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2016 Politics

2016 candidates

Boomers are confused and angry. Millennials are angry. Younger folks are pretty much living their lives as young folks always have, but they aren’t happy.  So what’s going on in the US and in the world today?  Can it be fixed?  I’m going to ramble a bit here…

I have a retired history teacher friend who constantly amazes me with bits of history that I didn’t know.  I took the required history courses in school, of course, but (a) they are all taught from the state’s point of view and (b) we didn’t get told the whole story.  History, as it was taught to me anyway, wasn’t very interesting, and that’s a problem.  Reading, writing, STEM classes, athletics, and the arts are all important.  We aren’t ‘human’ without all of them.

Still… as George Santayana (among others) said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And Kurt Vonnegut, who I love dearly, responded in Bluebeard: “We’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That’s what it is to be alive. It’s pretty dense kids who haven’t figured that out by the time they’re ten…. Most kids can’t afford to go to Harvard and be misinformed.”  While Vonnegut’s rant is a bit harsh (that’s his style), he makes a good point.  Kids do figure out that situations repeat and they adapt to the world.  The more situations we are exposed to, the richer our experience of the world and our ability to predict how a new situation will play out.  And that’s one reason why a lot of travel before age 30, say, is such a good thing.

Ok.  The US political system has pretty much been a two party system from its inception.  The names of the parties may change, but there are two major political parties.  More than that is a problem.  Yes, we have fringe parties and candidates now and then, but they have no chance of being elected.  They can only take votes away from the two main parties.  That’s history, folks.  So the line you’ve heard about “throwing your vote away” is, unfortunately, true regarding third party candidates.

Personally, I like Bernie Sanders.  I like him; I trust him; I like what he stands for; I like his solid record of standing on his principles.  But Bernie will not be one of the two candidates the major parties put forward.  On the Republican side we see a what appears to be a buffoon named Trump whose claim to fame is manipulating people into investing in commercial schemes, draining cash for his own gain, and then taking the companies bankrupt, transferring his investors’ cash to his own pocket as well as cheating his employees and vendors.  The man has exhibited bigotry, misogyny, and dishonesty in so many ways it is a wonder how any American can take him seriously.  I do not understand his appeal.  On the Democratic side we have an experienced female candidate, Hillary Clinton, who has demonstrated a career-long commitment to improving the lot of all people, particularly women and children.  Unfortunately, anyone who has been in the public eye for a long time will have a history which can be twisted and spun to the opposition’s advantage.  That’s politics.  It amazes me that Hillary’s peccadillos are shouted louder than Trump’s perversities.

Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” —Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov was a Russian immigrant to the US when he was three years old, so he was effectively as American, culturally, as any of us.  He grew up seeing our foibles and our strengths.  His writings thoroughly demonstrate his observations about human nature as seen in the USA.  His quote, above, describes the Trump supporters as I observe them.  Ignorance is always scary because it encourages people to do things which others (with more experience and/or education) know will lead to no good.

The only thing which encourages me to believe we’ll pull through this election is an observation by Winston Churchill that “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”  I hope to God that we’ll do the right thing this time.  On the other hand, Britain is a bit crazy now, as is much of the world.  How did we all wind up where we are today?

It seems to me that, after World War II, the world pulled together to rebuild the developed countries.  The United Nations, the Marshall Plan, and scientific progress throughout the world were all pulling together to make a more productive, peaceful, and better life for humanity.  Nothing is perfect and not everybody benefited equally from progress, but as a whole things went well for many years.  Then we get to the more recent years when the US pursued military objectives in the Middle East leading to huge economic deficits at home, hatred and revenge by the persecuted population of the Middle East, and an overall downward trend in the quality of life in the US.  Bill Clinton pulled the US out of a huge deficit and possibly Hillary Clinton might finish the job Obama started to right our economy from the $1.4 trillion George W. Bush deficit.  Obama reduced the deficit by over $1 trillion.  That’s pretty amazing since he was saddled with an opposition controlled Congress which refused to address the country’s economic and social issues.  History, by the way, demonstrates that the US stock market (and the economy in general) does better under Democratic administrations than under Republican administrations.  A rising tide really does lift all boats.

While I am not a deeply religious person, I was raised as a Catholic and understand something of the Bible and Christianity.  I cannot help noticing that all the world’s great religions share common themes of “treat others the way you would like to be treated” and “help those who need help.”  Not only do the great religions share those principles, in times when and where those principles prevail, everybody (yes, everybody) seems to have a better life.  There is a reason these principles have been promulgated for thousands of years:  they work to the best advantage of the largest number of people.

I have to make a politically incorrect statement now.  When I look for reasons why things have fallen apart in more recent years, I look at the difference between how the boomers were raised and how more recent generations are being raised.  If mom has to work to provide enough money for the family to survive, mom is not at home raising the children and transmitting cultural values to those children.  The cultural values being pushed in recent times have been the violence and intolerance of movies, TV, and video games.  We humans are very visual animals, so these are powerful transmission vehicles.

So I blame a rising cost of living, rising expectations to own technology, and salaries that do not keep pace with those costs.  I blame CEOs who for decades have hired consultants to justify boosting their compensation packages.  Now CEOs are paid obscene amounts of money.  The middle class of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s has disappeared.  Mom has to work.  Kids do not receive the guidance and attention that earlier generations received from their families.  But kids do learn.  Now kids learn from commercial sources with a profit motivation.  There is no effort to instill moral and ethical values on the cable networks.  Heck, you don’t even find a fair treatment of world news in today’s media.  Intolerance is presented as a religious value and it goes downhill from there.  If you read people’s thoughts online, which I do occasionally to see what’s in the public marketplace of ideas, you will also see the follow up comments from people who read those thoughts.  Some of those comments are thoughtful and reasoned.  Some are angry, illogical, and come from a different planet than I have known.

The US would appear to need another Democratic administration.  Therefore, I’m voting for Hillary.  No US elected official is chosen without the support of the people who control and manipulate our economic system.  The Koch Brothers’ Tea Party cost them a lot, but it is pretty much dead at this point.  (Isn’t it?  It’s so hard to tell what’s really going on.)  The Tea Party’s influence continues among those most susceptible to its claims and stories.  That influence seems to have delivered people to Donald Trump.  How and why any woman or any halfway intelligent person would support Trump is a complete mystery to me.  I don’t understand what possible appeal he has to anyone who knows anything about his history.  He may belong behind bars, but surely not running for president of the United States.

I wish Hillary were more likeable.  I will vote for her and I believe she will do a good job.  I just don’t have warm and fuzzy feelings about her.  I’m a bit suspicious of her relationship with Wall Street but hope for the best.  We shall see.

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My Experience With a Police Stop

I just put this up on Twitter and thought I’d share it here as well.  This was an experience that left a profound impression on me many years ago.  We are all just seconds away from disaster, at least that’s been my conclusion.

My ex-husband went to work for Digital Equipment Corp. fresh out of college because they promised a draft deferment.  DEC blew it, so he joined the National Guard to avoid going to Vietnam.  I picked him up at Logan Airport once during his training, and on the way home in our Pinto we were stopped by Stow, MA police. We had a rear light that wasn’t working, we found out later.  Two cops came toward our car with guns drawn.  Scariest moment of my life.  It made no sense.  We weren’t even speeding.  By the way, we’re white and the cops were white but badly trained.  As a country we have to train our police better than this.  We don’t want to see our law enforcement people injured, but things have ratcheted up to a horrible level.  I figured we were lucky to survive back then.

gun control

 

 

The World is Different Now from Then

My last post here was November of 2011.  Ouch.  On February 25, 2013 my friend jan finder died of cancer.  That rather dampened my interest in writing more blog posts that would push his writing back a bit.  Time has passed and I’m feeling a need to write something longer than 140 characters again.

My little New England town had its town meeting last Monday and will have its next town election on Saturday, May 17th of 2014.  This is the spring season for lawn signs extolling the names of local candidates for school committee, selectman, town clerk, and other elected positions.  The candidates and their supporters are very vocal.  Conversations about supporting one candidate or another are mostly emotional with no factual content.  Being somebody who can be swayed with a well presented fact or two, I never cease to be amazed at how people do (or don’t in most cases) vote.

The divisiveness of the two national parties is mirrored locally.  As former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill said, “All politics is local.”  That phrase means more to me as the years go by.  All politics is emotional.  Local and emotional go together.  We care about local.  Locally “party” means less than the individual positions taken and results delivered.  Still, it’s no surprise that our local elections heat up as much as they do.  The same mudslinging and behind the scenes manipulation would appear to function on all political/human interaction levels.  

As a side note, the reason marketing holds my interest is that it involves psychology and biology.  Conveying a message and having somebody else accept it requires either an incredible instinct for human nature or a studied, systematic approach to presentation.  (I’m not working on the best, most persuasive way to present this information.  I’m just ruminating.)  I’m fascinated by the state of American politics today.  It is no different than it ever was, I suppose.  It’s about power, control, money and sex.  At least nobody has been shot or run through with a sword in the Congressional halls in recent years.

There are multiple types of intelligence if you buy into  Howard Gardner’s model in his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.  One of those types of intelligence is interpersonal.  The folks who score high in that area are considered charismatic and are often leaders.  Of course, they can also be good scam artists, but we’ll let that go for the moment.  Or not.  Again, the human appeal is emotional.  That’s what drives us.  It’s interesting to think we are electing people with interpersonal intelligence but possibly not as much intellectual ability as we might prefer.

This is on my mind because recent conversations with people I like and respect are sometimes strange.  People can hold strong negative convictions about elected officials who I have never known to be anything but kind, honest, hardworking, and competent.  How good people can come to opposite emotional convictions is fascinating.  Facts are gathered or made up or stretched, perhaps, to coincide with an emotional position.  I’ve heard people make strong claims about politicians from local up through the POTUS where there isn’t a single measurable fact to be found.  Just a feeling on somebody’s part that “these people” are (insert negative term of your choice).

In my town I’ve observed that the most powerful voting block is the parents of school age children.  They appear at town meetings where a school department article is to be voted, they vote, then they leave.  When I was younger I was less interested in being active in politics because my time was committed to my job and my family.  As the family matures, you and your significant other may feel a pull to become more politically active.  (Or not!)  You have the time to volunteer and the experience which is valuable to town committees and boards.  At different ages, our interest in, and time for, political activity changes.  So why were young people so politically active in the 60’s and 70’s?  How about because the Vietnam War focused the attention of a whole generation on survival?  We fight for what’s important to us.  I had hoped that more would come of the Occupy movement in view of the serious threat the mishandling of the American financial industry was causing worldwide.  But it was not to be.

So.  Is it age and time availability or self interest or a mix of the two that make us politically active?  Some 40 years ago more than one third of all workers in the US private sector were unionized and in 2014 less than 7% belong to a union.  History tells us that unionization generally involves broken bones, blood in the street, and the use of words like goons and scabs.  Labor is always at a physical disadvantage… until it isn’t.  Why we don’t see more unionization today I do not understand.  Leadership is not exactly encouraged in the 99% by the 1% which control the US economy.  Why are all the good people in this country allowing the financial system, healthcare, manufacturing, the environment, and heaven knows what else… to deteriorate?

I keep coming back to income inequality as a root of our differences and our problems.  Yes, people have a right to be rich.  And, as the Bible says, “The poor are always with  us.”  But there’s a matter of degree today which seems unsustainable in a healthy society.  I’ve always been a fan of Bill Joy, a tech giant from years ago.  I can’t find the quote, but he was talking to a reporter once about all the money he made from Sun Microsystems, and he pointed out that he plays hockey so now and then he buys a $15 hockey stick, but other than that he doesn’t need much.  Living in Silicon Valley has never been cheap, but I appreciated his point that money, after a certain level, isn’t buying you a better life.  The 1% in the US are living a gilded, privileged life, but they could live that same life on 10% or less of the pile of cash they can access.  So the vast wealth of this nation is really sitting idle when it could be driving a better quality of life for more people.

The world has changed dramatically in the last 50 years.  It has changed dramatically every few decades over the history of the human race, too, so my point here is about looking forward to what kind of world we want to leave to posterity.  I believe Americans should  not face a life burdened with heavy debt to pay for their education.  I believe that a certain level of healthcare is a right.  I believe people should be able to do, think, and say whatever they like as long as they don’t hurt anyone else.  I believe we can learn from Europe that dense cities surrounded by agricultural land with public transportation between cities is a good thing.  Eating up our agricultural land with suburban housing developments has been a poor decision.  And I believe that the wealthiest people in the country are more than welcome to 20 to 50 times what the poorest people have, but not 300 to 1000 times.  By freeing more people from physical and economic stress we can have a more productive, peaceful, creative and happy world.  Isn’t that what we claim this country is about?  It isn’t about giving people a guaranteed plush existence, it’s about giving people an opportunity to earn their living, making the most of their skills in service to their community.  Isn’t that what this country is about?  Or is it about “I’ve got mine,” and that’s pretty much the end of it, which I see too much of today.

Just ruminating.  Wondering how we got where we are today and whether it is possible to improve the lot of people as a whole in this world.

 

 

Autobiographical Musing on Music

We all have a special place in our hearts for the music we listened to as young people.  Broadway Showtunes, Rock and Roll, Jazz, Gregorian Chant, and the occasional Classical piece were part of my DNA from the beginning.  Folk music, old and new, took its place while I was in high school and college.  And I’ve been pretty happy with that mix for a long time.

As a young person, my parents thought it would be good for me to learn to play the piano, more specifically my grandmother’s Steinway which had taken up residence in our living room.  So, when I was old enough, I began years of piano lessons from the good Benedictine nuns.  Piano seemed an especially great instrument to me because I could sing as I played.  And I enjoyed that.  I also enjoyed learning fast, complex pieces because, when you play like that, your fingers actually blur before your eyes and it has a sort of psychedelic effect with the music and all.  In time I moved out of my parents home and pretty much let piano playing drift away.  I tried a guitar for a bit, and again found a delightful

instrument that could be played while you sing.  I  played a steel string Goya, and I did love it, but I never considered myself a musician.  And my fingers never seemed to retain the requisite calluses for a steel string guitar.  (It looked a bit like the one above.)  Another brief attempt at keyboards involved a

KORG 01/W which I bought in 1993 along with a super little plug-in cartridge that could change the sound from a concert grand to an upright to a honky tonk, and several other very cool alternatives.  (I have always wished that Frank Zappa had stayed around long enough to play with the next generation of electronic instruments, but it was not to be.)  The KORG is still in my basement.  That didn’t “take” either. So today I play the radio.  And my iPod.

To quote Dennis Miller: “How many times am I going to have to buy the White Album?” I have lived through several music formats and find myself switching pretty much – make that completely – to digital these days.  Digital takes less storage space.  It’s hard to abandon the old vinyl or cassettes or CDs.  But vinyl singles and albums sit in the basement taking up space alongside cases of cassettes and CDs and the “massive” electronics that support them… including an imposing set of Advent speakers.  Can’t even move those things at a yard sale these days.  An MP3 player is just so much lighter and easier to manage.  (Then there’s the battery operated boom boxes without which we would be completely cut off during power failures.)  I think the family at one time had 3 Sony cassette based Walkmans (all Sport models).  Nobody’s touched them in years. They were great for skiing in their day.  Huey Lewis is the best ski music, IMHO.  You do your turns with the beat.  Yeah.  (Toto’s AFRICA will also get you moving to the beat.  Heck, R&R just does that.)

That reminds me, housekeeping note, while vinyl and CDs are fairly long lived media, cassettes need to be played or wound and unwound every now and then or they get muddy.  The IRS learned years ago that the magnetic media they stored tax information on would bleed ones and zeros into each other after maybe 10 to 25 years.  If you have something you love on tape, either convert it to digital or do the wind and unwind thing to keep the tape alive.  Or, of course, you can keep buying the White Album.  But often things we all have on tape or even vinyl aren’t available digitally, so keep your own counsel on that matter.  Once a tape is gone, it’s gone for good.  (The same is true for old family videos on 8mm film.)

Now then, hubby claims that guitars are going out of favor these days because rap music doesn’t use guitars.  That would be sad.  Music keeps evolving, so I hope something musically interesting will develop to replace rap.

Which brings me to the point of this post: something I read once  left more of an impact on me than I anticipated at the time or I would have made a note of who wrote it and where I found it.  (Sorry.)  The underlying message was that music has evolved around the increasing dominance of rhythm.  I liked the Roman High Mass, Gregorian Chant, and all manner of simple, ancient music with minimal melodies and gentle rhythmic chanting.  Secular folk music evolved melodies more complex than that of Church music, still a gentle rhythm. Then there’s so called classical music with the exploration of more complex melody and rhythm by folks like Vivaldi, Mozart, Hayden and so on. This traditional music has strict underlying rhythms to coordinate musicians and choirs.  Jazz is a melodic riff on traditional melodies but uses similar disciplined rhythms I think.  (I have a serious fondness for the orchestral version of Vaughn Williams’ The Lark Ascending.)  Showtunes have strong melodies and simple rhythms.  The goal was to have folks leave the theater singing, after all.

Eventually we come to Rock and Roll, the heart of which – according to both The Beatles and Huey Lewis – is the beat.  Melody and a strong back beat.  If music truly evolves to stronger rhythms, is it only natural then that the next step would be rap…. mostly beat and modest if any melody?  Maybe it had to progress that way.  What’s interesting to me is that African drums, and music derived from them, are wildly physical and wonderful.  Drums are all beat, and

the beat makes you move.  African drums (and Mickey Hart) make the very bones in your body vibrate.  You have to move to drum music.  It’s not optional.  But loud rap music is boring and flat.  Why is that?

PS:  I wrote the above on May 23, 2011. Very shortly thereafter my 2001 Prius blew its big battery, prompting me to evaluate spending as much as the car was worth to repair it and knowing this would have been the beginning of several expensive repairs to come. Long story short, I now have a Nissan Cube. It is a great deal of fun.  And it came with a 3 month free subscription to XM Satellite Radio.  Although this is not something I normally would have considered, I chanced upon a series of radio stations, one of which plays music from the  1950’s, followed by one playing 60’s, then 70’s, then 80’s.  There may be more in that vein, but it’s been very interesting switching between them and listening to samples from the playlists. I can hear jazzy swing influences in the 50’s and am surprised to discover it’s my favorite station.  I’ll partly explain that by admitting to a secret love for doo wop music.  60’s are a real grab bag of different influences,  the 70’s often have a hard heavy metal sound, and the 80’s get very whiny at times.  Well those are observations from flipping through XM’s playlists, so take it for the simplistic statement it is.  I listen to see where melody begins to fail and the beat takes over.  It is there.  I don’t know if I would have stated it that way had I not read that article some time back. Interesting.  I’d love to hear the opinion of somebody who knows more about music and music history than I do.

Movement for a 28th Amendment to the US Constitution

I received an email today which asked me to forward it to still another 20 people.  I thought this might be more useful.

It’s time for another Amendment to the US Constitution.  I do believe this.  And I like everything in the proposal below.  See what you think and you are more than welcome to copy and forward it to your friends and Congresscritters.  It will take a huge amount of effort to get this passed because it is not in the best economic interests of the members of Congress.  But it’s worth raising the possibility.

 

“Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people.”  —Theodore Roosevelt

 

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” —Theodore Roosevelt

 

The rest of this post is the content of that email:

“The 26th Amendment (granting the right to vote for 18 year-olds) took only 3 months and 8 days to be ratified.  Why?  Simple!  The people demanded it.  That was in 1971… before computers, before e-mail, before cell phones, etc.

“Of the 27 Amendments to the US Constitution, seven (7) took 1 year or less to become the law of the land… all because of public pressure.

“I’m asking you to forward this email to a minimum of twenty people on your address list; in turn ask each of those to do likewise.

“In three days, most people in The United States of America will have the message.  This is one idea that really should be passed around.

 

 

Congressional Reform Act of 2011


1. Term Limits.

An elected Congressperson may serve a maximum of 12 years only, defined as one of the possible options below:

A. Two 6-year Senate terms

B. Six 2-year House terms

C. One 6-year Senate term and three 2-Year House terms

2.  No Tenure / No Pension.

A Congressperson collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.

3.  Congress (past, present, and future) participates in Social Security.

All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately.  All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people.

4. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise.

Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

6. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

7. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

8. All contracts with past and present Congresspersons are void effective 1/1/11.

“The American people did not make the current contract with members of Congress.  Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves.

“Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.

“If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people then it will only take three days for most people (in the U.S. ) to receive this message.

“MUCH OF WHAT WE FACE IN TERMS OF PRIVILEGE AND SELFISHNESS IN THIS COUNTRY MIGHT BEST BE CHANGED STARTING FROM THE TOP DOWN.”

Me again.  I poked around on the web and found the organization which is working to make this happen.  Amendment to Reform Congress is on Facebook.  And their website is here. In my humble opinion it’s time we got together and agreed on some, most, or all of these changes to our representative government.  The current approach creates a divide between the governed and the government which is hurting our country.  With this Amendment can can continue to be a government OF the people, BY the people, and FOR the people.

It’s time to align the self-interest of Congress with that of the American people and not with that of lobbyists.