Friday, May 20, 2016

Socialism: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

To be honest, there's a lot about socialism that really does suck. Like not being able to attend a high school football game in Texas because the tyrant in charge is so angry at anyone with an Arab sounding name, he actually thought for a minute that Al Jazeera English flew kamikaze missions into American buildings. It sucks when an elderly man leaves his phone on a table at the Mall of America food court, is later questioned, along with the rest of his American family, by the FBI, and even after the entire situation is cleared, still has an 11-page police report on file with the Minneapolis police as well as an FBI report documenting his "suspicious person" incident at the mall, even though he wasn't even there when his suspicious phone was observed. It sucks when you're told who you're allowed to marry or what kind of birth control you can or can't use. It sucks when the only way to be right, to fly below the suspicion and scrutiny, to not have your patriotism questioned is to just be like everyone else around you...dress like them, pray like them, talk like them, think like them. It sucks to have to wear a uniform and proclaim your allegiance to something lock, stock, and barrel even when you know there are cracks in the gild, aspects you feel could be improved, or things that are just flat out wrong. So, yeah. If that's what you mean by socialism, then it sucks, but that's not socialism, that's tyranny, fascism, or, in the case of those particular examples, an ignorant citizenry run amok in an age of fear, right here in the good old, capitalist US of A!

And what is the target of this fear-mongering of late?  That's right, the evils of socialism, even though most of those trying to spread fear of it seem to have never really known what it means.

Why would anyone fear making the world around you a better place through collective funding and coordination of effort?  It's a lot closer to what the founders of this nation had in mind than the Corporate Republic we seem to have ended up with.  After all, they decided to form a union, collectively.  They knew that a lot of the infrastructure a nation needs is better achieved through collective efforts.  It wasn't about giving away half of anything to anyone who didn't work for it, it was about efficiency and effectiveness.  There are simply some things that don't make any sense for individuals to repeatedly spend their efforts on when they can be accomplished as a group better, faster, cheaper.

 The highway system in this country is kind of cool, and it was, for the most part, a socialist undertaking. Pretty much everyone in America relies on it for supplies, for customers, for their complete existence. Ditto for the railroads.  After years of discussion, no private enterprise was willing to take the risk on such a large undertaking, so our government did.  That's right!  The single biggest influence in the industrial expansion and the tying of a young nation's two separate halves together was the result of Big Government speculation when private industry wanted nothing to do with it.  Of course all our Big Government did was give away land, low interest loans, and further subsidize the endeavor.  And, of course, the minute the recipients of that land and loans and cash started making their own profit from those subsidies, they started complaining about having to pay the loans back, and having to pay taxes on the profits they now only made thanks to that Big Government investment, but hey, who are we to call them hypocrites as long as they use the words "big government" in their whiny complaints?  Ayn Rand seems to have forgotten that "the producers" balked at building railroads on their own for years until government took it on for them. Only after the Transcontinental was built were Dagney and Hank able to forget and exploit the rail and steel industry for their own profit and pleasure.

The electrical grid in this country is pretty cool too. As is the stability of our government, the protection of our military, the reliability of police and fire services...and all manner of other socialist endeavors we seem to take for granted when pretending we (meaning some rugged individual) built this.  The truth is, no individual built any of it without the support of collective advantages this nation provides.  We, as a nation, built the infrastructure that so many of us now take for granted.  It made more sense that way.  And whenever WE do something together, it's called socialist.  I don't know what you thought it meant, but it's really not all that bad.  So the next time you want to spread fear about some misguided idea of what socialism is, spread it about that socialist snow plow clearing your street at 4 a.m. the socialist cop walking your daughter to her car after the closing shift, or the socialist EMT saving your loved one's life, or all those socialist troops defending our way of life.

When you really think about it, it's rarely the "socialist" who wants something for nothing.  Socialists understand that taxes pay for all of these things we now take for granted.  It tends to be the so-called capitalists who want those advantages without having to pay for them.  It's capitalists who start a business in the US, where these advantages make it possible, but then move their headquarters overseas in order to avoid paying taxes that paid for the advantages they took for granted and now no longer want to pay for.  The railroad barons were cool with socialism when it gave them cheap loans and land, but as soon as they became wealthy from that government benefit, they started complaining about having to pay back the loans, and pay taxes on the immense wealth the government's investment helped create for them.  They got theirs, no one else should!   It's always private industry who expects government to bail them out when they mismanage everything from their own by-products and pollution to their general finances, but they never want to pay the taxes that allow government to be there for them when it reaches a breaking point.

So the next time you go mindlessly repeating something you heard from Bill O'Reilly about socialists expecting something for nothing, remember that GE paid NO taxes while taking full advantage of the benefits our nation provided.  Remember the next time a school levy shows up on a ballot, that you can read said ballot thanks to the free, public (socialist) education that was there for you, but which you now think is some kind of handout for the rest of the country's kids. Remember that our founding fathers, by "forming a more perfect union," understood that collective (socialist) efforts made a lot of sense and provided advantages for all of us, and that we should all continue to pay for them...not expect them for free!


Sunday, April 17, 2016

It's actually pretty conservative, when you think about it.

The latest bankruptcy of coal giant, Peabody Energy, clashes with conservative claims that Obama is killing the energy industry in the US.  Peabody’s list of reasons for the filing reads like the ingredients of kid’s cereal:  the first one is the one in most abundance; the last one is barely there.  So it probably breaks Mitch McConnell’s heart to learn that Peabody tossed in “tougher regulatory environment” as their last reason for their failure.  It was almost obligatory, and the ranking Peabody gave it indicates as much.
The primary/first reason Peabody gave: the market.  In other words, in Peabody’s own words, they’re getting out of coal because it just isn’t marketable anymore.  Market forces, capitalism at work.  

Sure, we could continue to subsidize the coal industry so the corporations who still employ folks in it can keep those jobs on life support for a while longer, and lot of coal’s money has been spent lobbying toward that end, but subsidies like that sound like big government.  Subsidizing a failing enterprise (no matter how much they contribute toward your campaign) doesn’t sound very conservative at all, except in the sense that it’s just not smart or rational, ignores the facts before its eyes, blames the subsequent mess on Obama.  I guess in that sense it would be “conservative,” but not in any sense remotely related to any actual definition.  On the contrary, for coal, or Big Energy in general to expect such subsidies would seem like they have a sense of entitlement.

But Mitch says it’s all Obama’s fault.  Dear Mitch, Obama picked up the mantle (reality) every modern president before him also carried: the size and scope of our energy needs has grown to the point at which we can no longer ignore ALL of the costs of its production – not just the direct costs of materials and labor and delivery, but the costs of what that industry historically does to the surrounding land and to the planet in general – the cost of cleaning up after itself.  At the core of this idea, it’s a very conservative concept: clean up your own mess as soon as you’re done making it.  Not after you go outside and play with your friends, but AS SOON AS YOU’RE DONE MAKING IT. Put your school clothes away as soon as you’ve changed into your play clothes.  Put the Legos away before getting out Monopoly. Put your tools away when the job is done.  Sweep the kitchen after you’re done making cookies.  Mop up that mess after you’re done changing the oil.  Pick up after yourself.  Don’t squander your (or everyone’s) resources.  There’s really no denying that this is among the most core of conservative principles.  Except for some reason, when asked to apply it to corporations, it becomes liberal, intrusive, nanny-state.  WTF?!

So even though the “regulatory environment” was the last reason cited for Peabody’s failure, all it really means is after years of not cleaning up their own mess while they were making it, they’re now being forced to.  After years of failing to factor in the cost of cleaning up after themselves, they suddenly legally compelled to. (Blame big government all you want, but if you refuse to live up to your responsibilities on your own, and expect someone else to take care of your mess for you, then the law must make you.) After years of letting the rest of American taxpayers pay to restore what Big Energy has destroyed, the rules now force them to take care of it themselves – as they should have all along.  (and the move to that direction, fortunately, started well before Obama was elected) The messes our energy industry has made, but have left for others to clean up, range from negligently dangerous work environments killing off heads of households in the form of black lung, cave ins, explosions, etc. to the complete destruction of the tops of mountains, to spill sites, to poisoned rivers and entire watersheds, to abandoned pit mines left dangerously open.  If Peabody made messes like that, (messes inherent to coal) why are they surprised that they should have to clean them up?  Why did they not factor in the cost of cleaning up after themselves all along? Expecting the rest of the nation to clean up after them so as not to infringe on their profits is the ultimate example of entitlement!

So as we listen to Senator McConnell pin this latest example of capitalism at work entirely on Obama, remember what your mom would tell you if you asked if you could go out and play while your school clothes and all your toys were still scattered all over your room.  If that’s all on Obama, then he’s pretty conservative.  He and Mitch McConnell should get along a lot better than they do.



Saturday, April 09, 2016

Things Republicans Say

“We may congratulate ourselves that this cruel war is nearing its end.
It has cost a vast amount of treasure and blood. . . .
It has indeed been a trying hour for the Republic; but
I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes
me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war,
corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places
will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong
its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth
is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.
I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety
of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war.
God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.”

From a letter from President Lincoln to (Col.) William F. Elkins, Nov. 21, 1864.

Unfortunately, it appears as though Lincoln’s suspicions have not proven groundless.  Not only was Lincoln right about the aggregation of the “money power of the country,” but he was dead on in how it came about; “corruption in high places…working on the prejudices of the people.”  In our current presidential race, the top three establishment candidates are products of this very aggregation cycle.  They are created by and therefore programmed to perpetuate it.  Clinton and Cruz may as well be twin siblings whose mom can only tell apart when one wears a red lapel pin and the other blue.  They couldn’t break this cycle if they wanted to because breaking it would mean breaking themselves. And the orange man has been eugenically created in the image of Lincoln’s biggest fear – born with money, on third base, selling himself as though he made his own bat from the oak tree out back and taught himself how to hit home runs.  All three of these folks (and most of those trailing them) are products of this aggregation of wealth.  The question is, what has it gotten the rest of us?

In other words, how is this whole trickle down thing working for you?

Economists often argue that they can’t really test a theory because there’s no way to run any kind of meaningful, controlled experiment in a living economy.  We’ll never actually balance a federal budget.  We’ll never lower taxes significantly enough to truly test the trickle-down theory without wiping out programs the nation – its individuals AND its corporations – have come to rely on.  But we’ve basically been trending toward trickle-down economics since the Reagan era, and all it’s done thus far is exactly what Lincoln, America’s most universally beloved Republican, most feared: “until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands.”  In case you’re not following, those few hands are America’s top 1%...or the top percentile of income earners who, in this country, currently hold almost 40% of its wealth (according to, last August,) as Lincoln predicted it might.

So the experiment in trickle-down economics, in spite of all of the detracting uncontrolled factors, has worked to do exactly what Lincoln predicted. It has aggregated money power into the hands of very few.  Proponents may argue that it hasn’t actually trickled down yet only because taxes STILL aren’t low enough, or because there are STILL too many regulations on these people and their industries, but it sure seems like the regulations we’ve done away with have worked to the advantage of that top 1% (and no one else.) In other words, it’s worked to make the rich way richer, even during our recent recession…so why haven’t they invested in capital or hired thousands of employees? …and actually boosted the economy that’s now working solely to their benefit? If they’re still consistently and wildly rich, then why hasn’t anything trickled down yet?  Imperfect experiment, indeed.

Kansas is probably as good an example of the trickle-down as we’ll ever get in the real world. In his first two years as governor, former conservative Senator Sam Brownback dramatically slashed taxes in the state also known as Koch country.  He promised this would fertilize economic growth that would more than make up for the immediate loss in revenue.  He said it would take time.  Apparently it’s going to take more than the 5 years since because even after narrowly securing a second term, Brownback himself is backpedaling, asking the legislature to slow further planned cuts, and even raising some taxes.  The state is so broke as a result of this experiment, the once pro-education Brownback has been forced to cut the states already basement education funding even further.   Members of his own party are quoted by The Atlantic as saying, "He’s lived and died by this philosophy, and it’s becoming more and more obvious that it is not going to be successful." (Rochelle Chronister, former Kansas Republican state chair per
 But that’s just Kansas, right?  Surely if this theory works, other states have proven it.  Turns out most Republican governors seem to have taken the Kansas warning to heart.  Ohio, New Jersey, Indiana, Louisiana, and even South Carolina, whose governor, Nikki Haley said specifically, “we’re not going to do what Kansas did,” have taken a far less conservative approach to reducing taxes over time rather than insisting the failed Kansas and Wisconsin experiments have worked. Currently, the Kansas budget woes are trailed only by Louisiana and Alaska.  Economists may not want to admit trickle-down hasn’t worked, or may continue to insist it hasn’t been adequately tested, but sensible Republican governors who have watched Kansas and Wisconsin’s budgets crumble seem to have formed their own conclusions.

So, when it comes to what you want to see in the next four years, you have to ask yourself if it’s more of the same – from a Democrat or a Republican – i.e. handing over even more of the entire nation’s wealth to the top 1%, systematically, by law and tax code, as establishment candidates have led since the Reagan era, or if it’s time to change that system up to avoid furthering what Lincoln feared, and to finally admit that if the market won’t govern itself, won’t allow all that wealth at the top to trickle down, no matter how long or how much we continue to pump cash up there, then we, the people, need to step in and create the necessary adjustments. We need to put some of that regulation back, even out the tax code so that the 1% pays a share similar to what we pay, with no exceptions. If we don’t, it won’t be long before we can’t buy any of the products our corporate overlords are making and selling anyway – and I’m pretty sure that won’t be the trigger to start the trickling!  You have to ask yourself if you want to keep on loading 16 tons only to owe your soul to the company store.



Friday, March 11, 2016

Why “Not Feeling The Bern” (for these reasons) is misinformed, at best

Some Facebook friends of mine shared this brief article about why some dude is "Not feeling the Bern" and I wanted to reply there, but Facebook just ain't the place for real conversations.  The following is a little more info than you're likely to hear on Fox, or in a 140-character-limited exchange.  I've quoted the dude's headings, then added my response.

“I’m not a Socialist”
Bernie’s not a Socialist, either.  He’s a Democratic Socialist.  It’s a lot like the system of government our founding fathers had in mind wherein some pursuits just make more sense to manage collectively: military, police, fire, roads, eventually railroads, power grids, water and sewer…these are all "socialist" provisions of our current system.  Even  the economist Adam Smith, oft-cited by conservatives, clearly made the case for pursuits best handled by government, not for profit.  At its simplest distillation, why form a nation at all if you don’t agree there are some things worth doing as a society?
Sadly, the system our founding fathers established has been twisted into something more like a Corporate Democracy wherein our government serves corporations rather than people.  The establishment candidates from both parties perpetuate this system because the money they need to campaign comes from those corporations.  Bernie is the first guy to make a legitimate challenge to that system.  He embodies the non-violent revolution our system so desperately needs.

  1. "College shouldn’t be free" ("education is not an entitlement")
By most state charters (after the first 13 colonies) education IS an entitlement.  The founding fathers knew the value of an educated electorate and they specifically included state-funded education in the conditions for statehood.  When states fail to meet these requirements, the federal government must step up. 
In addition, up until our parents’ generation, a high school diploma was sufficient to earn a family a decent living, but that standard is outdated.  Today, an associate degree, or a technical school certificate is the bare minimum required to join a professional workforce.  Bernie is not the first candidate to propose community colleges find ways to make this bare minimum achievable to all, he’s just saying we finally accept the reality of it and raise the bar officially…and stop pretending the free education public schools provided for everyone up to this point is sufficient in stopping at 12th grade.
2.      " Please don’t raise taxes"
Bernie won’t, at least for most Americans, and certainly not for Criminal Justice majors, as you note. Only those who have seen a dramatic decrease (since the Great Depression) in the taxes they pay will see them go up.  I know there are candidates (usually Republican, but not always) who like to say they won’t raise taxes, but they all have.  Reagan did.  Bush 41 did after promising he wouldn’t.  The average middle class citizen pays around 20%.  Shouldn’t the folks with the most to spare contribute at least that much as well? The only taxes Bernie will raise will be on those who have played our corporate-leaning system to NOT pay that share.  The rest of us will pay the same or less than we've always paid, and we should demand more for our money, not less. (for real - read his plan...and notice Trump still doesn't have one available, and for pete's sake, stop getting your info from Facebook!)
3.        "I don’t like big government"
Neither does Bernie, and he wants it to stay out of your life as much as possible, but your argument here is basically a repeat of your item 2 (taxes).  Again, only the absolute wealthiest, whose teams of lawyers and tax accountants can’t show they’ve reinvested that wealth into capital or labor, would ever pay the 52% you cite.  (remember that idea about reinvesting wealth into capital and labor – it will be important later) Seriously, Addison, have you ever read anything about New Hampshire or Vermont?  They don't like big government either, and they've elected Bernie for a looooong time.
4.      " Social Security shouldn’t exist in the first place…"
Social Security Insurance is insurance.  Why should insurance not exist?  If properly managed, it will be there for you.  Most who propose doing away with it don’t want to do the work of managing it.  That’s no excuse.  Others prefer the management of it go to for-profit entities wherein chunks of the premiums end up in already rich folks’ pockets, making it even less likely that the fund will survive. (because when profit is the #1 priority, you are not)  This is simply another case of something that makes more sense as a non-profit, collectively, in order to serve the interest of all.  Social Security is a minimum insurance program.  You’re free to invest in commercial insurance or retirement programs that go beyond this minimum, but this one provides a safety net for those who were disabled, or for their widows/widowers or orphans. Tell me again why the richest country in the world shouldn’t provide this self-funded, bare-minimum insurance for its citizens?
5.     "  I don’t believe in wage regulation."
How then should wages be established?  Before you answer, keep this in mind: since the Great Depression, the minimum wage, if left to its own market devices, adjusted for standard inflation, should/would currently be hovering somewhere between $15 and $20 per hour.  That’s IF LEFT TO THE MARKET, “unregulated” so to speak.  So how has the minimum wage remained so artificially low?  Government doesn’t LIMIT wages, so the de facto cap must be coming from somewhere else.  If the market wage hasn’t borne itself out, and government hasn’t regulated a cap, then some other force must be “regulating” wages.
What could that force possibly be? Here are some observations: some of the same companies who posted profits during the 2009 recession laid off thousands of workers.  When these companies “recovered” (even though they posted profits throughout) they hired back these skilled laborers, but at drastically reduced wages.  Skilled technicians who lost $20/hour jobs are now lucky to get them back for $10/hour.  Same jobs, same consistently profitable corporations, lower wages.  That doesn’t sound like market forces.
In addition, since President Reagan fired those air traffic controllers for trying to negotiate their wages and conditions (eliminating one natural force in a free market) more and more lobbyist-written legislation has been passed by politicians (whose campaigns were funded by the employers of those lobbyists) resulting in the biggest attack on and subsequent decline in union membership in our nation’s history.  Kansas, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin all fell to lobbyist influence and legislated away the rights of state employees to negotiate their wages and conditions.  The trend is obvious – labor’s input is no longer a factor, no longer a market force in establishing labor’s wages. The vast majority of Americans lost their voice. This leaves large corporations an artificially large influence in “regulating” wages.  An individual can either accept the offered wage, or be unemployed.  (any other job an individual accepts will also be for an artificially low wage due to the standard set by corporations, so “get another job somewhere else” doesn’t change the equation)  If labor can’t negotiate as a group against the corporations whose lobbyists now write the laws, then INDUSTRY REGULATES WAGES.  (oh, and for those of you with short attention has done so by shrinking the expense of labor!  A day's work used to be worth a day's wage, but it's not anymore, according to these companies who still manage to pay their CEOs 7 figures)  These companies claim that taxes have eaten into their profits, so they can't afford to pay decent wages anymore, but most of them find ways to pay NO taxes at all.  (in case you forgot)  Can you or I do that?  Wanna know a great way to avoid paying taxes?  Post a HIGHER LABOR EXPENSE, or REINVEST IN CAPITAL EXPANSION AND CREATE JOBS!
Anyhoo...Since you oppose wage regulation, you actually side with Bernie in preventing this artificial regulation of the market in which those wages would otherwise be naturally set.  The establishment candidate from both sides is too wrapped up in corporate money to ever challenge this tilted system.

Look, do I believe Bernie can wave a wand and fix problems slowly created over the better part of the last century?  No, but I do believe he’s the only candidate who might actually try, and most importantly, he will try because he’s beholden to NO ONE…for more than about $35 anyway! He works for US, not his anonymous superpac sponsors.  His fundraising alone has revolutionized our process…even while the wildly inappropriate Citizens United/Corporations are People/Money=Speech=Votes bullshit still stands!  Bernie is running the way ALL candidates for public office should run.

I suppose you could make the argument that Trump is too, but there’s a YUGE difference between using your own money to bully people into supporting you and convincing people with your ideas to support you with their money $25 at a time.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Making Friends In A Small World aka 2B1ask1

Prologue:  I'm on travel for work.  Work that I enjoy, with people for whom I have a lot of respect, and with whom I enjoy spending time, doing something that feels like it makes a difference (however small) in the world. This travel has already brought me into contact with some old friends from in and out of work, and I haven't done any of this for a couple of years. I'm extremely grateful to be doing this. (Life's pretty good.)

After a rather satisfying, though fairly long, fairly high-stakes day, my colleagues and I pick a spot and have dinner together.  We duck in out of the cold and await our turn at the restaurant's host stand.  The fellow in front of us asks for a table for one.

Side note: When traveling alone, I'd ask this fellow if he's interested in sharing a table.  I'm fine eating dinner alone, but making a new friend is better.  Even if we don't end up as friends, I'd still do this.  I would.  Really. I've seen me.
He might say "no," and that's fine too.  I'd be no worse off than before, but in this case, I'm not dining alone, and I know that some people consider this behavior weird or disconcerting, so I keep quiet.

As I'm going through the contents of that side note in my head, one of my colleagues says to the other, "He just asked for a table for one.  We should invite him to join us."  There's little further discussion among our group.  Colleague 1 speaks to this fellow and the hostess.

The fellow accepts our offer and the four of us follow the hostess to a table, take our seats, and begin the introductions.  WARNING: Henceforth this true story proves that truth is most certainly stranger than fiction, or at the very least, that it is indeed a small world.

I look over the menu and spot a dish that looks amazingly like a dish I've only ever seen on a menu in a tiny little restaurant in tiny Tirrenia, Italy.  I don't speak Italian, but I know some Spanish, and since they're both Latin-based, I assume it's a giant pile of seafood, mostly still in original shells, and I'm pretty sure I want it. Sure, it brings back wonderful memories. Sure, it sounds delicious.  Sure, it'll go great with a local brew, but I decide to order SOLELY to be supportive of my colleagues' paleo diets.  Except for the bread.  I'm gonna eat all the bread. No, that's not entirely true.  Our new friend, who, like me, is not on the paleo diet, offers to help me eat the bread so my colleagues aren't tempted by it.

We've already formed a bond.

The introduction/speed dating conversation with our new friend continues.  We discuss the significance of the DC area to the Free Masons, American History, politics, religion, healthcare, service before self, kids...pretty much everything we're told people should never discuss, and from my selfish perspective, this is among the top ten dinners I've ever had with folks outside my family or close circle of friends. (and my meal and beer are excellent!)

As dinner continues, (and for the sake of brevity, I'll use bullets rather than prose) we discover that this dude
  • probably worked with colleague 2's dad
  • worked for the guy who is currently our CEO
  • is a member of, and is in the DC area for a meeting of a fraternal organization
  • formed his own group within this organization based on a historical figure with whom colleague 1 is strangely familiar (this part of the story is way more fun than brevity allows)
  • has a son who was in, and now works for the national headquarters of my fraternity
  • has a son who thus probably works with my former fraternity advisor
I don't remember now if it was the fraternity talk, or if it was the fact that both of my colleagues were Navy folk, that led to the discovery that colleague 2 served with one of my fraternity brothers. (I've worked with this woman for four years and only discovered this because we invited this stranger to dinner with us.)

I also don't remember if we actually solved ALL of the world's problems, or if we just solved the bigger ones and vowed to email each other about the rest. (you'll know soon enough) Until then, suffice it to say:  life is good...if you choose to make it so.

We paid our tabs and headed back out into the winter.  He headed for his hotel, and we; ours.  I still needed 4,000 steps to make my quota for the day, and we all had work to finish up. (and then I was compelled to write this)

There are people who would say we took a "risk" inviting this guy to join us.  If you subscribe to the co-opting of our language that formal "Risk Managers" use, then we did.  We risked being rejected, but according to the definition of "risk" I grew up with, there was none.  My belly would still be full.  My per diem would still be shot, and the evening would still have ended pretty much like one would expect. Through our "risk," we made a new friend, a story we'll remember far longer than just the dinner would have created, and we've expanded our network through which we may still bring about world peace.

Risk THAT!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Joy to the World

The particular event doesn’t matter as much as the reaction.  In the case that finally moved me to write this, it was a gift, but it could just as easily have been any pleasant surprise, or event. In this case it was a gift.  A simple, inexpensive, but thoughtful and personalized gift from good friends.  Because the gift came just before Christmas, these friends very intentionally made very clear that this gift was NOT a Christmas present, but rather a token of appreciation for… well, basically for our friendship.  They mentioned various acts, but each fell under what I would simply consider “friendship,” and so we’ll leave it at that for now.  What’s important in this story is not the gift, but my dearly beloved’s anticipated reaction.

As long as I’ve known my dearly beloved, she has been the worrier.  I may be the analyzer who cannot be content with the surface of anything without wanting to dive into it and ponder its essence, but that’s very different from worry.  I actually enjoy digging around for the “how” or the “why” of something. For me, it is a self-sustaining, perpetual source of joy and wonder, just as it is often a source of consternation to those around me.    To say that my analyzing reduces stress for me is to under-emphasize how pleasurable I actually find it.   My wife, on the other hand, is a worrier, and from what I can see, it’s not because she derives pleasure from it.

When I got home with the gift, she was already in worry mode.  It was 2 days before a Christmas Eve get together of mostly family and close friends – the kind of non-judgmental people who would show up in any situation under any circumstances and just be there and enjoy themselves and each other.  These are people who accept others (us, anyway) for who we are.  They are free of affectation, salt of the earth, easy going, unpretentious, friendly people who have known us most of our lives. They do a good job of at least pretending to love us, warts and all.  There would be no “business associates” or “potential clients” or employers. There would be no need for “acting” or “behaving.” There was no reason to try to impress anyone, and no one expecting to be impressed. We weren’t planning this event due to societal pressure or expectation. There would be no speech-making or performances. In fact, we’ve NEVER planned any events like that at home. (Those kinds of events could be legitimately stressful.  This one would not.) This was going to be as casual and relaxed as a get together could be.  We still had a couple of days to finish getting ready, although “getting ready” basically meant being here, making sure the holiday lights were on outside, and having some snacks and beverages ready. She had just hauled in the first load of groceries, putting us that much closer to being as ready as we could be for this non-event event.  Naturally, she was worrying about it.

I purposefully chose to not mention the gift at that moment because I knew the stress of bringing in the rest of the groceries and getting them put away was too much competition.  We hauled in the groceries.  On the last trip, with counter space running low, she grabbed the gift to move it out of the way but stopped to say, “what IS this?” 

It was my fault.  I shouldn’t have left it on top of the mail – another source of worry – on the kitchen island, but I didn’t want to put it with presents under the tree since I’d been instructed to emphasize that it was NOT a Christmas gift, and because I feared I’d forget about it when just such a crisis as this inevitably popped up, and we’d end up finding it there, under the tree, Christmas morning, which would really defeat any attempt to emphasize that it was NOT a Christmas gift, and so I sat it on the counter and forgot about it for the moment.  Now, trapped by my own lack of planning, and the crisis of having groceries to put away,  I simply said, “open it.”  As she unfolded the tissue paper, I told her "it's from Ryan and Sandy and they specifically instructed me to tell you it is NOT a Christmas gift.  

“We didn’t get them anything.” she said.

“I don’t think we were supposed to. They said it was a 'thank you' for our help with their recent move and some of the work on their new place and because we are friends.  Isn’t it neat?” I replied.

“We didn't even get them a housewarming present. What is it?”

“It’s a, __(it really doesn’t matter what it is, I promise)__, pretty cool, huh?” I said, attempting to remain in what should have been a pleasant moment.

“Oh, yeah.  That is neat.”  (and therein did the pleasantry cease and desist) “They got us a Christmas present last year too.  They even gave each of the girls gift cards.  We’ve never gotten them anything.” 
“It’s NOT a Christmas gift.  Sandy specifically, emphatically told me to tell you that.”

“Well why did they give it to us? I feel really bad.  We didn’t even get them a housewarming present.”

"You already said that."

This went on for a little longer as we put the groceries away and she thought out loud about not knowing what we should get them for their new house, but clearly worrying about how important it is that we do, and sooner rather than later.  Soon after, her need for a different source of worry turned back to the party, wrapping presents, food prep, and the usual weeknight evening stuff.

A few hours later, lying in bed, watching Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, me, relaxing before sleep, her, worrying about something else before sleep, on the TV, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jerry Seinfeld talked about the oddities of marriage, conflicts, and the like.  Dreyfus shared with Seinfeld her grandmother’s advice: “always have something to look forward to.”

In that context, I woke up this morning realizing just how special the gift had actually become. I now have something truly epic to look forward to. (aside from actually looking forward to our get-together, which I truly do and would even more if it didn’t worry my dearly beloved so much)

How many people seem to have no purpose in life?  How empty must a life like that be? How many marriages dissolve simply because folks forget to find something to look forward to with each other?  How fortunate am I to have finally stumbled upon an endeavor that solves all of that pointless wandering, and guarantees I will always have a direction…a purpose? I will never be without something to look forward to, something to work toward, and something that rededicates me to the dearly beloved woman I married more than two decades ago.  My life’s work has finally dawned on me.  Before I leave this current configuration, I will teach (convince, cajole, coerce…??) my wife to be able to accept an act of kindness, or an opportunity to have fun, or experience joy for what it is – an act of kindness, or an opportunity to have fun, or experience joy - rather than as a source of worry and fret, or a trigger to examine one’s own perceived flaws…or I’ll die trying!

  If I’m successful, one day I will have the pleasure of seeing my wife’s face light up (I’ve seen this before, I know it can happen) without that light immediately turning to a cloud of worry about all of the subsequent implications.  One day I will experience the joy of seeing her experience joy.  Just joy.  Not fear, worry, or stress over the infinitely-possible-and-thus-not-worth-considering possibilities for next steps.  Just joy.  Joy, that for a moment, has no implications, costs no one else anything, has no consequences.  I really think that’s how joy is supposed to work and I now know it’s my life’s purpose to prove that to her. Joy is not one shoe, always followed by the other, more ominous shoe.  It's just joy.

As adults and parents, I think we're all a little conditioned to think this way. Joy at the birth of our wonderful kids is naturally followed by the fear of how we will screw them up.  Joy at the purchase of our first home is naturally followed by the stress of making payments and maintaining it. Joy as they're accepted to college is followed by sadness that they're leaving. Joy at each milestone is coupled with the inevitable, unavoidable recognition of time passing, but the joy, in and of itself is pure, and need not be associated with anything other than joy. What comes after it could actually be more joy.  That's up to us.   The joy (and honor and privilege) of having guests in our warm, comfortable home, for no other reason than to acknowledge what a blessing it is to have a home and friends and family to share it with, should not be a source of stress.  There should be no implications.  There are no consequences.  There should only be joy.

I now have a mission of convincing my wife of this.  As proud as I am of some of the cool stuff we’ve accomplished, together and alone, I don’t think I’ve ever had a more important mission than this one I’ve just discovered:  unencumbered joy, first to my wife and then to the world!

So thank you, a second time, for the wonderful gift, and happy holidays everyone!


Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Don't Read Too Much Into Yesterday's Election Results

Dear Ohio Legislators,
Please don’t read too much into yesterday’s elections.  Even though we voted down Issue 3, which some called the “legal weed” issue, a lot of Ohioans still think we should quit wasting precious resources enforcing outdated, biased, irrational, inefficient weed prohibition and the resulting prison cycle.  We just don’t think we need to amend the Ohio Constitution, or grant an Ohio Code-endorsed monopoly to a handful of “investors” (like we did with the casinos) to do it.  We made that mistake once.

And even though we approved Issue 2, the so called “anti-monopoly” issue, we now know (or will soon learn) that Issue 2 actually paves the way for future monopolies by placing the decision into the hands of voters rather than the Ohio Supreme Court.  Confused?  Let me clarify before we move on. We rejected legal weed because it came with a monopoly, but then we paved the way for future monopolies by approving “anti-monopoly” legislation (Issue 2,) which will allow us to approve future monopolies proposed by future “investors.”  Clear as mud, eh?  Nice work legislating!

What have we learned from this nonsense?  First, that clever and deceptive names for bills work.  I can’t blame you for that.  After all, we’re the ones who elected you.  But don’t take too much from that either.  You may recall that the prevailing sentiment during the last mid-term elections during which you came into power was “re-elect no one,” so all you had to do was show up and you were in. We Ohioans voted not based on your qualifications or willingness or ability to legislate, but solely on getting rid of the incumbents (as long as they were Democrats.)  We got what we paid for with that strategy.

Instead of writing effective new laws or getting rid of outdated, costly, inefficient ones that have proven their lack of value over time, you sat back and let 10 weed investors (ResponsibleOhio) write proposed legislation, and then you sponsored it.  Then, when you realized what you'd done, other folks ran out and created Issue 2, and you sponsored it too. What made it to the ballot yesterday was a mess of nonsense most folks didn’t even bother to try to fully understand.  Who can blame them?

Issues 2 & 3 were in conflict with each other…how is a voter to make sense of them?  Editorials across the state said “vote YES on 2, NO on 3 if you don't want your toddlers to eat weed-sicles” but they never bothered to mention that we didn’t need Issue 2 in order for the monopoly part of Issue 3 to be illegal.  Others said “vote NO on 2 and YES on 3 if you want to end the costly and ineffective prohibition on weed” but they didn’t really mention that in order to do so, you’d be approving a monopoly for 10 investors, which was likely going to be struck down by the Ohio Supreme Court since Ohio has anti-trust/monopoly laws in place already, with or without Issue 2.

So here’s what we really said: (as if you care).  We may still want old marijuana laws to be overturned, but we don’t want to do so by granting a grow-and-distribute monopoly to the 10 organizations who wrote these ridiculous laws like we did with the casino laws, nor do we want the monopoly part of that to become part of Ohio’s Constitution, even though casino owners were successful in that same effort.  So we rejected that proposed monopoly even though it would have legalized weed.   We’ll keep pestering you to get the weed part right and leave out the “grant a monopoly to our rich sponsors as a constitutional amendment” part, and if you continue to ignore us, we’ll elect someone else.

But on Issue 2, you really fooled us and now the result of that deception is part of Ohio’s Constitution.  Rather than beefing up Ohio’s anti-trust/monopoly laws, (which is what we were really supporting when we shot down Issue 3...wondering how it ever happened with the casinos) or leaving well enough alone, we voted into law a means of violating existing anti-trust laws as long as the Secretary of State’s (un-elected) five-member committee puts the monopolistic issue on a ballot and voters approve it.  Notice it doesn’t say we’ll allow a monopoly if there’s a sound, compelling, or even legal reason to do so, as determined by legal experts like Ohio’s Supreme Court, only that voters approve it.  So your “anti-monopoly” law gives voters the power to create future monopolies.  Hooray!  Way to go Ohio voters! Here's how it could work: say Responsible Ohio wants to try again, since they know most Ohioans actually do support legalizing weed.  They get the ear of the Secretary of State whose commission agrees to put their issue on the ballot AGAIN, only this time, instead of it being paired with Issue 2, it gets paired with what Issue 2 created:  a twin proposal.  Half of the twin proposal is a flat out repeat of Issue 3 - legalizing a weed monopoly...and weed.  The other half is a ballot issue asking voters to decide whether or not to allow Issue 3's exception to Ohio's anti-trust laws.  Voters would first have to approve the exception (thus approving the monopoly part in general) and then they could approve (or reject) the actual Issue 3.  That's right, the "anti-monopoly"law sets up a process whereby voters can approve a new monopoly.  Should that be in the voter's hands? Perhaps, but those same voters are the ones who couldn't even grasp that this anti-monopoly proposal codifies the approval of future monopolies!  I think it was better off left to the Supreme Court.  Either way, and yes I'm repeating it again, our approval of the "anti-monopoly" law establishes a procedure for future monopolies.

So, we rejected monopolies in Issue 3 (and killed a veiled attempt at legal weed in doing so)... sacrificing the long overdue decriminalization of marijuana because it was wrapped up in pro-rich and powerful legal monopoly bullshit.  Then we approved Issue 2, which will allow us to create monopolies by ballot issue in the future, probably, I’m guessing here, because YOU called it an “anti-monopoly issue.”

How did we come to this last step before total Idiocracy?  I’m gonna guess this is what happens when we choose legislators not based on their ability to legislate, but based only on the fact that they weren’t there before.  Turns out that’s a worse qualification than “seems fun to have a beer with,” and now we’re stuck with the resulting mess.  We are idiots for electing you.

PS to the Media:  STOP saying Ohio voters rejected a proposal to legalize weed.  We didn't...well, some of us probably did, but the vast majority of us didn't.  We rejected a proposal to monopolize legal weed!  Big difference.  Most Ohioans support, at the very least, medicinal weed, and most Ohio cities have all but decriminalized weed, making minor possession a misdemeanor, and the penalty a fine, in many cases lower than that for a speeding or parking ticket. ...and yet the boogie man has been notably absent.  High school and college kids no longer go to jail for having a joint. Baby steps. For god's sake, don't make us sound any dumber than we are.

An Ohio Voter

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Idiocracy (again)

From Carl Sagan's The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

“I have a foreboding of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time -- when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness...

The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance”

Sagan's book came out mid-1990, before the movie version of The Idiocracy, before Jon Stewart even thought about retiring from The Daily Show.  Now that Sagan is gone, and Stewart is hanging up the word processor, who will remind us that we should embrace rather than fear intellectual pursuits, skepticism, and continuous improvement?

As we approach this next round of presidential nominations and elections, can we please agree that the whole "best one to have a beer with" requirement was never a good idea? Don't we want a president who is smarter than the rest of us? It's no guarantee that he or she will solve all of our problems, but it's a good hedge against his or her doing something irrational and really stupid.

TLDR: If you're only happy being the smartest guy in the room, you should just kick everyone else out and lock the door.