Chaos Theory?

3 dollar bill

Here is a definition of the branch of mathematics known as chaos theory:

Chaos: When the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.

Having survived the events of the past 13 months, I offer the following alternative definition of the field for your edification:

Chaos Theory – A study of the effects of the Trump administration, with special emphasis on the unintended consequences of the election of a particularly unqualified and immoral individual as President.

The theory posits this proposition: When a craven and narcissistic individual manages to exploit the weaknesses of his opponent, assisted by overt propaganda campaigns (some of which were Russian in origin), and this individual wins election, then this same individual will create a state of chaos in the government and in international relations due to the individual’s insistence that everything revolves around him. Ancillary effects include failure to perform constitutional duties involving protection of this nation from foreign adversaries. Other effects include performing carnival con games aimed at distracting members of the class that elected this individual by continually braying how good his accomplishments are, while delivering the largess of the Federal government to the corporate and plutocrat donor class.

The longer term effects of this experiment being conducted upon the American public are uncertain. If the experiment is to continue for a full term of four years, the potential impacts may be stated as follows:

  • Continued expansion of Chinese influence throughout Asia, Africa, and South America due to the abandonment of all US influence other than military power.
  • Ongoing degradation of existing infrastructure within the US due to the adherence of this administration to the principle that the only valid method of infrastructure restoration involves assigning private interests an ownership position in the restoration efforts.
  • Fomenting racial and cultural division by continually repeating lies and quarter-truths in order to justify policies of exclusion.
  • Developing a subgroup of the US population that steadfastly refuses to accept facts that contradict the brazen lies of both the leader of this administration, and all who shill for this individual.
  • Accelerates the decline of the US as a world leader due to the continual failure to recognize that the world has become interdependent. This failure to recognize the need for international cooperation will result in the abandonment of the US by other nations when US interests are threatened globally.
  • Eliminates all semblance of belief in scientific validity, thus enshrining policies that violate physical laws, and eliminating funding for scientific research. This also accelerates the decline of the US by allowing other nations to glom onto the growth engines of the global economy for decades to come.
  • Removes the economic growth that has always come from open policies for working within this country. By placing increasingly stiffer barriers against foreign students studying and then working in this nation, the US misses out on entrepreneurial energies of potential immigrants.

The list above includes only some of the potential effects of continuing this experiment within the body politic of the US. Part of the uncertainty involved with chaos is that there will be further unanticipated effects that will occur as a result of the seeds being sown by this administration. Given the direction and the effectiveness of this administration, it is apparent that the downside potential for the effects is much more likely than any upside potential.

One of the most disturbing effects of this experiment is that it is essentially an experiment conducted within another experiment. That larger experiment is the US republic, an experiment that has run for over 240 years. Some of the techniques being used by the current administration are testing the bounds of the Federal system enshrined by the constitution. In particular, the independence of the different branches of the government has ensured that no one branch gains ascendency over the others. This independence is being threatened by the trends developing within the Republican party of providing unswerving support of the executive branch, regardless of the harmful effects of the actions of the executive. By use of the feared twitter attack, this President has caused a phenomena within the Republican congress known as “toadying”. Once the poison toad has been licked, the tongues of those affected are capable only of providing statements of affirmation towards the administration, and declaiming those of any who speak ill of the President.

The current experiment may not reach a natural conclusion. During 2018 will come a checkpoint in the experiment, where those who pay the bill for the experimenters will indicate either their approval for completing the experiment, or will choose to apply constraints upon the unfettered excesses shown to date. It is even possible that the 2018 checkpoint will cause the experiment to be canceled due to changes that may come in the legislative chambers. Those who believe in the original US experiment are desiring that the legislative change happens, and serves as a stinging reproach towards the party that allowed itself to be hijacked by incompetence and immorality.

Green Bank Observatory Trips

Green Bank Observatory Picture from Google Earth

In a narrow vale between two folds of earthen ridges in eastern West Virginia, a man-made structure stands nearly 150 meters tall. This is the Green Bank radio telescope, a unique resource that is the largest fully steerable radio telescope in the world, with an antenna 100 meters in diameter. The radio telescope is at the heart of what was once called the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, and is now run by the Green Bank Observatory. The facility is in the middle of a radio-free zone, where cell phones go to die, since there is zero cell service in this region.

The facilities at this observatory are not just for the use of professional scientists. There is a 40′ radio telescope that is available for use by school groups to learn the principles of radio astronomy, and the principles of scientific observation. I was fortunate enough to chaperone two groups of high school seniors from South Charleston High School (SCHS) on their overnight excursions to this wonderful resource. The International Baccalaureate Physics teacher at SCHS, Janet Richardson, arranged for this field trip annually. I went in the years that my sons were in her physics class.

When we reached the observatory, we had a lecture from one of the observatory staff who explained what we were going to be looking for. The 40′ telescope is now fixed in place, so it allows observations of what is directly overhead as the earth rotates. This means that you can see the galaxy rotating towards you for one part of the day, and you can see the galaxy moving away from you 12 hours later. If you have a radio telescope tuned to the correct wavelength, you can observe the emissions from hydrogen gas found in our galaxy. If you remember the Doppler effect from physics, and you think about train whistles, you will remember that as the train is coming towards you, the pitch is higher. Then when the train passes you, the pitch lowers. That is the same phenomena that the radio telescope is observing. As the hydrogen gas in the galaxy moves towards you, the frequency moves up – the signal is shifted towards the blue end of the spectrum. If the gas is moving away, the signal shifts towards the red. By taking measurements around the clock, you can see the rotation of the galaxy as measured from our position on one of the outer arms of the galaxy.

The 40′ radio telescope is one of the first telescopes within the quiet zone of the observatory. Once you enter the quiet zone, there are no powered vehicles except for old diesels. Spark plugs are capable of creating intense interference for the radio telescopes, so you see Checker cabs from the 1940’s and 1950’s available to transport people. There are some diesel vans as well that are used to move the students back and forth. You enter the quiet zone after passing by the start of the scale model of the solar system, with the inner planets grouped closely together. Then a significant gap, and finally the symbol for Jupiter appears on the side of the road. The gaps between the planets grows, and we reach our destination for observation halfway between Uranus and Neptune. The building that accompanies the 40′ scope is small above ground. Once you enter the door, you descend a short flight of stairs to come to the observation room. This is a scientific instrument history display, but all of the analog dials and gauges and chart recorders are still working. I probably used similar chart recorders back in my college days in the 1970’s.

green bank solar system model

The room where the measurements are taken has been used by various school groups for decades. Mementos of these groups can be found scrawled on the ceiling beams, and the wall beams, where you can see which colleges, and which high schools left their mark for future students to see. The students have been instructed on how to tune the receiver to the correct frequency bandwidth, to start the chart recorder, and to begin their observational period. They move the frequency detector manually through that range, and the chart recorder shows the response. Hydrogen gas, if it is not moving relative to the observer, will emit radiation at 1420 mHz. If it is moving towards the observer, the frequency will increase, and if moving away, the frequency will decrease. As they step through the frequency range, all of a sudden the antenna picks up the signal from hydrogen, and the chart pen goes up. The height of the response is proportional to the concentration of hydrogen being observed. The students move the frequency through the entire assigned range, and the pen comes back down to the baseline. Thus completes one set of measurements. Each group of students makes two observations over the course of their stay.

The first year I went, Janet asked me to stay with the students through all of the late night observation shifts. So while each student only got to see one measurement in the middle of the night, I got to see multiple hours of observation, and really got the sense of seeing the motion of the galaxy in real time. But once the last group of students took their measurements, I was ready to go back to the bunkhouse where the boys in the group were sleeping. The accommodations are not spartan, but the dual rows of bunk beds do not allow for any privacy. They do enable a bit of mischief, like the spray cheese some of the boys put on the hand of another sleeping student, ensuring that when they tickled his face, he would smear the cheese all over his face. I, being a sound sleeper, heard none of this mild mischief.

On my second trip to the observatory, we saw the place where conspiracy theorists (the tinfoil hat crowd) would love. We got to go inside of a room-sized Faraday cage. A Faraday cage is an enclosure that does not permit electromagnetic radiation of certain frequencies to enter or leave. This is where the computer equipment is for the observatory. Since the antennas are so sensitive to stray radiation, the computers have to be totally shielded away from the antennas. The walls, ceiling, and floor are all impregnated with a copper mesh. There are holes in the mesh, because they are only concerned with blocking radiation of certain wavelengths and the size of the holes in the mesh govern the size of waves that can escape.

For this middle-aged self-admitted science and astronomy nerd, the two days off work that I took for these trips were some of the better vacation days I ever spent. It’s now been 10 years since my older son took his trip. I asked both my sons about what they remembered, but it seems that the details of the science portion has been lost to the vagaries of time. I asked Janet what she had the class do with their measurements once they returned to the classroom, and she said that their task was to get an image of the galaxy by looking at their observations over the course of a day. I cannot express my appreciation to teachers like Janet Richardson, who help to ignite the spark of curiosity in classes of young men and women. She said that in the future, they may get involved in the programs that they have to discover pulsars. It’s a crowd-sourced project, where the data from observations are available, and interested volunteers can use their computers and software from the observatory to try to detect pulsars that have not yet been identified.

I noted at the first of this post that the observatory used to be known as the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. It was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). As part of the ongoing disinvestment in science that began years ago, the NSF no longer provides 95% of the funds for the facility. Up until late in 2017, it was even feasible that the NSF would call for the demolition of the telescope. But since that time, a compromise was reached that enabled the observatory to stand as a self-sustaining organization. The Green Bank Observatory now is partnering with universities, like West Virginia University, and is involved with several multi-year projects including Project Breakthrough Listen, which is surveying the million closest stars to us and looking for signs of intelligent life. But like all such facilities, the needs for funds continues. If you would like to support the science programs of this unique facility that seeks to expand our knowledge of our origins, here’s the link to get involved:   https://greenbankobservatory.org/engage/

Where Have All The Christians Gone?

Long time passing.

The demise of Christianity was declared in 2018, and the declaration was made by the current generation of Evangelical Christian leaders who assumed the mantle of leadership from their fathers. Jerry Falwell Jr. of Liberty University, tweeted the following: “Jesus said love our neighbors as ourselves but never told Caesar how to run Rome – he never said Roman soldiers should turn the other cheek in battle or that Caesar should allow all the barbarians to be Roman citizens or that Caesar should tax the rich to help poor. That’s our job.” This was in response to Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, who stated in the mulligan interview, “Evangelical Christians were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”

So the last bastion of Evangelical Christianity, having sold its soul literally to the devil in order to accomplish its legislative and judicial agendas, now has openly admitted its hypocrisy against following the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. You know, all of that squishy liberal stuff about turning the other cheek, and overturning the moneychanger’s tables in the temple, and dining with tax collectors and prostitutes. Well, at least on that last count, Donald Trump has shown that he is more than willing to share space with a prostitute, and even to provide recompense for silence. I guess he turned the other cheek in order to have it paddled with the copy of Forbes.

For those of us who have wandered in the wilderness of the mainline Protestant churches, we have long awaited an exposition like this from the holier than thou crowd. I would gloat at the naked display of hypocrisy, but that would seem too much like hubris, i.e. pride, and you know, that is one of the seven deadly sins. But for us, it has long been apparent that actual Christian culture left the building a long time ago. Ironically, our current President Donald Trump formed whatever religious beliefs he has under the tutelage of the originator of the prosperity gospel, Norman Vincent Peale. The Power of Positive Thinking is the progenitor of the prosperity gospel movement, where worth is measured by the bank account rather than by beliefs in the gospel. This bastardization of the biblical message has grown by leaps and bounds over the subsequent decades, and now, wrapped in its mantle of praise bands and lyrics to hymns displayed on screens inside of modernistic sanctuaries, has completed a hostile takeover of the message of the gospel. Combine this with those who discern prophetic messages about the ascension of Donald Trump from Youtube videos, it completes the surrealistic transformation of the evangelical wing of the Christian church.

Back in the late 1970’s, there was serious discussion about whether Ronald Reagan would be accepted by Christians since he was “DIVORCED”. The answer was clear, divorce was no longer a barrier to electoral success. Still, the issue of marital fidelity consumed the Evangelical crowd, so much so that when President Clinton had his infamous encounter with the blue dress, the response from the Evangelical community was not whether Bill Clinton deserved impeachment, but whether he deserved to be drawn before being quartered. Now, two decades later, the Evangelical community has chosen to cling to the robes of a charlatan who pretends when it is advantageous, to pay lip service to the precepts of Christianity. Or at least the Christianity he heard in his younger days. Now he is happy to have his little cracker during those infrequent times when he attends a church service. He has abandoned all pretense at following marital vows of fidelity, but then again, he got a mulligan.

So the Faustian bargain has been struck, and the Evangelical Christians are reaping the benefits. They’ve gotten judicial nominations aplenty, and the vacancies within the court system that were prevented from being filled by the Republicans during Obama’s terms of office, are being stuffed with judicial candidates that are declared as unqualified. The liberal organization calling the candidates unqualified? None other than the American Bar Association, a hotbed of liberal activism.

What else have the Evangelical Christians received as their part of the bargain? Daily doses of the violation of the commandment against bearing false witness (lying) from their dear leader. The honor of being represented by a government that believes the worst of anyone who does not look like America in the 1950’s – white, male, and macho. They’ve received reinforcing messages that the rest of the world owes the US – owes us trading relationships that always favor the US (because we deserve it so!), owes us unilateral obedience when we complain about another country (but don’t say anything about abrogating multi-lateral relationships and treaties), owe us respect when we take action that is nearly universally decried in the United Nations. We’ve gone, in one single year, from a nation that was respected for our moral position and standing (whether we deserved it or not), to one that is now being actively and deservedly disrespected for our selfish and short-sighted policy pronouncements and our diplomacy via tweet.

But the vast majority of Trump’s Evangelical supporters won’t consider that their leader is the antithesis of a moral follower of Christ. No, instead he is the first adherent of the Church of Celebrity ever to hold high national political office inside of the US. And as such, he is remaking the moral code of the nation into one befitting this new religion. It is now, what’s in it for me, and how much can I take, and what can I get away with. Those are the precepts driving the actions of this administration.

Still, it does not seem to matter. What matters to many is that Trump speaks his unfiltered thoughts via twitter. He does not need any intermediary in order to shovel his best covfefe into the brains of his addled followers. They can judge the validity of his statements on their own. And why in the world would we ever need eloquence in the political sphere? Eloquence, like competence and expertise, is much overrated in this day and age. When anyone and everyone can state something as a fact, and dare the world to contradict it, why do we need universal standards of behavior? It only gets in the way of our agenda.

Normality and morality are being redefined before our eyes. I hope that the deviancy that Trump has brought to our national stage is transitory, and that we can regain our moral bearing and actually be a light unto the world again. You know, back when America was Great.

The Beat Goes On

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And the beat goes on.

The beat goes on.

Drums keep pounding rhythm to the brain.

 

For those of you who remember Sonny and Cher’s signature song, I hope I’ve put an earworm into your brain that you will find hard to eradicate. For those who aren’t familiar, go ahead and google. It fits in today’s world.

The beat keeps going on. The beat of intolerance and ignorance emanating from the Trump administration echoes across the American landscape. The stench of nativism permeates from the Republicans, a stench that has defiled both political parties over their existence. In the United States, we’ve had two foundational sins. The first was slavery, and the remnants of that sin still roil the social fabric of this country. The second was nativism, and the tenets of that sin have changed over the decades and centuries. Still, both of these original sins taint our political landscape to this day, and still divide this nation.

Slavery formed the basis for the Southern agricultural economy of this nation for its founding phase. When slavery was forcibly ejected from this nation, a large region of this nation held an underclass in its midst. This underclass was impossible to miss since it was defined by color. But even though the constitution was changed to enable former slaves to claim freedom, the attitude that defined a black life as being worthy of 3/5 of a white life still resonated throughout society. So legislation that demeaned blacks came into existence, and stayed in place until the civil rights awakening of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Since that time, blacks have seen significant progress in terms of racial and economic equality. Still, there is a large fraction of the black population that has not shared in the growth of this nation’s economy during the last 50 years. The response of the Trump administration to any discussion about economic and social grievances from this minority? Denunciation of NFL players for taking a knee in support of the current civil rights movement. Denunciation of the homelands of many blacks as being, well, you know the word. And taking personal credit for the slow, steady improvement in employment metrics that are merely continuing the improvements since the Great Recession.

Although it may be impossible to define a causal relationship, it seems apparent that the racist undercurrent inside of the US has been unleashed by the rhetoric emanating from the Trump administration. The naked hatred espoused by the Charlottesville neo-Nazi demonstrators was only haltingly denounced by the President, and the equivocation given by claiming that there was equal guilt on both sides removed much of the effect of the denunciation. One only needs to look at on-line forums to see an explosion of racially charged animus that has been unleashed in the current political environment.

Nativism is the second principle espoused by the MAGATS (Make America Great Again Trump Supporters). Upon taking the reins of power, nearly the first act of this administration was to submit an ill-conceived, and ultimately unconstitutional travel ban. Aimed ostensibly at preventing terror, it reflected the deepest fears of the Trump administration about “The Others”. The mindset of Donald Trump is that the outside world is scary, and “they” are out to get us. We must protect our vital national security by forcible repatriation of all who do not meet the letter of the law as being ‘Muricans! In order to accomplish this repatriation, this administration is willing to implement a “Papers Please!” environment like that demonstrated in January 2018 in Florida. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents boarded a Greyhound bus and required everyone to show their papers, in order to demonstrate a legal right to be in this nation. Scenes reminiscent of totalitarian states of the past where the right of transit was allowed solely at the discretion of the government are returning to a bus near you, courtesy of your friendly ICE agents.

The Trump administration is willing to go to the mat in order to fulfill its bizarre quest to pretend to halt foot traffic across the US-Mexican border by constructing a massive, wasteful wall. Would that a physical barrier could prevent the vast majority of illegal immigration. Alas, that dream of stopping all illegal immigrants by a physical barrier should be relegated as part of the opioid crisis as yet another pipe dream. Instead, estimates are that 2/3 of all illegal aliens who enter the US each year, do so by first coming into this country legally, then overstay their allowed time within the country and establish residence here illegally. Yet the simplistic Trump administration insists upon the wrong solution for the problem by a monomaniacal pursuit of “A Great Big Beautiful Wall.” A wall that would be an environmental catastrophe, would cost an excessive amount of money, and when all is said and done, would not stop the problem of illegal immigration into the US. That sounds like it is about par for the course for the Trump administration.

Oh, no, I used a golf term. That will distract our illustrious leader by causing him to lose his intense focus on the problems of this country, while he goes out to one of his innumerable golf properties for a few hours of heavy governmental work. Wait, I’ve got it. The solution to the border issue. What if we construct a 2000 mile stretch of Trump golf properties strung out along the border with Mexico? We could engage the support of our President in maintaining surveillance as he patrols the length of the border, engaging in continual golf, preventing the incursion of those nasty people through well-placed administration of a 2-iron alongside the side of the head. Yeah, that would be the ticket, wouldn’t it?

The beat goes on.

 

Winter Did Come

Snow in woods

Whose woods are these? They’re mine, you know. And they are really filling up with snow.

apologies to Robert Frost.

Poem paraphrase courtesy of my wife Carrie.

When you are retired, the concept of a Monday doesn’t resonate quite as badly as during a work week. But last week, we truly had a Monday. It started in the cold morning as the temperature was down to low single digits, after having been below freezing almost continually for 2 weeks. This was the longest sub-freezing cold streak I can remember since moving here in 1986. It finally got above freezing on Sunday, and the temperature in our unheated garage rose enough to allow water to flow through the copper tubing and find the hole which had burst during the extended freeze.

My wife was getting ready to go to the Rec Center to do her water exercises, but she heard water running. Never a good sign when you have no reason for water to be running. Turns out we now had an improvised car wash that was knocking the salt off of our car inside the garage. I stumbled downstairs in response to her call out to me, and was able to turn off the flow of water by closing the two valves leading out to our garage. Now the takeoff for this water line is upstream of the main house shutoff, so later this year, we will be plumbing this whole thing up right, including relocating the takeoff to downstream of the shutoff valve, and providing heat tape for the section of the line in the garage. Fortunately for us, we caught the leak shortly after it started, so no water damage, and we won’t be using the outside hose for a while.

Later on Monday we had cabinetry installed, so the kitchen was full of workers. Then we had a backup in our weirdly configured plumbing down in our laundry room, where the combined effluent from the kitchen dishwasher and the washing machine was backing up out of the floor drain and flowing across our basement floor. Discovered this just before I had to leave for a previously scheduled dental appointment. So I had to leave the mess to Carrie. An hour later, the workers from Roto-Rooter were in the driveway along with the cabinetry folks. I parked on the street but they had gotten the plug loosened (was related to the cold weather but wasn’t a frozen line). So add it all together, and I figure we’ve had enough Monday mishaps to last us for months.

Winter has settled in on our house, after having left us virtually untouched the last few years. Still not much snow – the 4″ we got this week was the biggest snowfall we’ve had, and it was so fluffy I could push it and not have to lift it. So the snow blower has yet to receive its first workout of the year.

The local birds and squirrels are pleased with the buffet laid out for them on our porch. Actually haven’t seen too many squirrels, but the morning doves come in droves. When I open the porch in the morning, the whirring of their wings as they take flight echoes from the feeder, the porch rail, the floor. We must have 6-8 of them who are focused on our feeder at times. The suet feeder is attracting many different birds, including a misplaced mockingbird I saw the other day. I always thought they migrated away, but I saw one last week at the suet.

morning doves

Its seed catalog time. This is the time when the marketing team for the Burpees and Gurneys and other seed vendors arrive unbidden, and they bring the hope and dreams of spring and summer. I have a new raised bed to install, replacing a 4″ x 4′ x 4′ with a 15″ deep x 3′ x 4′ version. When I made my garden 3 years ago, I crowded the beds too much, leaving inadequate space between beds. Plus my knees are much worse than they were, so having a 15″ high bed will be very nice. As the other frames deteriorate, I’ll likely change them as well. One thing I’ll say is that you will never receive a positive cash return if you are using raised beds for gardening. They are expensive and their yield is less than you’d need to make money from them. But if you just love to have the fresh vegetables, and enjoy the work to make things grow, the return is more than positive. The dreams of spring grow apace in winter.

The daffodils of spring are starting to poke their heads up. As the snow melts on the banks, you can see the green shoots start to emerge. They are smart enough to not grow excessively for a while, at least until the temperature really warms for multiple days. But for us, the earliest harbingers of spring will be the crocuses that pop up all over the lawn. I’ve never known how these corns moved all over the lawn, but they have naturalized everywhere. There will be some of them that will emerge on the first 70 degree day, but not yet. The snow must leave and the robins must come back before they make their appearance.

A Sad Case of Stockholm Syndrome

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The grizzled detective pondered the crime scene laid out before his eyes. He pushed back the brim of his hat, bent down, and reached out to touch the cooling body of one of the victims. He rolled the body over, and it was apparent that the victim had fallen upon his own sword. Same posture as all of the others who spread drying blood into the exquisite carpets of the cabinet room. The detective looked over to his assistant, who held a notebook and pen, awaiting the wisdom about to come from the veteran crime solver.

“It appears to be a severe case of Stockholm Syndrome,” said the detective. “Notice how all of these Cabinet Secretaries, Senators, and Congressmen, all managed to off themselves with what was available to them.” The detective pointed over to one of the victims, who obviously had a difficult time in offing himself. All he had was a letter opener, and it was clear that he had fallen repeatedly upon the less than sharp point until it pierced his heart.

The detective turned away from the scene in front of him in disgust. “We’d best go and take a look at the scene as it played out.” Fortunately for posterity’s sake, all of the meetings in the cabinet room were now televised live. The cameras ran unattended, which kept the lying media from having a presence in the room. The cabinet room’s new nickname was Soundstage 3, befitting the experience of the resident of the house. For the resident understood a good show, and slowly his administration became the highest profile reality TV show ever scripted. You can assume a regal posture if you only have to be on your best while the cameras are rolling.

The scene was cued up for the detective to peruse. At first, nothing was different from many of the previous meetings in this room where both cabinet members, and Republican members of the House and Senate gathered. They each took turns heaping unadulterated mounds of fetid praise upon the personage of the resident of the house. One after another, each speaker offered their undying gratitude towards the resident, the whole session an attempt at one-upmanship, where the trick was to employ the most cloying and excessive adjectives and lay them at the feet of the resident. The resident sat in his chair in the center of the gathering with his arms folded against his expansive torso, and occasionally favored a particularly exceptional offering with a bit of a nod and a slight upward twist of his mouth.

Finally, the last person offered up his praise. As befitted the established tradition, that was the Vice President, who set a new record for the number of times he compared the resident of the house with the greatest humans who had ever set foot upon the planet. He extended his own record for the number of times he declared his undying gratitude at having the opportunity to serve the resident. With that, the resident of the house uncrossed his arms, and began to enunciate the reason for the meeting.

“I was just in a meeting, they were telling me, it was impossible to get to 270, but we did it, a massive things even though there was no collusion, no collusion with the Russians, though the Democrats did have collusion, they got that dossier, they used it to spy on me, no way that we had collusion with the Russians, but those Democrats, they took Hillary’s e-mails and sent them to the server which they bleached. I mean, can you believe they poured bleach all over the server?” As he spoke, he picked up several ball bearings that were arranged in front of the resident, and began to turn them over and over in his hands.

He began to speak with more urgency. “Now, the Democrats want us to open our borders, want us to stop spending money for defense, they want us to surrender. SURRENDER!” He slammed his hand down on the table and the ball bearings scattered all over the table. Several people hurriedly chased after the rolling bearings, and gathered them and placed them back in front of the resident.”And there’s good people on both side, both sides, nothing wrong with being in favor of your race, those blacks have their own organizations.” He looked up and down the table, watching the exaggerated nodding of the heads of the meeting participants. He really had them in the palm of his hand. He looked down where his hand had found the ball bearings and was twisting them around, again and again.

“We don’t need those rapists, those criminals they are sending from their shitholes. No way they’ll ever want to go back to their mud huts, we need more Norwegians here. And we can make it happen. Now my people have told me of something that happened a long time ago – long ago. They wanted the people sent back over to Africa, to Liberia. That’s what we can do, get all of them sent back to Liberia or some other country over there. They won’t be taking a knee while our anthem is playing if they’re back home in Africa. We can do it!”

There was a stunned silence in the room. But slowly, a murmur began to emerge from the throats of the meeting participants. It swelled and was amplified as everyone joined the chant that became a coherent call. “We! Can! Do! It!” The chant echoed off of the walls, and soon even the staid Republicans were dancing around their chairs, arms linked as they circled around each other. The crowd was psyched. They were enraptured. They were prisoners of the resident, sharing in his delusions, unaware that what they had just committed their own political suicide. They had just been shown on live TV agreeing to a new proposal to forcibly re-segregate the country by expelling their fellow citizens.

There was one participant in the room who had thought this through. His voice called out to the resident. “Do you think maybe folks will think this is racist?”

The change that came over the resident’s face was startling. A flush of red colored his visage, and his mouth extended forward as spittle flew from his lips as he shouted. “How dare you! How dare you question my plan! My plan is the greatest plan ever made. I am the greatest! And who are you to question me? You all can kill yourselves for all I care. Come along, Mike.” The Vice President sprang to his feet and quickly followed the resident, who was storming out of the room. Soon afterwards, the cameras captured the images of the Cabinet secretaries, Senators, and members of the House all began to fall over themselves, searching for the tools to effect their own demise, which played on and on until there was no movement left in the room save for the slow spread of blood across the table and the rugs.

The detective turned off the replay of the scene, and turned towards his assistant. “I can remember when the resident started. There were Republicans who would stand up to him. They told him when his conduct was unacceptable. They claimed they’d never work with him. Then he won. And they slowly, slowly fell under his spell. You could see it with Graham. He’d been quoted as saying that he was a kook, was unqualified. But recently, he said the problem with the press was that they were calling him an unqualified kook. He’d been captured. It happened to all of them. They realized this was there one, best chance to implement their goals of cutting taxes, pleasing their donors. They never understood they were selling their souls in the exchange.” The detective stood up, and got ready to leave the room. “No point in investigating further. It was obvious that these prisoners grew to believe whole heartedly in his mission, so much so that they were willing to follow his off-hand suggestion to its logical conclusion.”

He left the room and the medical teams came in and started to remove the bodies inside of the cabinet room.

 

A Winter’s Eve Entertainment

jerry fort Photo copyright Husker.com

It was hard to be a Nebraska basketball fan in the middle 1970’s. Still is, as a matter of fact. Though the team has broken through and has participated in multiple NCAA tournaments, they still have not won a game in the tournament, nor have they won any conference championship since 1950. They did win the NIT in 1996, but no luck whatsoever in the NCAA. They are now the only power conference school who has never won an NCAA tournament game.

Nebraska played basketball in the Nebraska Coliseum. This red brick building was lovingly referred to as “the barn”, and held about 9,000 people if a shoehorn was used to cram them in. There was an arch centered over the court, and there were stands in the south end. The north end only had bleachers, and then there were bleachers that lined both sides of the court. The place was so small and tight that if you were on the front row, you had to move your feet so that a player could throw the ball in. When the place was full on a frozen Nebraska winter night, the warmth and crowd noise was overwhelming.

There was a tradition at the games that everyone stood until the first points were scored by Nebraska. One particularly bad game, we stood against Oklahoma for over 8 minutes of playing time. That was the year when the football team scored 77 points against Army. The basketball team, on the other hand, never scored more than 76 points in a single game. Needless to say, it was a quixotic challenge to be a Nebraska basketball fan. The team did have a winning record my last 3 years, but the frustration had built up.

Nebraska had one guard who had the most unusual shooting style I’ve ever seen. Jerry Fort was the guard who would hold the basketball directly over his head, then flick his wrist to propel the ball towards the hoop. He had a long-range shot that would have been of more value if he played in the 3-point shot era. His shooting style and the Nebraska Coliseum bleachers are shown in the picture at the top. I may be in the picture, since I attended every home game during my 4 years in college. But I was unable to find my face in the crowd. You can see how close the feet in the first row were to the playing surface.

College students being as they are, we were convinced that we knew everything, and so even though in our senior year the team had a good winning record, we were leading cheers against our coach, Joe Cipriano. He went by the diminutive of Cip, and so we were calling out to “Fire Cip”. One game we had assistance from one of our dorm floor residents who worked in the computer science program. He was able to write a program that printed out on those old green computer printout sheets the words FIRE CIP across multiple sheets of paper. A group of us sat together, and at an opportune time during the game, we unfurled the banner and chanted our little chant. Some of the crowd joined us, but the chant never reached full volume in the place.

The game ended, and I was walking out with my roommate, Sam. Sam was tall, about 6’4″, and we had just left the court area and were walking next to the trophy case. Suddenly Sam was accosted by this small person, probably about 5’7″, who took a swing at Sam and was ready to go at it with him. I grabbed this guy by the arms and pinned him up against the trophy case, where a lot of the football championship hardware was displayed, and told the guy to calm down. He did, I released him, and we went back into the cold February night air for our walk across campus. Back then, in college, I gauged whether it was cold based upon whether I had ice crystals form on my mustache by the time I got to my destination. I think that night, it was cold.

We got into our room later, and found out from a friend that the person who had accosted Sam, was the coach’s son. Never did hear anything more about the incident. Nowadays, with all of the increased security and police presence, we probably would have ended up being charged with some sort of offense, but not then.

My senior year in college was the last year that basketball was played in the Coliseum. The following spring in 1976, my graduation ceremony was held in the new Devaney Center. We even had President Gerald Ford give our commencement address, although I couldn’t tell you one thing that he said. Since I left campus, even the Devaney Center has been supplanted as a basketball arena, though it is still used for women’s volleyball for the NCAA champions. I guess I must be getting old when my memories are two basketball arenas behind the current arena. Well, hope springs eternal, and I will be rooting for Nebraska basketball to shed is oxymoronic status, and win a game this year in the NCAA tournament.

In Honor of Fire and Fury

Trump's world

I wish I had begun my blog in 2016 instead of 2017. That way, I would have been able to claim ownership of this parody of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, by the band.  I wrote it in July of 2016. But since the topic of the parody just won’t get out of the news, I am posting it now, in honor of the new book by Michael Wolff. I won’t claim complete prescience, but …..

Donald Trump is the name, and I ran to be President,

Till reality set in, and I learned what that job meant,

I was tweeting up a storm, scoring bigly, worried not ’bout form

Told that I was going to fall, it’s a thing I remember not at all

 

The night they drove the Donald mad, and all the bells were ringing

The night they drove the Donald mad, and all the people were singing, they went

What were we thinking of, he’s loony, and incompetent

 

Back with my wife in Trump tower, and I showed her my huge hands

She say “Donald, run for office, there’s no one can beat your stands”

Now I possess the candidacy, and I don’t care if Ryan falls from a tree,

You don’t diss the Don, you pay homage instead,

But I can’t stand that they call me sick in the head

 

The night they drove the Donald mad, and all the bells were ringing

The night they drove the Donald mad, and all the people were singing, they went

What were we thinking of, he’s loony, and incompetent

 

Call me ignorant of founding texts, I will trash your wife,

Call me poor as a businessman, I will ruin your life,

I’m no loser, I’m hugely big, and Pocahontas, I see you are a pig

Can’t wait till I’ve got the button to press,

You will see those losers in distress

 

The night they drove the Donald mad, and all the bells were ringing

The night they drove the Donald mad, and all the people were singing, they went

What were we thinking of, he’s loony, and incompetent

 

The Party of Pragmatism

fractured flag

Clauses and adjectives fly back and forth in attempts to spear opponents. Verbs are parried and thrust, aiming for the weak spot in the logical armor of the arguments of the opposite opinion. Nowhere is there an attempt to gain understanding across the chasm of ideologies. And thus we continue this bifurcation of the political spectrum, with the extremes of the right and left pulling apart the middle who does not have a voice in the cacophony of political discourse.

The silent majority of the US does not identify either as a progressive socialist liberal nor as a libertarian follower of Ayn Rand. In early 2016, before the craziness of the latest election cycle played out, fully 42% of the US voting age population identified as independent. Only 29% were self-identified Democrats, and 26% were Republicans. Obviously, the ideologies of both parties are being rejected by a plurality of the population. Neither party appeals to a broad swatch of the voting-age citizens of the US. Yet it is the ideologies of the extremes that are driving the legislative agenda of government. And it is the fear of being primaried by a fanatic of one’s own party who paints an incumbent as being insufficiently ideologically pure that keeps pushing the parties further and further towards the extremes.

This skewing of the discourse towards the extremes is what is poisoning the well of civic dialogue. Of course you cannot ever dare to forge a compromise with the evil bastards of the opposition. If you do, you will be pilloried as a RINO or a cuck or some other derogatory term. We must maintain ideological purity at all costs! Who cares if the country falls down all around us, at least we kept ourselves pure.

Thus we get legislation that doesn’t address real problems, but is enacted through parliamentary tricks simply because it can be done. The mental gymnastics that were used in unsuccessful attempts to repeal health care, and the similar gymnastics that were used to ram a Trojan horse tax bill through using reconciliation in the Senate laid bare the legislative charade for all to see. This time it was the Republicans who used the tools to pass legislation that is deeply unpopular with the voters of this nation. A few years ago it was the Democrats who were unsuccessful in getting Republican participation in creating the Affordable Care Act, thus forever relegating that legislation to become a perennial target for repeal. It really doesn’t matter what the actual legislation is. The fact is that it has become impossible to work in a bipartisan fashion, because the power structure in both political parties has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

As this trend towards political extremism lurches forward, the side effects are becoming more and more toxic. The Republican party entered this year with majorities in both houses of Congress, and a (nominally) Republican President. Yet due to the constant pull towards the right, they were unsuccessful in passing any sort of repeal of the Affordable Care Act. What passed the House with its fermented tea influence was too extreme for the Senate to take up. What came out of the Senate still found enough disfavor with the shriveled moderate wing of the party, and the result was a series of embarrassing failures. All because the power in the Republican party did not accept the possibility of developing a truly bipartisan piece of legislation by working with Democrats.

The only success that Republicans had legislatively in 2017 came when they finally acknowledged the necessity to kiss the ring of their potentate, and accept a tax reform proposal whose only reform was to cut corporate rates, and sprinkle a little paycheck dust on the working class, while bestowing outsized largesse upon the donor class who keep greasing the gears of politics. The display of toadying that accompanied the celebration at the White House after passage was outside of my experience. The sound of sucking up heard on the White House steps rivaled only the sound of jobs being sucked down to Mexico after the NAFTA treaty (according to Ross Perot).

So what is it that the middle of the nation would like to see? What is it that those of us who are not party activists want from our elected officials going into the future? I can only speak for myself, but I can enumerate several items that I think would truly move this country forward again, instead of subjecting ourselves to bashing our heads repeatedly into concrete blocks like we’re doing now.

I’d like to see a real effort made to put the Social Security system on sound actuarial footing. A part of that would come from raising the earnings subjected to Social Security. A part might come from a small increase in the tax withholdings (say from 6.2% to 6.5%, increased by no more than 0.05% per year.) A part should come from examining the Social Security Disability system, since it has become a de facto welfare system that is rife with corruption ( See eastern Kentucky), and is the epitome of a debilitating system for those whose ambition in life is to draw a check. But I’d also like to see a new option added to Social Security, one where a fraction of a person’s withholdings would go toward purchasing an equity-based product, with the aim that eventually when a person retired, they would have an equity share in the nation’s economy that could either be converted into an annuity (Social Security Plus) or turned over to the control of the retiree. What would be better than to have equity ownership and the virtues of capitalism shared across the entire nation, instead of just the investor class. By the way, such a combination plan (partial privatization coupled with tax increases) just might find bipartisan favor, if someone had the guts to propose this.

I’d like to see a real effort made to increase the portion of the gross domestic product that is applied to maintain and improve our infrastructure. I’d like it to be set up for at least a 5 year period so that the private companies who will be doing the work will gain the confidence to invest in equipment and labor and training to ensure that we don’t get in a boom and bust cycle, which is a very inefficient way to spend money. The money for this infrastructure work should be local, state and Federally based, but the majority should be Federal funds. Perhaps an imaginative program could be made where local and state governments borrow excess Social Security funds and pay back at a lower rate than the bond market, but pay Social Security more than Treasury rates. And the money would be put to work, instead of sitting in a lockbox doing nothing (we should have done this 15 years ago).

I’d like a real attempt made to control medical costs. If someone were to design the most inefficient medical system possible, you may not top the one we’ve cobbled together. We apply costs to the companies providing benefits, hobbling their competitiveness, while begrudgingly providing one step up from charity care with Medicaid. Meanwhile, a relatively efficient Medicare system goes on but doesn’t ever become a model for expansion. I’d like to see medical coverage decoupled from employer provision, and a basic medical provision be made through the government. Insurance providers should serve as they do in Medicare, by providing supplemental coverage. They seem to do right well at that, given the volume of ads aimed at convincing seniors of their benefits. If you freed companies from paying and administering medical benefits, you really could unleash the competitiveness of the private sector. And someone needs to really look at the pharmaceutical industry since their costs keep growing exponentially in our current system.

I’d like to see a real effort made to reform the safety net. Not with the goal of eliminating it willy-nilly, but in making it more efficient with less administrative overhead, and making it family-friendly instead of placing barriers in the way of encouraging families and marriage. You want people to be encouraged to work, instead of causing them to avoid working to avoid losing some of their benefits. What we have now does not work well.

I’d like to see public school education valued instead of becoming the punching bag for every dissatisfied interest group in the nation. I’d like to see academic achievement placed on an equal standing with athletic achievement, and I’d like to see the culture shift towards making it cool to be smart. Something to yearn for instead of being the target of bullying.

I’d like to see a real review of our military and its mission and its financial needs. Some of the revisions sought by the President may be valuable and worthwhile, but his methods of bullying our allies while supporting the strongmen of the world is the wrong way to go. But do we really need military bases in so many places, supporting who knows what missions? The first time years ago I heard that we had an Africa Command I wondered who authorized this, and what is it doing? And while we’re at it, I believe diplomacy is more valuable than military might, so I’d like this evisceration of the diplomatic function to cease immediately.

Now, I know that this list (and it’s only a partial list) will be assailed as being agin’ the Constitution. So be it. My interpretation of the Constitution under the general welfare clause allows for functions to be undertaken without being specifically enumerated within a clause of the document. The world is a far different place than it was 230 years ago when the Constitution was written. If we are going to exist with our neighbors and our adversaries without going to armed conflict, then we need to adapt to the realities of the world today. We cannot afford to be ideological purists like we could when we were building this nation in the 1800’s. And besides, it seems like ideological purity caused our greatest internal conflict back about 1861. No, instead of a Tea Party reverting to original principles that won’t work in today’s world, we need a Pragmatic Party, working to deal with real problems in a way that allows for them to be solved while still allowing for regional and state differences in approaches. Who’s with me?

The Party of Pragmatism

fractured flag

Clauses and adjectives fly back and forth in attempts to spear opponents. Verbs are parried and thrust, aiming for the weak spot in the logical armor of the arguments of the opposite opinion. Nowhere is there an attempt to gain understanding across the chasm of ideologies. And thus we continue this bifurcation of the political spectrum, with the extremes of the right and left pulling apart the middle who does not have a voice in the cacophony of political discourse.

The silent majority of the US does not identify either as a progressive socialist liberal nor as a libertarian follower of Ayn Rand. In early 2016, before the craziness of the latest election cycle played out, fully 42% of the US voting age population identified as independent. Only 29% were self-identified Democrats, and 26% were Republicans. Obviously, the ideologies of both parties are being rejected by a plurality of the population. Neither party appeals to a broad swatch of the voting-age citizens of the US. Yet it is the ideologies of the extremes that are driving the legislative agenda of government. And it is the fear of being primaried by a fanatic of one’s own party who paints an incumbent as being insufficiently ideologically pure that keeps pushing the parties further and further towards the extremes.

This skewing of the discourse towards the extremes is what is poisoning the well of civic dialogue. Of course you cannot ever dare to forge a compromise with the evil bastards of the opposition. If you do, you will be pilloried as a RINO or a cuck or some other derogatory term. We must maintain ideological purity at all costs! Who cares if the country falls down all around us, at least we kept ourselves pure.

Thus we get legislation that doesn’t address real problems, but is enacted through parliamentary tricks simply because it can be done. The mental gymnastics that were used in unsuccessful attempts to repeal health care, and the similar gymnastics that were used to ram a Trojan horse tax bill through using reconciliation in the Senate laid bare the legislative charade for all to see. This time it was the Republicans who used the tools to pass legislation that is deeply unpopular with the voters of this nation. A few years ago it was the Democrats who were unsuccessful in getting Republican participation in creating the Affordable Care Act, thus forever relegating that legislation to become a perennial target for repeal. It really doesn’t matter what the actual legislation is. The fact is that it has become impossible to work in a bipartisan fashion, because the power structure in both political parties has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

As this trend towards political extremism lurches forward, the side effects are becoming more and more toxic. The Republican party entered this year with majorities in both houses of Congress, and a (nominally) Republican President. Yet due to the constant pull towards the right, they were unsuccessful in passing any sort of repeal of the Affordable Care Act. What passed the House with its fermented tea influence was too extreme for the Senate to take up. What came out of the Senate still found enough disfavor with the shriveled moderate wing of the party, and the result was a series of embarrassing failures. All because the power in the Republican party did not accept the possibility of developing a truly bipartisan piece of legislation by working with Democrats.

The only success that Republicans had legislatively in 2017 came when they finally acknowledged the necessity to kiss the ring of their potentate, and accept a tax reform proposal whose only reform was to cut corporate rates, and sprinkle a little paycheck dust on the working class, while bestowing outsized largesse upon the donor class who keep greasing the gears of politics. The display of toadying that accompanied the celebration at the White House after passage was outside of my experience. The sound of sucking up heard on the White House steps rivaled only the sound of jobs being sucked down to Mexico after the NAFTA treaty (according to Ross Perot).

So what is it that the middle of the nation would like to see? What is it that those of us who are not party activists want from our elected officials going into the future? I can only speak for myself, but I can enumerate several items that I think would truly move this country forward again, instead of subjecting ourselves to bashing our heads repeatedly into concrete blocks like we’re doing now.

I’d like to see a real effort made to put the Social Security system on sound actuarial footing. A part of that would come from raising the earnings subjected to Social Security. A part might come from a small increase in the tax withholdings (say from 6.2% to 6.5%, increased by no more than 0.05% per year.) A part should come from examining the Social Security Disability system, since it has become a de facto welfare system that is rife with corruption ( see eastern Kentucky), and is the epitome of a debilitating system for those whose ambition in life is to draw a check. But I’d also like to see a new option added to Social Security, one where a fraction of a person’s withholdings would go toward purchasing an equity-based product, with the aim that eventually when a person retired, they would have an equity share in the nation’s economy that could either be converted into an annuity (Social Security Plus) or turned over to the control of the retiree. What would be better than to have equity ownership and the virtues of capitalism shared across the entire nation, instead of just the investor class. By the way, such a combination plan (partial privatization coupled with tax increases) just might find bipartisan favor, if someone had the guts to propose this.

I’d like to see a real effort made to increase the portion of the gross domestic product that is applied to maintain and improve our infrastructure. I’d like it to be set up for at least a 5 year period so that the private companies who will be doing the work will gain the confidence to invest in equipment and labor and training to ensure that we don’t get in a boom and bust cycle, which is a very inefficient way to spend money. The money for this infrastructure work should be local, state and Federally based, but the majority should be Federal funds. Perhaps an imaginative program could be made where local and state governments borrow excess Social Security funds and pay back at a lower rate than the bond market, but pay Social Security more than Treasury rates. And the money would be put to work, instead of sitting in a lockbox doing nothing (we should have done this 15 years ago).

I’d like a real attempt made to control medical costs. If someone were to design the most inefficient medical system possible, you may not top the one we’ve cobbled together. We apply costs to the companies providing benefits, hobbling their competitiveness, while begrudgingly providing one step up from charity care with Medicaid. Meanwhile, a relatively efficient Medicare system goes on but doesn’t ever become a model for expansion. I’d like to see medical coverage decoupled from employer provision, and a basic medical provision be made through the government. Insurance providers should serve as they do in Medicare, by providing supplemental coverage. They seem to do right well at that, given the volume of ads aimed at convincing seniors of their benefits. If you freed companies from paying and administering medical benefits, you really could unleash the competitiveness of the private sector. And someone needs to really look at the pharmaceutical industry since their costs keep growing exponentially in our current system.

I’d like to see a real effort made to reform the safety net. Not with the goal of eliminating it willy-nilly, but in making it more efficient with less administrative overhead, and making it family-friendly instead of placing barriers in the way of encouraging families and marriage. You want people to be encouraged to work, instead of causing them to avoid working to avoid losing some of their benefits. What we have now does not work well.

I’d like to see public school education valued instead of becoming the punching bag for every dissatisfied interest group in the nation. I’d like to see academic achievement placed on an equal standing with athletic achievement, and I’d like to see the culture shift towards making it cool to be smart. Something to yearn for instead of being the target of bullying.

I’d like to see a real review of our military and its mission and its financial needs. Some of the revisions sought by the President may be valuable and worthwhile, but his methods of bullying our allies while supporting the strongmen of the world is the wrong way to go. But do we really need military bases in so many places, supporting who knows what missions? The first time years ago I heard that we had an Africa Command I wondered who authorized this, and what is it doing? And while we’re at it, I believe diplomacy is more valuable than military might, so I’d like this evisceration of the diplomatic function to cease immediately.

Now, I know that this list (and it’s only a partial list) will be assailed as being agin’ the Constitution. So be it. My interpretation of the Constitution under the general welfare clause allows for functions to be undertaken without being specifically enumerated within a clause of the document. The world is a far different place than it was 230 years ago when the Constitution was written. If we are going to exist with our neighbors and our adversaries without going to armed conflict, then we need to adapt to the realities of the world today. We cannot afford to be ideological purists like we could when we were building this nation in the 1800’s. And besides, it seems like ideological purity caused our greatest internal conflict back about 1861. No, instead of a Tea Party reverting to original principles that won’t work in today’s world, we need a Pragmatic Party, working to deal with real problems in a way that allows for them to be solved while still allowing for regional and state differences in approaches. Who’s with me?