Saturday, December 01, 2018

READ ANOTHER BOOK


"We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided"
--The Goblet of Fire

There is an interesting trend in pop culture these days which grew to full form in the Obama years.  Books, music, movies, and so on started in the Clinton years showing the future as bleak, miserable, and scary.  For the first time, major films depicting a fictional president as a bad person, even criminal murderer, began to come out.

Dystopian futures have become quite popular in popular culture; a future where things have gone wrong, where tyranny, oppression, sadness, lack, and even disaster are the main themes.  Zombie apocalypses, post-nuclear holocaust, economic collapse, and so on. 

And in the middle of this, young people have been fed a steady diet of dystopian novels such as Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Divergent, even Harry Potter (whose books go from somewhat sad to miserable and bleak by the seventh novel).

Running through these books is a constant theme of the weak and lowly becoming powerful; of someone who is chosen or special or uniquely gifted taking on the powerful and wealthy and triumphing over the dystopia to reshape their world.  Young snowflakes raised by helicopter parents to face no hardship or difficulty, challenges, or failure are raised on these stories of sadness and rebellion defeating the Big Evil.

For some time now, I've pondered what effect this has on psychology and how it may explain a lot of the attitudes and behavior of young people today. How being raised to never face difficulty but having your head filled with tales and psychology of misery which the few good ones overcome to triumph in a new age of wonder and light affects young minds.

 And recently a pair of Cambridge political scientists examined how dystopian novels are affecting growing young people.
Given that the fictional narratives found in novels, movies, and television shows enjoy wide public consumption, memorably convey information, minimize counter-arguing, and often emphasize politically-relevant themes, we argue that greater scholarly attention must be paid to theorizing and measuring how fiction affects political attitudes. We argue for a genre-based approach for studying fiction effects, and apply it to the popular dystopian genre. Results across three experiments are striking: we find consistent evidence that dystopian narratives enhance the willingness to justify radical—especially violent—forms of political action. Yet we find no evidence for the conventional wisdom that they reduce political trust and efficacy, illustrating that fiction’s effects may not be what they seem and underscoring the need for political scientists to take fiction seriously.
What they're saying here is what those in other disciplines have long known: the stories we grow up on shape our worldview and understanding not only of ourselves, but of the world around us.  They help mold our psychology and outlook to a profound degree.  If you grow up on a steady diet of cheerful hopeful, positive, and encouraging stories, you will tend to be more of that sort of person.  

And if you look about you, it is pretty clear that young people raised on these stories of Vampires and freedom fighters and wizards forced to live under the stairs have taken these stories to heart.  They don't face difficulty or sadness; their lives are enormously blessed with riches, health, comfort, and ease.  But they have been raised to expect hardship and darkness and look for it around them.

And they think they've found it.  Remember, the teens of 1995 are now in their 30s and 40s.  They're the ones running the news room, the Hollywood studios, the Television programming.  They're the ones who are directly and most significantly impacting popular culture.  And these are the driving force behind "The Resistance" a misnamed movement if there ever was one.

Having grown up believing that the chosen one can rise up to overcome the great evil, that the future holds only bleak sadness and difficulty that the few can defeat, they are hungry for just such a world and think they found it with President Trump.  Older, cynical politicians are eager to exploit this viewpoint as well.

There's a reason that these people continually refer to events and people in terms of the books they grew up with and loved: Harry Potter most prominently.  Its not just because that's what everyone does (previous generations used to refer to the Bible, to great works of literature, to ancient myths and legends, and faerie tales).  Its because they have been raised to see the world through that lens.

Consider, in the past, stories people grew up with as compared to now.  Robin Hood is somewhat like these tales, but always from the perspective of heroism and joyful exuberance vs a single evil antagonist, not an overwhelming, crushing miserable culture of dystopian darkness.  The Bible is the story of redemption and hope.  Faerie tales are stories of wonderful things happening to help people overcome trouble.  Myths and legends tell of great deeds of power and glory.

In the past, the stories were about heroism and goodness against bad.  Now its stories of special people defeating a world of darkness.  Lord of the Rings deliberately had the protagonist the weakest and least -- the anti-Chosen One -- to fight against the rising darkness.  These new tales are always some bullied nobody, someone unknown who is mocked... that turns out to be The Greatest Of All Time, specially gifted beyond all those around them.

Older stories were about heroism, these new ones are about being owed great things.  You're not just a guy trying to make his way, Harry.  You're a Wizard surrounded by mundane nobodies who are stupid and mean.  You're the best archer ever.  You're the one character who can defeat the enemy, not out of your courage and heroism, not due to honor and hard work but innately you're just special.

Every generation has their stories they grew up on and were shaped by; this generation has a combination of a super protected upbringing, a lack of moral compass, and dystopian tales resulting in Trigglypuff and angry professors calling for "muscle" to remove a journalist. 

Remember President Obama's campaign?  "We are the ones we've been waiting for."  You are special, you will save the world, you will be the future you want to see and everything will be wonderful once all those stupid old poeple die.  Maybe we should help them along.

Never before in my lifetime has a generation so privileged and well treated acted as if they were the most put upon and miserable people of all time.  Facing a reality that isn't their snowflake upbringing, these younger people wail in despair at how unfair it is they have to pay their college loans back and that somehow an election was lost.

Even the Russia Russia Russia narrative is part of this.  We didn't really lose, a sinister evil cabal stole it from us!  There's a bad guy out there we have to as the special chosen ones, defeat and bring about a new era!

Ultimately this is a sad reminder of what we as the older generation failed in: raising children properly with moral guidance, good teaching, and challenges that force them to grow into the adults who can face the real world.  They're sad and deluded, mistaken and wrong, but they are that way because we failed them.  

Not everyone of the younger generations is a mess like this, no more so than everyone of older generations avoided these failures.  There are plenty of people in my generation and older who are part of this pathetic Resistance nonsense, singing the same songs about how they'll overcome the great Hitler of their time.  I mean Trump, not Bush, who was Hitler before him and now is considered not such a bad dude.  But this time he really is, honest!

How we turn this around I have no answers for.  It may simply take some grand failure or disaster that forces people to face the world as it is instead of how they wish it or believe it to be.  911 did that for a short time.  Reality shows like Survivor plunged in popularity, for example.  People were suddenly not very interested in faked challenges when forced to look at the real challenges of life.

Barring that, I don't think there's any way to reach these people.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

A PAUSE TO CONSIDER

I'm sitting here with my laptop looking at the familiar Blogger interface which I've been using for over a decade to write on this blog.  According to the site, I've posted over 8000 posts and have had over a million visitors, most of whom are spammers and search engine spiders.

And each time I struggle with "what's the point?" to even post anything.  Its not that I'm depressed about the number of hits, I am not even sure how many people come to the site daily any longer since I shut off the counter a couple years ago.

It comes down to impact.  I started this blog with the concept of sharing great comments people made on other sites around the internet, hunting down insights and funny lines and great posts made in the comment sections, since they're so often amazing yet overlooked.  That was a passion and interest which I was pretty much the only person interested in.  When I dumped that format, my hits went up steadily until I was averaging around 200 a day.

Even at that height, though, I wasn't having any real impact.  Its not like I was changing minds or informing or bringing people information that helped them.  I didn't enlighten anyone or cause positive impact in any way.  And if I'm not doing anything good, all this ends up being is a sort of mental masturbation, an ego stroking exercise where I post things because darn I'm so smart and people who already agree with me say "attaboy" and pat my back.

I have plenty of stuff to write about.  In my drafts I have pieces like these:
Insanity of Progressivism, which abandons reality for what they prefer to see, but even more significantly, attack the symptoms and problems we face but not the causes.  They reject the very possibility of the causes, instead coming up with endless solutions to make each problem go away one by one, no matter how contradictory they may be

The Difference We Love, about men and women and a basic approach to life, inspired by comedian Owen Benjamin who came up with a bit showing the music playing in a woman's head constantly (warning sounds, danger, that bit in soap operas when something isn't quite right) and mens (circus music whee!!) and what its like for women to live in a world filled with brutes a foot taller and 50 pounds more muscled at all times

The way the Collective sacrifices the individual, and the utter meaningless of each person in the collective toward the goal which serves no one, and hence cannot serve everyone.

A series of posts on vices, to follow up on my years-ago post on virtues

A disgruntled Gognard's complaint that geek culture is being normalized and hence removing its special nature and abusing its charm -- while missing the point of it all along the way

The religious nature of science today, with its overwhelming impact on everyone's worldview the way the Roman Catholic Church did in the medieval period

The death of vows, showing how all oaths and vows are utterly meaningless, how they are betrayed constantly without fear or concern and have no purpose whatsoever

The unwritten rules, how in society and all gatherings there are certain assumed, shared rules we used to follow, and how the power hungry, cruel, and abusive break those rules forcing them to be written down -- inspired by Acosta's tantrum and ridiculous antics in the White House Press Room


Lots of ideas.  But honestly, why?  Some of it might be amusing, some of it might be comforting -- you're not alone out there.  But in the end, its a lot of work and energy which I have less and less to spare of each year, and what's the point?

That's where I am now.  Sorry to be depressing.  Its just hard to find a reason to keep posting.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

SHE NOSE

"Sweat is the cologne of accomplishment."
--Heywood Hale Broun

Some time ago, I wrote a piece about men's scents that was published on the Washington Examiner's website and it got some positive response over the years.  My main thesis was that men's scents don't smell manly or masculine at all:
You can't go into Wicks&Sticks or Bed Bath and Beyond and find anything remotely masculine. For a guy its like going into enemy territory, an intimidating and dizzying array of feminine goods with a cloud of scents so overpowering men stagger out looking for oxygen. What's needed is a bit of masculinity in some of these products. Why not leather and sawdust scented shampoo? How about motor oil and tobacco? Newly mown grass and freshly turned soil? Where's the man's side of things, with scents designed to make them smell more manly rather than slightly less feminine than the really girly smells?
Would it really kill a perfumer to come up with a man's scent that's more like sawdust, pipe tobacco, or straw?  Scents that are more associated with manliness and work than a fruity French noble strutting the halls of Versailles?  Apparently so, but I don't suppose perfumers are big on traditionally masculine labor and exploits, really.

That said, there is some effort along those lines, with some men's scents being a bit less floral and sweet.  The problem is that these days you pretty much have to be in a rural setting to even meet a woman who associates the smells I suggested with men.  A city girl -- most of the female population, since populations contain the bulk of humans -- will be more likely to associate beard oil, candy-flavored coffee floats, and plastic with men than anything traditionally manly.  

And let's be honest, its the women that men are trying to attract with this stuff.  In a study done a while back, women blind tested though that baby powder was the sexiest smell in the world (although chocolate, lavender, and pumpkin pie ranked high), possibly from association with procreation and comfort.  With that kind of inclination, perhaps men should be going for the smell of the ponce, rather than the smell of the worker -- in a club, at least.

With that in mind, recently a comment from a blog called Beauty Pert dropped into that old post on scents from 2011 because they had taken hundreds of colognes and tested them for scent, price, and durability (how long the smell lasts), coming up with a top 10.  And while most of the scents are fruity, sweet, and not exactly bursting with masculinity, all got high marks in female approval; well from urban females, at least.

So if you're curious what might work best for you in the club or on the subway, this is something to look at and consider.  I'll stick to maybe once in a while some aftershave myself.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

EDEN RUINED BY ITALIAN

"Cities make ferocious men because they make corrupt men. The mountains, the sea, the forest, make savage men; they develop the fierce side, but often without destroying the humane side."
--Victor Hugo Les Miserables

One of the most enduring myths is that of the noble savage.  This is the theory that civilization corrupts, that it causes humanity to go wrong and that in a primitive state, all is in equality and peace.  Rousseau is the most well-known proponent of this idea, although he develops it in a different direction than most today.  Rousseau argued that over time, divisions and troubles developed as people gained sophistication, and as a result civilization with its laws and social contract (I give up some small things to gain better things as a whole) develops.
"Human greatness does not lie in wealth or power, but in character and goodness. People are just people, and all people have faults and shortcomings, but all of us are born with a basic goodness."
--Anne Frank 
However, there is a continuous worldview through all history and all cultures held by some which takes this idea even further.  There is a portion of humanity which believes that all people are basically, innately decent and good, but are corrupted by outside forces.  Further, since people are basically good, we need only find the proper policies and enforce the proper ideas and we can achieve paradise, a utopia of peace and happiness.
Men in a state of nature do not know good and evil, but their independence, along with “the peacefulness of their passions, and their ignorance of vice”, keep them from doing ill."--Jean-Jacques Rousseau
This worldview usually identifies the bad influence as civilization or a certain culture, religion, or a given race (jews, blacks, whites and especially males most recently) who are to blame.  If only those things were changed or eliminated everything would be wonderful!

Now, anyone over a certain age should have lived long enough and learned enough history to realize this is patent nonsense.  Any parent knows that even the tiniest baby with no influence or outside corrupting forces can be horrible for no reason at all.  What is bad is within us, not without us.  We're born with it and struggle against it all our lives.  There is no place we can go where we're away from the bad things, because we bring them with us.

This is why the old saw about a mugged liberal is told: "a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged."  Some events, some experiences are so eye opening and brutal that they force someone to reexamine their basic understanding of the world and realize it was wrong.  People are not basically good, they are not basically noble and decent.

Now, logically and philosophically this worldview falls totally to pieces with any examination.  If people are all, without exception, basically decent and good... where did bad people come from to begin with?  That is, if outside influences and people are what corrupted the first person who went bad, what is the origin of those outside influences and people?  This is like the idea of something coming from nothing: science, logic, common sense, all sources of understanding know that that is not possible.  There has to be an origin, a place the bad came from.  And that cannot be true if everyone is basically decent and good at heart and origin.

COLUMBIAN SIN
But consider a moment the date.  It was Columbus Day yesterday, where historically, Americans have celebrated the discovery of the "New world" by Christopher Columbus' little fleet in 1492.  Now, historically there were previous discoveries of parts of the Americas by Europeans.  Vikings encountered Newfoundland in roughly 1000 and even had a small settlement there.  Some writings indicate that an explorer named Brendan encountered the Americas in the sixth century AD.  Chinese apparently had landed on the Pacific coast as early as 3300 years ago.

But when Columbus landed on the Caribbean Island of San Salvador in the Bahamas, he set off a wave of exploration and colonization which the previous discoveries had not.  The Viking and Chinese settlements did not last, but the post-Columbian ones did.  And that is an incredibly significant historical event, no matter how you view history.

In the 1970s it became popular on the left to consider Columbus a monster, a villain who gave the innocent and peaceful natives diseases, enslaved them, wiped out their culture, and destroyed all that was good.  This theory teaches that the American natives were all good and peaceful and wonderful and just and true and righteous. They all ate free trade non-GMO gluten free food and were perfectly multicultural and non-judgmental, free of war and with perfect gender equality. Columbus, an evil white European showed up and ruined it all. In short, Columbus he infected the Eden-like paradise of the Americas with his Euro-masculinity.

And the origin of this theory is that of the Noble Savage.  There were people living outside the evil corrupting influence of White European Males, and Columbus found them and ruined everything.  That's why when you hear someone talking about this, they never mention the nearly-constant wars, cannibalism, human sacrifice, rape, pillaging, genocide, disease, poverty, and incredible lack of technical and scientific, artistic, and literary knowledge of the native peoples of America.

Columbus was a man of his time, and a particularly greedy one at that.  He ripped off his own people, acting as the King's supreme representative and authority in the Americas (which at the time was not known to be as vast as it is).  He took credit for what others did, he took over what they developed, he took the riches they found, and so on.  And yes, he and his men enslaved the local natives, and because of their culture of "free love" spread European venereal diseases among the natives they were not exposed to before.  Entire tribes were wiped out by the infections they had no resistances to.

Of course, the natives spread disease among the Europeans they hadn't been exposed to, either, such as Typhus and Syphilis, and the natives were murderous and killed Europeans but those are details that modern revisionist historians either ignore, gloss over, or present as a rough sort of justice: they had it coming for daring to set foot in the Eden of the Americas.

Objectively, neither side was particularly admirable, as one would expect if you understand innate and original sin.  If what's bad comes from within us rather than outside influences, then its spread evenly throughout all humanity without regard to creed, culture, race, or location.  The natives were bad because people are bad.  The Spaniards and Columbus (who was Italian) was bad, because people are bad.

PERFECTION
The worldview of the noble savage and innate goodness faces continual and brutal opposition by reality and history, but the understanding that people are basically bad and need redemption is constantly supported by reality and history.  There's no way to look at the world around you, the man in the mirror (or lady), and the history of humanity and come to any other sane conclusion.

Yet, the idea persists and throughout all time, all leftist movements and all leftist philosophies share this one common thread.  No matter when or where or what their -ism is, all leftists cling to this theory: if you give me enough power, I can make everything wonderful, even if we have to do some bad things along the way to clear the path.  From the French Revolution to Marxism to Fascism to postmodern progressivism, its a continual thread of thinking you can fix everything because people are perfectable on earth.  All it takes is the right policy and we'll all be perfect!

And in the push to make this happen, over 150 million people were put to death in the 20th century.  In the name of perfecting man and bringing about paradise, a mountain of skulls was stacked up the likes of which humanity  had never seen before.

So when you hear complaints about Columbus, ultimately, that's what this is all about.  And when people talk about indigenous people's day instead, they're presuming that the peoples of America started out there, rather than traveling there from other lands, probably Asia.  After all: how long does a people have to inhabit an area, until they become natives?  Is over 400 years long enough?

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

THE NEW PRUDES




We're in a strange place culturally today.  Its been quite a while since moralistic prudes have tried so hard to control private and public behavior and instill specific, exact legalistic codes on society.  And the oddest thing about it is that this new push is coming from the exact people who just a few years ago told us "if it feels good, do it."

The people who gave us raunchy sex comedies like Porky's in the 80s and American Pie in the 00's are now telling us that anything remotely like that behavior totally disqualifies you from public service, let alone private life.

The people who told us "love the one you're with" and "if her daddy's rich take her out for a meal, if her daddy's poor, just do what you feel" are now telling us that you have to get signed proof for every stage of sexual contact and even if you do, if she regrets it later, it was rape.  The people who created Animal House are now wondering if its even okay to laugh at it.  People routinely say "that could never get made today" about films like Blazing Saddles, but could you even make Pretty in Pink?  Not according to its star Molly Ringwald.

Russ Douthat recently wrote about this odd shift in of all places the New York Times:
The world of Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford’s youth, the world that's given us this fall's nightmarish escalation of the culture war, was not a traditionalist world as yet unreformed by an enlightened liberalism. It also wasn’t a post-revolutionary world ruled by social liberalism as we know it today. Rather it was a world where a social revolution had ripped through American culture and radically de-moralized society, tearing down the old structures of suburban bourgeois Christian morality, replacing them with libertinism. With "if it feels good, do it" and the Playboy philosophy.
After spending 50 years tearing down everything everyone held dear, mocking morality, breaking apart a system of ethics and behavior, cynically undermining all sense of public etiquette and cultural norms... now we're being told everything they said to do is all wrong.

Suddenly what pretty much everyone has done in the past is grounds for dismissal and attack.  Went to parties and got drunk?  Now you're a sinister potential rapist.  Got a diary accounting for where you went and what you did?  Got witnesses?  You might need them now; all it takes is a woman to suddenly remember something she says you did, and a political benefit and you're doomed.

I've written about this in the past, how the left tore out the skeleton of our culture, leaving it unable to stand or function.  They've taken every pain to remove all traces of what was once the system of ethics and behavior the nation generally agreed upon and which makes up the very core of a society.  Now, they want to suddenly replace it all, with something new and even more prudish.

It started in the mid 80s, with the PMRC led by Democrat wife of Al Gore Tipper, holding her committee meetings telling everyone that lyrics were so bad on albums that they should be printed on the back so everyone can read them instead of buried in songs barely comprehensible against the music.  This made sense to them, at the time.


Then in the 1990s, in a push to control men, sexual harassment suddenly was the focus, telling men that if they hit on a girl, they're harassing her.  That any contact or behavior she didn't care for was sexual harassment because that helped build up their attack on Clarence Thomas.  Then came President Clinton dragging a clanking long chain of sexual harassment, molestation, assault, and rape charges and the idea suddenly vanished from the pop culture and news media mavens.

Now they're marching to restrict and end fun, for a super rigid, absolute code of behavior -- one that changes almost daily.  The problem here isn't that all of the left are this crazy and irrational.  Most aren't. Its that there's a sort of shark frenzy of trying to top the previous norms and the most crazy, unhinged voices get the biggest megaphone.  And its all a push to destroy what was once standard, to change the paradigm, to tear it all down and start over, but this time without white men.

Meanwhile the bulk of America is stepping back aghast as people in crayola hair scream about "front holes" and tell men that they need to shut up and let women accuse them of anything, because we always have to "believe women."

In particular I have to wonder about black Americans for whom the "you have to just believe the white girl and face the noose" probably sounds awfully familiar and sinister.  This assumption that because bad people do bad things to women then all men do bad things to women and no woman ever lies is not just historically nonsense, its insulting to women.  Imagine being a mother, a sister, a daughter in this setting.  Now just on the word of one woman, your dad, brother, uncle, son, cousin, nephew can be destroyed and he must not fight back.

How much longer the crazy can build up I really don't know.  To my knowledge this kind of curve is unheard of in history, or if it existed, it was in short bursts of crazy such as the Salem witch hunts, the French revolution denouncements, and devil worship scares.  Instead of being isolated its now global: the crazy is everywhere and incredibly loud.

I suspect that, like with the mafia, the only way to deal with this is going to have to be to take out the leadership and their funding: find the people behind this, pushing it, funding it, giving it voice, and deal with them and their money.  Then it will dry up.

Because the crazy has always been with us.  There have always been shrieking harpies and demented men who have been saying things that make everyone roll their eyes.  They just were relegated to the free "alternative" newspaper with all the hooker ads in the back, the streets mumbling into a paper bag, the university assistant nobody likes.  What's changed is not the presence of these people, but their voice and how credibly they're treated in popular culture.

And until it becomes politically damaging and costly to promote and embrace the crazy, its going to only get worse.

Friday, September 28, 2018

WORDLESS NET

I apologize for the lack of content, I've been busy but not writing.  My next major project, the Jolrhos Field Guide, is getting closer to completion and I am at the stage where I am finishing off artwork.  There are quite a few little illustrations strewn through the book as well as some large pieces.  In total there are almost 200 pieces to finish, and that necessarily takes quite a bit of time.

Hence, my focus and energy has been on the book to attempt to finish that up.  By way of some compensation I'll link a few of the rough scans here so you can see a bit of what I'm doing at least.

Style wise I am influenced by the great French illustrator Moebius, and while he's five hundred times the artist I am, I love his clean lines and careful lack of shading.  A lot of artists are so heavy on big, bold blacks that it is while dramatic feels awkward to me: life almost never has that deep a black for real, its almost always shades of gray.  
That said, some images are just better with some darkness, like the swamp image above (heavily influenced by Walt Kelly's Pogo illustrations) or the adventurers in a dark area with heavy lighting.

Most of the book's illustrations are small example images of various unusual or world-specific plants.  Some are magical herbs, some have some odd effect if used correctly, some are dangerous, some are sources of poisons, etc.

Friday, August 17, 2018

THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH DILEMMA

Freedom of choice
Is what you got
Freedom from choice
Is what you want
--Devo "Freedom of Choice"

How the left reads the first amendment
Multiple recent events have bombarded us recently which are almost violently challenging basis American assumptions about rights and liberty.  For centuries, the USA has been founded on some very basic principles of rights and freedoms.  The founding documents of the United States were very strong on the concepts of liberty, laying out foundational principles about what freedoms and privileges all humans enjoy, and the American government is legally ordered to defend.

There have always been those who opposed liberty because of moral or cultural concerns; there were those who said rock and roll music was evil and bad for kids, so it should be silence, there were those who said that blacks could not be allowed in public pools, and so on.  And today that continues with those who say that Alex Jones must not be allowed to speak in public.

The common theme has always been the same, those in power, the establishment, oppose voices and ideas which challenge their power and dominance.  The people who protested for unlimited freedom of expression in Berkeley grew up to oppose freedom of expression today: what changed is that back then, they were the rebels and today, they are The Man.

And each time, the debate rages over what is freedom of speech, how much the first amendment protects, and what freedoms mean.  The debates are usually confusing and confused, with few people on either side who really comprehend the topic very well.

What is at stake here are two sometimes conflicting principles, both stated in the first amendment: the freedom of expression and the freedom of association.  Does my freedom of speech trump your ability to choose who you associate with?  Does you freedom of association compel me to engage in certain expressions or suppress others?

This sounds terribly theoretical, but it comes up regularly in the news.  Can you compel me to bake you a cake?  Do you have to allow me to post on your social media site?  Can you fire me for what I've said in the past on social media?  If you protest, can I stop your protest because I find you offensive and evil?  Is speech violence?

FREEDOM OF SPEECH
The more proper way of  stating this is "freedom of expression" since the idea is that "speech" can take various different forms.  This doesn't just protect words, but art, music, and a host of other expressions which can contain controversial or political import.

Its important to remember that there are two versions of this concept which are used in public life, but often confused or interchanged.

The first amendment contains the requirement by the people that the federal government protect and not attack free expression insofar as it does not materially damage other rights.  That is the legal, constitutional version and it only applies to government, not any other.  You cannot condemn a private business for violating the first amendment: it is not limiting their actions, only the government's.

The second concept, however is broader. Freedom of expression ("speech," the press, assembly etc) is an innate, God-given, inalienable right all human beings share simply by being human. We all have the right to freedom of expression merely by being human, although that right's expression can be suppressed (you can be silenced, you just still have the right to speech).

Why is this important?  As a society, we agree to an informal and unwritten contract: we will give up certain non-critical freedoms in order to gain greater safety and expression of our overall rights. I have the right to express myself however I wish even if it is lying and damaging to people, but we have agreed that it is illegal to slander or libel someone. I have the right to yell "fire" in a crowded theater (as the saying goes) but have agreed that it ought to be illegal to create chaos and riot that may harm people or businesses.

In other words, while the constitutional protection of free expression only applies to the federal government, the right of free expression is universal and should be protected in all peoples in all situations.  There is no legal compulsion and ought be no governmental penalty, but the social contract hinges on the defense of human rights and our willingness to tolerate and however reluctantly defend the rights of others.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
This is also in the first amendment (along with freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and the right to petition the government if over violations of rights, although that last one is pretty well forgotten).  It is written in the form of "peaceably assemble" but is again broader than that simple concept.  People have the right to associate with who they please -- or do not please -- and the government may not compel them to either.

This means that you can choose who you will work with or play with, who you will hang with or not, who you will allow into your circle of friends or private club or not.  Government may not tell anyone that they must associate with -- work with, work for, or otherwise be with -- or must not.

However like all rights, such as freedom of expression, there are societally-agreed limits.  No right's free expression may legally violate another person's human rights.  You may not use your freedom of association to ban Mexicans from your business: they have freedom of association, too.

INALIENABLE BUT LIMITED
Now remember, the key thing here is that you have the right to do these things, but you do not have the legal freedom to do so.  In other words, you can do them, but will face punishment.  

What I mean is this: you have the right to slander people all day long, because the freedom of expression is unlimited and innate.  It cannot be taken away or limited; it is inherent, an "inalienable" (un-removable) part of being human.  But, and this is an important 'but,' your free expression of that right may be limited in some circumstances.  

You legally are not allowed to destructively lie about someone, even though you have the innate right to do so.  This concept is easier to understand in some examples than others, as we'll see.

Again, this comes down to the social contract: in order to have any semblance of culture and cohesive, orderly society, we agree to hedges on our expression of rights.  Those boundaries on our free expression of our rights are to be as limited and few as possible, but must exist for humanity to coexist.  Thus, we have libel laws, we have laws about not being able to ban someone from business.  Nobody can legally say "we don't serve your kind here" despite having the right to do so.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

A RETURN TO PROFESSIONALISM

"We don't get to pick who wins, detective. Even if that means no one does."
--Special Agent David Rossi, Criminal Minds

Last time I posted, it was a lament at the collapse of professionalism across our culture, especially in the newsroom.  We've gone from grizzled professionals to hippie dippie space cadets with an agenda and as a result not just the quality of the product, but people's trust in the product of news has plummeted.

While its fun to mock annoying people and its easy to criticize, what can be done about this?  What is the solution?  What would professionalism look like, and be like?  How can the news media earn back any level of respect and trustworthiness?

NO GOLDEN AGE
The first thing to remember is that there never was a golden age of journalistic professionalism and accuracy.  They've always been misleading, lazy, incompetent, sloppy, and ignorant with occasional outstanding exceptions.  The biggest thing that's changed in the news is not so much the people involved, but the transparency and ease of fact checking.

50 years ago, you got the newspaper and had TV and radio news and that was it.  It took a special access to Nexis/Lexis database to dig into stories, and hours in microfiche at the library or local newspaper's "morgue" to find the story elsewhere or dig into the past to find consistency or support for the story.  Reporters were just as likely to mess things up or spin it, people just had no way to fact check them.  

That said, things have gotten significantly worse.  Where before a reporter might get things wrong or have a slant, today they actively push a specific agenda in their storytelling (there are a host of devices used, as covered in bias in my older bit on reporting), and suppress information that is problematic to their agenda.  Where before most strong opinion statements were excised from reporting and restricted to the op/ed page, now its showing up in news articles.  When President Trump was elected, even prestigious newspapers literally stated that they were going to abandon any pretense of objectivity and specifically oppose the man.

CLEANING HOUSE
The first hurdle is to get journalism to move back to its proper, necessary, and original purpose.  The reason that the 1st amendment specifically protects the press, and the reason the news media is called the "fourth estate" in the USA (fourth after congress, presidency, and supreme court) is very significant.  It refers to the need for a Democratic Republic to have an informed public in order to vote and choose proper representatives.  Ignorant and ill-informed people make worse choices than they would if well-informed.

The purpose of the news media is to accurately, and usefully, inform.  That means not only does their job require them to be factual and complete, but cover useful, valuable, and noteworthy events.  In no place does this job ever require or even find value in manipulating people's opinions, pushing an agenda, assisting an agenda, or silencing another agenda.

The problem with most journalism today is that they are specifically taught and personally inclined to think of their job not as information but as changing the world, making the world a better place, or fighting evil.  They are literally taught in Journalism School that they are not just reporting news to inform, but reporting news to shape a better future, that they have a moral responsibility to do so.

That has to change for anything positive to come out of the news.  Journalists need to learn to report the facts, and back away.  And the only way for that to begin to happen is to clean up J-school and expectations of young would-be journalists.  Start them out with the right perspective and goals, and you will weed out the ones who think its a religious calling or political platform.

KNOW THE DIFFERENCE
Part of the need for fact-based reporting is the need for reporters to understand the difference between fact an opinion.  This is a challenging lesson for a lot of younger people, since they've been largely raised to think that there is no actual absolute truth, that truth is a narrative and you make your own truth up.  They have to understand that there actually is such a thing as an objective fact, and to recognize that as opposed to what they feel, think, believe, or wish to be true.

Anything that isn't the facts and information in a story needs to be relegated to the opinion pages or one's social media feed.  This includes things such as playing "hide the party" and burying the lede.  Hide the Party is when you don't mention a scandal-plagued politician's party until deep into the article (if ever) when they are a Democrat, where you list the party affiliation early and often if it is Republican.  

Bury the lede is when you conceal the main point of the story in the headline or early paragraphs on the assumption that most people only read those parts and will miss the key story.  Why do this?  So you can technically have covered a topic (say, Benghazi) while misleading readers on the story.

Knowing that there is actual fact and truth, and distinguishing between that and opinion is a skill not being taught in school, let alone J-School, and not taught while learning while on the job.  I say this because I can see that these reporters literally do not seem to understand the distinction from their social media commentary and writing in news stories.  They honestly think that their spin on something is the facts.

NO POLLS
By sticking to "just the facts, ma'am" reporting will be forced away from certain kinds of news stories.  For example, in the last year and a half we've been assaulted by a deluge of rumors printed as news.  A nameless White House contact claims they head something, and the reporter third hand prints that as news.  Its not news.  Its rumor, its unsubstantiated hearsay, and its almost always utterly wrong and humiliating for the news organization.  After reading this stuff the fiftieth time, even the densest partisan starts to suspect they might not be able to trust the news.

Another form of non-news printed as facts is the poll.  Journalists love polls.  Pundits love polls.  News junkies love polls.  And as I have written about dozens of times in the past, polls are almost all trash, and even where they are useful are not news.  It is not news that you asked a group of people something and they all said "x."  That is simply a collection of opinions.  It means nothing.

I get it, people want to know the future, and love to read astrology tea leaves tarot cards opinion polling.  They want that druid to look at the entrails of the goat and see the future.  They want to know what they do not and cannot know, in advance, for some sense of comfort and peace.  But that is not news, its simply someone's or some group of people's opinions.  And opinions are not news.

Further, despite claims by pollsters and statisticians, they are not even scientific: too much depends on how, where, and to whom you poll, not to mention that claiming a question asked of a thousand people somehow rationally represents the ideas of over three hundred million.

Even when polls are not massaged through careful choice of who is polled and when or how the questions are asked, such as asking more Democrats than Republicans, or calling at a time of day you can reliably avoid opinions you don't want to hear from, its still not reliably scientific.

And the worst kind of poll reporting is when a news organization has an opinion or idea that they want to print as a story, but don't have the actual story to run.  So they do a poll on this topic, then report on the poll; they aren't reporting the news they are creating the "news" and that's not their job.

EVEN HANDED
Another key thing for journalists to re-learn and carry out is that they have to be hard-hitting, ruthless, and agnostic in their determination to report the facts.  Who is hurt or helped, what agenda is driven, how people respond to the facts, none of that matters.  What matters is the truth and accuracy.  This means that reporters have to ignore the party of the person they are writing about or what "narrative" is being carried out and just hit the facts.

Whether the subject of a news story or investigation is of party x or party y, whether they are conservative or libertarian or leftist or whatever, the news reporter needs to attack the story from the same perspective: facts, truth, completion; what I can support and substantiate.  Writing a story about a homosexual black lesbian in a wheelchair should not be any different job than an old white industrialist laying off workers.  Stick to the facts; do your job.

Informing the public means giving them the information they need to decide for themselves, and all the information they need to decide for themselves.  News reporters are not, as failed Seattle Times reporter stated "the deciders."  They are the voices of the facts, not the ones who pick and shape it.

Further, personalities and ego are not part of the job.  Nobody wants to know who is reporting the news.  They want the facts.  This is not a job for people who want the limelight.  Its a job for people who want their work to shine.  Its not "the news by Jim Acosta" its just the news.

ANTAGONISTIC
Additionally, the critical job of the reporter in order to fulfill their task as the fourth estate is to be the one who goes after those in power.  They have a duty to dig into corruption, incompetence, illegality, and failure from those in power, no matter who they are.  The press is only a fourth estate -- a check against the other three -- if they take their role seriously as being that check.  

The press needs to be the voice of justice against those in power who try to be above justice.  The press needs to give voters the information they require to properly vote and choose candidates.  If it will not do so, or worse, only does so with certain types of those in power, they are better being entirely gone than continuing to betray their very reason for existence.

FINAL KEYS
The main key is consistency.  I don't care if the press goes after president Trump and ties to find fault in him if they do so with President Obama as well.  Adulating and cheering one while despising the other is a complete failure of professionalism.  It is an abdication of their role as the fourth estate.  The journalist who only goes after one party, no matter what party, is a disaster and a total failure of a journalist.  They are betraying the people and their very profession.

That means no pictures of one politician with a halo and their opponent scowling and looking angry.  It means no news stories condemning the number of vacations taken by one and admiring the other for knowing how to relax and take time off to recharge.  It means no news stories focusing on one politician's stupid gaffes and none on the other's.

No reporter can avoid bias, but what they can do is have rigorous, ruthless professionals in positions of authority in the job.  Editors should be without mercy or personal attachment with reporters, tearing down everything that does not belong and building up what does.  Reporters need to both be encouraged to do what is right and crushed for doing what is wrong.

The only way this can happen, of course, is if people are so disgusted by the incompetence, sloth, ignorance, credulity, bias, and overall lack of professionalism in news reporting that they abandon it to the point of bankruptcy and ruin in the industry.  From the ashes, a new breed can arise that is honest, hard-working, focused on the job, and professional.

Lacking that?  I just see things getting worse and worse, with people dividing more viciously into sides and bubbling themselves with their favored news sources to the exclusion of everything that might help them know the facts.

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.

These were the people that weren't professional enough, that weren't skilled enough and who didn't have the focus and talent to work on a real newspaper.  They were the people who could not simply write the news, they had to give their perspective.  The people who thought just covering events was too boring or beneath them.  The people who had an agenda rather than a job to do.

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.