Friday, July 31, 2020

Quite a Pickle

Well, as Hardy never said to Laurel, this is quite a pickle we’re in.
The main pickle, in my humble opinion, is what to do with the kids.  They need to be kept out from underfoot while we bang our heads against the walls!  But seriously, while I don’t seriously believe that one semester’s absence from school would hurt any kid at all, multiple semesters really could.  I’m not an expert, but there are issues quite apart from the curriculum: social development, and the stress level of the little guys, which translates into the stress level of the adults.
Let’s briefly talk about online education, and home schooling.
Teachers hate online education, and so do parents.  Parents are coming to hate home schooling, because the stressed-out kids are difficult to handle, and the material isn’t completely ready (I don’t know this for certain, but I strongly suspect) for delivery by parents, who are amateurs.  If parents knew the subject-matter, it would be very different.  But it is the American Way (pardon my French) not to take school information seriously.  School is, for many of us, something we do—did, at one time, anyway—between keeping track of what was happening in baseball.
In some families, the kids would pay attention, if the adults who delivered the material were rotated.  Instead of Mom delivering all the curriculum, what if Uncle Bill did it every other day, while Mom taught Uncle Bill’s kids?  Kids would pay much more attention to a competent relative or friend, instead of their parents the whole time.  (Uncle Bill would have to talk to the kids over Zoom, or some such application; I'm not advocating that Bill should come visiting.)
The schoolwork has to be rationed out in very tiny doses.  Forget several hours at a time.  Half an hour is as much as they could stand.
These sheltering times have the potential for being a period in which some kids learn more than they have ever learned before, if teachers and parents and friends all collaborate on being creative about home schooling.
Home Schooling is not the only thing on our minds, obviously.  Business owners are trying to think how to adjust to the fact that their business has the potential to be a super-spreading center, which would ruin their reputations, and cause the authorities to shut them down.  Meanwhile, they can’t lay off too many people indiscriminately, because it would make it difficult to open back up once the time is right.  (Right now, in many localities, the time is not right.  Where we live, we had COVID cases only in double digits until this week, when we’ve gone into the triple digits.)
Many of us find it difficult to be creative and imaginative in coming up with solutions, because the chief engine of our creativity was the ability to talk with our buddies.  Most of our ideas arrive when we’re shooting the breeze with the guys (or gals).
We need to be creative and imaginative about delivering the curriculum—it has to be a highly modified curriculum, because of our dramatically changed circumstances—to the kids, all the way from Kindergarten to high school, and even college, and, furthermore, it has to be done for, as far as we can see, only a couple of years, at the most.  Nobody is willing to devote the best of their thinking to a temporary solution to a temporary problem.
I don’t mean to be harsh, but many conservatives, especially the poorly educated ones, have the mindset, probably, that education is basically the responsibility of the liberals.  (The exception is when it comes to Creationism, and Political and Economic theory.)  The liberals do not have a problem with this; they’re perfectly willing to devote some thought to the problem of education, in good times.  Right now, they’re worrying about so many things—the pandemic, the state of the economy, the mental health of their friends, the November elections, the foolishness of the White House, the infuriating onslaught from Fox News—that being creative about the kids is the furthest from their minds.  So the normal Brains Trust is too distracted to think about schooling.
And, most tragically, many of us are concerned mostly with getting the kids back to some magically enhanced school situation where they will not be at risk for infection (good luck with that), but which will allow the parents to go to work the second that the various regional administrations give the word to “Open Up,” and provide good rules for opening up safely.  (Good luck with that, too.  I’m not against it; I just sincerely doubt that typical workers have the intelligence to put into operation sane procedures that would keep themselves and their co-workers safe from infection.)
Look, in the Third World, people live in such densely populated areas, such as high-rise tenements, so that if one person gets the infection, pretty soon the entire building gets the infection, just because the virus piggy-backs on water droplets and gets into circulation in the air.  For example, in airplanes, to avoid infections, the air has to be very aggressively purified before re-circulation.  (They also dry the air, because dry air is easier to filter.  That's why many of us find ourselves coughing when we fly.)  In the tenements of poor countries, air filtration systems do not exist, and there are enormous infection spikes.
We, in the USA, are lucky, because our population density is very much thinner, except in the poor neighborhoods where practical nurses, and meat packers live.  The burden of this epidemic (okay, pandemic; it makes no difference) falls more squarely on the poor.  Trump’s administration is steadily loosening environmental regulations, so that the pollution makes it difficult to breathe, on top of the effects of the coronavirus on people with breathing problems.  It is almost as if the affluent elements in the GOP were deliberately trying to exterminate the poor, who usually vote Democrat.  (I’m sure this is not really an objective; but if they see that this is the appearance their policies have, they might reconsider.)
So remember: it is going to take a degree of creativity to solve the short-term problem of the education of kids, both great (college-age) and small; and people need to think logically about what they need to do if, and when, their community decides to open up.  A bad mask is better than no mask.  Distancing is important.  Any businesses that can carry out some of their operations in the open air are likely to be better at preventing infection than those whose operation have to take place indoors.  (My daughter works in a printing press; unfortunately, outdoor printing presses do not exist.  And she lives in Arizona, where you cannot keep the doors open in the 100 degree heat.)  Aggressive ventilation and filtration is important.  That’s a business opportunity for any company that can improve existing air circulation equipment.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Joe Biden, and his Vice President

Many months ago, Mr. Joe Biden, the Democrat nominee apparent for President, promised to choose a woman for his vice president.  When the dust settles down, I feel confident that he will fulfill his promise: he will select as running-mate a woman, and most probably a black woman, though that cannot be considered as a given.  Most Democrats seem to believe that it would be best, from many points of view, if Joe Biden's running mate were to be a black woman.

Just as when John McCain was running for President around 2008, it seems very calculated that Joe Biden will select a running-mate this way.  The same could be said about John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson; and even with Donald Trump and Micheal Pence, and even Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine.

In this case, it looks even worse; it looks like tokenism.  However, I have a feeling that if Biden were to win the Presidency, he could be one of the best presidents we have had in a long time, provided the Republicans take defeat graciously, which is a huge proviso.  The single biggest thing we haven't seen from the GOP is graciousness, this last four years.  But then, the country has not regarded the GOP with anything like respect, which is probably not surprising.

Unlike other years, if Biden is to be successful in the Presidency, the Vice President is likely to be a large factor in that success.  Unless Biden tries to 'safely' pack the VP off with some nominal portfolio, such as nutrition in schools, the VP can be instrumental in:
  • bringing issues before Biden, e.g. environmental issues, and social justice issues that Biden might be inclined to drag his feet on.
  • If Biden wants to compromise on some of the objectives that conservative Democrats view as radical, this VP can nudge the compromise closer to the spirit of the original idea.
  • Mike Pence has been an absolute failure at supporting the president's initiatives, except among the Alt-Right, which has always been solidly behind the president anyway.  In contrast, I would expect that Biden's VP is likely to be far more effective and eloquent and articulate.
Another fact that makes me very unhappy indeed, is that many of the choices for VP that Biden seems to be considering already have elected office as Senators or Congresswomen, or even Governors.  Stacy Abrams and Susan Rice seem to be the two women who will not leave Democrat seats unfilled in either the House or the Senate, or a Governor's office.  Miss Abrams has been criticized as being too young, and Ms Rice has never held elected office.


Monday, July 27, 2020

A Brief History of the Presidency since Nixon

Nixon.  Nixon resigned in the middle of his term, which Gerald Ford finished out, having pardoned Nixon for his crimes.
Carter.  Jimmy Carter campaigned against Jerry Ford, and, as I recollect, easily out-argued and out-campaigned Ford, at least in the eyes of the Democrats and other liberals.
Carter was a trained engineer and Navy man, and was well prepared for his duties in the White House. But meanwhile, trouble was brewing in Iran, which was supplying a lot of our oil at that time. The US, through the good offices of the CIA (haha), and with the collaboration of the Brits, had overthrown the elected secular leader of Iran, and installed a king instead: Reza Pallavi. But waiting in Paris was the religious leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, who was managing the student revolutionaries in Iran. When the king (Shah Reza Pallavi), who had cancer at the time, headed for the USA, student Islamic revolutionaries took over the US Embassy, and held the staff there as hostages, and the Ayatollah returned from Paris. Incidentally, this immediately stopped the oil flowing in from Iran, and oil prices skyrocketed from the usual cents at the pump, to a couple of dollars at the pump, as they are now. It was the easiest thing in the world to blame this on Carter. Carter was all about energy conservation, and environmental conservation, but without oil, nobody was willing to listen to any other issues.
Reagan.  Ronald Reagan won by a landslide, helped largely by the energy crisis, which was conflated with Carter's very clear liberal bias, and a very conservative CIA and possibly the Pentagon, and brought in a Republican congress as well. Taxes were reduced, and many of the laws that we have in place today were brought in by Reagan. He did raise taxes on at least one occasion, but Republicans would forgive him anything. The drug wars began.
Reagan was in the White House for eight years, but then Democrats couldn't stand him any longer. But George H. W. Bush won the election against Walter Mondale (or was it Gary Hart?).
George H.W. Bush.  Bush senior is remembered mainly for pushing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. Apparently the Iraqis claimed that Kuwait historically belonged to them, and when Saddam's quiet inquiries about whether the US would retaliate if Iraq were to invade Kuwait was met with ambiguous responses, he attacked Kuwait. To his surprise, the US came to the aid of Kuwait, and attacked Iraq, and drove them out of Kuwait, and then withdrew. Many conservatives back home in the US thought it was a wasted opportunity; that we should have gone right into Baghdad and annexed the Iraqi oilfields. But, read on.
Bill Clinton.  Clinton won the debates and the election as a moderate. He readjusted the tax structure, with the taxes of the wealthiest somewhat higher than Reagan had set them, and with Welfare Services moderately well funded, but of course, the Republicans nevertheless whined about unworthy Welfare Queens, who supposedly lived the high life on Welfare, and paid no taxes and did no work. Clinton compromised by allowing a bill that required work for Welfare.
The Republicans hated Clinton's success, and tried everything to get rid of him, mainly accusing him of participating in Real Estate swindles, and Sexual misbehavior, and ultimately, lying under oath. In Clinton's second term, when the Democrat voters were far too cowardly to come out to vote for Democrats in Congress, Clinton never had a moment's peace in the White House.
George W. Bush.  As many of us remember, the Florida elections had problems with equipment (or so they say!) and there was a tie between Bush, and the Democrat Al Gore, who was an enthusiastic champion on environmental causes. The Supreme Court had to intervene, and the Presidency was given to George W. Bush.
Bush had to deal with the 9 / 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, masterminded by people of Saudi Arabian origin, but working outside Saudi Arabia. A couple of years after the attacks, for some reason (mostly because various elements thought it more profitable to attack Iraq than Afghanistan, or Pakistan) the US declared war on Iraq, which resulted in horrible loss of life in Iraq, the death of Saddam Hussein, and the discovery that Weapons of Mass Destruction were notably missing from Iraq.
Nevertheless, Bush hung on for a second term, and finally faced Barack Obama.
Barack Obama.  Obama, throughout his two terms, faced the vicious attempts of Donald Trump, (who had no official standing whatsoever,) to try and prove that he (Obama) was not American by birth. This did not avail Trump anything, except to send a signal to various parties in the USA that Trump was hostile to non-Caucasian people aspiring to the Presidency. That was the beginning and the end of the entire “Birthism” movement; an extension of dog-whistle politics.
Obamacare, or the ACA, was made into law in Obama's term, much to the frustration of conservatives. But now that Democrats and all liberals have seen how Obamacare works, it has been found difficult to rip it out from under the feet of working class people, who have heretofore struggled to obtain reasonable health care.
Donald Trump.  Trump got to the White House, defeating Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College. In his early weeks in the White House, Trump was preoccupied with building a wall, to hinder migration across the southern border from Mexico. (Trump has maintained an appearance of despising Latinos, especially Mexicans. This seems simply a public stance, to attract the members of the populace who are threatened by Latinos present in the US.  In fact, it is easy to imagine that dozens of Latinos and other minorities are employed in Trump's various hotels.)
Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, has successfully kept the Senate from taking up any Democrat legislation sent up from the lower House, prevented Obama from appointing any Supreme Court judges, and appointed hundreds of conservative appellate judges, and one Supreme Court judge of dubious qualification.

Taking Trump's support for granted, various White Supremacist groups held rallies, notably in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a woman was killed: Heather Heyer. Trump failed to condemn the event, as the Supremacist groups had anticipated.

Trump and the Republicans roundly lost the lower House in the mid-term elections of 2018. Meanwhile, Trump was frantically negotiating with foreign heads of state for assistance in obtaining information to sabotage the candidacy of Joe Biden. Furthermore, an inquiry by a special prosecutor had turned up various dubious actions by Trump, his campaign team, and people close to him in the White House, culminating in a phone call, directly requesting dope on Biden in exchange for the release of funds already approved by Congress. This was the last straw, which precipitated articles of impeachment in Congress.

In early 2019, he was impeached by Congress, but not convicted by the Trump-friendly Senate. But, as the year wore on, we were becoming aware of the Coronavirus mutation, which was causing the sickness we now call COVID-19. Preoccupied by the Impeachment, Trump failed to act on the virus. Perhaps his advisors told him that the virus would pass, without causing much of a problem. (Many people have been in the habit of considering a virus as a minor threat, compared with bacteria. There are good reasons for this, with ordinary viruses. But this virus is not of the ordinary variety.)

Then, across the nation, Police excesses against unarmed Blacks, (and many homicides of unarmed Blacks by civilian whites) resulted in the rebirth of the Black Lives Matter movement.  Trump miserably failed to provide leadership for that moment, preferring, once again, to threaten protesters, including peaceful protesters.  Many Confederate memorials were pulled down, to which Trump expressed opposition.  Note that many of these monuments were erected long after the end of the Civil War, during a time when Whites were expressing frustration at having Blacks in positions of administrative responsibility, such as in state houses, and in important occupations.  It was a means of intimidating Blacks, by reminding them of the war in which many Blacks were killed.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Describing America

People love to describe America, and Americans.  We ourselves love to do this, and so does the rest of the world.  Why is this?
Because, as everything becomes more complicated, we need to simplify.  Instead of describing 330,000,000 people individually, we just give them one single description.
They're rich.
They're rotten.
They're bad at math.
They all love Trump.
and so on.  We may as well say: they're all women, because females are a slight majority.  (I had better check that . . . Whoa; there are significantly more women than men.)
The very complexity that makes it necessary to make generalizations about us, actually makes these generalizations less valid.  I've listened to people doing this for decades, and I have gotten increasingly worried about the phenomenon of generalizing about the attitudes of Americans concerning various things.
The news and the Internet makes generalizations about us.  But we, private individuals, make generalizations as well, and our generalizations tend to flow from the people we know.  And guess what?  The circle of people anyone knows has changed over the years.  In the 40's, I have a feeling, a typical person knew a bigger variety of types of people than a typical person knows now.  I could be quite wrong; it may have varied wildly from year to year, and person to person.  But in the last decade or so, since political attitudes have begun to diverge so strongly, people tend to stick with like-minded others, so that our generalizations are based on our bubbles, and we don't really know what others outside our bubble are thinking, except through the media.
Now we come to the elephant in the room: Black Lives Matter.  As I understand it, the phrase has a very definite sense that few people have taken the trouble to understand.
It means that white people should not consider killing black people as no big deal.
Once you put it that way, it becomes obvious that it is true.  Black folk immediately understand this; that the phrase BLM is simply a sloganization of that statement.  The importance of that remark is that we should not go around saying that we disagree with the phrase 'Black Lives Matter', and that any person who says that black lives matter is wrong, and should be xxxxx, whatever it is.  We may quarrel with that statement above in boldface being reduced to BLM, but to save time, we should accept that that abbreviation—created by Black folk, since it affects them the most—should continue to be accepted by us, until racism is no longer a problem, at which time we can invent a better abbreviation.

People on Facebook often put each other on the defensive about being racist.  The important thing is to realize that we cannot blame African Americans for being in the USA.  Many whites—fortunately not a majority—subconsciously feel that African Americans are out of line trying to be American citizens.  This issue has been hashed out more than a century ago; if you consciously thought about it, you know that African Americans have every right to be here, same as everyone else, in fact they have a better right, because they were hauled here, and plunked down here, and suffered countless humiliations, until today, when some of us are indignant at the righteous anger of Blacks at somehow being kept in poverty.
Of course, not all Blacks are poor.  A large minority has managed to become moderately well off, by essentially adopting white culture.  I believe that the majority of Black folks are genuinely reluctant to adopt white culture for several reasons.

Foremost among these is that they love Black culture.  (Many whites do not understand this, and think that this clinging to Black culture is just stubbornness.  There may be elements of stubbornness involved, but genuine love for Black culture and traditions is a far bigger reason.)

Another reason is that most Blacks are uncomfortable adopting white culture.  (Asians don't; Latinos don't; Arabs don't; Jews don't adopt white culture completely; so why should Blacks be criticized for remaining outside it?)

Finally, there is the suspicion that even if they adopt white culture, Whites will ridicule them for not getting it right.  (Obviously, whether they do or they don't depends on the white person involved.  There is great diversity among whites, even though some of them do not realize this.)  So it is a small minority of Blacks that have been able to become so completely assimilated into white culture that they have acquired a certain degree of prosperity.  While some whites secretly despise them, other whites are eager to point at them as success stories, and demand to know why all blacks can't assimilate like that.
The terminology is also vague.  Many whites think they are racist because they merely do not like Black folk.  Do Black folk want to be liked, or do they only want to be left in peace, and allowed to do anything a white person does; have as nice a house; work only as hard as a white person, but no harder; have their children go to as nice colleges as white children, and so on?  I don't identify as Black, so I don't know the answer to that question (and neither does any single Black person; the answer is different for each individual).  But it seems to me that some white folk do not want Black folk to have those things.  The biggest give-away was to see the anger of many white people when Barack Obama was elected President.  Many of us thought: it's about time someone whose head and whose heart was in the right place was elected to the White House.  But a few of us thought: A BLACK PRESIDENT?  WTF?
And those of us who were thinking WTF looked at our fellows, our friends and acquaintances, and either saw other people who celebrated Obama, or others who were just as stunned and unhappy as we were, and made generalizations about what white people were thinking.
Honestly, it has been decades since most people consciously thought that Black folks were born to be shot and killed by police.  But there were many of us who unconsciously thought, well, innocent Blacks getting shot by police is just a necessary concomitant to Law and Order, and keeping people safe; it can't be helped.  I thought like this too, until I stopped.  It is not that Black folks are asking for it.  It is that many of us have been OK with white folks being trigger-happy with Black folks, white folks owning more guns, and white folks getting away Scott free having committed manslaughter, or first degree murder, or any sort of Blackslaughter.
It may be that Blackslaughter has to become a bigger crime than Whiteslaughter, before things become better for all of us.
Remember when some guys used to complain about reverse discrimination?  I have a feeling that this sort of thing is going to come back, because there is a nucleus of mediocre white folk who resent any sort of advantage that Blacks are given to offset centuries of discrimination.

Monday, July 6, 2020


There’s a lot of hate going round these days; in fact, “hate” has become a sort of cross between a technical term, and a rhetorical weapon in the last several decades.  This means that people accuse someone of hating something or someone just to get a desired result, such as embarrassing them; or people say that they hate someone when they really mean something else, and so on.  I’m going to try and make the case that, at least some of the instances when we are accused of hating someone, or when we suspect that we hate someone, are counterproductive.
Trump.  Hating Trump is a total waste of time.  Obviously many of us feel betrayed by the actions he has taken, and by his past behavior and his utterances, and so on.  All this is aggravated by the Press focusing on his two divorces (or however many).  Now wait.  Ronald Reagan was divorced; what is the bid deal?  Trump does tend to make jokes about his divorces, but a weak sense of humor should not be cause for hate.
Some of the most annoying things about Trump is the team he has gathered around him.  Many Republicans think that this team encourages Trump to do and say things that are mean, vicious, inappropriate, and bad for the country.  There is a reason for this.  Trump’s choice of staff is made with an eye to Trump’s comfort, rather than the good of the nation, or even the good of the GOP.  Why?  Because Trump has realized that there is no GOP that he can figure out.  They all seem to contradict each other.  The one thing that they all agree on, is that they hate the democrats.
Democrats.  Many different sorts of people probably have good reason for hating the Democrats.
They encourage Women, especially into complaining about being mistreated by guys.
They encourage Blacks and Minorities, and those Mexicans.
They keep being nice to those horrible Iranians.
They keep diverting funds to environmental causes.
They hate businesses, and want to stop subsidizing Exxon-Mobil, and destroy Coal.
The list is endless.  Many of the things Democrats fight for, Republicans secretly want to fight for, too.  But once Democrats espouse a cause, it becomes spoilt for Republicans.  For instance, Republicans would have liked to do Health Reform in such a way that their Health Insurance stocks would keep bringing in good dividends, but the Dems screwed that up.  The Dems (the Republicans believe) screw everything up!  Hoo boy.
But the Republicans, who proudly had various initiatives that they could support, now only have a very few initiatives: annoy all foreign governments as fast as possible, lower taxes, and start a war.  (They don't really want a WALL.  That was just a joke.  Dems obviously do not have a sense of humor.  Not the successful Dems, anyway.)
I guess that I’m saying that it is hate that drives Republicans.  The more things that the Democrats like, that the Republicans hate, the more exciting their rallies become.
Socialism.  There are lots of people who do not like people teaming up together to do anything.  If people pool their resources to get better health care, that's Socialism.  If people team up together to get better pay and better working conditions, that's Trade Unionism.  (We have to speak differently about Police Unions.)  Lots of conservatives even despised the Co-operative Movement, which began to decline in the eighties, but which stubbornly stays alive, if in a slightly more Capitalist-Friendly form.
Once a political party has nothing going for it except hating the other party, we normally say that they are philosophically bankrupt, but in Our Great Nation, philosophical bankruptcy is not really a problem.
Trump Again.  The other day I saw a book with an interesting cover, so I bought it.  It was on sale, so I grabbed it without looking at it closely.
It was a book of cartoons.  Every page was a cartoon ridiculing Trump, with a caption that was a quote from someone—occasionally Trump himself!—to illuminate the cartoon.  I got the distinct impression that the author really hated Trump.
I believe that hating a person so intensely saps our energy.  For a brief time, it may energize you to beat the bushes, and get up the vote.  But, long term, hate causes deep problems.  What comes after the elections, no matter what the outcome?
That book I was talking about: it was very funny.  But if a Trump loyalist was to see it, their hate glands would be stimulated beyond control.
Other Republicans have steeled themselves to just ignore Democratic rhetoric; to let it just wash over them, like water off a duck’s back.  I am a rock, they think to themselves, and they are just smoke.  I suspect that anything the Democrats win in the face of conflict will be very temporary.  Obamacare was an exception, simply because it was such a clever piece of legislation.  Most of the hard work of Democrats in the past have been simply negated.
The Supreme Court.  The one way that anyone can pass legislation that cannot be reversed, is to have a Supreme Court that just says no.  Mitch McConnell, bless him, has devoted his last days in the Senate, to assembling just such a Supreme Court.  Luckily for us, it is not easy to herd lawyers, and Chief Justice Roberts has often stood up to the bullying of the GOP, as has other conservative justices.  We don’t know what actions the GOP or Trump have taken that has hardened the heart of these justices against the excesses of the GOP, but there must be a few.
I have no further wisdom to offer, other than to advise against too much hate.  This is the essence of Obama’s mantra: Don’t boo.  Vote.

Friday, June 26, 2020

What Biden Must Do; Which VP he Must Pick; How We should Respond

In the spirit of The Butler Did It, there is a French saying: Look for the woman.  Very French: to blame everything on women.
A similar motif is Follow the Money, in the area of major economic and political puzzles.
At the moment, we’re concerned with several things:
Police brutality, and institutional Racism.  This breaks down into several things: How to reform the Police system; how to change their training, to remove habitual intimidation from it; how to change American Culture, to strip built-in racism from it, e.g. from school textbooks, parenting, etc.  We also need to look at bank lending; real estate practices; all instances of segregation, such as public parks and pools, and so on.  Many cities have different sorts of courts and facilities in different city parks, to encourage white kids to go to one park, and black kids to another.  Similarly, when money runs out, swimming pools in black neighborhoods are more likely to close, because the revenue from concession stands are much weaker, while damage from harsh use may be higher.
An epidemic that is racking up increasing death rates in almost all states, and a national leadership that is more eager to avoid the appearance of concern with the epidemic, which might give the impression of political weakness.  In states where the governor supports wearing masks, and social distancing (an unfortunate term that has unintended connotations; physical distancing gets the point across a lot better), the citizens also tend to wear masks and distance reasonably.  In Pennsylvania, for instance, the vast majority of Democrats (who support the Governor) wear masks and are careful.  The Republicans, who hate the Governor, openly go around flouting mask regulations.  Childish?  Yes.  We are a nation of people who hate to think for ourselves; philosophically, we tend to be like automobile customers; we follow the line that looks the most attractive, without doing our own studying of the problem.
A major problem that has been brought on, on the face of it, by the epidemic, namely the elections.  Polling stations have long lines, which mean that not everybody can vote conveniently.
Republicans, who have an interest in discouraging Blacks from voting, and discouraging the Poor from voting, and discouraging Democrats.
A President who seems to use disinformation as a major political tactic.  Let's put this here as well: a president who has subverted the Justice Department, and blatantly influences the courts.
A Senate that is highly partisan, and whose majority leader concentrates on appointing conservative judges, as opposed to considering legislation.
A Democrat nominee who is looking for a Vice-Presidential running-mate, to get the greatest number of votes in the coming election.
Now, look.  Assuming that the Democrat Party has learned its lesson in 2016: those who disapproved of Hillary Clinton got Donald Trump.  If they were happy about that outcome, we should simply not consider them Democrats.  They may not be Republicans, but to be preoccupied with how they will vote in this year's election is probably not worth the effort.  The lesson is this: if Democrats vote, Trump will have to lose.  The Republicans will vote; for the first time, rank-and-file Republicans feel that their votes are counting for something (counting for Trump, obviously).
At the moment, if all Democrats are allowed to vote, and vote, Biden will be president in 2021.  That will not change between now and November, other things being equal.  It is not the state of the economy that will defeat Trump; it will be the gradual erosion of trust in Trump.

Now we come to the problem of reforming our security forces, our police.  This is intimately tied up with systemic racism, and the way that a typical newborn black infant has to, throughout its life, fight a lot harder and be truly exceptional to be as successful as a typical newborn white infant throughout its life.  However we may view the differences in their life arcs, we have to admit that racism has determined that the the black kid has it harder.
Firstly, I must say that we’re at a pivotal moment in US history, where it might be possible to strike a blow to systemic and societal racism that will put the minority races in the US on a more reasonable trajectory.  It won’t be a single action, or a single piece of legislation that does it; there will have to be effort made over more than a decade, to eradicate all the roadblocks that we put in the path of blacks and minorities (and women) from advancing.  If there is a peaceful protest march in our communities, we ought to join it.  This is no time for sitting it out.  If our leaders know that their hopes for business as usual have disappeared, change must come.
I personally think that if Biden chooses a running-mate who is female and Black, his chances of winning will be better.  But, as I said, if we vote, he will win, no matter who his running-mate is.  But there are other issues.
* If Biden dies, or becomes very sick while in office, this VP must be able to handle being president.  This is not difficult; she will have plenty of help.  But leadership is more than just being elected, as we have found out with Trump.  If we want to be led well, Biden must choose well.  Most of the VP prospects will be able to do this; only Governor Gretchen, being extremely young, would have a tough time with it, but she could grow into the job, if I will be forgiven the idiom.  But she has said she is more concerned with the future of Michigan, which is a praiseworthy concern to have.
* We must choose someone who can support the anti-racism steps that the White House must take immediately.  This includes the reform of Police.  Certainly, almost any of the ladies under consideration will help do this.
* We must choose someone who will encourage Biden to pursue the Health Reform that progressive Democrats want.  At least half the casualties we have with this virus can be ascribed to poor health care.  Most of the VP choices are probably on board with this.
* We must choose someone who will help address the economic unfairness built into US society, US culture, US businesses and banking, and the justice system.  In a sense, this is the whole battle.  Solving the problems of economic disparity, if it is successful, may not solve the problem of racism automatically; when White folks find that there are economically successful Black folks competing with them all around them, it will be convenient for them to exhume long-buried relics of racial prejudice, to give their children some sort of edge over their upstart neighbors.  So racism will probably be a problem in US society and culture for decades to come.

So, my main thrust is this: solving the problem of economic inequality should be the first battle that Biden must fight, and whoever he chooses for his VP, he needs someone who is openly, or covertly, intent on leveling out the economic handicaps that everybody outside the so-called 1% face; in other words, being intent on using the tax code, the health system, everything to make sure that a penurious economic underclass is not allowed to exist.  To do that, he will have to select one of those who has supported Medicare For All, because even if that is no longer a plank of the party platform, it would signal that person’s mindset, as being determined to eradicate the impossible living conditions that many of us face.  As soon as that is underway, we can move on to dealing with Police Brutality.  Or both problems can be tackled together.
Not far behind are environmental considerations.  I cannot believe that Trump so directly opposed stricter energy standards for cars of California.  That was vindictive, wrong-headed, and twisted.  He should lose this election based on that action alone.
So remember: all our concerns can be traced ultimately to economic inequality.  Either they exist because of economic inequality, or they support economic inequality, or they enhance, or are enhanced by, economic inequality.
Some may think that there is some spiritual source for all the ills of the nation.  If you do, look at how Christian churches are responding to the wrong that Trump is doing.


Sunday, June 21, 2020

Father’s Day, The Summer Solstice, Long Road Trips, and Dad Rock

Waking up after the shortest night of the year (give or take a few minutes), in my mail this morning, I received a link to this article: I'm not a Dad, but I Rock Like One, brilliantly written by Lindsay Zoladz.  (With a name like that, she's gotta be good.)
You should read the article; it heads out in a very specific direction, and will leave dads, moms and kids all chuckling to themselves.  There’s also a nice photo of the group mentioned in the article.

When Junior still lived with us, and we occasionally went on long road trips together, we agreed to compromise about what music we would listen to in the car.  We were very adult about this (though on the first instance when we did this, she may have been as young as 15 or 16).
In the end, I think I realized that her music was much more appropriate for the road than mine, though I got to bring along a tape (this was back in the tape days) of the Beatles’ Rock 'n' Roll Music, which was supplemented on subsequent occasions (there I go again, using Dad vocabulary) by Beatles rock songs which were left out of their Rock 'n' Roll compendium albums, which she liked fairly well.  If we had had access to Steely Dan, we would probably have played that, too.
On at least four instances, we undertook road trips that lasted four days, because we went from Pennsylvania to Arizona, a distance of some 2500 miles, to visit relatives out there.  Taking the car beat shelling out for two or three air tickets, because of course, once we got there, we had transport for getting around in Cactusland.
All that traveling to Arizona seems to have had an unexpected side-effect, because today Junior lives in Arizona, a possibility that did not hit me at the time of the road trips, but which seems obvious in retrospect: any kid brought up shoveling piles of snow during the eighties in Pennsylvania can be expected to make a break for it at the first opportunity, and head out to the Southwest.  I thought it would be only reasonable to ask her what she thought of those road trips, and the music we played in the car, and to warn her that whatever she may say could be used as evidence against her on a Blog-post.  But by the time she wakes up (over there) and reads her messages, it will be around noon (over here)--this being a Sunday--and I don’t know whether my inspiration would last that long!  It’s only 9:00 a.m. at the moment, and dementia is working its inexorable way into my circuitry.  What was I saying?
I don’t know the details of what Sister Lindsay said in her article--I will go back and read it carefully, but it was the general premise of it that caught my attention--but in our case, I was easily influenced at least as much by Junior’s choice of music as she was influenced by mine.  She had been under the impression that I was paying attention to the music emanating from her bedroom.  Actually, it was on the road trips that I listened to her music.
I liked most of it.  There was one notable exception: The Dave Matthews Band.  I just did not like that sound, especially the characteristic bass saxophone (did I get that right?  Perhaps it was a baritone sax?) sound.  I know lots of my friends on Facebook like Dave Matthews, and that he is a wonderful human being and musician, but the music . . . count me out.
But there were a number of artistes whom I have come to love, that she introduced to me, sometimes artists that she was being introduced to by her classmates, because of course I didn’t allow her to blow her cash on music.  She had to get bootleg tapes from her class buddies--who had remarkably good taste in music, as it happens.  (Or she may have had remarkably good taste in class buddies!  Oops; maybe I should take that out.)
OK, I’m going to check my messages to see if she has responded; if she hasn’t, I’m just going to forge ahead, and insert her thoughts as an appendix, or intersperse them throughout the blog-post where they can’t do any real damage.
She hasn’t.  I’ll leave this paragraph open to report what my contributions to Junior’s musical tastes might have been.  Until she comes online: it would probably contain a lot of classical music, and then Beatles, Peter Paul and Mary (insert your own punctuation), The Seekers (what?  You’ve never heard of them?) and The Hollies (what? etc.)
Her influence on my musical tastes are likely to have been initially unexpected by her: The Cranberries; Frank Zappa; Green Day; Ani Di Franco; The Bangles.  She quickly learned that I could not stand things like New Kids On the Block, and desisted.  (Maybe she hated them too.)
Comedy collections were big with us; Dr. Demento was a favorite, and so was They Might Be Giants.  (They were.)  I went on to be a bigger fan of Dr. Demento than she ever was; I think she thinks to herself: “If only I had known what I was doing ...”
Luckily for her, I wasn’t by any means listening only to the Dad’s Rock genre that most Dad’s are accused of listening to--at least on long road trips.  We negotiated--at least later on, when Mom had moved to Arizona--on what we would listen to.  Eventually, I think I might have even played P. D. Q. Bach.  At one time, our car had better speakers than our house!
Anyway, a happy Fathers’ Day to everyone!
I think we’re approaching a new era--or perhaps it’s the same old era, but cleaned up a little--where in many homes, the roles of mothers and fathers are approaching a certain symmetry.  In the light of the fact that many parents try so hard, and seem to be succeeding so well, in how they parent their offspring, it is puzzling how unprepared some young folk are to living in the real world.  On the other hand, it is startling to discover, with Dr. Benjamin Spock (What? ...), that there are many more spoiling parents than there are spoiled children.

Final Jeopardy

Final Jeopardy
"Think" by Merv Griffin

The Classical Music Archives

The Classical Music Archives
One of the oldest music file depositories on the Web


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