Sunday, December 22, 2019

2020


Every time I see my eye doctor, the first thing they do is to examine my basic vision.  I sit there hoping for something close to 20-20. OK, it never hits 20-20 any longer, but still I am coming close.  But now, we are entering a new world, the world of 2020. Maybe this will be like an eye exam for the world.  In the US, we will be casting ballots for a new president, Number 46.  Regardless of what happens in the Senate trial of Trump, we know for near certain that Mitch will not allow anything close to an actual fair trial. He will cook the proverbial books and produce the result he has already announced—Innocent of the charges.  He has already announced that Trump is innocent of all charges.

And then the real games begin.  We will proceed to the voting places assigned to us, and cast our ballots for President and for a variety of other folks and issues.  So, 20-20??? But what does that mean, actually? A person with 20/20 vision can see what an average individual can see on an eye chart when they are standing 20 feet away,”  And in the context of voting??? Well, I think that 20-20 means that we would see the world for what it is. In the case of Trump, we would see that he is a deeply flawed human, who has devoted most of his life to cheating people with whom he comes into contact.  He is immoral, unethical, incompetent in virtually every endeavor he has attempted. He ignores his responsibilities to people he has contracted to help him in some way, and he lies almost every time he utters language out of his mouth.  Whenever he accuses someone of doing something unethical, it is almost a certainty that he is either already engaging in such conduct, or is planning to do so.

We know those things for a certainty about Trump, because his behavior has been well documented.  His multiple marriages, his multiple bankruptcies, his fake enterprises, his casual approach to charitable giving are all well documented and he has been caught out in each of these issues.  These are not “deep state” thoughts, provided by unsavory characters seeking to undermine our government. They are well documented facts on the public record.  So, if you refuse to acknowledge the facts about Trump, then we would have to conclude that your mental “eyesight” is deeply flawed.
But the central question of our age, indeed THE QUESTION for 2020 is, “Why would you not reject Trump for President in 2020?”

1.       Racism: I always thought that Ronald Reagan had made it ok again to be a racist, with his chanting about “welfare queens”. But Reagan never had so many opportunities as Trump to demonstrate his racism. Trump and his family, going back to his father, have practiced racism in their apartment ownership for decades, mainly in the “who can and cannot occupy their dwellings?’ But his border mania perhaps reveals his racism best. He sees only one side to the border—people of color seeking to gain access to our country without his permission. The fact that they are fleeing homicidal gangs is irrelevant to him. He sees only poor folk of a different color, trying to ruin his image of a pure white America. Now, to be fair, his entire approach to our border seems to be dictated heavily by Stephen Miller who is a classic Neo-Nazi.  We have almost literal concentration camps on our southern border, in which children and others are held captive, and some of whom are dying at our hand.
2.       
F     Fraud: Trump University has been held to be a fake university, meaning it is a Trump initiated institution of higher learning that is not real and is intended to cheat its students. Similarly, the Trump Foundation seems to be a front for Trump’s personal financing.  He recently had to pay a fine of several million dollars for fraudulently using the charity’s funds for his own personal use.

3.       Marriage Failures: We all are aware of marriage failures. Many of our friends have been in failed marriages. But in Trump’s case, he has been involved in three marriages, all of which he has managed to trash by cheating on his wives with other women.  So, when he said that “Till death us do part”, he must have been suppressing a laugh.  He even had to pay off another porn star, so she wouldn’t spill the beans to Melania.  So, he cannot be believed even at level of a marital vow, or numerous marital vows. He even bragged on TV about how he liked to “grab’m by the pussy”, just cuz he was famous.

4.       Lying: Trump has been documented by numerous independent sources of lying publically, while occupying the White House Office of the President.  We may have lost count, but I stopped looking at the count of over 13,000 lies, just since he has been in Office.  So, his supporters don’t care that he lies as a matter of normal discourse?  The problem with his lying is that, in transactions with Congress, with policy officials, and, most importantly, with other foreign dignitaries, no one can or should believe anything he says. Now, if that is true, then how/why would anyone engage in serious policy discussions with him?  If you truly cannot rely on anything he says, then how/why would you ever agree to anything he proposes?  Now, if you’re a banker, that poses one kind of problem. But if you are engaged in discussions of nuclear disarmament, you are left with a more serious problem.  So, as a serial liar, he is totally useless in any policy discussion.

5.       Ignorance: Much has been made of Trump’s essential ignorance of almost any subject. His six bankruptcies even testify to his ignorance about how to run a business. He failed to make money operating a gambling casino for God’s sake. Apparently, he has engaged in a very large fraud case regarding his education, claiming degrees and graduations from places from which he did not graduate. But what actual education he received seems very far from clear. Because he seems so ignorant about so many subjects, one can only wonder whether he received any actual formal education at all.  Did daddy pay for someone to sit in classrooms in his name?? Surely not, we would like to think. But????

There is more, but I tire of reciting these known flaws in a deeply flawed individual.  Even his supporters know these things. But somehow, somehow . . . they are able to ignore those known flaws, and known corrupt character and still cheer for him.  I am not sure why/how this is possible. Thinking about Nixon and Clinton, both impeached, I was always able to at least understand why and how folks were able to reconcile the known flaws and still go on to support them. But Trump is so awful, his positives so few, startlingly few actually, that I am drawn to explanations that themselves border on evil. His supporters include surely, all the membership of the KKK, and the entire membership of the various Neo-Nazi cults. But then I begin to run out of gas.  Oddly, I assume that he gets some support from people he despises—the working poor. This is a group of folks who play out life in what is known colloquially as the “under classes”, people who lack the education or the training to get the nicer paying jobs our economy offers. They tend to be angry, because life is passing them by, and they resent those who did get an education or training. Trump has no use for such people, since his entire life has placed him in the very upper classes they hate.  So, why do they seem drawn to Trump? I think because he lies to them. He tells them he will make them Great Again. He makes fun of the people who represent the middle classes up above them, and so these unhappy people love him for that.  I remain unclear whether any Democrat can appeal successfully to such folks.

But all this is a part of our upcoming eye exam. Will we collectively test out in November at 20-20, or will we send Trump back into the White House, thereby displaying a vision of perhaps 20-100, near blind.

The entire future of America rests in the hands of our people come November, 2020.  If our vision fails, then America fails along with it. Think of our upcoming test at the polls as a driving test, in which the Nation is careening down a very curvy and steep hill, with a sharp curve next to a precipitous cliffside at the bottom, one we cannot see adequately until we arrive at the curve’s beginning. Whether we slow down, think more carefully about what we are about on this scary highway, or just plunge ahead, we will see. Our future is to be determined.

Look, Think. Facts matter, so read the facts. Skip the talking head-idiot malenfants (think Fox News) who want us to careen ahead.

Oh, and have a Merry Christmas, and a safe and Happy New Year celebration.  We plan to stay home, and dine on:
Caesar salad, shrimp cocktail, Swedish meatballs, and sautéed clams on the half shell. We will pop open a bottle of nice Champagne, and we will turn on our DVD so we can again (50th time??) watch Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman play out Casablanca, in the most romantic movie ever made.  Maybe we’ll even watch the ball drop in Times Square.

Happy happy . . .

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Photoshopping the World

I use Adobe Photoshop. I have used Adobe products for several decades now and love them.  In the olden days, I owned a Nikon 35 mm camera that used actual film. Remember what 35 mm film was??? I bought a camera just prior to our move to New Delhi, India.  For a kid born in Brooklyn, and raised in Manhattan, India was an exotic land, and called out to me to record our lives there. I began by using both 35 mm slide film and black and white film.  I would have the film processed back in the US of A. I would send the film back via the APO to Kodak and receive from Kodak my slides, which we looked at in awe in New Delhi.  With the black and white, I would again send on the film and receive back a contact sheet showing the B&W pictures in slide size on a sheet of glossy paper.

It was all great fun and defined what I now know as “photography”.  Because I had no dark room, and digital systems did not yet exist, what you took with your camera was pretty much what you got on film.  Now, lest you scoff at our primitive approach to photography, I got a lot of really fine pictures, both in color and black and white.  See a few below. The first is my take on that iconic Taj Mahal at full moon and at first light. For the full moon, I had my camera on a tripod and took a ten-minute time exposure. Yep ten minutes. A few people who wandered by actually looked into the camera, and they said, “oh, you’re taking a picture”. But, because it was a ten minute exposure, they didn’t even show up.  

And then there is the Taj at first light. Another amazing sight.




And then, as noted, I would periodically use black and white film to record scenes I encountered. Here is one of my favorites, recorded in an Indian village in the mid-1960s. A little child, sitting on a charpoy bed, with a hookah nearby.  That child is now in his mid-50s, assuming he made it that far.

And then the digital world arrived, way after my return to America.  By then I had probably taken 3,000 to 4,000 pictures and had a nice collection—remember the 1960s rebellion here about the Vietnam War, continuing well into the 1970s? That was the stuff of pictures. Here’s a war protest group outside the White House, followed by a group protesting the indecency of poverty and racial injustice.


So many protests, so little time.  Right about this time, I also acquired a darkroom. What’s a darkroom, you might ask? Well, a darkroom was where I processed my film, producing black and white prints. No I couldn’t do color. For that, I still relied on good old Kodak.

And then, I acquired my first digital camera, spelling the end of 35 mm film. And, hard on the heels of digital cameras came digital software, spelling the end of my darkroom antics. Now the early versions of digital software photo manipulation were relatively crude. But I could process pictures on my recently acquired personal computer, and I could print out those pictures. All pretty amazing stuff.

And then, the software began its ascent (descent??) into the netherworld, where pictures began to no longer represent what the mind’s eye actually saw, but rather what the mind wanted you to Imagine.  Manipulation became the name of the game in digital photography. And there were no longer any limits on what one could pretend to have “photographed”.
How about a picture of two holy men, posing (NOT) on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan?


The ability to “photoshop” things that do not exist is now limitless, and the term itself has taken on a somewhat negative turn. I used to participate in things called Art Walks. Art Walks are events, where folks, patrons of the arts, can walk from shop to shop, or gallery to gallery and look at the artsy creations of local artists, sip some wine, maybe enjoy some food, and even perhaps, make a few artsy purchases of the observed art. I would display my digital art on a table or two in the gallery I was privileged to use, and folks would stroll by my table, admire some of my digital art, and often, inquire, “how did you do that?” See, I employed a combination of straight digital photography with Photoshop digital manipulation. I often placed an “oil painting” imagery on one of my pictures, so that the resulting image vaguely resembled one that had been oil painted. But as soon as I mentioned Photoshop, the response often came back, “Oh, you photoshopped it”. The intent of that comment was, “I see, you didn’t really create anything artistic. You let Photoshop do the work”.

I even got to the point that, when asked, I would reply, “well, I use the Adobe Magic Wand. I bring an image up onto my PC screen. Then I wave the Magic Wand at the image and the Adobe Wand creates something interesting on my screen, which I then print.” See, it’s all magic.

For one showing, I created an Image for fun, trying to promote the show in advance. I spliced the statue of Michelangelo’s David into a picture of the gallery we were using for the Art Walk. See what you will see if you attend our Art Walk???


All in the spirit of good fun.
So gradually, over time, the old concept of photography morphed into this newer world of Make Believe. Now what does any of this mean?

Well, in olden days, if we viewed a water color, or an oil painting, it was clear that we were viewing an image that had been created in the artist’s mind. That image might exist in real life, of course, but it did not need to so exist.

But if we viewed a photographic image, we knew that the image being shown actually existed somewhere in real life.  Photographs revealed reality.  Now, with digital manipulation, photographs have diverged from reality. If we see an image on screen or on paper or canvas, we can no longer be certain that image represents some reality somewhere.  That image is also in the mind of the “artist”. 
If we attend an Art Walk, it perhaps does not matter whether any of the pictures displayed there are real in any sense. It is only important that they are in some way pleasing, or entertaining.  But if see an image on TV, or in a book or newspaper, and we are asked to believe that image is reality, well, we can no longer be sure.  Now, we must examine who produced that image and ask whether the person is trustworthy.

And if the picture is accompanied by a written story, we can no longer accept that the story is true. Again, we must look to the source and validate.

And then we come to the written word itself. Can we believe what we read? Well, turns out, it depends . . . Depends on what precisely? Well, for one, it depends on who is saying/writing what we are reading. And it depends on the believability of the source material. If it is a newspaper, we might apply different standards for the New York Times, than for the Daily Mirror, or the Independent Tribune.  If it is TV, again different standards apply to “Fox News” than to the Public Broadcasting Companies, or even MSNBC, CBS, et al. We know TV “news’ is more opinion than “news”, but even there some opinion is more fact-based than others.  Listening to Hannity, et al, on the Faux News Network is akin to listening to Humpty-Trump Directly.

And so the world went on with its various sources of written, spoken words and imagery. And then came social media. First came Compuserve, a network where folks could send messages to one another without recourse to the telephone.  Then came the Internet and the World Wide Web. And rushing to fill the nonexistent vacuum came Social Media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and all the media wannabees.  And suddenly, we were presented with a vast array of pictorial and written information, on topics covering the world at large.  And now the word has been “photoshopped”. No longer can we simply believe what we read, because it is on TV, or on our PC screens. Now, everything we read is up for grabs.  Even if the subject is a legitimate source of inquiry, Facebook, et al, do not even pretend to any standards of fact. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg does not even pretend to “truthiness”. He admits anyone and anything to coexist on his platform, because he has such high regard for the First Amendment, but even higher regard for the money he derives from companies and other moneyed sources wishing to lie to us on Facebook.  As a result, we can and should believe nothing we read on Facebook and others of that ilk, without first validating the sources, and the information being presented.

Unfortunately, in this new world of make believe there is no “artistic” standard we can apply, as in “Oh yeah, what he says is pure bullshit, but he says it with such artistry . . . pure poetry." Nope. Instead, we are left with pure garbage to sift through, and we must . . . MUST verify everything we now read, independently of the source.

And as we approach a national election in 2020, the source of all the material about to be thrown at us is vital for us to understand.  We must vote in 2020, definitely. But we must vote intelligently. That is, we must obtain information from sources we trust, and we must try to validate even those sources. 

The entire future of our nation now rests in our hands. So, beware of this new world of Photoshopped words. Trust but verify are our new watchwords.  Maybe someday, we will be able to believe the written word again. But just not now. There are too many con men trying to deceive us. Be an intelligent guide to what you read.  Your grandchildren’s future depends on it.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Think Positively


So what is going on? I have been having serious trouble thinking of what to write about what I observe today in America. I am baffled, really totally baffled at how any thinking American can continue to support him.  And his Republican Party colleagues. What is going on with them? Would they actually support Satan? Would they just fob off Hitler’s actions? Who, aside from Democrats, would they condemn? Have they now shed even the semblance of humanity in order to support Donald Trump?

The impeachment hearings, perhaps less than perfect, but still fairly conclusive, reveal a President so lacking in any characteristics we want in a President, that perhaps he should be impeached for his lack of character. But, I know, I know, that’s not impeachable. And I know that, while the Mueller investigation would not formally indict him, the record still strongly concluded that Trump was in collusion with Russian agents to move the election in his favor. And it now seems  clear that Putin actively worked to corrupt our 2016 election, and favored Trump.

But the Ukraine thing is actually conclusive. Trump used his office and American resources to pressure our Ukraine ally to pursue an investigation of a political competitor, Joe Biden, if they desired our continued military assistance.  The evidence seems compelling on that score.
And yet, and yet, our republican congressmen will not yield. And they continue to act like Fox News cheerleaders to defend Trump. How can that be?

I am forced to conclude that power is the only rule in this game. Republicans, Evangels, racists and other folks who continue supporting him do so for purposes of power—either to retain actual power, or to somehow reduce the power base of another. Evangels want to eliminate family planning, and in the process, abortion. They want to disembowel all folks who identify as Gay (or LGBTQ). And they seem to want to reduce the power, real or imagined, of any folks out there of color, including those poor benighted souls trying to cross over our border down South.

Trump’s supporters are not going away, because they want to retain, or increase their power base. And that is what America now comes down to . . . a scramble for power at any cost.  And I find all that very sad.

The great difficulty here is that, unlike all past governments and all past presidencies, I see no ending to this pre-Civil War battle. In all past political clashes (and remember, I have been observing presidencies since Roosevelt’s) there always seemed a residue of goodwill towards America and Americans broadly.  Now that residue seems gone. Trump consistently operates so as to trash his opponents in the most savage, demeaning manner possible. He wants his supporters to be vicious in their opposition to his foes.  I imagine him finding words of support were his supporters to turn violent towards his Democrat opposition. He would/will find excuses for an actual Civil War. And his supporters will continue to cheer him on.  There seems no good will left in America. And for that I blame Donald Trump. I think the negative views of Evangels, American racists, and others in Trump’s Basket of Deplorables, have always been there. But he has encouraged and amplified those views, akin to letting Crazy Uncle Charlie out of the closet.

And I don’t now see how we will recover from all this. Even if Trump loses (fond hope springs eternal), these vicious negative mindsets will remain, and could grow larger. Normally, a new president, after the election, tries to gather everyone, supporters and opponents together into a coherent American crowd, and to begin anew to build on the American Dream. I don’t see how that will happen within our current National mindset. Maybe it will take a woman to achieve such a desirable but unlikely goal. Yes, perhaps only a woman might achieve that result. We can only hope.

But we really need to avoid that Civil War if that is to happen. We need actually to avoid shooting at one another.  We need to begin seeing each other as humans, as Americans, as desirable, caring, feeling human beings. We need to bring some reality to the message of Christ perhaps. We need to stop thinking about what to buy next at Amazon, and think instead of how to bring back the joy that is/was being an American.  

Think perhaps of how we all must have felt at the ending of World War II. It was over, and we were bringing back all the men and women who had fought evil and triumphed. America really was great. Now we need to smile at each other more, even if we disagree politically. Donald Trump is not worth destroying America folks.  Let’s start thinking positively.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Scamming America


Remember in the days of golden oldies? When your telephone had only one ringtone, and one dialed by a circular thingie attached to the front?  And a slim few of you might remember "party lines", where several folks shared one line, and where you might have to hang up until one of the other parties finished their call.  But mainly, remember when the telephone was almost completely about speaking with one another? When you answered the phone whenever it rang, because it would always be someone you know, and it might be important?  Then Jimmy Carter deregulated telephone service and the Contest Was ON. Which company of nobodies could produce some whizkid technology at a lower price than AT&T? And they did. And gradually, AT&T faded into the netherland of hasbeen companies—think on that  . . . AT&T began failing.  And now? Now, we have high tech phones—we call them “smart phones” and crap companies selling us services at maybe ten times the rates we used to pay. But we get so much more, right?? Why, we can take photos with our phones. And we can connect to the Internet. And our phones now tell us what time it is, so we can make our next appointment, also on our phones.  And now our phones tell us how to get home from wherever we are, and whether it will be raining when we get there.
But, increasingly, our phones no longer do what the phones of olde used to do—connect people together in actual conversations.  No, now we no longer actually talk on our phones. We “Text”, or we “e-mail”, or we send messages on Facebook, or, worse, we “Tweet”. But talk?? Hmm, no, not so much.

But has the talk feature disappeared from our newfangled phones??? Well, no, they still work in that now outmoded method. So, who uses the “Talk” feature?  Well, the Scammers of America use that feature. Yeah, it’s like the “Talk” feature is reserved for America’s newest industry—Scamming.  And what do I mean by scamming? Well, I get perhaps 10 calls per day, 9 of which are from numbers we do not recognize.  And those 9 of 10 are reserved for companies that want to sell me something I neither need nor want. They tell me that they are now ready to talk with me about the home mortgage deal of a lifetime, or about that business loan for my business that I inquired about (I didn’t).  Or how about a hot deal for paying off my student loan (Hey, bud, I graduated from Stanford in 1956 with a loan debt of $2500, and I paid that off a while ago)?

The odd thing is that the same person keeps calling. I sometimes answer, just for the hell of it. And they call so often, that I actually recognize the person calling. And when I inform them that they have called now six times and I don’t want what they are offering, and then hang up, but they continue to call.  So, we have adequate evidence that, not only has the phone system turned into a giant scam industry, it is also the most inefficient, ineffective industry in the world.  How do they possibly make money at this scam, or even make enough to pay their hordes of callers?  We conclude that some people actually are so bored, or so out of touch with reality that they engage these scammers and then succumb to their charms.  Yeah, obviously, some folks are parting with their money enough to make the calls continue.

And we have tried to deal with this phenomenon by using that handy “call-block” feature of most smartie phones.  But finally, we just gave up, since they seem to have an inexhaustible supply of telephone numbers. Oh, and the calls come from everywhere in the US, not just our home country of North Carolina.  So, now, largely we answer our phones only if the person’s name from our contact list in the phone shows on the dial screen. And they almost never leave a voice mail. Nope, they always try to hang up before the voice mail kicks in. Sometimes, just to be mean, I answer the phone and then hang up, just so they get charged.

And remember those olden phones, the ones actually tethered to the wall via a telephone line, connected to what is now known as a “landline”?  Well, we still have one, but it supports our alarm system. And we never answer it on purpose, but nobody ever calls on that number, because we never give anyone that number.  So, if that phone is called, it is a certain scammer.

And this would all be funny and just part of our 21st century life, I guess. Except that for we folk of olden times, it has practically eliminated one of the nicer features of our modern life—speaking with friends.  Oh, we still communicate by other means, as noted. But the telephone used to be such a nice little touch. Out of the blue, someone would decide they wanted to chat with us.  How nice. So, the scammers of the world have virtually eliminated that nice little touch in our modern world.  And frankly, that pisses me off.  And what it tells me is that, as we eliminate real jobs, we are apparently replacing them with crap jobs, scamming the public. I have often wondered how the people manning these phones feel about their work. Can you imagine devoting your life to a job that involves scamming the public? “And how was your day dear?” “Oh, it was pretty good. I managed to con four people out of some of their savings.  And, I actually spoke with 57 people, well 20 of them hung up before our conversation began, but they count, right?” “Sure hon, so it was a pretty good day, huh?”

Maybe this is all about the shift in our modern world into an entirely financial world, in which nothing actually matters but money, and it no longer matters how you make your money, so long as you make enough of it.  Donald Trump, the Scammer-in-Chief, is finally getting through to all of us, I guess, even though he is not responsible for this crappy little world of scammers. He just cheer leads for them.

So, maybe we will soon begin giving up on the “talk” aspect of our smartie phones. I expect Apple to come out first with the “No-Talk” option for their I-Phones.  And we may have to return to that thing where we look someone in the eyes and actually toss words at them. How’s that for a new App?

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Money


So, is money really the root of all evil? I’ve been thinking for a long time that organized religion played at least an equal share of the evil-mongering in our old and battered world.  Still, money has to be high on anyone’s list.  Daily, I read about some ne’er-do-well, principally Donald Trump, but he shares the platform with many folks from our large financial community.  When he announced boldly to the world that he was scheduling the next G7 summit meeting at his Doral golf resort in Miami, I, like many, was aghast at the boldness of his gesture. He apparently thinks that emoluments ban does not apply to him.

But Trump really is emblematic of the world of finance, where moral principles seem lacking in their entirety.  Money really does seem to drive many if not most folks into the dark side.
So, what do I think about money? Well, I haven’t enough of it for starters. And that’s largely my fault.  Short of simply inheriting a lot of money (see Trump), you have to work away at it if you wish to wind up with a lot of money, or even enough of it to live comfortably.  I worked often, it would seem, at odds with the money acquisition thing for a good part of my working life.  I am even aware of specific mistakes I made that contributed to our current modest means.  But is money that important? Well, yes, it really is, even though many of us remain oblivious to that simple fact.
I grew up in Manhattan as a young kid, with a largely one wage-earning parent, my Mother. And Daisy, bless her heart, was not well equipped to that task. She had at best a modest education, high school, but she somehow acquired some talent in the bookkeeping field.  Because our father was missing in action most of the time, Daisy had to take over as the primary money overseer. Because of the War (WW II, the last “Good War”), she was able to acquire a job as a bookkeeper at a naval architect firm in New York. She earned enough money to keep us in food and a relatively decent apartment in midtown Manhattan. It wasn’t fancy, but it was ok for the three kids and Daisy.
But that life experience grounded me in the lifestyle of the low-income set.  Oddly, the near absence of money did not create a brain-marker about money. Instead, it caused me to almost never think about money. And, you might think, “Well, that’s a good thing, isn’t it?” I suppose it might be, but if one wishes to live a life in which money is not an ever-present threat to your existence, then some thinking about money is useful.

So, growing up, even into my teen years, money was nearly always an issue, just out of sight. Because of the absence of money, I, like my buddies, began working at a relatively early age, outside of school. For example, I began babysitting for my nephew and nieces at about the age of 10. I earned 25 cents for an evening. When I started into high school, summer jobs began as a natural course of events. My first summer job was working on a neighborhood family farm, The Katt’s Farm in New City, NY. I worked 54 hours a week and earned 50 cents an hour, so $27/week. Not bad for a little kid.  That summer I earned a few hundred dollars, enough to carry me through the school year. Again, that was my only source of money. Daisy could not afford kid-allowances.  Other summer jobs, as my school years continued were the farm gig, working at the county schools with the maintenance staff, to get the schools ready for the next Fall term, working with a gas company, digging ditches, and working as a lifeguard at our community lake.

And then the college thing became an image in my head. Again, nobody in my family had gone beyond high school. But I had a really bright and aggressive brother. He decided on his own that he was, by God, headed for college. He couldn’t afford college, since, again, the family had no spare money. But it did not matter to Bill. He was going anyway.  And how did he pay for his college? Well, he was accepted at Long Island University, and he managed to get a job at a company near the school in Long Island. So, he worked full time and went to school full time.

And why was that important? Well, your ability to get a job earning a good income over your whole career, depended in part on your credentials. A college degree (in chemistry in Bill’s case) would go a long way to guaranteeing him access to a well-paying professional career position.  Now here is where we move into a complex arena of ideas.  How can one best prepare for a career that provides a measure of stability, reasonable earnings potential, and enough interest satisfaction to make working at least acceptable? Generally, there are two paths: 1) college; and, 2) the trades. But both paths require education/training, generally beyond high school.  Generally, a high school diploma does not provide an adequate foundation for a working career with a satisfactory income potential.  The various Trade Schools may not equip you to earn a Wall Street Gambler’s income, or a Doctor or Lawyer income, but it still provides a recognized skill set, and that mostly is enough to provide a decent living wage for a career. Finishing high school generally does not so provide.

And, following in my brother’s footsteps, I also decided on college. And I also could not afford college, but I went anyway, in my case to Stanford. In case you are interested, Stanford cost me, in 1952, $1300/year total for tuition and room and board, increasing to $1500 for the last two years. Not bad. I managed to acquire student loans, and got a couple of loans from my sister, such that I graduated with a BS in Industrial Engineering and a total student debt of $2500. My first job, as a flight test engineer on the Corporal Guided Missile program, was $5100/year. So, again, not bad.
I managed to get another job as an engineer on the Polaris Missile program at Lockheed in Sunnyvale, California (pre-Silicon Valley days). Then I got hired away as a consultant to work on aerospace planning and control systems. I made reasonable money, but still not enough to guarantee me a fancy retirement.  Then I was selected to go to India as a consultant to transfer those aerospace planning and control concepts to Indian public sector programs.  After four years, we had some savings and a hankering for more international work. When we moved back home, we wanted to go abroad again. I applied for and received an offer from The World bank. Then, as I let my company know about that offer, they invited me to come to New York City to talk with a partner about a new adventure with the firm. They were going to expand their international practice and wanted me to help them. Enter my first large mistake. I believed them and turned down the World Bank. We moved to Washington, I made a few trips to exotic locations –Saudi Arabia for example—but then I discovered that the firm was never really serious about the international thing. They had basically lied to me, and then forced me back into the domestic practice.  So, I found myself making ok money, but doing work in which I had little interest. Then another company offered me a job to work on their international practice.  I accepted immediately.

After about two years, it became clear that this small consulting company, however hard they were trying, were slowly going under from lack of business and a salary debt load too high. So, we disbanded. Again, the company had misled me, and I was simply too naïve to understand.
Then came a few interesting jobs, a stint in the government under St. Ronald of Reagan, and finally, in desperation –to avoid going braindead working for Reagan—I set up in my own consulting practice.

In that practice, I made a decent income, and even managed to establish a retirement portfolio, with the guidance of my accountant.  And then I retired.  And then almost immediately, we had a stock market crash (the year was 2000). That hit our retirement portfolio badly. So we struggled along, and then came the 2008 stock market crash. Totally, I estimate that we lost perhaps 35-40% of our retirement investments.

This is a long-winded explanation for why we wound up with less annual retirement income than Donald Trump. And most of the deficit is because I did not pay proper obeisance to the God of Money while I was working.  It turns out that money is important, evil perhaps, but important nonetheless.

The key issue is not how much you make annually during your working career. In my case, I had a decent income throughout my career. No, the key issue is how much you can salt away for your retirement years. It is as though the only reason you work is to put enough money in the bank to support your desired lifestyle when you no longer work.  And many, perhaps most of us pay insufficient attention to that little matter.  It is almost as though you are not supposed to worry your little head about that retirement thing. No, instead you must focus on working at your chosen career job. Keep your eyes on the prize, but without ever deciding that the prize is in fact a decent retirement.

And now, I look around me on a daily basis at the folks who are driven by money—not just Trump, but an entire world of people who engage themselves in the business of bilking the world out of its cash.  And I realize that actual evil is being done on a daily basis in the pursuit of money.  And that it really is true that money (and religion) are the twin roots of all evil. It is not even clear to me that there is anything seriously different about the two pursuits. Money causes people to commit unconscionable acts, but so does religion. They both involve mind control, and they both result in damaging other peoples’ lives.  It is not the case, obviously, that everyone involved in finance, or everyone involved in religion are evil, or operate so as to damage other people. It is true, however, that a very large number of people do fall into those categories, and do damage other peoples’ lives.
I look at companies that routinely hire people on less than a full-time basis, so that they do not have to pay benefits, including health care and retirement. And I think, those companies practice evil.
And I think about FDR moving into the world and getting legislation passed, called Social Security that at least paid some attention to this little retirement thingie.  Good thing for us.  But Republicans really hate this Social Security and this Medicare things, because, a) they are wildly successful, and b) they were passed into law by Democrats.  Republicans have always been about money . . . for themselves.   But they really hate it when democrats do something that benefits the public financially.
And so, we continue to need Social Security. It is a wall keeping the bankruptcy gods at bay. But it is not enough. And as the separation grows between the folks who have modest and sub-modest incomes, and the folks who, like The Donald, have increasingly extravagant, grotesque even,  incomes, it occurs to me that we need to do three things:

Thing 1: We need to return to a taxation system that heavily taxes the uber-rich. Remember the old days when tax rates of 92% for very high incomes were in place? We need to return to those days. And we need to use the funds from such a system to both reduce our national debt (republicans do so hate to pay off their public debts), and we need to increase our contributions to Social Security.

Thing 2: We need to focus the American people’s awareness of the need to begin at an early age to save and invest in their elder years. Part of this awareness must be a focus on education and training. Public education must be more heavily supported, and should include a focus on actually preparing people to earn enough money so that they can support themselves after they finish their working lives.  I know, I know. When you are 20, the end of your working life is so far away that it does not even seem to exist. But exist it does, and somehow, we need to make people aware of that fact.
And I am not suggesting here that we train everyone to work as stock brokers, or to engage as our president in Ponzi schemes, or other con jobs (think Trump University), but that they need to understand money better, its role in the world, and in their lives. It isn’t a good or bad thing. It is, more simply, an existential thing. The need for money is ever present. People need to be trained in its management.

Thing 3: As the world of high finance has expanded, creating mega-billionaires (does the world really need Billionaires?), another world has been created—new systems by which the super wealthy hide money. We need to begin focusing on new ways and systems to minimize or even eliminate the hiding places. The world of high finance now includes a focus on how to hide income, by moving it to hidden locations, or by falsely reporting income (see Donald Trump). We need a new focus on those systems, and perhaps even a global system to begin recapturing such hidden wealth. 

And so there, a new project for thinking adults to focus on, while they salt away their billions for a nice retirement.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Air in the Room


The Air in the Room

He sucks all the air out of the room. Yeah, that’s the main objective of Trump—so dominating the public consciousness that nothing else is allowed to enter folks’ brains.  I can imagine a world in which the last remaining day is beginning to unfold for us. As the day begins, we realize that the asteroid screaming towards Earth will collide in exactly 126 minutes, and then life will cease to exist any longer.

But then Trump appears on the TV screen, or rather his latest Tweet has been revealed and in it he has declared the asteroid story  Fake News, and that he will continue trying to make America Great Again.

And we smile, because Trump has done it again. We have stopped talking about the end of life on Earth, and, instead, we are talking about whether his fake hair will remain in place after the asteroid hits the surface of the Earth.

See, nothing else of importance exists. It is only Donald Trump that should command our attention. And if he hasn’t done anything positive lately, then he will give us something unpleasant—maybe he has decided to actually obtain a gun and go out on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and shoot the nearest bystander, and then claim that the bystander was actually a traitor who was planning on destroying the country by colluding with the Swedes to impose the Swedish language on our public school system, to replace English as the national language.

And then he will declare that the FBI and the CIA are rogue agencies and he has decided to eliminate them by Executive Order.  See this is on the heels of his Tweets yesterday in which he “eliminated” all the Federal agencies, except for Homeland Security, and the Department of Defence.  The fact that he cannot eliminate Federal agencies by issuing a Tweet is apparently unknown to him, just as his Tweet in which he fired Nancy Pelosi from her job as Speaker of the House.

He doesn’t apparently know anything, and the inquisition being mounted by Nancy and those hordes of traitorous Democrats is apparently interfering further with his limited brain capacity. Since he can only do one thing at a time, e.g., eat a Big Mac, or nuke Syria, all other thinking must be delayed until that one activity has been completed successfully. Only then can he contemplate whether he should move to his big helicopter for another trip to MaraLago. Makes me wonder how he plays golf—all those clubs to decide on. Oh, but his caddy tells him what to do, doesn’t he?

I wonder, can we now finally declare him the Joke of the Year, but that we are finally going to have to move past him by appointing someone with a functioning brain as our President? Turns out that Jimmy Carter, George Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have now agreed to act as a surrogate president, a sort of President-Committee. They have agreed to serve until after the 2020 election, and the republican’s sole remaining task is to find someone with a functioning brain who has also not yet been totally compromised by Trump. The President-Committee will act by voting on all decisions, and only unanimous votes will move the decisions forward.  Oh, and to facilitate the entire election process, the whole of the Democratic candidates have decided to withdraw but to nominate a Fifth Grade English teacher from Brooklyn as the official candidate of the Democratic Party.  We hope she accepts the position.

And so this episode of The World is All About Donald Trump will end, and we can resume our normal activity—sucking our collective thumbs, while whining to our collective mommies about the coming end of the world.

And do think about getting registered to vote, and then actually voting. Maybe we can cause that asteroid to swerve a bit by throwing Donald Trump’s hair at it before it collides.

Bye for now. Sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Greta


I listen to the young lady, Greta Thunberg, and I think, wow, you got it right. You are righteously angry, and for all the right, righteous reasons. You are looking power in the eyes, and speaking truth.  But then what?  Are the people listening? Or are the people dividing themselves into their respective warring camps, and then muttering or shouting to their own, “Psshahhh, methinks she babbles on . . . she’s autistic you know. . . she knows not whereof she speaks.” And then Fox News kicks in, and the idiot malenfants of the Faux News Network begin their mindless babbling about how awful are these people.

And when it is all over, when the young lady’s prophecy about this being another species extinction begins to come true, those remaining behind will decry the industrialists who refused to cease destroying the globe. And how it is all the fault of the Koch’s (properly pronounced Cock’s) of the world.

And, in part, they will of course be right, however useless will be their mutterings at that late stage.  But, they will have also missed a larger point, and a larger group to blame for the mass extinction of humans. That larger group will be all those folks who supported by their mutterings and by their votes, the right wing climate deniers—Trump, McConnell, and the entire republican cabal.

I still observe with great frequency people who respond to criticism of Trump with, “greatest president we have ever had . . . or, God sent Donald Trump to become our president, to restore our greatness.”
And I wonder, are these folks from another planet, and so, they can neither read, nor understand English? Or, what kind of god do these folks worship who would send to earth this psychopathic narcissist to wreak such damage on the commonweal?” Really, you think Trump was sent by god??? How pathetic is your god.
But how is any of this even possible? I realize that Hitler in the 1930s rallied the German people who had been badly wounded by the ending of World War I.  The Armistice ended the shooting, but it imposed an order on Germany that left the nation’s economy and its entire wellbeing in tatters.  The ending of that Great War, almost assured the Second World War, and assured Hitler’s rise to power.  He rose by inflaming the hatreds of thousands, millions of Germans. They became solidified and unified by hatred . . . in that case hatred of the Jews, and, for reasons I fail to understand, the gypsy’s. Simply put, they hated “the other”.
But in Trump’s case, he inflames people against its own government, and, largely, against itself. There was no catastrophic ending to a war, although many might argue that point—see Vietnam. The US, under both democrats, Clinton and Obama, was moving along ok economically.  Clinton had succeeded in reducing some of the deficits created in earlier times, with four years of his term producing surpluses. Obama was slammed by the 2008 recession, and had to increase spending while revenues declined, producing large deficits.
Trump, on the other hand, campaigned on a promise to reduce the deficits, promising at one point to eliminate the entire Federal debt. Instead, his tax cuts have led to huge federal deficits, the largest in the nation’s history, especially given the absence of a war, as in Roosevelt’s term, or a recession, as in Obama’s.  Trump’s deficits promise to continue into the foreseeable future, with no ending in sight, short of some very large policy changes in terms of tax policies.  And unlike all other presidents, Trump promised to eliminate the federal DEBT—not merely the deficits, but the entire debt itself.  Instead, he may well exceed the largest deficits in our history, outdoing even Reagan, with his ignorant Laffer Curve deficits.
But it turns out that nothing Trump says or promises can be believed. He lies at an unbelievable rate. At one count, he has already lied more than 12,000 times, more than 10 lies per day of his administration.  I have begun to define his lie-predictor. How does one know Trump is lying? Well, whenever he opens his mouth, and words come tumbling out, he is lying.
So, he is a pathological liar, he is cruel—nothing else can explain his policies towards immigrant children in which he locks them up, after separating them from their families, and allows them to die in his encampments.  He cozies up to our enemies, and may well be engaging our enemies in a scheme to defraud the American people during our elections process.  He seems to be aching for a shooting war, preferably with Iran, but it is unclear that he cares where.  He seems not to understand anything he is doing, and his antagonistic actions towards climate change and environmental protections could be purposeful, a quid pro quo towards his rich industrial supporters (see Koch’s), or born of simple stupidity.  He babbles during his speeches and his press briefings, to the point that reporters no longer seem to know how much to report. He is like a drooling idiot given the right to babble-speak in large forums.
His cruelties towards immigrants seems to know no bounds, and now seems beyond the reach of the press. It is as though we now accept that such cruelty is standard American policy and beyond the purview of the of the press.  We will and do oversee the killing of children in camps operated on a for-profit basis by Trump’s core of free-wheeling money makers. Hitler anyone???
His environmental policies now seem beyond the pale. He seems to want to return us to the bad old days of the 1950s and 1960s—smog-ridden days we thought we had resolved. He wants to eliminate protections for our national parks, protections for threatened species, all in the name of industrial development by his friends.
He has refused to yield his tax returns, so the public cannot know or understand to what extent he has and continues to cheat, and continues to reap financial rewards of being president (think emoluments clause).
His cabinet and close advisers seems like a series of chapters out of the Apprentice. He hires, he fires, or they quit in disgust.  There has perhaps never been such an unstable government in our history.
And yet, whenever he is criticized publicly, social media is filled with commentary by his supporters, who continue to love him and continue to scream at his critics.  They are the problem in America. If we fail to move aggressively on climate disaster prevention, they will be the cause, because they will continue to believe in lies. He yells FAKE NEWS whenever he is criticized, but he is the core of FAKE NEWS, and his supporters are like religious zealots who subscribe to a false religion, the religion of evil. We, Americans, are becoming part of that religion of evil. To the extent that we continue to allow Trump to exist as a free agent in the destruction of our nation, we are also to blame. We can no longer just blame Trump.
WE ARE TO BLAME.
If we don’t vote, or if we vote for Trump, then WE ARE TO BLAME for whatever happens to the country and to the world. If more children die, we are to blame.  If we enter a war, we are to blame.  Germany in 1939 was more than just Hitler. Germany was filled with citizens who supported the policies that led eventually to the deaths of millions of innocent people. They were as much to blame as Hitler.  We can no longer pretend that Trump is ok. Trump is NOT OK. He is an aberrant personality who we are allowing to continue to destroy our nation. We are violating the spirits of all the Americans who died in world wars to protect our Nation.  DO NOT FORGET THEM. They died so that we could live in peace.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Idiots All Around Us


We really seem to be living in the realm of idiots. Ever since WW II, we seem to have learned to love killing people.  We are raising children who have never known a period of peace.  And, it seems different than the old days of global war.  I guess, in the era of Empire, they held wars, but often called them something else.  I mean, when the Moghul Emperors were acquiring territory, they didn’t wage “war” per se. They simply marched into various places and declared themselves the new rulers. And when the Brits decided to take over India, they just declared themselves the new owners. Of course, when the Indians rebelled in 1857, the Brits termed that event the Great Indian Mutiny, although the Indians called it the First War of Independence.

Then, we entered the realm of real wars. That Civil War thing in 1861 in America was a proper WAR. Armies, separately uniformed and following different flags, engaged, killed hundreds of thousands of soldiers, and then declared Peace, with one side (the Official United States Government, aka The North) the official winner. But the point is, at one stage we were at a state of War, and then, suddenly we entered a state of Peace. That is, no one was killing anyone in this period.

And then we had those World Wars. In both World Wars I and II, Germany led the rush to War, by deciding to acquire territory not its own.  In both cases, official States of War were declared and Nations, not just groups of folks, joined forces and then engaged in deadly and prolonged War against one another.  In both cases, one side overwhelmed the other and official Peace declarations were announced. The Wars were over, and the sides simply stopped shooting at one another. That is, after all, the purpose of a Peace Declaration. But the official ending of War, in 1945, led to the beginning of something we called the “Cold War”.  During that Cold War, it was apparently ok to have groups shooting at one another, with no War State.  Each side, “East” (Russia, China and their protectorates) and “West” (everyone else) decided it would be ok to periodically begin shooting at one another informally.

We had one final war thing, when North Korea decided that the country should no longer be split, but that was really a part of the Cold War thing, with China egging on the North. The country of Korea had been separated after the great wars into two states.  The North decided that it didn’t like the two-state thing and invaded the South. Since we represented the South, we engaged and fought back with the South. When I say “We”, I mean a larger group than merely the US. The world formed the United Nations after the Great Wars. In Korea, the fighting was between the UN-sponsored forces, and the North, backed vaguely by China. 

 But then, the Cold War shootings began deteriorating into even less “formal” states of “War”. We seemed to drift into some permanent state of killing amongst organized gangs. Sometimes, as in Vietnam, the gangs represented a large region of the world. Again, as in Korea, the state of Vietnam had been divided after the Great War into a North and a South. Again, as in Korea, the North decided it didn’t like the separation imposed by the great powers. But rather than “invade” with formal armies, organized gangs (Viet Cong) began forming and arming and then killing throughout the South. That conflict, also a UN operation, lasted for many years. Officially, the French had attempted to retain their old Empire possession, Vietnam, but they were never too good at the War thing. So in 1954, they got properly routed by the Viet Cong (or the North) and tossed out. Enter the UN (really, the United States). We began engaging, first by arming the South, and then by introducing our own troops. So, from the early 1960s until roughly 1975, we were engaged in fighting these organized gangs, called the Viet Cong (VC) and finally the North Vietnamese themselves. Richard Nixon ran a presidential campaign on his ability to end the war (killing state) in Vietnam. Actually, all he did was expand the killing zone by bombing in countries heretofore neutral.  Then, finally, Nixon gave up in disgust. He entered a mock peace negotiation with the North, and we finally walked away with our tail between our legs, officially having lost our first “War” (except it wasn’t a real War).

One would think the World would have delighted in that ending, despite the fact of loss for the US.  Any War ending, it seems to me, is a good thing, because we stop killing people.  But that Cold War thing continued. I guess, even when we are not killing folks directly, we seem to get off on hating one another.  Just cuz. Part of the problem, apparently, in ending Wars, as in WW II, is that we seem to be in too big a hurry, and we neglect  all the sideshows of anger/hatreds that developed during or even as a result of the wars.  After WW II “ended”, the Cold War began, but the Cold War was really a direct result of the War itself. Russia and China had both engaged in the Second World War, at least theoretically on the same side as the US and much of Europe.  But those nations had been undergoing their own internal disputes/revolutions. After overthrowing their own internal ruling regimes earlier, both countries assumed a new government approach, called Communism. That system eliminated/reduced the role of the private sector, transferring all developmental powers to their governments.  So, despite our mutual opposition to the German/Japanese regimes, we were not fully aligned, such that, almost as soon as the war ended, we began opposition anew in the form of that Cold War. That “War” resulted in a number of shooting fronts.  For example, both Korea and Vietnam can be traced to that Cold War rivalry between “East” and “West”. And after those shooting matches ceased, the Soviets decided to invade Afghanistan in 1979, in order to support a communist takeover in that country, which was met by opposing anti-communist forces. The invasion of Afghanistan began in late December 1979 by troops from the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union intervened in support of the Afghan communist government in its conflict with anti-communist Muslim guerrillas during the Afghan War (1978–92) and remained in Afghanistan until mid-February 1989. During that little conflict, we armed and supported the opposing “guerrillas”. Funny thing. Turns out, we armed what became the Taliban . . . yeah that group that instigated the 911 attacks here in the US.  So, we hold some responsibility for the current mess.

And then, right around the same time, the Shah of Iran was being challenged. Several factors contributed to strong opposition to the Shah amongst certain groups within Iran, the most significant of which were US and UK support for his regime, and clashes with leftists and Islamists. By 1979, political unrest had transformed into a revolution which, on 17 January, forced him to leave Iran. Soon thereafter, the Iranian monarchy was formally abolished, and Iran was declared an Islamic republic led by Ruhollah Khomeini (known in the West as Ayatollah Khomeini). And then we had an enemy in Iran.

Enemies . . . enemies everywhere. All around this poor benighted globe, we have enemies. Apparently, all it takes to forge an enemy-relationship is a different system of government.  We never seem capable of simply running different systems, without hatreds or shoot’m ups. 
But the big change that has occurred over, say, the past fifty years is the growth of what I now call organized crime gangs. We have in Latin America actual organized crime gangs of the classic cosa nostra style.  Now to be fair, Cosa Nostra required that you originate in Sicily, and that you were not allowed to have any cops in your clan.  The gangs in Latin America are very large, brutal, with killings galore. They largely make their money in the drug trade, made possible by the existence of an unlimited drug market in the USA. They wage organized crime war continuously by killing people they don’t like. They make money by selling us drugs.

And then, we have ISIS and The Taliban in the Middle East. They also make their money by killing folks wholesale, in an attempt to take over large swaths of various countries. They want territory, and love killing other folks to acquire it.  But they aren’t Nation-States. They are simply organized gangs. They don’t sell drugs, they impose religion, instead. Well, technically, some of them also sell drugs to make money.

It is not clear that these gangs are directed by a central authority, ergo, it is very difficult to restrain or defeat them. You beat down one group in one township, and several more pop up in the next township.  Afghanistan is a classic nation-state within which they can flourish. Babur was one of the earlier conquerors of Afghanistan, but throughout its history, various nations have attempted and failed to take control, including the British, the Russians, and the Americans.  But it now extends way beyond Afghanistan. The entire Middle East is afflicted with this organized gang/crime groups, all of a pseudo-religious order.

And the killing never seems to end. These groups get off on killing any way they can. And they seem not to care who they kill—innocents as easily as armed opponents.
It is by no means clear how the world can end this global killing phase. There are no Nation-States we can confront and defeat. There are simply mindless thousands, perhaps millions who are disaffected by the mindless autocracies in which they live, and decide to join gangs and kill for a living.

We await some solution. The UN seems powerless and the world’s great powers seem intent on allowing this killing to continue. No world leader seems to have the conscience required to propose ending it. All of the powers that be seem to derive their own power by having states of hatred and violence around them. They love hating and killing (see Trump and the Republican Party). Until that changes, the killing will continue.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Aging in Place


Folks often ask, “so how’re you doing?  And sometimes I respond, “Who knows . . . the Shadow knows.”  And that goes over the heads of most folks under, say, 70. See, I used to listen to the radio during the 1940s, sitting in our front room in our flat on Second Avenue, near 71st Street.  And I listened to “The Shadow”, Fibber McGee and Molly”, “Inner Sanctum”, and others of that early ilk.  Who knows what evil lurks in the minds of man. The Shadow knows.”

But then, because I really am aging, I sometimes respond, “Aging in place.” And not everyone gets that, but most do.  It means, sort of, “well, I’m hanging around, mostly in one place, and I’m getting older every day.”  Mainly, it’s a signal that I no longer make any significant contribution to mankind.  Hanging around . . . some might say, “waiting to go”.  Now the trouble with that phrase, is that you don’t really “go” anywhere, when you end this existence on earth.  No, you simply cease to exist. Which to my mind is really weird.  If there is a god, she apparently didn’t think that one through.
But, in any case, it is what it is.  But, the important thing about all this silliness about life and its potential ending scenarios, is that there is great reason to look on each day as a gift. Open it carefully, and treat it with respect. You may not get another one tomorrow, but, if you do, open that one carefully and treat it also with respect.

I have now lived beyond the point in the aging game where any of my family members survived. Mostly, the women ended it all around my current age, mid-80s. The men generally didn’t make it that far. To be fair, we didn’t know as much about preserving life during the 1940s – 1980s when most of my aging family “left” this life.

So, does any of this mean anything?

Well, what it means to me is that we might want to consider leaving the place at least slightly better than when we entered it.  And by “better”, I obviously don’t mean financially “better”. I mean, somehow, kinder, or more humane, civil.  Now it is clear that individually we can’t simply make war, or poverty, or Donald Trump disappear. But collectively, assuming we continue to care, we of course can make such things happen.  Mostly, we make such momentous occasions happen by the simple process of voting.  All of the idiot, lazy louts who failed to show up at the polls in 2106, because “their candidate” didn’t make it onto the ballot. And they weren’t going to vote for Hillary. So, instead, they sort of voted for Trump, simply by not showing up.

So, we all need to do our bit. Even if you decide to vote for the “least-worst” you still need to do that.
And, even beyond that minimum activity, life offers lots of ways to make our world a slightly better place.  For example, the Cabarrus County Literacy Council recruits lots of volunteers like me to tutor folks who wish to learn English as a Second Language, or, as in my case, who wish to learn to read. I currently tutor a 58 year old man who simply never learned to read, despite having acquired a high school diploma. How could you acquire a high school diploma while being unable to read?  Well, mostly, he used to guess on tests, had his sister help him with homework, and relied on his teachers simply passing him through each class. No one either knew or cared that he couldn’t read. He somehow learned to cope, with his brain filling in something when he couldn’t read. But, I am working with him to remedy that deficit. And, I am making his life slightly better. My wife used to tutor a man in DC who couldn’t read, but he worked in his company’s mail room. He operated by recognizing people and he knew their first initials. But now he was actually learning to read, so he might be able to read to his grandkids.  Again, she was making his life a bit better.
So, it turns out, there are lots of little things each of us can do to leave this world a slightly better place than when we entered.

But, I am also increasingly aware that, as we “age in place”. We need to understand that aging thing and what it means to our earthly body.  Knowing that none of us can live forever (too bad, huh god??), we all still need to become increasingly aware of the changes that could make our few remaining years more or less difficult.

Our friendly neighborhood orthopedic surgeon tells us he has one big rule—DON’T FALL.  Easier said than done, huh? Well, one of the things I have noticed increasingly is that our propensity to fall seems directly related to paying attention. You know that thing about “Multitasking”?  Many people think they multitask all the time. We talk on the phone, while writing an e-mail.  We chat while driving, or maybe we listen to the radio while driving.  Or, we walk up or down stairs while our mind wanders. But the science says, conclusively, that our brain cannot actually multitask. What our mind does instead is rapidly switch from one task to another—we “serially monotask.” Now mostly, we get away with the charade of multitasking.   But often we “come a cropper”. While we are chatting on our phone, we fail to see the guy stopping in front of us suddenly, and we fail to stop before ramming into him.  But if we are “aging in place”, we often open ourselves up to falls. We walk downstairs while thinking of something we need to do, and we fail to notice that we are not yet at the bottom step, and, so, we tumble down the last two steps, perhaps banging our head on something hard.  Or we pay too little attention to the rug in front of us, and we fail to pick up our feet enough, and, so, we tumble.

These little occurrences increasingly dominate as we “age in place”.  There is, of course, no real “solution” to these little events of the aging, except, perhaps, to being more aware.  If we pay attention to the little things and stop the myth of multitasking, we really can avoid some of the nastier side effects of the aging process.  I think of the simple process of walking up and down stairs. Normally, we pay no attention, and instead do something else mentally while we walk.  But if instead, we focus on this simple process, holding on, really looking, we can in fact reduce the number of those nasty things called falls.

And if we pay attention pretty much all the time to what we are doing, we can avoid at least some of the nastier side effects of aging in place.  I have the habit, for example, of carrying too many things at one time, instead of making more than one trip.  I guess, when we are 25, we can pull off such stunts. But less so when you hit that magic 80 mark.  Note please, when you are in your 80s, you are old by almost any standard.  And when we hit that stage, we need to quit pretending.

We need to pay attention. In the early morning, when the sun begins to arise, go and observe the effects. It is glorious, but one must put down one’s phone while observing. When you walk in a garden and see an especially enchanting flower, or butterfly, again, stop and observe. Don’t multitask. Monotasking has real advantages, but even more so as we age.

Aging, it turns out, is not for sissies. It needs to be treated with respect.  Pay attention aging folks, pay attention.

Oh, and do go to the polls and VOTE. We really do need to rid our world of Donald Trump and his gang of thugs. Please, vote, and even there, pay attention to what you are doing.