Let’s Subsidize Work Instead of Shareholders

Substation transformer

Looking back, there is no surprise that the result of the tax reductions passed by Republican votes in 2017 failed to rejuvenate the economy. The stated belief was that businesses would use the windfall from reduced taxation to invest in their employees, through higher wages, or invest in productive assets and expand their production base. Surprise! They didn’t. Businesses found that their analysis of the best use of the windfall was to increase stock buybacks and increase stock dividends. The main reason? There is just not justification for investing in new productivity within a mature market like the US.

Production facilities were not relocated from low wage countries, since the cost of labor greatly exceeds the benefits from lower taxation. Therefore it does not make economic sense to relocate low-value manufacturing back to the US for strictly economic criteria. It is only due to events like the supply chain interruptions from the pandemic (and to a lesser extent trade and tariff wars) that created a new incentive for bringing low value manufacturing back to the US.

What is needed is to create new incentive to build businesses that address needs within the US that are additive to the existing consumer base, rather than attempting to relocate existing production to meet stagnant demand. The best place where new demand could be created is in the energy markets and the infrastructure of the electrical grid. Somehow we must make it worthwhile to cause a market shift to use of renewable energy on a smaller scale than through citing of huge power plants, which result in inefficiencies through thermodynamic factors and through distribution from the grid. We already know that large power plants and the necessary facilities to distribute the energy are vulnerable to external shocks. A single large coronal mass ejection event from the sun could result in system wide outages for months at a time until new transformers are built and installed. Similarly, with the destabilization of international relations, use of electromagnetic pulse weaponry could cause equivalent destruction. Either way, our civilization is vulnerable to external forces that would bring us immediately back to the pre-industrial age, leading to immense loss of life.

So it makes it very clear that we need to create enough incentive to enable the decentralization of our electrical system. By doing that, we would improve our own future by reducing the potential for severe disruption. We would also create literally millions of jobs by creating a market for home energy system improvements that would use local labor to install and maintain. And our large scale manufacturing would also benefit by creating the solar panels and battery storage devices that the new grid would use.

Several years ago, we in West Virginia suffered through the aftereffects of a derecho that stopped electrical service across our region for multiple days. Living through that encouraged us to purchase a whole-house electrical generation system, powered through natural gas. Those systems have a weekly 5-minute system test where the generator runs. In my immediate neighborhood in West Virginia, I can hear three generators (including ours) conducting their tests over the course of the week. Good for us. We are assured that we cannot lose electrical power for an extended time. Or are we? Since we would all tap into the natural gas system, would it have enough capacity to handle all of us (and the others up and down the line) who have generators to handle peak demand? There is no way for us to know that except to run the full-scale test and suffer through an extended power outage. Surely this back-up generator expansion is not a scalable solution for metropolitan areas, since I am aware of no studies indicating how much gas would be available if it was being used extensively to replace standard electrical service.

Electrical service is the best example of an area where new means of producing and distributing a commodity (electrons) could be reworked to create new opportunities for investment and entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, other areas of our infrastructure are not as amenable to creating new incentives for reworking and repair. Other utilities such as water and gas are already regulated, and new fees for upgrading service are scrutinized and rarely approved by regulatory agencies. Face it, to replace water or gas lines involves huge investments, and the incentive to do that is not worthwhile for the private market to seek this as an area for investment. But it is crucially needed. Therefore if we are looking for places for government to stimulate the economy, it makes much more sense to provide subsidies for additional productive work rather than to provide tax reductions that only benefit shareholders. And I’m speaking as one who is fortunate enough to receive dividend income through my owned equities, so I am a beneficiary of the current system.

If anything has become evident during this year of pandemicmonium, it is that maintaining the ability of the consumer to keep stimulating the economy through spending is vital. If we suddenly turn off the spigots, then the result is longer term shrinkage of the economy, and a further increase in income inequality. So the types of changes I am proposing are not appropriate for this stage in the pandemic. But coming out of this mess, it is vital that we begin to plan to actually improve the state of our nation and its infrastructure, rather than accept what we had as being adequate. We now have a wealth of data to show that we’ve lived with inadequate systems, merely because it would have gored someone’s ox to fix the problems.

Tick-Tock

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The tick withdraws his mouth from the host, where he has been siphoning life blood. As his head disengages, dollars drip from his extended drill bit serving as a mouth. The tick moves on, slowly waddling down a slightly sloped ramp, until he comes to his next victim. There he engages with that next victim, another seeker of favors, and snuggles down to begin the extraction process.

The victims keep coming, willingly, as long as the favors they can procure keep coming as well. It is worth a bit of their lifeblood to enable them to carve out larger cavities in the body of the US government as their favors are translated into new contracts or new rulings in their interest. Sometimes the result of the parasitic infection is a purulent discharge coming from the body of the government, as the host rejects the outlandish demands of its parasitic free rider. But often, the burrowing of the new parasite is hidden, out of sight from those who try to decipher the acts of the government we all pay for. All of us, that is, except for the tick in chief, who pays nothing for his benefits, yet keeps feasting upon those who would request just one favor, just one contract, or just one tweet.

The tick in chief leads his progeny in learning just how to drill into a willing victim. By siphoning off a portion of the victim’s life blood, the family of the tick in chief can keep its engorged status intact. The rest of the world looks on in horror as the images of the tick in chief permeate the airwaves. No more can they revere the country the tick has invaded. Instead, they ridicule it, though the tick in chief keeps insisting that they are laughing with him, not laughing at him.

The tick in chief believes that only through displays of brute force can the rest of the population be brought into submission. Amazingly, there are many who believe that having a parasite at the top of government is just fine, they’d all like to be there sucking the lifeblood if they were ever given a chance, and the more that the parasite can do to weaken its host, the better off they will be.

The tweezers of government have proven to be ineffective at removing the tick from its host body. Though quite credible allegations were provided on multiple occasions, the tick in chief got the report on the allegations quashed by those whom the tick had appointed. And of course, his enablers glommed onto the statements about the allegations being quashed, and they never examined the findings of fact in the original reports. Thus the enablers feel gleeful as they announce complete vindication. In fact, the tick in chief truly believes he has done a good job for his host.

Unfortunately for the tick in chief, a new validation is coming soon. The host has a chance to throw off the parasite that has dominated it for nearly four years. It remains to be seen whether the tick and its many other enabled parasites have infected the host body with an illness that survives beyond the lifespan of the tick in chief. A nation infected with spotted fever or lyme disease would be preferable to one that is infected with the ongoing illness of lack of trust and belief in illogical and silly conspiracy theories. But first, we have to throw off the shackles of the tick in chief. Sometime in early November, we will see if the head of the tick in chief has been extricated from the body of the government. May it be so.

Requiem Bob Gibson

Photo from Associated Press

I came into the world on the day of The Catch. That event, now viewed in grainy black and white, where Willie Mays raced towards the fence to improbably catch the liner that seemed destined to create victory for the Indians. I remember rooting for the Yankees, because I thought they had Yogi Bear playing for them. The images of Dizzy and Pee Wee broadcasting the game of the week, interspersed with advertisements for the Ole Pro and Falstaff beer, remain embedded in my memory.

Thus it is not surprising that in the 1964 season, my allegiances switched from the Yankees to the Cardinals. St. Louis was the team I could follow on an AM radio, switching from the St. Joseph MO station in the daytime, to KMOX in St. Louis when daylight faded. Those were the days when Harry Caray and Jack Buck formed the Cardinals broadcast team, and their prose flavored my formative years. Of all of the Cardinals during those teams of the sixties, the one who stood the highest was Bob Gibson. To receive word of his passing this past week meant that my own mortality was just brought a little bit closer.

How many individuals in any sport were so dominant that they caused the rules of the game to change? Though he was not the only pitcher who shone brightly in 1968, it was his complete dominance that caused the pitching mound to be lowered from 15″ to 10″ in height in 1969. In fact, it was not surprising that he won 22 games in 1968. It was surprising that he lost 9 games that same year. Gibby was undoubtedly the best pitcher in the game, even with McLain winning 30 games that year in the other league.

How fortunate I was in those days. Even though baseball on TV was limited to only Saturday afternoon games, I saw matchups like Koufax and Marichal, Seaver and Gibson, Drysdale and Ferguson Jenkins. Even now I can remember the high leg kick of Marichal and his bewildering variety of pitches. Maybe it is a case of less being more, since back in those days, not having the cable channels feed me a baseball buffet, made me value the games I saw more highly. Now, you look back to the complete game statistics, and number of pitches thrown, and you compare it to the 100 pitch limits seemingly enforced upon all but the very best pitchers of today, and you marvel that those old-timers were able to withstand the rigors of the season without debilitating arm disorders.

But there was little doubt that the fiercest competitor among pitchers was Gibson. You need only look back to July 15, 1967, when Gibson’s leg had a collision with a liner hit by Roberto Clemente (a fierce competitor in his own right). Gibson pitched for 3 more batters, then collapsed. It was discovered that the liner had fractured his fibula. Ironically, the injury only kept him out for a couple of months, and by the time of the World Series in October, he won 3 complete game victories.

When you’ve been a baseball fan for as long as I have, there are many memories that sustain you. I’ve seen the battles between Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the 70’s, the advent of the Big Red Machine in the 70’s, the unbelievable pitching dominance of Atlanta in the late 80’s and 90’s (but only winning one championship among all of that pitching brilliance). Since I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, when the Royals emerged, I became a fan of the grit of George Brett, and the determination of 5’5″ Freddie Patek. I’ve become a fan of the Pirates over the years, even through their 20 year drought of losing teams. But the memories of the Cardinals of the 60’s, and of listening to their games on my transistor radio (remember when they told you how may transistors the radio held?), are still fresh in my memory.

Seeing pictures of those World Series in the 60’s was like visiting a foreign era. All the images were of the daytime, since the World Series was not contaminated by the need for every bit of television revenue. Seeing the mainly male crowd, almost exclusively in white dress shirts and ties, reminds me that it was not so long ago that a different ethos and culture existed then vs. now. But recalling the almost superhuman feats of Bob Gibson, brought back to me the purity of a different age.

I know now that under the surface, the image of baseball would begin to crack. In fact, it was a Cardinal – Curt Flood, who literally opened the floodgates and challenged the legal structure that bound players to teams. Thus came the age of free agency, and the loss of team loyalty, so that today you celebrate the careers of players who spend their entire playing time with a single team. With the need to pay for free agents, came the need to switch to night baseball for the Series, thus forever changing the ability of the kids to follow the events of the Series breathlessly. Even worse, the designated hitter surfaced as an attempt to appeal to the casual fan by increasing offensive stats.

Still, those of us who remember the joys of watching 1-0 games with complete games thrown by both winning and losing pitchers, were brought up short with the death of Bob Gibson.

Yesterday

In the past week, events ran at such a pace that a poor blogger was not able to keep up. I initially wrote this piece a week ago, after the “debate”, and the story about taxes from the NYT, when I believed that just maybe, a sense of reflection would have come across this President. Then came the news of the positive result for COVID, and the subsequent hospitalization. While tempting, I will not resort to cheap expressions that I feel karma has overtaken events. Still, it may be that the President has actually had the chance for reflection over the past few days, so my offering here is provided with that in mind.

My apologies to the Beatles.

Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away.
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay.
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

Suddenly, I’m not half the man I used to be.
There’s a shadow hanging over me.
Oh, yesterday came suddenly.

Why they had to blow,

My cover, they wouldn’t say

I did all things wrong

Now I long for yesterday

Yesterday fraud was such an easy game to play

Now I need a place to hide away

Oh I believe in Putin’s sway

Why I thought they’d know?

I’m the best, we’d be ok.

I did all things wrong

Now I long for yesterday.

Yesterday, all my dreams were part of daily play

Now I’ll need a brand new place to stay

No more TV from Fox today

Mm mm mm, mm mmm mmm mm.

Slimey to the Qth Power

I sat down on the ledge near the metro station just a couple of blocks away from Ben’s Chili Bowl. I was deep into the pleasure of a spicy half-smoke when I noticed someone (or something) plopping down beside me. Once more, my old friend Slimey appeared out of nowhere. For a 7′ tall reptile, he was able to move unbelievably silently and without drawing the attention you normally would expect from someone of his size.

“Greetings, friend” he hissed through his snout.

“Slimey, it has been far too long. What have you been doing with yourself?”  The last time I had seen Slimey, he had taken a position with a lobbying firm where he was trying to promote a fully-automated abattoir, aimed at eliminating the human interaction with the meat supply. I marveled to myself at how prescient that proposal was in light of the coronavirus outbreaks at meat packing facilities.  I asked Slimey, “Are you still with your lobbying firm?”

Slimey slowly shook his ponderous head. “No, I was unable to sell the idea about an automated slaughterhouse to the agencies. Imagine. The deep state actually thought humans were needed.”  He closed his eyes for a moment. “But in my new position, this idea has become really valuable”.

I took a bite of my half-smoke, then asked.  “What is your new position?”

Slimey’s face assumed an air of supreme satisfaction. “I’m working for Q now. I’m in charge of their next big assault into the public sphere.”

I shuddered. Q-Anon had grown in popularity by leaps and bounds, especially during the pandemic when so many folks had far too much time and far too good access to the internet where they could descend into innumerable rabbit holes. Finally, I could avoid the question no further and I asked, “What is the new Q theory?”

Slimey smacked his mouth a couple of times, then began. “There’s a new thing that Q will be reporting on. That thing with abducting the children and the elite distilling their blood to come up with their youth elixir? It just wasn’t revolting enough to draw in enough people. But this one, this one is a doozy.”  Slimey settled back onto the ledge, one enormous paw holding up his prodigious girth.

As often happened in my encounters with Slimey, I became aware of how vulnerable I was to a sudden swipe of his razor-sharp claws. Still, I summoned the courage to not be a species-intolerant person and continued the conversation. “What could you imagine that is worse than child abduction and harvesting?”

Slimey chuckled for a good half-minute before replying. Finally, he said “Imagine this. Instead of children being abducted, it is those who are wearing MAGA hats that are swept off of the streets. Once they disappeared, they are transported to one of my automated slaughterhouses, where they are stripped down to the bone. The meat? It goes to make certain sausage products.” He nodded towards the remains of my own half-smoke.  “I’m not gonna say one way or another, but you may be surprised by where we will claim this meat is going.”

I took one more look at my half-smoke, shuddered a bit, then laid it down on the ledge between us. I had to satisfy my curiosity, though. “Why do this? Why go onto such ridiculous extremes in order to keep the Q thing going?”

Slimey was glad to fill me in. “Of course, it’s the money. Do you know how much we are raking in with the social media posts? And then there’s the merchandise. Those Q posters and foam Q’s are just money plants, plants we keep on harvesting. None of this has to be true, it just has to be plausible enough to keep the clicks coming.”

For the first time in my encounters with Slimey, I found my anger and revulsion rising. “Do you mean to tell me that this entire Q thing is nothing more than an effort to make those at the top rich?”

“Why certainly. What else would it be? You don’t think any of us believe any of this crap, do you?” Slimey looked offended, tensed his limbs, and once again I took stock of the vulnerability of my position.

“I had hoped that was the case. I can’t believe that anyone with a lick of rationality would believe any of the stuff being posted in Q’s name, but after the events of the last few years, I have come to doubt my own sense of right and wrong.” 

Slimey looked satisfied with my answer. He seemed to relax back into leaning against the concrete ledge. He said, “It’s only been a few years since I moved out of the swamp, but it is amazing how much of a swamp I still find around me.

All I could do was nod in agreement.

He looked over at the remains of my half-smoke. “Are you going to eat that?” he asked.

“No. It’s yours if you want it.”

The remains of the half smoke were inhaled in that enormous snout with the reptilian teeth, paper wrapper and all.

The last episode with Slimey may be found here: evenabrokenclock.blog/2019/04/08/if-you-cant-beat-the-swamp-join-the-swamp/

You’ve Been Had (Part 3)

Treason drips off of the twitter fangs that inject his venom into the body politic of the nation. Hoax is bandied about as an explanation for anything unpleasant but true. The hypocrisy is blatantly displayed as word is disclosed about his real thoughts for those who serve and sacrifice for our country. Still, all of this matters not a whit to those who have drunk deeply of the Trump cult Kool-Ade.  They will still hold fast to their selection of someone who has shown himself to be totally incompetent at his job, as well as being so lazy he doesn’t even feign an effort at doing said job. All the while, his own words extol his own praise and discredits any attempt at criticism.

For nearly four years, we have been held hostage by the vagaries of this hulking wanna-be alpha male. All he’s learned over the years is how to bully others. That he has been successful at passing that off as leadership is beyond comprehension. Still, this year showed the logical conclusion of the folly this nation undertook when we elected a totally unqualified candidate whose sole skill was self-promotion. That self-promotion led many to believe the man was a master businessman. But, as has been said, anyone who can go bankrupt running a casino is not a paragon of business excellence. Over the decades, the failures of the Trump business plans have been strewn across the landscape.

Trump steaks, launched in 2007, discontinued in 2007. Product sold for all of 2 months.

Trump shuttle. Purchased from Eastern Airlines in 1989 for $365 million. Sold in 1991 to USAirways for about $100-110 million of Trump indebtedness.

Trump Taj Mahal – built in 1990 for $1.2 billion. Parent company Trump Entertainment Resorts filed for bankruptcy 4 times, in 1991, 2004, 2009, and 2014. All investment in this fiasco was lost.

Trump-branded buildings – due to the toxic nature of the Trump name, the affiliation with Trump has been removed from multiple buildings across the globe during the past few years. Examples include properties in Panama City, New York, and Toronto.

Trump vs. NFL – leading the New Jersey Generals, a team in the USFL, he convinced his fellow owners to go from a spring schedule, into a head-to-head battle with the NFL on a fall schedule. At the same time, the USFL engaged in an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL, which the USFL won. Damages awarded? $1, although that was tripled under anti-trust law. The USFL folded shortly afterwards.  Now Donald did receive something of value out of this. Herschel Walker, the football star of the New Jersey Generals, spoke favorably of Donald at the 2020 Republican convention as one of his token Blacks.

Trump University – this bastardized version of a real estate / wealth management seminar provider began operations in 2005. It closed down in 2011, and subsequently was required to refund millions of dollars to its defrauded “students” who went through the seminars but obtained no useful information or skills.

The fantasy that Donald Trump spun was that of a maverick businessman who would bring fiscal discipline and a business sense to the nation’s government. Well, he was very prophetic about that – he has brought just as much business success to the nation’s balance sheet as he has brought to the properties and enterprises he owned and operated over the years. But then came the TV show, and he found the vehicle to reinvent himself. If you present yourself as a wealthy decisive businessman who could use his Midas touch to enrich anyone he came into contact with, then you could brush aside the reality of past failures. And as this nation became more and more disconnected from reality by insisting upon binging on reality TV, enough people believed to form the core of his followers.

It is not enough to decry the utter failure of this administration in dealing with its multiple crises. It instead is time to take stock of the totality of this charlatan’s work history, and pronounce the verdict on this nation upon selecting and being subjected to the governance of this gamma male.

You’ve Been Had.

This is unfortunately the third in a series of posts about Donald Trump’s administration I’ve written during his term in office. To see the other posts, see https://evenabrokenclock.blog/2017/11/20/youve-been-had/ and    https://evenabrokenclock.blog/2018/11/16/weve-been-had/.

Late Summer Sights and Sounds

bird butt

Summer is winding down, but the battles of the animal kingdom on our front porch continue unabated. It was a long time ago now that we beheld the image of the two wrens feeding the baby cowbird that replaced their true children. The cowbird suddenly one day chose to climb up the flowers in the basket that held their nest, but still cried out for more food. Then it was seen for a few days in the rhododendron below the nest, not yet ready to fly away, but still begging for food. Then, all at once, it disappeared. The parents of the cowbird did show up one day for a look-see, but the battle where the original eggs were displaced by the female cowbird went unseen by me.

We put up a mealworm feeder next to the wren’s nest. First we put it up because we thought it would make the life of the wren parents easier, but it took the wrens a long while before they discovered its bounty. No, what came first were the mockingbirds and the tufted titmice. Soon they scolded us whenever the feeder ran dry. We’d replenish the store and were treated to seeing the mother mockingbird (assumption) having to provide to two fledglings who squawked noisily for their share. They were as big as their mother, but still were dependent upon her largesse. Soon, though, we’d notice the feeder was running empty much too fast. Then, one day when I was on the computer in the room adjacent to the porch, I heard a commotion out there.  I looked to see a squirrel hanging on to the swinging feeder for dear life, only to lose his grip and fall noisily to the plants below. We tried to coat the aluminum pillar with vegetable oil, and that worked for a while. The squirrel didn’t try the direct approach for a day or so, but would scale the brick wall and climb up onto the roof. There we were treated to seeing the head of the squirrel peer over the edge, first showing up on the yard lights, next trying one of the hooks for wind chimes, trying to figure out how in the world to reach the succulent treats found in the feeder. He ended up sliding off of the porch roof and landing directly on the walkway. Squirrels, though, are tough and resilient, and he just shook the fall off and scampered away. Now I am attuned to hearing the feeder being attacked, and go and open the door, which is normally enough to cause the critter to jump down onto the porch railing, staring at me for a while until I move in its direction. Then and only then will it jump down and go around the house.

mockingbird

I believe this is the same squirrel that found my hose from my propane tank to the grill to be so tempting. Normally the propane cylinder sits nestled inside of my grill and I’m able to close the door. This time, though, the cylinder would not allow the door to close, allowing the squirrel to find both the wonderful grease pool, and the reinforced nylon hose coming from the cylinder pressure regulator. I can’t imagine the squirrel’s surprise the first time he bit into the hose and it began hissing at him, but after a while the hissing stopped, and my guess is that somewhere up in a squirrel nest I would find the remains of my partially dismembered hose. I hope it keeps the squirrels warm in the upcoming winter.

Since it is nearly the end of the summer, the hummer wars have become even more intense. There are at least three birds engaged in aerial combat now, and the maneuvers go on through the yard and out across the street. It is amazing how you can see these tiny birds from so far away, but once you are used to looking for them, you can see them everywhere. I see them perching in trees even before they have approached the feeder. All because I know what I’m looking for. But someday soon, these birds will just disappear. Our local birds will begin their migration to more southern climes, and we will be left alone with just the flicker and the wasps gorging on the sugar water. We keep the feeders up for a while to tempt any migrants from up north, but we know the time for watching the hummer wars is short, so we enjoy them while we can.

flicker

There is a sound found only in late summer. It is the symphony of the insects as they buzz incessantly in search of a mate. Though we may have fewer insects now, you cannot tell it when you listen to the minimalist music of the crickets, katydids, and cicadas.

The season is inexorably changing. The streetlight now comes on at 8:00, while in the midst of June, it was nearly 9:00 before it turned on. Eventually we will be unable to sit out in the morning without long pants and sweatshirts on, as the temperatures begin their yearly plunge. We’ve taken part in outdoor dining during this time of the pandemic, but realize that we are on borrowed time for that as well. Just hope that the restaurants can survive this coming reduction in their business. While the virus keeps up its relentless pace, it reminds me of a wolf pack stalking humanity, seeking out the weaker and the elderly to attack and kill. Now, though, things become serious. This week we are seeing the first week of high school football being canceled in my county due to local virus conditions. You may infringe upon many things in this society, but if you cancel high school football, you are really in trouble. We will see what comes of this.

The End Of The World, As We Know It

virus-1812092__340

To many, these times we live in are reminiscent of Götterdämmerung, the twilight of the Gods. Certainly that is the image presented at the abomination called the Republican National Convention. They see the changes our society has undergone as being so threatening to their way of life that they cling to a would-be autocrat who has leveraged their fear into a term as President. He now himself clings desperately to the power he has enjoyed, and is pushing all of the levers of that power in order to gum up the normal electoral process. To the group that believes their way of life and unchallenged superiority is indeed challenged, all tactics seem fair to ensure their continued grasp on power.

The 2016 election proved this. While the Democratic candidate won by 2% of the popular vote, due to the small state bias built into the electoral college, the Republicans won the office. They proceeded to rule based as if they had received a massive vote in favor of their policies, though vote really did go against them. Therefore, they knew it was imperative to provide the tools to ensure the changing demographics of this nation did not prevent their takeover of all of the reins of power. In a way, we were fortunate. This President was so ignorant of how government worked, that his first year’s efforts at neutering government were mainly failures. Think of how many different iterations of the Muslim ban came down the pike, only to be swatted away by the judicial branch. But unfortunately, those within the government were able to learn how the levers of power worked. And by the third year, they were capable of implementing the family separation policy. Oh, they didn’t have a way of reuniting families, but who cared?

In a way, it is remarkable that this nation has succeeded in using a single set of founding documents to navigate through the ensuing 2+ centuries. The Constitution has stretched enough to deal with the intervening crises that swirled through this country. But the events of this year have shown that continuing to rely solely upon the document that preceded the technological age, does not always work in the current era of globalized material and people flow, and instantaneous flow of both real and misinformation. When so many people simply refuse to accept what appears to be unambiguous scientific facts, it becomes impossible to conduct a purposeful discussion. This shows itself in so many folks refusing to believe that we are in a pandemic, denying that the outbreak of disease is anything more significant that a variant of the normal flu virus.

Though the current administration insists that the country of origin for the virus was fundamentally negligent in allowing the genii to escape, what happened early this year was what epidemiologists have known and feared would happen in a world interconnected by human and material flow. Before this year, very few people in the US could have identified Wuhan on the map, and even fewer knew that the city and its environs had 11 million residents. But the outbreak of a virus that exhibits high infectivity showed that it could not be contained within a single country. Soon outposts of the virus were set up in Italy, and thence migrated into the US. But of all of the nations hit by the first wave of the virus, it has only been the US that has not brought infections down below a simmering boil. The virus has shown that it is still present, and shows up in all locations where the guard is let down even for a moment.

But in the US, a confluence of events and trends have prevented us from ever bringing the virus under control. The US has never viewed it as necessary to have the Federal government serve as a backstop to private enterprise. So when it was necessary to shut down commercial life in order to reduce the spread of the virus, the mechanisms to provide financial support were creaky at best, balky and unworkable at worst. And now, those mechanisms have been exhausted, and this nation still is operating under the assumption that it is a moral failing that so many people cannot find work, rather than accepting that we are in a fundamentally different era. Then the strain of individual liberty fanatics insisted that any mandated protective acts were an infringement on constitutional rights. Even the simple, though uncomfortable practice, of wearing a face mask has become weaponized, and blood has been spilled in defense of the right to infect others.

Those who were convinced that the blood of Jesus would protect them against any infection were also convinced that the government was infringing against their first amendment rights by preventing them from worshiping in person. You can see time after time where ministers were insistent on holding services in person, even though those services spread disease and death. Indeed, the American desire for a divine miracle to protect the faithful is fully in evidence as a response to this pandemic. The viral particle doesn’t recognize religious denomination, or even if someone is or is not a religious adherent. It recognizes only the opportunity to colonize a new host and spread itself. It is a mindless automaton with only the genetic information inside of it to allow it to propagate.

If there is to be divine intervention, it is because the knowledge of humanity has allowed it to understand the genetic code of the enemy, and to effectively devise biological weaponry to defeat it. That can be manifested through effective treatments for the symptoms of the virus, but all hope is on one or more of the vaccines in clinical trial will be found to be:  1) Effective at preventing infection through activation of the immune system, and 2) Able to provide this immunity without adverse side effects. Indeed, the rapidity at which vaccines have been shepherded into phase 3 trials has been amazing. But due to the same tendency within this nation to reject science and any uncomfortable challenges to beliefs, even when a vaccine is released to the population, a sizable fraction will refuse to take it. Whether it is due to fears unleashed by the anti-vaxxers, or whether it is the belief that the entire virus episode has been a New World Order conspiracy, there will be enough who refuse to take the vaccine that it will still circulate within the population, causing infection, and illness, and preventable death.

The upcoming election does offer the opportunity to return to a semblance of normality. Whether enough of the electorate will recognize that the Federal response to this virus represents a natural outgrowth of the belief system of this administration remains to be seen. The ignorance of the American public can never be overestimated. Let us hope that incompetence can be seen for what it is – a natural consequence of selecting a con man four long years ago.

Mad As Hades

angry man is screaming
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”  The words of Paddy Chayefsky in the movie Network resonate through the decades since that movie was released in 1976. The words ring true today. The tag line fueled my imagination as I realized a few of the things I’m as mad as hell about in this day.

I’m as mad as hell about the total incompetence of our Federal government in addressing the viral pandemic racing across the country virtually unchecked. Failures happened in destroying the infrastructure set in place by his predecessor to detect and respond to this future event. Failures happened in pretending that the virus would disappear of its own accord, and besides, it was hitting Democratic states harder than Republican states, so why bother creating a national strategy. Failures in taking responsibility for any of these failures.

I’m mad as hell about the total incompetence of the administration in realizing that the world is truly interconnected, and we as a nation cannot take our ball and go home and expect that the rest of the world will be there for us if and when we need them. About the destruction of relationships with other nations and with international organizations.

I’m mad as hell about the willful ignorance and subsequent stupidity exhibited by this administration when it comes to anything requiring applying a scientific perspective. It was bad enough when it involved ignoring any inconvenient truths about global warming. It was bad enough when it involved assigning unqualified personnel to leadership positions in Federal departments where knowledge of science was required. But with the response to the pandemic, we have really seen how the disdain that this administration holds for science has and will cost hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths.

I’m mad as hell about the petty grifting and blatant hypocrisy demonstrated by this administration, beginning with the example from the top. From the very start of this administration where the Trump hotel became the necessary venue for all who wished to make a visible display of financial support, to the recent revelation that the ambassador to Great Britain tried to strong arm the British to awarding a British Open to a Trump property, it has been apparent that everything is good that plows money back into the Trump business empire. And then the hypocrisy involved in declaring that it was so much worse in the previous administration. All of this manifests itself in a cabinet embroiled in personal petty privilege, whether through chartering private planes on the public’s dime, or driving around in a limousine in search of just that special lotion while department employees were paid as drivers

I’m mad as hell about the belief that this President had that it would only be a minor matter to staff and handle the transition between administrations. The belief that you don’t need to fill all of the available positions in the government. The belief that you could put your incompetent son-in-law in charge of intractable problems that had evaded solutions for decades and expect success due to force of personality alone. About the belief that he and Chris Cristie could go out after the night of the election and take care of the transition by themselves.

I’m mad as hell about the narcissism and thin-skinned nature of this President. About how his vindictiveness extends beyond the grave, so that he continues to denigrate the memory of those who stood up to him who have since died. About how he could not stand to see any accomplishment of his immediate predecessor left standing, so he has gone out of his way to destroy any trace of the previous administration. About how he has to be right, and can never ever admit making a mistake, since admitting a mistake shows your weakness.

I’m mad as hell about the racism unleashed by this President. About how the example he has set has freed a nasty strain within America to feel enabled and entitled to declare their hatred for anything other than lily-white ‘Muricans. About how when presented with support from a misogynistic racist like David Duke, he will feign ignorance of him and welcome the support. About how he has learned to stoke the fear and hatred that had lain dormant under the surface by trumping up the risk from asylum seekers.

I’m mad as hell that even after seeing the complete and utter disaster of this administration for nearly four years, there are still 40% of the voting public who think he’s doing a remarkable job for them, and they will go to their coronavirus graves still supporting this incredibly poor excuse for a human, much less the leader of the free world. Hell, had he his choice, he’d lead the nation of sub-human slaves as they marched in goosestep unison past his Presidential mansion. After all, he’s done such a wonderful job we just have to keep him in office.

Excuse me while I retch into the porcelain altar.

Off We Go, Into the Wild Blue Yonder

rocket launch space discovery
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We are living in a golden age of exploration. Part of the human nature has always been to push the boundaries, whenever and wherever there was incentive. The spices of the Orient, along with unknown riches, tempted the explorers of Europe. Now, we are in a race for space. With the recent launch of the Perseverance mission to Mars, that planet is now infested with both unmanned rovers, and orbiting observers. Participants in this infestation include India, China, the joint venture between the Russians and Europeans, multiple missions from the US, and the mission from the United Arab Emirates that recently launched. For millennia humanity watched the planets, convinced that they held great influence over our existence on Earth. Though we may laugh at astrology today, it is undoubtedly responsible for the growth of knowledge about patterns in the cosmos, due to the need to know what the positions of the planets were at the time of the birth of individuals.

Indeed, astrology still has millions of adherents, convinced that the orientation of the planets hold the means to provide order to a seemingly chaotic life. But once our understanding of the cosmos went beyond mere observation, to a systemic search for knowledge, we have been merciless at trying to uncover the mysteries of our solar system neighbors. We have seen evidence of great floods on Mars, and the search continues to see if we can find direct evidence of life elsewhere, either from the past, or tantalizingly, still alive somewhere under the Martian surface.

Now there are private businesses aimed at the conquest of space. These are not just the vanity projects of the new tech aristocracy, but serious attempts at commercializing both near Earth exploration, and eventually solar system exploration. It will be difficult to provide a positive cash flow from these activities, but what we’ve seen is that companies are willing to fund the immense investment in space vehicles. We’ve weathered the gap between NASA’s shuttle (2 catastrophic failures out of 135 missions), to launches to the space station from US vehicles. What is different now is that it is a private corporation, SpaceX, that has contracted with NASA for a series of launches. The first of these launches just splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico, completing a seemingly flawless flight. SpaceX is in competition with Boeing, Boeing concentrating mainly on heavier launch capabilities. Since private enterprise is funding the research, they will be looking for payoff well beyond what government contracts provide. And that is why there truly is a new age of exploration, one that will result in humans setting foot on Mars sooner rather than later. The moon will also be revisited, and with the current missions aiming at prospecting for ice on the surface of the moon, it may actually be possible to build a base on the moon itself.

Why do this? Well, I for one think it much better to use humanity’s creativity in exploration, rather than in building munitions and munition delivery systems. Although there has been significant advances in our understanding of physics, metallurgy, and chemistry through the development of better means of destruction, the use of these tools comes with immense human suffering. And as we’ve seen in the recent explosion involving ammonium nitrate in Lebanon, it does not take a lot of technology to spread a lot of death and destruction.  Spending the money on science to increase our range and knowledge instead of on destruction seems a much more humane way to proceed.

Besides, there is much to learn. Even beyond the possibility of life on Mars, there is the tantalizing thought that life may exist underneath the ice caps covering the oceans of the satellites of the larger planets. The question we have is whether life is ubiquitous in the universe, spreading wherever the chemical conditions couple with the source of energy to power life. If we do find life outside of our planet, it will have immense repercussions among the world’s religions. They must see if their theology can adapt to life existing in multiple locations, and allow for a creator that likes to experiment, rather than one totally vested on earth. I have always thought that limiting a creator to a single site in this immense universe did a disservice to the creator, since it imposed such tight restraints on its capabilities.

The age of exploration we live in goes well beyond the physical limitations of earth. We have been exploring the intricacies of the genome, learning the secrets to manipulate the formulas of life for our own benefit. Tools such as CRISPR, and DNA sequencing improvements, are leading to the possibilities for us to deal with the microscopic universe. Those abilities are coming into play now with the unprecedented speed in which vaccines against COVID-19 are being developed. Back a generation ago, we would not have to knowledge to sequence the genome, learn its tricks for attaching to cells, and develop multiple ways to fight against this novel virus. It would have taken years of painful trial and error work to possibly come up with a vaccine. Today? We may have 3 modes of action incorporated into vaccines, and testing could be complete within a year from the initial confirmation of the virus’s structure.

Many ask why do we spend money on exploration, when we cannot meet our needs on earth. My answer is that it is through exploration and research that we discover the ways to increase the economic pie, thus allowing for a greater share for each individual. It is only through the growth of economic activity engendered by the discoveries from research and exploration that we can avoid the Malthusian fate that would otherwise engulf us.