Friday, June 14, 2019

Never Forget

This short trailer is from the New York Times new TV Series on FX and Hulu called "The Weekly".

The New York Times describes the video as follows -
"The youngest known child taken from his parents at the U.S.-Mexico border was a 4-month-old baby named Constantin Mutu. While he was sent to Michigan to live with a foster family, his father was sent to a detention facility and ultimately deported to Romania, uncertain when he would see his son again. Caitlin Dickerson, an immigration correspondent for The Times, found Constantin, one of thousands of children separated under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” border policy. In the latest episode of “The Weekly,” she reveals how he spent five tumultuous months away from those who loved him most."

The best thing Americans can work for is to ensure we have a wave election in 2020 where the morally and ethically bankrupt GOP politicians currently in power are removed. Many people worked hard, fought and died to create a political system that champions freedom and human rights in our own country and the world. We can't let a group of absolutely corrupted politicians squander that hard won legacy.


Thursday, June 13, 2019

These People are Not Your Friends

What people you ask?

The people formally known as corporations.

The corporate controlled Supreme Court and their court jesters decided that corporations weren't faceless entities created to maximize profit and minimize liability but were something akin to a person with free speech rights which translates to mean - the right for the wealthiest people in our country to buy any politician or judge they see fit. These people at the tippy top own the mass media and engineer it to make it difficult for everyday people to see what has happened.  Not to lose hope though - the tippy top of anything is unstable and can be knocked over - you just have to find the right way, and the right place, to push.

The link above about a corporate controlled Supreme Court is from 2010. The ideological bent of the court is way more "conservative" today than it was then. It's important to understand the the word "conservative" as it's used today by the mass media refers to the ultra wealthy class of people who want to "conserve" their wealth and power.

The so-called conservative issues in the media like right to life, gun rights, religious rights, right to work are all issues used by the tippy top to gain and retain power by dividing everyday people and encourage them to battle each other rather than the true sources of their oppression, exploitation and dehumanization. A conservative free market capitalist is a logical impossibility given capitalism's inherent disruptive nature on society, culture and people.

If you think this just sounds like some conspiracy minded nut talk, pause for a bit and look around you. You'll have to put down the smart phone, Facebook, Google, YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter etc. and their unending titillating streams for a moment to figure some of this out. All those distractions just keep us off balance and confused (or at least me anyway). It's not hard to see what's going on but it takes some focus.

The decades long takeover of government, courts and the media by plutocrats is essentially complete. How do I know this?

Once the very wealthiest people have control of those three levers of power we start to see a society filled with corruption where everything is designed to give more power to the powerful and less power to those without a voice.

I could cite an unending number of examples demonstrating this - failing public schools, failing health care systems, for profit prisons, militarized often unaccountable police forces, useless unending infinitum.

A sad, dangerous and outrageous example of this takeover is the price of insulin.

Real people, everyday people, need to come together stand up and say we're mad as hell and we aren't going to take this anymore - in the media, at the ballot box and in the streets. The fight (and it will be a fight) won't be easy or short. It will be worth it for this and future generations.


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

How'd We Get Here?

I was sort of a sleeping Rip Van Winkle for a few decades and then woke to find the world around me had changed considerably - particularly in our own USA. How did we get here? 

A writer and speaker named Thomas Frank seems to me to have a pretty good explanation for how we got where we are. Thomas Frank was born in Kansas, has a doctorate's degree in history from the University of Chicago, and was a founder and editor of The Baffler.

He's written many essays (available on his website) and various books. The two books I'm familiar with are What's The Matter With Kansas? and Listen Liberal - Whatever Happened to the Party of the People? - that critique today's Republican and Democratic parties respectively.


Frank is a cultural critic as well as a political critic. In this five minute video made in 1993 he explains some of the thinking that went into the founding of The Baffler. He says one of the reasons for founding the Baffler was to find ways to resist the culture industry and mass culture. Depending on your religion you may have heard similar ideas about resisting mass culture, expressed using different words, from a Christian minister or priest.

Why would we want to resist mass culture - or as a Christian minister might ask - things of this world? Mainly because it allows you to live your one singular beautiful life - because it gives you freedom.


Mass culture produces fake rebels and suppresses actual rebellion.

Why work to better the world when it's as simple as buying the world a Coke? This 1971 Coca-Cola advertisement is sort of the quintessential example of what Frank and other Baffler writers call the commodification of dissent.

The Coke ad is interesting because of when it occurred in our history. The sixties were still going on in the 70's - in that the ideas of the sixties - sustainability, peace, love, back to the land movements, suspicion of elites (the man/the bosses), questioning authority, anti-consumerism, and rejection of mass culture were very much alive in 1971.

Those ideas were co-opted by corporations to sell us the idea that we could be part of the counter-culture, the resistance, the revolution - if we only purchased the right things. This essentially eliminated progression toward the counter-cultural ideas from the 60's and eventually led to the excesses of the 90's with yuppies (young urban professionals), glorification of wealth in shows like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and "he who dies with the most toys wins" bumper stickers.

In a capitalist system working people and the earth's natural resources are commodities - things that are valued according to free market principles. Left unchecked a capitalist system will ruthlessly exploit and dehumanize working people and also exploit natural resources (our planet) as long as it's profitable, and possible given the absence of any political restraints.

In this 12 minute video made in 2018 Thomas Frank explains why he thinks Donald Trump won the 2016 election. 

Beginning in the 1990's the Democratic party went from being the party of working people and unions to being the party of professionals. 

Professionals like doctors, lawyers and engineers who would have been Republicans in the 1950's split away from the GOP when that party began to use the culture wars (guns, gays, God and abortion) as political weapons. These professionals are socially liberal who may believe in things such as; equal rights, a woman's right to choose, liberalized drug laws, some form of gun regulation and the separation of church and state. 

The problem is that the majority of them also very much believe in the idea of meritocracy - that some combination of education and work ethic allows anyone to climb the economic ladder. They did it - why shouldn't everyone else? For this reason they are either anti-union or think unions are a relic of the past. These members of the professional class sometimes called creative class elected Democrats who represent their point of view - which equates to a whole slew of Democratic legislators who would have been considered radical right wing members of the GOP in Eisenhower's era.

This left working class people (non-yuppie type working class people), the 90%, with no political representation and the desperation that allowed for a con man, sold as the blue-collar billionaire who would represent the interests of those forgotten people, to be elected President.


Who's the villain?

Bill Clinton is as good a choice as any member of the GOP for that role. He "triangulated" with the GOP to end welfare as we knew it, changed the criminal justice system in ways that caused mass incarceration in our many for-profit prisons, and the very worst thing he did for the traditional constituents of the Democratic party, working class families, was to pass NAFTA. 

An important aspect of NAFTA is that it provided a legal framework to protect American business interests who wanted to move manufacturing to Mexico. Beginning in 1989 when NAFTA went into effect many manufacturing jobs and factories began to move south of the border to take advantage of low wages and limited regulation.

This either killed unions outright or mortally wounded them because from that time on the bosses could always threaten workers that if they didn't accept whatever pay and benefits the bosses deemed acceptable - they would move the jobs to Mexico. It also gave these corporations a powerful card to play when negotiating with local/state governments to get corporate welfare (tax incentives) in order to locate, or keep, their industries in a particular city.

Besides moving work to Mexico, or some other low-wage country, a corporation like Boeing can use threats to move to right to work states like South Carolina to extract huge amounts of corporate welfare, specifically a 8.7 billion dollar handout, from the state of Washington...and then go ahead and offshore jobs or move them to a right to work state. 

If you aren't familiar with that term "right to work" it means you don't have to join a union to work at a particular place; even if a union is in existence. Supporters of right to work will tell you it gives workers freedom. Unions (and the historical record) say it gives workers freedom to work for low pay, bad benefits, no pension and be fired at will.

There are as one would expect many plutocrats who are more than willing to spend lots of money to propagandize workers into believing unions are inherently bad and it's your American right to be free of them.

Please do your homework before coming to a decision regarding unions, including who funds the sources for the information you use in coming to your conclusions. If you base your decision on an article from the Heritage Foundation or Americans for Prosperity attacking unions, or some right wing radio show funded by Chevron, you definitely need to expand your reading and listening list.


NAFTA was bad but things got worse with the WTO agreements because Chinese workers making pennies on the dollar and industries with no regulation were allowed to compete with American workers and industries. We ended up exporting pulp and waste paper to China that came back as cardboard boxes filled with stuff that Walmart could sell at everyday low prices.

Walmart was on the leading edge of introducing US consumers and workers to globalization and is considered a resounding success by some, who consider any downsides to only demonstrate the disruptive forces of capitalism - euphemistically called "creative destruction". Sure we lost all kinds of small businesses and good paying jobs in the bargain but it was all made up for in those everyday low prices (or so we were told). 

Walmart certainly was a resounding success in one important way - the heirs of Sam Walton's fortune have as much wealth as the bottom 40% of Americans. Walmart destroyed many small businesses and union jobs. They are fiercely anti-union and got the government to help pay for their workers health care and food. Corporate welfare is where the waste is - not the scraps government throws to the working class to keep them from starving to death in the street.

Amazon is Walmart on steroids. In a socialized country (like the United States pre-1980) the government of the people would help shape the economy so the unchecked engine of capitalism didn't drive some segment of the society, or the whole society in the case of climate change, off a cliff. That is not the country we currently live in.

If you find Thomas Frank interesting he goes into much more detail in this hour plus talk at ASU.


Donald Trump didn't create this moment, he arose out of a GOP taken over by the hard right wing that works great for the .1%, works just fine for the 1% and allows the rest of upper 10% to sort of make it as long as mom and dad are willing to work until they die since defined pensions died with unions.

Working class people, let's call them the 90%, haven't had political representation and haven't shared any of the prosperity generated by the USA since the 80's (if you don't believe that, as Smartie the Smart Phone says on Sesame Street - "look it up".

The Democrats used to be the party of the working class. That began to change during the Reagan revolution, was accelerated during Bill Clinton's time in office and today is complete. Today for the most part the democratic party is the party for the 10% - often professionals with higher wages and more formal education (not necessarily better educated).

The GOP used to be the pro-business party, the party of the upper class, the party for the owners of capital, proponents of free trade, and some petit-bourgeoisie (small business owners). I know this characterization is over-simplified, but I'm making a rhetorical argument - not a complete analysis or history of the GOP and it's members.

Looking back at their statements and policies the Republican Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon would be considered far left liberals in today's definition of left/right/center politics. The top marginal tax rates in Eisenhower's day were 90%.  The United States economy was doing fine, we built the interstate highway system, had good public schools, public college education was inexpensive or free and medical care was affordable.

Nixon initiated OSHA, a clean air act, supported federalization of Medicaid for poor families with dependent children, and created the EPA in 1970. Reagan did all he could to dismantle the EPA. Trump has or is in the process of rolling back 83 Environmental Rules.

This lurch to the far radical right by the GOP and drift to a more moderate right by the Democratic party of today, makes the "center", that all the political pundits in corporate-owned media say the democrats need to head to in order to be "electable", rather hard to define.

As unbelievable as it seems to democrats of my generation, the GOP is now the party of the working class. Never mind that the Republicans have done nothing to benefit the working class (see wage stagnation, exponential growth of corporate CEO compensation, ahistorical economic inequality, decimation of unions, tax giveaways to corporations used to buy back stock to further increase CEO compensation...etc. etc. etc.)

Through an intricate and well funded propaganda machine and a long term strategy that spanned decades, the people who control the GOP of today, pushed the Democratic party into the wilderness and the Republican party to the radical right. They also caused many traditional Republicans to leave the party and guaranteed a generation of young people will never vote for a GOP candidate. There is always a silver lining.


My overall perspective about these things haven't evolved all that much over the years. My maternal grandmother was a big influence on me. She was a New Deal Democrat who loved FDR. She grew up dirt poor but ended up graduating from college and becoming a teacher. She spent most of her life living in a trailer. She'd rail against the school administrator or anyone else in power she thought was wrong which helped teach me to question authority. She took me to Butte when I was young to visit relatives who worked in those mines before they closed. She also loved my Republican wife B and encouraged us to get married.

I've been interested in political struggles for awhile. I was at the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle. I went mainly because I was sympathetic to the cause and wanted to hear the speakers and participate in the parade/march. There were lots of families, environmental groups, unions (from various countries), cool floats and people wearing costumes there. It was fun and peaceful. I left in the afternoon. I missed the idiots wearing masks breaking out Starbucks windows, police in riot gear and tear gas...that they show in all the pictures of that event. The pictures on this Teamsters Union page show the event more like I remember it.

I was also a participant in the 40 day strike against the Boeing Company in 2000 where workers won concessions from management. While I was working, the union-negotiated collective bargaining agreements meant I never had to worry about paying for health care (including vision and dental) and my salary allowed me to buy a house, help pay for my two daughters to go to college and live a comfortable middle class lifestyle. Collective bargaining allowed me to have a defined pension and good health insurance after I retired, until I switch over to Medicare in a month or so...dang how'd I get so old ;-)


If the Democratic party can return to it's roots and present policies that benefit the working class they would control every branch of government. This will require something like the tea party/freedom caucus movement that helped drag the GOP so far right. The tea party/freedom caucus movement was funded by the .1% and promoted by corporate media. The swing left movement for the Democratic party will have to be a genuine grass roots movement.

Politicians in the mold of AOC, Bernie or Elizabeth Warren would be popular all over the country because they support policies the 90% supports and speak a language that working class people understand. The mouthpieces for the GOP are afraid of these type of genuine progressive populist politicians, particularly a young working class woman like AOC, which is why they are so obsessed with attacking her.

Elizabeth Warren has a very strong record of supporting unions, she's fiery, determined and smart. She has a story of humble beginnings, struggling to get an education and work as a teacher while raising her children. She understands the struggle of the working people. She was primarily responsible for the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which has been mostly dismantled or neutered by the plutocrats in office now. Republicans beholden to big money hate and fear her, corporate Democrats beholden to big money just fear her - so what more could you ask for?

Finally - democrats need to get out of their own way. They need to find solidarity on economic and class issues like they did from the 40's through the 60's. They need to organize as an economic class and work out all the cultural issues after they take power.

They need to leave the divisive discussions about intersectionality, racism, sexism, cultural appropriation, safe spaces, trigger warnings, microaggression, speech they don't like or whatever cultural issues they feel are important to be debated and resolved - after they have taken political power. Not to say these aren't topics worth discussing and resolving, but they don't win elections - and unless you have power you'll just be the never-ending and ever fading resistance. 

The Democratic party needs to return to it's roots as the party for the working class - the party for poor people, the party for unions - a party not afraid to fight and be politically incorrect if necessary. The party that respects the working class and shows it by enacting policies that help them.

If some wealthy elites who like the cachet of being a liberal Democrat can't get on board they need to leave the party and form some sort of socially liberal fiscally conservative party of their own.

Democratic party politicians who favor corporate interests over working people's interests need to find another political party or be defeated in primaries by progressive candidates who will respect and defend working people. 

Some democrats also need to find a way to accept, or at least not belittle, people of faith and those who oppose abortion rights - not allow them to dictate government policy but make them feel welcome.

Either that or we need at least four parties -  the Trump GOP, and the Democratic party of the professional class that we have today and two new parties that go back to the roots of the traditional GOP and Democratic party.


Sunday, June 09, 2019

A Comedy Podcast About the Environment

Stories and reports about the environment can be overwhelming, foster a sense of hopelessness, anger, fear and or depression.

I recently ran across a British podcast called Sustainababble hosted by two young men who have created a "comedy podcast about the environment" or as they also describe it, "a podcast about the environment, for and by the confused."

I've only listened to this podcast so far but I like the idea of dealing with serious things with humor.

One of the guys says he's kind of bummed out because so many people are now accepting that climate change, environmental and ecological degradation are real, urgent and human caused. He says he had always had a glimmer of hope that since there were so many deniers that maybe they were right and we can just carry on with business as usual...but now with a more general consensus and so many damning reports coming out that he can't hold onto that hope any longer (my words not his) but that's the gist of it. I think he is voicing a fairly universal feeling.

In any case I found the podcast quite entertaining and refreshing. I don't know if this is true but it seems to me that in some circumstances one of the few things we have left is the ability to laugh and help others to laugh too.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Harlan County USA

I watched the Oscar award winning 1976 documentary Harlan County USA on TCM the other night with B. It's a story about coal miners, unions, families and the never ending struggle between workers and those who own the means of production.

I often think we need some way to educate working people of today who are not familiar with labor history that the capitalist system, absent collective bargaining, will exploit them to the greatest extent possible. I get the idea that you as a strong, smart, creative hard working individual should be able to negotiate with your employer for fair wages and benefits. The key word is "should". As an individual you are replaceable and you can and will be replaced if you don't go along with whatever cost-cutting, efficiency enhancing, benefit reducing plan your employer deems appropriate. You can go to another place to work sure - but you still have essentially zero bargaining power unless you have some sort of super special irreplaceable skills.

This isn't damning any individual or company it's simply the nature of the capitalist system. If that isn't clear, I highly recommend becoming at least somewhat familiar with Karl Marx's and Fredrich Engles writings about capitalism. They got a lot of things wrong but their critique of capitalism's flaws/features are clear, seemingly self-evident and vitally important to understanding the capitalist system and it's dehumanizing and exploitative actions towards workers and disregard for the environment. The BBC special Masters of Money provides a high-level overview of Marx's thinking that might be a good introduction if you are interested in learning more. If you can find a copy The Essential Writings of Karl Marx edited by David Caute is a concise look at Marx and Engles major ideas, and critiques of capitalism. It may be possible but it would be challenging to try and get an accurate and unbiased description on the interwebs. Books are fun-damental.

The middle ground between Marx's failed communist utopia and out of control capitalism is a mixed economy where workers have a voice, and government acts to modulate the devastating effects of unchecked capitalism.  Contrary to the propaganda, misinformation and misunderstandings about the either/or nature of socialism vs. capitalism; a mixed economy simply means a mix of socialism and capitalism. The Nordic model  is an example.

The USA has a mixed economy as well, but the debate is over how much regulation and redistribution is the right amount. Some regulations are foolish and economically harmful - some are essential. Some redistribution of wealth to allow more people a chance at the American dream, and to prevent abject poverty for those unable to work or find living wage jobs seems equally essential to me.

Back to the documentary. I'd never heard of that movie before - but it's great. There's some sad and disturbing events in it, but the music in it is great, the miners and their families are great and they really made me think how much in common, all people, but particularly we working class people have.

By working class I mean people who depend on the owners of capital for their wages - a vast majority of the people in our country. I think there is a misconception by some that because they work behind a desk, on the phone, behind a counter or on a flight line that some story about unions and miners has nothing to do with them - totally totally wrong; the elements of this struggle are applicable to anyone who works for a wage.

The propaganda of the plutocrats intended to divide the working class and maintain control of government, courts and corporations has to be well funded and constant to prevent this group from ever organizing.

There's always hope my friend there is always hope.

The women who created this documentary provided a great service for working people in the USA. I wouldn't watch it on a small screen if I had a choice but if you prefer that viewing style I embedded it below.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Always Have an Escape Route

One of the things they teach in motorcycle safety training is that when driving on a busy highway you should try to always have an escape route that allows you to avoid an accident.

I'd like to explore extending that advice from the particular to the general. Specifically from motorcycle riding to maintaining a habitable planet.


In 1972 two MIT scientists, who were part of a team of 17 scientists from around the world, wrote a book called the Limits to Growth. I ran across that book years ago while taking some graduate courses in System Engineering. At the time it seemed interesting but I was busy with lots of other things. I've been thinking about it more lately after reading an article like this in the Guardian.

The concept of the book is pretty simple - earth has finite resources, therefore unlimited population and economic growth are not sustainable.

You may think this would not be a controversial idea, however as you can see from the Wikipedia criticism section for the book, it was (and is) controversial and vigorously attacked by a variety of interested people and groups.

Looking critically at the concept that economic growth can continue indefinitely may seem un-American to some people because it seems to imply the end of the capitalist system. That is not necessarily the case as this author argues in the Atlantic Magazine. There is truth in his statement that, "Most people do realize that every country that has ever deliberately set out to create an "alternative to capitalism" has failed to create anything remotely resembling a good place to live."

One of the important features of the book Limits to Growth (and the field of systems engineering) is the idea that the complexity of some systems is such that they are not understandable by mental models. Because of our inability to form accurate mental models, complex systems like this are modeled using computer simulations of varying degrees of accuracy.

These tend to be systems that contain, and may interact with other systems, via positive or negative feedback loops. These types of systems are addressed in a field of study known as cybernetics originated by Norbert  Weiner.

Another important aspect of cybernetics is that understanding and solving problems in complex systems requires the cooperation of experts from various academic and scientific disciplines. Many of the problems we see due to technology are caused by engineers/scientists working in a specialized field with little or no knowledge of the system impacts of their products. An example would be the engineers who design printers or computers or cell phones that become obsolete after a few years, and are then thrown into the waste stream. In addition to the pollution load this causes it will eventually lead to the depletion of the finite rare earth metals used in their production. Under-regulated capitalism contributes to this problem since it doesn't factor in the true cost of this behavior.

There are always people who will argue that no problem is insurmountable if we only find the right technology. What this argument generally amounts to is supporting the status quo by appealing to an unknown technological breakthrough. I am very skeptical. I tend, even though I love technology, to think it is the cause of many problems rather than the solution (see Jacques Ellul).


It's not surprising that in 1972 we (economically developed nations) didn't pay more attention to the idea that constant growth was not sustainable. 

The book Limits to Growth talks about people's interest in their surroundings in terms of space and time. Most of us are by necessity required to be concerned with things/people close to us and what will happen in the near term.

If you're rushing to get the kids dressed, fed and ready for school and yourself off to work you don't have a lot of time to ponder the impacts of what's happening to the world at large today let alone 50 years from now. We by necessity trust that the leaders in our representative democracy were/are looking out for all of us as well as future generations. 

That winds me back to the idea of having an escape route. Our faith/trust in those leaders was misplaced and by the time we started to understand that, we are left considering - what are the alternatives, what are the safe routes out?

Who knows?

What we do know is we have built a society - cities, agribusinesses, transportation, housing and industries that require fossil fuels. 

We had choices to locate work and housing coincident but chose instead to build sprawling suburbs where people have no choice but to drive their car to work. We could have developed, or at least left mass transit like the electrically powered Interurban trains that ran from Everett to Tacoma in 1912 in place, but at least we'll get a replacement by 2036 ...sigh. 

The lack of an escape route (clear alternatives) identified prior to an emergency makes solutions to climate change not insurmountable but very challenging.

If someone is talking about a carbon tax and you are one of those 40% of Americans who can't come up with 400 bucks in an emergency, and have to drive a car to get to work to support your family - you're not going to be too supportive of the idea that the price of gasoline is going to go up to discourage the use of fossil fuel...ditto if you use natural gas, fuel oil, or electricity generated by coal or other fossil fuels to heat your home.

The yellow vest protests in France were at least partially about this issue. As this NYRB article states -
"Driving was already expensive in France when in January 2018 the government of President Emmanuel Macron imposed a tax that raised the price of diesel fuel by 7.6 centimes per liter and of gasoline by 3.8 centimes (about 9 and 4 cents, respectively); further increases were planned for January 2019. The taxes were an attempt to cut carbon emissions and honor the president’s lofty promise to “Make Our Planet Great Again.”
Macron cancelled plans for the carbon tax.

Washington state's 2018 initiative 1631 to add a carbon tax/fee was defeated with 57% against and 43% in favor. Again not surprising that people struggling to make ends meet were not on board with a plan that would increase their transportation and heating costs. Washington state already has a regressive tax system and forcing some person making 30K a year to absorb the same income hit as Bill or Jeff wasn't particularly popular.

A carbon tax might pass if the money collected was used to offset the increased fuel costs for low income workers who often have no choice but to drive whatever car they have to their workplace - which due to the ever rising prices of housing in the cities and the unplanned sprawling nature of development may be a significant distance.

It would seem sensible to me if we reallocated the tax dollars we throw down the military contractor sinkhole to the benefit of the .1% and used some of that money to begin building model self-contained sustainable communities in the areas where poverty is most severe.

I believe government can, and did from post WWII until the 1980's, work for the people. The "no new taxes", "death tax", "government is the problem", mantra of the radical right funded by the finest dark money from America's oligarchs makes that case quite hard to make to the average American voter. I think most voters would agree that they (a) don't want their tax dollars wasted and (b) want everyone including individual 1 and corporations to pay their share.

So it'll be a hard fight and we will have to drastically change our habits of consumption, agricultural methods, and expectations for what constitutes the good life. If I was betting on the outcome I'd bet on the oligarchs holding on to the status quo until some significant obvious shocks occur to the system - either economic or which point human ingenuity, courage, intelligence, cooperation and compassion will be the best escape route any individual can have.


Finally (finally) I think all we can do as individuals is live the best life we can while we are here.

It helps me to keep in mind the Serenity Prayer originated by Reinhold Niebuhr -

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

The Ants and the Grasshopper

John F, Kennedy said in his state of the union address in 1962 that "the time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining."

About 2500 years before JFK made that speech a Greek slave and storyteller named Aesop told the story of the Ants and the Grasshopper

If you haven't read that very short story it's about some conscientious ants who work hard during the summer storing up grain for the winter. A fun loving fiddle playing grasshopper spends his time fiddling and playing all summer rather than storing up grain for the winter. As winter approaches he is starving and asks the ants for some grain. They refuse and tell him to keep fiddling and dancing.

I think JFK and Aesop's story have a similar message - given the choice of doing something hard that will benefit us in the future or doing something easy for immediate satisfaction we often choose the latter.

I don't think human nature has changed much in the last 2500 years. The structure of society has changed which causes different human behavior. Structure meaning the economic system and conditions, educational systems, government, religion, cultural norms and means of communication (verbal, printing press, radio, tv, twitter).


We'd like to believe that as members of some group we are fundamentally different from humanity. If we are part of the right team based on political party, race, religion, educational status or money - then we fool ourselves into thinking somehow we are fundamentally different from, and better than, or maybe worse than, all human kind. This is simple and it makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Our prehistoric ancestors on the savanna had to divide the world into simple good and bad things to survive. We've inherited a physiological system with roots in primitive man who needed adrenaline to escape the saber tooth tiger. He had no time to think, only to react or be eaten.

We can't deal with the complexity of the real world, or our own shortcomings, so we create stereotypes that simply it and give us answers (often wrong) that require very little thought or effort on our part. Stereotypes like Republicans/Democrats are bad, or even the idea that there is some person somewhere who epitomizes the definition of a "Republican" or a "Democrat" let alone that there are millions of people in America who are Republicans or Democrats or liberals or conservatives or whatever. If you can't clearly define the word you are using you don't know what you're talking about. He said to himself ;-)

What the media provides when using these stereotypical words is not a clear view of the world but rather a Rorschach inkblot test where we are presented with an undefined image and use our individual bias, gaps in knowledge, assumptions, inferences and imagination to form what we think is something akin to reality.

The use of these stereotypical words facilitates tribal instinctive behavior but they are worse than useless for a group of people trying to solve problems. They do work quite well for making the news into a form of entertainment that is mostly focused on people and personalities, scandals and outrages and very little on actual solutions to real world problems. Whatever the word Republican meant when Dwight Eisenhower or Ronald Reagan was president - it means something quite different now. This is assuming words like this have any meaning outside a structured academic setting where definitions are agreed to.

Stereotypes cause people to skip rungs on the ladder of inference and think something like...oh you're a Republican or Democrat, Liberal, Socialist..I got you pegged, while actually knowing almost nothing about the other person or his or her beliefs.

When we lived in Bozeman it was sort of a thing to complain about what bad drivers the people from Livingston were. We'd call them 49'rs because that's the license plate number from Park County. "Oh boy I can't believe how those 49's drive when they get to the city." It seems so ludicrous to me now, but it's an example of stereotyping.


Stereotypes can be harmless or relatively so but if we allow ourselves to oversimplify the world it precludes us from dealing with complex issues that require cooperation, global action and hard decisions - namely climate change.

I am hopeful, and skeptical, that humans can fix the damage we've done to this world. Most people don't have the time or the inclination to read widely on climate change. Whatever they know or don't know is largely what they've received from mass media; mainly television.

With an economic system predicated on consumption it's not in the interest of the capitalist owned advertiser funded mass media to inform the population that maintaining a livable earth will require reducing consumption, redesigning communities, going from big agribusiness to small local agriculture, and working cooperatively to make those things possible.

Even if a majority of people understood something about the impacts of climate change - extreme weather, fire, floods, dying - oceans, trees and pollinators, it's unlikely that human nature would cause us to take difficult steps today to avoid catastrophe tomorrow. We're all grasshoppers fiddling and dancing - tweeting and facebooking...too distracted, or emotionally or cognitively unable, to recognize what has been happening and what is likely to happen in the not so distant future. JFK's quote was obviously true but we'd all rather be at the beach taking selfies than fixing our roof on a sunny day.

The last four decades of scientific findings regarding climate change and subsequent political inaction seem to demonstrate that our capitalist representative democracy is incapable of dealing with this issue. Perhaps if we had a representative (rather than a corporate captured) democracy we would not be where we are today. Structural changes in our government are necessary.

I hope I'm wrong and that young people can do better than we baby boomers did.

We really have two choices - either make thoughtful substantial changes to our way of life now - that in the net would make for a better, healthier and happier society or wait until we are forced to make hasty substantial changes to our way of life that will make for a far worse society where resource scarcity will cause mass migrations, war, famine and chaos.


So as this unwinds what to do?

I'd recommend voting and becoming politically involved as much as possible. If this isn't solved politically which seems quite likely then it would be good in this moment of relative sunshine to figure out how you as an individual or as a family will thrive in the coming decades.

I can't help but think that some type of utopian communities where people cooperate to grow food, build shelter, provide art, education and entertainment might be the habitat of choice. The only successful long term communities of that sort have been formed by religious groups such as the Anabaptists Hutterites, Mennonites, or Amish, so we may see an emergence of new, or revisions to old, humane and loving forms of religious belief. It's possible riding in a horse and buggy might be as cool as having a new Dodge Ram Diesel 4x4 in the not so distant future.


Sunday, June 02, 2019

It's All a Big Joke

I've been pondering the possibility that I may be turning into a crotchety old man. One of those "you kids get off my lawn" guys who's angry at everyone and everything. Someone who doesn't know what this younger generation is coming to who thinks the world is going to hell in a hand basket.

Throughout my childhood and most of my adult life I always thought life was more of a comedy than a tragedy. Stiff necked teachers, drill instructors, bosses, used to say words like..."Crossen, you think everything's a joke don't you?" after I'd done something I thought was funny but they thought was bad behavior of some sort,

I never said so but as a matter of fact I did pretty much think everything was a big joke. Humor and comedy are excellent coping mechanisms. Like most people I've had some incredibly sad and tragic events happen in my life but I chose to focus on the more lighthearted aspects of life - rather than deal with separation, loss, tragedy and grief head on. Denial, although probably not the most psychologically healthy coping mechanism, is nonetheless quite effective.

It's a matter of balance. On the one hand we have to recognize that bad things happen - people die, friends are lost, eventually we and the people we love will grow old, sick and die. On the other hand life is a gas man - people can be hilarious, sometimes the crazier someone is the funnier they are, ridiculous and absurd things happen all the time...which if you have the right frame of mind can lead to lots of joy and laughter.

These two quotes from Viktor Frankl are relevant to this discussion -

"If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death, human life cannot be complete." 
"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." 
Viktor Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning is a good resource for anyone wanting to understand something about human nature and how an individual might approach living a good life. This video seems to have a pretty good summary of the ideas in the book if your short on reading time.

Do you remember seeing the picture of the guy somewhere in Canada mowing his lawn while there is a big scary looking tornado approaching on the horizon?

Getting the lawn mowed before the tornado blows the house away seems like a pretty good metaphor for how to approach life eh? Keep on keepin on man. Things happen that will blow us over if we can't bend. Humor, lightheartedness and a Buddhist sense of equanimity; all serve to give us flexibility in our chosen response to the difficulties of human existence. This Onion article also includes crispy snacks in our toolkit for dealing with life's difficulties ;-) I'd buy into that - and partake of some herb before breaking out the Tim's Hot Chips


I find religious faith to be useful in dealing with life's ups and downs. I was raised as a Catholic and switched over to the ELCA when B and I got married. When I was in grade school I loved being an altar boy, being around the priests, lighting the candles...all the ritual. I went to church every morning - it was me, the priest and a few elderly congregants. That experience instilled a deep faith in something beyond the known world - God, Goddess, Buddha, Vishnu, Pure Energy, alternate dimensions; something good, pure and beautiful beyond the knowable. I'm a Catholic/Lutheran/wannabe Buddhist/sometime non-believer - these days.

I wrote the previous paragraph thinking it might be of some use for context in how I view religion and why I'm including some writing from an ELCA daily devotional book in this blog. Basically I don't want to frighten or turn off anyone who is suspicious (rightfully so) of religion. I'm just a regular old sinner like you.

The theme of the devotional comes from Psalm 110:1-4,

"From the womb of the morning, like dew, your youth will come to you."

The author Heather Lee - a mother, wife, teacher and author of "This Moment of Retreat" writes,

"Ah, the poetry of the psalms. I'm so grateful that the word of God speaks in poetry, song, and metaphor. From the womb of the morning, we are birthed like dew, new again - young.

Do you believe it? Today is a new day, and like a youth - like a child - we are welcomed to begin again. I love the morning, and over the last decade or more have often been born into it by those I have birthed - crying babies, rambunctious toddlers, ready-to-play children. God's call in these morning times is to remind me to live like a child - mostly present, mostly playful, mostly eyes wide open and ready to learn. I am new today - free from the bondage of the past and the worry of tomorrow.

Tomorrow, I will be born anew yet again. Today, my youth will come to me from the womb of the morning dew. I will delight in the gift of this new day. I will look for God's blessings. And I will seek to bless others with the joy and love God has given me.

God of the womb, of the morning dew, and of the new, grant me the joy, wonder, playfulness of my youth today. Amen"

I hope you had a good Sunday and a great week ahead, may you find some peace, love, joy and laughter as you go about your day.


I have to throw one thing that's not like the other things here - because it's been rattling around in my head. I saw this report on TYT's Damage Report a few days ago. It's about a black college student in Boulder Colorado who is picking up trash in front of his residence with one of those trash grabber things. A police man shows up and escalates the situation to the point where he's demanding the student drop his "weapon" (the trash grabber) because he (the police man) feels threatened by it. The police man takes out a tazer but decides that isn't good enough so he pulls his gun on the student picking up trash in his own yard.

It just makes me think how hard it is as a white person to understand what it's like to be a minority in America. Certainly many (most?) people who do racist things don't think they are racists because of unconscious bias we all have.

So there's that...but what also struck me is how afraid the police man is of the black student. He's talking to a black guy in his own front yard holding a plastic bucket and a trash grabber and has to pull his weapon because "he" feels threatened? Good God what a pansy or a power hungry prick (you chose). The only person who's life was in danger was the black student. 

I still remember over fifty years ago when a Montana State Highway patrolman came to talk to our grade school class about his job. He said in his over thirty years working as a highway patrolman he had never drawn his weapon. I think he was (rightfully) proud of that. 

Oftentimes by design the whole fear of "the other" drives so much in our political world. Politicians and some media who are beholden to special interests use fear as a motivating tool to hide their true intentions - maintaining power and the status quo where they sit at the tippy top of the economic ladder while 40% of Americans can't come up with 400 bucks in an emergency.

The NRA has followed this playbook for some time now. As a result we have the insane idea that extended capacity magazines, bump stocks, armor piercing bullets, silencers and semi-automatic weapons that can fire a hundred rounds in a minute; should be available for purchase to any idiot with the cash. It's nuts because the NRA and the media has driven a lot of people insane (out of touch with reality, believing for example the myth that having a gun makes you safer).

In the small town rural area of Montana where I grew up I had plenty of opportunity to be around guns and people who liked to hunt or shoot at targets. We had an Olympic class marksman in that little town and a bunch of guys who hunted the fairly plentiful wild animals. I used to tend bar in a place that had lots and lots of dead stuffed animals in cases and on the walls. I bought a 308 Savage rifle with a scope and nice case from a guy who was having bad luck at poker and wanted to stay in the game one time. I used to serve, and have a lot of conversations, with a lady whose husband had shot off her hand when she tried to stop him from shooting her son. Zelda told me not to sweat the small things.

But where is this going you (and I) ask?

I just wanted to make the point that even though there were guns around no one ever said - boy if I only had a silencer, extended clip, bump stock or a rapid firing semi-automatic weapon wouldn't that be great? The people who used guns were more than capable of using regular rifles, shotguns and occasionally pistols to do what they wanted guns to do - kill game to eat (usually although there were some jerks who were trophy hunters too) or see how close they could get to the bulls eye on a paper target, or shoot bottles (sometimes out of the air with a pistol in the case of one alcoholic sign painter/friend of the was quite impressive). I guess the shotguns worked fine to shoot up the road signs in rural Montana since signs peppered with buckshot were pretty common.

One other thing you never heard was a citizen talking about needing a gun for self defense. People were much less fearful, which is weird to think about considering the existential threats of war and nuclear annihilation that spanned that time. 

Thirty to forty people die every day in the USA in gun-related deaths for an average of between 12,000 and 15,000 people yearly. This doesn't take into account the 22,000 people who commit suicide using a gun every year. 

The only way this will change is through education and revised laws. So learn a lot and vote for progressive candidates who are willing to change the status quo.