Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Clearing the Decks

Pandemic. I think I finally figured it out. The Pandemic, aka COVID19, is Nature’s way of finally deleting the 20th Century, a sort of clearing the decks to allow for the 21st Century to really take hold.  We really can now think of the 20th Century in the same terms we use for, say, the 16th Century—you know, it happened, it really did include a bunch of stuff, but it’s way gone, erased from our collective memory banks, retrievable only through history books.

Until now, the 21st Century seemed an afterthought, maybe some stuff that happened to Millennials and of no real importance.   Oh, you were born then? Yeah, right, so now on to more important stuff, like World War II, or The Great Depression, or even, that Vietnam War thing.  So, where were you and what were you doing when Kennedy was assassinated?  And, how amazing was the first Moon Landing? Remember that, sitting there transfixed, watching your Black and White TV as he stepped onto the surface of the Moon?

Now, to be fair, 911 was a transfixing moment in time that people now alive, will always remember. Where were you when the plane hit that building? But, in retrospect, 911 seems like maybe the ending of an era, the 20th CENTURY ERA.  Yeah, 911 was a definitive 21st Century event. I mean, it happened only 9 months into the new century.  But it really represented the culmination of a whole series of wartime events, kicked off largely by Reagan, Bush, and others of their ilk. I mean, we had been messing around in the Great Morass known as the Middle East for decades, cozying up this dictator, or that dictator, and then getting pissed because the dictators wouldn’t mind us.  They always seem to have a mind of their own, these petty tyrants.  So, eventually, we were bound to really enrage one of them and they would do something terminally stupid, like blow up the World Trade Center with an airplane—thanks Saudi Arabia.

But then we entered the 21st Century for real, with the odd unnecessary War (thanks Shrub) that was really a holdover from that nasty 20th Century.  And we seem to have stumbled along with various presidents, Shrub, Clinton, Obama, and then Mr. Dreadful, President Stupidhead.  It’s interesting how he seems to actually define the 21st Century.  I mean, the first three, Shrub, Clinton and Obama seem to me to represent a continuation of the line of 20th Century presidents.  Some of them were good, great even (think FDR), some were not so good (well Reagan was actually awful, but . . .) but most were at least reminiscent of other 20th Century presidents.

And then Trump hit. And it is as though the 20th century left us, and we are in the full grip of the 21st century.  And then, the PANDEMIC strikes—COVID19. And we have a whole new language, COVIDIOCY, spoken by all the COVIDIOTs in the White House (don’t forget Fox News. They also speak nothing but COVIDIOCY).  And bang, the 20th century vanished from the earth.  We are now fully in the grip of the 21st Century.

And I can hear my grandkids now, as they regale (bore) their grandkids, much like I have been doing for several decades.  And kids, let me tell you about the time the PANDEMIC struck Earth. I was in college, see, poised to graduate (or whatever) and then this thing hit us. And, I know you will not understand this, but nobody was allowed to go outside with other people. Yeah, it was like the whole world suddenly disappeared inside their homes and nobody could come out.  I know, I know, that sounds really stupid, but if you did go outside and meet and greet with your BFFs, you might well die. I mean, I might not be here now to tell you about that mess.”
And so the stories will go on, to the delight of the grandkids, until they get bored and ask, “So, grandpa, what’s on the multiverse (replacement for TV)?” And then grandpa will have to change the subject.

So, kids did I ever tell you about the time President Stupidhead told us about the time he drank a cup of Coevfefee??? Hahahahahahahaha

Grandpa, you’re just joking, right?  I mean, a president of the United States couldn’t pronounce coffee??”

“Yeah, it’s true. But he didn’t seem to know how to read, so he couldn’t pronounce a lot of words. I mean, he said that he graduated from college, but we think he never made it past the 4th grade.” We think maybe, his daddy paid to have someone sit in class in his name, while Stupidhead stayed at home eating hangaburrs.”

“But then he told us that maybe we should be drinking or injecting bleach to kill off any of the nasty viruses. And later he said he was only being sarcastic and joking, but by that time, some of his stupid followers had actually tried it and experienced less than pleasant sensations.”
“See, he used to give these COVID19 press briefings, in which he tried telling lies to the press, and then would get furious when they asked him questions about some COVIDIOCY he had just uttered. Yeah, it was a mess. Those were such fun times.”

And the games went on, daily. Every time you turned on the TV to some news program, they were forced to reveal his latest idiocy. It was like some never ending game of Stupidhead rules the world.”

And on and on. And so, the pandemic began to define the new century, erasing all thoughts of that century gone by.  All the good stuff, and all the bad stuff simply disappeared, and the century itself seemed to disappear, becoming a blank state that nobody ever entered. And whatever else occurs as a result of this pandemic, the erasure of the 20th century will remain, in my now dim mind, the single most important effect. Yes, people died. But Wars did that too.  But now, all we know is this 21st Century. And, for better or worse, we now need to look ahead to what comes next in this weird new century that seems to have just begun . . . 20 years after it technically started.

So, stay tuned citizens of the 21st century.  Hopefully COVIDIOCY will soon be just a laughing matter about yesteryear.

Thursday, April 23, 2020


I dreamed last night. Well, I always dream. But I had awakened and then fell back into a dream-sleep. I was standing there and then I looked up and my Mother was standing there looking down on me.  I don’t mean that she was floating in the air or anything. I was just sitting down on the ground, and I looked up and there she was. I said hi to her, but she didn’t really reply. She just said. “It’s raining out”.  And then she just stood there. Then I awakened.

Now, I’m in my 86th year, so I’m sort of past my sell-by date.  I don’t think this was some signal that I’m heading out the door soon, but who knows?  This pandemic has an effect on everyone, I realize. I’m no exception.  Awaken in the morning and I realize that another day has begun, but that’s all. Nothing else. If I’m in good shape, I realize what day it is.  Not that it matters what day it is.  Oh I guess it matters a little bit. I mean, Sundays we eat a bigger breakfast. Oh and then the Sunday New York Times is delivered. That’s a good thing. I get to read something other than Facebook, or my e-mail.  And on Wednesdays and Fridays I have to walk out the front door and go pick up the Tribune, our tiny local paper.  Then, typically on Friday afternoon, I have to drive out to one of our Harris Teeter supermarkets, where I park the car and then press a call button to announce my presence. Then a helper from the store will come out to the car with a few grocery bags of stuff we have ordered on line.

Then once a week, generally on Friday, we get to go to our local Barbee’s Farm Stand store to pick up some veggies we have ordered on line.  Then come Saturday, we drive out to Davidson to where the Farmers market used to be. But now, we head to the parking lot of the closed Davidson library. And there a couple of farmers will arrive, stay for an hour and have available the meat and eggs we have ordered also on line.

So, exciting huh?

Now I haven’t mentioned my every other day walk on Union Street, and my workouts on our home stairway or with the little weights. That’s exciting too.

So, with such a busy schedule, is there any chance my body would be telling me that it’s time to go?  Well, “to go” is a euphemism for cease existing.  But who knows? Even The Shadow doesn’t know the answer to that little life question. When it’s your turn, you simply stop existing. It isn’t pleasant or unpleasant. Your brain just stops working and when that happens, you are blissfully unaware . . . of anything.

So was Daisy trying to tell me something? Hmmm. Maybe, maybe not. Maybe I simply conjured up her image, because each day I get a little bit closer, and my mind sees her as an image of no longer being.  Or maybe I’m feeling sorry for myself for having this unexpected way to close out of life. I don’t know what I expected, but this social isolation thing definitely wasn’t it.

Now I expect that I should just stop feeling sorry for myself. I mean, I’ve lived pretty long. The Great Depression was still on when I was born; then World War II; then schooling and college, and marriage, and all those other wars—remember Korea and Vietnam?? Yeah, they were fun, huh?? And then a really long, really happy marriage, with kids, and kid marriages and grand kids and all those nice things.  So a pandemic ending is at least interesting huh?  What would I be feeling were I our grandkids who are poised to graduate, one from high school and one from college?  Hell of a way to end those life stages I think.  Bet they had alternative conclusions that were a bit happier than this thing.

But, like all things, I assume this pandemic thingie will turn out to be one of those life experiences our grandkids will use to regale their grandkids, like I do about growing up poor in Manhattan during WW II. They can milk it for all its worth, just like I do.

So, now we can get on with things, except for the going out and socializing thing. And the hugging and kissing thing. And all those old fashioned socializing things. Yeah, they are sooooo 2019.

So, hang in there. This too will end . . . maybe.

Trump & The Media

Thinking. I wonder what ever happened to our country?  Maybe it really is just the extreme income inequality. That phenomenon has created a special class of humans who seem to be different from the rest of us. Different in that they exhibit no real interest in the things that happen to ordinary humans, good or bad. They seem to care only about themselves.

It makes me wonder about the royalty of ancient times. Did the royal families, not merely the kings and queens, but the dukes/duchesses, barons, and all of the other semi-royal hangers on, also care only about themselves?  To some extent I suppose they must have, although they also had to take care of their armies and their personal guards.

And who are the “armies” of the ultra-rich today? That makes me even wonder about Trump’s “armies”. That is, if Trump decided to wage war against, say, the Biden voters, or democrats in general, could he command the various brigades and divisions of our military to literally wage war against our civilian population? And if he did, whose side would the 101st Airborne Division be on?? See, Trump is pretty much totally unhinged, in addition to being not too bright.  He seems to get worse daily, if his tweets are to be believed. And when he appears in public, he is so angry that he really does appear as a five-year old in the middle of a temper tantrum. Only this five year old commands nuclear weapons.  And oh, by the way, suppose Trump were to command a nuclear strike against Albany, to get rid of Governor Cuomo, would the air Force obey him??  I would like to think that our armed forces have a sufficiently independent streak that obeying obviously illegal orders from a deranged president is not in their playbook.

But then what of his other political BFFs? What ever happened to his party . . . remember that republican party? No one in that party of old has spoken against Trump.  I wonder what ever happened to George Will? He is reported to have offered this assessment last July, 2019, in an interview about his book, "I believe that what this president has done to our culture, to our civic discourse ... you cannot unring these bells and you cannot unsay what he has said, and you cannot change that he has now in a very short time made it seem normal for schoolboy taunts and obvious lies to be spun out in a constant stream. I think this will do more lasting damage than Richard Nixon's surreptitious burglaries did."

But Will seems unable/unwilling to counter the daily lies being spun out of both Trump and the Right Wing PR machines, Fox, et al. We would need George Will to be shouting from the rooftops daily and even that might prove inadequate. We keep seeing comparisons between Trump and Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s.  In part, he did gain control of the German Press to help in his ascension to power. From one such text on his rise:

Establishing Control of the Press
When Adolf Hitler took power in 1933, the Nazis controlled less than three percent of Germany’s 4,700 papers.
The elimination of the German multi-party political system brought about the demise of hundreds of newspapers produced by outlawed political parties. It also allowed the state to seize the printing plants and equipment of the Communist and Social Democratic Parties, which were often turned over directly to the Nazi Party. In the following months, the Nazis established control or exerted influence over independent press organs.
During the first weeks of 1933, the Nazi regime deployed the radio, press, and newsreels to stoke fears of a pending “Communist uprising,” then channeled popular anxieties into political measures that eradicated civil liberties and democracy. SA (Storm Troopers) and members of the Nazi elite paramilitary formation, the SS, took to the streets to brutalize or arrest political opponents and incarcerate them in hastily established detention centers and concentration camps. Nazi thugs broke into opposing political party offices, destroying printing presses and newspapers.
Sometimes using holding companies to disguise new ownership, executives of the Nazi Party-owned publishing house, Franz Eher, established a huge empire that drove out competition and purchased newspapers at below-market prices. Some independent newspapers, particularly conservative newspapers and non-political illustrated weeklies, accommodated to the regime through self-censorship or initiative in dealing with approved topics.
Now, will we see such a thuggish control mechanism here? Seems unlikely, doesn’t it? On the other hand, none of the media here foresaw such a power grasp by Hitler during the 1930's.  In part, we keep seeing/believing what we wish to see/believe.  And, so long as Trump can portray the bulk of our media as “fake news”, and so long as Murdoch & Co. allows him to say whatever he wishes and promote Trump as a truth-sayer, then at least some segment of our public will believe whatever lies he promotes.

And I assume that the Murdoch family-controlled Fox media gives the family what they want—control over a very large segment of our national population.   But how did they gain such control?
Well, I just finished reading an article about what the Liberal elites fail to see about the Trump supporters. The article portrays the nation as being divided between two population segments—the rural folks and the liberal city elites.  And apparently, the right wing media (Fox, et al) is highly effective at telling the rural folks what they wish to hear, whereas the “progressive” media has failed utterly to sell its agenda to these folks. What I don’t understand is what is it the rural folks believe they are getting from Fox and Trump?  The only thing I can understand is that rural folks seem to despise city folks, and perhaps the reverse is also true. And maybe it is the case that Fox sells the story line that urban elites are simply awful people, and Trump is trying to protect the good rural folks from all the evil things city people want to impose on them.  I imagine the whole case for social isolation goes over better in the cities, because the people there are practically falling in the streets. When the pandemic begins taking its toll in rural areas as well as urban, I assume they will begin paying attention.  But maybe not. Trump can/will always blame any resulting chaos in rural areas on the urban elites (democrats).

So, salesmanship is the name of the game, and the right wing is better at the game than the left wing.  And that was true, eventually in Hitler’s rise to total power. Turns out, when you believe you can lie with impunity, and you tell lies the people want to hear, you will succeed.  And that is what is happening here. A very large segment of our population believes itself to be aggrieved, is told lies by the right wing to convince it to believe their problems are all caused by left wing elites, and so they continue to be enraged against those liberal city folks.  The fact that Trump is not protecting them is largely irrelevant. Turns out people believe what they wish to believe, because it is convenient for them.

And so the game goes. We “liberal elites” can do little to affect this game, other than voting. And remember, Trump, the republicans, and I assume the Foxies will do everything in their collective power to inhibit voting.  So, we really need to be paying attention. This pandemic is a perfect opportunity to inhibit voting.  You better believe the republicans will do everything in their power to take advantage. 

In addition to doing everything in your power to make certain you can vote, maybe we need to begin paying attention to this income inequality thing. We need to begin pressing for tax policies that can change that. Perhaps we need to begin lobbying for  tax reforms, and that includes  reforms of the policies by which the ultrarich currently hide their incomes.  Yeah, maybe voting coupled with some activism to return us to a state of civility and national consciousness would be good.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Pandemic Life

As our President turns into a Mafia boss, we need to at least begin to turn our attention to other matters, for fear that he really will suck all the air out of our collective rooms.  I just finished reading a piece about how he is actively trying to block states from obtaining PPE to combat COVID. It’s almost as though he has declared war on specific states.  And Mafia is all I can think about. He will allow them to obtain supplies without hindrance, so long as they praise him and do his bidding.  Shades of the Mafia.

And meanwhile, we are all (well, some of us) trying to practice social isolation.  It isn’t easy, as none of us are all that experienced at isolating from our fellow humans.  Now, to be fair, Carol and I are both fully retired—well I am fully retired; my wife has retreated for the moment from some of her volunteer work that she joined after she stopped working for a living.  She still quilts of course. The sick kids at the Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital still want those lovely quilts, homemade with love.  But her work at the CVAN consignment store is on hold, as is both our work as volunteer literacy tutors.  She also used her sewing skills to create several dozen PPE masks for CVAN to use at their shelter.

But, even being pretty much retired, we still miss getting out, especially to our weekly shopping. While some of our shopping is standard, wandering through a store and grabbing stuff from a shelf before checking out, at least some of our shopping is more, and that is what we miss.  We engage with Trader Joe’s on a weekly basis. Our shopping expedition there is filled with the usual, picking stuff off of shelves, but at TJ’s it is more.  We get hugs from several staff there, after we enter, and we chat with the staff. We know them and they know us by name, so it’s a personal relationship, whereby we catch up on family affairs.

Then we also weekly attend our Farmers’ Market in Davidson, where we buy most of our fresh produce, meat, eggs, fish and veggies.  Here again, we know the farmers and they know us. Again, hugs and some chatting, catching up on the week gone by. We know them, and we know their kids and families.  It’s a social thing as much as a shopping spree.

So, now it’s different. We still attend to our farmers, but it’s cursory, complete with masks, gloves and little chatter.  Ordering is done in advance, and we are really just picking up. At TJ’s, we can’t do the online ordering and then drive-by pickup, as they have not yet succumbed to that level of shopping. So, there, we have our grandson shopping for us whenever he has the time.  It’s nice, at some level, that we have children and grandchildren willing and able to do shopping for us.  I realize that, however annoying this social isolation has become, it is two things: first, it is necessary, vital even, in the battle to quell this pandemic. If we socially isolate, we are less likely to acquire and transmit the virus. And, so we are playing our little part in reducing the awful effects of the virus. Those who refuse are basically playing into the hands of the virus. The virus’ ability to spread depends on people refusing to isolate, making themselves available to the virus.  And no, those folks will not all get the virus. But enough will that the virus can continue its campaign of terror.  But second, we are fortunate to be able to both socially isolate and survive. We are still well fed. We have a home in which we can isolate, and we have computers, TVs and telephones.  I am well aware that many people do not have those luxuries.  Millions have basically lost their jobs and so, for the moment, have no income. Perhaps they have applied or attempted to apply for unemployment, no mean feat. Apparently, people have been calling the unemployment offices and cannot get through. Even when they do get through, they still face a long wait.

And many more, even should they begin drawing their payments, suddenly have no health insurance. Basically, America is a nation that only allows those with adequate money to buy health insurance. Unlike most civilized nations, we refuse to guarantee health care to all.

And many thousands, perhaps millions also, simply do not have adequate food for their families.  Kids go to bed routinely hungry.  Even during the Great Depression, yeah, the 1930s, I do not remember as a little kid, going to bed hungry.  Someone in my family, mostly my mom, always put food on the table. But now, we live in a land of grotesquely unequal opportunity, and even worse income disparities.  Under Trump, the top 1% of the people own over 20 times the net worth of the bottom 50% of our people. Now that is grotesque.  It should be enough to make any thinking human question the utility of our system of capitalism.  How rich do people have to be before thinking humans conclude that “enough is enough”.  We used to have higher systems of taxation, to at least moderate such disparities. Now, we have both lower tax rates for the grotesquely wealthy, and many ways for that group to hide their income so as to avoid any taxes. Some of our banks have turned into the equivalent of organized crime gangs in their zeal to help their richest customers avoid taxes, by hiding income for them.  

A Fact Sheet prepared by American for Tax Fairness lists the following:
·         The richest 1% of Americans own 35% of the nation’s wealth. The bottom 80% own just 11% of the nation’s wealth.
·         In the 1950s and 1960s, when the economy was booming, the wealthiest Americans paid a top income tax rate of 91%. Today, the top rate is 43.4%.
·         The richest 1% pay an effective federal income tax rate of 24.7% in 2014; someone making an average of $75,000 is paying a 19.7% rate.
·         The average federal income tax rate of the richest 400 Americans was just 20 percent in 2009.
·         Taxing investment income at a much lower rate than salaries and wages are taxed loses $1.3 trillion over 10 years.
·         1,470 households reported income of more than $1 million in 2009 but paid zero federal income taxes on it.
·         CEOs of major corporations earn nearly 300 times more than an average worker.
·         30 percent of income inequality is due to unfair taxes and budget cuts to services and benefits.
·         The largest contributor to increasing income inequality has been changes in income from capital gains and dividends.

Those data should be but seem not to be disturbing. I am confident that Fox News would either laugh at them, or would decry the implication that the wealthy should be paying more taxes.  And their faithful listeners would be smiling and applaud.  And therein lies the tale of America in the year 2020.  As a Nation, we seem not to care about these grotesqueries. And we should be clear. These disparities did not occur because of Donald Trump.  But Donald Trump seems to favor such income disparities, believing as he does that he is part of our “royal” family structure.  He does not believe in democracy, but seems to favor a monarchical system, in which he is King Donald I.  So, a more equal system is unlikely in the extreme to appear on his watch.

We shall know later this year whether America intends to adopt such a monarchical system, when we see the results of the 2020 national election. If the people re-elect Trump, then we will know surely that our system of democracy is now over and we will need to adapt to the new system, in which voting by the people disappears as a fundamental part of our system of government.

So, we will see. The American people will eventually get the kind of government it deserves.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Why Do People Support Trump?

Is it just me, or do you think the world is subdividing itself into fairly hard groups? One of the more annoying groups is the group of conmen/scammers.  It would seem that every time we have a serious large scale problem, the scammers appear in even greater numbers to further confuse /confound and otherwise screw the population of normal folks.  Our telephones, especially our cell phones, have turned into major portals for the scammers of the world. I think now, for every legitimate phone call I receive, I also get perhaps 5-10 fake calls from people trying to arrange some fake deal that will extract some of our now-limited supply of available money. 

And then we have the Nation’s “Christian” pastors. Now many, perhaps most pastors are just going about their business trying to bring an awareness of their god to their people. But then we also have a goodly supply of such pastors who are either selling some fake products to deal with COVID-19, or who are trying to sell Donald Trump to an increasingly wary public. These pastors and many thousands, perhaps millions of their believing flock all willingly support Donald Trump, regardless of the fact that he actually shares none of their fundamental beliefs (aside from the one about him being the Second Coming).

And then, finally we have this core of 30-40% of the American people who, having been exposed to Donald Trump for 3 ½ years as President, still rabidly supports him, perhaps even more strongly than they did in 2016 when they helped to elect him.  And this group is perhaps the most baffling of all, since I don’t really get why they would support a guy who practically screams fraud every time he gets on stage or in front of a TV camera.  How can any thinking adult watch him and not feel like throwing up?

So, here’s my take on this truly weird phenomenon.  I think that perhaps 40% of the Nation’s population now seems to hate our government. They have different reasons of course.  But fundamentally, they hate government.

Some think that government just sucks up (wastes) all of the public’s money, by sitting around drinking coffee and chatting it up with their BFFs, who are doing the same thing. They don’t do any useful work, because there isn’t any useful work to do.  Their image seems to be that government workers are just taking up space.  Some of this is associated with specific beefs the public has with government, likely the regulatory side of government.  And by “government” I mean all levels of government, Federal, state, county and local. But, because the federals are relatively far away physically, they are the least understood and so, the easiest to vilify.

Clearly the environmental agencies (EPA primarily) have the most public visibility.  And when Fox and friends are screaming fraud every five minutes about Climate Science, EPA regulations about pollution come into scrutiny from this part of the public.

Curiously, some segment of the public seems not to understand the government’s role in systems such as Medicare and Social Security. When that woman was yelling, “keep the government’s hands off my Social Security” we seem to have a problem of communication.

And then we have all of the other regulatory functions regarding highway safety, factory safety, public health, airline safety, etc.  Whenever one names a specific regulation, some part of the public will be opposed to it.

And then we come to the system by which the government gets the money by which it operates—the Nation’s taxation systems.  We have taxes at all four levels of government.  There are taxes on everything we buy, and taxes on most of the money we earn, or are somehow given during the year.  And if someone dies and leaves you a packet of money, the government will first extract its share. And over time, the gross amount has changed. I still remember in about the 1950s, a total federal budget of about $70 billion, with an associated Defence department budget of $40 billion.  Compare that with today’s budget of $4.8 trillion, with a Defence share of just under $one trillion.   It was and remains a very large number. But to understand the numbers, it is necessary to dive into the vast and complex world of the Federal Budget.  And most people do not have the patience, the intellect, or the knowledge to do that analytic work.  Plus, they have little patience for discussions of budgeting and taxation generally. All they know is the various levels of government take a very large share of their total income, and they damned well don‘t like that.  Now couple that complexity and “ouch factors” with the almost complete unknown concerning what government workers actually do, and you begin to have a serious problem in communication.

And then, enter Donald Trump.  Who is he anyway? Well, first and foremost he is a private businessman.  Now, by all accounts, he is a pretty lousy private businessman. He has experienced six separate bankruptcies in his many businesses. Now that is a serious record.  Most business folks have no experience with business bankruptcies. Some may have experienced one or even two. But six bankruptcies suggests a serious problem.  And clearly, with Trump, we have a serious problem. First, the man seems to be profoundly stupid, and ignorant—two separate problems:

Stupid = slow of mind: OBTUSE; given to unintelligent decisions or acts; acting in an unintelligent or careless manner; lacking intelligence or reasonBRUTISH, and;

Ignorant = destitute of knowledge or education, also: lacking knowledge or comprehension of the thing specified; resulting from or showing lack of knowledge: UNAWAREUNINFORMED.
In other words, one trait relates to the capacity of the mind to function, and the second relates to the amount of information about various subjects taken in by the mind. In Trump’s case, he seems to experience both issues. His mind seems weak at best, perhaps simply a very low IQ. And then there are serious questions regarding what he knows about almost any subject of interest. How much information has he taken into that inadequate brain of his?

Finally, coupled with these serious deficits, we have his narcissism. Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is defined as: a personality disorder characterized by a long-term pattern of exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, and a lack of empathy toward other people. People with NPD often spend much time thinking about achieving power and success, or on their appearance. Typically, they also take advantage of the people around them. Such narcissistic behavior typically begins by early adulthood, and occurs across a broad range of situations.   

We must also toss into this hopper his role on that dreadful TV show, The Apprentice. He is, I gather the “Star” of that piece of entertainment dreck, but people actually watch the show, and so, he is an actual TV star. And that “stardom” I believe gains him some (undeserved) credibility with this section of our population that continues to support him—he must be a good guy if he is a successful TV star, right??

So, there you have it.  Folks like him because he is a businessman, a TV star, and definitively, not from government.

As I say, many people simply don’t like government, because government somehow interferes in their lives. And Donald Trump seems to represent their classic anti-government guy. That he has failed at almost everything he has done, including both business and private (three failed/failing marriages) seems to have escaped them. Maybe these folks haven’t been too successful either, so they like/idolize a guy who has risen to this level while still having failed at everything else.  Plus, Trump has assumed the St. Ronald of Reagan stance, whereby "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.”   Now Reagan, being an actual movie star (B grade), was better at the game of rhetoric than Trump. But people, I think identify with Trump as a natural follow-on leader to Reagan.  This is troublesome on many fronts, not the least of which is the fact that Reagan failed also at the job at basic levels.  He created the largest budget deficits in the Nation’s history. He also was responsible for what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal.
One of the biggest foreign policy scandals of the last half-century was the Iran-Contra affair, in which the Reagan Administration, prodded by CIA Director William Casey and NSC Advisor Oliver North, secretly arranged for an arms-for-hostage deal with one of its bitterest enemies in the Middle East. Put simply, Israel would sell weapons from the U.S. to Iran, which had been designated a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1984 and the subject of an arms embargo, in exchange for the release of American hostages held by Hezbollah, Iran’s ally, in Lebanon.
North and Casey then doubled down, funneling the profits from the arms sales into yet another illegal venture, a secret plan to support the Contras, the militants in Nicaragua which opposed the socialist Sandinistas. This was in direct contravention of the Boland Amendments, which Congress had passed from 1982-84, specifically prohibiting U.S. support of the Contras.
The entire plot quickly unraveled on November 3, 1986, when the Beirut newspaper Al Shiraa, revealed the arms-for-hostages deal for the first time. The scandal was compounded when North destroyed or hid pertinent documents between November 21- 25, 1986. Attorney General Edwin Meese then admitted on November 25 that profits from the weapons sales were aiding the Contras. On the same day, National Security Advisor John Poindexter resigned, and Oliver North was fired by President Reagan. Congressional investigations soon followed. Widespread criticism and outrage over the scheme forced Reagan to apologize on a nationally televised address on March 4, 1987.
So, Trump taking on the mantle of Reagan, which doubtless is beloved by Trumpies, is at least troublesome to others who do not worship at the feet of St. Ronald.
All these failures by two republican presidents seems not to trouble the Trump supporters.  He seems vaguely to hate government, which they love. If they favor strong anti-abortion measures, Trump will support them, so long as they seem to love him. If they hate gays, they support Trump so long as he does not say anything nice about Gays.  If he keeps firing people who disagree with him, they love him because it shows that he despises people in government (despite the fact that he actually placed them in government).  And as long as he seems to continue hating government, they will continue to love and support him. And so it goes. One of the more baffling things about all this is that, if you really hate government, one might assume that you would prefer having someone leading government who is smart enough to make government work better.  Instead these folks support a guy who can only make things worse, i.e., government function even less effectively.  Now to me, that makes no sense, unless it’s the “suspicions confirmed” thing—we hate government. We put a man who also hates government in charge of government. Government performance worsens catastrophically. Suspicions confirmed.
I liken this weird thinking to the anti-vaccine crowd. “I hate vaccines. They are destructive and evil.” And then when unvaccinated folks get sick from the thing the vaccines could prevent, they say, “see vaccines are evil after all.” 
And is there no cure for this strange and counterproductive philosophy of life?  Well, the only cure I have ever found for such idiotic thinking is education.  If you educate people they will no longer harbor thinking that runs counter to common sense. But if they refuse to become educated?  Well, then we have 2020 America, don’t we?
Welcome to our weird world. Now the best/only way to avoid the complete destruction of our world is by voting. I know that republicans plan to do everything in their power to prevent people from voting, lest they vote against the GOP.  So, the thinking Americans simply have to go around them to the ballot boxes one way or another. To not vote is to support anarchy, or worse, and Donald Trump is literally worse than complete anarchy.
Oh, and a little postscript. I just noticed that Donald Trump has now cut off funding for the World Health Organization. This is his main strategy to deflect blame from himself and his catastrophically awful performance in the COVID-19 mess to someone else, in this case the WHO. Keep watching as he keeps on blaming someone else. That’s the narcissism at work folks. He is incapable of accepting blame for anything. 
Aren’t you proud MAGAHeads??? Your boy at work.  He keeps bringing me back to the world of 1930s Germany.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Coping With Disaster

So, how are we doing? I mean this social isolation thing.  I know that, technically, we are not “isolated”. I mean, if I go outside, I can see and speak with our neighbors, maintaining the ten foot separation thing.  And if I go for a nice long, brisk walk, I will encounter other folks and I can wave at them and yell “stay safe”.  Still, it isn’t the same as walking into Trader Joe’s and getting a hug from one of the sales ladies, who always greet us with open arms.  Or walking into Cabarrus Brewing Company and being greeted by the folks waiting on people and pouring some nice beers.  Now, I’m an introvert, but these social contacts I love and need. It means I’m still alive.

One of the interesting things about growing old is that you move slowly into a form of social isolation anyway. An important and consistent part of our social life over the past 65 years is social events. I don’t mean concerts or anything big, but just cocktails and dinner at someone’s home, you know the things neighbors and friends do with some frequency.  In our early (young) years after marriage, such events were practically weekly affairs. Either we threw a cocktail/dinner party, or we were invited to one.  When we lived in downtown San Francisco, our friends loved to attend our dinner parties.  We had a fabulous apartment with a lovely formal dining room and a living room with French windows overlooking Nob Hill.  And when we lived in New Delhi, dinner parties were common and frequent, and they always involved an international party set—folks from England, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and of course America and India.

So, we lived amidst a party lifestyle.  Now, when we retired, such events slowed down, as one might expect. They didn’t stop, but definitely slowed down.  Then, I noticed, the events slowed to a crawl, and then finally stopped. Part of it is that we don’t really live in party city. Many of our friends are retired, and the cocktail party circuit tends not to include the retired sets.

And now, folks—all folks—are told to just stay home. Do not entertain. Do Not Pass Go. Just stay home.  And so, the world has entered a quiet zone. TV series are big. Binge watching is the new Thing. And curiously, we watched an episode of a new series on PBS, the World on Fire. It is about the beginnings of World War II.  Talk about changing your lifestyle.  But there, things called bombs were dropping on buildings occupied by people. And, in Poland at least, German soldiers began roaming through the streets shooting people at will.  Now, that will really change your party lifestyle. 

And it began bringing back memories, growing up as a kid in Manhattan during the 1940s.  I was little to be sure, ages 6-11 during the war. But memories persist.  Food rationing for example.  I still remember the ration stamps used to buy food and other supplies (see you really couldn’t hoard toilet paper, because the Government didn’t let you, unlike now). Once, I remember our little dog, Cleo. Someone had brought home the packet of meat for dinner, but left it out on the table. Cleo, being a hungry dude, climbed up and then grabbed the packet of meat, brought it down to the floor, and began consuming it. Shrieks of horror ensued immediately after he was caught in the act.  I believe that was the last time I saw Cleo in our flat.

And then, although we could go in and out, we had to pay attention to the blackouts. No lights after a certain time. I still remember the air raid warden knocking on the back door of our flat and cautioning us to keep the lights off.  Now, we were fortunate. No bombers of the German ilk ever flew over our city, dropping bombs. Such events were reserved to the Brits and other Europeans.  But we remained aware of the threat, leaving behind a trail of modest fear, especially for a young one.

And then, of course, we listened to the radio, to periodic chats by President Roosevelt about the War’s progress. These were neither happy nor unhappy events, but simply information sessions. But, unlike today’s daily briefings from our current president, Roosevelt’s lacked any obvious political campaigning. He simply informed us periodically about the War. Whereas our daily’s from President Stupidhead are really all about him and his Facebook ratings.

And therein lies a major difference, or perhaps several major differences.

First, the enemies (and there were two) could be named and seen, at least metaphorically—the Germans and the Japanese. We periodically could see pictures, if we attended a movie and watched the newsreels that preceded each film—yes, each film was preceded by an actual newsreel, and often a cartoon show of some kind.  And the newsreels showed us pictures of planes doing their things, or troops on the march someplace.  See, we had a visible ENEMY, and we had folks engaging that ENEMY. And we had a president to reassure us when our fears began to mount.

But now, we have an enemy of sorts, but it cannot be seen. Nope, the COVID 19 virus remains hidden from view. Oh we have cartoon pictures that periodically appear, but they are just that—cartoons.  And we have no troops or planes swooping in on that enemy. Instead, we have lectures from various people, including many, many stupid ones, telling us what we cannot do, or what we should do.  And then we are left to watch our daily round of British mysteries—thank god for Midsommer Murders, Death in Paradise, and others of that ilk.  And we get at best confusing progress notes from various figures, many of whom cannot and should not be believed. One of the truly fake news outlets attempting to inform us is something called One America News NetworkAlso known as One America News, it is a “conservative”, far-right (meaning fascist) “news” and “opinion” channel owned by Herring Networks, Inc. It appears to be some kind of really horrible joke on America, with the anchor signing off each night, saying, “ . . . even when I’m wrong, I’m right.” Seriously??

So, between Fox and this horrible joke network, Americans are besieged daily by crap “news”, competing with legitimate news outlets for attention.

And that is really, really different from what we received during our various wars (Yeah, we’ve had, since I was born, WW II, Korea, Vietnam, and then the explosion of the entire Middle East (thank you Shrub). But it was easier to tell real from fake news during all those wars than it seems to be now. I think it’s because the enemy was more literal, and could be seen. Now the enemy is this invisible thing that may be creeping up to us at any moment without our knowledge, just because we are near someone else.  And so, the fear continues.

All we can do is to continue paying attention to the knowledgeable front line troops—people like Dr. Fauci, and others like him who are actually engaged in this battle.  With Trump and any/all of his spokespeople, we need to keep our distance intellectually as well as physically. Because we know he lies almost every time he opens his mouth, it is difficult to listen to him, no less respect anything he says. So, take everything with the appropriate grain of salt.  Or just don’t believe anything he says, until it’s been verified by someone you trust.

And that’s the way it is. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Reinventing Life

Every time I turn around these days, I discover someone doing something differently than they used to do it in the past.  Our daughter is a physician and we talk frequently about how medicine is being redesigned, if not reinvented.  Because it is not safe for folks to gather, even in a doctor’s office, while awaiting their call into the doctor, medical practices are reinventing the way they meet and examine their patients. One practice asks that you present yourself so they know you are there. Then you return to your car until they call you. So, no one is sitting six inches from another patient awaiting their call into the doc’s exam room.  Also, the concept of a “virtual visit” is now making its way into our lives. A virtual visit is via phone. And that creature, the virtual visit is still in process of being invented/designed into existence.  One of the issues is how often or when should a patient visit his or her doctor? Emergency situations are probably obvious, or when obvious symptoms have suddenly appeared, warranting some medical fix. But absent that, when/why should a patient visit the doctor? And this question appears not only for your general practitioner, but for all the specialists you might visit periodically.  During this crazed period, neither the patients nor the medical staff want to undergo unnecessary risks from this COVID-19 virus. So, unnecessary visits pose unnecessary risks to both.  This uncertainty is now under examination by our medical staff, and amounts to a reinvention of medical care.

And then we have other professions—all other professions. This pandemic closeting of everyone caused me to wonder about the workplace in general. When, I wonder, did the first business model appear on Earth? Likely, I assume it involved food production. The first dudes who decided to kill animals for food, or actually grow food, also would have been faced with this notion of sharing, either out of the goodness of their hearts, or for a profit.  I imagine trading began at that point. And at some point, trading itself became a business, where some dude didn’t actually grow anything, but figured out how to make money by trading other peoples’ made goods.

And so, we began creating companies, some to make products, and some to trade products.  And as these companies began expanding in size, they created offices where working stiffs could gather together to either make or trade stuff.  I grew up with offices representing “work”, i.e., if you “worked for a living”, you probably worked in an office of some kind.  The offices allowed intra-company communications to happen—your boss could tell you directly what you were to do that day, and you could tell other staff what they were to do.  People chatted because that’s how work habits occurred. Well, other stuff was chatted about also, but that other stuff is partly what made working for a living bearable.

But the whole notion of a “workplace” that involved a physical space wherein you could gather people so as to carry out “work” became the norm.  In the early days, before the telephone, there was no other way to communicate the requirements of “work”. As the telephone became common, it allowed for communications between workplaces, especially valuable for companies that grew to multiple locations and offices.

When I first entered the world of work, I worked at large weapons manufacturing plants—first the Firestone Guided Missile Division, making the Corporal Guided Missile, a direct descendent of the old German WW II V II rocket; then second, at Lockheed on the Polaris missile program. In both cases, those companies had vast “offices” that included large open spaces for engineers and other office workers, and then even larger spaces that housed the physical manufacturing plant where the missiles were physically created and assembled.

But everywhere I went, I encountered physical office spaces in which people produced some form of “work”. It is how all “work” got done.  Now those physical office spaces included telephones, and, later, computers, but most of the “work” was accomplished either directly by an employee, or via direct communications among employees. I know, I know, all this seems obvious and barely worth repeating. Everyone knows that work is done in physical places called offices, or created in large physical places called production factories or plants.  

But at some stage during the last 20 + years, computers became ubiquitous and “work” began changing. Often, the change involved an actual speeding up of some of the work, since computers could accomplish some tasks (e.g., mathematical calculations) much faster than people.  But computers soon became involved in guiding other physical plant processes, like assembly lines, such that some humans were shunted aside to make way for the computer guided processes.

Still, even with computers, humans continued to gather in various physical spaces to create their “work”.  I then thought of “War”, that activity in which one group of humans attempts to dominate another group of humans. Being old, I have lived through a whole bunch of “wars”, beginning with World War II, which lasted roughly from 1939 to 1945, and covering physical spaces in Europe and Asia. What was “war” but one group of armed humans moving enmasse into another territory belonging to a different collective of humans, broadly known as nations. But regardless of how sophisticated, with mechanical devices, airplanes, bombs and even missiles being used to subdue, the wars always involved eventually, a group of heavily armed humans physically moving into another human’s territory or nation-space. The war would not be declared “over” until that movement of people in large groups took place.  So even the primitive human approach we now call War required people to gather.

So, now we have entered a new era, a pandemic in which the only actual current solution is to require humans to cease gathering.  But how can the world continue to exist if humans cease gathering? And note, it is not that only humans in a limited physical space—a single nation—are being told not to gather. It is humans in every part of our globe.  To be fair, not every nation has been so instructed, but that instruction is flying around the globe.

Exceptions have been made. For example, certain industries and working spaces have been declared “essential”, so humans may continue to gather, regardless of the risks to their lives.  People engaged in actual health care, or who make products required by humans to exist, e.g., food, may still gather. I imagine the list of “essentials” is quite large. After all, we still need our beer, our wine, our coffee, and our chocolate, right??

But as humans now “work from home”, they have begun a reinvention of this thing we call “work”.  To be fair, many thousands, perhaps millions of humans are not now “working from home”. Instead, they are now not working at all, and so, the rolls of the officially unemployed continues to climb. Still, since this pandemic thing is unlikely to end any time soon, perhaps even not before there is a real vaccine (as opposed to the fake vaccines being touted by our moron President).  And that could take up to a year or more.

During this time of panic and gloom and doom, we are likely to be reinventing what we call work in hundreds, perhaps thousands of workplaces around the world.  We may begin discovering ways to get “work” done without the physical presence of humans in one physical space called an “office”.  We have no idea yet whether any of this “reinvention” will be carried out by thoughtful consideration of facts, and by purposeful redesign by humans who actually know what they are doing, or whether we will simply stumble onto some new grounds for carrying out the world’s work.  Hopefully, at least some of the world’s “work” will actually be redesigned by experts meeting and discussing/arguing the facts. I would hope, for example that medical care would be redesigned by its experts discussing and consulting with one another to arrive at sensible, scientifically rational solutions.

But as we all begin sinking into an abyss of self-pity, this process of work reinvention will go on, whether we like it or not.  It occurs to me that we should all at least consider the facts of our working environment and processes, and begin thinking of new and perhaps better ways of getting our work done.  Maybe we can all turn to our new technologies to gather in virtual spaces to talk about the need for this reinvention, and how we might collectively get it done rationally and with some considered intelligence. Otherwise, it will get done the other way humans do things—you know by some idiot who imagines himself to be lord and master of our universe.

Just a thought.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Drive-in Churches

I was thinking about the zeal with which religious folks view their daily or weekly religious services. Some (idiotic) pastors have even continued to insist on holding their services, despite the order to “socially isolate” folks.  I guess the more zealous the more likely pastors and their flocks will do really stupid things.  But thinking about that phenomenon, my mind wandered back to my early days, while dating my present wife of nearly 65 years.  During the early 1950s, we would periodically have a “date” at which we attended a drive-in movie in Spring Valley.  I technically didn’t own a car, but my mom let me drive the “family car”, a 1935 Plymouth Coupe, complete with rumble seat.  Yeah, it look something like the dude below.  Black, with a three speed stick shift. As I recall, it even had a radio that would occasionally work.  See, it was as old as me at that time, so it was amazing that it worked at all.

At any rate, we would go to a local drive-in, watch a film, listen to the sound track, courtesy of the speakers supplied by the theatre—each space for the car had a stand with a connected speaker that you could drape over your car window.  Now, for those of you who don’t understand the concept of a drive-in movie, let me bring you back in time, via a little piece from Wiki on drive-ins..
Although technically drive-ins were first invented in about 1915, the first ones operating in America date to about 1933.

Early drive-in theaters had to deal with sound issues. One of the early ones in New Jersey had speakers installed on the tower itself which caused a sound delay affecting patrons at the rear of the drive-in's field. In 1935, one drive-in theater attempted to solve this problem by having a row of speakers in front of the cars. In 1941, RCA introduced in-car speakers with individual volume controls which solved the noise pollution issue and provided satisfactory sound to drive-in patrons. 
After 1945 rising car ownership and suburban and rural population led to a boom in drive-in theaters, with hundreds being opened each year. More couples were reunited and having children, resulting in the Baby Boom, and more cars were being purchased following the end of wartime fuel rationing. By 1951, the number of drive-in movie theaters in the United States had increased from its 1947 total of 155 to 4,151.
The drive-in's peak popularity came in the late 1950s and early 1960s, particularly in rural areas, with over 4,000 drive-ins spread across the United States in 1958. They were a cheaper alternative to in-door cinema theaters because not only did they save the gas of driving out to the city and then back home, but the cost of building and maintaining a drive-in theater was cheaper than that of an in-door theater, resulting in lower overall cost of attendance. Among its advantages was the fact that older adults with children could take care of their infant while watching a movie, while youth found drive-ins ideal for a first date. Unlike indoor cinema theaters, there was an air of informality which was appealing to people of all ages, but specifically to families. The drive-in’s success was rooted in its reputation of being a family-friendly place. Parents were able to bring their children to the theater, often in pajamas, without having to worry about bothering other movie-goers, and were also able to spend time together without paying the expenses of babysitters. Drive-ins catered to their known audience, offering luxuries such as bottle warmers and diaper vending machines, and later miniature golf courses, swimming pools, and even motels on the land with windows facing the screens so that viewers could watch the films from their beds. During the 1950s, the greater privacy afforded to patrons gave drive-ins a reputation as immoral, and they were labeled "passion pits" in the media (yeah, gotta love those “passion pits”). The 1978 movie Grease portrays the local drive-in as a preferred spot for trysts.
Now, I know you likely are uninterested in drive-ins for movies, when you can relax on your couch in slight clothing and watch the latest flick via NetFlix or Amazon Prime.  But, let me return to the old fashioned church service. With churches, pastors require you to drive or walk to your nearest physical church, walk in, find an available pew seat, and actually sit down, near some neighbor until the pastor shows up to lecture you on what a lousy life style you lead, and how, if you would just contribute some of your hard earned cash to this little tray being passed around, you could rescue that life before you were required to go to Hell.
See, that was a great approach to keep the pastors of the world in ready cash to maintain their preferred lifestyle.
But, now, the various Governors of our fair country have been putting the kibosh on this simple approach to keeping your pastor healthy and in good spirits. They now insist, courtesy of this pandemic thing, that you stay home.  So, how’s a pastor gonna live if he can’t extract some gold on a weekly basis?
Well, how about reinventing the drive-in movie, but instead we have drive-in churches? Yeah, we could have families bring their kids, and nobody would have to touch anyone else. The cost of admission could be standard, or we could allow folks to adjust their purchase price to anything their little hearts desired. Maybe, allow use of credit cards, and they could maybe add a tip to the base price.  Now, some elements might have to be reinvented. For example, the hymn thing. You could still have choirs I guess. Maybe record choirs with the members remaining physically separated, and then replay their finished works back into the car speakers. But the members wouldn’t be singing along, unless the families chose to just sing along with the recorded choir tunes.
And that communion thingie with folks lining up to eat a wafer and consume some red wine, would have to be reinvented. Maybe they could have a sort of drive-in food window at the end, where the folks drove by to receive their wafers and taste of wine through a window, with appropriate gloves and masks separating the servers from the served.  I am sure that many elements would still need reinventing, but pastors seem nothing if not inventive folks.  So, what do you think folks?? A way to keep on truck’n regardless of the pandemic.
Now, I realize that this posting has entirely excluded Trump. But then Trump, despite all the endorsements from good right wing Evangel pastors, never actually goes to church. He attends the Church Of Trump I assume, so as to worship at the altar of the almighty Trump.   His rooting sections around the country seem not to care whether he practices what their various pastors preach. He’s all about himself, don’t you know.
So, there, some place for the good folks of organized religion to go when they can’t gather together in their physical churches. End of sermon folks.