Wednesday, July 18, 2018

THE END OF PROFESSIONALISM

"Never grow up, that's me!"
--Peter Pan


Its not so big a thing any more but there was a time when the free independent newspaper was significant in every college town and city.  Back before the Simpsons was a cartoon short on The Tracy Ullman Show, Matt Groenig was known for a quirky, depressing cartoon called Life In Hell that ran in these underground/alternative newspapers, along with other regulars such as Politenessman.


These newspapers were run by hippies and neo-hippies who were usually in college or dropouts from college that worked on various newsletters and such and would generally contain the latest hard left cant, stories on the glories of hemp, and extensive, seedy classifieds in the back that paid for the operation.  

This is where you'd read about how we should only have free trade coffee and when the next drum circle in the park was going to be.  They'd cover all the most recent leftist academic concepts, calling for things like universal basic income, free health care, and basically everything the left is pushing for now, while labeling anyone who disagrees with them as fascist.  Often they were pretty low key about it all, not as strident and angry as today.

You could generally tell who would write for this: white guys with dreadlocks, girls with oddly colored and cut hair, old hippies, etc.  They had a sort of predictable look and patchoulli aura, but the papers were good for a read while eating at the local bistro or getting some coffee.  Stacks were outside the record store and the head shop, and nearby any restaurant or coffee shop downtown that catered to college students.

That was then.  Today, these people are running major newspapers.  Don't think so?  Check this out:


Oh, and this:

These are people who worked for or are working for the New York Times.  This is the single most prestigious and respected newspaper in the United States.  30 years ago, these people wouldn't have been allowed through the front door, let alone given a job -- still less made an editor.  Now they're running the place.

That's why the mainstream, established newspapers today read and sound like the old free "alternative" papers of the past.  Because all those old newsmen and women, all the hard core journalists, those grizzled editors, they're all gone.  They've been replaced by the alternative paper people.  So you get the same quality and tone and content of the old alternative papers.  The same outrageous blatant bias, the same lack of fact checking and hysteria, the same ridiculous outlook.

I mean, look at the content the New York Times is putting out these days:


This is exactly the kind of trash you'd get in those old papers.  I don't so much mean the lame concept (although that's pretty much beneath contempt) but the awful art and ridiculous tone.  Put aside the hypocrisy of someone who constantly yells about homophobia using homosexuality as an insult and attack.  Just look at the quality here.  This is middle school level thought and work.

Again, this is the New York Times, the "old gray lady" of news, the single most prestigious news organization in the United States.  This is how far it has sunk, and its not alone in the nation.

And this effect is not just the news media.  When's the last time you went into a bank and saw anyone working there who looked like a banker?  A doctor who seemed professional and like a doctor?  A professor who seemed learned and discerning?  Pastors who seem dignified and reverential?  This lack of professionalism is nearly gone around us.  I don't simply mean casual dress, I mean someone who puts out a front and an aura of professionalism and mature dignity.

The need to turn everything casual is acceptable to some level, I don't think everyone has to wear a suit and tie.  But there's a point at which casual becomes just sloppy, then becomes contempt for customers and surrounding people.  If you cannot give a sense of competence and adulthood, its difficult to trust you with anything weighty or meaningful.

Its another topic, but the entire cultural idea of growing up as a trap and that "adulting" is something you do when you have to, then get back to being Peter Pan as soon as possible is incredibly corrosive to culture and our future.  Its related to the candy and num nums approach to life.  But this goes beyond never wanting to grow up, its more a rebellion against ever having to get out of bed or comb your hair.  Its the early teen rebellion against taking showers and wearing clean clothes, its simply a tantrum against having to do anything for anyone except yourself.

Monday, June 25, 2018

THE TURNING OF THE AGE

"In government as well as in trade a new era came to the colonies in 1763."
--Albert Bushnell Hart

Through history there are periods of political change which, in retrospect, are easy to identify and study.  Times that things shifted to a different paradigm, a different structure and model of doing things.  You can see sometimes to a very small time period when it takes place.  In the mid-1800s for example, Europe suddenly began to shift away from monarchies to representative democracies, usually with a figurehead monarch.

At the time its not possible to see how this will turn out, and usually the people living then could not even see the shift, only the turmoil and chaos that results.  The game Civilization allows you to change your civilization to another style of government when you have learned that form.  Tyranny to Monarchy, or to Republic.  Doing so results in years, sometimes decades of chaos and upheaval.  All your production ceases, there's civil unrest, etc.  That's not far off from the truth.

I wonder now, if we're not in one of those transitions.  Things look pretty chaotic now, and people are talking about a civil war in the USA.  Things seem irredeemably divided, and getting worse.  There are murderous attacks on political opponents: a congressman shot in a softball game.  A church shot up.  A Senator attacked while mowing his lawn.  Police shot by a sniper.  Violence in the streets, with cars burned and shops attacked.  People in political rallies being beaten by opponents.

This kind of chaos results when society is in turmoil, and particularly when the power structure in place is threatened by a new movement.  The last time it was in the late 1960s when the left started to seriously challenge the establishment right.  Bombs, shootings, kidnappings, highjackings and so on were happening as part of that turmoil.

Now, we're seeing the establishment left being challenged seriously.  And the fighting is getting to the same level of fever pitch (with the same side as before being the most violent).  Yet what is going on overall?  Its not so much right vs left, as it is people who really just want to be left alone sick and tired of the crap.  This isn't really a political battle at all in the same stark lines as before, its more a cultural battle of people who want to run your life vs people who want to run their own.

Mind you, that's largely how the left portrayed the fight in the 60s, but really in the end it came down to "we have the perfect utopian answer and you're in the way, old man."  They sold it as free love and peace and tolerance, but as we can clearly see, that was just a front: they wanted themselves tolerated, not anyone else.  They wanted themselves to be left in peace, but not for you to.

A NEW PARADIGM?
In any case, the shift is moving today in a different kind of direction, less a shift between political factions than a shift between entire systems and political structures.  The old system, since the late 1700s, has been political parties who gather to offer up candidates and run things as a coalition.  In America its basically two parties, and in other nations its a parliamentary system that's still just two parties, but there are more little parties who can, if they manage to build a group together, can for a short time challenge one of the main two parties.

In time, political parties start to, as H.L. Mencken said, believe their own lies.  They start to be about less the people they allegedly represent and more the party its self as a body and an organization.  The pressure becomes not about electing but preserving and increasing power of the party not its goals or the people it allegedly represents.  And when that happens, both parties tend to drift toward the same sort of place, a corrupt center left where its about what keeps you in office and makes you rich and powerful.

Today though, with the internet, its a matter of some debate whether political parties really even need to exist at all.  Can we have a more direct system, where candidates just reach out to the public directly without going through a party structure?  Are we getting to where the funding and politicking, the campaigning is more direct to the voters and less through an organization?

If so, that would destroy both the Republican and Democratic Party, to which I say "good riddence."  Neither party cares about or is remotely interested in the country or its people, the voters, or even pretending to represent them.  I'll give just two of many examples of the problem with the parties as they exist right now.

When the Tea Party movement arose in 2008, the Republican Party that it largely supported actively worked to destroy them, to the point of asking the Democrat president to attack the Tea Party movement through the IRS.  There was a concerted effort by the GOP to destroy the Tea Party movement.  Why?  Not because it was an enemy to their stated politics and platform, but because the Tea Party Movement was a threat to the Republican Party's power and mey.

Then in 2016, the Democratic Party had two major candidates for president: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.  Both were pretty hard left, but one was favored by the Democratic Party machine, so much so that they blatantly and deliberately cheated repeatedly in primary elections to make sure that she won -- with the system so heavily rigged that even in elections that she lost, Hillary Clinton got more delegates for the convention.

In both cases a challenge to the party machine was destroyed not for being opposed to what the party claims to stand for, but for being a threat to their power and structure.  The party its self is its primary concern, not the people it allegedly represents.  There's too much money and power in the party system and leadership to give up.  This inevitably corrupts, if not legally, the morally and in terms of honor and honesty.

What if it became the system where candidates used crowdfunding and structures of that kind to pay for campaigns?  And what if they reached out to voters, not by the usual structures or through the party system, but directly to their constituents through the internet and public appearances?  

I think that President Trump may be the first of this new structure, possibly.  Self-funded, largely campaigned not through the usual old system but through the media and social media.  He reached voters less through advertising and political party systems than through simply reaching voters where they live.  

Now I'm not pretending President Trump is a man like Abraham Lincoln, but I do find a parallel in this: Lincoln was the first president from the new Republican Party.

HOW TO BUILD THIS
To make this work there has to be three things in place.

First there has to be a non partisan and non-censoring social media platform in place which is popular and widely used.  Twitter was that platform when Trump ran for office in 2016, but has since become significantly less so largely in response to Trump's success.  Twitter was pretty apolitical and let people say what they wanted to a large degree until it became clear that this was allowing their political foes to succeed, which they were not willing to allow.

Second, there needs to be an apolitical, non partisan, and most importantly free crowdfunding platform which allows candidates to raise money for their campaign without paying a fee to the platform.  Sites such as GoFundMe have in the past decided they didn't like someone (such as a pizza shop raising money to fight lawsuits and state government leaning on them), and disallowed the campaign.  That cannot be a part of any platform a political candidate used to raise money with.

Third, there has to be a general shift away from political parties by the voters.  People need to get away from the idea that this is the way it always has been and thus must always be.  People have to abandon party concepts entirely and vote based on principles, politics, and platform irregardless of party affiliation -- or without it entirely.

Fourth, the bodies of power such as congress have to move away from the strictly two party concept into a more shifting, changing system of coalitions not based on permanent power structures, but based on specific bills and policies.  Instead of having a majority and minority power, there'd simply be representatives.  Instead of party line votes, there'd be blocks that formed for one bill then reformed for another, consisting of different members.  Senator Yoont may want to cut taxes, but is opposed to welfare reform.  Senator Floont may want to increase the EPA's budget, but is opposed to cuts in the military, and so on.

THE VIEW FROM HERE
I can't see the future any better than anyone else.  And I'm in the middle of the change, which means I'm no more able to read what is happening than you are.  But I get a sense that there is a major change taking place, that the political parties as they exist right now aren't likely to much longer, and I get the feeling that this is where things are headed.

The important thing to keep in mind is that when big shifts of this kind happen they are almost never what the last big shift was or in a way that is expected at the time.  As human beings we tend to try to put everything into a context of what we are most familiar with, particularly what we've experienced in the past.  But that's not always how it goes, and almost never with major events.  Too often we're fixated on the last big evil to see the next one.  And too often we're so busy trying to fit what we see happening into the boxes we're comfortable with like a kid hammering shapes through a toy.  But that star-shaped block won't fit through the circle-shaped hole.

All this talk about a new civil war and the unrest of the 70s may be missing the point entirely, and I think is.  Preparing for and pushing for what we think is happening when something else entirely is would be a pretty major mistake.

Oh, and I'm not saying what comes next is necessarily going to be better.  I doubt it will be.  I think we're moving into a stage where we're not in a constitutional republic any longer.  I just believe we do not know what it is going to be like and trying to predict by making things fit it into old patterns will not work.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

DEPRESSION SURVIVAL KIT: Frugality

"Cable, who would be dumb enough to pay extra to watch TV shows??"

Its almost an alien concept today, but it used to be very common in the United States where a family would have one earner and have many kids.  They'd have a middle class life, with dad working at the factory or rail yard or grocery or whatever, mom staying home, and 4+ kids.  

Today people look at that and are baffled, uncomprehending.  How is this even possible??  When they ponder it, they decide that the dollar doesn't buy as much as it used to, people just aren't making enough money so they can't afford kids and both have to work.

Now, inflation has taken a bite out of our money and for the last ten years or more, earning has been pretty flat, without really keeping up with inflation.  Because the economy hasn't been solid and inflation worse than the official, carefully massaged numbers we get from the US federal government our dollar doesn't go as far as it once did.

But even in economic downturns and bad times families still made it.  How was this possible, have things changed so its impossible today?  Well I'm not going to argue this is the way things must be done, nor will I argue that it is necessarily possible.  What I'm going to do here is show the differences in spending habits and lifestyle that we have now compared to back then and its up to you to come to your own conclusions.

THE NEW EXPENSES
The first big issue is that people have expenses today they never had in the past.  Just 20 years ago, a cell phone was more or less a luxury, something the rich had. Now its almost considered a necessity, not a luxury, but a minimum quality of life requirement.  Each cell phone costs hundreds of dollars individually (less as a big package) and each month, those phones all cost money to charge and pay for their "data" and phone packages.

That's a couple hundred dollars extra a month that Ma and Pa Barker didn't have even in the 1990s.  Add to that the cost of TV and internet, and the price goes up even more.  Even if you don't have cable TV (as increasingly, families do not these days) that is being replaced by Hulu and Amazon Prime and Netflix and a score of other alternatives.  And none of them are free.

And on top of that are additional subscriptions.  Paying for that World of Warcraft account is just 15 a month but that's an expense that nobody had in the 90s either.  Those console games are a pretty major cost just to buy the consoles, then each game, and any Downloadable content, and with them any subscriptions and you're looking at thousands of dollars a year.  And that's just games, it doesn't include services like Spottify and other expenses for entertainment.  None of this stuff existed in the past.  They were costs that Ma and Pa Barker never even considered, let alone had the option of.

HARD CHOICES
And even things like snacks have gone up.  That "coffee" milkshake you get every morning and at lunch is ten bucks or more a day.  Even just a coffee is almost $2 at one of these places.  Dad the steel worker would get a 25 cent coffee at the diner and head to work.  Free refills.  Instead of a lunch pail with a thermos of soup and a sandwich for $1.50, he gets takeout or picks up something at the drive thru, for $10.

In this sense, the dollar doesn't reach as far.  But that's not because of inflation or cheap bosses, its because we're choosing the more expensive option for our dollar.  Shopping carefully for the best deal on the best materials can make a cumulative difference that might surprise you.

When Joey and Jilly get ready for school, its time for a whole new outfit.  New backpack.  New supplies.  That's hundreds of dollars a year for each kid to hook them up for the new school year.  But back in the day, Joey got his older brother Jack's hand-me-downs and wore the same sneakers to school he had the year before.  Styles changed a bit slower back then, so the transition was less of an issue, plus people were less concerned about wearing hand-me-downs as well.

When it came time to eat, Ma Barker would make a meal from flour, eggs, meat, veggies out of the garden (or canned the fall before), and basic supplies -- baked "from scratch."  Now cooking at home is about buying a special blue ribbon box deal that is delivered to your door for $25+ a meal.  You assemble it like a Lego kit and put it on the counter to be eaten in front of the computer/TV/console game.  Or get takeout for even more.

All of this is small enough in and of its self, but adds up to thousands a year.  Combine that with things like vacations to Disneyland, two cars (and the insurance, gas, and maintenance for them), redecorating the house to match what Martha Stewart or that Instagram picture showed, and it really piles up.  Now you really do have to have two earners, and there's no way to get by with so many kids.

A CHANGE OF LIFESTYLE
And it goes beyond purchases.  When something goes wrong with your house or your car, when your clothes begin to wear out or tear, in the past, they'd be patched up or repaired at home.  Calling an expert is very expensive, so people learned to be experts to fix what they could.  Obviously not everything was possible to handle alone, but a surprising amount of stuff was.  And yeah, while you can fix a lot on your car, a lot more now needs special equipment and a computer.  But its still feasible to some degree.

Dad could fix pretty much anything, mom could sew up pretty much anything.  Mom and dad has first aid skills and could fix a bump or a scratch, a cut or a bruise with a kiss, some bandages, and zinc oxide or rubbing alcohol, not a trip to the doctor.  Its the can-do, self-fixing attitude that helped keep costs down.  Just keeping the house clean and kept up can save a lot of money in doctor bills.

Yes I know that popular culture and entertainment strongly discourages trying to do anything yourself and mocks any attempt by dad to fix something.  But it honestly is possible to learn and to do.  It used to be passed down generation to generation by parents and grandparents.  And family was always nearby to help with tips, too.

Family is a big part of this that's largely missing today.  Even if we're close in a relationship, we're often miles away.  I have family living in Kansas, California, Louisiana, all over the nation, even in Denmark.  We can get along great, but its not like they can drop by to watch the kids in an emergency.  Having close by family and friends, a support network like church, lodge, etc makes a big difference as well.

There's a book out called The Millionaire Next Door that examines the lifestyle of modest millionaires.  They have the cash, but don't spend it conspicuously.  They live a middle class lifestyle and have lots for emergencies or special things.  Living frugally gives them all the things they need, and leaves them the money for the extras they might want, on occasion.  Its a lifestyle choice, its a conscious decision to life lower than your means that can teach us quite a bit.

Does all this add up to being able to do what they used to?  Can you have a one-earner household and several kids today without slouching into poverty and loss?  You decide, I can't run the numbers for your house or your plans or your life.  What kind of house you can get for a certain amount of money varies pretty widely based on where you buy it, for example.

DOING WITHOUT TO HAVE MORE
But does this mean a poorer, emptier lifestyle?  Not necessarily.  Your kids can get by without playing Fortnite and you can make it without the latest Assassin's Creed.  You can take a vacation somewhere closer and less expensive.  You don't need that new dress, shoes, handbag, tie, set of kicks.  You can enjoy playing with toys that are repeatable and more creative such as Tinker Toys, clay, and Spirograph.  There's no "I beat that game" with these, they're open ended as your creativity.  Books are cheap used and can be passed around.  Its surprising how much entertainment is available for not very much cost at all.  Its like the old joke of getting the cat a toy and he loves the box it came in.

Its decisions like that which made it possible for parents to have one at home and more kids in the past; the choice to do with less in order to have more family.  Almost none of what we take for granted -- such as the laptop I'm typing on or whatever device you're reading this on -- we don't really need, its just really nice to have them.

And I'm not trying to argue we ought not have this stuff or that its wasteful.  I'm just presenting the case that we can do without if we need to, depending on what our priorities are.   And that's how they did it back then; they were frugal.  They did with less in order to gain a different more.

This is part of the Depression Era Survival Kit series.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Exciting fantasy and suspense for your reading pleasure!

Snowberry's Veil: A Fantasy adventure of a King's Ranger separated from a caravan of settlers he was escorting, trying to survive so he can get back to the woman he loves.

Old Habits: A thief hunting for the gems he stole, then were taken from him travels to a new land where he becomes tangled in a dark plot in a castle, in over his head and out of his depth.

Life Unworthy: A werewolf loose in World War 2 Poland, fighting Nazis and the monster within him.