Saturday, July 24, 2021

I Can't Imagine

 

I watched a replay of the Olympic Games Opening ceremony.  Near the end of the ceremony they played the old John Lennon classic “Imagine” accompanied by a swelling symphony of Hans Zimmer written music while different singers representing the people of the world sang those famous lyrics:

 

Imagine there’s no heaven

It’s easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people

Living for today…

 

I am sure millions of people around the world found the singing and the moment to be inspiring. Something that might bring us all together, especially as we battle a global pandemic, social injustice, racism, sexism, violence, climate change and slow service at the fast-food drive thru.  But, I’ve never liked that song or it’s message.  It may a be a feel-good song for those who dream of a man-made earthly Utopia.  But it runs counter to the evidence and human experience, not to mention the truth as written in Holy Scripture.

 

Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion, too

Imagine all the people

Living life in peace…

 

C’mon, John.  It’s very hard to imagine no countries.  Geography alone would create countries.  Add in climate, natural resources along with the history of human civilization and you end up with countries. How’s the U.N. working out for us?  And how about that World Health Organization?  Even the E.U. can’t seem to make it work with only a few countries trying to operate just as one.  China would be on board as long as we all do it their way and to their benefit.  John, if only you were still around to explain this dream world to Left and Right-Wing extremists.  

 

And no religion?  People may not go to church.  They may not even believe in God or gods.  But human beings are “religious”.   Whether you believe we were created by a higher power for a higher purpose or just evolved to be what we are, humans are “religious”.  We have to believe in something, we must have a reason to be, to exist.  We may try to replace God with Secular Humanism, a Utopian vision, Social Justice, or some other ideology…but we all end up worshipping something.

 

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world

 

Sorry John, I can’t even imagine “all the people” generously sharing highways or elevator space, much less their food and possessions.  A brotherhood of man?  Up to a point perhaps.  No need for greed or hunger?  Sign me up, just tell me how that system is going to work.  More specifically, who’s going to DO the work and who’s going to do the most difficult work, the most critical work?  Somehow I don’t really want the person doing my knee replacement to be functioning on the same level as the person washing my car when it comes to talent, skill, education, training, experience and economic reward.  

To be clear, that person washing my car absolutely deserves my total respect and to be fairly compensated for their labor.  But who’s going to determine what’s fair?  Let me give you a hint….it’s all the people…sharing all the world… and it’s called “the marketplace.   Now that’s something I actually can imagine.


Sunday, July 11, 2021

Thinning The Herd

 

Back in December I made my predictions for 2021.  Two of those were related to Covid:

Covid-19 related restrictions will ease up a bit by mid-year, but are not going away in 2021.  If you are expecting “normal” to return sometime in 2021, you will be disappointed.

 70% of Americans will have been vaccinated by the end of the year, but there will still be a good deal of uncertainty.  Some will still get sick and some will die.  The fear and the testing will not go away.  Wearing masks and maintaining social distance will be with us at least through the winter of 2021-22.

The one point that stands out as a big miss so far is the % of Americans who have been fully vaccinated.  Right now that number is 50% and I think it’s doubtful that we will get to 70% by the end of the year.  Factor in the spread of Covid virus variants and the winter of 2021-2022 is not looking good.  I don’t see us going back to masks mandates in states like Texas, but I think you’ll start seeing more people wearing masks and keeping their distance as things go downhill later this year.

There is some good news in that 75% of seniors are fully vaccinated.  However, that it’s only 75% is a baffling.  Given the impact that Covid has had on seniors, why would any older person not take the vaccine.  The risk of side-effects from the vaccine is nothing compared to the risk of Covid for an un-vaccinated older person. While there is no guarantee that a vaccinated person won’t get sick, it appears that they are much less likely to; and if they do, the outcomes are likely to be more favorable.

I don’t think Americans will tolerate another full lockdown.  While football stadiums may be packed in September, by November we’ll likely be back to distancing and crowd limits.  The same is likely for restaurants and bars.  People who are working remote now will continue to work remote and some who have gone back to their office, will return to working remote.  The real wild card will be the schools.  Will they close? Will they offer both in-room and virtual classes?  How many parents will opt to keep their kids home?  And will the government subsidize these “home-schooling” parents?

There are a lot of big questions.  Will those who have been vaccinated need a booster shot this fall?  Will that depend on what vaccine they took in the first place?  If we do have a bad Covid winter, will vaccinations become mandatory? 

All of us would like to put the Covid nightmare behind us.  But Covid just keeps on coming.  And most likely, it will eventually become much like the seasonal flu which kills thousands of people every year.  A lot of people get flu shots and many will start getting their annual Covid shot.  And many will not. 

I am one of those who did take the vaccine. So did my wife.  Most people I know have gotten vaccinated, or at least say they have.  But there are plenty here in Grayson County Texas who have not.  That’s their choice.  It may put all of us, including the vaccinated, at greater risk.  It most certainly puts the unvaccinated at greater risk. Which means until we develop enough natural herd immunity, Covid will continue its march around the world…thinning the herd. 


“Throughout the pandemic, the nation lacked a uniform policy about gathering places, and there was no central authority with the power to make and enforce rules that everyone had to obey. Each community acted on its own, doing as its elected officials thought best.”
― Albert Marrin, Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918


Saturday, July 3, 2021

Birds Of A Feather







On this Fourth of July we find ourselves a nation divided.  Not since the years leading up to the Civil War have Americans been so polarized.  I hesitate to use that comparison considering that some still feel that many Americans are essentially enslaved by race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference or just their physical appearance. 

 

Indeed, these days we find ourselves divided along the lines of group identity.  There are groups who believe they are oppressed and groups who are seen as the oppressors.  Postmodern theorists make the case that those who are marginalized and oppressed own the high moral ground from which Truth may be spoken.  Therefore, they get to define the groups, who gets membership, how those groups rank in terms of being oppressed and which groups most clearly intersect with other oppressed groups.   Likewise, they have defined the oppressors who are, for the most part, those who have attained the most power and privilege in Western Civilization.

 

That groups exist is a fact.  How they interact, how we ended up where we are in the 21st Century and what we are going to do about it are issues that must be resolved.   And history tells us that there will be resolution at some point…peaceful or otherwise.

 

History also tells us that human beings are inclined toward grouping.  So groups are never going to go away.  We are tribal.  We form groups on purpose and usually for more than one purpose.   Essentially groups form for protection, production and power.  Groups must evolve to provide all of these, otherwise they fall apart and new groups emerge. 

 

And this formation always begins simply enough: Birds of a feather flock together.  As much as we may try to deny it, this is part of our survival instinct.  The challenge for us today is to decide which feathers matter the most or do any of the feathers matter all that much.  Will we continue to define ourselves by the color or shape or function of our feathers?   Or will we look beyond the feathers and accept one another as individuals?  As a group, as Americans, as citizens of planet earth; we all seek protection from harm, productive lives and the power to choose and control our lives.

 

So maybe the Fourth of July might be a good time to un-ruffle your feathers, look each other in the eye and stop fighting.  Ain’t none of us getting out of this thing alive, so we might as well learn how to get along.


"Once you're in the circus you're all in the circus, and of course it turns out that they are real people too." - Eric Idle, former member of the Monty Python comedy group


 

 

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Watering Holes

 

Somewhere in Central Texas, where the state divides between East Texas and West Texas, man-made watering holes become either Tanks or Ponds.  Growing up west of that divide my folks always called them Tanks.   The first time I heard Ponds was when I moved to Paris....the one in Northeast Texas not the other one.  I went dove-hunting with some locals and they said we were going out to a pond.  I thought a pond was a natural watering hole, fed by an underground spring or even just a natural hole in the ground that caught the rain from a creek or something.  When we got to this pond, I saw a big man- made dam that encircled about two-thirds of it.  I commented that this looked like a tank to me...not a pond. 

 

After a few beers,  (Yes, I must admit that we used to drink beer and handle loaded shotguns at the same time.); the locals explained to me the difference between a pond and a tank and why it was an East Texas vs. West Texas distinction.  Their explanation went something like this:

 

“Here’s the deal.  We get enough rain that our ponds don’t dry up.  You get a little ways west of here (little ways in Texas could be 100 feet or 100 miles), and they don’t get the rain like we do.  Their ponds dry up.  Ponds don’t dry up.  Tanks dry up.  So they can’t call them ponds out there.”

 

This logic prevailing, I began calling their tanks ponds.  But whenever I went out to my family’s land in Hood County, those were tanks.  And sometime, the smaller ones were indeed dry.

 

As a boy I spent a lot of time down there in Hood County and some of the best times were at a big tank on my Papaw’s farm.  It was big enough and deep enough that it always had water.  It also had perch, sunfish and bluegills.  That was sport enough for a kid.  My cousins and I would even swim in that old tank, dodging floating cow patties and the occasional cottonmouth.  Today, adults would go to jail if they allowed kids to get in that water.  But we had fun, didn’t get snake-bit or sick, and it probably made us immune to most things that seem to infect people these days.

 

So, of course, now that I live on a little piece of land up here in Grayson County, I had to have a tank...or is it pond?  Grayson County is in that transition zone between East and West Texas.  It’s north of I-20 and east of I-35, so it cannot by any means be called West Texas.  That’s a rule.  Most of the time we avoid the issue by just calling it The Texoma Area, Texoma being the big lake on the Red River dividing Texas and Oklahoma.  But, the real clue to our location is what the Graysonians call their man-made watering holes....Ponds. 

 

So after spending time and money digging up a chunk of land, I do not have a tank...I have a pond.  It’s a nice pond, but it doesn’t feel right.  Ponds are for people who always have water.  Their grass stays green and the cows are always fat.  White fluffy clouds hang in the sky.  Cranes come to ponds for their fish.  Deer drink water from ponds.  Ponds are clean and picturesque.  Ponds always have water.  Tanks go dry sometimes.  Old beer cans and the remnants of shotgun shells litter the ground around tanks.   Artists paint ponds.  Real Estate agents photograph tanks and then touch them up to make them look like ponds. 

 

Ponds are for the right brain.  Tanks are for the left brain.  Now when you look at the Texas map it makes sense.  East Texas, with its ponds is on the right.  The tanks of West Texas on the left.  I’m still going to call my watering hole a tank…but my wife calls it a pond.  As usual, she is right.

 

But I am a tank guy.  If my pond has water in it today, it will go dry tomorrow.  Skunks and feral hogs will end up drinking the water, not deer.  Fish will die and mosquitoes will thrive.  Someday the dam will probably break.  My tank will never be a pond.













Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Social Justice Blinders

 

I write less than I used to.  It’s not that I don’t have something to say.  It’s that sometimes speaking the truth just isn’t worth it.  If something I write has even the slightest variation or divergence from “The Progressive Agenda”, the Cancel Police will come after me.  In some cases, I am not even allowed to agree with their positions, because I’m an old, privileged white guy and anything I say would be disingenuous and patronizing.  I cannot possibly understand the systemic  rottenness of racism in America nor do I realize that I am the problem….therefore justifiably cancellable.

 

Inevitably, this one lane, one note, one truth assessment of our nation’s problems blinds us to other things that are also true and may, in fact, be even more relevant.  As an example, the Dallas Independent School District has been challenged to ban the practice of suspending trouble-making students from school.  Social justice activists point to the disproportionate number of black students who are suspended.  This has now become a Black Lives Matter issue.  Black students are 21% of the DISD student population and 1 out of 7 are getting suspended for misbehavior.  Comparatively 70% of DISD students are Hispanic and only 1 out of 28 are suspended.  Only 5% of DISD students are White (let that soak in)…and just 1 out of 37 are suspended. 

 

So clearly, looking at the numbers, Black students are being treated unfairly.  This is a problem with such grave consequences, that suspensions have been labeled “The Pipeline to Prison”.    Black leaders are demanding that schools offer other, more constructive alternatives such as:

“providing teachers and staff with the skills and tools necessary to support students’ social and emotional development, restore relationships within the school community and ultimately affirm each child’s humanity and right to learn”.

Well, there’s the answer.  Schools must stop suspending students for bad behavior and find ways to replace bad behavior with good behavior.  Social and emotional development, that’s the ticket. This is how we shut off the “pipeline to prison”.

 

Let me be clear, I agree that suspending kids from school is a bad idea.  It may provide some relief for other students and certainly for their teachers.  But it does more harm than good to the suspended students.  Keeping the students on campus, counseling, educating, even punishing (make them clean toilets and mop floors); is better than turning them out on the streets.  But it’s not going to solve the problem.

 

 The real question we must ask is who is most responsible for a child’s “social and emotional development”?  Perhaps we should be calling out parents and guardians as the ones most responsible for the “pipeline to prison” problem.  When black students are 4 times more likely to be suspended than other students, this is not just a matter of teachers targeting black students for suspension.  Oh by the way, the DISD has a HIGHER percentage of Black teachers than Black students.  And, I am just guessing that Black teachers may well be suspending black students more often than White or Hispanic teachers.  (If it were otherwise, I am confident it would be in the news).  

 

We need to look beyond the school suspension dilemma and get to the root of the problem.  One of the core tools of Six Sigma methodology is DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control).  Using this approach we Define the problem and the objectives.  Then we determine what needs to improve and  how should we Measure it.  Next, we Analyze the problem, defining the factors of influence.  Then, we Identify and implement Improvements.  Lastly, we establish Controls to assure that the improvements are sustainable.

 

Suspending students is a symptom, it’s not the problem.  Suspending black students may indeed have racial overtones. Maybe it really is about four hundred years of slavery and Jim Crow laws and segregation and lack of opportunity.  Fair enough.  But this is now.  What are we going to do about it now? Leave it to the schools to keep the trouble-makers off the streets and re-program them?  Perhaps magically transform these little devils into angels with a few extra hours of what amounts to “special education” (not that we would ever call it that.)

 

The real problems run deep and are complicated.  The solutions are neither quick nor are they easy.  Economic development and opportunity must be a priority.  Families, single parent or otherwise, must have the opportunity to succeed.  Better early-age child care and development is worthy of investment.  You can’t wait until a kid is 6 or 7 or 12, to start working on their “social and emotional development”. 

 

Why are Hispanic students so much less likely to get suspended?   Are teachers just looking the other way or is there something else going on here?  Analyze the problem and define the factors of influence.  There’s more going on here with these Black children than just the fact they are Black. 

 

What needs to change and how does it happen?  Not suspending kids from school is a good start. But just “locking” them up on campus and giving them a bit of extra attention, isn’t going to be enough for most of them.  If it saves a few, praise the Lord.  But let’s not kid ourselves.  The problems go much deeper.  We just choose not to see them.

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored”- Aldous Huxley


Friday, February 19, 2021

Bubbles and Blue Northers

 

I grew up in North Texas.  I can remember the old folks talking about blue northers.  Back then they didn’t have as much advanced notice as we enjoy (and mostly ignore) these days.  But, they were prepared.   In the middle of winter, they understood that a big freeze was always possible.  Maybe it would just be in the 20’s for a couple of days or it might get into single digits and stay below freezing for a week or more.  Animals had to be protected.  Pipes to be covered and faucets left dripping.  Well-houses kept warm by whatever means including buckets of hot coals.  People hunkered down, had candles and kerosene lanterns for light and wood in the stove to keep warm.  Food down in the cellar and meat in the smokehouse.  Extreme weather was just part of life.  Cold and heat, wet and dry, wind and hail, birth and death…seasons and the circle of life.

These days we do our best to avoid the effects of weather.  And we do it pretty well most of the time.  Climate controlled homes, water at your finger tips, hot in an instant if you choose and it will stay hot as long as you wish.  Ice with the push of a button, crushed or cubed as you like it.  Freezers and refrigerators full of food.  Microwaves, air-fryers, convection ovens and cook tops standing by.  And when our bodies are done with whatever we consume, we don’t even have to go outside to relieve ourselves.  Even those bodily functions have been made convenient and comfortable.

Life is easy for us, until it’s not.  And when that rare extreme weather event occurs we are exposed.  When the power goes off, our bubbles burst.  And we realize that we are weak and vulnerable.  Not only vulnerable to the forces of nature, but to the decisions of those whom we have paid to maintain our bubbles.   We find that we are not prepared because we have not made them prepare.  We discover that cheaper is not always better and managing risk is not just a matter of probabilities and cost-benefit analysis.

We Texans love to tout our independent spirit, forged on the frontier, blood and soil, a whole other country, come and take it…and so on.  But, in fact, we are just citizens of the modern world.  A world that keeps us fat, dumb and happy most of the time.  When it fails us and our bubbles burst, we look for someone to blame.  There is no one there to blame but ourselves.  This is the life we have chosen.  And we are not prepared nor can we afford to give it up, even for a short period of time.  So we will spend billions and restore our bubbles.  Then we will spend some more to repay insurance companies and upgrade our bubble maintenance systems.  And we will forget about all of it…until the next time our bubbles break.


“But it was alright, everything was alright, the struggle was finished.  He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”  George Orwell, 1984


Friday, February 5, 2021

74 Million

 

“Power does not corrupt.  Fear corrupts…perhaps the fear of a loss of power.”- John Steinbeck


I learned a long time ago that if you try to take something away from a person, something they truly value, you better be prepared to give them something as good or better in return.  Otherwise, be prepared to face negative consequences. 

 

If you really want to understand what’s going on in our country right now, you must realize that millions of Americans truly believe they are losing “their country”.  In no way is this justification for the right-wing mob attack on Congress.  But it is something that we must admit to and understand if we are ever going to find our way back to being “united”. 

 

A  considerable amount of legislative effort has been put forth to level the playing field for Americans who in the past were not allowed to fully share in the American Dream.  And that would be pretty much everyone who was not white, male and straight.  I mean let’s face it.  For most of this nation’s history white people have had a huge advantage, men even more so than women.  Thus, women have had to fight for equality including the right to vote.  People of color have faced even more discrimination and things much worse.  The LGBT community has suffered far too much for way too long.  And one can list all sorts of disadvantages and biases that many people face for reasons that are far beyond their control.  All of these factors intersect to create a multitude of identity groups who may legitimately claim to be “oppressed” or “marginalized”.  And, these days just about anyone who is not a member of the “privileged class” can claim membership in some victim group.  

 

So why are the people who have enjoyed advantage and privilege so angry?  What do they have to bitch about?  Are they just racists?  Homophobes?  Religious fanatics?  Fortunate sons who are just unwilling to share the bounty of this good land?  What’s wrong with these people?  Admittedly, some are indeed racists.  And there are homophobes and religious fanatics among them as well.  Might as well add in a few tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorists.  And there are the 2nd amendment zealots who resist any limits to the firepower they might rightfully possess.  All in perhaps there are a several million on the far right who are prepared to storm the castle walls.  But not nearly enough to elect Donald Trump as President four years ago… and then almost elect him again.  

 

How does one account for the majority of these angry people?  It’s actually pretty simple. They are just fed-up… and they are afraid.   Angry about what they have lost and fearful about what is left to lose.  And I’m not talking about the recent election.  It goes deeper and much farther back.  The truth of the matter is that millions of Americans believe that they have been asked to give up too much, for too long in order to appease those who are forever demanding fairness, equity and inclusion.  Decades ago, many  who may have actually supported the Civil Rights Movement went on to suffer the consequences of forced busing, white-flight and the subsequent decline and decay of their neighborhoods and cities.  They have witnessed the failure of the Welfare State’s War on Poverty…not just in black communities, not just in urban areas; but across all races and regions.  

 

Many have experienced job loss as a result of their work being shipped off to lower cost operations elsewhere in the world.  They see their public schools failing to educate their children.  Increasingly they see government as the problem, not the solution.  Professional politicians on both sides of the aisle catering to special interests groups while ignoring the needs of “average” Americans.  

 

More than a few have experienced or witnessed the consequences of an out-of-control “woke” movement that can cost people jobs and ruin careers.  They connect the rising costs of health insurance to the Affordable Care Act, as once again they end up paying the price for a government program that hurts them more than it helps.  They see a mainstream media that bashes bad behavior or even alleged bad behavior on The Right, while downplaying or ignoring the same or worse on The Left.  They are tired of being force-fed progressive ideas in movies, television and music.  And even more so, they are tired of being told they are deplorable human beings because they refuse to go along with the narrative.  

 

You want to know how angry they are?  74 million of them voted for Donald Trump, even after watching him flail around for four years.  And were it not for Covid-19, my guess is that Trump would have actually won another term in office.  Let that soak in.  People are so angry that they were willing to once again hand the keys to an unqualified, real estate investor/celebrity with all sorts of personal baggage and craziness….simply because they believed that he was on their side.   

 

In 2021 we have the opportunity to hit the reset button and pull this country together.  But if we continue to ignore. cancel or demonize half of the population, this nation is headed for disaster.