advertising campaign can ever hope to repair. From my years in quality management training, I remember a restaurant rule that went something like “It will take $50 in advertising to convince a customer to try your business, 5 seconds of lousy service to drive that customer out the door, and $5,000 in more advertising to get them to try you again.” Something like that.

My favorite example of how effectively word-of-mouth works is In-N-Out Burger vs. McDonalds and Burger King.  When my family lived in California in the 80’s, there were probably a dozen fairly substantial fast food chains. Fast food was nothing more than a commodity to 90% of those businesses. None of them did anything particularly well, so the best marketing program probably “won.” Creative accounting probably helped those chains help convince suckers to both invest in their franchise and to buy their engineered addictive “fat, salt, and sugar” concoctions. You couldn’t drive a block on any busy street without seeing an ad for McDonalds, Burger King, Burger Chef, Wendy’s, Hardies, Carl’s Jr., and/or any of those commodity food producers.

The burger joint of choice for Californians remained In-N-Out Burger and before the internet the best way to find one was to ask for directions from someone wearing one of their t-shirts. There were two In-N-Out Burger stands in Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa and neither of them bothered to do much more than keep their signs lit, marketing-wise, and their lines flowing through their drive-thrus were always long. Like Aldi’s, those lines moved fast, so it was always worth the wait to get a hamburger made from actual beef, fresh tomatoes, onions, and lettuce and fries made from actual potatoes. When an In-N-Out Burger appeared near my daughter’s home in Plano, Texas, her junk-food addicted husband immediately changed his food allegiance to actual food. No advertising required.

Likewise, the pro audio company I worked for in California couldn’t afford an actual marketing department for the first 6 years I worked for the company. When the company started out, in 1973, the founder spent all of his inheritance and some of his siblings and parents’ money promoting a company that had yet to figure out product development and manufacturing. After a brief flash-in-the-pan period of media presence, the company downsized to a half-dozen employees in a cheap business district in Costa Mesa. For the next ten years, the founder worked at learning his engineering craft, the original employees learned how to manage money, purchase parts, and develop a sales rep network. By the time I started work there, “marketing” consisted of very information-strong ads in industry magazines and a couple of sales meetings each year.

That same year, the company released its first professional quality power amplifiers and by the end of 1983 our problems became “how can we make more of these products, service our customers, and maintain our product quality?” For the next six years, we doubled our gross sales every year, maintained a 24-26% profit margin, and led our industry in customer service and product quality.

The company’s CEO idolized Hartley Peavey and Steve Jobs and had a minor hard-on for Donald Trump. He saw himself as a similar marketing “genius” and desperately wanted to reform the company as an “ideas business” instead of a manufacturing and engineering company. In the next few years, manufacturing moved to China, product development became diffused and only somewhat focused on customer needs, marketing became a more powerful force and a larger empire in the company, and it took another decade for the gross sales to double between 1992 and 2002. It’s a privately-held company, so it’s hard to guess what the profit margins are now, but based on the gross sales, the size of the administrative staff (especially in marketing and sales), and the luxury of the new facilities and number of executive officers, I’d guess 5-8% max.

There was an upside for me. Having spent 8 years in an executive position near someone who saw himself as a marketing genius, I developed pretty thick charisma armor. When Donald Trump went public for his one-and-only time with the Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts (DJT) IPO, I remembered the giant space between reality and our CEO’s self-image and, for the first and only time in my investment career, I shorted about 1,000 shares of DJT. I know, not an impressive bet in the scale of things, but it was a big deal for me at the time. My incredibly clever and sophisticated investment philosophy was “anything that the CEO I knew so well believes is a ‘good idea’ is going to be a guaranteed disaster.” I missed the IPO peak by a few weeks, but I still got in when the stock was valued at about $29. I sold off half of my shorted option in 1998 and the rest in 2001 when DJT was pretty much a penny stock.

I have never had that much confidence in a stock’s value collapsing since. I was close with Apple in 1997, but Bill Gates stepped in to save Apple with a $150M investment and a dumbed-down version of Office for dumbed-down Mac users. Peavey is still a privately held company, so there has never been an “investment opportunity” for me to bet against that company. I would if I could, though.

My takeaway from all of this is that marketing is what you do when you can’t do anything useful, original, necessary, and/or well. When what you have to sell is fluff or a me-too commodity or crap, you probably need marketing to convince customers to part with their money and waste their time. There is a price to be paid for shifting resources from manufacturing, design, research, and customer service, too. Regardless of the delusions and propaganda saying otherwise, everything is a zero-sum game: you can’t spend money in one area without taking those resources from other areas. Moving resources to an unexamined, usually poorly-managed area like marketing (especially if the marketing is an external “organization”) too often means that manufacturing (the hardest job in any product-based company) gets shipped off-shore and important, mission-critical skills are lost forever. (And the off-shore vendor gets to refine those skills on someone else’s money, eventually becoming a competitor.)

From the inside, I have since witnessed the farce of marketing-driven mismanagement several times and every one of those attempts at an illusionary business model resulted in spectacular crashes; just like DJT. I don’t really know if marketing actually ever works, but I do know that if you think your business desperately needs marketing assistance you have a lot to worry about.

2/16/2019

Just Stop, Facebook, Please

A decade or so ago, John Stewart went on “Firing Line” with Tucker Carlson and some other Fox nitwit(s) and asked them to “just stop” everything they were doing. He told them they were “hurting America” and that they were making no useful contribution. And of course, they were and still are; hurting America, that is. Nobody on Fox makes a useful contribution as anything other than aural fertilizer. The same goes for Facebook and similar web ilk.

I recently met a reasonable educated person, a retired lawyer, who imagines himself to be scientifically literate because he follows “Facebook Science”; which assume is Facebook’s Skeptical Science clown car. From that ridiculous source he has learned a bunch of pseudo-technical words that he doesn’t understand, a ton of red herrings to use like lawyerese debate gibberish, and he decided that climate change is a farce because his Facebook “skeptical scientists” have told him that carbon is a reflector in the upper atmosphere that shields the planet from the sun’s heat; as opposed to being an element distributed throughout the atmosphere that absorbs heat and prevents it from escaping the atmosphere and disipating into space. The terms he’s memorized and random red herring collection of talking points allow him to believe he understands some of the science.

Not only is his “scientific knowledge” laughable, he is completely oblivious to the way Facebook works. He imagines that by years of “liking” various climate-change denier Facebook pages he has been exposed to a diverse set of opinions from scientific sources. He doesn’t realize that Facebook’s engineers and psychologists have designed a collection of tools to keep him coming back to the opinions that reaffirm his biases. There is no better reason to avoid “social media” than this dumbing-down echo chamber effect.

And there is no better reason to ask Facebook to “just stop” everything they are doing. If they won’t, the next best thing is to either require them to limit social media conversations to unimportant trivia; or we hunt the bastards down like rats in the corn crib or put them out of our misery. Ideally, every country would follow Germany’s lead and limit Facebook’s ability to track and manipulate consumers to the point that the company can’t make money. At the least, anytime some uses Facebook as a reference point for any adult conversation, you should laugh in their face until they leave. The best thing for everyone would be for Facebook, Twitter, and the rest of the social media crapbucket to die an unnatural and quick death. I don’t care how it happens, but it should happen quickly before we have no world left to fuck up.

2/11/2019

Who Is Sustainable?

As I’m writing this I am doing one of the least sustainable activities human beings have ever invented: a vacation cruise to the Caribbean in late January. I’m on a floating city with about 3,000 other old farts, burning tons of oil resources every few hours, consuming more food than many cities ten or one hundred times the population of this boat, creating nothing of use for anyone else on the planet, and we’re all pretending that we “deserve” this luxury because we managed to be lucky enough to be some of the world’s most wealthy people. We just left two islands, Aruba and Cascaras that are barely more sustainable than this boat. One of those two islands produces nothing but tourist attractions and the other is equally dependent on tourism plus water resources for a brand of booze that is incredibly water-intensive on a desert island that tears through energy and water as if the world were endless.

I live in a small Minnesota town, Red Wing that is barely more sustainable than those islands and this boat. Like all of the previously mentioned places, Red Wing’s residents are mostly oblivious to their dependence and like most of rural America they are even arrogantly clueless about how dependent they are on the rest of the country and world for their lifestyle. “We grow our own food, unlike the people in the cities,” they often argue. Growing corn and soybeans is not “growing your own food.” Corn and soybeans are food for animals and a particularly inefficient energy boondoggle. Just like the rest of the country, if the shit hit the fan and our system of interdependent reliance collapsed, most of rural America would fail in quick and spectacular fashion.

Oddly, the most sustainable community I have visited in recent years has been Detroit. Through corruption, incompetence, indifference, and lethargy, Detroit’s infrastructure and community completely collapsed in the wake of NAFTA, the Bush Recession, and the socio-economic upheavals of the last 25 years that is causing the auto industry to either reform or die (the outcomes, the winners and losers are yet to be determined). After neighborhoods collapsed and were abandoned, ransacked, and, eventually, knocked down and hauled away, urban farms sprouted up everywhere and became far more efficient, independent food sources than anything rural America has seen since the 1800’s. There are neighborhoods in Detroit that not only are capable of feeding themselves, but they produce enough food to export to the rich folks for a premium and profit.

Nobody ever said, “If you can make it in Red Wing you can make it anywhere.” One of the problems rural Americans haven’t had to face (yet) is the fact that talent, skills, and intelligence have been evacuating the countryside since the beginning of the Industrial Age. The smart kids leave and the dumb ones stay and reproduce, creating a growing dumbed-down rural population that becomes more dependent every generation. Every economic study I know of demonstrates that urban America economically props up rural America for diminishing returns and vanishing reasons. There will be an obvious outcome, eventually.

One of the lessons I learned from my manufacturing career was that engineers apply the Paretto Effect, sometimes unintentionally, to occupations. We first automate the jobs that are typically filled by assholes, eliminating the assholes and the places were their “participation” jams up production. For example, you might have thought that production line technicians would have been the last place for automation to appear, but it was among the first. Equipment and fixtures to perform final test procedures on assemblies and finished products were some of the first jobs to be automated because the people who gravitated to those jobs over-estimated both their skill levels and their necessity. Likewise, farming is experiencing the beginning of that effect as GPS, satellite weather monitoring, drone and robotic ground conditions observation, and robotic planting and harvesting equipment take over farming and farm jobs. In the very foreseeable future, the only commercial farm jobs will be high-tech equipment repair and “farming” will be managed from even greater distances; most likely from urban offices. At that point, rural dependence on urban support will be unsustainable and we’ll see even more rural communities dry up and blow away than in 1929.

The best possible scenario I can imagine will be that some rural areas will become like those Caribbean islands; tourist destinations that either learn to be incredibly tolerant and friendly or die. I got the feeling that Aruba was like one giant service business depending on positive Yelp reviews for its existence. It is scary-easy to imagine my current hometown, Red Wing, becoming one cruise ship-like entity living or dying by a few thousand tourist reviews.

2/07/2019

What’s with All the Hate?

I just got off of a two week cruise and, if you’ve never done that, a cruise ship is a floating retirement village for old white people of a particular income class. Our cruise departed from Ft. Lauderdale, so it was mostly white Americans (including Canadians). The last day of the cruise was the day after Trump’s “State of the Union” chin-dribble. Mostly, what I heard from people was “Trump’s an idiot, but I really don’t like Nancy Pelosi.” Mostly, I heard that from old white women. One thing old white women do not like is other old white women. They may not be consistent in any other thing they say or believe, but they hang pretty tightly on that subject. Old white women with power and/or accomplishments are just one more thing to stack on to the “reasons I don’t like her” pile.

I wish I could tell you why that is, but I can’t. Most of the women from whom I heard this refrain were of a type I would generally describe as “angry old white women.” Politically-incorrect or not, I know you know the type. These women are fixed with a permanent scowl that has created scowl lines that make anything resembling a smile look painfully out-of-place. The odds are good that they don’t “like” anyone much.

As much as all that is true, the job of Speaker of the House is not about being “liked.” Leadership, in general, is about making decisions; often hard decisions. The job is about as much fun, and as necessary, as being a dentist. Here are a few of Pelosi’s accomplishments as Speaker of the House:
  • The Affordable Care Act with the public option (the option was eventually taken out for the Republican compromise of the Heritage Foundation mandate)
  • Dodd-Frank
  • Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay
  • Economic Stimulus Act of 2008
  • The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
  • The Credit Card Holders Bill of Rights issued new regulations on card companies, demanding that they increase transparency
  • The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act increased the amount of Pell Grants for college students.
  • The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act gave the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate the tobacco industry.
  • The Food Safety Modernization Act giving the Food and Drug Administration more power over food producers (passed by Senate, not yet signed into law).
  • Raised the minimum wage
  • Hate Crimes Prevention Act
  • Established the Office of Congressional Ethics (the one Republicans are trying to eliminate for obvious reasons)
It’s hard to find fault with that list of accomplishments, but because she is all of the things old white women (and too many white men of all ages) hate, accomplished and powerful, she gets hatred instead of appreciation. Honestly, I suspect a lot of the hatred is based on her appearance. She looks too much like what they see in the mirror and they do not like mirrors. While she looks like them, she is a lot smarter than them and that pisses them off too. I can see that.

1/24/2019

Digging a Deeper Hole

A little more than two years ago, I wrote about the kind of people who voted for Donald Trump and their motivations: “I’m tired of everyone else doing better than me,” racism, homophobia, superstition/religion, anti-intellectualism, anti-science-phobia, and general purpose intolerance for everthing and everyone not like them. They were successful. For eight years of Obama, the far right cocooned themselves in an echo chamber of Fox News, Breitbart and Alex Jones fake news insanity, and every racist, right wing hate website and blog they could focus their beady little eyes on. Their world was apocalyptical, with successful, educated non-white people coming at them from every direction (“They took ur jobs!), their lack of education and tolerance driving them deeper into Red State dependence, and their “information sources” reinforcing their paranoia and racism at every opportunity. For eight years, these pitiful, uneducated and uninformed old white people (and a depressing number of young white people) were terrorized by all sorts of disasters that didn’t exist and wouldn’t exist until they elected the nation’s first modern fascist President. Now that Donald Trump and the Republicans are in power, every one of the terrible things Trump’s voters were afraid of are happening for real.

Things are so bad that the average citizen is actually hoping the FBI gets the job done. This is the same FBI that wastes “counterterrorism resources to monitor and infiltrate domestic political organizations that criticize business interests and government policies, despite a lack of evidence that the groups are engaging in or supporting violent action.” A Freedom of Information inquiry by the ACLU found “Greenpeace, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) show the FBI expanding the definition of ‘domestic terrorism’ to include citizens and groups that participate in lawful protests or civil disobedience.” That FBI. Those guys are now the “good guys?” If you needed any sort of weights and measures system to determine how far the nation has fallen down the swampy Trump rabbit hole, this might the the only thing you need to look at.

The Trump voters got what they wanted, however. We are now all equally miserable. They still don’t have a wall, they still can’t get more than a minimum wage job with no real benefits, their Social Security is less secure than it has been since the 1930s, national security is a non-existent joke, Trump has rebooted the nuclear arms race, the United States has low international status and our national credibility is at an all-time low, our economy is poised to crash into at least another Great Recession or worse, and the right wing is headed for, and looking forward to, a showdown that could turn into a 2nd US Civil War. It’s hard to imagine being on the edge of more catestrophies. Thanks Trump voters.

1/05/2019

The Last Generation

My friend, Scott Jarrett, used to say, “We’re going to be the last generation to enjoy global warming.” This week he’s been right, at least as far as I’m concerned. Yesterday almost beat the previous high temperature for January 4 in Red Wing, Minnesota by 20oF. And I absolutely did enjoy it. I went for a 20 mile bicycle ride without having to wear layers of clothing or even a face mask. Today will be another 40-something degree day and I’m going to enjoy that, too. Average high temperatures for this time of the year are around 28oF. Usually, there would be an inch or two of snow involved, also. The snow is melting, the roads are clear, even the bicycle trails are mostly free of ice and snow.

Even the climate deniers know payback is going to be a bitch. They may not admit it, but they know. At my age, I can sincerely and practically hope that I don’t last long enough to get paid back for decades of ignoring the fate of future generations while wallowing in carbon pollution. I keep saying, “I’ve seen all of the stupid I need to see” and I mean it. Between the religions and the politics and the general “I don’t give a fuck about anything” attitude of the last three generations, I’ve pretty much heard and seen ever moronic thing I can imagine being said and done. My opinion of humans has never been high, but while the temperatures are hitting new highs human are lowering the bar as far underground as Texas groundwater and we’re still drilling for new levels of stupid.

12/11/2018

Awful, Better, Best, and Perfect

image_largeAn acquaintance recently sent me an ad for a President Obama memorial Xmas ornament. I was tempted. He was sarcastic, calling Obama “Uncle Thomas” and “Onkle Tom” followed by a list of Obama’s real and perceived imperfections. He’s an old, middle class, white guy who probably doesn’t know any actual black Americans but he’s convinced that Obama was a tool of the power elites and “that’s how I perceived him, as did and do many in the black community. I knew well before he was elected that he had to be a tool of those who truly govern the country.” I don’t know about the “many in the black community,” but about 10% of that so-called community voted for Trump; mostly proving you can fool some of the people all of the time. I’m tempted to buy one of those  ornaments just to piss off the nutjobs on the far left and right. Anything that irritates those two herds of nutjobs and morons is worth owning and a bargain at $22.

I only wish the world was that clear and simple? My experience tells me that nothing is as simple as it looks from thousands of miles away or even across the street.

I admit that I was and am impressed with Barak Obama’s performances as President of the United States. That is saying something, because I’m mostly unimpressed-to-disgusted by the presidents I’ve observed in my lifetime. Starting with Truman, who was president when I was born and left office when I was five years old, through Bush II there haven’t been many bright moments in American executive branch politics.

While he didn’t stay in office long enough to accomplish as much as he might have, Jimmy Carter was probably the 2nd best president in my lifetime. He was too much of a micro-manager, a typical fault of self-made business men, he had a vision for the United States that would have positioned the country far more soundly than the mess made by his successor, Reagan. We’d have moved into the metric system, evolved away from oil and carbon-pollution energy sources, and our education system wouldn’t fallen to 3rd world status. But Carter lost to a candidate every bit as goofy and unqualified as Trump before anything resembling Fox News existed; when he had the Fairness Doctrine to balance the media foolishness. Today, Carter wouldn’t have a chance even as a Democrat. He’d be too easy a target. All I really know about Kennedy comes from history books. I was 15 when he was murdered, but there was no politics in my life at the time. I do know that many of the adults I knew in Kansas were not unhappy he was killed. So much for the good old days when we were “one country, united.”

Otherwise, the presidents who have mismanaged the country in my lifetime have all been awful or less-awful.

11/28/2018

One Feature too Few

I spent a small part of CyberMonday on the edge of spending $1700 on an electric bicycle. There were lots of good reasons to like the bicycle I was looking at, but one really big reason I ended up passing on the sale: no service information. None. Zero information on how to repair or maintain this relatively expensive (by my standards) vehicle.

imagesThe kiddies who buy, modify, and farkel-up this particular brand of eBike are convinced “the future is internet based” and YouTube is the “wave of the future.” Obviously, YouTube is today and will most likely not even exist in the near future. Everything gets replaced by the next thing and YouTube is barely this century technology. We’ve gone through at least a dozen iterations of the “next new thing” that will replace decent service manuals and we keep coming back to the one way humans have learned to transfer complicated information: writing and technical illustrations.

In the 1940’s, television was the great educational hope. Television’s promoters spent a small fortune convincing the government that television would be the educational wave of the future. It wasn’t. However, the con job worked and television’s promoters got some powerful monopoly protection in the form of FCC regulation under the guise that something about television would be “public service.” For almost 40 years, the only public service provided by television (and radio) was forced by the Fairness Doctrine, but Reagan eliminated that in 1987. For-profit “education” companies are really spending big bucks trying revive television and on-line media as educational tools because it is incredibly cheap to provide. Cheap and good are not often comfortable bedfellows.

Of course those early video training films weren’t cheap, because film and unions were involved, but they also weren’t effective. I remember watching a Burroughs Corporation film training program on cassette tape head alignment in 1975. The presenter had to stop the projector multiple times to explain what we’d just seen because the complicated task of getting azimuth and zenith exactly right was barely mentioned in the video and, with the heads used and the tape speed, that was critical for both data aquisition and storage and head and tape life. Some Burroughs word processing machines couldn’t make it through a day without wreaking a tape or two and losing a day’s work when the tape broke during backup. The video, typically, dwelled on easy shit like installing a tape drive or cassette, magnetic tape theory, and Burroughs’ corporate history and blew past the actual information like it was some sort of contageous virus. A month later, Burroughs flew me from Omaha to Hauppauge, New York to teach a class on cassette head alignment to their in-house techs. A year or so later and Burroughs was out of the mini-computer and dedicated office machine education-teaching-adult_class-adult_learning-gadget-website-upload-aban1537_lowbusiness.

Over the next 40 years, I have had several equally disappointing (if you take training seriously) or hilarious (if you don’t take humans seriously) video training experiences. For the last 25 years of my career, I taught industrial technology in medical devices and, later, music technology at a music college. In that time, I experienced a whole “video revolution” in training; from VHS (far cheaper than film) to digital video and non-linear editing to PowerPoint with a little of everything included. I used both video and PowerPoint in my own presentations, but I never relied on either for conveying complicated information. For that, I had reading assignments, homework, and labwork. After I retired, I took a couple of on-line courses through my local community college; because they were cheap and I was curious. Both classes were, by design and out of necessity, remedial. The instructors were remote and barely technically qualified to instruct in their subjects and the video material used was . . . freakin’ terrible. Obviously, I am infected with confirmation bias, but I doubt that you could present evidence that would make me doubt my opinion even slightly.

So, when I criticised the short-term and lazy thinking of an eBike manufacturer’s simplistic and mostly-useless video “manuals,” I got this repsonse, “Funny you think you are correct because you are in the older generation and your years of experience tell you this FACT. Realistically the future will all be youtube. The headlight LeD kits I buy are all online links to installation (for my truck). My generation prefers online links to learn from watching vs reading. Its all opinion and your views vs others. The difference is your generation thinks your way is better when mine thinks our way is different and works for us. Get off your high horse. The future is internet based.” We’ll see, kiddy. I have been there and done that and while you live in luxury in your mommy’s basement watching YouTube and convincing yourself you’re learning something, I doubt that you’ll have a 55 year career doing anything that requires skill or knowledge.

In the end, I let the lack of product support make the decision for me. I let the sale price pass and decided to stick with repairing (on my own) the used bike in my basement. Nearly $2k for an unsupported product (last year’s model) with an undetermined life-expectancy and no useful repair information is beyond my personal and economic means.

11/26/2018

Men’s Lives Matter?

stop-male-suicide-International-Mens-day-Nov-19-2017tI’m on a mail list with a few local guys. Mostly, the point of the mail list is about motorcycles, but one of the guys is growing some kind of facial hair for the Movember organization. Supposedly, this organization is looking for the magic bullet to slow up the rate of deaths by male suicides (white men are 70% of the 35,000 suicides in the US) and prostate and testicular cancer. I can only say, “Good luck.”

Humorously, the organization claims to "know what works for men" and somehow they expect to reduce male suicides by 25% in 2030. I prowled the organization's website following all of the "how we're going to win the fight" links to the expected proclamations of doing something and I didn't see any evidence that Movember knows more about what they are doing than do the so-called healthcare and mental health "professionals." In fact, as WebMD reports "One doctor commits suicide in the U.S. every day -- the highest suicide rate of any profession. And the number of doctor suicides -- 28 to 40 per 100,000 -- is more than twice that of the general population . . ." And, as you’d expect, for every female doctor who commits suicide there are seven men offing themselves. "Male anesthesiologists are at highest risk," for some reason. If doctors don’t have access to solutions to depression mental healthcare, how will Movember manage to reach everyone else? They won’t. As for Movember, H.L. Menken once said something like “For every complex problem there is a simple solution . . . that won’t work.” I didn’t see anything on the Movember website that looked like they even had a simple solution to propose.

The problem is not just a US-thing, either. Men and doctors and male doctors kill themselves at a higher-than-average rate all over the world. If there isn’t a solution, at least there ought to be some attempt to find the reasons for suicides. One of the most interesting insights I heard recently, when a European psychologist was responding to an American right wing pundit crowing about how societies with the highest quality of life and general satisfaction are also among the countries with the highest suicide rate; again, particularly high among men. The response was that there seems to be some connection to the fact that, in a generally happy society, people who are depressed feel particularly miserable about not being part of all that joy. The distance between the average person living their lives and someone with mental illness may feel exaggerated in a country where the average person is more-than-typically happy.

lucy-van-pelt-psychiatristIn the US, mental “healthcare” is pretty much getting a drug prescription for anxiety, depression, or “tiredness” from your doctor. All of the available health insurance plans pay more for pills than for therapy; if they pay for therapy at all. For starters, there is a severe shortage of mental health professionals in the US. The reason is that insurance companies don’t cover that kind of “healthcare.” For example, in my home area, Goodhue County, Minnesota, there is one psychiatrist for every 15,000 residents. Since estimates of the country’s mental health assume about 7% of US citizens have suffered depression at some time and 3-4% suffer long term depression and another 18% suffer from some form of anxiety, that leaves a lot of people out in the cold; even if they were inclined to put themselves on a decades-long waiting list to see a mental health professional. So, the answer is “take a pill” and call me in a year or two if you aren’t feeling better about yourself; if you are still alive.”

Men and boys are in heavy denial, insisting that the problem with us isn't from the outside. Wrong. It's us and our cultural training. There is a video on YouTube from a trans-guy who commented on how he hadn't realized how inhumane male culture is until he became one. There wasn’t much information in his speech, but the comments were informative. There was a crowd of guys pretending “inhumane” means “inhuman” and lots of nitwits imagining that being a macho bully has a place in normal, rational society. My takeaway from the comments was that the people who comment on YouTube videos are not very insightful.  

40 years ago, a friend and I were swimming out to scuba dive on San Clemente reef on a stormy day with 8' waves and 2' visibility and he wondered what we'd be doing with our lives; since we'd clearly outlived our design parameters. His thought was that guys like us were evolved to die with an axe in our skulls or a sword in our guts at about 22. At that moment, we were both in our early 30’s. Since we’d failed in our evolutionary purpose, his question was “What the hell are we supposed to do with the 30-50 years evolution has unprepared us for?” Obviously suicide is the answer about 30,000 US men pick. It is pretty obvious that there is an oversupply of men on the planet and war just isn't doing the job it used to do with rectifying that imbalance. The overwhelming majority of terrrorists and suicide bombers are men and they are just following nature’s coding to try to take themselves out of the gene pool.

Society provides plenty of cues, too. There wouldn't be OSHA labor laws if those rules were only intended to protect men from work injury and death. The whole concept began when women ended up in factories during WWII. As part of researching noise-induced hearing damage for material in one of my Acoustics classes, I found more information about how quickly work noise rule enforcement vanished once women were back out of the munitions factories. The whining from companies about OSHA's rarely-enforced or obeyed hearing protection rules is pretty hilarious when you learn that those guidelines came from 1944 and they are so obsolete (useless when it comes to protecting your hearing for a lifetime) that the rest of the industrialized world (outside of China) has a whole different set of standards and objectives. Again, if the point is in protecting men, it’s pointless to worry about it.

Likewise, a big reason men die from prostate cancer is men don't see doctors nearly as often as women. When we do we just want to get the hell out of there as fast as possible. I know I do. Many men (and women ) live those lives of "quiet desperation" and just want to get it over with as soon as possible.

nra_protectionAs for men and mental health, forget about it. This country decided long ago that the wealth of a few is far more important than the health and quality of life of the many. It's one of the many awful things we adopted from the UK. I don't see that ever changing. It was something Alexis de Tocqueville commented on in "Democracy in America" in 1835. The rich will have all the healthcare they can choke down and everyone else will be victims of our "wealth extraction" healthcare practical joke. All of that adds up to the obvious fact that we don’t care about any of this, as a nation. The only time mental health gets into the national conversation is after some idiot has shot up a school, church, restaurant, or some other public place. Then, it's just to distract us from wondering why gun manufacturers are so well-insulated from product liability. And we are one really easily distracted public. The NRA and their gangster-owned politicians and pundits quickly go into a “don’t regulate guns, regulate crazy people” song-and-dance that is increasingly ineffective at distracting the majority of Americans. So far, it’s working well enough, though. It will always be true that “you can fool some of the people all of the time.”

10/29/2018

What Works Is Also Silly

wingnut logic

Memes appear to be the way humans absorb information in this weird “new” age. Nick Anderson is one of the best at this messaging system, so support him here: https://www.patreon.com/editorialcartoons.

10/15/2018

A Better Story Than A Pretty Good One

As good a movie as “Catch Me If You Can” was, the real story is far, far better. Being a parent is one of those things that our fractured, disloyal, unappreciative, corrupt, and uneducated society either devalues or corrupts out of superstition. The real story of Frank Abagnale's father and his relationship with his father to the moment of his parents’ divorce is amazing. The real story of how Abagnale became the criminal that he was well-punished for being is incredibly funny, sad, and amazing. His recommendations for how you protect yourself from cybercrime are insightful and valuable and I am going to stop using my debit card for ANYTHING once my nitwit credit union figures out how to quit screwing up their website.

Knowing and Believing

One of the often fatal flaws in human behavior is deciphering the difference between “knowing” and “believing.” The less you know, the more likely it is that you won’t know what you don’t know and that you will believe things that are not knowable. Got that?

It’s often the same with “need” and “want.” You want a cell phone, but you don’t need one. People survived for a few 100,000 years without them. You don’t need a car, you could live closer to work or take a bus or train. You choose to live where you feel you are forced to drive rather than walk, bike, or take mass transit. You choose to do work that makes you feel the need to drive. You need food, water, and, depending on where you live, shelter and clothing. You don’t need clothing if you live someplace warm, like humans did (and do) in Africa for most of our species’ evolution. There are thousands of things people in western societies imagine they need that are merely wants: entertainment, luxury, territory and wars over territory, philosophy, money and economics, education, and so on. But try living without food and water for a very short time and you’ll discover the meaning of “need” and shortly afterwards you won’t exist at all.

6791492_f1024The same goes for knowing verses believing. People often say they know there is a god and an afterlife or magic and spirits and ghosts or alien invaders from Alpha Centari who stick probes up human asses for inscrutable reasons. All bullshit. None of those things can be proven in any way. Even some of the things we know are hard to prove, but most of the things we believe are just made-up fairy tales of varying qualities and quantities of idiocy.

difference-between-knowledge-and-belief-7-728Gravity, for example, is consistently demonstrable. However, physicists have only uncovered some parts of a complete theory of gravity, regardless of how well we know it works. We know two bodies are attracted to each other in some proportion to their mass. We know there are some qualities of mass and gravity that current physics does not fully explain. Scientists act as if they believe in the current definition of gravity because it mostly provides accurate information; except in extreme astrophysics and sub-atomic examples. When a better explanation comes along, scientific belief will change to reflect that information. That is how theories work.

Biologists know that the theory of evolution is a fact. Examples of evolution in a single human lifetime have been demonstrated in viruses, bacteria, and even small animals under extreme environmental stress. There is no theory of “intelligent design,” only wild speculation based on superstition and desperation. A theory is “a well-confirmed type of explanation of nature, made in a way consistent with scientific method, and fulfilling the criteria required by modern science.” Religion meets none of that criteria in any way. Interjecting a magical “designer” into an explanation of biology or physics only throws off every inquiry based on that assumption so that all conclusions derived from that concept are demonstrably flawed. 

We may desperately want there to be a god who cares about us, individually, and it is possible that some people actually need to sustain that belief to cling to what passes for their grip on mental health. That, of course, is a perversion of “need” in the real, physical world and it may turn out to be one of the many reasons humans are not a sustainable species. Replacing the kind of insanity that comes from spiritual insecurity with the delusion of religion does not get to the core of the insanity.

a few godsThroughout human history, there have been thousands of religions and probably tens of thousands of a wild variety of gods. While most of the gods looked and acted suspiciously like humans, there were (and are) more than a few animal gods, weird multi-limbed humanoid gods, and outright fantastical things that Marvel Comics couldn’t have dreamed up. All of those gods had one thing in common, some group of humans invented them and believed in them. All of those whacky humans believed they knew how the universe worked and their religion and gods were at the core of that belief. So, pardon me if the religion of the century hasn’t impressed me any more than the ones from previous centuries.

d9f4f5636c09ad874736377df3f774a4One of the vital reasons the founders of the United States of America chose not to base the Constitution and the country’s foundations on religion is that humans have historically gone to weird and terrible lengths to sustain their beliefs. If a nation (as many have) adopts a religion as a core value, it is necessary to force everyone to pretend to believe the tenants of that religion; no matter how ridiculous those concepts may be. When the physical world contradicts almost any of the religion’s beliefs, the promoters/priests of the religion are forced to “burn the heretic” to protect the religion from reality. In many instances in history, that reaction has set back human progress, society, and security enough cause societies and countries to collapse into religious and moral decadence. It is, in fact, a clearly stupid idea.

Even being an atheist requires belief, just not as much. I cannot say I know there are no gods or afterlife. I can say I absolutely believe individual humans only get one shot at life and that what we call our being or spirit dissipates into nothingness the moment we die. Weirdly consistently, a superstitious person can say they absolutely know there is a god and an afterlife. They can say that, but without a shred of evidence what they are saying is “I don’t know the difference between knowing and believing and I don’t care.” No rational person should take that sort of person seriously, ever.

The serious aspect of people who are unaware of the difference between knowing and believing is the danger those people pose to the stability of a society and to the sustainability of the species. History has demonstrated that superstitious people will commit mass murder and cultural suicide in the service of their delusions. So, while their beliefs are nothing to consider seriously, their threat is very real and constant. People driven by belief are dangerous to all life on this planet.