It’s Called Exponential Growth, Stupid

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The world and universe we live in operates according to scientific principles. That governs things like the rates of infection from a virus humanity has never before encountered. The response from humanity to exposure to this new virus is similar to when Native Americans were exposed to viruses like smallpox where there was no community immunity. It decimated the native population.

When this sort of illness is unleashed upon our population, mathematical relationships and principles become extremely important. In this case, the two figures are the infectivity rate, or Rowhich is the number of people that each carrier of the virus may be expected to infect, and the mortality rate, or fraction of people who will die once they contract the virus. In the journal Nature, this chart shows how the new virus stacks up against some of the other diseases feared by mankind.

Nature chart

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00758-2

This chart shows that the infectivity is estimated to be both much higher than the seasonal flu, and that the death rate is far, far higher. Higher even than the 1918 pandemic flu which was the last time humanity faced a global pandemic. Given these estimates, and observing the exponential growth in infections, it is the height of folly to believe that we will be able to “open up the country for business” in just over two weeks.

But that is what is being peddled by those who value money more than life. We face an enemy that has the potential to inflict more casualties than all the foreign wars the US has engaged in, during the timeframe of a few months. This wave of potential chaos sweeping across our nation’s health care infrastructure will finally open the eyes of this nation to the raging incompetence of the current administration.

It is certain that this administration has deliberately taken an approach that is aimed at protecting the popularity and electability of this President instead of focusing on the public health crisis we face. And now the evil is oozing out of those on the right on a daily basis, resulting in people saying that the “cure” (social distancing, closure of businesses), will have worse effects than the pandemic will cause. Thus we rescue our economy at the potential expense of millions of victims if we relax our social controls.

Only in an administration where the leader is violently anti-science would such virulent nonsense be allowed to be even breathed as potential policy. Only those who value the economy over the lives of so many future victims would dare to utter such folly. But that is the world we live in at present, where the fear of the deep state has overwhelmed the ability to respond to a real crisis that will not be bullied.

The real pity is that even with the duplicity and incompetence of this President on daily display, support for him is actually growing. Maybe part of that is a desire to pull together, and take common action against an invader. Maybe the naming of this virus by its location of origin is playing at the xenophobic gene, allowing us to turn against that country and all of its residents. Why blame our lax and inadequate response to this virus on the actions of our leaders when we can blame the Chinese?

It is not the bluster and false statements coming from this President that will decide the final outcome. Even if we do everything perfectly, and are able to slow the curve, we will likely have hundreds of thousands dying from this virus. But if we yield to the voices of incompetence and evil, and relax our vigilance just at the time when it matters most, we will be smothered by millions of bodies as the coronavirus tsunami withdraws from our shores. The difference between these future courses will be directly determined by the actions that our leaders take over these next few weeks and months. May we have the wisdom to choose the right course.

A Note In Farewell

Brothers Katamotzov  Blinky and Napoleon

He was a gentle giant. Napoleon Dynamite Kitty came into our family nearly 15 years ago, when our neighbor across the street alerted us to the existence of two kittens who had taken up residence in the engine block of his car that was about to be junked. He and his brother (later named Blinky) had apparently been abandoned and found a bit of shelter inside the car body. We took the two black cats in, and after receiving a clean bill of health from our vet, they joined our other two cats, Attack and Meezle. Unfortunately, the former alpha cat Attack was never able to adjust to the stress of having this usurpation of her domain, and she developed nervous system problems. So much that we ended up having to give her kitty valium for several months. But her problems persisted, and she eventually had a stroke and died just before the next Christmas.

We never knew if it was that he was looking for Attack, but Napoleon went missing right after we buried Attack in the back yard. He just flat out vanished. We put an ad in the paper (back in those ancient days when the classified ads still meant something). On New Year’s Day morning, we received a call from someone who said he thought he’d been feeding our cat. We checked the map, and though it was several miles away by road, it was only over the hillside and less than a mile away. So we hauled ourselves out of bed, and searched the area where Napoleon was spotted. We came away empty handed, and my wife and younger son eventually went on to church, where our then 11 year old son prayed for Napoleon’s return during the prayers of the people.

It was the following Tuesday, and my wife was in the den, when motion caught her eye. A black form was coming down the neighbor’s driveway, and making a beeline for our door. Carrie went into the living room, saw that Blinky was asleep on the sofa, and went to open the door. Napoleon came right on in, trying his best to tell her all about his horrendous adventure. He went directly downstairs from there and commandeered the cat feeders. We never knew for sure, but we suspect it was this period of deprivation that caused him to begin to bulk up. He was always a big cat, but he grew into quite a chonky cat after that, weighing over 25 pounds at the high point of his weight. We eventually went to an automated feeder to keep the amount available to them at a reasonable level, but since we had other cats, we couldn’t dial back the food by that much.

The one time you could really tell that Napoleon and Blinky were brothers was when they went downstairs to the basement together. They moved in synch, differences in body mass notwithstanding. You also could see their familial relationship when they fought. Every so often, one would begin to groom the other. The grooming grew more and more aggressive until we had a full-fledged KWF (Kitty Wrestling Federation) match going on. Napoleon, being larger, usually won these matches.

The brothers liked to tag-team hunt as well. Out in our yard an endless supply of voles, mice and chipmunks lived, and we often could see them pairing up against a hapless critter, until either they tired of the chase, or the animal became an extra meal. Carrie quilted a wall hanging of two cats in a room with a fish in a bowl, and I provided the title of the Brothers Katamotzov Pondering Their Next Crime. Blinky and Napoleon were the Brothers Katamotzov.

Napoleon had his way of demanding lap time. I would be in the den working on the computer, when I felt an insistent head butt on my leg. Looking down, Napoleon would be looking up at me, going “Aren’t you going to go someplace where I can join you?” Then I would get up and move to a recliner, and this fat blob of a cat would race across the room to jump up on my lap. But I am not pretending that Napoleon was my cat. No, he was definitely Carrie’s cat. While my lap time was in the morning, hers was in the afternoon, and he blessed innumerable quilts that Carrie made. He would sit patiently on her lap while she sewed down the binding, putting up with the periodic movement of the quilt as she turned yet another corner, and had to readjust the quilt. Napoleon would fall asleep, paws outstretched to provide a bit of purchase against the edge of the loveseat. It was even better when Carrie decided to join him in a bit of a snooze herself. I would come downstairs only to see the two of them providing each other warmth and fellowship.

Both boys developed thyroid issues at the same time. We had noticed that Napoleon was losing a bit of weight, what we didn’t realize was that the weight loss was due to an overactive thyroid. We faced the choice of active treatment, including the possibility of killing the thyroid glands with radioactive iodine, or active pharmaceutical treatment, or a passive approach of adjusting their menu to provide only food that did not contain iodine. Such pet food does exist, at a cost of over $50 for an 8 pound bag, and a similar amount for a case of 24 cans of wet food. We elected that option, since by this time we only had the two brothers with us, and we could easily control the food choices. What was difficult was weaning Blinky away from table scraps. He had grown used to sharing our meals, and could be quite insistent in requesting his share. What we compromised on was giving the boys a bit of a can of their special food at night. Soon the begging for table scraps was greatly reduced, but both cats grew to expect and love their extra meal at night.

As they grew older, they became less adventuresome. A few years ago, their supremacy in the neighborhood was challenged when our neighbor across the street got married, and as part of the package deal, an indoor/outdoor cat named Harold was part of the entourage. Well, Harold did not recognize the neighborhood pecking order. In fact, it took Napoleon getting little notches out of both ears before he ceded his local reign as top cat. Both brothers decided it was better to stay inside than to challenge the interloper.

Both boys were due for injections this September. Just before they went in, I noticed that Napoleon seemed to be breathing differently. Shallow, with more frequent breaths. So I brought that up when we were at the vets. A quick x-ray later, and we discovered that the lungs had filled up with fluid and he was only breathing with the bottom portion of his lungs. We had fluid drained the next day, and he improved, but the x-rays now revealed shadows on his lungs. The vet said that it was likely cancer, but that we could help deal with the symptoms with lasix and an herbal preparation that dealt with excess lymphatic fluid. Otherwise, we could try invasive treatment at a veterinary hospital 150 miles away, where he might be subjected to chemotherapy or surgery. For a 15 year old cat, that would not be fair to put him through that. We agreed to the fluid draining and to squirt pharmaceuticals into his mouth. The first round of fluid was relatively clear, and Napoleon’s breathing improved significantly.

 

But it was only a little more than a month later that we could see him laboring again to breathe. We took him in again, and could see still more fluid in the x-ray. This time, the fluid they took out looked turbid, with reddish color hinting at blood as well. We had to leave him for a couple of days while we visited our son in Richmond, and it was with trepidation that we returned that weekend, not knowing whether Napoleon made it through the time alone. He had survived, and was just as loving as ever. What was different was that he now needed assistance to get up onto the sofa. He was weakening before our eyes. Our next appointment was the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, and that weekend, he blessed two quilts, one for Andrew our younger son, and one for a great-nephew. But on that Tuesday, we took him in knowing that he likely would not be alive when we came back. The x-rays revealed that not only had fluid filled the outside of the lungs, but there was now fluid inside the lungs as well. Very shortly he would have drowned on dry land. We asked for a few minutes to call our sons so they could say goodbye. One never knows for sure what an animal is thinking, but he rubbed his head against the phones where familiar voices appeared. Then they took him back and gave him a sedative, before bringing him into the room with us for the final injections. His end was peaceful, and I could not help but think that we were easing him across the rainbow bridge, rather than trying to hold on for another few days of life that would have been increasingly stressful and painful. That’s the one thing I noticed, is that he never seemed to be in pain. For that, I will always be grateful.

Farewell, our gentle giant Napoleon. His brother Blinky still soldiers on, but we realize that we may be on borrowed time with him as well When a cat gets to be over 15 years of age, you never know when something will come up that marks the end of your time with your faithful companion. Enjoy them while they are around.

 

Exponential Decay Curve Revisited – Trump Tweet Effectiveness Over Time

It’s a puzzlement. How is it that the same set of facts can be perceived in diametrically opposite ways? How is it that some folks can see the Mueller investigation laid out credible allegations of behavior by the President and his administration that not only skirted the law, but often trampled it in the dirt? At the same time, other folks believe that since no indictments are proceeding directly from the investigation, it represents a total and complete exoneration of all of the behavior seen from this administration?

Meanwhile, the behavior of the tweeter in chief has not significantly changed from the behavior seen during the campaign and in the transition period leading up to his inauguration. One of the first posts in my blog was on the exponential decay curve, and how it applied to the effectiveness of Trump’s tweets. I am reprinting it in this post, as this one post keeps getting people reading it long after I posted it in March 2017. I am bringing it up again because we are seeing evidence that the decay curve for the effectiveness of Trump’s tweets is performing as predicted. I just thought that the rate of decay would be much greater than it has been. But recent publications have shown that indeed, the effectiveness of Trump’s tweets has decreased in a manner very similar to the exponential decay curve in my post. See this post on Axios from May 26 of this year:

https://www.axios.com/president-trump-tweets-engagement-4c6067a8-734d-4184-984a-d5c9151aa339.html

Here is the chart that the post references. It shows the percentage of those who retweet or like a particular tweet as a percentage of his followers. Note how closely the graph follows the exponential decay curve shown in the original post.

Trump tweet effectiveness

Assuming that retweets and likes are reflective of the effectiveness of his posts is a verifiable measure of the impact that any individual tweet has. Sometimes it is good to see that a prediction you make is coming true, even though we have all had to suffer a great deal in the intervening period. The one correction I would make is that it seems like the half life of a Trump tweet is about 14 months, not the 2 months I originally predicted. I was too optimistic at the start of this administration.

 

The following post was put up on March 28, 2017. You can link directly to it here:

Exponential Decay Curve in Politics

Today’s topic concerns exponential decay curves. This is what happens when “something” declines over time. A classic exponential decay curve is shown here:

 

decaycurve

Exponential decay curves are often found in nature. The classic one that is taught in classrooms concerns radioactive decay. For a given radioactive isotope of an element, the half-life of the isotope determines the shape of its decay curve. A half-life is defined as the amount of time for 1/2 of the radioactive decay for an isotope to have occurred. This can vary among isotopes from fractions of a second, up to 4 billion years in the case of Uranium 238. Half-lives are very important when calculating the potential radiation exposure to a radioactive isotope. Isotopes like Cobalt 60 are powerful radiation sources that are used industrially to examine welds and metals for defects. They provide plentiful gamma rays since the half life of this isotope is only 5.3 years. That is why there is concern about the use of this isotope in a dirty bomb, since the radiation from an explosive dispersal of Cobalt 60 would cause significant exposure to high powered gamma radiation.

Exponential decay curves may be found in other natural and also artificial systems. A new example of an artificial system that appears to be following an exponential decay curve is the Presidential tweet. The response to a Presidential tweet appears to be following a typical decay curve function. It is too early to get an accurate measurement of the half-life of tweet effectiveness, but a preliminary estimate is that the half-life of the response to a Presidential tweet is about two months.

Since this system of Presidential tweets is an artificial system (one not normally found in nature), it is uncertain as to what the response of the originator of the Presidential tweets will be to an ongoing decrease in tweet effectiveness. Most observers believe that the originator will greatly increase both the frequency and objects of tweets so as to continue to receive a total response to the tweets that approximates the effect of the first tweets.

However, it is nearly certain that since the effectiveness of any individual tweet will continue to decline, eventually the response to all Presidential tweeting may approach zero. There is a school of thought though, that maintains the belief that we may begin to see an inverse function develop for the tweet response. That is, instead of receiving a positive response to tweets, each subsequent tweet may result in a negative response. It is possible that the magnitude of the negative response may increase with additional tweets, so that Newton’s third law may be given a test in the political arena. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Observers of politics will be watching this process with rapt attention.

 

Blooms In The Midst Of Despair

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I’ve been at a loss for words lately. Even though spring burst onto the scene, and new life is everywhere, when it comes to humanity, the news all seems bad. The amateurs leading the US government seem intent on single-handedly overturning 75 years of alliances, all in the name of having our allies pay their fair share. Agreements aimed at reducing the risk of nuclear arms construction are arbitrarily abrogated, and we seem to be poking at the hornet’s nest that is Iran with a stick in order to engender conflict. Meanwhile, on a peninsula far, far away, the object of a love affair with the US President is acting like a spurned lover, and casting missiles into the ocean between the peninsula and Japan. The Russians ponder how best to bend the pliable public opinion in the US to their benefit in the next election, while this President disdains any notion that his election was in any way due to the overt and covert actions from Russia in the past.

It is clear that the Republicans in the Congress are victims of the Stockholm Syndrome, having been co-opted by the entity who took the Republican party hostage in 2016. Thus they are willing participants in the ongoing struggle to avoid any legitimate oversight of the actions of this administration. Meanwhile, having become emboldened by the departure of more mature members of the administration, and by a superficial reading of the report brought forth by Robert Mueller, this administration becomes intransigent and refuses any and all requests for Congressional testimony or submission of documents. They laugh at any requests for cooperation in the multitudes of investigations brought on by this President. Aided by the Stockholm Syndrome sufferers, they continually chant their mantras of no collusion, no conspiracy, even though if they actually read the Mueller report they would learn that is not his conclusion. When Mueller cited his conclusion that the Department of Justice’s own precedent would not allow him to call for indictment, they took that as a declaration of exoneration and have continued to scream that into the ether. And the gullible fools who follow this pitiful President, lap up the curdled milk offered them by the smirking members of this administration.

Meanwhile, the opposition to Trump in the Democratic sphere is teeming with those who are crawling over themselves in order to reach the brass ring on their carousel. In order to gain even momentary ascension in the media spotlight, they exhibit their brazen narcissism as new candidates continue to emerge into the race. They make statements of economic incomprehensibility in order to appeal to even a small fraction of the electorate. And why so many? Of course, it is because they are the chosen, and only they can solve our problems. Kind of similar to the statements of the current occupant of the office, who was convinced that he alone could solve things. They run the risk of causing the electoral discussion to veer so far left that the enormous advantage the Democrats hold in opposing this unpopular President will be abandoned as they scare the middle into clinging to what has now become familiar.

If you look for succor elsewhere in the world, you will find none. The war in Yemen, a proxy battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, continues unabated, and has ushered in the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse into permanent residency at the tip of the Arabian peninsula. Aided and abetted by the US, where in the first act of guts in decades by the Congress, they passed a measure to cease support for Saudi Arabia, only to have it vetoed by the President in his continual attempt to punish Iran. Turkey is continuing its slide into dictatorship as Erdogan forces a do-over of the Istanbul mayoral election. France is hamstrung by yellow vest protestors who turn every weekend in Paris into an obstacle course. And Britain is evenly split between those who wish to force exit from Europe, and those who wish to maintain ties, and as a result, the politics there have caused complete government breakdown.

Meanwhile, reports come out showing that humanity is thrusting an eighth of the species of life into peril of extinction. Glaciers continue their steady retreat, threatening the water supplies of hundreds of millions of people. Shrinkage of Arctic ice opens up a new realm for human exploitation, and all our fetid Secretary of State can say is “New ways to make money!” An administration that actively rebuts scientific evidence is insistent upon eating our supply of seed corn as it slashes funds for research for our future. And the budget deficits keep growing as far as the eyes can see as adherents to the failed, flawed economic theories of the supply-siders once more prove their complete divorcement from reality.

You’d think that with all of this surfeit of bad news, I’d be ready to throw in the towel. Strange thing, though, I can still feel hopefulness. I can be hopeful that this nation will awaken from its strange hypnotic trance induced by our con man in chief. I can be hopeful that corporate executives will be found guilty of fomenting addiction through their marketing strategies, and that the tsunami of human casualties from opioids and heroin will recede in our region. I can be hopeful that the seeds of spring turn into the salads and vegetables of summer. I can be hopeful that the trees we planted last year will grow strong enough for us to remove the deer shields around them. And I can hope that those of us who believe in common sense, rationality, and the rule of law will prevail in this country.

Soon, please!

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.

 

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?

Draining the Swamp

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“Pssst – Do you think they’ve given up?” The slime monster arose from the fetid waters of the Potomac swamp, trailing tendrils of foul-smelling algae from its scaly skin. “Do you think they’ve stopped trying to drain this wonderful environment?” the creature asked me, as I was sitting alongside the tidal basin on a fall afternoon.

“That’s difficult to say,” I replied, only slightly startled to be addressed by a creature that should have been typecast to come out of Tokyo Bay instead of DC. “It looks like their plan is proceeding very well, and succeeding beyond their wildest dreams. By using a master of distraction to rivet the nation’s attention, no one seems to be paying heed to all of the shenanigans happening behind the curtains.”

“That’s good to hear,” said Slimey (or so I named him, though he had not referred to him (or her)self as having a name). “Mind if I sit beside you? It gets a little cold down there in the water this time of year, and it’s good to warm my bones.”

“Help yourself,” I said, though I did scoot down a bit towards the end of the bench, as much to get away from the drips streaming from Slimey’s arms and torso instead of out of concern for Slimey’s clawed limbs. I said, “You know, we don’t often get to see your kind around here. What brings you out of the depths?”

Slimey stretched, wrapped his tail over the side railing of the bench, and sat silently for a bit, as if pondering the question. Then, he shrugged and said, “Last year we heard they wanted to drain the swamp in DC. Kept hearing it again and again. When he won, we figured that we needed to move somewhere else where we would be appreciated, like maybe lower Manhattan. But then, we heard about the people he brought in, and we kept going, that fellow isn’t going to drain the swamp. He’s going to expand it. We just didn’t get it.”

I nodded, understanding the confusion. I told Slimey, “We were surprised as well. He kept talking about how the nation was being taken over by Goldman Sachs during the campaign. Berating Ted Cruz for his and his wife’s ties to Goldman. Complaining about Hillary being beholden to Goldman since she gave a speech to them. Then, POW, onto the Trump team comes Cohn, and Mnuchin, and Bannon, and other underlings, all from Goldman Sachs. The art of deception. Say one thing, then quietly implement the opposite.”

Slimey sighed. “Then there’s all that talk about how bad the banks were during the campaign, how they were getting away with murder after the financial crisis, and he was going to break them up. Do something good for the little people. But once he took office, all we hear about is breaking up the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, and freeing up the banks from Dodd-Frank. ” Slimey held up a front limb to shield his eyes from the sun. “Don’t the “little people” see that he’s helping their enemies, and destroying their friends?”

I turned my head for a moment, looking back over the monuments of our nation’s history. I realized that never had our founders anticipated such a bizarre disruption of our national character when the avenues of this town were laid out. Then, realizing that Slimey was looking at me in anticipation of my answer, I said “Those “little people” don’t see it. They are used to only listening to their leaders on TV and the radio, and following what they say. They’ve lost their ability to analyze what they are hearing and seeing, they only believe what comes their way on Facebook. How else can they keep believing their ears when their eyes see the opposite?”

Slimey nodded, his crest flapping loosely atop his head. He turned to me and said, “There’s one thing I’m glad to see, though. That Pruitt guy at EPA, he seems like he’s our best friend.”

“How so?”, I asked.

“Well, he just seems to be turning the clock back on all of the environmental regulation of the past. We figure it’s just a matter of time before he rescinds the regulations on pollution in the Chesapeake watershed, and when he does, we’ll get all that luscious nitrogen and phosphorus coming back downstream. You wouldn’t believe how good that is for all of the green glop we love.” Slimey licked his chops as he thought of the bonanza he expects to come sliding on downstream in a year or two.

I pondered what this basin would look like festooned in green and blue growths of algae in the turgid waters. The odor it would create would match the mood in the city. Suddenly I grew tired of the conversation, and straightened my body against the bench. Slimey sensed my mood.

“Friend, I’m going to go on back to my kind” he said. “But before I go, there’s one thing I wish you’d help me to understand. Why was it that all of those evangelicals, who oppose the sins of the flesh, supported someone who cheated on his ex-wives, who curses in public, who oozes greed and lust? Someone who waxes wrath on twitter any time he’s criticized. I’ve never seen someone who epitomizes all seven of the deadly sins at once. And he’s the one with the control over the most massive military force the world has ever seen? Can you explain that to me?”

I nodded, finally having an answer that I know would satisfy this creature. “He wasn’t Hillary,”

Slimey stood up, bowed stiffly to me, and said. “Of course. That explains everything.” Then he stepped off into the tidal basin, disappearing into the dark waters, never to be seen again by me.

 

Both Sides?

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My apologies to Judy Collins. The words about both sides being equally guilty of fomenting hatred and violence caused my inner earworm to focus on her song, and my brain worked to find new words.

Rows and flows of orange hair

And ice cream two scoops in my chair

And tweet storms flowing everywhere

I’ve looked at hate that way

 

But now it only hides my truth

The media says I’m uncouth

So many things done in my youth

But hate got in my way

 

I’ve looked at hate from both sides now

Antifa and the alt-right, wow

It’s hate’s delusions I recall

I really don’t know hate at all

 

Crowd so loud, how good I feel

They love me, now I feel their zeal

That protestor, he is a heel

I’ve looked at me that way

 

But now, I cannot make them go,

They vote their way, they just say no,

Repeal, replace – they are so slow

I’ve seen Congress that way

 

I’ve looked at politics right now

No give, all take yet still somehow

No politics for me this fall

Politics – I will not play ball

 

Leers and jeers and feeling wowed,

To see them fail, that I have vowed

They have their schemes, I have my crowds

My enemies I slay

 

But now they say I’m acting strange

I laugh at them, I’ll never change

Well let them wail, I’m still orange,

I hate them every day

 

I’m President for both sides now

I won they lost and still somehow

I keep the Russians in my thrall

I really don’t know life at all

Flo and ebb on the coast

For those who live in towns designated as ports of call on the ocean coasts, there are two totally different tides that rule their lives. The timeless ebb and flow of the waters, first flooding the marshlands of the coast, then pulling away, running backwards out to sea. Life has been nourished through this endless rhythmic cycle.

Then there is the human tide, unleashed when a cruise ship opens its umbilical cord to the welcoming greeting of the coastal town’s inhabitants. These residents are dependent upon the flow of money emanating from the cruise ship passengers, waiting for their share of the fertilizer that will be left behind in their wake.

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For some towns, the arrive of a ship’s passengers is scarcely noticed. Large enough to absorb the swell of the human tide, they offer many options for the passengers who only have a few hours to partake of the culture of the port. But for a small port, the flood of passengers can become a tsunami, overwhelming the limited facilities available. The crowds cause delays, impatience grows, and both the passengers and residents resent each other. Still, the residents are dependent upon the monetary opium left behind by the passengers.

The tide recedes, the passengers pass back through the ship’s umbilical cord, and wthe ship sails away with a blast from it’s horn. The residents of the port of call can settle back into their natural rhythm of the tides, awaiting the next time when a human tide is unleashed upon their shore.

Note to readers. My wife and I just finished a wonderful cruise from Boston to Montreal, and stopped at multiple ports of call on our way. It was the first ocean cruise either of us had ever taken and thus we had no basis for comparison. We loved the attention we received from the mainly Indonesian crew, but more than anything else, we loved the serendipity from our dinner companions. If you wished to dine in the dining room, it was necessary to make reservations, and we chose to agree to share dinner with strangers. The last night of our cruise, we shared a table with two other couples. We are from South Charleston WV for reference. The first couple was from Bluefield WV, at the far southern end of the state, where he was a EN&T surgeon, and his wife was a nurse in his practice. The other couple we ate with was from Boca Raton Florida. Their connection to West Virginia was that the wife was related to a very prominent dental family in the Charleston area who are continually advertised on the television.

We did not find exceptional coincidences on the trip. I grew up in Lincoln Nebraska, which is about ready to experience the totality of eclipse. We saw a gentleman wearing a University of Nebraska shirt and when we enquired, found out he and his wife are from Beatrice. That is at the height of totality, near where Bill Nye the Science Guy will be hanging out on August 21. But we did not find anyone that we knew on the trip (I did try to figure out the mathematical odds of meeting someone I knew on the cruise, and swiftly gave up due to the complexity of the computation). But we did find more like-minded individuals who were opposed to the current US administration than we found who supported it.

As this was my first ocean cruise ever, I will wish to share some observations later. But for now, may you have a bon voyage as we had on our Holland America cruise from Boston to Montreal.