8/30/2021

Life’s Purpose Myths

Over the last 50 years there has been a lot of bullshit tossed around about what makes for a happy/satisfied/productive/purposeful life. I don’t think any previous generation worried about that kind of crap as much as have the Boomer-and-beyond generations. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that all of the generations that came before the 1960s combined didn’t have as many people worried about bullshit like passion, purpose, or even happiness as have the kiddies born after that date. The XYZ crowd have taken that to an extreme that might be a point of no return for the west. Because, let’s face it, you are born, you live, you get old, and you die. That is life.

One observation I have made regarding much of this is that more people than not do not find either happiness or purpose following the traditional “wisdom.” Most “traditional values” are about maintaining the status quo, furthering the growth of the species, and providing the 1% with a controlling grip on the 99%. No part of that leads to happiness or purpose for the 99% or most of the 1%. Lately, even some of the usually upbeat, pro-growth propaganda media is questioning "traditional wisdom."

One of the modern experiments humans are running (without many of them knowing they are doing anything other than living their lives) has been really interesting and is, purposely, ignored as much as possible has been going childless. Parenting has been hyped as being almost crucial to having a happy life.

Parenting Without Losing Your Mind... Or Your Marriage. -This chart is one of the most repeated and verifiable evidence of how that works out and one of the most ignored. Couple satisfaction and general happiness is consistently highest before having children and heads north in the general direction of a better life as the brats leave home; assuming the relationship survives the kids and the stress they provide. If humans were a rational animal, capable of absorbing and analyzing the information provided by other humans’ experiences, this would be overwhelming evidence that living your life to keep propagating the species is a dumb idea. Of course, humans are an emotional, fear-driven, instinctual lizard-brain animal first and foremost and the majority of our species uses logic and critical thinking on the rarest of events. So, we keep letting nature and instinct drive us into corrals of reproduction, captivity, and restricted options.

In the US, by age 50, about 15% of all women are childless. That is one very large portion of humans who are instinctually (the opposite of intellectually) driven to act against their own interests. Knowing that, it should not be surprising to know that the majority of white women voted for Donald Trump in both 2016 and 2020. These women are the least intellectual, most instinctive, least educated, and most opportunity-constrained people in the country. They are not just doing what their husbands tell them to do, they are doing what 100,000 years of breeding has programmed them to do, especially rural white women who are consistently women who are only capable (due to education and/or intellect) of doing “woman’s work,” which is why they are rural instead of leaving the constraints of stagnant rural culture and economics for urban opportunities.

The brutal truth about children is that all babies are cute and loveable; yours, mine, everyone’s. Almost nobody’s teenagers are even tolerable. Between 10 and 18-75, “kids” are a pain in the ass, a massive economic drain, and the same kind of drain on your life and energy as having your house clobbered by a tornado or a major burglary or losing a spouse to cancer. Yeah, I said “cancer.” What you will consistently get from teenage children is heartbreak. All of those fine, elevated aspirations you once had for your beautiful baby and that bright, happy toddler will devolve into angst and apprehension tempered with “Please at least grow up enough to get the hell out of my house.”

And how do those childless 15% feel when they are my age? I have not taken a large poll, mostly because I don’t really care that much, but the half-dozen women I know who are childless by choice are a lot happier, more wealthy and carefree, better travelled, better educated, and more satisfied with their life’s trajectory. No, they are not in any way depressed seeing their counterparts’ children or grandchildren and the clutter, complication, and restriction those offspring produce. They are universally relieved when they escape those scenes of domestic chaos, in fact. At least one of those childless women over 50 told me that she occasionally visits her siblings just to be reminded of how miserable life with children really is.

And it really is.

8/13/2021

"How can they be so stupid?"

 A friend recently called me to describe a conversation he'd had with a not-so-bright local guy who is clearly well into the stupid quadrant. I tried to link my friend to this article, "The Five Universal Laws of Human Stupidity," but discovered that I had never finished writing about this brilliant piece of sociology. So, there is is and it is well worth reading the original essay.

In 1976, Carlo M. Cipolla, a professor of economic history at the UC-Berkeley, "published an essay outlining the fundamental laws of a force he perceived as humanity’s greatest existential threat: Stupidity." He listed their identifying traits as: "they are abundant, they are irrational, and they cause problems for others without apparent benefit to themselves, thereby lowering society’s total well-being." He warned that "The only way a society can avoid being crushed by the burden of its idiots is if the non-stupid work even harder to offset the losses of their stupid brethren." We appear to be approaching a point in history where the incredibly stupid so outnumber the rest of humanity that work alone won't do the job. 

Cipolla defines the "laws of stupidity" as: 

#1) Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.

#2)The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.

#3) A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.

#4) Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.

#5) A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.

 Cipolla created a quadrant of human types that accurately defines the possibilities: 

Figure 1 - The basic graphHopefully, you can see from his illustration that this was a semi-light-hearted essay. Or maybe he just figured we were all too dumb to take his warning seriously and went for the humor; since we have to laugh about the stuff we'd cry about otherwise. Anyway, I recommend the essay and . . . look out for stupid people.

7/03/2021

Giving Up the Begging Bowl

For a lot of years, the whole “tip economy” has not just baffled but irritated me. And for a lot of years, some people I know have ragged on me for not properly valuing unskilled menial labor, “Somebody’s got to do that work and they should be properly compensated for it.” Teaching entitled Millennials about reality-based concepts is one of the most painful things I have ever experienced and at this point in my life I’ve found that it is also the least rewarding. Turns out, reality is doing a fairly good job of it without my contributions.

We’re currently experiencing a fairly impressive awakening of the US labor force. Some are calling it “The Great Resignation.” Been there, done that but not on a scale anywhere near this one. In the 70s, the after-effects of unrestrained irrational Vietnam War spending sent the country into an economic death spiral that didn’t end until Reaganomics and the rest of the Republican delusionary dribble-down thinking was briefly replaced by Bill Clinton’s “it’s about the economy, stupid” and actual conservative fiscal policy that resulted in the only balanced national budgets since Jimmy Carter (the only other economic conservative President in that period). For 30 years of my career’s 55-year lifetime, the economy was changing, collapsing, and relocating so quickly that a 3-year employment seemed like a whole career. My kids were conditioned to start throwing away toys and saying goodbye to friends on a triennium schedule.

Musicians and other semi-skilled food service and bar laborers have long depended on tips for the majority of their income and that is an aspect of that kind of work that has grated against my pride for as long as I’ve been associated with the “entertainment” business. In fact, my billing system was partially determined by coming up with an hourly rate that would guarantee my customers did not feel the need to add a tip to my invoice. At one point around 2011 that number was as high as $225 per hour. After I retired, I volunteered to run the sound system and help out at a couple of the local venues in Red Wing. That ended, in each place, when my contribution was so disrespected that someone offered me a pittance of a tip for my work that evening. I figured that if they really needed my help, the next time they could pay me a decent wage, say $225 per hour, so that they wouldn’t have to feel sorry for me. I fuckin’ hate tipping.

With that lifelong attitude in mind, I have often voiced my opinion about unskilled laborers bitching about receiving insufficient tips for their easily-replaced or automated “work.” This bullshit has gone so far as practically requiring tips for cash register operators and fast food janitors when you pay for something at the counter. Really? You have the gall to ask for 15-25% tip for punching the keys on a math-ability-disabled cash register and handing a piece of pie across a counter? That opinion has gotten me all sorts of nasty and entertaining feedback mostly from young people who wasted lots of money getting a “higher education” at a “follow your passion” institution of con-artistry and discovered that those kinds of passion also require a lot of skill, work, commitment, and sacrifice. Who knew that a job that 99% of the population would do for free might be hyper-competitive?

So, now to this moment of the “The Great Resignation” where all sorts of people are either going back to their old jobs, back to their old offices, or looking at finding work in either the business where they worked before the COVID moment or looking for something new. There is lots of faux-conservative jabber about how “people just don’t want to work when they get that $300 Unemployment boost,” but the fact is that many (95% of) people have discovered how much time and energy they are giving to dead-end, unskilled, pointless (bullshit) jobs that don’t pay well enough to even be considered worthy of Minimum Wage protection.

This week, I discovered a couple of Facebook “Notification” flags on comments I’d made on this subject more than 2 years ago. Normally, I just clear Notifications without bothering to see who made them or what group or person they came from, but these near-ancient flags made me curious. Sure enough, they were responses to an argument we’d had about tips and tipping from exactly the kind of folks I was describing above, kids who had wasted time and money at good old MSCM, pretending to be wannabe musicians or “producers,” and working at restaurants and bars after discovering how hard that business really is. The responses could be summed up to “you are right.” These young people had followed their mildly-held passions deep into debt and the panhandling restaurant lifestyle and COVID disrupted that long enough to force them to re-evaluate their priorities. One of those newly discovered priorities turned out to be finding a sustainable and functional lifestyle and career.

This brief moment in our weird-assed economy has opened up a lot of manufacturing jobs that include old-style training and education benefits to attract labor back to work. Even in small towns like Red Wing, there are opportunities like this available to anyone willing to learn skills that actually require some study, knowledge, and pride. Once you’ve done that kind of work, going back to being a food service drone is, apparently, close to inconceivable. (I don’t know. I’ve never been tempted by food service employment, at least not since I was 13 working at the Boothill concessions in Dodge City.) If you think my opinion of the panhandling/tip-based economy is radical, you really don’t want to read the opinions of the recently converted.

5/31/2021

If You Build It . . . You’re A Fool

Like a lot of small rural villages, Red Wing, MN has visions of grandeur that may be reflections of the town’s past or, more likely, are evidence that down-breeding has consequences. The current city bureaucracy and mismanagement have been hustling growth bullshit since the momentary burst in the area’s economy in the 70’s when Xcel’s Prairie Island Nuclear plant generated a substantial increase in the city and county population and tax base.Since the 70s, Red Wing has clearly suffered from a Field of Dreams syndrome, believing that if the city builds enough expensive crap people will finally be attracted to moving here and creating jobs and businesses that will make the dreamers look like actual planners. So far, if anyone is coming they must be the ghosts that populated that corn field baseball game in Costner's movie. They are very much invisible.

The city “planners” have been hacking away at a weird idea to convert the only significant riverside area of the city into some sort of “shopping district" and a misbegotten concert venue. The project name is the "Old West Main & Upper Harbor Renewal Project." The picture above is what the area looks like now and it is obvious that this is a grossly underused and somewhat unsightly waste of a prime Mississippi River location. The two videos below are concept renderings of the anticipated outcome of this multi-million dollar project in an economically disadvantaged area that has a mostly-abandoned downtown and a rapidly vanishing retail economic segment (like almost every small town in the country).

It’s a dream, obviously, and one based on a gross over-estimate of the city’s planning and development skills that could only be sustained if one were to ignore the long, expensive, and sad history of the city’s weird attempts to encourage growth, population-wise and economically. Currently, what businesses exist in the area are a couple of biker bars, some tiny and insignificant consumer retail businesses, a fair amount of small manufacturing, and some of the city’s scabbier housing units. Odds are, when the $3.5-5M are spent, if the city is lucky a few of those businesses will survive the customer and access problems caused by the grossly optimistic time schedule for the project. My bet is that there will be no more than one more restaurant in the area and several of the small manufacturing companies will either be forced out or will leave, probably Red Wing altogether, “willingly.” And the local citizens will be stuck with another large cost overrun bill, higher taxes, an enlarged and even more inefficient Public Works department that will do at least as poor a job of maintaining both the “pedestrian bridge” and the additional sidewalks as they do with the existing paths, sidewalks, and city parking areas. All of this as Xcel is likely to continue to decommission the property tax cash cow that has, in the past, funded every City Council pipedream and city planner's vanity “legacy” project since 1970.

In case you think I’m overstating Red Wing’s development past, here are a few examples of the city’s development track record. #1 the most recent (2017 through 2019) Spring Creek Road Project was promoted as being a business “starter” that would free up anticipated commercial real estate and increase business to existing businesses and to “to reduce traffic deaths along Highway 61.” That last bit was a pretty tough sell, since the next major intersection, which has all of the “features” the Spring Creek Road Project would bring to the Spring Creek/HW61 intersection is one of the city’s highest “impact points” for crashes and traffic deaths. 
This foolish project was, unbelievably, “20 years in the making.” Instead of accomplishing any useful goals, the city removed 3 supposedly desperately needed lower income duplexes and created two large, toxic-material-leaking and highly illegal junk yards and there have been some spectacular crashes at the new traffic light intersection.I’ve witnessed two of of those crashes while sitting on my bicycle at the intersection waiting for the “walk” light. Not to mention driving one of the city's grocery stores (Econofoods) out of business during the long project delays and due to the difficult access to the

 

This isn't the first time Red Wing has tried to "develop" Spring Creek Road along Highway 61. More than a decade ago, the city removed three houses from the southwest side of the street in a strange attempt to create a commercial section where there had been homes on a street that has about as much commercial appeal as a back alley in an abandoned mining town. Obviously, this was another waste of local taxpayer money and one from which the city learned nothing.

This might be my favorite Red Wing "development" failure. Anderson Park was obviously someone's pipedream of a recreational attraction to the city and for the half-dozen people who use the lower park it really can be a special place to hide out, walk the dog, experience a little mildly natural Minnesota flora and fauna, or start a ride on the Cannon River bicycle trail. Clearly, someone thought that would be a big draw because a buttload of money was spent on this park. 

Just as clearly, that someone had no idea that regular maintenance would be an issue in an area and facilities that would see the kind of use the design implied. Maintenance is not a Red Wing city skill. City sidewalks go the entire winter without seeing a single attempt at snow removal. Water faucets in the few areas where there is some tourist and local traffic almost always remain "out of order" all summer. And this bathroom was massively outside of the city Public Works' capabilities. The city can't even manage placing and maintaining trash cans at the more obvious tourist attractions. A public bathroom on a bicycle trail? What a pipedream. This building has been closed and a public reminder of city incompetence for more than a decade.

The Old Main Street and Harbor area where all of the upcoming and ongoing development disaster is just beginning is a reminder of the city's maintenance lethargy, too. Believe it or not, there is a sidewalk buried under the snow in this picture and that sidewalk remained buried from January to April in 2021, while the city was convincing taxpayers to add even more maintenance to ignore with the newest development disaster. There is almost a mile of this expensive sidewalk that gets ignored by the city all winter, every winter.

Even the newest addition to the upcoming project, the traffic circle and harbor trail, that hasn't been in place for five years and, as you can see by the footprints in the snow, gets used in spite of the city's inability to make even the slightest effort to keep the sidewalks safe to use. You know that giant footbridge is going to be everything from an accidental deathtrap to a suicide launching pad and I'm sure the city will act surprised when the first city budget-crushing liability lawsuit is filed.

And my all-time favorite Red Wing boondoggle happened long before I arrived in Red Wing and, maybe, before we moved to Minnesota in '96. This retaining wall must have cost the city a half-million dollars or more and if it had a development purpose, it failed miserably. My picture doesn't convey how massive this retaining wall is. There are thousands of large retaining wall blocks in this thing and the lot it "protects" is idiotically small and impractical for any serious development. It is for sale, if you are interested, though. Beyond that, there is about 1/2 mile of marginal "condos" and apartments along this frontage road. The development cost to local taxpayers will take a couple centuries to recover. The city owns acres of undeveloped land and various abandoned "business" and industrial properties repossessed over the years due to unpaid taxes. In the right light, Red Wing could become the next great place for apocalypse or zombie movies: just add dead people and/or zombies.

In another burst of irrational optimism, in 2019 the city spontaneously decided to blow $3,655,200 (estimated cost and probably a fraction of the final bill) on a 2nd fire station on the sparsely populated west end of the village. The idea was that adding a dozen fire fighters and a multi-million dollar fire station would shorten the response time by about 5 minutes, at best. Curiously, there was a west end fire station that closed in the 1970s. That must have been a brief burst of actual conservative financial planning for the city that has since been solidly squashed by the "if you build it" nonsense. In a few years, this building will be one more monument to unrestrained municipal spending,
"irrational exuberance," and apathetic and uneducated taxpayers. Whoopee!

If this story and series of pictures does not make you want to hire Red Wing's City Council and the City "Engineer" for your next development project . . . good for you. Personally, with my money I wouldn't employ anyone associated with Red Wing's city government to run a kids' lemonade stand

So, with all of this insanity, why would anyone consider living in Red Wing, let alone moving there. There is one gigantic, overwhelming, massively impressive feature of Red Wing, Minnesota: the Red Wing branch of the Mayo Clinic. The majority of Red Wing's incoming citizens (and out-going, for that matter) are healthcare workers and the senior citizens and retirees they are here to serve. We come to Red Wing because of the incredibly high quality healthcare the Mayo Clinic provides to an otherwise very isolated and under-served area. Lose the Mayo and I'd bet half of us would have our houses and condos up for sale by the end of the first year. There are at least 100 places my wife and I would rather live, but none of them have anything near the quality of healthcare services of the Mayo Clinic. I know of at least another dozen couples, our age, in town who are here for exactly the same reason. Yeah, the Mississippi River valley is picturesque, but the weather sucks 10 months out of every year, and the working-age population are unskilled and uneducated and as racist and foolish as the January 6th Goober Rioters. A substantial portion, the overwhelming majority, of the new construction in town are apartments near the Mayo Clinic.  If that isn't a scary fact for the future of the village, you are either a fool (and highly qualified to serve on Red Wing's City Council) or someone who doesn't care what happens to the town in a decade or two when that big rat passing through the bull snake economy (aka "Boomers") dies off and the places is left with hundreds of expensive and empty condos and apartments and dozens of over-priced/over-sized housing units. It's going to be scary for someone, but not us. We'll be dead. I've been in the situation that the two or three generations behind us will be in before. In the 1970s, I bought a large, older home in Fremont, Nebraska in 1976. By 1978, the Nebraska farm economy had been crushed by Vietnam War-caused inflation and the town's major employers, ag-based manufacturing (like my employer), died like they had been shot in the heart. When we moved to Fremont, there were no more than a total of a half-dozen houses for sale in a 20,000 population town. When we were forced to sell after I was laid-off, there were hundreds of houses desperately up for sale. Not having any real attachment to the area was a big advantage for us. I sold the house for a substantial (for us, at the time) loss, but I got out without having to declare bankruptcy, suffer foreclosure, or being stuck with a house payment without employment for an extended period. So many people we knew went the other route, because Fremont was "home" to them and they didn't feel they had the luxury to abandon the place while the ship-jumping was good; or as good as it would get for the next 20 years or more. I have a strong sense of déjà vu these days in Red Wing. This time, however, I don't have my life savings tied up in a house. I don't have a young career and a young family to manage, but for those who do these should be very nervous times.

5/30/2021

When Chaos Is All You Can Create

For the past 5 years (and a lot more) many of us have wondered “what are they thinking” as Trump’s Marching Morons and many of the Republican Party have gone from one attempt at social destruction to the next. The end game for these people appears to be the total breakdown of anything that might resemble organized society and a libertarian free-for-all. When you look at the faces of the January 6th Heehaw Rebellion you have to assume that none of those people are able to sustain any sort of serious relationships or jobs. The hoard of stay-at-home moms, angry and unemployed Millennials and X-gens and Boomers, retired and active duty military and police, and the rest of that crowd of people who have never had a productive, useful moment in their lives has to make you wonder “what do they think will come of the mess they are trying to make?”

The answer is chaos. They live in a delusional world where they imagine that when order and civilization fails, they will come out on top. And the fact is, they might; for a while. The mislabeled “rebels” in places like Syria, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and the world’s other hot spots of disorder and instability, plus many members of almost every country’s military and police, are not serving some greater good in their fight. They are simply taking advantage of the opportunities chaos creates. Since they have no useful purpose in an organized 21st Century culture, they are trying to drive back progress and civilization to a point where they would at least be able to have a few moments of pleasure out of arson, theft, murder, rape, and kidnapping. It’s not like any of these people have a long-range plan for their life’s purpose.

The problem is that there are so many of them. In fact, it is entirely possible that at least half of every nation in the world is filled with what was once nothing more than cannon fodder for pointless regional wars and territorial pissing matches. A few thousand to a few hundred years ago, “excess population” (mostly male) was easily eliminated with hand-to-hand combat in large scale relative to overall population. A Bronze Age battle from 3200 years ago was discovered in the 90s and the grisly remains have been . . . enlightening. The remains of a few hundred expendables have been dug up, which indicates that at least 4,000-5,000 were involved. According to a Science Magazine article, this describes “picture of Bronze Age sophistication, pointing to the existence of a trained warrior class and suggesting that people from across Europe joined the bloody fray.” It also provides evidence that humans have needed to slough off excess and mostly-useless young men on a regular basis. One of the side effects of a large invading army is that a fair number of equally unproductive young women get used up, as hookers, rape victims, and camp hangers-on. So, all sorts of useless humans get used up relatively quickly.

In modern society, we don’t have a mechanism for ridding cultures of excess mediocrity, unless the culture collapses into chaos. Syria, for example, was the post card example of a moderately-functional Arab state. Then it wasn’t and the gangbangers have been having a field day since. That is the kind of “state” that Republicans appear to think will keep them in power and money, indefinitely, and for a few of them that will be true and for the majority, like the rest of us, they will discover the cost of “reaping the whirlwind.”

When your long-range “plan” is to wildly hope that a mobster faux-millionaire who has never done anything in his life to benefit anyone but himself, blowing up the world might seem like that act would create “new opportunities” that won’t exist any other way.

5/13/2021

Republican Jokes

I know, that title probably looks redundant. It probably is. However, in the last 40 years it has become increasingly obvious that almost every ethnic, mental status, stupid boss, and location joke ever written can now be easily converted to a “Republican joke.”

Here are some examples, and be honest, you know every one of these modified jokes works as it stands here:

Q: What do you do if a Republican throws a pin at you?

A: Run like hell - he's still got a hand-grenade between his teeth.

 

Q: What do you do if a Republican throws a hand-grenade at you?

A: Take the pin out and throw it back.

 

Q: How do you know if a Republican has been using a computer?

A: There's whiteout on the screen.

 

Q: How did the Republican mother teach her son which way to put his underwear on?

A: Yellow in the front, Brown in the back!

 

Q: How do you know you're flying over a Red State?

A: Toilet paper hanging on the clotheslines.

 

Q: Why do Republican names end in "ski" ?

A: Because they can't spell toboggan.

 

Q: Did you see the Republican submarine with a screen door?

A: Don't laugh, it keeps the fish out.

 

Q: Did you hear about the Republican Helicopter crash?

A: The pilot got cold, so he turned off the fan.

 

Q: How do you sink a Republican battleship?

A: Put it in water.

 

Q: Why did the Republican put ice in his condom?

A: To keep the swelling down.

 

Q: What happened to the Republican hockey team?

A: They all drowned in spring training.

 

Q: Why don't Republican women use vibrators?

A: It chips their teeth.

 

Q: Why did the Republican cross the road?

A: He couldn't get his dick out of the chicken.

 

Q: Why are there no Republican doctors?

A: Because you can't write prescriptions with a crayon.

 

Q: What’s the difference between a smart Republican and a unicorn?

A: Nothing, they're both fictional characters

 

Q: Did you hear about the winner of the Republican beauty contest?

A: Me neither.

 

Q: Why wasn't Christ born in A Red State?

A: Because they couldn't find three wise men or a virgin.

 

Q: How did the Yankees conquer the South so fast?

A: They marched in backwards and the Confederates thought they were leaving.

 

Q: How do you tell which is the groom at a Republican wedding?

A: He's the one with the clean tee-shirt.

Q: How do you get a Republican out of the bath tub?

A: Throw in a bar of soap.  

 

Q: Why are there no ice cubes in a Red State?

A: They forgot the recipe.

 

Q: What happens when a Republican doesn't pay his garbage bill?

A: They stop delivering.

 

Q: How do you ruin a Republican party?

A: Flush the punch bowl.

 

Q: What happened to the Republican National Library?

A: Someone stole the book.

 

Q: Why did the Republican couple decide to have only 4 children?

A: They'd read in the newspaper that one out of every five babies born in the world today is Hindu.

 

Q: What did the Republican mother say when her daughter announced that she was pregnant?

A: "Are you sure it's yours?"

 

Q: Why did the Republican sell his water skis?

A: He couldn't find a lake with a hill in it.

 

Q: What do Republican athletes do with their gold medals?

A: Go home and got them bronzed.

 

Q: Did you hear in the news that a 747 recently crashed in a cemetery in a Red State?

A: The Republican officials have so far retrieved 2000 bodies.

 

Did you hear about the Republican family that froze to death outside a theater?

They were waiting to see the movie "Closed for the Winter."

 

An English guy is driving with a Republican as his passenger, when he decides to pull over because he suspects that his turn signal may not be working. He asks the Republican if he doesn't mind stepping out of the car to check the lights while he tests them. The Republician steps out and stands in front of the car. The English guy turns on the turn signal and asks, "Is it working?"

To which the Republican responds, "Yes, it's working....No, it's not working....Yes, it's working....No, it's not working...."

 

Did you hear about the terrible automobile accident in Georgia last night? A Republican family on vacation lost all of their children. The pickup truck they were riding in ran off the road into a lake and sank to the bottom. The parents got out of the cab OK but all the kids in the back drowned...they couldn't get the tailgate open.

 

Three men are traveling in the Amazon, a Socialist, a Democrat, and a Republican, and they get captured by some natives. The head of the tribe says to the Socialist, "What do you want on your back for your whipping?"

The Socialist responds, "I will take oil!" So they put oil on his back, and a large Amazon whips him 10 times. When he is finished the Socialist has huge welts on his back and he can hardly move.

The Amazons haul the Socialist away, and say to the Republican, "What do you want on your back?"

"I will take nothing!" says the Republican, and he stands there straight and takes his 10 lashings whimpering and bawling like a baby.

"What will you take on your back?" the Amazons ask the Democrat. He responds, "I'll take the Republican!"

 

A popular bar had a new robotic bartender installed. A guy came in for a drink and the robot asked him, "What's your IQ?"

The man replied, "130." So the robot proceeded to make conversation about physics, astronomy, and so on. The man listened intently and thought, "This is impressive."

Another guy came in for a drink and the robot asked him, "What's your IQ?"

The man responded, "110." So the robot started talking about the superbowl, dirt bikes, and so on. The man thought to himself, "Wow, this is really cool."

A third guy came in to the bar. As with the others, the robot asked him, "What's your IQ?"

The man replied, "80."

The robot asked, "So, which Red State are you from?"

 

A Republican is hired to paint the lines on the road. On the first day he paints ten miles, and his employers are amazed. But, the second day he painted just five, and on only the third day, he painted only a mile of the road. Disappointed his boss asks what the problem was. The Republican replies, "Well sir, every day I have to walk farther and farther to get back to the paint bucket."

 

Three prisoners, an bank robber, a car thief, and a Republican, are scheduled to be executed by firing squad. They bring out the bank robber and stand him in front of the pole. He points and shouts, "Tornado!" They all look and the bank robber runs away.

Next, they place the car thief in front of the firing squad. He yells "Earthquake!" They all hit the dust and the car thief escapes.

Next up is the Republican. He shouts "Fire!"

4/19/2021

What Will “Normal” Look Like?

A recent Slate article, “I Do Not Trust People in the Same Way and I Don’t Think I Ever Will Again," really struck a chord with me. The article was mostly about the anxiety many feel about going back to the office. “Workers have also seen over the past year that even when employers claim they’ll implement safety measures, the reality is often very different. Social distancing requirements often go unenforced, and many people report colleagues going unmasked without any consequences. So employees are primed to be incredulous.” All of that is absolutely valid, too. A friend recently interviewed for a job with a Minnesota medical-tech company and all of the people who met with him, except the department manger, proudly went maskless in a small room and implied that he was being rude in keeping his mask on.

Figure 1 - The basic graphAs a spectacularly accurate recent paper on human stupidity, “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity,” stated, “The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person. . . Whenever I analyzed the blue-collar workers I found that the fraction σ of them were stupid. As σ's value was higher than I expected (First Law), paying my tribute to fashion I thought at first that segregation, poverty, lack of education were to be blamed. But moving up the social ladder I found that the same ratio was prevalent among the white-collar employees and among the students. More impressive still were the results among the professors. Whether I considered a large university or a small college, a famous institution or an obscure one, I found that the same fraction σ of the professors are stupid. So bewildered was I by the results, that I made a special point to extend my research to a specially selected group, to a real elite, the Nobel laureates. The result confirmed Nature's supreme powers: σ fraction of the Nobel laureates are stupid.” (I seriously recommend that you read this paper as it contains far more human natural selection information than practically anything I’ve seen since Euell Gibbon’s survivalist books.) As the illustration from that paper aptly describes, the four basic categories of humans are: “the helpless, the intelligent, the bandit and the stupid.” (In clockwise rotation starting from the top left.)

Learning that so many humans in every field, distributed across all populations, are stupid is not a comforting piece of information. It does explain why so many self-declared or media-selected “experts” have been so wrong about so many things in the past and, specially, in the past dozen years. As our education system is dumbed-down to prop-up academic revenues, even more idiots are getting advanced degrees in fields they can barely describe. Decades ago, SF writer Theodore Sturgeon said, “90% of everything is crap.” Looks like you could accurately rephrase that to “90% of everyone is stupid.” If you don’t think even the most lauded, anointed, and prominent humans can be stupid, just look at the folks the late Bernie Madoff convinced to pour money down his sinkhole, from other investment companies and pension funds to famous entertainers to scientists. All people desperately wanting to believe that the facts could be contradicted by their desires and ignoring “if it seems too good to be true, it is.”

Stupid people are dangerous, as a few thousand stupid insurrectionists demonstrated in Washington, DC on January 6th. Learning that so many of those around us are unpredictably foolish and self-destructive and well-armed puts an edge on every interaction many of us will have for the rest of our lives. In the Slate article about losing trust the author said, “But the real problem, I suspect, is that in the past year, we’ve experienced a massive loss of trust in our institutions and in one another.” In fact, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the people I know in this small Minnesota community who are not stupid and considerably less surprised at discovering the ones who are dumb as a post (or “dumb as a Trump voter,” the new idiom for a total fool).

That is going to be a problem for a lot of local businesses, too. In my village, many of our local bars, restaurants, and retailers went proudly mask-less and precaution-free until the state mandated those basic and obvious rules. I, for one, will not be going back to those businesses anytime soon, regardless of the state of the nation’s health. Why would I? During the last year, those businesses and employees willingly, carelessly, and arrogantly demonstrated their distain for science, decency, and their community by flaunting their politics over any other value. Why would I want to help those people stay in business in my community with my money? I’m not even a little bit alone in this decision, either. The wingnuts jabber mindlessly about “cancel culture,” but what they want is to be able to boycott any person or business or community at will for their pet peeve of the moment but when the tables turn on them they whine “that’s not fair!” Remember the Beatles after Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus” comment or Starbuck’s red Xmas cups or Oreo cookies or Netflix or Budweiser’s horses or Keurig and Roy Moore or a lot more wingnut boycotts? It’s ok when they do it, but if people with money (the educated non-MAGA crowd) do the same thing it’s “cancel culture.” Personally, some of those businesses that disappointed me locally will be missed from my pre-pandemic routine and appreciation of this little village. I do, however, hold a grudge for a long time and at this point it’s hard for me to imagine going back to the “old normal” knowing what I know of who these people really are.

All of that is going to make both the economic and social recovery complicated and there will be some-to-a-lot of fallout in the long run. When all of that “socialist” small business support vanishes as we go back to business as usual, the new usual will leave many of those places without a lot of the people who once provided a good bit of their income. Trump loved the uneducated, but most businesses need people with an income to provide their businesses with an income. Trump’s fools may be going back under the rocks where they normally hide, but we all know who many of them are now and we’ll be avoiding those rocks for many years.

4/03/2021

My 50(?) Favorite Western Movies

My “credentials as a critic of western movies is pretty shallow, but confident. I have really firm convictions about what makes a great western story, novel, movie, or series. I did grow up in Dodge City, Kansas and like a lot of boys from my generation I played with toy guns and pretended to be a badass gunfighter for hours every weekend and all summer. My father’s older brother owned a real ranch with a few thousand head of cattle and dozens of working quarter horses. His sons were real cowboys and one imagines he still is, although he’s 80-some-years-old and probably hasn’t sat on a horse for at least 20 years. I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of my early years on my uncle’s ranch, riding horses, digging fence line postholes (I still like to dig postholes), hunting squirrels and rabbits, fishing Bluff Creek, and exploring the unused or barely used parts of his ranch property. Eastern Kansas has some decent western history, too, which added to my database of actual western history.

When I was a kid, 12-14, I worked a couple of summers at the Dodge City Boot Hill Museum. My jobs there were everything from concession stand operator to janitor to reenactment actor to non-alcoholic beverage bartender. At least one  summer, I did all four jobs consecutively. My three favorite activities while “working” at the museum were 1) dueling with the fast draw automated gunfighter, 2) pawing through the actual gunfighter gun collection and western memorabilia stored in the Front Street museum basement, and reading the stacks of Dodge City newspapers from the 1800’s stored in the basement and on racks in the Boot Hill Museum. I came away from those experiences with a completely different picture of life in the “West” (of which the Midwestern Kansas barely qualifies). That picture informs, defines, and biases my opinion of western stories.

I have read a LOT of western novels, biographies, and history. For years, my oldest daughter, Holly, has bought me reference books for birthdays, Xmas, and general inspiration. I even have a couple of western-based novels in stasis, since my writing appears to have stalled out in old age. I have a super-fast way to determine if a western is going to be tolerable. I use this for writers I have not previously read. I skip to the last pages of the novel and look for shit like “she melted into his arms” or other romantic bullshit. If that crap is there, I toss the book back on the shelf. I am not a Louie L’Amour predictable W-shaped plot line fan. I don’t read “romances for men,” which is what that genre of novel amounts to. I don’t do John Wayne (except for one) or Ronny Reagan crap, either. Those two poofs needed a crew to hoist them on to their horses and, then, they needed a quart of Gorilla Glue on the saddle to stay there.

The order in which these movies and television mini-series appear in my list is not really sorted by “the best” motivation. For sure, whatever movie ended up at #1 is NOT my all-time favorite western. I don’t really have such an animal in my collection. To be sure, the stuff near the top of the list is more favored than the stuff at the bottom, but I like all of these movies a lot. If I didn’t like them, they wouldn’t be on the list at all.

My List of Best Westerns (not the motels)

1.      Hombre

One of Paul Newman’s “H movies,” 1967’s Hombre is based on an Elmore Leonard novelette of the same name, which is a great origin story for any movie. I like or love almost every Elmore Leonard story ever turned into a movie. There was one fatal (in my opinion) character flaw in the novelette and the movie version “fixed” that. Newman and Richard Boone play together well and this early anti-hero story is gritty, realistic, and as western as the west ever was. Any best western list that doesn’t include Hombre is bullshit.

Hombre sits at the top of my list because it was the movie that convinced me westerns didn’t have to be crap romances for city boys and losers. It was also one of the few movies made from a book that improved on the book without losing a step. Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr’s screen play of an Elmore Leonard novelette changed the one weak character in Leonard’s story to be a more credible, stronger female lead played by Diane Cilento. The original “Jesse” was a teenager who mostly whined throughout Leonard’s story.

2.      Justified

Justified is my all-time favorite television series . . . EVER. This is another Elmore Leonard-based story (“Fire in the Hole” is one of Leonard’s Marshall Givens stories) and Mr. Leonard was a co-producer of the series until he died just before the start of the final season. Timothy Oliphant flew to the head of my “favorite actor” category for his portrayal of Marshall Raylan Givens. Givens’ cowboy hat, his fascination with old west lawmen, his attitude, and his gunfighter skills are what make this a “western” for me. It is a modern story, but everything about it screams those libertarian, every-man-for-himself, lawless days of the Old West.

There are hundreds of moments in this 6 season series (2010-2015) that sucked me in, but in the first season there is a scene where Givens confronts a pair of mobsters on an isolated highway and tells them, “That’s close enough. If you take another step, I’ll have to put you down.” The alpha mobster takes another step and Givens puts a bullet in his gut. I have spent most of my life screaming at movies where the idiot with a gun keeps saying “don’t take another step or I’ll shoot” until the moron gets beat down after the other guy has practically done his daily 10,000 steps in the process. Justified never does that kind of dumb shit.

3.      Hostiles

I had, literally, no expectations for this 2017 Scott Cooper production, since it wasn’t advertised and just showed up at my local theater with minimal fanfare. We went with a couple of friends who were totally unfamiliar with western and, to the movie’s credit, they were lost through large sections of the movie. Christian Bale heads the cast, but the rest of the cast—Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Ben Foster, Stephen Lang, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, Adam Beach, Q'orianka Kilcher, and Jonathan Majors—were brilliantly selected for their parts and the screenplay is a masterpiece.

You cannot daydream for a moment or Hostiles will leave you wondering “what just happened?” Cooper does not lead you by the hand with either his dialog or the action. Blink or daydream for a moment and you’ll wake up confused. This is an actual adult’s movie.

4.      True Grit

The 2010 Cohen Brothers’ True Grit, not the ridiculous 1969 John Wayne mess. As anyone who has followed the Cohen Brothers’ careers might expect, their version of the 1968 Charles Portis novel doesn’t mess around with pretending that screenwriters are more competent than novelists. They made a movie out of the book and picked all of the right people for the parts. There are no nods to popularity in this cast, every part is played by someone who is perfect for the job.

5.      Appaloosa

Practically no one’s list of best westerns contains Appaloosa and that might be one of the reasons I decided to create my own. Ed Harris and Vigo Mortenson bring Robert Parker’s novel to life as well as any transition from book to movie has ever been done. Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) is one of Hollywood’s best ever evil bastards and of all the irritating people Renée Zellweger has portrayed, Allison French, is high on my list. Lots of realism, lots of action, and I wish they’d have done well enough that Harris and Mortenson had kept making Parker’s stories into movies.

6.      Lonesome Dove

I know, Lonesome Dove is not a movie, it’s a mini-series. Larry McMurtry never wrote a sentence that I didn’t love and every paragraph in his 843 page novel was a masterpiece. This 1989 TNT series about ex-Texas Rangers (Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones) driving cattle into the Montana Territory through rustlers, hostile Indians, lousy weather, and bad luck is an indispensable part of any western movie film collection. I had no idea that Tommy Lee Jones was a versatile actor until Lonesome Dove.

7.      Hell on Wheels

Another series, but one of the best ever. There are too many wonderful, believable characters in this 5 season, 57 episode drama to describe in less than several thousand words, but Anson Mount’s Cullen Bohannon should have earned him a long and successful career as a leading man. The first season was supposed to be the only season and it is incredibly powerful. The producer’s decision to have each season be the “property” of a different director kept the series from devolving into the usual plotless crap that plagues most television series.

8.      Hidalgo

Vigo Mortensen is a down-on-his-luck American cowboy who takes a flyer on an Arabian cross country horse race to change his luck. The west meets a spectacularly corrupt monarchy in the desert. Everything about this 2004 movie is terrific and lots of it is even unpredictable, not the usual situation for westerns. Mortensen is perfect, but what else would you expect?

9.      The Proposition

Nick Cave first wrote the soundtrack, then was handed the screenplay for this Australian-based western which he supposedly wrote in three weeks. He knocked it out of the park on all counts. There are moments in this movie where you can’t separate the action from the soundtrack, they blend so perfectly.

Guy Pierce out-Eastwoods Clint Eastwood at this best as the main character, Charles Burns, the brother of notorious outlaw Arthur Burns (Danny Huston), the man every lawman in Australia wants to take down. The cinematography is non-stop incredible because somehow this film manages to remove all signs of the 20th Century. I would have bet that The Proposition, released in 2005, would have made Guy Pierce a superstar. I still don’t know what happened.

10. All the Pretty Horses

Cormac McCarthy’s 1992 book turned into an equally brutal 2000 movie. Billy Bob Thornton directed it and Matt Damon knocked the lead out of the park.

11. The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters Brothers is a terrific novel and the movie tracked the novel pretty well, with the usual shortening or elimination of backstories and sidelines to fit into the 2 hour time line.

12. Unforgiven

Eastwood’s 1992  Unforgiven is, rightfully on everyone’s “best western” list. It is so good that it almost makes up for that godawful pile of spaghetti western crap he made in the 70’s and the worse-than-crap Rawhide 60’s television series.

13. The Homesman

This is one weird part for Tommy Lee Jones and it is a hard look at the brutal lives of women on the western frontier in the 1850s. Another gritty piece of realism that takes all of the romance out of those western myths.

14. The Ballad of Lefty Brown

Bill Pullman is just amazing as the sidekick of a western hero, played momentarily by Peter Fonda, who was gunned down mysteriously leaving Brown with the guilt and blame. Lefty’s shift from sidekick to hero takes the whole film to develop and it’s worth every moment.

15. Monte Walsh

With Lee Marvin and Jack Palance, this was one of the best westerns I’d seen (or imagined) in 1970.  Yeah, Lee and Jack were a little old to be cowboys, but casting wasn’t exactly an art in the first 50 years of moving making. If you doubt my opinion, check out the hefty cavalry troopers in the same movie. Monty Walsh was a great novel, by Jack Schaefer and, I think the first version of Monty Walsh was the best. I didn’t hate the Tom Selleck remake, I just didn’t think it was worth doing.

16. McCabe & Mrs. Miller

I have no idea why reviewers often call Robert Altman’s 1971 movie “western revisionist,” it was a masterpiece in a genre that mostly produced white mythology pap and racist bullshit before the anti-hero period of the late-60s and early 70s. Altman’s mining town is a gritty, amoral, and corrupt as most of the libertarian late-1800s actually was and if that look at reality is “revisionist” that word needs redefining.

17. Ulzana’s Raid

Burt Lancaster is terrific in this Robert Aldrich movie as is the rest of the cast. There is a lot of gritty realism here, especially considering its 1972 production date. It is definitely not a western romance.

This is absolutely a classic western with almost none of the traditional qualities of westerns. Robert Altman’s 1971 anti-hero story that starred Warren Beatty and Julie Christie is one of the grittiest, least romantic westerns ever created.

18. The Assassination of Jesse James

19. The Shootist

I am not a John Wayne fan, but for his last western and last movie this was a good exit. Glendon Swarthout's 1975 novel was the basis for The Shootist and his son, Miles Hood Swarthout, and Scott Hale didn’t screw it up. Unlike every other western Wayne was in, The Shootist holds up well after 50 years. For one, Wayne’s character is dying of prostate cancer and rides as if his butt hurts, which is how Wayne always looked on a horse.

20. 3:10 to Yuma

Another Elmore Leonard novel turned into a movie. As a lifelong Leonard fan, the closer the movie is to the book the more I’ll like it. Therefore, my favorite movie version is no contest, the 2007 version is hands-down the better of the two. Glenn Ford was very good in the 1957 attempt, but his character was rewritten too much to even resemble Leonard’s Dan Evans. Christian Bale nailed it as did the James Mangold direction and Halsted Wells screenplay. In his prime, Russell Crowe was an amazing western American bad guy.

21. The Revenant

22. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

23. Bone Tomahawk

24. Dances with Wolves

25. Open Range

Believe or not, I am sort of a Costner fan, just not so much as an actor than as a person. Costner was pretty good in 2003’s Open Range and stoically offsetting Robert Duval’s outgoing character Costner seemed less wooden and more self-contained. Open Range is a fun, fairly traditional wester.

26. Blackthorn

Sam Shepard is an old Butch Cassidy living in Bolivia in 1908 as James Blackthorn. How could that premise go wrong? It didn’t. This is one convoluted, freaky plotline and worth every second of the screenplay. Sam Shepard is my John Wayne.

27. Blazing Saddles

Just in case you are silly enough to take my opinions more or less seriously than any other “fan” of anything, Blazing Saddles is solidly on my list. Clevon Little is one of my all-time favorite actors and he totally carried this movie on his comedic shoulders. Without Clevon Little, we might barely know who Mel Brooks was.

28. The Hateful Eight

This story is somewhere between a gritty and realistic western shoot-out film and a typical Tarantino bloodbath. It is packed full of terrific actors and slightly better than B-movie performances and dialog. I should like it more than I do and I’m not sure why it falls this low on my list, but I don’t see anything up there that I would move it above.

29. The Good Lord Bird

30. The Streets of Laredo

Another mini-series, but with James Garner, Sissy Spacek, Sam Shepard, and Ned Beatty in the cast and direction by Joseph Sargent it might as well be considered to be a major film. I am not a fan of James Garner, but he knocked this part out of the park. Since he was playing an older version of Tommy Lee Jones’ Woodrow Call, he had to do some serious work to be credible. He did just that.

31. Deadwood: The Movie

Deadwood: The Movie and the series should be higher on my list. I like a lot of the actors, the writing isn’t bad, the costumes and sets are excellent, and . . . I loved Pete Dexter’s book, Deadwood, which David Milch almost ripped page-by-page from in the first season. I can’t get past that when I watch any episode of Deadwood. In the west, Dexter would rightfully gun down Milch in the first scene of a decent western.

As for the series and the movie, the dialog was forced, overwrought, and rarely clever. The goober who did the sound editing clearly never heard of EQ or clarity. Great scenery and Tim Oliphant was terrific even when he wasn’t given much to work with. Visually, Deadwood is pretty good, but that’s it.

32. Comanche Moon

33. Jonah Hex

34. Cowboys and Aliens

I  know, I should get a ton of crap for putting this movie in a western category, but I liked it a lot and I even liked it after seeing it a 2nd time. We inherited the Cowboys and Aliens DVD with some stuff my wife’s father left her and we watched it a couple of times in our camper when we were stuck in New Mexico for a winter. Daniel Craig makes a better 1860s American character that most of the Americans who’ve taken on that kind of part.

35. The Culpepper Cattle Company

36. Little Big Man

37. The Covered Wagon

This 1923 western pretty much has ever stereotype Hollywood ever invented for westerns. Like most silent movies, the “acting” is often pretty terrible, but not all of it. The staging of this film is amazing. The scenes of covered wagons and stock crossing and attempting to cross the Platte River are hyper-realistic in the fact that it is total chaos.

38. Wyatt Earp

Kevin Costner’s 1994 Wyatt Earp is, in my opinion, a slightly more interesting interpretation than the Tombstone, if for no other reason than Dennis Quaid’s Doc Holiday portrayal. Both stories are pretty good, if not particularly historically accurate, but I liked this story pretty well. The look, sound, casting, and screenplay are gritty and believable. Of course, Costner’s Earp is as dead eyed and wooden as Costner is more often than not.

39. The Gunfighter

This is the 1950 Gregory Peck Gunfighter.  [Not to be confused with the incredibly awful 1999 Christopher Coppola/Francis Ford Coppola directed/produced train wreck that, under no conditions should be considered anything but a terrible -movie.] The Gunfighter isn’t bad, although it is a romance of sorts.

40. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

41. Django Unchained

Pure western fantasy with a little 2000’s porn, but it is funny and entertaining.

42. Cold Mountain

43. Dead Man’s Walk

44. Tombstone

45. Dead Man

46. The Missing

47. The Outlaw Josey Wales

48. The Kid

49. Bad Company

50. How the West Was Won

51. Ride with the Devil

52. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

53. Ned Kelly

54. Cimarron

55. The Valley of Violence

56. Brimstone

57. Slow West

58. The Young Guns

59. Ride with the Devil

60. Geronimo: An American Legend

61. The Alamo

62.