Wednesday, November 29, 2023

What You Learn Is Less Important Than the Process of Learning

An education is not merely memorizing things, or at least it shouldn't be.

I recounted before that in Engineering School, they taught us to "think like Engineers" not "here's how you design a bridge."  If you learn the latter, well, you are stuck designing the same bridge for your entire career as an Engineer.  If you learn how to think like an Engineer you can come up with new designs or design things that solve problems never seen before.  And in Engineering, many of the problems you encounter will be things never seen before.  Otherwise, your client would just buy an Off-The-Shelf (OTS) solution and avoid paying you.

Similarly, when I went to Law School, they taught us to "think like Lawyers" not "Here's how to file a lawsuit."  If you learn the latter, you are little more than a clerk (or "clark" as they say in the UK) pushing papers around.  Novel legal issues arise and you have to be able to address them, not merely rely on boilerplate pleadings of previous cases.

A reader writes, citing an article about how cursive handwriting is now being taught in California schools, grades 1-6 by law, passed through a liberal legislature in a liberal State and signed into law by a liberal governor.  That oughta shut up those Boomers and their stupid "memes."

But I guess I am one of them, too.  At the Parcheesi club, they had a broken Bose stereo and I installed a new CD player in it (to play a stack of donated CDs).  I noticed that next to it was a landline phone and an analog clock.  I opined that if we added a envelope addressed in cursive (with a stamp, no less!) we'd have the prefect "Gen-Z" puzzle kit!  Boomer Humor.

Despite memes to the contrary (and as we know, memes are the font of all wisdom!) the next generation can read cursive and tell time on an analog clock.   They don't live in a vacuum.  I was born in 1960 but I know what a 78 rpm record is and can recite the names of several Big Band leaders - even though these things were not "taught in school."

We learn things, on our own. School merely teaches us how to learn.  Sure, I can research a topic in a library using the card catalog and Dewey Decimal system - both of which are arguably outmoded. And yea, I learned to do "legal research" using a pencil and paper - even as online search engines for legal documents were becoming a thing.  These were not "obsolete" skills, but useful information even in a digital age.  When you understand how to research things, well, it makes your skill set more powerful than merely doing Boolean word searches online.

Sadly, they don't teach that anymore.  Some jackass lawyer actually filed a brief using ChatGTP which cited fictitious cases that it made up, to prove its point.  The lawyer in question did not vet these cases, and could be disbarred for such antics - or at least severely sanctioned.  Long before ChatGTP this sort of thing was a problem - where attorneys would cite a case and claim it supported their position, when in fact it said the opposite.  That was a sure way to piss off a Judge.  Citing fictitious cases?  That crosses a line.

So yea, maybe learning how to do traditional research might be pointless or boring to some, but when you understand the process, you realize that Boolean word searches can often miss valuable hits and mischaracterize the hits you do get. If someone chose different words in a different era, well, that document won't show up on Google.

But getting back to education for education's sake, school teaches a number of things besides "reading, writing, and arithmetic" - it teaches you to get up in the morning, get dressed, and go off to work and behave yourself while sitting in a chair for hours at a time.  It is training wheels for the work environment.  It also teaches you that if you want something, you'll have to work for it.

Learning specific tasks, I think, is secondary to the overall mentality that is being taught.  And often this means teaching people things they suck at, which has two purposes:

1. You lean to appreciate the talents that others have (that you might not have), and

2. You learn what you are good at and what you suck at - a valuable thing to know!
I took courses in Elementary, Junior, and Senior High School in things that served me well and things that I realized I had no future in.  I was a "C" student in French, but understood enough to make myself understood (mostly) when I traveled to France on a few occasions (as well as French Canada!).  I also tried to learn the piano and cello and realized I was tone deaf.  I appreciate music and as far as I am concerned, people who can play instruments are basically practicing witchcraft.  It is a talent - a talent I don''t have.  And no, I have no business singing, ever - not even in the shower!

Gym class was torture for me - I sucked at all those hand-eye coordination things.  I recall one exercise we had to do, which was to climb these thick ropes that went all the way to the ceiling of the gymnasium.   I could never get more than five feet above the ground before I slipped back - my upper body strength has never been very good.  We looked on in amazement (and our Gym teacher, in alarm) as one of our fellow students climbed all the way to the top using only his arms.  The guy had muscles, to be sure!  But what you realize, later in life, is that just because you suck at one thing doesn't mean you are no good at anything.  The guy who climbed the rope was no good with computers.  I excelled at it.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses and school is a good place to discover what these are - and you can't learn what they are unless you are exposed to a number of different things.  That's why I cringe when people say, "I never had to use that in real life!" and thus imply that Math class or Gym class or French class was "a waste of time" and that they could have been better off skipping those things.

I disagree - vehemently.  Being a "well-rounded" person means learning stuff you think is irrelevant but might come in handy later in life.  Maybe handwriting seems "irrelevant" in this age of computers, but did you know there are people who design fonts for computers for a living and in fact, can make good money at it?  And these are protected intellectual property, too.   Of course, this means we end up with Comic Sans - we need to track down that bastard!

I have a sculpture of a cat on my table, something I made in school using the lost-wax process.  First, I sculpted it in clay, then made a plaster mold of that, and then made a wax positive from that mold.   I added sprues and vents and made another mold from the wax positive.  The wax was melted out and molten aluminum poured in.  VoilĂ ! as they say in French.  It is an industrial process in addition to an artistic one.

I never became an artist, so what's the point of that exercise?  I learned how casting was done and moreover had an appreciation for art.  I also learned silk-screening and made a few t-shirts in school.  It helped me later on understand how semiconductors are made - it is the same or similar photo process, ironically enough.  Things you learn in one field end up being useful in another.  And as a Patent Attorney, it helped to have at least a brief understanding of a number of fields, as the odds of every customer coming through the door having an invention in your one field of expertise are, well, zilch.

I could go on.  At GMI we did learn how bridges were built - how was that going to help us build cars?  How was organic chemistry going to help me if I wasn't working for an oil refinery?  Why would I need to know advanced calculus when only a few equations (if any) are used on a daily basis (the decay of the charge of a capacitor is a differential equation - the only "real world" use I ever found for that course).

Learning cursive isn't an end in an of itself, but a process of teaching a discipline.  And you can't tell, in advance, at age 5, what will and will not be of use to you in the future.  So we learn all sorts of stuff, to make us "well-rounded" citizens.

And yes, maybe cursive handwriting is sort of pointless in an era where most young people type with their thumbs. Not me!  110 WPM baby!  Keyboard style!   But the point of learning cursive is that it may not have a point.

I think the idea of teaching only "practical things" in school is flawed, as you don't know in advance what is and is not "useful information" when  you are a student.  And memorizing raw information is of little use if you are not trained on how to use it.   It seems we are de-contenting education in the name of efficiency - and the end result is a plethora of "graduates" who not only cannot read and write, but cannot think for themselves.  They are not educated but programmed or indoctrinated - and some people think that is just swell, too.  An uneducated person is so much easier to rip-off.

Back in the day, even primary school students were expected to master a number of topics.  One of my ancestors taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Pompey, New York in the 1800's.   The kids learned to read and write and, of course, basic arithmetic.  But they also learned Latin and Greek and algebra and geometry as well as American history - and the history of the world.

Latin - another one of those "you don't need to know in real life" subjects that has been rapidly jettisoned from the curriculum of most schools.  Yet, if you study Latin, you can more easily learn the languages that derived from it - including our own.

We need to make school harder - not easier. And yes, this means flunking people out, if necessary.  Let's make a High School Diploma mean something again, instead of just another meaningless participation awards ceremony, like a kindergarten "graduation" party (yes, they exist).

And, if nothing else, teaching cursive in schools will give the Boomers one less thing to bitch about.  Because, let's face it, we'll have to listen to them bitch and moan for a decade or more, before they slip off the mortal coil.  It ain't happening fast enough!

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Why Rejection Is A Good Thing!

Being rejected in life is sometimes a benefit.

A lot of people get upset when they get rejected.  You get rejected by a girlfriend and it seems like the end of the world.  But maybe it is a good thing - either she is the kind of person who likes to play silly games with your emotions, or she really isn't into you.  Either way, would you want her back?  It would be a relationship destined to fail - again and againAs a young man, I went down that road once - and realized that when someone breaks up with  you, it is often for the best.

Similarly, you don't get accepted at the "college of your choice" and feel defeated.  But is that really a worthwhile thing to do?  The college is telling you they don't think you have what it takes to succeed there.  In most colleges, the dropout rate is pretty staggering - I know 1/3 never made it to graduation at GMI, and I was one of those one-thirds.  But life goes on, and although my parents wanted me to apply to Harvard and Yale (my parents apparently had a secret stash of drugs they never told me about) there was no way in hell I would ever get into such schools - so why bother applying?

Being rejected for a job?  Why would anyone think that not having to work for someone is a bad thing?  I never really had this problem much - the few law firms that didn't offer me jobs were either "white shoe" firms that were out of my league, or sweatshop places that I never would have wanted to work at, anyway.

Yet some people can't see it this way.  We read every day about real losers who decide "I'll show everyone who's really crazy!" and then gun down their ex-girlfriend and her family.  Yes, we now know who is really crazy and why she rejected you - because you are a loser!  Similarly, some folks go ballistic (pun, sorry) and shoot up their place of employment when they get fired - or not hired.  Again, we all know why you got fired as you are batshit crazy.  Sane people walk away - and learn from rejection.

Rejection, as I hinted above, can take a number of forms.  You apply for a job and there is another candidate who has better credentials or is willing to work for less money.  Nothing personal - if he hadn't applied, you might have gotten the job.  Stay in touch, though - he might turn down an offer and they may come back to you.   Pouting or acting offended or depressed accomplishes nothing.

I got my first law firm job because my resume landed on a partner's desk the same day as another clerk quit.  Timing and luck come into play, so don't sweat it if you get rejected.  I applied to a dozen or more firms, and was rejected by half - mostly because I didn't fit their needs or they weren't hiring at the time.  It pays to use a shotgun and apply all over, than to use a rifle and apply one company at a time.

The rifle people are the ones that end up disappointed.  "I applied to XYZ company which was my dream job!  And they turned me down! My dreams are ruined!  Boo-Hoo!"  The reality is, they might not have a need for you - now.  Take another job - maybe in a few years they might hire you.  Maybe in a few years you realize you didn't want that "dream job" after all.

The same is true with dating.  You break up with your girlfriend in high school and are devastated.  True love - shattered!  Well, maybe not - maybe a high school romance, destined to fail as you discover more about each other and have different life goals.  I dated a girl in school and she was sweet - that first teenage kiss is sparked with electricity.  We had fun together, but she wanted to settle down and raise a family - in our hometown.  I was accepted at college and would be moving away for several years.  She found a young man who had the same goals as she did - and they fell in love and lived happily ever after.

You can have more than one "true love" just as you can have more than one job or one college.   When I left GMI, I was depressed, but it turned out to have worked out for the best. Since those days, GM's market share has shrunk by nearly half - and the workforce by more than 3/4ths - as division after division was sold off.  The division I worked at would have been dissolved only a few years after graduation.  Likely I would have struggled to find another job in a field I never wanted to work in, in the first place (plant engineering).  It all worked out for the best, in retrospect.

I suspect those who are most devastated by rejection are the type who put all their eggs in one basket - the one true love, the top choice college, the dream job company.  Myself, I never thought of life like that - that somehow I could detect, beforehand, which potential spouse would be perfect, which college would be the best, and which company would lead to the greatest success.  It is hard to predict the future and foolish to try to do so - beyond a certain point.

Alexander Graham Bell supposedly said, "When a door closes, another opens, but often we spend too much time looking regretfully at the closed door, we fail to see the door which is open to us."  And this sums up why people who can't deal with rejection melt down.  They can't see that there will be another girlfriend, another college, another job - which might be better than what they thought they wanted originally.

Rejection, of course, can also be a time for introspection.  What did I do that caused my girlfriend to break up with me?  Maybe I was being an ass?  Or maybe she realized it was a match not to be.  Maybe I should learn from this and not be an ass - or maybe realize that not every romance is destined for life.  Similarly, if you don't get into the college of  your choice, maybe it is time to look at your academic record and your SAT scores and think about what college you are qualified for.  Trust me, in ten years, no one will care what school you went to, other than to perhaps recognize the sports team affiliated with it.  Let's go Orange!  Right?

Similarly, the company that rejected your job application might not have a position available right now, or gave the job to a better qualified candidate.  Or maybe you blew the interview - arriving late or blathering on about nonsense.  A job interview is not the time to discuss your favorite conspiracy theories, your gun collection, or you fondness for anime.  You'd be surprised how many people do these things, though.

If you look at it that way, rejection can be helpful and instructive, even, if of course, you are willing to learn from it.  Again, the folks who get depressed and go crazy are often the ones unwilling to learn.  Nothing they did was wrong, everyone else is at fault.  It is mental illness, plain and simple.

I saw this firsthand with a relative of mine.  He graduated from college with mediocre grades in fluff major and found no one was beating down his door to hire him.  He groused about how corrupt "the system" was, and yes, a bong was involved.  He would go to job interviews while high.  He had mental problems, to be sure - which were about to get worse.  His girlfriend, seeing this all go down, got tired of supporting him and broke up with him.  She found someone who wasn't high all the time and had his own business.  They settled down and raised a family - which is what she wanted to do all along.

But my relative didn't see it that way.  He was betrayed!  By the "system" and his girlfriend, who was just a "materialistic bitch who only cared about money" and oh, by the way, why won't she take him back?  He moped around his parents' house for a year or so, before they gave him money to move away.  And the whole time he was there, he was high and complaining how rotten a deal he got in life - so obsessed with past failures he could not see the future.

There was an utter lack of introspection here - everything was someone else's fault and no fault of his own.  I saw this going down and that's about the time I gave up smoking pot.  It can do that to your brain, when you are young.  That's why pot should only be for the elderly!  When you no longer have to work or go to school or get married, you can do what the hell you want.  But until then..... life has its demands on you, which are not really all that onerous.

So what happened to my relative?  He eventually got a job, but his boss "was an asshole" and not surprisingly he got fired.  He found a new love, they got married and she turned out to be a "materialistic bitch" and they got divorced.  And although he finally got a decent job, he ended up going on disability, I think due to mental issues.  It was very sad and he is a sad person. It makes me sad to think about.

Could any of this been avoided through introspection and trying to learn from rejection?  Maybe, but a person has to want to learn in order to learn.  Once a person makes up their mind that a topic is too hard or that they did nothing wrong, the gates to enlightenment are slammed shut and locked - from the outside.  People end up living in a prison of their own making.

Myself, I have tried to avoid that trap and take each rejection and setback in stride - and as a potential learning experience.  I was turned down for a loan from a bank that I had founding shares in.  The VP I was talking to was a friend of mine. He apologized for turning down the loan and I thanked him.  "When a bank turns you down for a loan, you should listen to what they are saying," I said.  And I took this as a sign my personal expenses were getting out of control and that I needed to pay more attention to the bottom line.  I cut some costs (and some non-productive employees) and turned things around in short order.  Turns out I didn't need that loan and in fact, it would have been a disaster if I got it.

But I was willing to listen.  Others are not - viewing banks as "mean" for not lending them money they had no hope of paying back.  So they go to the payday loan place or shady used car dealer and end up in bankruptcy court.  That was what the "mean" bank was trying to warn you about!  But few listen, particularly the poor and today, the middle-class.

Rejection is a "teachable moment" as they like to say on NPR these days (in funny, squeaky voices).  Don't fear it.  Don't be depressed by it - too much, anyway.  Don't try to bury it or make excuses for it, either.  Learn from it.  You may learn that it had nothing to do with you, personally.  You may learn that it was all for the best, anyway - that girl/college/job would not have made you happy, but miserable.  You may have inadvertently dodged a bullet!  But also take an opportunity to look inward, not to castigate or run down yourself, but to think about what you could have done differently and, rather than try to re-live the past, apply that knowledge to the next open door you see.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Desensitizing To Violence

One of the first steps toward fascism is to desensitize people to violence.

While crime rates are far lower today than they were in, say, the 1970s, the level of violence in our society has risen dramatically.  It seems quaint now, but back in the 1960s, people complained there was "too much violence" on television because Mannix got into fistfights.  Fistfights where no one ever bled and being "knocked out" never resulted in a traumatic brain injury.   Even when someone got shot on television, they just tipped over after going "ugh" and peacefully died.  No one ever spurt out quarts of bloods from a severed  artery and then died screaming.

Today, they do.  Violence in the media has become more and more "realistic" which is to say, gory.  The body counts have risen as well, as henchmen in any "action" movie end up being gunned-down in droves.  Then again, I suppose the same could be said for the finale of any old James Bond movie from the 60s.  Of course, henchmen back then died with a quiet and bloodless "Ughhh!" and then usually fell over a guardrail in classic stuntman airbag style.

First person shooter games are wildly popular these days - and probably make up the vast majority of the gaming market.  These have morphed from primitive target-practice games (remember "Duck Hunter" on the primitive consoles of the 1980s?) to realistic murder simulators.  You have a real, big-screen, surround-sound experience, and even "talk" to other players as you slaughter them.  People, mostly gamers or those in the gaming industry, are first to argue that spending hours every day practicing shooting people won't have an effect on your psyche.  I fail to see how it cannot.

And life itself is trivialized. Kill someone?  Well, either they are an NPC (non-playing character) or if they are a human opponent, they can "respawn" with a "new life" and start over.  How Buddhist!

You might remember - or have tried to block out - scenes from horror movies that you thought were "over the top" and excessive.  They upset you and make you feel bad.  Imagine seeing such scenes on a daily basis, for years. You end up not feeling anything.

But I am not picking on video games or television or the movies in particular.  You could argue - rationally - that art also reflects life and that the rise in gore and violence in our media is merely a reflection of the values of the underlying society.  It is also a result of the problem of one-upsmanship that occurs in every scenario or industry.

A guy shows up at a campground in a tent.  Another fellow decides to built a tent-trailer and everyone thinks that is keen.  Soon, someone has invented the camper trailer, then the motorhome.  Fast-forward a few decades, and people are spending a million bucks to go camping in a vehicle that is nicer than their homes.

The same is true of media.  In the old days, horror films were less about gore (Roger Corman notwithstanding) but than about shock and scares - the "jumpscares" that made a comeback with the "FNAF" game franchise (oddly enough, aimed at children, apparently).  Gore started to become more prevalent, I think, in the 1990s and beyond, until we end up with such cerebral material as the "Saw" franchise or "Human Centipede."  Nuance is out, grossness and gore is in.  People don't just want to see blood, and not even guts, but specific organs as they are removed from the body in a carnival of carnage.

But again, this is not limited to media.  When I was a kid back in the 1960s we had carefully orchestrated and rehearsed "violence" on television in the form of Professional Wrestling and Roller Derby.  These usually appeared on television on Saturday afternoon and they were not considered to be real sports and it was understood that the violence was cartoonish and faked - for the most part.  Even real pugalistic sports, such as boxing, had strict rules and you could not "hit below the belt" and contestants wore enormous leather gloves.  Still, you could get hurt and even die.

Today we have "extreme sports" such as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and bare-knuckles boxing.  I recounted before a restaurant I was eating at was playing one of these "cage matches" and I lost my appetite when I saw the bloodfest on the screen.  Other diners seem less perturbed - to them, bloody violence was the perfect accoutrement to a tasty meal.

We drive by, in Florida, a number of places that advertise paint-ball shooting or lazer-tag.  This is a chance to try out your marksmanship on live targets.  No one gets killed or seriously hurt, of course, although I hear that a paintball can sting quite a bit, and for some reason, they sell body armor online for airsoft games.  It seems, at least to me, that we have trained an entire generation to shoot one another, in these online simulations and in-person hunting games.

And then of course, there are guns.  Not weapons to be used for a specific purpose, but hoards of "tactical" style weaponry stored leaning up against a wall in the closet, or laid on a bed and photographed for Facebook friends.  This new generation of gun owners is always making dark comments about how they are going to overthrow the government or how much they would enjoy gunning down a "criminal."

"Years old but barely used. Less than 50 rounds into it. Comes with primer to reset the target, and red marking packets, and metal fork stand with base plate."

These are the sort of people who shoot at watermelons on the weekend, pretending it is someone's head.  Or shoot at an old car, pretending there is someone inside it.  Or shooting at body targets shaped like humans and having the characteristics of human flesh.  This is not healthy thinking and we've come a long way from deer hunting.  On our local Craigslist is an ad for one such "torso" target - riddled in the chest with bullet holes.  I guess the previous owner of it got tired of killing it.  Maybe smear some ketchup on it next time for more realism!

You might think that there was some sort of conspiracy behind this all - to train people to think of their friends and neighbors and coworkers and family members as targets.  And sadly, every week, we are treated to a story of someone who "went off" and killed - or tried to kill - a number of people.  There are so many today that they are quickly forgotten about a week later.

Now add into this mix the comments being made on the far right about "Civil War" and "Lining people up against the wall and shooting them" and it starts to look a lot like pre-war Germany, with the rise of civilian violence and  hatred - toward their fellow citizens.

There are, of course, other aspects to this as well - the Culture of Belligerence I wrote about before, where people, mostly men (but some women as well) trying to act tough and be aggressive through the way they dress, talk, and act, as well as the (usually loud and obnoxious) vehicles they drive.

Compounding this is the spreading of fear among even the neutral population.  The world is going to hell in a handbasket!  Violent crime is skyrocketing! (It is actually much lower than back in the 1970s).  Homeless people are doing Fentanyl and giving it to your kids!  All hell is breaking loose and our elected officials seem more concerned with the rights of criminals than with law-abiding citizens!  They seem more obsessed with pronouns than with law and order!  (And by the way, you can say this about both parties - the GOP is obsessed with "trans" issues to the point where they fail to govern).

Again, Wiemar Germany - an apparently weak government unable to handle crises, such as the Great Depression.  But actually, they did and the German economy was recovering nicely when the Nazis came to power.  How did they pull this off?  By promising an end to the violence in the streets - violence that they themselves helped foment.

Want an end to all this fussin' and a feudin'?  Want a return to "Law and Order" and not just the television series?  Want to go back to the "Good old days" when "Goyls were Goyls and Men were Men?"  Say no more - have we got a dictator for you!  Just a little messy business of taking over the government and eliminating our enemies.  Just a little thing we call "Project 2025."

Yes, Project 2025, which promises to fire government employees who are "disloyal" (i.e., Democrats) and replace them with loyal MAGA followers!  Yes, a cushy government job is waiting for you, as your reward for being a loyal follower - even if you are unqualified!  The only qualification is, of course, blind loyalty to the party and The Leader.  Apply now!  They want to install their minions in the first months of a "new" administration.  This is right out of the playbook of 1930's Germany when the Nazis rose to power.

When the time comes, people will be so inured to violence that the sign of people being gunned down in the street won't even affect them, provided it is someone else that is being gunned down - the "other" that society is currently programming people to hate.  So long as you pledge loyalty to the new order, you should be safe - for now.  But there are some groups who will be targeted for extinction - and you can pretty much figure out who those are without thinking too hard.

I would hope this is all not true - that people will come to their senses and that the election of 2024 will be a benign event not marred by violence or more ridiculous "rat fucking" exercises.

I hope, but I am not too optimistic!

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Lawyer Says No...

If you want to kill an idea beforehand,  just say. "Let's run this by legal!"

Being a lawyer is sometimes no fun.  Generally you have to be the one to burst balloons and shoot down fun (but impractical or unsafe) ideas.  And just to make sure they really hate you, you send them a big bill for telling them "No, you can't do that!"  That is, perhaps, one reason why legal bills are some of the most uncollectable debt there is.

I used to bartend for receptions at the local art gallery.  We gave out free wine and it helped lubricate sales.  I can attest to this fact myself, as I have a painting over our mantle that I thought was nice, but "a little out of my range."  The gallery we bought it at (in Oregon) had a cafe next door and after several glasses of wine, suddenly we just had to have that painting!

Booze sells art.  I suspect at Sotheby's they keep the champagne flowing all the time.

Recently, we hired a lawyer to address some tax issues and whatnot for the gallery and of course, some of the board members wanted to play 20 Questions, as though our lawyer was a Rabbi or something.  Unlike a Rabbi, who might actually give you some good advice ("It's right to buy a Chrysler!") a lawyer generally will always give the safe answer of "No" to any question you have.

So, for example, some busybody (no doubt a teetotaler) asked our lawyer if we should be serving alcohol (wine and beer) and of course, the lawyer said "No" on multiple grounds.  It was unclear whether we would need a liquor license to do so.  Serving beer and wine to gallery members was apparently OK - at private functions.  But serving the general public?  You'll run afoul of the liquor board.  Another reason is liability, or "Dram Shop Law" that might make the server liable if a guest gets drunk and plows their car into someone.

So the safe answer, that takes no time or effort to research, is to say "No" which in this case, might also be the right answer as well.  But for many industries and business ventures, saying "No" to every opportunity because there may be risk involved is one sure way to go out of business.  Yes, a poorly-planned product can also cause a company to go bankrupt.  But failing to innovate or modernize your products can also result in a slow death for a company.  In a way, it is like investing.   Put all your money in risky stocks, you go broke.  Put all your money in a non-interest-bearing account, you bleed to death slowly as inflation eats into your savings.

You have to take risk somewhere, else you die.  The key is, in managing risk and realizing what is too risky and what isn't risky enough.  Playing it safe is always the "right" answer in most decision matrices.  The same is true for middle-managers who tend to be more risk-averse that those above and below them.  They are more interested in preserving their perks and the status quo than rocking the boat or taking risks.

The "playing it safe" rule ends up watering down things.  For example, if you (as a lawyer) were to advise a food company about labeling, you would likely tell them to put "Processed in a facility that may process nuts and dairy."  Why?  Because if some employee drops his Reeses Pieces into the vat of whatever it is you are making, and a customer ends up having an allergic reaction, you get sued.  The worst thing  you can do - and no restaurateur or food company ever does this - is guarantee the food as being free of whatever allergen a customer reacts to.  If you tell them your pizza is chock full 'o peanuts - even though peanuts and peanut oil have never graced your facility - then you are "safe" as it is the consumer's fault if they have an allergic reaction (or they hire a fancy lawyer and claim they did.  Act shocked - it happens!).

So the safe thing is to say all your products are laced with allergens - and lose a very small slice of the market, but avoid millions of dollars in lawsuit expenses.  The safe bet is the cheaper bet.  Lost in this exchange is the availability of hard data for consumers to work with.  Someone with a peanut allergy basically can't eat out ever, as only a foolish restaurateur (or a naive line cook or server) would guarantee to an allergic person, that their food didn't contain x.

And yes, there are folks who claim to have "allergies" and then go to restaurants hoping a naive line cook or server will say "Sure, there's no peanuts in our french fries" so they can sue the pants off the restaurant chain.  It is the reason restaurants put these disclaimers on menus.

Playing it safe often results in us losing out on opportunity, or merely our society becoming risk-averse and overly "safe" to the point where no one is saying or doing anything for fear of lawsuit or being audited or whatever.  You can safe yourself right into the poorhouse.

In personal finances (finally!) the same effect is true.  Ordinary working-class people, who have had to struggle so long and so hard for so little (relatively speaking) become or are, very risk averse.  It is easier to sell "loan insurance" to the poor and middle-class, as they worry about trivial (relatively speaking) debts, risks, and assets.  The poor and middle-class will buy extended warranties and low-deductible car insurance - paying through the nose for "peace of mind" but ending up merely paying more than they have to, for some basic necessity.  And half the time, these sort of "Peace of Mind" things boil down to mere contracts,which have big loopholes in them, which you don't discover until you try to file a claim on them.  Extended warranty companies go bankrupt all the time - and duck out on all of their obligations.

Some argue that only the wealthy can afford to take risks.  The poor person has to get "loan insurance" on his car loan, because if he died, his wife would be stuck with the loan balance!  But that is not a matter of being risk-averse, but rather just uninformed.  For the price of "loan insurance" on even a modest car loan, a poor person could buy a term life policy of $100,000 - which would put his wife in better stead, for far longer than the period of a car loan!

But getting back to basic risk-taking, being risk-averse is not always a bad thing, but you have to take some risks in life if you want to get ahead.  When opportunity comes knocking, you do have to answer the door.

If you ask any lawyer for advice about this, though, the answer would always be "No." - which placed him at no risk for liability due to malpractice!

Friday, November 24, 2023

The Tyranny of Political Correctness

Democrats lose elections because they are too cautious.

A lot of folks on the Left are amazed that Trump says the weirdest things and his supporters don't seem to care.  Meanwhile, on their own side, any Democrat who says even one word wrong either has to go on an apology tour and flagellate himself for all to see, or is banished from the tribe forever.  Democrats hold themselves up to high - impossible - standards and then fail at them miserably.

I am not talking about run-of-the-mill corruption, sexual harassment, or unfortunate incidents where drunken Congressmen say, "Do you know who I am?" as if it will fix everything.  No, those louts get booted out and get what they deserve.  What I am talking about is this new level of nonsense where calling someone by the wrong pronoun is akin to murdering them.  It is ridiculous on its face - no one addresses anyone by their pronoun!  "Hey, She, can you help me a second?" - said  no one ever.

Political correctness took the nice idea of treating people decently and took it to extreme new levels.  George Carlin addressed this in his "soft language" video.  We can't call people "crippled" anymore, or even "handicapped" but --differently-abled-- which is a term that makes no sense at all.  As Carlin points out, since when did "crippled" become a slur?  When did all these common descriptors become slurs and who decided they were?

Don't get me wrong, there are slurs out there - some so odious that we code them.  The "N-word" has a long history of use as a slur - and never any use as a common descriptor.  It was a derogatory term that was said with hatred on the lips.  But for some reason, other words, such as "Black" and "Negro" are now considered - by some - to be racial epithets.  Even the phrase "Colored People" is deemed dated and perhaps racist, but as one cartoonist noted, "People of Color" is deemed not only acceptable, but politically correct.  Someone needs to inform the NAACP - or is it the NAAPoC today?

Some even go looking for offense - in fact a lot of people do.  Some folks object to the Spanish word "Negra" which means "black" in English.  Modelo makes a beer called "Modelo Negra" which means, in English, "Modelo Black."  Yet some took offense to this, claiming it was an N-word slur, when in fact, it has nothing to do with that.  Well, it might, if, as some people believe, even the word "Black" is a slur.

We went down that road in the 1990s with "African-American" in place of "Black" which accomplished absolutely nothing except to make everyone look foolish.  The use of the term has died down since those days and "Black" is back (and beautiful, baby!) in the lexicon.  Maybe we are turning the tide on this nonsense.

But getting to the point - who decides what is and is not politically correct? - the history of this stuff is kind of murky and the goalposts keep getting shifted over time.

Take for example, the word "Midget" which for years was just a word used to describe shorter people who usually had one of two conditions that caused them to have a below-average height.   As far as I know, the term was never intended or used in a derogatory manner.  In fact, the "Little People of America" organization, founded by the famous actor Billy Barty, was originally called "Midgets of America" until the Dwarfs protested and the name was changed to the "Midgets and Dwarfs of America" until it was decided that "Midget was a slur" and once again the name was changed to "Little People of America."

This shit is just exhausting.

It reminds me of my tenure as President of the Syracuse Gay Student Association, which morphed to the Gay and Lesbian Student Association because the Lesbians (who never attended any of our functions or held any offices) demanded they be included.  The name was later changed to the "Lesbian and Gay Student Association" because the Lesbians (again, not attending or involved) objected to us greedy gays putting ourselves first, which of course we did intentionally because we all hate Lesbians, right?  I am being sarcastic in that last comment in case it is not clear.  One hallmark of the Politically Correct is a complete and total lack of sense of humor whatsoever.

Like I said, this shit is exhausting and time-consuming and while appearing to accomplish something, actually accomplishes nothing or in fact, sets back whatever cause you have.  It is not only re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic (as it is sinking) it is akin to opening the seacocks and letting water in even faster.  Political Correctness gives your opposition the ammunition they need to argue that your cause is over-stated or even ridiculous.

What's more, the people who are most affected by this nonsense are never really consulted.  The "Little People of America" is a great organization and who doesn't love midgets little people?  But was some sort of vote held with regard to their stance on the word "midget" which they now consider a slur and have petitioned the FCC to add it to their list of no-no words?   If you canvassed all the little people of the world, would they agree with this?

Were Blacks asked about "African-American" before that came out?  Who decided this stuff?  Because no one asked me when they came out with this alphabet soup of sexual orientations and genders, as well as the plethora of flags - many so jarring and ugly as to make you wonder about the alleged fashion sense of gays.

The truth is, no one asked us or anyone about any of this.  Sure, maybe some "organization" claiming to represent a "Community" will say they speak for that slice of the electorate.  But often they don't.  PETA - the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals - often sets off these social stinkbombs by putting on stunts.  They put out press releases asking people to call fish "sea kittens" or rename "Fishkill, New York" which is actually a Dutch name that has nothing to do with killing fish.  Often their antics are an embarrassment to real animal rights activists and to vegans and vegetarians.  They make the animal rights movement look ridiculous and thus easier for mainstream Americans to mock and ignore.

Again, it is not only rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, but drilling massive holes in the hull, below the waterline.

And maybe this nonsense has traction with those waiting in their idling SUVs in the parking lot of the Montessori school, or at an uptown cocktail party in Manhattan, or at a fabulous drag show in San Francisco.  But the rest of America is just confused by it all and wonders why, suddenly, they are the enemy when in their minds, they did nothing wrong.

What makes a slur is an interesting question.  I noted before that the word "Jew" can be both a benign descriptor, or a slur, depending on how it is used and the intonation involved.  "Are you a Jew?" someone asks.  "Oh, yes," they reply.  "Oh great, so am I!  Which temple do you go to?"

But the word can also be hurled as an insult, spit out with invective as a slur.   Yet no one is calling for the term to be stricken from the lexicon and replaced with "Judeo-American" or some sort of nonsense like that.

Political Correctness only harms Democrats - in two ways.  First, it causes Democratic candidates to walk this tightrope of correctness, always making sure they use the right words and the "Newspeak" of the day.  Woe be to the candidate who didn't get today's new crib sheet on political wording.  If they say the wrong word - off with their heads!  Meanwhile, their Republican counterpart can speak with ease, knowing that whatever they say, it won't matter much in the polls.  As a result, Democrats come across as wooden and inauthentic - carefully reading scripted words (which were all carefully vetted) from a teleprompter.  They have no opinions of their own, only that of focus groups and speech writers.  This is what sunk Hillary's Presidential campaigns - twice.  She just didn't feel "real" - but she was Politically Correct! (Well, except the time she tried to slur Obama with the Muslim Birther nonsense).

The second problem is that middle-class and blue-collar workers - who historically were the base of the Democratic Party - were confused by Political Correctness and sensed its in-authenticity.  Hillary never bothered to campaign in many blue-collar manufacturing States - and lost them to Trump, whose meandering speeches, while seeming incoherent to coastal elites, made sense to the working class.  If you've never installed a modern toilet, maybe Trump's speeches about flushing 18 times sound humorous.  But a real plumber (not "Joe the Plumber") nods his head and agrees.  Or the homeowner who is flustered by all of this new "green" tech that just seems to cost a lot more and not provide him with any benefits.

Then they are told they are evil, despicable people because they believe that maybe it isn't fair for a transgender athlete to compete on the women's track team.  And maybe sex-change gender realignment gender affirmation surgery shouldn't be done on minors or paid for by the government or health insurance.  And no, threatening to kill yourself unless you get it doesn't make it "life-saving surgery."  No wonder the working class thinks America has gone too soft and introspective - there are real injustices in the world and not having the genitals of your choice isn't one of them.

But instead, these concerns are bulldozed over and labeled "Transphobia" and people are shamed for even having an opinion about it.  And as we know, shaming is one of the ten irrational ideas.  "How Dare YOU!" people say - I get that a lot, particularly from people who have no real argument to make.  Shaming is the second-to-last refuge of the scoundrel.

The use of pronouns is not a hill I am willing to die on.  And in this instance, this may be a literal thing.  We have people on the Right who are threatening civil war and literally threatening to kill people.  The number one Republican candidate for President is threatening to exterminate "vermin" if elected.  I said it before and I will say it again, when you drive political opinions, no matter how odious, underground, they will fester and ferment there until they explode.  And we are seeing this explosion today in the US and the Western world in general, as people are outright calling for a fascist takeover or admiring Nazism.

Is Political Correctness to blame for this? Yes, I think so, in part.  Since it really accomplished nothing except cater to the touchy-feely crowd, it was easy to dismiss and mock.  But in some instances, it resulted in ridiculous outcomes - teachers and even administrators being fired for "using the wrong pronouns."  Many school systems are devolving into The Lord of the Flies (required reading, until banned!) as it is, and here we are giving the kids yet more ammunition to use against teachers.

And did all this "PC" talk result in less bullying?  I think not - you read about bullying more and more today, particularly online.  When I was in school, "bullying" was being pummeled in dodge-ball.  Today, it means being stomped to death.  Did Political Correctness make this any better or just put a target on people's backs?  To me, punishing bullies would take precedence over using the "right words" but somehow those priorities are reversed.

Maybe the pendulum will swing back the other way.  Perhaps people, scared by the language Trump has been using, will reject him and his philosophies in the next election.  But I wouldn't count on it.  A lot of people will vote actual Nazi, if it means tax cuts or less regulations for their "industry" - you know, things that prevented them from outright theft, for example.

And we have to ask ourselves whether all this touchy-feely nonsense was worth it or accomplished anything.  Did banishing the word "midget" make things better for little people?  Was it ever a slur?  Did the brief heyday of "African-American" really improve the lives of Blacks, or did it just point out to many of them that the well-meaning efforts by liberals really aren't helping them much?  Do we really need more letters and maybe a few numbers as well for LBGTQRSTUV+ or maybe we can kind of lump ourselves together into one group (which the LBGTQ+ moniker already does)?

This is one reason I was against Gay Marriage and was surprised when a largely conservative Supreme Court legalized it on a technicality ("Constitution doesn't say you can't!").  I mean, it was a pleasant surprise, but the pendulum of society swings one way and then the other - and if you are under that pendulum, well, too bad for you.  This new swing to the Right is not some anomaly, but a reaction to liberal social values and how many in the working-class see them as failing America.

The problem is, of course, that many of these far-Left ideas, like abolishing bail, de-funding the Police (whatever that means) and letting criminals go free, might have traction in some far-Left enclaves, but not with mainstream America. Even in liberal San Francisco, ordinary working class people are puzzled as to why the rights of criminals and the homeless (another term of political correctness that supplanted "bums," "hobos," or "drug addicts") trump their own.

After all, the guy who gets up every day to go to work is the one who supports our society and makes it work. He pays the taxes that support all our social programs. Yet he has to avoid stepping in human feces on his sidewalk and hope his car wasn't broken into again, every morning.  How long before Democrats lose them?  Or have they already lost them?  Recall that California has had its share of Republican Governors - Reagan and Schwarzenegger for example - and could again, the way things are going.

Maybe Political Correctness and its brethren, Identity Politics, need to go away for good and we need, as a nation, to stop being so introspective and sensitive all the time.  Maybe we need to stop taking offense at words, and stop using "soft language" as George Carlin argued.

Because, when you get right down to it, language is an exchange of symbols which have an agreed-upon meaning among people.  And when you change the language, you literally are changing how people think.  And when you tell people what they can and cannot say, then you are literally telling them how to think.  And people just hate that.

I would rather have real security and real advancements than some new letter to the alphabet or some new gender to recognize or some new "soft word" to describe yet another thin slice of the electorate.  Slurs are slurs, but ordinary words should not be turned into slurs by "community organizations" who are not elected by the people and who do not represent the will of the people.

This is why we are getting push-back!

Thursday, November 23, 2023

(Don't) Tear Down The Wall!

Think hard before you "open up" your home by tearing down walls.

Houses get remodeled, again and again, over the years, and oftentimes the remodeling is good, and other times, not so good. I remarked before about sun porches and how a "sun room" addition can become the centerpiece of the house - and the old family room or living room becomes nothing more than a room you walk through to get to the sun room.  It becomes nothing more than a place to set things down and forget about them - living space that no one lives in.  It becomes a junk collection area.

So the television moves out to the sun room, but all that pesky sun makes it hard to watch, so blackout curtains are installed and the sunroom becomes a darkroom, until one day the homeowner thinks, "you know what this place needs is a sunroom!" and they add on yet another addition.  I've seen this done, too!

Tearing down walls is another remodeling trick that may end up being dated in a few years.  While it is true that older homes were often chopped up into tiny little rooms, there is such a thing as too much open space.  No one wants to live in a stadium or basketball court.  When a house is too opened-up, there is no wall space for artwork or even your television.  There is no place to set furniture against, so pieces end up "free floating" in the room - a look many are uncomfortable with.  It also can turn your house into an echo chamber.

With regard to this last element, a friend of ours decided to knock down some walls and "open up" their house as it was the trendy thing to do.  You came in the front door and you can see it all at once - the living area(s) the dining area, the kitchen - hello there!  It also emphasized how low their ceilings were, as the house had maybe 8 foot ceilings.  It didn't look so bad in smaller rooms, but with vast expanse of "open" space the effect was, ceiling.  It was the most noticeable and memorable part of the house.

Our own home was "opened up" in some respects, but not all the way.  Originally, when you came in from the garage, you were inside a cramped laundry room.  This lead (through another door) into the eat-in kitchen with a bay window.  This lead to a dining room through one door, and a family room with fireplace through another door.  The dining room was separated from the living room by yet another wall (or partial "butterfly" wall, it is hard to tell).  Lots of little rooms!

And speaking of which, the house had four (4) tiny bedrooms and two baths.  The "master bath" was the smallest of the two!

Over the years, the homeowners modified things.  The laundry room moved out to the garage and the wall between the old laundry room and the kitchen was taken down.  The laundry room became a bar area with sink and built-in icemaker.  The wall between the kitchen and family room was removed which was good, as the family room felt tiny and cramped.  And the wall between the dining room and living room went away, creating a huge open space.

But some say that is not enough!  More than one friend has suggested removing that last wall, so that the living room, dining room, kitchen, bar, and family room were all one big giant room.  We thought about it and concluded that you can have too much of a good thing as evidenced by some houses we have seen that have done this.  It looks less "opened up" than unfinished.

The guy we bought the house from did two smart things (which is why we bought the house).  First, he took out the "master" bath and two of the four bedrooms and made a huge "master" bedroom along the lines of what people expect today.  With about 2/3rds of the other bedroom, he made a "master" bathroom that is, well, a little over the top for us (the garden tub is a useless accumulator of laundry and I've only actually used it once in 18 years, and only then, because I was cleaning it).  Nevertheless, it is a far more comfortable bathroom for two people, with a private commode room and two vanities - each at a different height!   That was a remodeling effort that really paid off, in terms of bang for the buck.

The other thing he did - and I would never have thought to do this - was to raise the ceiling in the master bedroom and living room, using a "tray ceiling" (raising the center portion about 10") which made both rooms feel larger and roomier than they are, without the need to "open up" so much.  Walls are not evil, they are not the enemy.

Raising a ceiling, even a few inches, makes a space feel larger.  It ain't easy to do, however!

Walls can help define spaces and actually enhance your home.  Granted, in the past, our ancestors were perhaps a little too wall-happy.  Part of this problem can be traced to the antiquated notion that the number of rooms determined the value of a home (as opposed to square footage).  When middle-class people tried to emulate the number of rooms in older, larger, homes, on a smaller scale, the result was a series of small rooms - tiny rooms - that felt cramped and claustrophobic.

The "chair rail" in the tiny dining rooms of yore was literally necessary to prevent guests from marring the walls as they backed up their chairs from the dining room table.  Rooms were smaller back then.  Today, we live in stadiums.

The need for such rooms was tied to older notions about living.  You had to have a "public area" such as a parlor, to receive guests and such.  Then you had more private areas, usually further back into the home, where you did your actual living. These notions about "proper" living survived until relatively recent times.  My parents always had a "living room" that no one lived in - with white carpeting that we were forbidden to walk on.  Everybody's parents had that, back then, along with wedding china, silver, and crystal.  Today, who can afford servants to polish all that silver?  Who has the time?

In more recent times, the informal home for "entertaining" has developed, with fewer demarcations between public and private spaces.  The kitchen was seen as the ultimate private space  - sometimes not even attached to the home (because of the risk of fire, and also because of the heat, smells, etc.).  My Father's family had no kitchen in their home, a problem my grandmother had to rectify when she moved back in with her elderly sisters.

Today, "the party always ends up in the kitchen" so the kitchen becomes part of the public space of the home and is often the centerpiece and showpiece of the home.  It is often the most expensive room in the house. Appliances are no longer functional "white goods" but "look at me!" elaborate technological wonders of stainless steel and electronic controls.  Whaddya mean, your refrigerator doesn't have a camera and a display screen?  Next you'll tell me your stove doesn't have WiFi!

Cooking shows and celebrity chefs have made us all "foodies" (a term that makes me throw up in my mouth a little) and thus we are expected to "entertain" not with cocktails and clever banter, but with our cooking skills.  And since middle-class or even upper-middle-class people can no longer afford servants ("the help") we have to do these cooking demonstrations ourselves.  In the future, everyone will be Martha Stewart for 15 minutes.

It is not better or worse than in the past, depending on your point of view - just different.  And this difference drives our architecture today.  No longer is the kitchen some tiny dank area for the "help" to prepare meals, or for a housewife to emerge from (through swinging cafe doors, no less) with steaming hot dishes from the oven.  Today, the kitchen is the center of the action.

And in that regard, our remaining wall (separating the kitchen from the dining and living rooms) does indeed present some difficulties for us.  Whenever we entertain, people gravitate toward the kitchen/family room, and as a result, the "living room" becomes neglected.  I've tried in the past to move people to the living room, by placing the hors d'ouvres there and whatnot, but they merely grab them and drag them back into the family room.  It is an interesting phenomenon to watch.  It is only after dinner, when the kitchen is a mess of dirty dishes, that people want to relax in the living room, away from all the clutter and leftovers.  And maybe that is not such a bad thing.

That is, indeed, one problem with the kitchen as "heart and hearth" of the home - a dirty kitchen is not nice to look at, and if someone comes to the door, well, it looks kind of awful if they can see your dirty breakfast dishes in the sink. One must tidy, constantly!  But lets' face it, a working kitchen is not often a tidy kitchen. These fancy "look at me!" kitchens are often owned by people who eat at restaurants most of the time.  Easy to keep clean, if you never cook!

So, while we've talked about "opening up" that last wall, we kind of gave up on the idea and learned to live with separate rooms.  Knocking down walls is a fine thing and all, up to a point.  I mean, you don't want to tear down all your bedroom and bathroom walls and live in one communal pile, do you?

And yet.... some do.  A neighbor remodeled their house with a new master bedroom and attached master bath with no door between the two.  The toilet was visible from - and no more than 10 feet from - the bed in the master bedroom.  Your spouse gets up in the morning to take a steaming dump and you get to be part of the experience.

No thank you!

There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. And these trends in remodeling become dated quickly.  Remember tile countertops?  "This Old House" pushed that nightmare for quite a while, until people realized tile countertops were (a) uneven as hell and (b) mostly grout that showed every bit of dirt and were impossible to keep clean.

I suspect the same will be true of "opening up" in the future.  "Oh look, honey, a 2000's remodeling job - they took out all the walls!" 

And some other trend will take its place.  I predict that Dutch doors will make a huge comeback in 2025!  Be the first on your block!

Monday, November 20, 2023

Used Tire Dealers, Used Appliance Dealers - Avoid Both!

Yes, you can find good deals on used appliances or even tires - from individuals.  Dealers, on the other hand...

I wrote before about used tires and what a lousy bargain they are.  One of Mark's co-workers, who didn't make a lot of money, but felt the need to drive a Chevy Tahoe (15 MPG at best!) asked Mark if it was a good idea to put used tires on their truck, as her boyfriend suggested.  The local used tire dealer had a set for $75 a tire, and WalMart wanted almost twice that!

Mark tried to explain that with mounting and balancing costs of two sets of used tires would more than equal the delta in pricing on a new set of tires.  Moreover, there is the safety factor - running around on end-of-life tires is never a good idea.  Also there is the hassle factor - having to constantly buy another set of used tires every year or so, as they wear out quickly.

Surrounding every urban ghetto or rural trailer park are used tire dealers.  There are several around the impoverished "city" we live nearby.  They con poor people in to paying nearly as much for used tires as an an inexpensive set of new tires would cost.   And they get these tires - often for free or very low cost from chain tire stores who pay to get rid of used tires from customer's cars.  So it isn't like they have a huge inventory cost.  And often they let the tires "sit" out in the hot sun and rain, for years, before a sucker customer comes along.

Once in a while you do see a set of barely used "take-offs" from a new car, listed under "for sale by owner" on Craigslist, but when you call, they answer the phone, "Joe's used tires!"  They lied - to Craigslist and to you.  Where do you think the relationship is going from there?

I was thinking of buying a used microwave to replace out old one, which has a burned-out magnatron. Microwaves, like most appliances, have a design life of about 15 years and ours is 18 years old, albeit lightly used.  There is nothing to be gained by replacing it with a 15-year-old used microwave.   The replacement would just fail shortly thereafter.  It is like a lightbulb - they eventually burn out and a used light bulb isn't "as good as" a new one, nor even worth half as much.

Like with "take-off" tires (which some idiot took off a brand-new car because they wanted bling rims) there are folks (also idiots) who will throw away nearly new appliances because they decided to change to stainless steel or whatever.  If you can pick up such appliances for a few bucks, you can score.  I've bought a dishwasher for $75 this way, and a microwave (in Mark's studio) for $50.   I was hoping to score again, but such was not to be.

The problem again, is that used appliance dealers list appliances under "for sale by owner" and that means they are liars twice.  And if you do business with liars, expect to get burned.  Most had outrageously high prices on the appliances - enough that you'd be better off just buying anew.  And many of the "reasonably priced" appliances were old and worn out - near the end of their lives - and not worth anything.  A yellowed microwave is a bad deal, no matter how you slice it.  Expect the handle to crack and fall off.

So I looked online at prices of new microwaves and it turns out you can get one for under $200 - sometimes far less.  The days of the $99 under-cabinet microwave are long gone (although I did score one for our condo - it was cheaper than a plain range hood!).  But $175 for a brand-new unit beats $75 for something of questionable vintage.

Used appliance dealers, like used tire dealers, often operate in poor areas, where people think they are entitled to nothing better and fail to see the overall costs involved in owning appliances or tires.  Which is a better value, buying a brand-new appliance that will last more than twice as long as a used one, or paying the same amount - if not more - to buy two in succession?

Of course, the kicker is, the poor person is thinking in terms of cash-flow.  They can afford to put one tire on their car this pay period, provided it is used.  So this way, they can re-shod their car, without having to up-front a lot of cash.  And since their credit sucks, odds are they can't finance the purchase, or if they did, the cost would be staggering.

The poverty snowball accelerates down the hill....

Like used tire dealers, many used appliance dealers get their inventory for free or at a greatly reduced price. New appliance dealers don't want some junky old stove hanging around the loading dock, probably infested with roaches.  So they give it away or even pay to get rid of these things, which they offered to "take away for free" as a courtesy to their new appliance customers.  These used appliance dealers aren't paying a lot of their inventory - if anything.

Now to be fair, the better dealers clean and repair older appliances to put them in proper working order.  New knobs, new heating elements - whatever.  But the overall appliance is still old and you can't repair your way around the Weibull curve - there comes a time to throw things away.

I enjoy repairing things.  However, after 60-some-odd years doing this, I realize that when you take something apart, you change it forever, as Col. Waddington learned with his B-24 Liberators. You can patch something back together, provided you can get parts, but the need for repair is just a harbinger of things to come - particularly as you reach the end of the design life of an item.

So, even a "fixed up" used appliance is no bargain, if it is particularly old and something else will fail in short order.  Time to fish further upstream.

Which is what I will do, after Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Training Wheels Of Belief (Trail Of Breadcrumbs)

Christianity is unique among world religions in that it has secular mythologies that parallel the religious ones.  Is this some sort of hidden message?

When I was a young child growing up, I believed, for a very brief period, in the mythology of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and whatnot.  Actually, I am not sure if I ever was a believer, as most of my older friends disabused me of these notions early on. Quite frankly, I don't remember much before age four - except a few things.

But once we learn that the whole concept of Santa is false, a child naturally wonders whether other mythologies based on belief are also false.  Santa has supernatural powers and can deliver presents to billions of children in just one night.  He flies through the air and lives in "The North Pole" which, like the clouds of "heaven" have been reached and explored and found to have no reindeer or angels.  Santa also has Godlike powers of observation and monitoring that would make the NSA envious.  He know who has been "naughty or nice" but sadly the limits of his reprobation repertoire to a sock full of coal.  He cannot damn you to the eternal lake of fire (can you water-ski on that?).

So we learn this one set of beliefs is just made-up.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist or indeed, even a curious 7-year-old to make the connection that maybe other belief systems are largely made-up as well, particularly when they involve incredulous things that cannot be tested or quantified.

Actually, I did try to test the Santa myth, even as I knew it was false.  I set a pressure switch (from my Lionel train set) under the Christmas tree, to activate a red light in the living room window (which I could see from my bedroom over the garage) to alert me that presents were placed under the tree.  Sadly, my home-made Santa detector was either discovered or I fell asleep too soon, so I was never able to complete the experiment.  Nevertheless, confessions from the parties involved (induced by the use of liquor) later on in life, confirmed my hypotheses - there was no Santa, just parents.

And of course, this made me trust my parents even less - I already knew they were unreliable narrators at best or whacked-out alcoholics at worst.  But over the years, I started to wonder whether these childhood myths were just training wheels for religious beliefs.  Moreover, society was subtly signaling that belief, while beautiful and fantastical, should not be taken too seriously.

Robert Heinlein, who may or may not be a Libertarian or a Fascist, once opined on belief:

"Whenever the locals rub blue mud in their navels, I rub blue mud in mine just as solemnly."  --Lazarus Long, Time Enough For Love

In other words, it never pays to dispute the local religion, even if you don't believe in it.  Better off to pretend to believe or better yet, obtain a position of power in that religion, than to be branded as an apostate or heretic and burned at the stake.

Interestingly, as far as I know, Christianity is unique among the major world religions in having these parallel religious holiday beliefs.  Islam does not have a Santa Claus or Easter Bunny doppelganger to allow for secular celebration of religious holidays.  Indeed, I assume such things would be haram.  I am not sure Judaism has any such parallel holiday-makers, either.  Perhaps Christians, at least more modern and moderate ones, are not so serious about the details of belief.

Thomas Jefferson, I believe, was the one who said, "Religion, like all things, in moderation"  - or was it Benjamin Franklin?  You know, those founding fathers who established our Christofascist empire that is being attacked by wokism.  TJ himself cut up his Holy Bible and pasted "the good parts" in his own homegrown "Jefferson Bible."  Apparently he didn't believe "every word" of the Bible, as some modern evangelicals claim to do (not having read the whole thing or realizing that the Bible contradicts itself again and again, making it literally impossible to believe "every word" of it).

So maybe, modern Christianity developed these secular holidays and secular actors to leave a trail of breadcrumbs for smarter people to notice - with a wink and a nod - that belief is not to be taken too seriously.  But why not renounce belief entirely?  Why not just come out and say that a collection of stories from ages gone by, from people who wiped their ass with their hands and wore sheets as clothing, was just a bunch of made-up bullshit handed down through the ages?

Why not?  Well, I think it is because religion has positive uses - as I noted before - in keeping the plebes in line.  The smarter folks pretend to be believers - and get a round of golf in on Sunday, after leaving church early.  They know that religion keeps their employees and underlings and the under-class in line.  If the poor realized they could take over the world, they would.  But if you tell them a mysterious sky-ghost will punish them, well, that's enough to keep stupid people working, paying, and tithing.

Without religion or a belief system, there is little to tether the poor and dumb to society.  They might revert to "every man for himself" and become criminals or drug addicts, or both.  Religion keeps stupid people in line.

That's why, in part, the religious right is correct that the lack of "prayer in school" results in more crime and social unrest - among the lower classes.  The very poor - who are also the very dumb - need mythology to keep them in line and give them a sense of higher purpose.  People crave that - which is why they worship celebrities, rock stars, porn stars, sports stars, or even political stars.  It is why the poor and dumb worship Donald Trump no matter what odious thing he does.

As a Trump supporter noted, "I see no Biden flags, hats, bumper stickers or banners!  Where are the Biden voters?  Trump musta won - no one voted for Biden!"  And if you approach politics from the angle of belief this makes sense.  Our cult hero has tons of followers!  The other cult has none!  That's because the people voting for Biden weren't doing so as part of a cult or a tribe.  These were people for whom logic overcame belief - and after four years of Trump, even the most hardened Bernie-bro (who was steeped in belief) voted for the anti-Trump, particularly when Bernie himself implored them to do so.

Of course, being somewhat dense, it took me the better part of 60 years to figure out that these breadcrumbs of belief were laid out for me.  I figured Santa wasn't real early on, and I learned in Bibble school not to challenge the belief system.   But I never figured out how to read between the lines and how some people become Officers or Executives while others were enlisted men or hourly workers.  With a nod and a wink, you are let into the exclusive club of those who see things as they are and act accordingly.  Otherwise, you are sentenced to a life of penury and want, but as a bonus, you get to go to some really cool religious services in amazing churches and cathedrals that you paid for, of course.  Lucky you!  The Priest chose your son to be an altar boy!  Such an honor for your family!

Like I said, it took me 60 years to figure this out, which was one reason I was never let into the "inner circle" of society, but was kept in one of the outer rings.  No. I was not a snake-handling evangelical who worked a blue-collar job (although I worked several) and tithed 10% of his salary to some odious church.  But I wasn't in the boardroom or had a cushy office on "Partnership row" in the law firm.  I was always on the outside, looking in, not welcome in either camp.

I guess the sooner you can figure out the hypocrisy of belief and learn to play the game, the better off you will be.  Pretend to be a believer and get the plebes to follow you.  Hey, look at Trump - he's basically the anti-Christ, yet evangelicals love him!  You see how this works - or maybe they just elevate him because it was a foretold sign of the apocalypse?  You decide.

Either way, it never pays to be a "true believer" but it makes sense to at least pretend to believe.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Profile of A Wind-Up Soldier

The recent trial of the Pelosi attacker provides a fascinating insight into the process of indoctrination.

The recent trial of the Pelosi attacker ended in conviction and rightfully so.  Although, as an attorney, I am surprised they didn't plead not-guilty-by-reason-of-Fox-News, as this guy was clearly driven off his rocker by a carefully crafted network of right-wing discussion groups, podcasts, conspiracy theory websites, obscure "media" outlets and of course, Fox News and the "I'm just asking questions" Pikachu-faced TV-dinner heiress.

And of course, just as in Mission Impossible, if caught, these agencies will deny involvement.  It's called "plausible deniability" and is an old tactic these days.  They can claim (with Pikachu face) that they did not know this particular guy and the hate and drivel they were spewing wasn't aimed at him or intended to set him off.  But they knew - they had to know - that someone, somewhere would act on all this hatred.

Incidentally, these same hate-mongering agencies spread odious rumors that Mr. Pelosi had invited the attacker into his home as some sort of sexual liaison from Grinder.  This was an obvious and odious lie and what have I said about liars?  Who the hell votes for Republicans when they so blatantly lie about stuff like this?  They only thing they aren't lying about is their promise to abolish social security and medicare and exterminate "vermin" and abolish the Democratic party.  Hello North Korea!

What is interesting is that his descent into madness began with video games.  A lifelong Democrat and "liberal" he started gaming full-time, living in a garage with no plumbing.  Imagine the smell.  No doubt an "incel" too!  "Hey baby, want to come back to my garage for some Netflix and chill?"  I wonder why that pickup line didn't work?

He was into gaming around the time of "Gamergate," an orchestrated misogynist hate-fest orchestrated or at least goaded on by none other than Yanni Yapalapalous - Greece's answer to a question no one was asking.  Gamergate was the gateway drug for disaffected young men ("incels") who feel they are not getting all the pussy they are entitled to.  As a gay man, I find this odd, as I have probably slept with more women than all the "incels" in the world, combined.  My hot dating secret? Treat women like human beings, like you would like to be treated, and think about their sexual needs and desires before your own.  I know, that is so hard to do!  Women as humans?  Nah!

So once he fell down the "Gamergate" rathole, it was easy to morph to conspiracy theory sites as well as far-right thinking.  He got hooked on this idea that the Democratic party was rife with "corruption" and indeed, there is corruption there, as well as everywhere else you look.  Yes, I am as disgusted as anyone else that Nancy Pelosi's husband was trading stocks, apparently on insider information (or even if not!).  But then again, it seems much of Congress on both sides of the aisle has their hand in one pot or another.  How many Congressmen have gotten PPP loans and never paid them back?  Saying that Nancy Pelosi (who should have resigned due to advanced age, years ago) is the only one doing questionable things or that only Democrats are lining their own nest is, well, stupid.

Stupider still is the idea you could attack her with a hammer (Real Republicans get a gun!) and get her to "confess" under duress, to corruption - and that people would somehow believe this confession-under-duress. Crazier still, he thought he could get Nancy to lure other Democrats to her home.  Crazier still, he didn't bother to figure out whether she would even be home at the time.

Now to be fair, there have been a few - a very few - left-wing would-be political attackers or assassins over the  years.  Whenever a political party is out-of-power, they tend to ramp up the hateful rhetoric as this gets people out of their lounge chairs and into the voting booth.  Hate and anger motivate more than love and happiness.  Contentment is the worse thing for voter turnout.

But over time, the largest number - by far - of politically motivated attacks, shootings, murders, firebombings, and the deadliest homegrown terror attack in US history have been attributed to right-wing activists, including right-wing "Christians" who apparently never read the Bible.  Killing children for Jesus.  Sounds like something Darth Vader would do.

And lately, with the GOP out of power and losing their grasp in many States, the hateful rhetoric has been ramped-up to crazy new levels - aided and abetted by the Internet and overseas trolls.  The troll-in-chief has derided his opponents as "vermin" who will be "rooted out" and "taken care of" once he is back in power - for life! (Good thing he is old!).  This level of rhetoric will surely set off more and more "wind-up soldiers" over time and in fact, already has.  And this time around, they can't claim they didn't see this coming or didn't expect this as a result of their hateful actions.  It is too late for plausible deniability.

Of course, there are windup soldiers and then again, there are misfires.  They get these somewhat crazy people (and if they aren't crazy, playing video games for 8 hours a day will fix that) to sign up for these delusions and then wait for them to go "off" - hopefully on a target you have trained them to hate more than anything else in the world.  But sometimes, they just shoot their family, neighbors, co-workers, or random people at the mall.  Gotta fine-tune that algorithm a bit, chief!

This trial and the confession and testimony by the attacker has provided a fascinating insight into how a somewhat "normal" young man can go off the rails and end up as a pawn - for the far-right, for ISIS, or whatever rathole they fall into on the Internet.

Sadly, there are few ratholes that promote logical thinking, seeking contentment, and realizing how lucky we are to live in Western culture.  I hope I am one of those ratholes.

Because as odious as it sounds, living in a garage and playing video games all day long would be considered an obscene luxury by more than 50% of the population of the Earth.  You don't have to work 12 hours a day just to obtain sufficient calories to keep your brain alive?  Lucky devil!

There is real want and real injustice in the world today.  Very little of it, if any, occurs in the United States.