Thursday, November 2, 2017

Apologize

Recently four United States soldiers were killed in Niger. President Trump made a big deal out of saying he personally calls family members of those killed in action. Okay, that is probably a good thing to do. Difficult, to be sure, but an empathetic effort by our current President. The call to one family went awry somehow. The widow of the fallen soldier was offended by what the President said and how he expressed his sorrow at her husband's untimely passing. I listened to the President's Chief of Staff, John Kelly explain what the President was trying to say. I think the way it was stated by Mr. Kelly most likely would have been acceptable to this soldier's widow. Is that how it was communicated by the President? I am skeptical. He is not known for being empathetic and in my opinion has trouble communicating emotional messages in an acceptable manner. I have never had to do what the President did. I have not had to talk to a grieving pregnant widow about the ultimate sacrifice made by her husband. My experience I think is similar enough to allow some criticism of what the President did. Part of my job working in a prison was to verify the death of someone in an inmate's immediate family. Once that verification had been accomplished it was my responsibility to notify the inmate. I was going out to the housing unit and calling a man down to the office to tell him that his son, mother, father, daughter, or wife had died. No matter how bad my day had been I was acutely aware that his was going to be worse. He often was locked up hundreds of miles away from someone close to him. Someone he thought would be there when he was released. Someone he may have been depending on to help him transition from prison to the free world. Now, that support is gone. How do you tell someone that the woman who raised them was dead? Or their child had perished. I always tried to be brief. "I'm sorry to have to tell you that your mother passed away earlier today." It isn't just the words. It is the tone of voice. The sincerity of the delivery. Many times it was an inmate I did not know. I had almost no background information that would clue me as to how he might react. It was like putting on a blindfold and running into a mine field. You hoped that nothing went horribly wrong. Sometimes, even with your best effort, the result was not what you had hoped. Something in the way it was said or in what they heard didn't sit well. What do you do?

Apologize. It is what the President should have done. Don't try to claim you were right. Don't say the person on the other side is attacking you and trying to make you look bad. The only thing the President should have said was something along these lines. "I called the widow of .... to express my personal sorrow at the loss of her husband in combat and express the gratitude of the nation at the sacrifice her family has made for our safety and freedom. It was not my intent to in any way add to her pain in this time of loss. I was clearly unable to express my sorrow in an appropriate manner and for that I am truly sorry." In cases like this one it doesn't matter what you said or how you said it in your mind. What matters is how the widow heard it. How it made her feel. Attempting to defend what happened only increases her pain and makes you sound like an inconsiderate asshole. Some arguments you can win. Arguments with widows of fallen soldiers is not a winnable argument. Best just to sincerely apologize and perhaps vow to do better the next time. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Who Killed It?

What is "it"? The it I'm referring to is empathy. When did the situation of our fellow human beings stop being a concern for too many of us? How did it become an us versus them world? I suppose part of getting older is looking back on a past that perhaps never existed in reality. As an older man I look back with fondness on how I think the world used to be. Were we kinder back then? Is the stark and shameful truth something different?

My first thought is that the world has gotten more cruel. Why? How? In my youth if you wanted to call someone out about their conduct, their alleged character flaws, or anything else it was done in person. You had to look them in the eye and say what you thought they needed to hear. You would get feedback in their body language. If you went to far maybe that body language included a well placed punch where those words exited your body. You could see the harm your words were doing. The pain they caused. The anger, tears, frustration were apparent. Now it is different. We communicate on line. We go to Facebook and someone states an opinion we don't see as valid or accurate. We, in many cases, don't know who they are or where they are from. So, emboldened by the fact they are most likely in some distant location, we determine there is no risk to being an asshole. We call them names. We question their intelligence. We make reference to the legitimacy of their birth. We suggest things they should do to themselves with their sex organs. That they should learn to read, or think or that they are just too stupid to live. It may be the only time we ever interact with that person. What do we care if it hurts their feelings? They mean nothing to us. They are just a name or a avatar on a computer screen.

What does that have to do with anything? It seems to me that since it has become so easy to do in the virtual world of our computers it has bled over into our everyday lives. It is and always has been my belief that the world around me is not real to anyone but me. No one else has my experiences. Has my eyes. Has my brain. Hears sounds with my ears. Perception is reality. So your perception is going to be different from mine and therefore your reality is different than the one I experience. When we determine cruelty is acceptable in the virtual world of Facebook or Snapchat or any of a hundred other social media programs it will bleed over into our lives outside those programs. Thoughts become actions, actions become a pattern or conduct, then a habit. We don't realize that slowly over a period of months or years we have killed empathy. I can only see your point of view if you agree with me. Anything that clashes with my reality must be wrong. Since I have lost empathy in the virtual world I cannot summon it in the real world.

What can we do? Maybe it is time to leave social media on the scrapheap of history. Since we are unlikely to do so perhaps this is a better answer. Before you post something snarky or cruel ask yourself a question or two. First question. Would I say this if this person were standing in front of me right now? Second question. How would I feel if they said to me what I am about to say to them? The answer is to bring empathy back to life. Perhaps I'm a dreamer. I want to perceive the world has a kinder and more gentle place. Manners and courtesy. Are they too much to ask for?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Hookers

It may come as a shock to many, especially my Mom who reads this blog, that I am a pimp. I have several hookers and they are proud to work with me. The whole experience started about 2011 on a website called RantsfromMommyland.com. The two ladies who still run the site looked around and saw other mothers who could not afford Christmas gifts for themselves and their children. You know moms always think about their kids first. These two ladies decided to be the go betweens for the mothers who needed help providing Christmas for their children and mothers who had some extra and wanted to help. A mom in need would send in her information and it would be provided to a mother who wanted to help. It was referred to as the hooker project. They were hooking these two groups of mothers up to fill a need. It was a big success and the next year even more moms wanted to participate as givers. As with any project things can get out of hand. The ladies trying to run the project were just overwhelmed with the numbers of moms who wanted to be involved.

One of the ladies I worked with and I participated in the project during these early years. I don't normally talk about charity work because it is best done quietly. When these ladies stopped doing the project the lady I worked with and I decided to continue and do our own thing. Over the ensuing years other women have wanted to get involved and the number of hookers has grown. We do a project or two a year depending on our finances and the need of the person we are helping. While the group isn't large I have not met all the hookers. I remain the sole pimp involved. The only reason I am writing about this today is to encourage anyone who reads to get involved in some way. Everyone knows someone who has a need. Who is desperate for something as small as a kind word or encouragement. Who could use a few groceries to get them through a tough spot. A gas card so they can get to work or a doctor appointment. If the need is big try to get a group together. Sometimes we give to someone that no one in the group knows on a personal level. The recipient almost never knows who provided the gifts other than a pimp and some hookers. We don't do it for acknowledgement from them we do it because it needs to be done. The world is harsh, sometimes even cruel. Somewhere along the line we seem to have forgotten that each of us has a responsibility to reach out to our fellow human beings. To pick them up, brush the dust off and let them know that there is kindness and good in this world. I hope each of you will look out in your corner of the world and find someone you can help.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

FIRM

What a difference a year makes. Last year it was hurricane Matthew. The majority of damage done by Matthew was vegetative. This year it was hurricane Irma and most of the damage was residential due to rain and storm surge.

This picture is the north beach parking lot which was filled with debris from Matthew. The light brown pile just past the buildings is trees that have been mulched. The two piles to the right are tree debris that still needed to be mulched.

The picture above is from next door to the fire station. It is household debris from Irma. This picture does not do the pile any justice. We went by there today and the pile is at least twice as large as this picture. Higher and extends out into the gravel driveway.

You might be wondering what the title FIRM has to do with this post. FIRM means Flood Insurance Risk Map. Houses in a flood zone are either pre-FIRM or post-FIRM. Pre-FIRM houses were built or substantially remodeled prior to December 31, 1974.  Post-FIRM houses were built or substantially remodeled after that date. So what the hell does that mean? We will use our house as an example. It sits three feet above sea level. Mean flood level for us is 11 feet. My understanding is that represents our house has a 1% risk of flooding in any year. More simply stated it would take a 100 year flood event to cause flood damage to our house. So at three free above sea level our first occupied floor must be a minimum of 8 feet above that. Many of the older homes on the island are on ground level. They are the beach cottages that give this place much of its charm. Last year many of them flooded due to the storm surge from Matthew. The storm surge from Irma was lower but the rain total was higher. The rain that fell couldn't move out into the ocean so it backed up into the marshes that surround the island. So more homes flooded this year. Strangely enough we got some minor flooding under the house last year. It was about 8 inches of water. This year we had no flooding. Don't ask me why. I don't understand what happened. Many of those who flooded when Matthew came through were just getting finished with repairs and getting back into their homes. Irma destroyed all that progress and set them back where they were a year ago. What does that mean?

If you noticed above post-FIRM homes were built or substantially remodeled after December 31, 1974. If your house was pre-FIRM you have rules. What does substantially remodeled mean? If the structure of your house is valued at $200,000 then during a 12 month period you are allowed to make repairs or improvements with a value of no more than 50% of the house value. In this example $100,000. If you exceed that value your home must comply with the post-FIRM requirements. That means your house that was on ground level must be raised above the 100 year flood level. So, many of those folks who houses were damaged last year and required extensive repairs are going to have to repair them again. They are going to run into this 50% rule. They will have two choices. Delay repairs past the 12 month period or raise their house to comply with post-FIRM requirements.

So when you sit back and look at this think about the human suffering. There had not been this kind of damage here since sometime in the 1990's. No one here remembers it happening two years in a row. When you look at the debris pile from this year it is beds, sofas, chairs, dishwashers, mattresses, drywall, hardwood flooring, rugs, and a variety of other household goods. The toll in human suffering is so much greater. I see what happened here and cannot imagine the level of suffering in Puerto Rico. They need more than our thoughts and prayers. So, if you can, donate.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Trickle Down or Trickle On

I'm not done with gun control quite yet but I need more time to get my thoughts in order. This time I want to move on to taxes. We all in some form or another pay taxes. Income taxes on the money we make at our job or in our business. Sales taxes when we buy goods. Excise taxes, road use taxes, property taxes, it really is amazing how many different ways the government has managed to reach into our pockets and grab some money. It is surprising at times that there is anything left in our pockets aside from the lint that seems to gather in the corner. I'm sure if the government determined it had value they would find some way to tax it as well.

Congress is currently looking at ways to overhaul the tax code. I will agree the current federal income tax system has gotten far to complicated. I have gone to the mailbox a few times to find a letter from the Internal Revenue Service telling me I have made a mistake on my tax forms. The good news for me is that those letters have never resulted in me having to send more money. I had reported the correct amount of income and paid the proper amount of tax. My error was reporting said income on the wrong form. So, from where I sit, a less complicated tax code would be a welcome change. I don't mind paying my fair share. Life has been pretty kind to me and it is my duty as a citizen to pay taxes. There are children to educate, roads to build and maintain, food and shelter for the less fortunate, medical care for the aged and infirm. My concern is the ongoing bullshit story called trickle down economics. Basically the argument is that if we give rich folks and corporations more money they will invest and hire more of us less fortunate to work. While it is an interesting idea, it doesn't work that way. Here is why.

Jeff Bezos is the big cheese with Amazon. In August 2016 Forbes reported his net worth was 66.2 billion dollars. In August 2017 they reported he was worth 81.7 billion dollars. So in a year his net worth had increased 15.5 billion dollars. In more manageable terms each day for that year his net worth increased by $42,465,753. If you would prefer monthly, every month his wealth increased by almost 1.3 billion dollars. For the purposes of my argument I will treat his income as though it were wages from a job. It isn't and realistically will not be taxed the way I am going to show. He will pay less tax. Most likely much less. If that 1.3 billion dollars a month was taxed at the current maximum rate of 39.6% he would have a monthly tax bill of 511 million dollars. This would leave him a net income of about 780 million dollars. If the tax rate is dropped to the proposed 35% his tax bill would drop to 452 million dollars a month and his net income would rise to 839 million dollars. Our economy is built on consumption. People buy goods and services and industry buys more raw materials and machines to provide those consumer goods. So, is Jeff Bezos going to spend 839 million dollars every month on goods and services or raw materials and equipment for his businesses? I think not. He will invest the money or perhaps hide a substantial portion off shore to avoid taxes.

How would the system work better for everyone even Mr. Bezos? Would I raise his taxes? Maybe. Would I lower taxes on middle and lower income folks? Yes. This is why. Look at rent, utilities, groceries, fuel, clothing and all the other expenses it takes to raise a family. If you provide a raise in the minimum wage to $15 per hour you allow those folks some more money. It is not money like Mr. Bezos has. It is money that will go back into the economy. They will buy cars, furniture, clothes, household goods. Those dollars spent will result in more jobs. More folks working and paying taxes. Less folks working and still qualifying for food stamps and medical cards from the government. I can hear folks complaining now. Those kids flipping burgers at McDonalds don't deserve more money than that EMT working in an ambulance, or that soldier fighting in some far off land. They should see a raise as well. The economy is not built from the top down. It is built from the bottom up. The poor spend what they get and it moves the economy forward. Let's jump back to Mr. Bezos again for just a minute. If he took his monthly net income and bought houses valued at $250,000 , every month he could buy 3,120 houses. He isn't going to do that. If folks at the lower end of the income scale were given the opportunity they would buy homes. They would build homes. So, the rich like Jeff can afford to pay the taxes they are paying now. The minimum wage should be raised and taxes at the lower end should be reduced to flow more money into the economy. It will work and the economy will grow.

Here is the problem. It won't happen. The guys with the money get to talk to the guys who set the tax rates and determine the minimum wage. They don't want to share the pie. It reminds me of this story. There were 10 cookies on a table. Seated at the table was a businessman, a laborer and an immigrant. The businessman grabbed 9 of the cookies and turned to the laborer and said, "You better watch out that guy is going to take your cookie." That my friend is trickle down economics. We sit on the floor and fight over the crumbs that fall from their table. Like George Carlin said, "It's a big club and you're not in it."

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Thoughts and Prayers

Once again I am going to hop on my gun control soap box. Las Vegas, so far our worst modern mass killing. Don't worry folks someone out there is planning a bigger and better killing spree. What do our representatives in Congress offer as a solution? Their thoughts and prayers are with those wounded and with the families of the slain. How about this? Fuck you and your thoughts and prayers. While we are on the subject of your ineffective response to these mass killings, maybe you could take your moment of silence and stick that up your ass. Something must be done and the answer is not more guns. The answer also is not found in you folks in Congress crawling back to the NRA and begging for more money and supportive campaign ads so you can be reelected to do nothing. You all seem to claim to be people of faith. That got me thinking. In the Bible, you know that book you set your hand on to take the oath of office and ignore the rest of the time. Well, in the book of James, chapter two verses 14 through 18 read like this.

      "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can
      faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you
      says to them.'Go in peace, be warmed and filled.' without giving them the things needed for the
      body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone
     will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I
     will show you my faith by my works."

So your thoughts and prayers have no impact if you don't follow them up with works. The question becomes this. What should those works be?

President Ronald Reagan, hardly a liberal, stated the following. "I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen for sporting, for hunting, and so forth, or for home defense. But I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon or needed for the defense of a home." There was an assault weapon ban in effect in the United States from 1994 to 2004. It was challenged repeatedly in the courts but all challenges were rejected. The question is not the legality of such a ban but the political will to pass one into law again. It appears at this time there is no stomach for such bold action in Congress. After Columbine, Aurora, Newtown and Orlando we were told "now is not the time" to debate gun laws. I suspect that the same thing will happen in response to Las Vegas. When is the time? The day of the Las Vegas mass murder was the 275th day of 2017. We have had 273 mass shootings this year. That is defined as a shooting with at least 4 persons wounded or killed in a single incident. If we are waiting for a lull in the shooting we are never going to do anything.

I go back in my mind when these mass shootings take place and think about the 20 children and 6 adults murdered at Sandy Hook School in Newtown. Twenty children. No child was older than seven years of age. Our representatives in Congress managed of offer thoughts and prayers. What the hell, let's throw in a moment of silence just to extend the charade that we actually care what happens. Twenty children dead. We did nothing. Sorry Las Vegas 59 dead and over 500 injured. You will get thoughts and prayers from Washington. A visit from the President. The news will die down in a week or two. Congress will move on to what is really important to them- cutting taxes on the corporations and rich folks who get them elected. The only time they pretend to care about you is when they need you to vote. Their corporate overlords and donors are buying your vote with misleading ads. So sit back and watch while they take away your health care, your ability to join a union and fight for better wages and benefits. But by God you get to keep your guns and those fellas in the NFL are going to stand for the anthem. So who cares about that other stuff?

As for me, fuck your thoughts and prayers. I don't want or need them. If that is all you have to offer me as my representative in Congress, state or local government you should just shut your stupid fucking mouth.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Off to School

Born in the 1950's I head off to first grade in September 1960. No kindergarten for me. It is your first real experience being away from your family for a hours. You are under the supervision of an adult you do not know. Growing up in the country on a farm you don't have neighbor kids to play with so your experiences with other children is limited. Now you sit in a classroom with 20 to 30 other boys and girls. Wataga Grade School was divided into two locations. First, Second and Third grades were in the building on the north end of town near the little league baseball field. Fourth, Fifth and Sixth grades were located in the old Wataga High School on the south end.

Mom, being a saver, had my first grade report card and all the others through grade 6.

I learned one thing rather quickly, Florence Rewald was a wonderful lady and a great teacher. I would learn later in my academic career that you never ever never wanted to go to see Principal Charlotte Olson.

I find it interesting that Miss Rewald felt I need improvement in the following areas:
"Appreciate rights and opinions of others"
"Listen carefully"

She appears to feel she has had some success in getting me to listen since the beginning of the school year. The need to listen and behave well in school would be reinforced by some parental intervention.

Second quarter would show a trend that would continue even to present day. "Complete work on time" has always needed improvement. Procrastination is strong in this one.

Along with procrastination is my early love of books. I have always enjoyed reading. I don't understand people who graduate from high school and never read another book.


Off to second grade I go.

Our granddaughter Audrey wants to be a teacher. She had the following conversation with her father on Saturday.
"I'm going to live at home when I go to college. I don't want to stay in a stupid dorm, I'm too cheap to get an apartment and I have lived here all my life. Seriously what is there to learn to be a teacher? I have been in school all my life. Like seriously. I hope I don't have to take like high math. Like I'm really going to teach first grade. I don't need high math. But seriously what is there for me to learn?  I am going to take the same thing for like 4 years. Can I talk to like the President about this? Who even runs this thing?!?"

Audrey, I hope you are a great a first grade teacher as the one I had way back when,