Friday, March 27, 2020

Religious Cults

So what happens if Trump’s faithful followers actually belong to the equivalent of a religious cult? The term “religious cult” has several meanings, most now negative. But it often refers to a group following a “charismatic leader” where the beliefs of the group often are at odds with conventional norms, of even other religious groups.  When we think of cults, we think immediately of groups like the one that followed Charles Manson, or Jim Jones’ People’s Temple.  We now often refer to people “drinking the Kool-Aid” when we want to denigrate a group following seemingly strange ideas, or people, like Donald Trump.  And what does the term mean? Here from Wiki, is one definition:

"Drinking the Kool-Aid" is an expression used to refer to a person who believes in a possibly doomed or dangerous idea because of perceived potential high rewards. The phrase often carries a negative connotation. It can also be used ironically or humorously to refer to accepting an idea or changing a preference due to popularity, peer pressure, or persuasion. In recent years it has evolved further to mean extreme dedication to a cause or purpose, so extreme that one would "Drink the Kool-Aid" and die for the cause.
The phrase originates from events in JonestownGuyana, on November 18, 1978, in which over 900 members of the Peoples Temple movement died. The movement's leader, Jim Jones, called a mass meeting at the Jonestown pavilion after the murder of U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan and others in nearby Port Kaituma. Jones proposed "revolutionary suicide" by way of ingesting a fatal powdered drink mix laced with cyanide and other drugs which had been prepared by his aides.[1][2]
The phrase "drinking the Kool-Aid" as used to describe either blind obedience or loyalty to a cause is considered offensive, by some, to relatives of the dead, and survivors who escaped Jonestown:[3] seventy or more individuals at Jonestown were injected with poison against their will, and a third of the victims (304) were minors.[4][5] Guards armed with guns and crossbows had been ordered to shoot those who fled the Jonestown pavilion as Jones lobbied for suicide.[6][7]
As a point of fact regarding the phrase itself, it is not known with certainty which of the two grape powdered flavor mixes, Flavor AidKool-Aid, or both were used to concoct the poison in Jonestown; the commune had both among their supplies.[8] Most sources surmise that Flavor-Aid was the primary flavor ingredient used.[9][10] Shortly after the tragedy, manufacturers of both products addressed the matter by pointing out that whether their company's particular drink mix was or was not used was irrelevant: a cyanide-laced poison had been created and used to kill people, and one or both respective products were misused as the vehicle to do so.
But now, this term is used with some frequency to refer to a follower of the Donald Trump MAGAHead cult. I have lately been labeling this group the KKKNeoNazicultische group. I use that term because Trump seems to attract both racists, of which he seems a proud member, and neo-Nazi’s, of whom he speaks favorably.  Clearly all of his millions of followers are not racists, or members of a Neo-Nazi group. But given his repeatedly weird behavior, his inability to behave like a normal human being, and, lately, his unwillingness to address the growing COVID19 pandemic, the fact that millions still follow him draws me to the conclusion that his followers are of the ilk of a religious cult.
Imagine, people still say publicly that Trump is the best president in their living memory, often “The best president in United States history”.  Now, how is that even remotely possible, given his behavior in office, and now his daily pandemic briefings (aka political rallies) where his knowledgeable staff (think Dr. Anthony Fauci)  has to be kept practically hidden, while he is speaking? And then, the knowledgeable staff have to contradict almost everything he says as soon as possible.  He goes through staff like no one we have ever seen in that position. And it doesn’t seem to matter whether the staff are good or terrible.  Eventually he dumps them, and then they tell us the horror stories of working for Trump.
And yet, his faithful followers persist in their belief that he is THE BEST.  Nothing but CULT describes for me such a phenomenon. Religion in general, and religious cult especially suggests for me an ability, even an intense need or desire, to believe in fairy tales.  I know, that folks who believe in God and follow some religious practice are offended at that thought. But it is what I think. But normal religious adherence seems different somehow from followers of a cult. Cults seem too often to drive people to do awful, even violent things. And that is what fills me with some dread, when I think about our upcoming election.
I have observed and participated in elections ever since 1952. And there have been troubling times over that period. Since my earliest recollections, we have had WW II, the war in Korea, Vietnam, and the entire Bush-inspired wars throughout the Middle East. Vietnam, especially, inspired very large cult-like violence opposed to the war. But nothing, in my lifetime, comes close to what I observe with the followers of Donald Trump. Yes, there has also been violence associated with his followers. But more often, it is the threat of violence, with Trump shouting to his faithful to prepare to do violence and he will bail them out of jail.
So, what does all this portend as we approach November? It would not surprise me in the least if Trump attempts to interfere in the upcoming election, and by “interfere” I mean cancel.  I can imagine him declaring some National Emergency and then cancelling the election. It is unclear to me that he has the authority to do that. But I think he may well try. According to what I read, the President has no power to simply cancel the election, however much he might want such a power. It is the states. State legislators could arguably decide to cancel the election, because of COVID risks, and then require their “electors” to pick the next president. This possibility is a wide open affair, since, although Trump won states adequate to win a victory in the electoral college, but there is no clear path. The electors could arguably select him, or they could change their minds and select another candidate, i.e., Joe Biden.  It is perhaps yet another reason to dump the entire electoral college system and simply go to a popular vote system.
Voting by mail is the best alternative to such a bypass voting system. But the states and perhaps the Federal government would have to begin preparing now for such an alternative. We cannot await a decision until, say two weeks before the election and then decide. There would simply not be enough time.  We need to begin gearing up, including printing enough ballots and deciding how to best distribute the ballots (via US mail, or some other method).
But with Trump in charge, I assume he will do his best to forestall such an approach. He is nothing if not corrupt. He will stop at nothing to prevent an honest vote that would surely kick him out of office.
So, let us see what happens. This pandemic is not going away any time soon, and we have not even begun to peak. We need to think long and hard at what an additional four years of Trump could mean. And remember, he would not stop at four more years. He wishes to be our first king, King Donald I.
Is that really what we want America???

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Love: It’s what Makes an America . . . America (Sorry Subaru)

We have been feeling both increasingly distressed, and then increasingly blessed over the past couple of weeks, as the pandemic moves into high gear, shutting down us, and much of the country. The distress is obvious, as COVID has begun dominating almost every aspect of life in America.  But the blessed part relates to the notion of people helping one another.

Personally, we live close to our daughter and her family. They have prevailed upon us to self-isolate. We are not ill, but we are of a seriously advanced age, 84 and 85. That makes us a special target of this nasty virus. So we wear protective gloves a lot, have largely stopped shopping, except when we can buy online and then have a drive-by pickup. But that method doesn’t begin to complete our shopping. So, our daughter has stepped in to buy as much of our weekly produce as possible. And then neighbors also stepped in to buy a number of items we forgot about with our daughter’s & grandkids’ shopping expeditions.

And what this all brings me to is the thought that the only way our world—humankind writ broadly—will be able to survive this pandemic is to begin changing our attitude towards one another. If all nations began acting like our neighbors and our family, we might be able to get through this mess and come out the other end as truly civilized human beings.

I think, for example, of our President and his PR team (Fox Fake News) labeling the Corona virus the “China virus”. He says he is just being “accurate”, since that is where the virus first made itself known to the world.  Then we have Iran wherein some idiots have decided that the US created this virus, so I guess they will be calling it the America virus.  Russia is hiding its version of the pandemic, but Putin is probably blaming it on Hillary, or Hunter Biden.

And my point here is that we need to stop this foolishness.  We all know technically and factually that China, or Russia or the CIA here DID NOT CREATE THE CORONA VIRUS! We know that.  The only reason we publically assign blame to someone or some nation is because we are all trying to maintain a position of power. Here, Trump is catering to his faithful supporters. He desperately wants to avoid blame for mishandling the crisis, because that would get in the way of his re-election.  In China, in Iran, in Russia or wherever, the same phenomenon adheres. If blame is being laid onto someone else, then that act is all about retaining power.  Trump, unfortunately, is someone who practices the blame-game routinely. Nothing is ever his fault. Everything positive is always because of his acts, his brilliant mind.   As long as Trump remains in power, this blame-game method of functioning will continue. It is who he is, and how he has always functioned.

The world may be entering a new stage of global functioning, one we humans have never before seen. Perhaps the dinosaurs observed something similar after that asteroid struck and began the annihilation of all dinosaurs. But we assume they did not understand what they were witnessing. Hopefully we have a better understanding of catastrophic events. Perhaps as never before, we may need an entirely new way of global government interactions.

After World War II, some of the world governments recognized that nations working together stood a better chance of avoiding the worst effects of human political stupidity (think Holocaust, think nuclear Armageddon)  if the world’s nations worked together in kind of a United Nations approach. I know, I know, that didn’t last all that long. How long was it between the ending of WW II and Korea . . . and then Vietnam???  Not nearly long enough.

But, for some reason, we thought we could compartmentalize such wars. Yes, we invited some of our global friends to participate, but still, we never got to an all-out global war.  Now, this pandemic cannot be compartmentalized. It has already struck nearly every place on the globe. For countries not yet infected, the operative word is NOT YET.  Russia is currently in denial, but Russia will look like all of the other countries sooner rather than later.  The virus does not respect borders, or relative global power. Nuclear bombs will not affect its behavior. Vlad the Impaler cannot order it to cease its nasty work in Russia, any more than Donald Stupidhead can order it away.  It takes no orders yet from anyone.  Perhaps, eventually, Mother Nature will intervene the way she always does for better or worse.

But it seems most likely that we, HUMANKIND may need to begin a new world order, one in which global leaders speak with greater respect to one another, if only to preserve their respective global domains.  If we don’t quit the blame-game and begin adopting some cooperative approaches to resolving the pandemic, sharing solutions, sharing technology, even sharing equipment, vaccines, etc., then perhaps we are the next dinosaurs.

At every corner of our globe, the people of the world need to begin standing up to flawed leaders and begin demanding that their countries work together, even if that means new leaders everywhere, as it surely does here. We need people with high intelligence, and people with a moral code that operates to preserve humanity rather than destroying it.

It isn’t complicated folks. We either band together to preserve humanity, or we all disappear together. Think of your kids and grandkids folks. This is no laughing matter. We need to stop killing each other. Stop calling names. Stop pretending that there are easy answers to complex problems. Bring in some intelligent people.

And that may well mean voting appropriately this November. Vote as though your very lives depended on it. Because, they do, they do. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Evaluability Assessment of the Corona Virus Pandemic

Ahh, what a world we occupy. It’s pretty amazing that, in this world of advanced science, where we can shoot off rockets to Mars and outer space, gathering data on far flung planets, our government blabs about how wonderful is our response to this pandemic, when everyone in the country understands just the opposite.  Instead of pumping up Trump’s ego 24-7 (he is such a fragile little snowflake) we need to be devising a plan for coping with the worst economic effects of this dreadful pandemic.

Right now, our health care professionals are trying to devise ways to cope with the disease flowing over the country. Can we get enough medical professionals and health care system technologies to cope with this fast spreading disease?  That is the main task now.  But other folks need to be working just as hard right now on how to cope with the economic effects, beginning to be felt throughout the country.

In the old days, just after returning from my earlier career in aerospace planning and control, and our attempts to transfer some of that planning technology to India, I entered a realm on large scale program evaluation, mainly aimed at social and health care systems.  Our mantra at that time was:

If you cannot evaluate the outcomes of these programs, then you also are unlikely to achieve the desired effects.

One of the most common responses by Congress to perceived health, economic or structural problems in the country was to throw money at it. That is, Congress would observe or be told of an upcoming or current problem, they would argue about it for a while, and then someone would proceed to write up a package of money they could toss at the problem. They would pass the package, and then walk away, having “solved” the problem.  Then they would go on to the next problem. Then their “oversight” was a joke, because they never had a clue about how they would adjudge success in the first place.

So, we consulting research staff at The Urban Institute, devised a new approach to program evaluation back in those days of the 1970’s. We called it Evaluability Assessment. That is, you construct a design study to determine whether there exists enough agreement on how to measure success such that you can actually proceed with the implementation.  If you cannot measure success, then you likely will never achieve success.

So, what does this have to do with anything? Well, I submit that we need such an approach right here and right now.  Various people will be “inventing” or “designing” new approaches to deal with the COVID 19 disease and its economic effects. We may already be approaching the 1930s in terms of existing or likely unemployment.  As especially small businesses close, their staff get laid off. Maybe they can claim unemployment, but maybe not. And maybe they can still get health care or maybe not.  But, even beyond the immediate effects, it seems likely that many businesses will simply have to shutter permanently, with even greater staff losses.

I submit that, while health care professionals, e.g., people like Anthony Fauci, are tasked to design health care programs and systems to deal with the pandemic, we need intelligent economists (and apparently not all economists are intelligent) to design a national approach/program to manage the economic effects on the nation. It is my belief that throwing a single check at thousands of people, however welcome might be those checks, will not even come close to solving the economic problems being created right now by this virus.  We need a systemic approach that will help the nation dig its way out of this giant hole this virus is creating.  And we need to subject any resulting program design to the test of Evaluability Assessment. We need real, workable program designs, rather than the usual Trump flapdoodle PR piece intended mainly to make him look good, and regardless of its essential utility to our nation’s good.  This approach has been written up in many forums, and has been applied in health care, in foreign aid, and in Justice programs. One such description of the approach can be found at:

I realize that, in the era of Trumpaganda, almost anything emerging out of the White House is likely to be little more than a Trump PR piece intended to facilitate his re-election (God forbid). But my hope is that some of the more rational and more intelligent professionals who have been forced to stand by in dismay, will actually begin to come to grips with this catastrophic event, and decide to begin designing real, serious approaches to help at least alleviate the worst of the possible economic outcomes.

Fond hope springs eternal.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Social Distancing: Or Dying at a Distance

While it is difficult to deny that, with this particular virus—COVID19—the instruction to “socially distance” is necessary, perhaps even vital. But the more I consider such an approach, however necessary, the more I begin to wonder whether we are witnessing the beginning of the end of our entire system of life as we used to know it.

We have grown to live our lives as socially proximate humans. We work in offices where desks tend to be a few feet apart, aside from the office holders.  Or we attend social/sporting events where we sit within a foot or two of our neighbors.  Restaurants and pubs are particular problems because of proximate seating.

People are now working from home when they can, but not everyone works in an office on a computer. Even schools are now facing the immense task of figuring out how to educate children from afar. And that task is beyond my ken. I could not figure out how you might educate a group of 6-10 year olds who are sitting at home, even if they all have computers.

And then we have our food factories and our farms. We take for granted our ability to go to a food supermarket and buy whatever strikes our fancy. Or, in our case, the ability to visit a farmers market and buy fresh produce, including fresh meat, eggs, and even seafood.  But the farmers markets are now closed, and the supermarkets pose a risk to both workers and shoppers, if we cannot be sure who is infected or not.

So, our entire lifestyle is based on people getting together to produce, shop, eat, et al. If we cannot do that any longer, how will we be able to carry on our lives?  Now, if this thing was going to be over in, say, a couple of weeks, we could all just hunker down and watch TV. But, suppose this virus is still a threat for the next six months?  Can our society and our economy survive such a social distancing for that period?  We see no vaccine arriving in less than a year, if we are lucky. So, are we looking at the end of our civilization as we have known it? Is this virus going to do what WW II, and the Cold War threats of nuclear Armageddon did not do? Could it literally shut down civilization?

Think of all small businesses that rely on daily walk in trade. Can they adapt, or will they all simply go bankrupt because they cannot handle the cash flow needs of this new social distancing environment?  And what of the people who work in those places?

I think we have just begun to see the effects in businesses beyond the service industry. Will people stop shopping more broadly? Will folks stop looking for new cars, or new houses, or furniture for their homes?

And what of hospitals and doctors’ offices? What influx of new patients infected will it take to simply shut them down? The potential rates of infection as we actually expand our testing may overwhelm our system’s ability to manage the care of infected people. They are already projecting the possibility of making choices about who gets treated with appropriate equipment (ventilators, etc.) and who is shunted aside.

What concerns me is what I observe coming from our White House pseudo-leadership.  They still wish to pretend it will all be over soon, however the nasty effects while it is here.  But, I keep thinking, what if it will not be over soon? Suppose we are still facing this pandemic 6-12 months from now? Will our entire system collapse? The current stock markets are already highly unstable and are dropping record amounts. That means less cash is available to the folks who deal in cash, and it may mean less liquidity to the entire system by which commercial enterprises are financed. It would seem that our whole system is designed to operate under stable conditions. Whenever something occurs threatening that stability, we observe yo-yo like jerks in the financial markets, with resulting losses to thousands of folks who count on those markets for their income. I think of that greatest of market jerks, October 1929, when on that Tuesday, the 29th, over 16 million shares were traded, as the market collapsed in the single largest crash in its history. The resulting losses and market chaos led almost directly to the great depression that lasted another ten years, and required the onset of World War II to correct.

Still, nothing in my dim memory bank seems anything like what we are now witnessing. I still recall, however dimly, the polio scare, and several serious flu epidemics. I also recall living before the measles vaccine was developed. I remember the cautions tossed at me as a child. I remember even the frights of WW II. But I do not remember seeing something quite this global and scary. We seem to be undergoing a period not unlike the dinosaur period after the asteroid hit. Except, the dinosaurs had no idea what was coming next, whereas we are imagining the worst that might come.

I am advised, “Richard, stop worrying about things over which you have no control”.  And then I fall to sleep, only to awaken at 3:30, with my mind yelling that the world is falling over and I can’t stop it.

I know, I know, so far the worst that has happened to us is that we are confined to our very pleasant home. Well, technically, we are not confined. We can still go out. We just can’t go anywhere that will bring us into contact with other humans, some of whom might be infected. Mainly, that means no shopping, and no pub/restaurant frequenting.  I Know, “Oh you poor thing, you can’t go to your favorite restaurant. Life really is tough.”

But what has been keeping me awake, is not so much the simple fact that we cannot go to a restaurant, but the implication of all those places having to close, and what that may mean worldwide. Restaurants and other similar shopping venues operate on small margins, and their work staff personally operate on even thinner margins. Closing such places is chaos for the owners, but more so for the workers.  And it is not just restaurants, but any work environment that relies on the public on a daily basis for its business.  Also, I wonder about the myriad small businesses—plumbers, electricians, carpenters, etc. who rely on a public capable of paying them out of available cash reserves.

I think we have no idea yet what will happen to larger entities like automobile manufacturers, appliance makers, et al.  Will this virus trigger a global recession/depression? We do not yet know, but some commentators suggest a likely probability.  Plus, the world may look differently after it is over, and it will someday be over (one assumes a vaccine is just around the corner). The big question is when will it be over?  Well, shortly after we develop a valid vaccine and administer it to the population at large.  And if Trump is any guide, his protestations to the contrary, we actually have no idea when that will occur. He suggests weeks. Most observers suggest a year or more.

And therein lies the problem. If it is a year, many more will die, more still may become sick, the health system may become overwhelmed, and more businesses will close, triggering unemployment on a scale we have not seen since, perhaps, the Great Depression.  And that is what keeps me awake at night—that we are a long way from this being over, and that we have an incoherent, ignorant president who has no idea what he is doing.  I still have fond hopes that November will bring us a new government and new leadership, assuming Trump makes no attempt to close the elections process. We put nothing past him.

But who knows, miracles have been known to happen. Maybe republicans might finally acquire some testes, and assist in tossing this cretin out of the White House . . . in handcuffs if necessary. Stay well folks, and keep washing your hands—20 seconds each time.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Kids Dying

I was listening to an NPR piece the other day and they were discussing a woman in Syria who was trying to flee with her son to someplace, anyplace, with greater safety, especially for the young boy. And it made me think of all the killers in our world and what they are doing when they steal lives. I realize that they don’t think that way, about how they are stealing years of life.  They only think about getting rid of other people with whom they disagree about something, generally about whether they should be controlling the lives of the people they otherwise plan to kill.

Or it could be some dude who walks into a school and takes out his (always a “HIM”) automatic rifle and begins shooting anything moving.  And he doesn’t understand what he is doing, i.e., that he is stealing years of life.  That little 9-year old he just killed was just a piece of human trash in his way. But actually that 9-year old might have been the next Albert Einstein, or Neil DeGrasse Tyson.  And so, inadvertently, the shooter just eliminated someone who might have been responsible for saving our planet from human extinction.

But, though less lofty, he may instead have just eliminated years of life in which the young person might have played happily with his dog, or joined a basketball team in his high school, or met and married a sweet young thing and then gone on to produce a few little children of his own . . . you know had a LIFE.

So, when Donald Trump separates little kids from their parents, places those kids in a cage in one of his savage concentration camps, and then one or more of the little kids gets sick and dies, Donald Trump has done the same thing as the guy who walked into one of the many schools and shot up the school.   Trump with his policies about stopping immigration is also stealing years of life from various people, including little kids.

I realize that he looks on his policies as stopping people from acting illegally, when they enter the US without proper legal documentations, you know, the way his wife entered the country with her fake credentials.  If only they would act within our laws, their children would remain safe, says he. But would they? Why do families undertake these horrible journeys and try to sneak into this country or simply turn themselves into our authorities to find a safe haven from the murderous thugs ruling their own countries?  They are trying to stay alive, to allow their kids to grow up into civilized human adults. Because the Thugs of the World seem to be in charge in many places around the globe.  And it isn’t just in Mexico, or Salvador. Think Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and on and on. Our globe is filled with murderous thugs, some oriented by religious fervor, but all stimulated by power and/or money. They will kill because they can. And they don’t understand, or simply don’t care, that they are stealing years of lives when they kill.  They are stealing life experiences, which cannot be returned.

See, we seem, all of us, to understand the relative magnitude of what we are doing when we steal money from a bank, or even from someone’s pocketbook.  Or if we break into a shoppe, and steal some silver, or a valued piece of art.  Or if we break into a car, hotwire it and then ride off into the sunset. We intuitively know what we are doing, because society has decreed a valuation system for such things. But when we steal years of life, we have no idea what we are doing.  Sure, I suppose if we knew with certainty that we would be stealing a possible Albert Einstein, we might be able to understand how valuable a loss that might be. But when we steal 20-70 years of an ordinary life, filled with laughter, and tears of joy, we really do not understand that at all.

And so, the idiots in ISIS, or the Taliban, or the drug lords of the world, or the other evildoers simply continue to plot their courses for control of the world at whatever cost might be involved and they do not care what that cost is—because they do not ever really understand what the cost is.

What I see around the world is two powerful motivating forces, both evil. One is money, and one is religion, and they both lead to power and control over the lives of other people.  Neither force is inherently evil at low levels. When someone wants a larger bonus or salary so he can better provide for his family, or when someone decides to pray for a happier life, they aren’t evil. But when those forces grow in scope and the people seeking the expanded scopes are now seeking to control others, then evil begins.  And at some point, the lives of others become irrelevant, and it becomes ok to steal those years of life.  At that stage evil now dominates, and the people in charge no longer understand what they are doing.

We have so many of these people that it beggars belief today.   Certainly Trump and his merry band of compliant thugs symbolizes these forces of money and religion. But Trump is not alone. Think Saudi Arabia, think Russia, think Afghanistan, ISIS everywhere. But also think entities that millions revere, such as the Holy Roman Catholic Church, which has for centuries ignored the devastating effects of its priestly orders on the flock being savagely abused.

Years of Life stolen for so many reasons.  I wonder whether we are headed towards another extinction era, this time of the human race.  Having come into this world during that dark period known as the Great Depression, and having observed World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the seemingly permanent state of war in that region known as the Middle East, and having observed all of the accompanying evils those wars bring out in humanity, I wonder whether we still have room in our existence for goodness and laughter and happiness.  Do we still understand that the baby just coming into the world might be the savior of the world, or simply a human capable of delivering love and happiness?

Are we still capable of looking at someone who is different from us and finding them interesting rather than evil?  Have we forgotten that old saw about “Judge Not Lest Ye be Judged”?  We perhaps need to begin again, to look at other people, young or old, as humans with many years of life experiences ahead of them. And their very existence means that those years belong to them, not to us. And we cannot steal those years, without becoming evil ourselves.  Instead, we should think about how to enrich those years with fruitful, happy experiences—perhaps that is known as education, but even there we need to exercise care.  Humans are scripted throughout their lives, often by parents, but sometimes by other humans with whom they are brought into contact. That scripting can be good or evil. We need to exercise care and even loving care to ensure that our interactions produce positive scripts.

In this divisive world we have been building over many years, we have seemingly forgotten one simple thought. We are all in this world together. How we act determines whether our world will continue, or will disappear. We need to begin thinking folks. Think about peace, about expanding the life experiences of people other than ourselves.  And think about the little ones, and all those years of life ahead for them. How can we help, even in small ways, to make those years happy and fruitful?

Think beyond yourself in other words.   But think.

Monday, March 2, 2020


So, I walk into a Sears store one day (when Sears still existed as a real business) looking at garden tools. I pick up one after another, and I read, Made in China.  Finally, I go over to a sales clerk and ask, “So, do you have any of these not made in China?” And he thinks for 3 seconds, and responds, “hmmm, I doubt it.” And why do I care where it is made? Well, because over time, I have concluded that China is the world’s main supplier of CRAP.  And what is CRAP? Well, mainly it is products that don’t last, or don’t function the way they should.  See, I’m really old, and I like things that last a while—really, things that will outlast me.  See, for example, in 1968, just after we returned from our 4-year tour in India, I went to a store in Cambridge, MA to look for a new hi-fi system.  We had sold ours before leaving India. And voila, I found this system called McIntosh—no, not the Apple MacIntosh. This was 1968, and Steve Jobs was likely still in high school. McIntosh started in the late 1940s in New York. We bought perhaps their first solid state hi-fi power amplifier and tuner-pre-amp, the MC2505 and the MX-112. But that was in olden times, when folks used to actually sit and listen to music played on home hi-fi systems.  Those McIntosh systems were costly, I think $660 each in 1968. But, guess what? It’s 2020, and those systems still work. Yeah, something still working after 52 years.

And then we have these things called watches. Oh, I know, people don’t have watches any longer. They have fit-bits, or smartie phones that tell time.  But, being very old, I like actual watches. So, in 1968, I bought a Rolex Date—a friend was traveling to Singapore and I asked him to get me one there. I think I paid $250.  And, again, guess what? It still works.

Now, why do I bring up these seemingly silly examples? Well, two points here.

1.       Point One: Quality used to matter. Slowly, over time, American products began trading quality for cost. Take that great migration—materials like towels, bedding, even clothing. They started in New England, then moved South to reduce cost. Then, of course, since cost was the single criterion of interest, they kept moving—to Mexico and thence to China.  And slowly but surely, we began making fewer and crappier goods, as China soaked up the cost sponge, becoming the World’s supplier of crap.

2.       Point Two: Competition: There used to be more competition for almost everything.  Then apparently, it occurred to people that the point to competition was to eliminate all competition. Various business entities began growing, mainly on the basis of low cost, and began forcing out their competitors (think WalMart). It began to occur to me that we might be headed towards a marketplace with fewer and fewer stores, e.g., THE SUPERMARKET, THE BANK, THE AUTO MAKER.  Silly I know, but that seemed to me the model toward which we were rushing.

Over time we stabilized a bit, but the trends continue. We have fewer, but larger stores. Even some of the large stores are having competitive problems—see Sears.  Now, the competition thing has worked in different ways. Turns out that, while competition may be a generally good thing, it may not always be the best answer.

For example, in olden days, when the world was young, we used to have stable, but regulated markets in several areas. Telephones and long-distance calling, for example. At one stage, we had AT&T. Full stop. Then President Carter deregulated the telephone industry, and suddenly we had competitors all over the place. And AT&T looked like it was going out of business. It hasn’t but it sure looked like it.  And, under deregulation, we had all these upstart companies trying to offer us telephone service at lower rates than AT&T. Now, to be fair, several things occurred.  An entire new industry occurred after deregulation. Not only new companies, but whole new industries leading to the revolution in both communication systems, but also computer technology. Yes, we had some crap companies try to get into the business to compete with AT&T. But, the deregulation eventually jump-started whole new industries.  Now that whole new industry was partly associated with AT&T, but also IBM. IBM had a stranglehold on the world of computing, much as AT&T in long distance communications.  Then, we had this explosion during the 1980s. And, I guess it’s a good thing. I mean, how else would guys in a health club doing serious exercises on weight machines be able to stare at their smartie phones for ten minutes while sitting on a weight bench not doing any exercises?

So, we have a whole new world today. That world has a lot of good things in it, but we are also drowning in high tech crap. Nothing lasts beyond 3-4 years. Then we toss it away and buy some new gadget. And increasingly that new gadget has been made in China. And so China has slowly emerged as the World’s largest supplier of so many things, we have lost count.

And then the Corona arrived. No, not the beer, but that nasty little virus that now threatens to destroy the world’s economy, if not its human population.  The Corona virus, or COVID-19 as it is known affectionately in the world of high tech health care, now presents us with a giant dilemma. Since China makes so many of the world’s products, what happens to the world economy, when China stops producing because it has to close its factories, even for relatively short periods?  Well, potentially, chaos ensues.  And, assuming we manage to survive the Corona virus, i.e., we don’t all die, what should we take away from our experience?

Well, two things I take away (in addition to the need to wash my hands every 20 minutes). First, we need to begin paying more attention to quality, and to retaining or building multiple sources of production of the world’s goods. Mainly, we cannot continue to buy exclusively on the basis of unit cost.  Yes, cost always figures into our buying decisions.  We cannot buy what we think we cannot afford.  On the other hand, we need to place quality on the table when thinking about buying anything.  Low cost is simply not a useful sole criterion.  And, as Americans, we need to think hard about the “Made in China” issue.  If we continue to allow China to be our major, if not sole, supplier of our goods, we should expect that COVID-19 disruptions will always be a part of our economic system. If it is not viruses interrupting the chain, it will be something else. We need to maintain balance in our supply system, as well as everything in our lives.

Oh, another takeaway, is Wash Your Hands.

And, please VOTE in your primary and in November. We need to rid the world of people like Trump and Pence. They are a potentially catastrophic threat to the wellbeing of the entire world.