Sunday, December 16, 2018

Why We Like Bad Guys

Why do we laud people who misbehave?  Why are women in particular, attracted to bad boys?

In response to a recent posting, I received two responses.  The first was a classic example of "extremism".  The reader opines that maybe my sister married for love and not for designer handbags and luxury SUVs.   You see how this plays out - there are only two extremes in life - abject poverty or obscene wealth.  And I get a lot of responses like that - baiting responses no doubt from our friends in Russia.  "Why bother trying to save money?" one person writes, "You'll never become a billionaire that way!"   You see again how this works - it's billionaire or nothing.   And people who think that way end up with nothing, always.

But it is possible to form a loving relationship with someone who isn't abusive or crazy.   And such relationships tend to be more stable, happier and more productive.  You may think you are in love with your abuser, but in reality, you might just be in love with your own low-self-esteem.   Or you may be in love with someone who looks attractive, but has a lot of ugliness inside.  And oddly enough, billionaires (or billionaire wanna-bes) usually end up falling into that trap - marrying the "trophy wife" who is a hottie, but otherwise is a total stranger - little more than a possession in life, much like the Lamborghini parked in their garage.

It is possible to find some sort of middle ground here - to love someone who isn't crazy, isn't abusive, isn't on drugs - and has a regular job and lives up to their responsibilities in life.   Sadly, our society pushes this idea that there is "one true love" out there destined just for you, and you have to find that one person in a nation of 310 million and a planet of billions - and if you don't, well, then you end up a bachelor or worse - a "spinster".    But as our nation's divorce rate attests, there is no such thing as one predestined true love.  So you can afford to walk away from abusive relationships - there will be another true love out there somewhere - one with a job and without a drug habit.

Another reader writes (and again, perhaps I am being trolled) that his 17-year-old daughter is "dating" a 35-year-old man with a drinking problem and a meth habit.   Hilarity ensues.   Fortunately for him, the "boyfriend" is now in jail - for the time being.   It will not bode well for things down the road.

But sometimes, people figure these things out.  A young friend of mine ran away from home at 14 and hung out with odious people (and men) and sold herself for money and drugs.  She later ended up busted for stealing credit cards.   It is hard to say why someone from a middle-class background who has every opportunity in the world (college, etc.) would end up doing this - again, the low-self-esteem engine is at work.   But she pulled out of that nosedive and today is a bourgeoisie business owner.

And I nearly fell into the same trap - letting low-self-esteem dictate that I was entitled to little in life, and then setting my sights low.   The pressure of trying to succeed seemed too much, and it was easier to just get drunk and high and settle for a dead-end job and a steady paycheck.   And perhaps that same low-self-esteem is what attracted me to crazy people - feeling that that was all I was entitled to, or thinking - and young people do this a lot - that someone I was enamored with was "true love" and that true love was worth putting up with a mountain of horseshit.

I also pulled out of that nosedive.  But it is hard, I think, to overcome this low-self-esteem thing, without going to the other extreme of narcissism.  We all have fears of inadequacy, in one form or another - this is part of the normal human condition.  When they become the front-and-center part of your life, well, it can interfere with living.

But why are men and women attracted to "bad boys" anyway?   It isn't just romantic liaisons, either.  Our television shows usually have bad people as heroes.  We all rooted for Tony Soprano, as he broke hearts and kneecaps, one at a time.   We root for "Dexter" who was actually a serial killer.   What is up with that?   The list goes on and on - a guy who sells methamphetamine has his own television show.

Even on the cop shows, where the perps are bad and the cops are good, the good cops are the ones who break all the rules and "get things done."   Danny Reagan no longer slams the heads of "perps" into the table as he did in the early seasons, but he plays the part of the "bad boy" pretty well.   In the later seasons, they tried to make him "responsible Dad" and I think the ratings plummeted.

There is something to the allure of the outlaw.  Everyone wants to be that guy - or wants him.  Perhaps it is part of our Culture of Belligerence at work, I don't know.  All I know is, people have had this attraction to violence and malfeasance for an awful long time.  Today, we celebrate this history of violence as if it were a fun game.   Pirates are fun, as are Vikings - unless of course, you were some schmuck living in a coastal village, trying to eke out a living fishing and farming.  There was no joy when Pirates or Vikings came ashore.  Today, this is the theme of an amusement park ride at Disney - as well as a film franchise.

It even is present in politics.   Part of the appeal, I think, of Donald Trump to his supporters is that he is a "bad guy" in sort of the professional wrestling sense.  He trash talks - or trash-tweets - and says outrageous things, and the more outrageous he is, the more they love him.  The fact that the New York Times or Washington Post are aghast at what he says just makes it all the better.  It is like bringing home your new biker boyfriend - the fact that Dad freaks out just makes it all that much sweeter.  Now the daughter has power!

And maybe that is what it is, power-shifting.  I sort of hinted at this before - people will destroy their own lives, just to "get even" with parents, relatives, or even spouses.  In my sister's case, she told me in all seriousness that she would have divorced her husband ages ago, but she didn't want my Dad to be proven right.  She stayed in an abusive relationship for decades, to get even with Dad.  People will drive their car off a cliff - sometimes literally - to "prove a point."   The point being.... I forget.  But they made their point!

So self-destruction at first appears to make no sense, until you put it in terms of the power-struggle of relationships.   Getting a divorce is seen by some as "quitting" or "losing" and they don't want to be embarrassed in front of their friends or family.  It is, in a way, like old people here on the island. Many want to move to a smaller home or assisted living, but know that their friends in the Parcheesi club will tut-tut that "Edna gave up!" if she does what is right for her.  So they sit around in an empty house until it is too late.

In other cases, it may merely be a way of getting attention - the friend with the perpetual problem.  It also can be a defined role to play and we like roles, as they provide a level of comfort.  And yet in others, simply a matter of low-self-esteem, as well as a feeling of being trapped. Depression is probably the lowest common denominator of them all.

And depression is sure to ensue if you continue to pursue toxic relationships.  You can't "fix" people, as I've found out the hard way.  You can't stage an intervention, get the alcoholic to stop drinking or the drug addict to stop drugging.   And you can't make your spouse go to work and keep a job, if they are inclined to be a sponge.

A recent article on MSN was brutally honest on this last point.  On the eve of her wedding, a woman in a financially abusive relationship, called the whole thing off, and learned valuable life lessons from it.  And the most valuable was, you can fall in love with someone who is supportive and takes care of themselves.  You don't have to "settle" for an abuser as your only true love.

There is a happy medium between being destitute and depressed, and being a billionaire.  It is possible to be happy in this world, believe it or not - particularly in the richest country in the world.  

Funny thing, that.

Friday, December 14, 2018

How to Write, the Easy Way!


Writing stuff isn't hard.  Just crank out the paragraphs!

I get a lot of inquiries from folks asking how I can crank out crank articles like clockwork, sometimes two or three a day.   To them, writing stuff is "hard" and they don't see how I can do it.  Some even accuse me of using ghost writers - like I can afford to do that for what is presently a non-monetized blog (and the $2500 I made monetizing it for a year wouldn't pay for much ghost writing).

But really, writing isn't hard to do, and I learned this both in typing class and in a technical writing class.   Being able to type and type quickly and accurately is the first part of the problem.  If you can type nearly as fast as you can think, you can create a narrative in your head and put it on paper almost as quickly as you can talk.  In fact, it is faster, as "voice recognition" - which I have used when I only have my phone available - requires a lot of correction, which is painful to do.

Take a typing class.  Maybe keyboarding is dead, but I doubt you can write much on a cell phone with your thumbs.  Maybe I am wrong about this and old-fashioned.  But there is a demand for writers out there, and if you want to be one, you have to be able to type and type quickly.   Like 100 wpm quickly - or approaching that, anyway.

The second thing is to understand the basic mechanics of writing.  Most writing courses start off by having you study "the great authors" or some such nonsense.  They also pound into your head, certain grammar rules that can never, ever be violated.   And if you start a sentence with "and" you'll end up with red marks all over your paper.   But what the teachers fail to mention to you, is that they teach writing because for the most part, they are failed writers.  And if you read the "great authors" you'll see they flout every single writing rule out there.   But the rules are there for a reason - like speed limits.  Follow them when you can, and try to avoid the bad habits I have.

But the real deal in writing is in the mechanics of it.  Snap out paragraphs with three or four sentences hitting on a main idea, and then hit "return" twice, to put a space between lines.  Learn how to use white space and separate different or even similar ideas with spaces between paragraphs.  Only idiots and academics (I am being redundant here) write paragraphs with seventeen sentences in them - twelve being run-on sentences.   It just hides your main idea and makes your ideas harder to parse - which is often by design, as people often don't have a lot to say, so they cloak it all in 15-dollar words in run-on sentences and call it "intellectual."

But what to say?  Well, that is not really much of a problem, if you think about it.  Most of us (I hope anyway) have an inner narrative that is constantly storytelling our daily lives.  Just write that.  The best writing is to write what you know rather than things you are merely conjecturing about.  If you want to write about whaling, it helps to spend some time on a whaling ship - as Melville did (or hung out with enough whalers, anyway) rather than try to invent the narrative from whole cloth.  People can easily detect what is inauthentic.

Most of us have something to say - that is not the problem.  The problem most folks have - as I see it, anyway - is in expressing their ideas.  They either feel that "writing" has to be ornate and gilded and technical, or not worth doing at all.  As a result, they feel inhibited from even trying to express themselves.  Maybe this is why texting and twittering and YouTubing is so popular these days, and few people chose to write.  I dunno.

But crank out those three-sentence paragraphs and see what comes of it.  Maybe it won't be War and Peace but it may be something.   And if nothing else, you may get some visceral satisfaction from it.

Good Luck!

Struggling With Life? Get Real!


Are drug addicts and alcoholics struggling with life or just having a hell of a good time?

A recent article online recounts how family members claim that their son is "not a monster" after he killed four children in a DUI crash.  They claimed he is a "good-hearted man" who has been "struggling with life."

This is a story I've heard before - in fact, far too many times before.  Every time we hear a story about some criminal who injures or kills somebody. or who robs bank to pay for his drug habit, we are told that he is actually the victim because of his "struggles" with drug addiction, alcoholism, or basic criminality.  We want to be led to believe the most difficult thing in the world is to avoid becoming a criminal.

And I'm sorry, but I don't buy it.

Drug addicts and alcoholics aren't struggling, they're usually having a hell of a good time.  Getting high all the time and staying high, and "partying" is a hell of a lot of fun.  And I know this because, when I was a teenager and that's basically what me and my friends did.  And as I got older we kept doing it well into my twenties, until I realized it was a dead end in life.

Of course, I never robbed banks or killed people to pay for my partying habit.  I manged to get a job and support myself, even though it was like carrying around a ton of bricks on my back.

But let me tell you this: It isn't hard or a struggle to get high. It's a hell of a lot of fun and it's really the easy way out.  It's not a struggle to stop getting high.  It's not difficult to give it up.  It's just a lot easier to fall into that lifestyle, just as its a lot easier to steal shit than to work for a living.   Laziness is the struggle, and laziness is not a disease.

The folks who are getting high all the time are enjoying life.  They aren't sitting around weeping about how difficult their life has been and what struggles they've had trying to get off drugs.  Oh sure, once they're in court and they're facing a bunch of charges for killing or robbing someone or whatever, they will profess great regret with crocodile tears.  And an army of psychologists as well as their family members will tell you what a horrible struggle it was for the accused to be high all the time and have parties and get laid and basically enjoy themselves and never have to work for a living.  The criminal becomes the real victim here - you see how this works.

Again, I don't buy it.  The real struggle, and it really isn't much of one, is to just live your life and support yourself and be a productive member of society.  Going to work everyday, fighting the rush hour commute, getting to your office on time, doing your job, putting up with an asshole of a boss, collecting that meager paycheck, and paying your bills - that's the real struggle in life.  And it's not really all that hard.  It can be a grind, day in and day out, year after year.

(And yes, it can suck, particularly at low-wage jobs, which I had to work at and try to support myself with.   It wasn't easy, but I managed to do it, in 1980, when unemployment was 10% and inflation was as well.   Today, things are a little easier.)

The real heroes in this world are the people who show up for work every day work hard.  Those are the people who are really struggling.  And yet we never give them any sort of accolade or congratulation for their effort.  Instead, we talked long and loud about the struggles of drug addicts and crazy people as if they were fighting some noble cause.

Maybe it's time we change this narrative and stopped lauding bums and criminals and heap accolades on the real heroes in our society - the working people who are doing the hard thing and not taking the easy way out.

Just a crazy thought.

The Media Comes Down From the Mountain

Image result for cartoon moses with tablets

Someone in the Media actually tries to explain the Cohen case to us plebes, condescendingly, of course.

USA Today, of all places, finally got down off its high horse long enough to explain to us stupid plebes, in condescending terms, why the payoff of a stripper is considered a "campaign contribution" - something that mystifies most Americans.  But the manner in which they do it is anything but "fair and balanced."  And speaking of which, it is odd that even Fox News hasn't latched onto this, instead dutifully reporting that this is a foregone conclusion.

I discussed this before, so I won't repeat it here, and the USA Today article does succinctly describe the legal theory behind this.   But so far, it is indeed a theory, as it has not been put into practice just yet.  And so far, similar violations in the past have yielded little more than fines (as in the case of the Obama campaign), or in the case of John Edwards, acquittal and a hung jury.   The entire thing hinges on intent of the parties, and they are claiming that Cohen is the "smoking gun" as he can testify to Trump's intent.

It is an interesting argument.  But what was Cohen charged with, again?   Does it all have to do with Russia or Trump or Adult Actresses?   Turns out, no.

Cohen had his hand in a lot of pies, and he claimed to be a "playa" and connected with the Russian mob.  But of course, he was just a pathetic wanna-be, who got caught up in a tax investigation regarding his ill-fated taxi medallion business (shoulda invested in Uber!) and Florida real estate - the latter being the downfall of many an investor.   These are the actual serious charges against him, that yielded jail time and multi-million dollar fines and restitution.   The campaign finance thing is a parking ticket they added to the pile.

And added with a reason.   By getting him to plead guilty to the campaign finance thing, they agreed to go lightly on the real charges - tax fraud being the real biggie.   And Mr. Meuller certainly scored a direct hit by bringing these charges, right?  Oh, except he didn't bring these charges.  They were brought by Federal Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York - a court famously antagonistic to the Trump administration and its policies.  There are no politics involved in this, nosiree! 

But to hear the media report it, it is all about Stormy Daniels, and those "other charges" are just trivial, because frankly, you the plebe public cannot hold a coherent thought for more than ten minutes, and you need titillation (quite literally, with Ms. Daniels) to hold your interest.

So as far as you are concerned, this is all about Trump, and not about a failed taxi medallion business, because the media told you this is all about Trump, because they want it to be all about Trump, not because of "liberal bias" but because of money bias - they want to sell clicks and sell eyeballs, and you are not going to click on some boring story about tax evasion, because it is complicated and hard to sell in our Twitter and sound-bite era.

But even the USA today article admits that this "smoking gun" and "top story" isn't going to amount to much.  Once again, the media has promised us a major orgasm, only to fail to deliver.   The Justice Department isn't likely to indict a sitting President, and once he leaves office, it isn't likely they'll bother with this trivial nonsense - because in the greater scheme of things, it is indeed trivial, unless you really believe that paying off your mistress (as my Father once did - with my college fund!) is a "campaign contribution."   And of course, Pence will pardon him, as Ford did with Nixon.

Even in terms of impeachment, it isn't clear, as the alleged crime did not occur while he was in office, and even if you assume these payments were to "influence the election" it is doubtful they had much real influence at all - the evangelicals still voted for Mr. "Grab 'em by the pussy!" knowing full well what sort of man he was - and knowing the rumors of his infidelity.  I doubt the Stormy Daniels payments changed the outcome of the election one iota.

(This is taking aside the mathematics of the House and Senate.  Even if the House votes to impeach -and few House members are saying this is likely - the 2/3rds needed from the Senate just isn't there - unless of course, the Republicans in the Senate just want to see a President Pence and put this all behind us.  Et tu, Brute?)

Hillary campaigning in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin - that might have changed the outcome of the election.   But we don't want to talk about that - that our candidate was flawed and the campaign strategy ("It's my time!") was flawed as well.   We don't want to talk about that as we drive the campaign bus off a cliff yet again - two years before the next election.

The same media that talks down to us in tut-tut terms, also tells us, in all seriousness that Stormy Daniel's lawyer was a serious candidate for President in 2020 - because anyone who is against Trump apparently is qualified to be President.  Apparently I am Presidential timber.   Or we have this "Beto" who apparently is a refugee from a boy band or something, because all we hear about is how Democrats are gushing about how handsome he is.  Ugh.  Pass the bucket, I need to throw up.

The USA Today article, ironically (ironically, as they are the king of Reader's Digest versions of stories) is finally a move in the right direction - telling the details of the story, and not just the foregone conclusions.  Sadly, the article still has the tone of "you stupid idiot, you just don't get it!" and presents the entire legal theory as a foregone conclusion - from the perspective of one side only.

Maybe it is a foregone conclusion in newsrooms across the country, but I am not sure it is yet, in a court of law.  It is an interesting theory, but whether a jury will convict remains to be seen.   It seems a stretch that a law designed to prevent outsiders from influencing elections would be applied to payments made by the candidate himself - even if made through intermediaries.

Trump is a slimy scumbag, but you'll have to do better with this - a plea deal where a guy will say anything to reduce his sentence for tax evasion isn't quite the smoking gun they make it out to be.   Maybe Cohen has these secret recordings - maybe not.   But you'd have to have Trump on tape saying, "let's evade campaign finance laws by paying off Stormy Daniels!" to show real intent in this case.

And even then, it still might be a tough case to sell to a jury.   I'm not getting too excited just yet about the prospect of President Pence.

Oh, right, that.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Survey Says!

Image result for family feud survey
Modern pseudoscience relies on the survey as its primary source of data.

A lady knocked on our door yesterday with two surveys that she asked us to fill out.  The surveys are part of her PhD dissertation, and I'm not quite sure what she's setting out to prove.  Like any other survey, it is setting out to prove something, whether people want to admit to this or not.  And that is the fundamental problem with surveys to begin with.  Almost every survey has a foregone conclusion that they're trying to prove through use of statistical data.

This particular survey was trying to figure out whether we liked turtles and trees.  I'm not quite sure what she's trying to prove by the survey, but I'm not sure I want to respond to it. There are three pages of questions as to whether I feel I identify with turtles (in one survey), or with trees (in the second). I'm asked whether I feel that turtles or oak trees define our island, whether I identify with them, what I thought of them, or what not.  It also asks whether I am willing to do things like clean up the beach for the turtles or plant trees or whatever.

The way the questions are worded, it is more like a push-poll than an actual survey of opinion.  The questions are more along the line of, "Do you love and cherish the turtles and trees, or are you one of those heartless bastards who just wants to ruin the environment?"  There really is no in-between in a survey like this.

I am hesitant to answer the survey as I'm not sure how the data is going to be used.  If the island residents respond that they love the trees and the turtles then perhaps this will be used as an excuse to make it even more difficult to maintain our properties here on the island.  As it is, we have to obtain a special permit to cut down a tree on our property, even if the tree is dead and overhangs your house and ready to fall in the night and kill you as you sleep - as one 150 ft tall dead pine tree on my neighbor's property is currently poised to do.

There is also talk of restricting access to the beach, and some parts of the beach have already been restricted in order to make room for nesting sites for birds.  We've already cut back on lighting on the shore to accommodate the turtles during mating season, even though our island is not a primary site for turtle nesting.

These are all laudable goals, but sometimes they have unintended consequences.  And often I see that the people who want to restrict access to the beach or restrict others' activities don't want to restrict them for themselves.  Local residents got all up in arms because one of the entrepreneurs working for the hotel was driving an ATV on the beach to tow his beach umbrellas and beach loungers from the parking lot, a distance of 1/4 Mile.

Meanwhile, employees at the Turtle Center not only have a huge ATV that they drive up and down the entire length of the beach all day long, they actually sell rides so people can go on "Turtle Expeditions" via ATV on the beach.  In other words, it's not okay for us to use the beach - even to walk on it.  But it's okay for an environmentalist to do whatever the hell they want, including driving vehicles on the beach.  There's a certain level of hypocrisy here.

It is, in a way, like the public transit advocate who thinks we should all be taking the bus but that they have important things to do, such as going to the public transit advocacy meeting - so they need to drive their Subaru.  Public transit for everyone, except themselves, of course.

If the response to the survey shows that the homeowners are less enthusiastic about the turtles and trees, this could also be used against us. We would be painted as heartless bastards who basically run over turtles in our spare time and chainsaw trees just for fun - and this used an excuse to restrict beach access and tree cutting.  If we profess a love for turtles and trees, this will also be used against us, with similar results.

Either way, no good will come of the surveys.  As they say on Dragnet, everything you say can be used against you in a court of law.  No matter how we respond to the survey, the data will be used against us.

I thought briefly about spoofing the survey.   In the comments section, I could have added things such as"live oak makes excellent firewood!" or "turtle eggs are sure delicious!"  But I decided to play it straight.  Whether or not I return these surveys though, I'm still undecided.  Again, I'm not sure whether the data will be used in a way that will be helpful to myself or to the trees or to the turtles.  It certainly will be helpful to the person who's working on their PhD dissertation.  And I wonder how much of our taxpayer money is going into this.

Speaking of surveys, another one is came out recently, saying that over half of all Americans have a family member who's been incarcerated.  I thought about this with regard to my crazy family including my drug-addled siblings and nieces and nephews, and thought that the survey result was pretty accurate, as at least two or three of them had spend some time in jail.

But again, like most surveys, they set out to prove a point, and the point in this case is that the United States is a horrible place and incarcerates more people than any other country except China, and that this is a horrible rotten thing because criminals should just be allowed to roam free on the streets.

I read more about the survey and realized it was performed by Cornell University in far-left leaning Ithaca, New York.  I'm all-too-familiar with Ithaca, having lived near there when we had our summer home. The place is crazy liberal, not just normal liberal.

The data sample was 4,000 responses, which is not really very representative of a nation of 310 million people.  And I have to question their methodology, too.  Did they questioned 4,000 people from the greater Ithaca area?  If so it wouldn't be surprising to me that most of them were in jail, particularly since it is very near Auburn, New York, whose population consists of prisoners and families are prisoners,  who actually moved to the town to be near their incarcerated brethren.  Next to Cornell, the prisons are the largest employer in the area!

As with all surveys, there is a problem with self-reported data.  First of all, the type of people who are willing to respond to such surveys has a huge filtering effect.  Someone living in rural Montana probably hung up the phone on their survey-taker when they said they were from New York, doing a survey on incarceration for Cornell University.  That person likely doesn't have any family members in jail, and they probably didn't respond to the survey.

On the other hand, people with an axe to grind about family members who are "unjustly convicted" are more likely to respond to such a survey.  Similarly, the tree-huggers among our population here on our island are probably more likely to respond to the survey, putting down all "sevens" that the turtles and the trees and most important things in their lives and represent our island.  Meanwhile, the people who feel ambivalent about the turtles and trees probably didn't bother to fill out the survey.

And even if they did bother to fill out the survey, odds are they didn't fill it out honestly. No one wants to be perceived as a tree murderer or turtle killer, so they would put down higher numbers than maybe they perhaps actually feel.

Sadly, today, so much of the "science" we are hearing about in the press is basically social science, which uses surveys to acquire data.  Survey data is highly flawed, particular in this day and age where people don't answer the phone, and people are too busy to fill out paper surveys.  Surveys also have an odious reputation as they usually used as bait for various online scams.

I filled out the survey and I guess I'll hand it back to the nice lady working on her Ph.D.  After all, I don't want to see another unemployed Ph.D candidate wandering around the country.  But I may regret submitting the survey the next time I try to get a permit to cut down that dead tree in our backyard - or the next time I go to the beach only to see a sign saying that is closed to everyone except for the environmentalists and their ATVs.

Throwing Your Life Away Over Politics

Image result for hero statue the incredibles edna mode's house

Maybe what the world needs is fewer heroes.....

Recently, a young man was sentenced to life in prison after he attended a Nazi rally and then ran over a protester with his car.   He hadn't accomplished much in life, being booted out of the military.  He lived with his Mom at an age when it was embarrassing to do so.  He couldn't keep a job, and instead spent all day long playing video games.  And yes, it was likely he was mentally ill.

But for some reason, he felt that his immediate problems in life were trivial, compared to the greater problems in society, and that "if only..." his brand of politics could become law of the land, then his own situation would improve.

I called this externalizing early on in this blog - the idea that our personal problems have nothing to do with the shitty decisions we make in life, our own laziness, or stupidity, but rather are the result of greater forces at work - conspiracies of [fill in the blank] designed to take away our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

The news also reports it is the anniversary of Sarah Jane Moore's attempted assassination of Gerald Ford.  No one seems particularly sure why anyone would want to take a shot at President Ford, who was by all accounts a genial man, if a bit overwhelmed with his Presidential duties in an era of stagflation and the end of the Vietnam war.  But for some reason, Ms. Moore became "radicalized" (sounds contemporary!) and was convinced in her own mind that the only solution to the world's problems was the assassination of a President.  After more than 30 years in jail - and no doubt some mental health treatment - she realizes she basically threw her life away over nothing.

These are two examples of extremes, of course, but increasingly, we are seeing, worldwide, that people are not just content to work on their own lives - getting a job, a place to live, paying the bills, and partaking in the really heroic struggle of life, but rather want a shortcut or easy way out, by pointing a gun, setting fire to a police car, or whatever - as if these acts of violence will really enact serious long-term social changes, instead of just making things worse for everyone else.

But you needn't be a jihadist radical to throw your life away with politics.  Sure, it is a good idea to think about policies and politics and vote, and if you get your life together, you may even have money to contribute to a campaign - which really makes a difference.   But becoming a professional protester or one of these boorish people who inflicts their far-right or far-left views on hapless friends and acquaintances?   Just leave that shit alone.

Myself, I tend to see both sides of the issues - and realize neither side is right, nor are they really so concerned about these issues as much as they are in getting into power and staying there. Republicans talk a lot about lowering taxes and cutting spending. Sadly, they seem to be obsessed about the former and forget about the latter - something that will come around to bite us on the ass in the next decade - as we engage in even more deficit spending to prop up the economy after the next recession.  Democrats are little better, and have also demonstrated their blood-lust for power, time and time again. They claim to want to help "the little guy" but they see us only as voting blocs to be pandered to, in order to get elected.  Neither side is entirely right or wrong, and both are little more than politicians concerned with preserving their own perks.

But you don't have to be a would-be assassin or a neo-Nazi to throw your life away over politics - many ordinary Americans do this all the time with a low-level simmering resentment of the political establishment or even their own country.  Obsessing about politics can make you unattractive to employers, friends, and potential mates.   No one wants to hire, marry, or hang out with the guy or gal with political bumper stickers covering the back of their car - the guy or gal who does nothing but talk about politics - as if they actually know something - while at the same time, their personal life is a train wreck.

I saw this in my own family, firsthand.  My late sister bought into this hippie bullshit in the 1960's and felt that the comfortable middle-class lifestyle that my parents struggled so hard to give her, was bourgeoisie and should be shouted down.   Hey, smoke enough pot and anything seems plausible.  So she gave up on the idea of marrying a successful businessman and instead married far beneath her social status, and then wondered what the hell happened when her life went off the rails.   Once she reached middle-age, she realized that having a nice income and a car that started wasn't such a bad thing.  When she went back to her 30th college reunion, she was chagrined to see that all her friends who espoused the hippie ideals back in the 1960's were all driving luxury SUVs and carrying expensive designer handbags, having either had married successful men, or were successes of their own in the world.

My brother did a similar thing.  He was going to protest against the Vietnam war, a war which he had little chance of actually fighting in, thanks to deferments and a college education.  He put his life on hold for a decade or more to live in an unheated barn in a commune which was communal except that one "guru" ran everything and told everyone what to do - for his own aggrandizement.   It took him more than a decade to realize that he needed to have his own independent source of income, and that being able to retire someday wasn't some evil bourgeois thing, but a human desire.

Another brother obsessed about politics (and yes, once again, pot was involved) to the point where his girlfriend left him for a guy who ran a bagel store.  She wanted to have a husband who was a provider and had his shit together, as she wanted to have children and raise a family.  Unrealistic goals, I know!   But brother saw this as yet another injustice in the world - all aimed at him - and that her desires were just bourgeois and she didn't see the greater issues and injustices in the world.  And yes, he is the kind of guy who uses phrases like "Republi-Nazis" and "Repukes" and whatnot, which doesn't really engender any sort of dialog, as much as it just shuts it down.

Lives wasted, perhaps not as badly as that of Sarah Jane Moore, but diminished, nevertheless.  And I almost went down that same road myself, wanting to be a causista and save the world, rather than save myself (and I did need saving) from my own folly.  I got some good advice from Dr. Sol Gordon at Syracuse University, who pointed out that in order to change the world, I needed to take care of myself, first.   What the world needed wasn't yet another indigent protester in the street with a sign, but people who succeed in their careers and changed the world from within.

And like I said, for better or worse, our generation won - not through marches and chants and slogans - but by taking over the machinery of our society from within.   IBM was never like this.  Republicans today are furious that the largest companies on the planet, mostly in the tech sector, are run by liberals - if not the flaming variety.   The traditional base of the Republican party has been subverted - by the traditional base of the Republican party itself.   We won from within, by taking those jobs, going to work everyday, and making a little dough to the point where we can contribute - sometimes staggering amounts - to political campaigns.

But I am sure that my brother's little "We Hate America" puppet shows had as great an impact as Jeff Bezos buying The Washington Post.  I mean, in a bizarre, parallel universe, that might actually be true.   And like Sarah Jane Moore, eventually the causistas get older and realize that perhaps they squandered a lot of their life's energy on someone else's causes while their own cupboard was bare.

If you want to be a hero, just live your life, support yourself, and be happy and comfortable.  These are not "evil" things, nor are they selfish. The world is already chock full of malcontents, drug addicts, crazy people, and whatnot.   Not adding to the pile is probably the greatest gift you can give to humanity - and not-so-incidentally, to yourself.  I think that was what Dr. Gordon was getting at, when he gave me that advice.

Did I change the world?  Hardly.  But probably more than my causista siblings - and I had a lot more fun in the process.  And sometimes, things we do might not seem to impact the world, in and of themselves, but over time, tiny actions, particularly by a large number of people, have greater reactions.  As one of the line workers at GM once told me, a tiny gear can turn a big one, slowly, over time.  Maybe this isn't as flashy or dramatic as burning down a McDonald's, but in the end, it is far more effective.

Be a hero - in your own life!  And have fun doing it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

LGBTQ? Has it Gone Too Far?

Has this transgender thing gone off the rails?

Recently, a teacher was fired from their job for refusing to use the "correct" pronoun when referring to a "transitioning" student in the third person.   It appears to be an inadvertent error - and certainly nothing worth getting dusted up about - but I think the teacher, egged on by the religious right, decided to make an issue of it, and said he would refuse to use the "correct" pronoun in the future,  due to his religious convictions, and was fired.   It quickly turned into a theater of the absurd.
“I can’t think of a worse way to treat a child than what was happening,” said West Point High Principal Jonathan Hochman
Oh, really?  I can think of a dozen.   In the news today, a stepmother sentenced to 28 years in prison for beating her stepson and locking in him a closet.  He was also malnourished.   But at least she referred to him by the proper pronoun!

When I was growing up, teachers could legally beat you, and did.  My gym teacher kept a wooden paddle and hit us on the behind - after making us bend over in front of the entire gym class (some sick sexual fantasy of his, no doubt).  Today, well, referring to someone by the wrong pronoun when talking about them to a third party is considered child abuse.   How did we get to this point?

When I was growing up, gays were in the closet, and yes, that was a scarring experience when you are very young.  The Stonewall riots occurred when I was about 13, although at the time, I don't recall reading about in the paper.  The drag queens at the Stonewall Inn wanted what everyone else on the planet wants - the right to be left alone.   Back then - and today - the issue was whether what someone does in private with other consenting adults was the business of the State or not.

And I think most people started to realize that the State had no compelling interest in bedroom monitoring.   That was the issue then - and now.   But somewhere along the way, it got complicated, very complicated.   And one thing that worries me is that we will see a push-back on these issues, and in fact, there already is, as self-appointed "activists" thing a good thing and take it too far.

Today, politicians pander to something called "LGBTQ" people, a moniker which keeps adding letters, as we divide people up into smaller and smaller sexual minorities.   From a personal perspective, I just wanted what those drag queens at Stonewall wanted - not the right to wear dresses in public, but just to be left the hell alone. Back then, the police set up "sting" operations or periodically arrested gays and then "outed" them in the newspaper.   The joke was, of course, the gay bars back then were all run by the Mafia, who paid off the police - but allowed periodic busts, particularly around election time, so the police could show they were "cleaning up the city."

My great-uncle was caught up in one of these.  He ended up killing himself when his name was published in the paper.  That sort of thing happened, circa 1948.   It was a different world back then. So you can see why I am merely content to be "left the hell alone" and not really interested in pushing my sexuality into other people's faces.

I was against the gay marriage thing - even though it did provide some limited benefits to me that are not available through contract - such as survivors social security benefits.  This is a pretty limited benefit, though, as my Social Security would be higher than any death benefit I would get from Mark's demise, and vice-versa.   I thought at the time - and do so today - that this would surely entrench both sides of this debate further and result in some push back.  The right to be "left the hell alone" was quickly morphing into the right to "make everyone accept me."   

And the latter can backfire.  You can't force people to like you.  I learned that in Kindergarten, when the teacher told the mean boys that not only did they have to "play nice" with little fey Kevin, but that they had to be his friend as well.  Well, of course, as soon as the teacher turned her back, the kids beat up poor little Kevin.   You can't force them to be friends with him.   What you should do, however, is prevent them from physically harming and bullying him.  Trust me when I say that would be a big victory - even and especially today.

Sadly, it seems well-meaning adults are instigating policies that not only don't prevent bullying, but like with poor Kevin, only seem to insure it.  By forcing people to "play nice" and telling them they have to "accept" things, they are only pushing the hate and bullying underground, where it will fester and ferment - and eventually explode.

The rallying cry on the Left is that people are "born this way" and thus we have to accept everyone's sexual peccadilloes or gender orientations as something they are genetically predisposed to, like having blue eyes.  The problem with this argument, is that it is not based on real science - at least at this time.  It is all based on social science, which is little more than taking surveys (to prove a point you set out to prove) and a lot of naval gazing.   This is not to say such science is worthless, only that it is suspect.

And I suspect that a lot of what social scientists say is true, but it also negates free choice and free will.  You might be predisposed to be homosexual, but you may also choose - as many did in the past - to marry a woman and have children and live a heterosexual life.  As they say here in the South, "gays make the best husbands, honey!"

But if you are creeped out by someone's sexual orientation or whatever, I don't think you are a horrible rotten person, necessarily.  If you feel the need to express violence to such folks, well, that's where you and I depart.  But if someone's sex life makes you uncomfortable, relax, you are not a horrible person.  Being creeped out by sex isn't an anomaly or an illness.  Think about your parents having sex - creeps you out, right?  That's normal.

The transgender thing creeps me out a bit, particularly when I see men who clearly are trying too hard to look like women - and failing badly at it.  I kind of feel sorry for them, they so desperately want to be girls, and it just isn't working.  Others, well, you'd have no way of telling.   And I suppose if that is their thing, and all they want is the right to "be left the hell alone" then I support that.   But it seems like everything else, we take it a step too far.

When I was President of the Gay and Lesbian Student Association, we had a "hotline" phone we manned.  And back then, in the closeted era, you had to talk many people down off a ledge (often quite literally) as they started to confront their sexual tendencies and felt that they had no other choice other than to jump off a building.  Yes, things were pretty horrible back then, and this wasn't that long ago - back in the 1980's.

But occasionally, we'd get a call from a local high school student, going through hell as he started to grapple with his sexuality issues, and no doubt, like poor Kevin, was bullied in school and called a "faggot" and whatnot. This is where it gets tricky, because these are minor children calling, and suggesting to them they come "out" and be fabulous is probably the wrong idea, particularly back then.

Our advice back then - and I am not sure it isn't bad advice now - was to wait until they turned 18 or even 21 and were on their own, before deciding things like your sex life.  There is no need to hurry these things, and what seems like a pressing issue now, may turn out to be a transitory thing later on.  Probably not, but that was the advice we gave, and I think it was sound advice then and now.

Today, people are encouraging - yes encouraging - youngsters to declare their sexual orientation and even gender not only in high school, but in junior high or even elementary school.  Children as young as five years old are encouraged to declare their gender - apparently the "gender reveal party" no longer occurs before the birth of a child, but rather after.  The whole tradition may be obsolete!  Of course, it was a more recent tradition.

But getting back on track, I think there is something wrong with this, although it is hard to put my finger on it.  Yes, we all knew the boy - like Kevin - who was a sissy in the third grade, or even before.  And yes, there were boys (and "tomboys") who liked to cross-dress at that early age.  But whether it was a "phase they were going through" or a lifetime commitment is something that I think is too early to tell.   We should not be encouraging children to make such choices so early in life.

And yet, many parents are doing just that, when there no rush or hurry to make such a choice.  And when it comes to permanent life-choices, such as hormone therapy or surgery, this is some serious business.  I don't think you are being unreasonable or "phobic" to say we need to back away a bit from this and see where it is going, before we jump in with both feet.

And I am not sure that such expensive surgery or other techniques need to be paid for by health insurance, any more than cosmetic surgery should be paid for.   You see, I pay premiums too, and they are skyrocketing today because a lot more things are being covered than ever before - including mental health care, which is staggeringly expensive.  We have to get away from this "wouldn't it be nice if the government could...." mentality, as it is getting far too costly.  But I digress.

On the other hand, it is important to note that a lot of the "push back" regarding this transgender thing is coming from an organized group on the right.   I have a number of "fundamentalist" Christian friends - evangelicals, they call themselves - and most of them, while not happy with the idea of gay marriage and whatnot, do little more than pray for who they perceive as sinners.   But others want to stoke the fires of hatred and instigate incidents - such as this teacher firing.  And sadly, well-meaning but crazy liberal activists - such as the principal quoted above - often play right into their hands.

These well-meaning folks, who are often not LGBTQ people, are sometimes the ones who are taking this whole thing a little to far.  While claiming to speak for my interests, they instead push a radical agenda that I quite frankly don't want to be a part of - and I suspect a lot of other people don't want as well.

I just want the right to be left the hell alone, quite frankly.   And that is a right that doesn't impinge or infringe on the rights of others.   Why can't we just leave it at that?

Monday, December 10, 2018

Don't Trust Anyone - Not Even Me!

Image result for living stingy used car salesman
In the world of commerce - which increasingly encompasses every aspect of our lives - you can't trust anyone!

In the mail today:

Hi Robert, 
I just read Living Stingy: The Future of RVing?, I think you had some great points which is why I think a collaboration between us could work well.
I represent a digital marketing agency currently working with a leading travel company who operates in the same marketplace as *** and ****** Holidays. We are in the process of securing sponsored placements for our client and we were wondering if you were interested in featuring such a post on your site. For the privilege of being featured on your site, we would be happy to offer a fee in the region of $15. Would you also be willing to accept link placements on pre-existing content on your site?
Let me know your thoughts.
Kind regards,
Glen
Fuck you, Glen!

You see how this works.  People sell their souls for 15 lousy bucks.

Everything - and I mean EVERYTHING on the Internet is scammed, shilled, spammed, and paid-for.  Not many sites are merely pure, unadulterated data.  You have to remain skeptical about every site you visit - Wikipedia, Snopes, whatever.  Everyone has an agenda.

And yes, you should be skeptical of my crappy little blog.  I would be so bitterly disappointed if you weren't.

I Don't Get It...

When the media leaves out a big chunk of a story, chances are, that is where the story is.

First, a disclaimer.  I am no fan of "President Trump" - I find him to be boorish and stupid, insulting and ugly - both physically and spiritually.   I don't support his policies, either.  I tend to vote Democratic, almost all the time, even when sometimes it is painful to do so.

But on the other hand, from a policy perspective, I don't see him as acting any differently that any other Republican.  He cuts taxes, loosens regulations, and engages in crony capitalism.   What did you expect from a Republican?  About the only thing that distinguishes him from traditional Republicans (in the modern sense) is his disregard of the deficit and his short-sighted foreign policy.   Those are the areas the Democrats could attack and pry loose some Republican votes.  Sadly, they are letting this opportunity slip by.

Instead, they are trying to cast Trump in moral terms - perhaps to pry loose some support from the Evangelicals.  Trump doesn't say the liturgy!  Trump has sex with porn stars!  Trump isn't really Christian!   These may be truthful statements, but in the realm of politics, irrelevant.

Like the Whitewater investigation before it, it seems the Russian collusion investigation is producing nothing that can be proven, other than that the President has sexual appetites.  Bill Clinton got a blowjob - big deal.   Even back in the 1990's, it was hard to get anyone to do other than feign outrage about this.  Today?  Trump isn't ashamed he banged a porn star - the guy who "grabs 'em by the pussy" has no real shame.

So what's the big deal?  The press reports that it is a foregone conclusion that any "hush money" payment made to a porn star is a de facto violation of campaign finance laws.   And this leaves me, a lawyer, scratching my head.  After all, Stormy Daniels didn't contribute to Trump's campaign, did she?  (or are blowjobs considered "payments in kind" these days?).  What exactly is the legal argument that this hush money payment was a violation of Campaign Finance Laws?

And like clockwork, the "experts" and the media sweep this under the rug and say, "Bobby, this is way above your head. You just don't get it, do you?"

And to quote Ron White, "I'm listening..."

As I noted before, whenever the media or someone tells only one side of a story, the odds are, the other side isn't very helpful to their cause.   And it took some digging (0.05 seconds, according to Google) but I found someone willing to come down from the mountain and explain this to us plebes.  And as it turns out, it isn't so much a "foregone conclusion" but what we call in the law, "a thin reed."

Funny thing is, I found the explanation in the Washington Post's opinion page, written by some slug who was a former chairman this-or-that of something called the Federal Election Commission.  What the heck does he know, anyway?  Maybe the reporters from the Post should read their own newspaper sometime!

He explains it better in his article than I can, so read the link.  The nub of this is, if you assume the payments to Stormy Daniels, et al, were for the purpose of advancing his campaign, then they should have been itemized and reported to the FEC, even if Trump used private funds.   This isn't exactly a cut-and-dried thing, to me.   The intent of the payment becomes key.  Was he trying to prevent Melania and his family from finding out? Or was he grooming his image as a candidate?  And how far does grooming go, in terms of reporting requirements?

And is this a capital crime after all?  Failing to itemize and report a personal contribution?  In this era of no-holds-barred Citizens United, it seems like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500.

It wasn't like he was misusing campaign funds to pay hush money to porn stars.  He was using his private funds.   And paying off a porn star is a campaign expense?   I am not sure I get this.  Yes, ordering 100,000 "MAGA" hats is a campaign expense.  I am less sure about the porn stars.

As the author of the Post piece put it succinctly
But let’s go in that direction. Suppose Trump had used campaign funds to pay off these women. Does anyone much doubt that many of the same people now after Trump for using corporate funds, and not reporting them as campaign expenditures, would then be claiming that Trump had illegally diverted campaign funds to “personal use”? Or that federal prosecutors would not have sought a guilty plea from Cohen on that count? And that gets us to a troubling nub of campaign finance laws: Too often, you can get your target coming or going.
The press today is reporting this as though it were Watergate-levels of corruption.  In case you missed it, in Watergate, Nixon had a small army of evildoers break into offices - and not just in the Watergate Hotel - and perform "dirty tricks" to smear opponents and spy on them.   Nixon was nailed for trying to cover it up, which itself was illegal, but arguably not as bad as the underlying crime.

They couldn't nail anything to Clinton, although I still say that Hillary's commodities trading thing (where the attorney for Tyson's food guided her to make a quick hundred-grand in commodities trading, at which point she quit the game) was an actual bribe.   All they could nail Bill for was lying about his sex life, which shouldn't even be considered a crime.

And now we have this Trump thing.  We can't prove anything about Russia, although I am certain that Putin and his "Internet Research Agency" actively uses the gift of social media to influence politics all over the world.  From the 2016 election, to Brexit, to Catalonian independence, to "yellow vest" protests, the Russians are there - nudging and suggesting to people that things are actually worse than they are.   But that is just how countries act.  We do - or did - the same thing back in the day.   We would use CIA agents to influence people in foreign countries to act in a certain way - and if that didn't work, we'd stage a coup.

We created this "social media" thing and it was a gift that fell into Putin's lap. Today, you can influence public opinion in a foreign country without having set foot there.  People are idiots, and people who think Fecesbook is great are the biggest idiots of all.  Just post something about Hillary being corrupt or whatever, and 5 million people will "like" it and forward it, without bothering to check it out.   After all, it is on Facebook, it must be true, right?

My gut reaction is that the Trump campaign tried to collude with Russia, but their awkward attempts at being big-time criminals were laughed at by Putin and his cronies.  "We've got this," they said, "go back to your rallies and half-assed campaigning.  We'll get you elected without having to coordinate with you at all!"   And they did.

Maybe this investigation will turn up a "smoking gun" after all.  But so far, it seems that the media is overstating things just a little bit.  They have been going orgasmic about this for a year now, telling us that "any day now" the Mueller report will come out and the shit will hit the fan.

The problem is, we've been waiting a long time, so far with nothing to show other than a lot of petty criminals have been nabbed in other schemes.   The vaunted "collusion" has yet to be proven, and the only "smoking gun" they've found is a smoking-hot porn star.

Maybe - just maybe - the Democrats need to come up with better candidates if they want to win elections.  And no, this doesn't mean "Beto" either.  Or Stormy Daniels' lawyer (what was he thinking?).   We need better candidates and better issues.  And if you want an issue, maybe this deficit spending thing is a good place to start.   It is something that resonates with everyone, as it affects all of our finances.   And it cuts across party lines as well.

Nah!  The rights of transgender school children to use the restroom - that's a winning issue!

UPDATE :  Two additional points. The Washington Post points out that John Edwards was prosecuted for very similar violation of Campaign Finance laws. He paid off his mistress in order to prevent disclosure of their affair prior to the election.

Even though John Edwards is a pretty odious scumbag - but not quite at the level of Donald Trump -   A jury acquitted him on one charge and was deadlocked on the remaining. He was not retried. I'm not certain this is overwhelming evidence that election laws were meant to be applied in this manner.

In other news, a teacher in Virginia was fired from his job for referring to a transgender student by the wrong pronoun - not directly to the student but rather when talking to other students. It doesn't appear to have been an intentional thing, but when the issue was brought up the teacher decided to make an issue of it over religious grounds, no doubt egged on by conservatives in order to make a test case out of this.

The school principal opined that he "could not think of any worse way to treat a student." Myself, coming from an era in which students were beaten and paddled by teachers, I can quickly think of other ways. I am not sure where the outrage is over all of this is. And I think if you want to change genders or whatever, you can certainly wait till age 18, and make sure this is a real commitment and not just a phase or a fad.

Why the left has chosen this is their emblematic issue is beyond me. This is going to backfire in a huge way. Middle America isn't going to see this as a burning issue in the next election.