Sunday, August 11, 2019

We Must Not Take Away Hope From Young People

We adults have been listening to the dire warnings of how things are spiraling out of control for many years.  We react to it with horror, or with tired cynicism, or scorn, or anger, according to our personalities, and of course, according to how much background we have.  The discussions often get heated; sometimes because our friends argue with us out of frustration.

But other ears are also listening, and taking note: little ears, and not-so-little ears, which do not have the experience (the ‘wisdom’), to put the talk of these end-times in perspective.  Well, let me take a step back; none of us have successfully negotiated the End Of The World before.  But many of us--not all, I must confess; and we should have some compassion towards our friends who are not mentally well-equipped to cope with disaster without going all Jonestown on us--many of us are able to brace ourselves, and address the problem as logically as possible.

From the Adult point of view, we really don’t know whether, when things start going kaplooey, whether it will happen (A) relatively suddenly, or (B) gradually.  We also don’t know whether things will become impossible everywhere at once, or whether it will start in some places, and spread to other places.

I personally believe that, when talking about climate change / global warming, or CC/GW, especially to children, we should take the view that it is going to be gradual.  Things are gradually going to get worse, and we need to push back so that things either get better, or get worse more slowly.  We’re not doing this only for ourselves; we’re also doing this because poor people will suffer relatively more than rich people (which is why this Green New Deal is something we middle-class and working class people want so desperately, and most upper-class and 1% folks do not want at all).

There’s other interesting attitudes that are sort of amusing.
  • A very elderly person without any family left, and with some financial resources, is probably not going to be too upset.  He is going to die in less than a decade, probably; has the money to deal with the added needs of these last years, and has no responsibilities.
  • The patriarch of an affluent family: well, he has to survive a decade or two, but can pass along a lot of his personal fortune to his aging rug-rats, and once he goes, it becomes their problem.  We know some people in this category, don’t we?
  • What about a middle-class matriarch with an enormous family, which family has come to depend on her leadership for many years?  What can she do to adjust the attitudes of her more capable family members, so that they do not throw in the towel too quickly?  What can she do to combat the extreme and paranoid attitudes of the dumber drones among her menfolk?  (Obviously I’m drawing upon some broad stereotypes here, but we’re running out of time . . .)

If things take the best possible course, we have to make some mental adjustments, and get accustomed to sane ways of doing things, ways that have already been adopted in many countries, and which we have been in the habit of ridiculing for decades.

  1. We must stop burning things.
    Let me explain.  Smoke screws up the air, so that’s one reason.  Burning converts fuel to carbon dioxide, which--at the moment--is causing problems with keeping the planet temperature in balance.  (Too much CO2 prevents the planet cooling fast enough.)  Also, grilling and barbecuing heats up the air; and though we don’t want to get our kids panicked to the point where they start yelling at anyone who has an open fire going, it might not be a bad thing to get them thinking that discouraging open fires--or any sort of fires, for that matter--is something that we’re going to have to do sooner or later.
  2. We must stop using plastic.
    There were about 10 years when it appeared as though we had the plastic pollution problem licked.  But we should have known better; we only kicked the problem down the road.  Our politicians are afraid of taking action on anything that does not benefit some business or other, and the plastic recycling business does not promise easy enough profits.
    The US does a better job with plastic than they do in the Third World, but that does not say much.  Plastics end up near the homes of the poorest in the land, who are at most at risk with rising ocean levels, and continual flooding.
  3. We must stop putting crap in the water, or pouring it down the sink.
    I remember a time when I did not think twice about scrubbing filthy car parts, and pouring it down the sink.  I don’t do it now because I don’t do my own repairs.  But dirty water becomes the problem of the Water Authority, and in many parts of the country, the budgets of these departments get cut every year.  Pretty soon, just as a lot of our supposedly recycled plastic is shunted to the landfill (and not recycled at all), a lot of our water that should be filtered is simply sent into the closest big river.  Only fishermen get upset.  But the really, really rich do not go fishing, it appears.
  4. We must support clean electricity.
    As we start using cleaner-running cars, the power for those cars will increasingly come from the Power Stations.  This is great, because we can focus our attention into making these power stations efficient and non-polluting, which makes the clean-running autos really mean something.
  5. In the near future, we should get away from personal transportation.
    The faster we do that, the further we postpone the time when life becomes really difficult.  Buses and trains are already available for those of us who live near the big cities to go most places conveniently.  Planes, at this point, are not really efficient, as far as I know.
    There are also those who work in big companies, whose productivity is measured by how much they travel.  It is very difficult to change the culture of big companies, but this culture of gratuitous travel has to be tailed off.

Then, there are more difficult things we can do, such as: eat less meat, pay more attention to difficult school subjects, spend less money on defense, elect smarter leaders, and so on.  But our young family members must be persuaded that:

Even if we cannot make the deadlines that the Global-Warming-scientists say we must make to prevent the sea temperature from becoming too high (and that is a serious critical point), we can still make the Post-Apocalyptic World a slightly more comfortable place to live in by getting started.

All the things that need to be done are common-sense things that reasonable people have thought of doing for centuries.  For many years, Businesses have encouraged us to Buy More!  Spend More!  Eat More!  Travel More!  Fly More!  Because it’s Good for Business.  But it seems to me that what is good for business is bad for the environment.  I suppose business leaders will leap to their feet to contradict that claim.  But I don't see any reason to think that there are any environment-friendly businesses to make much of a difference.

It is important to convince the younger members in your circles that there are things they can do, even while the adults are out there screwing everybody over.  And we can expect bad weather all through the year, most years, but as long as we continue to push back against the Burn / Drive / Pollute  aspects of our culture, it is possible to keep our mental equilibrium.


Friday, August 2, 2019

Debate 2019 Part 2, Day 2

Well, Day 2 was disappointing.
Many of the candidates seemed to be simply marketing themselves, and being clever.  Of course, eventually, one of these people--from the entire group of candidates, not just the Thursday ones, to clarify--has to be ultimately selected, and being simply a slick salesman is not a deal-breaker.  But after three years or so of Trump, who is simply a salesman (and one who only appeals to a certain not-too-bright, and another completely cynical, demographic) and not much of anything else, after enduring all that, to buy into another candidate who is first and foremost a salesman, is repugnant.
Michael Bennet, the senator from Colorado, seemed rather a stick-in-the-mud.  He comes across as a person with good values, and will be OK at a pinch, but he strikes me as being difficult to persuade to any new idea.  Last night he was a lot easier to understand--in terms of his diction, only--than he was in the previous debate.  Maybe I'm just getting accustomed to his speech...
Tulsi Gabbard, the Congresswoman from Hawaii, also seems to have all the right values.  She had done her homework, especially relative to Kamala Harris's record as Attorney General of California, and her failings with the Police Department.  So we know she is well prepared, but I did not see the sort of confidence in dealing with her fellow-candidates that would promise certain aspects of presidential leadership if she were voted into office.
I have nothing terribly bad to say about Kirsten Gillibrand.  As she confesses, she has certainly enjoyed white privilege all her life, and she and I tend to differ on certain aspects of what we call PC speech; I don't know whether we're ready for a bionic Sunday-school teacher, which is what KG comes across as.  But it seems wrong to score her down simply for being white.  She has some very likeable qualities, and when she makes a mistake, she has a sort of Hermione Granger reaction that is--annoyingly--quite endearing.
Julian Castro performed well.  He spoke clearly; he had his facts figured out; but figured out just a little too specifically.  He always mentioned a specific piece of legislation that made his point for him, otherwise, he stated a general principle that everyone seemed to agree on.  He needs to study the issues a lot better; there are things that others are interested in, that he might not be as interested in.  Also, I'd like to see him a little more relaxed; he comes across as a tiny bit defensive, and that has to stop.
Cory Booker was quite a star (or "quite the star," as they say these days, especially when they do not approve of the stardom).  But there was a little too much double-talk in his attacks and his responses.  We know he falls on the right side of most of the issues; unlike Republican blacks, he is moderate, and unapologetic about black issues.  He went on the offensive against Joe Biden, who was partly responsible for some of the legislation that has now been identified as being particularly harsh on African Americans.  On one hand, Biden must answer to these accusations; on the other hand, there is no reason to be obnoxious about it.  (But can you make accusations about failed policy without being obnoxious?)
Joe Biden was the target of a lot of attacks.  There was general agreement that Joe Biden is not a racist.  But he seemed reluctant to confess that certain pieces of legislation that he supported were wrong-headed.  There was no attempt to say that they were bad choices, basically because their effects were not known in advance.  Well, in hindsight, he could say, it does appear that I screwed up.  But that could be a disaster, because such things are amplified by the media, which is interested in capitalizing in extreme ways on anything that appears controversial.  And pro-Trump media very much wants Biden out of the running, because Trump is worried about him.
Kamala Harris was on the defensive this time around.  There was a whiny sound to her speech that was annoying, and it seemed as if she did not address the points brought against her by some of the other candidates--notably Tulsi Gabbard--and by the moderators.  Charisma-wise, she made a good showing, but I'm not sure that the accusations that were made against her can be successfully countered.
Andrew Wang was 500% better prepared this time than during the last debate.  He gave good responses to every question that was asked; he might view the issues most definitely from a HT Business perspective, but they were on point.  He most definitely is not an orator, and his approach might not impress voters who have to battle their instincts to distrust someone of the 'wrong' ethnicity.  Wang's approaches to climate change seem to be a sort of Leave It To Business approach, from the little I had time to absorb.  But without the charisma, I'm reluctant to spend the time to learn all his policy ideas!
Jay Inslee, too, had all the right values, and in addition, he was proud of having implemented a great many initiatives in the State of Washington, while he was governor.  But the question is whether it would be possible to implement similar initiatives with a diverse Congress, a diverse Senate, all consisting of cantankerous reactionaries looking out for their pet Business Interests, as successfully as he did in the State of Washington, whose population is about 12 adults and 3 children, in comparison to the US, with a vastly larger population, and also much cattle?  But I loved his manner towards his fellow candidates; his outgoing, friendly nature; the gentleness with which he phrased remarks criticizing the current administration, about policies and decisions that he undoubtedly felt very strongly about.  An awesome guy, and I wish he could find a place in the new administration!
Bill DeBlasio is a tough customer, and I enjoyed how he went on the offensive against Joe Biden.  (I'm sure he knew that that was entertaining!)  Biden's mistakes have to be faced, and New York, and New York City had to deal with an unfair share of the fallout from Biden's legislational stumbles.  DeBlasio is also an astute politician with a clear eye for the implications of policy decisions, and a good man to have in any White House.  But I would imagine that people from the great middle of the country might be just a bit tired of New Yorkers, after four years of Trump.  Of course Trump is not a typical New Yorker; he's more of a sort of Hollywood guy, who's stuck himself in the middle of Manhattan, on his way to establishing an outpost in Moscow.  (He would probably prefer to be the Maharajah of Dubai!)
Anyway, there you have it.  A likeable bunch, and one wishes that they could all be elected to hold office in some way.
I started out saying that Day 2 was disappointing, but only because I wished that the candidates had a good opportunity to articulate their views on policy matters that they might actually agree on.  The moderators were more interested in hearing them attack each other, than in hearing how much they agreed.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Debate 2019 Part 2, Day 1

Well, fellow citizens, we watched last night's debate, and we were probably just as underwhelmed as anyone else.  But for the most part, the candidates were consistent.  There was one new candidate, Steve Bullock, who revealed the fact that he had not been on stage for the previous debate, because what the candidates say is strongly affected by how they remember their previous performance!

I don't want to appear snide, or patronizing, or cynical, but most voters will agree that what the candidates say during debates may not, and probably will not, relate closely to what they will do if they're elected.  (Of course, in the case of candidates known to be deceitful--and we won't mention names--you just know that  they don't have a clue as to how to go about doing anything, and they never had any intention of doing it anyway! Well, no reason to get discouraged . . .)

There are good reasons for this.
1. Collaboration.  Most of the difficult things they want to do needs support from Congress; and what Congress wants to do and what the president promises have to be merged and forged into what actually gets done.  Of course, a president with a melodramatic style will demand that his or her vision be put into action first, and then pretend to reluctantly compromise, claiming that it is a sign of their willingness to be flexible.
2. Flexibility.  We want to hope that the president is intelligent, and can learn from the best ideas of others.  This presentation of themselves as coming to the debates with all their program fully formed, like Venus rising from the waves, is a concession to the worst aspects of media coverage.  The media is usually harsh with any candidate who appears to show that they don't know the details of their plans.  Some of the most weak-minded candidates did take the time to learn the details of their own plans, but then clung to those details so tenaciously that we must suspect that they did not realize that they were details.  And of course you can't change your mind about any detail, because that would be Flip-Flopping, another modern evil invented and enjoyed by the most mediocre of news personalities.
3. The next point is rather a sad one.  Marketing.  None of the candidates can do anything unless they're elected, and manage to defeat the incumbent (whose name eludes me for the moment).  Therefore, they must declare policies that are a hybrid between what they want personally (which is ultimately only of secondary importance), what their constituents want (which is important), and what undecided voters want, which is actually pretty important as well.  So there are all sorts of calculations going on.  These are the calculations that they teach you in Politics School; it is called political science, and since its birth, the political calculations that the average citizen can make have become a lot more complicated.  We spend a lot of time second-guessing every candidate, and reading between the lines of what they say; was that a marketing statement?

Something that pleased me was that at least a couple of the candidates recognized that the entire row of debaters last night were actually on the same page on most of the issues.  There are transcripts that you can read to get the details; I'm only trying to present general observations, because in my view general observations are important.

4.  There was fair agreement that border security was necessary.  Even if a candidate was of the opinion that an open border would be nice, it is not practical.  In the best of all worlds, there would be no borders; we know that.  But since we cannot share all government services with our pals in the southern countries, we have to have a border.  This is reality; it is also marketing, because the Democrats have been rapped on the knuckles for giving the impression that they really wanted an open border.  There was some disagreement about other aspects of immigration, and rightly so; Immigration is one of the most difficult problems to get our heads around, given that out of the wealth at the disposal of the government with which to provide services to the people, a large proportion is tied up with entities that are controlled by the most wealthy.  There just isn't enough money to waste on unworthy illegal immigrants.

5.  There was agreement that Universal Health Care was necessary.  The more conservative of the candidates wanted that to be reached within so many years; others wanted it right away.  There was considerably less agreement on whether private insurance would be abolished.  Some candidates, who have studied the problem personally, are more inclined to deal harshly with the Health Insurance Industry, to the point of killing it dead.  This seems unnecessarily extreme, and would probably be regarded as constitutionally impossible.

6.  There was agreement that the most wealthy people and corporations had to pay their fair share of taxes.  Even one of the most wealthy candidates on stage agreed that this was reasonable.  However, he seemed reluctant to support the inheritance tax.

There seemed insufficient talk about the so-called downstream races that are so important this election year.  If the Democrats gain a majority in both houses, then un-veto-able legislation could be contemplated.  There is a lot of--well-earned--hostility towards Mitch McConnell, and great determination to unseat him.  The same goes for Susan Collins of Maine, and Martha McSally of Arizona.  If Democrats win all three seats, the Senate will effectively have a bare Republican majority (since the Vice President is the chair of the Senate, and has a casting vote).

There was also little talk about Climate Change.  Many of the candidates said at the first debate that rejoining the Paris Accords would be their first order of business.  But I get the impression that candidates are fearful about backlash from talking about environmental issues.  Let's face it: with an ignorant population, disaster is almost inevitable.  With half the population distrustful of science, and the other half hunkering down to pray, things are looking bleak.  But Be of Good Cheer, as Charles Schultz famously said.

The bottom line is that, in fact, I would be satisfied for anyone on the stage to be the Democrat nominee.  If the vote were to go on straight party lines, then the Democrats would win if enough of them came out to vote.  Elizabeth Warren kept making that point: enough people would come out to vote only if they were voting on a platform of policies that was exciting and imaginative.  On the other hand, there are more mature voters who would only be comfortable with "more of same", which is something only aging Democrats want.  Aging Republicans, on the other hand, voted for Trump because they did not want more of same; it is difficult to guess what they will do this time.


Friday, July 26, 2019

The Mueller Hearings

I do not have any special insights into, or additional information about, the Mueller hearings; to paraphrase some baseball hero: All I know is what I see on TV, and read on the Internet.
Mueller looked confused, and stumbled.  Apparently he was a lot sharper when he was younger--which strikes me as amazing--and was a lot quicker to respond.  This investigation alone, and its implications, would have aged anyone.  We're not accustomed to thinking about the White House as a hotbed of anarchy, even if it has been often the source of serious wrongdoing, crime, or even misbehavior.  The way things stand now, Mueller must have felt very exposed for a couple of years.  Compared with the shenanigans of Kenneth Starr, Mueller's behavior was the epitome of rectitude.  (But what do I know?)
Does Mueller's team have the ability to totally exonerate?  This sounds like a good point; in criminal law, one can convict--in which case, there has been no exoneration at all--or one can not convict--in which case there has been neither total conviction, nor total--what's the word?--exculpation.  The word exoneration is being used here in a colloquial sense, and one wonders whether it should have found its way into the report.  In response to the Administration's crowing about 'No Collusion,' etc, perhaps it was put there to make it clear that ongoing investigations could still yield some damning conclusions, for a later, more appropriate time.
Russian Interference in Election 2016.  Mueller was explicit in stating that there had been systematic efforts--largely successful--to sway voters before the election, and direct interference by means of hacking into Ms. Clinton's email account, and the Democratic National Convention computers, etc.  All the hacking is criminal, and all the efforts put into social media subversion probably comes close to being criminal, but to my eyes, it seems just glorified propaganda.  Since we Americans exist in an atmosphere of aggressive marketing (which is close to the President's idea of Fake News), we are both more susceptible to swallowing propaganda than the Russians themselves, but we're also inured to marketing in some ways.
It seems to me that the Republican strategy of restricting polling access was arguably a more direct and significant influence on the election outcome than Russian fiddling with facebook and twitter.  It is pathetic to point the finger at how much of an effect the Russians had on feeble-minded Pennsylvanians and their beliefs; Pennsylvanian conservatives absolutely rejoice in the feeblemindedness of their constituents.
Distraction.  By now, most of us are well aware of the principal Trump (and New Alt-Right) technique of distraction.  The onslaught of polemic from Trump and company is often stepped up when they are about to quietly take some very deliberate action to do something terrible.  At present, what they're trying to do is to win the 2020 election, to get done all sorts of unfinished business having to do with supreme court justices, appointing other federal judges, more legislation to benefit the wealthy, and big business, and giving away access to National Parks, etc.  Health Care and Immigration are only distractions, at this stage.  There are some diehard conservatives who keep those topics in the forefront, but the Republicans just can't bring themselves to put in the work it would take to replace the ACA (a.k.a. 'Obamacare') with anything that the people would like, and the insurance companies would like.  Immigration is even more difficult, and almost anything they try will result in howls of protest, from many among the Republicans as well as outside the GOP.
Another thing Republicans (and their Alt-Right Running Dogs) want, is for the Democrats to fight among themselves and select an nonviable nominee.  But I personally don't think steering the nomination towards someone who is deemed to have winnability is something we could live with (though it certainly looks as if the candidates themselves are making winnability calculations that are alarmingly cynical).  However, choosing the candidate of whom Trump seems most afraid of is surrendering more power to Trump than is comfortable to me.  He isn't intelligent, but he is tricky.
In conclusion, I do think Impeachment might be the right thing to do, as Robert Reich says; but beginning Impeachment proceedings could send a lot of lazy Republicans to the polls, who might otherwise be more interested in swilling beer and hunting deer, and so on (just kidding; they're probably wonderful people working ordinary jobs and drinking diet Coke, like everyone else).  This election, like most others, will be determined by who stays home.  And also by how successful the GOP is in discouraging minority voters.  The GOP never minds what minorities do actually--to paraphrase Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady--as long as they don't vote.
A Few Thoughts that Have Nothing To Do With the Mueller Report
I'm sorry to see the negativity that surrounded Beto O'Rourke's First Debate performance.  He seemed to be very careful in his statements, but that caution came across as hesitation.  If he settled down, and became quicker on his feet, he would have been a great candidate, though the tide of Democrat opinion seems to be to nominate a female / minority / young candidate.  Beto is certainly young, but . . .
Perhaps it's a little too early for this, but the success of any future Democrat presidency will not be dependent on the know-how and agenda of a single man or woman.  I must be a collaboration; something that the GOP cannot do.  There has to be a team, the members of which must work like dogs to repair the economy (though in statistical terms, the economy is performing in such a way that it gives Wall Street daily--thrills--shall we say).  Bear in mind that there are some extremely wealthy people who actually advocate higher taxes for upper-income individuals and corporations.  My belief is that these people know that the US infrastructure is sadly lagging behind, and the government can support repairing infrastructure and extending it and developing it only if the tax dollars are available.
The Green New Deal has a lot of window-dressing, but most definitely environmental action can no longer be kicked down the road.  A president who is good for the US will have to be someone persuasive enough to convince the people to adopt at least a few austerity measures.  I worry about water quality.  I worry about education.  I worry about deforestation.  I worry about the politics of Central America, and the opportunists, hardliners and crooks (not all the same people) who tend to snatch power there, sometimes with US clandestine help.  A huge deal of talent will have to be brought to bear on the problems that have been deferred for the last several years, and more that have been actually caused in the last several years.  I worry about plastic waste, but I fear that contracts might be taken out on anyone who brings that up, from both parties.

Okay; I need to go eat some oatmeal; we all need to keep healthy and sane, and tackle problems a few at a time, and be little Eveready Bunnies for the foreseeable future.


Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Being a Leader of Society; Being a Public Personality; Being a Citizen

I guess FaceBook has come to stay; despite everything I hate about FaceBook—and I wish someone will invent a substitute for it; I don't mind paying a nominal fee to have something like FaceBook without the oppressive disadvantages—it looks as though I can't stay away from it. 
No, this post is not about FaceBook!
Leonard Bernstein, c. 1950
(On FaceBook,) I 'Liked' the page of Leonard Bernstein, a personality well known to music lovers, and many others of a certain era.  Periodically, the page posts a statement that Bernstein has made on some subject or other; sometimes responding to topical issues, other times simply inspired by whatever moves the person or persons who own that page.  (Obviously not Mr. Bernstein himself; he's dead.)  And it struck me that Bernstein never made any statement with which I disagreed.
No, this post is not about Leonard Bernstein, either, though he was an amazing, admirable person.  As you probably know, music is one of my major interests, and I have lots of opinions about it.  But, once you get to know Bernstein, about Bernstein, you are struck by the breadth of music that Bernstein liked, and appreciated, and was anxious to popularize.  I mean, there were a few sorts of music that he did not particularly like, but they were vastly in the minority.
What Bernstein commented on was essentially about being a human being.  About being someone who lived on this planet.  About knowing all the wonderful things that there are on this planet, (and out of it, if it comes to that,) appreciating them, and loving them, and bringing them to the attention of everyone who had a moment to spare.  (Bernstein was not unique; Carl Sagan is another one, and arguably Neil Degrasse Tyson is yet another, with perhaps a smaller set of interests on which he comments.)
I have often written about my belief that a college education is about knowing what there is in the world that we should care about, and be interested in.  Some people prefer not to know.  If it isn't mine, then what do I care?  This is a defensive posture; it avoids the pain of worrying about things over which you don't have direct control.  But it detracts from that thread of concern that connects you to the world, that you need to make sense of what you see in the news; to talk to people whom you meet, to make sense of the motives of others; to reach out to those with common concerns, in order to make joint efforts to solve problems.  A college education is also about focusing in on matters about which you care greatly, to train to specialize on that area, with a view to working in a field that interests you.  (But we know that many go to college purely to be qualified to get a high-paying job, even if they don't have time to learn very much about the qualifications for that job the energy or the inclination to pursue those subjects to the necessary depth.)
The reason that the emphasis has changed from connection to the world to getting a high-paying job is because employment is steered today by businesses---or employers of which the majority are businesses---and hiring practices are subject to maximizing profits and minimizing costs.  In fact, there is lots of money to go round. But the competition for financial resources is so fierce among the most wealthy that it appears to ordinary folks like us that there is very little money to spare.  Everyone's attention is so completely on money, because for many students, there is great doubt whether they will be able to earn enough money to have a reasonable lifestyle, that nobody talks about falling in love with our planet and its people.  It only comes up occasionally, in a graduation address, and nobody actually listens.  To be honest, a living wage, or a comfortable wage is important before we can stop being drudges, and are able to free our minds to think.  But you see all around you, people who are kept from being free to think, because they were either denied the opportunity to attend college, or attended college as if it were a vocational school.
Because it is no longer feasible to leave it to high-school teachers and college professors to deliver basic lessons on universal values: the conservation of cultural and Art treasures, and knowledge of history; of natural resources; protection of valued ways of life; it is up to parents to take up the slack.  Those of us who were lucky enough to have been told about the treasures of the world, we're going to have an easier time of it.  For the rest of us, there are numerous programs on TV: The National Geographic (which could be weaponized by Murdoch any day now; for the moment it seems politically neutral); the Discovery Channel (I don't really know anything about it), and so on.  We have to be critical, because soon these channels might be dispensing absolute crapola.
Unfortunately for everybody, there are not many public models for young people to emulate.  One has to look very hard to identify a public personage who demonstrates the properties of caring for others, for valuing the cultures of other lands; for appreciating the Arts.  This is very painful.  In the parable of the Talents, Jesus is reported to have said words to the effect that from those to whom much is given, much is expected.  Unfortunately again, the culture of the most affluent in the nation seems to go in the direction of effectively saying that they didn't get where they are by being expected to give much.  Ironically they talk about makers and takers, but it is they who take.  We cannot expect much charity from them, and we cannot expect much leadership from them, and we cannot expect much polite speech, and we cannot expect intelligence.  We can only expect them to take mean advantage of any weak opponent; that's how they make their money—with a few notable exceptions.
Well, I had much more to say, but it has fled my mind.  Perhaps it is just as well; my blog posts often tend to ramble off topic.  This time, it has just stalled!  The skills needed to be a citizen are actually learned in high school: mathematical, statistical, logical, language skills.  High schools may not be as efficient in teaching these skills as they once were, but I get the impression that teachers still convey these ideas fairly well.  It is impossible to possess these skills, and not convey them to students of an appropriate age.

Friday, July 12, 2019

A Mid-Life Crisis That David Brooks Turned Into Gold

First, watch this, and I'll eventually give my thoughts on it!  David Brooks
By the way, I didn't mean gold in the sense of money; I meant valuable insights for us.

(For those of you still wondering whether it is worth spending your precious time watching this TED talk by David Brooks, here's a little more information!  (I know, I know: people have no clue how busy you are.  Idiots, all of them.)   David is the conservative counterpart to the liberal voice of Mark Shields, in the reflection / opinion portion of PBS News Hour, with Judy Woodruff.  Just the fact that David Brooks has been selected for this job to some degree indicates that he is a moderate, and that he is at least capable of civil and rational speech, and of reasonable reactions to the news of the day.  Among conservative voices, today, there is almost no other voice to which liberals listen to on an ongoing basis.)

Monday, July 1, 2019

A Very Simple Instance of Control Logic

My latest idea for a blog post might get some readers interested, and others annoyed!
I'm going to describe how I think a humble (old-time) clothes-dryer works, and then I'm going to Google that question, and see how far off I am!
The whole idea of control systems---temperature control systems, for example---is very clever, and over several decades, engineers who design these systems have got them refined really nicely, and it's a lot of fun to learn about.  (While we're doing it, I can show you how this sort of thing is represented using very traditional computer code.  Computer code is a lot of fun, and little kids are beginning to learn it, at school, or at home.)

Your Clothes-Dryer
(1) You put your damp clothes in.  Avoid putting actually wet clothes; unless you have items that are very delicate indeed, it is a good idea to run your clothes through the spin-dryer a second time, especially if you have jeans, or towels, or other really heavy items.  There are two clocks.  One is the timer you set, for how long you want your clothes dried.  The other has to do with a little internal timer, just so that each step goes for a minute, or whatever.
You turn the Dryer ON.
(2) The temperature starts to rise.  The Dryer waits a measured amount of time.
(3) Here we have a branching step.  The Dryer checks the temperature.
(4a) IF the temperature is below the cutoff temperature, the Dryer heats again, for a measured amount of time.
(4b) On the other hand, IF the temperature is at or above the cutoff, the Dryer stops heating, and waits a measured amount of time, and runs its little timer thing (clock).  If there's no time left on the clock, the Dryer powers off.
(5) Dryer checks the temperature again.
(6a) IF temperature is below the cutoff, Dryer heats again, for a measured amount of time, but does not run the clock.
(6b) If temperature is at, or above, the cutoff, Dryer stops heating, and runs the clock.  If there's no time left, Dryer powers off.

So that's essentially it!  As you can see, steps 3 and 5 are actually identical, and steps (4a) and (4b) are identical with (6a) and (6b).  Quite honestly, most people who have a dryer have probably guessed that this is the program of the thing.
The important detail to remember is that when the heating cycle is going on, the clock is paused.  The clock only runs when the clothes are not being heated.
What we really want to know is how dry the clothes are.  But dryness is difficult to measure directly.  Here, the dryer does something very clever; it depends on the idea of latent heat.  Water needs some energy (heat) to evaporate; while it is being evaporated, its temperature does not rise.
When the clothes are heated, if the clothes do not get hotter, this means that there is water, and more heating will be good, the clothes will not burn.
When the clothes are heated, if the clothes do get hotter, it's time to stop, or the clothes will get scorched.
To summarize, the dryer keeps heating the clothes (for measured periods of time) only as long as the temperature drops at the end of the cycle.  When the temperature rises at the end of a cycle, the heat is switched off, and the timer starts counting down.  If you've set the 'Dryness Level' to be very dry, the Dryer keeps returning to the heating cycle, and sees whether a little heating is received without overheating the clothes.  This can easily happen; the surface moisture of a towel, or a pair of jeans can dry off, but the moisture in the inner layers with diffuse out, and the item will behave again like a damp fabric.  So given that your Dryer is not going to use X-rays of some chemical magic to analyze your clothes, it's up to you to set the Dryer to go for longer if you have heavy, dense fabrics, and to go for less time, and use lower cutoff temperatures, if you have delicate fabrics that should dry quickly.
Now: I have to Google this question: how does the control on my dryer work?

Back From Google
Well, that was disappointing; all the articles were packed with information such as 'How the temperature limiter switch works', and 'What to do if your dryer won't start.'  A lot of the self-help information on the Web has been put there by people who are trouble-shooters, and not those who are merely curious; or people who think that the mechanism is so obvious that it doesn't need further elaboration!

The diagram at right, called a flow-of-control chart, or just a flowchart, shows visually how the control branches when the various sensors (actually, just a temperature sensor, and of course, the clock(s)) make the logical system ask itself questions.  In this version, the control starts off with a couple of checks, one just for safety, and the other to simplify one of the loops.

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