12/26/2016

Never Forget

One of the key components to pseudo-conservative/alt-right “thinking” is forgetfulness. If you remember history, you would never admit to being conservative because that would mean you are always wrong. Always, in the history of civilization and humanity. For example, pseudo-conservatives delude themselves into believing that Reagan was some sort of economic savior. For southern California, maybe, on a short term, but for the rest of the nation and the world that is total bullshit. Long-term, Reagan did damage to California that won’t be repaired without another Great Depression and a massive population drop.

For example, do you know when the United States became a permanent debtor nation? 1985, the beginning of Reagan’s second term. As tough as reality is for pseudo-conservatives, it's a fact. On September 17, 1985, the New York Times published an article titled “U.S. Turns into Debtor Nation” (“The United States has become a debtor nation for the first time since World War I, owing foreigners more than they owe it, a Commerce Department report indicated today.”) which should have tossed traditional conservatives into a fit of panic and generated a wave of cost-cutting, but Reagan and his band of nitwits convinced the New Right that “deficits don’t matter,” at least when fake conservatives are creating them. So, like every pseudo-conservative administration since Reagan, Republicans have stood for borrow-and-spend, instead of actual conservative principles.

Pseudo-conservatives have just elected the least conservative President in modern history. Trump’s “business” history is a sad tale of leverage gone wrong, with six bankruptcies and a long list of Trump-scam vendors and customers robbed and left broke in his wake. When his administration has spent its wad, the US will be further in debt and the economy will be crushed into a shadow of what it could have been. Like the post-Reagan and Bush I and II years, actual national security will be non-existent, the economy will be in shambles after a series of deregulation scandals and regulatory mismanagement, and U.S. citizens will be an international laughing stock. Our national resilience will be further stressed and our capacity for a comeback weakened by a degraded national education system and the resulting loss of technological capability and increased international competition for the bits of talent our education system produces.

Like every other pseudo-conservative President in the country’s history, national mismanagement will produce one or more extreme terrorist events; probably tossing us into another endless and mindless “war on terror” or some such bullshit label. Those of us who actually read will look back on the Obama years as the last gasp of Washington’s great experiment ("And since the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the Republican model of Government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people."). The American people have degenerated far below any hope Washington might have held for democracy and the republic concept. We are a Nation of Stupid and, worldwide, we’re turning into a species of stupid.

Every good technician, engineer, and scientist knows “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” The inverse is also true. A relatively recently described human trait, the Dunning-Krueger Effect, explains "a metacognitive incapacity, on the part of those with low ability, to recognize their ineptitude and evaluate their competence accurately." Or, the less you know, the more you think you do know. Trump voters are that crowd. Their science, psychology, technology, economics, and mathematics are so shallow that they barely qualify as humans, but they have convinced themselves that they are of above-average intelligence. The less they know, the smarter they think they are. This isn’t going to end well.

12/18/2016

Let the Whining Commence

Half-wit Trump voter, Teena Colebrook, is already whining about the result of her thoughtless vote, and the middle-class misery hasn’t even started yet. When Trump announced that he was nominating general all-around Wall Street scumbag, Steven Mnuchin, for Secretary of Treasury, she wimpered, "I just wish that I had not voted. I have no faith in our government anymore at all. They all promise you the world at the end of a stick and take it away once they get in." The majority of the country is with you, Colebrook. Everyone with an IQ over 50 wishes idiots like you weren’t allowed to vote.

Colebrook’s whining comes from the fact that Mnuchin was the CEO of the bank, OneWest, that foreclosed on her property in 2009, forcing her out of her home and investment property to the tune of a $517,000 debt on a $248,000 loan. She is one of the many Trump voters who knowingly voted for the guy who told the idiots enrolled in his bogus Trump University, “People have been talking about the end of the cycle for 12 years, and I'm excited if it is . . . I've always made more money in bad markets than in good markets.” So, who did Colebrook think she was voting for,  Santa Claus? Based on the fact that this math-disabled character “purchased” the property with an “interest only loan,” I suspect she believes in a collection of mythical characters, so Trump’s inane “I will give you everything” promises (at least 276 of the craziest things anyone has ever said to the voting public) probably sounded credible.

A friend was in Red State territory, Kentucky, during the election and she was struck by how many times she heard, “I’ve never vote for a Republican before, but I’m voting for Trump.” Her argument was that Trump said the things these once-working class voters wanted to hear. She was convinced that Bernie Sanders was the only Democrat who had a similar message, but that’s not true. Sanders promised things that his opponents, including Clinton, called “free stuff,” but he had plans for financing everything he promised. Sanders was consistently truthful, while Trump was consistently disinterested in reality or facts. Sanders promised that he'd work with and for his voters and the middle class, but warned that the forces against accomplishing anything significant were powerful, vested, and well-heeled. "It will be a fight," he promised.

Trump’s chumps were equally disinterested in reality or facts. Completely nutty promises like making the Michigan auto industry “bigger and better and stronger than ever before” or getting "Apple to start building their damn computers and things in this country, instead of in other countries” or bringing the coal industry back to the Appalachian Mountains (and the old coal-mining jobs) without a lick of knowledge about manufacturing, rational tax incentives, technical education, or any other bit of expertise that might be useful in recreating the manufacturing society that Nixon, Reagan, and the Bush’s trashed.

Telling Americans the truth is not a politically successful tactic. President Jimmy Carter tried that in 1980 and Americans fled the dismal, hard truth for the Reagan fairy tails and many still feed themselves the “we can borrow and leverage our way back to prosperity” drivel Nixon started and Reagan perfected into a “deficits don’t matter” mantra that every Republican politician and faux-business-critter has abused since. Republicans and alt-rightwingers have committed themselves to “borrow and spend,” pretending that is somehow better than the “tax and spend” charge they levy on Democrats and progressives. Carter tried to be a role model for Americans scaling back to their means and they rebelled, choosing the phony pomp and pretense Reagan offered, general criminal and treasonous behavior, and the massive national debt he generated.Before Reagan, the US was a creditor nation. Since, we've been deeper and deeper in debt.

And we’ve done it again.

12/16/2016

Proving My Point, Again!

I have never believed that semi-pro sports, Division I-XX inter-collegiate anything, belongs in public universities. For-profit, private Schools for Spoiled Children can do whatever they like, but taxpayer money should not be wasted on jocks and stadiums. The recent University of Minnesota scandal proves my point for the n-qillionth time. Ten UofM football players gang raped or banged a co-ed who was either drunk or stupid or both and that obviously violated the university’s bare-minimum “school conduct standards.” The rest of the team went on strike, threatening to stay away from the bowl game that would almost provide the UofM with enough money to justify paying the ridiculous salaries to the coaches and athletic director. This is what passes for taking a moral stand in sports, “Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world!” said GoldenGopherHFC on Twitter. In the new world of Trumpdumb, this is as good as “a better world” gets.

“According to police records, a woman told officers she was drunk when she was sexually assaulted in running back Carlton Djam’s apartment by several men on Sept. 3, including some of the suspended players. She said her sexual contact with two men may have been consensual, but her contact with four of them was not. Several players told police it was consensual, and an investigator who watched a video Djam took of the incident wrote that ‘she does not appear to be upset by the sexual activity and does not indicate that she wants it to stop … and the sexual contact appears entirely consensual.’” Explain to me how any of that resembles higher education. Please!

The players are concerned for their fellow teammates/gangbangers, the quarterback Mitch Leidner said, “All these kids’ reputations are destroyed. Their names are destroyed. It’s extremely difficult to get back and it’s very unfair for them and that’s why we’re sticking together through this thing.” First, none of these men qualify as “kids.” They are overgrown, privileged young men in a culture that celebrates brawn over brain and violence over decency. If they weren’t playing football, they’d be in the military. They are not kids, children, or boys. They knew what they were doing and one of the nitwits even filmed the gangbang to give himself something to beat off to after the head injuries and age remove whatever attraction he has to women.

So, good for them. Stay on strike guys. “Three senior leaders stood in front of the group and delivered a defiant rebuke of the university’s decision, saying they would not participate in any football activities until the school president and athletic director apologized and revoked the suspensions. If that meant they don’t play in the upcoming Holiday Bowl against Washington State, they appeared poised to stand firm.” Blow both your college and your professional career making a statement that replicates the incoming federal government’s moral values and that of the 62.2 million Trump chumps who did what their Russian brainwashers (didn’t take much washing, either) told them to do and are standing proud as the nation’s security and economy is about to be wreaked by their votes.

Now that I’ve thought this all the way through, maybe sports are the only thing public universities should concern themselves with. These athletics-only college employees are absolutely representing the true moral values of 47% of the voters in the 2016 election. I guess this is the country we are going to be for at least the next four years.

12/15/2016

Withdrawal

I don't like to think of myself as being "sensitive." All my life, I've worked to sync my external voice with my internal voice so that when I recount what I've said in conversations I'm repeating what I actually did, not what I wish I'd done. There is a disconnect, though. I set fairly low standards for my expectations in other humans, but when someone I know dips below that bar I am disappointed to the excess that I seriously consider cutting off all communications with all humans. That isn't much of a self-punishment, either. I have never had a lonely day in my adult life. I have missed being around a few people, occasionally, but that didn't change the fact that I still had too many people in my life and always have. During those brief periods  when I am the only person in my home, I am at my happiest (not much of a swing from my most unhappy, I'll admit). I love to travel alone and almost never wish someone else was along for the ride.

A few days ago, (today is December 20, 2015) an acquaintance from my last job who is probably the single most sexist, male chauvinist pig I've ever experienced supported his decision to vote for one of the many insane crackers running for the Republican presidential candidacy by posting a picture of Hillary Clinton pissed off. Hillary is pretty nasty looking when she's pretending to smile, but when she's angry (something Billy has given her plenty of reason to be) she is everyone's least favorite grade school teacher. I replied that posting an "unflattering picture of Hillary is not a debate tactic when the discussion is about the latest insanity spewed by one of the nutty Republican candidates." That was, clearly, a sexist tactic designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. His response was to claim that because he had a mother and sisters, he couldn't be sexist. This is a man whose descriptions of his past sexual encounters border on disgusting and whose disrespect for women co-workers and students always made me want to put distance between him and me, professionally and personally. So his belief that the existence of his mother (not a rare occurrence in the worst of men) was a defense was so insanely stupid a claim that I gave up on carrying the debate any further. If I'm lucky, I'll never hear from this douche again.

That desire to separate doesn't stop with the foolish ex-friend, though. My disappointment in his lack of insight and self-knowledge didn't stop with the offender. I wanted to cut off all contact with humans of any sort. Not just for the rest of the day, but for an extended period of time. Years, for example.

Some aspects of this blog are time machine entries. Notes to myself to see how I'll feel sometime later after I've made a major decision about my life. This is one of those. 

12/09/2016

They Are Not Like the Others

The 2016 Minnesota redneck vote tells a lot of people more than what they needed or wanted to know about the culture in an area. When someone is thinking about starting a business, today the old “location, location, location” rule can have a completely different meaning. A location that has drive-by visibility and access is less important in a society that is driven by convenience (internet access), customer service (tolerance and people skills), loyalty (product lifestyle identification), and originality.

Voting red is a loud and clear indication that a community is neither tolerant, loyal, or creative. Goodhue County, in southeastern Minnesota, has a lot of the qualities that could be incredibly inviting to a 21st Century business. Red Wing, for example, is a transportation hub of sorts, at the intersection of US 61, US63, MN 58, and several well-maintained county roads plus there is an actual functioning Amtrak station. The city is hot-wired with fiber optic internet service almost everywhere in the city limits with IP service up to 1Gbps speeds. There is even public transportation in the city and it is a fairly inclusive service with three routes and regular service from 6AM to 6PM Monday through Friday, and 7AM to 5PM Saturday and Sunday. Housing is reasonably priced and there is no shortage of vacant industrial space. All that is good news. The bad news is that Goodhue County voted strongly for Trump and a Republican House candidate reasonable people assumed should have been unelectable. The Goodhue County Commissioners have tossed up random obstacles to prevent a “zip rail” system to Rochester and high speed rail along the Mississippi River cities. A surprising number of creative people are not drivers or even car owners, choosing to spend their commuting time doing something useful with their time. Easy and quick access to the Cities from the River Cities would be a biog draw to a lot of potential job-creating residents. The City and county officials appear to think Trump or some other con man will be able to return the country and world to the 1950’s, including that period’s social system and hierarchy (income inequality, racial isolation, and white supremacy). While there is a comedic appeal to the “back to the 50’s” drivel, change only goes backwards during catastrophes. Making “America great again,” as in somehow reviving a world where the US is the only major economic playground and white men are the only important players, is not an option.

Creative people are often odd ducks, like Steve Woziniak, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Elon Musk, Terry Gilliam, Robert Rodriguez, Amy Pohler, John Stewart, and pretty much any other artist, geek, or inventor you’ve ever heard of. Many (or most) of those people have experienced all of the bullying, intolerance, racism, stupidity, and backwards thinking they’re likely to be willing to put up with by the time their skills become productive. The statement Red Wing and Goodhue County are making with the election and opposition to technological and social change is “we don’t want your kind here.”

Creative people are attracted to other creative people and environments that encourage variety and tolerance. Mostly, that is a selfish preference because they will only thrive and survive in that kind of society. Intolerance, on the other hand, is an unattractive trait that repels creative people and inhibits everyone else. Diversity, that politically-correct concept the alt-right and blue collar middle-aged white men hate most of all, is a creativity driver. Creativity is not a conservative characteristic, either, assuming by “creative” you mean “moderate, careful, restrained, keeping with traditional, opposing change.” It’s pretty obvious that with that list of qualities, conservatives are disinclined to look for new solutions.

Currently, human knowledge is doubling every 12 months and that rate is accelerating. With knowledge comes change and change-drivers are always young, educated, and creative. Any community actively doing things to repel that demographic is doomed. Most of Middle America has been in severe decline for 30 years or more. The smartest kids leave, the dumb ones stay and reproduce more dumb kids with fewer outliers of intelligence every generation. That is not a formula for economic or social success in any vision of the future.

12/05/2016

Who Are the Good Guys?

For most of my life, I’ve thought I could tell who the good guys were in novels, movies, and history. Based on that assumption, I thought that most of us were cheering for the same folks at the end of the movie. After the 2016 elections, I’m not so sure.
Pic 3I thought I’d post a few pairs of pictures just to calibrate myself with your ethical standards. Take, for example this pair of mythical characters. Who do you like here: the poor kid from Kansas who works for a liberal newspaper and wastes his time saving ordinary people from catastrophe and rich criminals or the rich guy to takes what he wants and could care less about who he hurts?

Pic 1
Being a rock and roll sort of guy, I thought this comparison is pretty obvious, but apparently I’m wrong. So who do you like: the artist who donates lots of his time to charity and who is actually a musician or the NRA spokesthing who crapped his pants to get out of fighting in Vietnam and who has threatened to murder the current President of the United States?
Pic 6
This ought to be a telling comparison. (The first guy is Jimmy Stewart, in case you’re confused and too young to remember Xmas movies.) The characters are Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has given up his dreams in order to help others, and Gordon Gekko, a Reagan era idol famous for his unrestrained greed and a 1980’s tag line, "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good." I don’t know how conservatives even blink with this choice. They have to love everything about Gekko, especially his job-killing corporate raider tactics.
Pick 5
This one should be another no-brainer for the pseudo-conservative crowd: a misfit loner, although a decorated and PTSD afflicted WWII vet, who actually destroyed parking meters or a for-profit prison warden. The warden delivers the line that appears to define the 21st Century, "What we've got here is failure to communicate." I don’t know how conservatives can not love a man who enforces the law without compassion, any sense of justice, or the slightest trace of decency.
Pic 7
I tried to make this one obvious by picking a picture of who I thought was the relative “good guy” with his gun in hand. However, this should be a tough one for conservatives: one guy is a paid assassin with a touch of morals and the other is a crooked sheriff who believes he’s the ruler of “my town” and does anything he feels like doing, including torture, behind the protection of the law.
Pic 2
This last one is the most confusing for me. One is a consistently ethical man with a beautiful family and who has given the country the most honorable government in my lifetime and the other is the living embodiment of Richy Rich and everything you’d think working class people would hate about the ruling elite.

But the election of 2016 proved that I have been viewing life, moves, and everything completely differently from 50-some-percent of the people in this country. It turns out that every movie I’ve ever watched has been interpreted differently by at least half of the theater audience. I should have known, since I attended the first showing of This Is Spinal Tap and discovered that most of the audience thought the film was an actual documentary and not a comedy at all. I didn’t bother trying to confuse you with these picture-pairs. I put the people I thought were the good guys on the left and the bad guys on the right, but I’m suspecting a lot of you thought I’d mixed it up a bit. You can not imagine how incredibly sad that makes me.

12/01/2016

Sears: Tearing Failure from the Arms of Success

When I was a kid in small town western Kansas, back in the 1950’s, Sears and Roebuck was king of retail; mail-order retail, that is. Every home had a big Sears catalog somewhere prominent and Sears was the place to go for furniture, appliances, hand and power tools, and clothing. By the 1960’s, my hometown had an actual Sears store which stocked the most popular items and made ordering from the catalog even easier. Over the years, Sears morphed into full fledged department stores and, now, these things they call “Hometown Stores”: which are micro-stores that offer free “delivery” (to the store) of items not stocked in the store. Sears is sort of like Amazon with an inconvenient delivery system.

Still, that could work if the Sears mismanagement team had some idea what the 21st Century looks like. They don’t. Sears has been losing money, consistently every quarter, for years. Sears Holdings, the TBTF holding company that now clings to Sears and Kmart, appears to be completely clueless about modern retail, website presence, and management of a business in general. It’s almost impossible to imagine that some senior executive from Sears Holdings would not end up in Trump’s cabinet: they are that stupid. Almost as if he was created by a Hollywood screenplay writer for the part, the Sears’ CEO’s name is “Edward Lampert.” I shit you not. Right out of 1880, his advice to Sears employees who are staring unemployment in the face was, “I’m asking each of you to work faster and smarter and to sharpen your efforts throughout the year.” Of course, Eddie Lampert will be sitting in his corner office, twiddling his thumbs or dialing an Aspen real estate broker as he looks for a place to spend his unearned and undeserved $4,300,585 salary. No chance any responsibility for Sears’ failure belongs to the top guy, right?

It’s almost worth buying something from a local store to get a feel for how backwards Sears Holdings is. I guess I performed that experiment for you when I bought a super-cheap Kenmore/Maytag dishwasher from my local Hometown Store. The store was, of course, a well-run, neat and organized local business, but the on-sale item I wanted to buy had to be ordered. Supposedly, the appliance would be delivered in a week or so and “we’ll call you” when it arrives. You’d think Sears would have an automatic notification system for when products can be picked up, like almost every other big box retailer on the planet has, but you’d be wrong. I discovered my dishwasher was waiting to be picked up by calling the store and getting a clerk to check the delivery area to see if it was there. Turns out it was and had been for more than a week. This isn’t a local store problem, the store is barely manned by what looks like a high school kid and a part-time mostly-retired woman and they do a good job of greeting customers, ringing up sales, and maintaining the store. This is a front office back in Chicago mismanagement problem. The useless and lazy bums staffing those corner offices, raking down huge paychecks, and issuing stupid “work harder and faster” memos are not doing any part of the job of management.

A terrific and entertaining way to see how badly mismanagement is performing is to buy something at Sears and experience the customer feedback on-line form at www.hometownfeedback.com/. Every part of this survey is right out of the bad old days of the computer “inmates are running the asylum.” The form doesn’t fit on the screen, the questions are formatted so badly they are unreadable, the questions are clearly written by non-English-speaking authors, and the questions motivations are obviously designed to put blame on the lowest level employees and deflect any responsibility from the deadbeats at the top.

11/30/2016

The Price of Being A Nation of Assholes

One of the few terrific management books of the last 100 years is Robert Sutton’s 2007 The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't. In case you are a typical American and don't have the mental capacity to read a book, Sutton offered two tests for identifying assholes:
  1. After encountering the person, do people feel oppressed, humiliated or otherwise worse about themselves?
  2. Does the person target people who are less powerful than him/her?
Sound familiar?
To provide guidance to the generally clueless sort who make corporate decisions, Sutton also gave us a dozen identifying asshole behaviors, he called them The Dirty Dozen:
  1. Insults
  2. Violation of personal space
  3. Unsolicited touching
  4. Threats
  5. Sarcasm
  6. Flames
  7. Humiliation
  8. Shaming
  9. Interruption
  10. Backbiting
  11. Glaring
  12. Snubbing
Thanks to the Electoral College and the ultimate American asshole, Alexander Hamilton, we are about to experience a federal government totally staffed by assholes. Outside of the 61,900,651 confirmed assholes who voted for Trump (as of November 8, 2016) any normal person would recognize all 12 of those behaviors as Donald Trump’s prime personality markers.  From my own personal experience in this past election, those characteristics are core pseudo-conservative principles, too.

What does it mean for the future of the country when half of our voters idolize assholes? Keep in mind that, on average, the least educated portion of the country voted overwhelmingly for Trump, demonstrating why Trump and Republicans “love the uneducated.” For one, it means our media will continue to become more mean spirited, less fact-oriented, more focused on profit and less on public service, and society in general and public service will be less inviting to decent, intelligent people. I’m a firm believer in the FACT that incentives are everything. When society rewards politicians’ bad behavior far more consistently than decency, manners, intelligence, and competence, people with those qualities will find other places to commit their time. Eventually (as in January 20, 2017) our federal government will be almost fully-staffed by the worst, most selfish, least capable people in the country. The country is about to experience at least two years governed by all assholes. I don’t think this is going to work out the way these voters expected or hoped.


11/29/2016

Red Wing Is Bad for My Health

My wife and I moved to Red Wing, Minnesota at the end of 2014, after almost 20 years in Little Canada, Minnesota. Little Canada is a bedroom suburb of St. Paul and while it is a an independent city with its own government, Little Canada is really just a collection of home developments with a few bars and a couple of Dollar Stores. Red Wing had been one of my favorite Minnesota destinations since I moved to the state in 1996. Since I moved to Minnesota, I’ve taken my out-of-state friends here to show them why I love Minnesota. The scenery is as good as the Lake States and Midwest gets. The Mississippi River is a national treasure. Red Wing has a lot of history to be proud of and some of it is still standing. There are proponents of the city (55% of the residents would call them “liberals”) who would like to see Red Wing survive and thrive into this century and beyond. The 21st Century infrastructure is here: from high speed, reliable fiber optic internet service to power generation to food production to traditional transportation (including a functioning railroad station and city buses). Unfortunately, there are more people who want to turn back the clock to when white people ruled and everyone else obeyed than there are people who recognize the critical value of diversity and progress.

Most of Minnesota is socially inbred and new residents often complain that, unless you are 3rd or 4th generation, you’ll always be viewed as an outsider and close friendships will be unlikely. Red Wing is no different in that aspect. The first thing I realized about moving to Red Wing was that we were leaving some precious relationships and while Red Wing is “only” 50 miles from the Twin Cities that distance is enough to terminate anything resembling regular association. Relationships are critical to mental and physical health and we’ve replaced deep friendships with casual acquaintances.

The Twin Cities are famous (in the US) for being one of the best places in the country for fitness and recreation. With its bicycle trails, water resources, and easy access to outdoor resources, you’d think Red Wing would have been a good place to be as a retiree looking to stay active. First, we left a pair of cities with a large collection of fitness centers, all actively competing for residents’ dollars and moved to a city with one option, the Red Wing Family YMCA. The Red Wing YMCA is one of two YMCA facilities (Rochester is the other) in the state that does not accept Medicare fitness plans and membership is expensive: nearly $1,000/year for two seniors (or a family of 17). That is twice what we paid for both YMCA and for-profit gym memberships in the Cities. There are a couple of much smaller gyms that do accept Medicare fitness plans, but they only offer weights and machines.

Red Wing is a tourist town and, as such, there is no shortage of restaurants and they are pretty good. Not good for you, but good as in well-designed to encourage over-eating and poor diet habits. Healthy eating is far harder than in the Cities where farmers’ markets and co-ops abound. Red Wing has a seasonal farmers’ market, but the local grocery options are very Midwestern traditional and not particularly healthy; including Wal-Mart and EconoFoods, two national chains that make no effort to stock local products.

One upside is the Mayo Clinic both in Red Wing and in nearby Rochester. After a couple of years of ignoring our healthcare, my wife and I have both found decent doctors at the Red Wing facility and we were fortunate to be here when one of us was found to have cancer. I can not fault the Mayo’s performance in any way. There is, however, no alternative to the Mayo Clinic in Red Wing: no independent physicians or clinics and no other hospital outside of 50 miles north in the Cities. While our experience with Mayo was good, we know several residents who have nothing positive to say about the local clinic and who travel long distances for healthcare.

Educational opportunities in Red Wing are sparse and disappointing. Part of my motivation for moving her was the Guitar Construction and Repair program at Southeast Community Technical College. I attended the program for one full school year, 2015-2016. The instructors are excellent and the program is a state treasure, but it is being down-scaled in favor of a two year liberal arts direction. The school recently renamed itself “Minnesota State College Southeast” in an attempt to move away from the technical school label. The school’s management is mostly absent, based in Winona and barely supervised in Red Wing. The facilities are excellent and you’d think there would be great demand for classes in both the technical programs and in 4-year school prep, but the school is a ghost town most of the day. There are no night classes and much of the program appears to be designed for right-out-of-high-school students rather than the more typical customer for community colleges: working adults. Part of this is the state’s fault, since there is a wrong-headed move to “standardize” the community colleges across the state, which will kill off most of these schools with mediocrity. There is no “community education” program like those found all over the Cities.

Possibly worst of all, in 2016 Trump got 55% of the Goodhue County vote (37% Clinton and 3 other right wing “parties” split the rest of the county). Jason Lewis—a self-declared misogynist, racist (to the point of advocating the return of slavery), homophobic, xenophobic, anti-public education, anti-science regressive—defeated another clearly superior-in-every-way Democratic candidate, Angie Craig, without a platform, without an agenda (other than being against everything), and without a clue. by an overall slim 2% margin but a considerably larger margin in Goodhue County. Lewis advocates tax policies designed to expand economic inequality, eliminating national healthcare, and a variety of failed 1980’s pro-1% policies that even the dumbest economist would stay away from.
So, the end result of retiring from the Cities to Red Wing has been boredom, loneliness, about 30 pounds of weight gain, and a dramatic loss in social, educational, and recreational opportunities. More than half of my neighbors are regressive, racist, uneducated, and proud of their white entitlements. In all, I’d call this a failed experiment. I suspect Red Wing doesn’t want me and I’m not sure I’ll be able to look at this place the same ever again.

11/28/2016

They Took Ur Jobs!

Trump promised to bring the jobs he shopped out to China back to the USA. What do you think the chances are that Trump’s hats, shirts, ties, and other cheap shit will come back to US clothing manufacturers? How about zero, unless he can get US wages down to China’s.

The Trumpets wailed about how badly they were being treated, most of whom are living on Social Security and Unemployment and Welfare. These are the same people who elected Reagan and started the transfer of wealth from the US to Indochina and from the working class to the 1%. But they don’t get that, because they are the “uneducated” that Trump loves so much. When Reagan took his dribble-down axe to the federal tax code and made “unearned income” (interest and investment income, rent, income received from the ownership of natural resources, inheritance: aka “passive income”) more profitable than active income, any chance of US jobs expanding died and has almost no chance of ever returning. Trump is a prime beneficiary of this tax/social engineering plan and if you think Donald Trump has ever done one thing that didn’t benefit himself over every other person on the planet, you are one of his beloved “uneducated.”

For example, the unemployed (probably for decades) steel workers who campaigned and voted for Trump are great examples of uneducated voters without a clue. What could Trump do to bring steel production back to the US? He doesn’t even us US steel in his own casinos. The problem is on multiple levels: 1) the US tax system does not reward capital investment, 2) even if someone were insane enough take on creating a modern steel production facility, it wouldn’t employ uneducated, unskilled labor and would be highly automated, and 3) the US hasn’t invested in manufacturing and engineering education for so long that the country doesn’t have the talent to build a competitive steel production facility. Financial services has siphoned off at least two generations of the nation’s most talented people to the point that 45% of US STEM undergrads are foreign students who intend to return home with their US-subsidized education and skills. Our manufacturing economy is so weak that 74% of US STEM grads work in non-STEM related jobs. And why not? Engineering is complicated, competitive, and constantly demanding new skills. Finance is barely any different today than it was in the early 1980’s, when the Reagan Administration decided to blow-off enforcing Glass-Steagall. To become a finance millionaire, all you need is ruthlessness, a total lack of morality, and a little luck. You actually have to have talent, education, and perseverance to be Elon Musk.

The media has decided to blame Trump on liberals who, supposedly, ignored the “plight” of the poor white man. The reality is that the poor white man has always had the tools he needed to crawl out of poverty and step into the middle class: public education and white entitlement. The problem is these are the same poor white men who were easily distracted by the 1% aiming them at poor blacks, Hispanics, and every other ethic immigrant with a work ethic. The one skill poor whites will always have is an innate capacity for hate and violence. Otherwise, their claim of “white supremacy” is disproven by their existence.

There is, as best I can see, no fix for massive unemployment in the unskilled labor demographic. The best this lot can hope for is decent healthcare, available education for the small percentage with the values to work for it, tolerable housing, and the usual distractions of sports, religion, and guns. Preying on this crowd with easy credit and heartless bankruptcy laws is the Republican tactic and, so far, telling these nitwits that Democrats and liberals and immigrants are to blame has worked. It doesn’t make their lives any better, but it does keep their capacity for hate and violence in play.

11/25/2016

Red Wing, MN Real Estate Market 11/25/2016

I check the real estate market fairly regularly, mostly to see what the rental business tells me about my hometown’s economy. I was more than a little surprised to see how much of Red Wing is up for sale this Thanksgiving weekend (154 total homes for sale, with 2 forclosures and 11 for sale by owner properties). When we started looking for a home in Red Wing (population 16,000) in 2014, there were only a couple dozen homes for sale and practically none in the $200k-and-above territory. Today, there are 59 $200k-and-up homes for sale with a surprising number (13) of $500k-and-above homes available. Two-thirds of the Red Wing homes for sale are $100k-and-up, which is middle class and upwards in a city this small. More than one-third of the homse for sale are $200k-and-up. If that doesn’t make the city council and government very, VERY nervous, they are braindead.

Red Wing for Sale

spring creek palace

Are the rats leaving the ship? Post-2016 election, I am certainly thinking about bailing out of Trumpland. The only thing to think about a city and county that votes overwhelmingly for a bankrupt, mobbed-up, Russian-financed con man is that there is a whole lot of stupid here and that is not a good sign for the future of the area. This palace belongs to one of my rich neighbors and they are asking “$699k” for the property. If I owned a $700,000 home in a place that was suicidal enough to elect Trump and Jason Lewis, I’d be panicked. (Maybe, if I could afford a $700k castle that wouldn’t be true, so that could be beyond my imagination.)

However, I can easily afford the home I’m living in and the self-destructive citizens of this county and city are making me nervous. I’ve lived in a town this size when industry and the people who make things happen fled. In the early 1980’s, right after Reagan was elected, Nebraska’s farm economy crashed and I lost all of the equity I had in a home in Fremont. When we moved to Fremont, there were a half-dozen houses for sale. When we crashed and burned, there were several hundred and prices were rock bottom. A smarter person would have bankrupted and walked away from the property, but I paid the downpayment for my buyers, took a $5,000 loss on an $18,000 loan, and left town broke and in debt. Today’s situation in Red Wing feels suspiciously familiar.

The south end of the Twin Cities appears to be in a similar economic situation. While Ramsey and Hennepin County properties are still pretty strong, Dakota and Washington Counties are well-decorated with bank owned homes and auctions. There are too many nice looking properties selling for under $100k in areas where the non-foreclosed properties are selling for $200k-and-up. This is some kind of economic indicator, but I don’t know what kind. Could be a good time for rental propertyinvestment or it could be time to cut and run from the stupid parts of the state.

11/22/2016

Making the Vote Count

Ever since the inbred crowd started voting in mass and gave us Goldwater, Nixon, Reagan, Bush I, McCain, Romney, and Bush II, I’ve argued that passing the US Citizenship Test ought to be a prerequisite for voting. Face it, if you are too stupid and uninformed to pass a test designed for people who have barely dried off their feet after getting off of the boat or crossing one of our boarder rivers or lakes, you shouldn’t be making decisions about who is running the country, your state or hometown. There are lots of on-line examples of the US Citizenship Test, try and see if you belong in a voting booth.

After Trump’s election, I’ve doubled-down on this idea. I absolutely believe a few sample questions from the Citizenship Test should be administered (automatically with randomly selected questions) before anyone casts a vote. However, after Trump I have decided that simply failing the test isn’t embarrassment enough for those morons who don’t bother to know how the country works but who think their opinions matter. Like nit-picking hanging-chads and racially–coded “purged registration lists,” I think we should do something with the idiot vote. Rather than helplessly wringing our hands after one more fraudulent Red State election count, let’s get some entertainment out of our rapidly growing idiot population.

Since the reddest states are all going to computerized voting machines my voting test system could be tacked on with almost no extra costs (Sorry Diebold and the rest of the Republican vote repressors. You’ll have to game the election system some other way.) I definitely want everyone to vote, so we’re not going to toss out anyone’s vote until we’ve had fun with it. We’re just not going to count the idiot votes for making any important decisions.
However, after the informed voters have made their selection and candidates have been chosen we’re going to do something with the idiot vote.

For every office in every election, every city, county, state, and federal final tally will include who the morons voted for. That will give us two important post-election things to consider: 1) We’ll all get to laugh at the nitwits in our midst and their pitiful attempts to participate in an informed election and 2) the so-called knowledgeable voters who made similar choices to the idiots will have an opportunity for self-reflection and, hopefully, take that moment to remove themselves from the gene pool.

Dropping the Bar Further than Ever

MN02_109Minnesota’s second congressional district, my new home town, elected a character right out of America’s worst nightmares and history: Jason Lewis. Our old representative, John Kline, wasn’t much better, but he at least pretended to be a local representative rather than the corporate shill he has been since 2003. Kline mouthed the Republican code words for racism, economic inequality, corporate rights over human rights, and the usual litany of bullshit Republicans have spewed since Nixon. Lewis doesn’t bother.

Jason Lewis thought the US was mistaken in actively deciding to banish slavery. In his steaming pile of gibbering monkey drivel, Power Divided is Power Checked: The Argument for States' Rights, Lewis wrote “In fact, if you really want to be quite frank about it, how does somebody else owning a slave affect me? It doesn’t. If I don’t think it is right, I won’t own one, and people always say ‘well if you don’t want to marry somebody of the same sex, you don’t have to, but why tell somebody else they can’t. Uh, you know if you don’t want to own a slave, don’t. But don’t tell other people they can’t.” So, Minnesota’s proud Union heritage has been blasted into history by electing a quasi-modern pro-slavery half-wit. Yeah, he’s anti-civil rights, too, but that’s just a given for what passes for “modern” Republicans.

Not surprisingly, Lewis has an elevated opinion of his own sex. Lewis called women “simply ignorant of the important issues in life” and “non-thinking” during one of many mentally-deficient moments on his hate-jock radio show. Of course, if you can tolerate his bullshit book for even a few pages, you’d discover that Lewis is the poster boy for historical delusion and technological incompetence. You might even be tempted to call him “non-thinking.”

Most hilariously, he has referred to himself as John Galt-like, which is pretty amazing. This child of the idle upper-class a couple of party animal degrees: a master's degree in political science (University of Colorado at Denver) and a BA in education/business (University of Northern Iowa). With that background, he’s barely equipped to manage a Dollar Store. Galt was, at least, a fictional character who had some ability to create and utilize technology. Lewis needs help identifying his microphone in a radio studio. Like most of the pseudo-conservative nut jobs in the Republican Party, Lewis will demonstrate his job killing skills in Washington, but his nitwit voters will blame his incompetence and laziness on Democrats.

Minnesota foisted one idiot, Michelle Bachmann, on the US political scene, which made the state a world-wide laughing stock. Here we go again.

11/19/2016

Open Letter to Econofoods (and all of Walmart’s competition)

I think you are missing bet in the competition for grocery business in southeastern Minnesota. My local store doesn't appear to either know there are local farm suppliers for apples, eggs, meat, and other staples, but seems to be dumping the few local food sources they recognized; like Sturdiwheat. I live on the west end of town and my closest grocery is the Tyler Road Econo Foods, but right up the hill is Walmart with most of the same groceries slightly to substantially cheaper. 

Since an actual local grocery, Buchanan Grocery, stocks local products, including Wisconsin and Minnesota cheese, Sturdiwheat products, Pepin Heights apples and cider, and other locally grown products, I am starting my grocery runs there. The way back first takes me past Walmart then our Econo Foods store.

There is no convenience advantage to spending more money at Econofoods and without a local food motivation you've made it difficult for me to follow my natural opposition to shopping at Walmarts. I think someone in marketing needs to get fired and whoever is making the distribution decisions should be next.

In the battle for grocery customers, it’s pretty amazing to see that a small, sort-of-locally-owned chain would be so clueless about locally produced food. The Econo Foods' website makes the claim, "We offer a full service grocery store and take pride in carefully selecting the best meats and hand picked produce from local farmers." The reality is that most of the products that could be sourced locally come from Michigan and the Kroger Company distributors: including apples and other seasonally available fruits and vegetables, apple cider, cheese, milk, eggs, meat, grains and flour, and, as I mentioned in my letter, Sturdiwheat products. I am willing to pay a reasonable premium for locally grown foods and a smaller price to avoid shopping at Walmart, but if the so-called local store is no more willing to buy locally produced foods than Walmart, why would I care which one gets my money? I’m just sayin’.

11/17/2016

Trump’s Election Upside

Buying local is expensive and a hassle. Most conservatives don’t bother with spending their welfare and social security money on local produce or on local products or services. Without progressives, liberals, and moderates there wouldn’t be any local businesses outside of second hand stores.

In 2016, 1,322,891 Minnesotans voted for Trump and 55% of Goodhue County residents voted for everything Minnesota Nice was supposed to oppose. There were worse places in the state, some voting as high as 74% for Trump (Morrison County, where 32,000 barely-educated, 97%-white, timid Fox News-misinformed souls live in rural isolation) and many of the non-urban counties citizens voted Trump in 60% or greater numbers. Morrison County is typical of those outstate Minnesota ungrateful wretches, where unemployment fell from 12% in 2009 to about 4% in 2016. “Thanks, Obama,” said no one while they voted for a guy who relished their displacement and economic destruction in 2009.

So, when I go to buy groceries, household products, building materials, appliances, furniture, services, or anything locally, I have to think, “I have a 60%-or-better chance of subsidizing a Trump nutjob with my money.” Obviously, if I buy from Target or Wal-Mart there is a 100% chance that I’m handing my money to a corporate fascist but I’m spending considerably less money (For example, $0.89 for eggs vs. $4+ for locally grown eggs). The premium I am paying might be for the expectation that I’m buying chemical-free produce, but I wouldn’t trust a Trump supporter to be half-honest as an organic food supplier. I wouldn’t trust a Trump supporter not to be a slave owner, for that matter.

This puts local suppliers in a tough position. They advertise they are not Republicans or Trumpeters and alienate 60% of their neighbors but self-identify with 90% of their customers? They don’t advertise their political positions and people like me assume they are part of the 60% and we pass on gambling that they might be sentient humans? Not my problem. My job is to avoid the Trumpeters as much as possible and that means I either go with known quantities or avoid local producers because they are expensive.

11/16/2016

Stupidity Kills

IMG_7851

I’ve had this tag on my keychain for about 25 years. It sustained me through the Bush 43 years and 13 years of teaching the addled children of the characters who voted for Reagan, Bush I & II, and, now, it’s going to apply for at least 4 more years of Trump. It’s not comforting, it’s just reality.

11/15/2016

Striking A Blow for Corporate Personhood

About 90% of action movies are stories about one guy overcoming The Powers That Be. Sometimes it’s a rich asshole his gangster employees, sometimes it’s a corporation doing everything from selling contaminated food or medicine to peddling weapons to terrorists or other gangsters, sometimes it’s even just gangsters with power and money. It’s always the same kind of people, though: the people the American public just put into the highest offices in the nation.

When I’ve watched those movies, I have always wondered who is rooting for the bad guys? Somebody has to be, right? The bad guys always have numbers on their side; both in the movies and in real life. The army and the cops are almost always working for the Boss; or are the Boss themselves. Along with the people who are supposed to be the wall between evil and chaos,, it’s usually true that the majority of people are well-intentioned, good-hearted, but cowardly. But when 60,637,350 Americans voted for Trump (vs. 61,422,098 for Clinton as of November 15, 2016) it's hard to prop up the illusion that the average citizen is just a timid good guy. I can’t help you with that delusion at all, in fact.

So, who did those 60,637,350 supporters of the bad guys put in power?

and these were the leading actors for the rest of Trump's collection of super villains:

  • Secretary of State: TBD [Newt Gingrich, Bob Corker, John Bolton]
  • Treasury Secretary: TBD [Steven Mnuchin, Jamie Dimon]
  • Attorney General: TBD [Rudy Giuliani, Pam Bondi, Chris Christie]
  • Defense Secretary: TBD [Kelly Ayotte, Jeff Sessions, Michael Flynn]
  • Health and Human Services Secretary: TBD [Ben Carson, Rick Scott]
  • Interior Secretary: TBD [Lucas Oil, Sarah Palin, Robert Grady, Jan Brewer]
  • Agriculture Secretary: TBD [Sid Miller, Sam Brownback, Dave Heineman]
  • Labor Secretary: TBD [Victoria Lipnic]
  • Commerce Secretary: TBD [Wilbur Ross, Chris Christie, Dan DiMicco]
  • Education Secretary: TBD [Ben Carson, William Evers]
  • Energy Secretary: TBD [Harold Hamm, Robert Grady]
  • Homeland Security Secretary: TBD [David Clarke, Michael McCaul]
  • Veterans Affairs Secretary: TBD [Jeff Miller]
  • Environmental Protection Agency Administrator: TBD [Myron Ebell, Jeffrey Holmstead, Joe Aiello]

It’s hard to imagine a nastier looking bunch of rich, corrupt bad guys than this list. We’ve been here before. Nixon’s gang was no better or worse than Trump’s collection of deplorables. Reagan’s gangsters were so corrupt that a bunch of them (138) went to jail. If you are an X-gen youngster, you might imagine that Bush 43 was a disaster of a president and . . . you wouldn’t be wrong. In terms of bankrupting the nation, G.W. was record-setting. He was the kind of doubling-down on borrowing to go to war. But most Republicans are big talkers when it comes to the evils of the national debt and big spenders when it comes to handing taxpayer money over to the military-industrial gangsters.

Trump’s love for the oil companies ought to scare the shit out of anyone who believes we have some obligation to leave resources for future generations. Those oil pipelines that were “stopped” during the Obama administration will be making a big, uninterruped, unregulated comeback.

Nobody with adult reading skills should be surprised who Trump is taking with him to Washington. Trump, himself, is the poster child for the classic evil rich guy who is even more evil behind closed doors than he is in public. About 60,637,350 Americans voted for exactly the guy that you’d hope most people would hope gets killed at the end of the movie. 60,637,350 Americans voted for the people who brought us corporate personhood, Citizens United and worse, and the massive spread between the haves and have-nots. Think about that. When you look at your neighbor, your local store owner, your local politicians, and your friends and when you realize there is a 50% chance that they’d be cheering for the bad guy in the next Batman movie, you can’t help but think about how low humanity has sunk in this country.

11/14/2016

What’s in the Glass?

The wrong question is, “Is the glass half-full or half-empty?” The right question is, “What’s in the glass and if it is something good why they hell isn’t it full?” In other words, “Who the hell syphoned off my glass of beer and how did they do that without me knowing about it?”

My 10 years in medical devices taught me a lot, probably too much, about who is sucking the glass empty in our misnamed “healthcare system.” Today, my wife is having her second radiology exam after her doctor discovered she had a rare form of cancer that was, probably, caused by her mother’s receiving a steroid/synthetic form of estrogen (DES, diethylstilbestrol) that was wrongly assumed had some miscarriage preventative effects. In the end, DES was worthless for that purpose and was repurposed without much FDA examination for increasing weight gain in cattle (“improved feed utilization”). When you attempt to buy “steroid-free” beef, pork, chicken, or other meat you are hoping to buy meat that was not fed DES.

Sitting in the Mayo Clinic’s Radiology waiting room, watching the parade of sales reps waltz in and out of doctors’ offices and departments, I’m reminded of who we can blame for our country having the most expensive, least effective system in the industrialized world: follow the fuckin’ money assholes. Everyone from the drug companies to the medical device companies to the insurance companies to doctors who game the system to the politicians these corporate criminals bribe to keep our system dysfunctional, inefficient, and incompetent are to blame. In fact, a rational nation would hold them criminally to blame and we’d empty our for-profit prisons of victimless “criminals” and pack them full of suits, CEOs, sales people, and insurance executives. Instead, the dumbest states in the country elect the worst of these characters to political office: Rick Scott (Florida Govenor), is probably the worst but he’s far from the only criminal in office. Obama’s Justice Department has been more aggressive in pursuing these criminals than any President in my lifetime, but Congress has worked hard to protect its benefactors. At least one of this season’s Republican candidates, Ben Carson, was rewarded by G.W. Bush for his creative accounting with the Medal of Freedom for pretending to be a physician while raking off more than his fair share of corporate welfare. Some people couldn’t identify a hero in a stack of actual heroes.

A few friends have been medical sales reps and they actually put their patients so far toward the front of their priorities that my fellow medical device employees hated talking to them. They were the exception, however. Most of the sales reps were so clueless that they’d call Technical Services to ask what products they had in their on-call bag. A few called to warn us that a doctor might actually be inclined to do his/her job and could be calling to ask about product failures (which in my 10 year experience never happened). Mostly, every interaction with anyone in the medical field was dissapointing. Docs didn’t worry abouts how their patients coped with the drugs they prescribed, the devices they implanted, or the incredible, bankrupting costs of having their lives saved (or not). Since the docs didn’t care, neither did anyone else in the system. The most callous group in the lineup of people with their hands out and their hearts closed were the industry executives: the multimillionares.

11/13/2016

Our Timid New World

Today, I woke up to my youngest daughter calling to gloat about Trump’s victory. Since we hadn’t had the guts to check the news yet, I didn’t know that Donny had defeated Clinton but I suspected he has since her husband is a pseudo-conservative and she’s tagged along out of some sort of loyalty. We had bigger issues on a personal level to talk about, so we just avoided the subject and I’m sure she was disappointed.

Later today, I experienced a second opinion on our election process and the outcome. Amana/Maytag sent a guy to try and repair our twice-failed Amana dishwasher. The service call was supposed to be under warranty, but the guy and the customer service people decided it wasn’t. I got stuck with a $60 bill for nothing and, then, a demented lesson in politics and history from a guy at least my age driving a beat up van working for a small town appliance repair company.

“We just got rescued.”

“What?”

“We finally have a president with business experience.”

“If bankrupting six companies, stiffing your vendors, and losing stockholders millions is ‘business experience,’ that’s what we got." This is the same 'business man' label every mobster calls himself. The Sopranos are 'business men' by that definition.

“In 1980, I was running a mechanical contractor business. When Reagan got elected, it was like the whole country breathed a sigh of relief.”

“Not where I lived. In 1981, the market tanked, interest rates kept climbing, and you couldn’t get an engineering job anywhere in the Midwest unless it was with a military contractor. And what the fuck is a "mechanical contractor?”

He went on (and on) about how “the whole economy” turned around overnight after Reagan took office. Of course, reality has a liberal bias and as Forbes Magazine tell it, “Unable to borrow money at an interest rate they could afford, 17,000 businesses had failed by the fall of 1982 and unemployment reached record highs.” When I contested his weird take on 1980’s economics, he asked, “Have you ever run a business?”

Why yes, I have. Several, in fact. A couple for employers and a half-dozen of my own. I supported my family working several jobs and going to school nights. I never stiffed my vendors or declared bankruptcy, either. Turned out, he’d done both but he thought that was just “business.”

gross-fed-debt-over-gdp2If a “business man” was what we needed in the presidency, Jimmy Carter was overwhelmingly more qualified than a demented talk radio jock who was a B-actor in his prime. Carter had turned a small family farm into a substantial farming and distribution business after a successful career as a Navy officer and nuclear engineer. His stint as Georgia governor provided that state with one of its few moments of respect and national prominence. But, according to this repair guy the whole economy suddenly turned around when Reagan took office. Of course, the facts contradicts the myth, so we print and worship the myth.

In 1983, I left Nebraska for California, since Reagan’s home state was the only functioning economy in the country. If I’d been willing to work for Northrop, Lockheed, or one of the dozens of military-industrial complex employers in southern California, I’d have been rolling in money. Instead, I clung to my values and worked for a consumer products manufacturer for ten years and came away from California poor but debt-free.

So, I met a Boomer generation Trump-voter and he turned out to be who I expected him to be: a barely-literate, failing student of history; including his own past. I don’t know how you fix any of this crap. A very few people are doing a lot of work to support the rest of the country and I think they are going to have to lay down that burden and let the country’s deadbeats know how precarious their position is. From my own family experience, it has become clear that people are very selective and creative in their memories and that seems to me to be an impossible educational hurdle. If most people are incapable of learning from history, we don’t have much hope of ever getting beyond our cave-dwelling habits and violent past.

11/12/2016

They are All the Same?

I just spend an afternoon messing with our two year old Amana dishwasher. There are all sorts of things to learn from doing your own work on home appliances and since this particular device was dirt cheap when the bank installed it after repo'ing the house, I didn't have much to lose when it came to tearing the unit apart. So, I did.

Initially, Whirlpool (the company that owns Whirlpool, Maytag, KitchenAid, Jenn-Air, Amana, Gladiator GarageWorks, Inglis, Estate, Brastemp, Bauknecht, Indesit, and Consul brands), said this would be a warranty repair, since the dishwasher failed in exactly the same way a year after we bought the house. When the repair goofball showed up, all of that information seemed to vanish in the Whirlpool (pun intended).

After getting stuck with a $60 repair bill and a $300 estimate for a $250 dishwasher, I decided to do a little troubleshooting of my own. Pretty quickly, I discovered the pump that provides water to the spray jets was defective. After pulling the pump and applying power to the motor outside of the appliance, it was obvious that the noise we'd been living with as long as we've had this dishwasher had been coming from a poorly designed and assembled pump. The armature shaft was about 70% too small for the two end bushings, allowing the motor shaft to pound side-to-side as the motor spun. At first, I tried Whirlpool for the replacement pump, but they wanted $125 for a cheap Chinese-made plastic pump that probably cost less than $5 to build. Then, I checked all of the usual on-line suspects for a discount price and found the pump from as little as $36 to more than $100.

However, even more interesting than the range of prices was the fact that this exact pump is used in Whirlpool/Amana/KitchenAid/Maytag dishwashers that ranged in list prices from $250 to more than $1,000. That was quite a revelation! If you think paying more for an appliance is going to get you better quality, this information ought to bust that bubble.

The repair goofball claimed the problem with modern dishwashers is "the computers," but I kept finding repair blogs and DIY sites that mostly found failures exactly like mine. Dishwasher, washing machine, dryers, and other appliances use most of their power driving motors and those motors and pumps are made more cheaply and poorly in every generation. Power generates heat, motion creates vibration and heat, torque stresses materials and connections, and those three things are the prime factors for part failure in any design.

The general lack of product warranty variation is a great indicator of just how poorly made and unreliable these appliances are: universally 1 year "limited warranty" is the industry standard. You can pre-buy repairs with the add-on warranty policies, but the reputation of those policies is terrible and the contract is not made between the customer and the manufacturer but an intermediate insurance company and miscellaneous repair companies. Warranties are not designed by accident. Reliability assurance weigh the part quality, design weak points, and other factors to make a very educated guess for the mean-time-between-failures the majority of a manufactured product and a fudge-factor cost is sometimes added to the wholesale price of a product to obtain a nice round number, like 12 months, for marketing purposes. Most products have a little safe margin built into the design, which explains why so many of us have experienced product failures 1-6 months after the warranty expires. Expecting a modern product with a 12 month warranty to last 3-5 years is irrational. The product has been designed to last 12 months with normal use. You are unlikely to see much more than that.

When it comes to "getting what you pay for" with the Whirlpool company and it's sub-brands, you are buying cosmetics and "features" like rarely-used wash cycles. Why would you spend money on a stainless steel interior/exterior if you know the fatal flaw in the product is a $5 pump? Your mileage may vary, but I am going to buy the cheapest replacement dishwasher I can find and play on throwing the whole thing away in a year or two.

11/17/2016 POSTSCRIPT: Yesterday, I received a call from a Whirlpool "customer service" person who left a wrong call-back number and a breathless "I really want to resolve this" message. So, I wasted my time trying to return the call and, after a really long time on hold, I was told that since the dishwasher was long out of warranty "I can't do anything to help you." Weird. Why would you bother to call, waste my time on hold for twenty minutes while you re-discovered your company wasn't going to do anything more than I was told the first time? 

Since the faux "service call," I've pulled the pump mechanism apart and did what I did for a living doing for 30+ years: analyzed the pump failure. It was an interesting experience. The actual pump design is pretty clever: two brass bushings, a highly magnetized armature, and a washer to seal moisture from the pump motor. Unfortunately, the armature shaft and the brass bushings are a poor fit, allowing the armature to flail about until the shaft and bushings were really distorted and, finally, the motor magnet intermittently positioned itself against the motor casing where it wouldn't start. Once the motor turned, however, it ran strongly but nosily: exactly the noise we've heard from this dishwasher from the day we started using it.

11/11/2016

Placing My Bet Now

Regardless  of what you conservative fluffballs think, President Obama has done a fine job of keeping the country safe and restoring as much of our deficit economy as possible without a lick of work from our deadbeat Republican congress. If he’d have been given actual patriots to work with, we’d be in a whole different world today.


But you fuckwits decided to blow up the country and see if a random 1% mobbed-up Russian pimp asshole could fix what people with functioning brains could not make a dent in. That’s the beauty of being a moron; you not only don’t have to think before you act but when you fuck up the world you won’t be intelligent, decent, or courageous enough to admit the mess is all your fault.

Here’s my bet for 2017: Trump and his idiot vandals will be so busy looting the national treasury that, like Bush and Cheney and pals, they’ll take their eye off of the national security job and we’ll experience another national disaster like 9/11/2001. The beauty of being a pseudo-conservative is, as always, never having to admit responsibility or error. You morons stumble through life with both feet stuck in trashcans and your heads up your asses and you think your shit smells like roses.

So, let me say it before hand, “Thanks Donny and friends.”

This time, you’re going to discover that tactic is going to fail; big time or "bigly" (if you’re the usual Trump illiterate). You are going to crash the world economy, the plant’s eco system, and there won’t be any coming back from it. You may not admit that it was your fault, but it won’t matter because everyone is going to suffer. Climate change, massive national debt, near-universal unemployment, and a national reputation for stupidity that turns our allies into either a laugh track or enemies.

10/24/2016

Making 'Merica Great "Again"

Aside from the Trumpetes’ foolish jabber about turning back the clock on technology, trade, energy and natural resources, employment and management skills, and reality, I think an examination of what it would take to return our economy from a deficit to a surplus system is an interesting idea. Of course, Republicans deserve massive credit for driving the economy deep into deficit spending: Reagan and Bush II were both huge deficit spending believers. In spite of their big talk about the terror of deficit spending, Republicans absolutely rebelled when Obama told them he expected future spending bills to be on a “pay as you go basis.” The Party of Stupid is also the party of “borrow and spend” and nothing is going to change that in any foreseeable future.
 
However, if we did suddenly become responsible and decide to put on our big boy pants and do the dirty work of turning around the economy, what would we do? This is my list, in order of importance:
  1. Money and politics has to go. Not only does Citizens United need to be overturned, but we need a Constitutional Amendment banning private money (corporate and individual) from our political campaigns. That law needs teeth, as in “you get caught, you hang.” We won’t seriously look at any real solutions until our government is not bought and sold on a daily basis.
  2. The tax system has to be fixed. We’ve been at “war” since 2003 and the only way to pay for wars is to progressively tax income until the war debt is gone. I can see how eliminating the corporate tax could be incentive for business in the US, but that has to be coupled with doubling-down on unearned income taxation, inheritance taxes, and upper-income tax rates. Continuing to encourage rock stars and athletes, banksters and money laundering, and Trump-like con artists with tax incentives to do unproductive money-shuffling has cost the country at least two generations of scientists, engineers, and people who could be doing actual work. Incentives are everything and our current tax system provides incentives for exactly the wrong things; including activities that endanger national security.
  3. The world is on the metric system and the longer we put off moving to modern weights and measurements the less competitive American companies and workers become. Face it, nobody but us cares about the length of the King’s fuckin’ foot. If you think that is an exaggeration, the only non-metric countries in the world are: Burma, Liberia, and the USA. Talk about being late to the party! Thomas Jefferson was the first President to recommend the metric system and we still can’t figure it out. Not being comfortable with the world’s weights and measurements puts a serious crimp in the abilities of American workers, technicians, and engineers. It makes many of our manufactured products useless to the rest of the world. Constantly doing mental or paper/computer conversions slows us down, creates errors, and makes Americans look backward and foolish to the rest of the world.
  4. graphThe current slow death of religion has to speed up. Currently, about 18% of people 60 and younger attend church and fewer than 50% believe in God. That's an improvement over the past 50 years of superstition, but not enough and not nearly quick enough. Every thing from science, energy production, employability, democracy, to national security is being damaged by our national proclivity toward superstition and fantasy. To keep up, we’ll have to grow up.
  5. The war machine and military-industrial complex have to go. Not only do we have to quit pretending we're the world's policeman, we have to admit we suck at the job. We can't tell national security from corporate interests and until we can we need to put our weapons back on the shelf. The US loves war, but we can't afford it. As a peace-keeper, we’re not that talented.
  6. Our public education system needs to be overhauled. First, private education needs to die. When the wealthy can abandon public education and do everything in their power to contaminate the discussion about how to educate the whole country to benefit their class, the whole country gets screwed. Finland provides us with a terrific example and, since our own experiment has been a disaster, we need to look to someone who has built a wheel that actually turns and supports weight. As Jeff Beck said, “Amateurs borrow, professionals steal.” We need to rip the pages out of Finland’s education reform book and paste them into our own system.
  7. We have to go back into space. The brief moment when 'Merica was great by almost everyone's standards was when we were in the Space Race and were focused on a big accomplishment. The scientific and industrial spin-offs from NASA were incredible. We owe much of what we know today about climate change to NASA's research. As crippled as our industrial and scientific power is today, without the space race we'd be 3rd world. This is a no-brainer.
  8. Every “for profit” industry in the country needs to be re-evaluated to see if it is working better than when those activities were performed by non-profits and government. Personally, I think deregulation and privatization has been a disaster, but I have not made a scientific study of every area where it has been applied. I have been upfront and close to education, health care, energy, and infrastructure and I am unimpressed with the performance of the private sector.
  9. Our legal system needs to get over its power tripping and empire building and develop a sense of proportion. Police need to go after big crime and quit screwing around with the easy and safe stuff. Victimless crimes do not belong at the top of the priority list. The War on Drugs was a fraud and it’s long past time to admit it. The big money and long-term damage to society is in white collar crime and that’s where the main enforcement and prosecution focus needs to be: cybercrime, financial fraud, corporate environmental and consumer abuse, and the government contracting corruption and bribery that risks national security. Our prison system needs to be refocused on rehabilitation rather than punishment and revenge. We can not be the country that leads in citizens incarcerated and hope to be anything resembling “great.” National, state, and local police departments are over-staffed with unskilled goons who are great at beating up protestors, jailing small-time criminals, and protecting corporate criminals, but they are helpless when it comes to tracking down the lowest-level hacker who has ripped off a few thousand retirees bank accounts. Our law enforcement system needs to be updated and technological to get the right job done. Use the Pareto principle to identify the most effective places to spend time and money and quit knee-jerk reacting to squeaky wheels.
That’s my list. What have you got?

10/20/2016

Getting Answers Without Making Enemies

Back in my management salad days, we had a manufacturing engineering rule that stated, “Any new paperwork/procedure has to directly benefit the person who does the work.” This put some pressure on management when we began to add quality control processes to assembly line jobs. Anytime we wanted to add an inspection, a check box on an inspection form, or a self-monitoring quality control chart to an assembler or technician’s job, we had to find a way to prove to that person that we were making their job easier, giving them more control of their work, and/or upping their value to the company (making it possible for them to make more money).

I get reminded of this requirement every time someone sends me a SurveyMonkey link. Most recently, Google sent me a link to a 3-question about the effectiveness of AdSense, Google’s blog page revenue generator. That pretty much fits my rule. I make a few dollars every month from my blogs and optimizing that revenue would be important to me if that revenue were a critical part of my family income. It took a few seconds to complete the form and, hopefully, we both got something out of the exercise.

On the other hand, an organization that my wife and I occasionally participate in sent us a survey about a change in the organization’s leadership. While there was no indication of how many questions I’d be asked, after a page of questions I realized I wasn’t committed enough to having my voice heard to waste any more time with the survey. I made it far enough to get to the second page, looked at the repetitiveness and irrelevancy of the questions and bailed out. Back in my academic days, I created a collection of surveys for the faculty senate and administration and I made an effort to be concise and user-friendly. I am perfectly happy to be out of that business, though. Doing that kind of work in a poorly managed environment is a wrestling match between the control freaks and the information collectors. I’m only interested in the information and did everything possible to ignore the control freak requests.

Some questions are more complicated and absolutely require more questions: the Myers-Briggs Personality test or the Political Compass analysis, for example. Otherwise, if you can’t get the answers you need in ten or fewer questions, you need to think harder about what you really need.

10/17/2016

Buying Fantasies, Ignoring Reality

I wrote, a while back, about my confusion with the crowd of people who use the excuse, “I don’t believe that,” as an argument against facts, logic, experience, and objective observation. Many of these people have interpreted a variety of religions (Islam and Christianity, can’t tell ‘em apart from their fundamentalists.) or by their self-limited world views in ways that prevent them from absorbing information or new skills. As if being uninformed was a credential, too many Americans are convinced their lack of education, skills, or insight makes them specially suited for evaluating the accuracy of science, historical research, sociology and psychology, and politics. This weird worship of stupidity seems to be raising its moronic little head in every area of American life. To the absurd point that one of the least talented, educated, capable, moral or honest people who has ever lived is not only The Party of Stupid’s presidential candidate but who has accumulated a hoard of uneducated, thoughtless, violent and destructive whacko minions large enough to threaten the US political, social, and economic systems.

Wallace Kansas (4) 20120223 DSquatThe problem with going with “I don’t believe that” as a personal philosophy is that it limits every aspect of your life. Lots of difficult-to-swallow things are true: science and engineering history is packed with ideas that were practically worshipped for centuries and, later, proved wrong. A scientist or engineer who hangs on to wrong ideas quickly becomes unemployed and unemployable. An individual who clings to old ideas and skills becomes the human equivalent of a buggy whip. You might be the absolute best buggy whip ever made, but there aren’t enough buggies around to support a hobbyist, let alone a professional. People in the Midwest are waiting for the family owned farm economy to come back; mtr1along with the small businesses and services once needed to support that economy. People in West Virginia are waiting for coal to make a resurgance; regardless of the fact that if coal does come back it won’t employ miners but a few huge equipment operators who will decimate the Appalachian Mountains so that the area will be unlivable for centuries. The problem red state dependenceisn’t that these people are incapable of adapting. The problem is that they refuse to admit that they need to adapt. They desperately want to believe the world will return to how it was “when America was great” and time, technology, international trade, and their own skills will revert to a simpler day. It is never gonna happen, but they refuse to “believe that” and they may continue to refuse until they either die or break the bank.

As long as these long-suffering people insist on clinging to their own past, they can’t be retrained for new work because their philosophy over-rides the scientific method and logic. Worse, possibly, is the fact that the few people living in those places who can adapt tend to simply move away rather than fight the tide. I know. I’m one of those who moved away.