Not only the Father of his Country

  1. One of the things that becoming an “experienced” human grants you is the ability to look at things you thought you understood and make corrections.
         I’m forever astonished when I study something I thought I understood and discover something I’d completely failed to see the significance of.
         I’ve always been fascinated by the “founding fathers”. Washington has long been a person who I’ve never fully understood despite reading at least 3 biographies about the man.
          Maybe it’s just the sheer number of astonishing facts about him that obscures his level of greatness, you just come to expect amazing things out of him.
         One can pick from any number of events that would have resulted in failure for a lesser man, and it’s long been obvious to me that world is a much better place because of him.
         The famous painting by John Trumbull at the top of this page probably is familiar to most of us: it finds it’s way into every book that even casually mentions Washington and a google search places it in the top row.It depicts Washington resigning his commission as commander-in-chief on December 23, 1783.

         This was something the rest of the world was astonished by.  And yet, it never struck me how revolutionary this was.
    Nearly all Europeans had simply assumed that being the conquering General, Washington would just assume leadership, citing examples from Julius Caesar to Oliver Cromwell, of the fledgling nation. They all assumed that the “revolution” would, in fact, turn into a military coup.
    After eight and a half years without pay or leave and defeating the world’s most powerful nation against seemingly impossible odds, he has the conviction to surrender all of that to return to his plantation in Virginia. Wow.

    He understood that for our nation to live up to the ideals of it’s revolution, power would have to come from the people rather than from the end of a gun. The fact that he did not become president until nearly 6 years later is a testimony to how dearly he held the notion of civilian governance.

    Last night, (the 217th anniversary, to the day, of Washington’s Passing on Dec 14th, 1799) I was reading a passage in Edward Larson’s book on “The Return of George Washington 1783-1789” when the full impact of that act struck me.

    Washington handed us a precious gift at that point. I’d just never fully appreciated it.

Thoughts on turning 65……..

In a sense I’ve waited for this all my life.   When I was a kid, I remember asking one of my Uncles:  “What does life expectancy mean?”    He looked a me for a minute or two and then produced an Almanac and showed me a chart.   It told me that for those born in 1951, the “life expectancy” was to live to be 65 years old.   I remember doing the math and coming up with 2016.  This sounded impossibly off into the future and visions of the Jetsons danced in my head.

He also explained that I would also expect to retire at the age of 65 as well.  (He had a real mean streak.)  Not something to look forward to with expectant anticipation in any case.   It also explains a lot…..  As I’ve gotten older, my life expectancy goes up with it, and so I can now reasonably expect to life to the ripe old age of 80, but the idea that I was going to die in 2016 has been with me so long that if I manage to survive until 2017, I’ll think of myself as a winner……

The age of 65 also was for years the popular notion of when one became a “senior citizen”.    It was also an event that was going to happen in the next century, which made it sound so distant that even trying to grasp it seemed pointless.   I don’t have a very good sense of time much beyond tapping my feet.

Being a member of the generation that wasn’t supposed to trust anyone over 30 was also a factor in this sort of contemplation.   As the date crept nearer to actually happening it also occurred to me that I’d have a few years with a gap in role models, since my father passed on when he was 45 and neither my stepfather, nor my other male role models lived beyond the age of 56.  I didn’t meet my grandfather until he was 72 and so I’d have a gap where I was just making things up.  What if someone were to tell me: “Why don’t you act your age?”

Since I’ve never understood exactly what that means in any case, this probably wasn’t a problem.

By the time you get to be this old, you’ve already faced a number of milestones, which passed by in a flash, and left you feeling no different than the day before.  So far I’ve been 65 for all of 14 hours and I haven’t noticed anything different.  Maybe some of my more experienced friends can clue me in?

All of the above should actually be viewed as a testimony to the fact that I’m quite happy just to be here.   Somehow I find it amusing, if that hasn’t been apparent.    That doesn’t mean that I treat this lightly.

In the late 80’s I was hit by a drunk driver while walking across the street and a good friend of mine (who I shared a birthday with) ended up in a coma and then passed on.   The next morning I managed to find my way outdoors and when the sun hit my face, I told myself that for the rest of my life I would not take a single day for granted.

I’m certain I have failed to live up to this more than a few times, but in general, it remains my mantra.   I try to turn all the day to day events into little life affirming rituals that at some point I will wish that I could still perform.

One thing I’m really happy about is that I’ve noticed I’ve become more aware of the little things that make life worthwhile.   I’m sure many of you have noticed this as well.  Anything worth doing is worth doing as if was the very last time you are going to do it.   All that means is that you are paying attention.

What more could one ask?

Animal House?

This is 292 Monmouth Avenue, in Monmouth Oregon, a sleepy little college town.    This is where, nearing the end of my extended adolescence, I not only lived on December 15th, 1976, but also celebrated my 25th birthday.

It was an unusually warm day for December, a Wednesday if I remember correctly.   We had installed a volleyball net just to the right of the house and by mid afternoon we had a pick up game going.   We had the doors and windows open and were playing a party tape on the reel to reel.   I’m certain the neighbors hated us. We also had a basketball hoop in the parking lot and a ping-pong table under the carport.

City employees were also installing a new sidewalk to replace a couple stretches where the concrete was crumbling.    After they left, we couldn’t resist the temptation to write in the fresh concrete and left a number of messages, many of which are not fit for publication in a family oriented blog such as this one.

I was virtually finished with college at this point and would start student teaching the next semester.   It would seem that I should have had classes to study for, but, but most of them, were “Education” classes that really didn’t have a traditional final exam.

On learning it was my birthday, one of my friends deemed that my birthday theme should be “25 and still alive”, which someone memorialized into the concrete.

The first time I was inside this house was for a keg party when it was occupied by a group of college students.   The house was owned by the same people who owned the adjacent apartment house and the apartments featured a swimming poll that is located in the backyard of the house.   I remember that after this party, there were a few pieces of furniture bobbing around in the pool.  I think this may have produced the vacancy that allowed my roommates to move in.

I moved in shortly afterwards and became the fifth resident.
During the period I lived there it was known as the “Dead House”.  This was due to the fact that everyone that lived there belonged to the same intramural mushball team, the Dead Babies.   (70’s humor)

I won’t be explaining the details of much of the activity except to say that we had a lot of fun.    We celebrated the bi-centennial daily.

It’s a little hard to fathom this was all 40 years ago.   The last Time I was in Monmouth was in 2005, to view the graduation ceremony of a good friend of mine’s daughter.   I couldn’t resist the urge to walk down the street to take a peek.   Most of what was written on the sidewalk was still legible enough to read, and I wondered how many people had WTF moments trying to decipher some of them.

Myself, just looking at the sidewalk to me back to an era in my life that now seems impossibly care-free.  (I picture my 62 VW Van parked in front of the house.)  Going to college was not such a huge financial burden back then, and I do think the sense of freedom and removal from the “real world” contributed to my education as much as the formal parts.   It’s hard to absorb some things if your main concern is if you have enough money to put food on your table.  Sometimes, just having fun is it’s own justification.

Lennon & McCartney

One of the cool things about these two is they were actually greater than the sum of their parts when they worked together.    They were both, individually, great musicians, singers and songwriters, but what they achieved together was amazing.

I find that if you can get more than one angle on solving a given problem, your chances of success increase exponentially.   You also run less of a chance of failing to see some problem you might not be able to see.

In my experience in life, enterprises that have two different guiding lights often outperform those with a single beam of illumination.

One of the problems of our system of government is that we’ve lost the Lennon/McCartney aspect of the two party system.   The Republicans and the Democrats have forgotten they supposedly work together running the government.   Rather than focusing on what they have in common and working with that, they seem to have become bent on becoming the sole proprietor, and have proceeded to start drilling holes in the lifeboat.  And since we also share that lifeboat with them, they are threatening to take us all down.

Instead of reaching a compromise and thus allowing us the benefits of the best of both worlds, our representatives seem determined to sink the lifeboat if they don’t get their way.  Creating a permanent dynasty for your particular party seems more of a goal that providing effective representation for your constituents.

The puzzling thing is that things have not always been this way.   While it’s true that to a certain degree politics has always been a nasty business and you can find instances of that through our nation’s history, but things have usually managed to get done.

The period from 1946 until sometime in the 80’s saw a lot of bi-partisan efforts come to fruition.    The legislative branch and the executive branch were often from different parties, but they lead us through the period where the United States lead the world by most every measurable standard.   They must have been doing something right.

Part of the blame needs to be laid at the feet of the voting public, as we have a large tolerance for this kind of thing and don’t insist that our representatives actually do anything.    Young people probably don’t even remember when this was an expectation.

A large number of people have gotten into the habit of just not paying attention and they also feel that they aren’t represented by anyone.  They have little faith in most of our legislators.   Congress has a job approval rating that would get anyone in a real job fired, and yet, things never really seem to improve.

Oddly, I find it interesting that as our representatives have become more ideological and less pragmatic as fewer and fewer people can tell you exactly what our political parties stand for.   About the only thing people car articulate is the “big government” vs “small government” issue.

The reality is the size of the government should depend on what it takes to have effective government, and  if something isn’t working but needs to be done, it should be fixed rather than just discarded.   Few things in life are black and white and that gets us back to the beginning.

Right now, it would seem that the country is divided about 50/50.   In reality, though, I doubt that most of us are hard right or hard left on all of the issues.   Most people are neither Anarcho-Capitalists nor Communists.   There have to be solutions than can make most of us happy, and those are most likely going to be compromises: it used to be the job of our legislators to work out the details of those compromises for us.

We either start to find the common ground, or we won’t have any ground to stand on.

I think I’ll open up a Chain of Small Towns….

  • If you look around the various small towns and rural areas that are in decline, you not only discover that the major industry that used to sustain the area is gone, but that locally owned industries have also disappeared. This country is filled with “Main Streets” with abandoned buildings and decaying downtowns. The locally owned businesses were also a vital link in promoting a sound economy as dollars passed through many hands rather than scampering off to Bentonville or China. And it’s not just all the retail shops that have been replaced by Walmart and Amazon. For just one example: Go to any small town and you’ll find that the number of car dealers have drastically decreased or just plain vanished. Local banks have practically disappeared as well.

    Looking towards the future, things look bright for smaller businesses, as the economies of scale that created enormous corporations, factories, and governments and the entire support system geared to the needs of giant enterprises are likely to fade away. The rate of change will become so rapid that large capital investments will seem foolish if they are just going to become quickly obsolete.

    The future is going to just happen, the world is a changing place and the economic conditions that the world’s economy will dictate are quite out of our hands. Regardless of what we believe, there are a number of forces that weren’t a factor as our system evolved: big changes in the environment, energy sources, population growth, aging demographics and automation, just to start with, and they are all going to have way more impact than any government officials are going to be able to have.

    The United States has thrived because we adapted better and faster to industrialization: we took advantage of the changes in economic realities as our main rivals made vain attempts to stay in the 19th century. 20 years from now, we’ll be able to see which countries adapted to the new realities, and which ones were left behind trying to recreate the 20th century.
    There are voices talking about “sustainable local economies”, and I encourage you to explore them and see what they have to say. Looking at all the factors that made America Great during the period between 1946 and 1975, one should note of the fact that those conditions are NOT ever going to return. But, we also need to note that we do have control of what happens within our boarders, and doing what we can to encourage local economies that can stand on their own is certainly one way we can control our own destiny.

The Real Danger of a Trump Presidency

“Man is a very curious animal.   We make things up out of thin air, and then become enslaved to them.”

There’s a thought experiment that runs like this:

Scientists discover that there is a Comet on the way they are 100% certain that it is going to hit the earth in five years.     But the scientists also have a foolproof plan that they are 100% sure it can save us.    The only catch is that it would be so expensive the entire earth would go bankrupt to implement it.

What do you think would happen?   Do you really think there would be people saying:  “Sorry, we just can’t afford it.”   We’d do whatever we had to do to survive.    We’d also likely discover that the money didn’t have to “come from” anywhere, any more than the points on a football scoreboard have to come from somewhere. 

Whether Donald Trump thinks climate change is real and caused by man is unimportant, most of the world thinks it’s real and will be building a new economic model that doesn’t require the burning of fossil fuels to deal with it.
   We need to be a part of it.   

Climate change along with population growth is likely to create a new economic paradigm built around renewable energy of many forms.
   Our current economic system has about 20% of the world’s population using a little over 75% of the planet’s resources.     Over 70% of the planet’s population lives on less than $10.00 per day.    The US, with 5% of the world’s population uses somewhere around one fourth of the world’s energy.    These don’t sound like sustainable conditions to me.    “Business as usual” is not likely to last much longer.   There is not room for several new fossil-fuel driven industrial economies based on either the US or Chinese models.    We’d need several more planets.  Our economic system fails to take environmental costs into account.  

Rapidly advancing technology is also going to change the nature of work itself with automation and AI having a vast impact.
     20 years from now, most of the “jobs” we now have will be vastly different and one of the challenges is going to be finding something useful for everybody. 

For the last 250 years or thereabouts, the world’s economic system has revolved around an industrial model where the economies of scale favored ever larger factories and the corporate and financial systems evolved around that.
  Indeed, 8 of the top 10 on the Forbes list of the world’s biggest companies are banks, with Apple and Exxon being the only non-bank entities.  Tail wagging the dog.  Finance has it’s place, but it shouldn’t be the dominant activity.  An economic system should serve the people, not the other way around.

One of the things that new technologies, like 3D Printing and nano technology are going to do is make industrial plants of much smaller sizes possible and reduce the advantage of being “big” and the increased rate of change will make adaptability more important.   Increasing transportation costs ae also make it less likely that a large item like an automobile will be able to be manufactured and shipped around half the planet for less than one produced locally.

This is all “future talk”, and the future may not play out this way, but the concept here is it is largely certain things will change drastically, and the rate of this change is only going to increase, barring a worldwide economic collapse. 

Investing in technologies and infrastructure that are going to be soon obsolete is not going to make America Great Again.     As is clinging to an economic model like it’s a religion and failing to adapt to changing circumstances and at least explore possibilities.

I feel the market itself will support, if not mandate, whatever changes will take place.
   The ability to adapt will overcome the need for a huge corporate structure, which, rather than increasing efficiency, will be viewed as an encumbrance.     World trade will still be important, but I see the ability for a nation to self-generate wealth in a sustainable fashion as a big plus.    America used to be filled with many self-sustaining local economies propelled by locally owned and managed businesses. 

If such a thing as “American Exceptionalism” exists, it was our ability to quickly adapt as well as implement new technologies.
   I’m concerned that the financial-industrial complex will try to maintain a favored position by dragging their feet and trying to maximize the investments they have already made.    We have a long history of fostering brilliant entrepreneurs, lets figure out how to let them take us into the future, rather than have them looking to preserve a past that’s only of benefit for a decreasingly smaller percentage of the population.

Hero or ?? How does the world remember Castro? And why should we care?

Who the hell was this guy?

Fidel Castro, Prime Minister of Cuba, smokes a cigar during his meeting with two U.S. senators, the first to visit Castro's Cuba, in Havana, Cuba, Sept. 29, 1974. (AP Photo)
Fidel Castro, Prime Minister of Cuba, smokes a cigar during his meeting with two U.S. senators, the first to visit Castro’s Cuba, in Havana, Cuba, Sept. 29, 1974. (AP Photo)

I’ve been reading so much nonsense about Castro on both sides of the equation. Everybody has an angle on this and they typically present a cartoonish biased version of history to make a point or advance some political agenda. This does nobody any favors.

To some he is a revolutionary hero, to others he’s an evil dictator. In a sense, both views are correct.

To get a balanced picture of both Castro and what life under his régime was actually like, one might take a look at what life is like in other Caribbean and Latin Countries, as well as what was going on in Cuba prior to Castro.

Only viewing Castro through the simplistic view “our side” of the cold war is to ignore the things that have happened in Cuba that are positive, or that many Cubans who were around during the Batista era might have regarded Castro as a step up. Here’s the opinion of someone who might be regarded as something of an expert on Cuba:

“Fulgencio Batista murdered 20,000 Cubans in seven years … and he turned Democratic Cuba into a complete police state—destroying every individual liberty. Yet our aid to his regime, and the ineptness of our policies, enabled Batista to invoke the name of the United States in support of his reign of terror.

Administration spokesmen publicly praised Batista—hailed him as a staunch ally and a good friend—at a time when Batista was murdering thousands, destroying the last vestiges of freedom, and stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the Cuban people, and we failed to press for free elections.”

This was Senator John F. Kennedy criticizing the Eisenhower administration, so he also has an axe to grind as well. And (as the Bay of Pigs fiasco would seem to indicate) he failed to recognize the opportunity to re-think US foreign policy.

It would also be worth taking look  at the economic situation in Cuba: it’s health care system or literacy rate.   One might find the conditions most Cubans live under would rival those in other Caribbean, and Latin American Countries.

If we only view history through a lens that renders things in black and white, we mainly see what we want to see and this can lead us to fail to see the consequences of our own mistakes. Or even admit they happened.

I’m no fan of Fidel, I see him as the typical autocrat who sees hanging on to power as his main objective, and only considers the needs of his people to the degree necessary to remain in power.

100 years from now I think Castro will be historically bundled with other dictators (Such as Batista) who exploited the messy disintegration of the Age of Imperialism and were able to leverage the cold war into obtaining and then holding on to power. Assad, Nasser, The Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein  would be a modern examples in a similar mode.

The failure to take a realistic stance on how we should approach the future by being honest about the past has resulted in a bi-partisan foreign policy unhinged from any rational outcome, long term goals, or realistic appraisals of our chance of success.  We repeatedly start wars with no  real or practical exit strategy.    This pretty well sums up our military adventures over the last 5 decades.

I think Andrew Bacevich recently put this long term failure into perspective:

“The folly and hubris of the policy makers who heedlessly thrust the nation into an ill-defined and open-ended ‘global war on terror’ without the foggiest notion of what victory would look like, how it would be won, and what it might cost approached standards hitherto achieved only by slightly mad German warlords.”

It doesn’t look like we’ll get involved in Cuba, as far a supporting a “war of liberation”.   But President-Elect Trump and the running mate seem Hell-bent on putting the largely-a-failure embargo back in place.    Pence said he supports a democratic Cuba.    Given the US history in Cuba, that just might no be heard as comforting to Cubans……. As least not the ones who still live in Cuba.

Trump’s Carrier “Deal”: win or loss?

We won’t know if the jobs saved by Trump’s actions will be a good thing or not for a number of years.

carrierCarrier is owned by United Technologies, which is a multinational conglomerate. Carrier represents about a 10th of their revenues. Carrier competes on a global scale with companies like Hitachi, Daikan and LG.

The US plants will only thrive if they can compete on the international market and somehow compete with the lower labor costs nearly everywhere on the planet.

Perhaps they can be sustained by supplying only the US market, but even that might require protectionist legislation.

If the US plants operate at a lower profit level than either foreign plants or other industries that United Technologies owns, they will have to direct resources in those directions.

The other thing is rapidly advancing automation means investment in “low skill” jobs and the machinery involved might end up being wasted. Every advance in air conditioner technology will bring increased levels of automation. Since Air Conditioning is one of the major consumers of electricity, one can expect major advances to happen quite regularly.

If American industry is forced to invest in obsolete technology geared towards providing jobs that require little education, we will not only become less competitive on world markets, but we won’t be providing the jobs that will be needed in the future.

I’m not sure people who denigrate this whole episode as a “publicity stunt” are on the right track: but the facts that the Indiana Governor was involved and handy, and that United Technology has a number of defense contracts with the US government that wouldn’t even need to be mentioned to be used as leverage can’t be ignored.

It’s hardly a part of any sort of sustainable policy. The more “protectionist” we become and the more we hold on to the technology of the past: we will be less competitive as a country. We can’t “Make America Great Again” by turning back the clock.

You know, the man’s got a point.

I don’t agree with Clarence Thomas too often.   I can go on for days about his performance (or lack thereof), but then you’d all be asleep.   I’d also be doing something that has become all too easy to do and is seemingly now part of our political culture. 

In an interview at the Heritage Foundation back in October, Justice Thomas said a couple of things that the press “trumped up”  and aimed at the Republican party.    I think we can take the “us” and “we” as meaning society, rather than just the Republican Party. 

“I think that we have decided that rather than confront the disagreement and differences of opinion, we’ll just simply annihilate the person who disagrees with us.”

Doesn’t this sound like the Presidential Campaign?    One does have to wonder how slight a percentage of effort involved either the issues or the actual policies on the table.  

Why is this important?    We’ve come to view political discourse as a game that one can “win” or “lose”: during the presidential debates or Facebook battles people proceed as if the object is to “defeat” one’s “opponent”.    

We’ve evolved an “all or nothing” approach that views compromise as weakness and herds us into distinct and monolithic oppositional groups that view each other as evil.

When asked about Republicans obstruction of Obama’s proposed supreme court appointment, Thomas responded with:

“I don’t think [obstruction]’s going to work in a republic or a civil society. At some point, we have got to recognize that we’re destroying our institutions and undermining our institutions.”

Bingo, this is exactly the point.  With compromise an impossibility,  gridlock sets in, and nothing is accomplished.   Congress  currently is about as popular as a root canal with an approval rating of about 13%, which I think qualifies as a lack of faith.  The Supreme court fares a little better, with a 48% approval rating, which ties the lowest ever.  Voter turnouts would also seem to support a lack of faith that our government is representing us, since nearly half the population can’t be bothered to take the time to vote.

The cost of the 2016 election looks like it will fall between $6.6 and $6.8  Billion, depending on who you ask, and I don’t know too many people that feel they’ve got their money’s worth.

Does ANYBODY think that this election actually brought out the issues that really matter in sufficient detail that we could even know if they could actually be accomplished?  Quite a few people sound quite upset that Mr. Trump might not actually be able to build a wall, repeal Obamacare, deport 11 million illegal aliens and tear up the Iran agreement.   This should have been made plain during the Republican primary race, let alone the general campaign.

Our founding fathers risked being hanged by signing the Declaration of Independence, we’ve lost countless soldiers in wars to preserve our right to self government, and yet we seem to have no faith in how we practice it.     It would be easy to just blame it on the Republicans—–or the Democrats.  But in our hearts we know who to blame.   In the words of Walt Kelly, speaking through Pogo on April 22, 1971:

Yep, son, we have met the enemy and he is us.

Changing of the Guard

Well, the sky still seems to be blue. We may have a new coach, but the team members (us) are all still the same. We still are human beings and want the same things for ourselves and our families.

Most of those who supported Donald Trump are not racists nor filled with hate for women and minorities. They just think he offered better solutions than Mrs. Clinton.

The odd thing about time is that it always seems to move forward, and most of us are on courses that aren’t going to change that much. We DO live in a world where the goalposts are constantly moving and every new day presents challenges we’ve never faced before.

Any student of US History has to marvel at the course the country has been able to follow: it’s survived any number of threats, both internal and external, and landed on it’s feet. Who would have thought in 1929 how twenty years into the future the US would be the economic powerhouse it became in the 1950’s. The route we took certainly wasn’t planned.

The success or failure of the Trump presidency is likely to be judged by how effectively he manages to “make America Great” in the eyes of the average person. They don’t seem to be in a patient mood.

24 hours ago, I thought Hillary Clinton was going to be president, and I hoped conservatives would give her programs a chance and not instantly start working to bring her down. Mr. Trump deserves the same consideration.

I’m noticing a change in tone out of Mr. Trump, which I applaud, and trust we will all find our way forward, into what we hope is a brighter future. We’re still all in the same boat and the shore is still in the same place……….

The presidency has a way of making people rise to the occasion. I imagine the first time one finds oneself alone at night in the oval office, only the most insensitive wouldn’t feel the weight of being the caretaker of a sacred trust. Abraham Lincoln derived an enormous strength from that knowledge. An apt quote from Lincoln here would be:

“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: ‘And this, too, shall pass away.’ How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!”

I’m not saying that Donald Trump will be another Lincoln, but that at some point, every president realizes he is now being judged in comparison to some real giants…..