Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Communications 101

Communications 101 seems to be changing.  We watch quite a few British mysteries. Many take place in or around villages scattered about the Islands of Great Britain.  I suppose it is but one of many reasons we love watching these shows. Partly, we love mysteries. But also, the British mysteries seem to be as much about the place and the interesting characters, as the whodunit. One of the shows we watched the other evening took place in a village. As one of the cops is interviewing one of many villagers, the fellow comments about the death at issue. He knows some of the details, and the copper asks, “how did you know that?” The fellow responds, “Oh, it’s all over the village. Everyone knows.” And that characterizes much of village life, as portrayed in these shows. And it isn’t that the shows are supposed to be taking place in 1840. No, they are relatively modern, say the 1990s.  Yet, it seems clear that a prime characteristic of village life is that folks talk with one another—men mostly at the village pub (and there is always a village pub) and the women sometimes there, but often at other social gatherings. But the main thing is that village folks talk with one another as the dominant means of communication.  Nothing much happens within the village that isn’t known throughout the village quickly.

Now this communications method could be a function of life in British small towns, but I rather think it is/was life in small towns everywhere, i.e., life before the Internet.  That is, people used to talk with one another about life in the neighborhood. As I said, people spoke often within their village pub, or at church coffees, sewing circles, or the farm markets.  Because everyone remained interested in things of and about the village, which was often the center of local conversations, as distinct from, say, whether the Labor party head had really said that Brexit was a fraud.

Then, enter social media.  And two things begin to occur within the context of social media. First, the conversations about village life stop being the center of conversation. Instead, what Nigel Farage said about how his previous comments about Brexit were obviously not meant to be taken seriously, or whether Donald Trump actually said that if he were to be impeached, the stock market would crash and everyone would become poor.

And then, the next thing that occurs is that folks begin to form little groups based on what they think/believe about what is being said somewhere else—the silos form. And even though folks may have held disparate views about life in the village, or who was shagging who, mainly then, they still talked with one another, and maybe even argued about various village life affairs. Now, they simply align themselves with other folks, most of whom they do not even know, and their views become hardened by the apparent support of these others whom they do not know.

Now, we do not really live in a little village in Great Britain, or even within these here now United States. Oh, we live in a village, Concord by name, but that village is no longer a real village. The former village is now but a cluster of homes, surrounded by as far as the eye can see by similar clusters of slightly newer homes, and occupied by people who look outside the village for employment and for entertainment.  The village is no longer the draw it used to be, and even the village pub is not quite what it once was.  Oh, some village folks still gather occasionally at the pubs, but the gatherings now differ in kind and population.  And the conversations are different now, with village life being but a minor aspect of the conversations.

The new forms of communication represent a kind of unraveling of village life.  Even if the villages still exist (at least here in the USA) the folks who occupy them seem different in outlook and background, with relatively fewer being stock of “the old guard”. Folks now drift in and out of these villages, and the communications no longer seem to be of and about the village.  The silos remain and, although villagers still say howdy when they encounter one another, the communication largely ends with the howdy.

Now, assuming my characterization is even remotely accurate, does it matter at all, in any important aspect? Well, I think we have begun losing something. It occurs to me that we used to have a body of personal issues that we shared as village neighbors, or perhaps just as neighbors. Growing up next to one another, we understood each other by shared history, and even shared likes and dislikes.  Now, the village is fading as a centerpiece of our culture, and it seems not to be replaced by anything. Social media does not substitute for a common understanding based on shared culture and history. Oh, we might identify with one another by our silo sharing, but the silos are often shallow places and limited in content and perspective.  We love or hate MAGA, or Donald Trump, or the NRA, or gays, or abortion, but those issues tend not to hold the same weight as what we have lost in terms of village life and culture.  And I wonder what we are losing in terms of being British, or American, or French, or Canadian?  Donald Trump seems to violate almost every value we hold as Americans. Yet his folks continue to love him. How can that be? Would the “villagers of old” have been better able to form opinions based on their village identity and their view of their village as a part of their country?  Actually, I think perhaps they might have. I like to hope it is still possible to retrieve these shared values communications, and that by crawling out of our respective silos, we might regain some of our humanity.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The End of Forever

As I age, I think periodically about “The End”. I know that in religious parlance, that End merely means a new beginning, either coming back as a rattle snake, or a cockroach, or lounging about on some cloud, playing a harp and chatting it up with Grandpa Inglis, or Shakespeare. But the other day, I read a very long “article” in the New York Times Magazine Section in its Sunday edition. That section devoted its entire magazine section to our coming climate disaster. In it, the authors describe another END, or, in this case, the likely end of humanity, as the climate changes our planet to the point that it is no longer habitable and we all just disappear like the dinosaurs—I guess that could be described as a sort of “climate change” also.

The gist of the article is that we had a chance, briefly, during the 1970’s, when we could have acted so as to minimize the damage to our planet from our climate change actions, but that we stepped aside and failed to act.  The US is not alone in this course of madness, but, had we acted then, we might have convinced the other major actors to go along to minimize the damage.  But we didn’t.
And so the fairy tale of Forever is now ending.

What do I mean by the fairy tale of forever?

Well, we humans have, I assume, always hated the idea of “endings”. And to counter the fact of Endings, we devised fairy tales and sold the fairy tales as substitutes for reality.  We call the fairy tales, organized religion.  The first “ending” we dealt with of course is the end of life thing. We all know life ends. We see it on a daily basis. Every time we step on a cockroach, or slap a bee to death, we understand that we have ended a life—a tiny one to be sure, but still, a life.

We know, when we slice into a piece of steak, or fry a piece of bacon, that once, that slice was part of a living creature that grazed in the grass, and also looked up on the stars. That creature stopped existing, so that we could eat that steak, or piece of bacon.

As we peruse the daily newspaper, we come across obituaries, that section we all love to read, as it speaks to folks who once inhabited the earth, but now occupy space underground, or in some ash container.  And, of course, our family members keep popping off every now and again, as reminders that life seems not to continue forever. No, it ends, always, for everyone, and every living thing on our poor benighted planet.

But to counter this notion of endings, we devised the fairy tale of populated clouds, and a fiery hell for those poor folks who do not act the way we instruct them to act. And because that particular fairy tale sold so well, we continue to devise fairy tales to cover whatever unpleasantness we continue to see up ahead.  The fairy tale about human folks hanging around on clouds seem relatively benign. I mean, it does grant authority over us to those charlatans who continue to tell us they know what’s ahead, after we die.  But that seems almost harmless when compared with the fairy tale about the Forever nature of our planet. The fairy tale is that our planet and its brothers and sisters out there in EverLand have always existed and will continue to exist forever.  Note, I ignore the patent silliness of the 6000 year tale by that crowd of idiot-savants who do idiotic things like build fake Arcs to demonstrate when humans and dinosaurs occupied the same space till the God thingie threw a lot of water at the planet.  No, even though the God-Creatures continue to cling to all manner of fairy tales about the creation of Earth and humankind, they seem to also like perpetuating the fairy tale that God will not allow Earth to die and thereby kill off his glorious creations.  No, they seem to see our planet as going on forever also.

But the main purveyors of the forever tale are the very ones seeking to hasten its ending—the big money crowd and the industrialists who are causing the central problem. See, there’s “gold in them thar hills”, and when there’s gold at issue, the big money crowd has no moral principles at all.  I can almost understand it when we look at, say, coal mining companies. I mean, they would/will need to go out of business altogether, unless some brilliant human can devise a way to use coal for some purpose that does not involve destroying the planet. And that goes for, say, Exxon, et al. And I guess the bankers (not known for moral principles) have too much capital invested in these deadly industries to abandon them.

So, since the big money crowd controls all politics everywhere on the planet, they can disable, or keep marginal, all actions to Save Our Planet. As the New York Times Magazine section makes clear, the world’s political structures could have acted during the 1970’s, when it became clear that we faced a cataclysmic future if we failed to act. And, of course, we did not act.  Whether we now face a 3 degree rise in global temperatures, or worse (anything over 2 degrees is highly dangerous to the future of our planet), or a 4-5 degree rise is now under debate, but we must understand that such rises mean the drowning of many island states, the disappearance of many coastal cities, including such places as New York City, Boston, San Francisco, etc.  But, the changes in temperature may well also spell the ending to many agricultural systems, as drought and temperature rises produce more desert than arable land.  It is clear that we cannot be specific as to how it will all end, or what delaying tactics might arise.

What is clear is that the purveyors of fairy tales continue their work to preserve their own short term profitability at the expense of rational man’s ability to delay or forestall the total destruction of our planet. That they will die also seems irrelevant to the powers that be, because they assume they will live out their precious lives in luxury, at the expense of their heirs, and future mankind in general.
It remains unclear whether it is already too late. But with a Trump administration well ensconced with full denial as its mantra, it is clear that nothing will be done any time soon. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Fake News

I am reluctant to write this theme, but I keep getting drawn to it every time someone opens his mouth in support of our fake president. His supporters continue. This morning, a correspondent was speaking with a hard-core supporter somewhere in Texas. One person said that he liked Trump because he was “really smart, and a good negotiator”.  Another person dismissed the recent press conference as just, Trump misspeaking a couple of times—“Nothing there, folks, move on”. “He shakes up the system, and it needed shaking up”. And it goes on and on.  And his message is reinforced by his favorite Fox News.  His latest gibberish cozying up to his BFF, Vlad the Impaler, apparently gave even Fox pause.

Now, to be fair, not all Fox News deserted him. A few still clung to the belief that he is right most of the time, even if he misspeaks, but some at Fox shouted at the sheer stupidity of his utterances.  But Fox may be a different kind of animal than the usual Trump supporters.  Fox is a purposefully lying agent, one might begin thinking of Fox as a true “foreign agent”—its owner is, after all foreign, and all of his hirelings act in such a way as to diminish, if not to try to destroy America.  They’re not quite Russia, but they are a highly destructive force.

But, why does anyone watch Fox, I wondered? And how in heavens’ name does anyone still believe anything Trump says, when he is patently ridiculous to even the most casual observer?

Well, it finally dawned on me. We are conditioned to believe absurdities, almost from birth.  Some of us grow out of it, but many folks simply don’t, continuing to believe in fairy tales. And to what do I refer as “fairy tales”? Why, the bible of course.  And less the bible per se than the constant state of siege we live under from so many, the priests of course, but even ordinary folks. What is almost the first thing one hears when we mention the passing of a loved one? Well, “they are in a better place . . . they have gone to meet their maker . . . they are looking down upon us, protecting us”. “They have . . .” well, you get the idea.

The organized religion folks must have understood almost from the earliest time people started thinking, that death is the great boogeyman, to be feared above all else.  And if you can arrest that fear through some fairy tale, then you will be loved/cheered/even worshipped. And, better yet, if you can promise that, if ordinary folks do as you say, follow you, then you will provide them with a guaranteed pathway to a better place, and then death should not be feared, but instead perhaps even welcomed.

And so, the fairy tale was invented. And over time, many hundreds of years, the elegance of the fairy tale grew. Much of the tale remained silly of course . . . folks drifting around on clouds playing harps, entering a golden gate and then either getting your passport into heaven, or being dispatched to Hell forever, burning and in torment, depending on how well you followed your guide here on earth.
But we are also promised access to our dead loved ones, folks who left us and with whom we can now re-engage. Maybe, if we are especially good, we could even hope to engage with Shakespeare.  Wow! And, the best part of the fairy tale??? Well, you can never be found out. Why??? Well, conveniently, no one ever actually returns after they depart for the heavenly gates.  So nobody can ever rat them out. The fairy tale remains in place forever, or at least until you croak.

Now, I submit that it is less the fairy tale itself than the idea of a belief system in which you are allowed to choose your own belief, and even your own facts, so long as they fit within your chosen narrative.  If you grow up and are inculcated with a belief system that portrays people of color as subhuman, then you will follow any fairy tale that reinforces that belief.  So, if a Donald Trump comes along and says that Mexicans are rapists, and murderers, and, if we let them enter they will all join MS-13, then that fits our narrative and we will continue thinking well of the guy who tells us that fairy story. “See, we were right all along. We should never let those people into our country.”  This guy is telling it like it is.  And why do we believe that argument? Well, at least one reason is that we have been conditioned to believe in fairy tales that we like, because they dispel fear.

And that’s how Donald Trump succeeds—by dispelling fears among people preconditioned to believe in fairy tales.  He continues to tell his supporters what they want to hear, so they continue to believe him, regardless of what the facts demonstrate.

Now, did he actually understand that strategy? Probably not at any deep level, because he’s not really a deep thinker. But he does get this notion of telling people what they want to hear, and then dismissing critics, much the way the church dismisses its own critics.

I guess, it’s not complicated, is it? And, it obviously has great staying power--I give you organized religion, which shows no sign of disappearing any time soon. 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Dictator Playbooks

So, now he has proposed another Supreme Court justice thanks to Anthony Kennedy. Brett Kavanaugh now seems a likely choice. He did, after all, help to elect Shrub, in yet another republican illegal election ploy. Republicans seem not to mind gaining the throne via illegal means.  He also went after Bill Clinton, so the Drumpf should be thrilled. He is more likely than not to oppose Roe v. Wade, so he is a threat to women’s right to choose.

But mainly, the threat to our republic comes in a different form, and would be especially pleasing to Trump. He appears to believe that presidents should not be fussed over by the courts for illegal doings.  Should they commit a crime while in office (see Trump) they should not be required to answer until after they leave office. It would be “too disruptive” to the country’s governance for the President to have to answer to charges that he is a criminal. He (Kavanaugh) says, “There is after all, the impeachment process”.  But, he ignores the fact that, should republicans retain power, they don’t do impeachment of one of their own.  Republicans only countenance impeachment if the sitting president is a democrat.

And therein lies the central issue. Republicans in Congress now seem to believe that they (republicans who hold office) are immune to the laws of our land.  It seems not to matter what President Trump does, or says. Nothing, it would seem, will trigger even the slightest critical commentary, no less a move to censure.  So, impeachment is simply “off the table”, regardless of what Trump does.
Even when seven Republican congressmen met recently in secret in Moscow, with members of the Russian government—neither democrats nor members of the press were allowed to listen in—the republican leadership was silent. Can you imagine what they would have done or said had the democrats done the same thing? They were practically rabid about Hillary’s deleted e-mails, but meeting with Russians in secret in Moscow? Nope, not a word.  And what did Sean Hannity say about the meetings?  Well, he said absolutely nothing. Apparently, such meetings are A-OK with Sean baby.  Richard Selby headed a delegation that included Senators, Jerry Moran (R-KS), Steve Daines (R-MT), Ron Johnson (R-WI), John Kennedy (R-LA), John Thune (R-S.D.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX). There is no public record of that meeting.  And Mitch?? No comment.  Gowdy??? No comment.

So, now, instead of a government system that includes by intent, “checks and balances”, we have a single, fully compliant government in which one party can do as it pleases, without any check on its actions at all.

So, beginneth the lesson on dictatorships.

We have a president who seems to adhere to no norms or ethical standards of behavior. He appoints unqualified family members to positions in government, he refuses to place his financial holdings into some kind of blind trust, he continues to make decisions that will benefit him personally, he categorically refuses to release any information regarding his personal finances, is almost completely incompetent in both his appointments process, and his management of his cabinet, he seems to know nobody who is not either corrupt personally, or simply incompetent to lead the offices they are being asked to run, and, last but not least, he really is abysmally ignorant about almost all of the policies he is overseeing, and is attempting to change.  He is anti-science, mainly I think because of his overall ignorance.  He has failed in almost every business enterprise he has initiated, to the point that he seems to specialize in failure (see his three failed marriages).

And his appointments have been almost uniformly a disaster, including in almost all cases people who fundamentally oppose the missions of the agencies they are being picked to lead.  Education and EPA are but the simplest examples, with DeVos and Pruitt serving as exemplars of terrible cabinet selections.

The Congress, both branches, now stand wholly in the control of the Republican Party. In the past, that statement would not necessarily be a bad thing.  Republicans of old used to have some principles worthy of the name. Now, the term “conservative” has become a bad, very ugly joke on humanity.  Conservatives used to pursue “conservation”. Now, they all seem to pursue exploitation, for personal gain. Even that old rascal Barry Goldwater must be turning over in his grave.  So, neither the House nor the Senate operates any check on the president. Perhaps to the contrary, Mitch and Ryan have perhaps existed to spur him on. He knows they care not one whit what he does, so long as he does not piss off their personal bases. And his main base, the Evangelicals, the Neo-Nazi’s, and the KKK wing of our country, seems to love whatever he does, mainly because they have no moral or ethical principles either. So long as he acts to protect white male supremacy, they love him.

And so now he has left NATO in a shambles, as he left the G-7 in disarray.  Mainly, it seems to be his modus operandi. You enter a summit meeting, you yell a lot about how unfair the world treats America, you yell even louder and more incoherently at one or more of our “friends” (see, Canada, and Germany), then you leave and claim that all is well and you personally made the meeting wildly successful.

And no one says anything in response. The media reports, as the media always reports. Trump’s media (Fox, et al) reports that all is well and Great Leader has done a magnificent job once again, and the rest of the non-Trump media report what actually seemed to have happened. They, of course, are then labeled as “fake news” by Trump & Fox and Friends.  And so it goes on.

All this tangled web he has been weaving seems straight out of the Playbook for Dictators. Mussolini, Hitler, most of the Russian oligarchs, and the other minor dictators (Kim, Duterte, etc.) all play from the same book.

But I thought we were better than this. I thought we had independent branches of government that would/could act to restrain a loud mouth, brainless twit like Trump. I thought also that the news media, whatever its political leaning, would still act to protect the public interest.  And finally, I thought that the American people would be able to look at the behavior of an idiot like Trump and declare that he was not speaking for them, and not acting for them when he separated two-year old kids from their parents, because it was God’s will that such a horror occur.

But apparently, I am wrong on all counts. We have a Congress that seems fully compliant with whatever diarrhea comes out of Trump’s mouth and feeble brain.  They will apparently support him even should he do what he suggested—going out on Fifth Avenue and shooting someone, just cuz.

And the media no longer operates in the public interest. We have The Trump PR machine (Fox) and then we have the other “fake News” media that keeps trying to report actual facts.  But the actual success of the rest of the media to keep reporting actual facts depends in part on the willingness of the American people to take in and understand actual facts. The American people now seem not simply to disagree about actual facts. They seem to hate one another, to the point that some members of the Trump PR machine are actually suggesting that a literal Civil War is near. That is, people may begin arming themselves and then shooting the people they hate.  Cuz that’s what a Civil War entails.

And my real question is, whose side is the 101st Airborne Division (et al) on? I no longer have a simple answer to that question.

And so we approach this coming November in terrible fear for the actual continuation of our formerly great nation.  Maybe the American people will surprise, nay stun, me by voting the right wing out of office. And then Snow White will appear and perhaps sing to us about beauty.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Celebrating Anniversaries With Fine Dining

So, we have been married a long time, 63 years and counting. Throughout that time, we have developed a tradition of combining fine dining with our celebratory moods. So, here is a little summary of our culinary celebrations over a 63 year time period, beginning in that little town of Spring Valley, New York. Note that we flew from New York to California the day after we were married. 

July 2, 1955 – Wedding at Spring Valley church, dinner-reception at Carol’s folks’ house in Nanuet.

July 2, 1956 – Dinner with Ruth & Niels at their home in Millbrae, CA
July 2, 1957 – After one unhappy year living in Garden Grove, CA, while I worked at Firestone Guided Missile Division in LA, we moved back to Northern California. We again had dinner with Ruth & Niels at their home.
July 2, 1958 – Dinner at a sweet little restaurant in Menlo Park, CA.
July 2, 1959 – Dinner at home at our new Sunnyvale (pre-Silicon Valley) home, which we purchased for $17,000 (3BR, 2Bath ranch style).
July 2, 1960 – Dinner at Ernie’s in San Francisco. Splendid meal, fancy restaurant. I should note here that San Francisco was so rich in restaurants, that Carol and I would traverse weekly from our Sunnyvale home to some restaurant in the city. We occasionally would select a restaurant at random from the phone book just to test the theory that San Francisco restaurants were simply the best everywhere. Largely, the tactic was successful.

July 2, 1961 – Dinner at The Blue Fox in San Francisco, even fancier, maybe the most expensive place in San Francisco.
July 2, 1962 – Dinner at a Russian restaurant atop Nob Hill, across from our apartment at 1242 Sacramento Street, SF.
July 2, 1963 – Dinner at an Italian restaurant in North Beach, SF. Later, a coffee at Enrico’s coffee House.
July 2, 1964 – Dinner outdoors at the St. George’s Hotel in Beirut, overlooking the Mediterranean. We were enroute to New Delhi, India. 
July 2, 1965 – Dinner in Old Delhi at Moti Mahal’s—Tandoori Chicken cooked by the experts.
July 2, 1966 – Dinner on a river boat restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand, enroute home on home leave.
July 2, 1967 – Dinner outdoors at a café on Mykonos, Greece, overlooking the sea and the windmills. Now we also had an amazing dinner at an outdoor restaurant atop Mt. Lykavittos, where, from the top you can dine outdoors, drink some nice Greek wine, maybe a retsina, and observe the Acropolis where, when we were there, there was an ongoing son-et-lumiere.

July 2, 1968 – Having traversed Europe, stopping in Moscow to see the Bolshoi Ballet do Swan Lake at the Bolshoi Theatre, and cruising through England, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Italy, and then sailing back to New York, we arrived in Manhattan by boat with our brand new Rover 2000TC, and our three kids intact and were greeted by Carol’s folks, and my brother and his wife at the harbor. We dined at a splendid harbor restaurant, and drank from a bottle of 1959 Chateau Lafitte Rothschild to celebrate our anniversary.

July 2, 1969 – Having decided that one year of snow storms in Boston was adequate for a lifetime, we moved to the Washington DC area. We moved for a couple of months to Chincoteague, and celebrated our anniversary at Chincoteague, where we also watched, with close friends, the first moon landing—Flat Earthers be gone.

July 2, 1970 – Ok, having moved into Bethesda, which is adjacent to Washington, DC, we now were faced with many choices for our anniversary dinners.  Initially, Georgetown was our favorite location. We had an amazing creperie, Maison Des Crepe, a fine Greek restaurant, a really, really expensive Italian restaurant—we once spent $350 there for dinner for two (the wine was really expensive).  So, between 1970 and 1990, we alternated frequently at Georgetown restaurants for our anniversaries (no, the $350 one was a one-off). Then during the late 1970s, we began also to go to Bethesda restaurants, as the restaurant trade there really picked up. Basically, what happened was that the subway came through from DC to beyond Bethesda in 1973 and, all of a sudden, DC was a simple subway ride away, with no expensive car parking or DC traffic. And Bethesda real estate boomed, along with Bethesda restaurants.  We went in not many years from maybe 3-4 restaurants, to over 100.  We dined frequently, weekly really at our favorite Italian restaurant, The Pines of Rome. But for anniversaries, we went slightly more upscale. But both DC and Bethesda were “restaurant-rich”, so we mainly remained in our home territory for anniversaries.

1981 – I cannot remember now whether this was an anniversary dinner, but it was close and a memorable experience. Carol’s mom, Nana was her nom-de-plume for our kids, had worked as a little kid at a restaurant her grandfather started—she used to shuck oysters at the age of 7. The restaurant was Gage and Tollner, located in Brooklyn on Fulton Street, It was opened during the 1880s and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.  The place had gas lamps, so it could remain open during a blackout.  We took Nana there for her 75th birthday.  The place looked the same to her and it was an amazing dining experience for all.  Unhappily, it changed owners multiple times, and then simply closed for good.  But we were lucky to have dined at that wonderful historic restaurant that was a part of Carol’s family.

July 2, 2000 – yes we are skipping forward in time, now to capture our move to Concord, North Carolina, and my pseudo-retirement. In theory, I retired in 2000. In practice, two of my clients insisted that I continue to consult with them, which I did on at least a monthly basis until 2007, when I declared myself done with my consulting business, and schlepping up to DC and New York.  

Initially, when we moved into Concord, there was a dearth of fine restaurants. We really had to travel, maybe to Charlotte, or to a few up in Salisbury, NC. The area was not DC or Bethesda, and represented something new for us, since we had always lived within a minor drive to a rich array of fine restaurants. See, dining out, especially at anniversaries was one of our several traditions.  

Then we began doing a bit of traveling at anniversary time.  And we discovered one of the world’s great treats, a village in Canada named Niagara on the Lake. It is located about five miles from the falls, and on the confluence of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. The village is physically lovely, with gardens and flowers everywhere. It also has three theatres devoted to the Shaw festival. The theatres put on plays by George Bernard Shaw and Shaw contemporaries.  The performances are amazing. The village is also surrounded by fine wineries, which can be visited with a short drive. It also has wonderful inns, B&Bs, restaurants and little shoppes within which one may satisfy the urge for lovely things.

We managed to visit there on several occasions, and we dined at more than one of the estate wineries. For our 50th, our 55th, and our 60th, we celebrated our anniversaries at the Peller Estate Winery. They offer wine pairing dinners, which are both fun and tasty. We also always managed to bring home boxes of wine.  This of course was when Canadians still thought of Americans in kindly ways, before our President so crudely declared a state of economic warfare existed. But he is a profoundly stupid man.

June 30th, 2018 – we managed to celebrate our anniversary a bit early by dining at our now favorite restaurant, Gianni’s in downtown Concord.  We had a wonderful meal, courtesy of Heather, the amazing chef at Gianni’s. And both Heather and John greeted us during our meal, and John brought us each a glass of champagne. We chatted, ate amazing food and generally felt special, which is how we always feel at Gianni’s. I liken the restaurant to Cheers, where everyone knows your name.

July 2, 2018 – And so, for our actual anniversary dinner, we are going to our son-in-law’s brewery, the Cabarrus Brewing Company in Concord, another place where we can truthfully say, everyone knows our name. The brewery is a special place, filled with wonderful and highly varied beers, interesting food and always a welcoming atmosphere.  So, there, a little summary of many anniversaries and much fine dining at special places. Let the tradition continue.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Universal Health Care

So, health care. What do we need?

The United States is a large, relatively wealthy nation.  Yet in many respects, we act like a poverty stricken region, with little intelligent thought given to our population. It would seem to me that one of the primary responsibilities of a governing system is to see to the overall health and well-being of its population. But what does that mean? That everyone gets free food and free health care? Well, no, not exactly.  But it should be the case that our nation decides that all of its citizens should have access to adequate food and health care, that food and health care should not be denied to any part of the population.

People should not become sick or die of malnutrition because they have no food. People should not die because they cannot gain access to our system of health care. Note, if a ruling party decides that a goal of its system of governance is that its entire population should have access to food and access to quality health care, then that same ruling party must design the systems and programs whereby such a goal(s) can be achieved.

It is a principle of management that, when one develops an overall goal for its population, it is the responsibility of the program managers—the ruling party—to design a complete program that will lead to achievement of the goal(s). To announce a goal, and then leave the program’s design to chance, is to act irresponsibly, and to thereby assure that the goal will not be achieved.

This simple statement appears to describe where we are as a nation at the current moment.
For decades, we have been experimenting with both health care and food assurance to no avail. During the Johnson administration, our nation’s program managers devised a program that would assure access to quality health care for both its senior citizens and its poor. At least for the seniors, the program has worked wonderfully well, although it has begun breaking down as the program’s manager’s delegate increasing responsibility for the program’s finances to for-profit enterprises that actually hold different ultimate goals than the program’s founders and ostensible managers.  

In terms of food, our system of entirely private food production and distribution works well to both produce and to distribute food to all geographic corners. However, access to food is entirely a one element system—money. The government has (no doubt wisely) decided not to interfere in the actual production or distribution systems, but rather to treat access to food as entirely a matter of affordability. If the population has enough money, the entire population will have access to quality food. Therefore, the government’s program to assure access to food is a financial one entirely. The program managers decide how much money individuals need to live reasonably in any given part of our nation (costs vary by geography). The coping system is termed Welfare. When incomes drop below certain predefined levels, the population can apply for and then receive supplements to their income to guarantee access to food (and lodging). Note that the system will break down should the program managers (government) decide that the financial amounts needed by population segments cannot/will not be made available.

But access to health care has always been more complicated.  Our system of health care in its earliest stages was simply on a pay-as-you-go basis, much like food.  But, unlike food, health care services rapidly became expensive to individuals in need of the higher cost services.  And, as more and more people began obtaining health care services requiring care within hospitals, the cost of hospital stays began escalating beyond the ability of individuals to afford.  Thus, enter health insurance.  An entirely new industry, has now emerged as a major element in the ability of the “system” to provide adequate access to the entire population.  Initially, health insurance became an element in employment. That is, if one was employed full time by a responsible company that company entered into relationships with insurance companies that would guarantee access to the employees to full health care. The company and the employees would split the costs of that enterprise, so that health care did not “break the bank” for either party.  It is important to remember that health insurance is affordable so long as the pool of people covered is large enough that the costs are spread such that low users subsidize high users, so as to contain the costs, enabling the entire pool to have access. That is the obvious system design element that is slowly slipping away, and jeopardizing the entire system.

Since the entire system was based on employment, it always contained a fatal flaw. If one segment of the population were unemployed, that entire segment would lose access.  So, two groups were at immediate risk—the unemployed elderly and the underemployed or unemployed younger sets.  With the development of Medicare and Medicaid, the government entered the scene by providing the role of employers in the remaining sectors.  If people were old enough—initially 65—or poor enough (low income levels) they still might have access to health care. And the concept of risk pools still prevailed. That is, the healthy elders subsidized the relatively less healthy elders.  Note the cost sharing depended greatly on government financing. The elders continue to pay into the system, but the government finances a major part of the overall system.

Over time, the private sector system that depended on employment began breaking down, largely because there was no overall system manager whose job it was to assure the program’s success. For example, many companies (e.g., WalMart) decided to reduce their cost envelope by hiring people less than full-time. It had been decided that all employees who were employed more than 30 hours per week were “full-time”. Employees who were employed less than that were “part-time” and, therefore, did not qualify for health insurance coverage.  Thus, cost began to overwhelm access as the ultimate goal of the system. One needed to contain the costs of health care and, therefore, since the system was being managed by the private sector, where cost, not access, was the ultimate goal, cost concerns began eating away at coverage, and segments of the population began dropping out of the system.
Note, there was no alternative system that would take over from the private system that was failing at the basic job of providing access.  In other countries, the government had long since stepped into the role of provider. That is, the governments decided that access to health care was a universal right, and the government, through its taxation system would guarantee that right. America had no such thoughts. We continued on our private sector approach, in which we essentially delegated to the for-profit sector responsibility for health care access. The government continued to intervene for the elderly and the poor, although complaints about the taxation required to sustain that system have never quit.  It is as though our population either does not understand, or simply does not agree that health care is a necessity, not a luxury, and therefore should be guaranteed.

As a result, increasingly large segments of our population have dropped out of the health insurance marketplace, and very large segments of even our covered population (the elderly for example) are now beginning to discover that they cannot continue to afford their health care, as it is currently designed.

So, it would seem that we now require a whole new approach to health care insurance in this country.  We need an entirely new financial approach that would guarantee the entire population with effective access to quality health care. That is, we need to emulate those systems now in use within many/most European nations (including our neighbor next door).

That must be our goal if we are to become once again a full member of the universe of civilized nations. Currently, we have dropped out of that universe.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Stay Sober

I am rapidly passing into some magical land of make believe, in which Donald Trump appears wonderful, and accomplished, and perhaps the best president we have ever had. In one article, David Lynch is quoted as saying that Trump could go down in history as one of the greatest presidents we have ever had. Now, to be fair, Lynch did not really say he was in love with our pseudo-human president. He seemed to have favored Bernie Sanders, but he thinks Trump is the great disrupter. According to Lynch, the current system is simply corrupt and inept, and Trump, by blowing it up, could be making way for an actual fixer president, someone who could get things done in a positive way by being thoughtful and by getting the corrupt system to respond favorably to productive policies (he didn’t allude to what such policies might be).

Nonetheless, the system is so hungry for positive words that the entire Republican machine quoted Lynch favorably, including President Stupidhead via his twitter-feed.  But I do keep reading comments from folks who also maintain that Trump is a grand president, some would say the best we have ever had. Mike, The Veep from the local swamp, is touting 500 days, promises made, promises kept.  I guess Mike is a big fan of incarcerating innocent kids in concentration camps, til they either die, or are fostered out to families who need the money. But Mike seems to be a racist like his Big Daddy Donald, so no surprise there.

And Facebook is full of swamp-dwellers who are always alert to Trump critics, whom they rush to call Libtards, and defame them for being less than generous to our Great Leader. And I keep wondering on what planet we now reside.  Trump now is promoting the idea that he should be able to dispose of the families and the children without being fussed by the Courts, or by lawyers and all that legal mumbo-jumbo. He wants no interference from stuff like our Constitution and our system of laws. Heaven forfend the Law should get in his way.

So, how anyone can continue to imagine that he is praiseworthy is beyond my ken.  But perhaps the David Lynch approach to praise is what is now operating within our general public. That is, the system we had/have is essentially broken, whether through corruption or ineptitude matter little. It is broken. So anyone who comes into our universe as a system disrupter is by definition a good person. I gather that Lynch has no idea whether anyone is sitting in the wings ready to assume the mantle of guardian angel.  That Trump could continue beyond his disrupter phase into a power consolidation phase is apparently beyond Lynch’s current caring envelope. He neither knows, nor presumably cares who/what comes next. So, should Trump remain in power because the Reds refuse to move off stage (because the blue folks don’t vote in sufficient numbers), and, heaven forfend, accept a second term as our president, the worst could be at hand, whatever David Lynch thinks.  Lynch apparently doesn’t think too hard or extend his thinking too far, because it is not really a grand leap to imagine the dismantling of our democratic system of government, and its reformation as a Grand Junta such as we see in that North Korea place, or even that Soviet place.  Democratic systems of government are in a state of siege all over the world, including that wonderful European Union.  Right wing authoritarians are in a state of near euphoria at the prospects of taking over in a number of currently democratic states—Germany comes to mind.

So, I find myself thinking maybe I should emulate Steven Colbert’s words (even if he is only joking) that maybe it is time to begin drinking heavily every evening, just so as to stop thinking about the mess we have created.  But no, that would have been my dear Father’s favorite approach, so surely that cannot be the way forward. I know. How about voting? Well, that’s coming up soon, unless the republicans succeed in placing enough barriers to voting that only republicans are allowed to vote.  That’s their plan by the way. Republicans apparently don’t believe in democracy any more than their Glorious Leader.

So, keep your eyes open folks and your brain active. Republicans and The Donald do not want you to vote at all, unless you agree to vote for him and them.  That’s the plan. So, remain alert, whether you want to or not. Try to stay sober at least part of the day.  And then vote if you are still allowed to. That’s our plan.