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Category Archives: Government & Civics

The Original Social Media

Do you remember hand turn signals? The cars my parents owned when I was a child didn’t have turn signals, which had been introduced by Buick in 1939, eight years before I was born, but didn’t really make it onto most vehicles until much later. Also, my family was not wealthy, and their cars were usually at least 10 years old. I’m not certain, but I don’t think electric, flashing turn signals were required until sometime in the late fifties or early sixties.

Nowadays, all vehicles are required to have turn signals, but you’d be hard-pressed to know it based on how often people don’t use them. Let me say here that I’m well aware there are lots of circumstances when a turn signal is functionally unnecessary, but in the last few years I’ve noticed lots of people just don’t use them at all, regardless of the situation.

I like to think of these simple devices as one of our earlier forms of social media. A method for people inside their vehicles to (you’d think) effortlessly announce their intentions. “Hey! Check it out. I’m slowing down for no apparent reason, so I’m letting you know I plan on turning off this road very soon.”

Or “I see you sitting there at the bottom of that tee intersection, expecting me to continue along the road, so I’m letting you know I’m actually going to turn onto the street you’re on and you can pull out now instead of waiting for me to pass.”

This type of signalling is, it seems to me, a simple, easy-to-do form of showing respect for others on the road — kinda like a “golden rule.” Unfortunately, as our society seems to be slipping deeper and deeper into the abyss of unprincipled narcissism, led by our erstwhile POTUS, the sociopathy inherent in ignoring simple, respectful customs is increasing and serving to further coarsen our driving (and all other, it would seem) discourse.

I’ve been noticing this for over a decade, and I’m a bit ashamed to say it didn’t fully occur to me how representative such a seemingly small thing could be of the direction our nation was heading in. I had a blog for a while I called “The Cranky Curmudgeon” and I wrote mostly about things that were pissing me off, like people who leave their shopping carts adjacent to, or in the middle of parking spaces, rather than taking a moment to return them to a collection area; or those who decided they really didn’t want that frozen meal they put in their cart, so decided to just leave it on an unrefrigerated shelf in some random place of the market; or the driver going much slower than you changing into your lane when there’s nobody behind you.

I noticed these things and used my blog to complain about them. Mostly it was personally cathartic, but I don’t believe any of my writing has captured much attention. Nevertheless, I enjoyed doing it and it really was a good method for getting things off my chest. I just wish I had made the conceptual leap from the everyday degradation of common decency, to the complete lack of responsibility toward the “general welfare” so evident in our national political leadership, especially the Republican Party and conservatism in general. I’m not sure it would have changed anything for me, but it does feel — in retrospect — like I missed some rather startling clues.

At any rate, since I drive my youngest daughter to school, as well as pick her up, every day of the week, I see this behavior (or lack of what I consider to be appropriate and legal – activity) constantly. As I noted earlier, clearly there are time when using one’s turn signals is not really necessary, but I think getting out of the habit ends up with lots of people just neglecting to ever use them. It’s an epidemic of disrespect for one’s fellow drivers. So, please, get in the habit of using those damn turn signals. They’re a social signal as well . . . and wouldn’t it be nice if we could all respect each other a bit more than is currently done?

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For Posterity (In Case We Survive)

Access Hollywood Bus

“I moved on her like a bitch.”

We’re in an interesting period of time for the United States, perhaps for the world, right now. We seem to have reached an inflection point, a tipping point if you will, in terms of women’s rights and how we respond to calls for equality, justice, and fair treatment. This does seem to be happening in many different areas where discrimination has been the order of the day, though not symmetrically at all.

However, the point I wish to address is only related to women and, especially, sexual harassment and sexism in general. As of today, at least two more men have been forced to resign or have been fired (according to the news I’ve been seeing). They are Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor.

While I’m happy men are being called out for inappropriate and, at many times, truly disgusting behavior, I’m a little worried we’re using far too broad a brush when condemning and calling out abusers. There also seems to be a strong partisan disparity in who we’re “getting rid of”.

As far as I’m concerned, the most egregious of these men is currently residing in the White House. For some reason I do understand, but will never fully accept, he’s been given a free pass. People who swore they could never vote for a man who was an admitted serial sexual abuser, did so anyway and . . . here we are. So, in the spirit of seeking justice and equal treatment for all, I wish to memorialize — as many have been doing on both Facebook and Twitter — the words of our “Dear Leader”, made public over a year ago on what’s generally referred to as the “Access Hollywood Tape.”

I did try and fuck her. She was married. I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed look. I’ve gotta use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything . . . Grab the by the pussy. You can do anything.”

— The President of the United States of America

Let me reiterate. I’m glad we’re finally (at least that’s how it looks right now) addressing the imbalance of power between men and women in all aspects of our government, economy, and society in general. However, it appears some men are getting a pass and don’t deserve it, while others are being removed from their positions for acts that are far less inappropriate than those of other men . . . especially men like Roy Moore and Donald Trump.

It’s important to bring context into our understanding. Leering is creepy, but groping is far worse. Most healthy men have fantasies they wouldn’t dream of sharing with anyone and, as long as they remain fantasies, I believe they’re relatively harmless. However, some men (lots of ’em, apparently) just don’t know how to control themselves and go beyond merely fantasizing. That’s at least one place a line needs to be drawn. Surely, there are many others, but I’m not here to analyze them all.

My intent here isn’t to solve anything; that’s really not my place and I’m woefully unequipped to do so. However, I do have this blog and I want to ensure I do my part to point out what I see as a blatant example of hypocrisy, especially coming from the Republican Party, Evangelical Christians, and far too many so-called “conservatives”. If anyone deserves to be removed from their job, it’s Donald John Trump. He’s condemned himself with his own words, hosted himself by his own petard. Until the right starts clamoring for his removal, their protestations don’t impress me.


Trump’s Phoenix Rally

I only watched a portion of (P)resident Trump’s speech in Phoenix last night. I can’t stand listening to the man. I did, however, see excerpts as they were shown during Lawrence O’Donnell’s MSNBC program, “The Last Word”, and what I heard was disheartening, to say the least.

I know I can read it if I want to, but I don’t really want to. I saw enough of his lying, self-aggrandizing bullshit to last me a lifetime. Today I came across this little snippet of Don Lemon of CNN, recorded last night as he opined on what he had just heard. It’s worth a listen.

We truly are going down the rabbit hole with this insanely unqualified train wreck of human being actually “leading” the Executive branch of our government. While I’m beginning to gain some modicum of confidence most everyone is learning how to ignore him, I’m not entirely satisfied we’ll come out of this safely . . . or ever be whole again.


The Regimental Repp and the POTUS

I seldom wear a tie any longer, but I used to wear them frequently and I have dozens still hanging in my closet. I learned a long time ago that the regimental repp stripe tie originated in England and there is a significant difference between English and American ties of this type.

Very briefly, the history of the designs harks back to when the British realized bright red uniforms were not the best way to engage on a battlefield and they changed to olive drab in order for their soldiers to be a wee tad less conspicuous. In order for the different regiments to distinguish themselves when in dress uniform, they each transferred their regimental colors to their ties.

There is a fundamental difference between ties from England and ties from America. In England, the stripe goes from the left shoulder, over the heart, and toward the right hip. In America they’re the exact opposite. There is a difference in meaning with the use of color as well, in that here in the U.S. the colors don’t mean anything. In England the colors signify either an element of the armed forces or a boarding/prep school.

Over the years I’ve been struck by the fact that our Presidents – at least the last three of them – most frequently wear English ties. This is also true of our PEEOTUS as well. Notably, the two Presidents prior to these four seldom wore regimental repp ties from England. I put the attached graphic together after looking through hundreds of photos of all six of them to illustrate this “discrepancy.”

Last Six Presidents

The Last Six (including the illegitimate one) Presidents

I have no idea why the change and I also have no idea why this is so. Perhaps American manufacturers are now making ties with the stripes going from the left shoulder, but I’ve seen nothing to convince me that’s the case.

I know this is trivial, but it’s been floating in the back of my mind for some time. I’ve found it a taste ironic these men go to great pains to wear American flag pins on their lapels, and I often wonder why they’re wearing ties the symbolism of which evokes merry old England. Where’s their patriotism?

More about these ties at http://bit.ly/2iuQ6nu


Empathy: The Core of Complex Decisions

Having worked with Dr. Pratt and her company, Quantellia, I have long been convinced their approach to decision making is one of, if not THE, best methodologies I’ve encountered. After what I consider to be one of the most disastrous general elections in my lifetime, it would seem we need help in navigating the complexities of the world and our place in it. Lorien’s work can, I believe, help us understand the consequences of our decisions, before we make them. I urge you to watch this video and become more conversant in the issues Dr. Pratt raises. What follows below the video are some of the “liner notes” that go with her TEDxLivermore talk.

Making decisions based on invisible inputs is like building a skyscraper without a blueprint. Yet that is the norm, even for very complex problems. Contrary to how most of us think about making a decision as being the act of choosing, a decision is the last piece of a long, almost completely invisible, process. The good news: it is possible to make the invisible part of decisions visible.

In working with the Community Justice Advisor Program in Liberia, Africa, Lorien and colleagues helped The Carter Center (founded by Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter) use decision models to increase positive outcomes in the domain of civil justice, by identifying the most effective levers for change.

Using deep learning artificial intelligence, the interconnections between inputs become visible, and unintended consequences can be identified before implementation. Vicious cycles can be reversed, and virtuous cycles of improvement can be built in place and nurtured through intelligent decision metrics.

As co-founder of Quantellia, Dr. Lorien Pratt co-created the decision intelligence methodology and the company’s award-winning World Modeler™ software. She consults and speaks worldwide, and is known for her neural network research and the book Learning to Learn. A former college professor, Pratt is widely known as the former global director of telecommunications research for Stratecast, a division of Frost & Sullivan. A graduate of Dartmouth College and Rutgers University, Pratt holds three degrees in computer science. She received the CAREER award from the National Science Foundation, an innovation award from Microsoft, and is author of dozens of technical papers and articles.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx


Dealing With Narcissistic Personality Disorder

I came across a post on Facebook last night which I thought very clearly laid out the personality traits of someone with narcissistic personality disorder, specifically one Donald J. Trump. It had been copied from elsewhere, and the friend who posted it passed on the suggestion that the text be copied and pasted, rather than “shared.” I’m not entirely certain why, though I suspect it is shared a little more pervasively with one’s friends if it’s seen as an original post. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong. Several of my friends commented on how useful it was and suggested publishing it, which I think is a good idea.

Trump admires himself

“Who Loves Me, Baby?”

At any rate, there are some very astute observations and insights in the text and we would do well to understand how things are likely going to work. Here’s the money quote for me:

“Focus on what you can change and how you can resist, where you are. We are all called to be leaders now, in the absence of leadership.”

Here’s the post in its entirety:

I want to talk a little about narcissistic personality disorder. I’ve unfortunately had a great deal of experience with it, and I’m feeling badly for those of you who are trying to grapple with it for the first time because of our president-elect, who almost certainly suffers from it or a similar disorder. If I am correct, it has some very particular implications for the office. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. It’s not curable and it’s barely treatable. He is who he is. There is no getting better, or learning, or adapting. He’s not going to “rise to the occasion” for more than maybe a couple hours. So just put that out of your mind.
  2. He will say whatever feels most comfortable or good to him at any given time. He will lie a lot, and say totally different things to different people. Stop being surprised by this. While it’s important to pretend “good faith” and remind him of promises, as Bernie Sanders and others are doing, that’s for his supporters, so *they* can see the inconsistency as it comes. He won’t care. So if you’re trying to reconcile or analyze his words, don’t. It’s 100% not worth your time. Only pay attention to and address his actions.
  3. You can influence him by making him feel good. There are already people like Bannon who appear ready to use him for their own ends. The GOP is excited to try. Watch them, not him. President Obama, in his wisdom, may be treating him well in hopes of influencing him and averting the worst. If he gets enough accolades for better behavior, he might continue to try it. But don’t count on it.
  4. Entitlement is a key aspect of the disorder. As we are already seeing, he will likely not observe traditional boundaries of the office. He has already stated that rules don’t apply to him. This particular attribute has huge implications for the presidency and it will be important for everyone who can to hold him to the same standards as previous presidents.
  5. We should expect that he only cares about himself and those he views as extensions of himself, like his children. (People with NPD often can’t understand others as fully human or distinct.) He desires accumulation of wealth and power because it fills a hole. (Melania is probably an acquired item, not an extension.) He will have no qualms *at all* about stealing everything he can from the country, and he’ll be happy to help others do so, if they make him feel good. He won’t view it as stealing but rather as something he’s entitled to do. This is likely the only thing he will intentionally accomplish.
  6. It’s very, very confusing for non-disordered people to experience a disordered person with NPD. While often intelligent, charismatic and charming, they do not reliably observe social conventions or demonstrate basic human empathy. It’s very common for non-disordered people to lower their own expectations and try to normalize the behavior. DO NOT DO THIS AND DO NOT ALLOW OTHERS, ESPECIALLY THE MEDIA, TO DO THIS. If you start to feel foggy or unclear about this, step away until you recalibrate.
  7. People with NPD often recruit helpers, referred to in the literature as “enablers” when they allow or cover for bad behavior and “flying monkeys” when they perpetrate bad behavior on behalf of the narcissist. Although it’s easiest to prey on malicious people, good and vulnerable people can be unwittingly recruited. It will be important to support good people around him if and when they attempt to stay clear or break away.
  8. People with NPD often foster competition for sport in people they control. Expect lots of chaos, firings and recriminations. He will probably behave worst toward those closest to him, but that doesn’t mean (obviously) that his actions won’t have consequences for the rest of us. He will punish enemies. He may start out, as he has with the NYT, with a confusing combination of punishing/rewarding, which is a classic abuse tactic for control. If you see your media cooperating or facilitating this behavior for rewards, call them on it.
  9. Gaslighting — where someone tries to convince you that the reality you’ve experienced isn’t true — is real and tortuous. He will gaslight, his followers will gaslight. Many of our politicians and media figures already gaslight, so it will be hard to distinguish his amplified version from what has already been normalized. Learn the signs and find ways to stay focused on what you know to be true. Note: it is typically not helpful to argue with people who are attempting to gaslight. You will only confuse yourself. Just walk away.
  10. Whenever possible, do not focus on the narcissist or give him attention. Unfortunately we can’t and shouldn’t ignore the president, but don’t circulate his tweets or laugh at him — you are enabling him and getting his word out. (I’ve done this, of course, we all have… just try to be aware.) Pay attention to your own emotions: do you sort of enjoy his clowning? do you enjoy the outrage? is this kind of fun and dramatic, in a sick way? You are adding to his energy.

Focus on what you can change and how you can resist, where you are. We are all called to be leaders now, in the absence of leadership.


The Rise of Homo Avarus

Homo Avarus - Greedy Man

Any Doubt This is How it Will Play Out?

I think it’s time we recognized there is a new species of primate in the neighborhood. We, of course, are quite familiar with our own species, Homo Sapiens (Wise Man), currently recognized as the only non-extinct species of hominid in the genus Homo. However, recent events make it quite clear there is a huge number of so-called humans who are not “wise” at all; they are self-centered and, apparently, lacking in decency and empathy for anyone not exactly like them.

These people just elected the most unqualified, inept, and uniquely hateful man to the highest office in the land, President of the United States. Only a few days after the election, his “victory” is already resulting in a significant uptick in hate crimes and bullying. He is appointing some of the worst people to ever disgrace public office in our country, and he is planning on actions that will set our progress as a people back 50 years.

This is, of course, what was always meant by the slogan “Make America Great Again.” By great, we know the real meaning of that slogan to be “let’s take America back to the 1950s, when people we don’t like (those of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, disabled people, and other “others”) were relegated to the background and expected to stay there and quietly accept their positions as second-class citizens . . . or not.

What he has proposed, and what he is no doubt beginning to set into motion will be the greatest reversal of progress on human rights within our country we’ve seen in quite some time. His administration is already preparing legislation that will make it possible to discriminate against people because of their “religious objections” to their lifestyle. He’s floating names of Cabinet posts and department heads that are an absolute nightmare for anyone with a working brain and a conscience; Ben Carson for Secretary of Education, Sarah Palin for Secretary of the Interior. It feels almost hyperbolic to take those appointments as serious and well-reasoned.

I suspect he, and those he will have in his administration, have been emboldened by people who are either reasonably clueless or who are so selfish and incapable of empathy, they just don’t care how much destruction this man will wreak on the most vulnerable. As long as they get back their “sense” of control and privilege, how it affects others is of no consequence.

Although I think this represents a tragic misunderstanding of how interrelated we, as both citizens and non-citizens, are in keeping the economy strong and growing, a singular lack of empathy seems to be the driving force behind his popularity and (what I hope will turn out to be) pyrrhic victory. For these reasons, I suggest we recognize a new species of human, one that is solely concerned with itself and only interested in the well-being of others if it directly affects their safety and comfort. In other words, Homo Avarus; greedy man.

Little do they know they’ve been massively punked, and are about to find out just what kind of carnival barker they’ve put into the most powerful position on Earth. It’s going to get ugly, and it’s little consolation to know that those who enabled this man are going to pay a heavy price as well. Stay strong, my brothers and sisters. I was hopeful we were going to move forward, but that is clearly not the case. We are now faced with what may be the greatest challenge of our lives, certainly of my nearly 70 years on this planet. We need to figure out how not merely organize, but also how to educate and how to teach ourselves and others to sift through the mountain of garbage that passes for information and reporting via the mainstream media and even much of the virtual media we consume via Facebook and Twitter. We have an enormous job facing us, one I don’t expect to see the result of in my lifetime. <sigh>


Donald J. Drumpf – Your Drunk Neighbor

Based on recordings of things Teh Donald™ has actually allowed to plummet out of his fabulously wealthy piehole, this video pretty much sums up many (not all, but many) of my feelings about the man and his followers. I understand the fear some white people feel, though I think it’s ridiculous of them to do so. I’m pretty sure what really scares them is the realization of how terrible people of color have been treated and, since they’re so good at projection, they’re assuming white people are now going to get as good as they gave.

As a straight, white male I really do understand what many of them feel. However, as one who works hard to understand others, and who believes empathy is an important tool for anyone who wishes to live in a reasonably civilized, respectful, and well-adjusted society, I am of the opinion they’re making things worse for everyone, including themselves.

So . . . here it is folks. I can hardly think of a better way to characterize the blatherings of our first reality show presidential candidate. This is YUGE!!


In Surprise Move, Senate Joins NASCAR

Just came across this photo on Facebook and was moved to edit Marc Antony’s soliloquy for Caesar, which seemed appropriate to me. So, with the mildest of apologies to ol’ Bill, I offer them herein. To wit:

 

Senators in NASCAR-like jackets

 

 

Friends, citizens, countrymen, lend me your ears;

I come to bury our middle class, not to praise it.

The evil that we do lives after us;

The good is oft interred with our bones;

So let it be with our middle class. The noble McConnell

Hath told us we were too ambitious:

If it were so, it was a grievous fault,

And grievously hath we answer’d it.

Here, under leave of McConnell and the rest–

For McConnell is an honourable man;

So are they all, all honourable men–

Come I to speak at our funeral.

We were, almost without fail, just

And faithful to our nation.

But McConnell says we were ambitious;

And McConnell is an honourable man.

We worked hard all our lives and taxes

On our efforts did the general coffers fill:

Did this in us seem ambitious?

We freely gave of our abundance

The others might have what we did:

Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:

Yet McConnell says we’re too ambitious;

And McConnell is an honourable man.

You all did see that in general elections

We thrice voted in supply-siders and tricklers,

Who did thrice trick us: was this ambition?

Yet McConnell says we were ambitious;

And, sure, he is an honourable man.

I speak not to disprove what McConnell speaks,

But here I am to speak what I do know.

You all did love us once, not without cause:

What cause withholds you then, to mourn for us?

O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,

And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;

My heart is in the coffin there with the middle class,

And I must pause till it come back to me.


Damn The Contradictions! Giving Feels Good.

Last night my Rotary Club of Simi Sunrise led a community effort to assemble the bicycles we had raised money for and purchased to distribute to children in our community whose families could not otherwise afford to get them one this year. We planned on buying, assembling, and distributing 300 bikes, but were only able to get 272, because there just weren’t any more available.

Bikes

A sample of the 272 bicycles assembled for community gifting.

Above is a pic showing some of these bikes. They were all assembled, put through a final quality check to ensure everything was done correctly, and loaded into trucks for distribution to the various groups and agencies who were participating in this event in approximately 2.5 hours. Kudos to everyone involved. It really was an amazing event, topped off by free pizza from The Junkyard, which was delicious.


PS – The title I used for this post reflects my knowledge that things like philanthropy and volunteerism (especially the former) can be indications of a failure in our society to meet the basic needs of many of our citizens. While I recognize there is, indeed, a problem of economic justice inherent in the ways we distribute goods and services, I also recognize there remains a real need regardless of the theories and concepts we can develop to describe and explain them. I therefore wish to opt for doing what I can (and Rotary seems an excellent avenue with which to do it) to alleviate some of the discomfort caused by the imbalance. 


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