Monday, July 6, 2020

Fox News Fiddles While Rome Burns

It’s amazing really that Trump manages to keep his Fox News toadies in line. Makes me wonder whether Trump and Rupert Murdoch speak each night, or perhaps each morning to make sure the Murdoch pseudo-newsies continue to toe the line.  And I wonder even more, are the Foxies simply actors making great salaries for repeating the lines written for them by Murdoch hired guns?

Yeah, it really does seem like Rome, or in this case Washington, DC, is burning down as the Foxies fiddle away madly. My wife and I have been watching a new series called “Designated Survivor”. It is a story of a massive bombing of the Capitol, which kills the President, the Vice President, all of Congress, SCOTUS, and most of the Cabinet. The Designated Survivor is a system put into place at some time in the past, which has a list of officials who are called “designated survivors” and who constitute the “next in line” after the normal list of successors are killed. In a Wiki definition, we read the following:
“In the United States, a designated survivor (or designated successor) is a named individual in the presidential line of succession, chosen to stay (at a secure and undisclosed location) away from events such as State of the Union addresses and presidential inaugurations. The practice of designating a successor is intended to safeguard continuity in the office of the president in the event the president along with the vice president and multiple other officials in the presidential line of succession died in a mass-casualty incident. The procedure originated in the 1950s during the Cold War with its risk of nuclear attack.
If such an event occurred, the surviving official highest in the line of succession as delineated in the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 would become acting president of the United States. Consequently, the individual named must be eligible to serve as president. In practice, the designated survivor is usually a member of the president's Cabinet, and is chosen by the president.”
 As we watch in both horror and fascination, I keep thinking, “well, we did not have a bombing kill off everyone, but we have the nearest equivalent”. In this case, Donald Trump has killed off everything that was considered normal before his election—people of normal intelligence and normal ethical/moral behavior standards acting in the interests of the American people, as they perceived it, and directing policies and actions that at least appear remotely normal. Everyone he has appointed, seemingly without exception, is aberrant in some way.  Either they also seemingly possess subnormal intelligence, or possess such bizarre views of the country and of our accepted approaches to domestic and world affairs that they are way outside anything we might view as “normal”.
We have never before Trump seen such a parade of people being appointed and then fired from key positions. Mostly, Trump seems to know nobody who is remotely normal. If we look at his close associates, his press secretaries, his lawyers, his personal advisors, and even his cabinet, they all appear fatally flawed as human beings, and utterly without any redeeming virtues in the positions to which they have been appointed.  When he inevitably fires them, it is almost always that they have proven incapable of making him, Trump, appear normal, or competent.  And mostly, his appointees to important government positions are classic Foxes in the Hen House.  He appoints industry lobbyists to run agencies charged with overseeing industry. Or he appoints people to positions they have spent a lifetime battling against—see Betsy DeVos.

So, this is now a “New Normal”, which has nothing to do with the pandemic.  This normal is a world of subhumans, who pretend to act in the best interests of America, but who in fact act, always, to protect the status of those few Americans lucky enough to be billionaires.

And if that “New Normal” is not terrible enough, then we have daily Trumpisms roaring out of the cloud of Twitterati. He must sit in bed at night, or early in the morning, having absorbed the daily Fox stupidities of the previous day, and sends out his Twitteratisms of the day.  He apparently tweets 10-20 times per day, depending on how outraged he is about some subject. One estimate was that from his announced candidacy through the first 2 ½ years of his reign, he tweeted over 17,000 times. Now that is just not normal.  That is ABNORMAL, by almost any definition.  Now were he some frustrated 13 year old bleeping on about high school rejections, one might say, ok, that kid needs some parental advice or some counseling.  But for the President of the United States to go on like that, we are in a different realm. Yes, clearly, he needs psychological counseling, but he may also need to be institutionalized and under daily, if not hourly, care. The White House is not such a place.  Think of what his Cabinet meetings must be like.  Are staff folks sitting there suppressing amazed giggles?

He really seems terminally stupid almost all of the time. And apparently, his KKK/Neo-Nazi supporters continue to love him.  I guess they don’t mind having someone that stupid with the launch codes to nuclear oblivion in his possession.

And over the past three plus years, we have all grown used to having President Stupidhead at the helm of our government, and the subject of daily late night comedy humor.  He is a never-ending source of comedic horror and general humor.

But lately, I think he seems to slipping out of even his weird definition of “normal”. He is now almost full time racist, seemingly turned on by the Pandemic, by Black Lives Matter and by the Confederacy.  Anyone and anything associated with Black people in America appear to offend him and give rise to bizarre tweets. His speeches seem barely in adult English any longer. Whenever I listen to him speak for more than a few moments, I wonder if perhaps he never really learned English at all.  And I also am drawn to wondering whether he is either on some psychedelic drug, or that his mind is merely slipping away from him. I know he doesn’t drink alcohol, although he seems vaguely drunk most of the time. Most adults will orate better than Trump even after three martinis.

And in the midst of this bazzaro world he defines, this Pandemic is killing literally thousands of people almost daily, and he refuses to act, claiming that we have defeated the virus, and that it is 99% harmless.  It is as though the Russians have been dropping bombs on our major cities daily, and Trump is preoccupied with Tweeting about people he hates.

So, what are we to make of this bizarre behavior, even by his own bent standards? Is there no one to stand up and announce that Trump is now completely broken and needs full-time in-patient psychiatric care? Would it take, really, for Trump to literally take out a gun and start shooting people he doesn’t like?  And if he did that, would anyone finally step in and do something to remove this horror show from our country? Is there any someone capable of doing that?  I have seen no evidence that anyone within the White House or on Capitol Hill is capable or willing to take any action. And so, we the people, are left to observe and to live in fear that this madman is going to try to destroy our upcoming election process, and that nobody would stop him. And that, were we to have an actual election and he lost, he might still declare victory and refuse to leave.  He does not live in the real world. Perhaps he has never lived in the real world. But he has always gotten away with it. Will that continue? Or will the world simply end because COVID19 kills off everyone?

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Leaving America

I think now, often, of my grandparents who left their homelands in the 1890s to come to America, in order to make a better life. I have no actual information about precisely why they left their own homelands to come here. But come they did. In the case of my Scottish grandparents, they came here in the 1880s. We have a naturalization certificate dated 10/16/1893 for grandpa.  Their kids started arriving (being born) in the mid-1890s, with my mother arriving in February 1899. Now, Grandpa Inglis had little formal education, maybe the Scottish elementary school.  He had a tradecraft—carpentry, and so, after his arrival, he began working in the homebuilding trades. I am told that he built houses in Brooklyn. I even have a very dim memory of being in a house in a rural community, I guess in Brooklyn. But then we moved into Manhattan, likely because Daisy got a job in Manhattan.  We rarely moved because Rudy got a job somewhere.  Rudy rarely “got a job”.

I have to assume that my Grands left their own homelands because they believed they could no longer lead a full life there. Perhaps, the times were difficult, and, without any education, they were ill equipped to manage their lives. And so, they moved.  I think of that, but I really have difficulty understanding the enormity of such a move.  In the case of the Inglis’, Scotland was all they knew, doubtless going back multiple generations.  Moving to New York must have been seriously uprooting, and I also cannot really understand what their families back in Scotland must have felt at their move.

And so we arrive at America in the year 2020.  What would I do were I a 20-something, and fresh out of school, hopefully Uni?  Well, I know I would be doing something to support a replacement candidate for our current idiot-in-chief. Having survived, just barely, almost four years of Trump, I now believe the United States will not survive four more years.  It is as though he has set about to systematically destroy the very fabric of our Nation.  With every breath he opens greater crevices in American society. He seems to specialize in causing people to hate others, fear-mongering, race-baiting, general hatred of “the other”.  But he is also systematically dismantling the structures and institutions that have been erected over several centuries to safeguard the republic. He has been busy eliminating regulatory safeguards, especially ones intended to minimize climate change, but also ones intended to rein in the worst instincts of capitalism. And his judicial appointments are almost uniformly destructive of a civilized world.  And then there’s that “rest of the world” thing. He has also been systematically destroying our relationships with other nations, especially ones with whom we have been allied over many decades.

So, what will happen were he to be granted another four years?  He would, I predict only get worse and more destructive. Since he appears to have no idea what he is doing, his actions may become more sharply destructive. His narcissistic sociopathy seems to know no bounds. It is almost as though he really does not understand just how destructive he is—maybe because on top of everything else, he seems amazingly ignorant and, yes, stupid.

So, what would I be thinking were I, say 20-25? Well, I think I would be thinking of doing what my grandparents did—leaving this United States of America.  I would be at the early stages of planning my departure, should that awful event occur.  But the problem is where would I want to go? The pandemic will not yet be over, likely not until a year or so after a vaccine is actually developed.  So, wherever I might go, it would have to be a nation willing to take me, and in which I might stand a reasonable chance of finding a lifetime career path.  Not too many countries spring easily to mind. Right off, Canada seems way better than life in America. Also, I would be looking seriously at New Zealand. Unfortunately, Australia seems as bad as America.  And unless I began learning one or more foreign languages, much of Europe seems difficult, however much I might wish to move there.

So, I imagine the task of finding a replacement country would not be an easy one.  But the alternative just seems to me too awful to contemplate. Living in America during a second Trump term seems potentially catastrophic. I almost cannot imagine the prospect.

Being in my now mid-80s I have no chance to even consider moving anywhere. So, whatever happens in the upcoming election, we will have to simply hunker down, and maybe stay permanently socially isolated.  But I fear for our children, and even more for our grandchildren. They require a humane, civilized country in which to live, work, and raise their own children.  America under Trump is and would in the future no longer be such a place. Migrating is such a difficult charge. But, I believe that, under another Trump period, living here is simply unsustainable. Surely there exists some other place on this globe that is a real civilization. 


Friday, June 26, 2020

Waiting for God, Still

One of our favorite British comedies is a show that was aired during the 1990s, called Waiting for God. It is a story of folks, some cantankerous, who reside in a senior living quarters, with separate living “apartments” and a shared dining room, where they are served whatever the facility chef has concocted for that day. All the residents are independent, but arguably no longer capable of living alone, either because of physical or financial limits.  But, because they are “independent” they are also an argumentative lot, often challenging the facility leadership and staff, and just as often challenging each other.

Occasionally, one of them leaves this Earth for that other place.  And that gives rise to the name of the show. Folks there don’t really do anything any longer, they just “hang out”, “Waiting for God”.  And, for most of them, there isn’t too much wrong with them, at least physically. But once they begin residing in the place, they more or less disconnect from this world.  Oh, occasionally, a relative will pop by and maybe take them for a drive, or just hang out with them for a while. But mostly, they hang out together, chatting it up over meals, or the occasional glass of wine in someone’s “apartment”.  And then, periodically, someone croaks, or heads off to that Netherlands.

And, with this pandemic, our lives have begun to acquire a bit of the flavor of that show.  We live alone. Mostly, we dine alone and then watch TV together. We go out infrequently, mainly to pick up something we have purchased online, at some local store.  And that is LIFE, while Waiting for God. Now, I suppose we are also becoming cranky, if not downright cantankerous.  Except that, we have no facility supervisors about whom we can complain. We are the main supervisors, so it’s like complaining about yourself.  And that just ain’t no fun.  And so, we complain about the Drumpf, or the other malenfants who pretend to be government servants.  And they provide daily/hourly motivation for complaints.  I keep wondering, God if you actually exist, why would you ever have created such a bunch of cretins to sit upon this earth, pretending to be humans? See, that is my problem with the whole “waiting for God” thing. People like Trump and his family of gangsters seems evidence enough that evolution actually rules, and that, if there is an actual God, she set evolution in motion and then walked away (assuming God “walks”).  Now, to be fair, she would likely be laughing a lot, having dumped the Trump cretin-crowd on us, however indirectly.

I understand that, as we are “waiting for God”, so actually is everyone else.  I mean, going to work at HSBC at 8 each morning, and pretending to “work” at money creation is really just a sophisticated form of “Let’s Pretend”.  And so, those folks build bigger money balloons, and then, just before they make them pop, they sell out, rake in some cash, and then go have a nice bottle of wine, while the suckers sit around crying at how much money they just lost. It’s a great game, as long as you’re not the one getting suckered.

Or maybe you go in at 8 each morning, and immediately begin laying bricks for a brand new building somewhere. Arguably, when such folks walk away at 5 or 6 that evening, they can actually feel accomplished, because they created something that did not exist before they arrived that morning.  I must confess that, while I did not go to work each morning aiming to screw some strangers out of their hard earned cash, neither did I lay bricks, or mow lawns. I also dealt in mind games, called planning and evaluation.

But, in any case, we are all, brainiacs and useful souls, arriving at that same game of awaiting the arrival of whatever God we favor.  We will depart this Earth for whatever comes next, most likely a void.  And it may well be best that we don’t all dwell on this coming departure all the time.  Best perhaps that we treat ourselves to a laugh now and again, maybe at something stupid the Drumpf has treated us to.  He is reliable in that regard.  Or maybe, we could try to do something kind to someone. That would be nice.

See, that’s what I have difficulty understanding. While we are all awaiting, why do some of us choose to act uncivilly towards other human beings? Whether it was actually God, or it was simply Evolution at work, we all really do seem to be made out of the same star stuff.  We all laugh, cry, feel good or feel bad at similar events. We like to be liked. But some of us imagine that, it we treat other folks who don’t look quite like us badly/harshly, even evilly, that other folks will like us even more.  The problem with that game is that for every person who thinks we are great because we treated someone unkindly, there are even more folks who think we are idiot-malenfants. And so we increase the possibility that our lives will be themselves less than pleasant. And so, maybe we should consider giving up this game of, “I’m better than you are”.

But that would imply that we humans are actually moral, or perhaps humane. And increasingly, I find less and less evidence of those traits. I sometimes wonder whether all those folks looking down on us from you know, up there, spend all their time yelling at us to stop being such idiots. Could it be that’s what all that thunder and lightning is?? 

Hmmm. Better think on that one. Later Alligator.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Money & Evil

Of late, it is becoming extremely hard to deny the “money is the root of all evil” connection. Over many years, I have been forced to conclude that the twin sources of all evil in the world are Money and Organized religion.

But the more I think about it, the more I wonder whether “Evil” isn’t simply an inherent part of Man’s nature. It seems built into the basic design of humankind. So, if that is true, then perhaps Humans are actually the root of all evil.

Think about it.

Who invented Money? Humans of course.

Who invented Religion? Humans of course.

Now at one level, money isn’t Evil per se. Money is simply a transactional device that allows humans to value things—activities and commodities. Before money, these things were valued by a trading mechanism. That is, one goat was worth XX bushels of corn. Then, likely because such trades began to get too complicated, someone decided on a neutral device—money. Although hard metals were likely first used perhaps as early as 5-7000 BC, metal converted into coins was likely first used around 600-700 BC.

So money has been around and fairly useful as a trading device for many centuries.  But then Man began looking at money a little differently. Say the guy with the goat for sale wants to sell his goat to the corn man. But he really doesn’t want or need corn. So, they have to figure out a different method of getting the goat to the corn man, without relying on corn. So, the corn guy sells his corn to a dude in exchange for some shiny metal pieces made out of some pretty metal. Then he and the goat-guy debate how many of the shiny metal pieces the goat is worth. So, the goat guy winds up with some nice shiny metal, and the corn guy gets his goat for some nice goat stew.

And so it went.

But then some guy figured out that, if he got more of the shiny metal, he could buy a nice boat, or maybe a nice house.  And then, if he was clever, he could arrange to sell the nice boat or the nice house for more of the shiny metal pieces than he had paid. And so it went.

Enter the guy who doesn’t actually make/raise anything. He decides that he can make even more of the shiny metal if he becomes the guy who arranges the sale of boats, or houses, or goats, or corn, and takes a cut of each sale.

And so, on and on, until we arrive at our present, a present in which humans can bring in huge amounts of the shiny metal for doing little that is useful, except maybe arranging deals.  And then some other guys decide they can make some shiny metal by predicting how much each deal will be worth a year from now, or maybe even 30 minutes from now.

And on and on it goes, with humans figuring out newer ways to make some of the shiny metal without ever doing anything actually useful.  And money itself then becomes its own commodity, and acquires a value independent of anything real.

And then enter the Donald Trumps of our world—humans who conceive of ways to create fake things of value, sell those fake things, and then make off with the money, without ever actually delivering anything of value. And when people yell that they are being cheated, they construct fake arguments showing that the people received value, just not the kind they were expecting.

Because money is so highly valued, especially by unethical humans, we have entire fields of human behavior that trade unethical activities, in many cases illegal activities, for money. And if the unethical/illegal activities don’t get exposed, those humans make off with their money, and go off to buy a waterfront home on the Riviera, or some other exotic place.  Precisely because there exists some percentage of these unethical/illegal activities that always seem to escape the attention of law enforcement folks, the groups of people so engaged continues to grow and continues to prosper. And then, remember, Humans invented things called Banks. And some of those Banks figured out that, if we allow the crooks of the world to transfer their money to unguarded places, they can extract a nice fee for facilitating such deals—see HSBC, for example. And the Money=Evil connection strengthens.
But see, it was not Money itself that decided to become unethical/illegal. It was Humans, unethical Humans who made and continue to make such decisions. Money, as it turns out, is simply a relatively easy commodity to corrupt.

 And then there is religion, my second source of Evil.

Now, what is “Religion”? Religion is simply a collection of belief systems. Belief in what you might ask? Well, belief in an entire magical world that comes into being only after you die. Yeah, we live in this world we can all see, touch and feel. And we sort of understand that world. But then we also understand that we exist in that world for an indeterminate, yet fixed period of time.  That “fixed period” is not exactly the same for everyone, but for each human on Earth, a fixed period of Life exists; we simply don’t know in advance what that fixed period is.

But the Fixed period matters little, because Religion offers us an infinite second existence.  Now all religions don’t offer the same assurance, but the biggies offer such. That second existence is a bit weird. Some pretend that you will be floating up in the sky with a vision of Earth down below, and that, much like watching a movie, I guess, you can observe what the actually living humans are doing down below. And you can chat it up with your long lost relatives, and even God—I have often wondered what a chat with God would be like. Odd, one would think, since God is all knowing, and you’re just a dude who spent a few years down below pretending to be human.

Some suggest that you might get to play an instrument, although a harp is the only one ever mentioned.  And you float about on clouds. It remains uncertain whether you ever get to eat a nice meal, or have a nice glass of Cabernet Sauvignon up there. It would seem not.  That is so Down Below.

But at least you might get a chance to query your mom, or grandmum, or even your errant father figure, and finally get some answers, on why your life was so crappy because they behaved in such idiotic ways.

Now all this floating about on clouds thing, nice as it might be, is only one of the two after-life options as it turns out.  There is actually a second, less desirable option. That option is Hell, a place where folks who misbehaved pretty badly have to go—say Hitler I guess.  And in that option, you don’t get to float about chatting it up with your past relatives, and maybe even God. Nope, there you enter a world of fire, where you continue to burn in fire forever more.  Yep, you never get released to that nice cool place up above, having to spend your second, infinite existence on fire and in pain forever.

Doesn’t seem really nice, huh?

So, what do you have to do to make it to one place or the other? Well, turns out it isn’t real complicated.  All you have to do to make it into the cool place up above is to behave yourself. And how do you do that? Well, if you follow orders. Whose orders? Well, the dudes and dudettes who are in charge of the places of religiosity. And now, enter the Evil. See, it turns out that, if you endow humans with the power to send you to one place or the other, they begin behaving a bit differently than they might otherwise have behaved. That is, they can tell you what to do, or not to do, as they see fit. And if, say, they don’t like Gays, they can tell you, Don’t Behave Gay! Because, if you do, I will guarantee that you will go down below rather than up above.  Now that’s serious power. Think of all the “Don’t, do’s” they might construct.  And, of course, they can also construct a whole bunch of “Do, do’s”.  As in, “Do give me some of your money each week, and in exchange, I will tell you what to do, or not to do”.  Or, “Do build me a really grand building in which I can enlighten you each week”.  Or, maybe, “Do buy me a nice airplane, so I can fly around and tell others what to do.”
And so the story goes on. With each century of such power over folks, organized religion became grander and more powerful. Powerful to the point that, its followers became aroused to kill non-believers in their name.  So, we not only had religious wars, but more simply, believers who decided on their own to kill other people who refused to follow.

Oddly, organized religion rarely stepped in to stop human behavior that simply seemed, on its surface, to be unethical. Like War, for example.  Organized religion probably caused more Wars than it ever stopped, to the extent that it ever stopped any wars.  And Slavery. God, how could organized religion sanction Slavery? And yet, it never stepped into that subject. The folks buying and selling slaves were welcomed into the churches of the world, so long as they were willing to pay the Ponzi Masters and listen to their chattering.

So religion turned into the greatest Ponzi scheme ever created.  And, think of it, the Ponzi scheme never gets exposed because people always die first.  Yeah, Thoughts and Prayers indeed.

So, if it’s the case that Humans are the ones who are evil, and they just create these things—systems really, that subsequently get labeled as “Evil”, then it’s Humans we need to watch out for, rather than money, or religion.

Now, the Evil seems to creep into systems whenever we grant Humans power (and too much money also = Power). It seems that we need to accompany grants of power/authority with careful independent oversight.  Enter two recent examples:

Police – precisely because humans are capable of Evil, great or small, we needed someone to hold them to account. After all, some Humans actually think it’s ok to kill other Humans, just because they can and they own a gun, or some other lethal device. So, we need to both stop such behavior, and take such evil-doers off the streets.  So, we invented police. And when did that happen? Well, several thousand years ago it would seem. In Asia, things called “prefectures” were invented and began serving as checks on illegal behavior. That concept spread throughout much of Asia, and thence into various parts of Europe, as it became settled.  So, this concept of imposing a check on illegal behavior is a very ancient idea, stemming from the basic problem—that Humans are given to unethical and illegal behavior, whenever possible.

But the concept of police and policing is itself subject to unethical and even illegal behavior.  It turns out, if you grant power/authority to Humans, unethical behavior will inevitably result. Now, we understand that not all Humans behave unethically, but equally, we know that some percentage will behave so.  If that is the case, then we need, in a sense, to “police” the police.  And so, we appoint committees to oversee such activities. And sometimes, those committees behave unethically.  In Policing, we have Police Review Boards. But even those Boards do not always work as intended.  And so we have to educate folks. People of color have to educate their kids that sometimes, “Driving/Walking/Jogging/Living While Black” might be seen by unethical police as illegal.  How awful, right? Yet, without such instruction, we see awful results, as the recent protests all over the globe illuminate.

Churches - And we decry the inbuilt habits of people within the profession of protecting their own—policemen who refuse to decry such bad behavior by their colleagues.  And we are shocked, shocked. But, then, remember that other profession to which we grant huge authority—the Church? And remember the hundreds, probably thousands of Churchly priests who routinely raped children within their parishes. And remember again that the Church officially covered such awful crimes by shipping the errant priests off to a different parish without so much as a “by your leave”. For Centuries. Yes, the churches of the world experienced such behavior for centuries, and nothing was done—no worse, something was done routinely, to hide such disgraces.

And so we are left to wonder. Is all lost? Are Humans finally simply a flawed experiment by either God or Evolution, and the universe of things needs to await the end of such creatures at their own design?

Well, we are not all inherently unethical, even if we are all built with our own flaws. We can and desperately need to observe human behavior around us. And, when we observe obviously unethical behavior, we need to call it out, report it, regardless of where and by whom the behavior occurs.
When we elect people to higher offices and we observe obviously unethical/illegal behavior—Donald Trump comes to mind—we need to call it out, and act so as to ensure such individuals cannot continue in those high offices.  And if we observe behavior by policemen, or Congressmen, or judges, or clergy, we similarly need to bring those actions out into the light.  We act by Voting in part. That’s why we invented Voting. But Voting is only part of this game. We need to always observe. And then take action when what we observe is unethical. And by Act, I do not mean we need to get out our guns and take action independently. No. That is in itself unethical behavior. Instead, we need to utilize the systems of justice, and open inquiry to bring such behavior to the light of public opinion.
We always need to act ourselves as ethically as possible.

Try it. You’ll like it.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Waiting for God . . . While White

As many of you know, I grew up in New York City, Manhattan mostly, although we had a few excursions elsewhere. I can’t say we were poor, but we certainly would have qualified for low income.  My Mother married what we might call a Ne’er-do-well, Rudolph by name.  He apparently skipped the education part, maybe finishing 8th grade, and a bigger maybe, high school. Now Daisy, the Mom, also maybe finished high school, but Daisy got herself some training in bookkeeping, preparatory to actually getting a job.  Maybe she knew that husbands might be unreliable on that front.  So, then she got married to Rudy. Not sure what prompted that affair. Maybe Rudy was a charmer, although that seems unlikely in the extreme. Still, Daisy saw something in the dude, so they got hitched.  And then came the parade of kids. First sister Ruth in 1925. Then, in not so rapid succession, Bill in 1931, and finally me in 1934.  We must have lived for some time in Brooklyn, because that is listed as my birthplace. Now, Ruth was born in Florida, which remains a bit of a mystery. What was she doing in Florida? Maybe living there with the first dude she married before Rudy (yeah, yeah, Daisy had a brief marital fling with someone before Rudy).

But my first memories are Manhattan, Eastside, Second Avenue.  I have explained in a previous post about living in a railroad flat, the first with a shared bathroom, the second with our very own private bathroom.  And that was when Daisy was working, putting her bookkeeping to good use while working at a Naval Ship architectural firm in lower Manhattan, Gibbs and Cox. And, of course, Rudy was working once in a while, when he wasn’t drinking on the job as a bartender. Mostly, Rudy was missing in action.  And when War was declared, Rudy was still missing in action. He would have been 40ish, so well past the draft stage. Still you would think he could have come up with a job during the War.  God, everybody had a job during the War, just not Rudy.

So, we banged along on Daisy’s bookkeeping salary, barely keeping food on the table and the rent paid.  And my memories of that period are either sitting in grade school, PS-82, or playing on the streets of New York.  Now, we lived in the 70’s on Second Avenue. And, guess what? No Blacks lived anywhere on our street. Nope. To my limited knowledge, African Americans in Manhattan, were confined to Harlem, 125th Street and above.  So, I grew up, poor, but all lily white.  I literally have no memories of meeting Black kids on the street, or in school.  And we were in the streets a lot. It’s where we played—stickball, marbles, fake fist fights as a part of cops and robbers.  Lots of accidents, some cuts, broken bones, but just kid street stuff.

Then as the War wound down, Daisy decided that her kids could not remain on the streets of Manhattan and hope to remain alive—my brother Bill got hit by a passing lorry, and wound up in the hospital, scaring the bejesus out of Daisy.  So, Daisy, having actually saved some money by buying War Bonds for the past 4-5 years, decided to take her total savings and use it to buy a house in the “suburbs” of New York, in Rockland County. The plan was that, after she bought the house, our grandpa—a carpenter by trade, would fix it up and the kids would move into the house, supervised by the errant father, who was promising to be good.  Daisy would remain in the City, continuing to work at her Gibbs and Cox job, while Rudy bartended somewhere in the Rockland County vicinity.
And so we moved to a place called New City Park.  And guess what? New City Park was also lily White.  Yep, no Blacks lived there at all.  And, once there, I attended a nice little grammar school, Chestnut Grove by name. I think the entire school had about 90 kids or thereabout.   And although I would have sworn it was also lily white, it turns out, on close inspection of a school picture, we had one Black kid, who I do not even remember.  And, none in our graduating class.

And then, after graduating from Chestnut Grove, I went on to Spring Valley High School, in 1948.  While there, I actually met one or two Black kids. Turns out, Spring Valley was mainly white, and surrounded by mainly white communities. But it was not 100% white.  Still, because the community was way beyond predominantly white, black-white was never an issue. The few Black kids were just kids. All of us were just kids.  There was no police harassment—no fines for “driving while black”, no folks shot for “living while Black”.  No racial anything. And because we did not subscribe to any newspapers, I never was exposed to reading about New York City’s racial problems.

So, I grew to the age of 17, with no awareness of Black.  To the extent I attended movies, and I am sure I did, I am also sure they were movies by and about white folks.  And then I applied for and was accepted by a college in California, Stanford by name.  And, I know, your first thought is, so Richard, how come a relatively poor kid from New York select, no less get accepted by that rich school in Palo Alto, California?  Well, it turns out it was all a bit of an accident. See, my sister married a guy who became a doctor, and they moved into the San Francisco Bay Area after he finished his residency in Seattle. And when I started looking, my sister suggested I look at Stanford.  Note, there were other schools out there—UC Berkeley for one.  But no, she suggested Stanford. And, having no clue about money, I applied and got accepted. How I/we would pay for Stanford was not even within my thought-sphere.  Remember, my dad had long ago left us, so he could remain permanently drunk I guess.  And my mom still worked as bookkeeper, but now for a small local bakery in Rockland County.  Not a lot of money there. And yes, I worked part time—summers, weekends. Still, my work produced pocket money for me, not tuition money for a place like Stanford.

But it turns out that Stanford had not raised its tuition rates in maybe 20 years. It had fallen way behind the Ivy League schools. So, the total cost of attending Stanford—tuition, and room and board—was $1,300 per year (or about $12,600 in 2020 dollars). So, not trivial, but still not horrible.  My sis helped with the first year, then I worked part time to pay for the room and board thing and took out loans for the rest.  So, I wound up with a student debt of about $2500 on graduation.

But then, you might imagine I might have become more exposed to some African Americans while at Stanford. But you would have been wrong. Nope, my four years at Stanford remained pretty much lily white. I am certain that Stanford had Black students. I just never met any of them.

So, see, it is possible to grow to the magic age of 21 with no Black awareness, not to speak of friends.  Following graduation, I had become married the year earlier, we moved to the LA area, so I could join the aerospace industry working on a guided missile program. And we moved to Garden Grove in Orange County—guess what—yep, pretty much all lily white.  No Blacks in our neighborhood, and none, to my knowledge in my work.

After about a year, we tired of the LA smog and moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area, moving to Sunnyvale, and another aerospace firm, to work on the Polaris missile program. And yep, mostly all white. I say mostly as though I had seen or knew Blacks. But no, I simply assume that Blacks lived somewhere in the Bay Area, just unknown to me. See, here’s me at my exotic Lockheed workplace in about 1957. See, all the Black engineers??  No, oh, me neither.

So, now, having worked for a few more years, I turned 29, and received an offer to move to a totally exotic location—India. Now, the reactions of some of my working colleagues was borderline hilarious.  Perhaps the funniest was a colleague who said, “But Richard, how can you move there? Do you understand that there are 400 million foreigners living there?”  But move we did. Why? I don’t know. It just seemed like a good idea at the time. And, to be fair, my colleague was largely correct. India in 1964 had some 488 million people living there, and only a relatively modest number would look like me, i.e., light skinned, green or blue eyes.  Here’s a group of us at a training session we gave in Srinagar, Kashmir, circa 1965. See, the big color mix? Well, it turns out, India had perhaps as large an awareness of color, as we did in the USA. If one perused the “personals” in the local newspaper

One might find personal ads placed for the purpose of finding a permanent mate for life. And the men always asked for a “fair-skinned virgin”. Perhaps not unlike the USA, India’s human color resembled the US. As you moved from northern Kashmir, where folks tended to be very fair skinned, to southern India, people became darker in skin tone as you moved south.  And there was a clear awareness of color, almost as though it had some magic power of worth. Still, India was a diverse country, where many peoples had arrived at varying times in the country’s history from other parts of Asia. Within the country, not only was there peoples of diverse skin color, but they spoke different languages. When we were there, there were 13 different languages, and 845 dialects spoken by the people in different regions.

So, we (I) became aware of color as a variant of the human condition, and language as yet another variant.  People from different places looked and sounded different.

And then, we moved back to the US of A in 1968. And in 1968, race became an actual issue in my life. In April, as we were poised to leave India, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot by a racist idiot at the Loraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.  Suddenly, race was a live issue in my, til then, ignorant life.

Now, to say I was largely ignorant of race as an issue, while true, is also partly untrue. I was now in my 30s, and I did read. I was aware of the Civil War, and its continued aftermath as a dividing issue in America. Many who lived in the South continued to hold onto the fiction that the Civil War was not about slavery, but about States Rights. Slavery, they maintain, was a side issue. Whereas, I believed, based on the reading I had completed, that the Civil War was about the ability of a State to dictate that Slavery was either legal or illegal. Slavery was a huge economic issue, in addition to a human rights issue. Many Southerners ignored the human rights issue altogether. But, I was not sufficiently aware of the deep-seated hatreds that existed within the country about slavery and about current race relations.

As I now see the world, there exist two kinds of “awareness”—intellectual awareness, and awareness based on events within your own life.  For example, I may read the New York Times articles about race relations, and become intellectually aware that America has a race relations problem of substantial magnitude.  But, if I were Black, and my brother was driving his car, and was stopped by a policeman and then shot for “driving while Black”, I would have a different awareness of race relations in America.  I would be feeling grief, despair, and then hatred. And those feelings would never go away.

And so my life went on with this partial awareness of race as a dividing issue in America.  As we moved about, and as I changed my places of employment several times, I did finally meet and become aware of African Americans. Over time, we became friends with many African American couples and individuals. But here again, the awareness thing continues. My African American friends had the same or greater levels of education, and financial status as we did ourselves. And so, their race, or color, always faded into the kind of “interesting variation” we had experienced in India.  Having an African American friend in Washington, DC, was not materially different from having a South Indian friend in India who had moved to Delhi.

And, so I have now reached the age of 85, or as I like to claim, I am in my 47th 39th year of life. And I am aware of Race. And with the George Lloyd killing, I have again become intellectually aware, even if my level of rage is now intensified.  But with this level of rage, also comes a level of disbelief, furthered I think by Donald Trump. See, I have lived through 14 US presidents.  None of the first 13 even come close to producing any outrage, such as I have experienced with Donald Trump.  Now, the rage in my mind is almost palpable. Because, with Donald Trump, I see the possibility of an ending—an ending of America.  Maybe it is close to the feelings I might possess were some White idiot-malenfant take out a gun and shoot my brother. But, I have not experienced that level of personal outrage yet. But I assure you, I am close.

And now, on top of the ever-present rage at Donald Trump, comes this COVID19 thing . . . the “Pandemic”. And that thing, that vaguely horrifying cloud over all our lives has moved into our world of outrage, producing a disjuncture such as I have personally never experienced. See, now, we cannot go anywhere without introducing personal protections, and still encountering some level of personal risk. And, at our advanced age, the risk is not becoming ill with the flu. No, it is becoming ill and then dying in two weeks.

And then, on top of this weird, horrifying world of multiple risks, we sit in our chairs and watch a policeman kneel on a Black man, cutting off his breathing purposefully, until he dies. In other words, we watch a policeman carry out a premeditated murder of a Black man, while his buddies watch on without any resistance.  And that gives rise to protests and even some riots. God, ya think??

And meanwhile, President Stupidhead, quotes from a racist policeman in the South, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts”.  So, he intends to call out his own personal army troops and start shooting whoever gets in his way. Because, that’s who he is, a racist, con-man, organized crime gangster, who thinks he can order killings because he is the mafia boss.

And we are supposed to just shut up and let him do whatever he wants, while his Organized Crime PR machine, Fox News, plays bits of fluff from its unending cast of idiot racist cheerleaders.
And, because we are now seriously past our sell-by date, there is little we can do to protest, except, by God VOTE. And Vote we shall, whether the maniac in charge likes it or not. We will by God VOTE, and kick his ass out of the White House. And you can take that to the Bank Mafia-Man. And by the way, Donald Trump, kindly Go Fuck Yourself.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Danger Ahead?

I fear we may be entering a new, more dangerous stage of Trump’s manic presidency.  Likely, he is getting close to the exploding stage of his presidency, where he fears greatly that he may be rejected by the people, even the ones who elected him in 2016. My angst is climbing daily, almost hourly, with each new Trump tweet. I keep wondering, would all this shit go away if Twitter simply banned him from its site? Of course, that might well drive him over the cliff and he could enter the full crazy mode of his mindless behavior.

The protests and riotous behavior of the people of this country in full-on protests at the killing of Mr. George by the Minneapolis policemen reveals the explosive temper of our times.  Trump has pushed the citizenry to the edge of despair and anger by his outrageous behavior on almost every subject. And then the pandemic came upon us, like some noxious cloud threatening to cause us all to stop breathing. And with his cry, “I can’t breathe”, followed by the insistent police knee pressure on his neck, until he finally stopped breathing altogether, not only did he die, but the American people moved beyond the “thoughts and prayers” stage, to an “Act or Die” stage.  People are protesting as I have not seen since maybe 1968. Then they were protesting the killing of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968. But, much like today, the people were aroused by that killing, and, even more, by the senseless warring in Vietnam, warring that began as it often does, by lies about the enemy’s behavior towards America.  

Today, the explosive outrage at police killings was triggered by a population suffering from despair at a president who foments hatreds with each utterance.  And then the pandemic created even more fear and more hatreds. Lies, ignorance, unbelievable incompetence at the topmost level of our nation led to thousands of unnecessary deaths—35-40,000 by some counts. And then, instead of a president moving to calm the outrage over racist violence by police forces. The president began stoking the rage, threatening even more violence. His quote of when the looting starts, the shooting starts," is a quote by Walter Headley, of the Miami police force. Headley was head of the police force for 20 years and referred to his "get tough" policy on crime during a 1967 news conference as a war on "young hoodlums, from 15 to 21, who have taken advantage of the civil rights campaign. . . . We don't mind being accused of police brutality."
It has been clear for some time that Trump desperately wants to be a wartime president, despite his bonespur history of draft dodging as a young man. I imagine he thinks of wartime presidents as being seen as tough people, leading the nation at a time of great risk—maybe Roosevelt, perhaps even Johnson spring into his weak mind.  One great fear of mine has been that Trump would provoke a war with some relatively weak enemy, and begin bombing them. I assumed he would even unleash nuclear horror on some poor country, just to demonstrate how tough he was.  And with every criticism, he becomes even more crazed.
So, here, with our citizens close to total panic mode, Trump begins shouting his rage and threatening utterances about more heavily armed troops.  He wants shooting in the streets. He wants people dead on our sidewalks. More proof that he is THE MAN in charge, and nobody dare mess with him.
There is some speculation that right wing fringe groups are the ones who have actually sparked the real violence, in an attempt to bring blame on the left wing, mostly peaceful demonstrators, especially the fires and the looting.  Which brings me to a main point.
One of the many things we have learned from Trump and his right wing friends is that, whenever Trump begins blaming the Left for something awful, we can reasonably assume it is something either he or his right wing friends are planning, or already doing.  For example, on the looting and violent protests. We think (but do not yet know for certain) that right wing Neo-Nazi groups are purposefully promoting violence in an effort to discredit the left’s otherwise peaceful protests.
But perhaps of even greater import, Trump has been decrying the whole issue of voting by mail.  He has been listing actions that threaten the vote-by-mail process.  He says that children are recruited to steal ballots. That people are going to houses to collect ballots and then throwing them away.  He declares that voting by mail is filled with corruption, potentially destroying the whole process. But he also declares that, if we allow voting by mail, the republicans will never win another election. And therein lies his objection. If more people vote, republicans will lose.  And he is desperate to avoid that. He will in fact do anything in his power as president to avoid a result in which he loses. And I mean ANYTHING—war, shooting of civilians by HIS military, and surely corruption of the voting process.
So, whatever he is forecasting in a voting by mail process, is something he and his friends are definitely planning. We should expect and begin planning now for a voting process that will be threatened by President Trump’s friends.
Which means, we the people in every state, must begin planning now for a very large vote by mail system. By November, we may well be in a full-on Stage Two of the pandemic. A resurgence is expected by the Fall, and that is when we will be voting.  States cannot wait until October to begin planning for the vote by mail system.  That system is likely not designed for the millions who may be using it this fall.  The ballots themselves, the machines needed to read the ballots must be brought into being as soon as possible. The ballots we know will need to await the final decisions by the electorate as to who will be on the ballots. But any machines needed and any volunteer staffing will need to be lined up now. And my best guess is that most states have not even begun the process of planning, no less buying the equipment needed.
So, if we want an election in which our citizens can vote safely (without the risk of dying from COVID19), we need to prepare every state for such an election.  We need a President. The country can no longer afford operating without one.  And we desperately need to get the current maniac in the White House to leave by all means peaceful, even if that means being escorted out by the Secret Service.  And Melania, you will then be free to discard this human scum currently masquerading as your husband.  Think of that Melania. How nice, to be free again.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

All About Money

I guess I should test this on other folks, but I have begun to think that almost all direct correspondence is now about money. So, I begin to wonder about the continued utility of these systems.

Let’s see, the US mail system, or maybe mail systems everywhere, operates as a public agency. Use of that service has been declining since about 2001, with about a 43% decline by 2017. Mail services globally have been operating for several thousands of years. By one account, by 3000 BC, Egypt was using homing pigeons for pigeon post, taking advantage of a singular quality of this bird, which when taken far from its nest is able to find its way home due to a particularly developed sense of orientation. Messages were then tied around the legs of the pigeon, which was freed and could reach its original nest.  So, maybe that’s what’s lacking today. Pigeon-mail. I wonder how Mark Zuckerberg would transform that. Or Donald Trump. Think of how he could corrupt Pigeon-mail.  Oh the ways of the wandering con-men.

But, looking at our incoming mail, I would guess that 80% of it is mail aimed at extracting money from us in some way, mostly for charitable purposes.  Whereas, the other 20% . . . oh that’s for extracting money from us also, but via an actual bill for services rendered. Now, most of our bills are paid on-line. Only a couple are paid by a check in exchange for a bill.  Note now, I have accounted for 100% of our direct mail, the stuff delivered by the US Postal Service via an actual mail carrier.  That leaves zero percent for personal mail, you know, things called letters, or even notecards.  Or postcards. Remember postcards? Those things folks used to use to jot down a few notes while traveling to exotic locations and then sending on to you, so as to make you jealous.  I once, not so very long ago, tried to buy some postcards. I had to drive 3-4 miles to a headquarters of our little town’s main office.  And there in their little supply store, they had a few postcards of our downtown. Now, to be fair, I make my own postcards, and my own notecards. I used to sell them when we had real Art Walks, but since we gave up the Art Walks a couple of years ago, I have had no outlet for them.  And mine were at least as good as the official supplier.  But that’s a tale for another day.

The point here is, even if you wanted to send a few postcards, you would have to look long and hard to find any to sell.  Now, for notecards, you need to await Christmas. There, people still go to the trouble to fill out and mail cards. But even here, we note that year after year, our incoming Christmas cards are falling short of the previous year.  And we adapt, of course. We used to send out about 125 Christmas cards to various places around the world each year, fairly steadily. Then, maybe 10 years ago, we began noting that the incoming cards were reducing in number.  Last year, I think we received perhaps 30 cards. Now to be fair, some of that is attributable to the fact that we are aging in place.  And a funny thing happens as you age. People begin dying around you.  So, fewer cards. But even beyond death, we note that people are getting tired of buying and sending cards, and so the number keeps shrinking year by year.

And note that I have not even mentioned letters.  Remember letters?  When I was engaged, in 1954, and away in college, my honey and I would write daily letters to each other.  That was several hundred letters during that year, just two folks in love.  But even later, letters were still common. Within families, siblings and parents and kids would write to one another, just to stay in touch and keep people up to date on what was happening in their lives.  Friends who lived too far away to see on a regular basis would write to one another.  So our mail boxes, if not full each day, at least contained some personal letters on a routine basis.  Your normal mailbox would have one or two personal letters, and several bills for services rendered. If you were of the right age at the right time, you even received an official notice from your friendly neighborhood government, that your services might be required for military service . . . unless you had bonespurs of course.

Now such personal correspondence continued until maybe the mid to late 1980s.  And then . . . personal computers entered our world.  Now computers had been within our world for quite some time. I still remember carrying out a study of engineering manpower within the Lockheed Missiles and Space Company in about 1960. We collected data on workload in an attempt to determine what triggered the need for manpower increases or decreases, a classic industrial engineering study. And, having collected the data, we then entered the data onto punch cards, and then took the punch card stock into an office in downtown San Francisco, where we entered the data via the punch cards into an IBM 350 computer. That computer was the size of a large room. And we worked til the wee hours with that computer grinding away on the data we had supplied.

But that was then. Then, during the 1980s I worked for a time in Government, running an evaluation office in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. We also carried out large scale computer analyses using large mainframe computers of the IBM 350 ilk. We would send the data via phone circuitry to the mainframes at NIH, and then receive our analytic output back on paper stock.  But then, during the mid-1980s, we discovered the world of personal computers. Both IBM and Apple began producing personal computers. Apple produced a thing called the Apple II, and IBM began producing an IBM-PCXT. The Apple was a kind of cute toy, but the IBM was a more serious business model.  It had a hard drive, with, gasp, a ten megabyte capacity (can you imagine, ten megabytes??).  And the PC had an internal memory of 64K - 640 KB. Wow, huh?

But that’s an aside. Mainly, what I began seeing was other ways to communicate with people.  There was no Internet as we know it today, no Facebook, not even any formal e-mail. But there was something called CompuServe.  CompuServe operated something called “Chat Lines”, which were little systems you could call into and then chat via your PC with people you knew.  I used them initially to “chat” with other consultants with whom I worked.  But that was in the 1980s. Slowly, of course, the PC became ubiquitous, and became larger in capacity if not in physical size. And then the systems whereby we communicated using these PCs began to arrive and to grow in popularity.
I think initially, the PC had only a modest effect on the US mail system, perhaps into the 1990s, after which the world really did begin to change its paper practices.  I imagine one of the first things to go was the personal letter, replaced by the phone of course, but mainly by e-mail. Email actually was developed in the early 1970s, using something called ARPANET. But that quaint system changed when restrictions on carrying commercial traffic over the Internet were dropped, and e-mail began expanding rapidly during the mid-1990s.  Soon, virtually everyone was using e-mail, and paper systems began reducing.

It is interesting to me that as paper communications began diminishing, giving way to electronics, the latter, electronic systems took hold only for a brief period.  Considering that mankind had been writing and sending things called letters for a couple of centuries at least, I might have expected the electronic systems—E-Mail—to last a bit longer. Now, to be fair, E-Mail still exists, so we have maybe a 35-40 year history. But really, what has begun happening is that formal communications between people in that tradition of informing people we know what is happening in our lives seems to be diminishing and headed out the door.  I still receive E-Mails daily of course. But now I note that perhaps 95% of my E-Mail is from people who want money from me. That is, solicitations, mainly from charitable organizations, rarely arrive by regular mail, but instead arrive via E-Mail. And the occasional bill for some service also arrives via-E-Mail, instead of regular mail.  Now we continue to receive regular mail, mainly solicitations for donations, but now our E-Mail is a duplicate for those communications, sometimes from the same people.  We also get both by E-Mail and regular mail solicitations for services in which we have no interest—they may be scams but I prefer to call them unsolicited service inquiries.  The true scams seem to have moved permanently to the telephone system. Again, I receive maybe a half dozen telephone calls per day, of which ¾ are from some scam caller trying to sell me some service that might be real, or more likely a fake on the Donald Trump model.

So, now, virtually all communications directed at me or my wife seem to be about money, and some method of extracting our money for services we do not wish to receive and have not requested.  It’s now all about the money.  Virtually the only non-money communications we receive are either text messages, or commentaries of some sort on postings we introduce on social media.  And I note that even text messages are beginning to contain scams about money, i.e., trying to sell me a service I did not request.

And it all makes me wonder what happened to human communications. Do people simply no longer communicate with folks they do not see on a daily basis?  And are all formal communications now consigned to the waste bin because they are all about money—extracting money from me? And if so, when will those systems begin disappearing? I wonder especially about the US Postal Service.  It currently employs over 600,000 people. And Trump wants to disappear the Service and privatize it. Unless we succeed in Dumping the Trump, we may well have no postal service within a year at best.  And that would be sad. But, on the other hand, since no one writes any longer, and most financial transactions are now electronic, do we actually need a US Postal Service, public or private?

And are we then all about to retreat into a little world of our own making, in which we no longer communicate with the outside world? And what kind of world is that—a one-way communications system of radio and TV, in which we no longer participate except as a passive listener. I fear that will be an unhappy world at best.  But I fail to see in what way we could begin improving from that sorry state. But perhaps that's for another day.