I have railed for years; jumped on my soapbox at every chance in every bar in Seattle to proclaim that adults are what they learned as children. More often than not, I'm met by silence. I'm not sure that maybe all parents are happy with what they taught their children, or they simply don't give a shit.
The other night, we watched an MSNBC special titled, Civil War. If you didn't see it, you should. I imagine it is available for streaming. It's a bit long, possibly overly long. Still, it is an eye-opener as young children and politicians try to understand and, in some instances, rewrite our history in terms of racism to fit what they already believe.
I listened to one boy in particular, a bright and eloquent young man, as he tried to debate with his teacher whether the Civil War was really about slavery, and other young people in the piece just wanted everyone to stop talking about race and slavery. Mostly the kids that felt that way were from the South, and it is my opinion that family members and friends have already brainwashed them.
I remain steadfast in my belief that what children become is what they learned at the feet of their parents and other adults. No child is born with racist tendencies; that is learned in their formative years, the first ten years of life for the most part.
Imagine a two-year-old child playing with toys on the floor. A new story comes on the TV about a Black person who committed a crime. The racist or semi-racist parents are watching the TV, and one of them, generally the father, says something like, "They should lock that fucking n***er up!" or something to that effect.
The child is still playing with toys on the floor; the parents don't think the kid is listening. But they aren't deaf - they heard the words of their parents. They may even cast a quick glance toward the TV to see what is on the screen. That image and the words of the father are now linked in the mind of that child. Chances are, there will be many more instances like that in that child's home over the next ten years. That child is now programmed for racism.
As I listened to and watched this show, a thought occurred to me. Are people who are blind from birth racist? Are people who are deaf from birth racist? I'm going to say with little chance of contradiction that a person who is both deaf and blind from birth is absolutely not racist.
Why? Because they were never subjected to the sounds and sights of racism. A mind never exposed to those thoughts and images can't possibly be racist, in my opinion. There are no absolutes, and someone may be able to present an example of someone who is blind, deaf, or both who is a racist, but I can guarantee you that they are in the smallest minority imaginable.
Racism is learned. Racism is taught from a very early age. It is passed on from generation to generation as surely as is money and property. When we find an answer to the problem of teaching our children racism, we will be able to move away from that as a national problem.
We will do this. We will send people to live and work on Mars. The first explorations will be just that, as they were when we first pushed westward from the original thirteen colonies; a lot of testing and trial and hopefully not too many errors as we figure out how to colonize the red planet.
It seems likely that we will, or rather robots will since they can work in any atmosphere, construct something akin to geodesic domes to recreate the atmosphere on earth. With the advances in 3D printing, we may send up robotic 3D printers that will create a clear acrylic (or a yet to be developed material) dome or series of domes in which we'll live. This new material will be strong enough to withstand the impact of debris from space and shield us from the sun's ultraviolet rays; it may even be a self-healing material if there is a rupture or penetration of the dome.
Inside this dome, we'll have a constant atmosphere with oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and other inert gasses necessary to sustain human life and the plants and animals needed to make a lifetime on Mars bearable. The scientific and engineering advances we'll see as this unfolds over the next fifty to one hundred years are almost unimaginable right now, but they will be historic.
The greatest danger we will face is any breach of our protective dome that exposes us to the toxic atmosphere of Mars. The atmosphere of Mars is about 100 times thinner than Earth's, and it is 95 percent carbon dioxide. The composition of the Martian atmosphere is:
Mars's thin atmosphere and its greater distance from the sun mean that Mars is much colder than Earth. The average temperature is about minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 60 degrees Celsius). However, it can vary from minus 195 F (minus 125 C) near the poles during the winter to as much as a comfortable 70 F (20 C) at midday near the equator.
It is believed that a few billion years ago, the Martian atmosphere was thicker and supported the existence of water and perhaps lifeforms as we know them. The leading theory is that Mars' light gravity, coupled with its lack of global magnetic field, left the atmosphere vulnerable to pressure from the solar wind, the constant stream of particles coming from the sun. Over millions of years, the sun's pressure stripped the lighter molecules from the atmosphere, thinning it out.
Now, the shocker! We are literally living in a biosphere that supports human life. Scientists often agree that there are a few key ingredients needed for life to exist on earth, but much debate remains as to what limits there actually might be on life. Even Earth hosts some strange creatures that live in extreme environments. Here's what makes life able to thrive on our home planet (and likely for alien life to arise on other worlds):
Water: You need some liquid, any place where molecules can react.
Energy: Life needs energy. Without energy, virtually nothing would happen. The most obvious energy source is a planet or moon's host star, as is the case on Earth, where sunlight drives photosynthesis in plants.
Time: Scientists have argued that habitable worlds need stars that can live at least several billion years, long enough for life to evolve, as was the case on Earth. Some stars only live a few million years before dying.
Bonus features: Other factors for why life succeeded on Earth include how little variation is in our sun's radiation compared with more volatile stars, how our planet has a magnetic field that protects us from any storms of charged particles from the sun. Violent bursts of radiation could have scoured life from Earth in its early, fragile stages.
Earth remains the only known planet to host life due to a unique combination of factors. However, continued monitoring of alien worlds might one day change that by finding other planets that share these attributes or by discovering different ways life has blossomed in the universe.
So, why all this gibberish about Mars and life on earth? We are living on Mars! We are as vulnerable here on earth as if we were in that bubble on Mars. The sun that is such an excellent energy source, is also a killer. We are protected by an atmosphere that shields us from the suns' radiation. We have water to sustain life. We have all this crap going on around us that makes it possible for us to exist, and so far, this is the only freaking place we can ever live.
Time? How much more time do we have? Have we already shot a hole in our atmosphere that will be the death of us? Have we polluted our oceans and our groundwater to the point of no return? Remember, we have nowhere to go if we screw up the only home in the universe that can keep us alive.
We, the collective we all around the world, had better get with the program. This planet, our solar system, and the entire universe are marching on with us or without us; it doesn't really give a shit about us. We are the problem, and we are the only ones that can save ourselves.
The refugee problem from Haiti brings into focus an issue that is much bigger than Haiti. Over the next couple of decades, with global warming, and other natural disasters like earthquakes and tornadoes and hurricanes, oceans will rise, hot areas will become demonstrably hotter, and droughts and famine will become an even bigger problem than it is today.
I'm old. My ashes will be floating down the Tiber or wherever Gale decides to toss them; I won't have to deal with all this crap. But, if you're under 50, it will be your world, your new reality. Millions of people will be forced to leave their homes and seek domicile elsewhere because the place of their birth will be underwater or will have become uninhabitable. That's simply going to be a fact of life. It's not political; it's not anything one religion or another can fix; it's payback time for a century and one-half of humans playing fast and loose with our planet and our environment in pursuit of creature comforts.
I don't have all the answers, maybe none of them, but we need to start planning for this inevitability now, not ten or twenty years from now. Think of it like a relative, a son, a daughter, a brother, someone who went off on their own and their world turned to shit, and now they are on your doorstep asking for a place to live and a little something to eat. Most of us would help out our families.
Well, this is our family. It's our world and our world family, and we need to find ways to step up and help. If we don't, and these millions get pissed, it could be a sorrowful time. If we think a couple of thousand Latinos at our southern borders are a problem, imagine tens of thousands coming at all four of our borders, southern, northern, and east, and west coast. They're slipping across in the dark of night. They are landing all along both coasts in every sort of craft imaginable and stowing away on ships and airplanes landing at our international airports.
Some of this is inevitable, but some of it is preventable if we get off our collective asses right now and take bold and aggressive steps to stop destroying our planet. We need to outlaw the use of plastics in virtually every form it is used. We need to end the burning of fossil fuels as quickly as possible. We need to stop being a throw-away culture and become a culture of reuse and recycling.
Changing won't be easy, and it will need to be implemented as humanely as possible concerning the effects on jobs and economies. Still, we can't let either of those be excuses for not being bold and decisive. If you think unemployment in the 8% range is a problem, add six to ten thousand climate refugees coming in each month from around the world to the existing problem of people without jobs, money, or anywhere to live.
This isn't hyperbole or scare tactics. It is the reality of our future if we continue on our path and our Eco-system breaks down even more than it already has. We are on a course of a disaster, and we are the only ones that can change course. And, where people are fleeing the rising oceans and the droughts and sand storms, we have to be compassionate human beings and help them relocate and adjust to a new life.
It seems like we've been talking about immigration since... well, almost forever, and I guess that's true. It's the nature of the beast, so to speak. We are tribal creatures and have been probably since before we climbed down from the trees. We go through some processes where we decide who belongs in our tribe and what our tribe looks like, what it eats, what kind of music we like, etc. If you don't meet our criteria, you're not welcome in our tribe. There is some leeway. If you're the right color but listen to weird music, we might let you stay. Or if you eat bizarre stuff but look like us and talk like us, you'll probably get to hang out on the fringes of our tribe. For now, that seems to be how we humans decide who we like.
I'm white, and if a Swede slipped into our neighborhood, and as long as they didn't speak, and I didn't catch them eating pickled herring, I'd never know they weren't from my tribe. If you decide to move to the Middle East, and as long as you have slightly dark skin, a beard (for men, obviously), and dressed according to the norms of the country you decided to migrate to and kept your mouth shut and didn't walk around with a can of Bud Light in your hand, you might go unnoticed. See what I mean? That's the way it has always been around the world, not just in the United States.
Back to the issue of immigration. We have our knickers in a knot at the moment over the Haitians who have gathered on our border to escape the horrors of living in Haiti. Some John-Wayne wannabe in the immigration ranks decided to mount some big hairy white guys on horses and try to terrorize the immigrants and chase them back into Mexico or wherever - I don't think they gave a shit as long as they went away. It never ceases to amaze me that these boneheads don't realize everyone, including immigrants, has smartphones and social media accounts; did they really think no one would notice them treating human beings like cattle on a drive to market?
I think there is a solution to the immigration issue right under our noses, and we do not see it. The answer is called The United States of America. There's a particular dichotomy in the name of our country; much of the time, we seem anything but united, but we have kept it working for almost a quarter of a millennium through world wars, civil wars, economic downturns, and internal strife. I, for one, think we're onto something.
Yes, it's tough at times, but I remember reading an adage attributed to the Italian culture that seems to be between a shit and a sweat much of the time. The saying went something like, "When something is too easy to attain, we don't appreciate it, but when it's a struggle and difficult, the achievement is a much greater reward."
We have migration up the ass inside the United States. We have millions of people migrating from one state to the other at will. There are no border guards, although we might wish at times that we did have given the character and conduct of some of the migrants from places like Florida or Georgia (just picking on two of the many - don't feel special). We move from state to state with ease with virtually no restrictions, and it seems to work. Wanna know why? Because we have the marvelous document called a Constitution that allows each state to act like a complete jerk at times, but we still have these overarching laws that ensure a degree of sanity across all states and borders.
What if we work with some countries to develop a kind of constitution that governs how we interact between nations. A document that still allows individual freedoms and dominion - like our state's rights - but has this overarching set of principles that will enable us to migrate freely in search of jobs, starting new businesses, etc.?
There is something that few people have probably heard about called the Organization of American States. Keep in mind that everything from the Arctic to the Antarctic in our hemisphere is considered to be the Americas, and within that are the various autonomous countries or states. I think this organization tries primarily to do what the United Nations tries to do for the world, but with 35 countries in the OAS, it's a little like herding cats.
Looking at just the U.S. immigration issue, what if we picked a country - I might start with Mexico, but maybe a smaller one would work - and we start working on a "constitution" of cooperation, or call it what you want. The idea would be to reach an agreement on a range of issues that would make us partners with them the way our internal states work together... sort of. Sure, there would be differences and pissing contests just like we have between our states today on issues like voting, a woman's right to choose, and equality for all. No agreement is ever perfect; that's why we use terms like 'continuous improvement.'
What if we could put together a cooperative constitution with, say, El Salvador, where we have free trade, free migration, a whole bag of rights, and promises as we have in our Constitution. We are treating them almost like a "partner state" or any acceptable name to both parties. If it works in terms of improved economies, the standard of living, managed migration, et al., other countries would be lining up to do the same thing.
I'm talking about one giant and complicated undertakings - it's trying to organize or maybe reorganize the OAS. Perhaps, since that entity already exists, we could start working with one country in the OAS to build the 'model' for cooperation between more countries. I know that the bullshit approach we've been taking for centuries in this country has not worked all that well. It's time to re-engineer immigration.
One last thing. For those who will start crying wolf and saying that there will be this avalanche of migrants coming to the U.S. because they are poor, I'd ask why that isn't happening here. In Washington State, we have a pretty booming economy, one of the hottest ones in the nation, and have had for some time. Let's look at Seattle first:
Now, let's look at Kentucky, land of the turtlesque Mitch McConnell, whose draconian policies screw his constituents daily. Here's Kentucky's demographics for income.
So, put a sock in the argument about all the poor people, etc. wanting to take over the U.S. That kind of talk is nothing more than a smokescreen; it's racism in sheep's clothing. Immigration is a solvable problem or at least a manageable one; it is tough to be sure, but with the vision, collective determination, and desire to make it right, we can change the picture.
By some accounts, I have spent an excessive amount of time trying to understand why some people love and some people hate. Some people are liberal, and others conservative. Some people are borderline lunatic religious, and some are atheists. The issues dividing us into tribes are many and personal, social, and moral. Those are broad categories that can be broken down into a litany of problems but suffice it to say, these may be the top-level groupings of who we are. Most of us belong to a tribe of some sort.
I will talk about these differences in a notional way, a theory if you will because I'm not a psychologist or social engineering guru by training or experience. I'm just an old Irishman who thinks about this stuff a lot as I sip my Jameson or Herradura and try to untangle the many perspectives we humans hold. A notional theory means a theory or conclusion about or expressing a notion or general concept formed by abstraction and generalization. A notional idea typically precedes some actual gathering and analysis of data tested six ways to Sunday. If only in my mind, that data becomes fact to prove or disprove what had previously been a theory or concept.
That we can have almost as many differing views on a topic as there are people seems obvious. Those multiple perspectives can collect under one assumption or category and then be shredded into many sub-views that contradict each other, a unique talent that makes us humans so damn difficult to understand. We struggle to understand ourselves, let alone each other. The human mind seems to have an inexhaustible capacity for complexity and confusion.
Having prepared the stage for my following discussion, I hope to offer a pathway for any of us embroiled in a debate about issues that will let us better understand our debate opponents' views and they of us. Complete understanding may never be possible, but what might be possible is calling for a truce on some topics and agree that our anger and fighting with each other may be worse than our concerns over the original issue that divides us.
OUR CORE BEING: by that term, I'm suggesting we have a kind of inner core, each one of us, that guides our thinking, behavior, and actions. It is not a physical object in our bodies, or is it? In my mind, I tend to think, most of the definable "us" resides in the brain. We sometimes talk about 'matters of the heart,' having or not having a heart, or having a hard or warm heart. Might the heart play a role in who we are and how we think? I can't rule it out, but I don't think it plays a big part in logic and determination.
We all start with more or less the same brain at birth. There may be slight differences based on genetics, but for the most part, we are born with a blank computer that has a few elemental fears built-in that is a holdover from our reptilian days. As an infant, the simple act of finding where our nose is, what our nose is, and what it feels like has to be learned by doing.
After we are born, and to some extent it appears while still in the womb, we start taking in information; we begin to learn.
At first, we are only learning sounds and experiencing smells, taste, and touch, and only those in little bits and pieces as we encounter the world around us. Our brains are a rapidly filling database of unconnected bits of data, a color, a sound, a spoken word that has no meaning yet. Things like the taste of ice cream are pleasurable, although we still do not connect that taste to the word if we've heard it. So much to learn in a relatively short time.
But the brain is more than a repository for a Britannica's worth of information. It is also a computer that uses logic and, rather than artificial intelligence, natural intelligence to sort through a few billion ideas and bits of information to formulate how we think and act as a person. This is the first stage of locating to what tribe we might belong.
Typically, for the first five years of our lives, the logical paths that will form in our brains are brought to us in two ways. We inherit something from our parents and ancestors; it's passed on to us in our DNA, and our surrounding family teaches us. With both parents working outside the home in our modern world, this changes as we warehouse children in daycare. Now, they are getting input from the parents in smaller doses, the people running the daycare, and other children at daycare.
Let me back up a step and explain my point. There are plenty of studies (and plenty of bullshit by people with something to sell) related to developing a child's brain from birth to around age eight. Here's the CDC's take on the topic. I'm neither qualified to discuss this in-depth or on a technical level. What I can offer is my belief in what I hope is everyday language.
The simple explanation is that anything that stimulates a baby's brain is likely to affect its development: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and of course, touch. If you had a baby's brain on an fMRI or functional magnetic resonance imaging device, you would be able to see areas of the brain light up under various stimuli. If you repeatedly play a certain kind of music, the paths in the brain will change. This is no different than any other muscle in the body. If you do frequent curls with weights, you will change the size and shape of your biceps and even the sensory paths that are part of consciously deciding to train with weights. You are training your brain to think and manage information. I hope that makes some sense.
Now, back to your tribe. As a captive in your home for the first five years, the music you hear, the food you eat, the colors you see on the walls and clothes of your family, the laughter, the anger, all of that is pouring into and shaping your brain and how you think and respond to the world around you.
When you leave home to go to school, you have this learning base to build on; it's your foundation. You will take in new ideas and information from your teachers, your textbooks, and your peers, all of whom have come from a different tribe. All of this will be layered on top of what you developed in the first five years. Your brain will now let this new information sift down. It will go through the filters that are in place from your essential learning stage. You might retain the new data or reject it. You might revise it through your filters, so it conforms to your tribe. You are modifying what you learned in the first five years.
Now, here's what I call the wild card. You have the DNA of your parents and their parents, and their parents. If your tribe is inherently curious, you may be fascinated by new information and will evaluate all this new information. If you're a fundamentalist tribe (not necessarily religious, but perhaps), you might be distrustful or resistant to new information. Whether you are curious or fundamental, there are varying degrees of that way of thinking ranging from one end of the spectrum to another; no two of us think exactly alike, even within tribes. But, and we have all experienced this, it is thrilling to meet someone new, and through discussions, you find you are very compatible in your thinking. That is often the basis of a new friendship.
All those experiences and sensations that helped your brain develop in the first ten to fifteen years of life are what make up your core being as an adult, what you believe, how you feel about the world around you, whether you're happy or depressive. It's all very complicated, more complicated than I can describe here, but I find it fascinating to ponder and identify my tribe.
Heaven and Hell; do they exist? Yes, and no?
If you’ve read much of my stuff, you know I am an Atheist, and I don’t believe in Heaven and Hell as most religions define these two places. I certainly understand why this notion might have appealed to ancient humans in their life and death struggle for existence in a world and universe that was a complete mystery to them. I find it much harder to understand why so many people in the twenty-first century continue to perpetuate the myths created thousands of years ago.
But that’s not why we’re here today, is it? Well, it is, but not in the biblical sense. You are in heaven right now, and perhaps in hell at the same time. Science’s best estimate of the age of our planet earth is about 4.5 billion (4,500,000,000) years old, plus or minus 50 million years. That’s a long frigging time.
We humans, humans in our modern form, are only about 50,000 years old; that makes the earth 90,000 times older than modern humans. Some of our ancestors go back 400 or 500 thousand years; various homos and sapiens then went extinct, perhaps because of us, until our homo sapiens species was all that was left.
The Earth wasn’t always the Garden of Eden we are actively trying to destroy today. It was a violent and oxygen-deprived environment in the beginning. Cyanobacteria evolved at least 2.4 billion years ago and set the stage for a remarkable transformation. They became Earth’s first photo-synthesizers, making food using water and the sun’s energy and releasing oxygen. This catalyzed a sudden, dramatic rise in oxygen, making the environment less hospitable for other microbes that could not tolerate oxygen. These were simple celled microbes, but they kicked off the revolution. Clusters of specialized, cooperating cells eventually became the first animals, which DNA evidence suggested evolved around 800 million years ago and produced more complicated structures. There were still no humans, or anything close to us on the Earth, yet. https://naturalhistory.si.edu/education
As more and more life evolved in a more supportive oxygenated atmosphere, the age of the dinosaurs came along between 243 and 231 million years ago, during the Triassic period. When the dinosaurs arose, all the Earth’s continents were connected in one landmass, now known as Pangaea, and surrounded by one enormous ocean. Pangaea broke apart into separate continents during the Early Jurassic Period around 200 million years ago.
Dinosaurs mysteriously disappeared at the end of the Cretaceous Period, around 65 million years ago. Many other types of animals and many species of plants died out around the same time, and many competing theories exist for what caused this mass extinction. Besides the tremendous volcanic or tectonic activity occurring around that time, scientists have also discovered that a giant asteroid hit Earth about 65.5 million years ago. Landing with the force of 180 trillion tons of TNT and spreading an enormous amount of ash all over the Earth’s surface it devastated the Earth. Deprived of water and sunlight, plants and algae would have died, killing off the planet’s herbivores; after a period of surviving on the carcasses of these herbivores, carnivores would have died out as well.
Life on the Earth began to re-evolve with the absence of the dinosaur. It would take another 65 million years for some version of humans to appear. During this period, the Earth was busy becoming a garden of Eden, if you like. Oceans were teeming with sea life, birds, and creatures of all shapes and sizes covered our planet, each playing its role in the evolution of the Earth that would one day welcome the appearance of humans.
What we humans inherited was heaven. It was a lush, if sometimes harsh, environment bursting with fruits and edible plants, small and large game that sustained our human form and provided the fuel for our evolution to our modern state of home sapiens, the most potent life force the Earth has ever seen. We tamed fire and electricity and built safe buildings to live in and be protected from the harshest environments. We literally conquered the Earth, or a significant portion of it, while still getting bitch-slapped now and then by earthquakes, hurricanes, monsoons, tsunamis, and other natural events to remind us we haven’t entirely conquered the whole of Earth.
Today, we stand on the precipice of destroying our garden and turning it into a hot, barren, and lifeless wasteland, or hell, by our continuing use of fossil fuels, throwing our waste plastic in the oceans, destroying rain forests that provide our oxygen, damming rivers to generate electricity as the fish die; we are literally trashing the Earth we inherited.
When we talk of heaven and hell, we talk about the very Earth we live on, not some mysterious ethereal place. We are talking about what we want our Earth to be and what we want to pass on to our children and succeeding generations. Do we want to leave them living in heaven or hell?
When we talk about an afterlife, we talk about the life that comes after we are gone, not some fantasy imagined by ancient humans concerned with living eternally. We are talking about our children’s lives and their children and what they will either enjoy or have to endure because of how we treated the garden that we inherited from all the life that came before us.
If you want to read more and in depth about the evolution of our species and what the future might hold, I highly recommend that you read Yuval Harari’s book, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.”
Politicalism; I thought I was creating a new word. It turns out it has been around since the mid-19th century, but it’s time to look at it again.
We have other ‘isms’ like nationalism, racism, and sexism; the ism-list is long. These words typically refer to extremist or overzealous views. Nationalism, when applied with common sense and decorum, can be a good thing; people are proud of their country and rally around each other to help solve problems that arise. Sexism, racism, and others like pessimism are often viewed as undesirable belief systems. If you want to see how many isms there are, check this list... not now; finish reading my post and then check them out. ISMS
Why am I writing about politicalisms? Let’s look at extreme nationalism. One of the worst examples in history would be the Nazi regime in Germany, where all peoples but what they called the Aryan race was degraded and often subject to genocide. Extreme racism and sexism often result in anger, hatred, and acts of violence. Extreme isms bring out the worst in those people who have embraced those beliefs to the point of rejecting logic and objectivity, and it turns into a type of cult worship.
Politicalism, in this case, refers to the extreme view on the right and the left. I’ll use the terms Capitalism and Socialism to give them a label, although it’s much broader than that. We hear from the extreme-right all the time the cry of “Oh, socialism! They are trying to turn us into a socialistic or communist society!” From the extreme left, we have anti-capitalists who want to lay the ills of the world at the feet of those who succeeded beyond all probability and are extremely wealthy.
There is no pure capitalism or socialism anywhere and never has been. There are degrees of both systems around the world, some more successful than others. Scandinavia comes to mind when we talk about socialism. They seem to have balanced capitalism and socialism in a way that works pretty well. The people in those countries are free to make as much money as they want, and they must pay taxes on that money. The richest among them will complain about taxes, but they also know that no matter how much money you make or how poor you might be, your children will get free education, and your entire family has world-class medical care at little or no cost. Deduct what would be the cost of education and healthcare from their taxes in the US, and it’s probably closer to a wash. The difference being, in the US, the well-off can afford education and healthcare; the rest often go begging.
The so-called communist countries of Russia (the former Soviet Union), Viet Nam, China, and Cuba have mostly abandoned the pure communist approach in favor of a blend of capitalism and socialism. I do not mean this post to be about economics; I’m merely pointing out that we have to avoid a “one or the other” argument. If interested, you can read more about the Chinese economy here.
My argument is about not adopting extremism in our political views and allegiances. We must avoid the polarization of extremism in our political views and rhetoric. Extremism breeds anger and polarization. We have only to look at the ills and wars that came from religious extremism over history to see the pain and suffering.
Another analogy about avoiding extremism and embracing a balanced approach might be in sports, let’s say American football. The best teams in the NFL, the ones that consistently contend for and end up at the Super Bowl, are teams with a balance of offense and defense. If a team spends all their money on the best offensive players and builds their defense around picking up day workers at Home Depot, they are not likely to have much success; you can’t be all offense or all defense and succeed.
Capitalism and socialism are like that; they are the offense and defense of a thriving democracy. For this discussion, we’ll call capitalism the offense and socialism the defense. The offense is a capitalist economy that is constantly trying to surge forward to score points in production and GDP. We want that and need that and should design our system to succeed to the max without hurting other parts of our society.
Socialism prevents terrible things from occurring to society that blunts the offense—things like pandemics and natural disasters that would otherwise cripple businesses and the economy. We want to prevent a lack of education and skills from inuring our economy. And we want to ensure that there is an infrastructure in place that will enable the offense to be as successful as possible.
Look at the role of the FAA. Every day, the FAA manages 45,000 flights in the US, 16,405,000 flights per year. Without the FAA, which is by definition a socialist scheme, the airlines would take off and land anytime and anywhere they felt like it. There would be no “lanes” in the sky; each pilot would fly any damn way they wanted to at any altitude they wanted. It would be chaos; we would probably look at a dozen airline crashes a day at the cost of several thousand human lives each day.
It’s time for most Americans to reject the politics of extremism. Reject the candidates who demonize their opponents, whether left or right. It’s okay to favor a strong economics program or social program, but if we don’t move away from the extreme views that are driving the division and hatred we see today, we can kiss our democracy goodbye. We need our elected representatives to put America first, not cling to some narrow ideology based on anger and division. That means electing people with principles who will work with the opposition and reach a consensus on what is right for the United States.
Most of the world likely recognizes that line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. While on the surface, it appears to ask where Romeo is, in reality it is asking why Romeo is. I won’t bore you with the details. The text begs the question of who Romeo is, a Capulet or a Montague. Seattle seems to suffer a similar identity crisis as we emerge from the struggles of COVID-19, rampant protests, often violent, over the arguably excessive use of force by the police, often tilted toward minorities, homelessness that seems hopeless, climate change, and an economy that appears to be bordering on grand-bourgeoisie and leaving the common worker behind.
Our problems, like many cities in the US and around the world, are primarily wrapped up in homelessness, violence, drugs, economic inequities, and the never-ending march of climate change related to over 7 billion humans and their use of fossil fuels. I won’t try to address them all here. After all, I’m not running for office (I can hear the collective sighs around that pronouncement) but I do have to pick a favorite for mayor in the upcoming primary election.
I like to think of myself as a liberal centrist. I’m have a well-defined list to the left, but I reject radical solutions that are knee-jerk reactions to a difficult problem rather than thinking through the problem and the impact of proposed solutions on society. A good example of that has been the “Defund police!” movement. While understandably embraced by those who have suffered the most under our slave-chaser brand of policing, it is not a well thought out solution. After about a year of this craziness, calmer minds have prevailed and are now looking at reforms that include things like better training for cops, eliminate the free pass they get for bad behavior, also known as ‘qualified immunity’, special units to address non-violent issues like public drunkenness, mental stability issues, etc. By rejecting those first calls for a drastic solution that would have been a nightmare for society, we are moving along a path toward solutions that work for everyone.
An issue I want to address is that of transportation in a large city like Seattle. With one exception, every mayoral candidate I’ve looked at, and I’ve looked at at least the ‘top ten’ the approach has been narrow and populist. In one Q&A exercise, they were asked to rank transportation priorities. Almost to a person, it was transit, bicycles, walking, driving. Mass transit, either busses or fixed rail, a 19th century technology is the mantra for anyone running for office. Bicycles, another marvelous 19th century mode of transport, was second followed by the oldest mode of moving around, walking, and last, was driving; the most modern mode available.
Yes, fossil fuel burning vehicles are a part of the problem, but this might surprise you; it’s not the gorilla in the room. You will find a myriad of data out there about how much private vehicles contribute to greenhouse gasses, but you’ll find that it ranges from about 15% to 30%.
This vendetta against the automobile is misplaced. If you get everyone out of their cars and on either busses or riding the rails - even electric rails - you will increase the pie slices above for electric generation, and you’ll still have the smoke-belching trucks on the road and factories spewing emissions. Private cars are not the villains. Seventy-five percent of the emissions screwing up our atmosphere come from other sources. And, we are rapidly moving toward electric cars and trucks, but then again, of course, they will increase the demand for electric power. We need a greater push for both solar and hydrogen powered engines in our transportation systems and wind energy for other electrical uses.
Candidate after candidate stated in that their top priority was to get people out of their cars. They didn’t say as much, but the traditional approach has been to punish drivers by taking away access to roads, raising parking fees through the roof, taxing the doo-doo out of drivers, etc. This Draconian approach to solving problems doesn’t surprise me when I hear it from conservatives, but coming from good-old-liberal Seattleites surprises me. Let me share another chart:
Well, that’s interesting. Only three-in-ten commuters to downtown drive their cars. The rest are all over the map, walking, biking, ride share, busses, etc. Interestingly, only 3% ride their bikes but we are spending tens-of-millions of dollars on bike lanes that set empty most of the time.
All I’m looking for, folks, is a commonsense approach to any of our problems, not a radical or punitive one that drives people away from Seattle to the suburbs. What about a ‘positive’ incentive to get that 30% who are driving to move to electric or hybrid vehicles instead of making life miserable for them?
We’ve been using the punitive approach for years and what have we got? A beautiful new skyline of shiny glass and steel skyscrapers that are empty because no one can afford to live in them or occupy them for business and the city has made getting to work more and more difficult. We need a balanced and experienced leader, and we need to work on our city council in the next couple of elections to get the one-issue minded people out and community minded people in.
So, how am I leaning? Well, sort of left, of course, but I like what Art Langlie had to say about transportation. When all the candidates were asked, he was the only one to say you can’t prioritize any one mode of transport; look at the entire system and take a balanced approach. That’s the thinking I want to see in our city government, not some narrow ideological approach that rewards only a small percentage of Seattleites while hurting others.
We hear the terms leader and leadership tossed around a lot. Some are good leaders and others, not so much. And some, like Trump, are a frigging disaster.
But what is a leader? What does it take to be a leader and more importantly, what does is take to be a really good or even great leader? The answer is simple. People, it takes people. Every enterprise on this planet is created by, run by, and improved on by people. As a leader, you will only be as good as the people you are leading.
You don't teach leadership. You can teach techniques for dealing with various issues that might come up in the role of being a leader. You can teach things like developing mission statements and strategies for accomplishing a mission. You can teach budgeting, and accounting, and capital investment and ROI kind of stuff, but none of that leads people; it merely gives them the tools to execute certain tasks.
I dare say that if most people had won the Powerball game that just dropped a billion dollars in someone's lap last night, before taxes, most of us would not suffer an damn alarm at 5:00am any longer, or spend our morning in a traffic jam eating a pastry and sipping coffee while we worked on our profane vocabulary.
Work is a necessary evil of a society. If you quit your job and sold all your worldly possesions and moved into the forest as far away from people as you could, you could be free of bosses and schedules and mandatory tasks. You could get up when you felt like it, or if you heard a bear trying to get into your cabin.
You would be your own boss. Still, there would be things you "had" to do. If you're where the winters are cold, you would have to stockpile firewood and food stuffs to supplement what I assume you would eat according to your hunting and fishing.
Survival would be the only boss you had to salute. That life in the wild is neither practical or maybe even possible for a majority of us, especially with the shrinking wilderness areas in our country. If we all tried to do this, the wilderness would have the density of Manhattan.
So, we work out of a necessity; that is also true for the leaders. Each of us, then, tries to find something in our job that motivates us to answer that alarm every morning. We look at our jobs and try to find a way to see what we do in our jobs as making a contribution to something more than just us. That's human nature. That's what drives most humans. Unlike most of the rest of the animal world that seems content with munching grass or licking termites off of a stick, we humans tend to strive for something more than just being part of the herd.
And, this is where true leadership comes in. As the leader, you need to get to know your people. You need to understand, and I mean truly understand their specific skills, talents, and ambitions. Not as a collective, but on an individual basis for those people you interact with daily. It is not enough to broad-brush the situation and say something like, "Oh, I have a bunch of talented people in my organiztion. You need to know what each of them brings to the party; how each of them makes a special contribution to the success of your operation and subsequently to your own success.
And, once you acknowledge their talents, and you do have to mean it when you say they do a good job, you are on the right track. You have to truly believe that last statement and see the value they bring to the whatever the mission is that you are responsible for as the leader. If you don't respect and value the people closest to you as well as those more removed, then you're in the wrong job. You need to get an individual-contributor position where it's just about you. These exist and you can still make a lot of money and perhaps even gain significant recognition, but for chrissaske, do not take a job as a leader if you don't like and believe in people.
That, among other problems, was where Trump failed so miserably. He doesn't like people, except maybe his children. He respects no one. He does not see people around him as having value unless they are committed to making him look great ,and if they fail at that, he slams the door on them quicker than on an encyclopedia salesman. Trump is a lot of things, most of which require a degree in profanity, but he is definitely not a people person.
Leadership is about people. It requires liking people and taking the time to know them, at least those who are our direct reports, well enough to appreciate, respect, and embrace their unique talents as employees and has human beings. You should be able to project at least some of them into moving up in the organization and perhaps beyond you in your particular enterprise. You should take pride in the fact that as their leader, you may have helped them rise to be your boss someday; nothing in your mind should be seen as a greater accomplishment than helping to develop the next generation of leaders.
You will not be a leader forever. You will grow old and your skills and knowledge will gather dust and rust. You will become obsolete and the people you have worked with and mentored will step into your slot. They have watched and learned from you the way a young lion watches the alpa male in their pride and when their turn comes, they will reflect what they learned from you. If you can embrace that view of being a manager, you will become at least of good leader.
I feel confident that Joe Biden is a good and probably great leader. I think he brings out the best in people and clears a path for them to succeed to their individual maximum potential. President Biden is a people person and I think we'll find that people will go to the ends of the earth to help Biden succeed and in so doing, help our nation and as a byproduct of that, succeed themselves.
Expectations! OMG! Don't get me started!
Expectations are both the driver behind our evolution from tree-swingers to space-travelers and it is also the biggest boogeyman in our arsenal of tools that we use to completely screw things up.
We create expectations without even having to think about it. Our morning coffee; our commute to work; celebrating an anniversary with our partner, or a dish we've ordered in a restaurant; you name it and it comes with a trainload of expectations, both wonderful and horrifying about how these and all events might play out in reality and they can make us crazy.
Needless to say, with a Democratically controlled government, we all have some expectation of our incoming president, Joe Biden and his VP, Kamala Harris.
We progressives are dancing like hippos in a Disney musical and the conservatives are cowering under the bed with their assault rifles convinced the end days are at hand.
I suggest we both take a deep breath and look at reality.
Biden is not a democratic socialist, period. True, he has been driven a bit to the left during the campaign in order to garner the votes needed to get elected. Biden is more a moderate than anything else. A compassionate moderate to be sure which may cause him to be sympathetic to those on his left, but as a moderate, he's not likely to fly off the handle and nationalize any industries; that's not his shtick and hasn't been for some 40 years in government.
So, progressives, don't expect miracles from Biden. He's not likely to jerk far left and institute free housing for everyone and redistribution of Bezos' unseemly wealth. We were jerked far right by Trump and that turned to shit so we don't need the trauma of being jerked to the other extreme.
And you conservatives can relax as well. No doubt, Biden will enact some stuff that you think you oppose because all you've heard for the last four years is how evil the democrats are. Biden will try to reinvigorate the ACA (Obama-care) to make it work better and reach more people affordably. He has already indicated that he will take a full-court press approach to beating this damn pandemic. He has plans to help students with mountains of student-debt and to make higher education more accessible to all students.
Biden has said he favors raising taxes on those making over $400,000 a year ($800,000 for couples). Trust me when I say that is not going to affect most of us. He wants an infrastructure program that will, in addition to repairing our crumbling highways and bridges, provide great-paying jobs for thousands of people. In that same vein, he has proposed plans to address a better education system and pursuing renewable energy, both of which should also improve the job market.
In foreign affairs, he has proposed that we try to reignite the nuclear deal with Iran to foster a better chance for peace in that part of the world. He wants to reenter the Paris Accord and work with all the world to move away from fossil fuels and all the problems of climate change, and air and water pollution that fossil fuels aggravate. I believe he will take a firm approach to dealing with our traditional adversaries like China, North Korea, and Iran while seeking better relations with them and a return to more of a detente approach if not bilateral agreements.
In summary, what I am suggesting is that both progressives and conservatives should tamp down their expectations. Biden is neither a savior or a demon. He is a longtime politician with tons of experience, intellect, and a determination hardened in the fires of personal tragedy that presents us with a man of wisdom and compassion and the ability to get things done.
I see nothing in his presidency that should be seen as a threat to anyone and if my analysis holds true, we will all benefit from his administration of our great nation whether we lean left or right.
Discussing life, politics, and philosophy in the language of the bar.