8/28/2018

And God Said

The gods don’t do a lot of talking, except to crazy people and other “prophets.” Nature, however, is pretty communicative; if you bother to listen. Early human religions were slightly more realistic than the clown shows we’re stuck with in modern life. Humans used to pray to the sun, the moon, the winds, rain, and good or bad weather. In other words, they begged nature not to kill them or their families. If you are going to be begging some greater entity for survival purposes, you probably ought to at least aim your questions and requests at something semi-real. Of course, even the most deluded theist or deist knows that nature does not give a damn about the existence of individual humans or even the entire species. We are just one lifeform, out of many, that has accidentally through evolution managed to turn into a marginally sustainable species. If we manage to kill ourselves off through stupidity or viciousness, nature will crank out another attempt at sentience (or not) in a few million years.

So, to an outside non-superstitious observer, what does all of the praying to various representational gods look like? It looks silly as hell, that’s what.

Re-imagine this, “Do not add a thing to what I command you nor subtract from it, so that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I am delivering to you. Then the Lord said to Moses that same day” with “Do not add a thing to what I command you nor subtract from it, so that you may keep the commandments of nature that I am delivering to you. Then nature said to Moses that same day.” Nature is never that wordy, so maybe that line will have to be left to the comedians.

How about this one re-written for sentience, “Then nature told me about some men from Anathoth who were threatening to kill me. They had threatened, “Stop prophesying in the name of nature or we will kill you!” That one is pretty much what Trump and the Trumpanzees are saying to the EPA, National Parks Department, and NASA. Maybe this biblical revisionism has a future? Even though humans probably don’t.

I sort of like this one, too: “The law of nature is perfectand preserves one’s life. The rules set down by nature are reliable and impart wisdom to the inexperienced.  Nature’s precepts are fair and make one joyful. Nature’s commands are pure and give insight for life.  The commands to fear nature are right and endure forever. The judgments given by nature are trustworthyand absolutely just. They are of greater value than gold,than even a great amount of pure gold;they bring greater delight than honey,than even the sweetest honey from a honeycomb. Yes, your servant finds moral guidance there; those who obey them receive a rich reward.” If a society made this substitution and practiced it, humanity might have half-a-shot at sustainablity. And I might have a dramatically higher opinion of my species.

We could add “the environment” to “nature” and really get some value from bibles. “But you who remained faithful to nature and the environment are still alive to this very day, every one of you. Look! I have taught you statutes and ordinances just as nature told me to do, so that you might carry them out in the land you are about to enter and possess. So be sure to do them, because this will testify of your wise understanding to the people who will learn of all these statutes and say, ‘Indeed, this great nation is a very wise people.’” Indeed, that would be a great nation full of very wise people, instead of being a brainless pack of morons driving headlong into oblivion.

8/27/2018

Who’s the Asshole?

The “No Assholes Rule” is a pretty good goal post for a sustainable organization or any sort. There are all kinds of ways to define assholes, but the problem is too often who is doing the defining. If, as is often the case, an asshole is a founding douchebag lucked into the right combination of people to run the business before he decided to wear the CEO hat, it will be tough to enforce (or create) anything resembling a structure that could support “no assholes.” In fact, I don’t see how it can possibly work.

I have, unfortunately, worked in the more typical American “trashcan full of assholes at the top” corporate structure far more often than anything resembling the ideal. A motto I’ve observed to be true is “two things float: cream and shit.” In the sewage pool that is most American corporations, cream is by far not the lightest material in the mix. I’d go so far as to say if you try to keep cream in that stew of garbage it will disolve into the rest of the digested material before if ever has a chance to get to the top of the pool. In fact, real cream seems to be pretty good at avoiding those containers altogether.

The basic terms of the No Assholes Rule is “don’t work with (or associate with) assholes.” A good business rule is “never do business with anyone you don’t like,” which would have saved a whole lot of people from losing their jobs, fortunes, and businesses doing business with Donal Trump. In fact, if you haven’t figured that out by your second or third job, you’re probably an asshole.

8/20/2018

A Disorganized Party or Country?

This weekend, I helped campaign for a local Democrat running for the US House against one of the most corrupt, decadent, incompetent, and dishonest Republicans in the House; and that is saying something in this current pack of do-nothing right Republicans. Standing among the crowd of campaigners waiting for a parade to start, I had a variety of conversations with traditional and less traditional Democrats and was constantly reminded of Will Roger’s quote, “I am not a member of any organized party — I am a Democrat." Like Rogers, in some ways I am proud of that position. Democrats don’t tend to fall in line as do their docile Republican counterparts. Democrats argue because they think, they have independent opinions, they sometimes realize the complexity of the problems the nation and their community face and the fact that some problems have many possible solutions. Those are good things.

foot shootThe down side of Democratic disorder is that an awful lot of people who drift into the Democratic Party have simply wandered to that place driven by their dislike of the monotheistic Republican doctrine of worshiping the rich and powerful. Their grip on the actual issues is so base and simplistic that they might as well be Republicans. The complexity of real solutions just frustrates them and they degenerate into bickering factions easily defeated by the conservative Marching Morons.

dem_vs_rep_prof_vignette_1200_630For instance, there was a pair of conflicting groups at this rally: labor and environment. Two of the new Democratic members were from the steel workers union and they argued that the party needs to focus more on labor if it wants to win, especially in the rural north where people are backwards, uneducated, and completely dependent on outside investment for any sort of occupational or economic activity. So their big issues are the major polluting and high carbon construction projects like the Enbridge Energy Line 3 oil pipeline and the PolyMet copper mines near the Boundary Waters. It should be obvious that these are both corporate welfare projects with minimal long term employment opportunities for Minnesota and it should be even more obvious that they are both projects with the potential for massive negative environmental impact. It should be, but it isn’t to the labor faction and pressing that issue is likely to drive them back to the Republican hoards. Hearing that “we have plenty of environmental protections in place to protect the environment” from a union guy who clearly could care less about the environment, as long as he got a union wage for his part in destroying it, was pretty depressing. I know someone who was in the EPA during the short period it was allowed to actually protect the environment and I suspect the two union guys at the rally would do everything possible to avoid hearing how limited and powerless the EPA has become, even before Trump castrated it with an oil company promoter.

civil warRogers also said, "You've got to be optimist to be a Democrat, and you've got to be a humorist to stay one." For sure you have to have a well-developed sense of humor, at least. With Trump and a perfectly corrupt Congress full of bought-and-paid-for Republicans and not a few equally completely owned Democrats, you’d think this would be the traditional mid-term election where the party in power loses its grip. I wouldn’t count on it. Democrats and “progressives” have shown an ability and willingness to snatch defeat from the claws of victory in all situations. Part of that comes from the “purity test” mentality and part comes from true fact that all issues are infinitely complex and hard to grasp and a bigger part comes from the fact that America is no longer anything resembling a collection of United States. Humans, as a species, have never shown much will toward creating a better future for our offspring but modern Americans clearly would eat their own children if it came to that or missing a meal. I think we should get ready to accept the possibility that this mid-term election might signal the end of this collapsing empire.

8/13/2018

Locally Smocally

An acquaintance in our little town is trying to promote a “buy locally” program that is loosely based on variations of the food co-ops and small business crowd-funding. It’s a pretty hard sell pitch, which always puts me on guard. On top of that the argument that “the national system is rigged against the small investor, so you should really like investments that you can talk, personally, to the owners and employees” has a scary, familiar ring to me.

Talking to a small business owner is pretty useless, information-wise. I’ve worked for a half-dozen small businesses and what I learned from that experience is that con artists don’t limit themselves to Wall Street. That’s where the Big Cons live, but for every Big Con there are thousands of Little Cons and most of them work their scams in small businesses of a wide variety: from home improvement contractors to car dealerships to investment councilors to small town banks. The thing they all have in common is that they don’t report to anyone until they are on their way to jail or bankruptcy court.

Not many years ago, an acquaintance from high school demonstrated this too well for me when his “investment company” was discovered to be nothing more than a Ponzi scheme and a large number of investors discovered they were broke. I’ve been a low-key investor since the late 1970‘s and I’ve had more than my share of ups-and-downs over those years, but I have never lost everything with any of the mediocre-to-not-awful big brokers I’ve worked through. Merrill Lynch was pretty terrible back in the 1980’s when their “advisors” were steering small investors into whatever heavily discounted piece of crap their executives were shilling for, but it has never been difficult for me to ignore financial advice from people who are not rich. The one decent tip I got from my Merrill Lynch broker was Marvel Entertainment, when that company went public in 1986. We didn’t get out of the Reagan years without a collection of recessions and stock crashes and my Marvel stock didn’t do any better than most of the rest of the economy. I dumped it to help finance a house in Colorado in ‘91 and I’m not sure which “investment” would have done better. I did fairly well with the house. Marvel stock really hit the trashcan in the mid-90’s.

MSCM dumpsterI was in some kind of management capacity in every small company I worked for, except the last one; McNally Smith College (which suddenly, but predictably, went broke in late 2017). By then, I’d decided that I wouldn’t make another nitwit into a millionare and that I’d never again try to manage people in a dysfunctional organization. (The top levels of mismanagement at McNally Smith College was a colection of dysfunction that would have embarrassed Trump. I knew associating closely with that crowd would be self-defeating.) My experiences at the other small companies were relentlessly discouraging; from outright corruption and misrepresentation to the usual series of fairytales designed to keep employees from bolting to more secure or better-paying employment. From the inside of all but one of those companies, no one who worked there would invest a penny of their own money regardless of the promises made by ownership. I didn’t even trust most of those employers to honestly manage 401k funds and my IRAs are the reason I’m retired today. My employer funds consistently lost money, even the Fortune 100 employer IRAs were mediocre investment vehicles.

kickstarterSo, “investing” at the local level rarely gets past the level of “crowd funding” or panhandling. There is no SEC, as weak as that organization occasionally becomes, to make even a haphazard effort to monitor company finances. There is no good reason to imagine that a small business owner would disclose bad news to potential investors. The “investment” is not liquid in any fashion, as I can attest to since I still own some weird and obscure portion of one of my past employer’s business that I’ve been unable to cash out of in 40-plus years. In the end, it’s just crowdfunding/electronic-panhandling and I can always think of better places to put my contribution money than small businesses. It’s not like our government is doing such a good job of protecting democracy, providing a safety net, ensuring “liberty and justice for all,” or even managing national security that there are no more important causes so I might as well try small business crowdfunding.