Saturday, June 25, 2016

Rise of the Unruly


         Over the past seven years we have seen the media and the progressive movement move further to the left, while the conservative movement has moved further to the right.  Why is that?

We saw the Democratic Party regain control of the House, Senate and Presidency in 2008.  Unfortunately for both them and us, the citizens, they were giddy with success, and refused to learn from the Republican mistakes regarding governing versus partisan politics.  They set about to reshape America in the visions of their elite, where the state took care of the needs of the people, regardless the cost, regardless the social impact.  In those first two years they focused on reshaping the healthcare system into something that will make the insurance companies richer while extending care for those who could not previously get it.  Were there alternative ways to accomplish this?  Probably, but we will never know for they chose a unilateral course of action rather than fight the Republicans and find a compromise.

In 2010 they had a wake-up call when the American voter’s returned control of the House to the Republicans.  But rather than alter their path they believed it more important to continue their fight for the progressive utopia that was surely just around the corner.  To use a football metaphor, the Senate became the offensive line, blocking for its President as he attempted end sweeps, long bombs, and occasional quarterback dives.  The House Republicans were on the defensive, and the game of politics became the focus rather than a vehicle.  Along the way, just as in football, the pressure to win became overwhelming and the taunting on both sides increased.

In 2012 there was a mixed bag in the elections.  The Republicans reduced the Democratic majority in the Senate, held the House, but failed to win the Presidency.  We can speculate about why this was, but I think we can clearly see the power of the media in shaping the dialogue towards one side or another as well as the strong minority turn out for the President.  It is somewhat interesting that white (non-Hispanic) Democratic support for the President went down from 2008 and made his race closer than it should have been.

Coming to 2014 we see the Republicans hold the house and regain a small minority in the Senate.  At each step along the way we see both parties remain intractable in their positions, with the Democrats doubling down on the path to utopia, while the Republicans talk about the economy and the war on terror.  So what are the issues the average American cares about?  It appears neither party really gives a great deal of thought about that.  They focus on putting a positive spin on their agenda, and a negative spin on the opposition.  The welfare of the average American be damned.

Of course at every step along the way we have a President who has never really embraced the idea of leading versus campaigning.  We see a man who when given a choice between holding out an olive branch to the opposition and calling in a drone strike to kill them, has picked up the hot line to drone control every time.  We see a President who believes he knows better than everyone else what everyone else should do and is not afraid to tell them how to think and act.  A man who will on one day say that the choice of words does matter and on the next day say it doesn’t, especially if they are words he doesn’t want to use. I wonder sometimes, the President seemed to come out of nowhere to defeat Ms. Clinton in the 2008 primaries, who were the “King-makers” and what strings are they still pulling?

So we come to 2016 and the Republican establishment is shaken to its core by the blustery-braggart Mr. Trump.  A man rich from a multitude of development schemes, a man who likes to see his name on everything he owns (or at least has a majority share in), and a man who is intimately familiar to our reality TV watching public.  In the course of the primary campaign he got to say to “You’re Fired” to 16 other candidates for the job.  These were all professional politicians who thought this campaign would be like every other campaign and the candidate with the most money and the support of the party powerful would win.  They were wrong.

As I’ve previously noted, the Democrats went through a kind of shadow primary season where the illusion of change was offered in the form of Senator Sanders, and we can speculate on the possibilities he could have won, but there was nothing in Ms. Clinton’s approach that suggested she or her advisors ever really thought that was likely.  As records now show the DNC worked tirelessly to undermine his campaign at every step, so their chosen could carry them into the fall campaign.  What Senator Sanders did accomplish was to bring the Democratic positions on free stuff for people a little further than it had been, and increase the promise of entitlements to a broader group than before.  What remains unaddressed is how all these entitlements will be paid for by the ever shrinking work force, working for shrinking wages, as the divide between rich and poor increases because of government regulation and laws.

Over the next month or so both parties will have their official coronation ceremonies (or conventions) where the focus will be on party unity and vilification of the opponents.  The question for Mr. Trump is how committed will the party machine be for him, and how much money will they actually raise to support a candidate they find distasteful?  We already know from the primaries the base of his support doesn’t really care about all the things the media says is wrong with him and why he shouldn’t be elected.

On the other hand, the question Ms. Clinton should be concerned with (and I’m not sure it is even possible for her and the party elite to understand) is how to address the dissatisfaction with our current economy and economic policies?  I believe they will fail to understand the wrath of the middle American voters who make up the normal majority of people who actually show up at the voting booth.  If she and the party continue to seek the extremes for their support she will lose because she won’t get the minority turn out that carried President Obama into office.

Finally, the question for the media is, when do you realize your dogmatic support of one political philosophy is why no one bothers to pay for your product anymore?  Until you get the government to shut down the internet, profits will continue to decline.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Few Thoughts on Freedom.

“War is peace.  Freedom is slavery.  Ignorance is strength.”

George Orwell, 1984

We approach the celebration of our Independence, and in a couple of weeks there will be fireworks, parades, family cookouts, and a vast amount of political speech about the courage of our founders, and the greatness of our nation.  How much of this will actually have a meaningful impact to the average man or woman living in this land?

Our independence was gained through the blood and sacrifice of a people who fought to form their own union, not beholding to a far distant King and his Parliament.  We were not a perfect people, but our founders knew enough to understand unlimited government enslaved its people, just like the institution that ultimately led us to our great Civil War.  Therefore, from the beginnings we sought a limited central power.  After the failure of the Confederation of States, the leaders of the many states sat together in debate and compromise to write a new Constitution to ensure the limits of power, and safeguards to the individual.

Those original ten safeguards have been built upon, or in some cases reduced, through the passage of time, or the conscious act of the nation.  For example, at one point the political will of the vocal minority led us to prohibit the distillation of spirits and brewing of malt through the passage of the 18th Amendment.  Of course this did not stop the demand for them, it just made it illegal.  The by-product of this decision was to create an underground industry to meet the demand.  Men like Al Capone and Joseph Kennedy made their fortunes though this enterprise.  Ultimately we repealed that decision with the passage of the 21st Amendment.

Also, in this new endeavor the politicians and judges have had to feel their way through the framework to find the best solutions to the checks and balances the founders built into our nation.  Every President has sought to expand his power, the Judges of the Supreme Court have exerted their rights and have from time to time stepped into a leadership role in attempting to engineer the society to fit the model they like, the Congress has fought with the other two branches to exert itself.  Of course there have been times when the Court and the Congress have willingly ceded power to the President, but always with consequence.

So here we are on this 23rd day of June in the year 2016 on the Gregorian calendar.  And my question is how much of our liberty are we willing to surrender to secure the illusion of safety?  This seems to be a recurring theme for me as it was pointed out I wrote a similar piece three years ago (Ben Franklin Had it Right).

Again, as in the past, we have had some calamitous event and everyone wants to do something to ensure it won’t happen again.  As much as we would like to live in a perfect and safe world that is an impossibility so maybe we should consider that as we debate what to do?  Alas we won’t.

On the one hand we have those who favor increasing controls of the guns proposing additional restrictions on the purchase of those weapons.  That makes sense, doesn’t it?  We had a terrorist legally buy a rifle and a lot of ammunition and kill 49 people in Orlando.  If we had those additional restrictions this would not have happened.  As my Senator, Bill Nelson, wrote me. 

“Earlier today, I spoke with CNN’s Alisyn Camerota about the new bipartisan gun bill Sen. Susan Collins and I recently introduced to prevent anyone who is on the No-Fly List from buying a gun. To me, it’s common sense — if we don’t let someone on a plane because the FBI thinks they may have ties to terrorism, then we shouldn’t let that person buy a gun.

Another provision included in the bill is one I introduced last week to ensure that the FBI is notified if someone who was once on the terrorist watch list purchases a gun.

We’re not saying: don’t sell guns to someone just because they were investigated. But having a system in place that alerts the FBI if someone they once investigated is suddenly trying to purchase multiple assault weapons is just common sense.”

Call me a skeptic but I always worry when the phase “just common sense” is thrown around as a justification.

In opposition we have those who would like nothing to change at all, offering little in the way of options.

If the Court, the Congress, the President, and a significant number of individuals feel strongly we should not have guns for protection from others, or the state, then why are they taking halfway measures to address the problem?  Why isn’t the President calling for a Constitutional Amendment to repeal or rewrite to the Second Amendment?  This is a rhetorical question, for the answer is obvious.  There would be significant opposition, and there is much more political capital to be made in keeping the issue alive with supporters and vilifying the opposition.

But at the end of the day we come back to the question.  How powerful do we want the central government, and how much of our individual freedom are we willing to surrender to have it?  As our founding fathers understood; freedom is not an absolute and if power rests with the few they will exercise it at the expense of the many.  Think about that as we remember our founding.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Observations on a Hot Day

We have passed the summer solstice so the inevitable shortening of the days will begin as we move towards our winter solstice.  The heat of the day, although not too bad for Florida in the summer, gives me an excuse to abandon the landscaping that seems to have become my life’s work recently.
What landscaping you ask? 
Well let’s talk about that for a few moments.  Those of you familiar with the travails of Casa de Townsend will be knowledgeable on the issues we have had with water that should remain outside the house actually coming in for a visit.  As my wife has pointed out we are now getting thank you notes from SERVPRO as a preferred customer.  Well since I’ve retired from a full time job I’ve made steps to alter that situation.
Miratec Trim

Siding Replacement with Miratec below
The first thing I did was cut the bottom off the siding around the house since almost all of it had some degree of water damage.  Then a friend and I put up a product that is water and rot resistant and used a whole lot of polyurethane chalk to seal the bottom so water should not seep in.
Then I removed what had been a poorly designed and executed “French Drain” that was supposed to keep water from reaching the house in the first place.  It worked as well as the French Army did in World War II, and seemed only to encourage the rise of the water to levels above the sill of the house.  This drain has now become a channel/trench/moat that actually does seem to work to redirect the flow of water to our side yard and then to the street.  Yah us!
Trench with edging as retaining wall
Trench in a heavy rain
The accompanying photos show the channel in its initial roughhewn stage and the minor landscaping I’ve done to make it a bit more cosmetically pleasing.  Helping me with this work is my yellow duck.  In the event of heavy rain, he rises above the top of the trench, or moat if you prefer, to let me know the channel is full and hopefully emptying out on the west side.  During the dryer times he sits quietly as I move rock, or grass, or tree clippings from point A to B.  He is kind of like the Maytag guy…
Guard Duck

Then, when I’m not busy with trench warfare, or picking up the crap that continuously falls off the Southern Magnolia in the front, I’ve begun to trim away at the Red Top bushes that are supposed to be 6 to 8 feet tall, but through neglect and a desire to block out some eyesores have grown to the 50-foot range.  They now block out not only some long
Red Tops
forgotten eyesore but do a pretty good job on the sun as well.
Along the way I’ve gotten to use almost all the power tools I’ve acquired over the years, and have even worn a couple out.  Of course, the physical activity has been a good thing as well.  I find my slacks seem to be just a tiny bit too big on me and I’ve had to buy a smaller belt to hold them up.
Lest you think this has all been work, we have had time to see the Red Sox's spring training games, and visit with both sets of our grandchildren, and I play golf a couple times a week. Overall, retirement seems to be growing on me.
Driftwood, waiting to become a project.

Well that’s it from the home front.  Remember to support your local charities, and recycle your oxygen.  The last thing is important because I read last night we are running out and without oxygen we can’t fill up scuba tanks.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Dreams and Nightmares

In the darkness of the night, when the universe opens up so vast you can see the beginnings of time -- most of us are fast asleep, exploring the inner reaches of our mind.  What we find there may be simple and kind, colorful or gray, fanciful or macabre, or just plain frightening.  I often wonder who controls the channel selection for our dreams? 
Sigmund Freud theorized dreams were our way to fulfill suppressed wishes, and could serve as a roadmap to the unconscious self.  Since he owned the couch everyone listened to him.
One of the techniques taught in relaxation therapy to calm yourself is to begin your first dream while you are still awake.  This is a form of meditation helping to focus your mind and clear it of the stress that keeps you from sleep.  Just as in any meditation, each of us would have a unique focus point or dreamscape.  For some it might be some legendary tale, others might seek the quiet refuge of a forest glen, while others might like the idea of unicorns.  Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, far too many of now focus on kittens.
My grandfather, a stoic man who passed away far too early, used to swear he did not dream.  He was one quarter Tuscarora Indian so maybe that was true, but I doubt it.  Again, as Freud famously pointed out, the unconscious mind has a way of remaining unconscious, if it didn’t it wouldn’t be unconscious now would it?
Martin Luther King had a dream.  I know this because he made a big deal about it.  It was a great dream in the tradition of great Southern Baptist ministers who would go on and on about these kind of things.  I buy into Mr. King’s dream, and I just wish others would too, but equality is impossible to achieve if people are not treated equal.  My point is when one group is separated out for preferential treatment, the other groups are displaced.  Society then becomes a teeter-totter of ups and downs where almost everyone is unhappy, even the ones who are supposed to be benefiting.
Gerald Ford once said, “Our long national nightmare is over…” I wonder what he would say today if he saw state of our government and the choices being offered by the two dominate parties.  I suspect we are just beginning our next nightmare, so you might want to grab hold of your teddy bear and hang on tight.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

An Illusion of Knowledge.

This past week the conservative blogosphere was alive with finger pointing and pseudo analysis of a research paper published in the December 2011 edition of the American Journal of Political Science.  The paper was titled, Correlation Not Causation:  The Relationship between Personality Traits and Political Ideologies.  The authors of this paper were Brad Verhulst, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Lindon J. Eaves, Distingushed Professor, and Peter K. Hatemi, Associate Professor Political Science and Microbiology.

The reason for all the uproar over some obscure academic article is additional information has come to light that shows the authors had misunderstood their data and the conclusions they reached were exactly 180 degrees off from what the data showed.  Since its original findings seemed to reflect poorly on the conservatives they are now beating the drum on the new conclusions.

So let’s talk about this a minute.


The study set out to show that personality traits do not cause a person’s choice in political ideology, as previous studies had assumed, but political attitudes develop much earlier in life and there is a direct correlation between the two that can be traced back to the individual’s genetic factors. 

To help show this they took data from a fairly large scale study of twins known as the Mid-Atlantic Twins Registry (MATR) and an AARP mailer.  To assess the personality traits, they used the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (EPQ).  Let’s pause here to discuss Mr. Eysenck.

Hans Eysenck was born in Germany in 1916, but fled to England in the 30’s to escape Nazi persecution.  He received his PhD in Psychology from the University of London in 1940.  He is widely cited for his work in linking personality to the genetic make-up of the the individual.

Eysenck developed a definition of personality that suggests it is the “sum of the actual or potential behavior patterns of the organism, as determined by heredity and environment it originated and develops through the functional interaction of the four main sectors the behaviors-patterns are organized.”[i]  He goes on to classify personality into three dimensions: Psychoticism, Extraversion, and Neuroticism, or PEN for short.

Extraversion vs Introversion – Extroverts are toughminded, impulsive, have a tendency to be outgoing, desire for novelty, prefer vocations involving contact with people, have a tolerance for pain, and their performance is enhanced by excitement.  Introverts, on the other hand are tenderminded, introspective, serious, easily aroused but restrained, inhibited, with preference for solitary vocations, and their performance is degraded by excitement.

Psychoticism vs Super Ego – This was the last dimension developed by Professor Eysenck and is, therefore, the least defined, but in summary at the two ends of the spectrum you have either a non-conformist who is tough minded and unconcerned with the welfare of others, or a warm sensitive individual who makes concern for others a priority.

Finally, we have Neuroticism.  Eysenck classified neurotics as unstable individuals governed by irrational fears and concerns.  The opposite end of the spectrum is therefore a stable individual who is calm and even-tempered.

Figure 1 summarizes the three spectrum's that Eysenck believed make up human personality.
Figure 1: Eysenck's PEN Model
The “Correlation, Not Causation” study used the PEN model to help explain the linkage to personality the separates the liberal from the conservative.  They also used something called the Five Factor Model or FFM.  According to the researchers this is another popular modeling tool that has been used to show a correlation between personality aspects and political positions and they talk about a complex relationship between the FFM and EPQ regarding a characteristic knows as “Openness to Experience,” which other studies have suggested is a strength of those who are politically liberal.


In the study the authors conducted four sets of analysis.

The first was to demonstrate a significant relationship between personality traits and political ideology.  In the authors words, this study demonstrated “there are several substantively significant relationships between the personality traits and political ideology dimensions. Most notably, P [psychoticism] is substantially correlated with conservative military and social attitudes, while Social Desirability is related to liberal social attitudes, and Neuroticism is related to liberal economic attitudes.”  If the data they used to determine this was assessed 180 degrees out then it is safe to assume that social desirability is a conservative value while P actually correlated with liberal social attitudes, i.e. risk taking, a lack of concern for others, and tough-mindedness, leaving the conservatives as the ones who are most concerned with the welfare of others.  With regard to Neuroticism, it would be most correlated with conservative economic attitudes.  The authors were puzzled by this relationship, and the failure to correctly evaluate their data would explain that confusion.

In the other analysis they attempt to confirm previous studies, in the case of the third and fourth analysis examine the relationship between personality and political attitudes.  I am not sure how the use of the core data affects the understanding of causal relationships, and it seems relatively unimportant to the overall assessment of the current social media frenzy.


So we come to the question of the study.  Do we see in practical application anything that suggests that the data, once correctly interrupted is reflected in the real political world?

Are Liberals more likely to be: tough-minded, non-conforming, risk takers with little concern for the rights of others, and occasionally exhibiting anti-social behavior but overall they feel good about themselves?

Are Conservatives more likely to exhibit unsubstantiated fears, obsessive behaviors, fear and anxiety over fiscal policies, but are at the same time sensitive, warm and concerned about the rights of others?

Beats me… I only have the illusion of knowledge… I don’t claim to know everything -- unlike most of the people on the internet.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


In 1960, the Presidential election was about passing the torch from the older generation, i.e. men who were born in the 19th century, to the younger men of the what is now called “the Greatest Generation.”  Much was made of the youth and vigor of these new candidates.  The election of Bill Clinton marked the passing of the torch to the Baby Boomer Generation.  Looking at the Presidential field today, perhaps it is time to pass leadership once more, but who in Generation X is there to pick up the torch?  Both main parties, for different reasons, have rejected the younger candidates.  Our choices, including Mr. Sanders, have an average age of 70. If that 3 am phone call Ms. Clinton so famously advertised in 2008 comes in, who will be awake to answer it?  She’s already shown a tendency not to want to pick up the phone, and would Mr. Trump?

How long should graduation speeches be?  Perhaps if they were shorter flyover aircraft might make it back to their base.

There is a difference between acceptance and tolerance.  Nobody wants to be tolerated, everyone wants to be accepted.  Perhaps if we understood we all are bias about somethings and that benign tolerance is okay -- then we might get along just a bit better.

How should news reporting work?  Perhaps if we eliminated the so called experts brought in to tell us what they think, and stuck to letting us sort out the facts for ourselves we would understand issues better.  Or perhaps not.

If the glaciers in the Northern Hemisphere are melting, and the glaciers and ice fields in the Southern Hemisphere are growing, will the oceans only rise in the North?  Perhaps?

There is a lot of talk by the Democrats about free college for everyone, and at the same time the flight of manufacturing to other countries is on-going and encouraged by the trade deals the various Presidents (both parties), and candidates for President have supported, e.g. NAFTA and TPP.  So as the economy shrinks and the service industries like food, medical, legal, governmental, etc. grow.  Should an employee’s compensation be based on the type and number of degrees held, or the value of that employee to the company?  The interesting thing is there will be far more candidates for the job, than jobs for the candidates.  Is the principle of supply and demand something that can be ignored?  Perhaps not.

Monday, June 13, 2016

In the Darkness.

Yesterday, June 12, 2016, was a milestone day for the US.  It marked the largest mass shooting (by a lone gunman) in our history.  The targets for this were the revelers at a popular LGBT nightspot in Orlando.  I am writing this approximately 24 hours after the horrific event.  It is dark outside, and my thoughts like the night are dark.  In the hours following the event the political leadership of the nation and the state have spoken, the entertainment and television news industries have spoken, the internet has spoken and various LGBT communities have spoken.  Each with their own take on this act.  As I listen, attempting to sort out the facts from the agenda driven rhetoric, I am struck by how locked into denial we are.

It really doesn’t matter if it is the President of the United States, or the President of the National Rifle Association.  Each has their position and nothing that happened can alter their language.  The event must be shaped to support the narrative.

What is terrorism and what is a terrorist?  The Oxford dictionary defines a terrorist as “a person who uses or favors violent and intimidating methods of coercing a government or community.[i] 

After 9/11 the US Government passed the “Patriot Act” and created a broad definition of  domestic terrorism.  The definition is found in 18 U.S. Code § 2331, which reads in part “activities that –

(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;

(B) appear to be intended—

(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;

(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or

(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and

(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”[ii]

In this particular event 18 U.S. Code § 249 – Hate crimes acts, has also been used by the government to classify the actions of the shooter.  Section 249 identifies a special class of offense when the acts are targeting, or are perceived to target, “individuals based on race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.”[iii]

Here is where the words really do matter.  The President has been reluctant to ever link Islam with terrorism, and his supporters are on-board with the idea that radical Islamic terrorist organizations like ISIS/ISIL or Al-Qaeda are not likely to be in the US, and if they were we would be able to identify them before they acted.  The idea of a few radicalized individuals acting as “lone-wolfs” without guidance is a much more palatable answer.  So we see in the Presidents statement yesterday the reluctant use of the word terror, from some unknown source, and the use of the word “hate” since the specific targets were largely, if not exclusively, from the LGBT community.  I don’t believe this was accidental and if he had been able to avoid the use of the word terror he would have.

While we could debate whether the terrorist organizations reflect the fundamental philosophy of Islam there is, in my opinion, little to be gained in that discussion.  There is enough evidence to show a tolerance for violence by all concerned to call into question the near impossibility of determining a "radicalized" individual from the larger church.  As a person familiar with the problem stated, the 98% of law abiding individuals are irrelevant.  They have little to no ability to stop the violent 1-2 percent.

Of course the President pointed out this violence was done with guns and if we had greater control this might have been prevented.  All the reporting yesterday brought to light the shooter had “assault weapons” or “assault like weapons like the AR-15” and the gun rights supporters were quick to respond with accusations the President is seeking to take our rights away, and of course the old chestnut, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

ABC news on their 20/20 coverage was able to find the shooters wife who said she had told authorities about his violent outbursts, he had been investigated by the FBI at least twice for potential terrorist links, and yet he was still able to buy the guns he used to kill 50 individuals and wound another 53.  Clearly, the laws we have today are failing us.  The question is why?  Is it because we are not enforcing them, or is it the more likely reason we don’t have the resources necessary to implement them?

Mental illness seems to be an increasingly prevalent thing in today’s world.  We have Psychiatrists and Clinical Psychologists struggling to help people cope with all the problems their patients face.  They are guided by a complex and ever-changing medical landscape and the philosophies of patient care.  They must balance the rights of the patient against the larger needs of society, but at the same time are often restricted by their profession’s ethical standards on what they can and should do to report potentially dangerous individuals.  Then, of course, there is the legal problems associated with incarcerating an individual based on a professional’s judgement.  It seems to me the dilemma in the mystic arts of Psychiatry is for every professional opinion there seems to be an equal and opposite professional opinion.  You just need to find the right professional.

So suppose Omar Siddiqui Mateen had been identified as a potentially violent individual with a desire to kill gays.  What should the government have done while protecting the rights of the individual?  Unfortunately, that debate is unlikely to happen since everyone is certain they are right in their beliefs.

[i]  The Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus, American Edition, Oxford University Press, 1996

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Notes on a Saturday

It is the middle of June here in the Florida Panhandle and the day promises to be clear, hot, and muggy.  The house is quiet except for the gentle hum of a few fans and the harmonious inhaling and exhaling of my sleeping wife.  My chores are mostly done, and I’m trying to figure out what to do with the day that will be productive.  Not coming up with any great answer I’ve chosen to write down the random thoughts that rattle around inside my head.
Humor – within the nature of laughter is an underlying cruelty.  We laugh at others; their foibles, mistakes and predicaments.  If we are self-aware we ultimately can laugh at ourselves.  My wife used to get mad at me if I smiled or laughed at church as I watched some young couple struggle with a child, or some parishioner with a unimportant minor mistake.  As we move further along the lines of political control and correctness when will humor vanish?  Will Rodgers, and Bob Hope are legends because they were able to point out the mistakes and arrogance of the nameless “them” in government.  For example, “The only difference between death and taxes is death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.” (Will Rodgers) 
I grew up near the Catskill Mountains in New York.  There was a time when it was called the Borscht Belt, or “The Jewish Alps.”  When we drove over to see our cousins; we would pass large summer resorts like Grossinger’s and smaller summer camps like that shown in the movie “Dirty Dancing.”  These resorts were filled with first and second generation eastern European Jews seeking relief from the summer heat of New York City.  This area was also the training ground for the great comics of the past, men like George Jessel, Jerry Lewis, Mel Brooks, and Rodney Dangerfield. Ethic humor was a staple for them.  Today we are outraged at the insensitive nature of the jokes.  How dare the Jews make fun of the Poles, or the Poles make fun of the Russians, or the WASPs they found here in America.
If we have reached a point where we are emotionally damaged by some chalk writings on the sidewalk, I fear the death of humor is not far away.
The upcoming election – we in America think of the election as a two-way race. Democrats versus Republicans.  We dismiss the alternative parties as amusing sideshows.  Kind of like the parsley we sometimes put on the mashed potatoes, or the Lima beans your Mom would put on the plate at dinner.  The "big two" used to seek a middle ground for a platform and the Presidential elections generally boiled down to “where you happy with the government, yes or no.”  If you were -- the incumbent party generally won, if you were not they lost, (e.g.  Carter v Reagan, and Bush v Clinton).  On years where there was no incumbent the candidate’s personality, and occasionally political positions were more important, (i.e. Nixon v Kennedy, and Nixon v Humphrey v Wallace).
So here we are in the year 2016, our political tastes and sensitivities have evolved to the point where out of 330,000,000 people the best we could find is a pompous, braggart billionaire with a twitter account and the willingness to say what so many are thinking, and a political opportunist with so many scandals and lies behind her that there is no way to know what she really believes.  Of course the east coast media is outraged over the things Mr. Trump is saying, but after setting the foundations for these rants for the past 16 years they have only themselves to blame.  Speaking of rants, I am reminded of Aesop’s fable about The Boy Who Cried Wolf.
Today Mr. Trump is being criticized as a racist for this comments about the judge handling the Cohan v Trump and maybe Low v Trump lawsuits.  After his comments about the judge’s impartiality (based on ethnic background and membership in a legal group known as La Raza) the charges of him being a racist are tossed out and of course widely carried in the various mediums we use for news.  The thing about this is, for those people who support Mr. Trump it really doesn’t matter, and for those people who don’t support him it only serves to inflate their self-righteous indignation.  Is he a racist?  Probably, but then I would say so is Ms. Clinton.
After seven plus years of the current administration I see the charges of being a racist are so prevalent in this country that it has become the first thing that anyone ever rolls out to counter a position that is contrary to their party line.  If you don’t believe climate change is caused by the US and the carbon based fuel industry you are a racist.  If you don’t believe the President is doing a good job, you are a racist.  If you question whether the Justice Department will actually prosecute the candidate the President just endorsed, you are a racist.
Don’t get me wrong, there is racism in the country.  There is a lot of racism, but it is not racism as defined solely as the ability to control a significant part of the population that goes on to say minorities can’t be racists.  This is a power seeking corruption of the term that allows people to talk at each other rather than to each other.  Those who favor calling whites racist and dismissing the charge against blacks may have had a case for the argument last century but when the President, the Attorney General, and Secretary of Homeland Security are people of color and use race as a decision point for what the Federal government will or will not challenge or defend, I believe the argument becomes moot.
I saw a conversation on Facebook the other day.  One of the few where people actually do more than post a picture and the commenters type LOL.  Two New Yorkers were talking about the evilness of Mr. Trump and the unsuitability of Ms. Clinton.  I assumed in the tone of the conversation they both liked the socialist rhetoric of Mr. Sanders.  Both agreed they would “hold their noses” and vote for Ms. Clinton.  I am but one voice, but if you have to hold your nose to vote then what does that say about your roll in self-government?  Perhaps it is time we started voting our conscience?  If you like Mr. Sanders as a socialist, then why not support the Socialist Party of America, they claim to be a democratic-socialist and social-democracy party much akin to what Mr. Sanders has been arguing for?  Why settle for a two-party system when there are options?
A final thought:  Mr. Trump reminds me a lot of Mr. Clinton, both with huge egos, coming into the election with a number of scandals behind them.  Both became their party’s candidate despite the best efforts of those they ran against.  In Mr. Clinton's case the baggage did not seem as important to the country as the stalled economy.  It will be interesting to see what we think is important in this election.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A Few Thoughts on Justice

Justice, like beauty, seems to lie in the eyes of the beholder, or recipient.  This weekend the news was abuzz with reports of a 20-year old Stanford University swim team member who received a six-month sentence for sexual assault of an unconscious woman.  His father’s statement to the court noted his son’s life was “forever altered” and that alone was a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of poor conduct in 20 plus years of life.  Apparently the judge agreed, and gave the offender a slap on the wrist sentence. 

The media has picked up the story and the obvious wrong done to the victim.  In their reporting they bring up a couple of valid points that highlight the erosion of our legal system, and why social unrest grows.  We are supposed to be equal under the law.  That has probably never been 100% true, but it seems the inequality grows each day. 

If the assailant had been black would he have received a six-month sentence?  We can speculate, but I am guessing he would not have, and it would not have been in a county jail.

If the assailant had been a woman would there have even been a trial?

How about if the victim had been a man?  Would the state seek a six-year of term in prison?

In simpler times the punishments were equally problematic. Do we brand him, stone him, dunk him, put him in the stockade, or banish him?  Unfortunately, in most civilizations the woman was usually held responsible.  We seem to be moving beyond that, although many still seek to justify their vicious behavior with that defense. 

It would be really great if Justice was, as she is depicted, blind.  Seeking to balance the rights of all concerned.

For those who call for a harsher sentence, what is the right answer?  While I completely agree the father’s pleading that the young man can educate his peers is pure BS – I don’t know how to balance the punishment with the crime.  The woman will be emotionally damaged (scarred) for a long time, if not for life.  The assailant will now be a convicted sex-offender, who I assume will have to register with police whenever he moves, for the rest of his life.  Neither party will ever put this behind, and this is just one of hundreds of like events that occur each day.

Friday, June 3, 2016


We were reminded yesterday that few know the time or place where they will die.  The best we can hope for is that we are prepared and ready when it calls.  In a country of over 320,000,000 we see about 7,100 people die each day.  Obviously the vast majority of these are personal and private, observed only by close friends and family.
The grief we feel is important to our healing process, just as when we cut ourselves and the blood flows out until it is stopped and the wound begins to heal with a scab to protect the tissue underneath.  As hard as it is we should celebrate the life lived recalling joys shared as we move from the then to the now.
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