Where Do We Go?

I read a column in the New York Times that explains much of what has bothered me over the last few years. It was a column by Thomas Edsall. Now, reading his stuff is much like reading a research summary in Science magazine. Very dense, and you can lose yourself easily in it. But what I took out was that we now have two parties which are predicated on either intellectualism or anti-intellectualism. Both parties view adherents of the other party as evil dupes who just cannot see the virtues of their own philosophy. This is why the remark about deplorables in 2016 was such a divisive statement, and one that led inexorably to Hillary Clinton’s defeat. Instead of being taken as a put down, it was viewed as a badge of honor to many who saw the remark as a typical denunciation from the coastal elites.

One party adores anti-intellectualism. One party denies the universe exists according to scientific principles, and therefore prayer and quack pharmacology can defeat the evil cabal who are trying to force-feed medical solutions upon the unwilling. One party eyes any argument about climate change as denying the supremacy of God over our physical universe, and besides, it will cost us money and make it likely we may suffer from energy shortages if their evil green agenda ever comes to pass. One party believes women have no right to determine if they will be fit parents and will force all women to become parents if they ever find themselves pregnant. One party believes immigration is part of a globalist plot aimed at diluting the purity of essence of the nation’s true patriots (and heaven help anyone who dares to utter a version of history which doesn’t match the Hollywood image of noble men rescuing hapless women from savagery). This party cannot conceive of any value for any position held by the other party.

So the other party acknowledges intellectuals often do know whereof they speak, and are willing to give credence to the claims of scientists. The other party does look down on those less educated, since they have made a moral judgement that being educated is an indicator of more worth. The other party is willing to question their beliefs if reality does not match what they’ve been taught. The other party thinks the laws of economics are obsolete, and we can fix any problem by creating more money and spending it on revised national priorities. And the other party is unwilling to acknowledge any position held by the other party since it is obvious they are ignorant.

Then you have those who don’t hold truck with the beliefs of either party. This is the fastest growing group in the United States, the independents or others. They find themselves trapped within a political system which ignores their real concerns. Sooner or later, one or both of the existing parties will fatally fracture, and we may find the leaky block of the center becomes the glue holding this country together.

But the deck is stacked against any third party becoming a real force in the political spectrum of this country. All states are governed based upon two parties sharing legislative power. In our state of West Virginia, we have a Mountain Party which pretends to put up candidates, then complains when those candidates are ignored by all powers that be. They receive their 1-2% of the vote, just enough to keep them alive in the electoral system, then they retreat back into their den of irrelevancy.

It will really take some major event to cause the two parties to schism enough to cause a new party to arise out of the debris left behind by the fractures. One might have thought one party’s insistence upon electoral fraud followed by an attempt at holding onto power via mob violence would have been enough. But alas, what might have been a schism in the Republican party ended up healing poorly when the initial cries of presidential responsibility were replaced by scenes of groveling at the feet of the ex-President. Likewise, the progressive wing of the Democratic party misread the election as a mandate rather than as an act of revulsion against the former President. So now they are trying to go boldly where no party has gone before, and rectify 40 years of inaction on the social front with a plan to address every social ill all at once.

The Republicans may be seeding the sprouts of their own demise by ill-considered devotion to a single politician, rather than standing behind principles of their own (unless you consider mindless adoration to be a principle). But the Democrats seem destined to fulfill Will Roger’s pithy quote of “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” Just shows that nearly 100 years later, the same disorganization seems determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and result in party cannibalism.

So what is the answer? Will we cede control to the tribal group who believe the only good election is one that they win? Or will the tribal group win who believes only equality of results will repair the ills of the nation? God forbid that we actually have some rational actors seize control of our body politic and steer the ship of state by the rudder, instead of trying to direct the ship by rushing first to one side of the ship, then the other, thinking those actions are substitutes for steering.

It’s Now Or Never

What is “vengeful taxation”? That seems to be the sticking point now for my senator Joe Manchin from supporting some version of the Democratic social safety net spending program. Note how over the years, the emphasis in discussion has changed from describing the objective of the bills, to strictly focus on the overall cost of the programs. But back to “vengeful taxation”, according to Manchin it is not vengeful to seek the correction of the 2017 tax cut bill, as long as the tax rate for corporations keeps them globally competitive. Whatever that means.

Look, we in West Virginia have benefitted from the attention paid to this small, land-locked state lacking in so much of what is valued in the US these days. Having a Senator at the fulcrum of power is useful. And I am reminded of how small this state really is when I recall we encountered Senator Manchin at a local restaurant as he came in, bereft of staff and entourage, to join a party at another table. He gave us a couple of minutes as my wife pressed a couple of points home to him, and he was able to respond in the way many politicians have mastered – clasping hands, literally backslapping, and saying nothing that could not be interpreted in many different ways.

We seem to be stuck in a do loop (as Andrew Yang noted recently, betraying his computer programmer roots). We cannot break out of the prison of the dichotomy of the Democrats, where the progressive wing says our way or the highway, while a small minority of Senators holds firm to less fiscal stimulus. What I think is being missed by both sides is we’ve had 40 years of underinvestment in both human and physical infrastructure, and this time right now seems to be the only time where it is possible to get anything accomplished. The Republicans are insistent upon their nihilism, where they lay insensate upon the governmental table, while they await their normal due of mid-term elections to anoint them as the powers in Congress. This very time is the opportunity to get something done, in order to have accomplishments to tout for the next election cycle. Maybe, just maybe, if we can get something done, and people are working next year on infrastructure jobs, we can disrupt the Republican’s expectations of mid-term gains.

So much of the political discourse recently is predicated upon who can yell the loudest. Inside of the social media platforms, it is those on the right who seem to reach for the simplistic slogans which seem to captivate the nation’s attention. Couple that with the historical illiteracy of the American populace and it is no wonder the Republicans are able to characterize the Democratic proposals as socialism. It is painful to watch the true socialism for the rich over the past 40 years ignored, while the first attempt to use government to aid the workers at the bottom of the income scale is classified as handouts to the unworthy. But you have to admit it is effective, when polling shows ongoing gains for Republican positions while polling for Democrats shows decreased support since people have forgotten the messiness of the legislative process.

Has there ever been in the history of this nation such a handicap placed in the way of one political party? Where for over a decade, one party declares its implacable opposition to any action of the other party, with zero support for even critical actions like raising the debt ceiling? We should not even have a debt ceiling based upon how it is used as a cudgel rather than as a tool to restrain excessive spending. The consequences of not adjusting this artificial limit far exceed the political gains that one party may achieve in stifling raising the debt ceiling. But who among Americans have the attention span to realize it was the Republicans who were responsible for the dismemberment of our country’s credit rating, and the consequences yet to come if we do technically default on the debt?

The ruling class seems to think only those who can write a sizable campaign check are worthy Americans. They are near to their objective to institute a permanent oligarchy since they seem to view all opposing views as unworthy of consideration. In fact, only their votes would count in the world they wish to impose upon the majority of Americans who do recognize the problems 40 years of trickle-down economics hath wrought. We’ve gone from an America where the middle class was able to get ahead, to one where only raw wealth counts. It is an un-American country we now have. Unless you already have wealth, or unless you can count on a degree from an Ivy-league university to lubricate your rise up the social ladder, you just don’t matter as a human. The new oligarchy will deign to deal with your non-economic concerns, but really they are just laughing at those they patronize by letting them think they have political power.

But at least we won’t have socialism!

Point of Personal Privilege

Willy Mays making The Catch, September 29 1954

Today I celebrate the completion of my 67th trip around the sun. To put that number into perspective, it is 1.5 millionths of a percent of the age of the earth. Maybe of more relevance, it is 27% of the existence of the US as an independent nation. As such, I do have a few observations about the current state of things.

When I was in my formative years, I saw images of pollution, and how we were destroying our environment. The burning of the Cuyahoga river was etched upon my brain. Thus I was more than happy to participate in the very first Earth day, where a group of us went out and cleaned up alleys in my home town of Lincoln, Nebraska. Symbolic, yes. Meaningful, not really. But the human population at that time was about 3.7 billion people. Now we are roughly twice that amount. Even though in this country we have cleaned up a lot of visible pollution, we are facing the results of humans consuming much more than the planet can sustain. Over the eons, the earth stored enormous amounts of carbon in three repositories. Coal, liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons, and carbonate rock. Over an instant in geological time, our societies are releasing much of the carbon locked up in these deposits and sending it out into the atmosphere, where it helps to trap excess heat and re-radiate it back to Earth. The setpoint for Earth’s temperature system is being fiddled with, and mankind will not be pleased with the results of this experiment we are conducting on ourselves. Like many young climate activists say, there is no planet B for humanity to live on. Somehow we have to realize the invisible pollution is more harmful than the visible pollution bothering us, and more importantly, do something to change humanity’s reward system to make a real change for the better.

The very first thing I can remember was traveling in our car across country when an announcement came over the radio. It spoke of a satellite, launched by the USSR, which was orbiting the Earth. I verified that memory with my parents while they were still alive, and thus I can say I was aware at the beginning of the space age. Now, we see space exploration begin to be expanded to private citizens. Whether the resources used to launch private spaceships are the best uses of the moneys spent, it is an essential step towards ensuring humanity keeps reaching for the stars instead of hunkering down on this planet.

Of course, Sputnik also caused another reaction in our nation. We realized we were behind in what could have been an existential conflict with another nation-state. Thus came the efforts to make it possible to annihilate our opponents at the touch of a button. We entered a MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) world, and built up our military capabilities to reflect this. Along the way we discovered the limitations of conventional forces which means no longer will armed conflict consist of massed armies hurtling huge quantities of conventional explosives at each other. No, we have guerrilla warfare, where the patience of the home team can outlast any effort from an invader. And the type of warfare we now have is economic and cyber, causing more diffuse damage.

I was born on the same day as The Catch. This event is still referred to as the ultimate fielding play in baseball, and as of today, Willie Mays still is with us. Of all the sports, baseball may be the most unchanged. Yet even now, the tweaks being made may cause the nature of the game to finally change. In the minor league in my city, they have moved the pitcher’s mound back one foot, hopefully to enable hitters to have just a slight bit more time to react to ever faster pitches coming from an unending parade of super arms. The decline in starting pitching and the rise of the bullpen is otherwise the major change we are seeing in this sport. Plus, all of the pitching changes to bring in these relief pitchers have helped slow the game down. Combine this with the shortened attention span of today’s public, and there is no doubt that the long-term survival of baseball as the quintessential American game is threatened.

When I was young, the portable battery powered transistor radio was the epitome of technological progress. Radios were proud to tell you exactly how many transistors they contained, and when FM radios also came about, it enabled the youth culture to dominate popular music. Of course, individual transistors gave way to integrated circuits, and Moore’s law began to rule our lives. I have the honor to know in my lifetime I have moved from being an early adopter in high technology, into a Luddite who chooses not to participate in many of the modes of communication favored by today’s youth. My preferred mode of communication is this blog, which requires an attention span greater than the time required to digest the latest tweet from our political class.

In all of my days, it is in politics where one can sense the changes most acutely.  Maybe it is a natural result of the end of the cold war, where a common opponent helped to hide the intractable differences in our politics. But ever since the end of the cold war, emotional energy seemed to transfer to denouncing the other side politically as sub-human and definitely unpatriotic. Now we even have a party in US politics which denounces science as being fake, and seemingly wants to cause reversion towards a past where life was simpler, though much more brutish and subject to an untimely death. The difference in response between the two parties towards the treatments for the COVID virus gives a view of evolution in action. We may actually be seeing a change in the differential survival of those who believe in science, and those who don’t. Unfortunately for those of us who do believe in science, even this change may not be swift enough to affect the next election. But over time …..

Well, I am at the end of my self-appointed limit of about 1000 words in a post. I turn to you as readers to add items you have seen as changes in your lifetime, be they good or bad.

And If Elected, I Promise To ….

My career choices have expanded exponentially. All I have to do now is lie unashamedly and the future is mine as a Republican elected official. It is amazing, you don’t even need to worry about those videos showing your deeds and words, all you need to do is, say, recast those events into more flattering versions of the truth. And to be sure, your version of the truth has just as much merit as any other version that just happens to be backed by video and audio.

So instead of acknowledging the medieval violence perpetrated by those in the vanguard of the storming of the Capitol on January 6, you can portray those inside of the Capitol building as normal tourists, even managing to draw (stay) inside of the lines as they took selfies desecrating congressional spaces. Why, it is impossible for white citizens to have evil intent. We all know it is those others from BLM and Antifa who were the real terrorists. Those Proud Boys and those 3 Percenters? Just patriotic tourists who happened along and shared hugs and kisses with the Capitol police.

If those mean ole Democrats propose any changes to the taxation structure of this country, thereby risking reversal of 40 years of pandering to the rich? Just portray them as unrepentant socialists, who are working at implementing redistributionist policies, taking money away from the hard relaxing billionaires whose spending keeps so many of the little people employed.

If businesses have difficulty hiring people at starvation wages, expound ceaselessly on the dignity of work, and state that America has lost its work ethic. Never worry about the lives of those who have risked their existence by working during this pandemic, just define those who are using what little power they have (their labor) as morally corrupt for not wanting to exchange an hour’s work for 8 federal reserve notes. Of course, we who hold millions of those federal reserve notes have proven our moral integrity and should never be chastised.

Yes, I can lie with the best of them. I can claim no one has ever seen this virus everyone is scared of, and all of the hospitalizations are just efforts at getting the highest reimbursements from our socialized medicine providers. I can claim that since the advice from the scientists has changed from what was given 18 months ago, then all advice from scientists should be ignored, and my anecdotal evidence about efficacy of horse dewormer out trumps your peer reviewed massive trials. I have my rights and you are not about to infringe on them by pansy-assed pleas to consider the public good.

I can even lie about what is going on all around us. Sure, we never used to have these massive fires in Australia, Greece, Portugal, and the US west coast. But it cannot have any relationship to the increase in temperatures we’ve seen across the globe. And those flooding rains we seem prone to now? Has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that higher dew points induced from a warmer climate allows for higher rainfalls. But God would never allow for his infallible creatures to be capable of inflicting harm to the environment. Therefore, all who worry about the coming climate crisis can just go on with their lives (and the campaign contributions of the vested interests keep on rolling in).

I will have to work on my ability to cry crocodile tears at the opposing political party for insisting that we take responsibility for our actions in the past at increasing the deficit. Just as long as I can feign concern for our debt when I didn’t care about increasing deficits as long as the favored classes made out from our tax cuts. I’m not really good at naked hypocrisy, so my acting skills need a little brushing up before I can stand in front of cameras and wail about the reckless spending taking us over Niagara Falls without even a barrel to shield us from the rocks below.

I can if I wish start at the state level. I can say that I’m going to change human nature, and eliminate all rapists from the streets while I prohibit any possibility of abortions. I can insist that all who inhabit our penal systems are deserving of every bad thing they get, and once someone has made a mistake, they forfeit all rights forevermore. I don’t care about offering any rehabilitation programs in prisons, all those who find themselves there are unworthy of anything other than white bread and bologna sandwiches. Bring back Joe Arpaio! He had the right ideas.

Of course, only those who see things the way I do deserve to be placed in positions of public trust. Therefore, I must manipulate the electoral system so that only I and my fellow travelers can win elections from now on. I must pick any remnant of the liberals from my clothing in disgust, so I can remain pure and unblemished.

I can hardly wait. The next election cycle is upon us, so I must hurry so I can establish myself in the minds of those we allow to vote.

I Want To Do My Own Research

 One of the greatest gifts I received from my education in mathematics was how to determine uncertainty. I actually learned the practical aspects of that on the job, as I worked with PhD chemists to run experiments on chemical processes. I learned what it means for something to show statistical significance, and how to run an experiment to clearly answer the question of which set of conditions is better.

This appreciation of statistical uncertainty has helped me in many aspects of life outside of my former work. Recently, the knowledge about tests helped me understand the results from the vaccine testing done by pharmacological companies for COVID. I know what is needed to show effectiveness, especially with a virus that infects only a few percent of the population. And that is one reason why I had no qualms in accepting my own doses of the vaccine. I took my dose from a perspective of knowledge, rather than blind acceptance of statements from other experts.

Which is what has driven me crazy in hearing these explanations from the vaccine “hesitant”, who are obviously eager to demonstrate their ignorance of all things scientific and mathematical. They often say, “I want to evaluate the testing myself”. I would be surprised if one in a hundred of these people have the mathematical knowledge to truly evaluate the test results. Instead, these people want to provide the impression they are open to reason, they only want more testing done. And that they are fully capable of making this determination themselves, they don’t need experts to guide them.

The hubris this shows then allows them to glom onto anecdotal evidence of the effectiveness of ersatz remedies such as ivermectin. Look, when you have a virus where the survival rate is 90+%, a large number of people may take a folk remedy and not die. This by no means demonstrates that the folk remedy was responsible for the cure. It takes a carefully crafted study to show a difference in treatment efficacy, and those studies are being run, but are not completed. Yet for these mathematically ignorant people, anecdotal evidence is good enough for them. It is only the greed of the pharmaceutical companies keeping these inexpensive remedies out of the hands of the public. To them, I say hogwash.

I also despair when I see people say there is no epidemic, all of this talk about an epidemic is cover for the New World Order implementation. Of course, in order to implement a New World Order, the population of the world must be culled first. And it is the vaccine which is the tool to accomplish this. According to these true believers, all of us who received mRNA vaccines will die horrible deaths caused by immune system failures within 1-2 years after we first received a vaccine. Those who refuse the vaccine, in the minds of these delusional people, will be the only ones left. They and those of the illuminati who got the word ahead of time, and made sure their injections were of saline so they could fool the unwashed masses.

What is obvious to me is that the human mind is not capable of understanding uncertainty.  Humans are impatient, and they expect absolute answers instantly. Real science does not work that way. So we have many people who believe they know more than the experts, and they try to force their beliefs on the rest of society. They are the ones who scream at school board meetings about the harm masking does. They pretend to be scientifically literate by knowing the particle size of an isolated virus, and are certain all virus particles escape capture from fabric or other masks. Nowhere is it acknowledged that the masks are aimed at capturing respiratory particles, where viruses hitch a ride on globs of moisture and phlegm. Since they know masks cannot capture single virus particles, masks therefore do no good and they harm the self-esteem of our poor innocent children who are forced to wear them.

I do not know how to increase scientific and mathematical literacy in the general population. Many people insist that since they have never used algebra in their work, it is of no importance. So many people cannot deal with abstract concepts. And now, since expertise is sneered at, all facts are good and you cannot prove me wrong. Or at least, that is the impression I receive from science deniers who either do not want to learn the math to do the real validation themselves, or those who do not want to change their lifestyle based upon the scientific results.

Let me just say I am fed up with the ignorance of those who claim to be influencers. I am also upset with those who are more willing to accept some literally cockamamie story about swollen testicles from a vaccine dose than understanding the reality behind vaccines. We’ve come just about as far as we can as a society with a population who see nothing different between science and magic. Arthur C. Clarke famously said that sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic. When we as a society decide to follow magic rather than to follow science, we deserve the bad consequences which will come crashing down on all of us.

It’s Mine. Mine, I Tell You.

Photo by Flavio Gasperini on Unsplash

The word of the day is:  Selfishness. This is the one thread that binds many of our current social ills together. Selfishness is behind those who proclaim loudly they need not support our schools since they no longer have any students of school age. Selfishness is behind those who claim they made it on their own, and therefore have no sympathy for those who may need a hand up. Selfishness is behind those who claim their decision not to be vaccinated affects only them, they have no responsibility for the rest of society. Selfishness is behind those who believe fervently that any public policy aimed at providing a needed service is symptomatic of creeping communism.

It was Ayn Rand who popularized selfishness. Before her books hit the mainstream, it was unfathomable that people would believe it was a moral wrong to provide charity. But her memes infected many who gained power over the years. Her philosophy served as impetus for people like Paul Ryan to wield his gavel in the service of selfishness. For many years, it was not thought necessary to inveigh against her beliefs, since the predominant philosophy from mainline Protestantism was Christian charity. That some of the charity was done by government was viewed as a necessary evil, and thus many of the programs set up became infested with bureaucratic means testing which often served to demean anyone who tried to use the “free money”. So people were prohibited from accumulating assets if they used a government program, since they could “afford” to go without the money if they had any assets whatsoever.

There is no doubt that the desire to prevent people from living high off of the dole has caused many programs to be bloated with government overhead. And many folks who could benefit from the programs, refuse to be subjected to the oversight of the government masters. Even the age of technology has been an impediment, since private enterprise is able to use technology efficiently to implement things like rewards programs, while government programs such as unemployment are saddled with antiquated systems totally incapable of dealing with the surges our new economy is able to create.

So the belief that anyone who became dependent on government support was morally inferior caught on with more and more of the population. Meanwhile, the private sector kept on evolving, while the government sector kept getting throttled and prevented from adopting new technology. Well, now we have seen the effects. An economy where the number of unemployed and the number of job openings are both high. An economy where private home ownership becomes unaffordable to more and more of the population, while inadequate investment in affordable housing creates legions of homeless populating the streets of major urban areas. Will we use the disruption created by the pandemic to remake the fundamentals of this economy? Or will we jump at the chance to regain a semblance of normality, and accept the human detritus unable to climb aboard the economic ship as a cost of doing business?

Even with the increased spending aimed at maintaining private consumption, we still find it nigh unto impossible to give the IRS additional funds aimed at collecting legal taxes due. Any attempt to include additional revenues from tax collection as offsets for additional spending were quashed. Why? Because of selfishness and a misguided belief that the government is already too intrusive on our lives, we certainly should not give them additional funding. So its ok to reduce taxes on the wealthy, but not ok to ask the wealthy to not cheat and to pay their fair share. I view this as an overt form of hypocrisy from our political classes. Though the Congressional Budget office predicts that $80 billion in additional spending will result in $200 billion in increased revenues over the next 10 years, the IRS is a Republican boogeyman, which makes any effort to increase its budget problematic at best. Let’s just chalk up one more issue that is falling prey to selfishness. Please note that IRS audits have increasingly focused on potential abuse of the earned income credit, where a few thousand dollars are at stake. The IRS is outgunned on dealing with higher income folks, and cannot take on the army of accountants and lawyers the rich can employ. So the bipartisan infrastructure bill lost its IRS component, leaving a long-term plan to address IRS changes in limbo.

Sooner or later, the concept of a guaranteed basic income will come to pass. If this is enacted, with no means testing, then it will prove to be an incentive to work, since benefits will not decrease with salary. As much as people may detest the idea of folks sitting on their asses, living it up on the government’s dime, we may need this type of program to rebalance the power differential between the wealthy few and the many who struggle in today’s economy. Think of it. We can eliminate welfare departments and greatly reduce the overhead required to administer benefit programs. As more jobs are eliminated due to automation and AI, this type of floor may be needed to prevent mass starvation and mass homelessness.

At some point, those who do not share in the prosperity around them, even though they work for wages, will realize they have the power to disrupt the lives of those who are comfortable. The right decried the demonstrations of 2020, where commercial properties were looted and burned. What will they do when it is the gated communities that become the target for mass action by those who do not believe they have anything to lose? If you don’t accept programs to improve the hope of the many, you just may receive the backlash from those who have no hope.

September Ponderings

Each September brings a different perspective. Some years the day to celebrate working people comes with brown leaves skittering along our driveway, and grass needing the coolness of fall to green up again. This September comes with an abundance of green, and an outdoor symphony composed by minimalists who only can think of one melody. When multiple composers are making their noises simultaneously, the symphony of late summer emerges.

Our hummer wars continue. One day we will miss the aerobatics around our feeders, but today the combatants fight one another for access to our sugar water. They will disappear this month, and we will miss them. Only wasps and flickers will remain to enjoy the dregs of sweetness we share. We put out another feeder full today, but who knows how long we will need to keep the feeders full.

This year we waited for painting on our front porch to be completed before we brought out all of our plants and completed our outdoor living room. It was into July before our plants could enjoy the sunlight and warmth of a West Virginia summer. We still partake of our coffee and physical newspaper on the porch, though jeans and flannel shirts may replace summer apparel later in the month. Things change in September, and even though the summer seemed endless, it always comes to an end.

This year the tomatoes and banana peppers have kept in production. It is a true luxury to slice down a tomato and enjoy its fruit right off of the vine. Plus we’ve received the excess from one of Carrie’s friends, a 92-year old (as of this weekend) ex-Marine who still is able to grow and harvest tomatoes and peppers. She is quite a woman, but slowing down just a bit, and who knows how much longer she’ll be able to bring forth harvests.

We’ve kept the hanging baskets alive throughout this summer. Each year we seem to fight a losing battle where the contents of the hanging baskets look like shriveled corpses by September, but this year we’ve managed to keep them alive and blooming. Now we even see the hummingbirds dart about the flowers, even flitting near our faces as we sit outside.

Our cat, Blinky, is now about 17. He no longer wants to come outside, and he’s grown increasingly deaf. Of the four flutes my wife practices (piccolo, C flute, Alto flute, and Bass flute), he only objects to the piccolo. He still has some high frequency hearing left. Anyway, he sits in his perch in our window overlooking our porch and front yard. Most of the time he just observes when not asleep, but one night he let out a piercing scream as something must have invaded his space, even though he no longer patrols it physically. Whether it was the neighbor’s cat, or possum, or raccoon, we don’t know but his reaction woke both of us from a sound sleep.

We both despair of the trends of the world. How we ended up with total idiots as governors of some of our most populous states we will never know. All we can do is live our lives each day at a time, enjoying the warmth while it still filters in through the trees across the street and up the hill. When you live on a hillside, the next street up is 200’ higher in elevation, with forest in between. The fires in California hit areas like ours extremely hard, but when you routinely have nearly 50” of precipitation per year, you don’t worry nearly as much about forest fires. It’s been over 30 years since the last bad fire year, and then the fires only seem to attack the ground litter, not the canopies of the trees. I could not imagine how it must be to see fire leap from tree top to tree top, sweeping across hillsides like ours as if they didn’t even serve as a speed bump. So we know what we have, in a place to live that would cost a fortune in some portion of this country that was in demand. Here, we just have to accept that people don’t want to live where the economy does not boom. However, as we watch, they are marching up the street with new fiber optic cable, eventually to link this isolated corner of our country with the rest of this nation. When we have true high-speed internet, and the possibility of remote work is more feasible, will an area where houses cost $70/square foot suddenly become in vogue? Time will tell, and that’s what we enjoy, the time to share an afternoon in our summer living room.

So We Fight To Keep The Dream Alive

Fire hoses in Birmingham in 1960’s

Critical Race Theory. Three words that strike dread into the hearts of many who believe this theory is being forced upon their innocent children, and makes the children feel bad. Of course, most of those who protest CRT wouldn’t know it if it struck them alongside their head like a 2×4. Instead, what we have is a noisy bunch of naysayers who have been driven to protest by what has been said on their various media sources. There CRT is mischaracterized so much that any attempt at presenting a contrary view to the lily-white version of American history is seen as communistic influence aimed at making Americans feel guilty toward the inherent racism of our society.

When will we ever get to the place where we can accept that multiple versions of the truth can exist simultaneously? Sure, the settling of the American Midwest involved much sacrifice by those who tried to eke out an existence for their families on soil they had to tame themselves. But at the same time, it is a fact that this land was occupied for thousands of years before white settlers broke the soil with their plows. The conquest of the indigenous peoples of North America enabled the white settlers to take over the lands and only have to fight nature instead of the previous residents. Sure, we gave Indians great reservations, and set up residential schools for the young (where the indigenous culture was carefully extinguished). Is it any wonder that today, reservations are where you find the most entrenched poverty, along with a plethora of substance abuse problems?

When it comes to the ongoing story of Black Americans, the story keeps getting stranger and stranger. Apparently since we elected a half-African as President, all of the racism in our society magically left and we now are in a post-racial society. Or, at least, that is the bromide Fox viewers keep telling themselves. What is not acknowledged is the social rebound coming from Barack Obama’s election exceeded the push to put him in office. Once he was there, the antipathy towards his policies was not only tinged with racism, racism became the sole motivating force. Using the example of the Affordable Care Act, something that was modeled after a Republican’s approach, immediately became anathema. The requirement to pay a tax penalty if you were uninsured was viewed as onerous and tyrannical. Underlying everything was the unstated fact that this was a program developed by a Black, and therefore must be opposed with every ounce of effort. We tried to link the opposition back to our founding fathers, by calling these racists “Tea Partiers”, as if they would be washed clean by the waters of Boston Harbor through this alliance.

When the rebound resulted in the election of Donald Trump, the unspoken part often became overtly spoken. Like in the response to the death in Charlottesville, where a moral equivalence was drawn between those protesting the racism, and those who emulated a torch march from the 1930’s and who felt morally justified in using their macho car as a lethal weapon. It took the events of 2020 to really show how far these purveyors of white pride would go to maintain their power. Antifa, that paragon of anarchy, became the boogeyman for the right, and their non-existent organization was decried time and time again. Meanwhile, those who instituted real violence on January 6 were coddled since white Americans could never be a danger, even when they used mountaineering tactics to scale walls, and mob techniques to overrun police lines. Of course, it was obvious that the Antifa provocateurs were behind all of this. Everyone who entered the Capital building were peaceful tourists who would never have caused damage or defecated in the hallway.

I am old enough to remember the television news showing the fire hoses and police dogs turned on those who demanded their right to vote. The fact that we have to revisit those scenes nearly 60 years later in response to Republican malfeasance in state legislatures is horrendous. The fact that my Senator from West Virginia believes in a non-existent comity among the Senators is worth more than moving legislation along to address voting discrimination is very disappointing. And the fact that so many folks wish to return us to a previous state of Great where it was ok to subjugate anyone who didn’t fulfill the Aryan ideal is worse than disappointing, it is disgusting.

I am an example of how demography is not destiny. I am a Caucasian retired chemical engineer, who spent his entire career in a manufacturing industry. I grew up in Nebraska, and now have lived in West Virginia for more than half of my life. If anyone should identify with the Fox news archetype for my political beliefs, it is me. But I grew up detesting the evil exposed on that television screen. And I am now exasperated at how we are having to fight the battles of the 1960’s over and over again, only this time with the added burden of those who refuse to recognize the true common enemy of the virus. I hope we have enough strength to repudiate those who select evil over humanity and actually work to build a society where all can share in the great wealth we generate in this country. There are ways we can do that and encourage work and thrift and all of those virtues supposedly embodied in that mythical time when America was Great.

PLAY-SEE-BOW. It’s Right For You!

Slimey’s home

I was surprised to see my old friend, Slimey, sitting on a park bench apparently deep in thought over the piece of paper he held in one of his clawed hands. Slimey, as you may remember, is the 8-foot tall reptilian life form I encountered first coming out of the Tidal Basin early on in Trump’s administration.

I walked over to him, clearing my throat so as to alert him to my presence. It was a smart thing to do, since his reflexes were so much faster than mine, and he is capable of evisceration when startled. Those claws are sharp!

“Friend” he called out. “Come over here. Maybe you can help me with a marketing problem.”

I came over and sat at the opposite end of the park bench. I could see that the piece of paper Slimey held had several proposed names on it for some sort of pharmaceutical. Slimey pointed to the paper.

“I’m trying to come up with a name for my new COVID medicine. I’ve narrowed it down to two: PLAY-SEE-BOW, or Bug-Be-Gone. Which one do you think will be better?”

I must have looked dumbstruck. “You have a COVID medicine? How did you develop that?”

Slimey looked up, and though his jaws were fixed as always (only when he was going after food would those jaws move), it appeared he was wearing the expression of a smile. “I tried to think of the one thing those people who refuse the vaccination would lap up. And I came up with this.” Slimey held gently in his clawed hand a small vial, similar in size to one of those energizer drinks.

“What’s in it” I asked.

Slimey answered in a bit of a round-about way. “I saw a report that the virus couldn’t survive in water. So I got myself a bit of the water from down my way.” Here he turned his head towards the Tidal Basin and to the swampy expanse of the Potomac. “I added a little bit of hydrogen ions, and some chloride ions, bottled it, and here it is.”

“So let me get this straight. You bottled some Washington swamp water, and added hydrochloric acid to it?”

Slimey nodded in agreement. “The little bit of acid killed anything bad in the water, and gives it a bit of a kick. I just know it’ll give COVID a knock-out”

I shook my head, unable to believe the scam about to be perpetrated on the American public. “When do you go live with this?”

Slimey turned his massive forearm till he could see the watch. “Supposed to have our first ads go on Tucker’s show tonight. That’s why I need a name, and soon.”

I pondered for a bit, then said “I think PLAY-SEE-BOW is your best shot. I think that describes your product perfectly. How are you planning to sell it?”

Slimey said, “A four pack of bottles will sell for $15.99. I can see us putting it up at the cash registers of feed stores, and at your corner bodegas, and of course we will sell it direct. I’ve been trying to work a co-marketing strategy with Mike Lindell, but I’m afraid that’s fallen through. Seems he thought we weren’t supportive enough of his position. Well, it’s his loss.”

I tried to take this all in. Seems we were just about to undergo a massive advertising campaign for this new product. I could see it now, the TV and Facebook ads where a beautiful person begins to cough. Up comes their savior, with a bottle of PLAY-SEE-BOW, and says to the cougher, “Try this.” The cougher unscrews the cap, then takes the whole dose in.

“Wow. That’s got a kick. What is it?”

“That’s PLAY-SEE-BOW. We can’t get the FDA to approve it, so you know it works.”

The cougher smiles, and says, “I can tell it’s working. COVID doesn’t have a chance.”

Voiceover says, “PLAY-SEE-BOW. For when you get that first inkling something might be wrong.” And of course the usual list of side effects has to be enunciated, only in this case the side effects would be unusual sexual attractiveness, excessive muscular development, and reversal of all aches and pains. If ever there were a can’t-miss product, this was going to be it.

I asked Slimey, “Do you need anybody to invest in this? I think you’ve got a winner here.”

Slimey shook his head, no. He said, “We’ve got the seed money for this from Fox and the RNC. They wanted to take a piece of this real quick. We might even get the Cyber Ninja’s to go out and sell this for us when they do their next audit.

I got up from the bench, and made my adieus from Slimey. For once, he had something that just couldn’t miss. Knowing his audience as well as he did, all I could think about was what was he going to do with all of the money he was about to get. After all, there was a huge untapped market for PLAY-SEE-BOW, and I could feel proud to have been there at the beginning of it all.

American Taliban? You Decide

It’s an ill wind that blows from outside. The wind that brings disease and death to those it encounters who are not armed against it. The wind that causes schisms within towns and families, as it dismantles inhibitions for those who adamantly believe in the other side’s evil. The wind emanating from the new phenomena of the internet, with its ability to connect huge crowds only to give them faulty information to share among the most rabid.

In the end, the wind comes from ourselves. We are the ones who keep the falsehoods and lies alive through our incessant need to be proven right. We are the ones who end up yelling at each other as we encounter those who won’t follow our correct protocol. Look, I received much scientific and mathematical training during my years of schooling. I know which side of the faith / science divide I land on. It is certainly not the side of those who expound their faith that natural immunity given by God will protect them from this virus they don’t even believe exists.  It is on the side of those who believe God gave man the intelligence to assert dominion over even the lowliest near-life forms we share the planet with.

But it is a reality that the other belief system does exist, and those who adhere to this belief system cannot see the virtues of the opposing arguments. In fact, many of those people believe that the vaccine is a tool for mass depopulation by the evil ones who are inspired by Satan. It is evil these people believe they are facing down as they encounter those who favor public health measures.

In a way, it is like the belief systems exhibited by the Taliban, as they re-impose their will upon a people resistant to their beliefs. They know they are right, and if the entire rest of the world disagrees with them, they know their heavenly reward is guaranteed through their actions. At some point, folks who have a rational bone in their body would realize the rest of the world might just be right, not those few who yell the loudest and grab the most attention.

So the difficulty with defeating the viewpoints of those who deny both the virus and the vaccine is similar to changing the minds of those who adhere to the beliefs of the Taliban. Both are utterly convinced they are the only ones who are right, and they will ignore all contrary evidence in front of their faces. Thus we have the local politician who attends an anti-vaccination rally mere days after the death of his wife from COVID. Thus we have the fanatics in Afghanistan enforcing their version of Sharia law while the society they conquered falls apart around them.

Maybe we need to call the anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers the American Taliban, since they seem to exhibit the intolerance of the Afganistanian group. Both groups wish to take society back in time, to where there is no need to acknowledge anything other than the magnificence of God. It is God who governs all actions, and vaccines subvert God’s will in that they prevent God from culling those who should be culled.

In my previous writings, I discussed various existential threats facing human civilization. One of those is the rise of Willful Ignorance. As I look back at this piece of writing now three years old, it is amazing how many of those threats we are facing right now. Certainly we have seen how vulnerable we are to the risk of infectious diseases. A plague that kills only 1% of those it infects is capable of grinding economic activity to a halt. Add to that the growth of Tribalism and Denialism, and you can understand the reaction of many governments to the pandemic. After all, in their opinion, the plague is caused by outsiders, not by true citizens. And then add willful ignorance to the brace of problems we face. What I did not anticipate was the pride that those who are willfully ignorant take in their ignorance. There was no way I could expect a group of people to self-identify who wear their maskless faces as badges of honor, and view anyone who exercises caution by wearing a mask as threats and cowards.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to live in a developed country do not realize the gifts we have been given. We live lives unimaginable to the vast majority of humanity through the millennia who never could enjoy adequate (or excessive) food, comfortable living quarters, personal transportation at our beck and call, treatment for most acute diseases, and instant world-wide communication available in our hands. Many in our world today would trade places in an instant themselves, and to see our civilization ripped asunder by those who refuse to take advantage of yet another of mankind’s advances, a new vaccine therapy, leaves many throughout the world wondering about the sanity of the inhabitants of the US. Count me in their number. I too question the sanity of those who insist upon taking horse de-wormer as a way of treating this disease that in their opinion is supposedly no worse than the flu.

In the end, we will either wear down this virus through mass exposure of the population, or through sufficient vaccination to cause it to seek new vulnerable hosts in vain. Letting the virus course through the population invites still more death and disability. It also enables new variants to develop and sooner or later, one will come about that laughs at our previous vaccines while ripping through the population at a pace that even the most fervent deniers will be unable to reject the evidence of their eyes. When human powered carts roll through our streets, with someone calling out to “Bring Out Your Dead”, then maybe those who have pooh-poohed this virus will finally admit we have something to be worried about. But by then, it may be too late for this civilization to fix the problem, and our descendants will find themselves living lives much like peasants in medieval times. Only with cell phones.