Monday, April 06, 2020

James Stockdale

Who is James Stockdale?

You may remember him as Ross Perot's running mate in the 1992 election. Some people made fun of him for introducing himself at a debate, with Dan Quayle and Al Gore, by saying, "who am I, why am I here?" As I read more about James Stockdale it's clear that one thing he shows us, is the importance of having a sense of humor - even for someone like him who literally went through hell for seven and a half years. More on that later.

In 1992 I was interested in Stockdale and his running mate presidential candidate H. Ross Perot as an alternative to Clinton or Bush in that election.

Ross Perot was a smart guy and a successful business man.  One of his most famous statements was when he said in 1992 that we'd hear a "giant sucking sound" as jobs went from the U.S. to Mexico if NAFTA was enacted. Here's the quote -
"We have got to stop sending jobs overseas. It's pretty simple: If you're paying $12, $13, $14 an hour for factory workers and you can move your factory South of the border, pay a dollar an hour for labor, ... have no health care—that's the most expensive single element in making a car— have no environmental controls, no pollution controls and no retirement, and you don't care about anything but making money, there will be a giant sucking sound going south. 
... when [Mexico's] jobs come up from a dollar an hour to six dollars an hour, and ours go down to six dollars an hour, and then it's leveled again. But in the meantime, you've wrecked the country with these kinds of deals."

So much for the errors of the past, who was James Stockdale?

The introduction to a lecture James Stockdale gave at the U.S. Naval Academy (links below) provides this description -
"Vice Admiral Stockdale served on active duty in the regular Navy for 37 years, most of those years as a fighter pilot aboard aircraft carriers. Shot down on his third combat tour over North Vietnam, he was the senior naval prisoner of war in Hanoi for seven and one-half years - tortured 15 times, in solitary confinement for over four years, in leg irons for two."  
"When physical disability from combat wounds brought about Stockdale's military retirement, he had the distinction of being the only three-star officer in the history of the U.S. Navy to wear both aviator wings and the Medal of Honor. Included in his 26 other combat decorations are two Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Distinguished Service Medals, four Silver Star medals, and two Purple Hearts."

James Stockdale, has some things to say that are relevant to any time but in particular these trying times.

I just started reading his book Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot. In the beginning he's writing about how he survived his experience as a prisoner of war and writes the following -
"I distilled one all-purpose idea, plus a few corollaries. It is a simple idea, an idea as old as the scriptures, an idea that is the epitome of high-mindedness, an idea that naturally and spontaneously comes to men under pressure. If the pressure is intense enough or of long enough duration, this idea spreads without even the need for its enunciation. It just takes root naturally. It is an idea that, in this big easy world of yakety yak, seems to violate the rules of game theory, if not of reason. It violates the idea of Adam Smith's invisible hand, or ideas of human nature, and probably the second law of thermodynamics. That idea is you are your brother's keeper."
Mr. Rogers taught us something similar when he said that his mother taught him that in times of trouble we look for the helpers and know there is hope when we realize how kind and generous human beings can be.

These are links to pdf files of two lectures James Stockdale gave at the U.S. Naval Academy -

Stockdale on Stoicism I - The Stoic Warrior's Triad

Stockdale on Stoicism II - Master of My Fate

If you are at all interested in what Stoicism can teach us in difficult times, I'd recommend signing up for The Daily Stoic.


And finally...

This Dave Dudley classic to remind us of all those truck drivers who keep this country running.

Postscript - I didn't realize until I watched this video a few times that the truck at time 1:05 is the Peterbilt 281 used in the 1971 movie Duel. If you haven't seen that movie, it's about a "bad" truck chasing Dennis Weaver who's driving a car that really needs a tune-up. In any case it seems unlikely Earl Green had an evil truck in mind when he wrote this song. I still like the pictures of trucks, the song and the honor of hard work.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

Gardening, Heavenly Biscuits, Sourdough and Church

The couple Hollis and Nancy, and their dog Bing Bing have hundreds of helpful videos about container gardening, raised bed gardening, backyard gardening, larger scale gardening, building, cooking, and raising poultry. They are interesting, relaxing to watch, and may help us think about alternative ways to help feed ourselves and other people. 

Victory gardens were promoted by the agricultural scientist George Washington Carver and used in WW-I and WW-II to supplement the food supply and boost morale in various countries. 

This video isn't from Hollis and Nancy but the lady who made it seems to know her stuff when it comes to making a sourdough starter. At the end she makes a loaf of sour dough bread and it looks delicious. I've fiddled around with sourdough starter before but didn't realize it took so much care and feeding to get it going. It might be a fun project for someone at home to spend 7 or 8 days taking care of a sour dough starter and then make some tasty sourdough bread or pancakes (like taking care of your Tamagotchi except you get to eat it at the end).

If you have some young bakers or scientists at home the book Bread Lab from plant researchers at The Bread Lab at Washington State University in Mount Vernon, might be of interest. The book is targeted at K-Grade 3 but I'm sure some  younger or older people might like it.

On this Palm Sunday and throughout the weeks to come I hope that people are finding the resources they need to stay calm, strong, and resourceful. Our Saviours Lutheran Church, here in Everett, has been providing online services that I've found to be helpful in coping with these challenging times. 

Saturday, April 04, 2020


John Cassidy has an interesting essay in the New Yorker about how The Coronavirus Is Transforming Politics and Economics. He notes it's possible the outcome of our current troubles could be a more just society.

I think the long-term political and economic outcome of what we are going through now will be positive or negative depending to a great extent on public opinion.

If we are encouraged to see this disaster as an opportunity to address some inhumane aspects of our political and economic systems it will be a net positive. Providing at least some semblance of equal opportunity, as well as quality education, housing, nutrition, and medical care doesn't seem like an insurmountable task for the "richest" country on earth. It will require a spirit of "we are all in this together" and some redistribution of wealth.

Given that those consumed with material wealth have been opposed to redistribution since money was invented it's likely (as we see currently) that the greediest will try to get us to blame each other so they can continue to exploit the poor, working and middle class.

So...really it's up to us. We can work for a better future for all of us or we can fight one another until eventually all of us lose.

Having said that, I have to say that if anyone were to read this blog they might assume I just like to throw rocks across the ideological fence at Republicans.

I see merit in many of the ideas the Republican party at one time in our history stood for. Individual responsibility, family values, efficient government, localized government to the greatest extent possible, the critical role of markets, respect for tradition and the importance of small businesses to a thriving economy - are all practical ideas.

When I criticize the Republican party I'm not talking about the Republican party of Dwight Eisenhower or Richard Nixon. I'm criticizing a party that Republicans who are informed by history and reality, know has drifted very very far from what it once was.

As a Democrat married to a Republican I can speak from personal experience to say that my wife and my individual values have not changed since we met in 1972. The Republican party on the other hand has changed so drastically that as a famous Republican once said - I didn't leave the party it left me.

We need yin and yang, conservative and liberal, we need two viable parties to work together and keep each other in check. Let's all hope that the Republican party finds it's way back to the great party it once was.


Friday, April 03, 2020

Ouch - That Hurts

Why do I keep banging my head against this brick wall?

Because it feels so good when I stop.

That's how I feel sometimes when reading about the Republican party, it's enablers and leaders. This article describes what's happening and going to happen in Florida because of ex-Governor Rick Scott's dismantling of unemployment insurance in that state. Here's a quote from the article -
Privately, Republicans admit that the $77.9 million system that is now failing Florida workers is doing exactly what Scott designed it to do — lower the state’s reported number of jobless claims after the great recession.

 “It’s a sh-- sandwich, and it was designed that way by Scott,” said one DeSantis advisor. “It wasn’t about saving money. It was about making it harder for people to get benefits or keep benefits so that the unemployment numbers were low to give the governor something to brag about.”
Rick Scott is currently a U.S. senator from the great state of Florida. In an earlier incarnation he was the CEO of a health care company where he oversaw what, at that time, was the largest Medicare fraud in U.S. history. His company Columbia/HCA was fined 1.7  billion dollars for Medicare fraud.

Given Scott's background of ripping off the Federal government,  taxpayers and in particular seniors who depend on Medicare - one might ask how he could then be elected the Republican Governor and then Republican U.S. Senator from Florida?

Lots of reasons of course - greed, ignorance, hate, fear, deep-seated tribal and familial ideological indoctrination. On the other hand, a person living through, and looking at, what the GOP has done to this country over the last 40 years with a clear eye can see that their actions have harmed the majority of people in our nation.

Are their corrupt Democratic politicians and ideologically possessed Democratic voters? Absolutely. Bill Clinton did various things that harmed the majority of Americans - Glass Steagal repeal, NAFTA, letting China join the WTO welfare "reform" to name a few.

Is there any comparison between the GOP and the Democratic party when it comes to the scope of corruption, greed and harm to the powerless? Absolutely not.


If I could give a homework assignment to United States voters I'd ask them to read this incredibly damning United Nations Human Rights Council Report on extreme poverty and human rights in the United States of America.

What did the GOP do about this report?

They took their ball and went home mad as heck at those pesky people who cite facts to describe reality. Specifically they removed the United States from the U.N. Human Rights Council and fired up their radical right-wing billionaire-funded think tanks to spew propaganda.

The GOP claims 250,000 Americans live in extreme poverty while the U.N. report says 18.5 million Americans live in extreme poverty. This Washington Post article has a quote that rings true to me,
“You can spend all day arguing about how many people are living on $2 a day vs. $4 a day,” said Kristin S. Seefeldt, of the School of Social Work at the University of Michigan. “But if you spend any amount of time in poor communities in the U.S., it's obvious there's still a lot of deprivation and 250,000 is a ridiculously low number.”
Of course people are angry and hurting - and the GOP has used that anger and pain to obtain and retain power for decades. Trump (and the Republican party) love the uneducated and the ideologically possessed for the simple reason that if that segment of the population ever figures out what's been done to them - the pitchforks and torches will be rampant.

If you like to read and maybe learn something new, the book, "American Amnesia: How The War On Government Led Us To Forget What Made America Prosper" is a well-researched book about how anti-government, anti-education, anti-press, pro-greed forces managed to reshape a system, that worked well for working class Americans from the New Deal era until the Reagan devolution, into something that left a whole segment of our population struggling to get by...while the rich only got richer.


Tracking this Republican president and his administration's response to the Covid-19 pandemic confirms that the decades of anti-science, anti-education, anti-free-press tactics the GOP has used to obtain and maintain power are now causing devastating harm to our nation.

A few days ago, Jared (not the Subway Jared the other one) told us that the federal stockpile of emergency medical supplies isn't meant for the states. This understandably caused a lot of push back from "the states".  The next day the White House, in the cult-like Orwellian revisionist ways of the GOP - revised the HHS web page to try and align it with Jared's version.

There are literally hundreds of these God-awful stories about the GOP  and the Trump administration that one could cite but why bother?

How about this one from the LA Times which has this tidbit -
Two months before the novel coronavirus is thought to have begun its deadly advance in Wuhan, China, the Trump administration ended a $200-million pandemic early-warning program aimed at training scientists in China and other countries to detect and respond to such a threat.

If you don't get it by now - you ain't never gonna get it. For those of you who have been fooled again (and again) I feel compassion for you and all the people your ignorance will harm. I feel anger and disgust at those who know better, but take advantage of you because of their greed and will to power.


Chris Hedges has a point of view that contains some truth about how our society became so dysfunctional for so many people. He's not an optimist but he tries to be honest. Among other things, he's an ordained minister who holds classes for people in prison. He reminds me of an old fashioned fire and brimstone preacher telling us we are all going to hell if we don't change our ways.

I have to admit I'm afraid that some of his cures (shutting down corporations) would be worse than the disease. On the other hand if we listen to scientists, consider the existential threat to our ecosystem and it's living inhabitants due to CO-2 emissions in the decade(s) to come - it's obvious that we are going to hell if we don't change our ways - fine for you and me...but what about our kids and their kids? 

Of course this administration is doing just what the Reagan administration did decades ago to ensure greed prevails over the future of our children and our planet by rolling back mileage standards on motor vehicles.

The GOP anti-science anti-fact response to the Covid-19 pandemic is the same as their anti-science anti-fact response to climate change. The major difference is we are seeing how our federal government reacts to a quickly evolving emergency in this pandemic whereas the damage done, and to be done, by climate change happens slowly enough that we can pretend that ignoring the problem (or some future technology) will make it go away.

I'm going to stop banging my head now...

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Who Knows South Korea Better Than Anybody?

Who knows South Korea better than anybody? If you're scratching your head at that question, here's an easier one - who would say, "I know South Korea better than anybody."

Yeah - that guy, the guy who goes on to state with authority that 38 million people live in Seoul.

10 million people live in Seoul.

It isn't what you say it's how you say it - which is part of the reason why some people think this bullying fool is trustworthy.


It is and was all a lie.

Stuart Stevens is one of the most successful GOP operatives of his generation having helped dozens of Republicans be elected to office. He is now the author of the book due to come out in September, "It Was All A Lie - How The Republican Party Became Donald Trump".

According to the publishers website, Stevens, "helped to create the modern party that kneels before a morally bankrupt con man and now he wants nothing more than to see what it has become burned to the ground."


Stevens isn't the first to stray from the herd.

Justin Amash showed his courage earlier this year and the GOP abandoned him for speaking truth. Mitt Romney had the courage to be the only Republican senator to vote for one of the articles of impeachment. You can see what the people who own; the GOP, it's politicians, and state run TV - thought about that by looking at the headlines created by Fox News.

For anyone willing to listen, conservatives have been warning us for years that the Republican party has been becoming more and more radical. Norm Orenstein is just one example. He is the co-author of the book It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism. In the book and in this WaPo Op-ed from eight years ago, Orenstein and his co-author Thomas Mann make this point,
"The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges."
I bolded that last sentence because we are seeing in life and death terms how true it was - as the Covid-19 pandemic spreads throughout the United States without adequate testing, critical medical supplies or any semblance of organization in (or from) the federal government.


Decades ago David Brock was a right-wing propagandist for the Republican party. He had a change of heart and created Media Matters for America and wrote a variety of books critical of the Republican party including;

Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative

The Republican Noise Machine: Right-Wing Media and How It Corrupts Democracy

The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine


People who survive trying times do so in part by not having false hope.

Creating false hope can break our hearts and our spirits when our hopes and dreams collide with painful reality. James Stockdale says it better than I can. When asked who didn't make it out of the POW camp he was confined in he answers,
"Oh, that's easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, 'We're going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart."
Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot by James Stockdale.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Evil Vs. Good - Talking to Myself Again

Life is full of surprises. Some are good, some bad, some magic, some tragic. In any time there is pain in the world for some, in our current time of unimaginable pain for many people we look for comfort and search for meaning.

Like any individual I have a unique outlook when it comes to matters of faith. I've created my own religion of sorts made up of pieces of Catholicism, Lutheranism, Buddhism, various philosophers and thinkers from a variety of faiths or no faiths at all.

It's been a winding road. I was a little over two years old when my thirty-two year old father was killed in a construction accident. When I was twelve my thirty-six year old step-father was killed when the plane he was flying crashed. I was in need of figures to look up to and try to emulate as a young person. I found those figures in family, friends, teachers and books.


What I wanted to talk about was a trait that was ingrained in me by my early exposure to Catholic ideas about evil. I was taught that Satan is a real presence in this world. I picked up the phrase "satan get thee behind me" from my mother and use it to this day when confronted with evil, which generally involves me thinking something that my conscience tells me is wrong i.e. cruel, mean, selfish, hurtful wrong.

A visceral belief in evil may help to counter the banality of evil that Hannah Arendt wrote about. In other words - if you believe there is an evil presence in the world attempting to overcome good hopefully you are less inclined to let evil acts become everyday events. The challenge is to figure out what "good" and "evil" mean.

People can do, or allow to be done, incredibly cruel things to innocent people in the name of good. Some think it's good to take children away from parents who are in search of a better life for themselves and their families. Some think the proper response to the homeless, or addicted or poverty stricken or incarcerated is to blame them and deny that but for the grace of God (fate if you like) there go I. Some thought it was good to take away Native American's land and put them on reservations. Some thought it good to enslave people. Some thought it was good to try and exterminate the Jews...


There are many reasons to reject the idea that religion helps us to decide what is good and what is evil since we could point out historical, and current, events where just the opposite was/is the case. The problem is we need some "authority" to decide between conflicting ideas of what is good and what is evil. If everyone accepted (including many Christians) the teachings of Jesus in the beatitudes as an authoritative source we would live in a perfect world...maybe some day.

Another interesting look at combating evil comes from the writer Eyal Press in his book Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times. What stuck with me from that book was the idea that a person or a group of people can inflict barbaric acts on faceless and nameless members of a group, but when forced to confront individual people, see their faces and hear their stories our compassionate natures come to the foreground.

Do I believe there's a devil with horns and a tail tempting people?

No - only that there are evil forces that shape human events. To make the point as clearly as possible I'm proposing that ignorance is evil and also pervasive throughout human history. Sometimes this ignorance is harmless other times it can cause devastating impacts to humankind.

The capacity to inflict evil is correlated to a person's power. In general a powerless individual can inflict evil acts on a relatively small group - a family, child, a spouse. As an evil (ignorant) person obtains more power the more their capacity to inflict evil grows - a boss, minor politician, major politician, President all have an increasing ability to bring good (knowledge) or evil (ignorance) into the world.

Knowledge is the opposite of ignorance. But knowledge of what? Math, science, batting averages, how to change a tire? Nope.

Since this is an ethical discussion of good vs. evil and we've defined evil as ignorance then we need to define good.

Good is understanding.

Understanding what?

Understanding the highest Good.

We'll chase our tails all day with that circular reasoning so we need to appeal to some authority. Jesus can help with this because he provides us with the understanding that the highest good know this already - Love.


If you want to believe, you can convince yourself - or be convinced, that literally anything is true. You could convince yourself, or be convinced that this guy represents Christian beliefs for example. I have to remind myself to feel compassion for the sinner no matter how much I hate the sin.

In a perfect world we would all want to believe in loving - our neighbor, our enemies and in some ways the most important of all - our selves.

In our imperfect world the best we hope to do is live in the light and work in small ways to push forward that ideal from one generation to the next.

We lose things that we love and the tears we shed soften are hearts. Loss reminds us to be less prideful of our ability to go-it-alone and more accepting of the fact that everything is connected and we are all in this together.

If nothing else, loss reminds us to appreciate what we have while it's here in this moment, and faith gives us assurance that after the darkness there will be a dawn.