Monday, March 31, 2014

Have a laugh and live

I'm a funny guy. I know this because I have empirical evidence that shows that what I say makes people laugh. I don't know exactly what it is that makes people laugh, but I enjoy the feeling I get when they do laugh.

I can remember the zingers I made when I was in kindergarten. Yes, kindergarten. I was at an open house with my mom, talking with my teacher and I remember saying funny stuff even then.

As I grew up in school, I found that humor saved me time and again. It didn't save me from being teased relentlessly every day, but it did give me some relief from the stress of having to face kids who insisted on teasing me. This experience taught me to make sure that my humor is never personal. My humor is pretty benign, innocuous, aimed for the circumstances and not the person stuck in a moment.

Through working construction, many office jobs and finally, in IT, I found humor indispensable. My timing was good, too. I never got fired for making a casual joke during a heated moment or crisis at work. I was even able to bring my humor to a farewell speech I gave to the retirement community I used to work at.

Throughout my life, I have found people who were receptive to my humor and laughed at my jokes. They inspired me to be funny. They gave me reason to celebrate that small bit of chaos in the brain that arises from humor. They inspired me to choose my words carefully for a laugh.

Back then, at the retirement home, I actually had bad days. You know, days where no matter what happened, I could not be happy or even grateful for what I had that day? Yeah, those days. I often had a cloud over me, following me around. But even on my darkest days, I could not resist the opportunity to make a joke for a few laughs. I kid you not.

I remember being so miserable one day that I made a decision for the day that I was going to keep quiet most the day. I wasn't going to talk to anyone unless absolutely necessary. And I sure as hell wasn't going to say anything funny. No, these people that I served didn't deserve that. No soup for you!

But then I encountered my cheerfully giddy friend at work, Laura, as she worked the reception desk. I have shared many fine moments of laughter with her. Except on this particular day, I had already made a decision not to say anything funny. Somehow she said something that totally set me up for a zinger, a funny quip, and she was laughing for almost a minute. I stood there, reveling in the glow of her laughter. For a moment, the cloud was gone. Then I forgot about it for awhile, only to remembered it again when I saw my supervisor.

I look for cultural cues for humor. Recently, there was a story about a Girl Scout who sold 117 boxes of cookies outside of a cannabis store in Colorado. I had already found a great line to go with it, thanks to the comedy of George Carlin. I noted that and put it in the back of my mind. A few weeks or so later, I'm at Harmon's on Redwood. Just inside the entrance, there was a girl and a man selling Girl Scout cookies.

I engage the man in conversation and bring up the story about the Girl Scout cookie sales in Colorado. He recalls it and seems engaged. I say, "I can just imagine how the conversation between a customer and the Girl Scout might turn on a simple question, 'Dude, where are the Mallomars?'" I got a hearty laugh and enjoyed myself to boot.

I used to do standup comedy, too. If you have a few minutes, you can see me here, having  great time on stage, entertaining the audience. I would love to do more, but there are only so many hours in a day, am I'm spending one of them writing this article now. I love being funny and that will never change. It's just too fun to give up.

I have a simple principle that I follow in my relationships. If you laugh at my jokes, you get to stay in my life. If you make me laugh, I will find every reasonable means to keep you around. But if you can't laugh, I'm sorry, I can't help you.

Remember those old people I used to work with in the retirement home? They taught me that when you're 82 and your body is slowly going to pieces, you need to have a sense of humor. I will never forget that, and hope that you won't either.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

What day is it?

I used to work in a retirement home, but I didn't take care of the old people. I worked on the network that supported the business of caring for the old people. I worked at what could best be described as the Four Seasons Retirement Home. Here, wealthy people get to live out their waning years in plush accommodations with food prepared by professional cooks, landscaped grounds, and round the clock medical staff. They were the people we used to call Middle Class in the 60s and 70s.

It was a great time in Irvine, California. I got out of the office quite a bit to get my work done. I took time to talk to everyone and get a sense of what was going on with their computers doing desktop support. I got to walk among the lush vegetation carefully planted everywhere. I felt the cool Pacific breezes on hot sunny days as I walked the grounds.

There were three areas of living for the retirement home. Independent living, where you get to come and go as you please, go on group trips to Europe and play bridge together. Then there was assisted living, a place for people who weren't quite all there. They'd forget stuff, like who they were, where they were and why they were crossing the street off the grounds. Then there was skilled nursing, that's where you're in a bed and you know the end is getting pretty close. I spent time working around residents in all three areas and learned quite a bit about how people live in retirement homes.

One thing I noticed about the independent living section is that the people living there are the happy people that were walking every day and making jokes. Once you stop walking, you've just greased the slide to your demise. If you stop making jokes, who wants to be around?

Some of the residents are even, shall we say, "spunky". One resident I got to know actually slapped me on the butt as I was walking by. Imagine my surprise. She was one of the funny ones, too. She laughed and she made jokes. She also walked every day, without fail.

In case you were wondering, the average age of the residents was 82 years old, mostly female. If you're a male wallflower, they're going to find you, so there's still hope.

I got to know a few people in the assisted living section, too. I remember one lady very well. I would talk with her frequently because I found myself in that area almost every day. She was there, walking around, just enjoying the sunlight, the breeze and the day passing by. I would tell her stories and she would laugh and seemed to enjoy herself.

One day I found myself telling her a story that I had already told her before. I was worried that I had been caught, but she didn't say anything. She just listened. I continued as if nothing happened and then stopped to let her know that I had already told her that story. She said that I should continue because she didn't remember.

Hmmm. "What day is it?", I asked. She didn't know. She said that every day is pretty much the same. She doesn't know what day of the week it is and doesn't seem to mind or care. There is no difference to her.

What an interesting state of mind. I've had that briefly as an adult while on vacation. I recall the feeling of not knowing what day it is and not caring. The last time I had that feeling was when I was a kid, and that was only for a few years during the summer months. The people living at a retirement home can go on for many years like that and not know what happened.

Talking with this woman showed me just how arbitrary our timekeeping system is. We have years, days, hours and seconds. Nature determined the number of days in a year, but only bankers could give us the calendar we have now. Someone decided that we needed 24 hours not 10. Someone decided that we needed 60 seconds, not 100, even though a decimal system would make more sense. But even a decimal system can seem arbitrary to brains that really haven't evolved to track time. That's why we have clocks.

As I write this, I lose track of time. The creative process does not run by clocks. It runs by synapses in the brain, firing, connecting and synchronizing. All of it comes from somewhere, and time is the space that lets it happen.

We use time as a reference so that we can synchronize our efforts to cooperate. It's an arbitrary reference that we must agree to use together or nothing will get done on time. We use it measure work, measure output, and measure results. But for anyone who is not working, there is no need to keep time. Not that I can think of.

If you're not working, time isn't a big deal, especially when you've already had your day in the sun. The only time that matters is now. The past is gone and the future isn't here yet. Working with the retirement home really helped me to put this in perspective. Whatever was important to the residents living there when they were 20 doesn't matter now, it's just a faint memory.

I drive a car to work every day. I know that someday, the work routine I have now will change. I may come to a point in my life where driving car is not a requirement for living, it might just be something that I enjoy doing. Working on computers may no longer be relevant for me. Anything can happen. But now, I'm here, doing what I know how to do.

Knowing what day it is didn't matter until I was maybe 5 years old. At some point in my future, that won't matter anymore, I don't know when that will happen, whether I will even notice and I don't need to find out now. I know what day it is now, and that is enough for one day.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Why do Christians want equal time for Creationism?

I note with interest how the host and producers of the new television series Cosmos: A Space Odyssey, have been besieged with requests to give equal time to creation theory. Yet, the overwhelming consensus among scientists is that creation is a belief, not a scientific theory. There is simply not enough evidence to support the theory promoted by some Christians that God created everything. What I find interesting is that Christians seem to be the only religious faction that wants creationism taught in schools.

Albert Einstein was a scientist who believed in God. "God does not play dice with the universe", says Einstein. But as scientist, Einstein kept his religious beliefs distinct from his scientific inquiry. I don't recall that Einstein ever promoted the idea that creationism should be taught in schools, either. Oh, wait. He was of the Jewish faith.

So I wonder, what is the ultimate aim of the creationists? Could it be that they just want Christianity to be the primary and dominant religion of the United States so that they can feel safe and secure in their beliefs? They will find friends and allies in places like Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, with Oklahoma and Kansas to boot. Maybe even Utah. Could it be that some Christians want state sponsored religion?

Turn the tables for the moment. Let's say that the Muslims were promoting creation in school. Imagine the uproar we'd see from the Christians over that. Accusations would fly at the Muslims insisting that the Muslims were trying to turn this country into Iran. Imagine that!

I have known a few Christians and have attended church here and there. From what I am able to gather, many Christians have a sincerely held belief that if they don't absolutely, without reservation, believe in God and the Bible, that they will go to Hell. You know, that place where everyone suffers and there is no air conditioning? Yeah, that place.

Now I won't pretend to read minds, but allow me to speculate for just a moment here and consider with you, what might be going on. Let's assume for the moment that adult Christians, like anyone else, want to do the right thing. We all want to go to sleep at night, knowing we did the right thing, agreed?

The most likely conclusion that I can draw from the debate is that Christians are thinking about their kids. They want creationism in school so that they can be sure their kids will still believe in God when they leave school and that they won't go to Hell from changing their beliefs. I can't think of a better explanation than that.

If that is the case, and I think it is so, there is a really big problem with their attitude. There is no consideration for anyone else. Atheists, Buddhists, Muslims - they are all going to school, too. The reason that science has been so successful it that scientists are not afraid to admit that they are wrong when they are. Science is our best tool for understanding reality. Scientists understand that science is a quest not to be right, it is a quest for knowledge that allows us to be wrong, to eventually find a better answer. That is not the case with creationism. Creationism does not allow for or hold up to scientific inquiry and cannot be verified because it is a belief without factual support.

I want to come back now to the concerns about "going to Hell" that many Christians might have about not holding a firm, true belief in God and the Bible. I have a problem with a demanding, browbeating God who punishes me for not believing a certain thing, anything, even a book written by men who didn't know what the sun did when it went down.

I have faith in God, which I hold as distinct from belief. Belief in the Christian sense is a belief in God and the Bible without regard to new information. That is not faith. Faith is the reservation of judgment, a willingness to accept and acknowledge new information.

I have faith that there is a God, but I don't believe in God because I don't know for sure. I just take the days as they come, with faith that God is there, helping me, showing me the way. I do not believe that you must believe as I do, either. What I think that God may be, could be entirely different from what you think and that is OK with me.

I don't know how anyone could live under the crushing pressure of a God that punishes me for any deviation from belief in a book written by men who are prone to error. As Thomas Paine said, if you want to know God, look around you. God is everywhere if you want to find him.

Neither Thomas Paine, nor any of the Founding Fathers promoted the idea that we should teach creation in school as science. They were all wary of state sponsored religion, and we should be, too. If that were to happen here, we wouldn't have to hop on a plane to go to Iran.

Monday, March 24, 2014

How the tables have turned...

In 2001, I took a UNIX class at Orange Coast College. I really enjoyed the class, having learned bash programming in the class, but nothing about UNIX system administration. I did learn a few other interesting things though. I learned how to write programs in VIM. I learned how to make a file executable. I learned how to take notes that put me in the top ten of that class.

There is one thing that I learned that turned out to be wrong. There was some discussion over whether it would be worth the effort to pursue UNIX administration as a career. After much discussion, the professor seemed to think that he had settled the issue by saying that he thought Windows would win out and that it would be a better career choice to get certified in Windows than UNIX.

I was heartbroken. Even then, I wanted out of Windows. I wanted to work with something that was not controlled by Microsoft. My first computer was an Amiga and I missed having that choice. I was actually disappointed to learn that I wasn't even using UNIX in the classroom. I was learning to program on Linux.

I left the class with an A grade and a feeling of defeat that I had wasted a semester learning something that would not support me later on.

I look around me now and find that had I talked to a few more people, I might have seen what was to come. Around 2001, Linux was just starting to go mainstream in server rooms in the biggest businesses. Many developers were finding freedom in knowing where the programming interfaces were in Linux as they were published and the source code to Linux was freely available to all who wanted to read it.

At the same time, developers became wary after learning that Microsoft lied about programming interfaces to software companies that developed software that ran in Microsoft DOS and Windows. Why? To maintain an advantage over the competition.

Also at the same time, Linux was being ported to work on x86 processors to make it work on low cost, commodity hardware while UNIX was still working well on mainframe computers. Linux received help from big companies like IBM to make it a server class operating system.

But I was supporting Windows and didn't think that Linux or UNIX was going to make it. I was wrong. I was also clueless.

Linux now runs on more than a billion devices when all Android smartphones are factored in. Linux runs on 97% of the fastest 500 supercomputers in the world. Nearly every securities market in the world runs Linux - think New York Stock Exchange, Chicago Mercantile Exchange, NASDAQ. If you use the web, chances are, you're using a web based application that runs on Linux. Linux is running in DVD players, smart TVs, tablets and other consumer devices. Linux is used in routers, switches and other network devices.

It used to be that you couldn't get fired for buying IBM. Then IBM was pushed aside for Microsoft and you couldn't get fired for buying Microsoft. The time is approaching where people can get fired for buying Microsoft because Linux can do the job better, faster, more efficiently with lower hardware resources. Less RAM. less disk space, less CPU.

A review of salaries for system administrators finds that Linux admins consistently draw higher salaries than Windows administrators. This is because Linux talent with experience is hard to find. I remember how Microsoft flooded the market with certified professionals and that was sort of depressing.

If you're planning or even thinking about a career in IT, make it a career in Linux programming or administration. The field is wider and greener than ever, and Windows administration doesn't even hold a candle to Linux in terms of opportunities. If you would like to learn how to work in Linux, consider this free course. It's online and the normal cost is $2400. This summer, you can learn Linux for free.

You might have read my previous article on how sharing information can help you to remember it. Sharing information with members of your team can help your team to succeed. When source code is shared, that leads to success for everyone who is involved. Even the users. Sharing source code means that the software can be improved on a fast, consistent basis, creating benefits for everyone that uses it. The source code of Linux shared among the programmers and the users. It is constantly evolving and improving.

If you have a job in Linux administration or programming, be grateful. If you don't, there is still time to change the road you're on. The money is nice, but the freedom is what counts with Linux work. Even ATM companies are finding freedom in Linux.

The freedom to share code is the basis of the success of Linux. Had I known about that in 2001, I would have made very different career choices. Now that I know what I know about Linux, I'm happy to share it with others in the hopes that they won't make the same mistake I made. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sharing information can help you remember it

I had a problem at work. I was working through a list of directions for clearing space on a server so that the server could be made ready for an upgrade. As I worked through the list, I came upon a directory that could contain many files each of which could take up a lot of space. The instructions said that all I needed to do was compress files that were older than 30 days and that should free up enough space.

Unfortunately for me, and everyone else faced with this task, the instructions did not provide for an automated method of finding the files. Instead, I was thinking about how much time it would take for me to inspect the files by eye, identify the files that were older than 30 days and compress them. I'm lazy and knowing that I would encounter this again, I recalled how I had managed to automate this before.

In Linux, there is the find command. Find is a great command for finding files that meet certain selection criteria. You can use it to find a file by name if you're just looking for one file. But you can also use the find command to locate files based on size, type and the last modified date or even the last access date.

Gzip is a standard compression utility in Linux. Rather than compressing each file one at a time, like this, "gzip ", I found a way to combine two different commands to get the results I wanted. While I sat there at work, looking at so many files that I could compress to free up space, I remembered the find command and did a little research. The research yielded the following command:

find . * -mtime +30 -exec gzip {} \;

What this command does is can be explained in a few simple steps:

1. find files in the current directory - that's what the dot after the find command is for.
2. Select any file - that's what the asterisk * is for.
3. Select files that are older than 30 days - the option -mtime +30 sets the selection criteria based on modified date.
4. -exec allows me to run a command on the results of the find command. In this case, any files returned by the find command will be compressed with gzip.
5. The last part, {} \;, that is a sort of place holder for the results. This command will check every file in the directory and if the file matches the selection criteria, the {} \; will be replaced with the file name and the gzip command will operate on the file.

I shared this command with the person who wrote the instructions that I was following. The feedback I got was that this command would be added to the article and made available to anyone who needed it.

Although I consider this little command sequence quite fascinating, and hope you do, too, that's not the point of this article. There are actually two points. First, we are both better off when we share ideas. There is a really good reason for this. I think it is best explained by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Ian McPherson, more than 200 years ago, with the following excerpt:
If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. 
My heart sings when I read this prose, not only for its truth, but also for its beauty, its rhythm and its ultimate conclusion. I can only add one more thing to the wisdom of Jefferson, and it seems such a little thing but it is well worth noting.

I noticed that after I shared my idea with the author of the instructions I used to free up space on the server, and got the feedback, I kept reviewing the command in my mind. When I got home that day, I started to think about how to check the results of the command before running it. I did some experiments on my computer to explore the command some more. The idea got reinforced in my mind after sharing it. It became easier to remember it, you know, in case I ever needed to share it again. That is the second point of this article.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Keystone is a fatuous lie

For those of you who miss my blog, I'm still here. I'm just working a lot. I'm sure it's only temporary, but it's taken time for me to put two minutes together and rub them for a blog.

I've been seeing a lot of commentary on the Keystone XL Pipeline. It's a dream and a lie. Anyone who says that the shale oil from Canada is going to lower gas prices hasn't noticed worldwide demand for oil. They might not have noticed that the pipeline heads straight to the Gulf of Mexico, either. Isn't there an international port down there? I think so.

Here in Utah, we have Chris Stewart in the House of Representatives, pushing hard for approval of the Keystone pipeline. Stewart would have us believe that Keystone will create jobs. Oh, there will be jobs. Temp jobs. Then when the pipeline is built the oil will be sold on the world market where it will fetch more money than we're willing to pay here. Why?

Because the US is a tiny influence on the price of oil. The world has grown dependent on oil around us and though we suck 20 million barrels of oil a day, that is only a tiny fraction of world demand. Even if we produce more, and we are by any measure, that hasn't decreased prices at the pump.

When my wife and moved to Utah, we saw gas prices at about $1.73 a gallon at the low, long before we hit production numbers like we're seeing now. We're now producing more oil than at any time in recent memory, just ask Obama, and yet, gasoline prices are well above $3 a gallon in many places around here, higher still in California.

Any politician who is serious about energy production needs to start talking about thorium. We have enough thorium to last for thousands of years at current energy use. Yet, we don't see anyone in mainstream politics talking it up. No, they're talking about Keystone if they're conservative and solar and wind if they're liberal.

Thorium isn't the answer to all of our problems, but if you're looking for a reliable source of base load energy, thorium is it. It's widely distributed around the world, so there won't be any wars over thorium for quite some time. Thorium reactors are far safer than the pressurized water vessels we use for burning uranium because they operate at normal pressures. Thorium molten salt reactors won't go boom when they fail and they won't leak because the fuel is drained from the reactor in failure. Waste? About 1% of what a uranium reactor produces. Thorium, baby, thorium.

So, yes. I've been away. I'm working 50 hours a week for awhile, but I will get my digs in here from time to time. Thanks for coming by.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Humans can hate objects, but not other humans

Do you hate someone? Have you ever really hated someone? How well did you know that person before you decided you hated him or her?

Yesterday, I read a fascinating analysis on the psychology of hatred. The subject is a bit complex, but the takeaway for me is that once we see the eyes of another, it's pretty hard to hate them. To hate another human, we have to make them less than humans in our minds.

All human beings want love. They need companionship and shelter. We see someone cry and we can empathize with them. We hear someone laugh and we laugh with them. One person yawns in a quiet classroom and everyone yawns with him. We all know that in some way that we are connected.

To hate someone, we must ignore that connection. To hate someone, we reduce the human that we think we know, into an object. In short, hatred is objectification. There is no other way I can see for one human to dehumanize another. Unless we perceive another human as an object, someone who is less than human - less feeling, less thinking, less empathy for how we feel - we cannot hate them.

In a past life, I was an investigator for people in trouble with the IRS and the Franchise Tax Board in California. I worked with people who hated the IRS and wanted nothing more than escape from their very clutches. My job was to use the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act to help uncover what was going on behind the scenes of these two agencies.

I worked directly with disclosure officers, people responsible for answering my requests and determining if there was merit to them. They ensured that the disclosures they made followed the laws. While working with the IRS, I learned that I might not like what they do, but I could not come to hate them. I began to see that they were people who just wanted to go to sleep at night knowing they did the right thing. I had compassion for them.

I developed this compassion by developing a professional relationship with each of them. I talked with them and learned what they liked about their job. One disclosure officer said that I should not move to Sacramento if I were considering it. It was a dust bowl to him. In addition to that, he seemed to have really bad luck at his residence. First someone drove their truck off the street into his living room. Then the next year, a tree fell onto his house. He was thinking of moving. All of this was volunteered information because I went into it with an open mind. I was willing to see their human side.

There is a lot of talk about class warfare in politics these days. Any kind of war is wrong and it doesn't really matter who started it. Nobody ever really wins a war. But in order to foment a war, a common enemy has to be identified. In recent months, some very wealthy people have complained that they are being singled out. Tom Perkins has likened the Occupy movement against the 1% to the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis. Lately, it seems that the wealthy are really, really unhappy about how they're being perceived.

I suppose that if I had crashed the economy with dubious business practices, made out like a bandit with a few government bailouts, and continue to make more money during a very difficult recession for everyone else, I could expect the perception that greets me now. But that series of events seems to come as a result of the perceptions of the affluent about the rest of us.

I note with interest that Gore Vidal and Chris Hedges, two well known authors and writers, who have spent time with the very wealthy have a lot to pass on about this subject. They have seen first hand, the contempt that very wealthy people can have for others less fortunate.

They are not the only ones to notice, either. We see it in Congress, open, unadulterated contempt for the poor, the disadvantaged and it doesn't stop there. We see in Conservative television and newspaper commentary. The most interesting part of the phenomenon is the language that is used. The people being so denigrated by the media, by the so-called leaders of the right, have reduced the people they have nouns. Objects. Mindless beings who will only reproduce and multiply if they are not stopped now.

I have noted before in previous articles that the Conservative agenda is not about creating jobs. If that were true, now that we are hip-deep in neoliberal economics, we'd have full employment with unemployment well below 5%. But that's not what is happening. What I see of the conservative agenda is an effort to create distance. They hate the rest of us, and we mirror them, so they want more distance, psychologically and physically.

They created distance with a super punitive justice that has captured more people in prison than any other justice system in the world. They bail themselves out when they make mistakes, but when the rest of us make mistakes, they cut unemployment, food stamps and other social programs to get everyone focused on one thing: working for them. Whatever it is that "they" do, they are still humans who want love and probably can't fully explain how they came into so much money. But here we are.

Until both sides see each other as humans rather than just "the 1%" or "the Occupy Movement", I doubt either side will gain very much traction. It's clear that the 1% have an economic advantage, but in order to maintain that advantage, they need the consent of the rest of us. To get that consent, they will have to set aside their contempt and see the rest of us as humans. Just as we must see them as humans, too.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Fix the debt?

There is a rather interesting organization of CEOs known as "Fix The Debt". This is a shady little cartel of CEO's who have amassed millions in retirement savings, millions each year as compensation and billions in stock values. This same group has been telling us for years now, to fix the (federal) debt.

They want to cut social programs that have already been paid for with taxes. They want to cut funding for research that no business wants to do, yet the results of that research has supported businesses just the same. If you need an example, consider the benefits of TCP/IP, the protocol that runs the internet.

Oddly, they won't touch the military budget. They won't talk about increasing taxes. They most certainly won't support increasing benefits for veterans. No, these guys have priorities that are different than the 99%.

They won't talk about their plunder of the economy with their fat accounts that permit them to loaf well into their 80s without a worry about income. No, these people will never have to work again for the rest of their lives if they decided to stop working today. Yet, they insist that the rest of us either have to work harder, longer hours, or we have to tighten our belts. The rest of us will have to wait until we're 72 before we can receive Social Security benefits.

One subject noticeably absent from the debate on the debt is the trade deficit. Even liberal economists seem to miss this one. Since the 1980s, not only have we cut taxes for the wealthiest among us, but we've insisted on a very strong dollar relative to other currencies. This creates trade deficits that only the wealthiest among us can take advantage of.

I want to clarify my position and point out the people I'm referring to with more accuracy. I'm not talking about your mom and pop small businesses where net incomes are around $250k or so. No, they don't often have the means to support the trade deficits we have now. I'm talking about the billionaires. OXFAM released a report showing that 85 people own wealth equivalent to the holdings of 3.5 billion people - half the world's population. They hold in total, about $11 trillion, collectively. These people, and the next step down, are directing our economy.

Want to know why we're so mired in a recession? 85 people are making decisions for the rest of us with no skin in the game. Remember, they will never have to work again and they have everything they could ever want, with no need to spend any money. Sure, they are thorough in what they do, they may even be efficient. At what? What else is there to do? Between 2009 and 2012, more than 95% of new income created during that time was vacuumed up by the one percent in the US. It's like they have nothing better to do. They're primary interest is in creating economic distance between the unwashed 99% and them. Conservative policy isn't about creating jobs. It's about creating economic distance between the 1% and everyone else.

Does that kind of behavior create jobs? The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't think so.

This is the problem. Capitalism says that the people with the most money get to make the most important decisions about how to allocate resources, irrespective of the harm those decisions may impose upon others. Global warming? Capitalism. Coal ash spills? Capitalism. 18% of GDP directed to health care? Capitalism. Housing bubbles? Capitalism. Get the picture?

The reason we have democracies is so that all voices can be heard, not just the lucky ones who happen to be born into rich families, or who happened to work for a startup that was bought by Google or Facebook. When more people have inputs into decision making processes, more people can benefit from the decision. Case in point: Linux. Millions of people use it, thousands of programmers built it, and input comes from users, programmers alike - and it's free for everyone to use

The wealthiest among us have created a bubble economy dependent on trade deficits to work. First, create the trade deficits, this will reduce the amount of money the middle class has to spend on things they want. Then create bubbles so that you can keep generating wealth. Stock bubbles, housing bubbles, it doesn't matter, as long as everyone with a brain and a 401k can get in. With insider information, you can get out before the bubble fails, leaving everyone else destitute. 

Then you can tell everyone else to work harder or tighten their belts. Wash, rinse, repeat every few years. But don't mention the trade deficits in relation to a depressed economy. People might wise up and demand a change in policy that requires you, the 1%, to continue working like the rest of us.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Erring on the side of peace, day by day

I'm helping my wife Alice to raise our daughter, Emily. Emily is now 15 months old and even through the seemingly short period of 15 months, I watched myself as Emily reminded me of what tolerance is all about. I watched myself as I remembered that Emily is a fragile human being who has to negotiate for every need to be met. Just like the rest of us. The only difference is that she is not equipped with the same skills and experience adults have.

While watching Emily traverse the chasm from birth to consciousness, I was constantly reminded that Emily is acting mostly on instinct. I saw that she was doing absolutely the best that she could, for if she knew a better way, she would have done it. As her consciousness became more apparent, I began to see evidence of higher order thinking. Noticing, planning and communication. At 15 months, Emily has a lot to say, but she's not very articulate because her brain is still trying to figure out how to make her mouth sound out the words she wants to use. Oh, Emily knows words alright. She just can't say them yet.

Prior to Emily's birth, I had more than 20 years of time to read, experiment, indulge in myself and discover something about what I'm made of. I did a few things I'm not proud of. I used marijuana on and off until I was 25. I think I still had a drink here and there, but I've not had a drink since about 2002 or so - alcohol was not my drug of choice, so I could take it or leave it. I've never really understood tobacco so I never used it. I never got into coffee or soft drinks. The sugar and caffeine made me bounce off the walls and then I'd crash.

All of my studies of the brain brought me to the conclusion that my brain is a 2.5 million year old pharmacy that makes whatever I need to meet the demands of the environment. When I need to wake up, my brain introduces a small amount of adrenaline to start my day. When I need to sleep, my brain sets up the blood with a nice cocktail for sleep. Anger, jealousy, joy, boredom, they are all there. They are just muted at this age to the point where I can see the emotion coming, wait for it to pass, and then think about what to do next.

Emily can't do that yet. Emily has an endorphin factory that unloads undiluted emotions on cue as the need arises in her brain. She is at times supremely angry. Supremely sad. Supremely happy. With no way to dilute those feelings with thoughts, distractions or addictions, she is looking for direction from us, her parents. She has no mechanism by which she can ignore reality. It's all there, in her face, day to day, moment to moment.

So it is remarkable to me to witness that erring on the side of peace really pays off. I don't want to be the strict, overbearing, rule-setting parent early on for what would I get? Someone who will rise to every challenge I place before her. I know her grandfather and I know what he was like. He took and broke every challenge to his authority placed before him and then some. Believe me, I have a tiger by the tail with Emily.

If I find myself irritated by something that Emily does, I work on settling that irritation within me first, then I think about how to address Emily. Emily is not a threat to me or anyone else. She has to negotiate with everyone to get her needs met, but she has no language and absolutely no leverage to get her needs met. She could cry, sure. But without compassionate parents, there is no hope of getting her needs met. So I need to settle whatever is going on in me first in order to respond to Emily's needs. I do it quick so that I'm here, present for her for every moment I'm in the same room with her.

Let me tell you a side story, a story of when I was a young and confused man at the tender age of 20, maybe 21. Back then, I bought a cat from one of those pet mills in the mall. I thought, sure, I can take care of a cat. I fed her. I gave her shelter. I bathed her. I played with her and slept with her.

But I noticed a pattern emerging. She would climb the drapes when I was not home. I'd catch her and she'd run. When I bathed her, she struggled in the water as I picked for fleas. I won the struggle, but I could see that the struggles were becoming more and more severe.

Then one day while bathing the cat, I punched her several times to get her to settle down. She moaned in agony. I knew it was over. I could not care for the cat. I cried as I took the cat to the animal shelter knowing for sure I was not ready. I never forgot that day and I promised myself that I would prepare myself to take much better care of the next cat that came into my life.

My wife was born in the year of the cat. I could not marry her and stay married if I was not and still am an older, wiser, peaceful man today. From day one, Alice reminded me to be gentle to her and to myself, every day. I had to constantly check my thinking, my words, my actions. When I'm around Alice (and my daughter), I strive to be a gentleman in every sense of the word.

My experiences with conflict in the past have led me to a simple set of practices all in support of erring on the side of peace:
  1. Let the feelings pass before you speak.
  2. Think before you speak.
  3. Never raise your voice.
  4. Never slam doors or break possessions.
  5. Never make threats, even threats you can carry out.
I'm sure there is more, but this is the basic set with the prime directive to err always, on the side of peace. I know that if I fail, I am only encouraging strife, grudges and resentments on both sides. There is no such thing as winning an argument, especially in marriage and in family life. If my wife or daughter lose an argument, I lose. I want all of us to win, together.

I hope you have found this to be useful information. It has taken years for me to develop and today, I just felt like laying it out for all of you. I love everyone. Even the irritating people, for they remind me why I am a gentleman today.