Winter Solstice 2017 – Tis the Season to Figure Things Out

For Thanksgiving, I am grateful for my blessings; I love to list my favorite things, what makes them thank-worthy, and what little disappointments that come with them.

For example, I love Amazon.  I have bought all sorts of things I needed and some that I just wanted.  One disappointment:  assembly instructions.  My frugal self loves the savings for things that are twice the price in the brick-and-mortar stores; my honest self sees the hidden price I pay.  I rationalize the wonderful nuances of foreign cultures as I try to figure out which real-life nut and bolt matches the vaguely portrayed nuts and bolts in the faintly-printed instructions.

assembly

Sometimes there is not even unintelligible English-as-a-language-no-one-here-really-knows text to confuse me.  The diagrams are diabolical, psychological warfare.  A few companies tease us by attaching stickers to pieces with the letter or number shown in the pamphlet.  Even then, one company mislabeled the parts in the instructions.

Most throw us graphics that are tests, like Mensa/SAT/Psychological/IQ tests.  The questions on the test?

  1. Match this table of drawings to the items you are staring at, that came in the box.
  2. Can you see the pattern or sequence between step 1 and step 2?
  3. Can you identify the actions required to explain the difference between figure 1 and figure 2?
  4. Can you fill in the missing part or parts of the sequences?
  5. Can you get the parts you glued together by mistake apart again?
  6. Is the FedEx guy too far up the street to flag down?

I can see the Mensa buyers sitting on the garage floor with dressers that look more like Picasso bookcases, or Escher stairways.

The instruction writers of foreign manufacturers must have never been to America.  They have never spoken to any native speaker in English, in person, just the less-than-fluent instructors who taught them, and the non-English-speaking bosses who were impressed with what sounded like English to him.

And here is where frustration brings out sadism:  We who have fallen, do not enlighten the seller, nor warn other buyers.  Why shouldn’t they suffer like we did?

Even if the instructions are adequate, they often include fewer of the metric nuts, bolts, and washers than needed, or some that are defective.  Where will you find 10 more of those little slider-holder thing-a-ma-jigs you need when you are bent over, holding up the critical strut of your almost-completed gazebo with one hand, the instructions in the other, as the sun sets?

If “some assembly required,” does not ruin your day, how about things that do not fit together like you saw on-line?  I mean a coffee maker that dribbles when you follow the instructions exactly, or the lid of the pressure cooker that will not lock, or the replacement for the roller brush for your vacuum cleaner that spins out from under the vacuum and sticks in the wall?

coffee

Oh, I forgot, batteries; you buy an electronic device that does what you want, for an incredibly low price.  Once you have it, you find that the “batteries-are-not-included,” or run out after 10 minutes, are not rechargeable, and cost more than the device.

low-battery-low-battery-everywhere

I love the whole concept of Amazon; I use it regularly; it appeals to my money-saving, couch-potato side. I love it when I find something better, at a lower price on-line, than my wife can find with woman-days of store shopping.  It makes me feel vindicated for never wanting to go to the mall.

 I just have to learn to temper my greed, contain my optimism, and curb my enthusiasm.  Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and every other winter-solstice-scheduled celebration of the return of the sun, that you may enjoy.

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Swamp Warfare Consumes – Nothing Good Happens When Nothing Happens

When politicians get personal, at best, nothing happens, at worst, nothing good happens.  We are witnessing, and suffering the slings and arrows of Alinsky-esque, Pyrrhic battles among the old guards of both parties of the “swamp” and the “Neo-Alt-Populists.”

What earnest, stalwart citizens expect is honest disagreement and negotiation to get the nation’s business done.  Instead we get messy, nasty, underhanded, duplicitous, deceitful, street fights by leaders of the traditional, two-party Congress and political elite intended to sabotage and neutralize the populist agenda.  Instead, we drown in oceans of pure sewage, a woeful waste of time, money, and reputation.

Trump started this ad hominem warfare with schoolyard nicknames for his opponents and constant public comments on everyone and everything.  But the swamp knows how to respond in kind.  Undermining, demeaning, and slandering one another absorbs enormous energy and batters the already dwindling confidence of the public.  What can we do with the barrage of bickering and dirty laundry?

I assign a giant portion of blame to the partisan, self-serving, faux journalists who constantly, gleefully, nakedly, shamelessly, and blatantly editorialize the mayhem.  The growing competition for notoriety risks America’s reputation and wastes our resources and influence.   Adolescent gossip has become the fodder for our herd of addicted commentators, who flood every form of information outlet, 24/7, with waves of “breaking news.”

I propose a ceasefire and a truce on public criticism, starting with the President.  Take your bar fights out back; do not make us witness the ugly, monkey-dance posturing, angry barbs, and impotent jabs.  Come back when you are done mauling each other, and you have made up with some workable compromise.  We are tired of seeing how no sausage is made.  We want to see and hear mature, decent people, doing what we elected them to do, with decorum and dignity.

Is it Important to Know the Sources of Truth? – Henry David Thoreau, Yes and Know

quotes

Maybe it has always been this way, but why does it seem so vital to associate an insightful aphorism with a famous person?

“Truth strikes us from behind, and in the dark, as well as from before and in broad day-light.”

Who wrote this? Henry David Thoreau.  Beautiful in its truth and simplicity.  But what if some insignificant playwright put these words on Thoreau’s lips in his play?  Would it be less insightful?

There is a plague of mis-quotations, mis-attributions, and quotation mills, (e.g. brainyquotes.com) who do nothing to verify what people add to their sites.  I see these un-researched and inaccurate quotes used by people of incredible ability because the Internet makes it easy to be wrong and believe you are right.

When I first started seeing these “quotes.” and discovered how few were accurate, I spent months trying to raise the alarm about quotes attributed to Albert Einstein, Gandhi, Winston Churchill, and other notable historic figures.  Even after blazing the trail to truth, people shrugged and continued their reliance on provably unreliable websites.

One personal experience, before the current craze, happened to me in Colorado, while I was on a month-long “Chautauqua” through the Rocky Mountains.  A friendly lady gave me a bookmarker with a quotation from Henry David Thoreau.  “Many men fish all their lives without ever realizing that it is not the fish they are after.”  Very touching and insightful, but a misquote by a writer, Michael Baughman, who wrote it in his book A River Seen Right (Lyons Press, 1995) p. 156.

He apparently paraphrased something Thoreau wrote in his journal, January 26, 1853:

“It is remarkable that many men will go with eagerness to Walden Pond in the winter to fish for pickerel and yet not seem to care for the landscape. Of course, it cannot be merely for the pickerel they may catch; there is some adventure in it; but any love of nature which they may feel is certainly very slight and indefinite. They call it going a-fishing, and so indeed it is, though perchance, their natures know better. Now I go a-fishing and a-hunting every day, but omit the fish and the game, which are the least important part. I have learned to do without them. They were indispensable only as long as I was a boy. I am encouraged when I see a dozen villagers drawn to Walden Pond to spend a day in fishing through the ice, and suspect that I have more fellows than I knew, but I am disappointed and surprised to find that they lay so much stress on the fish which they catch or fail to catch, and on nothing else, as if there were nothing else to be caught.”

I wonder, if today, this aphorism captures our current, self-absorbed culture?  Maybe today, the “fishing” is taking “selfies” and exposing every aspect of people’s experience and perspective on the Internet.  They get noticed but not notorious, or famous, or even infamous.  They become suicidal when virtual phantoms express disdain and scorn.

Everybody seems to be fishing for something, but what do they really want and why?

What they may really want is proof, and acknowledgment that they exist and have a value, and a meaning.  Why do they want it?  Maybe the disintegration of family, neighborhood, community leaves a void they cannot fill.  Maybe this secular dissociation leaves people feeling empty, afraid, and alone.

Could it be that what they really want is what families and churches used to provide:  love and belonging?

Intelligence Could Not Be More Artificial – Screen Addiction Steals Our Reality

Our pre-American forbears led lives of subsistence; work all day, every day for enough food to survive; prepare and eat the food; collapse into sleep; awake to the same exhausting challenges.  This work ethic and focus are a major part of what colonists brought to the New World, driven by the chance to own the land they work, hunt and fish the wilds about them, and live free of the crushing burdens of near-slavery as serfs, peasants, and servants.  They could not dream of a time that was not filled with all the efforts of pulling and putting together the pieces of life’s necessities.

Just meeting today’s needs was never enough. They could not afford to face the seasons unprepared. They had to be alert, to anticipate, prepare, learn, and plan for the cycles and dangers of nature; they had to be ready for the seasons, timing, preparing, sowing, harvesting, preserving, and storing of food: crops, fish, game, fruits; cutting, splitting, and stacking firewood, clothing, tools, weapons; sickness, injury, childbirth; shelter, stewardship of farm animals, and on, and on.

Except for a few times, when nature did not allow work, people, including children, worked, ate, and slept.  Church was a mandatory break for the work-cycle.  Not only did weekly Sunday services provide “leisure” time for peaceful, renewing, and moral guidance, but it also allowed for physical regeneration through rest; it fostered hygiene and discipline; it fostered family and community “leisure” and play.

This kind of all-absorbing farm life continued for most Americans until technology began its ascent.  Within a dozen decades, we expanded, invented, and produced, new tools, factories, mines, roads, bridges, harbors, waterways, and railroads.  Farmers and ranchers produced enough food to allow them to sell it to non-farmers, who earned the money in towns and cities.

“Money-crops” such as cotton, tobacco, wool, hides, and furs, fed the textile mills, the leather tanneries, and tobacconists; cash was used for things the farmer could not produce easily, such as cloth, dye, needles, pins, shoes, glass, pots, pans, jars, jugs, clocks, medicines, spices, firearms, gunpowder, swords, axes, shovels, scythes, harnesses, chains, hinges, nails, buttons, buckles, candles, lamps, and things we needed then that we no longer remember.

Non-farm work had start and stop times.  Workers arrived at a certain time, worked and ate at certain times, and left at certain times.  That meant the rest of the day was up to the workers to use as they chose.  Holidays became expected days of rest.  Merchants tailored shop hours to worker schedules, which gave them down time as well.

The Great Depression and World War II accelerated three trends:  migration to cities, training in trades, and advanced education.

They also introduced and promoted the first virtual technologies, telephone, phonographs, movies, radio, and television.  Costs, broadcast time and reception areas limited the time people spent talking, listening, and watching.  But the attraction was clearly evident.  People would plan their days and evenings around their favorite news and entertainment programs.  Trips to the movies were considered treats.

The return of prosperity brought expanding demand for all the virtual technologies.  One limit on these technologies was location: phonographs, telephones, radios, movies, and televisions were locations people had to attend to use.  One exception for police and fire fighters:  two-way radios mounted in vehicles.  World War II saw the advent of “walkie-talkies,” the conceptual and technical precursors of modern cellphones.

Car radios, and the transistor radios released the listener from having to find a radio, to having a radio with them

The 1950’s, and 60’s introduced computers to American Business.  Once again, computers were locations, entombed in rarefied environments defended by physical security, and complete ignorance of the general populous.

The 1980’s advent of “personal computers;” which were portable, with some effort.  All that was missing was connecting computers through telephone systems – the Internet, and connecting radios to telephones – cellular phones.  The catalyst for the connectivity we enjoy today was the cellphone, which erased any connection between phones and locations, and made people the locations for telephone numbers.

Televisions were limited by the stations that broadcast in their reception area.  Three major national TV networks evolved, connected by satellite to the world.  Connecting televisions directly to satellites, coaxial cables, and now the Internet, brought us out of “network-tv” into the 24/7 “cable-tv” era.

Once cellphones connected to the Internet and television, where we watch movies, we arrived to today, where the distinctions have almost completely blurred.  Likewise have our senses of reality.

Now, “friends” are not people we know, “social media” is anonymous and often anti-social.  “Gamers” give a whole new meaning to “WoW,” spending days lashed to their computers, dispensing with bathroom breaks, installing Mountain Dew, refrigerators, and cutting pizza delivery slots in their doors.

We already have an entire generation living in basements.  What is next?  Maybe evolution will soon give our species extended narrow thumbs for “Texting,” and dimmer judgement for “Sexting.”  Maybe someday, all our ogling will be “Googling.” Is the “Zombie Apocalypse” upon us with the living “undead?”  I wonder if Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence will converge into caskets, from which we never need emerge?  Will we live to see the rise of VARZI?

Independence Every Day – Divorce Virtual Opioids

This is a great time to be alive in America.  The average American has a better life than kings, queens, and pharaohs of the past.  We are safer, live longer, are free to go where we want, and enjoy knowledge and experiences that would have astounded the world only a few decades ago.

One area that is encroaching on our freedom is the enticing addiction to the virtual world to the exclusion of the real, here and now world.  More, and more, I walk through crowds of “zombies” stuck in their phones, tablets, music, and video.  They are not really “here.”  The inattention to life has begun to dominate our culture.  Isolation from “real” family and friends is rapidly wearing down the social skills of our society members.

The siren attraction of the imaginations of others is sapping the development and practice of imagining for ourselves.  Children need that development as they grow up.  What kind of adults, parents, employees will people become if they have no experience of self-creation?  What will our culture become when all we have is “copies” of the excellent ideas generated by a few “imagineers.”

Try doing without the virtual toys and tools you spend so much time with for 24 hours:  No cell phones, tablets, pc’s, internet, cable tv, DVD’s or other electronics.  You will quickly find out what you have been missing, such as talking with your family, reading books, playing musical instruments, inventing things, fixing things, learning things, eating with people who are present and making conversation about your life and the people you love.

We had to fight for our independence as we started this nation.  Now is a good time to exercise total freedom from the seductive draw of virtual opioids.

What Are We Watching? – Peter, Parkinson, Murphy Rule

Parkinson’s Law suggests that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”  The Peter Principle posits, “in any hierarchy people tend to rise in the hierarchy through promotion until they reach the levels of their respective incompetence.” Murphy’s Law states that “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, at exactly the wrong moment.”

All three ideas developed before the current age of exponential, media expansion.  What is so amazing is, that in the age of the Internet, and myriad TV channels, these three principles combine to form a valid hybrid theorem I have dubbed the “Information Extinction Horizon,” (IEH). This new IEH theorem states that, “as media content expands to fill existing bandwidth, it declines logarithmically to inane, bogus levels of incredibility, intellectual value, journalistic validity, and schlock, while simultaneously accelerating from bare facts to all possible interpretive opinions, and providing exactly the wrong information to the wrong people, at the most inopportune time, or, worse yet, no information of discernible value at any time. ” This is a clear refutation of e=mc2.

Major corollaries to the IEH theorem relate to the milieu of internet blogging outlets, social media platforms and any other posts of personal and political natures, including pure invention, and pictures of what one’s dog ate for breakfast (including recipes).

Using Google News as a proof, rate the value and verity of their current page of articles.  In your analysis, include the sub-articles and the number of outlets with different, (apologists use the word “nuanced”) versions of the same reportage.  Notice how the results form nebulae, galaxies, solar systems and planets of personal, political, regional, national, celebrity, and sports-team-loyalty cohorts.

Also notice how futile efforts to filter searches of any topic have become.

Added support to the new hybrid theorem is Parkinson’s Law of Triviality: “members of an organization give disproportionate weight to trivial issues.”  Browsers and search/advertising engines of major internet “organizations” amplify and degrade the value of content at the same time with advertising “pollution.”

For now, we must rely on anecdotal evidence and impressions to support the new theorem, but then, anecdotal is the essence of the theorem to begin with.

Care Denial – The Truth About Health Care “Coverage”

Much talk about insuring people for health care needs.  The giant bedpan in the room is availability.  What good is having Medicare, Medicaid, exchange plans, if you cannot find a doctor for hundreds of miles who will accept your provider’s coverage?  Just look.

The pundits talk about providing millions of people “access” to healthcare; however, they cannot explain why many of the “covered” still do what they did when they had no insurance, go the emergency room of the public hospital known to be the one that cannot turn them down.

Health insurers specify what they will cover and what the insured must pay, in terms of dollars and percentages.  What they do not spell out, is the amounts they are willing to pay the doctors and hospitals for various treatments.  The doctors and hospitals that are willing to accept the insurer’s terms are added to a “network.”  If the insured uses these doctors and hospitals, “in network,” the patient pays less; “out-of-network” providers, the insured pays much more.

Medicare, and the related private insurance plans are shunned by many healthcare providers because of the intense complexity of coding rules, poorer reimbursement rates, and 6-month slow-pay of claims.  I cannot blame them for wanting the easiest, most profitable patients, but look at what that does to retirees:  it shoves them into the offices of the newest, least experienced doctors, who do not have privileges at the best hospitals.

Another specious barrier doctors erect is “not accepting new patients.”  If that is true, why do they prominently promote their doctors, facilities, and services?  Why do they list the insurance plans they accept, on fancy websites?  What do they do when patients get well, move, change, outgrow their need, or die?  Who takes their places?  Are there waiting lists?  This policy seems wildly inconsistent, and dubious to me.

Today’s labyrinth of laws, maze of insurance coverages, intricacies of medical practice, incorporation of hospitals, vast array of medical devices, tests, and procedures, and incomprehensible myriads of drugs and medicines, are the starting point of future choices.  The concept of choosing your doctors, clinics, and hospitals still appeals to me.  If all health insurance policies must meet some minimum standards of coverage, why should health providers exclude any of them?

We have a historic opportunity to put features into the fabric of healthcare; the federal government has more incentives and flexibility to “get it right” as they formulate new laws.  Why not pass a new law called “The Available Care Act?”  If you accept anything except cash for medical services or goods, you accept the coverage of any patient who walks in your door.