D is for Dummy   (2017Feb28)


Tuesday, February 28, 2017                                             9:11 AM

According to the New York Times, Trump wants to add $54 billion to our military spending, saying, “We have to start winning wars again.” This sorry fuckwad doesn’t see a problem with wars—just with losing them. It may be difficult for those of us living in reality to understand what this drooling moron means when he spews his ignorance. I believe this particular tid-bit was meant to suggest that we will go to every hot spot on Earth and use American Might to slaughter everyone involved, thus ‘winning’. I guess when you’re that old, mere diplomacy and world peace won’t get your dick hard.

BLOTUS says, “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.” He doesn’t want to admit it was just him—so he says ‘Nobody’ knew. This is the beauty of seeing reality as a story to be shaped, rather than a true thing—you can adjust the facts to make yourself look sane. Every-fucking-body knew—and everyone has known for years and years, that Health Care was complex—only someone who completely ignored politics until last year could possibly have missed the fact that Health Care was complex—and guess who that sounds like.


I know that facts are unpopular nowadays—but here’s one: the ACA was based on a Republican governor’s successful state program—it addressed several injustices that existed in commercial health insurance, it saved lives, and the only way it could be improved or made more economic would be to put back the single-payer option that Obama was forced to drop when he pushed the bill through. That’s the simple truth.

But Republicans and Trump campaigned on the notion that the ACA was evil incarnate—a curse upon the nation. They wanted to repeal it so bad they could taste it. They passed repeal bills in the House like sixty-something times. We can see now why they were so desperate—people have gotten used to health insurance—they like it and they don’t want anyone to take it away now. It turns out that some people look on this evil curse as a blessing—who knew that keeping kids healthy would be popular with parents—even dyed-in-the-wool Republican parents?

But how can they rail against something for years—and then turn around and claim they had no idea how complicated it was? How can they justify ending a government policy so popular that twenty million people signed up for it—and without any kind of replacement? Trump went on to say that his Obamacare-replacement plan is going to be incredibly super-terrific—he doesn’t have one yet, but he knows that it will be terrific. Is that just his subtle way of reminding us that ‘terrific’ has the same root as ‘terror’? I’m afraid so.


But I’m not going to condescend to you, dear reader, as if you were some brainless Trump supporter. You know he’s an ignorant, confused old elitist who snuck into a position he is unfit for. You don’t need me to tell you that the GOP has to use gerrymandering to win elections because their priorities don’t include serving the people. You don’t need me to tell you you’re being lied to—you can tell the truth from a punch in the face without any help from me. I only write these posts because I’m consumed with a thirst for vengeance, just dying for truth and justice to make a comeback.

Trump’s statements, his behavior, his so-called policies—I see them as proof of treasonous criminality and incompetence. Others see them as something to vote for. That’s an incomprehensible gap in our perception of things. I believe that a quarter of this country is made up of people who had trouble with school, with comprehension and reading skills—people who’ve spent their lifetimes being corrected, confused, and condescended to by intelligent people.

They hate subtlety, they hate ideas and ideals, they hate science and math, they hate history and education—and most of all, they hate eggheads, nerds, brains, or intelligentsia of any kind—study and knowledge are the enemy to that quarter of our population—the quarter who see Trump as their champion. Trump told them it’s okay to stand up in public and be an idiot, to say something that three-quarters of Americans laugh at for its inanity—that being a perfect fool is nothing to be ashamed of—and they love him for it.

Of course, it’s a little uncomfortable to come right out and champion stupidity, so they rebrand intelligence as ‘being liberal’. Then they change it to ‘libertards’, to imply that thinking is the real stupidity (and to get away with using ‘retard’ as an insult without anyone being able to call them on it). Sadly, they condemn thinking as if it’s something they would never do—when the truth is that thinking is something they’ve never been able to do.

That quarter of our population got Trump into office—but they had help. The people who didn’t bother to vote (which was fully half the country) may not have been stupid enough to vote for him—but they were stupid enough to let it happen. I give them a D.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


It’s Kinda Complicated   (2016Sep21)


Wednesday, September 21, 2016                                              1:14 PM

One of my friends wrote a poem. One of my friends died. One of my friends came to visit. One of my friends got divorced. I don’t know how to feel. I wake up every morning wondering.

As a young man, the life I live today would have made me crazy with restlessness—but I see chaos all around me and all I can think is, thank god the tornado missed me today. Not that I’ve ever even seen a tornado, except on TV—a big storm is the worst it ever gets around here—no earthquakes, no floods, no disasters (not since 9/11, anyway).

Some morning I’m going to wake up and everyone will be busy at work; all the kids will be studying in good schools; all the countries will be trying to get along; and things will get better. Well, maybe not—but if other people can play Lotto, I can dream too.

The world keeps going faster, getting more complicated. A lot of people aren’t embracing that—they’re running away from it. Maybe we have to start thinking of two new groupings of people—those who want to intern at Google, and those who want to live in a meadow—if you know what I mean. The world is sprinting forward—maybe some people would rather be left in an enclave of simplicity. If we don’t recognize this schism, it will become a point of friction. If we do recognize it, we have a shot at working out a compromise.

Maybe there’s a way to have our science-fiction future come true for some of us, and leave a bit of Lothlórien behind for the rest of us. We have to start thinking about this stuff—not everyone wants to live in Nerd Paradise. Just as robots are assuming manufacturing jobs—raising the question of where to find consumers when there are no jobs?—we need to address the fact that human IQ averages are not going to grow in proportion to Moore’s Law.

In olden times, when no one typed except secretaries, and making change was the big science/math challenge, lots of people had trouble dealing with even simple arithmetic. Now we expect every adult to choose a health insurance plan, apply for a bank loan, file a tax return, remember ten or twenty passwords, pin numbers, SSN#’s, and devise a retirement investment strategy. Our devices have manuals. Our phones contain more answers than questions. Our online footprints are at risk from hackers. What’s a C student supposed to do? Grow an extra brain?

Back when computers were new to the office environment, I was the computer guy. Every else asked me what to do when the screen confused them, or when the printer jammed. That seemed natural—thirty people, and only one of them had the interest or the intellect to get into the details of using a computer—now we’re all expected to learn it in grade school. And most do. But we are still asking a lot more from humanity than the last 30,000 years have asked of them. And we have to address that.


The Wizard   (2016Jun06)

Monday, June 06, 2016                                            6:13 PM

Walt Disney created the animated film “The Sword In The Stone”, based on part one of T. H. White’s classic, “The Once and Future King”—it is a well-known story of how young Arthur grew and learned from his tutor, Merlin. Aside from all the magic and wonder of the story, my young, book-worm self was jealous of the young king’s schooling. Not that I wished to study nature by being turned into a fish or a bird for an afternoon—though that was certainly cool—no, I wanted an old scholar to inundate me with arcane and disparate knowledge. I wanted to delve into gigantic, dusty tomes and perform burbling, sulfurous experiments with curlicued distillation-piping and whatnot. I wanted to learn the proverbial ‘everything’.


There’s a reason why pre-digital civilization impressed on youth the value of a ‘liberal arts’ education. Metaphors, analogues, and cross-references form a large part of our intellectual development—learning about one thing teaches us about much more than that one thing. The reasoning went that a greatest possible multiplicity of things learned allowed the greatest possible number of avenues for reasoning and problem-solving. In modern terms, it created the most complex network within the brain.

Science of old, starting from way back, when it was still alchemy and ‘sorcery’, had an image problem—outright scientific study was a good way to get burnt at the stake or run out of town. Secrecy led to obscurity—and early scientists went to great lengths to complicate their elucidations, making them seem more impressive—and excluding those without the drive to wade through all the double-talk. You can still observe this behavior today, in the insider-speak of tech-geeks.

In addition, science could only cut across the Old World’s many cultural boundaries by using a lingua franca—or two, really—Latin and Ancient Greek. That is why the nomenclature for many scientific terms is derived from these dead languages—they were only ‘dead’ in the technical sense. The pope could issue a papal bull in Latin and send copies to every church in Western Europe and beyond.

Both the church and the early philosophers used these languages to provide a standard that crossed boundaries of local language—and originally, a Classical education was a literal term—students learned the classics, which meant learning the classic languages they were written in. You’ll tend to see a lot more Latin in the arts, and a lot more Greek in mathematics and the sciences—there are reasons for that which I won’t get into here.


Digital enhancement of education techniques, job-market prep, and economic competition are all factors that tend to reduce the educational experience to a monaural playback, trimmed to its ‘essentials’. And that, of course, is when the educational system is functional to begin with. But education is the perfect example of something being more than the sum of its parts—and the more parts to an education, the greater the total sum.

Merlin wasn’t trying to teach Arthur to become a wizard—but he was trying his best to give the boy a wizard’s perspective—a knowledge of, if nothing else, the breadth of knowledge. He did this because he knew that a king could never be wise without some perspective. And if the history of technology has taught us anything, it is the importance of perspective—burning oil can be very useful, but burning too much oil is a problem; growing a lot of food can protect us from famine, but eating too much food can make us unhealthy.


And now, as global warming re-shapes our coastlines and submerges islands, as low-earth orbit becomes a navigational hazard due to decades of space launches, and as YouTube makes it possible for terrorists to indoctrinate teens a half a world away, we need breadth of perspective like never before. STEM is a great initiative, but as our science progresses, we are more than ever dependent on our ability to extrapolate and explore the consequences of each new and changing aspect. Engineering new gadgets is just the starter pistol—what happens when the whole world gets a new ability, a new insight? Sometimes you get Angry Birds, sometimes you get ISIL online—sometimes both.

Narrowing our field of view to the mere engineering and manufacture of new tech, without the humanities, without history, without the insight of creative expression—that’s a recipe for disaster. Yes, keep STEM—it’s a great idea—but don’t stop there. The more advanced we get, the less we can afford the luxury of shortsightedness. People always want more tech, or more money, or more guns—but the smart people always want the same thing—we want more ‘More’ in our vision—because we know that that’s where all that other good stuff came from in the first place—and much more.

Balance is an unappreciated virtue—as an example, consider: we have made so much progress in digital programming that we are possibly on the cusp of creating a machine that can out-think us. Cool, right? But those with a broader perspective have pointed out that a machine that’s smarter than us just might be a risky proposition. Well, I don’t expect humanity will be overwhelmed with common sense overnight—so I guess we’re about to find out. Are you ready to meet the Wizard?




On Paper   (2016Jan01)

Friday, January 01, 2016                                          6:49 PM

The major American wars were over legislation—the Revolution and the Civil War were both ultimately fought over pieces of paper. Granted, slaughtering the indigenous people—that original sin, the century-long continental sweep of genocide—that was pretty bloody. But given that, the subsequent Americans traditionally never fought over territory—we prefer to fight over the rules. We elect officials to office—but we are led by a piece of paper—it’s a doozy, but it’s still just words written on paper.

The words represent ideas, perhaps even ideals—but they’re not perfect words—they prescribe three branches: two places to argue over the words—and one place for a tie-breaker. It’s a prescription for an imperfect world—thus it breathes, it morphs, it accommodates us, as the changing times alter our problems and our perceptions. But I didn’t start out to write an Ode to the Constitution—I just can’t help myself—Hi, my name is Chris and I am a Yankee-Doodle Dandy.

But we do argue over the rules—we recognize that our rights and our voices are more valuable than property or privilege. Americans are a litigious bunch—and we’ve always been quick to expose corruption and malfeasance. Perhaps that is why gun violence is on the rise—now that the printed word is digitized, it’s lost some of its weight—not to mention the competition for attention from screens. Politicians and corporations play fast and loose with words now—words are branded rather than defined. Hard science is denied. Fear is popularized. The pen has lost its power—and we revert to pointless violence—something we’re used to seeing elsewhere in the world, but not here, in the land of the free.

An educated, literate constituency is so important to the proper function of America—our once-leading position in the world on Public Education was a major factor in all that we have become. And now our educational system seems to be broken—how can that be? How is it possible that we knew how to educate our kids in the 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1970s—but we don’t know how now? How the hell did that happen? That’s our present government’s major malfunction—lack of education bleeds into the economy, human rights, our international status—into government itself. It is the foundation—the fountainhead—our most valuable natural resource. Do we act that way? Do we fund it that way? No and no. That’s messed up.

Higher education has been made into a profit center—it now produces more debtors than scholars—score another victory for capitalism free of reason and restraint. How’s that ‘trickle-down’ feel on the back of your neck?

And that is what enrages me when I hear a Republican advocate persecution of Muslims—not that it’s Hitlerian (which it is) not that it gives aid and comfort to ISIL (which it does) but because it is crap like this that keeps our eye off the ball. Education and Infrastructure—and fuck the rest. Or rather—take care of the rest without performing Wagner’s Ring-Cycle over every goddamned affront to your God-given bigotry. And focus on Education and Infrastructure—that’s your job. People elect you—you work for them.

See, this is the trouble with turning politics into a popularity contest—in a democracy, you vote for the best person to do the job—not the one you like the most. That is, if voters have the sense to understand that government is work—it’s not a debate society—it’s supposed to be a bunch of adults who work out their differences and come up with compromises. It’s not a show. They make it one on TV, but government is not a show. It’s hard enough to get a good effort out of a bunch of politicians without giving them all the wriggle-room that mass-media and the dumbing of America affords them.

Polls are a thriving business these days—if we’re not careful we’ll end up spending more money learning how we feel than we spend on teaching our kids how to think. Congratulations, America—you’ve invented religion-free dogma. Better yet—someone’s making a good buck off it—and all you have to do is put up with the unwanted phone-calls at dinner-time and the spam in your email. It’s a great business model, really—the owner of the business pays minimum wage for the telemarketers who call and question you —and pays you, the callee, nothing—and makes a bundle selling the metadata—ka-ching.

Anyway, I’ve lost the thread of what I was saying. Here are two videos from last year that I forgot to post before now:



O—and Happy New Year!


Time Passes Slowly   (2015Nov15)

Sunday, November 15, 2015                                            12:12 PM

“Time Passes Slowly” was one of my favorite Judy Collins songs when I was a teenager—I only wish I could still sense that stillness of time. Here in my aged future, time passes far too quickly—and with less happening in it, to boot. At the moment, it seems last spring was only a few weeks back, that last summer was yesterday, that Halloween came and went while I was glancing at something else—and Thanksgiving is only seconds away, to be followed an hour later by Christmas. That’s what being old feels like (in between the groans and the wheezing, of course) a maelstrom of time that gives not a moment’s rest.

As promised, I purchased Amazon’s only listed biography of Joseph Henry, the American discoverer of electromagnetic induction (Michael Faraday is given the historical credit, in the cliff-notes version). If you remember, I wanted to discover why his name is so unknown today, when he was so revered by scientists for over a century. While that project is still under weigh, I have come up with one thought to share.

Joseph Henry was born in 1797—George Washington was still alive. Henry lived in Albany, New York—recently made the new capital city of New York State. Sloops made regular trips up and down the Hudson River to New York City though by 1807, Fulton’s “Clermont” was steaming over the same route—to be followed by numerous other steam-powered vessels throughout Henry’s youth. As a young teacher-to-be, he made a trip down to West Point to attend a teacher’s conference and learned there of a new invention for the classroom—a black board, which could be written on with chalk, then wiped down and used again—it was a breakthrough in classroom demonstration—the i-pad of its day, if you will.

Henry would continue his experiments with magnetism while teaching Chemistry—Physics would not be recognized as a separate study for some time. And native Americans still lived in the Albany area when he was young—many pioneers passed through Albany on their way west—the North American interior was still very much a separate world. Both the United States and science would grow, slowly but surely, over the years.

It occurred to me that science progresses quite slowly. Euclid’s geometry was written down in the third century BC. Alchemists would work with metalworking, refining, colored dyes, pigments, and other useful materials for centuries, providing the foundation for the Chemistry to come, while being hunted as Satanists. Medical science and astronomy would work through similar resistance from religious institutions to reach understandings of basic human anatomy or the course of the planets through the heavens. Men like Ben Franklin, Alessandro Volta, and Luigi Galvani would spend lifetimes studying electricity without even connecting it with magnetism.

Likewise, it would be almost a century before Henry’s own discovery of induction would produce practical devices such as Morse’s telegraph, Bell’s telephone, or Edison’s dynamo. All of science and technology would crawl along, taking years, or even centuries, to take a single step.

But here’s the thing—as a student in the 1960s and 1970s, I was taught all of these wonders in the space of a handful of semesters. They were not presented as a ‘story of us’—rather as a mere list of rules and functions. It would take me years more to discover the story of humankind implied behind the bare bones of chemistry, calculus, and physics as taught in school.

As I read history, I learned of the life stories of these men and women, of how they lived and died, of the cultures they inhabited while ferreting out these secrets of the universe. I saw the steps taken, one person standing on the shoulders of all who came before—and becoming a foundation for those who would come after. I imagined the changing lives of people who went from caves to indoor plumbing, from horses to steam engines, from papyrus to Gutenberg’s printing-press, from leeches to open-heart surgery.

But I also realized that these giants of human knowledge were all geniuses of some degree—that the principles, the formulas, the mathematics that make up the education of modern children take time to teach because they are all gems of perfect understanding, insights that only our greatest minds could reveal. Their greatness is obvious in the sheer effort required by mortal minds such as my own to grasp what they saw—what they had the genius to recognize and to communicate to the rest of the world (no small feat of its own).

So, yes, it takes time to acquire a good education—because we are climbing on the shoulders of a crowd of intellectual giants. Even so, we are only learning the barest highlights of what they did—without even the names of the people who mined this treasure, much less their stories, or the story of how this knowledge percolated through civilization to yield the wonders of our modern age—no wonder children ask why they need to know these things—they are never told of the richness of humanity’s struggle to wrest understanding from an opaque existence. It’s as if we are loading their knapsacks with gold bars—and never telling them of its value.

So, to begin with, the story of Joseph Henry’s invisibility is the same as the story of the death of a liberal arts education—many people don’t appreciate the context of information as being of equal value to the information itself. We used to teach scholars ancient Greek and Latin—dead languages with no apparent face-value—but when using these old terms, by knowing their origins, we are reminded that some things are as old as ancient Athens or Rome, and that the people of that time were no different from ourselves. Context is its own wisdom—its own information.

Now we are inclined to pare down education even further, by renouncing the creative arts—a sure sign that we don’t appreciate the connection between music and mathematics, painting and chemistry, or dance and physics. We are educating ourselves as if we are machines being prepared to be slotted into a job after our training is over—not as if we want to raise humans with hearts and minds that find fulfilment and wonder in the world around them. Context is everything. I will continue reading Joseph Henry’s biography and I’ll keep you all informed of what I find.

Had a windy day yesterday:

Trump Is Too Smart For Me    (2015Sep02)

Tuesday, September 01, 2015                                          10:35 AM

Some people are smarter than others. Some people are really stupid. In a classroom, we get an obvious display of differences in intelligence—some kids get it right away, other kids struggle. If you stay in the classroom, you get smarter—not intrinsically smarter, just smarter because you have more information to work with—you’re better able to analyze, contrast, and compare. Thus the second graders think the first graders are stupid because they haven’t learned their times-tables yet.

The grade-level thing works itself out, in time, but varying levels of education and insight will continue to make some people smarter than others. Ordinarily it doesn’t matter—when me and my neighbors are mowing our lawns, we’re all smart enough for the task at hand. Someone’s lawn may turn out greener than the rest of us—but that’s not intelligence so much as interest—having an abiding interest in any subject will make one more knowledgeable. Not by magic, of course, but because one will pay attention to that subject and seek out new information related to it—it’ll catch your eye.

Back when I was a programmer, I was above average—not because I was smarter, but because I had affection for algebra, algorithm, and the trickiness of programming-language syntax—things that leave most people cold. Interest parallels intelligence in this way—we are all pretty expert in the things we love. Those who love reading, who love discussion, who love learning and research—these people will naturally stick out as smarter-than-average. But their smarts are as much a matter of their preferences as of their innate intelligence.

Some of us will be lucky—we will be inspired to read by our librarian, or be inspired to learn by that special teacher—and some of us will learn to love those things through loneliness, boredom, or privation. Either way, we will learn something not consciously taught in schools—we learn to enjoy our own company—this is where the ‘nerd’ factor comes in. Playing with the other kids can be a challenge—it becomes less so when one has the alternative of being by oneself. When solitude is the norm, however, important social skills are left unlearned.

Meanwhile, our childhoods will contain variations in parenting, income, educators, and environment—we can never know what would happen if all the kids in a community had mature, responsible parents, or went to a school with all great teachers. But even in a world of nerds, we can still assume that differing levels of smart would present themselves. I imagine that given optimal educational stimuli, we might experience the paradox of intuitive, non-scholastic intelligence becoming the most admired type of smarts. In an environment where everyone studies like mad, those who can juggle, or always have a ready quip, or have a knack for persuading people—might stand out as the ‘smart’ kids. (Indeed, this is true in reality—but mostly because scholastics are less exciting, not because they’re pervasively uniform.)

Learning facts, understanding relationships between facts, and scholastic pursuits in general are all categories of intelligence—but there are many others: empathy, charisma, intuition, salesmanship, social skills, communication, team-building, entrepreneurial activity, sensitivity—there are many important mental strivings beyond the simple ‘smartness’ of a straight-A student. That’s why top colleges care more about essays and ‘extracurricular’s than they do about SAT scores. That’s why ten different programmers can write a program for a certain job without any of them writing the same code—because there are as many ways to use intelligence as there are types of intelligence.

We use tests to ascertain certain intelligences—if you can pass a road test you are smart enough to be a licensed driver; if you pass the bar exam you are smart enough to practice law. But we have no tests for parenting, for managing, or for voting—intellectually demanding activities that can be attempted by people of any education or intellect—no matter how small. But then, there’s no test for being born, either. On the other hand, testing itself is a questionable method for determining skills—it’s just the best we can do with existing systems, and we have to use something to ascertain minimal competency in licensed activities like driving or practicing law.

But the most difficult aspect of intelligence is that having certain knowledge doesn’t protect the informed from disagreement by the uninformed. In my experience the most drastic example of this is when religiosity is used in place of information—I can know some facts for certain and still be unable to convince another person, because they perceive that information to run counter to their religious teachings. From my point of view it is legalized insanity—from their point of view it’s freedom of religion—but either way, it’s incorrect—and I know that, whether others remain unconvinced or not. And they say they pity me, but no more than I pity them. But they pity me for not sharing their delusion, while I pity them for being willfully blind to information that’s there for all to see, if they’d only let themselves see it.

Religiosity also bothers me because differing levels of intelligence will always be there to confuse an issue—and the religious delusions just add a whole ‘nother layer to that confusion. If you want to tell me there’s a heaven, a hell, a white-haired old guy, or a pearly gate—I’m all for it. None of that stuff bothers me. But if you want to make direct connections between what’s actually happening in life and those crazy fairy tales, there’s where I run into trouble. When religion is all good news and good vibes, it’s wonderful—but when it steps over the line into judgement, division, and hate, that’s a problem. And it’s never the religion itself that does that—it’s always some clown who’s taking an ego-trip or running a scam who decides we should all live within the confines of his personal dream of purity.

One type of intelligence is persuasion. People can be good at persuading other people, without having much of the more traditional forms of intelligence. We see this today in the Republican Party members—they persuade their followers of many things, but they’re not very concerned about the veracity of what they’re persuading their constituents to learn. They ‘educate’ to persuade, not to inform, and their believers mistake it for real education—they’re even taught to doubt the people who speak in earnest for the public good, like scientists. If the GOP can vilify scientists, who’s next—teachers?—literacy itself? This is why right-wingers always wear business suits—they think that if they resemble dignified people, it will dignify their propaganda. It probably helps them take themselves seriously, too—as long as they don’t look in a mirror.

Politics creates its own reality. When a politician faces an unpopular issue he or she will have two choices—please the crowd, or lose the election. We used to have a more authoritarian mind-set in this country—a politician had a shot at convincing us that their leadership was true, that we all had to bite the bullet for the common good—like when Johnson sent the National Guard to the Deep South. Now we’ve reached the point where an educated politician (who knows better) is forced to publicly cast doubt on evolution, or global warming, or the need for women’s health care. How those poor bastards get any sleep at night is a mystery to me.

And now they’re stuck with this guy, Trump, who has a PhD in persuasion—and almost no intellectual property outside of persuasion—and he has made their private sins into a public celebration, and they’re uncomfortable with that. They know that a lot of their hot-button issues are ‘naked emperors’ that won’t bear honest inspection—they know that the key to fighting progressives is to spread fear and confusion—not to bring these things out into the sunlight, as Trump is doing. He recognizes that many people are bigoted against Latinos—what he doesn’t recognize is that it’s a leader’s job to tell the haters that they are wrong. The rest of the GOP have at least that much understanding of public service—that one must use ‘dog-whistles’ to attract the haters without joining their ranks, where one is forced to defend the ethics of hatred—an impossible task.

Trump crystallizes the difference between ‘being correct’ and ‘winning the argument’—he can win almost any argument, but I have yet to hear him say anything that is true. I heard one talking-head on TV yesterday say, ”Well, it’s August…” I guess that means we’re all supposed to revel in stupidity while the sun is shining, and we’ll all get back down to earth when the leaves start to fall. Personally, I think we’re all being stupid enough, all the time, without taking a summer brain-break.

Thoughts On Print’s Twilight (2014May23)

Friday, May 23, 2014                  1:58 PM


My friend, Chris K., has brought up the grinding of gears that ensue when retail leviathan Amazon’s standards-and-future-goals butt heads with the last, great publishing houses’ standards-and-traditions. There’s a temptation to mention ‘buggy-whips’ and move on—but literacy is still a goal more than a condition in many parts of the world—and the question of how digital texts will impact that is only one of the many things that are being politely ignored by a First World culture that doesn’t dare appear as anti-progress, particularly against digital innovation.


Reference books once wore a solemnity that stemmed from their careful accrual of methods, measurements, calculations, and organization of information that reaches back to Ptolemy, Archimedes, and Euclid. The precise science of modern astronomy still owes its huge record of observations of the night sky mostly to centuries and millennia of serious observation and record-keeping.


The supertanker that chugs along mid-Pacific without any qualms over its exact location and bearing—these are supplied digitally, i.e. magically. What few people realize is that large reference-tables of important navigational values are built in to the ultra-post-modern instruments on the bridge. Without those tables of constant-values, a computer would have no better idea of its position than a human navigator without charts and table-books and chronometers.



Having lost our hero-worship of literal ‘history’, we now have historians who look at certain people, places, and events from different points of perspective. We now recognize that history is as much a matter of missing documents and contradictory documents and accounts, as it is a matter of what we actually have on paper. Nonetheless, we treasure our Founding Documents, creating a whole sub-topic of document preservation and examination, within the library sciences (or is it archaeology?) Now that we are apparently just going to watch as printed matter becomes obsolete, without any battle-cry to preserve any real value in books, one wonders whether this makes our archival treasures more valuable or more trivial.


Yes, we are losing something great by doing something new—but I still listen to broadcast radio, so what do I know? I was just yesterday bemoaning the disappearance of that great stationers shop in Brewster—it was a palace of office supplies.


But my old industry, direct mail marketing , and the shopping-catalog boom were already threatening their existence before e-commerce really started. I remember it was newsworthy and remarkable when Sharper Image debuted the first store without a building—making big bucks in retail without paying rent—well, for the storefront, at least.


Catalogs and third-party deliverers, like FedEx and UPS, created the ‘virtual mall’ before cyberspace opened its ‘e-doors’, if you will. Now that newspapers are passé (excepting The Gray Lady, of course) and e-books have a strong beachhead—now that education is focused as much on using digital tools as on using one’s mind (perhaps more so) we must let the grand tradition of bibliophilia sink or swim on its own virtue.


Remember, there was once a paradigm wherein only the nobility were offered literacy, when artisan monks illuminated home-cured vellum with sometimes crushed-gem-based pigments, gold-leaf, and the great wellspring of imagination such labors bestowed upon them. Such treasures were one of a kind—Bibles might be copied, and perhaps a few other books, but many books of that era were unique treasures—as indicated by the practice of chaining them to the wall.

20140501XD-FirstOfMay 008

That grandeur was lost when Gutenberg, et. al. began printing with movable type—mass-publication, relative to the copyists it replaced. Aside from ‘Domesday Books’ and other governmental and commercial records-keeping, there was really only one book—the Bible. The sudden ability to hand out copies to every churchgoer denied the priests, etc. of the power of interpretation—prior to Gutenberg, the Bible was what your Priest told you it was, it said what he said it said—case closed. On top of which, the Latin Scriptures were being made accessible by translations into common speech—which many church leaders felt was a sacrilegious degradation of the Word of God. That is why printing presses were illegal for about a hundred years after they were brought into common use. And printing is still a bone of contention between the authorities and the public, in some cases, even in America.

20140514XD-LilacsBlooming 017_smallr

The latest instance of this friction is, oddly enough, a digital publication by one Robert Snowden—and it must be noted that the sheer weight of his information, printed on paper, would have circumscribed it’s distribution without the existence of the Internet. So the benefits of digital text do exist—and they are tremendous. But it is hard for me to accept that something I have loved so faithfully all of my life, books, may become obsolete. As is usually the case, we will find out what we really lost, and how much, only after we’ve reached a point of no return.

20140512XD-Flowers_III (10)_small

In the meantime, it should be remembered that self-publishing is a wonderful thing for a writer—it remains to be seen if its value holds true for the reader.

20140510XD-Flowers2 029

Back In The USSR Days


When the Cold War ended and people started tearing down the Berlin Wall in 1989, it wasn’t just the end of a war, it was the end of a way of life. And those of us who were born near its beginning were cut adrift in a world that no longer made sense.

In my day, we knew who the enemy was—it was the United Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR, the place that is known today as about ten different countries, including Russia, Poland, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia (or whatever, and however many, new countries Czechoslovakia is now), and most of Eastern Europe. We thought of them as the Commies.


Boy, did we hate the Commies! They outlawed religion. They kept the few Jews that survived WWII from leaving the Soviet Union, so they couldn’t go live in the new Israel. (Or NYC, which had a larger Jewish population than Israel—and still does, for all I know.). They outlawed any literature and music from the West (we used to be ‘the West’—that is, the NATO countries and their satellite nations). Trade with ‘The Free World’ was prohibited. Free speech and free assembly were prohibited. The only reason we went to the Moon was because the Russkies (another word for Commies) put a satellite in Earth orbit first—and scared us to death with visions of them raining nuclear missiles down from the sky. Then VP Lyndon Johnson was quoted saying ‘we cannot allow the communists to take the high ground of space’.


We had our favorite Soviet artists, like Solzhenitsyn the writer and Shostakovich the composer—and we admired them not just for their talents or artistry, but for the harassment they endured under the Soviet’s cultural restrictions. We ridiculed the Russkies in our media—Boris and Natasha (of ‘The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show’ fame) were generic caricatures of inept Soviet spies who couldn’t even catch “moose and squirrel”. As a child, I also went through atom bomb defense drills at school—they had all us kids go into the hallway, huddle down facing the walls and cover our heads with our hands. I remember also being informed that I should never look directly at an atomic blast because it would cause permanent blindness. No one said anything about how blindness would be the least of a person’s problems if they were close enough to look directly at a nuclear explosion.


But, there were upsides to the Cold War, too. Companies’ employment practices couldn’t be made too draconian without being accused of the same kind of autocratic invasion of human rights that the Commies were guilty of. Our freedoms of speech and of assembly were more jealously guarded because it was one of the things that made us the ‘good guys’.

Religion was kept in perspective as well—we could see that no hand of God was destroying the Godless Commies, so we couldn’t say religion was fact, as some evangelists try to do today—but we also recognized it as an important personal freedom. It was relegated to the background in practical terms—no one took seriously the fission between science and the Bible—science was science and religion was religion.


And civil rights got a huge boost from the Cold War—as soon as the Commies began to deride our ‘Free Country’ for being racist and quite unequal, the civil rights groups, the feminist groups, they all had to be taken seriously—they had become part of the Cold War, not as an enemy but as a necessity.

Information was free then—as it had always been. Scientists took collaboration to be such a serious mandate for scientific progress that the idea of owning information had a Commie feel to it. And that was leading edge scientific research—nowadays we can accept the idea of information ownership because our ‘information’ consists of reality-show-videos, music-videos, online gaming shortcuts—and other such frippery. The sharing of information between two scientists, in today’s terms, would be up against a mountain of Non-Disclosure Agreements and a mob of lawyers. The people who own things have gathered information unto themselves—and now the great scientific minds of the World are kept locked away by these Fat Cats so that they may profit from whatever genius those thinkers possess.


I admit, it was a simpler time. Back then, the idea of riding in a jumbo jet was new and modern—steering them into the WTC Towers wasn’t something anyone thought about until much later—and even then, in 2001, most of us were shocked by that particular idea. I read the “Tom Swift, Jr.” adventure series when I was little—that was science fiction about jumbo planes and undersea construction, all dumbed down to the level of grade school reading. But I loved them.


Later on, I began to read the late Tom Clancy—along with several million other people—his novels were very satisfying. The only evil in the world was the Communist Bloc—and U.S. soldiers never did anything wrong. As long as Jack Ryan defused the bomb in time, the world remained free from the threat of Soviet Dominion! In Clancy’s last real best-selling thriller, “Executive Orders”, he has cobbled together enough serendipity to land Jack Ryan in the White House (Someone steers a jetliner into the Capitol Building during a State of the Union address.) yet still leaves his character enough running room to fight bad guys hand-to-hand before it’s all over. And when it was over, it was over—that book was published in 1996.


Clancy would write several other popular novels that would concentrate on the technology of modern warfare, mostly starring the sons (and daughters) of the main characters used throughout the books of his glory days. Many movies were made of his books–and his later post-Cold War writings were almost as prodigious, inspiring the TV series “Tom Clancy’s Net Force” and video-games from “Red Storm Entertainment”. He died in October of this year, 2013.


Not only had we become used to the two-dimensional configuration of our civilization, us vs. them, but at its farthest, most extreme remnants, it became codified in entertainments, from “The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming” (1966) until the movie version of “The Hunt for Red October” (1990)—we enjoyed the melancholy status quo of two peoples separated by ideologies, who were always seen by each other as far too human when encountered face-to-face.


We had yet to encounter a world in which terrorism was the new paradigm—I’ve always been very upset about our country’s reaction to 9/11—the fear that we allowed into our life-styles and our laws—was by far the greater attack—and we fell before it. Nowadays I could start a riot simply by walking away from a backpack in a crowded place. And yet we have more fatalities accounted for by random shootings this past decade, not to mention the home-grown terrorist Americans that bombed Oklahoma City. We have more fatalities accounted for by soldiers’ suicides than those who have fallen in action!


Clearly, something’s amiss. We must put away our fear. And we must put away our pride. We have to take stock of ourselves, individually, and as a society, and we have to start figuring out sensible plans for moving forward.

The biggest storm in recorded history hit the Philippines a few days ago—and the consensus is that climate change is about as ‘real’ as it gets. The lying bastards who have knowingly obfuscated this issue for decades to get their almighty, god-damned dollar are not pooh-poohing Global Warming anymore—the smart ones are investing in the ocean-walling business—every big city in the world is near the shore of some ocean, and that’s a lot of massive berms and boundary wetlands.

The Chinese are learning what we learned—go overboard on the cheap, dirty energy, and the cities become murky fogbanks of lung-glue, and cancers break out all over. The Chinese will be easier to reason with—their advisors need only point out their windows, or at American newspaper headlines—the results of fifty years of greedy, sloppy energy-production are manifesting globally, in historically bad weather and bad crops. The planet is physically changing—and not in a good way. Between resource-rape and over-population, we’re headed for a bumpy ride these next ten, twenty years.

Tea-partiers trumpeting their petulant ignorance are not to be blamed—no journalist with any wits would waste time on Sarah Palin and that bunch. It is the Koch brothers, a notably personal aberration comprised of twin nut-jobs, who deserve the blame for inciting the stupidest demographic we have, and more than them—it is the cold, shark-like predations of all corporations, in their present configuration. The laws governing corporations in the USA read like an instruction manual for destroying the human race—and they must be changed.

We can never go back to the fairy-tale of “Moose and Squirrel” vs. “Boris and Natasha”—we know all too well now that our greatest dangers lie within ourselves and within our society. As a people, we don’t take enough responsibility—we don’t have more than a quarter of eligible voters voting in any election—and you can imagine how many informed voters that comes to. Not a lot. You know who comes out—the yahoos. They may be dumb, but they’re smart enough to win elections—simply by showing up.

I don’t know—I’m not expecting to see too many more decades—I ain’t dying, but I ain’t young, neither. My only concern is the kids, trying to make a good life for themselves in this junk-heap of a civilization we’ve become. Whenever I try to imagine a lifetime starting from now, I just get very tired. Can you imagine? It was hard enough starting in the 1950s—starting in the twenty-first century seems like something I wouldn’t enjoy—luckily, my opinion isn’t what matters.

There are some things I’m sure of. Money is a problem. Ignorance is a problem. Fertility is a problem. And, of course, Peace is a problem. There are organizations which, no matter how fine someone slices it, exist for the sole purpose of keeping the truth from being shared. Likewise, there are PR firms and propaganda departments that exist for the sole purpose of telling us lies, or at least, well-spun truths. Education will never work well until we recognize it as an ongoing thing—most especially now, when technology changes the marketplace, and the jobs market, so quickly.


Public schools that don’t graduate literate students are not acceptable—how is that even possible? It’s possible because even very good, dedicated people are powerless against politics—and politics is rife in public education now. Maybe that’s because parents started trying to get their kids educated ‘with conditions’. The differently-abled are well-deserving of any assistance that can be devised. But the differently-‘faithed’ are a different story—we need to tell those parents to cowboy up and teach that junk at home, where it belongs.


We can see the way the debate is formed by the media—what’s important is pre-decided—all that’s left is the arguing, which the media facilitate the best they can. And we all have fun, arguing over stuff, discussing stuff, criticizing stuff. We can see that many important things are left out of modern news reporting—things that don’t have high visibility yet have immense importance—these issues are ignored entirely. Think to yourself—aren’t there things you think about, that you never hear about in the news? And aren’t some of those things kinda important?


Ahh, like The Beatles, I miss being “Back In The USSR”.

Back to Welfare (or How To Fix Public Education)


Ah, the myth of the man-month, all over again. “The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering” by Fred Brooks, [“..First published in 1975 (ISBN 0-201-00650-2), reprinted in 1982, and republished in an anniversary edition with four extra chapters in 1995 (ISBN 0-201-83595-9), including a reprint of the essay “No Silver Bullet” with commentary by the author.]”–Wikipedia.

Brooks’ Law has been around a long time. However, Brooks’ book is jovially described as the ‘Project Managers Bible’, oft-quoted, but almost never followed. There are good reasons for not following the rational approach described therein—for one thing, it concerns group efforts in a business environment. Ask anyone with experience in such things and they will tell you, “Sure—in group efforts (or team efforts) there is nothing rational involved—it’s all about their feelings and relationships (and their hierarchy, corporate-wise).”


Like office staff during a prolonged period of ‘downsizing’, members of a ‘group effort’ assume a herd aspect—everyone looks to everyone else, ignoring their specific efforts while focused on the much more important mob-moods of the group as a whole. But the vagaries of corporate dysfunction and corporate survival are not my theme for today.

Today, in examining the exhaustive world of Insolvency, I’m going over ground that’s been gone over before—but is very worthwhile in reviewing and reminding us of key facts. Part of the Poverty problem is the enormous effort required to be poor and alive at the same time.

Let’s enumerate. Point One—if you cannot afford a car, you are forced to either walk or take mass transit, often for long distances, on a daily basis. This applies not just to the commute to a job (yes, many poor people have jobs—they’re just not good jobs) but to shopping, medical emergencies, parent-teacher meetings, etc. Commuting is, however, where it hurts the most—the likelihood of being late is magnified by the number of factors outside of the control of the worker—missed busses and trains, inclement weather, and heavy traffic on a street that must be walked across, etc. And this results in either docked pay or diminished perceived value as an employee—or both. In short, the lack of a car can be costly in effort, man-hours, reputation, and straight-up paychecks. And it makes certain destinations virtually unreachable.

Point Two—if you cannot afford a house, you must find a friend to let you stay on the couch—or find a homeless shelter. Either way, you are subject to all the disadvantages of not owning a home—you cannot accumulate appliances, furniture, or foodstuffs; you cannot give a home phone number or mailing address; and you can end up spending too much time exposed to the elements—which can lead to…

Point Three—if you cannot afford a doctor and you are sick or injured, you must spend a minimum of one whole working day at an Emergency Room—and then get less-than-competent health care at the end of it. Infection is more likely to find people who have no Band-Aids or Purell.

I could go on to Point Thirty-Three with this stuff—but I’ll spare you the rest—in truth, it makes me very tired to think about Poverty. So many people—so much injustice and unfairness—thinking how it would affect me, in my disabled state, if I were all alone, I can’t help but see it as a sort of hell on earth.

I can only surmise that the many angry voices on the Internet, that despise the poor and the hungry, are the voices of like-minded folk—with the important difference that they fear that hell-on-earth for themselves and, rather than empathize with today’s victims, simply wish to distance themselves from such a horrible condition. That fear makes them angry and such people want to insist that the monster could never catch them—thus their characterization of the poor as ‘lazy’ and ‘un-enterprising’. But they are no safer for all their hexing.

None of us are safe. That is why it makes a tremendous amount of sense to ameliorate the horrors of Poverty. It could happen to me tomorrow—then wouldn’t I feel like an idiot for trying to stop government aid to my new demographic? We should be making Poverty an embarrassment rather than a frightening wasteland. We should be making Poverty so easy to bear that the only damage it inflicts is the wounding of one’s pride.


But please understand me—I’m not saying we should taunt the poor—that isn’t it at all. No, I’m saying that poverty should hold no fear for our lives, for our health, for our daily bread. I’m saying it should be easy to be poor, easy to care for our children when we’re poor, and easy to get medical treatment for us and our families when we’re poor. We should be tempted by Poverty—it should call to us when we are down and make us think, “O, forget all this trouble—I’m just gonna give up.”

Without such a safety-net system of support, none of us are safe, none of us can rest easy—the poor suffer, and the rest of us worry about becoming poor. It’s too primitive this way—and what is a civilization anyway, if not a collective effort to improve quality of life for everyone?

I remember the ‘Welfare state’ of yesteryear—how it became a black hole of government expense. But that was not caused by an army of ‘lazy good-for-nothings’, people who chose welfare over honest labor—even in those easier times, no one went on Welfare just to avoid working. No, the true cause of the arterial spurt of cash that Welfare became was corruption, not overuse.

Plus, no one thought Welfare through—it was an attempt to end the poverty of inner cities and depressed rural areas—when someone has lived hand to mouth for a lifetime—and then is handed money—that person doesn’t have any natural propensity for changing into someone new—no. When Welfare was instituted, there was no concomitant effort to guide those people towards a different way of life—so when they got money, they spent it as they always had. The idea that they would simply march straight into a bank and start a savings account, try to use some of the money to get a better education, and generally start doing things the way prosperous people were used to doing them—that is one big assumption.

It showed our ignorance of social dynamics and, more importantly, it revealed government’s (any government’s) weak side: envisioning what will happen tomorrow. Mixed up in there, too, was a lot of prejudice, condescension, and miserliness. And the Misers ultimately won out. The media painted it thus: calls for rooting out the corruption and illicit scams in the Welfare system were followed by pronouncements that it couldn’t be fixed, we should just trash the whole thing. And that’s what we did.


A few years later, NYC (and many other places) noticed a new problem in the streets—homelessness. Coincidence? You tell me. Then we had years of debate over how to solve the homeless crisis. No one suggested anything as old and shabby as Welfare—we’d already tried it, hadn’t we? Well, not really.

Let me say this—if we tasked our armed forces with a war on domestic poverty, we wouldn’t be that far off. As I see it, much of the perpetuation of poverty is due to businesspersons that create an economic niche within the plight of the poor—slumlords, high-interest-loans, overpriced merchandise targeting customers who can’t afford the extra time and the extra distance travelled to reach an honorable establishment. It is a microcosm of how most of the world is eternally being ripped off by the rich—but I’m going to stay on task here—back to Poverty.

So there are businesses which prey on the poor—but there are the gangs, too. Modern gangs control many under-served, depressed areas—and our world’s largest penal system contains an inexhaustible supply of replacements for all the gangs. Between street gangs, our prison system, and organized crime, huge swathes of the ‘land of the free’ are so ‘law of the jungle’ that they actually could be perceived as foreign countries—thus my suggestion that the military take point on this issue.

If our armed forces can get rid of the thieves and tin-pot dictators of the Mid-East, rebuild the infrastructure, train and educate the native populations to the point where they can govern themselves—why can’t we do that at home? I say bring back Welfare, and enforce it with heavy armament! Then, when people stop starving and freezing, perhaps, the public education system can be fixed.