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Posts Tagged ‘Society’

If you can convince the lowest white man that he is better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you are picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll even empty his pockets for you.

Lyndon Johnson

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The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.

Oscar Wilde

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Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That’s the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change the rules, we are going to have to change the system.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Extraterrestrial societies could be far more advanced than we are, perhaps by billions of years… and they may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria.

Stephen Hawking

Johnson

Hawking

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Friends, I am a skeptical guy and proud of it. It pays to be skeptical.

I also have a healthy BS detector. BS detection is an essential ability.

Together, my skepticism and BS detector help me avoid being relieved of money by those looking to profit at my expense, whether illegally or by selling me something I don’t need.

The key in this respect is simple: just remember that no business or institution will offer a product or service unless they will derive an acceptable profit from the transaction. Period.

My mortgage company, for example, constantly reminds me that refinancing my mortgage, or taking out a second mortgage, will solve all my problems and improve my life immeasurably. It will be quick and easy. Give us a call.

Translation: borrow more money from us so we can collect more interest.

Another example is a relatively new entry in the insurance business: car repair insurance, aka mechanical breakdown insurance. It applies to repairs that are not accident-related and thus are not covered by your regular auto insurance. You’re probably familiar with ads for CarShield and others.

The fact is, most people never use the coverage — which is quite limited, not to mention saddled with deductibles. Ergo, repair insurance is a guaranteed money-maker for the providers.

And finally, my favorite: a truly artful scam, Medicare Part C.

Medicare Parts A and B provide basic, legitimate coverage from Uncle Sam. Part C consists of “Medicare Advantage” plans from private insurance companies. The idea was invented back in the 1990s by the Republicans under the second George Bush as a way for private industry to get on the Medicare bandwagon and make money.

In coverage as well as cost, Part C plans vary with the provider. The complexity is intentional. It creates a smokescreen that makes the cost and coverage unclear. Clarity does not serve the interests of the insurance provider.

Think about the barrage of advertising and mass mailings unleashed each year during the Part C enrollment period. The insurance industry would never, ever work so feverishly to sell Part C unless it yielded significant profits.

In reality, very few individuals benefit from buying Part C coverage. Experts say it may — may — benefit people who struggle to pay for real Medicare coverage under Parts A and B. Beyond that, Part C is a cash cow for the insurance companies.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

My advice: remember the key to skepticism and BS detection: no individual or entity will offer a product or service unless they will derive an acceptable profit from the transaction.

Period.

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Unsustainable

You realize, I presume, that the good old days never existed.

To be blunt, human history has been a random progression of events, mostly involving misery, suffering, cruelty, and death, intermingled with sporadic discoveries that were advantageous to our health and lifespans, plus allowed us to create more potent weapons.

And that history has carried us to a truly bad place. Humanity today is in dreadful shape, and we are dragging the planet down with us.

Earth is badly polluted and reeling from overpopulation. The polar icecaps are melting. While we sit here watching it happen, the greenhouse effect is leading us to our extinction.

Poverty and starvation are widespread. The rich and powerful control everything and everyone. Most people live under autocratic regimes.

In many ways, life for Homo sapiens (which ironically means “wise human”) has changed little since the Dark Ages.

Adding to the general unpleasantness, the Republicans in the US, all of them, have lost their minds. Their beliefs are closer to those of the Taliban or the Nazis than to American democracy.

A sad outcome for a political party founded to oppose the expansion of slavery.

Speaking of Republicans, I found this definition on Wikipedia:

Fascism is a form of far-right, authoritarian ultranationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and strong regimentation of society and the economy.

That describes present-day Republicans as succinctly as it does the regimes of Mussolini and Hitler. Republicans see Donald Trump, one of the most deplorable human beings imaginable, as a kind of creepy father figure. Their very own Hitler. Incredibly, they put Trump in the White House and would do it again.

Moreover, after 50 years of trying, the right-wingers apparently have a Supreme Court willing to reverse Roe v. Wade. That should come as no surprise. Outlawing abortion has been at the top of the conservative agenda for decades.

The looming demise of Roe ought to shock great numbers of rational people into voting, but I doubt that it will. When the Access Hollywood tape didn’t end Trump’s political career on a dime, I learned an important lesson about my fellow citizens.

The difference between the political left and right is like day and night. Liberals, the normal people, want universal healthcare, a living wage, rational gun control, and action to save the planet. They want to protect women’s rights and voting rights. They want police to stop killing people.

Over on the Dark Side, the conservatives want to give tax cuts to billionaires, close the borders to non-whites, ban books, and put women in their place.

If, for some mysterious reason, you still wonder who the good guys are, consider this: of the 42 million jobs created in the US since 1989, 40 million — 95 percent — were created while a Democrat was President.

The Republicans, who haven’t done anything remotely positive in half a century, have managed to poison the Senate and the Supreme Court.

These are the people, for God’s sake, who stormed the Capitol when Trump lost the presidency. They literally attempted to stage a coup. Their low-life politicians are working nationwide to rig voting systems. They have nothing to offer, so, with no qualms whatsoever, they resort to lying and cheating.

This is unsustainable. When an entire political party decides to ignore the rules of governance, the country can’t survive.

The current GOP fascist cult is a minority. To defeat them, we need to end the filibuster so the actual majority can rule again, make sure the election system is protected from the cultists, and vote against every Republican on every ballot in every election, until they go extinct.

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Freedom of the press, freedom of association, the inviolability of domicile, and all the rest of the rights of man are respected so long as no one tries to use them against the privileged class. On the day they are launched against the privileged, they are overthrown.

Peter Kropotkin

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When stupidity is considered patriotism, it is unsafe to be intelligent.

Isaac Asimov

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Why should we not honestly and candidly investigate the errors and crimes of our ancestors that we may correct, reform, and avoid them?

John Adams

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We are the product of 4.5 billion years of fortuitous, slow biological evolution. There is no reason to think the evolutionary process has stopped. Man is a transitional animal. He is not the climax of creation.

Carl Sagan

Kropotkin

Sagan

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Lynyrd Skynyrd’s debut album was a long time coming. The group formed in 1964 and performedunder several names before becoming Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1969. Because of touring commitments, they didn’t release an album until 1973.

Among the songs on that album was “Simple Man,” which was included over the objections of the band’s producer, Al Kooper. He thought the song was weak and urged the band to drop it.

The band members disagreed. Reportedly, Ronnie Van Zandt escorted Kooper to his car and told him to stay there until the song was recorded. Kooper complied.

Simple Man

By Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1973
Written by Gary Rossington and Ronnie Van Zandt

Mama told me when I was young,
“Come sit beside me, my only son.
And listen closely to what I say.
And if you do this, it’ll help you, some sunny day.

“Oh, take your time. Don’t live too fast.
Troubles will come, and they will pass.
Go find a woman, and you’ll find love.
And don’t forget, son, there is someone up above.

“And be a simple kind of man.
Oh, be something you love and understand.
Baby, be a simple kind of man.
Oh, won’t you do this for me, son, if you can.

“Forget your lust for the rich man’s gold.
All that you need is in your soul.
And you can do this, oh, babe, if you try.
All that I want for you, my son, is to be satisfied.

“And be a simple kind of man.
Oh, be something you love and understand.
Baby, be a simple kind of man.
Oh, won’t you do this for me, son, if you can.”

Oh, yes, I will.

“Oh, don’t you worry, you’ll find yourself.
Follow your heart and nothing else.
And you can do this, oh, babe, if you try.
All that I want for you, my son, is to be satisfied.

“And be a simple kind of man.
Oh, be something you love and understand.
Baby, be a simple kind of man.
Oh, won’t you do this for me, son, if you can.

“And baby, be a simple, real simple man.
Oh, be something you love and understand.
Baby, be a simple kind of man.”

https://rockysmith.files.wordpress.com/2022/04/simple-man.mp3

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Last month, I wrote a post entitled “Going Places” that underscored the atypical nature of my childhood. I’d like to elaborate on that.

One of the main reasons I turned out the way I did — which, in my opinion, is pretty okay — was growing up as a military brat. In my case, an Air Force brat.

A brat in this sense is a child raised by a parent or parents serving in the armed forces. It’s a term of endearment, not a pejorative.

Because military service involves frequent reassignments, brats rarely live in one place for very long. Thus, sociologists describe them as a “modern nomadic subculture.”

Today, according to the Department of Defense, about 15 million Americans — out of a population of 330 million — are current or former military brats. They range in age from infancy to the 90s.

Brat life bears little resemblance to civilian life, and it is rarely seen by the civilian world. Let me give you a peek behind the curtain.

Naturally, the overriding factor in the brat world is the military connection. The military mission is of paramount importance. Military rituals dominate. Military slang permeates the language.

Further, every military installation has areas that are off limits and protected for security reasons, such as flight lines and weapons armories. Armed guards and surveillance are part of life.

I’ve already mentioned the constant mobility. When a military parent is transferred to a new assignment — usually every few years, sometimes more often — the family packs up and moves. All around you, on a regular basis, friends and neighbors are departing and being replaced.

Like many brats, I was born in a military hospital. When I was new to the world, my family moved so often that I literally have no hometown.

Another big factor in brat life is housing. Depending on circumstances, a military family will be either assigned to on-base housing or given a stipend to live in a nearby town. Either way, family life is closely tied to the base because of the services provided. Virtually all military installations have their own facilities for shopping, dining, recreation, and, when you live overseas, schools.

The odds are high that you will live outside the US. One study found that over 90 percent of brats have lived in one foreign country, over 60 percent have lived in two, and over 30 percent have lived in three. Me, I spent a total of five years in Japan, France, and Germany.

The overseas experience, psychologists say, leaves the average brat more adaptable, more accepting of other people and other lifestyles, and with a more realistic worldview. I’ll buy that.

Further, brats have been shown to have lower delinquency rates, higher scores on standardized tests, and higher IQs than their civilian counterparts. Whereas 24 percent of civilians have college degrees, 60 percent of brats do.

The brat life does have negative aspects. Brats regularly leave friends behind, knowing they may never see them again. This is the reality, and a brat learns to let go of the past and embrace the present and the future.

Another negative I always found troubling is the military system of strict segregation by rank. According to military theory, this is necessary to maintain unit discipline. But the system seems unnecessarily draconian.

Classism manifests throughout the military world. In the military, you are required to be deferential to anyone of higher rank. The system is so strict that for an officer to “fraternize” with an enlisted person is illegal under military law.

For years, it was common on military installations for the families of officers and enlisted people to have separate seating in base chapels and movie theaters. That practice mercifully was ended. Likewise, the system of separate and unequal officers clubs and enlisted clubs is fading out.

But the inequality in housing remains. Housing for officers is always superior to that of enlisted personnel. And housing for generals and admirals is always the most lavish of all.

Overseas, the US military maintains school systems for American dependents, but the children of officers and enlisted personnel attend the same schools.

From my experience, it was rare for brats to judge their peers by the rank of their parents. To our credit, we usually formed our social groups for positive reasons, not based on the military caste system.

Even so, I can remember a few classmates, mostly the children of higher-ranking officers, who were too full of themselves. Jerks are everywhere, and these were immature, teenage jerks. Like bullies, most were not tolerated well socially.

So, growing up as a military brat was a unique adventure and a life-changing experience.

The brat life made me who I am. And, hey — I like who I am.

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Miscalculation

Even though the Republicans have gone full fascist, and will lie and cheat with no reservations, we are living, miraculously, under a Democratic President again. And we are moving past the COVID pandemic, despite the bonkers efforts of the conservatives at sabotage.

Many of them, by the way, still talk about jailing or executing Anthony Fauci.

But just when I had hopes that better times are possible, Vladimir Putin, the villainous, murderous dictator, started a war.

And yet, the villain miscalculated.

Unexpectedly — to me, anyway — Ukraine is holding its own. Putin believed his forces would declare victory within days, but they couldn’t. While the Russian forces seem curiously hapless, the Ukrainian people and armed forces have shined.

Putin miscalculated so badly, in fact, that more countries than ever are united behind Ukraine, NATO, the European Union, and the US. And more are imposing sanctions on Russia.

My reaction to Putin’s War was alarm and outrage, followed by puzzlement. Why did he do it?

The world is too small today, with too many complex interconnections and alliances, to send a ground army into another country and not expect major blowback. Putin underestimated the strength of the Ukrainian forces and the resolve of Ukraine’s allies, and overestimated that of his own. But why?

I think he is becoming more aware of his own mortality. The guy is 69 years old. Time is running out to resurrect the former USSR under his glorious leadership.

It’s possible, too, that he has health issues. An illness would speed up the timetable. Or cloud his judgment.

As you would expect, he threatens nuclear destruction if his enemies go too far and force his hand. It’s a dictator thing.

Everyone hopes Putin is not insane enough to start firing off tactical nukes, but we don’t know for sure.

Everyone hopes he will find a way to declare partial victory and go home, but we see no easy way out.

In whatever manner Putin meets his end, I hope it is sudden, unpleasant, and soon.

I have been genuinely impressed by the courage and fortitude of the Ukrainian people, and especially by the example of President Zelenskyy. I haven’t been this inspired and heartened in quite some time. It’s a good feeling.

It even distracts my thoughts, albeit briefly, from this maniac.

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BRINNON, WASHINGTON — A woman was rescued uninjured, but shaken, after she dropped her cell phone into a pit toilet and fell in headfirst while trying to retrieve it.

The 40-year-old woman was using a toilet in the Olympic National Forest when her phone fell into the underground tank. She removed the toilet seat and tried to reach the phone with a dog leash.

When that failed, she secured herself with the leash and reached into the pit, but slipped and fell in. She was unable to climb out and called 911. When firefighters arrived, they handed down blocks of wood for the woman to stand on, allowing the team to reach her and pull her to safety.

The rescuers hosed off the woman, gave her clean clothes, and told her to seek medical attention because of the exposure to human waste. However, they said she “only wanted to leave” and drove away to an unspecified destination in California.

CORNVILLE, ARIZONA — A javelina that hopped into a station wagon to get a bag of Cheetos became trapped inside, trashed the interior, and caused the vehicle to roll away out of control.

Yavapai County deputies said the vehicle’s hatchback had been left open, and the closing mechanism was triggered when the javelina jumped in. In a panic to get out, the animal ripped off door panels and part of the dashboard.

It also knocked the vehicle into neutral, allowing it to roll down a driveway and across the street.

The next morning, the vehicle owners discovered what had happened and called the sheriff’s office. A deputy opened the hatch, and the javelina ran into the undergrowth.

Javelinas, also called peccaries, are a species of wild pig native to Central and South America and the southwest US. The animals live in herds of six to eight. Adults can weigh up to 80 pounds.

ZABOW, POLAND — Volunteer firefighters in Zabow twice had to remove a raccoon that was taking a nap in a precarious position atop a streetlamp.

Crews responded after the animal was spotted asleep while clinging to a horizontal section of conduit high above the ground. The electricity was disconnected, and crew members used a lift to reach the raccoon.

The animal was released on the ground, but immediately climbed back to the top of the streetlamp.

The crew removed the raccoon a second time and released it in a remote wooded area.

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Pollen and Pollination

Every spring for a couple of weeks, my corner of the world — and probably yours — gets coated in pollen. At the same time, dried-out thingies begin raining down from the oak trees, clumping together and piling up and staining the driveway.

This year, I decided it was past time to identify those mysterious dried-out thingies. I wasn’t prepared for what I discovered.

They are called catkins, and they are the male half of oak tree reproduction. They contain pollen, which is carried by the wind to all the female oak flowers out there. Specifically, the male flowers form in the summer, produce pollen the next spring, die and dry up, and bingo.

The wind can carry the pollen many miles, but only a tiny fraction of the grains will pollinate a female and create an acorn. Further, the vast majority of acorns get eaten by animals and don’t make it to tree-hood. Nature doesn’t do pity.

The yellow coat of pollen on your car, by the way, is from pine trees, not oaks. Grains of pine pollen are large enough to be visible, but too large to bedevil your sinuses; oak and other hardwood pollen is much smaller and is the stuff that makes you sneeze and cough.

You, not me. Pollen doesn’t bother me at all.

The Power of Books

Scientist and science champion Carl Sagan, bless him, had a way with words. In 1995, one year before he died, he published The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. In the book was the following passage.

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For 99 percent of the tenure of humans on earth, nobody could read or write. The great invention had not yet been made.

Except for firsthand experience, almost everything we knew was passed on by word of mouth. As in the children’s game “Telephone,” over tens and hundreds of generations, information would slowly be distorted and lost.

Books changed all that.

Books, purchasable at low cost, permit us to interrogate the past with high accuracy; to tap the wisdom of our species; to understand the point of view of others, and not just those in power; to contemplate — with the best teachers — the insights painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, drawn from the entire planet and from all of our history.

They allow people long dead to talk inside our heads. Books can accompany us everywhere. Books are patient where we are slow to understand, allow us to go over the hard parts as many times as we wish, and are never critical of our lapses.

Books are key to understanding the world and participating in a democratic society.

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That wonderful observation, I should note, came in a book.

The Oklahoma Panhandle

You’re no doubt familiar with the Oklahoma Panhandle, that odd strip of land west of the rest of the state, sticking out like the handle of a pan. But do you know the story of its origin? I didn’t either.

When the Republic of Texas declared its independence from Mexico in 1821, the panhandle region was part of Texas. But when Texas applied to enter the Union in 1845, there was a problem. The U.S. prohibited slavery north of the parallel 36°30′ north. The panhandle strip is north thereof.

Texas (sigh) insisted on being a slave state, so it surrendered its claim to the panhandle. For the rest of the century, the area was a no-man’s land between states, the home of assorted cattle ranches, homesteaders, and outlaws. Finally, the panhandle was tacked onto Oklahoma when it became a state in 1907.

The panhandle region is 168 miles east to west and 34 miles north to south. It consists of three minimally-populated rectangular counties, the westernmost of which, Cimarron County, borders Kansas, Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico.

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