Working Area   (2016Dec01)


 

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Thursday, December 01, 2016                                         10:25 AM

I’d recommend Haydn—particularly the piano works. Tell your digital concierge, “Play Haydn keyboard sonatas.”—and you’re good for several hours of peaceful working- or reading- music.

If the raw sunlight gets in your eye-line, tape a piece of colored construction paper on your window—the room stays lit, but you don’t get that one headache-inducing reflection in your field of vision. And it looks cheery—like a child’s art project—but you have to replace it once a year because construction paper fades and becomes very dreary-looking, in the end.

As a smoker, I’ve taken to confining myself to two rooms of the house—here in the front room, where I work, and my bedroom, where I watch TV and read. If the doors are kept faithfully closed, the rest of the house doesn’t reek of smoking—but it must be noted that I often open the front door for front-room ventilation, and I have a window-fan on exhaust in the bedroom, year-round (yes, it does get a little chilly in winter).

I’ve also surrendered to the smokeless ashtray—it’s stupid and noisy and uses too many batteries and is a pain to empty every time it’s full—but if you use one, it will demonstrate that most of the smoke in a smoke-filled room comes from the cigarette smoldering in the ashtray, not from the smoker’s exhalations. And studies have shown that smoldering butts give off the dirtiest second-hand smoke—much more unhealthy than ‘smoked’ smoke, and more of it.

Grapes, celery sticks, and baby carrots make the best working snacks—you can eat all you want and it won’t do the kind of damage that chips, crackers, or candy can do. Also, for smokers, hot tea provides a bit of steam-cleaning for the lungs—and drinking tea all day won’t fry your nervous system like coffee. There is something about tannic acid that makes tea bother my digestion more than coffee—but only if I’m really chugging it down, cup after cup. Moderation in all things, as they say.

Don’t multitask. Do what you’re doing and leave the rest for later—it may seem slower, but in truth, when each task is focused on, it gets done better and quicker—and if you go from one to the next without pause, the overall time-use is less than if you hop from one thing to another all day long—the hopping around makes you feel busy, but you’re actually wasting time interrupting yourself. And focusing on a task reduces the number of errors.

Enjoy your work—it is a choice. Even the most menial tasks can become a game in your mind. Indeed, the more menial jobs lend themselves to mind-games better than complicated ones. Insisting to yourself that you hate what you’re doing is counterproductive—and a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Stop when you’re tired. This is certainly something you don’t always have a choice about, but when the choice is available, take it. Nobody ever did great work while running on fumes. I often found that tasks that take an hour in overtime can be done in five minutes when approached fresh the next morning. Answers that play hide-and-seek in the darkness of fatigue will stand out clear as day in the clarity of morning.

Even in the middle of the day, pausing to refresh can do wonders for your productivity—much more so than dutifully slogging on. Short breaks are like remembering to breathe—something else you should try to do. But here is where ‘multitasking’ can actually be useful—if you get stuck on one project, and you have something else to work on that will take your mind off it, that can be as good as a break.

Get a comfortable chair—if your workplace won’t give you one, steal one. I remember one workplace where the office manager was a real stickler about furniture—I would steal a good chair from another room. Every night she had the janitor put the chair back where it came from—and every morning I stole it again. Improvise, adapt, and overcome, as the Corps likes to say.

Don’t get ahead of yourself—whenever I do that, I always skip a step. People used to ask me why I always walked with my eyes on the ground—and I would answer that I didn’t like to step in dog-poo. Ah the good old days, when picking up after our pets was considered beneath us. Still, there are things to  trip on, slide on, and stumble over—watch where you’re going.

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Well—who knew I had so much free advice to give. And you know what they say—free advice is worth every penny you paid for it.

 

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President-elect POS   (2016Nov30)


Wednesday, November 30, 2016                                              6:32 PM

One entitled, lecherous, ignorant pig with too much money reaches the age of seventy and decides he’d like to rule the world. I laugh. Our democratic process agrees with him. I weep and curse the heavens.

It isn’t that I’m afraid of his presidency—hell, an asteroid could wipe us all out someday, just as senselessly—it’s just that I mourn the proof that this country is peopled with idiots who mistook an election for a reality game-show. It makes a joke of democracy—and truly, without solemnity, judgement, and good sense, democracy is a farce. And now we have a clown where a leader should be. I never thought we’d have a president that I couldn’t respect—I foolishly thought that Bush-43 had taught us all a lesson.

It can’t be helped. These are the times I’ve lived to witness—and nothing I do or say will change the facts. My problem—my job, if you will—is to learn to live my life, in spite of disaster. I’ve done a fair job of avoiding the subject since Election Day—and that was the right way to go.

I avoid the news—but there are some tidbits that can’t be avoided if I watch TV at all—today’s tidbit was a Trump tweet about hanging flag-burners or some such idiocy. It got it all riled up in my head again—am I going to have four whole years of this crap-fest? So I wrote a ranting post—just like I used to, back before the election rendered discussion moot.

(In fact, I allowed myself crudities that I avoided in the heat of the campaign, back when calling a POS a POS might have been seen as partisan, rather than as simple observation. Now that everyone else has given that jerk a free pass, I’ll give the same to myself.)

I posted my rant—then I walked away—but the next rant had already started writing itself in my head. I realized that I was foolish to let myself be drawn back into arguing with a brick wall—and that it would lead to nothing but stress, anger, and frustration. So, let this suffice for as long as possible. My next blog-post (if there is one) will be about things that matter—or, at least, things that don’t make me ill.

Feces-in-Chief   (2016Nov30)


Wednesday, November 30, 2016                                              2:52 PM

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President-elect Donald J. Trump (wait a sec—I just threw up in my mouth a little bit) is the most disgusting excuse for an American I’ve ever known. He is ignorant to the point of delusional. He is delusional to the point of childishness. He is childish to the point of being a psychopath. Burning a flag is nothing compared to the slap in this country’s face of having voted for this crap-pile impersonating a man.

My health being what it is, I may not see the entire four years of a Trump presidency. But I’m trying to adapt—it’s like situations I’ve been in before—where disaster is whispering at my ear and I have no choice but to laugh at the hysteria of certain doom—it’s a cheap high, in a way. I, personally, will survive this insult to our history, for now—this end of America’s respectability—the end of the assumption that democracy is a safe way to govern. But I feel bad for America—once so proud, so upright—now we’re just a bad joke.

He’s still tweeting. Can you believe that? Fucking asshole. Bad enough he’s going to be making bad decisions about vital issues—the media has decided we need to hear his every tweet, as well. Do you want to know what Trump is tweeting? I don’t.

That idiot tweeted throughout his campaign—and not once did he tweet anything a grown-up would say. But then, we know now that the media helped elect him, by mirroring his abysmal judgement and his unflappable ignorance. The media is the only thing as stupid as Trump. CNN, Fox, MSNBC—you can all go fuck yourselves—I haven’t tuned in since the election, and I have no plans to, in future. I only hope there are a lot of people like me—poor ratings are the very least of what you traitors deserve.

There is a lesson here—both Trump and the Media care for absolutely nothing except making money. They will drag us to the depths of Hell, and beyond—and they won’t even notice—consequences be damned, if the money’s good. Now that I think about it—maybe climate-change is God’s way of telling us that money isn’t everything.

You’re out of a job? You’re having trouble paying for your kids’ college? You’re worried that America isn’t safe? Okay fine—now explain to me how having elected a jack-ass is going to fix any of that?

It’ll be a job, just bringing the jack-ass indoors—if Trump’s transition team needs anything, it’s plenty of newspaper to put down in all the indoor areas of the White House. This will help, not just with the piles of shit he’ll be dropping all over, but with the vomiting of those poor benighted people who can’t avoid being there and have to hear him speak. His voice makes me vomitus, even for the instant it takes me to reach for the remote and change the channel.

There used to be two schools of thought on humanity—people would say we were basically good, with a few bad apples—and other people believed that people were basically animals, with a few kind souls to leaven the mix. But now we have an accurate count: decent people number a little over half of all people, and the wastes-of-spaces number just under 50%. I’m approximating, of course—a case could be made that all non-voters are just as deplorable as the Trump-voters (which would lower the decent people to only 25%)—but we can’t know that, so I split them 50-50.

But the important point is: the mix of good and bad in the human race is pretty close to even. We’ve never noticed this before—because all prior elections had two fairly decent people to choose from. This is the first time anyone (1) lied more than he spoke truth, (2) admitted he didn’t know anything about government (by saying things only an ignoramus would say), (3) admitted to misogyny and sexual misbehavior, (4) called for an end to religious freedom, (5) felt that America would benefit from a big wall around the Statue of Liberty, and (6) was endorsed by the Klan and the Russkys. You can’t even really call him a man—he’s more like a slime-outline of where a man should be.

Yet rather than slink about in shame, half this country is celebrating their victory over decency and common sense. Their beast is slouching towards Pennsylvania Avenue like a giant snail—yet they glory in his ascendance to power. Like it or not, democracy is dangerous—this has been proved. “We, the People” have been exposed as an unreliable, unfaithful pack of cowards.

I used to hug my patriotism close, warmed by the pride and the power of America—and now my arms are empty—encircling a wisp of smoke, where security and sanity once resided. Now, nothing but a bitter memory chills my bones.

I will hate this fucking asshole until the day I die—and it can’t be too soon, now that our entire country has sworn him allegiance, betraying everything America stood for. I have lived too long. Was this clown really so hard to see through? As the Monkees once sang, “Disappointment haunted all my dreams….”

Personal   (2016Nov29)


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Sunday, November 27, 2016                                            6:47 PM

Spencer has made bread. Claire has come home from the gym. I’ve had a full day, for me, but I’m not going to embarrass myself by telling you what I did—little victories are my stock in trade these days. Real little. Okay—I moved two very-light pieces of furniture. That’s a full day for me—okay? You happy now?

It’s getting dark way earlier all of a sudden. Winter is here. I’m still working on video-ing the Big Book of Christmas Carols, front to back. It’s slow going—most of them are very familiar, but some of them need many ‘takes’ before I play it through with some semblance of accuracy. Sometimes, like just now, a few minutes ago, I’m too tired to get a good take. I have to wait for tomorrow’s supply of energy and alertness.

I have my mind set on it. Indeed, I’ve considered keeping the idea, and only posting videos of entire books from now on. I have a large manuscript library, but only a few of them are easy-to-play enough for me to play the whole book. So, I guess I’ll try it with a few books, after the carols are all recorded, and then forget about it and go back to my random recordings.

That’s the thing—I start every new day with a fresh head—any long-term plans I might have do not survive the pleasant distractions of waking up each morning. There’s usually a thread or a hint lying around somewhere, but if I don’t look for it, I miss it. Fresh head—every damn morning. I’m considering tattoos….

Monday, November 28, 2016                                           5:45 PM

I freely admit that I binged the new Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life, on Netflix—which is as good as admitting I watched the whole series, back when (which I did, of course). But it’s not just because I like that kind of show—you go ahead and check—Kelly Bishop, Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel—they’re all great actors who have done lots of great stuff, outside of fictional Connecticut.

That’s the trouble with bingeing TV, isn’t it? It’s over now—nothing to wait ‘til next week for. That’s why I like to stay busy—as I get older, I’m becoming really picky about my viewing. At this point, if it isn’t as pleasant as listening to myself play the piano, while I look at pictures of my granddaughter, then I don’t need to watch it. I’m building a library of granddaughter/piano YouTube videos—I’m stockpiling this stuff. If the TV won’t give me what I want, I can make it myself. And, with my new Wi-Fi-enabled TV—I’m just another channel.

I’m working on two projects at once. Longer-term, I’m working on the next installment of Xmas Carols—the Series. And today I’m also processing a treasure trove of pictures and videos from my favorite movie stars—Jessy and Sen. The two will go together nicely—but eleven-Xmas-carols is always a lengthy video—so I’m here waiting for the music-video pre-edit to finish saving-to-disk. I’ve prepped the pictures into video, and the raw videos from Jessy—so now I just have to put all of that into one video….

I played a Chopin Mazurka on the e-piano, with the Harpsichord setting—nice result. I don’t mean I played all-that-well—but Chopin sounds just swell on a harpsichord. That’s a trick I noticed about good music—you can play that stuff on anything. There’s a guy who’s famous for playing Bach on Harmonica—I used to own the LP, hand to God—and it wasn’t half bad.

I can only use the first half of all my Carols recordings—I stay pretty cheery and spritely for a few songs—but then it becomes a Bataan Death March of sight-reading, turning every song into a dirge. You’d think I’d know all this stuff by now—I can feel my fingers remembering as I play them—why can’t my head do that?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016                                           3:28 PM

Okay, I must be in a post-Thanksgiving metabolic ‘trough’ these last few days—my energy levels are nil. My aches and spasms are small but many. My mental focus is a joke—I’m not even sure if I’m entirely awake. Partly, I stressed myself out—I finally finished the five videos and doing five videos at once makes my head swim—it’s hard to keep everything straight.

But I’ve got them all done now, just waiting for the last two to finish uploading to YouTube. I’m going to try to process my videos one-at-a-time from here on, if I can—it’s a tricky little maneuver that I’ve gotten very comfortable with—but doing more than one at a time makes it ridiculously complex.

 

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Time: the 4th Dimension (2016Nov26)


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Saturday, November 26, 2016                                          10:14 AM

One of the ways in which my inner ‘math geek’ expresses himself is by dating things. For instance, people born in the 1980s are in their thirties now, people born in the 1990s are in their twenties now, and anyone sixteen or younger has never set foot in the twentieth century. Any movie released before 1991 is over a quarter-of-a-century old. The Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies were premiered when my parents were toddlers. Most of the interstate highway system was built during Eisenhower’s administration—making it a little over sixty years old. No wonder we have infrastructure problems.

One of my favorite movie lines comes from “Kate and Leopold” (2001). Leopold (Hugh Jackman) having left Kate’s 21st-century apartment to wander New York City, comes across the Brooklyn Bridge, and wonderingly exclaims, “Roebling’s erection—he completed it!—and it still stands…” (which cleverly lets the audience know that Leopold was transported from the past, sometime between 1870—when construction on the bridge began—and 1883—the day the bridge opened).

The passage of time fascinates me. In studying physics, one comes to accept Time as a dimension—it is even used to name a distance: the unit of measure known as a Light-Year is the distance Light can travel in one Year’s time. That’s a pretty parochial unit-naming system, when we consider that a Year is defined as the time it takes for our planet to orbit the sun—a unit of time which means nothing to anyone from another planet—and other planets are the only things that are light-years away. Not to mention that our planet’s orbital time will increase with entropy over the millennia—a million years from now, a Year will be a different amount of time. Will we then change the unit-of-measure name, or its value?

Then again, all units-of-measure are iffy—that’s why there are institutions whose sole purpose is to maintain standards for a unit of measure. A gram was once defined as a cubic centimeter of water. But water is tricky stuff—and a centimeter can be measured using many different degrees of precision. Nowadays, according to Wiki, there’s a chunk of metal stored in a secure facility that represents exactly one gram.

It reminds me of the time I was a lab assistant at the Old Life-Saver factory in Port Chester, NY—it had been converted into the research and development labs for Life-Savers chewing-gum products. One of my duties was weighing a stick of gum (they had to have standard dimensions and weight) and they had an electronic gram-scale that was accurate to three decimal places. After tare-weight adjustment of the scale, I’d put a piece of gum on the weigh-in plate. The weight of the gum was displayed digitally—but it was not standing still—it was counting down. The lab-worker training me explained that the declining weight value was due to evaporation of water from the stick of gum—as the water left the gum, the gum got lighter. You had to round off the value—because the gum was getting microscopically lighter every moment. I suppose the Weights and Measures guys had similar difficulties when using water as a weight-related constant.

All units of measure are parochial and serendipitous—when you get down to it, science is a club—school is where you learn the secret handshakes. It is in the nature of science—it starts with labeling and categorizing and inventing words for measurement systems that never existed before someone in the lab needed to make measurements. Not that a lab is required—Euclid apocryphally drew his geometric diagrams in the sand—Oppenheimer and his team required a whole desert for their test-bench. We say ‘lab’ a lot, talking about science—it is the one thing that society never had before science—a laboratory. Obviously one doesn’t need a lab to do science—it was only science’s increasingly complex and stringent needs that required the laboratory’s invention.

And so I size things up—just as another person might estimate the weight of everyone they meet, or their shoe-size—by Time. Having read a lot of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Charles Dickens, I’m familiar with the evolution of language over time—I can pin an author down to their century by dialect alone—down to their decade, for the more modern writers, who saw faster changes.

That’s another cool thing about time, with regard to people. It doesn’t just flow at a steady pace—in many ways it accelerates. Population growth, for example, can be a geometric progression, depending on the mortality rate and the average life-span. Celebrities don’t just plod their way to stardom—they explode into a ‘fast lane’ of success.

Technology, which builds on all of its previous work, can’t help but rush onward, almost faster than people can keep track—today’s professionals are required to return to school-classes, periodically, for the remainder of their careers, to stay current. Gadgets that once cost thousands of dollars now get given-away as free gifts—or remain, as standard-components in more advanced gadgets—data storage, processing power, ease of use—it all grows from its last best ideas—and it never throws out the good ideas—technology is in many ways a runaway train.

I’m not sure about acceleration being consistently ‘cool’, though. We have entered a time when things can change so fast that we lose ourselves—computer AI approaches the singularity; robotics destroys the labor market, creating a crisis for Capitalism; genetically-modified foods replace less-efficient seed stores, without the millennia of field-testing (you should pardon the pun) the less-efficient seeds contain in their genome; and genetic modification also looms over our own genetic heritage, offering us the chance for customized in-vitro improvement—with a side order of the risk of extinction.

Money used to be the limiting factor—our safety-line. No one could afford to build so many factories that the air itself would get dirty—no one could manufacture that many cars—no one could build so vast a fishing fleet that it would sweep the seas of life. No one could build so many fracking-wells that the state of Oklahoma would collapse in on itself. And Money kept us safe for most of the industrial revolution. But Time has stepped in and given Money a hand—that many factories, that many cars, that many fishing boats and fracking wells have been built—not by one greedy tycoon, but by thousands of ambitious capitalists over decades.

Like all accelerations, pollution and habitat-loss started out slow—hardly noticeable. But they’re really getting on their horse, now—a terrible time to elect a climate-change denier (if you’ll allow the non-sequitur). Time is becoming our hostile enemy—tipping points have already been reached—and worse ones are close behind. Yet climate-conservancy and habitat-preservation remain subjects of debate, rather than hard targets for global effort.

My own, personal time-line is inching towards its end-point. Unfairly, we who have created the mess will not live to suffer the consequences of our neglect. Time doesn’t give a damn about me—it was going before I got here and it’ll just keep on after I leave. And it will do the same to all of you—evaporating the water out of your old chewing gum, giving you children to raise, rushing you out existence’s doorway, without a moment’s thought to your own schedule.

Yet time is good. It adds an undeniably sweet flavor to our days and nights—nothing bad lasts forever, and if nothing good does either, that’s a fair trade, really. And it gives our minds something to play with—when we’re scared, the mind slows time down—when we’re happy, the mind rushes time right along, before you know it. And it makes a nice change from Height, Length, and Width, don’t you think?

Post-Vote Politics   (2016Nov27)


Sunday, November 27, 2016                                            1:41 PM

The Election was followed by Thanksgiving, which allowed us to pivot—now that we aren’t concerned with lack of progress, lack of change, from our president—we can just be thankful for every day that things remain as they are, instead of getting much worse. If you close your eyes, you can almost believe that Trump won’t do any serious harm for four years, and then we’ll get a real president in there, and get back to work in 2020.

Perhaps the homunculus that ate at the center of Castro’s heart has given up the ghost because it finds a much more welcoming and powerful host, just a few miles North of Cuba. Trumpland—Viva el Nuevo Cuba!

We continue to block the news, here at the Dunn house. As I’ve remarked to many friends, I don’t need four years of the details on the bad news—I’ll wait for the movie to come out. Claire still reads the NY Times, so some news still leaks in—but at least we don’t have to wonder if it’s BS or not.

I’m curious how the ACA issue will play out. The way I see it, they have two options—they can just cold-bloodedly repeal the healthcare act—and let the medical costs just eat us alive again, with no security that it’ll cover us when we actually need it, or that we can even get coverage when we’re sick—or they can try to reform the existing legislation.

But the only way to really fix Obamacare is to make it single-payer, like it always should have been in the first place—and they can’t do that, can they? That would hurt the insurance industry—and god forbid they suffer—that’s why Washington fought it in the first place—and it’s the reason they can now claim it isn’t working.

The anti-socialized-medicine crowd hobbled the ACA so as to keep Capitalists in the game, to retain their ability to profit off of our suffering—so my money is on them trashing the whole thing. Why not? The time to stop them was November 8th—and that’s already past. Once the people have spoken, the lobbyists can get back to work—and they’re willing to do whatever they can to screw us out of money, even if it kills us.

So lobbyists are a big problem—as is business’s all-around choke-hold on our democracy. And the 25% of voters who voted for disaster are a problem—and the 50% of voters who just didn’t bother to vote are a problem. Our new president will not do anything to change that, or fix those problems—he is the result, not the cure.

People are eager to protest and petition and dispute the election—they don’t get it: the Election was the protest we were supposed to show up for—and nobody came. Well, that’s not entirely true—at last count, two million more Americans voted for the loser than the winner. But it wasn’t enough—and a protest after the fact is a pretty futile response—I mean: are we protesting Trump, are we protesting the Electoral College, are we protesting the stupidity of the American voter? What are we doing here? You can’t un-ring a bell.

I admire their spirit—but their timing sucks. Social media has given us all hot pants—we can’t sit down and plan for two years from now, or ten years from now—we have to organize a protest for next week or whatever. Why? Protesting isn’t an artistic expression—it’s a political statement. We can’t just run into the streets and yell about our feelings—we have to have a plan. We have to lengthen our timeline, build an engaged base, and strategize the hell out our next move—or this nonsense will never end.

America, you are headed down the wrong road—it looks like the same direction, but we’ve taken an unseen turn due to changing conditions. We’ve embraced too many of the cut-throat practices that enabled other countries to catch up to us—when we should have kept our lead by out-innovating other countries, instead of this panicky adoption of all their worst habits.

That whole Japanese thing in the 90s about working 20-hour days worked for them, but for us, it just made it harder to stop and think about what we’re doing. Other changes have similarly-tainted sources and similarly-tainted results. And now Americans either don’t have jobs, get underpaid, or get worked like a hated mule.

Capitalism needs a good kick in the balls. Its advantages shrink and its dangers loom larger and larger. I know it was our ‘battle standard’ during the Cold War, but that was then. It’s okay now—if Capitalism needs a ‘time out’, we have to give it one. We can’t be squeamish about it—Capitalism certainly isn’t going to scruple at sucking us dry. With the election of a debased billionaire, America has proven that making money has ascended above any other American ethic—and the destruction of two big buildings in NYC has made us a nation of cowards. We have to nut up—and start living as if we had money, instead of money having us.

I say we stop buying stuff. No, of course, I know we can’t do that. I don’t know—maybe we could buy less stuff? Maybe we could determine some things to be unnecessary? Maybe we could try to maximize our local purchases, replacing purchases from the big stores? I really don’t know how you kill Capitalism—but I think the democracy thing comes into it—if enough people start doing something new, the old thing dies, right? Maybe the best first step is to recognize our enemy for the deadly threat it’s become. All I know for sure is that electing a brainless billionaire, just because he’s a billionaire, is a giant-step in the wrong direction.

But enough about politics—I was never much for team sports anyhow.

If It Ain’t Broke (2016Nov23)


Wednesday, November 23, 2016                                              5:06 PM

20161115xd-nancyhd_s_pottery-2Like me, you may have wondered at times how to fix people, how to make society better—that sort of thing. The answer is that you don’t—or rather, you can’t. Imagine a world where everybody is kind and caring and generous. Now forget that—because people are kind and caring and generous, at certain times (if at all—some of them) but that is not our constant state. That’s not how humans work. Being kind and caring and generous is part of what we are, but it is only a part, and it is not permanent—it is an intermittent thing that we do when we are not being something else, something less angelic.

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Think of all the time we spend without eating—most of our time, right? But it would be silly to say, “Why can’t people ‘not eat’ all the time?” We don’t spend most of our time eating, but we still must eat. The same with sleeping—eventually, we need to sleep. There are a bunch of other things we have to fit into our time—less basic things, but still important—pay bills, gas the car, go to the bathroom, even. Many parts of our lives have little or nothing to do with our character—they’re just included in the deal, the ‘parts and maintenance’ of living our lives.

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Whatever list of things you collect as basic parts of living your life, if that list becomes too big and life becomes too precarious, the opportunities to find gaps in that life which allow you to display your character will dwindle. Living in poverty can create a treadmill so exhausting that poor people can find no time at all to look up from their grind and ponder the good and bad of things. Conversely, the wealthy often contrive to make themselves very ‘busy’ to create the pretense that they’re in the same situation. Either way, you end up with a lot of people who either can’t care or won’t care about all the causes and charities and politics and ethics.

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So I say—don’t put the cart before the horse. Don’t try to turn people into angels right off—start out by trying to make a world where people don’t go hungry or naked, where their education is easily available—a world that isn’t just crouching there, ready to eat us alive. Then, maybe, start worrying about people being good. You can’t throw someone’s ass into a wood-chipper, and then lecture them on ethics.

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And another thing—stop worrying about how intelligent people are. If everyone around you seems to be acting like an idiot—enjoy it—you’re of above-average intelligence. If you weren’t, someone else would be watching you act like an idiot—and maybe they are. How can you know? Human intelligence is a range of values—that’s just the way it is. Being on the high end may be frustrating, but it beats the alternative.

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I’m grateful for all the education I’ve received in my lifetime—but I don’t assume that those without it are uneducated by choice. Education is something your community and your family provide—without that infrastructure, some people never get a good education—and that isn’t up to them. Also, if a whole area is weak on public education, even the best intentions have a hard time ‘injecting’ education into a neighborhood where it’s never properly existed before.

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Thus, while I am always eager to badger some poor bastard for being willfully blind or proudly ignorant, I accept that people will be quick or slow, learned or not—and shouldn’t be judged on that, either way. It’s no different from judging people by their physique or coordination—we all have our places on the various scales of ability, mental or physical. These are not the measure of a person’s character.

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I take all of the above as contextual—a given. Even so, when I complain that someone is being ‘stupid’, and I’m assuming that you, dear reader, understand all that—I’m really only saying they’re being mentally stubborn or arrogant—but I still worry that someone might think that I despise people who aren’t real smart. And that would go against what I really believe. So I try to avoid it—but I get angry enough to use the word sometimes—I should find a better word.

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The difficulty lies in the difference between political correctness and the hard truth—yes there are people who lack intelligence or education through no failing of their own—but then, there are people who could and should know better than they pretend. These people hide within that ‘range of values’—they dare you to prove that they’re knowingly embracing an ignorance. They glory in their willful blindness, as if having the right to our own opinions gives them the right to ignore truth, and to go on hating something out of pure spitefulness—these people need a good kick in the ass.

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Regardless, there are limits to how broad a range of understanding we can allow for—clever people are busy day and night, trying to think up new stuff to make life better. They invent cars and computers, medicines and space stations—but as they proceed, life becomes more complicated. Now that we have enough industry and energy-use to threaten the atmospheric environment, for instance, we have to be smart enough to see the threat coming before it’s too late. If we create complicated problems, we can’t rely on a handful of clever people to keep a lid on all the trouble.

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The recent election of a simpleton is a perfect example—being the head of the United States puts him at the center of a web of complex interactions. Someone as ignorant as Trump could cause a variety of disasters, just by virtue of what he doesn’t know or doesn’t understand. And he was elected by mostly uneducated people—most of whom chose him out of desperation, without thinking through how dangerous he is.

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So we are living a demonstration of my point—this country’s development by clever people has built up a house of cards—and if the majority of us are careless enough, the whole thing will collapse at the first bump of the table. It doesn’t matter what we invent, achieve, or figure out a plan for—once it is in the hands of people who don’t understand it, they will misuse it, or break it, or let it go to waste.

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American democracy can survive a range of values of intelligence—but there has to be a minimum average of intelligence commensurate with the complexity of our nation’s functioning. You can’t build a nuclear arsenal—and then hand it to a baby. That’s trouble waiting to happen. Maybe it’s time for the clever people to ask themselves, “If I am clever enough to use this, will it be safe to assume that everyone else will use this, and not abuse it?” Maybe it’s time we design society to fit the least-common-denominator of carelessness and obliviousness—I bet those same class-clown types would quickly start to complain that they’re not as stupid as we seem to think they are.

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It’s human nature—expect people to be on-the-ball, and they’ll act like they’ve just been hit on the head—but if we expect people to be dull, they’ll bust a gut to prove how on-the-ball they really are. The electorate just recently so much as insisted that they be allowed to roll in the mud of ignorance—I say, let’em. Once they sampled the leadership of someone who isn’t just pretending he’s a moron, they’ll wise up surprisingly.

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It is far past the time when we can continue to conflate humanity with reason. Reason is unnatural—humanity is far more influenced by feelings than by reason—our judgements are emotional, not rational. Democracy sounds like a good idea—but it tends to give us what we want, not what we need. The biggest failing of democracy, it seems, is that there are no wrong answers in an election, just a consensus. It’s like taking an opinion poll of reality—it tells us what we feel, but it doesn’t tell us if we’re right to feel that way.

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Still, I support the supremacy of feeling over reason—I support the will of the majority—not because I admire these ideas, but because they are the only fair way to go about organizing ourselves. Even within that paradigm, we find ourselves surrounded by unfairness and violence—but without those principles, it just gets worse. Government by fiat and firepower—a proven cancer on any hope of economic development, or personal security.

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So, here I am, at the far side of a long life of reading and learning, having found that people (including myself) are both far more and far less than we believe ourselves to be. Cynicism and nihilism plague me—I’ve gathered enough knowledge to learn that knowledge is itself a relative term, without the rock-sure permanence the word implies. And when I consider the dysfunction in the world around me, and feel that urge to ‘change the world’—or even merely ‘improve my neighborhood’—I must ask myself if I’m really the proper person to do that? Would I want everyone else to end up like me? I don’t think so.

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Changing society is little different from raising kids. When two kids are arguing, my impulse is to break it up and bring peace to the situation—but kids grow up better if they learn to work things out—so my impulse may be the worst thing I could do. Or it may be the correct choice. I’m not the sort of nurturing person who could easily discern which is which. And if I’m unsure of myself while supervising two children at play, I should perhaps think twice before I decide I’m going to change society. Is society perfect? No. Is it useful for me to think in terms of changing the system? Maybe it would be better if I confined myself to helping out a single person, in a single moment, as I go along—of thinking as much about the people around me as I do of myself.

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But then, I might get tired of helping person after person with the same problem—I might decide that they are all being victimized by the same flaw in the system. At that point, I might consider becoming an activist for change, because I would have a specific issue that I knew about and understood. That makes plenty of sense. But for me to just speculate on broad changes to our whole society, based on whatever tweaked my beard that day, would be the height of arrogance—especially if I’m doing so from the remove of my office, basing my opinions on what the TV says, rather than mixing with actual people.

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And this is something that goes for TV and media, in a broader sense. We watch these programs and reports—and we absorb the idea that the universe being presented is the complete reality. The globe is reduced to a chessboard, the players become whatever labels the media puts on certain groups—and it is presented to us as a contest, where enjoying the contest is as much the point as who wins or loses. You don’t see kids in Aleppo watching CNN—and if they did, they’d be horrified by their commodification as info-tainment, their lives and the lives (and deaths) of everyone they know concentrated down to a brief segment-subject.

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You want to know the World? You can’t. Okay? The world is too big. So you can watch the world news, if you enjoy it, but don’t kid yourself—you’re watching a show. You don’t know nothing. (Hey, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded—I mean, I don’t know nothing, either—I’m just making a point.) When I think about it—my neighborhood is never on the news. Does that mean nothing happens here? Does that mean we aren’t important? No, it just means that we don’t bleed enough to make it onto the show.

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