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.