Since 9-11? Way longer than that

The output for this blog has yet to be as regular as I’d like, but it seems as summer approaches, it get even less regular. If you guessed it was because of the many distractions of summer, you’d be half right. Every year as Memorial Day approaches, I think of commenting on the annual slave-belt campaign, a campaign that’s been going on as long as I remember, and that goes back even before the laws. It’s why I mark Memorial Day not as a memorial to veterans, but as a memorial to freedoms, fought and died and paid with blood for, only to be traded away by politicians with ears bent by special-interest groups.

But it’s so painful to write about that I procrastinate. I procrastinate until it’s late July, and I begin to think about fair entries, due the first Monday of August (for open class, anyway). Late July and August are consumed with preparations for Labor Day weekend, which, for me, is nothing more nor less than my county fair.

The county fair is all-consuming for me. I spend Wednesday and Thursday alternately finishing and tagging entries with trotting them over to the fairgrounds. Then there’s the Thursday and Friday judging of general exhibits (which once upon a time was all on Saturday). Thursday night I’m off to the wine judging, and the rest of the fair I’m all over the place, but the midway in particular, snapping away and having over 1,000 pictures by the fair’s close Monday night. It’s a lot more time on my feet than I usually spend. After lugging all my exhibits home again (93 this year), I don’t want to do much of anything, least of all create.

While I’m still catching my breath (this year, anyway, since Labor Day wasn’t until the seventh), 9-11 rolls around.

A common theme among many of the columns is how many freedoms we’ve lost to the Patriot Act and similar legislations since the Towers fell. How the Government is increasing its surveillance, how we’re becoming a police state. We’ve been losing freedoms left and right for decades, and it’s only since 9-11 that you’ve noticed?

Just look at cars: in 1960, Wisconsin became the first state to require belts in cars. Not long after that, they designed a system that performs an unauthorized search (I supposed the alphabet-soup feds justified that you “consented” by buying the car and/or getting in it) to see which belts are buckled when you start the engine. Originally that was either the driver’s seat or the driver/passenger, where either one buckled would satisfy the dinger (I’ve seen both, but I’m not sure which is older). Now, it’s expanded to all seats and checks at intervals well after engine start.

And this information is now recorded on a “black box” which was introduced into cars without comment and mandated after only a handful of privacy advocates woke up enough to make token protest.

Of course, the “black box” would have a hard time recording everything Big Brother wants to know if the systems were good, reliable, mechanical systems. But it’s cheaper, easier, and more Big Brother-friendly to use electronic systems, so the car can be programmed to second-guess every input the driver makes. Anti-lock braking systems have been the poster child of “better in theory than practice,” getting blamed for as many collisions as they avoid. Does that give us the right to decide we don’t want them in our private property? Of course not! Even if ABS  isn’t mandated, per se, new regulations that ASSuME  we’re all to stupid to monitor our tires ourselves–and so our cars must look after us about it–require automatic tire pressure monitoring, and the easiest way to do that it with a minor modification of the ABS.

And like I said, systems–brakes, acceleration, steering–that used to be mechanical have, over the last fifteen years or so, been quietly replaced with electronic systems. I have an article or two from 2003 or so written when the “early birds” started using drive-by-wire; they commented about “consumer acceptance.” I had to laugh at that, even back then. “Consumer acceptance”? I’ll wager most people on the road don’t even know how a car actually turns, much less whether there’s a rack-and-pinion arrangement between their wheels. It’d have to take a major, multi-car failure in the technology for anyone to even notice.

Or not. The runaway Toyotas are a perfect argument for why you don’t build things with centralized control with a single point of failure. “Point of failure” is a count of how many things have to fail in order for the system to not work anymore. In the case of electronic pedals, from the computer’s point of view the whole pedal assembly is one keyboard. “Unplug” it, and the driver now has no control over the speed of the car. Both Toyota and the Government claimed the accelerations were caused by people that

  1.  Got a floor mat over the pedal, causing it to not come up when the foot came off it
  2.  Pressed the accelerator at the same time they were trying to step on the brake
  3.  Had a mechanical failure in the accelerator pedal (not the pedals as a whole)

Despite an engineer demonstrating (i.e. inducing) uncontrolled acceleration without anything that could possibly be attributed to driver error, and ignoring accounts where the brake pedal was also affected, they concluded that mandating even more electronics in the form of a “brake override” (pressing the brake pedal would automatically cut throttle to the the gas) would solve the problem.

That solution rests on the incorrect assumption that whatever caused the accelerator to not work right left the brake pedal unaffected. Didn’t hear about the brake pedal being affected? I wouldn’t have, either, except I make a habit of reading the comments on most articles. One poster related a Toyota acceleration experience where the front seat passenger (driver’s son) visually confirmed that the floor mat was not fouling the accelerator, the driver’s foot was not on the gas when it was on the brake pedal, and the brake pedal would not depress.  Now how is a brake override supposed to work if the brake pedal itself doesn’t? The electronic pedals, as a unit failed. That’s a single point of failure. For a mechanical car to have an equivalent failure, the mounting that the pedals were on would have to have collapsed, and what are the odds of that failing so quickly that you wouldn’t notice the pedals starting to feel funny? Otherwise, the brake system and the acceleration system would have to fail seperately. That’s two points of failure. Three points if it’s a manual transmission, where the clutch can take the engine out of the equation, allowing the e-brake to help or take over from the service (foot) brakes. (And taking out of gear? That’s arguable. While the poster did mention that they got control of the car by taking it out of gear, Mythbusters demonstrated that a “safety” feature prevents automatic transmissions from shifting out of drive at speed, even if the gear select is moved to “park” or “reverse.”)

But, despite this perfect example of the weakness of electronic controls, I have heard just tonight (Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015) that for at least eight automakers, any hope of the freedom to choose a proper mechanical system in your car has been slaughtered, gutted, field-dressed, and offered up as a sacrifice to Big Brother, in the form of an agreement to have active braking systems (in which cars will apply the brakes automatically if they decide their inattentive drivers haven’t noticed their lane has been blocked by something) standard on all their cars. Too bad if you decide that ramming the car in front of you out of the way is a lesser evil than getting buried by a tipping semi trailer load of gravel, or you gallantly wish to bump a stalled car out of the path of an oncoming train.  Given how little the Toyota acceleration debacle affected the industry-wide roll-out of drive-by-wire in general, we can expect that several hundred thousand inappropriate braking events will have about as much effect on the enforcement of such systems as Hillary’s time in the State Department had on her run for President. At least Hillary has a chance of getting jailed for her complete disregard of the “little people.”

Hackers have already demonstrated they can open doors, cut the engine, apply the brakes, even tension the seatbelts (yes, since the mid-1990’s, they’ve become electronic, too) by remote. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be hackers: the proverbial “ghost in the machine” can cause electronics to randomly malfunction, and then return to normal functioning with no evidence of the transgression. Or “random reprogramming” when a given area of memory fails; electronics work until they don’t, often with little or no sign of impending failure. The only sure way to avoid this is to avoid electronics altogether. Which the Government doesn’t see you having a right to do. You should have the right to modify your car to protect you from the dangers most significant to you, not have the threat of your greatest dangers maximized by some unelected, alphabet-soup agent in pursuit of protecting you from Big Government’s Scare of the Month.

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Big Banks’ Role in the Recession

I remember back in school, when we talked about the Great Depression, one of the causes that was mentioned was that the Federal Reserve Bank was tightening the reins (increasing rates and restricting who can borrow) when it should have been loosening them to spur the economy.

Unfortunately, in today’s world of interstate and international banks, corporate banks have an even greater influence on the economy now than the Fed did back then. And just like then, they’re tightening the reins, sucking the vitality out of communities for the sole purpose of looking good for their investors on Wall Street.

A perfect case study exists in  my hometown. What once was the independent Shawano National Bank joined a few other  area banks to become Valley Bank. Valley Bank, was, in turn, absorbed by the multi-state Marshall and Illsley (Which also acquired Security Bank a few years later). Then the international BMO Harris swallowed them.

Bottom line, BMO ended up with a lot of accounts and loans of individuals and businesses who actually set up their accounts and loans with other banks. Months after the BMO’s takeover of M&I, the checking account I had set up with Security Bank when I went off to college (started from the savings account I closed with Valley Bank), which had never cost me before, started costing me $7 per month–after I dropped from the mid-level tier my account had been at to the cheapest account they had. Avoiding the charge required either a $1,000 balance (if you don’t have that much, you don’t have that much), other accounts with more than that, or $400/month in electronic deposits (most businesses, including the one I worked for, don’t have enough employees to justify setting up electronic payments, and I wasn’t making $400/ month, anyway). A little over a year later, they upped the charge to $10. That’s $120 per year for the privilege of having a checking account–and I might write two checks a year, if that. Given my average daily balance, and depending on how you calculate it, I am being charged from 100%- 1,000% interest–to use my own money. How is anyone supposed to put money away if the bank is taking more than you have? Yet, even in this world of electronic funds transfers, how can you not have an account to receive the occasional paper check that comes along?

To put that in perspective, around here, $10 will buy you a sit-down dinner, grandstand seating at one of the best dirt-track half-mile speedways in the region, half of a season pass to the county fair (or two days’ admission),  a pair of hand-knit mittens from the senior store (probably a scarf, too), three DVD’s from the electronic resale shop, or groceries for a meal for four (pork steak, yes; beef–depends on the cut).

Why am I still with them? Simple. They own all the ATM’s in town, and banks in general have reduced lobby hours so much (My parents remember when people used to go home on Fridays, have dinner, then come back to town, cash their checks, and go shopping. Then banks started closing at 6:00 and earlier on Fridays, so people started cashing their checks, going home for dinner, and staying home.) that I can’t be sure of the lobby being open when I need money–the downtown lobby isn’t even open on Saturdays. So I rely on ATM’s, and the cost of using another bank’s ATM would probably build up even more fees than the $10/month the checking account costs.

So, still with them, even though they have the primary blame for my being unemployed from my job of eleven years.  Like I said, they absorbed a lot of other banks’ accounts, including the mortgage on my employer’s cinema. For those of you who don’t follow what’s going on in the movie industry, the “Big Six” of Hollywood had a “gentleman’s agreement” to be 100% digital by January of 2013. The date gradually got pushed back, but the writing was on the wall: upgrade your projectors or go dark. When my boss first started looking in to it, around 2010, systems were $100,000 and up. But he didn’t like the interest on the loans banks offered, and decided to wait. Waiting was good–and bad. As next-generation projectors were installed in bigger cinemas, used first-generation equipment was becoming available around $40,000, give or take how much labor you could get done yourself in readying your booth (digital projectors require an absolutely dust-free environment, and lamps are about three times the wattage of those used by film projectors). But to the banks, digital projection equipment is still unproven technology; they’re less willing to give a loan for something they fear might depreciate into nothing before the loan can be paid. BMO, which owned the business’s loan, refused to extend funds at any interest rate for this live-or-die equipment purchase. On December 1, 2013, we shut the projector down for the last time. In March, it went to sheriff’s auction, where–as happens with so many foreclosures–the loaning bank bought it for the remaining value of the loan, about $109,000.The building has been empty ever since. Given how hard it is to run a one-screen cinema in the first place, there’s little chance someone will make the investment to get it running as a theater again (my boss said the only way to keep it afloat would be as a non-profit; without taxes it might be able to make ends meet), and it’s doubtful anyone will want to mess with the old-style (the building is eligible for historic registration) sloped floor in converting it to another use. Likely, it will deteriorate and see the wrecking ball sometime in the next decade.

A business neighbor, just three buildings away, is a camera store. I can still use “is” as I write this, but I doubt I will be able to much longer. The business has been around for several decades, and it’s second owner–unable to keep up with the rapidly-changing digital models (many are discontinued after a six-month production run) and the “big box” discount prices–had gradually converted it to a framing shop/pottery gallery (he had been a commercial potter, and now taught art). He’s still one of the few places that stocks 120 film and can make a contact print of a glass negative. His bread-and-butter lately has been VHS-DVD transfers (he not only charges less than Walmart and Walgreens, but monitors the process to make sure there aren’t any tracking issues) and custom framing. I walked past his store yesterday, and discovered a automobile-style “for sale” sign in the window. In the “make” field he’d written “BMO.” In the “model” field, he’d written “screwed me.”

(I might also mention that he was in the same checking-account boat as me; in his case, he was a substitute teacher, and some of the schools would only pay by direct deposit, so he needed a checking account to receive the deposit. A day’s subbing might be an $80 –$10/hour x 8 hours–check. Then take away income tax, gas money for a school that might be 50 miles away, and now $10/month for the privilege of receiving it. And he might go months without getting called to work.)

Of course, I doubt BMO Harris is unique in their practices.  You’ve probably heard of the lawsuits surrounding the foreclosure practices of banks like Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citibank, Ally/GMAC and JPMorgan Chase. But BMO is the big fish in my town, and, as I’ve said, scooped up a lot of other bank’s accounts when they moved in. They’re sucking this town dry, inserting big-city cost-of-living fees into a community that doesn’t have big-city paychecks to support them.

I’ll wager there are hundreds, if not thousands of Shawanos throughout America, facing the same drain on their economies. And this drain goes mostly unseen by the politicians and various “fixers” that hop from metropolis to metropolis, enjoying “economical” $30-$50 dinners.

Banks enjoy the luxury of being a basic need of our civilization without the economic protections against becoming an excessive financial burden that government maintains for physiological basic needs (like SNAP programs for food and rent-controlled housing for shelter). There’s simply no such thing as a low-income checking account, even though the Government itself encourages, in some cases, requires electronic funds transfers, which in turn require a bank account to receive. And banks can afford to hire the priciest lawyers (politicians, too) to create conditions favorable to their bottom line.

A small-town bank has to deal with their customers at a small-town level. An international bank can suck communities dry, one after another, with policies that work for their high-value, metropolitan customers and shareholders, with near-total impunity, confident that even if the customer is 100% right, they will never be able to afford to fight them. If we want to stop the income disparity from growing, we need to break the big banks.

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The Land of Omelas

I don’t know how many of you pay attention to my banner quote, or wonder where it came from. Hopefully, many of you do. For those of you that don’t, here’s the story:

The quote is a reference to “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” an award-winning story written by Ursula K. Le Guin in 1973. The story describes a utopian city called (what else?) Omelas, where all the citizens enjoy unbelievably wonderful lives. All but one, that is. The exception is a child, stunted of growth and indeterminate of sex, held in a dark cellar of a room, naked and squatting in its own filth, fed gruel and water, and with a completely justified fear of the mops that are stored there. Everyone knows of the child. Many, when they are between eight and twelve years old, are taken to see the child. Most accept the misery the child is forced to endure, for if it even receives so much as a kind word, the prosperity and good fortune of the city will be lost immediately.

Many of us, on reading the story, would like to claim we wouldn’t be a part of it, but if this Omelas were real, I think it more likely that most of America would sooner wield the mops themselves than free the child. We find it all to easy to separate ourselves from “them” (however exactly we may define “ourselves” and whatever makes “them” different). Just look at the antebellum South and the apartheid of South Africa. Not that the difference need be as obvious as skin color, or require justification–however illogical–of superiority.

I discovered the story via TV Tropes, where it showed up as an example of the trope “Powered By a Forsaken Child,” defined as having to “pay a really ghastly price… or have someone else pay that price for you.”

Personally, I use a somewhat narrower definition. I say it’s getting a benefit by causing “someone else” (not related to or more than abstractly known to the instigator) to endure ongoing suffering through a means that the sufferee is in no position to fight against. One castaway killing another doesn’t count, because they both know there’s only enough food for one of them, and the survivor knows full well what he’s doing to the other. A family being stricken with cancer because a factory farm upwind of them is using a carcinogenic herbicide to increase crop yields does.

I also count laws that are passed with the intent of saving and/or improving the lives of many at the expense of causing some to suffer. Remember the old saying, “One man’s food is another man’s poison”? What is life to the man for whom the “food” is poison in a land that mandates the “food”? If you’ve read the rest of my blog, you should know what my poison is. And out of sympathy for other folk for whom other things are poison, I’ve developed a very libertarian stance. And an absolute conviction that the higher in the bureaucracy the decision is made, the more children we cage in Omelas. And we don’t even get Omelas.

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Begin the Blog (Part II)

This was supposed to have been written almost three years ago. (Shows you how hard it is to write about it.) I was about to tell you why it mattered if the job was in walking distance.

See, I don’t live in New York or Chicago or one of those big places that has commuter trains. And not a lot of bicycle paths or pedestrian-friendly areas, either. After you get about a mile away from the center of town, even the main drag gives up on sidewalks,  and the shoulders are only a couple feet of eroded gravel between the asphalt and the drop-off of four- to six-foot ditches. Some driver zips by a little too close . . .

And of course, that’s where most of the jobs are. There or the industrial park, which has wider shoulders, and plenty of semis going in and out at all times of the day needing to use the wider shoulders. That’s where the paying jobs are in my town.

And that’s why it’s common in my town for every household to have a car, or two, or three. And while people don’t seem to have that much of a problem with someone who doesn’t drive–either didn’t get a license or can’t afford a car–they aren’t willing to accept that someone might find motor vehicles an unacceptable means of travel. “Don’t have a car? I’ll pick you up. Problem solved.”

I’ve always feared getting stuck. I know I watched a lot of Captain Kangaroo when I was little, but the only thing I remember today is a skit where the Captain ha a jar of glue on the counter, and for some reason, managed to stick first one hand and then the other into it. Then he had to answer the phone (so he couldn’t put down the receiver), and then a visitor stopped by and wanted to shake his hand. The Captain kept shaking his hand. I don’t know how it ended becuase I think I must have changed the channel, having had all I could take of someone being stuck to something.

When I was little, I feared riding with anyone other than my parents. What if they made me wear a seatbelt? I couldn’t wait to grow up and have an adult’s right to say “no.” In the early 1980’s, they started with the child seat laws. I made a morbid game with myself: If they started increasing the maximum age of choice by two years every year, would I make it to adulthood before the mandate? (It never occurred to me that I would be able to mount any kind of legal fight before I reached the age of majority.)

When I was twelve, the game came to an end. Though unpopular in the Wisconsin legislature, enough thought the statistics were more important than individual’s rights to pass That Bill.

Tommy Thompson signed it into a sunset law. And vetoed a measure that would have ended it early. And signed a bill to extend the sunset. And signed the bill that made it a permanent law. And that’s all I know about Tommy Thompson’s time as Governor of Wisconsin.

Not long after the law went innto effect, our band director wanted to take a lot of the jazz band to some event (don’t remember if it was a concert or some kind of workshop) he thought would be good for us. I didn’t ask for a permission slip. He thought so highly of me he put one in my hand and asked me to go. I “lost” the permission slip without ever taking it home.

I wondered how I would deal with the rest of my life. I thought I could tolerate them a few times a year, rent a car when I really needed it and walk the rest of the time, but then the 1990’s came along. Power windows and locks, which I though would always be an option like “leather seats” or “alloy wheels” suddenly became standard on a lot of vehicles, but now they were suddenly becoming standard. Not only that, but the cars were starting to lock the doors without even asking!

Suffice it to say, my interest in ever having a “new car” died in the 1990’s. The 1990’s were also when the PTD generation of seatbelts made their appearance. The first time I heard about pre-tensioning devices, the were described as a system to “pull down” on the seatbelt to prevent ejection from too-loose seatbelts during a rollover. I assumed that mean there was some kind of system, probably between the lab belts and their anchors, that would shorten the length of the lap belt from “confortably snug” to “crash tight.” The system I thought PTD belts were wouldn’t stop you from, say, ducking to avoid a massive object hurtling through your windshield, or leaning forward to get a better vantage if you had to corner hard, even if the system engaged.

Wht PTD belts actually do is reel the spool, pulling UP on the shoulder belt, and by extension, tightening the lap belt. That’s a big difference for two reasons. One, since the belt is fairly free to slide between “lap belt” and “shoulder belt” roles, the lap belt is never at a higher tension than the shoulder belt (unless you’ve got some after-market gadget to keep it cinched). The reverse is not true. Since people thrown forward tend to do so head first, the PTD has to pull the torso back before it can cinch the hips down. So for a brief moment, the shoulders are held back more than the hips. This increases the likelihood of submarining, where the lap belt, instead of acting against the hips bones as it should, ends up acting against the soft abdomen.

Problem number two occurs because the car is making the decision to pull you tight to the seat. If it decides to cinch you while you’re leaning forward for some reason or another, it will disturb your control of the car. I remember a local news station giving advice about what to do if you were caught on the road without visible shelter during a tornado warning. Their advice was to stay in your car, put your seatbelt on, and lean forward so your head was below the level of the windshield/windows. I remember wondering what genius came up with that advice, since if anything happened to cause the car to think it was crashing, the first thing it would immediately cinch you upright.

And it will stay cinched after the car stops moving, if it stops in some position other than “rubber side down.” With manufacturer’s preference for burying the buckles in the seat, you likely won’t be able to reach it with your non-buckle-side hand and there’s a not-insignificant chance that your access to the release will be obstructed. That leaves hoping you 1) haven’t been anywhere that doesn’t allow you to have a pocket knife or remembered to retrieve it from where ever you put it while you were there 2) Haven’t put it in your front pants pocket, where it can slide below the lap belt and be rendered inaccessible 3) Haven’t put i tin your back pocket, which is probably as inaccessible as your front pants pocket 4) haven’t laid it on the dash or had it thrown somewhere you can’t reach with your shoulders as good as glued to the seat.

And now in this brave new millennium, we have cars that not only ding at you on startup, but periodically during the drive if they think there’s a seat with enough weight to be an unbuckled human being.

For me, this was the last straw. I haven’t been in a car since before I started this blog. I couldn’t trust them as shelter from a storm. I certainly couldn’t work any job that put me in a position of daily dependence. So my career is in a death spiral. Instead of leaving college with a starting salary of $30,000-$60,000, probably rising to $60,000+, I started at $10,000 and fell from there.

I used to have dreams of travel. When cars became not-so-nice, I fantasized about bus trips. Now the belts have invaded buses, so those dreams are dead. I’m too young to be regretting all the things I didn’t do, but what’s worse, I can’t imagine any scenario that would have made them possible. And even now, the suffering of getting there would outweigh any enjoyment I might find.

I worry about what’s going to happen to me when cars get worse and less avoidable. Sometimes I pray a heart attack will spare me–I cartainly have enough stress for one, but then I think, “The sooner I die, the sooner I could be reborn as some helpless babe who can’t do anything about being stuffed into a carseat,” and then I get really miserable.

What’s been taken out of my life cannot be returned, and my suffering is unlikely to be compensated. If I knew how to destroy my soul so it could never return to this world, I would. Because thanks to the seatbelt Nazis, hell is a place on Earth.

(If you’ll excuse me, I need to go drink something. My mouth got very dry typing this. And my nose is running.)

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Explaining Evolution in terms Bible-thumpers Can Understand

An open response to Christians who argue that evolution can’t be correct because their translation of the Bible doesn’t use the word “evolution”:

(Quotes are from the New International Version, simply because it was the first return in my search)

You think that because the word doesn’t appear in a 1,500-word narrative (Genesis 1 & 2, give or take your translation) means it isn’t happening? That’s like saying that the (original) Constitution didn’t mention slaves, so slavery must not have existed!

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . . 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. . .—the first day.

6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters . . . —the second day. 

.And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.”—the third day.

Notice He’s making the next day from the results of the previous day; in other words,  the world is evolving.

20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.”. . .” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

Evolution says life began in the seas. Evolution and the Bible are in agreement.

24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.”

Anything here that says God didn’t make them out of what came before?

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.

So, if you’re taking the Bible at face value, that means hemlock tea and rhubarb leaves are good to eat, right? Oh, now you’re not taking the Bible at face value?

As to the “How old is the Earth?” question, I leave you with this tale (author unknown):

One day God is walking on Earth and a man approaches him.
Man: “Hey God, isn’t 1 million years like a second to you?”
God: “Hm, that’s pretty accurate. 1 million years is like a second to me”
Man: “Then 1 million dollars would be like… a penny to you, wouldn’t it?”
God: “Yes, a million dollars would be like a penny to me.”
Man: “Can I have a penny as it means to you?”
God: “Sure. Just a sec.”

(Bottom line: If the Bible didn’t mention “evolution,” it definitely never said the “day” of Genesis was 24 hours as we measure “hours” today. According to this joke, God needed 518.4 billion years to make the world.)

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“If the unemployed don’t have a job, let’s give them something to do!”

Any time you get into a discussion about requirements for people to get something, like voter tests, or unemployment compensation, somebody will trot out the prospect of requiring continuing education and/or volunteer work as a condition for welfare/unemployment compensation.

While this may seem like a good idea on the surface, I’m willing to bet that proponents of this theory have never collected a string of “thank you for you interest, but we will not be pursuing you application further,” letters and unanswered applications. Truth is, job-hunting takes time. Paper applications can take over 20 minutes each to complete, on-line applications can take over an hour. Then you’re all over town, looking for “help wanted” signs in the windows and hopefully, interviewing for jobs. If you’re spending 30 hours (a number suggested by a certain poster as a requirement to receive benefits) a week on volunteering and continuing education, when are you going to look for a job?

Another problem is the perception that people are unemployed because they either lack any job skills or their skills are specialized for an industry that has suddenly shrunk. In many cases,  the unemployed may have perfectly useful skills, but may be consistently getting edged out by someone who’s just a little better fit for the job, or suffers from having skills that are quite useful for the job, but simply don’t show through given the checklist approach many employers are putting into their job applications. As an example, Ive been an avid shutterbug for over twenty years, with experience in several types of film as well as digital. You would think that would be something a photo lab would like to know, right? Well I applied to a photo lab. The on-line application had many questions about how I would feel about abandoning my own duties to help a customer or fellow employee, how cheerfully I would deal with rude customers or blab Corporate’s latest script, but the only thing they wanted to know about me that had anything to do with photography was whether or not I had worked in a photo lab before. (Shall I mention that this photo lab was unable to identify an unmounted 35mm slide, and was unable to provide some customers with a media card for their camera, despite the fact that the camera clearly indicated the type of card required and they had it in stock?) And if you’re thinking there was somewhere in the application I could bring this knowledge up: Nope. No blank field where you could write in “any other skills that may be useful to this job.”

Then there’s this business of education. Some skills, like “card punch operation,” get outdated. Some, like “frying hamburgers,” don’t. Some can get a little stale, like “tax preparation,” but you don’t have to go out and get a new degree,  just a refresher that you have no reason to take unless you’ve got a job to use it with. Sometimes the same skill set can be adapted to jobs that may not seem to be related, say a “catalog designer” reapplying their skill of “concentrating information into a format the average person can absorb” into “adult education.” (Both of those are entirely within the education of a technical communications major, but many perspective employers don’t even know such a major exists.)

Consider this: You’re a garage looking for a new mechanic. Most of your customer base has mid-century Fords and Dodges. You figure since cars have so many electronics nowadays, perspective applicants should be able to fill out an on-line application. You set up the application with the usual fields (personal data, education, previous employers). Candidate A has a recent degree from a Ford-certified course and an apprenticeship with the service department of a new-car dealership. Candidate B has no education beyond high school or any employment related to cars. Who do you hire? Oh, by the way, Candidate B was raised on a farm (yes, he mentioned this in his job history, but he only had enough room to say they raised corn and milked cows, not that the tractor was an ornery pile of manure they had to fix weekly)  and drives a 1974 Ram that he rebuilt from little more than a hulk (He didn’t mention it because he didn’t do it as a hobby, it was something he was given, and he fixed it up because he couldn’t afford to buy a car.) Does that change your answer?

And what if you’re trying to produce things on your own, with something that could be a business if you can get it going, but you can’t find enough time because you’re so busy “volunteering”? Tying strings like this actually becomes a well-intentioned trap that leaves people with no time to get out of their situation.

I’ve worked for no pay, at jobs that they could have paid me for–if I was a senior citizen. But because of the non-profit rules they operated under, they couldn’t pay me, being able-bodied and in prime working years.

And for the record, I am unemployed and NOT getting unemployment, welfare, or any kind of government assistance. I might end up on Medicare thanks to Obamacare, since I obviously have no money for insurance. Not that I want it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to checking my inbox for any job opportunities via my ten-year-old laptop on my library’s hit-and-miss Wi-Fi. It takes me 3-5 hours a day. Every day.

Oh, yeah. And check the royalties on my first book. I’m working on the second, but it’s hard to find time when you need 4 hours a day (and “sunny” hours, to boot, because that’s when the library’s open, so that’s fewer hours of light to be photographing illustrations for my books) just to get through your email, and the rest of the world is snatching pieces of your time here and there, thinking you’re “free” because you don’t have a “job.”

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Got religion? Got spirituality? Know the difference?

I thought Herman Cain was my man and was disappointed he dropped out of the running before the primaries got to Wisconsin, even though I wasn’t too thrilled with his “9/9/9 tax plan,” but after getting “Atheist libertarian Nick Gillespie horrified Bobby Jindal wants U.S. to ‘turn back to God'” in my inbox, I’m glad I didn’t vote for him. “Spiritual revival” does not necessarily mean “Christian population explosion,” and there aren’t a lot of countries more Christian than America, so why is America so screwed up? Answer: Because America is so dumbed-down they don’t think for themselves anymore, and they take the particular translation of the Bible they grew up with at face value, too uneducated to understand anything about the languages it was written in or the context of the times the various books were written in, and too stupid to realize how such lack could completely change the interpretation of a passage. Maybe not fanatical enough to highjack a plane and drive it into a building, but just as convinced that their own particular worldview is the only correct one and not sorry to project it on everyone about them.

Many say that Islam is the fastest-growing religion on the planet because it’s “easy” to practice. Some Christians parishes are closing due to loss of membership, others are surging. Which ones are surging? The mega-churches that provide a feel-good “you’re special” show every Sunday with a thin veneer of Christianity. People only have the “obligation” (or not) of showing up. How’s that for “easy”? And for attending an entertaining sign-a-long (or just clap your hands, or just listen, or even sleep if you’re the kind who can sleep when everyone around you is jumping and clapping), where nobody critically examines anything that’s being said, you get a little flag to wave that says you’ve got religion. Talk about opiates for the masses.

The ultimate purpose of any true religion is to develop oneself as a spiritual being. Unfortunately, too many interpretations of too many religions–Christianity and Islam chief among them–encourage a sort of spiritual neoteny by providing a set of scripted external actions to be rewarded with some kind of paradise if faithfully followed, bonus points for dragging someone else into the herd. It’s not unlike children trying to understand a magic trick; they think if the coin didn’t appear under the cup, it’s  because they didn’t tap it with their wand hard enough and not because they didn’t realized the magician had slipped the coin in with his pinky the last time he picked it up. And in religion, we have adults scolding other adults for the equivalent of not bothering to use a wand at all!

Here’s another way to look at it: many say that prayer is the act of talking to God, while meditation is listening to God’s answer. Having been raised Catholic, I can tell you: The Church taught me to pray, it never taught me to meditate. And although I am aware that many saints and more notable folk of the cloth did in fact meditate, I did not come by that knowledge from my catechism classes.

My apologies to the educated, understanding, spiritual beings who find the teachings of Jesus most appropriate for their own personal path to enlightenment and respect those who tread a different path, knowing that “all roads lead to Rome,” so to speak.

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