Friday, April 28, 2017

Magnolias


The southern Magnolia tree is a beautiful example of nature.  At its maturity, it is tall and majestic.  It is truly a thing of beauty as long as you don’t have to live with it.  That can be said of a lot of nature. 
Take for example the Bald Eagle, a magnificent raptor, strong and picturesque as it swoops low over the water to snatch a trout from just below the surface.  Yet up close… I am not sure it would be something you want around every day.  Don’t get me wrong, there are a great number of people who love to be around raptors, and for them the eagle is a fine creature with only minor flaws.
Hmmm, this reminds me of a story from my Desert Storm days.  We were operating out of Incirlik Air Base in Turkey and when the war ended we were allowed off base.  A group of flyers went to a local establishment called the Eagle Café/Bar.  The bar was on the roof, and the owner kept an eagle there.  After what I assume was more than one beer, these intrepid airmen decided living in a cage was a cruel life and set about to free the eagle.  Once free they tossed it into the air with the joyous yell, “Fly and be free.”  Unfortunately for all concerned, especially the eagle, its wings had been clipped.  It had just enough lift to flap into the adjacent river where it drowned.
Right there we had the makings of an international “ugly American” incident.  Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed.  One of the senior officers who had observed this incident contacted the owner and negotiated a fair price (as decided by the owner) for his pet raptor.  The airmen involved, after coughing up the agreed price of the eagle, got to spend the rest of the deployment confined to base and away from anything with the hint of alcohol.  But I digress.
Where was I?  Oh yes, my Magnolia tree is in its spring shedding season.  The spring shedding season is different than the summer, fall, or winter shedding seasons in the quantity of leaves the tree decides it no longer needs.  What was once a green lawn is now mostly brown with discarded leaves.  Every couple of days I will mow them into mulch, but still it persists… In that way, Magnolias are a lot like Elizabeth Warren.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Caught Between a Dilemma and a Quagmire


Dilemma – a usually undesirable or unpleasant choice
Quagmire – a difficult, precarious, or entrapping position

Well, here we are past the first quarter of this new administration.  An administration elected by those who were upset with the social changes (both domestically and internationally), pushed by the previous one.  A President who soundly defeated, although the most ardent opposition will insist not, all the traditional candidates he faced.  His message resonated with a sufficient number of voters in traditionally Democratic Party controlled states that the population turned out for him, despite all the flaws dramatized so religiously by the popular media.
The line of questioning that sticks with me on this election had little to do with foreign or domestic policy, but was a question intended to skewer Mr. Trump over his statements the election system was rigged.  When asked if he would accept the results of the election he did not, as any traditional candidate would, jump up and say certainly he would.  He said he would have to look at the results and decide.  His opponent took the traditional path, a response apparently not in keeping with her party’s beliefs, or just an outright lie.
As Mr. Trump and the Republicans swept through the election, like Sherman through Atlanta, the DNC was left as a smoking ruin of what was once the dominate party in America.  They had a serious decision to make, would they consider why they had lost the faith of the traditional democratic strongholds, or would they double down on the agenda that had taken them to this point?  In other words, would they move to a more centrist position or to a more extreme?  With their words and actions since that faithful November day it appears they have chosen to move to the extreme. 
Their opposition has now taken on the appearance of a guerrilla conflict, where the insurgent knows they cannot confront the opponent directly, but must delegitimize him in the eyes of the average citizen. Unfortunately, it seems they are tone deft to the concerns of the average citizen, and their actions only reinforce the idea Mr. Trump was the lessor of the two evils presented for voter choice.
With Mr. Trump, they had an opportunity to move a non-traditional conservative to a more centrist position by working to compromise his more extreme positions, but that would have required some compromise on their part.  After the past 12 years of government polarization that turned out to be either undesirable or impossible.  So now it will be interesting to see how they rebuild a party that is far more liberal than the average voter in the rust belt states. 
The party in power traditionally loses seats in the mid-term election, and the Republican majority seems to be doing everything they can think of to reinforce the idea they are ill prepared to lead, so 2018 will be an interesting campaign for the DNC.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

It's a Simple Game


“This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.”  Bull Durham, 1988
One of the best lines from any sports movie ever written.  It would be nice if life were that simple.  Don’t get me wrong it could be, but just like the movie we all seem to be the Ebby Calvin LaLoosh character rather than Crash Davis.  We make it far more complex than it could be for a thousand different reasons.
I think a big reason we seem to make life complex is we are surrounded by experts.  They have become unavoidable.  Everywhere you turn there is some kind of expert telling you how to clean your pores, end embarrassing age spots, store stuff under the bed, pick the fantasy athletes for a sport, choose the “March Madness ®” brackets, seal leaks in your basement, choose a political ideology, or why this President, or the last one, is a worthless pile of dung.
Maybe it’s time to abandon the experts and just deal with the life you’ve been given, make it as good as possible, and at the end of the day see how it played out.  Think about this before you leave.
“You're 5 foot nothin', 100 and nothin', and you have barely a speck of athletic ability. And you hung in there with the best college football players in the land for 2 years. And you're gonna walk outta here with a degree from the University of Notre Dame. In this life, you don't have to prove nothin' to nobody but yourself. And after what you've gone through, if you haven't done that by now, it ain't gonna never happen. Now go on back.” Rudy, 1993

Monday, April 24, 2017

Accept Without Question


The polarization of society has created an interesting, and by interesting, I mean narrowly informed and arrogant  group of young people.  They are, in many aspects, similar to the generation that proceeds them, but I suspect they are markedly different than their grandparents.  One of the qualities of youth is the seemingly unshakable belief they know almost everything, and if they didn’t think of it, it’s probably not worth thinking about.  I can assure you my generation felt the same way when we were in our 20s.  But there is a difference.

So many of today’s young have been so sheltered from risk and harm they believe themselves to be indestructible.  Others, many others, have been indoctrinated by educators to think there is only one right answer to life, and they must accept without question the wisdom of this one way of thinking.  I am reminded of an experiment I conducted as a psychology student in college.  The experiment was originally designed and conducted by Social Psychologist Solomon Asch of Swarthmore College as part of his Conformity studies published in the 1950s.   

It was a simple experiment.  Asch had a “vision test” where groups were formed and asked to pick out two similar length lines.  The groups were about 5 or 6 individuals, all but one member of the group were confederates of Asch and privy to the experiment.  The one true subject was being evaluated on his/her responses with the group.  They started off the experiment with the confederates all agreeing on the right answer, but after a few samples they would begin to agree on a wrong one.  A minor difference at first but becoming increasingly obvious over time.  What Asch found was a significant tendency for individuals to conform to the group (~37%).  The majority, about 75% conformed at least once, and only 24% chose to consistently stay with their individual belief.[i]

So, with a consistent message and the right peer confederates on board the young are indoctrinated into the correct way of thinking as they progress through the educational training programs.  Let me stop here for just a moment to share my understanding of the difference between education and training. 

In training the whole purpose is to learn a skill to mastery and be able to perform that skill as necessary when called upon.  Learning a trade, or entry into the military provides the individual with the fundamental skills to perform his or her job.  As time goes on and their proficiency improves they will adapt and develop new capability as their understanding of the profession increases. 

Education, on the other hand is intended expand an individual’s ability to think, reason and articulate in the abstract.  A well educated person will read a variety of material, and be able to apply lessons learned in one field to the problems found in another.  Being well educated does not require a certificate from a university, although for selfish reasons many universities would have you believe so.

As we look at the educators of today, I wonder, why have they abandoned the Socratic ideal of questioning wisdom for the role of indoctrination?  It seems that to me, as so many young people move to emotional attack anytime a progressive idea is questioned, that their mentors and peer confederates must have provided less than just a complex education, but rather a training program on the right way to think.  They are first, and foremost, committed to defending a view that holds only the Democrats can have good ideas, and if anyone questions the validity of that idea they are buffoons and must be mocked.  However, the blind acceptance of progressive ideas comes with considerable risk, and I no longer see the debate of the consequences.

It is important to acknowledge there has always been friction between those who desire change, and those who don’t.  Does that mean those who don’t want change are backwards and those who do want change are visionary?  Hmmm, sometimes, but just as often – no it doesn’t.

Let’s look at some great progressive ideas brought to us in the twentieth century, and see how they have played out over the course of time.  Keep in mind, the idea of a “social scientist” is a relatively new phenomenon, and the theories they have about how society should be are often tainted by a deep personal bias.  The people who’ve bought into these ideas, and were able to persuade the rest of the nation, or the world, of their wisdom, most often view themselves as part of the intelligentsia elite and clearly more insightful than the common man.

Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder.”  Early in the twentieth century the movement to prohibit the production and sale of alcohol had spread as a national movement.  The progressives of the day felt we would be a much better society if we could just eliminate the drunkenness of so many men.  The movement gained support of the progressive politicians and the religious groups and we passed the 18th Amendment to the constitution, prohibiting the manufacture, sale and consumption of alcohol.  In the process, we ushered in the “Roaring 20’s with bootleggers, speakeasies, and organized crime.  This progressive decision was so popular it was repealed within 14 years, and remains the only amendment to be so honored.

We can build him better than before.”  A great number of progressives found the idea of eugenics attractive, and I suspect they still do.  We can, through selective breeding, eliminate all the ills that plague society.  As an outgrowth of Charles Darwin’s theories on evolution, the proponents figured we could eliminate those pesky genetic traits that seem to weigh us down and hinder our progress towards a perfect world.  Proponents of eugenics included Theodore Roosevelt, Helen Keller, H G Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Margaret Sanger and a number of significant intellectuals.  It was all the rage; until Hitler started to implement it with his Aryan planning.  Autobahns and eugenics -- who said the Nazi’s weren’t progressive?  Some say it was the basis for the concept of family planning as implemented by Planned Parenthood.

Total Equality for All, A Workers Paradise.”  In 1848 Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels published the Communist Manifesto, detailing their social theories on class warfare and the problems with capitalism.  They believed capitalism would, over the course of time, give way to socialism.  In 1917, when Lenin led the Bolsheviks in the October revolution overthrowing the Czar he set up the government along the lines of Marx’s theories and recommendations.  All policy was supposed to comply with the Marxist-Leninist principles.  The Soviet Union lasted from 1917 to 1991, and during that time the government slaughtered between 56 and 62-million citizens, primarily under Joseph Stalin.  All I can say is it may have looked good on paper, but I don’t think communism worked out as well as the progressives who supported it initially thought it would.

Now we come to issues dealing with the relative value of life, and how a  wise and caring government bureaucracy will strive to improve the quality of life by assisting perceived terminally ill patients with suicide.  What a great idea, nothing could possibly go wrong with this, it is after all, just about helping the infirm die with dignity. So here we have the progressive movement denying life to the unborn and helping end life of the ill, why not just move to pure Darwinian theory and implement survival of the fittest?  
     I love the way those who accept without question the value of these programs view those who question the potential abuses as childish morons.  Claiming that any talk of a “slippery slope” is foolish, progressive ideas are always perfect. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

A Few Thoughts on Nothing

I am, without doubt, a bit of a curmudgeon.  I am not a full-fledged  curmudgeon mind you, just a bit of one.  For example, I don’t believe I am always ill-tempered, or surly.  In fact, I generally keep my thoughts on my surroundings to myself, except when I write them down and push them in your direction.  Candidly, I find most things amusing, but generally in that cynical way that would upset the individuals if I always pointed them out.  I’ve learned through trial and error not to do that too often.

Today I am wondering, has it always been the case where we attribute every action, event, or circumstance that occurs within the country, or is done by the country, to the President of the United States?  I recall a scant few years ago the outrage of the partisan left over the right’s blaming the President for something, and now the roles are reversed the right is all fired up.  For example:  John Cho, an actor, tweeted out “It’s hard not to see the connection between the environment Trump has created and what happened on that @united flight.”  This was met with a number of derisive responses within the twitter confine of no more than 144 characters.  Among my favorites was “Trump is an incompetent dolt and can alter the behavior of private airline employees AT THE SAME TIME.”

Let’s talk, for just a minute, about the environment President Trump has created.  He surely used some bad words, and was not very flattering to other politicians as he campaigned, but stop and think for a just a moment, who has actually told people to go beat up others, who has actually taken to the streets to damage property and display their dislike for the reality of the election?  It sure is easy to blame the President, rather than admit to the failure of a political agenda that advanced the desires of a vocal minority over the general good.  So much for “Love Trumps Hate.”

Another line in the news these days, “Trump drops a MOAB.”  Some on the left are condemning this as abuse of power, while it has his supporters on the right – applauding.  Does no one stop and think of the fallacy of this statement.  With the logic of these headlines, we should rewrite history to “Truman Wins Second World War,” or "Lincoln frees the slaves!"  Oh wait, Lincoln actually did take an action in the form of an executive order to free the slaves.  He actually had a direct role, not just an implied one.
     The United States Armed Forces dropped this bomb, acting on the direction of the Unified Commander of the area, General Votel, who works directly for the Secretary of Defense, who works for the President.  By the way, General Votel was appointed to his position during the Obama administration.
     Accurately we can say the United States dropped this bomb, inaccurately we choose to say the President did it, as if he was aboard the aircraft.  The only time I know the President has flown on an MC-130 was when it saved President Ford, (Harrison Ford) from certain death in the movie Air Force One, and spared us from having Glenn Close as our President, although I am sure she would have been a good one.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Free Speech = Hate Speech


With a hat tip to Althouse.  She posted this  on her blog this morning, it is a picture taken at Brown University that says “free speech = hate speech,” she found posted on Facebook.  There are a variety of comments in the post, including those who support the idea that speech they find offensive needs to be controlled and stopped.  I didn’t bother to look into the University’s position, but from someone who’s spent his life defending the Constitution it troubles me that young people know so little about the reasons for the Constitutional safeguards, or even our recent history, they have been indoctrinated to believe censorship of ideas they don’t like is okay.
When I wrote about the 1st Amendment (here) I did not discuss why the founders thought the free exchange of ideas, dissent, and disagreement was so critical, I only mentioned the fact government did have some limited rights to control speech. 
The idea of one side imposing its will on the speech of those who disagree with them is not new, it has been a condition of human existence since mankind began keeping records, and perhaps well before that.  This is, I believe, the potential tyranny they sought to avoid.  We were a collective band of Europeans who had all left the safety of the known, for the challenges of the unknown.  Each with a separate reason, some voluntarily, some not, but once here became a people who appreciated the freedom this land offered.
I doubt most millennials, aside from a few film and television buffs are familiar with the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors association, or the Production Code Association established in 1934 to assure the morality of the film industry.  Without PCA approval a film would not be allowed into the commercial theaters of the day.  This was possible because the Supreme court had ruled that moving pictures were purely commercial products and as such not subject to the safeguards of the 1st Amendment.  That decision was reversed in 1952, but between 1934 and 1952 the prospects of any film rested almost exclusively on the editorial decisions of the PCA.
Then we come to the infamous House Un-American Activities committee, who investigated potential communist sympathizers in the private sector.  In the late 40’s it created a “black list” of film writers, directors, actors, and others.  This list was used for well over a decade to punish those individuals who were implicated, without a thought of due process, or the right for an individual to face his/her accuser. 
At about the same time, Senator Joseph McCarthy made headlines for his investigations of communists in the government.  While he had widespread support, the damage he did to individuals based on scant evidence, innuendo, and implication was horrendous.
In each case, significant numbers of people were willing to silence their voices for fear of retribution.  It was only with the passage of time, or the courage of a few to speak up that we as a nation came to appreciate the damage being done.
Now we come to the modern day, where a group of impressionable youths are willing to climb on board with a vocal minority fighting for political domination.  In the process, they will implement a new form of censorship under the guise of “hate speech,” and surrender their freedom to explore ideas, just as our parents and grandparents did for the myths of protection from morally inappropriate material or from communism.

Monday, April 10, 2017

What is the Truth


“I want the truth!” “You can’t handle the truth!” A famous exchange between Lt. Daniel Kaffee (USN) and Col Nathan R. Jessup (USMC), in the movie A Few Good Men.
We have reached a point where opinion is broadcast as news, and we seemingly accept opinion from those we admire as the same thing as truth.  I wonder, has it always been this way?   Perhaps it has, but under the compression of instantaneous broadcast its dangers seem to be amplified.
I can only smile, a sly inner smile, at those broadcasters who’ve become so outraged they resort to hyperbole and condemnation for the very acts just a few short months ago they would have applauded and praised.  The same holds true for those competing broadcasters who make no effort to question the actions of an administration who does the same thing they condemned the past administration for.
The only conclusion I can draw is “we can’t handle the truth.” We  only support or condemn in this binary world we’ve allowed the political parties, and their media propaganda arms, to define for us.
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