Monday, June 29, 2020

Yes It Is...No It's Not



If you want a simple illustration of modernism vs. postmodernism, look no further than this old Monty Python skit known forever as The Dead Parrot.

https://youtu.be/vZw35VUBdzo

And so we find our world today. We are not just divided on the issues. We are divided on the fundamentals of the issues. If the two characters in the Monty Python skit could just agree on whether or not the parrot is dead, they might be able to move on toward some resolution or at least a more reasonable argument. The shopkeeper might simply tell the customer that he bought the parrot as is, where is and he’s yours, dead or alive. No refunds. But these two combatants can’t even get to a rational argument. And in the end, when the shopkeeper realizes that the customer is not inclined to accept his repeated and obviously false claim that the parrot is not really dead, he shifts gears and goes into a song about a being a cross-dressing lumberjack. Classic Monty Python. (You can find the rest of the skit on YouTube as well.)

For most of recorded human history, we have believed that Truth is knowable and it is reasonable to consider Truth as objective and binding upon us, at least until we have new information and conclude that it is no longer reasonable to consider some previously accepted idea as Truth. Thus we no longer believe that the earth is flat nor that it is the center of the universe. Viruses and bacteria cause illness not demons. There is no man in the moon.

When the Age of Englightenment came along, even those who believed in a Higher Power and things not seen, made room for Science and Reason. Both sides believed in the idea of objective Truth. They might disagree on the ultimate authority of Truth with regard to certain ideas, i.e. sin, the immortal soul, life after death, etc. But they could have honest debate and discussion about such matters. Science and Reason have even become part of modern day Christian apologetics. If you really want to think deeply and learn about such things check out John Lennox or William Craig Lane.

But now, we find ourselves so divided that we can no longer have a rational conversation about our differences. The postmodernists start from the premise that Objective Truth is unknowable and there is no ultimate authority. Neither a Higher Power nor Science and Human Reason have the authority to determine what is true for the individual. So we send our young people out into the world with no map, no compass…just hashtags…#UBU…#FindURtruth.

As a Boomer, I look back and cringe at the phrase: “If it feels good do it”. Like a lot of us back then, I did it and discovered that it was just one more version of the original lie: “Did God Really Say…?”. And now the lie has become “If it feels right, it’s true.” Same old lie, same old result.

This is how “the new old lie” works these days. First it has the loudest voice. It controls the narrative. The media, the academy, arts & culture…they embrace it and they proclaim it. They also enforce it and punish those who may see things differently. This gives them the power to describe and define THE PROBLEM. Systemic racism is a good example. They go on to diagnose the problem, the symptoms and the causes (inequality, the criminal justice system, white privilege...etc). They claim the right to determine how best to solve the problem (defund police departments, pay reparations, mandate equitable outcomes socially, politically and economically). And lastly, they demand immediate implementation of their solutions to the problem (protests, violent riots, take over neighborhoods, boycott or just burn down businesses, rewrite history, tear down monuments and deconstruct the meta-narratives which are foundational to the free and open society that allows them to do just that.)

Now to be clear, there is some truth in what is being said, quite a bit in some cases. Systemic racism is a problem. In fact, it may well be THE PROBLEM. The symptoms and causes certainly include issues such as inequality, our criminal justice system and white privilege. But it’s not only those things. Many of those who have studied this, including leading black scholars, point to our welfare system and predatory politicians whose efforts keep black communities down and out… and dependent. When we move on to solutions, the divergence of opinion widens. Reform law enforcement. Absolutely. Some say we need better training and better pay for law enforcement, not more after school programs and basketball courts in the inner-city. Perhaps we need both. Pay reparations? Maybe it would make more sense to establish “micro-lending” programs (not the SBA). Provide incentives (subsidies) for private investors to lend money to black entrepreneurs. Maybe offer more educational support for blacks seeking higher education in the STEM fields. And our criminal justice system does need change. Poor people, not just blacks, tend to fair badly in court. And maybe it is time to change our drug laws, mandatory sentencing guidelines and how we handle non-violent lawbreakers. But when it comes to demanding change, making the case by rioting, destroying communities and attempting to wipe out any and all symbols of “white” American excellence and achievement is definitely a misguided strategy that will only alienate those who might be inclined to support your cause. And it is definitely a strategy that will inflame those most opposed to any changes.

But in 2020 there is no debate, no discussion of alternatives, no point/counter-point. The only “facts” that matter are the ones that fit "the narrative", even if those facts are anecdotal at best. Anything else is quickly dismissed as racist or worse. If one is not among “the oppressed” or an ally of the oppressed they have no voice and no way of knowing what is really true. THE TRUTH can only be understood and expressed by those who are WOKE. Truth has become a one-way street with only one lane.

Throughout history when people divide over fundamental existential issues the ultimate result is bloodshed, most often on a massive scale. Millions died during the Protestant vs Catholic wars in Europe that went on for over 200 years. There is the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Civil War. Then the Fascism and Communism of the last century which took more lives than all previous wars and conflicts combined. We are at a historic crossroad. We have two choices. Listen to one another and work together to solve our problems or tear each other apart. When you hit your knees tonight, pray that we listen to one another and work this thing out.


Saturday, June 13, 2020

Talk About It or Just STFU?


Ok, which is it? Can white people talk about racism or should they just STFU? If they are allowed to talk about racism but don’t follow “the script”, should they just STFU? If they are inclined to perhaps comment negatively about some things like rioting, looting or attacking police officers should they just STFU? If they acknowledge their own racism and admit to white privilege without begging or offering to buy forgiveness may they speak or should they just STFU?

You see I believe that rational human beings have the capacity to hold more than one idea in their minds at the same time. Even ideas that conflict with each other. Freedom/Law and Order. Free Will/ Determinism. Judgment/ Mercy. Taste Great/Less Filling. And so it is with most issues, especially the big ones. Issues where we find it difficult to distinguish between cause and effect, disease and symptom, cure and treatment.

So with that, I shall talk about racism. Talk about it not from ‘A’ white man’s perspective, but from “THIS” white man’s perspective. This white man who grew up in Texas and is old enough to remember white and black water fountains. This white man who was told by his parents not to use “the N-word”. That “they” preferred to be called “colored” or “Negro”. “They” were good people and God loved them, too. But they were different and it was just better for us to remain separated as much as possible. This white man who remembers the time when Martin Luther King was assassinated. A time when this white man’s father told him about running off “N-word” looters who were trying to break into the back of his truck. This white man who worked side by side and sometimes under the supervision of black men in his late teens and early 20’s. This white man who even in the 80’s while living in South Carolina saw old black men step off the sidewalk and look away when a white woman walked by. This white man who spent his management career in an industry where “management” was predominately male and very white.

This white man admits to his racism. I wish it was not there. I know it’s wrong. I do see color before I see the person. And I expect most people do, regardless of their own color. We are all shaped by our experiences, our thoughts and our hearts. My racism doesn’t cause me to dislike, much less hate black people. But it does lead me to think of them differently, sometimes even to the point of feeling sorry for them. And often pity does more damage than hate. But I am trying to do better, to be better.

This white man has always understood that in our culture whites have more privilege than blacks. That’s undeniable. It is foundational in Western civilization. We brought it with us from Europe and institutionalized it with slavery and the class system that was imposed afterward. It is what it is in every sense of the word.

So what do we do about it? We can reform law enforcement and the criminal justice system. We should do so. But that’s only changing the way we treat the disease. It only makes the pain more bearable and perhaps opens a few more doors for those who no longer get locked up and can find their way to a better life. The same can be said for “after school programs” and more “recreational facilities”. We can take down statues of confederate generals and notable historical figures who said something wrong or failed to say something right. We can all take a knee and stop singing “The Eyes of Texas”. (Yes, that is now on the “to be banned” list). But, if it does not translate into better Education and better Employment for more people of color, real change, lasting change won’t come.

Education and Employment lead to Empowerment. It takes longer to clean up a mess than it does to make one. Racism has been going on for centuries around the world and our version of it has been here since the nation began. We’ve taken some steps over the past 50+ years to level the playing field and some have benefited. We see black people in careers and living in neighborhoods that would have been unthinkable not that long ago. But we’ve also allowed, if not enabled, things to get worse for many of those left behind in poverty with little hope of a good education or a good job. Whatever steps we take moving forward, if they are not directed toward providing better education, and that includes education and training that prepares people to earn a decent living (and I’m not talking about minimum wage), then we will fail. We are just rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship.

When Blacks do get “in the game” we have to lift the glass ceiling. And not just symbolically. It’s nice to have Blacks on the Board of Directors, but how many are in the C-suite leading the enterprise? I’m not talking about tokenism or promoting unqualified people. (There are already too many unqualified white guys at the C-level). I’m saying there has to be a real pathway for talented black managers to move beyond middle management or even division leadership roles. There is room at the top.

Beyond Education and Employment, hearts and minds have to change. As a Christian I have my beliefs about how that happens. Others will seek a different path. We don’t have to agree with each other to respect each other. So whatever works for you, just get right in your head and in your heart.

(And I pray that God forgives me for the ‘STFU’…but sometimes you just need to get the point across).


Saturday, May 16, 2020

Essential Work


Even in the midst of this unprecedented pandemic, when so many citizens are on “lock down”, the government recognized that some work was essential and must go on. But now as the economy sinks deeper into recession, what becomes of this essential work and, more importantly these essential workers? Is essential work still essential when demand for that work dries up or there is no money to pay those essential workers?


These are the broad categories of essential industries the government identified:

Health Care
Law Enforcement, Public Safety and First Responders
Food and Agriculture
Energy
Public Works
Transportation and Logistics
Critical Manufacturing (all the supplies and equipment required to produce and support essential goods and services).
Financial Services
Community based government operations and essential services
Chemicals
Defense Industry

There are much longer lists of specific jobs under each of these industry categories. What really strikes me is that we have a lot of essential work to do all across this nation. These industries represent a huge chunk of our economy.

Funny thing though, the economy. Someone provides a product or service in exchange for money in order to purchase a product or service someone else is providing. They may purchase it directly or perhaps it comes as a result of the taxes they pay or someone else pays. But, sooner or later, someone pays for it. Even if the government prints more money and covers it by borrowing from some other country, someone pays for it…always. And when people (mostly all of those “non-essential” workers) cannot or will not work in order to provide certain products or services, either because of lock downs or just being afraid to go back to work or their employer cannot afford to pay them; the economy starts to break down. And when these same people cannot or will not purchase certain products or services, either because of lock downs or fear or because they don’t have enough money; the economy starts to break down even more.

As more people behave this way, the economic breakdown accelerates. It doesn’t take long before even some of the most essential workers lose their jobs. We’ve already seen layoffs and furloughs in the healthcare industry. A large portion of our “essential” energy industry is in the tank. Some transportation and logistics providers are laying off thousands of “essential workers” even as others are adding people, usually in lower paying jobs. State and local governments are going broke and will be forced to make cuts in “essential” services and “essential” workers. Fewer supplies and less equipment will be purchased and, as a result, many so-called critical manufacturers will be forced to eliminate “essential” workers. And so it goes.

We all agree there are essential jobs that must be done, even during a viral pandemic. But what about the so-called non-essential jobs? There are a lot of things the world can do without for some period of time…such as headhunters. But over time, even non-essential work adds value. All work that provides a product or service that people need, or even just want, is valuable… even if it’s not essential. And those “essential” workers ultimately need us non-essential workers to buy from and sell to.

We are now faced with tough questions. Is the risk worth the reward? What price are we willing to pay for safety? What level of risks are we prepared to accept for freedom and prosperity? Even if we come up with treatments for Covid-19, they won't be cures. And a vaccine will not provide universal protection. It will be a big step forward in reducing the risk, but it will not eliminate it. If, in fact, Covid-19 is more contagious and more deadly than the flu, once we go back to business as usual we could still see thousands of Covid-19 deaths annually, even within an immunized population,

Clearly, we can’t go back to “business as usual” today. But we do have to get back to some reasonable and sustainable level of business activity while managing the risks as best we can. Because from an economic perspective, all work is valuable and all workers should be valued….even those who are not “essential”.



Friday, May 1, 2020

God, Football and Hair


I live in Texas. As the saying goes everything is bigger in Texas. None are bigger than God, Football and Big Hair. The Governor is now allowing churches to open with only “recommended” guidelines. A few never closed and several are planning to open this Sunday or, at least, next Sunday…Mother’s Day. Mothers are also a big deal in Texas. From day one young Texans are taught to worship God and love their Mamas. More progressive churches (meaning liberal, watered-down preachin’ churches) are erring on the side of caution and pushing their openings back a few weeks, at least until Phase 2 of the Great Re-Opening is approved. If oil prices don’t rebound it will be their fault.

Sports, in particular football, have been totally disrupted by this pandemic. Where I live, some still think it’s all fake news, just a bad flu season the liberal media is using against Trump. Why didn’t we have spring football like always? And baseball and track. We didn’t even get to finish the state basketball tournament. Now they are saying we might not have a football season. No Friday Night Lights? No College Game Day? Just more proof this is all part of a Chinese master plan to bring down America.

And then there is hair. Women's hair is a big deal in Texas. It used to be literally big…”the bigger the hair, the closer to God” sort of big hair. That’s not a thing anymore. But the hair business is still a big deal in Texas, for men and women. But especially for women. And the Governor did not include hair salons in his Phase 1 re-opening. Not one of his better political decisions. However, not all has been lost. Our neighbors on the ugly side of the Red River did re-open their salons. How bad do Texas women want to “git there hair dun”? Bad enough to drive up to Oklahoma and let “those people” cut and style and color their hair. Places like Durant and Ardmore and Lawton are enjoying a financial windfall as Texas women flock up to the Sooner State.

Even though “the curve” in Texas has yet to flatten, the total numbers have remained well below original projections. We have plenty of room in our hospitals for the sick and more than enough space to bury the dead. So we will get on with our lives even it means driving up to Oklahoma to “gitcher hair dun”. And a lot Texans will argue that we should have never stopped living our lives in the first place. You just don’t mess with Texas…and your sure don’t mess with God, Football and Hair.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Mitigate This



Mitigation: the process or result of making something less severe, dangerous, painful, harsh, or damaging

Breaking News:

U.S. retail sales suffered a record drop in March as mandatory business closures to control the spread of the novel coronavirus outbreak depressed demand for a range of goods.

The outbreak set up consumer spending for its worst decline in decades.

Retail sales plunged 8.7% in March, the biggest decline since the government started tracking the series in 1992, after falling by a revised 0.4% in February, the Commerce Department said.

We are almost certainly in a Recession.

So what you’re telling me, Captain Obvious, is that when businesses are closed, when people are ordered to shelter-in-place, many of whom are now unemployed or expect to be so very soon; when a global pandemic occurs and we take drastic measures in response…what you’re telling me is that the economy implodes. Who could have imagined such a thing?

We are where we are and second guessing will do no good. We’ll never know how many would have died if we had taken less drastic measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. But we do know that more would have died. We are also starting to experience the consequences of those drastic measures. And make no mistake, those consequences will be deadly for many who would likely have survived the virus. We just don’t know how many and never will. The lives saved by shutting down the economy vs. the lives that will be lost from doing so….unknowable.

So we chose to mitigate the spread of the virus. Now we must decide how to mitigate the damage that mitigation has created. Whatever we do, it’s a no win situation. Start opening up the economy in early May and COVID-19 outbreaks are inevitable. Wait until June or July, there is still no guarantee that outbreaks will not occur and the economic damage may become irreversible. Taking half-measures to re-open the economy yet still contain the spread might be the worst of all options…or it might be the best. We don’t know.

What we do know is that we cannot wait months for a vaccine. That is not an option. Without a vaccine, whatever action we take comes with deadly risks. We are reaching a tipping point where we have to consider the long-term consequences of our actions. Just as viral spread is exponential, economic collapse expands exponentially. But there is no flattening curve and no herd immunity when it comes to the economy. Those who lose jobs and life savings do not develop antibodies that protect them and restore them to economic well-being. Many will fall and never get back on their feet.

Whatever we do will be politicized, especially in this election year. Politicians, being who they are, will choose the half-measures option. Open up enough of the economy to say they are “opening the economy”, but maintain enough restrictions to protect “the most vulnerable among us”. With the damage already done and without a vaccine, even those who have jobs will not fully return to normal activities or spending money. We may be able to stop the economic free fall, but recovery depends on that vaccine. Whether COVID-19 is really a monster or we have made it a monster, in today’s world it is a monster and that’s all that matters. Mitigation will only get us so far. Find the cure or learn to live with the monster.


Friday, April 3, 2020

After COVID-19


“Nature doesn't ask your permission; it doesn't care about your wishes, or whether you like its laws or not. You're obliged to accept it as it is, and consequently all its results as well.”- Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Covid-19 Pandemic is like nothing we have seen in our lifetime. In terms of global impact, certainly not since WWII or the Great Depression. Those two events not only had devastating impact when they occurred, but went on to change the way people lived afterwards. The Great Depression brought New Deal style government intervention into our economy in ways never seen before. It also helped shape a generation of people who valued hard work and saving for the future. WWII made America a truly great global power for the first time and ushered in an era of prosperity and growth for the middle class. From the ashes of WWII and with the looming threat of Communism, the United States became the world’s leading force for economic expansion and globalization. But this all came with a price and we’ve been paying it for the last 40 years, mostly by going deeper in debt. After giving the world the shirts off our backs, we’ve been borrowing money for decades in order to buy those shirts back, along with sneakers, televisions, smart phones and automobiles.

And now we are going through another life-changing event. We will get through it. There will be new and better ways to treat and comfort the sick. Ultimately there will be a vaccine. We will put this behind us. But it will be a long time, perhaps a generation or two before it is forgotten… or at least until the next crisis comes along. And in its aftermath, things will change.

Here is a list of ten things which I predict are likely to happen after this pandemic is over.

_1 We will certainly be better prepared for something like COVID-19 in the future. It may not be enough and we may face something totally different. But there will be massive investment in preparation for everything we can imagine and, perhaps even for things unimaginable.

_2 The Federal government will take a more active role in healthcare. Some version of national healthcare or Medicare for all will be a reality before the end of this decade.

_3 The inevitable decline of brick and mortar retail will accelerate. What was likely to happen over the next ten years will happen within five.

_4 There will be a significant increase in telecommuting. Many workers will have demonstrated that they can do their jobs just as well from home, if not all the time, at least most of the time or often enough so as not to be needed in the office every day. This in turn will have major implications for where and how people choose to live, how often they trade cars and all of the services that rely on the masses commuting to work every day (fuel, food, parking, auto repair, office space, etc .).

_5 Business travel may never go back to the way it was before COVID-19. More people will realize that many of those in-person meetings weren’t really all that necessary, certainly not worth the time and expense and that most of what needs to be accomplished can be done just as well via video conference.

_6 International travel will be more restrictive and closely monitored. Be prepared for longer lines, more questions and someone taking your temperature.

_7 Western industrialized nations will insist on having more control over critical supplies, equipment and information; especially that which is related to healthcare, technology, energy and national defense.

_8 Hand-washing, social distancing, crowd-avoidance...a lot of people will keep doing these things long after the pandemic has passed. How that translates to attendance at concerts, sporting events, conventions, etc. remains to be seen. But my guess is that it may be a few years before we return to hugging the person next to us.

_9 More people will start eating at home and eating healthy. When restaurants reopen there will be a surge of returning customers who just need to get out and eat at their favorite places. But many will have found that preparing meals at home can be a lot healthier and a whole lot more affordable.

_10 There will be major reforms in the way senior care facilities are managed. Most people, especially those who have had an elderly family member in one of these places, already knew that there are often issues with the quality of care. But now after COVID-19 and with an aging population, most of whom vote, there will be plenty of pressure to clean up this industry.

These items are just the tip of the iceberg. There will be many more. That’s why it’s called a life-changing event.


Monday, March 30, 2020

Going Over The Cliff


In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic several nations have taken the approach that the best way to deal with this virus is to allow their people to develop immunity, the immunity of the herd. Isolate and protect the most vulnerable citizens, but otherwise allow business as usual for the most part. They have imposed some restrictions, but nothing along the lines of what we are seeing in the United States and the majority of European countries. Great Britain took this approach for a few weeks before reaching the Reality Cliff. After looking over the edge as members of their herd starting plunging to their death, Great Britain’s leadership revised their strategy and started shutting things down.

Interesting thing though about herds and new viruses. They tend to come together forming a train that is impossible to stop. Especially if the virus is highly contagious and there is no vaccine. Sweden and Denmark continue to pursue this more relaxed approach to managing COVID-19, counting on the herd to quickly develop immunity and eventually shutdown the virus. But they are also imposing certain restrictions and my guess is those will increase in the days and weeks ahead. However, they may also find that the unstoppable train of the infected herd is already on its way to the Reality Cliff. Hopefully, these smaller, relatively healthy countries with above average healthcare networks will find a way to overcome what is coming their way.

In the meantime, the rest of us will continue to play “flatten the curve”. We also have summer heat on the way which should help in some parts of the world. But who knows what will happen as winter takes hold in the Southern hemisphere. Hopefully a vaccine is available sooner rather than later. But if it really is 12-18 months away, we may find ourselves living and dying on the curve again next winter, a herd without immunity staring over a different cliff…the one called Economic Reality.