Tuesday, May 26, 2020

All About Money

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Fantasy Life

It’s really interesting participating in Family Zooms, because it gets you in touch with folks you can’t see any longer in person.  We even did a zoom call recently with a friend living in Germany. And our grandson had a Zoom graduation and follow-on Zoom celebration.

And in Zoom, people keep appearing in pop-up little screens, when they talk, then popping off again.  And the entire show, to me, resembles a dream. You know how, in a dream, people can wander into view, do something, then wander off again.  That’s life in today’s Pandemic world, or the World of COVIDIOCY as I now like to call it.  Trump keeps doing and saying monumentally stupid things, reminding us daily of what an immoral, incompetent asshole he really is.  One day he announces that he is taking hydroxychloroquine to prevent COVID striking him, and the next he is firing one inspector general or another, before telling us he really doesn’t know the guy he just fired.  And then there’s the mask thing. He won’t wear a mask in public. I guess he doesn’t want us to think he’s really just one of us. No, see, he really is not just one of us. No one else on the planet is quite as big an asshole as our president.

And meanwhile,  we can’t see any of our friends or family, and we can’t/shouldn’t  go out shopping or anywhere if we don’t absolutely have to.  So, we Zoom. And our fantasy life continues in this dreamlike state.

Because we (my wife and I) are now way past our sell-by date, I am caught in this “Waiting for God” state (I know, that’s the name of a really funny British sit-com, but still . . .). We’re not working, so we’re waiting. But waiting for what exactly? Well, I guess for a vaccine. But that’s a year or so off, regardless of what Stupidhead wants us to think.  So, until we have an actual tested and reliable vaccine, we really can’t/shouldn’t go anywhere, or see anyone close to us.  Mainly, the problem is our age. If we were 30 again (ahh, yeah, the good old days), even if we got the COVID thingie, we would likely survive, even if after a nasty disease state—worse I guess than the flu. But if we get the COVID, we likely don’t survive. Enter the fantasy world of Zooming.  And life itself becomes a dream-like state. Nothing is quite real, except for Stupidhead.  And even he is really just a character on TV playing our president, like some Sitcom character. Maybe there is no reality any longer and there is no actual world. Maybe we’re all just characters in one of my more realistic dreams. And maybe I will awaken someday to realize that I’m 10 again, and I have just been dreaming this whole life thing.

But wait, how about all those wars? Were they real, or were they just part of my never-ending dreams?  And did Ronald Reagan actually succeed to the Presidency, a B-Movie Actor becoming president of the United States? No, surely that was part of my dream. That was not possible in the Land that gave us Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

And where did that land go, the one that gave us victory in World War II, and that elected Franklin Roosevelt, not once but three times? Does that land still exist in some actual reality, whilst I am stuck in this fantasy world with a pandemic and a TV Apprentice host as President? So, when, then will I awaken? And will I really still be only 10?  And if so, will I remember anything, well at least enough to make me smarter this time?  And what might that do to the world, were I actually smarter? Would we be able to not only create a United Nations World, but avoid that Cold War stupidity? Would we all get smarter, and decide that guns were not an answer, when we could instead use our brains to devise moral solutions to the world’s problems?  And therefore, we would no longer begin shooting people in Korea, and Vietnam would become again just a piece of Asia that folks might wish to visit when they had the time and could travel.

Oh that would be so nice, wouldn’t it? But am I now just conjuring another dream to replace the one in which I seem to be stuck? Maybe, but it’s a nice dream. In it, people are born, grow up, become educated, and learn to live together in peace, regardless of whether they are white or black, or straight, or Gay. Well, I guess people might still be born narcissist and not care about others, but we would never elect them to be President.  No, they would still exist and still live their lives by blaming everyone else for all their problems, but they couldn’t kill the whole world.

Hmmm, maybe I’ll just stay in that dreamlike state, instead of this other dreamlike state I have been occupying. Then I wouldn’t have to think about an immoral idiot in the White House. Maybe instead, we would have a smart, moral woman. Yeah, that would be nice.  So, dream on Richard, but pick your dreams carefully, huh??

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Death & Dying

Are we all just dying, day by day, with each day representing one less day of adventures in our future? Or are we instead awakening each morning to a new set of life experiences, so that each day is a potential wonder, telling us that we are alive with wonderful possibilities? I think such thoughts whenever I think about yet another COVID death, or, worse yet, another Ahmaud Arbery.  I think that killing someone is stealing from them all the life experiences they would have had. You are taking their future away from them.  And we don’t know anything about those years we are stealing, the wonder, even the majesty of those years.

I awaken each morning, and I know what will happen to me directly or to the world.  That is, the sun will rise in the early morning, with or without cloud cover. Then the sun will pass over head, and make its pathway to dip below the horizon, signaling eventide.  There will be a few meals in between, some chit chat, maybe a phone call or two, some evening TV fare, and then back to bed.  But that’s for me. For that young man, Mr. Arbery, he took pleasure in each day taking a nice run. I used to run a lot when I was younger, so I understand the pleasure one can take in a nice run of several miles.  And I am certain he was enjoying his run, until he encountered two racists from a neighborhood, a father and his racist kid.  Much like Trayvon Martin, Mr.  Arbery was unaware that fate weighed against him that day.  The two racist pigs decided that he, being Black, was a threat to their neighborhood and so, they encountered him, began a scuffle, and then shot him to death.  Being White, they then of course decided that the entire incident was caused by Mr. Arbery, and they were forced to kill him in self-defense. The fact that it took a personal video by a local neighbor, a video that went viral after it was released, to even get the local police to act on the killing tells you perhaps everything you need to know about America in 2020.

So, now these two White murdering dudes basically stole from Mr. Arbery perhaps 50 years of life experiences . . . maybe 50 years of a love affair with a wife and children and hopefully grandchildren.  A lifetime of laughter, and loving. Maybe a successful working career in which he contributed to the betterment of our planet.  Maybe exotic travels to faraway places. Little things, like fine meals with family, opening a fine bottle of wine and sharing it with his wife.  Receiving praiseworthy notes from a boss on a job well done.  Birthday laughter, celebrating the coming of the New Year.  All the hundreds of things we think of when we imagine LIFE.  Think of what they stole from him. That’s 50+ years, 18,250 days, 438,000 hours of life’s experiences.  And they thought to justify such a gigantic theft of Life, because they imagined he was a threat to their community?? Think of the hubris that created that moment of terror for the young Black man.  These two little subhumans were armed, and therefore used their arms to steal that life. It is perhaps the best argument I can imagine for removing guns from humans. Because so many humans and subhumans cannot handle weapons with any degree of security for the rest of us. Armed, such subhumans are always a threat to humanity.

And then we arrive at our present mess—the Pandemic of 2020. Here, we mostly don’t have subhumans taking up arms, well aside from places like Michigan where our idiot malenfant president has urged the locals to protest, vigorously the government’s orders to remain at home until it is safe to move about. The heavily armed subhumans care not for such logic.  Like predatory sharks, they prefer wandering our streets with their armaments, in search of “threatening” people, mainly threatening Black or Hispanic people.

The Pandemic seems to have unlocked the crazy part of some folks’ brains. They apparently can’t stand being told what to do, even when it is in their own best interest.

Now, if we had a real president, one with a functioning brain and some actual ethical principles, we might not have such idiots roaming our streets with guns raised. No, a real president would be calming the people, and would be using actual data, real logic, and intelligent rhetoric to inform and calm the public.  But we don’t have a real president. We have a fake one, one who is desperately afraid that the pandemic will spell the end of his dream job, and will get in the way of his family stealing from our public storehouse of money reserves. See, he had hoped to end all of those financial failures he experienced and he and his family would be able to retire to some nice palace somewhere under Soviet protection.  Now, he may have to return to his miserable little pseudocriminal enterprises and act out his crappy marriages, perhaps even entering a 4th, 5th or 6th marriage before he finally bites the bullet of life and his breathing ceases.

But in the meantime, our Nation may well come to an end. He has so thoroughly destroyed the very fabric of our society that we may never be able to return to that place of high potential it held only 5-10 years ago.  He has, in short, done to America what he did to most of his financial enterprises, and brought us to the point of possible ruin. Whether we can recover is at least debatable. 

He has brought us to a point that we have not seen since the mid-1860s.   May we do better than we did the last time.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Catholics for Trump?

I was listening to an NPR report this morning. They were talking about a telephone call between Trump and Catholic leaders, most specifically Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.  It seems clear that Dolan was actively seeking to provide the support of the Catholic Church to the re-election of Donald Trump. In a prior appearance, it seems clear Dolan has a pleasant relationship with Trump. Here they are at a dinner party prior to Trump’s election.
In news reports on the call and a subsequent interview on Fox, CRUX and the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) report:
“The capitulation is complete.
Without a whimper from any of his fellow bishops, the cardinal archbishop of New York has inextricably linked the Catholic Church in the United States to the Republican Party and, particularly, President Donald Trump.
It was bad enough that Cardinals Timothy Dolan of New York and Sean O'Malley of Boston, joined by Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, currently also president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, participated in Trump's phone version of a campaign rally on April 25. With hundreds of others on the call, including Catholic educators, the bishops were once again masterfully manipulated. They previously gave Trump certain campaign footage when they delivered Catholics to his speech at the March for Life rally in Washington early in the year.
Now Trump will have Dolan's language The whole cringe-worthy exchange (yes, Trump did self-describe as "the best" president "in the history of the Catholic church") was made worse the next day when Dolan provided more campaign footage from inside St. Patrick's Cathedral in announcing that the president was "worshiping with us," purportedly livestreaming the Mass at the White House.
Friendships have existed in the past between U.S. presidents and princes of the church. How those affected the church's involvement in politics and policy, negatively or positively, differed from one circumstance to another. But it is rare, if not unprecedented, that the church's leadership apparatus would be co-opted to the degree seen in the case of Trump.
Certainly, it is without precedent that the leadership would cozy up so cravenly to a president whose most consistent attribute is an uncontrollable propensity for lying, continuously and about everything. He is dangerously disconnected from reality and is defined by characteristics that normally are condemned from pulpits.
In People of Hope, a book-length conversation Dolan conducted with journalist John L. Allen Jr. published in 2012, a chapter is devoted to politics in which the cardinal concedes that there is an understandable perception that the U.S. bishops are in a "de facto," in the questioner's words, alliance with the Republican Party.
The reality, Dolan contends, is more complex. "My experience is that we bishops are actually fairly scrupulous in wanting to avoid any partisan flavor."
One might reasonably conclude today that such scrupulosity has gone out the window. For Dolan and his fellow episcopal travelers, the all-consuming issue is abortion. That tops the agenda in any political consideration. Allen asked: "Are you saying that the perception of being in bed with the Republicans, or the political Right, is the PR price that has to be paid for taking a strong stance on abortion?"
"Yes, that's exactly right," Dolan answered.
Unfortunately, the bishops have paid a much higher price than poor public relations in their political strategy the past four decades. Abortion is a serious subject that they've turned into a political volleyball in a game with no winners except the groups on the extremes of the issue who cash in every four years, sustaining careers and an endless debate.”
So, should we be surprised that the Archbishop, a close friend and public supporter of a man who seems to violate virtually every principle of the Archbishop’s professed faith, decided to offer the support of his church?  It is asserted that his support for Trump has something to do with abortion. That is, ostensibly Trump opposes abortion, and therefore the Archbishop supports him.  Apparently, had Adolph Hitler opposed abortion, Cardinal Dolan would have supported him also.
The thing is Dolan has now committed the entire Holy Roman Catholic Church to a mechanism for support of Donald Trump. The fact that Trump violates virtually every principle (maybe even including abortion) of that Church system is apparently irrelevant to the Archbishop. I assume with all of his sexual abuse of women, Trump has almost undoubtedly caused one or more abortions to occur, whether he was personally involved or not. He often remains an aside to many of the unpleasantries he creates in other peoples’ lives.
But the central question now is, what will Pope Francis do about this threat to the authority of the Catholic Church? If that Church does nothing, then officially the Catholic Church has endorsed Donald Trump.  To me, that would signal the final moral bankruptcy of a church that has existed for hundreds of years, even if it is but a hollow memory of its founding principles. Endorsing Trump would, in my view be worse than the common Church practice of shipping off its rapist priests from one parish to another without dealing with the underlying issue.
I see no alternative for the Pope except to literally fire Cardinal Dolan. I don’t mean, moving him to a different city parish. I mean firing him. Kicking him out of the Church hierarchy, and never letting him darken the doors of the Church in any city.  Failing that, perhaps it would really be time for the Holy Roman Catholic Church to declare moral bankruptcy, sell all of its assets and distribute the resulting funds to the World’s poor.